Orbiting Rainbows: Using 'Glitter Clouds' to Search for and Image Exoplanets

YouTube Preview ImageThe search for exoplanets may one day get a lot more glittery. It sounds a bit like science fiction, but a new NASA proposal called Orbiting Rainbows would use glitter-like materials to help image some of those far-away worlds, which could enable high-resolution imaging at a fraction of the cost.

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'It's a Beauty': 45 Years Since the Unlucky Voyage of Apollo 13 (Part 3)

Astronauts gather in Mission Control at the height of the crisis. Seated (from left) are Deke Slayton, Jack Lousma and John Young, with Ken Mattingly and Vance Brand standing. Photo Credit: NASA

Astronauts gather in Mission Control at the height of the crisis. Seated (from left) are Deke Slayton, Jack Lousma and John Young, with Ken Mattingly and Vance Brand standing. Photo Credit: NASA

Forty-five years ago, this week, the lives of three humans literally hung in the balance, more than 200,000 miles (320,000 km) from Earth. For weeks, the superstitious naysayers had labeled Apollo 13 as “unlucky,” but until now all had gone well. Flight controllers had joked that they were “bored to tears,” because the spacecraft was behaving so well. Then, with horrifying abruptness, a calamity engulfed Apollo 13 which not only threatened its chances of landing on the Moon, but placed Commander Jim Lovell, Command Module Pilot (CMP) Jack Swigert, and Lunar Module Pilot (LMP) Fred Haise in dire peril. As detailed in yesterday’s AmericaSpace history article, one of two oxygen tanks in the ship’s service module had exploded, puncturing the other, and had blown out an entire side panel. Now, as life-sustaining oxygen poured into space, controllability was lost, communications were sporadic, and the crew and Mission Control realized they had only minutes in which to make a decision.

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'Old Earths': The Search for Ancient and Habitable (But Dying) Exoplanets

Illustration depicting the life cycle of Sun-like stars. Billions of years from now, our own Sun will expand into a red giant star, scorching any life that exists. Image Credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser

Illustration depicting the life cycle of Sun-like stars. Billions of years from now, our own Sun will expand into a red giant star, scorching any life that exists. Image Credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser

Researchers at Cornell University are taking a new approach to the search for alien life: looking for habitable planets older than Earth, “old Earth analogs,” which may be nearing the end of their habitable lifetimes. Astronomers would search for biosignatures from worlds much older than Earth, where lifeforms are dying off due to circumstances such as the planet’s star expanding in its old age, gradually heating the planet to a point where life is no longer possible.

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A Dragon Came A'Calling: Fully-Laden Cargo Ship Arrives at Space Station

Stunning view of the CRS-6 Dragon spacecraft during its final stages of approach on Friday, 17 April, to berth at the International Space Station (ISS). Photo Credit: Terry Virts/NASA/Twitter

Stunning view of the CRS-6 Dragon spacecraft during its final stages of approach on Friday, 17 April, to berth at the International Space Station (ISS). Photo Credit: Terry Virts/NASA/Twitter

 

Sixty-five hours after departing Space Launch Complex (SLC)-40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., in a blaze of fire and light, SpaceX’s sixth dedicated Dragon cargo mission (CRS-6) was successfully berthed at the Earth-facing (or “nadir”) port of the Harmony node on the International Space Station (ISS) at 9:29 a.m. EDT Friday, 17 April. As described in AmericaSpace’s CRS-6 launch report, this is the sixth of 12 flights under the terms of SpaceX’s $1.6 billion Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract with NASA and it ferried about 4,390 pounds (1,990 kg) of payloads, provisions, tools, and scientific experiments to the incumbent Expedition 43 crew. Dragon will remain an integral part of the ISS for about five weeks, before it returns to Earth in late-May.

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MESSENGER Mission Nears Its End, Set for Mercury Impact April 30

A global map of Mercury, composed of thousands of individual images from MESSENGER. Image Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington

A global map of Mercury, composed of thousands of individual images from MESSENGER. Image Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington

One of the most oft-repeated quotes in the English lexicon is: “There’s no place like home.” One spacecraft’s long journey, begun in 2004, will end as it impacts upon the surface of its celestial “home” later this month. In a press conference held this afternoon (Thursday, April 16), MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging (MESSENGER) engineers and project managers revealed that the spacecraft is expected to impact upon Mercury, our Solar System’s closest planet to the Sun, on Thursday, April 30. NASA’s MESSENGER was originally intended to have a service life of just one Earth year. However, fuel economy extended the mission for three more years and then some, with a final orbital correction scheduled for April 24. In addition, the press conference participants recalled MESSENGER’s top scientific findings and technological achievements.

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Spitzer Space Telescope Discovers Distant Exoplanet Across the Milky Way

Utilising NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope, astronomers have discovered a distant exoplanet located 13,000 light-years away, through gravitational microlensing. The red cone in the map above our Solar System, depicts the extend in the galaxy of the thousands of known exoplanets that have been discovered by NASA's Kepler space telescope, while the red circle represents the extend of all the exoplanets that have been detected so far by ground-based telescopes. The white dots show the positions of exoplanets that have been discovered through the gravitational microlensing technique. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Utilising NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope, astronomers have discovered a distant exoplanet located 13,000 light-years away, through gravitational microlensing. The red cone in the map above our Solar System, depicts the extend in the galaxy of the thousands of known exoplanets that have been discovered by NASA’s Kepler space telescope, while the red circle represents the extend of all the exoplanets that have been detected so far by ground-based telescopes. The white dots show the positions of exoplanets that have been discovered through the gravitational microlensing technique. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

In the fictional universe of Star Trek: Voyager, the crew of a Federation starship comes in contact with the denizens of planetary systems many thousands of light-years away from Earth, while being stranded on the far side of the galaxy. In an example of life imitating art, astronomers have been able to discover dozens of exoplanets across the Milky Way in recent years, through the use of gravitational microlensing. A research team has recently added one more member to the list, by announcing the detection of an exoplanet at a distance of approximately 13,000 light-years away, which was spotted by NASA’s Spitzer space telescope in conjunction with a ground-based, deep-sky survey.

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'Like a Game of Solitaire': 45 Years Since the Lost Moonwalks of Apollo 13

Artist's concept of Apollo 13 astronauts Jim Lovell and Fred Haise exploring Fra Mauro. The Lunar Module (LM) Aquarius is visible in the background. Image Credit: Teledyne Brown

Artist’s concept of Apollo 13 astronauts Jim Lovell and Fred Haise exploring Fra Mauro. The Lunar Module (LM) Aquarius is visible in the background. Image Credit: Teledyne Brown

Had the cruelty of fate not intervened, 45 years ago, today—on 16 April 1970—the fifth and sixth humans ever to set foot on another world would twice have walked on the dusty surface of the Moon. Following their launch aboard Apollo 13, and a four-day voyage across 240,000 miles (370,000 km) of cislunar space, Apollo 13 astronauts Jim Lovell and Fred Haise would have boarded the Lunar Module (LM) Aquarius and accomplished humanity’s third piloted landing on our closest celestial neighbor. If near-disaster had not radically altered their mission, Lovell and Haise would have performed two EVAs at a place called Fra Mauro, becoming the first Apollo astronauts to explore a hilly upland lunar site. “It was driven by confidence in the LM capability and steerage,” Haise told the NASA Oral History Project of the site selection, years later, “but also, if you’re going to properly sample the Moon … you had to become more diverse in … where you went to get a proper sampling.”

And Fra Mauro was nothing if not diverse.

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The Eyes of SMAP: Interview With Astro Aerospace, Makers of SMAP’s Spinning Antenna (Part 2)

Members of the AstroAerospace team who worked closely with NASA JPL throughout the reflector development process for the SMAP spacecraft. From left to Right: Peter Laraway, Lead Reflector Project Engineer Ed Keay, SMAP Program Manager/Director of Business Development Mark Gralewski, Lead Systems Engineer Mehran Mobrem, Chief Analyst Mike Fedyk, Lead Thermal Engineer. Photo Credit: Chris Howell / AmericaSpace

Members of the AstroAerospace team who worked closely with NASA JPL throughout the reflector development process for the SMAP spacecraft. From left to Right: Peter Laraway, Lead Reflector Project Engineer Ed Keay, SMAP Program Manager/Director of Business Development Mark Gralewski, Lead Systems Engineer Mehran Mobrem, Chief Analyst Mike Fedyk, Lead Thermal Engineer. Photo Credit: Chris Howell / AmericaSpace

 A look into the research and development, mission objectives, and people behind our latest Earth science observatory, NASA/JPL’s Soil Moisture Active Passive, SMAP.

Flying out of Vandenberg Air Force Base in the pre-dawn morning of Jan. 31, 2015, a unique Earth science mission from NASA’s JPL began a three-year-plus mission to map Earth’s changing soil moisture and its freeze/thaw state.

Through cloud cover and vegetation, the new observatory, SMAP, will record the moisture content of our planet’s soil every two to three days. Even the moisture content of crops growing in the fields may be measured to ensure an abundant harvest. Once SMAP has completed its calibration and verification study, it’ll become one of the most effective instruments ever created to observe the metabolic rate of our planet.

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Curiosity Rover Finds More Evidence for Possible Liquid Water Brines on Mars

The Rover Environmental Monitoring Station (REMS) on the Curiosity rover, used to make the brine calculations. Photo Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

The Rover Environmental Monitoring Station (REMS) on the Curiosity rover, used to make the brine calculations. Photo Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

The search for liquid water on Mars is one that has been on-going for decades. It can’t exist for long on the surface, as it will quickly sublimate into the cold, thin atmosphere. Aquifers deep below the surface are still possible, but there is also another tantalizing possibility which scientists have been considering: brines. Such salty liquid water could theoretically last a bit longer on the surface or in the near-subsurface, and now the Curiosity rover has provided more evidence that this may indeed be happening at its location in Gale Crater, as well as elsewhere.

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VIDEO: Chase Plane Captures SpaceX Rocket Landing Attempt After Successful CRS-6 Dragon Launch

The Falcon-9 CRS-6 first stage booster just before touching down on the company's offshore "Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship". According to SpaceX leader Elon Musk, the rocket came down with excess lateral velocity, causing it to tip over post landing. Photo Credit: SpaceX via Twitter @ElonMusk

The Falcon-9 CRS-6 first stage booster just before touching down on the company’s offshore “Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship.” According to SpaceX leader Elon Musk, the rocket came down with excess lateral velocity, causing it to tip over post landing. Photo Credit: SpaceX via Twitter @ElonMusk

Right now SpaceX’s CRS-6 Dragon cargo ship is en route to the International Space Station (ISS), aiming to deliver tons of fresh supplies, cargo, science experiments, and technology demonstrations to the Expedition 43 crew for NASA. The launch itself, although scrubbed on April 13 for unfavorable weather, took off beautifully this afternoon into mostly clear blue skies over Cape Canaveral, Fla., and although delivering Dragon and its payloads to the $100 billion orbiting science research outpost is the primary mission, SpaceX had another mission in mind as well: landing their rocket on an autonomous barge located a couple hundred miles offshore.

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