Friday, August 31, 2012

August 31st, More M-Class Flares Coming?

The above image was taken August 30th at 12:11:00 UTC by the Atmospheric Imaging Assembly (AIA), at 94 Angstroms, aboard the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO). This was the time of the M1 solar flare produced by an undesignated region on the southeast limb. Image Credit: SDO/AIA

For the end of August 29th and most of the 30th, the solar activity was moderate. A region around the east limb produced an M1 solar flare on the 30th at 12:11 UTC, along with multiple C-class flares. No Earth-directed coronal mass ejections (CMEs) were observed. And two new active regions were designated: AR 1562 and AR 1563. The forecast through September 2nd: The solar activity level is expected to be low with a chance for moderate activity.

At home, the geomagnetic field was at mostly quiet levels. The forecast through September 2nd: The geomagnetic field for the 31st and the 1st is expected to range from quiet to unsettled, with a chance for minor to major storm levels at high latitudes. This is due to the effects of a coronal hole high-speed stream. On the 2nd, activity is expected to return to mostly quiet levels with a slight chance for active to minor storm levels at high latitudes. Stay tuned...

To monitor solar flare activity minute by minute, visit the "Today's Space Weather" page of NOAA's Space Weather Prediction Center (www.swpc.noaa.gov/today.html).

To learn more about the sun and to stay current on solar activity, visit the mission home pages of the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) (sdo.gsfc.nasa.gov), the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) (sohowww.nascom.nasa.gov), the Advanced Composition Explorer (ACE) (www.srl.caltech.edu/ACE), and the Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory (STEREO) (stereo.gsfc.nasa.gov).

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Thursday, August 30, 2012

August 30th, A C4 Flare? Yawn...

The above image was taken August 29th at 19:58:00 UTC by the Atmospheric Imaging Assembly (AIA), at 94 Angstroms, aboard the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO). This was the time of the C4-class solar flare produced by an undesignated region on the southeast limb. Image Credit: SDO/AIA

For the end of August 28th and most of the 29th, the solar activity was low. The largest solar flare of the period was a C4 flare, produced just around the southeast limb on August 29th at 19:58 UTC. A new region was designated, Active Region 1560 (AR 1560), and no Earth-directed coronal mass ejections (CMEs) were observed. The forecast through September 1st: The solar activity level is expected to range from very low to low, with a slight chance for moderate activity.

Back at Earth, the geomagnetic field has been quiet. The forecast through September 1st: The geomagnetic field is expected to be predominately quiet on the 30th. For August 31st and September 1st, the activity is expected to range from quiet to unsettled, with a slight chance for active conditions, due to the effects of a coronal hole high-speed stream. Stay tuned...

To monitor solar flare activity minute by minute, visit the "Today's Space Weather" page of NOAA's Space Weather Prediction Center (www.swpc.noaa.gov/today.html).

To learn more about the sun and to stay current on solar activity, visit the mission home pages of the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) (sdo.gsfc.nasa.gov), the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) (sohowww.nascom.nasa.gov), the Advanced Composition Explorer (ACE) (www.srl.caltech.edu/ACE), and the Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory (STEREO) (stereo.gsfc.nasa.gov).

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Wednesday, August 29, 2012

August 29th, Snoozy Sol...

The above image was taken August 28th at 03:07:00 UTC by the Atmospheric Imaging Assembly (AIA), at 304 Angstroms, aboard the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO). This was the time of the B6-class solar flare produced by Active Region 1558 (AR 1558), on the east limb above the equator. Image Credit: SDO/AIA

For the end of August 27th and most of the 28th, the solar activity was very low. The largest solar flare of the period was a B6 flare, produced by Active Region 1558 (AR 1558) on August 28th at 03:07 UTC. A new region was designated, AR 1559, and no Earth-directed coronal mass ejections (CMEs) were observed. The forecast through the 31st: The solar activity level is expected to range from low to very low, with a slight chance for moderate activity.

At home, the geomagnetic field has been relatively quiet. The forecast through the 31st: The geomagnetic field is expected to be predominately quiet. Stay tuned...

To monitor solar flare activity minute by minute, visit the "Today's Space Weather" page of NOAA's Space Weather Prediction Center (www.swpc.noaa.gov/today.html).

To learn more about the sun and to stay current on solar activity, visit the mission home pages of the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) (sdo.gsfc.nasa.gov), the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) (sohowww.nascom.nasa.gov), the Advanced Composition Explorer (ACE) (www.srl.caltech.edu/ACE), and the Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory (STEREO) (stereo.gsfc.nasa.gov).

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Tuesday, August 28, 2012

August 28th, More ARs. That's About it...

The above image was taken August 27th at 08:21:00 UTC by the Atmospheric Imaging Assembly (AIA), at 131 Angstroms, aboard the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO). This was the time of the B9-class solar flare produced by Active Region 1558 (AR 1558), on the east limb. Image Credit: SDO/AIA

For the end of August 26th and most of the 27th, the solar activity was very low. Three new active regions were labeled: AR 1556, AR 1557, and AR 1558. And speaking of the latter, AR 1558 produced a B9-class flare, the largest for the period, on the 27th at 08:21 UTC. Several coronal mass ejections (CMEs) were observed, but none appear to be directed toward Earth. The forecast through August 30th: The solar activity level is expected to range from very low to low, with a slight chance for moderate activity.

Here at home, the geomagnetic field level ranged from quiet and unsettled. The forecast through August 30th: The geomagnetic field is expected to range in activity from quiet to unsettled levels with a slight chance for active conditions on the 28th and 29th, due to continued effects from a coronal hole high-speed stream. On the 30th, conditions are expected to return to predominately quiet levels. Stay tuned...

To monitor solar flare activity minute by minute, visit the "Today's Space Weather" page of NOAA's Space Weather Prediction Center (www.swpc.noaa.gov/today.html).

To learn more about the sun and to stay current on solar activity, visit the mission home pages of the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) (sdo.gsfc.nasa.gov), the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) (sohowww.nascom.nasa.gov), the Advanced Composition Explorer (ACE) (www.srl.caltech.edu/ACE), and the Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory (STEREO) (stereo.gsfc.nasa.gov).

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Monday, August 27, 2012

August 27th, Looking for Aurorae...

The above image, taken August 27th at 00:15 UTC, shows the auroral ovals for Earth's northern hemisphere (left) and southern hemisphere (right). The image is extrapolated from measurements taken during the most recent polar pass of the NOAA POES satellite. Image Credit: NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center

For the end of August 25th and most of the 26th, the solar activity was low. The sun's largest solar flare was a C1-class, produced on the 26th at 18:17 UTC from a region just around the east limb. So this is from a region to which we have yet to be introduced. No coronal mass ejections (CMEs) produced during this time are expected to have any effect on Earth. Forecast through August 29th: The solar activity is expected to range from very low to low with a slight chance for moderate solar activity.

Above Earth, the geomagnetic activity ranged from quiet to unsettled wth an isolated period of storms at the active and major levels at high latitudes. Forecast through August 29th: the geomagnetic field activity is expected to range from quiet to unsettled with a slight chance for active conditions. On the 27th, there is a slight chance for major storms at high latitudes. This chance increases on the 28th and 29th, due to a high-speed stream from a coronal hole. Stay tuned...

To monitor solar flare activity minute by minute, visit the "Today's Space Weather" page of NOAA's Space Weather Prediction Center (www.swpc.noaa.gov/today.html).

To learn more about the sun and to stay current on solar activity, visit the mission home pages of the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) (sdo.gsfc.nasa.gov), the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) (sohowww.nascom.nasa.gov), the Advanced Composition Explorer (ACE) (www.srl.caltech.edu/ACE), and the Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory (STEREO) (stereo.gsfc.nasa.gov).

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Sunday, August 26, 2012

August 28th, Sleepy Sun...


The above X-ray image of the sun was taken August 26st at 11:48:00 UTC by the Solar X-ray Imager (SXI) aboard the GOES-15 satellite. Image Credit: NOAA

For the end of August 24th and most of the 25th, solar activity was low. Active Region 1554 (AR 1554) produced one C1-class solar flare on the 25th at 02:36 UTC. Adn no coronal mass ejections (CMEs) observed during this period were expected to affect Earth. A new region was numbered, AR 1555, which will be watched as it grows in intensity. Forecast through August 28th: The solar activity is expected to be very low with a chance of C-class flares.

At home, the geomagnetic activity levels ranged from quiet to unsettled. There were two periods of storms at high latitudes which ranged from active to major levels. And the solar wind velocity increased to around 600 km/s with the arrival of a coronal hole high-speed stream. Forecast through August 28th: The geomagnetic levels are expected to range from quiet to unsettled. There is a slight chance for storms at high latitudes in the active to major levels, due to the residual effects from the coronal hole high-speed stream. The activity is expected to decline to mostly quiet levels with a slight chance for storms at the high latitudes on the 27th. On the 28th, levels should range from quiet to unsettled with a chance for minor to major storms due to the arival of another negative polarity coronal hole. Stay tuned...

To monitor solar flare activity minute by minute, visit the "Today's Space Weather" page of NOAA's Space Weather Prediction Center (www.swpc.noaa.gov/today.html).

To learn more about the sun and to stay current on solar activity, visit the mission home pages of the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) (sdo.gsfc.nasa.gov), the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) (sohowww.nascom.nasa.gov), the Advanced Composition Explorer (ACE) (www.srl.caltech.edu/ACE), and the Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory (STEREO) (stereo.gsfc.nasa.gov).

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Saturday, August 25, 2012

Thanks for His Small Step and Giant Leap...

The above image is a portrait of Astronaut Neil Alden Armstrong, commander of Apollo 11 mission. Image Credit: NASA

Saturday, August 25th, Neil Alden Armstrong passed away while recovering from surgery on the 7th to relieve blocked coronary arteries. Armstrong was 82. Born August 5, 1930, Armstrong was an American NASA astronaut, test pilot, aerospace engineer, university professor, United States Naval Aviator, and the first person to set foot upon the Moon.

"That's one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind." — Neil Armstrong, 2:56 UTC, July 21, 1969

Before becoming an astronaut, Armstrong was in the United States Navy and served in the Korean War. After the war, he served as a test pilot at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) High-Speed Flight Station, now known as the Dryden Flight Research Center, where he flew over 900 flights in a variety of aircraft. As a research pilot, Armstrong served as project pilot on the F-100 Super Sabre A and C variants, F-101 Voodoo, and the Lockheed F-104A Starfighter. He also flew the Bell X-1B, Bell X-5, North American X-15, F-105 Thunderchief, F-106 Delta Dart, B-47 Stratojet, KC-135 Stratotanker, and was one of eight elite pilots involved in the paraglider research vehicle program (Paresev). He graduated from Purdue University and the University of Southern California.

A participant in the U.S. Air Force's Man In Space Soonest and X-20 Dyna-Soar human spaceflight programs, Armstrong joined the NASA Astronaut Corps in 1962. His first spaceflight was the NASA Gemini 8 mission in 1966, for which he was the command pilot, becoming one of the first U.S. civilians to fly in space. On this mission, he performed the first manned docking of two spacecraft with pilot David Scott. Armstrong's second and last spaceflight was as mission commander of the Apollo 11 moon landing mission on July 20, 1969. On this mission, Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin descended to the lunar surface and spent 2½ hours exploring while Michael Collins remained in orbit in the Command Module. Armstrong was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Richard Nixon along with Collins and Aldrin, the Congressional Space Medal of Honor by President Jimmy Carter in 1978, and the Congressional Gold Medal in 2009.

"Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed."  Neil Armstrong, confirming touchdown on the Moon, 20:17 UTC, July 20, 1969

CLICK HERE to view NASA's official biography of Neil Armstrong.

CLICK HERE to view the Quicktime-formatted video excerpts from the Apollo 11 mission.

CLICK HERE to bring up the iTunes page of Apollo 11 recordings.

CLICK HERE to visit the NASA commemorative site of images and video from the Apollo Program.

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August 25th, Aurorae at High Latitudes!



The above image, taken August 25th at 02:13 UTC, shows the auroral ovals for Earth's northern hemisphere (left) and southern hemisphere (right). The image is extrapolated from measurements taken during the most recent polar pass of the NOAA POES satellite. Image Credit: NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center

For the end of August 23rd and most of the 24th, the solar activity was very low. Some coronal mass ejections (CMEs) were seen, but none that are expected to affect Earth. Keeping track of things, a new active region was designated, AR 1554. Forecast through the 27th: the solar activity is expected to be very low with a chance of C-class flares.

Earth's geophysical activity has ranged from quiet to unsettled, with storms ranging from active to minor at high latitudes. Forecast through the 27th: the geomagnetic activity is expected to range from quiet to unsettled with isolated periods of active storms. There is a chance for storms at high latitudes ranging from minor to major, due to a recurring high-speed stream from the coronal hole. Stay tuned...

To monitor solar flare activity minute by minute, visit the "Today's Space Weather" page of NOAA's Space Weather Prediction Center (www.swpc.noaa.gov/today.html).

To learn more about the sun and to stay current on solar activity, visit the mission home pages of the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) (sdo.gsfc.nasa.gov), the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) (sohowww.nascom.nasa.gov), the Advanced Composition Explorer (ACE) (www.srl.caltech.edu/ACE), and the Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory (STEREO) (stereo.gsfc.nasa.gov).

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Friday, August 24, 2012

August 24th, Coronal Hole Primer


The above X-ray image of the sun was taken August 24th at 02:20 UTC by the Solar X-ray Imager (SXI) aboard the GOES-15 satellite. Two coronal holes may be seen in as the dark regions, where there is no corona (hence, coronal hole). Image Credit: NOAA

The solar activity was very low for the end of August 22nd and most of the 23rd. All designated active regions were quiet and stable. And to add to them, Active Region 1553 (AR 1553) was numbered. A few low-level B-class flares were observed, but nothing more. And No Earth-directed coronal mass ejections (CMEs) were observed. Forecast through August 26th: Solar activity is expected to be very low with a slight chance for C-class flares.

Earth's geomagnetic field ranged from quiet to unsettled. Forecast through August 26th: The geomagnetic field is expected to range from quiet to unsettled through August 25th. And the same for August 26th, but with a slight chance for greater activity, due to an expected high-speed stream from a coronal hole.

Coronal Hole Primer

A coronal hole is an area where the Sun's corona is darker, and colder, and has lower-density plasma than average. Coronal holes were found when X-ray telescopes in NASA's Skylab mission were flown above the Earth's atmosphere to reveal the structure of the corona. Coronal holes are linked to unipolar concentrations of open magnetic field lines. During solar minimum, coronal holes are mainly found at the Sun's polar regions, but they can be located anywhere on the sun during solar maximum. The fast-moving component of the solar wind is known to travel along open magnetic field lines that pass through coronal holes.

A stream of solar wind flowing from a large coronal hole should reach Earth over August 26th/27th. High-latitude sky watchers should be alert for auroras during that time. Stay tuned...

To monitor solar flare activity minute by minute, visit the "Today's Space Weather" page of NOAA's Space Weather Prediction Center (www.swpc.noaa.gov).

To learn more about the sun and to stay current on solar activity, visit the mission home pages of the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) (sdo.gsfc.nasa.gov), the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) (sohowww.nascom.nasa.gov), the Advanced Composition Explorer (ACE) (www.srl.caltech.edu/ACE), and the Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory (STEREO) (stereo.gsfc.nasa.gov).

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Thursday, August 23, 2012

MSL/Curiosty: Welcome to Bradbury Landing

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Enjoy this view from Bradbury Landing. The above mosaic of 23 images is a 360-degree panorama showing evidence of a successful first test drive for NASA's Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) / Curiosity rover. On August 22nd, the rover made its first move, going forward about 15 feet (4.5 meters), rotating 120 degrees and then reversing about 8 feet (2.5 meters). Curiosity is about 20 feet (6 meters) from its landing site, now named Bradbury Landing. The images were made by Curiosity's Navigation cameras (Navcams).

Visible in the image are the rover's first track marks. A small 3.5-inch (9-centimeter) rock can be seen where the drive began, which engineers say was partially under one of the rear wheels. Scour marks left by the rover's descent stage during landing can be seen to the left and right of the wheel tracks. The lower slopes of Mount Sharp (Aeolis Mons) are visible at the top of the picture, near the center.

The MSL science team's new name for Curiosity's landing site was approved by NASA. The name is in memory of the influential author Ray Douglas Bradbury, who was born 92 years ago on August 22nd.

The choice of the name was not a difficult one for the MSL mission team. Many of the team members, as well as millions of other readers, were inspired by the stories of Bradbury, who also wrote of the possibility of life on Mars. In a career spanning more than 70 years, Ray Bradbury inspired generations of readers to dream, think and create. A prolific author of hundreds of short stories and nearly 50 books, as well as numerous poems, essays, operas, plays, teleplays and screenplays, Bradbury was one of the most celebrated writers of our time. Bradbury's groundbreaking works include Fahrenheit 451, The Martian Chronicles, The Illustrated Man, Dandelion Wine, and Something Wicked This Way Comes. He wrote the screenplay for John Huston's classic film adaptation of Moby Dick, and was nominated for an Academy Award. He adapted 65 of his stories for television's The Ray Bradbury Theater, and won an Emmy for his teleplay of The Halloween Tree.

Curiosity's August 22nd drive confirmed the health of the rover's mobility system and produced the rover's first wheel tracks on Mars. Curiosity will spend several more days of working beside Bradbury Landing, performing instrument checks and studying the surroundings, before embarking toward its first driving destination approximately 1,300 feet (400 meters) to the east-southeast.

The science team has begun pointing instruments on the rover's mast for investigating specific targets of interest near and far. The Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) instrument used a laser and spectrometers this week to examine the composition of rocks exposed when the spacecraft's landing engines blew away several inches of overlying material. Over its two-Earth-year prime mission, Curiosity will use its 10 science instruments to assess whether the area has ever offered environmental conditions favorable for microbial life.

Landed in Gale Crater on Mars on August 5th PDT (August 6th EDT), NASA's Mars Science Laboratory / Curiosity rover is managed for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington, D.C., by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena (Caltech). More information about Curiosity is online at www.nasa.gov/msl and mars.jpl.nasa.gov/msl . You can follow the mission on Facebook at: www.facebook.com/marscuriosity and on Twitter at: www.twitter.com/marscuriosity .

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August 23, Same Song, Next Verse...

The above image was taken August 22nd at 16:58 UTC by the Atmospheric Imaging Assembly (AIA), at 94 Angstroms, aboard the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO). The B6-class solar flare produced at that time by Active Region 1548 (AR 1548) can be seen just to the left of center. Image Credit: SDO/AIA

For the end of August 21st and most of the 22nd, the solar activity was very low. Beginning at 20:24 on the 21st, SOHO's LASCO C2 coronagraph observed a full halo coronal mass ejection (CME), having an estimated plane-of-sky speed of 884 km/s. Observations by the STEREO-A and STEREO-B satellites showed this to be a back-sided CME, not expected to have any affect on Earth. On August 22nd at 09:30 UTC, SDO/AIA instrument, at 193 Angstroms, recorded a filament eruption near Active Region 1549 (AR 1549). And a CME was subsequently recorded by SOHO's LASCO/C2 coronograph at 10:12 UTC, and the LASCO/C3 coronograph recorded the CME at 11:18 UTC. Analysis is underway to determine whether this CME could affect Earth. The biggest comotion for the time period came from Active Region 1548 (AR 1548), which produced a B6 solar flare on August 22nd at 16:58 UTC. Forecast: The solar activity is expected to be very low with a slight chance for C-class flars through August 25th.

Earth's geophysical activity has ranged from quiet to unsettled. Forecast: The geomagnetic field is expected to be predominantly quiet through August 25th. Stay tuned...

To monitor solar flare activity minute by minute, visit the "Today's Space Weather" page of NOAA's Space Weather Prediction Center (www.swpc.noaa.gov).

To learn more about the sun and to stay current on solar activity, visit the mission home pages of the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) (sdo.gsfc.nasa.gov), the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) (sohowww.nascom.nasa.gov), the Advanced Composition Explorer (ACE) (www.srl.caltech.edu/ACE), and the Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory (STEREO) (stereo.gsfc.nasa.gov).

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Wednesday, August 22, 2012

MSL/Curiosity: Wiggle and Park...

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech


The above animation is a set of four images showing the movement of the rear right wheel of NASA's Mars Science Laboratory (MSL)/Curiosity rover, as MSL drivers turned the wheels in place at the landing site on Mars.

Using the elbow of the wheel arm as a reference, and using an analog clock face for positioning, the sequence of the image is as follows: 3 o'clock, 2 o'clock, 4 o'clock, 3:30. This sequence can be confirmed by referencing the progression of the shadow a the upper right of the images.

The images were taken August 21st by Curiosity's Navigation cameras (Navcams) during the initial steering tests. The rover drivers anticipate Curiosity's first drive in the few days that follow the test on the 21st.

On the 22nd, for the first drive test, the rover drivers plan to "park" Curiosity in a location which they have carefully examined with Curiosity's stereo cameras. While the engineers are pretty confident about the currently location, where the descent stage deposited Curiosity, they want to begin the process they will use for the rest of the mission, in which they examine a location first, and then drive to it. The steps of the first test drive are as follows: Curiosity will drive 3 meters forward (about the length of the rover), turn the wheels to the right, and drive Curiosity back a little less than that distance. The result will be a change in position of a couple of meters, and a change in direction of 90 degrees to the left. The process will take less than 30 minutes for Curiosity to perform. The MSL engineers planned to upload the driving instructions later on the 21st, for execution by Curiosity on the 22nd.

Landed into Gale Crater on Mars over August 5th/6th, NASA's Mars Science Laboratory / Curiosity rover mission is managed for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington, D.C., by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena (Caltech). More information about Curiosity is online at www.nasa.gov/msl and mars.jpl.nasa.gov/msl . You can follow the mission on Facebook at: www.facebook.com/marscuriosity and on Twitter at: www.twitter.com/marscuriosity .

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MSL/Curiosity: First Stretch After a Long Trip!

The above Navigation Camera (Navcam) image shows NASA's Mars Science Laboratory / Curiosity rover's robotic arm, which was extended for the first time on Mars on August 20th. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

We all know how good it is to stretch after being cooped up during a long trip. And NASA's Mars Science Laboratory / Curiosity rover mission team would definitely agree.

On Monday, August 20th, Curiosity flexed its robotic arm for the first time since before launch in November 2011. The 7-foot-long (2.1-meter-long) arm maneuvers a turret of tools including a camera, a drill, a spectrometer, a scoop and mechanisms for sieving and portioning samples of powdered rock and soil.

Weeks of testing and calibrating arm movements are ahead before the arm delivers a first sample of Martian soil to instruments inside the rover. The August 20th maneuver checked motors and joints, extending it forward using all five joints, then stowing it again in preparation for the rover's first drive.

The turret has a mass of about 66 pounds (30 kilograms). Its diameter, including the tools mounted on it, is nearly 2 feet (60 centimeters). Once the robotic arm is completely checked, the Curiosity team will begin using the arm with the rover's sampling system. The first drive is planned for later this week.

Landed into Mars' Gale Crater over August 5th/6th, NASA's Mars Science Laboratory / Curiosity rover mission is managed for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington, D.C., by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena (Caltech). More information about Curiosity is online at www.nasa.gov/msl and mars.jpl.nasa.gov/msl . You can follow the mission on Facebook at: www.facebook.com/marscuriosity and on Twitter at: www.twitter.com/marscuriosity .

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Next Mission? The Winner Is...

The above image is an artist's rendering of NASA's InSight lander on Mars. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

On August 20th, NASA announced its choice for the next Discovery Program mission. Set to launch in 2016, the mission will take the first look into the deep interior of Mars to see why the Red Planet evolved so differently from Earth as one of our solar system's rocky planets.

It's called InSight: Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport. The mission will place instruments on the Martian surface to investigate whether the core of Mars is solid or liquid like Earth's, and why Mars' crust is not divided into tectonic plates that drift like Earth's. Detailed knowledge of the interior of Mars in comparison to Earth will help scientists understand better how terrestrial planets form and evolve.

InSight will be led by W. Bruce Banerdt at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. InSight's science team includes U.S. and international co-investigators from universities, industry and government agencies. The French space agency Centre National d'Etudes Spatiales, or CNES, and the German Aerospace Center are contributing instruments to InSight, which is scheduled to land on Mars in September 2016 to begin its two-year scientific mission.

InSight is the 12th selection in NASA's series of Discovery-class missions. Created in 1992, the Discovery Program sponsors frequent, cost-capped solar system exploration missions with highly focused scientific goals. NASA requested Discovery mission proposals in June 2010 and received 28. InSight was one of three proposed missions selected in May 2011 for funding to conduct preliminary design studies and analyses. The other two proposals were for missions to a comet (Chopper) and Saturn's moon Titan (TiME).

InSight builds on spacecraft technology used in NASA's highly successful Phoenix lander mission, which was launched to the Red Planet in 2007 and determined water existed near the surface in the Martian polar regions. By incorporating proven systems in the mission, the InSight team demonstrated that the mission concept was low-risk and could stay within the cost-constrained budget of Discovery missions. The cost of the mission, excluding the launch vehicle and related services, is capped at $425 million in 2010 dollars.

InSight will carry four instruments. JPL will provide an onboard geodetic instrument to determine the planet's rotation axis and a robotic arm and two cameras used to deploy and monitor instruments on the Martian surface. CNES is leading an international consortium that is building an instrument to measure seismic waves traveling through the planet's interior. The German Aerospace Center is building a subsurface heat probe to measure the flow of heat from the interior.

JPL provides project management for NASA's Science Mission Directorate. NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., manages the Discovery Program for the agency's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Denver will build the spacecraft.  JPL is a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.

For more information about InSight, visit: insight.jpl.nasa.gov .

For more information about the Discovery Program, visit: discovery.nasa.gov .

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August 22nd, All Quiet...



The above image is a GOES X-ray Flux plot, containing 5-minute averages of solar X-ray output in the 1-8 Angstrom (0.1-0.8 nm) and 0.5-4.0 Angstrom (0.05-0.4 nm) passbands. Data from the SWPC Primary GOES X-ray satellite is shown. As of February 2008, no Secondary GOES X-ray satellite data is available. So some data dropouts will occur during satellite eclipses. Image Credit: NASA/SWPC Boulder, Colorado, USA

The solar activity for August 21st was very low. There were a few B-class flares. On the labeling front, three new Active Regions were designated: AR 1550, AR 1551, and AR 1552. And several coronal mass ejections (CMEs) were observed, but none are headed toward Earth. Forecast: Solar activity is expected to range from very low to low through August 24th.

Earth's geomagnetic field has been quiet. Forecast: The geomagnetic field is expected to be predominately quiet through August 24th. Stay tuned...

To monitor solar flare activity minute by minute, visit the "Today's Space Weather" page of NOAA's Space Weather Prediction Center (www.swpc.noaa.gov).

To learn more about the sun and to stay current on solar activity, visit the mission home pages of the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) (sdo.gsfc.nasa.gov), the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) (sohowww.nascom.nasa.gov), the Advanced Composition Explorer (ACE) (www.srl.caltech.edu/ACE), and the Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory (STEREO) (stereo.gsfc.nasa.gov).

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Tuesday, August 21, 2012

August 21st, Sol Relatively Quiet...


The above X-ray image of the sun was taken August 21st at 03:56 UTC by the Solar X-ray Imager (SXI) aboard the GOES-15 satellite. Image Credit: NOAA

The Sun's activity was very low for August 19th and 20th. The most noise was generated by departing Active Region 1543 (AR 1543), with a B8 solar flare on the 19th at 23:15 UTC, off the northwest limb. AR 1548 also produced a low level B-class flare. Also on the 19th, at 19:18 UTC,  a full halo coronal mass ejection (CME) was observed in SOHO/LASCO C3 coronagraph, with an estimated plane-of-sky speed
of 605 km/s. STEREO-A and STEREO-B COR2 imagery shows this CME to be a back-sided event, not expected to affect Earth. Forecast through the 23rd: Solar activity should range from very low to low with a slight chance for an M-class flare.

Above Earth, the geophysical activity has ranged from quiet to unsettled with an isolated period of activity between the 19th at 21:00 and the 20th at 00:00 UTC. Forecast: The geomagnetic field is expected to range from quiet to unsettled with a slight chance for active conditions on the 21st and 22nd, due to that coronal hole high-speed stream. On the 23rd, conditions are expected to return to predominately quiet levels. Stay tuned...

To monitor solar flare activity minute by minute, visit the "Today's Space Weather" page of NOAA's Space Weather Prediction Center (www.swpc.noaa.gov).

To learn more about the sun and to stay current on solar activity, visit the mission home pages of the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) (sdo.gsfc.nasa.gov), the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) (sohowww.nascom.nasa.gov), the Advanced Composition Explorer (ACE) (www.srl.caltech.edu/ACE), and the Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory (STEREO) (stereo.gsfc.nasa.gov).

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Monday, August 20, 2012

Happy 35th, Voyager 2. Still Going Strong!


The above image shows the Voyager 2 spacecraft being launched on August 20, 1977, from the NASA Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral in Florida, atop a Titan/Centaur rocket. Image Credit: NASA/JPL

August 20th marks the 35th anniversary of the launch of NASA's Voyager 2 spacecraft, the first Voyager spacecraft to launch, on a journey that would make it the only spacecraft to visit Uranus and Neptune and the longest-operating NASA spacecraft ever. Voyager 2. Its twin, Voyager 1, launched 16 days later on September 5, 1977 and both are still going strong, hurtling farther and farther away from our sun. Voyager mission managers eagerly anticipate the day when both spacecraft pass through the barrier separating interplanetary and interstellar space.

The data from the Voyagers turned Jupiter and Saturn into full, tumultuous worlds, their moons from faint dots into distinctive places, and gave us our first up-close glimpses of Uranus and Neptune. The mission team cannot wait for learn what lies beyond the boundary of our solar system.

Voyager 2 became the longest-operating spacecraft on August 13, 2012, surpassing Pioneer 6, which launched on December 16, 1965, and sent its last signal back to NASA's Deep Space Network on December 8, 2000. (It operated for 12,758 days.)
 The mission team eagerly awaits the entry of the two Voyagers into interstellar space and have recently seen changes from Voyager 1 in two of the three observations that are expected to be different in interstellar space. The prevalence of high-energy particles streaming in from outside our solar system has jumped, and the prevalence of lower-energy particles originating from inside our solar system has briefly dipped, indicating an increasing pace of change in Voyager 1's environment. Voyager team scientists are now analyzing data on the direction of the magnetic field, which they believe will change upon entry into interstellar space.

Notable discoveries by Voyager 2 include the puzzling hexagonal jet stream in Saturn's north polar region, the tipped magnetic poles of Uranus and Neptune, and the geysers on Neptune's frozen moon Triton. Although launched second, Voyager 1 reached Jupiter and Saturn before Voyager 2, first seeing the volcanoes of Jupiter's moon Io, the kinky nature of Saturn's outermost main ring, and the deep, hazy atmosphere of Saturn's moon Titan. Voyager 1 also took the mission's last image: the famous solar system family portrait that showed our Earth as a pale blue dot.

Voyager 2 is about 9 billion miles (15 billion kilometers) away from the sun, heading in a southerly direction. Voyager 1 is about 11 billion miles (18 billion kilometers) away from the sun, heading in a northerly direction. For the last five years, both spacecraft have been exploring the outer layer of the heliosphere, the giant bubble of charged particles the sun blows around itself.

The mission team monitor Voyager 1 and 2 daily. And according to the team's data, the spacecraft are in great shape for having flown through Jupiter's dangerous radiation environment and having to endure the chill of being so far away from our sun.
The team has been carefully managing the use of power from the continually diminishing energy sources on the two spacecraft. The team members estimate that the two spacecraft will have enough electrical power to continue collecting data and communicating it back to Earth through 2020, and possibly through 2025. While no one really knows how long it will take to get to interstellar space, Voyager scientists think we don't have long to wait. And, besides, the first 35 years have already been a grand ride.

And now. The mission particulars...

The Voyager spacecraft were built by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California (JPL), which continues to operate both. JPL is a division of the California Institute of Technology (Caltech). The Voyager missions are a part of the NASA Heliophysics System Observatory, sponsored by the Heliophysics Division of the Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

For more information about the Voyager spacecraft, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/voyager and http://voyager.jpl.nasa.gov

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MSL/Curiosity: First Burn!

Above is a composite image, with magnified insets, depicting the first laser test by the Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) instrument aboard NASA's Curiosity Mars rover. In the main NavCam image, the small circle on the right indicates the "Coronation" rock (6 cm in diameter). In the expanded, ChemCam view of "Coronation" at the center," the small square (8 mm across) indicates the target for ChemCam. In the expanded, ChemCam view of the target at the top, the red arrow indicates the point of contact for the ChemCam laser. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL/CNES/IRAP

We have "first burn!" The Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) instrument aboard NASA's Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) / Curiosity rover was used on the Martian surface for the first time August 19th. ChemCam fired its laser at "Coronation," a fist-size rock, with 30 pulses during a 10-second period. Each laser pulse delivers more than a million watts of power for about five one-billionths of a second.

The energy from the ChemCam laser excites atoms in the rock into an ionized, glowing plasma. A built-in telescope catches the glow and uses three spectroscopes to analyze the light spectrum for information about the elements in the target.
ChemCam recorded spectra from the laser-induced spark at each of the 30 pulses. The goal of this initial use of the laser on Mars was to serve as target practice for characterizing the instrument, but the activity may provide additional value. Researchers will check whether the composition changed as the pulses progressed. If it did change, that could indicate dust or other surface material being penetrated to reveal different composition beneath the surface. The spectrometers record intensity at 6,144 different wavelengths of ultraviolet, visible and infrared light.

The ChemCam scientists reported that the data from the test were even better than they had during tests on Earth, in regard to signal-to-noise ratio. The results excited the ChemCam team even more about the science their instrument will make possible during possibly thousands of targets over the two Earth-years of the primary mission.

The technique used by ChemCam, called laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy, has been used to determine composition of targets in other extreme environments, such as inside nuclear reactors and on the sea floor, and has had experimental applications in environmental monitoring and cancer detection. Today's investigation of Coronation is the first use of the technique in interplanetary exploration.

Curiosity landed on Mars over August 5th/6th, beginning a two-year mission using 10 instruments to assess whether a carefully chosen study area inside Gale Crater has ever offered environmental conditions favorable for microbial life.

And now, the mission and instrument particulars...

ChemCam was developed, built and tested by the U.S. Department of Energy's Los Alamos National Laboratory in partnership with scientists and engineers funded by the French national space agency, Centre National d'Etudes Spatiales (CNES) and research agency, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS). ChemCam's three model HR2000 high-resolution miniature fiber optic spectrometers were built by Ocean Optics in Dunedin, Florida.

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, manages the Mars Science Laboratory Project, including Curiosity, for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. JPL designed and built the rover.

To learn more about ChemCam, visit www.msl-chemcam.com.

To learn more about Ocean Optics, visit www.oceanoptics.com .

The Mars Science Laboratory / Curiosity rover mission is managed for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington, D.C., by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena (Caltech). More information about Curiosity is online at www.nasa.gov/msl and mars.jpl.nasa.gov/msl . You can follow the mission on Facebook at: www.facebook.com/marscuriosity and on Twitter at: www.twitter.com/marscuriosity .

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Rapid-Fire M-Class Flares from AR 1548!

The above X-ray image of the sun was taken August 20th at 03:24 UTC by the Solar X-ray Imager (SXI) aboard the GOES-15 satellite. Image Credit: NOAA

On August 18th, Active Region 1548 (AR 1548) produced two M1 solar flares in rapid succession. The first was at 22:54 UTC and at 23:22 UTC. But AR 1548 has grown quiet since then. In addition, a new region was designated on the 19th, AR 1549. Forecast: The solar activity low through the 22nd, with a  20-percent chance of M-class flares.

Here at home, the geomagnetic field's activity ranged from quiet to unsettled over the 19th. A high-speed stream, caused by that coronal hole now turned toward Earth, began having an affect in the last 24 hours or so. You'll remember that on the 18th, around 08:00 UTC, the Advanced Composition Explorer (ACE) satellite recorded the solar wind speed increase from 400 km/s to 580 km/s. And soon thereafter, the Bz component of the interplanetary magnetic field (IMF) became negative, eventually reaching -12nT.  Bz returned to positive values around 14:00 UTC.  Earth currently remains in the positive region of the IMF. Forecast: The geomagnetic field is expected to be mostly unsettled with a chance for active conditions on the 20th (because of that high-speed stream) decreasing to a slight chance on the 21st and 22nd. Stay tuned...

To monitor solar flare activity minute by minute, visit the "Today's Space Weather" page of NOAA's Space Weather Prediction Center (www.swpc.noaa.gov).

To learn more about the sun and to stay current on solar activity, visit the mission home pages of the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) (sdo.gsfc.nasa.gov), the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) (sohowww.nascom.nasa.gov) and the Advanced Composition Explorer (ACE) (www.srl.caltech.edu/ACE).

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Sunday, August 19, 2012

August 18th, Lots A-Poppin'!

The above X-ray image of the sun was taken August 19th at 04:12 UTC by the Solar X-ray Imager (SXI) aboard the GOES-15 satellite. Image Credit: NOAA

On August 18th at 01:02 UTC, Active Region 1548 (AR 1548) produced a M5-class solar flare, accompanied by a Tenflare — a radio burst of 10cm or greater. Later, at 03:23 UTC, that same region produced an M1-class flare, also accompanied by a Tenflare. Finally, AR 1558 produced an M2-class flare at 16:07 UTC. Several coronal mass ejections (CMEs) were observed during this turmoil, but none appear to have any possible impact on Earth's geomagnetic field.

CMEs have been just a-poppin' of late. On August 17th, the instruments aboard the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) observed a filament eruption near AR 1543 around 16:00 UTC. And a CME was subsequently observed by the LASCO C2 coronagraph aboard the Solar Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO), at 18:36 UTC. And LASCO C3 instrument observed another CME at 19:18 UTC. AR 1543 had a second filament eruption and CME between the 17th at 22:00 UTC and the 18th at 00:34 UTC. Shortly thereafter, it was visible by the COR2 instrument aboard the STEREO-B satellite at 01:10 UTC. And then observed by SOHO's LASCO C3 coronagraph at 04:54 UTC. These observations have confirmed that this CME was definitely directed well north of the ecliptic. The solar activity forecast for the 19th through 21st is expected to be low, but with moderate activity likely.

Here at Earth, the geomagnetic field activity for August 18th has ranged from quiet to active. The ACE spacecraft rated the solar wind speed at about 350-420 km/s.ACE noted the solar wind density increased sharply after 19:00 UTC on the 18th. The geomagnetic field reached active levels between 18:00 UTC and 21:00 UTC. This increase coincided with a change to the sector and the arrival of the co-rotating active region. For August 19th through the 21st, the geomagnetic field is expected to range from quiet to unsettled, as that co-rotating interaction region and the coronal hole high speed stream continues to have an affect. Stay tuned...

To monitor solar flare activity minute by minute, visit the "Today's Space Weather" page of NOAA's Space Weather Prediction Center, URL: www.swpc.noaa.gov .

To learn more about the Sun and to stay current on solar activity, visit the mission home pages of the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO), sdo.gsfc.nasa.gov and the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO), sohowww.nascom.nasa.gov .

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Saturday, August 18, 2012

August 18th, AR 1547 Trumpets Arrival!

The above image was taken August 17th at 13:19 UTC by the Atmospheric Imaging Assembly (AIA), at 131 Angstroms, aboard the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO). The M2-class solar flare produced at that time can be seen on the east limb, produced by the soon-to-be Active Region 1547 (AR 1547). Image Credit: SDO/AIA

On August 17th, at 13:19 UTC, an M2-class solar flare was produced by a just-appearing region on the Sun's northeast limb. Later, at 13:54 UTC, The Large Angle and Spectrometric Coronagraph Experiment (LASCO) aboard the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) observed a coronal mass ejection (CME) that was produced by the flare. And then, at 17:20 UTC, an M1-class flare was produced by the same region. And then, that flare was accompanied by a Tenflare — a radio burst of 10cm or greater. Finally, after all of this fanfare, the new region was officially designated Active Region 1547 (AR 1547). But with all of this commotion, this region is still not as large as AR 1543, which is quickly approaching the west limb.

Even so, NOAA's forecast? The activity is expected to be low, with a slight chance of an M-class flare. Gee, I think that "chance" is looking pretty good with the arrival of our friend AR 1547.

Earth's geomagnetic field activity ranged from quiet to active levels for August 17th. Some active levels were observed (aurorae were seen above the Arctic Circle) between 00:00 and 03:00 UTC. This activity was caused by the arrival of the CME produced by AR 1543's C3 flare on August 13th. But the remainder of the day saw quiet to active conditions.

The geomagnetic field is expected to range from quiet to unsettled for August 18th through 20th with lingering effects from the CME and the arrival of arrival of a coronal hole high speed stream. Stay tuned...

To monitor solar flare activity minute by minute, visit the "Today's Space Weather" page of NOAA's Space Weather Prediction Center, URL: www.swpc.noaa.gov .

To learn more about the Sun and to stay current on solar activity, visit the mission home pages of the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO), sdo.gsfc.nasa.gov and the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO), sohowww.nascom.nasa.gov .

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Friday, August 17, 2012

Possible Aurorae August 17th/18th!


The above X-ray image of the sun was taken August 17th at 03:40 UTC by the Solar X-ray Imager (SXI) aboard the GOES-15 satellite. Image Credit: NOAA

The Sun's activity is expected to be low for August 17th through 19th. And there is a slight chance for an M-class flare on the 19th as our old friend Active Region 1532 (AR 1532) returns around the eastern limb.

Here at Earth, the geomagnetic field is expected to be at levels ranging from quiet to unsettled from the 17th through the 20th, with a chance for active levels.  Disturbed conditions are expected on the 17th and 18th with the arrival of the August 14th coronal mass ejection (CME). Arctic and Antarctic sky watchers should be alert for auroras. And disturbed conditions are also expected on the 19th, but in this case it is because of the arrival of a positive coronal hole high speed stream. Stay tuned...

To monitor solar flare activity minute by minute, visit the "Today's Space Weather" page of NOAA's Space Weather Prediction Center, URL: www.swpc.noaa.gov .

To learn more about the Sun and to stay current on solar activity, visit the mission home pages of the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO), sdo.gsfc.nasa.gov and the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO), sohowww.nascom.nasa.gov .

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Thursday, August 16, 2012

MS/Curiosity: Color-Coded Instrument Rundown

Rover Instruments

The above image is a color-coded chart identifying the ten science instruments aboard the Curiosity rove. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Still confused about the science instruments aboard NASA's Mars Science Laboratory / Curiosity rover? Well, as they say, a picture is worth a thousand words. Here is a figure showing the location of the ten science instruments on the rover.

There are four categories of instruments: the remote sensing instruments Mastcam (Mast Camera) and ChemCam (Laser-Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy for Chemistry and Microimaging) located on the remote sensing mast; the contact science instruments APXS (Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer) and MAHLI (Mars Hand Lens Imager) located on the end of the robotic arm; the analytical laboratory instruments CheMin (Chemistry and Mineralogy) and SAM (Sample Analysis at Mars) located inside the rover body; and the environmental instruments RAD (Radiation Assessment Detector), DAN (Dynamic Albedo of Neutrons), REMS (Rover Environmental Monitoring Station), and MARDI (Mars Descent Imager).

The Mars Science Laboratory / Curiosity rover mission is managed for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington, D.C., by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena (Caltech). More information about Curiosity is online at www.nasa.gov/msl and mars.jpl.nasa.gov/msl . You can follow the mission on Facebook at: www.facebook.com/marscuriosity and on Twitter at: www.twitter.com/marscuriosity .

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What's the Origin of Vesta's Dark Material?

The above image shows a piece of the Murchison meteorite, which fell in Australia. Murchison is one example of carbonaceous chondrite material found on Earth. Image Credit: University of Texas at Arlington

Researchers studying the observations of asteroid 4 Vesta by NASA's Dawn mission, have noticed that the surface has the highest albedo (brightness) and color variation of any asteroid observed to date. Terrains rich in low-albedo dark material have been identified using Dawn's Framing Camera (FC). These terrains include: (1) impact craters (in the ejecta blanket material and/or on the crater walls and rims); (2) flow-like deposits or rays commonly associated with topographic highs; and (3) dark spots (likely secondary impacts) nearby impact craters.

The dark material could be a relic of ancient volcanic activity or exogenic in origin. So think the authors of a new paper that is available for review at arXiv (pronounced "archive"), an online archive of scientific papers, maintained and hosted by Cornell University (arXiv.org). The paper's lead author is Dr. Vishnu Reddy, Research Assistant Professor for the Department of Space Studies at the University of North Dakota.

In the new paper, the research team reports that the majority of the spectra of Vesta's dark material are similar to carbonaceous chondrite meteorites mixed with materials indigenous to Vesta. Using high-resolution seven-color images, the team compared dark material's color properties (albedo, band depth) with laboratory measurements of possible analog materials. They found the band depth and albedo of the dark material to be identical to those of the carbonaceous chondrite xenolith-rich howardite Mt. Pratt (PRA) 04401. Laboratory mixtures of Murchison CM2 carbonaceous chondrite and basaltic eucrite Millbillillie also show band depth and albedo affinity to the Vesta's dark material. In addition, they found the modeling of carbonaceous chondrite abundance in the Vesta dark material is consistent with howardite meteorites. Also, they found no evidence for large-scale volcanism (exposed dikes/pyroclastic falls, etc.) as the source of Vesta's dark material. The team's modeling efforts using impact crater scaling laws and numerical models of ejecta reaccretion have suggested that the delivery and emplacement of Vesta's dark material during the formation of the approximately 400 km Veneneia basin, by a low-velocity (less than 2 km/sec) carbonaceous impactor. This discovery is important because it strengthens the long-held idea that primitive bodies are the source of carbon and probably volatiles (materials easily evaporating at normal temperaturs) in the early Solar System.

To read the paper, visit arxiv.org/abs/1208.2833v1.

The Dawn mission to Vesta and Ceres is managed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena (Caltech), for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington D.C. UCLA is responsible for overall Dawn mission science. The Dawn framing cameras have been developed and built under the leadership of the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, Katlenburg-Lindau, Germany, with significant contributions by DLR German Aerospace Center, Institute of Planetary Research, Berlin, and in coordination with the Institute of Computer and Communication Network Engineering, Braunschweig. The framing camera project is funded by the Max Planck Society, DLR, and NASA/JPL. To learn more about the Dawn mission, visit: www.nasa.gov/dawn and dawn.jpl.nasa.gov .

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August 16th, Sun-Earth Forecast

The above image is a Helioseismic and Magnetic Imager (HMI) Continuum image from NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO). The image was taken August 16th at 03:00 UTC. The most obvious feature in visible light is Active Region 1543 (AR 1543), seen at upper right. Image Credit: NASA/SDO/HMI

Our Sun's activity in the last 24 hours has been low. The greatest activity on August 15th was a B8-class flare at 08:46 UTC. In the forecast, solar activity is expected to range from very low to low over August 16th through 18th.

Aside from the possibilities of solar flares and CMEs, a solar wind stream is flowing from a coronal hole currently located just east of center on the face of the Sun. As the Sun's rotation brings the coronal hole into alignment with Earth, it should reach Earth around August 19th/20th.

On Earth, the geomagnetic field is expected to range from quiet to unsettled with a slight chance for active conditions on August 16th due to effects from the August 13th coronal mass ejection (CME) produced by Active Region 1543 (AR 1543). On August 17th, unsettled to active levels are expected with a slight chance for minor storm conditions due to effects from the August 14th CME, also produced by AR 1543. On August 18th quiet to unsettled levels are expected with a slight chance for active conditions as effects of the CME begin to subside.

To monitor solar flare activity minute by minute, visit the "Today's Space Weather" page of NOAA's Space Weather Prediction Center, URL: www.swpc.noaa.gov .

To learn more about the Sun and to stay current on solar activity, visit the mission home pages of the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO), sdo.gsfc.nasa.gov and the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO), sohowww.nascom.nasa.gov .

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Wednesday, August 15, 2012

MSL/Curiosity: "We're NASA and We Know It!"

Okay. Full disclosure. This is not an official, NASA-produced video. In addition, I am not aware that NASA has made any endorsement of the video whatsoever. Even so, it's a fun shout-out to the recent achievements of NASA and the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) / Curiosity rover mission. And most importantly, it's pretty darn cool!

I'm referring to a parody music video posted to YouTube on Wednesday, August 15th, by YouTube contributor "Satire." The video is called, "We're NASA and We Know It," and is a parody of the song, "Sexy and I Know It." The video's lead performer is David Hudson, who adjusted his hairdo to bear a more striking resemblance to MSL flight engineer Bobak Ferdowski (who, coincidentally, is a former rock musician, himself). In the 2-minute 48-second video, Hudson performs with others who all mimic the appearance of MSL mission team personnel, wearing ID badges and light blue shirts from former NASA missions. The video's cut-together scenes are a combination of (1) actual mission control images from Curiosity's landing night on August 5th (PDT), (2) footage from the Curiosity landing simulations, (3) performers mimicking the mission controllers at their stations, and (4) performers singing, dancing and generally looking really cool in their NASA nerdiness.

CLICK Here to watch the video on YouTube.

Below are the production credits and lyrics for the video. More information is available at the YouTube video URL.

"We're NASA and We Know It"

Performed by David Hudson; Executive Producer: Alexander JL Theoharis; Director: Forest Gibson; Editors: Cinesaurus, Steven Hudson & David Hudson; Written by Rob Whitehead; Prop Designer: Christopher Parker; Costumer: Jared Cheshier; Camera Operator: Forest Gibson, Steven Hudson, Jon Sim; Cast: Steven Hudson, Tara Theoharis, Zac Cohn, Danielle Sparks, Kevin Lane, Monica Houston, Anne Ketola, Tim Uomoto, Brendan Uomoto, Alexander JL Theoharis; Promotional Support: Zac Cohn and Tara Theoharis; Special Thanks to Anne Ketola for all the awesome NASA gear!

Lyrics:

When I EDL, time for seven minutes of flamin' hell
Rover's touchin' down
everybody passin' peanuts around, yeah
We're at mission control, getting full use outta ev-er-y Sol (wa!)
Just 25 feet left to go
It's Curiosity, look out below (yo)

Crane lower that rover (ah)
Crane lower that rover (ah)
Crane lower that rover (ah)

N-N-N-Now bug out!

Crane lower that rover
Crane lower that rove
Crane lower that rover

Now bug out!

Kickin' it at my con(sole), this is what I see (okay)
Data streaming back from curiosity
I got stars on my 'hawk
and I ain't afraid to show it (show it, show it, show it)
We're NASA and we know it
We're NASA and we know it

(Yo)
When I look for ice, gotta calibrate, gotta be precise
And when I raise the mast, panoramic views are unsurpassed (wha?)
This is how I rove, baking red rocks in my nuclear stove
We headed to the peak, with my laser eye
No one to bury me when it's time to die (ow!)

Crane lower that rover
Crane lower that rover
Crane lower that rover

Now bug out!

Crane lower that rover
Crane lower that rover
Crane lower that rover

Now bug out!

Shoutout to Carl the Sage (and) Neil Degrasse T (B.A.!)
Shoutout to JPL and the Rocker-Bogie
We're better than SpaceX
And we ain't afraid to show it (show it, show it, show it)
We're NASA and we know it
We're NASA and we know it

And now, some actual mission particulars...

The Mars Science Laboratory / Curiosity rover mission is managed for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington, D.C., by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena (Caltech). More information about Curiosity is online at www.nasa.gov/msl and mars.jpl.nasa.gov/msl . You can follow the mission on Facebook at: www.facebook.com/marscuriosity and on Twitter at: www.twitter.com/marscuriosity .

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MSL/Curiosity: MRO Color and Upgrade Complete!


Image credit: NASNASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona

NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), using its High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE), took its first color image of the landing site of NASA's Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) / Curiosity rover mission. Above is a color-enhanced version of the image and shows details of the layered bedrock on the floor of Gale Crater.

Curiosity appears as a double bright spot plus shadows from MRO's perspective, looking at its shadowed side, set in the middle of the blast pattern from the descent stage. MRO acquired this image from an angle looking 30 degrees westward of perpendicular. The MRO team plans to, in a few days, get another image looking more directly down, showing the rover in more detail and completing a stereo pair that will allow for a three-dimensional view of the site.

In other news, Curiosity has finished that four-day process of transitioning both of its redundant main computers to flight software for driving and using tools on the rover's arm. During the latter part of the spacecraft's 36-week flight to Mars and its complicated descent to deliver Curiosity to the Martian surface on August 5th, PDT (August 6th, EDT and Universal Time), the rover's computers used a version of flight software with many capabilities no longer needed. The new version expands capabilities for work the rover will do now that it is on Mars.

The MSL team is now performing functional checkouts of the science instruments and preparations for a short test drive. The first drive, possibly within a week or so, will likely include short forward and reverse segments and a turn. Curiosity has a separate drive motor on each of its six wheels and steering motors on the four corner wheels. Preparation and testing of the motor controllers will precede the first drive.

After the test drive, the planning schedule has an "intermission" before a second testing phase focused on use of the Curiosity's robotic arm. For the intermission, the 400-member science team will have the opportunity to pick a location for Curiosity to drive to before the arm-testing weeks.

Researchers have been examining images from Curiosity's cameras and HiRISE to identify potential targets to investigate near the rover and on the visible slope of the nearby three-mile-high mound informally named "Mount Sharp" (officially named Aeolis Mons by the International Astronomical Union).

During a prime mission of nearly two years, researchers will use Curiosity to investigate whether the selected area of Mars has ever offered chemical ingredients for life and other environmental conditions favorable for supporting microbial life. Curiosity carries 10 science instruments with a total mass 15 times as large as the science payloads on NASA's Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity.

To handle this science toolkit, Curiosity is twice as long and five times as heavy as Spirit or Opportunity. The landing site inside Gale Crater places the rover within driving distance of layers of Mount Sharp. Observations from orbit have identified clay and sulfate minerals in the lower layers, indicating a wet history.

The Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), a division of the California Institute of Technology, in Pasadena, manages the Mars Science Laboratory and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter missions for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. JPL designed and built Curiosity. HiRISE is operated by the University of Arizona in Tucson. The instrument was built by Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. in Boulder, Colorado. Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Denver built the orbiter.

For more about the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, visit www.nasa.gov/mro . To see thousands of images from HiRISE, visit hirise.lpl.arizona.edu .

For more about NASA's Curiosity mission, visit www.jpl.nasa.gov/msl
www.nasa.gov/mars and mars.jpl.nasa.gov/msl .

Follow Curiosity's mission on Facebook and Twitter at www.facebook.com/marscuriosity
and www.twitter.com/marscuriosity .

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Two AR 1543 CMEs Incoming!

The above image shows the Sun on August 14 at 00:31 UTC, the time of the C3-class solar flare produced by Active Region 1543 (AR 1543), shown at above center. The image was taken by the  Atmospheric Imaging Assembly (AIA)  aboard the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO). Image Credit: SDO/AIA

Remember that C2-class solar flare produced August 13th at 12:40 UTC by Active Region 1543 (AR 1543)? Well, we now have confirmation that an Earth-directed partial-halo coronal mass ejection (CME) was produced. Soon after, at 13:25 UTC, the Large Angle and Spectrometric Coronagraph Experiment (LASCO) instrument aboard the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) observed the CME.

On August 14th, the largest solar event was a C3-class solar flare, also produced by AR 1543, at 00:31 UTC. And subsequent to the flare, another Earth-directed partial-halo CME was observed by LASCO at 01:30 UTC. Looking forward, the solar activity is expected to be low with a slight chance for an isolated M-class flare.

Back at Earth, the geomagnetic field has been quiet to unsettled. For the forecast, August 15th is expected to be mostly quiet. August 16th may have quiet to unsettled levels with a slight chance for active conditions, due to the effects from the CME produced by AR 1543's C3 flare on August 13th. On August 17th, unsettled to active levels are expected, with a slight chance for a minor geomagnetic storm, due to effects from the CME produced by AR 1543's C3 flare on August 14th. Stay tuned...

To monitor solar flare activity minute by minute, visit the "Today's Space Weather" page of NOAA's Space Weather Prediction Center, URL: www.swpc.noaa.gov .

To learn more about the Sun and to stay current on solar activity, visit the mission home pages of the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO), sdo.gsfc.nasa.gov and the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO), sohowww.nascom.nasa.gov .

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Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Dawn: Aquilia Crater

Image Credit: NASA/ JPL-Caltech/ UCLA/ MPS/ DLR/ IDA

The engineers of NASA's Dawn mission are working away, studying the recent issue with the spacecraft's reaction control wheels. We plan to have more information for you shortly on Dawn's reaction control system, how it works, and what the options are. But in the mean time, let's catch up on some of the high-altitude / low-altitude image comparisons from the mission's time at Asteroid 4 Vesta.

The above Dawn framing camera (FC) images of Vesta show Aquilia crater at both HAMO (high-altitude mapping orbit) and LAMO (low-altitude mapping orbit) resolutions. The left image is the HAMO image and the right image is the LAMO image. Aquilia is the large crater that does not fit completely into the LAMO image. The LAMO image has approximately 3 times better spatial resolution than the HAMO image. In images with higher spatial resolutions, smaller objects can be better distinguished. In the HAMO image, Aquilia crater appears to be a large crater that has structures in its center and around its rim that are probably due to the gravitational movement of the regolith that covers the crater. These structures, gullies along the crater’s rim and ridges and grooves further down towards its center, are more clearly visible in the LAMO image. Tiny craters can also be distinguished on the base of Aquilia crater in the LAMO image.

Aquilia is located in Vesta’s Pinaria quadrangle, in Vesta’s southern hemisphere. Dawn obtained the left image with its framing camera on October 16, 2011. This image was taken through the camera’s clear filter. The distance to the surface of Vesta is 700 kilometers (435 miles) and the image has a resolution of about 68 meters (223 feet) per pixel. This image was acquired during the HAMO (high-altitude mapping orbit) phase of the mission. The spacecraft obtained the right image with its framing camera on December 22, 2011. This image was taken through the camera’s clear filter. The distance to the surface of Vesta is 272 kilometers (169 miles) and the image has a resolution of about 22 meters (72 feet) per pixel. This image was acquired during the LAMO (low-altitude mapping orbit) phase of the mission.

And now, the mission particulars...

The Dawn mission to Vesta and Ceres is managed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena (Caltech), for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington D.C. UCLA is responsible for overall Dawn mission science. The Dawn framing cameras have been developed and built under the leadership of the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, Katlenburg-Lindau, Germany, with significant contributions by DLR German Aerospace Center, Institute of Planetary Research, Berlin, and in coordination with the Institute of Computer and Communication Network Engineering, Braunschweig. The framing camera project is funded by the Max Planck Society, DLR, and NASA/JPL.

To learn more about the Dawn mission, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/dawn and http://dawn.jpl.nasa.gov .
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