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Archive for November, 2010

Gogblogcast #4: Sample Analysis at Mars Open House: getting to know you, getting to know all about you. . .

November 24, 2010 Leave a comment


Download a transcript of this video.


The Goddard community began the process of saying good-bye to the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument with an open house event. SAM will soon be off to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, to be installed on the Mars Science Laboratory rover “Curiosity.” If all goes according to plan, the Mini Cooper-sized robot will blast off to Mars in 2011 and land in August 2012.

SAM contains a suite of three instruments that will search for compounds of the element carbon, including methane, that are associated with life and explore ways in which they are generated and destroyed on Mars. The instruments, developed by an international team, all came together at Goddard and underwent rigorous testing. Goddard people will play a key role in operating and supporting SAM when it reaches the Red Planet and starts roving.

So long, SAM! Safe journey.

Pan Conrad, SAM Deputy Principal Investigator, gives an overview of the Curiosity rover and the SAM instrument suite.

Pan Conrad, SAM Deputy Principal Investigator, gives an overview of the Curiosity rover.


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OH AND DID I MENTION? All opinions and opinionlike objects in this blog are mine alone and NOT those of NASA or Goddard Space Flight Center. And while we’re at it, links to websites posted on this blog do not imply endorsement of those websites by NASA.

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Happy birthday, EO-1. . . Ten years and a day ago, the first Earth observing satellite of the New Millennium program launched into orbit

November 22, 2010 Leave a comment
EO-1 satellite image of the World Trade Center in flames on 9/11

EO-1 satellite image of the World Trade Center in flames on 9/11

EO-1 logoOn November 21, 2000, a satellite called Earth Observing 1 (EO-1) was launched on a Delta rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base. It was the first satellite in NASA’s New Millennium Program Earth Observing series.

***UPDATE: If you are interested in the science EO-1 has delivered for the past decade. check out the outstanding feature article on NASA Earth Observatory. It also includes many more images from EO-1.***

EO-1’s job was to test and validate new technologies that could be used in future Earth-observing spacecraft. For example, EO-1 went into orbit with a special antenna that uses no moving parts and instead uses software to steer the data beam back to the Earth antenna, and at very high data rates.

EO-1 also has a souped up solar array to produce more than twice the power per square inch than a typical array at that time. EO-1 also tested a reliable, lightweight electromagnetic thruster. And the spacecraft demonstrated the ability to fly in close formation with another Earth-observing satellite, Landsat-7. These are just some of the revolutionary satellite technologies on EO-1.

Engineering better satellites is important, but in the past decade EO-1 has also beamed down some pretty spectacular images of our planet. Here are a few.

The dense urban core of the District of Columbia

The dense urban core of the District of Columbia


Pearl Harbor, Hawaii

Pearl Harbor, Hawaii


The Alaskan interior

The Alaskan interior


The Aspen Forest Fire near Tuscon, Arizona in 2003

The Aspen Forest Fire near Tuscon, Arizona in 2003

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OH AND DID I MENTION? All opinions and opinionlike objects in this blog are mine alone and NOT those of NASA or Goddard Space Flight Center. And while we’re at it, links to websites posted on this blog do not imply endorsement of those websites by NASA. //
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That Was The Week That Was, November 15-19, 2010. . . A Digest of Goddard People, Science, & Media, PLUS Historical Tidbits and Our Best Stuff in the Blogpodcastotwitterverse

November 19, 2010 Leave a comment

image of region of intense solar flares on the sun


MONDAY November 15: Meet “solar watchdog” Yihua Zheng, a scientist with the Community Coordinated Modeling Center at Goddard, which helps keep an eye out for stormy space weather heading our way.

SDO stunner: Spectacular solar flares featured on Solar Dynamics Observatory Pick of the Week.

Follow the cosmic beach ball: NASA Blueshift’s Maggie Masetti recounts a journey to the set of “The Big Bang Theory” TV show. Listen to the podcast chat with show co-creator and executive producer Bill Prady


clean room technicians work on SAM instrumentTUESDAY November 16: NASA Blueshift Weekly Awesomeness Round Up features dark matter discoveries, a day in the life of Goddard, and megabubbles at the center of the galaxy.

WEDNESDAY November 17: MODIS Image of the Day features satellite view of ash plume from erupting volcano Mount Merapi.


THURSDAY November 18: See the cosmic snowstorm around Comet Hartley 2, discovered by the Deep Impact/EPOXI spacecraft.

Artist's rendition of the FASTSat-HSV spacecraft in orbit.COBE away! On this day in 1989, the COBE satellite was launched into orbit and into history. The spacecraft, developed at Goddard, mapped the microwave afterglow of the Big Bang.

Meet SAM: At Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) open house, scientists preview the instrument that will study the chemistry of the Red Planet’s surface aboard the Curiosity rover. Over in Building 34, the scientists and engineers who created SAM are abuzz with preparations for the instrument’s delivery in December to Jet propulsion Laboratory, where SAM will be tucked into the rover and prepped for launch to Mars in 2011.

image of comet hartley 2Ice chat: Operation IceBridge scientists talk to the public about their important work. Also catch some highlights of the mission in a new video.

Surveyor survey: On this day in 1969, Apollo 12 astronauts landed on the moon near the Surveyor 3 landing site. They inspected the probe as part of 7.5 hours of moon walks.

Solar mystery: What causes solar flares? Goddard scientists ponder. . .


FRIDAY November 19: FASTSat slated to launch today with its six small payloads. Dust storm: NASA Earth Observatory featured image shows dust storm streamers off the Alaskan coast.

Magnetometry 101: A new video gets you up to date on how magnetic-field-measuring “magnetometers” work.




_____________________________________________________________________________________________________ OH AND DID I MENTION? All opinions and opinionlike objects in this blog are mine alone and NOT those of NASA or Goddard Space Flight Center. And while we’re at it, links to websites posted on this blog do not imply endorsement of those websites by NASA.
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Planes, trains, bikes, and automobiles: Goddard engineer Kevin Boyce hits the road to make sure that a space observatory "made in Japan" makes it to space and sends home a pay-off for science

November 15, 2010 Leave a comment

KEVIN BOYCEAn earlier post featured the scary “spacecraft house of horrors” video about the testing torments suffered by our satellites before we send them to orbit. The video was hosted by our own Kevin Boyce, a spacecraft systems engineer. These days, Kevin is part of the international team working on the Japanese Astro-H mission. Here’s an account of his recent trip to Japan to help design an X-ray instrument.

How do you say in Japanese, “If you don’t succeed, try, try again”?

ASTRO-E was to be Japan’s fifth X-ray astronomy mission, but unfortunately the spacecraft was lost during launch on February 10, 2000.

Ok, try again. A follow-on mission, Astro-E2, launched successfully on July 10, 2005 from the Uchinoura Space Center in Japan. Soon after launch, the mission was renamed Suzaku.

The ill-fated Astro-E spaceraft

The ill-fated Astro-E spacecraft

Kevin Boyce can tell you all about it. Recently, as he was landing at Tokyo’s Narita Airport, it (almost) felt like coming home. “I’ve been here almost 40 times now,” he says. That started in the late 90’s with the ill-fated Astro-E project. Then he worked on the Astro E2/Suzaku mission that followed.

Now he’s an instrument systems engineer on one of the instruments on a new spacecraft called Astro-H. As he disembarks from the plane, he wonders if he should take the usual trains to the hotel, or take the bus this time. He decides on the bus option, and gets some cash from the ATM and buys a Matcha Creme Frappuccino from the Starbucks. Yes, America has left its mark here too.

artist concept of astro h

Artist's concept of Astro-H

Astro-H is Kevin’s third go-round with Japan’s space agency, JAXA, and Japan’s 8th space-based astronomy mission. It will launch into low-Earth orbit intending to trace the growth history of the largest structures in the universe, reveal the behavior of matter in extreme gravitational fields, determine the spin of black holes and study neutron stars, trace shock acceleration structures in clusters of galaxies, and investigate the detailed physics of galactic jets.

Um, is THAT all?

To do all that requires a gadget called a Soft X-ray Spectrometer (SXS), and Kevin is here in Japan to help shepherd the design of the instrument through a complex and high-stakes process that is difficult to carry out effectively solely by email or phone. It take as bunch of long plane rides and as many Matcha Creme Frappuccinos.

He’s in Japan for a week to participate in one of the quarterly Astro-H design meetings. “At these meetings all the various instrument teams report on their status, along with the spacecraft systems team,” he explains. “This generally lasts for two days.”

The rest of the time, the scientists and engineers pick apart the various sub-systems of the SXS. The devil is in the details, as the cliché goes. Miss a detail, and possibly buy lots of (expensive) trouble. Space missions take years and years and millions and millions of dollars.

SXS pushes X-ray observing technology. “Many of the people on both sides of the Pacific who are working on Astro-H, myself included, have been trying to get this technology operating on orbit since 1995,” he explains. “So it’s not just the trains and locations that make it feel like home. Some of my best old friends are here.”

This particular trip included a “hole.” Meeting took up Tuesday and Thursday, but Wednesday was a Japanese holiday, with no meetings scheduled. But you can’t fly home for a day. So what to do?

“Happily, some of our Japanese colleagues scheduled a bike trip into the mountains, and rented me a bike so I could join them,” he says. “We rode 50 kilometers up toward lake Yamanaka, climbing 700 meters in the process. And then back..”

[Read Kevin’s account of the bike trip on the NASA Blueshift blog.]

Snow-capped Mt. Fuji forms part of the background for a bike trip in Japan.

Snow-capped Mt. Fuji forms the background for a bike ride into the mountains.

After that ride, the design meeting was almost anticlimactic. But very important! The reason the X-Ray Spectrometer failed on Astro-E2 was basically due to incomplete communication between Goddard Space Flight Center and the Japanese during the design of the instrument. “This time we’re meeting much more often, and exchanging far more information, so that doesn’t happen again,” Boyce explains. “It’s not enough to exchange drawings and requirements documents. Each side really has to understand the whole instrument, and indeed the whole spacecraft system.”

So this time, Boyce attends the Japanese design meetings and reviews, and they attend the NASA reviews, and they all spend a lot more time on airplanes. But it’s still worth it, because Japan gets an instrument they don’t have the expertise to build at this point, and the US gets access to a whole mission’s worth of scientific data for just the cost of an instrument. Everyone wins.

“But only if we make it work,” Boyce says. “So four, five, six, or more times each year several of us hop on a plane for a week in our other homes here in Japan. Kampai!”

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OH AND DID I MENTION? All opinions and opinionlike objects in this blog are mine alone and NOT those of NASA or Goddard Space Flight Center. And while we’re at it, links to websites posted on this blog do not imply endorsement of those websites by NASA.

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Listening to the music of volcanoes with Milton Garces

November 5, 2010 Leave a comment

woe_logoCheck out my guest post on NASA’s What On Earth blog. Last week, we posted a spooky Earth sound and asked readers to guess what it was. It was not a bird, a plane, a balrog, or even a humpbacked whale. It was a singing volcano, recorded by University of Hawaii scientist Milton Garces.

To sample the sound and read my posted about volcano monitoring with NASA and Garces, read the What On Earth blog post.

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OH AND DID I MENTION? All opinions and opinionlike objects in this blog are mine alone and NOT those of NASA or Goddard Space Flight Center. And while we’re at it, links to websites posted on this blog do not imply endorsement of those websites by NASA.

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That Was The Week That Was, November 1-5, 2010. . . A Digest of Goddard People, Science, & Media, PLUS Historical Tidbits and Our Best Stuff in the Blogpodcastotwitterverse

November 5, 2010 Leave a comment

abell cluster_202MONDAY November 1: NASA Blueshift’s Weekly Awesomeness Round Up highlights globs of globular cluster stars, advances in work on the Webb Telescope, a new planetary census, and other astro-news and images.

Closer: Solar Dynamics Observatory Pick of the Week features merging sunspots.


TUESDAY November 2: How can astronomers use the solar system’s rainbow colors to search for alien Earths? Find out by reading the web feature and watching the video.

comet hartley 2_202Happy birthday, ISS: Today marks the tenth year of continuous human presence in space aboard the International Space Station. Last week saw the ISS become the longest continuously inhabited spacecraft by exceeding the Russian Mir space station’s record of 3,644 days. See the cool slideshow of various stages of space station growth over the decade.

  • ISS made 57, 631 orbits in the first 10 years.
  • It is 361 feet long.
  • It has the internal volume of 1.5 Boeing 747s.
  • 200 astronauts have visited it.

Statistics from theweek.com.


merapi_202WEDNESDAY November 3: What will the Webb Telescope see? See a series of five new visualizations. NASA Blueshift also covers the story today.

Pass over: Terra satellite ASTER Image of the Day features the Khyber Pass in Afghanistan.

Head for the sun: On this day in 1973, Mariner 10 launched. It was the first space probe to explore Mercury.




khyber_202THURSDAY November 4: NASA’s Deep Impact/EPOXI mission spacecraft successfully flew past comet Hartley 2 at 10 a.m. EDT today and sends back the first close-up images — and they are spectacular. Also, meet the man they named the comet after.


FRIDAY November 5: Earth Observatory’s Image of the Day shows a snapshot of Mount Merapi volcano erupting in Indonesia. The Terra satellite’s ASTER instrument captured the thermal signature of hot ash and rock and a glowing lava dome.


iss_sunrise_600

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OH AND DID I MENTION? All opinions and opinionlike objects in this blog are mine alone and NOT those of NASA or Goddard Space Flight Center. And while we’re at it, links to websites posted on this blog do not imply endorsement of those websites by NASA.

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Phil Evans Swift Universe: how nature's strongest magnets power some of nature's brightest blasts

November 4, 2010 Leave a comment

A magnetar formed inside a collapsing massive star

A magnetar formed inside a collapsing massive star

Today “Swift Universe” guest blogger Phil Evans brings us some breaking news from the Gamma Ray Bursts 2010 conference in Annapolis, Maryland.

You’re all familiar with magnets. Well, two of my colleagues at the University of Leicester — Professor Paul O’Brien and his graduate students Antonia Rowlinson and Nicola Lyons — have announced evidence that some gamma-ray bursts (GRBs) are powered by stars called magnetars — super-strong magnets in space, if you like.

The idea is that, when the GRB goes off, the core of the dying star may not collapse straight to a black hole but instead could live for a couple of minutes as a rapidly rotating, magnetic neutron star called a magnetar. The magnetic field acts like a brake slowing the magnetar down and pumping its energy into the GRB, until after a few minutes the star has slowed down and collapses into a black hole.

Using data from the Swift satellite, my colleagues found that some GRBs show a period of constant brightness and then suddenly get really faint: just as the magnetar model predicts.

“So what?” you may ask. Well, GRBs are pretty much unique tools to study the early universe, and it’s the deaths of massive stars, some of which die as GRBs, which gives the universe the chemicals that you are I are made from. Getting a handle on the processes by which a star dies, and how it gives off its energy, is fundamental to using GRBs to study these matters. Showing that some GRBs are powered by magnetars is a big step forward.

One note of caution though: this isn’t “the” answer. While it seems to be the only explanation for some GRBS, in this same conference scientists from Berkeley university have shown using data from the Fermi satellite that the brightest GRBs can’t be powered by magnetars, but need a black hole right from the word go. Life’s never straightforward… but it’s often interesting!

Follow Phil as a Swift scientist on Twitter:  @Swift_Phil

Ron Cowen at Science News published a detailed write-up on the research.

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OH AND DID I MENTION? All opinions and opinionlike objects in this blog are mine alone and NOT those of NASA or Goddard Space Flight Center. And while we’re at it, links to websites posted on this blog do not imply endorsement of those websites by NASA.

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A peek at the behind-the-scenes movie magic that created 'Using colors to search for alien Earths'

November 3, 2010 1 comment

Astronomer Carolyn Crow, also the center of the solar system.

Carolyn Crow, UCLA graduate student and center of the solar system.

Someday, when we have space telescopes that can narrow in on the exceedingly weak light from incredibly distant planets around other stars, what will we do with those precious photons?

If you want to know, read the latest web feature and watch the video from NASA Goddard. I wrote the feature, “Using planet colors to search for alien Earths.”

I also had a chance to sit in on the studio work that produced the video featuring Carolyn Crow, a young scientist who led the research on planet colors. (She is currently a graduate student at UCLA.) As commonplace as green-screen technology is today, it’s movie magic that never fails to impress — especially when used as cleverly as it is in this video.

Producer/director Scott Wiessinger created a colorful digital landscape in which Crow strolled among the planets of our solar system in a modern version of Gulliver’s Travels. NASA/Goddard astrophysics writer Frank Reddy provided a concise and clear script.

Here is a behind-the-scenes peek at the movie magic.


looking stage left

Carolyn Crow stands ready to gesture at imaginary planets on Goddard TV’s green screen stage. To eliminate shadows and get the best results from the green screen process, the stage is brightly lit.



carolyn crow being filmed in front of a green screen

carolyn_after
Carolyn after being inserted into a digital landscape with starry background and planet Earth.


And here is the final result:


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OH AND DID I MENTION? All opinions and opinionlike objects in this blog are mine alone and NOT those of NASA or Goddard Space Flight Center. And while we’re at it, links to websites posted on this blog do not imply endorsement of those websites by NASA.

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Gogblogcast #3: Chatting with NASA's Holly Gilbert about solar prominences

November 1, 2010 Leave a comment

I recently spoke to NASA solar physicist Holly Gilbert about a solar prominence eruption caught by the Solar Dynamics Observatory. These great looping eruptions of hot plasma are one of Gilbert’s main research interests. Here is what she had to say.

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OH AND DID I MENTION? All opinions and opinionlike objects in this blog are mine alone and NOT those of NASA or Goddard Space Flight Center. And while we’re at it, links to websites posted on this blog do not imply endorsement of those websites by NASA.

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