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Space News Reports

"Pluto and the Other Dwarf Planets Could Have Astrobiological Potential"
"This is an exciting finding because complex Plutonian hydrocarbons and other molecules that could be responsible for the ultraviolet spectral features we found with Hubble may, among other things, be responsible for
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Microbial Life and Active Ecosystem Found in Antarctica Lake that Hasn't Seen Sunlight for Millions of Years
The life is in the form of microorganisms that live beneath the enormous Antarctic ice sheet and convert ammonium and methane into the energy required for growth. Many of the microbes are single-celled organisms
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"The Invisible Galaxies" --Radio Images of the Whirlpool Galaxy & Beyond
    Unravelling the mysteries of magnetic fields is crucial to understanding how our Universe works. For too long, many of the big questions about magnetic fields have simply been untestable before
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Curiosity Skips Drilling, Resumes Mount Sharp Trek after Pounding Slippery Rock at Martian Valley of Slippery Sands
Want to stay on top of all the space news? Follow @universetoday on Twitter NASA’s Curiosity rover hammers into ‘Bonanza King’ rock outcrop evaluating potential as 4th drill site for sampling at ‘Hidden Valley’ in
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SpaceX Rocket Prototype Explodes In Texas; ‘Rockets Are Tricky’, Musk Says
Want to stay on top of all the space news? Follow @universetoday on Twitter SpaceX’s F9R rocket prototype during a successful test in May 2014. Credit: SpaceX/YouTube (screenshot) No injuries are reported after a SpaceX
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Watch A ‘Jellyfish Of Fire’ Created On The International Space Station
by Elizabeth Howell on August 22, 2014 Want to stay on top of all the space news? Follow @universetoday on Twitter Reid Wiseman, NASA astronaut and part-time master of Vine videos, has done it again. This time he’s
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Stolen Meteorite Found at a Tennis Court 22 August 2014, 19.31 Space
Stolen Meteorite Found at a Tennis Court
by Jason Major on August 22, 2014 Want to stay on top of all the space news? Follow @universetoday on Twitter The Meteorite of Serooskerken (Source: Sterrenwacht Sonnenborgh) Here’s a bit of good news: the
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Pluto Spacecraft Planning? New Map Of Neptune’s Icy Triton Could Prepare For 2015 Encounter
Want to stay on top of all the space news? Follow @universetoday on Twitter Talk about recycling! Twenty-five years after Voyager 2 zinged past Neptune’s moon Triton, scientists have put together a new map of the icy
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Rosetta Moving Closer to Comet 67P Hunting for Philae Landing Site
Want to stay on top of all the space news? Follow @universetoday on Twitter Animation Caption: Possible landing sites on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. The model shows the illumination of the comets surface and regions
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NASA TV to Air Events That Highlight Pluto-Bound Spacecraft
Media and the public are invited to attend two events Monday, Aug. 25 from 1-3 p.m. EDT to learn more about the agency’s New Horizons mission to Pluto and its historic connection to the Voyager spacecraft’s visit to Neptune
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This Martian Basin Shows Off Our Solar System’s Violent Past
by Elizabeth Howell on August 19, 2014 Want to stay on top of all the space news? Follow @universetoday on Twitter A Mars Express image of craters in Hellas Basin, an impact basin on Mars that is one of the biggest in
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Beam a Message to Mars and Support Space Research and Exploration
Want to stay on top of all the space news? Follow @universetoday on Twitter Uwingu’s latest fund-raising project is ‘Beam Me to Mars.’ Image courtesy Uwingu. A new project from Uwingu to help address funding shortages
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Timelapse: Indonesian Volcanoes at Day and Night by Thierry Legault
by Nancy Atkinson on August 18, 2014 Want to stay on top of all the space news? Follow @universetoday on Twitter Here’s a beautiful new timelapse from the extremely talented astrophotographer, Thierry Legault. He
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What Are These Mysterious Green Lights Photographed From the Space Station?
Want to stay on top of all the space news? Follow @universetoday on Twitter NASA astronaut Reid Wiseman Tweeted this photo of Thailand at night on Aug. 18, 2014 “Bangkok is the bright city. The green lights outside the
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Australian Amateur Terry Lovejoy Discovers New Comet
Want to stay on top of all the space news? Follow @universetoday on Twitter The small fuzzy object, a likely new comet, was just discovered by Terry Lovejoy. Copyright Alain Maury and Joaquin Fabrega It’s
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Feel The Beat: Black Hole’s Pulse Reveals Its Mysterious Size
Want to stay on top of all the space news? Follow @universetoday on Twitter There’s a bit of a mystery buried in the heart of the Cigar Galaxy, known more formally as M82 or Messier 82. Shining brightly in X-rays is a
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Harvard Astronomers Study Mystery Signal from No Known Element --"Is it the Long-Sought Dark Matter Particle?"
    It came as something of a surprise when Center for Astrophysics astronomers and their colleagues discovered a faint line corresponding to no known element. Esra Bulbul, Adam Foster, Randall
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"Music of Black Holes" --Astronomers Observe a Rhythmic Pattern of Light Pulses
This image of the galaxy Messier 82  below is a composite of data from the Chandra X-Ray Observatory, the Hubble Space Telescope and the Spitzer Space Telescope. The intermediate-mass black hole M82 X-1 is
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New Satellite Data Will Help Farmers Facing Drought
For several months, California has been in a state of "exceptional drought." The state's usually verdant Central Valley produces one-sixth of the U.S.'s crops. Image Credit: White House via Wikimedia Commons. › Larger
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"Preparing for Discovery of Extraterrestrial Life" --World's Scientists Gather to Discuss
  How might humanity prepare for the possibility of discovering microbial or complex life beyond Earth? Scientists, historians, philosophers and theologians from around the world will convene at the
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Curiosity Reverses Back from Martian Valley of Slippery Sand and Finds Fourth Rock Drilling Candidate at ‘Bonanza King’
Want to stay on top of all the space news? Follow @universetoday on Twitter NASA’s Curiosity rover looks back to ramp with 4th drill site target at ‘Bonanza King’ rock outcrop in ‘Hidden Valley’ at site marking her
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Astrophotos: 2014 Perseid Meteor Shower 17 August 2014, 01.18 Space
Astrophotos: 2014 Perseid Meteor Shower
Want to stay on top of all the space news? Follow @universetoday on Twitter Two “late” Perseid meteors captured in one shot on August 15, 2014. Credit and copyright: Stephen Rahn. “The sum total of 2 1/2 hours worth
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Watching the Winds Where Sea Meets Sky 15 August 2014, 18.26 Space
Watching the Winds Where Sea Meets Sky
The SeaWinds scatterometer on NASA's QuikScat satellite stares into the eye of 1999's Hurricane Floyd as it hits the U.S. coast. The arrows indicate wind direction, while the colors represent wind speed, with orange and yellow
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Snow Cover on Arctic Sea Ice Has Thinned 30 to 50 Percent
Matthew Sturm of the University of Alaska Fairbanks, a co-author of this study, takes a snow measurement on sea ice in the Beaufort Sea in March 2012 during the BROMEX field campaign. Image credit: U.S. Army Cold Regions
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Curiosity Mars Rover Prepares for Fourth Rock Drilling
August 15, 2014 The team operating NASA's Curiosity Mars rover has chosen a rock that looks like a pale paving stone as the mission's fourth drilling target, if it passes engineers' evaluation. They call it "Bonanza King." It
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As Seen by Rosetta: Comet Surface Variations 15 August 2014, 18.26 Space
As Seen by Rosetta: Comet Surface Variations
Image of 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko shows the diversity of surface structures on the comet's nucleus. Image credit: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM › Full image and caption August 15, 2014 A new image of comet
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Stardust Discovers Potential Interstellar Space Particles
The largest interstellar dust track found in the Stardust aerogel collectors was this 35 micron-long hole produced by a 3 picogram mote that was probably traveling so fast that it vaporized upon impact. The other two likely
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Solar Power, Origami-Style 15 August 2014, 18.26 Space
Solar Power, Origami-Style
Shannon Zirbel, a Ph.D. student in mechanical engineering at Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah, unfolds a solar panel array that was designed using the principles of origami. She worked on this project with Brian Trease at
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Marine Fossils Offer New Clues to Cause of the "Great Dying" Extinction Event
A paper by Qinglai Feng and Thomas Algeo entitled “Evolution of oceanic redox conditions during the Permo-Triassic transition: Evidence from deepwater radiolarian facies,” recently accepted in the journal
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Microscopic Particles from an Ancient Supernova Captured by NASA's Stardust Mission
Since 2006, when NASA's Stardust spacecraft delivered its aerogel and aluminum foil dust collectors to Earth, a team of scientists has combed through the collectors in search of rare, microscopic particles of
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Saving the Planet --Forces that Hold Gravity-Defying Asteroids Together Discovered
Researchers at the University of Tennessee have made a novel discovery that may potentially protect the world from future collisions with asteroids. The team studied near-Earth asteroid 1950 DA and discovered that
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How A Comet-Chasing Spacecraft ‘Likely’ Brought Interstellar Dust Back To Earth
Want to stay on top of all the space news? Follow @universetoday on Twitter Artist’s impression of the Stardust spacecraft. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech If the scientists are right, a NASA spacecraft brought stuff from
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Cygnus Commercial Cargo Ship ‘Janice Voss’ Finishes Resupply Mission and Departs Space Station
Want to stay on top of all the space news? Follow @universetoday on Twitter Cygnus Orb-2 spacecraft ‘Janice Voss’ bids farewell to the ISS at 6:40 a.m. EDT, Friday, Aug. 15, 2014. It’s set to reenter the atmosphere on
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What Sparked Star Explosion 2014J? NASA Telescope Seeks Clues
by Elizabeth Howell on August 15, 2014 Want to stay on top of all the space news? Follow @universetoday on Twitter Astronomers are gazing closely at supernova 2014J (inset) to see what sort of triggers caused the star
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Need A Summer Vacation? Pictures Allow You To Tour The Solar System For Free
Want to stay on top of all the space news? Follow @universetoday on Twitter The shadow of the Opportunity rover lies on the Martian surface in this picture taken on Sol 3752, on Aug. 13. The rover is on the west rim of
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Future News Reports

Obama's War Against US Energy Independence:  Give Away Oil Rich Alaskan Islands to Russia!
  By Joe Miller The Obama administration, despite the nation’s economic woes, effectively killed the job-producing Keystone Pipeline last month. The Arab Spring is turning the oil production of Libya and other Arab
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OSBIT Power's MaXccess system completes successful offshore trials 08 April 2012, 02.33 Administrator Energy
OSBIT Power's MaXccess system completes successful offshore trials
OSBIT Power's MaXccess system completes successful offshore trials Visit for further information OSBIT Power (OP), Siemens Wind Power and Statoil have successfully completed offshore
Read More 2208 Hits 0 Ratings
North America's EV charging infrastructure to get a boost 12 January 2012, 02.01 Administrator Energy
North America's EV charging infrastructure to get a boost
        North America’s EV charging infrastructure may soon see significant improvements, thanks to a recent agreement between Eaton Corporation and Coulomb Technologies. Under the deal, Eaton’s Level II and
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Could The Gravitomagnetic Field Be The Ultimate Energy Source? 28 May 2011, 01.34 Administrator Energy
Could The Gravitomagnetic Field Be The Ultimate Energy Source?
      Have scientists already unknowingly discovered the source for all atomic energy reactions, and could the discovery of the gravitomagnetic field be the ultimate energy source?  What if our understandings on how
Read More 4764 Hits 1 Rating
Physicists urge caution over apparent speed of light violation 25 September 2011, 16.27 Administrator Energy
Physicists urge caution over apparent speed of light violation
Physicists wary of junking light speed limit yet Physicist Antonio Ereditato poses before presenting the result of an experiment, which found a subatomic particle, the neutrino, seemed to move faster than the speed of
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STEORN ORBO  FREE ENERGY:  What's Next a Self Charging Unit for your Electric Car?
Steorn's Free Energy Orbo -- From Permanent Magnets to Solid State Systems   My associate, Hank Mills composed this for PESN, Saturday, February 12, 2011 6:17 Steorn is a small company based in Dublin, Ireland. For
Read More 5034 Hits 1 Rating
Cold Fusion, Releases Energy from Hydrogen's Gravitomagnetic Field 16 January 2011, 09.17 Administrator Energy
Cold Fusion, Releases Energy  from Hydrogen's Gravitomagnetic Field
Cold Fusion "In Bologna we did it" By Ilaria VENTURI, La Republica News, Bolona, Italy For the first time in Italy, in front of experts, the process was carried out using nickel and hydrogen. It 's the way to achieve
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Abu Dhabi Media Zone to generate renewable energy through its façade
Eco Factor: Sustainable development to generate renewable solar energy. Bernard Tschumi Architects have re-imagined their master plan for the new Abu Dhabi Media Zone, by incorporating several environmentally-friendly
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Change The World!

Latest Published Articles


Funding Friday: How $1 Can Make A Difference For Tanzanian Astronomy PDF Print E-mail

by Elizabeth Howell on August 15, 2014

Want to stay on top of all the space news? Follow @universetoday on Twitter

A student uses a telescope for the first time at Kalinga Primary School in northern Tanzania. Credit: Telescopes to Tanzania/Indiegogo

A student uses a telescope for the first time at Kalinga Primary School in northern Tanzania. Credit: Telescopes to Tanzania/Indiegogo

If you have a dollar to spare, why not share it? That’s the attitude that Astronomers Without Borders is encouraging people to adopt as it talks about contributing to a Tanzanian campaign to increase astronomy education in the African country.

There’s a crowdfunding campaign on right now to build a Center for Science Education and Observatory. With 23 days to go, 18% of the needed $38,000 has already been raised.

“The highly successful program Telescopes to Tanzania, of the international non-profit organization Astronomers Without Borders, has been actively supporting the East African nation’s schools since 2011. Tanzanian students are without textbooks and many basic educational resources we take for granted in western countries. Teacher training in science is often lacking,” the Indiegogo page reads.

“Now we are building The Center for Science Education and Observatory in East Africa to provide training for teachers, hands-on laboratories, an astronomical observatory, and quality educational resources that will all have a long-lasting impact nationwide.”

Once the center is ready, the campaign pledges it will be able to sustain itself through activities such as astro-tourism.


Elizabeth Howell is the senior writer at Universe Today. She also works for, Space Exploration Network, the NASA Lunar Science Institute, NASA Astrobiology Magazine and LiveScience, among others. Career highlights include watching three shuttle launches, and going on a two-week simulated Mars expedition in rural Utah. You can follow her on Twitter @howellspace or contact her at her website.

Tagged as: center for science eduation and observatory in east africa, telescopes to tanzania

  Section:  Articles - File Under:  Space  |  
Stardust Team Reports Discovery of First Potential Interstellar Space Particles PDF Print E-mail


Seven rare, microscopic interstellar dust particles that date to the beginnings of the solar system are among the samples collected by scientists who have been studying the payload from NASA's Stardust spacecraft since its return to Earth in 2006. If confirmed, these particles would be the first samples of contemporary interstellar dust.

A team of scientists has been combing through the spacecraft's aerogel and aluminum foil dust collectors since Stardust returned in 2006.The seven particles probably came from outside our solar system, perhaps created in a supernova explosion millions of years ago and altered by exposure to the extreme space environment.

The research report appears in the Aug. 15 issue of the journal Science. Twelve other papers about the particles will appear next week in the journal Meteoritics & Planetary Science.

"These are the most challenging objects we will ever have in the lab for study, and it is a triumph that we have made as much progress in their analysis as we have," said Michael Zolensky, curator of the Stardust laboratory at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston and coauthor of the Science paper.

Stardust was launched in 1999 and returned to Earth on Jan. 15, 2006, at the Utah Test and Training Range, 80 miles west of Salt Lake City. The Stardust Sample Return Canister was transported to a curatorial facility at Johnson where the Stardust collectors remain preserved and protected for scientific study.

Inside the canister, a tennis racket-like sample collector tray captured the particles in silica aerogel as the spacecraft flew within 149 miles of a comet in January 2004. An opposite side of the tray holds interstellar dust particles captured by the spacecraft during its seven-year, three-billion-mile journey.

Scientists caution that additional tests must be done before they can say definitively that these are pieces of debris from interstellar space. But if they are, the particles could help explain the origin and evolution of interstellar dust.

The particles are much more diverse in terms of chemical composition and structure than scientists expected. The smaller particles differ greatly from the larger ones and appear to have varying histories. Many of the larger particles have been described as having a fluffy structure, similar to a snowflake.

Two particles, each only about two microns (thousandths of a millimeter) in diameter, were isolated after their tracks were discovered by a group of citizen scientists. These volunteers, who call themselves "Dusters," scanned more than a million images as part of a University of California, Berkeley, citizen-science project, which proved critical to finding these needles in a haystack.

A third track, following the direction of the wind during flight, was left by a particle that apparently was moving so fast -- more than 10 miles per second (15 kilometers per second) -- that it vaporized. Volunteers identified tracks left by another 29 particles that were determined to have been kicked out of the spacecraft into the collectors.

Four of the particles reported in Science were found in aluminum foils between tiles on the collector tray. Although the foils were not originally planned as dust collection surfaces, an international team led by physicist Rhonda Stroud of the Naval Research Laboratory searched the foils and identified four pits lined with material composed of elements that fit the profile of interstellar dust particles.

Three of these four particles, just a few tenths of a micron across, contained sulfur compounds, which some astronomers have argued do not occur in interstellar dust. A preliminary examination team plans to continue analysis of the remaining 95 percent of the foils to possibly find enough particles to understand the variety and origins of interstellar dust.

Supernovas, red giants and other evolved stars produce interstellar dust and generate heavy elements like carbon, nitrogen and oxygen necessary for life. Two particles, dubbed Orion and Hylabrook, will undergo further tests to determine their oxygen isotope quantities, which could provide even stronger evidence for their extrasolar origin.

Scientists at Johnson have scanned half the panels at various depths and turned these scans into movies, which were then posted online, where the Dusters could access the footage to search for particle tracks.

Once several Dusters tag a likely track, Andrew Westphal, lead author of the Science article, and his team verify the identifications. In the one million frames scanned so far, each a half-millimeter square, Dusters have found 69 tracks, while Westphal has found two. Thirty-one of these were extracted along with surrounding aerogel by scientists at Johnson and shipped to UC Berkeley to be analyzed.

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, manages the Stardust mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver, developed and operated the spacecraft.

For information about the Stardust mission on the Web, visit:

For information about NASA and agency programs on the Web, visit:


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  Section:  Articles - File Under:  Space  |  
NASA Announces Mars 2020 Rover Payload to Explore the Red Planet as Never Before PDF Print E-mail


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.

[image-51]The Mars 2020 mission will be based on the design of the highly successful Mars Science Laboratory rover, Curiosity, which landed almost two years ago, and currently is operating on Mars. The new rover will carry more sophisticated, upgraded hardware and new instruments to conduct geological assessments of the rover's landing site, determine the potential habitability of the environment, and directly search for signs of ancient Martian life.

"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."

Scientists will use the Mars 2020 rover to identify and select a collection of rock and soil samples that will be stored for potential return to Earth by a future mission. The Mars 2020 mission is responsive to the science objectives recommended by the National Research Council's 2011 Planetary Science Decadal Survey. 

“The Mars 2020 rover, with these new advanced scientific instruments, including those from our international partners, holds the promise to unlock more mysteries of Mars’ past as revealed in the geological record,” said John Grunsfeld, astronaut and associate administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “This mission will further our search for life in the universe and also offer opportunities to advance new capabilities in exploration technology.”

The Mars 2020 rover also will help advance our knowledge of how future human explorers could use natural resources available on the surface of the Red Planet. An ability to live off the Martian land would transform future exploration of the planet. Designers of future human expeditions can use this mission to understand the hazards posed by Martian dust and demonstrate technology to process carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to produce oxygen. These experiments will help engineers learn how to use Martian resources to produce oxygen for human respiration and potentially as an oxidizer for rocket fuel.

"The 2020 rover will help answer questions about the Martian environment that astronauts will face and test technologies they need before landing on, exploring and returning from the Red Planet," said William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "Mars has resources needed to help sustain life, which can reduce the amount of supplies that human missions will need to carry. Better understanding the Martian dust and weather will be valuable data for planning human Mars missions. Testing ways to extract these resources and understand the environment will help make the pioneering of Mars feasible."

The selected payload proposals are:

  • Mastcam-Z, an advanced camera system with panoramic and stereoscopic imaging capability with the ability to zoom. The instrument also will determine mineralogy of the Martian surface and assist with rover operations. The principal investigator is James Bell, Arizona State University in Tempe.
  • SuperCam, an instrument that can provide imaging, chemical composition analysis, and mineralogy. The instrument will also be able to detect the presence of organic compounds in rocks and regolith from a distance. The principal investigator is Roger Wiens, Los Alamos National Laboratory, Los Alamos, New Mexico. This instrument also has a significant contribution from the Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales,Institut de Recherche en Astrophysique et Plane’tologie (CNES/IRAP) France.
  • Planetary Instrument for X-ray Lithochemistry (PIXL), an X-ray fluorescence spectrometer that will also contain an imager with high resolution to determine the fine scale elemental composition of Martian surface materials. PIXL will provide capabilities that permit more detailed detection and analysis of chemical elements than ever before. The principal investigator is Abigail Allwood, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California. 
  • Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman & Luminescence for Organics and Chemicals (SHERLOC), a spectrometer that will provide fine-scale imaging and uses an ultraviolet (UV) laser to determine fine-scale mineralogy and detect organic compounds. SHERLOC will be the first UV Raman spectrometer to fly to the surface of Mars and will provide complementary measurements with other instruments in the payload. The principal investigator is Luther Beegle, JPL.
  • The Mars Oxygen ISRU Experiment (MOXIE), an exploration technology investigation that will produce oxygen from Martian atmospheric carbon dioxide. The principal investigator is Michael Hecht, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts.
  • Mars Environmental Dynamics Analyzer (MEDA), a set of sensors that will provide measurements of temperature, wind speed and direction, pressure, relative humidity and dust size and shape. The principal investigator is Jose’ Antonio Rodriguez-Manfredi, Centro de Astrobiologia, Instituto Nacional de Tecnica Aeroespacial, Spain.
  • The Radar Imager for Mars' Subsurface Experiment (RIMFAX), a ground-penetrating radar that will provide centimeter-scale resolution of the geologic structure of the subsurface. The principal investigator is Svein-Erik Hamran, the Norwegian Defence Research Establishment (FFI), Norway.

"We are excited that NASA's Space Technology Program is partnered with Human Exploration and the Mars 2020 Rover Team to demonstrate our abilities to harvest the Mars atmosphere and convert its abundant carbon dioxide to pure oxygen," said James Reuther, deputy associate administrator for programs for the Space Technology Mission Directorate. "This technology demonstration will pave the way for more affordable human missions to Mars where oxygen is needed for life support and rocket propulsion."

Instruments developed from the selected proposals will be placed on a rover similar to Curiosity, which has been exploring Mars since 2012. Using a proven landing system and rover chassis design to deliver these new experiments to Mars will ensure mission costs and risks are minimized as much as possible, while still delivering a highly capable rover.

Curiosity recently completed a Martian year on the surface -- 687 Earth days -- having accomplished the mission's main goal of determining whether Mars once offered environmental conditions favorable for microbial life.

The Mars 2020 rover is part the agency's Mars Exploration Program, which includes the Opportunity and Curiosity rovers, the Odyssey and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft currently orbiting the planet, and the MAVEN orbiter, which is set to arrive at the Red Planet in September and will study the Martian upper atmosphere.

In 2016, a Mars lander mission called InSight will launch to take the first look into the deep interior of Mars. The agency also is participating in the European Space Agency's (ESA’s) 2016 and 2018 ExoMars missions, including providing "Electra" telecommunication radios to ESA's 2016 orbiter and a critical element of the astrobiology instrument on the 2018 ExoMars rover.

NASA's Mars Exploration Program seeks to characterize and understand Mars as a dynamic system, including its present and past environment, climate cycles, geology and biological potential. In parallel, NASA is developing the human spaceflight capabilities needed for future round-trip missions to Mars.

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory will build and manage operations of the Mars 2020 rover for the NASA Science Mission Directorate at the agency’s headquarters in Washington.

For more information about NASA's Mars programs, visit:


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  Section:  Articles - File Under:  Space  |  
404 (Page Not Found) Error PDF Print E-mail

404 (Page Not Found) Error - Ever feel like you're in the wrong place?

404 (Page Not Found) Error

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  1. 1) You entered or copied the URL incorrectly or
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  Section:  Articles - File Under:  Space  |  
NASA’s 3-D Study of Comets Reveals Chemical Factory at Work PDF Print E-mail

A NASA-led team of scientists has created detailed 3-D maps of the atmospheres surrounding comets, identifying several gases and mapping their spread at the highest resolution ever achieved.

“We achieved truly first-of-a-kind mapping of important molecules that help us understand the nature of comets,” said Martin Cordiner, a researcher working in the Goddard Center for Astrobiology at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. Cordiner led the international team of researchers.

Almost unheard of for comet studies, the 3-D perspective provides deeper insight into which materials are shed from the nucleus of the comet and which are produced within the atmosphere, or coma. This helped the team nail down the sources of two key organic, or carbon-containing, molecules.


The observations were conducted in 2013 on comets Lemmon and ISON using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array, or ALMA, a network of high-precision antennas in Chile. These comets are the first to be studied with ALMA.

The ALMA observations combine a high-resolution 2-D image of a comet’s gases with a detailed spectrum at each point. From these spectra, researchers can identify the molecules present at every point and determine their velocities (speed plus direction) along the line-of-sight; this information provides the third dimension – the depth of the coma.

“So, not only does ALMA let us identify individual molecular species in the coma, it also gives us the ability to map their locations with great sensitivity,” said Anthony Remijan, a scientist with the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, one of the organizations that operates ALMA, and a co-author of the study.

The researchers reported results for three molecular species, focusing primarily on two whose sources have been difficult to discern (except in comet Halley). The 3-D maps indicated whether each molecule was flowing outward evenly in all directions or coming off in jets or in clumps.

In each comet, the team found that two species – formaldehyde and HNC (made of one hydrogen, one nitrogen and one carbon) – were produced in the coma. For formaldehyde, this confirmed what researchers already suspected, but the new maps contained enough detail to resolve clumps of the material moving into different regions of the coma day-by-day and even hour-by-hour.

For HNC, the maps settled a long-standing question about the material’s source. Initially, HNC was thought to be pristine interstellar material coming from the nucleus of a comet, whereas later work suggested other possible sources. The new study provided the first proof that HNC is produced during the breakdown of large molecules or organic dust in the coma.

“Understanding organic dust is important, because such materials are more resistant to destruction during atmospheric entry, and some could have been delivered intact to early Earth, thereby fueling the emergence of life,” said Michael Mumma, Director of the Goddard Center for Astrobiology, and a co-author on the study. “These observations open a new window on this poorly known component of cometary organics.”

The observations, published today by the Astrophysical Journal Letters, also were significant because modest comets like Lemmon and ISON contain relatively low concentrations of crucial molecules, making them difficult to probe in depth with Earth-based telescopes. The few comprehensive studies of this kind so far have been conducted on bright, blockbuster comets, such as Hale-Bopp. The present results extend them to comets of only moderate brightness.

This research was funded by the NASA Astrobiology Institute through the Goddard Center for Astrobiology and by NASA’s Planetary Atmospheres and Planetary Astronomy programs. ALMA is an international astronomy facility. Its construction and operations are led on behalf of Europe by the European Southern Observatory, on behalf of North America by the U.S. National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) and on behalf of East Asia by the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan.

For more information about NASA and agency programs, visit:

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Cassini Spacecraft Readies for Titan Flyby PDF Print E-mail




NASA's Cassini spacecraft will execute the largest planned maneuver of the spacecraft's remaining mission on Saturday, Aug. 9. The maneuver will target Cassini toward an Aug. 21 encounter with Saturn's largest moon, Titan.

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The Black Hole at the Beginning of Time --"We may have Emerged from a Black Hole in a Higher-Dimensional Universe" PDF Print E-mail

Our universe may have emerged from a black hole in a higher-dimensional universe, proposed a trio of Perimeter Institute researchers in the cover story of the latest Scientific American. “Cosmology’s greatest challenge is understanding the big bang itself,” write Perimeter Institute faculty member, Niayesh Afshordi.

The big bang poses a big question: if it was indeed the cataclysm that blasted our universe into existence 13.7 billion years ago, what sparked it?

Three Perimeter Institute researchers have a new idea about what might have come before the big bang. It’s a bit perplexing, but it is grounded in sound mathematics, testable, and enticing enough to earn the cover story in Scientific American, called “The Black Hole at the Beginning of Time.”




“For all physicists know, dragons could have come flying out of the singularity,” Afshordi says in an interview with Nature.

The problem, as the authors see it, is that the big bang hypothesis has our relatively comprehensible, uniform, and predictable universe arising from the physics-destroying insanity of a singularity. It seems unlikely. So perhaps something else happened. Perhaps our universe was never singular in the first place.

Their suggestion: our known universe could be the three-dimensional “wrapping” around a four-dimensional black hole’s event horizon. In this scenario, our universe burst into being when a star in a four-dimensional universe collapsed into a black hole.

In our three-dimensional universe, black holes have two-dimensional event horizons – that is, they are surrounded by a two-dimensional boundary that marks the “point of no return.” In the case of a four-dimensional universe, a black hole would have a three-dimensional event horizon.

In their proposed scenario, our universe was never inside the singularity; rather, it came into being outside an event horizon, protected from the singularity. It originated as – and remains – just one feature in the imploded wreck of a four-dimensional star.

The researchers emphasize that this idea, though it may sound “absurd,” is grounded firmly in the best modern mathematics describing space and time. Specifically, they’ve used the tools of holography to “turn the big bang into a cosmic mirage.” Along the way, their model appears to address long-standing cosmological puzzles and – crucially – produce testable predictions.

Of course, our intuition tends to recoil at the idea that everything and everyone we know emerged from the event horizon of a single four-dimensional black hole. We have no concept of what a four-dimensional universe might look like. We don’t know how a four-dimensional “parent” universe itself came to be.

But our fallible human intuitions, the researchers argue, evolved in a three-dimensional world that may only reveal shadows of reality.

They draw a parallel to Plato’s allegory of the cave, in which prisoners spend their lives seeing only the flickering shadows cast by a fire on a cavern wall.

“Their shackles have prevented them from perceiving the true world, a realm with one additional dimension,” they write. “Plato’s prisoners didn’t understand the powers behind the sun, just as we don’t understand the four-dimensional bulk universe. But at least they knew where to look for answers.”

The Daily Galaxy via Colin Hunter/Perimeter Institute

Image credit: Hubble Space Telescope and Perimeter Institute


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Speed of a Planet's Rotation Has Huge Effect on Possibility of Life PDF Print E-mail

There are currently almost 2,000 extrasolar planets known to us, but most are inhospitable gas giants. Thanks to NASA’s Kepler mission, a handful of smaller, rockier planets have been discovered within the habitable zones of their stars that could provide a niche for alien life.

The habitable zone of a star is typically defined as the range from a star where temperatures would allow liquid water to exist on the surface of a planet. At the inner edge of this zone, the star’s blistering heat vaporizes the planet’s water into the atmosphere in a runaway greenhouse effect. At the outer edge of the habitable zone, temperatures are so cold that clouds of carbon dioxide form and the little solar energy that does arrive bounces off the clouds, turning the planet into a frozen wasteland.

However, this concept is rather simple. In reality, many other factors come into play that could affect a planet’s habitability. The traditional habitable zone is outlined in blue, showing that Venus is currently well outside of the zone. However, for slowly rotating planets under the right atmospheric conditions, this zone will be extended so that it is much closer to the star. Image Credit: NASA




The radiation that the Earth receives from the Sun is strongest at the equator. The air in this region is heated until it rises up through the atmosphere and heads towards the poles of the planet where it subsequently cools. This cool air falls through the atmosphere and is ushered back towards the equator. This process of atmospheric circulation is known as a Hadley cell.

If a planet is rotating rapidly, the Hadley cells are confined to low latitudes and they are arranged into different bands that encircle the planet. Clouds become prominent at tropical regions, which are important for reflecting a proportion of the light back into space. However, for a planet in a tighter orbit around its star, the radiation received from the star is much more extreme.

This will decrease the temperature difference between the equator and the poles and ultimately weaken the Hadley cells. The result is fewer clouds at the tropical regions available to protect the planet from the intense heat, and the planet becomes uninhabitable.

If, on the other hand, the planet is a slow rotator, then the Hadley cells can expand to encompass the entire world. This is because the atmospheric circulation is enhanced due to the difference in temperature between the day and night side of the planet. The days and nights are very long, so that the half of the planet that is bathed in light from the star has plenty of time to soak up the Sun. In contrast, the night side of the planet is much cooler, as it has been shaded from the star for some time.

This difference in temperature is large enough to cause the warm air from the day side to flow to the night side, in a similar manner as opening a door on a cold day results in warm air fleeing from a room. The increased circulation causes more clouds to build up over the substellar point, which is the point on the planet where the star would be seen directly overhead, and where radiation is most intense. The clouds over the substellar point then create a shield for the ground below as most of the harmful radiation is reflected away.

The high albedo clouds can allow a planet to remain habitable even at levels of radiation that were previously thought to be too high, so that the inner edge of the habitable zone is pushed much closer to the star.

The study used computer simulations to show that a slowly rotating planet with the same atmospheric composition, mass, and radius of the Earth could potentially be habitable even at Venus’ distance from the Sun. Under the typical boundaries of a habitable zone, Venus is situated closer to the Sun than the inner edge of the zone. In the study, the simulated planet received almost twice as much radiation as the actual Earth did, and yet the surface temperature was cool enough for life to thrive due to the shielding clouds.

Despite the slow rotation, Venus itself (image at top of page) is actually a scorching hot planet with a atmosphere so dense that it would crush a person on the surface in seconds. This goes to show that just because a planet is rotating slowly does not automatically mean that it is habitable, rather it has the potential to be habitable if the right conditions exist.

For instance, it is possible that Venus used to spin much faster, giving shorter days than it has now. Venus’ atmosphere is enriched with deuterium, which indicates that an ocean might have once been present. Such a rapid rotation rate on a planet so close to the Sun would have led to a runaway greenhouse effect and the loss of the oceans. By the time the rotation of the planet slowed to its current rate the damage was irreversible.

While it is difficult to measure planetary rotation rates, future observations by the James Webb Space Telescope might be able to measure rotation if the right conditions were present. The James Webb Space Telescope is an infrared telescope due to launch in 2018, and it is capable of measuring the level of heat emitted by exoplanets.

The telescope would be able to measure the heat emitted from any high albedo clouds that are formed over the substellar point. An unusually low temperature at what is expected to be the hottest location on the planet could indicate that the planet is a potentially habitable slow rotator.

“From space, Earth looks like it is between -70 and -50 degrees Celsius over large regions of the western tropical Pacific because of high clouds there, even though the surface is more like 30 degrees Celsius,” says Abbot.

It is also known than many planets that orbit cool M dwarf stars are either tidally locked, meaning that the same side of the planet faces the star all the time, or they are slow rotators.

This research emphasises the importance of looking beyond the traditional habitable zone for planets that could host life, and it turns out that planets we once thought were too hot might actually be just right for life.

The paper has been accepted to Astrophysical Journal Letters and a preprint is available online at Arxiv.

The Daily Galaxy via Amanda Doyle of NASA/

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NASA's Hubble Finds Supernova Star System Linked to Potential 'Zombie Star' PDF Print E-mail

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Supernovae are the most powerful stellar explosions in the universe. Some of them are produced by the detonation of a white dwarf, the stripped-down core of an ordinary star at the end of its life. But 12 years ago, astronomers began noticing weak stellar blasts, a kind of mini-supernova. When one such explosion occurred in the galaxy NGC 1309, astronomers looking through Hubble archival images found for the first time the star system that produced the supernova blast of a white dwarf.

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