JPL Shares in Cosmology Prize for Planck Mission

An artist’s concept of the Planck spacecraft. (Credits: ESA/NASA/JPL-Caltech)

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — The team of scientists behind the European Space Agency’s Planck mission has been awarded the prestigious 2018 Gruber Cosmology Prize. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, played a key role in the design and construction of the Planck instrument, and in the scientific analysis of the mission’s data.

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GAO: James Webb Space Telescope Keeps Slipping Into the Future

Artist’s impression of James Webb Space Telescope. (Credit; NASA)

NASA’s massive James Webb Space Telescope continues to pile up cost overruns and schedule delays as it prepares to exceed the $8 billion cap placed on the program by Congress.

“The project and observatory contractor significantly underestimated the time required to complete integration and test work on the spacecraft element,” according to a new assessment by the Government Accountability Office (GAO). “Execution of spacecraft integration and test tasks was much slower than planned due to a variety of challenges including complexity of work and reach and access limitations on flight hardware.

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Cool Video of Herschel and Planck Spacecraft

imation of images taken by Herschel's Visual Monitoring Camera (VMC) shortly after separation from the Planck-Sylda composite at 15:38 CEST on 14 May 2009.
imation of images taken by Herschel's Visual Monitoring Camera (VMC) shortly after separation from the Planck-Sylda composite at 15:38 CEST on 14 May 2009.

ESA MISSION UPDATE

Stunning images taken from Earth and space show Herschel and Planck in flight on 14 May 2009. The first, taken from Herschel, show the Planck-Sylda composite just after Herschel’s separation, about 1150 km above Africa. A second set taken from ESA’s Optical Ground Station, shows Herschel, Planck, Sylda and the launcher’s upper stage long after separation, travelling together at an altitude of about 100 000 km.

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Waking the Dead — and for What?

Well, I was having a great birthday today. But, I just made the mistake of looking at the news which, aside from Obama’s inauguration, I had been avoiding due to its deeply depressing content. And man, did this news item bring me down.

It seems that some eggheads have decided to dig up the body of Galileo. Why would they do that, you ask? Great question. I wish there was a good answer.

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Ulysses Solar Spacecraft to Shutdown After Near 18 Years

NASA MISSION UPDATE

After more than 17 years of pioneering solar science, a joint NASA and European Space Agency mission to study the sun will end on or about July 1.

The Ulysses spacecraft has endured for almost four times its expected lifespan. However, the spacecraft will cease operations because of a decline in power produced by its onboard generators. Ulysses forever has changed the way scientists view the sun and its effect on the surrounding space. Mission results and the science legacy it leaves behind were reviewed today at ESA Headquarters in Paris.

“The main objective of Ulysses was to study, from every angle, the heliosphere, which is the vast bubble in space carved out by the solar wind,” said Ed Smith, Ulysses project scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. “Over its long life, Ulysses redefined our knowledge of the heliosphere and went on to answer questions about our solar neighborhood we did not know to ask.”

Ulysses ends its career after revealing that the magnetic field emanating from the sun’s poles is much weaker than previously observed. This could mean the upcoming solar maximum period will be less intense than in recent history.

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Microsoft Launches WorldWide Telescope

MICROSOFT PRESS RELEASE

REDMOND, Wash. — May 12, 2008 — The final frontier got a bit closer today as Microsoft Corp. officially launched the public beta of its WorldWide Telescope, which is now available at http://www.worldwidetelescope.org.

WorldWide Telescope is a rich Web application that brings together imagery from the best ground- and space-based observatories across the world to allow people to easily explore the night sky through their computers. WorldWide Telescope has been eagerly anticipated by the astronomical and educational communities as a compelling astronomical resource for students and lifelong learners, and as a way to make science fun for children.

“The WorldWide Telescope is a powerful tool for science and education that makes it possible for everyone to explore the universe,” said Bill Gates, chairman of Microsoft. “By combining terabytes of incredible imagery and data with easy-to-use software for viewing and moving through all that information, the WorldWide Telescope opens the door to new ways to see and experience the wonders of space. Our hope is that it will inspire young people to explore astronomy and science, and help researchers in their quest to better understand the universe.”

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NASA to Announce Discovery of Long Sought Object Next Week

NASA PRESS RELEASE

WASHINGTON — NASA has scheduled a media teleconference Wednesday, May 14, at 1 p.m. EDT, to announce the discovery of an object in our galaxy astronomers have been hunting for more than 50 years. This finding was made by combining data from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory with ground-based observations.

To participate in the teleconference, reporters must contact the Chandra Press Office at 617-496-7998 or e-mail mwatzke@cfa.harvard.edu. Live audio of the teleconference will be streamed online at: http://www.nasa.gov/newsaudio

A video file about the discovery will air on NASA Television on May 14. NASA TV is carried on an MPEG-2 digital signal accessed via satellite AMC-6, at 72 degrees west longitude, transponder 17C, 4040 MHz, vertical polarization. NASA TV is available in Alaska and Hawaii on AMC-7 at 137 degrees west longitude, transponder 18C, at 4060 MHz, horizontal polarization.

Plan to Identify Watery Earth-like Planets Develops

PENN STATE PRESS RELEASE

Erie, Pa. – Astronomers are looking to identify Earth-like watery worlds circling distant stars from a glint of light seen through an optical space telescope and a mathematical method developed by researchers at Penn State and the University of Hawaii.

“We are looking for Earth-like planets in the habitable zone of their star, a band not too hot nor too cold for life to exist,” says Darren M. Williams, associate professor of physics and astronomy, Penn State Erie, the Behrend College. “We also want to know if there is water on these planets.”

For life to exist, planets must have habitable temperatures throughout a period long enough for life to evolve. For life as we know it, the planet must have a significant amount of water. Scientists already know how to determine the distance a planet orbits from its star, and analysis of light interacting with molecules in the atmosphere can indicate if water exists. However, Williams and Eric Gaidos, associate professor of geobiology, University of Hawaii, want to identify planets with water on their surfaces.

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Spitzer Telescope Finds Organics and Water Where New Planets May Grow

NASA PRESS RELEASE
March 13, 2008

Researchers using NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope have discovered large amounts of simple organic gases and water vapor in a possible planet-forming region around an infant star, along with evidence that these molecules were created there. They’ve also found water in the same zone around two other young stars.

By pushing the telescope’s capabilities to a new level, astronomers now have a better view of the earliest stages of planetary formation, which may help shed light on the origins of our own solar system and the potential for life to develop in others.

John Carr of the Naval Research Laboratory, Washington, and Joan Najita of the National Optical Astronomy Observatory, Tucson, Ariz., developed a new technique using Spitzer’s infrared spectrograph to measure and analyze the chemical composition of the gases within protoplanetary disks. These are flattened disks of gas and dust that encircle young stars. Scientists believe they provide the building materials for planets and moons and eventually, over millions of years, evolve into orbiting planetary systems like our own.

“Most of the material within the disks is gas,” said Carr, “but until now it has been difficult to study the gas composition in the regions where planets should form. Much more attention has been given to the solid dust particles, which are easier to observe.”

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Hubble Space Telescope Detects First-Ever Organic Molecule on Extra-Solar Planet

NASA PRESS RELEASE

A team of astronomers led by Mark Swain of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., has made the first detection ever of an organic molecule in the atmosphere of a Jupiter-sized planet orbiting another star. The breakthrough, made with NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, is an important step in eventually identifying signs of life on a planet outside our solar system.

The molecule found by Hubble is methane, which under the right circumstances can play a key role in prebiotic chemistry – the chemical reactions considered necessary to form life as we know it.

This discovery proves that Hubble and upcoming space missions, such as NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, can detect organic molecules on planets around other stars by using spectroscopy, which splits light into its components to reveal the “fingerprints” of various chemicals.

“This is a crucial stepping stone to eventually characterizing prebiotic molecules on planets where life could exist,” said Swain, lead author of a paper appearing in the March 20 issue of Nature.

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