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Archive for February, 2011

The eagle has landed — at Goddard Space Flight Center

February 28, 2011 6 comments

On Friday, I was surprised to see a photo — posted on the Goddard Flickr site — of a majestic bald eagle (named Harry) perched on a tree at Goddard Space Flight Center. I had no idea they were here! It makes you want to look up more often. Here is the photo that one of the staff photographers here, Bill Hrybyk, shot with his trusty Nikon D3. Scroll past the image to read more about bald eagles in Maryland. . .

"Harry" the bald eagle perches in the rain near Building 27A at the Goddard Space Flight Center on February 25, 2011.

"Harry" the bald eagle perches in the rain near Building 27A at the Goddard Space Flight Center on February 25, 2011.



It turns out that Goddard is benefiting from a national upturn in bald eagle populations. According to an article I found online, Bald Eagles No Longer Rare in Maryland:

“If you told someone 30 years ago that you spotted a bald eagle in Maryland, they’d be impressed. But these days, that’s not the case. The bald eagle population has increased dramatically over the years. That’s prompted Maryland wildlife officials to propose removing the bird from the state’s list of threatened species. . . Only 44 breeding pairs of bald eagles were found in Maryland in 1977. In 2004, the population rebounded to 390 pairs.”


According to a source from the state Department of Natural Resources referenced in the article, there may be more than 500 breeding pair in our fair state by now. Bald eagles went off the federal list of threatened species in 2007; on April 5, 2010, Maryland followed suit. Read more about bald eagles in Maryland at the Dept. of Natural Resources website.

I’m just glad they’re here, where I work. What a nice surprise! Here are two more shots of Harry. I think I’ll try to get some video of the critter.

photo of Bald Eagle perched at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center


photo of Bald Eagle perched at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center
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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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Categories: Life at Goddard Tags: , ,

That Was the Week that Was, February 21-25, 2011. . . A Digest of Goddard People, Science, & Media, PLUS Historical Tidbits and Our Best Stuff in the Blogpodcastotwitterverse

February 25, 2011 Leave a comment

feb24 solar prominence close up imageCLICK TO SEE THE PROMINENCE IN SUPERDUPER CLOSE-UP!

Our spewing sun: the star next door loosed a projectile vomitus of plasma on Thursday February 24. The Solar Dynamics Observatory was there to capture the drama in glorious HD.

Here’s what the SDO Pick of the Week had to say:

When a rather large-sized (M 3.6 class) flare occurred near the edge of the Sun, it blew out a gorgeous, waving mass of erupting plasma that swirled and twisted over a 90-minute period (Feb. 24, 2011). This event was captured in extreme ultraviolet light by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory spacecraft . Some of the material blew out into space and other portions fell back to the surface. Because SDO images are super-HD, we can zoom in on the action and still see exquisite details. And using a cadence of a frame taken every 24 seconds, the sense of motion is, by all appearances, seamless. Sit back and enjoy the jaw-dropping solar show.


mosaic of images and art associated with glory mission

Speaking of Glory,
the other leading Goddard news of the week was the serial delays in the launch of the latest NASA earth-observing satellite, Glory. Engineers are still troubleshooting a problem with ground support equipment for the Taurus XL rocket. Gogblog had a few words to say earlier this week about the importance of the Glory mission to climate science.

Here’s the latest status of the mission:

Preparations for the launch of NASA’s Glory mission from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California have been suspended temporarily. Engineers continue to troubleshoot a malfunction in ground support equipment associated with the Taurus XL rocket. . . . “The Glory spacecraft is doing fine,” reported Bryan Fafaul, Glory project manager from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight in Greenbelt, Md. “We are continuing to slow charge the battery until we have a new launch date.”



GOGBLOG’S PICKS OF THE BEST GODDARD LINKS ‘O THE WEEK. . .

Phil Plait’s Bad Astronomy blog features a spectacular satellite image of a volcano in the Kuril Archipelago from NASA Earth Observatory.

NASA Blueshift’s Weekly Awesomeness Round Up features Sara and Maggie’s picks of the coolest astronomy and space stuff of the week.

MODIS Image of the Day features massive tropical cyclone Dianne and its galaxy-like swirliness.

The ASTER instrument on NASA’s Terra satellite imaged the earthquake-stricken Christchurch region in New Zealand.

Goddard’s crack Webb Telescope media team releases an extremely cool interactive tour of the next game-changing NASA space telescope. Take a look under the hood!


THIS WEEK’S PARADE OF BEAUTY SHOTS:

photo of cyclone dianne storm


image of x2 solar flare


satellite image of volcano in kuril archipelago


photo of feb 24 2011 launch of space shuttle

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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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Why understanding something smaller than a pinprick (an aerosol particle) is the key to something as big as a planet (global climate)

February 23, 2011 Leave a comment

UPDATE MARCH 4: Sadly, Glory launched this morning but did not reach orbit because the payload faring did not separate. The faring protects and encloses the satellite during launch and initial ascent. With this extra weight onboard, the launch system was unable to reach orbit and landed in the ocean. Condolences to the mission team that spent years designing and building the ill-fated Glory spacecraft.


mosaic of images and art associated with glory mission

To learn anything, you first need to know what you don’t know. Let’s call them the “known unknowns.”

In climate science, one of the thorniest known unknowns is the impact of aerosols, microscopic particles that drift in the atmosphere absorbing and reflecting energy, and tweaking clouds. My colleague Adam Voiland — Goddard Space Flight Center’s chronicler of all things aerosol — explained it this way in one of his many fine web features and press releases on the topic:

“The particles can directly influence climate by reflecting or absorbing the sun’s radiation. In broad terms, this means bright-colored or translucent aerosols, such as sulfates and sea salt aerosols, tend to reflect radiation back towards space and cause cooling. In contrast, darker aerosols, such as black carbon and other types of carbonaceous particles, can absorb significant amounts of light and contribute to atmospheric warming.”



The Glory mission, which is scheduled to go into orbit this week, will attempt a much better understanding of aerosols and — climatologists hope — lead to needed improvements in the computer simulations that predict where earth’s climate is heading in the coming decades.

But for my part, the Glory mission actually takes me back a decade or so, to the mid-1990s when I worked for a now-defunct science magazine called Earth. The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) had, in 1995, published its Second Assessment Report. Using a newfangled thingie called the World Wide Web, science reporters eagerly poured over the IPCC report’s many hundreds of pages, trying to make sense of it all.

One issue that stood out was — you guessed it — the role of aerosols in global climate change. Here’s what the panel authors said on page 525 of a portion of the IPCC report, Working Group I: The Science of Climate Change.

“Atmospheric aerosols (Chapter 2) also play an important role in the Earth’s radiative budget. There are fairly reliable estimates of the amount of sulphur burned but these do not translate directly into number density of aerosols, for which the size, hygroscopic and optical properties, as well as their vertical, horizontal and temporal distributions, have not been well observed.”



Allow me to translate: It’s saying that we know how much sulfur-containing fuels we burn (coal, for example), which produces sulfate particles that have a cooling effect on climate; but that doesn’t tell us how much of this aerosol is produced, how much energy it reflects, and where it is.

And on page 526, the report tells us why we should care about aerosols, from a practical point of view:

Thus, at present the uncertainty in aerosol radiative forcing is the largest source of uncertainty in the total radiative forcing of climate over the past industrial period. Since aerosols are very patchy in their distribution, they could create significant regional climate changes regardless of their effect on globally averaged forcing.



{If you have a lot of time on your hands or need something very heavy to hold doors open, download and print Working Group I: The Science of Climate Change by clicking HERE.}

So here is the punchline for this week: Glory will provide data needed to help resolve uncertainties about aerosols and climate. The hope is that computer models will be able to make better predictions of where Earth’s climate is heading.

If you want to learn more, here is a series of recent videos about the Glory mission. And don’t miss this and this web feature about Glory, by Adam Voiland.






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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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Close call: Earth spared from major geomagnetic storm?

February 17, 2011 Leave a comment

image of flares on sun

After reading all about the impending geomagnetic storm, I was about to yell “Duck!” when the latest reports started dribbling in. Earlier this week, solar flares sent coronal mass ejections (CMEs) hurtling toward Earth that could have fueled a major geomagnetic storms, lighting up the sky with auroras and interfering with satellite and radio communications.

Right now, it seems the event won’t be as intense as initially expected. But isn’t this the very reason why NASA has an extensive fleet of sun-watching spacecraft? We can’t forecast these events as well as we’d like to. maybe someday we will.

Most of these reports come from the wonderful Facebook page, The Sun Today: Solar Facts and Space Weather, involving Goddard scientists.



Sunday Feb. 13, 1:03 pm

BANG!! The Sun just fired off a M6.6 solar flare at 17:36 UT from sunspot group AR11158. Here is a composite image from SDO/AIA in the 94, 335 and 193 Angstrom wavelengths with the bright flare visible near the center of the solar disk. The biggest solar flare yet for 2011!

bang!



Feb. 14, 9:59 am

Yes as Greg stated the CME will most likely hit Earth on Tuesday (Feb. 15). The preliminary data from SOHO and STEREO show that the event is not particularly bright though it is fast. Aurora watchers at high latitudes should keep alert. The region that produced the event continues to grow in complexity indicating a good chance for more activity. (There have been several more C flares.


stereoshot_feb15



Tuesday, Feb 15, 11:22 am

Here is a image from the STEREO Behind spacecraft’s COR2 Coronagraph showing the CME leaving the Sun shortly after the X2.2 flare and coronal wave. The image is from 3:24UT, about 1 hour after the flare and wave. This data is from the beacon or STEREO space weather data so it is not full quality but it is available much sooner than the science data. We expect to have data from the SOHO LASCO coronagraphs soon.



Wednesday, Feb 16, 1:15 pm

CMEs are on their way! Over the past 3 days the Sun released 3 CMEs directed Earthward. The 1st from Feb. 13 is traveling ~400 km/s, the 2nd from Feb. 14 is traveling ~340 km/s and the 3rd from Feb. 15 is traveling ~800 km/s. We expect to see Aurora from these events starting tonight and tomorrow. High latitude Aurora watchers should keep an eye out.



aurora donut

Dick, Here is the aurora forecast for tonight along with a map. “Auroral activity will be active. Weather permitting, active auroral displays will be visible overhead from Inuvik, Yellowknife, Rankin and Igaluit to Juneau, Edmonton, Winnipeg and Sept-Iles, and visible low on the horizon from Vancouver, Great Falls, Pierre, Madison, Lansing, Ottawa, Portland and St. Johns AND as far south as Anchorage, Alaska, Trondheim, Norway and Igarka, Russia, and visible low on the horizon in Montreal, Stockholm, Helsinki and Yakutsk, Russia.” I will respond to your question about the Dec. 13 event tomorrow. I hope you are able to see some aurora. -Alex



Thursday, Feb. 17: TODAY

AURORA WATCH:

NOAA has slightly downgraded the chance of geomagnetic activity on Feb. 17th to 35%. Those are still good odds, however, so high-latitude sky watchers should be alert for auroras.



The Los Angeles Times said this morning. . .

Solar flare radiation expected to hit starting today: The largest solar flare in four years erupted Monday. Its radiation is expected to reach Earth today and Friday and perhaps interfere with communication systems, power grids and navigation satellites. It might also enhance the northern lights.



The AFP.com news service says. . .

WASHINGTON – A wave of charged plasma particles from a huge solar eruption has glanced off the Earth’s northern pole, lighting up auroras and disrupting some radio communications, a NASA scientist said. But the Earth appears to have escaped a widespread geomagnetic storm, with the effects confined to the northern latitudes, possibly reaching down into Norway and Canada. “There can be sporadic outages based on particular small-scale events,” said Dean Persnell, project scientist at NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory at Goddard Space Flight Center.

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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 L'il SDO!

February 11, 2011 Leave a comment
Goddard's Martha Wawro and SDO commemorative Snowmageddon snow globe.

Goddard's Martha Wawro and SDO commemorative Snowmageddon snow globe. Click to see a close-up!

It’s been a year since NASA launched the Solar Dynamics Observatory, and so far everything is A.O.K. Good data, good images, lots of public interest. Must be time to have a party.

A bunch of the folks here at Goddard who helped make SDO happen, including mission scientist Dean Pesnell, got together today for a 1-year launch anniversary celebration. One major complicating event that overlapped the launch and critical follow-up operations was the infamous Snowmageddon.

At Goddard, which got socked just as bad as the rest of the Northeast region, 73 hardy souls associated with the SDO launch and mission operations camped out during the mother-of-all-blizzards. Today, at the party they got a Snowmageddon snow globe to mark their dedication. The person holding the globe in the photo above is Martha Wawro, the deputy “EPO lead” at Goddard for SDO. (EPO stands for “education and public outreach.”)

aleya van doren and martha wawroMartha and the other young woman in the photo at right, Aleya Van Doren, are members of the small army of EPO specialists — people who help to educate the public about SDO and help involve students in the mission. Aleya is one of the resident Twitter gurus in the EPO forces here.

Hurray for SDO! Hurray for EPO!


Front and back view...

Front and back view...


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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, February 6-11, 2011. . . A Digest of Goddard People, Science, & Media, PLUS Historical Tidbits and Our Best Stuff in the Blogpodcastotwitterverse

February 11, 2011 Leave a comment



full disk view of sun from space

SUNDAY February 6: On February 6th, NASA’s twin STEREO probes moved into position on opposite sides of the sun, and they are now beaming back uninterrupted images of the entire star—front and back.









MONDAY February 7: NASA Blueshift’s Awesomeness Round-Up highlights a clockwork solar system you can watch move either in Sun-centered Copernican mode or in Tycho Brahe’s hybrid system. PLUS a set of stunning solar exclipse images and other interesting astro-stuff of the week.


The Solar Dynamics Observatory sees a massive coronal “hole” on the sun:


TUESDAY February 8: Record Low Arctic Sea Ice Extent for January: See it on NASA Earth Observatory.

WEDNESDAY February 9: In communities all across the U.S., seeds went to the moon and back with the Apollo 14 mission are living out their quiet lives. The whereabouts of more than 50 are known. Goddard’s resident astro-Lorax, Dave Williams, speaks for the Moon Trees.

Snowfall: Satellite images created by NASA provide a snowy panorama of a major storm’s aftermath.

Goddard holds an “Ask A Scientist” Twitter event about the STEREO spacecraft milestone.


tweet


NEW VIDEO: Laser ‘Footprints’ on the Moon. As the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) circles the moon, a sophisticated instrument bounces laser light off the moon’s surface 28 times per second. An array of five sensors arranged in an X-shape detects the reflected light. The amount of time it takes the light to travel to the surface and back to the sensors tells the instrument how far away the surface is. Over time, this instrument, the Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter, builds up a complete elevation map of the moon.


THURSDAY February 10: Engineers and technicians at Vandenberg Air Force base, Calif., are preparing the Earth-observing satellite Glory for launch on Feb. 23. In orbit, the satellite’s two science instruments will study key aspects of the climate that will help make it possible to produce more accurate global and regional climate models.

Tune in: Listen to how Glory satellite will help solve the “particle puzzle” of climate change.

Whoosh! New activity at Shiveluch Volcano. See it on NASA Earth Observatory.


FRIDAY February 11: One year ago today, the Solar Dynamics Observatory launched.


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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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"Ask A Scientist" about the STEREO mission's New 360 degree view of our home star on Twitter

February 9, 2011 2 comments

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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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Categories: Solar System, STEREO, The Sun Tags: , , ,

Get ready for the STEREO "Ask a Scientist" Q&A on Twitter today

February 9, 2011 Leave a comment

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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Categories: STEREO, The Sun

Science, it's a piece of cake!

February 7, 2011 Leave a comment

hourcle-cake-3-600

Last week I posted a fun little video we made at the Goddard Space Flight Center “Science As Food” contest. It was part of an annual event here, the “Poster Party Blowout,” where NASA scientists and engineers show off their research and projects to colleagues.

The Science As Food winner, Joe Hourclé, sent me some photographs of “the making of” an erupting sun cake. Want to know how to make pudding rocket from a cake on command? Here is Joe’s explanation, more or less word for word:

The actual cake part is a 10″ round cake, a boxed mix, with extra baking powder inside, and baked in a hotter oven than what the directions called for to increase the domed top.

I then affixed it with icing to an MDF cake round, so I could trim the edge a little more, and then crumb coated it.  I wrapped it in plastic wrap, so while I was cutting the Styrofoam, I wouldn’t accidentally contaminate the cake.

I tapered the 12″ Styrofoam cake form slightly, so it more closely matched the contour of the cake:

hourcle-cake-1

I then trimmed the styrofoam to fit a canister I had, with a large enough opening that I could fit my hand inside to connect up everything:

hourcle-cake-2

I then mounted the tubing and “gallo gun” (drain line cleaner) to the canister, and cut channels in the styrofoam form for the tubing, then gave it a test firing (using water; not pudding, so I didn’t have to clean out):

hourcle-cake-3

The exit tube stuck out from the styrofoam a little bit, as the icing would have some thickness to it:

hourcle-cake-4

I then re-stacked the cake, using icing to fill the edge of the cake, and then gave it a covering of orange fondant, which might’ve been overkill. (Note: There was a brass fitting in the exit tube so I didn’t accidentally fill it with icing.)

hourcle-cake-5

I had mixed the icing colors the day before, as they can take a day or so to reach their full color, in case I had to correct them, as I was attempting to match the false color table used by SOHO and STEREO for 304 Angstrom images:

hourcle-cake-6

The solar granulation effect was achieved by loading two different shades in each bag, so when I piped out little stars, there’d be variation.  I could also change the color that showed through more by turning my hand and angling the piping bag differently:

hourcle-cake-7

And I made sure to use some white to signify an active region around the exit point:

hourcle-cake-8

The canister inside the cake was actually filled on site. I used a squeeze bottle to inject the pudding through the exit hole.  The color’s a little dark because I used soy milk for the pudding; it was made with more liquid than the pudding mixed called for, so it wouldn’t set up too much.

hourcle-cake-9a

And a cut-away of the actual canister after firing:

hourcle-cake-9b



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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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Categories: The Sun Tags: , ,

Super sun-day, as brought to you by NASA's STEREO mission

February 6, 2011 2 comments



full disk view of sun from space


Judging by past Superbowl Sundays, more than 90 million people in the United States will tune into today’s sacred event at any moment. (If you have a hunger for trivial statistics, up to 116 million watched a Doritos ad during last year’s game.) That means at least one American will have watched today’s event for every mile (93 million on average) between Earth and the sun!

Well, that’s still a pretty long way, so we puny humans rely on a fleet of sun-observing spacecraft to tell us what we need to know about our home stars, from how much energy it pumps into the climate system to when we need to batten down the hatches for the latest solar storm.

Today, NASA’s twin STEREO spacecraft reached opposite sides of the sun. For the first time in human history, we can see the entire star at the same time. It’s taken quote a bit of orbital maneuverings to get here since STEREO launched in late 2006.

A crack team of NASA video producers and science writers have created a series of press releases and videos to mark STEREO’s big day. They tell the story far better than I could in mere nouns and verbs. Here’s the goods:









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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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Categories: Space Weather, STEREO, The Sun