samedi 15 février 2014

Responding to Potential Asteroid Redirect Mission Targets

NASA patch.

February 15, 2014

One year ago, on Feb. 15, 2013, the world was witness to the dangers presented by near-Earth Objects (NEOs) when a relatively small asteroid entered Earth's atmosphere, exploding over Chelyabinsk, Russia, and releasing more energy than a large atomic bomb. Tracking near-Earth asteroids has been a significant endeavor for NASA and the broader astronomical community, which has discovered 10,713 known near-Earth objects to date. NASA is now pursuing new partnerships and collaborations in an Asteroid Grand Challenge to accelerate NASA's existing planetary defense work, which will help find all asteroid threats to human population and know what to do about them. In parallel, NASA is developing an Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) -- a first-ever mission to identify, capture and redirect an asteroid to a safe orbit of Earth's moon for future exploration by astronauts in the 2020s.

ARM will use capabilities in development, including the new Orion spacecraft and Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, and high-power Solar Electric Propulsion. All are critical components of deep-space exploration and essential to meet NASA's goal of sending humans to Mars in the 2030s. The mission represents an unprecedented technological feat, raising the bar for human exploration and discovery, while helping protect our home planet and bringing us closer to a human mission to one of these intriguing objects.

NASA is assessing two concepts to robotically capture and redirect an asteroid mass into a stable orbit around the moon. In the first proposed concept, NASA would capture and redirect an entire very small asteroid. In the alternative concept, NASA would retrieve a large, boulder-like mass from a larger asteroid and return it to this same lunar orbit. In both cases, astronauts aboard an Orion spacecraft would then study the redirected asteroid mass in the vicinity of the moon and bring back samples.

Image above: This conceptual image shows NASA’s Orion spacecraft approaching the robotic asteroid capture vehicle. The trip from Earth to the captured asteroid will take Orion and its two-person crew an estimated nine days. Image Source: NASA.

Very few known near-Earth objects are ARM candidates. Most known asteroids are too big to be fully captured and have orbits unsuitable for a spacecraft to redirect them into orbit around the moon. Some are so distant when discovered that their size and makeup are difficult for even our most powerful telescopes to discern. Still others could be potential targets, but go from newly discovered to out of range of our telescopes so quickly there is not enough time to observe them adequately.

For the small asteroids that do closely approach Earth, NASA's Near-Earth Object Program has developed a rapid response system whose chief goal is to mobilize NEO-observing assets when an asteroid first appears that could qualify as a potential candidate for the ARM mission.

"There are other elements involved, but if size were the only factor, we'd be looking for an asteroid smaller than about 40 feet (12 meters) across," said Paul Chodas, a senior scientist in the Near-Earth Object Program Office at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. "There are hundreds of millions of objects out there in this size range, but they are small and don't reflect a lot of sunlight, so they can be hard to spot. The best time to discover them is when they are brightest, when they are close to Earth."

Asteroids are discovered by small, dedicated teams of astronomers using optical telescopes that repeatedly scan the sky looking for star-like objects, which change location in the sky slightly over the course of an hour or so. Asteroid surveys detect hundreds of such moving objects in a single night, but only a fraction of these will turn out to be new discoveries. The coordinates of detected moving objects are passed along to the Minor Planet Center in Cambridge, Mass., which either identifies each as a previously known object or assigns it a new designation. The observations are collated and then electronically published, along with an estimate of the object's orbit and intrinsic brightness. Automatic systems at NASA's Near-Earth Object Program Office at JPL take the Minor Planet Center data, compute refined orbit and brightness estimates, and update its online small-body database. A new screening process for the asteroid redirect mission has been set up which regularly checks the small-body database, looking for potential new candidates for the ARM mission.

Asteroid Redirect Mission Concept Animation

"If an asteroid looks as if it could meet the criteria of size and orbit, our automated system sends us an email with the subject "'New ARM Candidate,'" said Chodas. "When that happens, and it has happened several dozen times since we implemented the system in March of 2013, I know we'll have a busy day."

Remember, things have to happen quickly because these small NEOs are only visible to even the most powerful of telescopes for a short period of a few days during their flyby of Earth. After receiving such an email, Chodas contacts the scientists coordinating radar observations at NASA's Deep Space Network station at Goldstone, Calif., and the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, to check on their availability. These are massive radar telescopes (the width of the Goldstone dish is 230 feet, or 70 meters, and the Arecibo dish is a whopping 1,000 feet, or 305 meters, wide). They have the capability of bouncing powerful microwaves off nearby asteroids, providing size and rotation information, and at times, even generating detailed images of an asteroid's surface. If these radar telescopes can see an asteroid and track it, definitive data on its orbit and size will quickly follow.

Chodas may also contact selected optical observatories run by professionals or sophisticated amateurs, who may be able to quickly turn their telescopes to observe the small space rock.

"The optical telescopes play an important role, as their observations can be used to improve our prediction of the orbital path, as well as provide data that helps us establish the rotation rate of an asteroid," said Chodas.

Chodas also reaches out to the NASA-funded Infrared Telescope Facility (IRTF) in Mauna Kea, Hawaii. If the IRTF can detect the space rock, it can provide a wealth of detailed data on spectral type, reflectivity and expected composition.

"After one of these alerts, there is a lot of calling and emailing going on in the beginning," said Chodas. "Then, we just simply have to wait to see what this worldwide network of assets can do to characterize the physical attributes of the potential ARM target."

Image above: In this conceptual image, the two-person crew uses a translation boom to travel from the Orion spacecraft to the captured asteroid during a spacewalk. Image Source: NASA.

Scientists estimate that several dozen asteroids in the 20-to-40-foot (6-to-12-meter) size range fly by Earth at a distance even closer than the moon every year. But only a fraction of these are actually detected, and even fewer are in orbits that are good candidates for ARM. Roughly half will pass Earth on the daytime side and are impossible to find in the bright glare of sunlight. Even so, current asteroid surveys are finding tens of asteroids in this size range every year, and new technology is coming online to make detection of these objects even more likely.

"The NASA-funded Catalina Sky Survey, which has made the majority of NEO discoveries since its inception in 2004, is getting an upgrade," said Lindley Johnson, program executive for the Near-Earth Objects Program at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "We also will have new telescopes with an upgraded detection capability, like PanSTARRS 2 and ATLAS, coming online soon, and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's new Space Surveillance Telescope will give us a hand as well."

As part of its effort to find asteroids hazardous to Earth and destinations for future robotic and human exploration, NASA's NEO program will continue to search for even better potential targets for ARM. Also, NASA's WISE spacecraft has been reactivated and rechristened NEOWISE (link to: and could be used to characterize potential ARM targets.

In an attempt to leave no space-stone unturned, the agency is also combining public-private partnerships, crowdsourcing and incentive prizes to enhance existing efforts. Through its Asteroid Grand Challenge, NASA is reaching out to any and all who may have the next pioneering idea in asteroid research.

Of course, all this looking up and out and into the dim recesses of the solar system requires funding. NASA is already spending $20 million per year in the search for potentially hazardous asteroids through the Near Earth Object Observation Program. NASA's FY 14 budget included $105 million to plan for the capture and redirection of an asteroid, increase innovative partnerships and approaches to help us amplify efforts to identify and track and characterize asteroids, and conduct studies for mitigating potential threats.

We are learning a lot more about space rocks than we ever had before and along with that the rate of discoveries will continue to climb. And of those, only a portion of the new asteroids discovered is destined to have the right stuff for an asteroid retrieval mission -- the right size and the right orbit to satisfy mission requirements for the asteroid redirect mission.

The Near-Earth Object Program Office reports that, with current asteroid surveys already in place, about two potential candidates suitable for the asteroid redirect mission are discovered every year. The rate of discovery is projected to at least double as new imaging assets come online.

Image above: This concept image shows an astronaut preparing to take samples from the captured asteroid after it has been relocated to a stable orbit in the Earth-moon system. Hundreds of rings are affixed to the asteroid capture bag, helping the astronaut carefully navigate the surface.

Does Chodas think there is a perfect target asteroid out there for an asteroid redirect mission?

"Absolutely. There are a lot of asteroids out there, and there are a lot of dedicated people down here, looking for them," said Chodas. "You put the two together and it's only a matter of time before we find some space rocks that fit our needs."

NASA's Near-Earth Object Program at NASA Headquarters, Washington, manages and funds the search, study and monitoring of asteroids and comets whose orbits periodically bring them close to Earth. JPL manages the Near-Earth Object Program Office for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. JPL is a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.

More information about asteroids and near-Earth objects is available at:, and via Twitter at

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Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency:

Images, Video, Text, Credits: NASA / JPL / DC Agle.

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vendredi 14 février 2014

In pictures: Access to the last LHC splice

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Feb. 14, 2014

Image above: Members of the Superconducting Magnets And Circuits Consolidation team (SMACC) celebrate in style after opening up the last LHC splice (Image: Michael Struik/CERN).

Since April last year, the Superconducting Magnets And Circuits Consolidation (SMACC) team has been strengthening the electrical connections of the superconducting circuits on the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). This work is taking place as part of the first LHC long shutdown.

To consolidate an interconnection between LHC magnets, the SMACC team has first to open the zone of the accelerator around the joints. The first step is to slide a custom-built metallic bellows of the way and remove the thermal shielding inside, revealing a series of metallic pipes linking the magnets to each other. One set of these pipes – the "M-lines" – must then be cut open to access the splices between the superconducting cables.

Image above: An engineer at work at a section where magnets join on the LHC (Image: Michael Struik/CERN).

"Opening the M-lines allows us to check the quality of the existing connections, to determine if they need to be redone before they are consolidated," says CERN engineer Jean-Philippe Tock, who leads the SMACC project.

Last week, the team – composed of CERN staff, mechanics from Pakistan and industrial support  – opened the last so-called M-line stainless steel sleeve. They celebrated this milestone in style, with a Formula-1 type photo opportunity.

Image above: An engineer inspects a splice inside a recently opened M line (Image: Michael Struik/CERN).

Tock says that the rest of the consolidation project is progressing well. "Over 1000 of the 1695 interconnections between magnets on the LHC have been re-welded," he says. "And more than a quarter of the accelerator has been permanently reclosed and leak tested."

Image above: Members of the Superconducting Magnets And Circuits Consolidation team (SMACC) in the LHC tunnel (Image: Michael Struik/CERN).

Tock says that all the activities are moving in harmony thanks to a dedicated coordination team and efficient supervision of the production team. "Consecutive activities take place one behind the other in a train-like structure moving along the accelerator," he says.

The work continues…


CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, is the world's leading laboratory for particle physics. It has its headquarters in Geneva. At present, its Member States are Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. Romania is a candidate for accession. Israel is an Associate Member in the pre-stage to Membership. India, Japan, the Russian Federation, the United States of America, Turkey, the European Commission and UNESCO have Observer status.

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Large Hadron Collider (LHC):

For more information about European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), visit:

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: CERN / Cian O'Luanaigh.

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LADEE Sends Its First Images of the Moon Back to Earth

NASA - LADEE Mission patch.

February 14, 2014

Animation above: Series of LADEE star tracker images features the lunar terrain. Image Credit: NASA Ames.

Earlier this month, NASA's Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) observatory successfully downlinked images of the moon and stars taken by onboard camera systems, known as star trackers. This is the first time the LADEE team commanded the spacecraft to send these pictures back to Earth.

The main job of a star tracker is to snap images of the surrounding star field so that the spacecraft can internally calculate its orientation in space. It completes this task many times per minute. The accuracy of each of LADEE's instruments' measurements depends on the star tracker calculating the precise orientation of the spacecraft.

"Star tracker cameras are actually not very good at taking ordinary images," said Butler Hine LADEE project manager at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif. "But they can sometimes provide exciting glimpses of the lunar terrain."

Given the critical nature of its assignment, a star tracker doesn't use ordinary cameras. Star trackers' lenses have a wide-angle field of view in order to capture the night sky in a single frame.

The images shown here were acquired on Feb. 8, 2014, around 23:45 UTC, while LADEE was carrying out atmospheric measurements. The series of five images were taken at one-minute intervals, and caught features in the northern western hemisphere of the moon. LADEE was traveling approximately 60 miles (100 km) per minute along its orbit. All images were taken during lunar night, but with Earthshine illuminating the surface.

The initial image captured the smooth-floored crater Krieger, about 14 miles (23 km) in diameter, on the horizon, with four mile (seven km) wide Toscanelli, in the foreground.

The second image shows Wollaston P, about two-and-a-half miles (4 km) diameter, near the horizon, and the southeastern flank of the lunar mountain Mons Herodotus.

The third image caught a minor lunar mountain range, Montes Agricola, which is northwest of the large bright crater Aristarchus (out of view), as well as the flat-floored crater Raman, about six miles (10 km) diameter.

Image four in the series captures Golgi, about four miles (6 km) in diameter, and three-mile-wide (5 km) Zinner.

The final image views craters Lichtenberg A and Schiaparelli E in the smooth mare basalt plains of Western Oceanus Procellarum, west of the Aristarchus plateau.

Artist's view of LADEE spacecraft in Moon orbit. Image Credit: NASA

The star trackers will operate while LADEE continues to measure the chemical composition of the atmosphere, collect and analyze samples of lunar dust particles in the atmosphere and hope to address a long-standing question: Was lunar dust, electrically charged by sunlight, responsible for the pre-sunrise glow above the lunar horizon observed during several Apollo missions? And who knows? The star trackers may help answer that question.

NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington funds the LADEE mission. Ames manages the overall mission and serves as a base for mission operations and real-time control of the probe. NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., catalogues and distributes data to a science team located across the country and manages the science instruments. NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., manages LADEE within the Lunar Quest Program Office.

For more information about LADEE Mission, visit:

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA's Ames Research Center / Rachel Hoover.


Hubble Looks Into Terzan 7

NASA - Hubble Space Telescope patch.

Feb. 14, 2014

Named after its discoverer, the French-Armenian astronomer Agop Terzan, this is the globular cluster Terzan 7 — a densely packed ball of stars bound together by gravity. It lies just over 75,000 light-years away from us on the other side of our galaxy, the Milky Way. It is a peculiar cluster, quite unlike others we observe, making it an intriguing object of study for astronomers.

Evidence shows that Terzan 7 used to belong to a small galaxy called the Sagittarius Dwarf Galaxy, a mini-galaxy discovered in 1994. This galaxy is currently colliding with, and being absorbed by, the Milky Way, which is a monster in size when compared to this tiny one. It seems that this cluster has already been kidnapped from its former home and now is part of our own galaxy.

Astronomers recently discovered that all the stars in Terzan 7 were born at around the same time, and are about eight billion years old. This is unusually young for such a cluster. The shared birthday is another uncommon property; a large number of globular clusters, both in the Milky Way and in other galaxies, seem to have at least two clearly differentiated generations of stars that were born at different times.

NASA & ESA Hubble Space Telescope in orbit. Image Credit: NASA

Some explanations suggest that there is something different about clusters that form within dwarf galaxies, giving them a different composition. Others suggest that clusters like Terzan 7 only have enough material to form one batch of stars, or that perhaps its youthfulness has prevented it from yet forming another generation.

The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between NASA and the European Space Agency. NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center manages the telescope. The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) conducts Hubble science operations. STScI is operated for NASA by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, Inc., in Washington, D.C.

For more information about Hubble Space Telescope, visit: and

Images, Text, Credit: NASA, ESA, and A. Sarajedini (University of Florida) Acknowledgement: Gilles Chapdelaine.


Mars Rover Heads Uphill After Solving 'Doughnut' Riddle

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February 14, 2014

Image above: This image from NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity shows where a rock called "Pinnacle Island" (lower left corner) had been before it appeared in front of the rover in early January 2014. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell Univ./Arizona State Univ.

Researchers have determined the now-infamous Martian rock resembling a jelly doughnut, dubbed Pinnacle Island, is a piece of a larger rock broken and moved by the wheel of NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity in early January.

Only about 1.5 inches wide (4 centimeters), the white-rimmed, red-centered rock caused a stir last month when it appeared in an image the rover took Jan. 8 at a location where it was not present four days earlier.

More recent images show the original piece of rock struck by the rover's wheel, slightly uphill from where Pinnacle Island came to rest.

"Once we moved Opportunity a short distance, after inspecting Pinnacle Island, we could see directly uphill an overturned rock that has the same unusual appearance," said Opportunity Deputy Principal Investigator Ray Arvidson of Washington University in St. Louis. "We drove over it. We can see the track. That's where Pinnacle Island came from."

Examination of Pinnacle Island revealed high levels of elements such as manganese and sulfur, suggesting these water-soluble ingredients were concentrated in the rock by the action of water. "This may have happened just beneath the surface relatively recently," Arvidson said, "or it may have happened deeper below ground longer ago and then, by serendipity, erosion stripped away material above it and made it accessible to our wheels."

Now that the rover is finished inspecting this rock, the team plans to drive Opportunity south and uphill to investigate exposed rock layers on the slope.

Opportunity is approaching a boulder-studded ridge informally named the McClure-Beverlin Escarpment, in honor of engineers Jack Beverlin and Bill McClure. Beverlin and McClure were the first recipients of the NASA Medal of Exceptional Bravery for their actions on Feb. 14, 1969 to save NASA's second successful Mars mission, Mariner 6, when the launch vehicle began to crumple on the launch pad from loss of pressure.

NASA's Mars Science Laboratory (MSL)"Curiosity" rover. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

"Our team working on Opportunity's continuing mission of exploration and discovery realizes how indebted we are to the work of people who made the early missions to Mars possible, and in particular to the heroics of Bill McClure and Jack Beverlin," said rover team member James Rice of the Planetary Science Institute, Tucson, Ariz. "We felt this was really a fitting tribute to these brave men, especially with the 45th anniversary of their actions coming today."

Opportunity's work on the north-facing slope below the escarpment will give the vehicle an energy advantage by tilting its solar panels toward the winter sun. Feb. 14 is the winter solstice in Mars' southern hemisphere, where Opportunity has been working since it landed in January 2004.

"We are now past the minimum solar-energy point of this Martian winter," said Opportunity Project Manager John Callas of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif.  "We now can expect to have more energy available each week. What's more, recent winds removed some dust from the rover's solar array. So we have higher performance from the array than the previous two winters."

During Opportunity's decade on Mars, and the 2004-2010 career of its twin, Spirit, NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Project has yielded a range of findings proving wet environmental conditions on ancient Mars -- some very acidic, others milder and more conducive to supporting life.

JPL manages the Mars Exploration Rover Project for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. For more information about Spirit and Opportunity, visit:

You can follow the project on Twitter and on Facebook at: and

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA / Dwayne Brown / JPL / Guy Webster.


TurkSat 4A launched on Proton-M rocket

ILS - TurkSat 4A launch Mission poster.

Feb. 14, 2014

Proton-M with the upper stage (RB) Breeze-M launch

February 14, 2014 at 01:09:03 Moscow time from the launch complex of the platform 81 Baikonur cosmodrome starting calculations of rocket-space industry Russia, the launch of a space rocket (RKN) Proton-M with the upper stage (RB) Breeze-M intended for injection into the target orbit Turkish spacecraft communications (SC) TurkSat-4A.

Launch of Turksat 4A on Russian Proton-M Rocket

At 01:18 MSK head unit comprising RB Breeze-M and SC Turksat-4A cleanly separated from the third stage of the launch vehicle. Further removal of the spacecraft to the target orbit will be carried out by the operation of the propulsion system booster.

Turksat 4A satellite

The satellite is built by Mitsubishi Electric – МЕLCO of Japan for the Turksat AS satellite operator of Turkey. The TurkSat 4A launch on a Proton is contracted by International Launch Services Inc., a Russian/U.S. joint venture head-quartered in Reston, VA. ILS has exclusive rights for marketing the Russian-made heavy-lift Proton M launch vehicle worldwide. The state-run Khrunichev Research and Production Space Center of Russia, the Proton/Breeze M designer and manufacturer, has held majority interest in ILS since 2008.

For more information about International Launch System (ILS), visit:

Roscosmos Press Release:

Images, Video, Text, Credits: Roscosmos press service / ROSCOSMOS / ILS / Translation: Aerospace.

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Chandra Observatory Sees a Heart in the Darkness

NASA - Chandra X-ray Observatory patch.

Feb. 14, 2014

This Chandra X-Ray Observatory image of the young star cluster NGC 346 highlights a heart-shaped cloud of 8 million-degree Celsius gas in the central region. Evidence from radio, optical and ultraviolet telescopes suggests that the hot cloud, which is about 100 light years across, is the remnant of a supernova explosion that occurred thousands of years ago.

The progenitor could have been a companion of the massive young star that is responsible for the bright X-ray source at the top center of the image. This young star, HD 5980, one of the most massive known, has been observed to undergo dramatic eruptions during the last decade. An alternative model for the origin of the hot cloud is that eruptions of HD 5980 long ago produced the cloud of hot gas, in a manner similar to the gas cloud observed around the massive star Eta Carinae. Future observations will be needed to decide between the alternatives. Until then, the nature of the heart in the darkness will remain mysterious.

Full-field 3-color Chandra X-ray image of NGC 346

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Images, Text, Credits: NASA / CXC / U.Liege / Y.Nazé et al.


jeudi 13 février 2014

NASA's IBEX Helps Paint Picture of the Magnetic System Beyond the Solar Wind

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February 13, 2014

Image above: A model of the interstellar magnetic fields – which would otherwise be straight -- warping around the outside of our heliosphere, based on data from NASA's Interstellar Boundary Explorer. The red arrow shows the direction in which the solar system moves through the galaxy. Image Credit: NASA/IBEX/UNH.

Understanding the region of interstellar space through which the solar system travels is no easy task. Interstellar space begins beyond the heliosphere, the bubble of charged particles surrounding the sun that reaches far beyond the outer planets. Voyager 1 has crossed into this space, but it’s difficult to gain a complete global picture from measurements in only one direction.

Spacecraft data in the past five years from near Earth and cosmic ray observations have painted a better picture of the magnetic system that surrounds us, while at the same time raising new questions. Scientists are challenging our current understanding in a new study that combines observations of massively energetic cosmic ray particles streaming in from elsewhere in the Milky Way along with observations from NASA's Interstellar Boundary Explorer, or IBEX.

The data sets show a magnetic field that is nearly perpendicular to the motion of our solar system through the galaxy. In addition to shedding light on our cosmic neighborhood, the results offer an explanation for a decades-old mystery on why we measure more incoming high-energy cosmic rays on one side of the sun than on the other. The research appears in the Feb. 13, 2014, issue of Science Express.

"It's a fascinating time," said Nathan Schwadron, of the University of New Hampshire in Durham and first author on the paper. "Fifty years ago, we were making the first measurements of the solar wind and understanding the nature of what was just beyond near-Earth space. Now, a whole new realm of science is opening up as we try to understand the physics all the way outside the heliosphere."

The heliosphere is formed as the constant stream of particles from the sun's solar wind flows outward in all directions until it slows down to balance the pressure from the interstellar wind. The only information gathered directly from the heart of this complex boundary region is from NASA's Voyager mission. Voyager 1 entered the boundary region in 2004, passing beyond the termination shock where the solar wind abruptly slows down. Voyager 1 crossed into interstellar space in 2012.

Artist's view of the IBEX spacecraft. Image Credit: NASA

IBEX, which orbits Earth, studies these regions from afar. The spacecraft detects energetic neutral atoms that form from interactions at the heliosphere's boundaries – an area that holds fascinating clues to what lies beyond. These interactions are dominated by electromagnetic forces. The incoming particles from the galaxy are made up of negatively-charged electrons, positively-charged atoms called ions, neutral particles and dust. Charged particles are forced to travel along the magnetic field lines that snake throughout space. Sometimes, a charged particle collides with a neutral atom at the outskirts of the heliosphere and captures an electron from the neutral atom. After stealing the electron, the charged particle becomes electrically neutral and speeds off in a straight line. Some of these fast neutral particles stream into the inner solar system and reach IBEX's detectors. Depending on the speed and direction of those neutral particles, scientists can determine information about the atoms and magnetic field lines involved in the original collision.

In 2009, IBEX scientists presented research showing an uneven distribution of neutral atoms. There was a ribbon along the heliospheric boundaries sending a preponderance of neutral atoms toward IBEX.

Researchers wondered if this shape might also relate to an unevenness seen in cosmic rays. On Earth, we measure more cosmic rays – particles that stream in from the rest of the galaxy at 99% the speed of light – coming in from near the tail side of the heliosphere than from the other side. Teasing out the source and paths of incoming cosmic rays isn't easy as the rays gyrate around magnetic field lines both inside and outside our heliosphere before colliding with other particles in Earth’s atmosphere, giving a shower of secondary particles that, in turn, are what we detect. To complicate things further, the heliosphere is moving through the galaxy.

"At some level, it's like trying to determine the wind direction when you're riding a bike very quickly and the wind isn't particularly strong," said Eric Christian, the IBEX project scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., and a co-author on the paper. "There's some effect from the wind, but it's small and hard to measure."

Image above: The magnetic fields in interstellar space proposed by IBEX predict that cosmic rays would come in as shown on the right – blue represents fewer rays. This looks similar to what is actually observed, shown on the left, thus supporting IBEX's findings. Image Credit: NASA/IBEX/UNH.

To see if the IBEX data related to the cosmic ray observations, Schwadron used IBEX data to build a computer model of what the interplanetary magnetic field would look like around the heliosphere. Without the heliosphere, the field lines would be straight and parallel.

"But the heliosphere is kind of like an egg sitting in the middle of all these magnetic field lines," said Schwadron. "The field lines have to distort themselves around that."

With this model in hand, he simulated how the heliosphere would affect the cosmic rays. He assumed that the rays came in to the heliosphere evenly from everywhere in space, but allowed them to be warped based on the local magnetic geometry. The simulations showed a non-uniform distribution of cosmic ray particles that jibed well with the unevenness seen in observations.

“The analysis of this important paper strongly correlates with the theoretical view of the heliosphere from the numerical model developed by our team, which uses IBEX observations to derive the interstellar magnetic field direction,” said Nick Pogorelov, a space scientist at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, who works with IBEX data. “It shows that the heliopause that separates solar and interstellar plasmas is very long, maybe 2 trillion miles in the downwind direction, and therefore may affect the transport of high-energy cosmic rays toward the solar system.”

Unfortunately, this doesn't prove that the heliosphere and the interstellar magnetic field are exclusively responsible for the cosmic ray mystery. However, this research shows that the magnetic configuration of our neighborhood does offer a potential answer.

Moreover, the agreement between what's seen in the cosmic ray data and by IBEX provides outside confirmation of IBEX's results of what the magnetic fields outside our heliosphere look like. That's an interesting piece of the puzzle, when compared with Voyager 1's measurements, because the Voyager 1 data provide a different direction for the magnetic fields just outside our heliosphere.

This doesn't mean that one set of data is wrong and one is right, says Schwadron. Voyager 1 is taking measurements directly, gathering data at a specific time and place; IBEX gathers information averaged over great distances, so, there is room for discrepancy. Indeed, that discrepancy can be used as a clue. Understand why there's a difference between the two measurements and we gain additional information. More IBEX observations and more Voyager observations will keep coming in. As with all research, more data will help unravel the picture and soon we will learn even more about how we fit into the rest of the universe.

For more information about IBEX, visit:

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center / Karen C. Fox.


Satellite Video Shows Movement of Major U.S. Winter Storm

NASA / NOAA - GOES R Satellite Mission patch.

February 13, 2014

GOES Satellite Video of Feb. 12, 2014 Snowstorm

Video above: This animation of NOAA's GOES satellite data shows the progression of the major winter storm in the U.S. south from Feb. 10 at 1815 UTC/1:15 p.m. EST to Feb. 12 to 1845 UTC/1:45 p.m. EST. Video Credit: NASA/NOAA GOES Project, Dennis Chesters.

A new NASA video of NOAA's GOES satellite imagery shows three days of movement of the massive winter storm that stretches from the southern U.S. to the northeast.

Visible and infrared imagery from NOAA's GOES-East or GOES-13 satellite from Feb. 10 at 1815 UTC/1:15 p.m. EST to Feb. 12 to 1845 UTC/1:45 p.m. EST were compiled into a video made by NASA/NOAA's GOES Project at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

In the video, viewers can see the development and movement of the clouds associated with the progression of the frontal system and related low pressure areas that make up the massive storm. The video also shows the snow covered ground over the Great Lakes region and Ohio Valley that stretches to northern New England. The clouds and fallen snow data from NOAA's GOES-East satellite were overlaid on a true-color image of land and ocean created by data from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer or MODIS instrument that flies aboard NASA's Aqua and Terra satellites.

On February 12 at 10 a.m. EST, NOAA's National Weather Service or NWS continued to issue watches and warnings from Texas to New England. Specifically, NWS cited Winter Storm Warnings and Winter Weather Advisories were in effect from eastern Texas eastward across the interior section of southeastern U.S. states and across much of the eastern seaboard including the Appalachians. Winter storm watches are in effect for portions of northern New England as well as along the western slopes of northern and central Appalachians. For updates on local forecasts, watches and warnings, visit NOAA's webpage.

Image above: This visible image of the winter storm over the U.S. south and East Coast was taken by NOAA's GOES-13 satellite on Feb. 12 at 1855 UTC/1:55 p.m. EST. Snow covered ground can be seen over the Great Lakes region and Ohio Valley. Image Credit: NASA/NOAA GOES Project.

NOAA's Weather Prediction Center or WPC noted the storm is expected to bring "freezing rain spreading into the Carolinas, significant snow accumulations are expected in the interior Mid-Atlantic states tonight into Thursday and ice storm warnings and freezing rain advisories are in effect across much of central Georgia.

GOES satellites provide the kind of continuous monitoring necessary for intensive data analysis. Geostationary describes an orbit in which a satellite is always in the same position with respect to the rotating Earth. This allows GOES to hover continuously over one position on Earth's surface, appearing stationary. As a result, GOES provide a constant vigil for the atmospheric "triggers" for severe weather conditions such as tornadoes, flash floods, hail storms and hurricanes.

For updated information about the storm system, visit NOAA's WPC website:

For more information about GOES satellites, visit: or

Image (mentioned), Video (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center / Rob Gutro.

Best regards,

NASA Moves Longest-Serving Mars Spacecraft for New Observations

NASA - 2001 Mars Odyssey patch.

February 13, 2014

The maneuver took place Tuesday. Odyssey team engineers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif., and Lockheed Martin Space Systems of Denver, designed the gentle move to accelerate Odyssey's drift toward a morning-daylight orbit. The desired change will occur gradually until the intended orbit geometry is reached in November 2015 and another maneuver halts the drift.

The change will enable observation of changing ground temperatures after sunrise and after sunset in thousands of places on Mars. Those observations could yield insight about the composition of the ground and about temperature-driven processes, such as warm-season flows observed on some slopes, and geysers fed by spring thawing of carbon-dioxide ice near Mars' poles.

"We're teaching an old spacecraft new tricks," said Odyssey Project Scientist Jeffrey Plaut of JPL. "Odyssey will be in position to see Mars in a more different light from ever before."

Neither Odyssey, nor any other NASA Mars orbiter since the 1970s, has flown an orbital pattern with a view of the ground in morning daylight. Earlier NASA orbiters and the European Space Agency's Mars Express orbiter have provided some tantalizing views of morning mists on Mars, but have concentrated on afternoon observation times when views of the surface are less hazy.

Odyssey was launched in 2001 and began its science mission 12 years ago this month. It is the longest-working spacecraft ever sent to Mars.

Image above: NASA's Mars Odyssey spacecraft has tweaked its orbit to help scientists make the first systematic observations of how morning fogs, clouds and surface frost develop in different seasons on the Red Planet. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

Odyssey completed Tuesday's maneuver at 12:03 p.m. PST (3:03 p.m. EST). It used four thrusters, each providing about 5 pounds (22 newtons) of force for a 29-second burn.

"This veteran spacecraft performed exactly as planned," said Odyssey Project Manager David Lehman of JPL.

Odyssey flies in an orbit nearly over the poles and synchronized with the sun. For most of its first six years at Mars, the orbit was set at about 5 o'clock, local solar time. At every spot Odyssey flew over as it made its dozen daily passes from the north pole region to the south pole region, the local solar time was about 5 p.m. Beneath the south-to-north leg of the orbit, the time was about 5 a.m. That orbit provided an advantage for the orbiter's Gamma Ray Spectrometer to have its cooling equipment pointed away from the sun. The spectrometer checked for evidence of water near the Martian surface. It made important discoveries of how widely water ice -- detected as hydrogen-- and other elements are distributed on Mars.

Later, Odyssey worked for three years in a 4 o'clock orbit. That provided an advantage for mineral mapping by the orbiter's Thermal Emission Imaging System (THEMIS). Mid-afternoon warmth made minerals' infrared signatures easier to identify. This timing, however, added stress to Odyssey's power system. It put more of each orbit into the planet's shadow, where solar panels are unproductive. After providing radio-relay support for the 2012 landing of NASA's Curiosity Mars rover, a maneuver set Odyssey on a slow drift to later times of day to help preserve the spacecraft's aging battery.

THEMIS Principal Investigator Philip Christensen of Arizona State University in Tempe, proposed letting the time of the orbit shift past 6 o'clock and then making daylight observations on the south-to-north half of the orbit, at about 6:45 a.m., rather than the north-to-south half. The science team and NASA agreed, and the Odyssey project planned this week's maneuver to get to the desired orbit sooner.

"We don't know exactly what we're going to find when we get to an orbit where we see the morning just after sunrise," Christensen said. "We can look for seasonal differences. Are fogs more common in winter or spring? We will look systematically. We will observe clouds in visible light and check the temperature of the ground in infrared."

After the next orbit-adjustment maneuver, to lock into the 6:45 a.m. local time in November 2015, Odyssey will have about enough propellant left for nine to 10 years of operation at estimated annual consumption rates. In addition to conducting its own observations, Odyssey serves as an important communications relay for spacecraft on Mars' surface.

JPL manages Odyssey for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. Lockheed Martin Space Systems built the spacecraft and collaborates with JPL in mission operations.

For more about the Mars Odyssey mission, visit:

Image (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA / Dwayne Brown / JPL / Guy Webster.


mercredi 12 février 2014

Largest Solar System Moon Detailed in Geologic Map

NASA - Voyager 1 & 2 Mission patch / NASA - Galileo Mission patch.

February 12, 2014

Rotating Globe of Ganymede Geology

Video above: Animation of a rotating globe of Jupiter's moon Ganymede, with a geologic map superimposed over a global color mosaic. The 37-second animation begins as a global color mosaic image of the moon then quickly fades in the geologic map. Image Credit: USGS Astrogeology Science Ctr/Wheaton/ASU/NASA/JPL-Caltech.

More than 400 years after its discovery by astronomer Galileo Galilei, the largest moon in the solar system – Jupiter's moon Ganymede – has finally claimed a spot on the map.

A group of scientists led by Geoffrey Collins of Wheaton College has produced the first global geologic map of Ganymede, Jupiter’s seventh moon. The map combines the best images obtained during flybys conducted by NASA's Voyager 1 and 2 spacecraft (1979) and Galileo orbiter (1995 to 2003) and is now published by the U. S. Geological Survey as a global map. It technically illustrates the varied geologic character of Ganymede’s surface and is the first global, geologic map of this icy, outer-planet moon.

“This map illustrates the incredible variety of geological features on Ganymede and helps to make order from the apparent chaos of its complex surface,” said Robert Pappalardo of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. “This map is helping planetary scientists to decipher the evolution of this icy world and will aid in upcoming spacecraft observations.”

The European Space Agency's Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer mission is slated to be orbiting Ganymede around 2032. NASA is contributing a U.S.-led instrument and hardware for two European-led instruments for the mission.

Ganymede Global Geologic Map and Global Image Mosaic

Image above: To present the best information in a single view of Jupiter's moon Ganymede, a global image mosaic was assembled, incorporating the best available imagery from NASA's Voyager 1 and 2 spacecraft and NASA's Galileo spacecraft. Image Credit: USGS Astrogeology Science Center/Wheaton/NASA/JPL-Caltech.

Since its discovery in January 1610, Ganymede has been the focus of repeated observation, first by Earth-based telescopes, and later by the flyby missions and spacecraft orbiting Jupiter. These studies depict a complex, icy world whose surface is characterized by the striking contrast between its two major terrain types: the dark, very old, highly cratered regions, and the lighter, somewhat younger (but still very old) regions marked with an extensive array of grooves and ridges.

According to the scientists who have constructed this map, three major geologic periods have been identified for Ganymede that involve the dominance of impact cratering, then tectonic upheaval, followed by a decline in geologic activity. The map, which illustrates surface features, such as furrows, grooves and impact craters, allows scientists to decipher distinct geologic time periods for an object in the outer solar system for the first time.

Galileo spacecraft. Image Credit:NASA / JPL

“The highly detailed, colorful map confirmed a number of outstanding scientific hypotheses regarding Ganymede’s geologic history, and also disproved others,” said Baerbel Lucchitta, scientist emeritus at the U.S. Geological Survey in Flagstaff, Ariz., who has been involved with geologic mapping of Ganymede since 1980. “For example, the more detailed Galileo images showed that cryovolcanism, or the creation of volcanoes that erupt water and ice, is very rare on Ganymede.”

The Ganymede global geologic map will enable researchers to compare the geologic characters of other icy satellite moons, because almost any type of feature that is found on other icy satellites has a similar feature somewhere on Ganymede.

“The surface of Ganymede is more than half as large as all the land area on Earth, so there is a wide diversity of locations to choose from,” Collins said. “Ganymede also shows features that are ancient alongside much more recently formed features, adding historical diversity in addition to geographic diversity.”

Voyager 1 & 2 (identical spacecrafts). Image Credit:NASA / JPL

Amateur astronomers can observe Ganymede (with binoculars) in the evening sky this month, as Jupiter is in opposition and easily visible.

The project was funded by NASA through its Outer Planets Research and Planetary Geology and Geophysics Programs. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory is managed by the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena.

Related Missions:

NASA Voyager:

NASA Galileo Mission:

Image (mentioned), Video (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA / JPL / Jia-Rui Cook.


Largest Flock of Earth-Imaging Satellites Launch into Orbit From Space Station

ISS - International Space Station patch.

February 12, 2014

It is often said that if everyone had the opportunity to see Earth from the perspective of astronauts in space, respect and admiration for our planet would grow and the environment would be better protected. A new fleet of 28 small satellites, called Flock 1, may help provide this perspective to people like never before. Considered the largest single constellation of Earth-imaging satellites ever to launch into space, the Flock 1 satellites began deploying today from the International Space Station.

Built and operated by Planet Labs of San Francisco, the Flock 1 small satellites are individually referred to as Doves. The Dove satellites are part of a class of miniature satellites often called CubeSats. These small satellites will capture imagery of Earth for use in humanitarian, environmental and commercial applications. Data collected by the Flock 1 constellation will be universally accessible to anyone who wishes to use it.

Image above: The 28 Dove satellites that make up Planet Labs’ Flock 1 mission, seen here before delivery to the International Space Station, will be the largest single constellation of Earth-imaging satellites ever to launch into space. Image Credit: Planet Labs.

“We believe that the democratization of information about a changing planet is the mission that we are focused on, and that, in and of itself, is going to be quite valuable for the planet,” says Robbie Schingler, co-founder of Planet Labs. “One tenet that we have is to make sure that we produce more value than we actually capture, so we have an open principle within the company with respect to anyone getting access to the data.”

The Dove CubeSats use an automated approach where the spacecraft take pictures over various areas, store them, and transmit them when positioned over a ground station. Planet Labs then processes the imagery and uploads it online for anyone to access it. The Flock 1 constellation of satellites may also be used in concert with high-resolution assets like unmanned aerial vehicles and large imaging satellites in order to follow-up on an identified area and gather more imagery in greater detail.

Imagery from Flock 1 enables identification of areas for disaster relief and improved agricultural yields in developing countries around the globe. Users also can apply this imagery resource to global environmental protection measures, such as monitoring deforestation and changes to polar ice caps.

Image above: A close-up of one of the 28 Dove satellites that is part of the Planet Labs’ Flock 1 mission. The Flock 1 constellation of satellites deployed today from the International Space Station. Image Credit: Planet Labs.

“Our company goal is to image everywhere very frequently, for everyone,” explains Schingler. “If you image everywhere, then that actually means that you can image anywhere. That’s going to be quite transformative for a number of countries, for a number of companies, and so forth. Our monitoring capability is always on. We are always taking a picture.”

Commercial applications of the imagery include mapping, real estate and construction, and oil and gas monitoring. If a company has high-value, distributed assets that need regular monitoring, Flock 1 imagery can assist in this type of endeavor. For example, Flock 1 can supplement or replace the need for flying a helicopter over an oil pipeline to monitor for a leak, since the 28 Dove CubeSats can quickly collect the necessary imagery.

The revisit rate, or frequency with which Dove CubeSats pass over a given area, is currently unprecedented among existing satellite systems in orbit. Imagery will be collected at latitudes within 52 degrees of the equator, which encompass expanses north and south of the equator that cover the majority of the world’s populated areas and agricultural regions. The Flock 1 constellation will travel in a lower orbit than most satellites, at a distance between 240 and 400 miles above Earth. For comparison, weather and commercial communications satellites are often given geostationary orbits, which are circular orbits above the Earth’s equator at a distance of approximately 22,236 miles above Earth.

Image above: This image of sea ice in the Gulf of Bothnia off the coast of Lulea, Sweden was taken on April 26, 2013 by the Planet Labs Dove 2 satellite, a predecessor of the Flock 1 Earth-imaging constellation of small satellites. Data collected by Flock 1 will be universally accessible. Image Credit: Planet Labs.

The Flock 1 constellation will deploy from the space station using the NanoRacks Smallsat Deployment Program to launch from the station’s Japanese Experiment Module (JEM) airlock. The NanoRacks deployer provides commercial access to space, via the space station, for CubeSats to perform Earth and deep space observation. View the illustrated simulation by NanoRacks to see how these small satellites are deployed into space.

Previous launches of similar CubeSat hardware by Planet Labs served as an extension of their laboratory and optimized the software and hardware to prepare the Dove CubeSats for success. Software for all satellites in the Flock 1 constellation can be reprogrammed very quickly while in orbit.

“Our ability to build and operate spacecraft will allow us to do more with these spacecraft in the future as we begin to think about the satellite segment as a very remote server with a whole bunch of sensors on board that could be reprogrammed to do other things,” says Schingler.

Set of NanoRacks CubeSats Deployed From International Space Station

Image above: The Small Satellite Orbital Deployer (SSOD), in the grasp of the Kibo laboratory robotic arm, is photographed by an Expedition 38 crew member on the International Space Station as it deploys a set of NanoRacks CubeSats. The CubeSats program contains a variety of experiments such as Earth observations and advanced electronics testing. Station solar array panels, Earth’s horizon and the blackness of space provide the backdrop for the scene. Image Credit: NASA.

With the existing infrastructure provided by the space station and the various spacecraft that service it, companies like Planet Labs are gaining consistent access to space. Commercial opportunities for CubeSats and other research on and off the space station exist through a public-private partnership enabled by congress in which the station serves as a National Laboratory. The National Laboratory, managed by the Center for Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS), provides funding avenues for programs like the NanoRacks Smallsat Deployment Program to open up research and exploration in space for many more users.

“The deployment of 28 satellites all at once is going to be the largest deployment of a single constellation of satellites that works together at one time and the largest Earth-observation constellation of satellites ever,” says Schingler. “This is possible because we are able to get to space via the space station.”

CubeSats like the Doves in the Flock 1 constellation are just the tip of the iceberg. As new CubeSats deploy, more data is gathered, systems are optimized and, eventually, new types of spacecraft are developed based on their predecessors in space. The space station allows for the expansion of commercial ventures in low-Earth orbit. The Earth-imaging mission of Planet Labs’ Flock 1 takes another leap toward creating benefits on Earth resulting from innovation in space.

Related links:

Planet Labs:

Flock 1:

NanoRacks Smallsat Deployment Program:

Center for Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS):

Japanese Experiment Module (JEM):

International Space Station:

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA’s Johnson Space Center / Laura Niles.

Best regards,

A good year to find a comet

Asteroid & Comet Watch.

12 February 2014

A team of European astronomers has found a previously unknown comet, detected as a tiny blob of light orbiting our Sun deep in the Solar System.

Europe’s Teide Observatory Tenerife Asteroid Survey team has been credited with discovering comet P/2014 C1, named ‘TOTAS’ in recognition of the teamwork involved in the find.

Comet P/2014 C1 seen from Argentina

The comet was unexpectedly discovered on 1 February during a routine set of observations using the 1 m-diameter telescope at ESA’s Optical Ground Station, Tenerife, Spain.

The confirmation was announced by the International Astronomical Union’s Minor Planet Center, the international clearing house for all such discoveries, on 4 February, after eight other observatories confirmed the sighting.

The tiny object is extremely faint, and its orbit was determined to lie between Jupiter and Mars – it will not come close to Earth.

Comet year

“All comets are interesting especially as they are thought to have played a role in bringing water to Earth in the distant past,” says Detlef Koschny, responsible for near-Earth object (NEO) activities at ESA’s Space Situational Awareness (SSA) programme office.

“Later this year, Rosetta will meet up with another comet, 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko, and study its nucleus and surrounding gas and dust, so it’s especially fitting that a European team has found a new comet this year.”

Orbit of comet P/2014 C1 TOTAS

This latest discovery was, in fact, made by software, which compares successive images to find ‘movers’ – objects that move against the star field background. The find was confirmed by Rafal Reszelewski, working as part of the team to verify possible new objects automatically flagged by the software.

Since 2010, the TOTAS team has been working in collaboration with ESA’s SSA office to conduct periodic sky surveys to find and confirm asteroids and other NEOs that orbit close to Earth. In 2011, it found asteroid 2011 SF108, which does orbit much closer to Earth.

Related links:

TOTAS sky survey:

About SSA:

SSA Programme overview:

Near-Earth Objects - NEO Segment:

More information:

MPC - Minor Planet Center:

About SSA-NEO Coordination Centre:

Images, Text, Credits: ESA / FRAM / GLORIA / Martin Masek / TOTAS.


mardi 11 février 2014

NASA's Curiosity Drives On After Crossing Martian Dune

NASA - Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) patch.

February 11, 2014

Movie of Curiosity's View Backwards While Crossing Dune

Animated image above: The series of nine images making up this animation were taken by the rear Hazard-Avoidance Camera (rear Hazcam) on NASA's Curiosity Mars rover as the rover drove over a dune spanning "Dingo Gap" on Mars. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

NASA's Curiosity Mars rover is continuing its traverse toward enticing science destinations after climbing over a dune spanning a gap in a ridge.

The rover covered 135 feet (41.1 meters) on Feb. 9, in its first drive since the 23-foot (7-meter) crossing of the dune on Feb. 6. That put Curiosity's total odometry since its August 2012 landing at 3.09 miles (4.97 kilometers).

Curiosity Making Headway West of 'Dingo Gap'

Image above: NASA's Curiosity Mars rover used the Navigation Camera (Navcam) on its mast to catch this look-back eastward at wheel tracks from driving through and past "Dingo Gap" inside Gale Crater. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

An animated sequence of images from the low-slung Hazard-Avoidance Camera on the rear of the vehicle documents the up-then-down crossing of the dune.

NASA's Mars Science Laboratory Project is using Curiosity to assess ancient habitable environments and major changes in Martian environmental conditions. JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, built the rover and manages the project for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

For more information about Curiosity, visit and You can follow the mission on Facebook at and on Twitter at:

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA / JPL / Guy Webster.

Best regards,

NASA Experts Continue to Engage United Nations on NASA's Asteroid Initiative

NASA logo.

February 11, 2014

Animated image above: This animated GIF shows Asteroid 2014 AA, discovered by the NASA-sponsored Catalina Sky Survey on Jan. 1, 2014, as it moved across the sky. Image Credit: CSS/LPL/UA.

In June of last year, NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden spoke to the United Nations Committee on Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS) and shared with the international community what NASA is doing to detect and track asteroids. He also engaged the United Nation’s support for NASA’s mission to find, capture and redirect an asteroid to lunar orbit, and then send humans to explore it by 2025.

Following Bolden’s presentation, Mazlan Othman, director of the U.N. Office for Outer Space Affairs, offered support for NASA’s asteroid initiative and noted that near-Earth objects (NEO) have long been a concern for COPUOS.

This week at the COPUOS Scientific and Technical Subcommittee (STSC) in Vienna, Austria, two NASA experts provided an update about additional efforts NASA is taking to support the global effort to find, characterize, and monitor near-Earth asteroids.

Jason Kessler, program executive for the Asteroid Grand Challenge, gave a presentation on the grand challenge to the subcommittee. Kessler spoke about the critical need for international cooperation in order to meet the grand challenge, which is to find all asteroid threats to human population and know what to do about them.

Asteroid Grand Challenge animated logo

At their 2013 meeting, COPUOS endorsed expanded efforts for an International Asteroid Warning Network. IAWN is a global network of telescopes and tracking stations from different parts of the world searching all parts of the sky to provide a more comprehensive picture of how many asteroids exist and where they are. The IAWN provides a way for additional nations to join the effort.

Lindley Johnson, the program executive for the Near-Earth Object Observations (NEOO) program, spoke to the subcommittee about the progress accomplished in the last year on the IAWN and the hazardous NEO Space Mission Planning Advisory Group (SMPAG), which COPUOS also endorsed in 2013. The SMPAG is a new forum for space capable nations to discuss ways to deflect an asteroid that might impact the Earth. NASA supported the first IAWN Steering Committee meeting in January, as well as the first SMPAG meeting held in early February. The IAWN and the SMPAG are independent of the United Nations, but keep the STSC updated on their activities.

NASA detects, tracks and characterizes asteroids and comets passing close to Earth using both ground and space-based telescopes. The NEOO program, commonly called "Spaceguard," discovers these objects, characterizes a subset that are of interest and plots their orbits into the future to determine whether any could be potentially hazardous to our planet.

As of Feb. 1, 10,685 NEOs have been discovered, including about 97 percent of asteroids larger than .6 miles (one kilometer). But there is a greater need to pinpoint smaller asteroids such as the one that impacted near Chelyabinsk, Russia.

Near-Earth Asteroid Census

NASA is mainly focused on finding asteroids larger than 459 feet (140 meters), and creating new ways to find even smaller NEOs. NASA also is committed to developing new ways to search existing data to find these objects. In September 2013, NASA announced a partnership with Planetary Resources to develop crowd-sourced software solutions to enhance detection of NEOs in data already collected by NASA and agency partners.

NASA doubled the money spent in the search for potentially hazardous asteroids through the NEOO program in Fiscal Year 2014, and is committed to developing new ways to use existing data by seeking for innovative ideas from citizen scientists.

Data from the search for NEOs also is being used to support the Asteroid Redirect Mission. The mission concept is to use a robotic spacecraft to capture a small near-Earth asteroid -- 13-32 feet (4-10 meters) in size -- or remove a boulder 3-16 feet (1-5 meters) from the surface of a larger asteroid and redirect it into a stable orbit around the moon. Astronauts launched aboard NASA's new Orion spacecraft and Space Launch System rocket would rendezvous with the captured asteroid material in lunar orbit and collect samples for return to Earth.

One of the first steps for the asteroid redirect mission is to find a target asteroid appropriate for capture and redirection -- a step that meshes with the grand challenge effort to find all asteroid threats to human populations.

These two efforts are part of NASA’s Asteroid Initiative, which will leverage and integrate NASA’s activities in human exploration, space technology, and space science. The goal is to advance the technologies and capabilities needed for future human and robotic exploration, enable the first human mission to interact with asteroid material, and accelerate efforts to detect, track, characterize, and mitigate the threat of potentially hazardous asteroids.

More about:

Send humans to explore it by 2025:

Asteroid Grand Challenge:

Near-Earth Object Observations (NEOO) program:

Images, Text, Credits: NASA.