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Space News Reports

Images From NASA Mars Rover Include Bright Spots
This image from the Navigation Camera (Navcam) on NASA's Curiosity Mars rover includes a bright spot near the upper left corner. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech › Full image and caption April 08, 2014 Images
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Faraway Moon or Faint Star? Possible Exomoon Found
Researchers have detected the first "exomoon" candidate -- a moon orbiting a planet that lies outside our solar system. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech › Full image and caption April 10, 2014 Titan, Europa, Io
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Join in the Cassini Name Game 14 April 2014, 20.39 Space
Join in the Cassini Name Game
In its next phase, NASA's Cassini spacecraft will perform 22 loops between Saturn and its innermost ring. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech › Larger image April 10, 2014 As NASA's Cassini mission approaches its
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International Space Station to Beam Video via Laser Back to Earth
This artist's concept shows how the Optical Payload for Lasercomm Science (OPALS) laser will beam data to Earth from the International Space Station. Image credit: NASA. › Larger image April 11, 2014 A team of
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NASA Cassini Images May Reveal Birth of a Saturn Moon
The disturbance visible at the outer edge of Saturn's A ring in this image from NASA's Cassini spacecraft could be caused by an object replaying the birth process of icy moons. › Full image and caption April
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"Where Are They?" --Will Enrico Fermi's Question Be Answered Soon? (VIDEO)
During a lunch at Los Alamos in 1950, physicist Enrico Fermi asked his colleagues working on the Manhattan Project, "Don't you ever wonder where everybody is?" Fermi argued that given the large number of stars
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SuperEarths with Exposed Continents Boost Chances for Extraterrestrial Life
Super-Earths likely have more stable climates as compared to water-worlds, and therefore larger habitable zones where alien life could thrive. In the new study, researchers used the Earth as a starting point for
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Saturn's Enigmatic Hexagon --"Yields Clues to the Hydrogen-Gas Giant's Hidden Atmosphere"
    In 1980 and 1981 NASA's Voyager 1 and 2 space probes passed for the first time over the planet Saturn, located 1,500 million km from the Sun. Among their numerous discoveries they observed a
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Spin! Crab Pulsar Speed Jumps Linked To Billions Of Tiny Vortices
Want to stay on top of all the space news? Follow @universetoday on Twitter Artist’s conception of a gamma-ray pulsar. Gamma rays are shown in purple, and radio radiation in green. Credit: NASA/Fermi/Cruz de Wilde Pulsars
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How Not To Get Bored During A Year On Space Station
Want to stay on top of all the space news? Follow @universetoday on Twitter When planning for long-duration space travel, many people would think along the lines of not forgetting a towel or something of that nature. But we
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Webcasts and Forecasts for Tonight’s Total Lunar Eclipse
Want to stay on top of all the space news? Follow @universetoday on Twitter The December 21st 2010 Solstice eclipse. Photos by author. Are you ready for some eclipse action? We’re now within 24 hours of the Moon reaching
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The Search for Gravitational Waves: New Documentary About LIGO Premieres on April 15
Want to stay on top of all the space news? Follow @universetoday on Twitter What happens when stars or black holes collide? Scientists have theorized that the energy released would disturb the very fabric of the space-time
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Comet ISON Photo Contest Winners Rock the House!
Want to stay on top of all the space news? Follow @universetoday on Twitter “Comet ISON” — People’s Choice award winner: Eric Cardoso, Setúbal, Portugal. Credit: Eric Cardoso Comet ISON’s gone but positively not
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Is Saturn Making a New Moon? 14 April 2014, 20.38 Space
Is Saturn Making a New Moon?
Want to stay on top of all the space news? Follow @universetoday on Twitter A 750-mile (1,200-km) -long feature spotted on Saturn’s A ring by Cassini on April 15, 2013 Congratulations! It’s a baby… moon? A bright
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NASA to Provide Live Coverage and Commentary of April 15 Lunar Eclipse
The public will have the opportunity to view and learn more about the Tuesday, April 15 total lunar eclipse on NASA television, the agency’s website, and social media. Coverage begins at 2 a.m. EDT and will last about three
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Construction to Begin on NASA Spacecraft Set to Visit Asteroid in 2018
[image-36] NASA's team that will conduct the first U.S. mission to collect samples from an asteroid has been given the go-ahead to begin building the spacecraft, flight instruments and ground system, and launch support
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Hubble Stretches Stellar Tape Measure 10 Times Farther into Space
Get larger image formats Astronomers continue refining the precision of distance measurement techniques to better understand the dimensions of the universe. Calculating the age of the universe, its expansion rate, and
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Seeing Red: Spectacular Views of this Morning’s Total Lunar Eclipse
Want to stay on top of all the space news? Follow @universetoday on Twitter Going, going… the phases of last night’s total lunar eclipse. Photos by author. Did the Moon appear a little on crimson side to you last night?
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Handy! 3-D Printing Could Build Moon Bases And Improve Items Used In Space
Want to stay on top of all the space news? Follow @universetoday on Twitter Two 3-D replicas of a glove worn by European Space Agency astronaut Hans Schlegel. The one on right is lifesize and the other at one-tenth scale.
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Let’s Put a Sailboat on Titan 14 April 2014, 19.00 Space
Let’s Put a Sailboat on Titan
Want to stay on top of all the space news? Follow @universetoday on Twitter An illustration showing how a sailboat mission to Titan might land and become operational. Copyright: Estevan Guzman for Universe Today. The large
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Why The Eclipse Forced A Shutdown Of Lunar Spacecraft’s Instruments
Want to stay on top of all the space news? Follow @universetoday on Twitter Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. Image Credit: NASA While people across North America marvelled at the blood-red moon early this morning, some NASA
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Rosetta’s Philae Lander Snaps a Selfie 14 April 2014, 19.00 Space
Rosetta’s Philae Lander Snaps a Selfie
by Jason Major on April 15, 2014 Want to stay on top of all the space news? Follow @universetoday on Twitter Rosetta’s solar panels as seen by Philae’s CIVA imaging system on April 14, 2014. Credit:
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NASA Hosts Media Teleconference to Announce Latest Kepler Discovery
Artist's concept of NASA's Kepler space telescope. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech › Full image and caption April 15, 2014 NASA will host a news teleconference at 11 a.m. PDT (2 p.m. EDT) Thursday, April 17, to
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Building Better Soybeans for a Hot, Dry, Hungry World
A soybean field in Ohio. Image credit: WikiMedia Commons › Larger image April 15, 2014 A new study shows that soybean plants can be redesigned to increase crop yields while requiring less water and helping to
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SuperEarths with Exposed Continents Boost Probability of Extraterrestrial Life
Super-Earths likely have more stable climates as compared to water-worlds, and therefore larger habitable zones where alien life could thrive. In the new study, researchers used the Earth as a starting point for
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Saturn's Rings -- "Do They Reveal the Creation of a New Moon?"
NASA's Cassini spacecraft has documented the formation of a small icy object within the rings of Saturn that may be a new moon, and may also provide clues to the formation of the planet's known moons. Images taken
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"Where Are They?" --Fermi's Question Will Soon Be Answered  (VIDEO)
During a lunch at Los Alamos in 1950, physicist Enrico Fermi asked his colleagues working on the Manhattan Project, "Don't you ever wonder where everybody is?" Fermi argued that given the large number of stars
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Cloud 3-Times Mass of Earth and Rare Neutron Star Found in Orbit Around Milky Way's Supermassive Black Hole
Northwestern University's Daryl Haggard has been monitoring this little cloud and the Milky Way's central black hole, called Sgr A*, as part of a study that should eventually help solve the question : How exactly do
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Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey --"Hiding in the Light" (More  In-Depth on  Episode 5)
The image above shows the 10-meter South Pole Telescope and the BICEP (Background Imaging of Cosmic Extragalactic Polarization) Telescope against the Milky Way. BICEP2 recently detected gravitational waves in the
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Carnival of Space #348 08 April 2014, 02.14 Space
Carnival of Space #348
by Susie Murph on April 7, 2014 Want to stay on top of all the space news? Follow @universetoday on Twitter This week’s Carnival of Space is hosted by Peter Lake at the AartScope blog. Click here to read Carnival of
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Virtual Star Party – April 6, 2014: Saturn Rising
by Susie Murph on April 6, 2014 Want to stay on top of all the space news? Follow @universetoday on Twitter We hold the Virtual Star Party every Sunday night as a live Google+ Hangout on Air. We begin the show when it
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The Science Behind the “Blood Moon Tetrad” and Why Lunar Eclipses Don’t Mean the End of the World
Want to stay on top of all the space news? Follow @universetoday on Twitter A mosaic of the May 15th/16th, 2003 total lunar eclipse marking the start of the 1st tetrad of the 21st century… no apocalypse noted. Photos by
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Astronomy Cast Ep. 342: Sunsetting Spacecraft
by Fraser Cain on April 7, 2014 Want to stay on top of all the space news? Follow @universetoday on Twitter Everything dies, including our technology. But when we’ve hurtled a few thousands pounds of robotic
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Quasars Tell The Story Of How Fast The Young Universe Expanded
Want to stay on top of all the space news? Follow @universetoday on Twitter Artist’s conception of how the Baryon Oscillation Spectroscopic Survey uses quasars to make measurements. The light these objects sends out gets
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If You Could Ride on the Outside of a Rocket, Here’s Your View While Blasting Into Space
by Elizabeth Howell on April 7, 2014 Want to stay on top of all the space news? Follow @universetoday on Twitter Imagine clinging on to the side of a rocket, somehow able to hang on despite the high speeds and
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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 http://www.osbitpower.com for further information OSBIT Power (OP), Siemens Wind Power and Statoil have successfully completed offshore
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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
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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
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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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Mercury's Volcanic Activity Lasted Billions of Years --A Surprising New Finding PDF Print E-mail

The surface of Mercury crackled with volcanic explosions for extended periods of the planet’s history, according to a new analysis led by researchers at Brown University. The findings are surprising considering Mercury wasn’t supposed to have explosive volcanism in the first place, and they could have implications for understanding how Mercury formed. “Together with other results that suggest the Moon may have had more volatiles than previously thought, this research is revolutionizing our thinking about the early history of the planets and satellites,” said Jim Head, professor of geological sciences and a MESSENGER mission co-investigator. “These results define specific targets for future exploration of Mercury by orbiting and landed spacecraft.”

On Earth, volcanic explosions like the one that tore the lid off Mount St. Helens happen because our planet’s interior is rich in volatiles — water, carbon dioxide and other compounds with relatively low boiling points. As lava rises from the depths toward the surface, volatiles dissolved within it change phase from liquid to gas, expanding in the process. The pressure of that expansion can cause the crust above to burst like an overinflated balloon.

Mercury, however, was long thought to be bone dry when it comes to volatiles, and without volatiles there can’t be explosive volcanism. But that view started to change in 2008, after NASA’s MESSENGER spacecraft made its first flybys of Mercury. Those glimpses of the surface revealed deposits of pyroclastic ash — the telltale signs of volcanic explosions — peppering the planet’s surface. It was a clue that at some point in its history Mercury’s interior wasn’t as bereft of volatiles as had been assumed.

What wasn’t clear from those initial flybys was the timeframe over which those explosions occurred. Did Mercury’s volatiles escape in a flurry of explosions early in the planet’s history or has Mercury held on to its volatiles over a much longer period? This latest work, available in online early view at the Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets, suggests the latter.

A team of researchers led by Tim Goudge, a graduate student in the Department of Geological Sciences at Brown, looked at 51 pyroclastic sites distributed across Mercury’s surface. They used data from MESSENGER’s cameras and spectrometers collected after the spacecraft entered orbit around Mercury in 2011. Compared with the data from the initial flybys, the orbital data provided a much more detailed view of the deposits and the source vents that spat them out.

 

                            Mercury1.preview

                

The new MESSENGER data revealed that some of the vents have eroded to a much greater degree than others — an indicator that the explosions didn’t happen all at the same time.

“If [the explosions] happened over a brief period and then stopped, you’d expect all the vents to be degraded by approximately the same amount,” Goudge said. “We don’t see that; we see different degradation states. So the eruptions appear to have been taking place over an appreciable period of Mercury’s history.”

But just where that period of explosiveness fits into Mercury’s geological history was another matter. To help figure that out, Goudge and his colleagues took advantage of the fact that most of the sites are located within impact craters. The age of each crater offers an important constraint in the age of the pyroclastic deposit inside it: The deposit has to be younger than its host crater. If the deposit had come first, it would have been obliterated by the impact that formed the crater. So the age of the crater provides an upper limit on how old the pyroclastic deposit can be.

As it happens, there’s an established method for dating craters on Mercury. The rims and walls of craters become eroded and degraded over time, and the extent of that degradation can be used to get an approximate age of the crater.

Using that method, Goudge and his colleagues showed that some pyroclastic deposits are found in relatively young (geologically speaking) craters dated to between 3.5 and 1 billion years old. The finding helps rule out the possibility that all the pyroclastic activity happened shortly after Mercury’s formation around 4.5 billion years ago.

“These ages tell us that Mercury didn’t degas all of its volatiles very early,” Goudge said. “It kept some of its volatiles around to more recent geological times.”

The extent to which Mercury’s volatiles stuck around could shed light on how the planet formed. Despite being the smallest planet in the solar system (since Pluto was demoted from the ranks of the planets), Mercury has an abnormally large iron core. That finding led to speculation the perhaps Mercury was once much larger, but had its outer layers removed — either fried away by the nearby Sun or perhaps blasted away be a huge impact early in the planet’s history. Either of those events, however, would likely have heated the outer parts of Mercury enough to remove volatiles very early in its history.

In light of this study and other data collected by MESSENGER showing traces of the volatiles sulfur, potassium, and sodium on Mercury’s surface, both those scenarios seem increasingly unlikely.

The Daily Galaxy via Brown University

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ESA's ExoMars Landing Sites Narrowed to Four --In Search for Ancient Organic Matter PDF Print E-mail

To succeed in finding evidence of life, the ESA scientists must pick a site that would have been watery more than 3.6 billion years ago, when water is thought to have been more abundant. They also need a site where wet sediments were quickly buried and preserved in a stack of geological layers, says ESA’s ExoMars project scientist Jorge Vago, who is based at the European Space Research and Technology Centre in Noordwijk, the Netherlands.

The four potential sites fall into two categories: places where there is strong mineralogical evidence for wet sediments, such as Mawrth Vallis and Oxia Planum, two vast plains that contain some of the planet’s oldest rocks, fall into the first category. Minerals called phyllosilicates detected from orbit indicate that the rocks were once wet clays, and that they formed in a neutral pH environment that would have been favourable for life.

The second category are places where there is strong morphological evidence for river mechanisms that would have deposited fine sediments, which are best for trapping and preserving organic materials such as Oxia Palus once had a meandering river channel, and that Hypanis Vallis was once a delta. Both features would have buried organic matter quickly, leading to its preservation in sedimentary rock, according to nature.com

“Should we go where there is evidence of a wide-scale river environment, or go where the clays are?” asks John Bridges, a planetary scientist at the University of Leicester, UK, and a member of the site-selection working group. “There are good arguments both ways.”

“Should we go where there is evidence of a wide-scale river environment, or go where the clays are?” asks Jack Mustard, a geologist at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, and former chair of NASA’s Mars advisory group. Mustard says that the best place to find signs of life will be somewhere with a long history of flowing water. “You want to be in a place where water would have been around long enough to have captured the spark of life, should it have ever started,” he says. For this, he adds, Mawrth Vallis, which narrowly missed out on being the destination for NASA’s Curiosity rover, which landed in Gale Crater in 2012, “stands out”, because its chemistry suggests that the region held water for an extended time.

Because of its history, 96-mile wide Gale Crater crater with its strangely sculpted mountain --three times higher than the Grand Canyon is deep--was the ideal place for NASA's Curiosity Rover to conduct its mission of exploration into the Red Planet's past. Researchers used Curiosity to study layers in the mountain that hold evidence about wet environments of early Mars. The rock record preserved in those layers holds stories that are billions of years old -- stories about whether, when, and for how long Mars might have been habitable. Originating near the end of the Hesperian geologic epoch on Mars, around 3.5 billion years ago, these deposits existed during the epoch that shows evidence for the wide distribution of water at the surface of Mars.

Responsibility for the landing system lies with Roscosmos, which signed up to the project last year after NASA dropped out in 2011 (see Nature http://doi.org/bwd9hh; 2011). Russia’s expertise is built mostly on its success with lunar landers in the 1960s and 70s. Vago says that the team will get to test its technology with a trial lander — the ExoMars Entry, Descent and Landing Demonstrator Module — in 2016, before the main mission.

The Daily Galaxy via Nature 508, 19–20 (03 April 2014) doi:10.1038/508019a



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NASA's OCO-2 Brings Sharp Focus on Global Carbon PDF Print E-mail

Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 This animation shows the Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2, the first NASA spacecraft dedicated to studying carbon dioxide in Earth's atmosphere. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
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April 01, 2014

Simply by breathing, humans have played a small part in the planet-wide balancing act called the carbon cycle throughout our existence. However, in the last few hundred years, we have taken a larger role. Our activities, such as fossil fuel burning and deforestation, are pushing the cycle out of its natural balance, adding more and more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere.

Natural processes are working hard to keep the carbon cycle in balance by absorbing about half of our carbon emissions, limiting the extent of climate change. There's a lot we don't know about these processes, including where they are occurring and how they might change as the climate warms. To understand and prepare for the carbon cycle of the future, we have an urgent need to find out.

In July 2014, NASA will launch the Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2) to study the fate of carbon dioxide worldwide. "Right now, the land and the ocean are taking up almost half of the carbon dioxide we add to the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels, but the future is fundamentally unknown," said Paul Wennberg, a professor of atmospheric chemistry at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. "OCO-2 is a key to getting answers." The mission has been developed and is managed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

Carbon dioxide is both one of the best measured greenhouse gases and one of the least measured. The emissions that remain in the atmosphere become evenly distributed around the globe in a matter of months. As a result, the average atmospheric concentration can be monitored well by existing ground stations (about 160 worldwide). The other half of our emissions -- the half that is being absorbed through natural processes into the land or the ocean -- is not evenly distributed. To understand where that carbon dioxide is going, we need precise, comprehensive, ongoing data about carbon dioxide absorption and emission by forests, the ocean and many other regions. For some of these regions, we have far too few observations.

"A research ship moves about the speed of a 10-speed bicycle," said Scott Doney, director of the Ocean and Climate Change Institute at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Woods Hole, Mass. "Think about the size of the ocean. There's only so much research you can do at the speed of a bicycle." Oceanographers have made up some of the observational deficit by contracting with shipping lines to gather data along commercial routes. But there's little shipping in the Southern Ocean, and Doney said that's a region of high concern. "With warming, we expect big changes. The winds are changing there, and carbon dioxide uptake may change too."

On land, Earth's great forests might be the least understood areas. In northern Siberia, a region with no permanent settlements and few roads, there are only six year-round monitoring sites across seven time zones. Forests remove carbon from the air during photosynthesis and store it in wood and roots, making these forests what scientists call carbon sinks. But droughts and wildfires can turn forests into carbon sources, releasing the stored carbon back into the atmosphere. We don't know when and how often forests cross the line from sink to source.

OCO-2 will not be the first satellite to measure carbon dioxide, but it's the first with the observational strategy, precision, resolution and coverage needed to answer these questions about these little-monitored regions, according to Ralph Basilio, OCO-2 project manager at JPL.

OCO-2's scientific instrument uses spectrometers, which split sunlight into a spectrum of component colors, or wavelengths. Like all other molecules, carbon dioxide molecules absorb only certain colors of light, producing a unique pattern of dark features in the spectrum. The intensity of the dark features increases as the number of carbon dioxide molecules increases in the air that the spectrometer is looking through.

Carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere are measured in parts per million, the number of molecules of carbon dioxide there are in every million molecules of air. That number is currently around 400. OCO-2's spectrometers can detect changes of one or two carbon dioxide molecules out of the 400 -- an unprecedented level of precision, and one that scientists think will be adequate to detect changes in natural sources and sinks, once enough measurements have been collected.

OCO-2 will collect 24 measurements a second over Earth's sunlit hemisphere, totaling more than a million measurements each day. Fewer than 20 percent of these measurements will be sufficiently cloud-free to allow an accurate estimate of carbon dioxide, but that number will still yield 100 to 200 times as many measurements as the currently observing Japanese Greenhouse gases Observing SATellite (GOSAT) mission. The measurements will be used as input for global atmospheric models. Combined with data on winds and other conditions, the OCO-2 data will allow modelers to better locate carbon sources and sinks at regional scales -- areas the size of France or Texas.

"With atmospheric carbon dioxide at unprecedented levels, our sense of urgency has only increased," said Basilio. "What will happen if we keep emitting carbon dioxide at the same rate? The ultimate goal for OCO-2 is to provide data so that organizations and individuals throughout the world can make better-informed decisions about carbon."

For more information about OCO-2, visit: https://oco.jpl.nasa.gov

OCO-2 is one of five new NASA missions launching in 2014. NASA monitors Earth's vital signs from land, air and space with a fleet of satellites and ambitious airborne and ground-based observation campaigns. NASA develops new ways to observe and study Earth's interconnected natural systems with long-term data records and computer analysis tools to see better how our planet is changing. The agency shares this unique knowledge with the global community and works with institutions in the United States and around the world that contribute to understanding and protecting our home planet.

For more information about NASA's Earth science activities in 2014, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/earthrightnow

Alan Buis 818-354-0474
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Written by Carol Rasmussen
NASA Earth Science News Team

2014-100

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NASA Selects 2014 Carl Sagan Fellows PDF Print E-mail

The Sagan Fellowship program, named after the late Carl Sagan, supports talented young scientists in their mission to explore the unknown. The 2014 Carl Sagan Fellows (left to right): Ian Crossfield, Lunar and Planetary Lab, Tucson, Ariz.; Matthew Penny, Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio; Kevin Stevenson, University of Chicago, Illinois; Vivien Parmentier, University of California, Santa Cruz.; Timothy Brandt, Advanced Study in Princeton, N.J.; Jayne Birkby, Harvard College Observatory, Cambridge, Mass.; Roberto Sanchis Ojeda, University of California, Berkeley. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
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April 02, 2014

NASA has selected seven scientists as recipients of the 2014 Carl Sagan Exoplanet Postdoctoral Fellowships. The fellowship, named for the late astronomer, was created to inspire the next generation of explorers seeking to learn more about planets, and possibly life, around other stars.

The primary goal of the fellowship program is to support outstanding recent postdoctoral scientists in conducting independent research related to the science goals of NASA's Exoplanet Exploration Program, namely, to discover and characterize planetary systems and Earth-like planets around nearby stars.

Significant discoveries and advances have already been made by previous Sagan Fellows. Recently, two Sagan fellows obtained the first ground-based optical image of an exoplanet. The technological advances they helped to enable have allowed them to take a picture of an extra-solar planet with essentially the same sensor as in your digital camera .

"The revolution in the discovery and characterization of planets beyond our solar system continues at a dramatic pace, and this year's Sagan Fellows will make important contributions to this dynamic field," said Charles Beichman, executive director of the NASA Exoplanet Science Institute at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. "These young scientists will explore emerging new methods of finding planets through direct imaging and microlensing and develop innovative observational and theoretical tools for studying the atmospheres of these distant worlds."

The fellowship program, for selected postdoctoral scientists, was created in 2008.

The 2014 Sagan Fellows are:

-- Jayne Birkby, who will work at Harvard College Observatory in Cambridge, Mass., on "The Giant Planet Playground: Towards the Characterization of Earth Analogues." Birkby will use high-resolution ground-based spectroscopy to detect molecules in exoplanet atmospheres and identify biomarkers in Earth-like planets in the habitable zones of M-dwarf stars.

-- Timothy Brandt, who will work at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, N.J., on "Speckle Suppression for High-Contrast Integral-Field Spectroscopy." Brandt will help to build a camera that takes separate images of extrasolar planets at all wavelengths at once to see extremely faint worlds and learn about their temperatures and compositions.

-- Ian Crossfield, who will work at the Lunar and Planetary Lab in Tucson, Ariz., on "Spectroscopy and Cartography of Cool Extrasolar Atmospheres." Ian will focus on understanding hazy atmospheres and clouds of extrasolar "super-Earth" planets and hot gas giants. He will also produce global maps and weather movies of cloudy brown dwarfs.

-- Vivien Parmentier, who will work at the University of California in Santa Cruz, Calif., on "Dynamical Exoplanet Atmospheres: Mixing, Clouds and Interaction with the Interior." He will study some of the most exotic exoplanet atmospheres in order to see how they influence the radii of hot Jupiters and mini-Neptunes.

-- Matthew Penny, who will work at Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio, on "Measuring the Galactic Distribution of Exoplanets." He will use the growing number of planets discovered by gravitational microlensing searches to estimate the frequency of planets around stars in different parts of our Milky Way galaxy to determine whether the large-scale galactic environment affects planetary systems.

-- Roberto Sanchis Ojeda, who will work at the University of California, Berkeley, on "The Shortest-Period Planets." He will use the vast amount of current data available, along with data in upcoming missions, to explore the diversity of super-Earth and Earth-like planet compositions.

-- Kevin Stevenson, who will work at the University of Chicago, Illinois, on "One Earth, Two Earth, Red Earth, Blue Earth: The Taxonomy of Extrasolar Planets." He will measure the atmospheric composition and chemical properties of extrasolar planets to constrain their nature and origin by developing a more rigorous exoplanet classification scheme. The ultimate goal is to identify the pertinent classification markers that will indicate the potential for life.

NASA has two other astrophysics theme-based fellowship programs: the Einstein Fellowship Program, which supports research into the physics of the cosmos, and the Hubble Fellowship Program, which supports research into cosmic origins. The Sagan Fellowship Program is administered by the NASA Exoplanet Science Institute as part of NASA's Exoplanet Exploration Program at JPL. Caltech manages JPL for NASA.

For more information about the NASA Exoplanet Science Institute, visit: http://nexsci.caltech.edu

The California Institute of Technology manages JPL for NASA.

Elena Mejia
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
818-393-5467
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Steve Cole
NASA Headquarters, Washington
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2014-101

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NASA Celebrates Earth Day with 'Global Selfie' Event PDF Print E-mail

Two people taking a 'selfie' Are you ready for your close-up? This Earth Day, April 22, NASA invites you to celebrate by stepping outside, taking a "selfie" and sharing it with the world on social media. The event is designed to encourage environmental awareness and recognize NASA's ongoing work to protect our home planet. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
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April 02, 2014

For the first time in more than a decade, five NASA Earth-observing missions will be launched into space in a single year. To celebrate this milestone, NASA is inviting people all around the world to step outside on Earth Day, April 22, take a "selfie," and share it with the world on social media.

Designed to encourage environmental awareness and recognize the agency's ongoing work to protect our home planet, NASA's "Global Selfie" event asks people everywhere to take a picture of themselves in their local environment.

On Earth Day, NASA will monitor photos posted to Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Google+ and Flickr. Photos posted to Twitter, Instagram or Google+ using the hashtag #GlobalSelfie or to the #GlobalSelfie Facebook event page and the #GlobalSelfie Flickr group will be used to create a crowd-sourced mosaic image of Earth - a new "Blue Marble" built bit-by-bit with #GlobalSelfie photos.

NASA's 17 Earth science missions now in orbit help scientists piece together a detailed "global selfie" of our planet day after day. Insights from these space-based views help answer some of the critical challenges facing our planet today and in the future: climate change, sea level rise, freshwater resources and extreme weather events. NASA Earth research also yields many down-to-Earth benefits, such as improved environmental prediction and natural hazard and climate change preparedness.

For more information on getting involved in the #GlobalSelfie Earth Day event, visit:

http://1.usa.gov/PfjXln

For more information about NASA's Earth science activities in 2014, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/earthrightnow

The California Institute of Technology manages JPL for NASA.

Alan Buis
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
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Steve Cole
NASA Headquarters, Washington
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2014-102

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NASA Radar Watches Over California's Aging Levees PDF Print E-mail

This 2004 levee break, caused by a burrowing beaver This 2004 levee break, caused by a burrowing beaver, did $90 million worth of damage. NASA's UAVSAR is monitoring levees for early signs of stress that could lead to failure. Image credit: Calif. DWR
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April 01, 2014

One morning in 2008, research scientist Cathleen Jones of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., was flying over the San Andreas fault near San Francisco, testing a new radar instrument built at JPL. As the plane banked to make a turn, she looked down to see the Sacramento River delta, a patchwork of low-lying lands crisscrossed by levees.

Jones was using an instrument that can measure tiny movements of the ground on the scale of less than half an inch (less than a centimeter). It's called the Uninhabited Aerial Vehicle Synthetic Aperture Radar (UAVSAR).

"It struck me that this new instrument might be perfect for monitoring movement of levees," said Jones. Checking the scientific literature, she found that nothing like that had been attempted before in the delta. She reported her idea to water managers at the California Department of Water Resources (DWR). She didn't know it, but she was at the beginning of a long-lived initiative to refine NASA technology for use in safeguarding the delta levees.

In the Sacramento River delta north of San Francisco Bay, islands, agricultural lands and communities below sea level are protected from surrounding water channels by more than 1,100 miles (1,800 kilometers) of dirt levees, many of which date back to the California Gold Rush. About two-thirds of all Californians and more than 4 million acres of irrigated farmland rely on the delta for water.

If a levee gives way, the results can be disastrous. A single 2004 levee failure created $90 million of damage and threatened the water supply to Southern California. However, the first warning that a levee is developing a structural problem can be a tiny soil deformation -- too small to be noticed by a visual inspection.

Remote sensing is a clear solution. The DWR managers had tried other remote sensing methods such as lidar, without complete satisfaction. They were immediately interested in the possibilities of UAVSAR. Joel Dudas, a senior water resources engineer with the DWR, said, "UAVSAR has the highest potential for giving us a very precise measurement at a scale that we didn't know was possible."

Supported by NASA's Applied Sciences Program, JPL and the DWR established a partnership in 2009 to begin a research project testing how UAVSAR technology could be applied for monitoring the delta levees. Since then, Jones and UAVSAR have flown a mission over the delta on NASA's C-20A scientific research aircraft every four to eight weeks. Each mission flies along nine overlapping flight lines that were designed to observe every levee in the 700-square-mile (1,800-square kilometer) delta from at least three directions in about three hours.

Like all radars, UAVSAR shoots pulses of microwaves at the ground and records the signals that bounce back. By comparing the data from consecutive flights, Jones can measure the rate of upward or downward soil movement in the intervening time. The instrument is specifically designed to ignore larger-scale movements (such as airplane motion) and record tiny variations that other instruments cannot identify. The team has also developed a model to support the data processing. The model incorporates land use, soil type and other factors that affect subsidence rates, allowing researchers to put the data in a context that can help water resource managers find better ways to manage the delta.

From the first year of operation, the research flights have proved that UAVSAR can locate areas of concern. That year, it detected a damaged levee that had been rammed by a ship. More recently, it spotted an area behind a levee where land was subsiding a few inches a year -- fast, but not observable by eye. The DWR added soil and continues to monitor the area.

Dudas is sold on the potential of UAVSAR monitoring to save time and money. He foresees an even more critical use if the program becomes a regular part of DWR operations -- a use that he hasn't had a chance to test because of the ongoing drought. "During high water we drive the levees, watching for leaks, but if there's a lot of vegetation or it's dark, we may not be able to see them. If we could fly this instrument during a flood, it would allow us to direct our emergency vehicles where they need to go.

If this work saves even one levee failure, that's more than worth all the time and energy we've put into it."

For more information on UAVSAR, visit: http://uavsar.jpl.nasa.gov

Alan Buis 818-354-0474
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
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Written by Carol Rasmussen
NASA Earth Science News Team

2014-099

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NASA Space Assets Detect Ocean inside Saturn Moon PDF Print E-mail

Ocean Inside Saturn's Moon Enceladus Gravity measurements by NASA's Cassini spacecraft and Deep Space Network suggest that Saturn's moon Enceladus, which has jets of water vapor and ice gushing from its south pole, also harbors a large interior ocean beneath an ice shell, as this illustration depicts. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
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April 03, 2014

NASA's Cassini spacecraft and Deep Space Network have uncovered evidence Saturn's moon Enceladus harbors a large underground ocean of liquid water, furthering scientific interest in the moon as a potential home to extraterrestrial microbes.

Researchers theorized the presence of an interior reservoir of water in 2005 when Cassini discovered water vapor and ice spewing from vents near the moon's south pole. The new data provide the first geophysical measurements of the internal structure of Enceladus, consistent with the existence of a hidden ocean inside the moon. Findings from the gravity measurements are in the Friday, April 4 edition of the journal Science.

"The way we deduce gravity variations is a concept in physics called the Doppler Effect, the same principle used with a speed-measuring radar gun," said Sami Asmar of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., a coauthor of the paper. "As the spacecraft flies by Enceladus, its velocity is perturbed by an amount that depends on variations in the gravity field that we're trying to measure. We see the change in velocity as a change in radio frequency, received at our ground stations here all the way across the solar system."

The gravity measurements suggest a large, possibly regional, ocean about 6 miles (10 kilometers) deep, beneath an ice shell about 19 to 25 miles (30 to 40 kilometers) thick. The subsurface ocean evidence supports the inclusion of Enceladus among the most likely places in our solar system to host microbial life. Before Cassini reached Saturn in July 2004, no version of that short list included this icy moon, barely 300 miles (500 kilometers) in diameter.

"This then provides one possible story to explain why water is gushing out of these fractures we see at the south pole," said David Stevenson of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, one of the paper's co-authors.

Cassini has flown near Enceladus 19 times. Three flybys, from 2010 to 2012, yielded precise trajectory measurements. The gravitational tug of a planetary body, such as Enceladus, alters a spacecraft's flight path. Variations in the gravity field, such as those caused by mountains on the surface or differences in underground composition, can be detected as changes in the spacecraft's velocity, measured from Earth.

The technique of analyzing a radio signal between Cassini and the Deep Space Network can detect changes in velocity as small as less than one foot per hour (90 microns per second). With this precision, the flyby data yielded evidence of a zone inside the southern end of the moon with higher density than other portions of the interior.

The south pole area has a surface depression that causes a dip in the local tug of gravity. However, the magnitude of the dip is less than expected given the size of the depression, leading researchers to conclude the depression's effect is partially offset by a high-density feature in the region, beneath the surface.

"The Cassini gravity measurements show a negative gravity anomaly at the south pole that however is not as large as expected from the deep depression detected by the onboard camera," said the paper's lead author, Luciano Iess of Sapienza University of Rome. "Hence the conclusion that there must be a denser material at depth that compensates the missing mass: very likely liquid water, which is seven percent denser than ice. The magnitude of the anomaly gave us the size of the water reservoir."

There is no certainty the subsurface ocean supplies the water plume spraying out of surface fractures near the south pole of Enceladus, however, scientists reason it is a real possibility. The fractures may lead down to a part of the moon that is tidally heated by the moon's repeated flexing, as it follows an eccentric orbit around Saturn.

Much of the excitement about the Cassini mission's discovery of the Enceladus water plume stems from the possibility that it originates from a wet environment that could be a favorable environment for microbial life.

"Material from Enceladus' south polar jets contains salty water and organic molecules, the basic chemical ingredients for life," said Linda Spilker, Cassini's project scientist at JPL. "Their discovery expanded our view of the 'habitable zone' within our solar system and in planetary systems of other stars. This new validation that an ocean of water underlies the jets furthers understanding about this intriguing environment."

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. JPL manages the mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. For more information about Cassini, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/cassini

and

http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov

Jane Platt Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. 818-354-0880 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it Dwayne Brown
Headquarters, Washington
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Brian Bell
California Institute of Technology, Pasadena
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NASA Mars Rover Curiosity Scoping Out Next Study Area PDF Print E-mail

April 03, 2014

On Wednesday, NASA's Curiosity Mars rover drove the last 98 feet feet (30 meters) needed to arrive at a site planned since early 2013 as a destination for studying rock clues about ancient environments that may have been favorable for life.

The rover reached a vantage point for its cameras to survey four different types of rock intersecting in an area called "the Kimberley," after a region of western Australia.

"This is the spot on the map we've been headed for, on a little rise that gives us a great view for context imaging of the outcrops at the Kimberley," said Melissa Rice of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena. Rice is the science planning lead for what are expected to be several weeks of observations, sample-drilling and onboard laboratory analysis of the area's rocks.

With arrival at this location, Curiosity has driven at total of 3.8 miles (6.1 kilometers) since landing inside Gale Crater on Mars in August 2012.

The mission's investigations at the Kimberley are planned as the most extensive since Curiosity spent the first half of 2013 in an area called Yellowknife Bay. At Yellowknife Bay, the one-ton rover examined the first samples ever drilled from rocks on Mars and found the signature of an ancient lakebed environment providing chemical ingredients and energy necessary for life.

At the Kimberley and, later, at outcrops on the slope of Mount Sharp inside Gale Crater, researchers plan to use Curiosity's science instruments to learn more about habitable past conditions and environmental changes.

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of Caltech in Pasadena, manages the Mars Science Laboratory Project for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. The project designed and built Curiosity and operates the rover on Mars.

For more information about Curiosity, visit http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/msl , http://www.nasa.gov/msl and http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/msl/. You can follow the mission on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/marscuriosity and on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/marscuriosity.

Guy Webster 818-354-6278
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
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2014-104

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Hubble Finds That Monster 'El Gordo' Galaxy Cluster Is Bigger Than Thought PDF Print E-mail


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If someone told you there was an object in space called "El Gordo" (Spanish for "the fat one") you might imagine some kind of planet-eating monster straight out of a science fiction movie. The nickname refers to a monstrous cluster of galaxies that is being viewed at a time when the universe was just half of its current age of 13.8 billion years. This is an object of superlatives. It contains several hundred galaxies swarming around under a collective gravitational pull. The total mass of the cluster, and refined in new Hubble measurements, is estimated to be as much as 3 million billion stars like our Sun (about 3,000 times more massive than our own Milky Way galaxy) though most of the mass is hidden away as dark matter. The cluster may be so huge because it is the result of a titanic collision and merger between two separate galaxy clusters. Thankfully, our Milky Way galaxy grew up in an uncluttered backwater region of the universe.

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Discovery! Possible Dwarf Planet Found Far Beyond Pluto’s Orbit:   Artist’s conception of Sedna, a dwarf planet in the solar system that only gets within 76 astronomical units (Earth-sun distances) of our sun. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech What is a d...
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