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Sunday, January 31, 2016

Video of the Day: Refugees in Lesbos...

A screenshot from Milana Vayntrub's documentary, MILANA CAN'T DO NOTHING: REFUGEES IN LESBOS, showing her helping folks trying to seek asylum in Central Europe after fleeing the violence in war-torn Syria.

Just thought I'd end this month by sharing this amazing documentary that was shot by actress/comedian Milana Vayntrub late last year. Milana filmed this project (using only her iPhone) after deciding to help the influx of Syrian refugees to the Greek island of Lesbos during what was supposed to be a vacation with her dad last Fall. Milana—who's a refugee herself from the former Soviet republic of Uzbekistan—stayed behind to welcome the new arrivals as they braved the hours-long trip across the Aegean Sea to get to Greece from Turkey. As you can see from the video, Milana witnessed first-hand the struggle of these refugees as they fled the carnage wrought by Bashar al-Assad and ISIS in Syria...and sought to start a new life in Central Europe, specifically in Germany.

As a result of her experience in Greece, Milana (who I had the pleasure of meeting in person last year) also started a charity organization known as Can't Do Nothing. Visit CantDoNothing.org to see how you can help the refugees in Europe. And if you have a Twitter account, use the hashtag #CantDoNothing to tweet and let others know what you did or plan to do to aid folks trying to seek asylum overseas and elsewhere. I myself donated to the Boat Refugee Foundation twice since last October...the most recent donation being last Thursday. Again, visit CantDoNothing.org for more details.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Curiosity Update: The Rover Could SURE Use a Wash...

A self-portrait of NASA's Curiosity Mars rover, taken with a camera on her robotic arm on January 19, 2016.
NASA / JPL - Caltech / MSSS

Curiosity Self-Portrait at Martian Sand Dune (Press Release)

This self-portrait of NASA's Curiosity Mars rover shows the vehicle at "Namib Dune," where the rover's activities included scuffing into the dune with a wheel and scooping samples of sand for laboratory analysis.

The scene combines 57 images taken on Jan. 19, 2016, during the 1,228th Martian day, or sol, of Curiosity's work on Mars. The camera used for this is the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) at the end of the rover's robotic arm.

Namib Dune is part of the dark-sand "Bagnold Dune Field" along the northwestern flank of Mount Sharp. Images taken from orbit have shown that dunes in the Bagnold field move as much as about 3 feet (1 meter) per Earth year.

The location of Namib Dune is show on a map of Curiosity's route at http://mars.nasa.gov/msl/multimedia/images/?ImageID=7640. The relationship of Bagnold Dune Field to the lower portion of Mount Sharp is shown in a map at http://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/catalog/PIA16064.

The view does not include the rover's arm. Wrist motions and turret rotations on the arm allowed MAHLI to acquire the mosaic's component images. The arm was positioned out of the shot in the images, or portions of images, that were used in this mosaic. This process was used previously in acquiring and assembling Curiosity self-portraits taken at sample-collection sites, including "Rocknest" (http://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/catalog/PIA16468), "Windjana" (http://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/catalog/PIA18390) and "Buckskin" (http://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/catalog/PIA19807).

For scale, the rover's wheels are 20 inches (50 centimeters) in diameter and about 16 inches (40 centimeters) wide.

MAHLI was built by Malin Space Science Systems, San Diego. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the Mars Science Laboratory Project for the NASA Science Mission Directorate, Washington. JPL designed and built the project's Curiosity rover.

Source: NASA.Gov

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A cropped version of the Curiosity Mars rover's self-portrait, taken with a camera on her robotic arm on January 19, 2016.
NASA / JPL - Caltech / MSSS

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Photos of the Day: Why Did the Sloth Cross the Road?...

Despite being trapped in the middle of a highway in Ecuador, a sloth takes the time to look at the camera and smile.

...To get stuck in the middle of the highway, smile adorably for the cameras of police officers coming to the rescue, and go viral on the Internet—that's why!

(All images courtesy of Comisión de Tránsito del Ecuador’s Facebook page.)

A transit police officer gazes down at the sloth that was trapped in the middle of a highway in Ecuador.

A transit police officer exchanges glances with the sloth that was trapped in the middle of a highway in Ecuador.

A transit police officer is about to tend to the sloth that was trapped in the middle of a highway in Ecuador.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

THE X-FILES Returns!

Welcome back, Mulder and Scully! Who here isn't surprised that the presidency of George W. Bush made for fertile ground in terms of fueling conspiracy theories that were presented in today's series premiere? God forbid, but methinks that The X-Files creator Chris Carter would have an even bigger field day if Trump wins the election this November (and Carter, who graduated from Cal State Long Beach like I did, decides to re-follow the exploits of Mulder and Scully years from now). Again, GOD FORBID. Fox Mulder would have a lot on his plate—moreso, that is—if he had to deal with living in an America actually governed by Nazi-style government policies...

Anyways, it's awesome to see FBI Assistant Director Skinner and The Smoking Man back as well! 14 years later, and William B. Davis' chain-smoking character is still alive and tickin'. The biggest plot twist by the end of this 6-episode series will be that The Smoking Man injected himself with alien DNA to stay alive for more than a decade. And Mulder and Scully will need the help of the Lone Gunmen to stop him! Man, I missed this TV show...

Fox Mulder (David Duchovny), Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson), Walter Skinner (Mitch Pileggi) and The Smoking Man (William B. Davis) return in a 6-part miniseries of THE X-FILES.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Photo of the Day: The Joint Strike Fighter and Its New Sidewinder...

Flying above the Pacific Sea Test Range near California, AF-1 became the first F-35 fighter jet to fire the new AIM-9X Sidewinder missile...on January 12, 2016.
Lockheed Martin photo / Chad Bellay

F-35 Fires First AIM-9X Missile (Press Release)

EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. (AFNS) -- An F-35 fighter jet from the 461st Flight Test Squadron launched an AIM-9X missile for the first time over the Pacific Sea Test Range Jan. 12.

The flight sciences aircraft, AF-1, of the Joint Strike Fighter Integrated Test Force, was piloted by David Nelson, the Lockheed Martin chief F-35 test pilot at Edwards Air Force Base.

The AIM-9X is an advanced infrared missile and the newest of the Sidewinder family of short-range air-to-air missiles carried on a wide range of fighter jets.

The missile was launched at 6,000 feet.

The shot paves the way for the F-35 to utilize the weapon's high off-boresight and targeting capabilities, increasing lethality in the visual arena.

Source: United States Air Force

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

PLANET NINE: Does Another Ice Giant Exist In Our Solar System, Beyond Dwarf Planet Pluto?

An artist's concept of Planet Nine orbiting the Sun.
Caltech / R. Hurt (IPAC)

Assuming that astronomers confirm that this mysterious Neptune-sized world does exist, I wonder how long it would take a spacecraft traveling as fast as New Horizons did when it flew past Pluto last July to reach this distant object? Planet Nine presumably takes 10,000 to 20,000 years to orbit the Sun, so I reckon that even with the help of NASA's powerful Space Launch System rocket (SLS)—which makes its first flight (to the Moon) in 2018—a robotic probe will take many generations (RE: at least half a century) to make the long sprint across the solar system towards this Kuiper Belt body. Hopefully, if it exits, we'll get a nice (but highly, highly-pixelated) image of it with NASA's James Webb Space Telescope...also due for launch around the same time as SLS' maiden flight two years from now.

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Evidence for a Distant Giant Planet in the Solar System (Press Release)

Recent analyses have shown that distant orbits within the scattered disk population of the Kuiper belt exhibit an unexpected clustering in their respective arguments of perihelion. While several hypotheses have been put forward to explain this alignment, to date, a theoretical model that can successfully account for the observations remains elusive.

In this work we show that the orbits of distant Kuiper belt objects cluster not only in argument of perihelion, but also in physical space. We demonstrate that the perihelion positions and orbital planes of the objects are tightly confined and that such a clustering has only a probability of 0.007% to be due to chance, thus requiring a dynamical origin. We find that the observed orbital alignment can be maintained by a distant eccentric planet with mass greater than ~10 Earth masses, whose orbit lies in approximately the same plane as those of the distant Kuiper belt objects, but whose perihelion is 180 degrees away from the perihelia of the minor bodies.

In addition to accounting for the observed orbital alignment, the existence of such a planet naturally explains the presence of high perihelion Sedna-like objects, as well as the known collection of high semimajor axis objects with inclinations between 60 and 150 degrees whose origin was previously unclear. Continued analysis of both distant and highly inclined outer solar system objects provides the opportunity for testing our hypothesis as well as further constraining the orbital elements and mass of the distant planet.

Source: Konstantin Batygin & Michael E. Brown - arxiv.org/

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A diagram comparing the orbit of Planet Nine to those of other objects orbiting in our solar system's Kuiper Belt region.
Caltech / R. Hurt (IPAC); [Diagram created using WorldWide Telescope]

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Photos of the Day: You, Too, Can Look As Bad-Ass As Boba Fett!

AR500-developed ballistic armor...inspired by the Mandalorian suit worn by Boba Fett in the STAR WARS saga.
Photo courtesy of Galac-Tac International - Facebook.com

Just thought I'd share these awesome pics showing body armor that was recently developed by a company called AR500 Armor. This gear—which you can wear while playing airsoft (and paintball too...presumably)—is inspired by the cool Mandalorian armor that Boba Fett (and his father Jango Fett before him) donned in the Star Wars saga. Don't know how much this outfit will cost, but all I can say is, the U.S. military should adopt this for use in the Army and Marine Corps...just because. One wonders how much ISIS fighters would piss in their pants if they saw opposing troops wearing that awesome helmet with its T-shaped visor walking right towards them, guns at the ready.

Note to AR500: Please develop a Kylo Ren-inspired helmet next!

AR500-developed ballistic armor...inspired by the Mandalorian suit worn by Boba Fett in the STAR WARS saga.
Photo courtesy of Galac-Tac International - Facebook.com

AR500-developed ballistic armor...inspired by the Mandalorian suit worn by Boba Fett in the STAR WARS saga.
Photo courtesy of Galac-Tac International - Facebook.com

AR500-developed ballistic armor...inspired by the Mandalorian suit worn by Boba Fett in the STAR WARS saga.
Photo courtesy of Galac-Tac International - Facebook.com

Friday, January 15, 2016

The NFL in L.A.: What Could've Been...

In this computer-generated art concept, fireworks fill the sky above the Los Angeles Football Stadium as a Super Bowl game is about to begin.
LosAngelesfootballstadium.com

With the Rams set to make a return to Los Angeles next season, just thought I'd share these images of the stadium that was once envisioned to be built in the City of Industry after the NFL decided to bring a team to the City of Angels once more. Even though the arena that's the brainchild of Edward P. Roski (who owns part of the Lakers and Los Angeles Kings) will no longer be constructed, this site will still be the home to a new shopping center that borders Industry and the city of Diamond Bar. At least I have another place to hang out at once this plaza opens for business (which still won't be for a few years)...though it would've been cool to watch a Super Bowl on TV, and one day knowing that the game was being played in a stadium located less than 6 miles from where I live. It's all good.

In this computer-generated art concept, fireworks fill the sky above the Los Angeles Football Stadium as a Super Bowl game comes to an end.
LosAngelesfootballstadium.com

In this computer-generated art concept, spotlights shine high above the Los Angeles Football Stadium during an NFL game.
LosAngelesfootballstadium.com

In this photograph that I took on 4/24/08, rush hour traffic begins to form on the 57 and 60 freeways.  Beyond them are the hills, nicknamed 'The Boonies', where the Los Angeles Football Stadium would be located if it was built.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

New Horizons Update: An Ice Volcano(?) in High-Resolution...

A high-res image of Pluto's Wright Mons region taken by NASA's New Horizons spacecraft...on July 14, 2015.
NASA / JHUAPL / SwRI

Pluto’s Wright Mons in Color (Press Release)

Scientists with NASA’s New Horizons mission have assembled this highest-resolution color view of one of two potential cryovolcanoes spotted on the surface of Pluto by the New Horizons spacecraft in July 2015.

This feature, known as Wright Mons, was informally named by the New Horizons team in honor of the Wright brothers. At about 90 miles (150 kilometers) across and 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) high, this feature is enormous. If it is in fact an ice volcano, as suspected, it would be the largest such feature discovered in the outer solar system.

Mission scientists are intrigued by the sparse distribution of red material in the image and wonder why it is not more widespread. Also perplexing is that there is only one identified impact crater on Wright Mons itself, telling scientists that the surface (as well as some of the crust underneath) was created relatively recently. This is turn may indicate that Wright Mons was volcanically active late in Pluto’s history.

This composite image includes pictures taken by the New Horizons spacecraft’s Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) on July 14, 2015, from a range of about 30,000 miles (48,000 kilometers), showing features as small as 1,500 feet (450 meters) across. Sprinkled across the LORRI mosaic is enhanced color data from the Ralph/Multispectral Visible Imaging Camera (MVIC) gathered about 20 minutes after the LORRI snapshots were taken, from a range of 21,000 miles (34,000 kilometers) and at a resolution of about 2,100 feet (650 meters) per pixel. The entire scene is 140 miles (230 kilometers) across.

Source: NASA.Gov

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

The NFL Returns to the City of Angels...

The new logo for the Los Angeles Rams.
Los Angeles Rams

Rams to Return to Los Angeles (Press Release - January 12)

Following a vote from National Football League owners, the Rams officially have been approved to return to the greater Los Angeles area and will do so for the 2016 NFL season. The organization called Los Angeles home from 1946-1994.

“This has been the most difficult process of my professional career,” said Rams owner E. Stanley Kroenke. “While we are excited about the prospect of building a new stadium in Inglewood, California, this is bitter sweet. St. Louis is a city known for its incredibly hard-working, passionate and proud people. Being part of the group that brought the NFL back to St. Louis in 1995 is one of the proudest moments of my professional career. Reaching two Super Bowls and winning one are things all St. Louisans should always treasure.

“While there understandably has been emotionally charged commentary regarding our motives and intentions, the speculation is not true and unfounded. I am a Missouri native named after two St. Louis sports legends who I was fortunate enough to know on a personal level. This move isn’t about whether I love St. Louis or Missouri. I do and always will. No matter what anyone says, that will never change. This decision is about what is in the best long-term interests of the Rams organization and the National Football League. We have negotiated in good faith with the Regional Sports Authority for more than a decade trying to find a viable and sustainable solution. When it became apparent that we might not be able to reach an agreement, it was then and only then that we looked at alternatives.

“We would like to thank the National Football League, its owners, and the Committee on Los Angeles Opportunities for their diligence and dedication. We look forward to returning to Los Angeles and building a world-class NFL entertainment district in Inglewood.”

Source: StLouisRams.com

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An artist's concept of the Los Angeles Rams' new arena, the City of Champions Stadium, in Inglewood.
Hollywood Park Land Company

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Dawn Begins the Final Phase of Its Mission...

An image by NASA's Dawn spacecraft showing Kupalo Crater, one of the youngest craters on dwarf planet Ceres.
NASA / JPL - Caltech / UCLA / MPS / DLR / IDA

New Details On Ceres Seen in Dawn Images (Press Release)

Features on dwarf planet Ceres that piqued the interest of scientists throughout 2015 stand out in exquisite detail in the latest images from NASA's Dawn spacecraft, which recently reached its lowest-ever altitude at Ceres.

Dawn took these images near its current altitude of 240 miles (385 kilometers) from Ceres, between Dec. 19 and 23, 2015.

Kupalo Crater, one of the youngest craters on Ceres, shows off many fascinating attributes at the high image resolution of 120 feet (35 meters) per pixel. The crater has bright material exposed on its rim, which could be salts, and its flat floor likely formed from impact melt and debris. Researchers will be looking closely at whether this material is related to the "bright spots" of Occator Crater. Kupalo, which measures 16 miles (26 kilometers) across and is located at southern mid-latitudes, is named for the Slavic god of vegetation and harvest.

"This crater and its recently-formed deposits will be a prime target of study for the team as Dawn continues to explore Ceres in its final mapping phase," said Paul Schenk, a Dawn science team member at the Lunar and Planetary Institute, Houston.

Dawn's low vantage point also captured the dense network of fractures on the floor of 78-mile-wide (126-kilometer-wide) Dantu Crater. One of the youngest large craters on Earth's moon, called Tycho, has similar fractures. This cracking may have resulted from the cooling of impact melt, or when the crater floor was uplifted after the crater formed.

A 20-mile (32-kilometer) crater west of Dantu is covered in steep slopes, called scarps, and ridges. These features likely formed when the crater partly collapsed during the formation process. The curvilinear nature of the scarps resembles those on the floor of Rheasilvia, the giant impact crater on protoplanet Vesta, which Dawn orbited from 2011 to 2012.

Dawn's other instruments also began studying Ceres intensively in mid-December. The visible and infrared mapping spectrometer is examining how various wavelengths of light are reflected by Ceres, which will help identify minerals present on its surface.

Dawn's gamma ray and neutron detector (GRaND) is also keeping scientists busy. Data from GRaND help researchers understand the abundances of elements in Ceres' surface, along with details of the dwarf planet's composition that hold important clues about how it evolved.

The spacecraft will remain at its current altitude for the rest of its mission, and indefinitely afterward. The end of the prime mission will be June 30, 2016.

"When we set sail for Ceres upon completing our Vesta exploration, we expected to be surprised by what we found on our next stop. Ceres did not disappoint," said Chris Russell, principal investigator for the Dawn mission, based at the University of California, Los Angeles. "Everywhere we look in these new low- altitude observations, we see amazing landforms that speak to the unique character of this most amazing world."

Dawn is the first mission to visit a dwarf planet, and the first mission outside the Earth-moon system to orbit two distinct solar system targets. After orbiting Vesta for 14 months in 2011 and 2012, it arrived at Ceres on March 6, 2015.

Dawn's mission is managed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. Dawn is a project of the directorate's Discovery Program, managed by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. UCLA is responsible for overall Dawn mission science. Orbital ATK Inc., in Dulles, Virginia, designed and built the spacecraft. The German Aerospace Center, Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, Italian Space Agency and Italian National Astrophysical Institute are international partners on the mission team.

Source: NASA.Gov

Saturday, January 09, 2016

NASA To Go Asteroid-Huntin' (Moreso, That Is)...

The Panoramic Survey Telescope & Rapid Response System (Pan-STARRS) 1 telescope on the summit of Mount Haleakala...at the Hawaiian island of Maui.
University of Hawaii Institute for Astronomy / Rob Ratkowski

NASA Office to Coordinate Asteroid Detection, Hazard Mitigation (Press Release - January 7)

NASA has formalized its ongoing program for detecting and tracking near-Earth objects (NEOs) as the Planetary Defense Coordination Office (PDCO). The office remains within NASA’s Planetary Science Division, in the agency’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The office will be responsible for supervision of all NASA-funded projects to find and characterize asteroids and comets that pass near Earth’s orbit around the sun. It will also take a leading role in coordinating interagency and intergovernmental efforts in response to any potential impact threats.

More than 13,500 near-Earth objects of all sizes have been discovered to date—more than 95 percent of them since NASA-funded surveys began in 1998. About 1,500 NEOs are now detected each year.

“Asteroid detection, tracking and defense of our planet is something that NASA, its interagency partners, and the global community take very seriously,” said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “While there are no known impact threats at this time, the 2013 Chelyabinsk super-fireball and the recent ‘Halloween Asteroid’ close approach remind us of why we need to remain vigilant and keep our eyes to the sky.”

NASA has been engaged in worldwide planning for planetary defense for some time, and this office will improve and expand on those efforts, working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and other federal agencies and departments.

In addition to detecting and tracking potentially hazardous objects, the office will issue notices of close passes and warnings of any detected potential impacts, based on credible science data. The office also will continue to assist with coordination across the U.S. government, participating in the planning for response to an actual impact threat, working in conjunction with FEMA, the Department of Defense, other U.S. agencies, and international counterparts.

“The formal establishment of the Planetary Defense Coordination Office makes it evident that the agency is committed to perform a leadership role in national and international efforts for detection of these natural impact hazards, and to be engaged in planning if there is a need for planetary defense,” said Lindley Johnson, longtime NEO program executive and now lead program executive for the office, with the title of Planetary Defense Officer.

Astronomers detect near-Earth objects using ground-based telescopes around the world as well as NASA’s space-based NEOWISE infrared telescope. Tracking data are provided to a global database maintained by the Minor Planet Center, sanctioned by the International Astronomical Union. Once detected, orbits are precisely predicted and monitored by the Center for NEO Studies (CNEOS) at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California. Select NEOs are further characterized by assets such as NASA’s InfraRed Telescope Facility, Spitzer Space Telescope, and interplanetary radars operated by NASA and the National Science Foundation. Such efforts are coordinated and funded by NASA’s longtime NEO Observations Program, which will continue as a research program under the office.

The Planetary Defense Coordination Office is being applauded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), which supports research and education in science and engineering. “NSF welcomes the increased visibility afforded to this critical activity,” said Nigel Sharp, program director in the agency’s Division of Astronomical Sciences. “We look forward to continuing the fruitful collaboration across the agencies to bring all of our resources – both ground-based and space-based – to the study of this important problem.”

With more than 90 percent of NEOs larger than 3,000 feet (1 kilometer) already discovered, NASA is now focused on finding objects that are slightly bigger than a football field—450 feet (140 meters) or larger. In 2005, NASA was tasked with finding 90 percent of this class of NEOs by the end of 2020. NASA-funded surveys have detected an estimated 25 percent of these mid-sized but still potentially hazardous objects to date.

NASA’s long-term planetary defense goals include developing technology and techniques for deflecting or redirecting objects that are determined to be on an impact course with Earth. NASA’s Asteroid Redirect Mission concept would demonstrate the effectiveness of the gravity tractor method of planetary defense, using the mass of another object to pull an asteroid slightly from its original orbital path. The joint NASA-European Space Agency Asteroid Impact and Deflection Assessment (AIDA) mission concept, if pursued, would demonstrate an impact deflection method of planetary defense.

Even if intervention is not possible, NASA would provide expert input to FEMA about impact timing, location, and effects to inform emergency response operations. In turn, FEMA would handle the preparations and response planning related to the consequences of atmospheric entry or impact to U.S. communities.

“FEMA is dedicated to protecting against all hazards, and the launch of the coordination office will ensure early detection and warning capability, and will further enhance FEMA’s collaborative relationship with NASA,” said FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate.

The concept of a central office to coordinate asteroid detection and mitigation has been under consideration since 2010, when an Ad-Hoc Task Force on Planetary Defense of the NASA Advisory Council recommended that NASA “organize for effective action on planetary defense and prepare to respond to impact threats,” and should “lead U.S. planetary defense efforts in national and international forums.” In addition, a NASA Office of Inspector General 2014 report concluded that the NEO Observations Program would be more “efficient, effective and transparent” if it were organized and managed in accordance with standard NASA research program requirements.

The NEO Observations Program operated on a budget of $4 million as recently as fiscal year 2010. That same year, the President announced a new goal for NASA—a human mission to an asteroid. The President’s fiscal year 2012 budget included, and Congress appropriated, $20.4 million for an expanded NASA NEO Observations Program. The agency’s Asteroid Grand Challenge to find all asteroid threats also launched in 2012. Funding for the NEO program doubled to $40 million in 2014, which increased the rate of detection of new NEOs by 40 percent and jump-started research into potential asteroid deflection techniques.

In 2015, NASA’s NEO Observations Program supported 54 ongoing projects, including detection and tracking campaigns, asteroid characterization efforts, and radar projects. Nine studies were funded to explore techniques for impact mitigation.

The recently passed federal budget for fiscal year 2016 includes $50 million for NEO observations and planetary defense, representing a more than ten-fold increase since the beginning of the current administration.

For regular updates on passing asteroids, NASA has an asteroid widget that lists the next five close approaches to Earth; it links to the CNEOS website with a complete list of recent and upcoming close approaches, as well as all other data on the orbits of known NEOs, so scientists and members of the media and public can track information on known objects.

Source: NASA.Gov

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Standing atop the summit of Mount Haleakala during a trip to Maui...in May of 2000.

Thursday, January 07, 2016

A Device Built By MIT Students Is Bennu-Bound...

An artist's concept of NASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft preparing to take a sample from asteroid Bennu.
NASA / Goddard / Chris Meaney

Student-Built Experiment Integrated onto NASA’s OSIRIS-REx Mission (Press Release)

A student-built experiment aboard NASA’s Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) mission has been integrated onto the spacecraft.

The Regolith X-ray Imaging Spectrometer (REXIS) will determine elemental abundances on the surface of asteroid Bennu, complementing the mineral and chemical mapping capabilities provided by two other instruments on the spacecraft.

"The students worked incredibly hard to get to this point,” said Mike Donnelly, OSIRIS-REx project manager at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “It is quite an accomplishment to develop a flight instrument and have it integrated to a spacecraft that's headed to an asteroid."

REXIS will observe the solar X-rays and their interaction with the asteroid’s surface material, or regolith. The surface responds to this incoming energy by glowing faintly, or fluorescing, by emitting X-rays. These X-rays have an energy that is uniquely characteristic of the elements. REXIS is a telescope that images this X-ray fluorescence, allowing the production of maps of the different elements present on Bennu's surface.

REXIS brings together students and faculty from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Harvard University, both in Cambridge. After a competitive process REXIS was selected as a student collaboration experiment as part of OSIRIS-REx.

The instrument will involve more than 100 students throughout the mission. Students at Harvard and MIT will perform data analysis as part of their coursework.

“The REXIS instrument has already achieved its primary objective – to train the next generation of scientists and engineers,” said Dante Lauretta, principal investigator for OSIRIS-REx at the University of Arizona, Tucson. “This team should be proud of all they have accomplished. I look forward to seeing the REXIS data from Bennu and using it to learn more about the chemistry of the asteroid surface.”

OSIRIS-REx will be the first U.S. mission to sample an asteroid. After launch in September 2016, the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft will travel to the near-Earth asteroid Bennu and retrieve at least 60 grams (2.1 ounces) of surface material and return it to Earth for study. Scientists expect that Bennu may hold clues to the origin of the solar system and the source of the water and organic molecules that may have made their way to Earth. OSIRIS-REx’s investigation will also inform future efforts to develop a mission to mitigate an asteroid impact on Earth, should one be required.

NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, provides overall mission management, systems engineering and safety and mission assurance for OSIRIS-REx. Dante Lauretta is the mission's principal investigator at the University of Arizona. Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Denver is building the spacecraft. OSIRIS-REx is the third mission in NASA's New Frontiers Program. NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, manages New Frontiers for the agency's Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

Source: NASA.Gov

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Two MIT students prepare the Regolith X-Ray Imaging Spectrometer instrument for flight aboard NASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft.
William Litant / MIT

Monday, January 04, 2016

Curiosity Update: An Interplanetary Dune Buggy (Kinda)...

A 360-degree view of Namib Dune on Mars...taken by NASA's Curiosity rover on December 18, 2015.
NASA / JPL - Caltech / MSSS

Rover Rounds Martian Dune to Get to the Other Side (Press Release)

NASA's Curiosity Mars rover, partway through the first up-close study ever conducted of extraterrestrial sand dunes, is providing dramatic views of a dune's steep face, where cascading sand has sculpted very different textures than the wavy ripples visible on the dune's windward slope.

Panoramic scenes dominated by the steep face of a dune called "Namib Dune" are online at these sites:

http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/spaceimages/details.php?id=PIA20284

http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/spaceimages/details.php?id=PIA20281

Researchers are using Curiosity to examine examples of the Bagnold Dunes, a band of dark sand dunes lining the northwestern flank of Mt. Sharp, the layered mountain the rover is climbing. A characteristic that sets true dunes apart from other wind-shaped bodies of sand, such as drifts and ripples previously visited by Mars rovers, is a steep, downwind slope known as the slip face. Here, sand blowing across the windward side of the dune suddenly becomes sheltered from the wind by the dune itself. The sand falls out of the air and builds up on the slope until it becomes steepened and flows in mini-avalanches down the face.

The mission's dune-investigation campaign is designed to increase understanding about how wind moves and sorts grains of sand, in an environment with less gravity and much less atmosphere than well-studied dune fields on Earth. The Bagnold Dunes are active. Sequential images taken from orbit over the course of multiple years show that some of these dunes are migrating by as much as a yard, or meter, per Earth year.

Curiosity has not caught a sand slide in action, but the rover's images of the Namib Dune slip face show where such slides have occurred recently. These dunes likely are most active in Mars' southern summer, rather than in the current late-fall season.

A few days of rover operations were affected in December due to an arm-motion fault, diagnosed as a minor software issue. Normal use of the arm resumed Dec. 23.

Curiosity has been working on Mars since early August 2012. It reached the base of Mount Sharp in 2014 after fruitfully investigating outcrops closer to its landing site and then trekking to the mountain. The main mission objective now is to examine successively higher layers of Mount Sharp.

Source: Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Friday, January 01, 2016

Happy New Year, Everyone!

A false color image of Pluto taken by NASA's New Horizons spacecraft on July 14, 2015.
NASA / JHUAPL / SwRI

Just thought I'd start 2016 off by posting this cool image of Pluto that was taken by the New Horizons spacecraft last July...despite the fact that NASA released this pic to celebrate Christmas instead. It's all good. Hope you folks had a great holiday!

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Christmas Pluto (Press Release - December 23)

Pluto gets into the holiday spirit, decked out in red and green. This image was produced by the New Horizons composition team, using a pair of Ralph/LEISA instrument scans obtained at approximately 9:40 AM on July 14, from a mean range of 67,000 miles (108,000 kilometers). The resolution is about 7 kilometers per LEISA pixel. Three infrared wavelength ranges (2.28-2.23, 1.25-1.30 and 1.64-1.73 microns) were placed into the three color channels (red, green and blue, respectively) to create this false color Christmas portrait.

Source: NASA.Gov