October 2010

Russia's Most Active Volcanoes

NASA's Aqua satellite flew over the erupting Shiveluch Volcano in Russia today and captured a visible image of its ash plume. Shiveluch is one of Russia's most active volcano and is currently spewing ash over 6 miles high (10 kilometers) into the atmosphere. That's about 33,000 feet high and just shy of the stratosphere.

Shiveluch is also the northernmost active volcano located in Kamchatka Krai peninsula, eastern Russia. It is one of Kamchatka's largest and most active volcanoes. Shiveluch has been an active volcano since 2001.

When NASA's Aqua satellite flew over the Shiveluch volcano on Oct. 28 at 01:30 UTC or 2:30 p.m. local time Asia/Kamchatka (or Oct. 27 9:30 p.m. EDT) it captured a visible image of the volcano's light brown colored ash plume blowing in a southeasterly direction over the western North Pacific Ocean. NASA's MODIS Rapid Response Team is located at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. and provides real-time imagery of Earth from the MODIS instrument that flies aboard NASA's Aqua and Terra satellites.

For more information visit : http://www.nasa.gov/topics/earth/features/Shiveluch.html

NASA's DC-8, a flying science lab, after takeoff from Punta Arenas, Chile, on the first science flight of the Operation IceBridge Antarctic 2010 campaign.

IceBridge teams took off today for the first science flight of the Antarctic 2010 campaign. Science teams flew across the Weddell Sea with the primary goal of measuring sea ice freeboard (the height of ice above the water level), which is used to estimate sea ice thickness. The DC-8 took off from Punta Arenas, Chile, at about 9 a.m. local time for the 11-hour flight..

Here are five quick facts about the EPOXI mission, scheduled to fly by comet Hartley 2 on Nov. 4, 2010.

Artist's Concept of Deep Impact's Encounter with Comet Tempel 11. High Fives - This is the fifth time humans will see a comet close-up, and the Deep Impact spacecraft flew by Earth for its fifth time on Sunday, June 27, 2010.

2. Eco-friendly Spacecraft: Recycle, Reuse, Record - The EPOXI mission is recycling the Deep Impact spacecraft, whose probe intentionally collided with comet Tempel 1 on July 4, 2005, revealing, for the first time, the inner material of a comet. The spacecraft is now approaching a second comet rendezvous, a close encounter with Hartley 2 on Nov. 4. The spacecraft is reusing the same trio of instruments used during Deep Impact: two telescopes with digital imagers to record the encounter, and an infrared spectrometer.

3. Small, Mighty and Square-Dancing in Space - Although comet Hartley 2 is smaller than Tempel 1, the previous comet visited by Deep Impact, it is much more active. In fact, amateur skywatchers may be able to see Hartley 2 in a dark sky with binoculars or a small telescope. Engineers specifically designed the mighty Deep Impact spacecraft to point a camera at Tempel 1 while its antenna was directed at Earth. This flyby of comet Hartley 2 does not provide the same luxury. It cannot both photograph the comet and talk with mission controllers on Earth. Engineers have instead programmed Deep Impact to dance the do-si-do. The spacecraft will spend the week leading up to closest approach swinging back and forth between imaging the comet and beaming images back to Earth.

4. Storytelling Comets - Comets are an important aspect of studying how the solar system formed and Earth evolved. Comets are leftover building blocks of solar system formation, and are believed to have seeded an early Earth with water and organic compounds. The more we know about these celestial bodies, the more we can learn about Earth and the solar system.

5. What's in a Name? - EPOXI is a hybrid acronym binding two science investigations: the Extrasolar Planet Observation and Characterization (EPOCh) and Deep Impact eXtended Investigation (DIXI). The spacecraft keeps its original name of Deep Impact, while the mission is called EPOXI.

For more information visit : http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/epoxi/epoxi20101025.html

Though the universe is chock full of spiral-shaped galaxies, no two look exactly the same. This face-on spiral galaxy, called NGC 3982, is striking for its rich tapestry of star birth, along with its winding arms. The arms are lined with pink star-forming regions of glowing hydrogen, newborn blue star clusters, and obscuring dust lanes that provide the raw material for future generations of stars. The bright nucleus is home to an older population of stars, which grow ever more densely packed toward the center.

Pinwheel of Star BirthNGC 3982 is located about 68 million light-years away in the constellation Ursa Major. The galaxy spans about 30,000 light-years, one-third of the size of our Milky Way galaxy. This color image is composed of exposures taken by the Hubble Space Telescope's Wide Field Planetary Camera 2 (WFPC2), the Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS), and the Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3). The observations were taken between March 2000 and August 2009. The rich color range comes from the fact that the galaxy was photographed invisible and near-infrared light. Also used was a filter that isolates hydrogen emission that emanates from bright star-forming regions dotting the spiral arms.

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 visit: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/hubble/science/pinwheel.html

On October 18, 2010, Typhoon Megi approached and made landfall in the northeastern Isabela Province of the Philippines. Spanning more than 600 kilometers (370 miles) across, Megi was the 15th tropical storm and 7th typhoon of the season in the western Pacific Ocean. It was the most intense tropical cyclone of the year to date.

News reports indicated at least one death and an unknown number of injuries, as power and communications was cut off to more than 90 percent of Isabela and Cagayan provinces. In addition to the immediate damage, officials were concerned about the long-term damage to the rice crop, a staple of the national diet.

This image was taken by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite at 10:35 a.m. Philippine Time (02:35 UTC) on October 18, 2010. Megi was bearing down on Palanan Bay as a “super typhoon” with category 5 strength on the Saffir Simpson scale. As of 8:00 a.m. local time, the storm had sustained winds of 268 kilometers (167 miles) per hour, according to the Joint Typhoon Warning Center.

The storm had grown to “super” typhoon status on October 16, and wind speeds peaked at an estimated 287 kilometers (178 miles) per hour while the storm was still over the Pacific Ocean on October 17. Megi began to downgrade as it moved onshore around 11:30 a.m. on October 18 and then crossed over the Sierra Madre mountain range (average elevation 1,800 meters, or 5,900 feet).

The official international name of the storm is Megi, which means “catfish” in Korean. But the storm is known locally as Juan, as the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration has its own naming system.

Forecasters were predicting that the storm would continue moving west and north, entering the South China Sea and re-intensifying before a potential landfall in China or Vietnam later this week. China's National Meteorological Centre urged local governments to make preparations for extreme weather.

NASA and Gowalla are bringing people one small step closer to the universe. Anyone who uses Gowalla, a mobile and web service, now has the opportunity to find and collect four NASA-related virtual items -- a moon rock, a NASA patch, a spacesuit and a space shuttle.

Gowalla's mission is to inspire discovery by connecting people with the places around them. When Gowalla users virtually "check-in" at NASA-related venues via their iPhone, Blackberry, Android, Palm or iPad, they now have a chance to find one of the four items.

Gowalla Map
Virtual moon rocks can be found when Gowalla users check in to any location where a real one is on display. The United States successfully brought lunar samples back to Earth during the Apollo 11, 12, 14, 15, 16, and 17 missions. NASA provides a number of these moon rocks for display and public viewing at museums, planetariums and scientific expositions around the world.

To help people find the lunar samples, Gowalla and JESS3, a creative agency that specializes in data visualization, created a special edition NASA+Gowalla Map: Search for the Moon Rocks.

Gowalla users can find the virtual NASA patch, spacesuit and space shuttles by checking in to NASA visitor centers, agency-related locations, or one of the more than 400 museums, science centers, planetariums, observatories, parks, nature centers, zoos and aquariums that are part of NASA's Museum Alliance.

The partnership also enables a NASA account on Gowalla and an account for astronaut Mike Massimino, both linked to their respective Twitter accounts, @NASA, and @Astro_Mike. NASA and Massimino also will drop virtual items for users to find and collect throughout the nation.

Anyone with a Gowalla account who collects three of the four items will receive a special pin in their Gowalla Passport. In addition, the first 100 people to collect three items will receive a poster of the map in the mail.

For more information visit: http://www.nasa.gov/connect/gowalla.html

Giant Star Goes Supernova

Astronomers using NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope have discovered that a giant star in a remote galaxy ended its life with a dust-shrouded whimper instead of the more typical bang.

Researchers suspect that this odd event -- the first one of its kind ever viewed by astronomers – was more common early in the universe.

It also hints at what we would see if the brightest star system in our Milky Way galaxy exploded, or went supernova.

The discovery is reported in a paper published online in the Astrophysical Journal. The lead author is Christopher Kochanek, a professor of astronomy at Ohio State University, Columbus.

For more information visit: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/spitzer/news/spitzer20101012.html

A small asteroid will fly past Earth early Tuesday within the Earth-moon system. The asteroid, 2010 TD54, will have its closest approach to Earth’s surface at an altitude of about 45,000 kilometers (27,960 miles) at 6:50 EDT a.m. (3:50 a.m. PDT). At that time, the asteroid will be over southeastern Asia in the vicinity of Singapore. During its flyby, Asteroid 2010 TD54 has zero probability of impacting Earth. A telescope of the NASA-sponsored Catalina Sky Survey north of Tucson, Arizona discovered 2010 TD54 on Oct. 9 at (12:55 a.m. PDT) during routine monitoring of the skies.

2010 TD54 is estimated to be about 5 to 10 meters (16 to 33 feet) wide. Due to its small size, the asteroid would require a telescope of moderate size to be viewed. A five-meter-sized near-Earth asteroid from the undiscovered population of about 30 million would be expected to pass daily within a lunar distance, and one might strike Earth's atmosphere about every 2 years on average. If an asteroid of the size of 2010 TD54 were to enter Earth’s atmosphere, it would be expected to burn up high in the atmosphere and cause no damage to Earth’s surface.

The asteroid, 2010 TD54The distance used on the Near Earth Object page is always the calculated distance from the center of Earth. The distance stated for 2010 TD54 is 52,000 kilometers (32,000 miles). To get the distance it will pass from Earth’s surface you need to subtract the distance from the center to the surface (which varies over the planet), or about one Earth radii. That puts the pass distance at about 45,500 kilometers (28,000 miles) above the planet.

NASA detects, tracks and characterizes asteroids and comets passing close to Earth using both ground- and space-based telescopes. The Near-Earth Object Observations Program, commonly called "Spaceguard," discovers these objects, characterizes a subset of them, and plots their orbits to determine if any could be potentially hazardous to our planet.

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.

For more information visit: http://www.nasa.gov/topics/solarsystem/features/asteroid20101011.html

Arctic sea ice retreated to its annual minimum extent on Sept. 29, reaching the third-lowest extent in the satellite record.

Sea ice coverage dropped to 4.6 million square kilometers (1.78 million square miles) at its minimum, according to scientists at the National Snow and Ice Data Center. The extent was lower than the 2009 minimum but remained above the record minimums reached in 2007 and 2008.

By about the end of each summer, sea ice in the Arctic reaches its minimum extent for the year. This animation shows the retreat of Arctic sea ice cover from March 31 through September 19, as recorded by the AMSR-E instrument on NASA's Aqua satellite. Credit: Trent Schindler/NASA/Goddard Scientific Visualization Studio
This animated graph first tracks the retreat of sea ice, measured in millions of square kilometers, averaged from the start of the satellite record in 1979 through 2000 (white). Next, the graph follows the 2007 extent (green) as it approaches the record minimum. Finally, the graph tracks the decline this year (blue), which reached its minimum on Sept. and ranked as the third-lowest extent in the satellite record. Credit: NASA/Goddard/Megan Willy

After nine years of scanning the sky, the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP) space mission has concluded its observations of the cosmic microwave background, the oldest light in the universe. The spacecraft has not only given scientists their best look at this remnant glow, but also established the scientific model that describes the history and structure of the universe.

"WMAP has opened a window into the earliest universe that we could scarcely imagine a generation ago," said Gary Hinshaw, an astrophysicist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., who manages the mission. "The team is still busy analyzing the complete nine-year set of data, which the scientific community eagerly awaits."

WMAP was designed to provide a more detailed look at subtle temperature differences in the cosmic microwave background that were first detected in 1992 by NASA's Cosmic Background Explorer (COBE). The WMAP team has answered many longstanding questions about the universe's age and composition. WMAP acquired its final science data on Aug. 20. On Sept. 8, the satellite fired its thrusters, left its working orbit, and entered into a permanent parking orbit around the sun.

"We launched this mission in 2001, accomplished far more than our initial science objectives, and now the time has come for a responsible conclusion to the satellite's operations," said Charles Bennett, WMAP's principal investigator at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.

seven years of WMAPWMAP detects a signal that is the remnant afterglow of the hot young universe, a pattern frozen in place when the cosmos was only 380,000 years old. As the universe expanded over the next 13 billion years, this light lost energy and stretched into increasingly longer wavelengths. Today, it is detectable as microwaves.

WMAP is in the Guinness Book of World Records for "most accurate measure of the age of the universe." The mission established that the cosmos is 13.75 billion years old, with a degree of error of one percent.

WMAP also showed that normal atoms make up only 4.6 percent of today's cosmos, and it verified that most of the universe consists of two entities scientists don't yet understand.

Dark matter, which makes up 23 percent of the universe, is a material that has yet to be detected in the laboratory. Dark energy is a gravitationally repulsive entity which may be a feature of the vacuum itself. WMAP confirmed its existence and determined that it fills 72 percent of the cosmos.

Another important WMAP breakthrough involves a hypothesized cosmic "growth spurt" called inflation. For decades, cosmologists have suggested that the universe went through an extremely rapid growth phase within the first trillionth of a second it existed. WMAP's observations support the notion that inflation did occur, and its detailed measurements now rule out several well-studied inflation scenarios while providing new support for others.

"It never ceases to amaze me that we can make a measurement that can distinguish between what may or may not have happened in the first trillionth of a second of the universe," says Bennett.

WMAP was the first spacecraft to use the gravitational balance point known as Earth-Sun L2 as its observing station. The location is about 930,000 miles or (1.5 million km) away.

"WMAP gave definitive measurements of the fundamental parameters of the universe," said Jaya Bapayee, WMAP program executive at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "Scientists will use this information for years to come in their quest to better understand the universe."

Launched as MAP on June 30, 2001, the spacecraft was later renamed WMAP to honor David T. Wilkinson, a Princeton University cosmologist and a founding team member who died in September 2002.

Comet 103P Hartley 2 image from hubble

Hubble Space Telescope observations of comet 103P/Hartley 2, taken on September 25, are helping in the planning for a November 4 flyby of the comet by NASA's Deep Impact eXtended Investigation (DIXI) spacecraft.

Analysis of the new Hubble data shows that the nucleus has a diameter of approximately 0.93 miles (1.5 km), which is consistent with previous estimates.

The comet is in a highly active state, as it approaches the Sun. The Hubble data show that the coma is remarkably uniform, with no evidence for the types of outgassing jets seen from most "Jupiter Family" comets, of which Hartley 2 is a member.

Jets can be produced when the dust emanates from a few specific icy regions, while most of the surface is covered with relatively inert, meteoritic-like material. In stark contrast, the activity from Hartley 2's nucleus appears to be more uniformly distributed over its entire surface, perhaps indicating a relatively "young" surface that hasn't yet been crusted over.

Hubble's spectrographs - the Cosmic Origins Spectrograph (COS) and the Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph (STIS) -- are expected to provide unique information about the comet's chemical composition that might not be obtainable any other way, including measurements by DIXI. The Hubble team is specifically searching for emissions from carbon monoxide (CO) and diatomic sulfur (S2). These molecules have been seen in other comets but have not yet been detected in 103P/Hartley 2.

103P/Hartley has an orbital period of 6.46 years. It was discovered by Malcolm Hartley in 1986 at the Schmidt Telescope Unit in Siding Spring, Australia. The comet will pass within 11 million miles of Earth (about 45 times the distance to the Moon) on October 20. During that time the comet may be visible to the naked eye as a 5th magnitude "fuzzy star" in the constellation Auriga.

The frigid ice of Jupiter's moon Europa may be hiding more than a presumed ocean: it is likely the scene of some unexpectedly fast chemistry between water and sulfur dioxide at extremely cold temperatures. Although these molecules react easily as liquids—they are well-known ingredients of acid rain—Mark Loeffler and Reggie Hudson at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., now report that they react as ices with surprising speed and high yield at temperatures hundreds of degrees below freezing. Because the reaction occurs without the aid of radiation, it could take place throughout Europa's thick coating of ice—an outcome that would revamp current thinking about the chemistry and geology of this moon and perhaps others.

"When people talk about chemistry on Europa, they typically talk about reactions that are driven by radiation," says Goddard scientist Mark Loeffler, the first author on the paper being published Oct. 2 in Geophysical Research Letters. That's because the moon's temperature hovers around 86 to 130 Kelvin, or about –300 to –225 °F. In this extreme cold, most chemical reactions require an infusion of energy from radiation or light. On Europa, the energy comes from particles from Jupiter's radiation belts. Because most of those particles penetrate just fractions of an inch into the surface, models of Europa's chemistry typically stop there.
The icy surface of Europa is shown strewn with cracks"Once you get below Europa's surface, it's cold and solid, and you normally don't expect things to happen very fast under those conditions," explains co-author Reggie Hudson, the Associate Lab Chief of Goddard's Astrochemistry Laboratory.

"But with the chemistry we describe," adds Loeffler, "you could have ice 10 or 100 meters [roughly 33 or 330 feet] thick, and if it has sulfur dioxide mixed in, you're going to have a reaction."

"This is an extremely important result for understanding the chemistry and geology of Europa's icy crust," says Robert E. Johnson, who is an expert on radiation-induced chemistry on planets and is the John Lloyd Newcomb Professor of Engineering Physics at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.

From remote observations, astronomers know that sulfur is present in Europa's ice. Sulfur originates in the volcanoes of Jupiter's moon Io, then becomes ionized and is transported to Europa, where it gets embedded in the ice. Additional sulfur might come from the ocean that's thought to lie beneath Europa's surface. "However," says Johnson, "the fate of the implanted or any subsurface sulfur is not understood and depends on the geology and chemistry in the ice crusts."

In experiments that simulated the conditions on Europa, Loeffler and Hudson sprayed water vapor and sulfur dioxide gas onto quarter-sized mirrors in a high-vacuum chamber. Because the mirrors were kept at about 50 to 100 Kelvin (about –370 to –280 °F), the gases immediately condensed as ice. As the reaction proceeded, the researchers used infrared spectroscopy to watch the decrease in the concentrations of water and sulfur dioxide and the increase in the concentrations of positive and negative ions generated.

Despite the extreme cold, the molecules reacted quickly in their icy forms. "At 130 Kelvin [about –225 °F], which represents the warm end of the expected temperatures on Europa, this reaction is essentially instantaneous," says Loeffler. "At 100 Kelvin, you can saturate the reaction after half a day to a day. If that doesn't sound fast, remember that on geologic timescales—billions of years—a day is faster than the blink of an eye."

To test the reaction, the researchers added frozen carbon dioxide, aka dry ice, which is commonly found on icy bodies, including Europa. "If frozen carbon dioxide had blocked the reaction, we wouldn't be nearly as interested," explains Hudson, "because then the reaction probably wouldn't be relevant to Europa's chemistry. It would be a laboratory curiosity." But the reaction continued, which means it could be significant on Europa as well as Ganymede and Callisto, two more of Jupiter's moons, and other places where both water and sulfur dioxide are present.

The reaction converted one-quarter to nearly one-third of the sulfur dioxide into product. "This is an unexpectedly high yield for this chemical reaction," says Loeffler. "We would have been happy with five percent." More importantly, the positive and negative ions produced will react with other molecules. This could lead to some intriguing chemistry, especially because bisulfite (HSO3–), a type of sulfur ion, and some other products of this reaction are refractory—stable enough to stick around for a while.

Robert Carlson, who is a senior research scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., and collaborates with the two researchers, notes that earlier hints of water and sulfur dioxide reacting as solids were found but not explained. "The Loeffler and Hudson results show that really interesting acid–base reactions are going on," he says. "I am anxious to see what might happen when other species are added and how the minor concentrations of sulfur dioxide on the satellite surfaces affect the overall chemistry."

The ultimate test of the laboratory experiments will be whether evidence of any reaction products can be found in data collected during remote observations or future visits to Europa. Johnson agrees that if subsurface sulfur dioxide on Europa "reacts to form refractory species, as [the researchers] indicate, then the picture changes completely. This not only will affect our understanding of Europa but also will affect the models used to develop instruments for the proposed Jupiter–Europa Orbiter mission."

NASA and the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority unveiled a photography exhibition at Dulles International Airport in Chantilly, Va., where ticketed airline travelers can view space science discoveries and relish the beauty and majesty of our solar system.

"NASA presents BEYOND: Visions of Our Solar System," will be shown at Dulles' Gateway Gallery -- a pedestrian passageway located between the new AeroTrain C-gates station and Concourse C. Approximately 10,000 to 13,000 passengers transit the area daily. The exhibit, on display until March 31, 2011, features 46 backlit photographic images displayed in light boxes.

Examples of Solar System Images in New Exhibit"This vista will not only allow NASA to share its science activities with the public in a unique venue, but it will also allow them to see our future possible travel destinations," said James Green, director of the Planetary Science Division in the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

The images displayed include one of Jupiter's Great Red Spot, which is a vast cyclonic storm system about two times the size of Earth, surrounded by other oval storms and banded clouds. Another shows Uranus with very faint rings, which may be made of countless fragments of water ice. There also are recent images from NASA's Hubble Space Telescope and Cassini spacecraft.

An exhibit of similar images is currently on display at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington. The images were rendered by photographic artist Michael Benson.

Washington Dulles International Airport is located 26 miles from downtown Washington.


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