For centuries, some observers have claimed that shooting stars or meteors hiss as they arc through the night sky. And for just as long, skeptics have scoffed on the grounds that sound waves coming from meteors should arrive several minutes after the light waves, which travel nearly a million times faster. Now, scientists have proposed a theory to explain how our eyes and ears could perceive a meteor at nearly the same time. The hypothesis might also explain how auroras produce sound, a claim made by many indigenous peoples living at high latitudes.
Meteors release huge amounts of energy as they disintegrate in the atmosphere. They also produce low frequency radio waves that travel at the speed of light. Some scientists have suggested that those radio waves produce the sound that accompanies meteors. The waves can cause everyday objects—including fences, hair, and glasses—to vibrate, which our ears pick up as sound between 20 and 20,000 Hertz. This phenomenon, called electrophonics, is a well-known principle: “The conversion from electromagnetic waves to sound waves … is exactly how your radio works,” says Colin Price, an atmospheric scientist at Tel Aviv University in Israel and co-author of the new study. “But in this case nature provides the conversion between electromagnetic waves and acoustic waves.”
But nailing down that scenario isn’t easy. Reports of noisy meteors are relatively scarce—there were only 40 last year, according to the American Meteor Society (AMS). And because most of these “hearings” have been made by amateur sky watchers, it’s difficult to find audio recordings to back them up. “[We’ve] never had [a recording] cross our path,” says David Meisel in Geneseo, New York, executive director of AMS. Moreover, a key question remains to be answered: How do the meteors produce low-frequency radio waves in the first place?
Now, Price and Michael Kelley, a physicist at Cornell University, have developed a model to answer that question. As a meteor streaks through Earth’s atmosphere, it ionizes the air around it, splitting it into heavy, positively charged ions and lighter, negatively charged electrons. The ions follow the meteor, whereas the electrons are deflected by Earth’s magnetic field. That separation of positive and negative charges in the meteor’s wake produces a large electric field that drives an electrical current. And it’s that current that launches the radio waves, Price and Kelley hypothesize in an upcoming issue of Geophysical Research Letters. The size of the meteor and its speed through the atmosphere would control the frequency of the radio waves, they predict.
Earlier this year, another research team presented a different hypothesis to explain how meteors make sound. That team proposed that visible light from a meteor heats up materials such as hair and glasses, which then vibrate and produce sound waves. But this theory requires a “huge” light source, Price says. Only meteors as bright as the full moon could emit enough light to produce such sound waves. But according to the new theory, all meteors generate radio waves that can produce sound, some of which our ears are capable of picking up.
Price and Kelley suggest that their model might also explain reports of “clapping” sounds accompanying auroras, the colorful light displays created when charged particles from the sun collide with molecules in Earth’s atmosphere at high latitudes. These sounds feature prominently in stories of native peoples of the northern United States, Greenland, and Canada, but they have largely been dismissed by scientists. “Auroras also create radio waves that can easily reach the ground,” Kelley says.
The new hypothesis is “reasonable,” says Meers Oppenheim, an astronomer at Boston University not involved in the study. But it’s difficult to simulate what’s truly going on 100 kilometers up in Earth’s atmosphere as tiny particles of dust whiz by at 50 or more kilometers per second. “The devil lies in the details, and no one seems to have truly worked through those,” he says.
A team of NASA-sponsored scientists will meet with the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Space Research Institute (IKI) next week to continue work on a Joint Science Definition Team study focused on identifying shared science objectives for Venus exploration. The visit comes after a report was recently delivered to both NASA Headquarters in Washington and IKI in Moscow, assessing and refining the science objectives of the IKI Venera-D (Venera-Dolgozhivuschaya) Mission to Venus, Earth’s closest planetary neighbor.
“While Venus is known as our ‘sister planet,’ we have much to learn, including whether it may have once had oceans and harbored life,” said Jim Green, director of the Planetary Science Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “By understanding the processes at work at Venus and Mars, we will have a more complete picture about how terrestrial planets evolve over time and obtain insight into the Earth’s past, present and future.”
Venus has intrigued scientists for decades. Similar to Earth in composition and size, it spins slowly in the opposite direction. The rocky world’s thick atmosphere traps heat in a runaway greenhouse effect, making it the warmest planet in our solar system with surface temperatures hot enough to melt lead. Glimpses below the clouds reveal volcanoes and an intricate landscape. Venus is named for the Roman goddess of love and beauty, the counterpart to the Greek goddess Aphrodite.
“On a solar-system scale, Earth and Venus are very close together and of similar size and makeup,” said David Senske, co-chair of the U.S. Venera-D science definition team, and a scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “Among the goals that we would like to see if we can accomplish with such a potential partnership is to understand how Venus’ climate operates so as to understand the mechanism that has given rise to the rampant greenhouse effect we see today.”
The IKI Venera-D mission concept as it stands today would include a Venus orbiter that would operate for up to three years, and a lander designed to survive the incredibly harsh conditions a spacecraft would encounter on Venus’ surface for a few hours. The science definition team is also assessing the potential of flying a solar-powered airship in Venus’ upper atmosphere. The independent flying vehicle could be released from the Venera-D lander, enter the atmosphere, and independently explore Venus’ atmosphere for up to three months.
NASA first visited Venus when the JPL-managed Mariner 2 collected data during a flyby in December 1962. NASA’s last dedicated mission to explore Venus was Magellan. Launched in 1990, and managed by JPL, Magellan used radar to map 98 percent of the planet at a resolution of 330 feet (100 meters) or better during its four-year mission.
The Venera spacecraft program is the only one to date to successfully land on Venus and survive its harsh environment. Said Adriana Ocampo, who leads the Joint Science Definition Team at NASA Headquarters in Washington, “This potential collaboration makes for an enriching partnership to maximize the science results from Venera-D, and continue the exploration of this key planet in our solar system.”
Russia, US team up on mission to Venus The launch of two Venera-D modules - the orbiter and the lander - was scheduled for approximately 2026
Russia and the United States will continue joint research in 2017-2018 on a mission to Venus, Lyudmila Zasova, the head of the laboratory for spectroscopy of planetary atmospheres of the Space Research Institute at the Russian Academy of Sciences, told TASS.
"On January 31, 2017, a report on results of the joint science-definition team’s work was presented to both to the Russian Space Research Institute, Roscosmos (Russian federal space agency) and NASA and was highly estimated," Zasova said. "NASA and Roscosmos have agreed to go ahead with the work throughout 2017 and 2018."
The launch of two Venera-D modules - the orbiter and the lander - was scheduled for approximately 2026.
"The timeframe could be considered realistic given the project gets financing in the foreseeable future," she added, noting that space program could cost more than $1 bln.
"However, in case several space agencies team up on the project, the mission will be cheaper for each of them," the scientist said.
The baseline concept of the Venera-D mission calls for an orbiter, which will study the planet from outer space, and a lander, which is expected to operate on Venus’s surface for a few hours. One of the mission’s objectives is to trace signs of life in the past and nowadays in Venus’ unfavorable conditions. Besides, the scientists plan to study greenhouse effect on the planet.
Airbus Defence & Space in France has been selected as the prime industrial contractor for ESA’s Juice mission to Jupiter and its icy moons.
The agency’s Industrial Policy Committee approved the award of the €350.8 million contract yesterday. Pending the negotiation of contractual details, this should allow work to start by the end of this month. The formal contract signing will take place after the summer break.
The contract covers the industrial activities for the design, development, integration, test, launch campaign, and in-space commissioning of the spacecraft. The Ariane 5 launch is not included and will be procured later from Arianespace.
The spacecraft will be assembled in Toulouse, France, and many other ESA Member States will also be involved in Europe’s first mission to the largest planet in the Solar System.
Juice (JUpiter ICy moons Explorer) was selected in May 2012 as the first Large-class mission within ESA’s Cosmic Vision 2015–25 programme. The spacecraft should be launched in 2022 and arrive in the Jovian system in 2030.
For three and a half years, Juice will sweep around the giant planet, exploring its turbulent atmosphere, enormous magnetosphere, and tenuous set of dark rings, as well as studying the icy moons Ganymede, Europa, and Callisto. All three of these planet-sized satellites are thought to have oceans of liquid water beneath their icy crusts and should provide key clues on the potential for such icy moons to harbour habitable environments.
Gravity assists with Callisto and Ganymede will be used to modify the spacecraft’s trajectory, and two targeted Europa flybys will focus on the composition of non-water-ice material on its frozen surface, and the first subsurface sounding of an icy moon.
Callisto gravity assists will be also used to raise the orbital inclination to almost 30°, providing opportunities to observe Jupiter’s polar regions. The frequent Callisto flybys will enable unique remote observations of the moon and its neighbourhood.
The mission will culminate in a dedicated, eight-month tour around Ganymede, the first time any icy moon has been orbited by a spacecraft. During this period, Juice will perform detailed investigations of the moon and its interaction with the environment.
Juice will be equipped with 10 state-of-the-art instruments, including cameras, spectrometers, an ice-penetrating radar, an altimeter, radio-science experiments, and sensors to monitor the magnetic fields and charged particles in the Jovian system. One further experiment will combine data from the spacecraft telecommunication system and ground-based instruments.
The scientific payload was approved by ESA’s Science Programme Committee in February 2013 and will be developed by teams spanning 16 European countries, the USA and Japan, using national funding.
Die JUICE-Mission der Europäischen Raumfahrtagentur will den Jupiter und seine Monde erkunden. Vor allem der Mond Ganymed soll unter die Lupe genommen werden: Unter dem Eis des Himmelskörpers werden große Wasservorkommen vermutet. Gibt es dort Spuren von Leben oder sogar die Möglichkeit, eines Tages Leben anzusiedeln?
Doch ehe Daten gesammelt und zwecks Auswertung zur Erde geschickt werden können, muss zunächst eine rund achtjährige Reise unternommen werden. Anschließend sollen die Jupiter-Monde umkreist werden. "Wir müssen nur herausfinden, wie tief das Wasser ist, wie weit es von der Oberfläche entfernt ist, wie weit seine Ausdehnung ist - und ob es dort Leben geben könnte: Und zwar lebende Organismen im Wasser der verdeckten Meere auf diesen vereisten Monden", sagt die griechische Astrophysikerin Athena Coustenis.
Die Forscher arbeiten an einem Projekt, das 2022 beginnen soll. Bis Daten erhalten und Erkenntnisse gewonnen werden, vergehen weitere Jahre. Deshalb sind neben einer Menge Energie auch ganz viel Geduld und Vorstellungsvermögen gefragt. Eine Raumfahrtmission sei ein lebenslanges Projekt, meint Olivier Witasse, der wissenschaftliche Leiter der JUICE-Mission.
JUICE - Searching for life on Jupiter’s icy Moons
In May 2022, the Airbus Defence and Space-built spacecraft JUICE (Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer) will head for Jupiter. Its main mission will be to explore the huge planet’s three largest icy moons in the hope of determining whether life is possible on these dwarf planets.
What if extra-terrestrial life does exist? For centuries, this question – which both fascinates and frightens mankind – has remained unanswered. But by the year 2030, some answers may well have been found – with the help of Airbus Defence and Space.
In July 2015, the company was selected by the European Space Agency (ESA) as prime contractor for the design, development, production, and testing of a new spacecraft named ‘JUICE’. As its name implies (Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer), the mission will be to explore the Jovian system, focusing on three of Jupiter’s huge Galilean moons: Europa, Ganymede and Callisto, which are as large as dwarf planets and covered by an icy crust.
“The goal is to investigate whether there are liquid oceans under these icy crusts which might harbour organic components or even life” says Vincent Poinsignon, JUICE project manager.
It will take JUICE seven and a half years to travel the almost 600 million kilometres to the gas giant. Once the spacecraft enters Jupiter’s gravitational field, the first two and a half years of its three-and-a-half-year mission will be spent making about 30 thirty observation overflights of the three moons, observing examining gravity and magnetic interactions, amongst other things. The last year will be spent in orbit around Ganymede to observe this moon in much greater detail.
The challenges are enormous. JUICE must deal with very low and very high temperatures as it will circle Earth, Mars and Venus for gravity assist manoeuvres to build up enough speed to reach Jupiter’s orbit. Jupiter’s cold environment also makes it hard to collect energy.
JUICE will have the largest solar arrays ever built for any interplanetary spacecraft. As a comparison: Rosetta’s solar panels only have 64 square metres.
As it will carry ten scientific instruments that require a very high level of magnetic cleanliness, the spacecraft itself may cannot generate electromagnetic signals. As all electronic systems generate electromagnetic waves when they are in operation, the Airbus Defence and Space engineers have devised a way to reduce them as much as possible.
Quelle: AIRBUS DEFENCE&SPACE
ESA’S JUPITER MISSION MOVES OFF THE DRAWING BOARD
Demanding electric, magnetic and power requirements, harsh radiation, and strict planetary protection rules are some of the critical issues that had to be tackled in order to move ESA’s Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer – Juice – from the drawing board and into construction.
Scheduled for launch in 2022, with arrival in the Jovian system in 2029, Juice will spend three-and-a-half years examining the giant planet’s turbulent atmosphere, enormous magnetosphere, its set of tenuous dark rings and its satellites.
It will study the large icy moons Ganymede, Europa and Callisto, which are thought to have oceans of liquid water beneath their icy crusts – perhaps even harbouring habitable environments.
The mission will culminate in a dedicated, eight-month tour around Ganymede, the first time any moon beyond our own has been orbited by a spacecraft.
Jupiter's largest moons
Juice will be equipped with 10 state-of-the-art instruments, including cameras, an ice-penetrating radar, an altimeter, radio-science experiments, and sensors to monitor the magnetic fields and charged particles in the Jovian system.
In order to ensure it can address these goals in the challenging Jovian environment, the spacecraft’s design has to meet stringent requirements.
An important milestone was reached earlier this month, when the preliminary design of Juice and its interfaces with the scientific instruments and the ground stations were fixed, which will now allow a prototype spacecraft to be built for rigorous testing.
The review also confirmed that the 5.3 tonne spacecraft will be compatible with its Ariane 5 launcher.
Operating in the outer Solar System, far from the Sun, means that Juice needs a large solar array: two wings of five panels each are foreseen, which will cover a total surface area of nearly 100 sq m, capable of providing 820 W at Jupiter by the end of the mission.
After launch, Juice will make five gravity-assist flybys in total: one each at Mars and Venus, and three at Earth, to set it on course for Jupiter. Its solar panels will have to cope with a range of temperatures such that when it is flying closer to the Sun during the Venus flyby, the solar wings will be tilted to avoid excessive temperatures damaging the solar cells.
The spacecraft’s main engine will be used to enter orbit around the giant planet, and later around Jupiter’s largest moon, Ganymede. As such, the engine design has also been critically reviewed at this stage.
Special measures will allow Juice to cope with the extremely harsh radiation that it must endure for several years around Jupiter. This means careful selection of components and materials, as well as radiation shielding.
NASA Approves Instruments for ESA’s ‘JUICE’ Mission to Jupiter System
NASA’s partnership in a future European Space Agency (ESA) mission to Jupiter and its moons has cleared a key milestone, moving from preliminary instrument design to implementation phase.
Designed to investigate the emergence of habitable worlds around gas giants, the JUpiter ICy Moons Explorer (JUICE) is scheduled to launch in five years, arriving at Jupiter in October 2029. JUICE will spend almost four years studying Jupiter’s giant magnetosphere, turbulent atmosphere, and its icy Galilean moons—Callisto, Ganymede and Europa.
The April 6 milestone, known as Key Decision Point C (KDP-C), is the agency-level approval for the project to enter building phase. It also provides a baseline for the mission’s schedule and budget. NASA’s total cost for the project is $114.4 million. The next milestone for the NASA contributions will be the Critical Design Review (CDR), which will take place in about one year. The CDR for the overall ESA JUICE mission is planned in spring 2019.
“We’re pleased with the overall design of the instruments and we’re ready to begin implementation,” said Jim Green, director of the Planetary Science Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “In the very near future, JUICE will go from the drawing board to instrument building and then on to the launch pad in 2022.”
JUICE is a large-class mission—the first in ESA’s Cosmic Vision 2015-2025 program carrying a suite of 10 science instruments. NASA will provide the Ultraviolet Spectrograph (UVS), and also will provide subsystems and components for two additional instruments: the Particle Environment Package (PEP) and the Radar for Icy Moon Exploration (RIME) experiment.
The UVS was selected to observe the dynamics and atmospheric chemistry of the Jovian system, including its icy satellites and volcanic moon Io. With the planet Jupiter itself, the instrument team hopes to learn more about the vertical structure of its stratosphere and determine the relationship between changing magnetospheric conditions to observed auroral structures. The instrument is provided by the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), at a cost of $41.2 million.
The PEP is a suite of six sensors led by the Swedish Institute of Space Physics (IRF), capable of providing a 3-D map of the plasma system that surrounds Jupiter. One of the six sensors, known as PEP-Hi, is provided by the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, and is comprised of two separate components known as JoEE and JENI. While JoEE is focused primarily on studying the magnetosphere of Ganymede, JENI observations will reveal the structure and dynamics of the donut-shaped cloud of gas and plasma that surrounds Europa. The total cost of the NASA contribution to the PEP instrument package is $42.4 million.
The Radar for Icy Moon Exploration (RIME) experiment, an ice penetrating radar, which is a key instrument for achieving groundbreaking science on the geology, is led by the Italian Space Agency (ASI). NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), in Pasadena, California, is providing key subsystems to the instrument, which is designed to penetrate the surface of Jupiter's icy moons to learn more about their subsurface structure. The instrument will focus on Callisto, Ganymede, and Europa, to determine the formation mechanisms and interior processes that occur to produce bodies of subsurface water. On Europa, the instrument also will search for thin areas of ice and locations with the most geological activity, such as plumes. The total cost of the NASA contribution is $30.8 million.
How will JUICE complement NASA’s Europa Clipper multiple flyby mission, also scheduled to launch in the early 2020s?
“The missions are like close members of the same family. Together they will explore the entire Jovian system,” said Curt Niebur, program scientist at NASA Headquarters. “Clipper is focused on Europa and determining its habitability. JUICE is looking for a broader understanding how the entire group of Galilean satellites formed and evolved.”
Niebur says by examining the complexity of the Jupiter system, we will learn more about how habitable areas form in our solar system and beyond. “We’ve learned that habitable environments can arise in surprising places and in unexpected ways. Life may not be limited to the surface of Earth-like worlds orbiting at just the right distance from their suns.”
Life on Earth is used to gravity — so what happens to our cells and tissues in space?
Reduced neurotransmitter levels, loss of bone mass are just two of the potentially harmful effects
On months-long expeditions in space, astronauts’ bodies have to deal with a gravity-free environment very different to what they’re used to on Earth.
Andy Tay is a UCLA Ph.D. student in bioengineering. This piece appeared on the Conversation.
There’s one force whose effects are so deeply entrenched in our everyday lives that we probably don’t think much about it at all: gravity. Gravity is the force that causes attraction between masses. It’s why when you drop a pen, it falls to the ground. But because gravitational force is proportional to the mass of the object, only large objects like planets create tangible attractions. This is why the study of gravity traditionally focused on massive objects like planets.
Our first manned space missions, however, completely changed how we thought about gravity’s effects on biological systems. The force of gravity doesn’t just keep us anchored to the ground; it influences how our bodies work on the smallest of scales. Now with the prospect of longer space missions, researchers are working to figure out what a lack of gravity means for our physiology — and how to make up for it.
Freed from gravity’s grip
It wasn’t until explorers traveled to space that any earthly creature had spent time in a microgravity environment.
Most experiments in this field are actually conducted on Earth, though, using simulated microgravity. By spinning objects — such as cells — in a centrifuge at fast speeds, you can create these reduced gravity conditions.
Our cells have evolved to deal with forces in a world characterized by gravity; if they’re suddenly liberated from gravity’s effects, things start getting strange.
Detecting forces at a cellular level
Along with the force of gravity, our cells are also subjected to additional forces, including tension and shear stresses, as conditions change within our bodies.
Our cells need ways to sense these forces. One of the widely accepted mechanisms is through what are called mechano-sensitive ion channels. These channels are pores on the cell membrane that let particular charged molecules pass in or out of the cell depending on the forces they detect.
An example of this kind of mechano-receptor is the PIEZO ion channel, found in almost all cells. They coordinate touch and pain sensation, depending on their locations in the body. For instance, a pinch on the arm would activate a PIEZO ion channel in a sensory neuron, telling it to open the gates. In microseconds, ions such as calcium would enter the cell, passing on the information that the arm got pinched. The series of events culminates in withdrawal of the arm. This kind of force-sensing can be crucial, so cells can quickly react to environmental conditions.
Without gravity, the forces acting on mechano-sensitive ion channels are imbalanced, causing abnormal movements of ions. Ions regulate many cellular activities; if they’re not going where they should when they should, the work of the cells goes haywire. Protein synthesis and cellular metabolism are disrupted.
Physiology without gravity
Over the past three decades, researchers have carefully teased out how particular kinds of cells and body systems are affected by microgravity.
Bone and muscle: The weightlessness of space can cause more than a 1 percent bone loss per month, even in astronauts who undergo stringent exercise regimes. Now scientists are using advances in genomics (the study of DNA sequences) and proteomics (the study of proteins) to identify how bone cells’ metabolism is regulated by gravity. In the absence of gravity, scientists have found that the type of cells in charge of bone formation are suppressed. At the same time the type of cells responsible for degrading bone are activated. Together it adds up to accelerated bone loss. Researchers have also identified some of the key molecules that control these processes.
Immunity: Spacecraft are subject to rigorous sterilization to prevent transfer of foreign organisms. Nevertheless, during the Apollo 13 mission, an opportunistic pathogen infected astronaut Fred Haise. This bacteria, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, usually infects only immune-compromised individuals. This episode triggered more curiosity about how the immune system adapts to space. By comparing astronauts’ blood samples before and after their space missions, researchers discovered that the lack of gravity weakens the functions of T-cells. These specialized immune cells are responsible for fighting a range of diseases, from the common cold to deadly sepsis.
The current best method to overcome the absence of gravity is to increase load on the cells in another way — via exercise. Astronauts typically spend at least two hours each day running and weight-lifting to maintain healthy blood volume and reduce bone and muscle loss. Unfortunately, rigorous exercises can only slow down the deterioration of the astronauts’ health, not prevent it completely.
Supplements are another method researchers are investigating. Through large-scale genomics and proteomics studies, scientists have managed to identify specific cell-chemical interactions affected by gravity. We now know that gravity affects key molecules that control cellular processes like growth, division and migration. For instance, neurons grown in microgravity on the International Space Station have fewer of one kind of receptor for the neurotransmitter GABA, which controls motor movements and vision. Adding more GABA restored function, but the exact mechanism is still unclear.
NASA is also evaluating whether adding probiotics to space food to boost the digestive and immune systems of astronauts may help stave off the negative effects of microgravity.
In early days of space travel, one of the first challenges was figuring out how to overcome gravity so a rocket could break free of Earth’s pull. Now the challenge is how to offset the physiological effects of a lack of gravitational force, especially during long space flights.
Orion EFT-1 flown spacecraft joins display in 'NASA Now' exhibit
More than two years after it splashed down from orbit, NASA's first Orion crew module to fly into space has landed on public display near where it was launched.
The uncrewed Orion capsule is now on exhibit at NASA's Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida as the newest addition to NASA Now, a gallery devoted to telling "the evolving story of the future of space exploration."
"This week, we welcomed another exciting addition to the NASA Now exhibit with the arrival of NASA's Orion spacecraft crew capsule, EFT-1," officials at the visitor complex announced on Facebook on Tuesday (April 11).
The Orion was launched on NASA's Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1) by a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket on Dec. 5, 2014. Orbiting the planet twice, the spacecraft flew to a distance of 3,600 miles (5,800 km) above Earth — farther than any spacecraft designed to fly astronauts since the Apollo 17 moon mission in 1972. On Monday (April 10), it was moved from the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building at the Kennedy Space Center, where it had been built and later assessed post-flight, to the visitor complex.
The Lockheed Martin-built capsule was transported by truck atop a custom ground support transporter, which was used to roll the 16-foot-wide (5 m) spacecraft into the IMAX theater building where the NASA Now exhibit is located.
Now on display, guests to the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex can see the EFT-1 Orion with its original back shell of black thermal tiles, similar to those used on the underbelly of the space shuttle orbiters, that protected the capsule during its re-entry into the atmosphere. A curtain surrounding the Orion's base hides that its heat shield is absent, having been removed for post-flight analysis.
As described within the exhibit, the Orion was built "based upon all we've learned from NASA's 50 years of human spaceflight experience [using] the most advanced technologies available today to safely send astronauts further into space than any other spacecraft in history." Intended to fly aboard NASA's Space Launch System (SLS) heavy-lift rocket, the next Orion capsule is slated for a trip around the moon in late 2018, but may slip if the agency decides to add a crew to that flight.
The EFT-1 spacecraft had been expected to fly again as part of an Orion ascent abort test, lifting off to test the systems designed to protect astronauts if a problem arises during launch. According to Lockheed Martin, that abort test will now use a boilerplate capsule and so the EFT-1 Orion will remain on display at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex (however, if it is determined to be needed by NASA for some reason, it will be made available).
In addition to the Orion EFT-1 capsule, the NASA Now exhibit includes a SpaceX Dragon cargo capsule that flew to the International Space Station on the second uncrewed test flight of that vehicle in 2012; the pressure vessel for a Boeing CST-100 Starliner crew spacecraft; and scale models of NASA's SLS rocket and Sierra Nevada's Dream Chaser cargo vehicle. The visitor complex also recently added a Vector-R commercial launch vehicle to the gallery.
Inside the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building high bay at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the Orion crew module from Exploration Flight Test 1 (EFT-1) is moved from a birdcage test stand to a custom-built transporter for its relocation to nearby Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.
Inside the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building high bay at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the Orion crew module from Exploration Flight Test 1 (EFT-1), now wrapped, is moved to the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.
Millions of people will turn their eyes toward the August 2017 total solar eclipse, but most of them will be on the ground. Over Tennessee, however, two scientists will be observing the incredible event from the cockpit of a pair of modified bomber aircraft.
Rising above the turbulent atmosphere, the planes will carry high-definition cameras that will observe the structure of the sun's outer layers in remarkable detail. The scientists will also use this unique opportunity to make some less obvious measurements: They'll measure the temperature of the planet Mercury and, if they're lucky, they may even spy remnants of the early solar system.
"By flying in the stratosphere, we can obtain some excellent quality observations," project scientist Constantine Tsang, of the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in Colorado, told Space.com. Tsang is also hoping that he's one of the scientists who gets to fly with the instruments during the eclipse, rather than waiting for the data back on the ground.
Above the atmosphere
In addition to their stunning visual show, total solar eclipses provide a wonderful way for scientists to study the sun. While the moon blocks light from the star's central body, the fainter outer layers of the atmosphere can be studied in great detail. A number of Earth-based observatories will take advantage of the opportunity to probe the sun on Aug. 21.
Even the highest altitude observatories must contend with the way the Earth's atmosphere can blur light coming from objects in space. By taking flight in a pair of WB-57s, the American version of the British B-57 bombers, Tsang's instruments will rise above much of the atmosphere. The aircraft are part of NASA's Airborne Science Program.
Essentially high-definition television cameras, the instruments will be able to study high-frequency events in the outer layers of the sun, such as the nanoflares that help redistribute energy from the magnetic field to the plasma. The device to be flown on the WB-57s will capture 60 frames per second, Tsang told Space.com. That will allow the cameras to capture short-lived aspects of the corona better than satellite cameras with a slower frame rate, Tsang said.
The bombers will also extend the amount of time available to study the sun's outer layers. The so-called path of totality refers to the region on the ground where the total eclipse will be visible. The moon's shadow will move across the U.S. from west to east. At any point on the ground, the sun will be totally obscured by the moon for a maximum of about 2.5 minutes. But each high-speed aircraft will bump that time up to just over 3 minutes, because they will be able to chase the moon's shadow and briefly extend the duration of totality observed. However, the shadow will move at more than three times the speed of sound (2,400 mph, or 3,900 km/h), much faster than the bombers can hope to keep up with. The two planes will fly in formation, separated by about 50 nautical miles, Tsang said. As the first plane flies out of the path of the eclipse, the second should just enter it, creating back-to-back observations of the corona.
But the sun won't be the only star of the show. While in the air, the cameras will also observe Mercury for 10 to 15 minutes. The closest planet to the sun, Mercury will be only a slim crescent in the sky. Its proximity to the sun makes it challenging to observe from the ground without an eclipse. Tsang and his team will take the opportunity to study the planet in the infrared light, which can be used to reveal the temperature of objects that are not quite hot enough to start radiating visible light. The new observations will help reveal how the planet is losing heat, Tsang said, and combined with previous measurements, they should provide insights about the interior of Mercury.
"These will be the first measurements of their kind," Tsang said, pointing out that the infrared range captured by these cameras is outside the range studied by spacecraft such as NASA's MESSENGER mission to Mercury and the upcoming BepiColombo, a joint mission between the European Space Agency and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.
Along with gathering new information about Mercury, with a little luck the scientists may catch a glimpse of the early solar system. The eclipse provides an excellent opportunity to hunt for Vulcanoids, hypothetical objects leftover from the beginning of the solar system, Tsang said. Vulcanoids are thought to travel around the sun in stable zones inside of Mercury's orbit, and may have evaded detection, thanks to small sizes and the glare of the sun.
During the eclipse, the sun's bright light will disappear, allowing Tsang's team to search for Vulcanoids by hunting for moving objects across the background field of stars. The process is similar to hunting for asteroids and near-Earth objects farther out in the solar system, though those hunts span days rather than minutes.
"We don't have the luxury of waiting a couple of days," Tsang said.
Almost since the invention of airplanes, astronomers have taken to the sky to peer at the heavens, according to a report from the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA). On Sept. 10, 1923, a fleet of Navy planes launched with the goal of determining the centerline of the solar eclipse. (The centerline is the very center of the path of totality; the duration of totality is longest at the centerline, and shortest at the edges of the path).
Solar eclipses remained the primary focus of airborne astronomy until the 1960s, when NASA launched the Galileo aircraft, which was dedicated to studying astronomy, according to the AIAA report. Instruments on the plane studied comets, meteor showers and Mars until Galileo's tragic crash in 1973.
The Kuiper Airborne Observatory, which operated from 1973 until 1995, hosted an open-port telescope that discovered the atmosphere around Pluto and rings around Uranus, among other things. In 2007, the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) took flight and is still operational today. Both the KAO and SOFIA allow scientists to ride inside the airplane as passengers, while the instruments take observations. Tsang flew aboard SOFIA earlier this year to make observations of Venus.
But the WB-57s are a different kind of beast.
Based out of Elliston Air Force Base in Houston, the American-built bombers have been flying research missions since the early 1960s. The modified bombers have only two seats, and typically, the rear seat is occupied by a NASA employee serving as a sensor equipment operator, or SEO. If a scientist wants to take the place of the SEO, he or she has to serve as a co-pilot.
Observing scientists must undergo completely different training than required for SOFIA. The WB-57 will fly at 50,000 feet, "just below where you need spacesuits," Tsang said, referring to the protective pressure suits worn by high-altitude pilots. Flying as a participating scientist on one of the WB-57s would require two to three months of training, in addition to the training Tsang has already undergone as part of a private flight aboard an L-29 military jet several years ago. That flight was part of his training for flights aboard suborbital space planes.
"This would be new to me," said Tsang, who has a glider license and is working on his single- engine license.
The project combines what he calls his two passions, astronomy and aviation. While most astronomy is stationary and safe, taking place behind a telescope or, more recently, behind a computer screen, co-piloting a WB-57 would be more hands-on, Tsang said.
"I'm a classical astronomer," he said. "I like to come up with an ideal, figure out if it's possible, and make the observations and see what I get. I like the thrill of discovery by getting hands-on and dirty."
In 1997, SwRI scientist Alan Stern flew aboard a WB-57 to observe Comet Hale-Bopp, but when the aircraft take off to observe the eclipse, it doesn't look like Tsang will be in the cockpit. In the past, the pilot and co-pilot could eject themselves separately in an emergency, but since Stern's flight the seats have been refit, and today either one could eject both. Ejecting can be extremely dangerous for the co-pilots, not to mention for people on the ground, and Tsang attributes NASA' rejection of him in large part to this — perhaps more experienced pilots don't want to put their fate in the hands of a less-experienced counterpart.
Tsang, who has been working on this mission concept since 2010, is still hoping the agency will change its mind, but thinks chances are slim. If he can't be inside one of the bombers, he won't be on the ground to see the planes take off without him from Houston. Instead, he'll travel to a location where the total solar eclipse is visible.
"Having fought so hard, it would be hard to watch an SEO enjoy that and know that that could have been me," Tsang said.
This illustration shows Cassini diving through the Enceladus plume in 2015. New ocean world discoveries from Cassini and Hubble will help inform future exploration and the broader search for life beyond Earth.
This graphic illustrates how Cassini scientists think water interacts with rock at the bottom of the ocean of Saturn's icy moon Enceladus, producing hydrogen gas.
These composite images show a suspected plume of material erupting two years apart from the same location on Jupiter's icy moon Europa. Both plumes, photographed in UV light by Hubble, were seen in silhouette as the moon passed in front of Jupiter.
The green oval highlights the plumes Hubble observed on Europa. The area also corresponds to a warm region on Europa's surface. The map is based on observations by the Galileo spacecraft.
Two veteran NASA missions are providing new details about icy, ocean-bearing moons of Jupiter and Saturn, further heightening the scientific interest of these and other "ocean worlds" in our solar system and beyond. The findings are presented in papers published Thursday by researchers with NASA’s Cassini mission to Saturn and Hubble Space Telescope.
In the papers, Cassini scientists announce that a form of chemical energy that life can feed on appears to exist on Saturn's moon Enceladus, and Hubble researchers report additional evidence of plumes erupting from Jupiter's moon Europa.
“This is the closest we've come, so far, to identifying a place with some of the ingredients needed for a habitable environment,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate at Headquarters in Washington. ”These results demonstrate the interconnected nature of NASA's science missions that are getting us closer to answering whether we are indeed alone or not.”
The paper from researchers with the Cassini mission, published in the journal Science, indicates hydrogen gas, which could potentially provide a chemical energy source for life, is pouring into the subsurface ocean of Enceladus from hydrothermal activity on the seafloor.
The presence of ample hydrogen in the moon's ocean means that microbes – if any exist there – could use it to obtain energy by combining the hydrogen with carbon dioxide dissolved in the water. This chemical reaction, known as "methanogenesis" because it produces methane as a byproduct, is at the root of the tree of life on Earth, and could even have been critical to the origin of life on our planet.
Life as we know it requires three primary ingredients: liquid water; a source of energy for metabolism; and the right chemical ingredients, primarily carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and sulfur. With this finding, Cassini has shown that Enceladus – a small, icy moon a billion miles farther from the sun than Earth – has nearly all of these ingredients for habitability. Cassini has not yet shown phosphorus and sulfur are present in the ocean, but scientists suspect them to be, since the rocky core of Enceladus is thought to be chemically similar to meteorites that contain the two elements.
"Confirmation that the chemical energy for life exists within the ocean of a small moon of Saturn is an important milestone in our search for habitable worlds beyond Earth," said Linda Spilker, Cassini project scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California.
The Cassini spacecraft detected the hydrogen in the plume of gas and icy material spraying from Enceladus during its last, and deepest, dive through the plume on Oct. 28, 2015. Cassini also sampled the plume's composition during flybys earlier in the mission. From these observations scientists have determined that nearly 98 percent of the gas in the plume is water, about 1 percent is hydrogen and the rest is a mixture of other molecules including carbon dioxide, methane and ammonia.
The measurement was made using Cassini's Ion and Neutral Mass Spectrometer (INMS) instrument, which sniffs gases to determine their composition. INMS was designed to sample the upper atmosphere of Saturn's moon Titan. After Cassini's surprising discovery of a towering plume of icy spray in 2005, emanating from hot cracks near the south pole, scientists turned its detectors toward the small moon.
Cassini wasn't designed to detect signs of life in the Enceladus plume – indeed, scientists didn't know the plume existed until after the spacecraft arrived at Saturn.
"Although we can't detect life, we've found that there's a food source there for it. It would be like a candy store for microbes," said Hunter Waite, lead author of the Cassini study.
The new findings are an independent line of evidence that hydrothermal activity is taking place in the Enceladus ocean. Previous results, published in March 2015, suggested hot water is interacting with rock beneath the sea; the new findings support that conclusion and add that the rock appears to be reacting chemically to produce the hydrogen.
The paper detailing new Hubble Space Telescope findings, published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters, reports on observations of Europa from 2016 in which a probable plume of material was seen erupting from the moon’s surface at the same location where Hubble saw evidence of a plume in 2014. These images bolster evidence that the Europa plumes could be a real phenomenon, flaring up intermittently in the same region on the moon's surface.
The newly imaged plume rises about 62 miles (100 kilometers) above Europa’s surface, while the one observed in 2014 was estimated to be about 30 miles (50 kilometers) high. Both correspond to the location of an unusually warm region that contains features that appear to be cracks in the moon’s icy crust, seen in the late 1990s by NASA's Galileo spacecraft. Researchers speculate that, like Enceladus, this could be evidence of water erupting from the moon’s interior.
“The plumes on Enceladus are associated with hotter regions, so after Hubble imaged this new plume-like feature on Europa, we looked at that location on the Galileo thermal map. We discovered that Europa’s plume candidate is sitting right on the thermal anomaly," said William Sparks of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland. Sparks led the Hubble plume studies in both 2014 and 2016.
The researchers say if the plumes and the warm spot are linked, it could mean water being vented from beneath the moon's icy crust is warming the surrounding surface. Another idea is that water ejected by the plume falls onto the surface as a fine mist, changing the structure of the surface grains and allowing them to retain heat longer than the surrounding landscape.
For both the 2014 and 2016 observations, the team used Hubble's Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph (STIS) to spot the plumes in ultraviolet light. As Europa passes in front of Jupiter, any atmospheric features around the edge of the moon block some of Jupiter’s light, allowing STIS to see the features in silhouette. Sparks and his team are continuing to use Hubble to monitor Europa for additional examples of plume candidates and hope to determine the frequency with which they appear.
NASA's future exploration of ocean worlds is enabled by Hubble's monitoring of Europa's putative plume activity and Cassini's long-term investigation of the Enceladus plume. In particular, both investigations are laying the groundwork for NASA's Europa Clipper mission, which is planned for launch in the 2020s.
“If there are plumes on Europa, as we now strongly suspect, with the Europa Clipper we will be ready for them,” said Jim Green, Director of Planetary Science, at NASA Headquarters.
Hubble's identification of a site which appears to have persistent, intermittent plume activity provides a tempting target for the Europa mission to investigate with its powerful suite of science instruments. In addition, some of Sparks' co-authors on the Hubble Europa studies are preparing a powerful ultraviolet camera to fly on Europa Clipper that will make similar measurements to Hubble's, but from thousands of times closer. And several members of the Cassini INMS team are developing an exquisitely sensitive, next-generation version of their instrument for flight on Europa Clipper.
ENGINEERING A NEW GENERATION: Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed and ministers visit the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre in Dubai. (Wam)
The national space programme includes the building of the first scientific city that imitates life on planet Mars.
His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, and His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, launched the national space programme on Wednesday.
Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum and Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum during the launch ceremony of the UAE's national space programme, which is the largest integrated scientific plan of its kind in the region. - Wam photo
The two leaders have approved the strategy of the national space programme, which is deemed to be the largest integrated scientific plan of its kind in the region.
The national space programme includes the building of the first scientific city that imitates life on planet Mars. The city shall also include a museum of Mars and specialised laboratories. These are in addition to an experiment laboratory in zero gravity, Arab programe for space exploration, and the launch of the biggest forum of Mars scientists in the world.
They also launched the satellite manufacturing complex, which is part of the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre, so the UAE becomes the first Arab country that makes satellites fully indigenously, and shall be reaching Mars by 2021 as part of the Emirates Mars Mission. The UAE will also be the first Arab country to set up a permanent settlement on the red planet by 2117.
The launch ceremony was attended by Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai, and Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Presidential Affairs.
'To the top of the world'
The national space programme has also adopted a new programme to prepare Emirati astronauts along with Hope probe reaching Mars in the next four years, and the long-term plan of 2117 to build the first human settlement on the red planet.
"Our national Space programme constitutes a solid ground to create Emirati human resources specialised in space science, and aims to rehabilitate a generation that will be able to add to human knowledge," Sheikh Mohammed said.
"We aim to send the first Emirati astronaut to space in the next few years, because the UAE is the fastest and more capable country to face such a challenge.
"We will be working from today to train and prepare the first Emirati and Arab spaceman to join the cosmonauts team at the International Space Station."
The UAE space project is a message that shows the ability of the region's people to compete worldwide, he noted.
"We want to tell the world that we are able to contribute to the race of civilisations and make new scientific and cognitive contributions to humanity," Sheikh Mohammed pointed out.
Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed said that space exploration is an investment in the minds of Emiratis, Arab human resources and specialised science that will take the UAE to new successes. He added: "The UAE is heading to a new phase of scientific achievements.. We will be supporting our sons till they reach the top in the world."
Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed expressed his pride and glory in young Emirati scientific competence, emphasising that the UAE's top leaders are very keen on providing their sons with the tools and capabilities that shall open up horizons of innovation, creation and scientific progress and advancement to them.
"We endeavour to provide a better technological and scientific environment to our sons so they could add more development to humanity," Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed added. "We are planning for the next decades from now, since the future Emirati generations deserve the best and our young people are able to present quality scientific additions in all areas of specialisation.
"We need to have an active role and make contributions to the humanity's travel to space, and the UAE will be the first Arab country to reach planet Mars and to be an integrated reference for space science, its technologies and its industry in the region," he noted.
The national space programme strives to build national human resources of astronauts and break any hurdle that may hinder their ambitions, he concluded.
Russian Cosmonaut Says He Has Taken Relics of Saint to Space
Russian cosmonaut Sergey Ryzhikov uses a sat phone shortly after landing near Dzhezkazgan, Kazakhstan Monday, April 10, 2017, on the treeless Central Asian steppes Russia's Soyuz MS-02 space capsule carrying the International Space Station (ISS) crew of Andrei Borisenko and Sergey Sergei Ryzhikov of Russia and NASA astronaut Robert Shane Kimbrough landed in a remote area in Kazakhstan.
2nd Michibiki satellite to improve Japan’s GPS accuracy
The Second Quasi-Zenith Satellite Michibiki at JAXA's Tsukuba Space Center (Seiji Tanaka)
TSUKUBA, Ibaraki Prefecture--To boost the accuracy and reception of the existing GPS system for Japan, a new version of a satellite that will orbit directly over the Japanese archipelago has been unveiled.
Officials at the Tsukuba Space Center of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) here showed the Second Quasi-Zenith Satellite (QZS-2) Michibiki, literally meaning guidance or navigation, on April 5.
It is designed to boost the existing GPS and provide a better positioning reading for the people in Japan.
JAXA will send aloft three of the Michibiki satellite series by the end of fiscal 2017, and is scheduled to start full operation in fiscal 2018. The Second and Fourth Michibiki will be of the same model.
Michibiki satellites oscillate from the northern to southern hemisphere to remain in the same longitude as the Japanese islands. Their main advantage is that reception of signals from them are less susceptible to tall buildings and other obstacles when using smartphones or other devices on the ground.
With the use of a special signal receiver for Michibiki, the user's location can be pinpointed with a high degree of accuracy to within a few centimeters.
When the Second Michibiki goes up in space, with the First Michibiki already in operation, the duration that Japanese can access the highly accurate signals will almost double from the current six hours.