Thursday, December 27, 2012
NASA / JPL - Caltech / MSSS
Curiosity Update... I recently stumbled upon the interesting photo (above) taken of Curiosity's replica (known as the Vehicle System Test Bed rover) inside the In Situ Instrument Laboratory at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory near Pasadena, California. The pic was taken using an engineering model of the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) camera employed on the actual rover. Located at the tip of Curiosity's 7-foot-long robotic arm, MAHLI's movements were first rehearsed on the engineering model to ensure that the arm would not be visible in the official self-portrait achieved on the Red Planet. As seen with the image below, JPL engineers did a terrific job positioning MAHLI in ways that gave the impression that Curiosity was indeed photographed by a separate source. One wonders when the day will come where a separate source (RE: an astronaut) will actually stand before Curiosity and photograph the one-ton, nuclear-powered laboratory in person...
NASA / JPL - Caltech / MSSS
Tuesday, December 25, 2012
MERRY CHRISTMAS, EVERYONE! Just thought I'd get y'all in the holiday and museum-going mood by posting these neat photos of the USS Iowa adorned in Christmas lights in San Pedro. I wonder just how fearful the Japanese would've been if the Battleship of Presidents approached their various island beachheads looking this way in World War II? Their laughter probably would've come to a quick end once the 16-inch shells began raining down on 'em... Anyways, to check out more pics of the USS Iowa celebrating the birth of Jeebus, visit the Pacific Battleship Center's Facebook page. Carry on.
Sunday, December 23, 2012
2012... Doomsday is a bust, but if there's one last thing that we should be freaked out with in terms of the Mayans, it's how uncanny their ability was to predict how hip-hop artists would look in the present day. That is all. (One of my friends posted this on Facebook last Friday, FYI.)
Posted by Richard at 9:15 PM
Friday, December 21, 2012
Go Beach! Just thought I'd share this interesting article regarding safety at my college alma mater, Cal State Long Beach, that was published last month. Nice to know that CSULB is near the top of the list in regards to on-campus security around the United States; all my school needs now is a friggin' football team.
CSULB Ranked 7th Most Secure in Nation (November 30)
California State University, Long Beach (CSULB) has been recognized as the seventh "most secure" university/college in the nation by Security Magazine in its 2012 "Security 500" rankings, which were released in the publication's November issue.
Only 22 universities and colleges from across the country were recognized in this year's rankings in the category of Education (University), and CSULB was the only four-year California institution to be recognized.
The top three ranking schools included the University of Pennsylvania, University of Florida and Drexel University. Meanwhile, CSULB ranked ahead the likes of Ohio State, University of South Carolina and Duke University. At No. 10, the Yosemite Community College District was the other California school ranked.
"That Security Magazine has once again recognized Cal State Long Beach as one of the nation's safest large university campuses points to how this campus has focused on the security of our students and other campus members as a top priority," said CSULB President F. King Alexander. "Students and their parents, as well as our faculty, staff and community visitors, can be assured that no measure that secures this campus has been overlooked. The commitment of our excellent University Police Department and the ongoing awareness of our entire campus community is obvious as we continue to be recognized for the safety of our university."
Security Magazine's rankings are broken down into "18 vertical markets" or business sectors, enabling similar organizations to compare programs. Among the metrics collected this year in producing the rankings were security spending per person (those the organization protects), the number of security officers/employees, and the facilities used by the security officers.
The purpose of the "Security 500," according to magazine's officials, is to create a reliable database to measure an organization compared to others and create a benchmarking program among security organizations. The results enable these groups to know where they stand as a basis of an on-going peer review process.
"The safety of our students, faculty and staff will continue to be of paramount importance and a priority for the Cal State Long Beach Police Department," said CSULB Police Chief Fernando Solorzano. "This institution of higher learning represents some of the brightest and academically talented students in our state, and we are proud to provide the highest levels of service and safety for our campus community."
Among the more recent enhancements that have added to the CSULB Police Department's ability to keep the campus safe include a camera system that gives the department the ability to monitor activities across the campus grounds and facilities and assists in its crime prevention efforts. The department also oversees an emergency communications system that can alert the entire campus community in the event of an emergency.
"Our police department will continue to provide a safe, secure and meaningful learning environment. We will accomplish this by partnering with our community, using advanced technologies and investing in our highly skilled personnel," Solorzano added. "We are proud that CSULB has received this recognition as being one of the safest universities in the nation, and we will strive to improve and build on our successes to provide the safe environment that we have come to expect on this campus."
Security Magazine is the premier security and safety resource for a wide variety of industries and environments.
Written by Rick Gloady - LongBeachcomber.com
Wednesday, December 19, 2012
Monday, December 17, 2012
NASA / JPL - Caltech / MIT
NASA's GRAIL Lunar Impact Site Named for Astronaut Sally Ride (Press Release)
PASADENA, Calif. -- NASA has named the site where twin agency spacecraft impacted the moon Monday in honor of the late astronaut Sally K. Ride, who was America's first woman in space and a member of the probes' mission team.
Last Friday, Ebb and Flow, the two spacecraft comprising NASA's Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) mission, were commanded to descend into a lower orbit that would result in an impact Monday on a mountain near the moon's north pole. The formation-flying duo hit the lunar surface as planned at 2:28:51 p.m. PST (5:28:51 p.m. EST) and 2:29:21 p.m. PST (5:29:21 p.m. EST) at a speed of 3,760 mph (1.7 kilometers per second). The location of the Sally K. Ride Impact Site is on the southern face of an approximately 1.5-mile-tall (2.5-kilometer) mountain near a crater named Goldschmidt.
"Sally was all about getting the job done, whether it be in exploring space, inspiring the next generation, or helping make the GRAIL mission the resounding success it is today," said GRAIL principal investigator Maria Zuber of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. "As we complete our lunar mission, we are proud we can honor Sally Ride's contributions by naming this corner of the moon after her."
The impact marked a successful end to the GRAIL mission, which was NASA's first planetary mission to carry cameras fully dedicated to education and public outreach. Ride, who died in July after a 17-month battle with pancreatic cancer, led GRAIL's MoonKAM (Moon Knowledge Acquired by Middle School Students) Program through her company, Sally Ride Science, in San Diego.
Along with its primary science instrument, each spacecraft carried a MoonKAM camera that took more than 115,000 total images of the lunar surface. Imaging targets were proposed by middle school students from across the country and the resulting images returned for them to study. The names of the spacecraft were selected by Ride and the mission team from student submissions in a nationwide contest.
"Sally Ride worked tirelessly throughout her life to remind all of us, especially girls, to keep questioning and learning," said Sen. Barbara Mikulski of Maryland. "Today her passion for making students part of NASA's science is honored by naming the impact site for her."
Fifty minutes prior to impact, the spacecraft fired their engines until the propellant was depleted. The maneuver was designed to determine precisely the amount of fuel remaining in the tanks. This will help NASA engineers validate computer models to improve predictions of fuel needs for future missions.
"Ebb fired its engines for 4 minutes 3 seconds, and Flow fired its for 5 minutes 7 seconds," said GRAIL project manager David Lehman of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. "It was one final important set of data from a mission that was filled with great science and engineering data."
The mission team deduced that much of the material aboard each spacecraft was broken up in the energy released during the impacts. Most of what remained probably is buried in shallow craters. The craters' size may be determined when NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter returns images of the area in several weeks.
Launched in September 2011, Ebb and Flow had been orbiting the moon since Jan. 1, 2012. The probes intentionally were sent into the lunar surface because they did not have sufficient altitude or fuel to continue science operations. Their successful prime and extended science missions generated the highest-resolution gravity field map of any celestial body. The map will provide a better understanding of how Earth and other rocky planets in the solar system formed and evolved.
"We will miss our lunar twins, but the scientists tell me it will take years to analyze all the great data they got, and that is why we came to the moon in the first place," Lehman said. "So long, Ebb and Flow, and we thank you." JPL manages the GRAIL mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. GRAIL is part of the Discovery Program managed at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Denver built the spacecraft.
Source: Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Friday, December 14, 2012
NASA Earth Observatory and NOAA National Geophysical Data Center
Putting our world in perspective... A little over a week ago, these two amazing images were released online that showed the night side of Earth as seen on both sides of the globe. Beautiful photos... In the wake of today's tragic shootings in Newton, Connecticut, it seems so unfortunate that a planet that looks so serene from hundreds of miles up in space can be so violent and heartless down on the surface. My condolences to the families who lost loved ones at Sandy Hook Elementary School this morning.
NASA Earth Observatory and NOAA National Geophysical Data Center
Posted by Richard at 4:31 PM
Wednesday, December 12, 2012
United Launch Alliance
The X-37B lifts off once more... At 10:03 AM, Pacific Standard Time yesterday, an Atlas V rocket carrying the Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV) was launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on a 9-month-plus journey in space. This is the third time since April of 2010 that the U.S. Air Force placed the OTV on a top secret mission in low-Earth orbit. In fact, this is the very same spacecraft (OTV-1) that completed a nearly 225-day flight above our planet two years ago. I would've posted an entry about this yesterday, but seeing as how today is 12/12/12 (even though the date isn't spelled out that way on this and all my other journal entries), just thought I'd wait 24 hours so I could blog on this somewhat meaningful day. That is all.
United Launch Alliance
United Launch Alliance
United Launch Alliance
Sunday, December 09, 2012
Lakers Update... Before I visited The Dark Knight Legend exhibit last Friday, I stopped by STAPLES Center [which is right across the street from Nokia Plaza, where the Batman exhibit is held (till this Friday, December 14)—for those of you who've never been to L.A. Live before] to check out the new Kareem Abdul-Jabbar statue that was recently unveiled outside of the arena. I wonder how long it will take for Kobe Bryant to get immortalized in bronze at STAPLES' Star Plaza (where the statues of Kareem, Magic Johnson, Chick Hearn, Oscar De La Hoya and Wayne Gretzky are located)...despite the fact the Lakers (even though Pau Gasol and Steve Nash are currently sidelined due to injuries) are playing like absolute crap right now.
Friday, December 07, 2012
Photos of the Day... Just thought I'd share these pics that I took at a Batman exhibit in downtown Los Angeles earlier today. The exhibit not only featured costumes and props from The Dark Knight Trilogy, but also showcased Batmobiles from the seven current Batman films as well as the 1960s Batman TV show. To view additional pics, plus get info on where to go to visit this exhibit in person (before it concludes next Friday, December 14), go to my Film Notes section.
Wednesday, December 05, 2012
Curiosity's Successor... Quit bangin' your head against the wall, Ashton Kutcher! I'm sure those mosquito nets are making their way to Africa...
NASA Announces Robust Multi-Year Mars Program; New Rover to Close Out Decade of New Missions (Press Release - December 4)
WASHINGTON -- Building on the success of Curiosity's Red Planet landing, NASA has announced plans for a robust multi-year Mars program, including a new robotic science rover set to launch in 2020. This announcement affirms the agency's commitment to a bold exploration program that meets our nation's scientific and human exploration objectives.
"The Obama administration is committed to a robust Mars exploration program," NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said. "With this next mission, we're ensuring America remains the world leader in the exploration of the Red Planet, while taking another significant step toward sending humans there in the 2030s."
The planned portfolio includes the Curiosity and Opportunity rovers; two NASA spacecraft and contributions to one European spacecraft currently orbiting Mars; the 2013 launch of the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) orbiter to study the Martian upper atmosphere; the Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight) mission, which will take the first look into the deep interior of Mars; and participation in ESA's 2016 and 2018 ExoMars missions, including providing "Electra" telecommunication radios to ESA's 2016 mission and a critical element of the premier astrobiology instrument on the 2018 ExoMars rover.
The plan to design and build a new Mars robotic science rover with a launch in 2020 comes only months after the agency announced InSight, which will launch in 2016, bringing a total of seven NASA missions operating or being planned to study and explore our Earth-like neighbor.
The 2020 mission will constitute another step toward being responsive to high-priority science goals and the president's challenge of sending humans to Mars orbit in the 2030s.
The future rover development and design will be based on the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) architecture that successfully carried the Curiosity rover to the Martian surface this summer. This will ensure mission costs and risks are as low as possible, while still delivering a highly capable rover with a proven landing system. The mission will constitute a vital component of a broad portfolio of Mars exploration missions in development for the coming decade.
The mission will advance the science priorities of the National Research Council's 2011 Planetary Science Decadal Survey and responds to the findings of the Mars Program Planning Group established earlier this year to assist NASA in restructuring its Mars Exploration Program.
"The challenge to restructure the Mars Exploration Program has turned from the seven minutes of terror for the Curiosity landing to the start of seven years of innovation," NASA's associate administrator for science, and astronaut John Grunsfeld said. "This mission concept fits within the current and projected Mars exploration budget, builds on the exciting discoveries of Curiosity, and takes advantage of a favorable launch opportunity."
The specific payload and science instruments for the 2020 mission will be openly competed, following the Science Mission Directorate's established processes for instrument selection. This process will begin with the establishment of a science definition team that will be tasked to outline the scientific objectives for the mission.
This mission fits within the five-year budget plan in the president's Fiscal Year 2013 budget request, and is contingent on future appropriations.
Plans also will include opportunities for infusing new capabilities developed through investments by NASA's Space Technology Program, Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate, and contributions from international partners.
NASA / JPL - Caltech / MSSS
Tuesday, December 04, 2012
Voyager Update... FYI, the "magnetic highway" sounds like something that would be featured in a movie like say, Tron. Or randomly brought up in a conversation by Sheldon Cooper on the hit CBS TV show The Big Bang Theory. Just sayin'.
NASA Voyager 1 Encounters New Region in Deep Space (Press Release - December 3)
PASADENA, Calif. -- NASA's Voyager 1 spacecraft has entered a new region at the far reaches of our solar system that scientists feel is the final area the spacecraft has to cross before reaching interstellar space.
Scientists refer to this new region as a magnetic highway for charged particles because our sun's magnetic field lines are connected to interstellar magnetic field lines. This connection allows lower-energy charged particles that originate from inside our heliosphere -- or the bubble of charged particles the sun blows around itself -- to zoom out and allows higher-energy particles from outside to stream in. Before entering this region, the charged particles bounced around in all directions, as if trapped on local roads inside the heliosphere.
The Voyager team infers this region is still inside our solar bubble because the direction of the magnetic field lines has not changed. The direction of these magnetic field lines is predicted to change when Voyager breaks through to interstellar space. The new results were described at the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco on Monday.
"Although Voyager 1 still is inside the sun's environment, we now can taste what it's like on the outside because the particles are zipping in and out on this magnetic highway," said Edward Stone, Voyager project scientist based at the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena. "We believe this is the last leg of our journey to interstellar space. Our best guess is it's likely just a few months to a couple years away. The new region isn't what we expected, but we've come to expect the unexpected from Voyager."
Since December 2004, when Voyager 1 crossed a point in space called the termination shock, the spacecraft has been exploring the heliosphere's outer layer, called the heliosheath. In this region, the stream of charged particles from the sun, known as the solar wind, abruptly slowed down from supersonic speeds and became turbulent. Voyager 1's environment was consistent for about five and a half years. The spacecraft then detected that the outward speed of the solar wind slowed to zero.
The intensity of the magnetic field also began to increase at that time.
Voyager data from two onboard instruments that measure charged particles showed the spacecraft first entered this magnetic highway region on July 28, 2012. The region ebbed away and flowed toward Voyager 1 several times. The spacecraft entered the region again Aug. 25 and the environment has been stable since.
"If we were judging by the charged particle data alone, I would have thought we were outside the heliosphere," said Stamatios Krimigis, principal investigator of the low-energy charged particle instrument, based at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, Laurel, Md. "But we need to look at what all the instruments are telling us and only time will tell whether our interpretations about this frontier are correct."
Spacecraft data revealed the magnetic field became stronger each time Voyager entered the highway region; however, the direction of the magnetic field lines did not change.
"We are in a magnetic region unlike any we've been in before -- about 10 times more intense than before the termination shock -- but the magnetic field data show no indication we're in interstellar space," said Leonard Burlaga, a Voyager magnetometer team member based at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. "The magnetic field data turned out to be the key to pinpointing when we crossed the termination shock. And we expect these data will tell us when we first reach interstellar space."
Voyager 1 and 2 were launched 16 days apart in 1977. At least one of the spacecraft has visited Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. Voyager 1 is the most distant human-made object, about 11 billion miles (18 billion kilometers) away from the sun. The signal from Voyager 1 takes approximately 17 hours to travel to Earth. Voyager 2, the longest continuously operated spacecraft, is about 9 billion miles (15 billion kilometers) away from our sun. While Voyager 2 has seen changes similar to those seen by Voyager 1, the changes are much more gradual. Scientists do not think Voyager 2 has reached the magnetic highway.
The Voyager spacecraft were built and continue to be operated by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, in Pasadena, Calif. Caltech manages JPL for NASA. The Voyager missions are a part of NASA's Heliophysics System Observatory, sponsored by the Heliophysics Division of the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington.
Source: Jet Propulsion Laboratory
NASA / JPL - Caltech
Sunday, December 02, 2012
ISI Photos / Don Feria
Props to the Los Angeles Galaxy for winning a second straight Major League Soccer championship yesterday! With David Beckham ending his MLS career on a grand note, one wonders if his buddy Kobe Bryant will follow suit by winning one more NBA title before his playing days with the Lakers are over...perhaps as early as two years from now. Hmm. To post something uplifting again, at least the Galaxy joins the Kings in handing L.A. another professional sports championship this year. Though it remains to be seen (to sound pessimistic again) when Jonathan Quick and company will be able to begin defending their Stanley Cup title. Friggin' National Hockey League lockout. (The NBA is more popular worldwide than the MLS and NHL, FYI. That's why I didn't elaborate on what the NBA stands for.)
I guess the Kings will get to spend extra time with the Cup and pose it in pictures with new L.A. icons such as space shuttle Endeavour (below). And the USS Iowa...if the Kings ever make the effort to bring their trophy to the San Pedro naval exhibit.
Newton Yee - Los Angeles Kings / California Science Center
Friday, November 30, 2012
The Durst Organization
Freedom Tower update... While its grand opening won't take place for almost two more years, the 1 World Trade Center (1 WTC) is making considerable progress as construction continues on New York City's tallest skyscraper. Below are photos of segments that will form the 408-foot (124 meters) high antenna spire that will rise above the 1 WTC by early 2013. The cool artist rendering at the top of this entry will soon become a reality.
WTCProgress - Twitter.com
Thursday, November 29, 2012
NASA / Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory / Carnegie Institution of Washington
NASA Spacecraft Finds New Evidence for Water Ice on Mercury (Press Release)
PASADENA, Calif. -- Instruments aboard NASA's MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging (MESSENGER) spacecraft studying the planet Mercury have provided compelling support for the long-held hypothesis the planet harbors abundant water ice and other frozen volatile materials within its permanently shadowed polar craters.
"About the last thing you would expect on a planet so close to the sun is water ice," said Matthew Siegler, a scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., and an author on one of three papers published today in Science Express. "But due to Mercury's low tilt, craters near the poles can remain in year-round shadow and be ridiculously cold."
Scientists suggested decades ago there might be water ice and other frozen volatiles trapped at Mercury's poles. The idea received a boost in 1991 when the Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico detected radar-bright patches at Mercury's poles. Many of these patches corresponded to the locations of large impact craters mapped by NASA's Mariner 10 spacecraft in the 1970s. However, because Mariner saw less than 50 percent of the planet, planetary scientists lacked a complete diagram of the poles to compare with the radar images.
Images taken from MESSENGER in 2011, and earlier this year, confirmed all radar-bright features at Mercury's north and south poles lie within shadowed regions on the planet's surface. These findings are consistent with the water ice hypothesis.
"The new data indicate the water ice in Mercury's polar regions, if spread over an area the size of Washington, D.C., would be more than 2 miles thick," said David Lawrence, a MESSENGER participating scientist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md., lead author of one of the three papers describing the findings.
The new observations from MESSENGER support the idea that ice is the major constituent of Mercury's north polar deposits. These measurements also reveal ice is exposed at the surface in the coldest of those deposits, but buried beneath unusually dark material across most of the deposits. In the areas where ice is buried, temperatures at the surface are slightly too warm for ice to be stable.
"Everywhere on Mercury we predict it's cold enough that there could be ice, MESSENGER finds bright deposits," said Siegler. "Where it is slightly warmer, and where ice should only be stable underground, we find a dark material, darker than anything else we've seen on Mercury."
The dark material is likely a mix of complex organic compounds delivered to Mercury by the impacts of comets and volatile-rich asteroids, the same objects that likely delivered water to the innermost planet.
A composite image of the discovery is available at: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/messenger/multimedia/PressConf20121126_2.html
MESSENGER was designed and built by the Applied Physics Laboratory, Laurel, Md. The lab manages and operates the mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The mission is part of NASA's Discovery Program, managed for the directorate by the agency's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala.
Source: Jet Propulsion Laboratory
NASA / Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory / Carnegie Institution of Washington / National Astronomy and Ionosphere Center, Arecibo Observatory
Thursday, November 22, 2012
Happy Thanksgiving Day, everyone!!! Or in my (usually) annual tradition: Happy Falsify-A-Peace-Treaty-Then-Slaughter-Your-Dinner-Guests-And-Steal-Their-Land-And-Eat-Until-Your-Sick Day!!! By the way, just to get you in the mood to line up outside of the local Best Buy or Target tonight, here's an inspirational pic that one of my friends recently posted on Facebook. Happy Holidays!
Posted by Richard at 10:45 AM
Tuesday, November 20, 2012
About Time... Last Friday, Los Angeles Lakers legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was immortalized outside of STAPLES Center when a statue honoring him was unveiled next to those of Magic Johnson, Jerry West, former boxing champion Oscar De La Hoya, L.A. Kings great Wayne Gretzky and the late Lakers commentator, Chick Hearn. Just wondering: How is it that Stephon Marbury got a statue [for winning a (non-NBA) title in China earlier this year] before a Hall of Famer who won six NBA championships and is currently the league's all-time leading scorer did? Better late than never, I guess.
Sunday, November 18, 2012
Steve Granitz / WireImage
Images of the Day, Pt. 2... Just thought I'd post this pic of singer Taylor Swift from tonight's 40th Anniversary American Music Awards, as well as the cool illustration below that I recently stumbled upon at my local mall. What I want to know is, who is the lovely (real-life) model that the warrior in this poster is based on? Hey— It's been a while since I blogged about gorgeous ladies (usually nonfictional) on this page...
Friday, November 16, 2012
Images of the Day... So early this morning, I finally got around to checking out space shuttle Endeavour at the California Science Center in Los Angeles. In case you're wondering why I took so many pictures with the orbiter, it's because I was hoping I'd run into that one fellow patron who did a decent job framing me and the spacecraft within a shot (RE: Including Endeavour's cockpit windows and nose in the same image). Alas, there were no (other) decent photographers at the Samuel Oschin Pavilion...and there are only two or three people I personally know who are truly interested in NASA stuff, but they were at work. I took the day off for this visit. Oh well.
For images that I took of Endeavour today, check out my Human Spaceflight Blog.
Wednesday, November 14, 2012
Kepler Update... With 105 exoplanetary discoveries now under its belt—with more than 2,000 yet to come, if all data currently collected by the spacecraft is confirmed by astronomers—here's hoping that Kepler will make good use of four more years of life... (That shouldn't be too hard.)
NASA's Kepler Wraps Prime Mission, Begins Extension (Press Release)
PASADENA, Calif. -- NASA is marking two milestones in the search for planets like Earth; the successful completion of the Kepler Space Telescope's three-and-a-half-year prime mission and the beginning of an extended mission that could last as long as four years.
Scientists have used Kepler data to identify more than 2,300 planet candidates and confirm more than 100 planets. Kepler is teaching us that the galaxy is teeming with planetary systems and that planets are prolific, and is giving us hints that nature makes small planets efficiently.
So far, hundreds of Earth-size planet candidates have been found, as well as candidates that orbit in the habitable zone, the region in a planetary system where liquid water might exist on the surface of a planet. None of the candidates is exactly like Earth. With the completion of its prime mission, Kepler now has collected enough data to begin finding true sun-Earth analogs -- Earth-size planets with a one-year orbit around stars similar to the sun.
"The initial discoveries of the Kepler mission indicate at least a third of the stars have planets and the number of planets in our galaxy must number in the billions," said William Borucki, Kepler principal investigator at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif. "The planets of greatest interest are other Earths, and these could already be in the data awaiting analysis. Kepler's most exciting results are yet to come."
NASA's Kepler Space Telescope searches for planet candidates orbiting distant suns, or exoplanets, by continuously measuring the brightness of more than 150,000 stars. When a planet candidate passes, or transits, in front of the star from the spacecraft's vantage point, light from the star is blocked. Different-sized planets block different amounts of starlight. The amount of starlight blocked by a planet reveals its size relative to its star.
Kepler was launched March 6, 2009. Its mission was to survey a portion of the galaxy to determine what fraction of stars might harbor potentially habitable, Earth-sized planets. Planets orbiting in or near habitable zones are of particular interest.
Kepler began the search for small worlds like our own on May 12, 2009, after two months of commissioning. Within months, five exoplanets, known as hot Jupiters because of their enormous size and orbits close to their stars, were confirmed.
Results from Kepler data continue to expand our understanding of planets and planetary systems. Highlights from the prime mission include:
-- In August 2010, scientists confirmed the discovery of the first planetary system with more than one planet transiting the same star. The Kepler-9 system opened the door to measurement of gravitational interactions between planets as observed by the variations in their transit timing. This powerful new technique enables astronomers, in many cases, to calculate the mass of planets directly from Kepler data, without the need for follow-up observations from the ground.
-- In January 2011, the Kepler team announced the discovery of the first unquestionably rocky planet outside the solar system. Kepler-10b, measuring 1.4 times the size of Earth, is the smallest confirmed planet with both a radius and mass measurement. Kepler has continued to uncover smaller and smaller planets, some almost as small as Mars, which tells us small rocky worlds may be common in the galaxy.
-- In February 2011, scientists announced Kepler had found a very crowded and compact planetary system -- a star with multiple transiting planets. Kepler-11 has six planets larger than Earth, all orbiting closer to their star than Venus orbits our sun. This and other subsequently identified compact, multi-planet systems have orbital spacing relative to their host sun and neighboring planets unlike anything envisioned prior to the mission.
-- In September 2011, Kepler data confirmed the existence of a world with a double sunset like the one famously portrayed in the film Star Wars more than 35 years ago. The discovery of Kepler-16b turned science fiction into science fact. Since then, the discoveries of six additional worlds orbiting double stars further demonstrated planets can form and persist in the environs of a double-star system.
-- In December 2011, NASA announced Kepler's discovery of the mission's first planet in a habitable zone. Kepler-22b, about 2.4 times the size of Earth, is the smallest-radius planet yet found to orbit a sun-like star in the habitable zone. This discovery confirmed that we are getting continually closer to finding planets like our own.
-- In February 2012, the Kepler team announced more than 1,000 new transiting planet candidates for a cumulative total of 2,321. The data continue the trend toward identifying smaller planets at longer orbital periods, similar to Earth. The results include hundreds of planetary systems.
-- Recently, citizen scientists participating in Planet Hunters, a program led by Yale University, New Haven, Conn., that enlists the public to comb through Kepler data for signs of transiting planets, made their first planet discovery. The joint effort of amateur astronomers and scientists led to the first reported case of a planet orbiting a double star. The three bodies are, in turn, being orbited by a second distant pair of stars.
"Kepler's bounty of new planet discoveries, many quite different from anything found previously, will continue to astound," said Jack Lissauer, planetary scientist at Ames. "But to me, the most wonderful discovery of the mission has not been individual planets, but the systems of two, three, even six planets crowded close to their stars, and, like the planets orbiting about our sun, moving in nearly the same plane. Like people, planets interact with their neighbors and can be greatly affected by them. What are the neighborhoods of Earth-size exoplanets like? This is the question I most hope Kepler will answer in the years to come."
In April 2012, NASA awarded Kepler an extended mission through as late as 2016. More time will enable the continued search for worlds like our own -- worlds that are not too far and too close to their sun.
"The Earth isn't unique, nor the center of the universe," said Geoff Marcy, professor of astronomy at the University of California at Berkeley. "The diversity of other worlds is greater than depicted in all the science fiction novels and movies. Aristotle would be proud of us for answering some of the most profound philosophical questions about our place in the universe."
Ames manages Kepler's ground system development, mission operations and science data analysis. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., managed the Kepler mission development. Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. in Boulder, Colo., developed the Kepler flight system and supports mission operations with the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado in Boulder. The Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore archives, hosts and distributes Kepler science data. Kepler is NASA's 10th Discovery Mission and is funded by NASA's Science Mission Directorate at the agency's headquarters in Washington.
Source: Jet Propulsion Laboratory
NASA / JPL - Caltech / T. Pyle
Monday, November 12, 2012
Lakers Update... Two days after Mike Brown was fired as the Lakers' head coach for losing four of the team's first five games of the season (the Lakers were 1-12 if you count the preseason), Mike D'Antoni was hired and will be coaching Steve Nash (after he recovers from a recent leg injury, that is) and company in the City of Angels. So what should we be calling the Lakers now? The Los Angeles Suns? The Phoenix Lakers? And what did Phil Jackson tell Jerry and Jim Buss this past weekend that caused the Zen Master to be denied a potential 12th NBA championship ring? Hmm.
Tuesday, November 06, 2012
Election 2012... Congratulations to President Obama for securing his second term at the White House tonight. Of course, I wouldn't have said this back in 2008...
Anyways, check out this interesting illustration that one of my friends posted on Facebook. For those of you not well-versed in the color schemes of the Democratic and Republican parties, the Democrats (blue states) voted for Obama, while the GOP (red states) chose Mitt Romney. Just proves to you that time really hasn't healed all wounds.