Nasa’s Curiosity Mars rover drills for rock sample

The upper hole is the new sample site; the lower hole was the test that was drilled last week

The upper hole is the new sample site; the lower hole was the test that was drilled last week

Nasa’s Curiosity rover has drilled a hole in a Martian rock with the intention of taking a powdered sample for its onboard laboratories to study.

It is nearly 12 months since the power tool was last deployed for the purpose.

Pictures downlinked from the planet on Tuesday revealed a neat hole had been hammered in a rock dubbed “Windjana”.

It is hoped this sandstone can yield insights on the geochemical processes that have helped shape the landscape at the bottom of Mars’ Gale Crater.

The sample acquisition manoeuvre comes a week after the rover drilled a small test hole in the same rock slab.

The new hole, just a few centimetres to the side, is noticeably deeper.

By going further into the rock, tailings will have been forced up and into the tool’s collection chamber.

Scientists and engineers must now decide whether this material has the right properties to pass to the CheMin and SAM instruments that live inside the vehicle’s belly.

If the “go” is given, just a pinch of the powder will be dropped into the labs’ analytical bays.

Project scientist John Grotzinger said his team was seeking further information on the role played by water in fixing the sediments that make up many of the rocks on the crater floor. Continue reading Nasa’s Curiosity Mars rover drills for rock sample

New Imagery of Asteroid Mission

arv-orion_0NASA released Aug. 22 new photos and video animations depicting the agency’s planned mission to find, capture, redirect, and study a near-Earth asteroid. The images depict crew operations including the Orion spacecraft’s trip to and rendezvous with the relocated asteroid, as well as astronauts maneuvering through a spacewalk to collect samples from the asteroid.

Concept animation showing the crew operations on NASA’s proposed Asteroid Redirect Mission:

Read more at http://www.nasa.gov/content/new-imagery-of-asteroid-mission/#.Uhc-wNJ7JBk

IRIS Telescope Offers First Glimpse of Sun’s Mysterious Atmosphere

These two images show a section of the sun as seen by NASA's Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph, or IRIS, on the right and NASA's SDO on the left. The IRIS image provides scientists with unprecedented detail of the lowest parts of the sun's atmosphere, known as the interface region. Image Credit: NASA/SDO/IRIS

These two images show a section of the sun as seen by NASA’s Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph, or IRIS, on the right and NASA’s SDO on the left. The IRIS image provides scientists with unprecedented detail of the lowest parts of the sun’s atmosphere, known as the interface region.
Image Credit: NASA/SDO/IRIS

The moment when a telescope first opens its doors represents the culmination of years of work and planning — while simultaneously laying the groundwork for a wealth of research and answers yet to come. It is a moment of excitement and perhaps even a little uncertainty. On July 17, 2013, the international team of scientists and engineers who supported and built NASA’s Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph, or IRIS, all lived through that moment. As the spacecraft orbited around Earth, the door of the telescope opened to view the mysterious lowest layers of the sun’s atmosphere and the results thus far are nothing short of amazing. The data is crisp and clear, showing unprecedented detail of this little-observed region.
“These beautiful images from IRIS are going to help us understand how the sun’s lower atmosphere might power a host of events around the sun,” said Adrian Daw, the mission scientist for IRIS at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. “Anytime you look at something in more detail than has ever been seen before, it opens up new doors to understanding. There’s always that potential element of surprise.”
As the telescope door opened on July 17, 2013, IRIS’s single instrument began to observe the sun in exceptional detail. IRIS’s first images showed a multitude of thin, fibril-like structures that have never been seen before, revealing enormous contrasts in density and temperature occur throughout this region even between neighboring loops that are only a few hundred miles apart. The images also show spots that rapidly brighten and dim, which provide clues to how energy is transported and absorbed throughout the region.
The IRIS images of fine structure in the interface region will help scientists track how magnetic energy contributes to heating in the sun’s atmosphere. Scientists need to observe the region in exquisite detail, because the energy flowing through it powers the upper layer of the sun’s atmosphere, the corona, to temperatures greater than 1 million kelvins (about 1.8 million F), almost a thousand times hotter than the sun’s surface itself.
IRIS is a NASA Small Explorer mission that launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., on June 27, 2013. IRIS’s capabilities are uniquely tailored to unravel the interface region. Understanding the interface region is important because it forms the ultraviolet emission that impacts near-Earth space and Earth’s climate. Energy traveling through the region also helps drive the solar wind, which during extreme space weather events near Earth can affect satellites, power grids, and global positioning systems, or GPS.
Designed to research the interface region in more detail than has ever been done before, IRIS’s instrument is a combination of an ultraviolet telescope and what’s called a spectrograph. Light from the telescope is split into two components. The first provides high-resolution images, capturing data on about one percent of the sun at a time. While these are relatively small snapshots, the images can resolve very fine features, as small as 150 miles across.
While the images are of one wavelength of light at a time, the second component is the spectrograph that provides information about many wavelengths of light at once. The instrument splits the sun’s light into its various wavelengths and measures how much of any given wavelength is present. This information is then portrayed on a graph showing spectral “lines.” Taller lines correspond to wavelengths in which the sun emits relatively more light. Analysis of the spectral lines can also provide velocity, temperature and density, key information when trying to track how energy and heat moves through the region.
“The quality of images and spectra we are receiving from IRIS is amazing. This is just what we were hoping for,” said Alan Title, IRIS principal investigator at the Lockheed Martin Advanced Technology Center Solar and Astrophysics Laboratory in Palo Alto, Calif. “There is much work ahead to understand what we’re seeing, but the quality of the data will enable us to do that.”
Not only does IRIS provide state-of-the-art observations to look at the interface region, it makes uses of advanced computing to help interpret what it sees. Indeed, interpreting the light flowing out of the interface region could not be done well prior to the advent of today’s supercomputers because, in this area of the sun, the transfer and conversion of energy from one form to another is not understood.
The IRIS mission has long-term implications for understanding the genesis of space weather near Earth. Understanding how energy and solar material move through the interface region could help scientists improve forecasts for the kinds of events that can disrupt Earth technologies.
Read more at www.nasa.gov

IRIS to Take Precise Look at Sun’s Energy

Engineers work with the IRIS spacecraft on the nose of the Pegasus XL rocket that will launch the solar observatory into Earth orbit. Photo credit: VAFB/Rnady Beaudoin

Engineers work with the IRIS spacecraft on the nose of the Pegasus XL rocket that will launch the solar observatory into Earth orbit. Photo credit: VAFB/Rnady Beaudoin

By Steven Siceloff,
NASA’s Kennedy Space Center

Researchers hope NASA’s latest solar observatory will answer a fundamental question of how the sun creates such intense energy.

Scheduled to launch June 27, the IRIS spacecraft will point a telescope at the interface region of the sun that lies between the surface and the million degree outer atmosphere called the corona. It will improve our understanding of how energy moves from the sun’s surface to the glowing corona, heating up from 6,000 degrees to millions of degrees.

The IRIS mission, short for Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph, calls for the 7-foot-long spacecraft to point its ultraviolet telescope at the sun to discern features as small as 150 miles across. It will look at about 1 percent of the sun’s surface.

“IRIS will show the solar chromosphere in more detail than has ever been observed before,” said Adrian Daw, deputy project scientist. “My opinion is that we are bound to see something we didn’t expect to see.”

IRIS is a NASA Small Explorer that will complement the Solar Dynamics Observatory and Hinode missions to explore how the solar atmosphere works and impacts Earth. SDO and Hinode will monitor the solar surface and outer atmosphere, with IRIS watching the region in between.

“IRIS almost acts as a microscope to SDO’s telescope,” said Jim Hall, mission manager for IRIS. “It’s going to look in closely and it’s going to look at that specific region to see how the changes in matter and energy occur in this region. It’s going to collectively bring us a more complete view of the sun.” IRIS improves our understanding of the interface region where most of the sun’s ultraviolet emission is generated that impacts the near Earth space environment and Earth’s climate. Solar activity such as coronal mass ejections and solar flares, also are of great interest to spacecraft designers who have to figure out ways to protect instruments and electronics from them.

“We’re always looking for the answers to why and everything starts at the root with the sun,” Hall said.

IRIS will ride into Earth orbit on an Orbital Sciences Pegasus XL rocket. The Pegasus is famous as the only winged launcher in NASA’s inventory. Though small compared to the gigantic boosters that send heavy satellites into orbit and probes to distant worlds, the Pegasus’ size and flexibility has allowed numerous missions to be launched that would have been too small for larger rockets.

“Pegasus has been a tremendously successful launch vehicle for NASA,” said Tim Dunn, launch director for IRIS. “We have launched 18 successful missions on Pegasus. The team is very dynamic, very flexible. They’re able to accomplish a tremendous amount in a very short time.”

The Pegasus and its IRIS payload will be carried to about 39,000 feet under a modified L-1011 airliner taking off from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. Over the Pacific Ocean off the California coast, the plane will drop the Pegasus to begin the launch.

The Pegasus will ignite its solid-fueled first stage five seconds into its fall and arch skyward with the main wing giving it lift and the three fins in the back steering it through the thick layers of Earth’s lower atmosphere.

The rocket will burn its load of fuel in 73 seconds and fall away. The second stage, which has no wings, will ignite 94 seconds into flight and push IRIS higher and faster into space. The third stage will take over after that, delivering IRIS into its orbit about 10 minutes after launch.

This is the last one scheduled for the Pegasus rocket because there are not any small spacecraft missions that fit the Pegasus niche.

The launch is taking place from the West Coast because IRIS will go into a roughly polar orbit, meaning it will cross over the north and south pole regions of Earth on each pass around the planet.

“Eight months out of the year, we are freely viewing the sun in that orbit,” Hall said.

Once IRIS is in space with its solar panels unfolded to provide electricity and the telescope flipped open, scientists expect to see intriguing data pretty quickly.

“I think the biggest surprise will come once the mission is launched and it starts to observe the sun,” Daw said. “We know to some extent what we hope to learn, what specific science questions we are going to answer, but there’s always that element of surprise.”
Read more at http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/iris/launch/IRIS-prelaunchfeature.html

Fermi Provides New Insights on Dark Matter


http://youtu.be/i5ucytz2C7I

There’s more to the cosmos than meets the eye. About 80 percent of the matter in the universe is invisible to telescopes, yet its gravitational influence is manifest in the orbital speeds of stars around galaxies and in the motions of clusters of galaxies. Yet, despite decades of effort, no one knows what this “dark matter” really is. Many scientists think it’s likely that the mystery will be solved with the discovery of new kinds of subatomic particles, types necessarily different from those composing atoms of the ordinary matter all around us. The search to detect and identify these particles is underway in experiments both around the globe and above it.

Scientists working with data from NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope have looked for signals from some of these hypothetical particles by zeroing in on 10 small, faint galaxies that orbit our own. Although no signals have been detected, a novel analysis technique applied to two years of data from the observatory’s Large Area Telescope (LAT) has essentially eliminated these particle candidates for the first time.

WIMPs, or Weakly Interacting Massive Particles, represent a favored class of dark matter candidates. Some WIMPs may mutually annihilate when pairs of them interact, a process expected to produce gamma rays — the most energetic form of light — that the LAT is designed to detect.

The team examined two years of LAT-detected gamma rays with energies in the range from 200 million to 100 billion electron volts (GeV) from 10 of the roughly two dozen dwarf galaxies known to orbit the Milky Way. Instead of analyzing the results for each galaxy separately, the scientists developed a statistical technique — they call it a “joint likelihood analysis” — that evaluates all of the galaxies at once without merging the data together. No gamma-ray signal consistent with the annihilations expected from four different types of commonly considered WIMP particles was found.

For the first time, the results show that WIMP candidates within a specific range of masses and interaction rates cannot be dark matter. A paper detailing these results appeared in the Dec. 9, 2011, issue of Physical Review Letters.
Learn more at: www.nasa.gov

We Are the Explorers

Why do we explore? Simply put, it is part of who we are, and it is something we have done throughout our history. In NASA’s new video, “We Are the Explorers,” we take a look at that tradition of reaching for things just beyond our grasp and how it is helping us lay the foundation for our greatest journeys ahead.
Written and Produced by Josh Byerly and John Streeter
Voiced by Peter Cullen

http://youtu.be/e7DEw70LVWs

NASA’s Chandra Finds Fastest Wind From Stellar-Mass Black Hole

Artist impression of binary system containing stellar-mass black hole IGR J17091. (NASA/CXC/M.Weiss)

Astronomers using NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory have clocked the fastest wind yet discovered blowing off a disk around a stellar-mass black hole. This result has important implications for understanding how this type of black hole behaves.

The record-breaking wind is moving about 20 million mph, or about 3 percent of the speed of light. This is nearly 10 times faster than had ever been seen from a stellar-mass black hole.

Stellar-mass black holes are born when extremely massive stars collapse. They typically weigh between five and 10 times the mass of the sun. The stellar-mass black hole powering this super wind is known as IGR J17091-3624, or IGR J17091 for short.

“This is like the cosmic equivalent of winds from a category five hurricane,” said Ashley King from the University of Michigan, lead author of the study published in the Feb. 20 issue of The Astrophysical Journal Letters. “We weren’t expecting to see such powerful winds from a black hole like this.”

The wind speed in IGR J17091 matches some of the fastest winds generated by supermassive black holes, objects millions or billions of times more massive.

“It’s a surprise this small black hole is able to muster the wind speeds we typically only see in the giant black holes,” said co-author Jon M. Miller, also from the University of Michigan. “In other words, this black hole is performing well above its weight class.”

Another unanticipated finding is that the wind, which comes from a disk of gas surrounding the black hole, may be carrying away more material than the black hole is capturing.

“Contrary to the popular perception of black holes pulling in all of the material that gets close, we estimate up to 95 percent of the matter in the disk around IGR J17091 is expelled by the wind,” King said.

Unlike winds from hurricanes on Earth, the wind from IGR J17091 is blowing in many different directions. This pattern also distinguishes it from a jet, where material flows in highly focused beams perpendicular to the disk, often at nearly the speed of light.

Simultaneous observations made with the National Radio Astronomy Observatory’s Expanded Very Large Array showed a radio jet from the black hole was not present when the ultra-fast wind was seen, although a radio jet is seen at other times. This agrees with observations of other stellar-mass black holes, providing further evidence the production of winds can stifle jets.

The high speed for the wind was estimated from a spectrum made by Chandra in 2011. Ions emit and absorb distinct features in spectra, which allow scientists to monitor them and their behavior. A Chandra spectrum of iron ions made two months earlier showed no evidence of the high-speed wind, meaning the wind likely turns on and off over time.

Astronomers believe that magnetic fields in the disks of black holes are responsible for producing both winds and jets. The geometry of the magnetic fields and rate at which material falls towards the black hole must influence whether jets or winds are produced.

IGR J17091 is a binary system in which a sun-like star orbits the black hole. It is found in the bulge of the Milky Way galaxy, about 28,000 light years away from Earth….
Read more: nasa.gov