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That Was the Week that Was, March 14-18, 2011. . . Best of Goddard People, Science, & Media and the blogpodcastotwittersphere


Tsunami Damage, Rikuzentakata, Japan

Tsunami Damage, Rikuzentakata, Japan


Japan Earthquake
After the March 12 earthquake and tsunami in Japan, it’s as if the world collectively gasped — and then what followed was almost a feeling of disbelief as the harsh facts begin to register. Entire seaside communities erased from existence. . . tens of thousands of lives feared lost. . . giant ocean swells flooding the coastline. . . cars and houses looking like toys bobbing in the water. And then there are the satellite images, which provide a critical wide-angle perspective.

NASA’s Earth-observing fleet has helped to reveal the full scope and power of the catastrophe. As Mark Imhoff, the Terra satellite project scientist at Goddard, said in a report by West Virginia Public Broadcasting:

“It’s been heart wrenching seeing some of these images because the first set images that we got in on the day after the earthquake on March 12, even though the resolution from of the satellite wasn’t very good, the data from the Miser instrument at Jet Propulsion’s Laboratory showed that there were a large area of coastline that really weren’t there anymore and so you could really get an impression that a lot of villages and agricultural areas had really been severely impacted by the ocean.”


NASA released a web feature on March 17, five days after the quake, showing tsunami after-effects documented by Landsat 7.

NASA Earth Observatory has compiled a gallery of earthquake-related images from various NASA spacecraft, including EO-1, Terra, Aqua, and astronaut photos from the International Space Station.

As usual, EO’s in-depth captions provide context and explanations for the various destructive effects of the earthquake on coastal Japan. An even larger selection of imagery is available in this NASA web feature about the disaster.


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New LRO Data
On March 15, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter mission released the final set of data from the mission’s exploration phase, along with the first measurements from its new life as a science satellite. The press release explains the details. The slideshow below takes a look back at some of the coolest imagery from the mission so far. All the images in the slideshow, and many more, are archived here on the NASA LRO website, which includes detailed captions.




Messenger Makes It
The third major story out of Goddard this week was the arrival in Mercury orbit of the Messenger spacecraft. After three spectacular fly-bys earlier (see slideshow below), Messenger is now in position to really dig into its science mission to reveal the nature and history of the first rock from the sun. An earlier post discusses some of the research being conducted on Mercury’s thin “exosphere” of atoms and ions wispily clinging within the planet’s gravity.


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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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How sweet it is! The first spacecraft goes into orbit around Mercury

March 18, 2011 3 comments


A visualization of the sodium "exosphere" around Mercury courtesy of Matthew Burger at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.

A visualization of the sodium "exosphere" around Mercury courtesy of Matthew Burger at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.



In the space exploration racket, there is no sweeter word than “first.” And so it was last night that a NASA spacecraft made an important First in planetary exploration:

“NASA’s MESSENGER spacecraft successfully achieved orbit around Mercury at approximately 9 p.m. EDT Thursday. This marks the first time a spacecraft has accomplished this engineering and scientific milestone at our solar system’s innermost planet.”


We flung the Mariner 10 spacecraft past Mercury in fly-by missions in 1974-75. And Messenger itself did three fly-bys as it got into position for the final “orbital insertion.” Now it is the first space probe to park in orbit around the first rock from the sun.





Rosemary Killen, a researcher at Goddard, is one of the many scientists who will reap rewards from this so-far spectacularly successful mission. Her target is the thin “exosphere” of sodium, potassium, and calcium knocked off Mercury’s barren rocky surface by the “solar wind” streaming from the sun.

If you want all the scientific details, read a short explanation below by Rosemary Killen about her work And also read about some of the instruments that Goddard scientists and engineers helped to put on the spacecraft.

Otherwise, enjoy the slide show of Messenger images, 2004-2011, and an informative video by Tom Watters (below), a geologist in the Center for Earth and Planetary Studies at the Smithsonian Institution. He explains the goals of Messenger.





Rosemary Killen:

“I am a Participating Scientist on the MESSENGER mission and a member of the MASCS (Mercury Atmospheric and Surface Composition Spectrometer) team. MASCS is a spectrometer covering ultraviolet, visible, and near-infrared wavelengths. The MASCS ultraviolet and visible channel is designed primarily to observe the exosphere, or the very tenuous atmosphere about Mercury, by scanning over selected, diagnostic wavelength ranges.

“Our goals are to determine the composition of the exosphere (which is only partially known at present), and, over the mission lifetime, to determine its spatial and temporal variability. We do this by observing emission lines from atoms (and a few ions) in the exosphere above Mercury’s surface. In so doing we hope to determine the processes that eject atoms from the surface into the exosphere and that lead to the loss of material from the Mercury system.

“Important factors include the relationships among the exosphere and the solar ultraviolet flux, the solar wind and interplanetary magnetic field, and the planet’s intrinsic magnetic field. We hope to be able to determine the effects (if any) of meteor streams that may intersect Mercury’s orbit.

“One intriguing question is the nature of the deposits seen by Earth-based radar (specifically that at the Arecibo Observatory) in polar craters on Mercury, and what that tells us about the sequestration of volatiles. The visible and near-infrared channel of MASCS is primarily designed to measure the reflectance spectrum of the surface in order to determine the mineralogy of surface materials. Ultimately the goal is to unravel the history of the planet: its origin and evolution to the state it occupies today.”

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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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Dr. Garvin's Solar System Picture Show

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Hey kids — got a science report due on the solar system? Do I have a video for you: a guided tour of the inner rocky planets by Goddard’s James Garvin.

Chief Scientist of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Dr. Jim Garvin, takes us on a journey of Earth, the moon, and our neighboring planets. Why does space matter? Why is exploring the inner solar system so crucial? Where will humans venture to next? In this video lecture, Dr. Garvin answers these questions and discusses NASA’s past, present, and future of discovery on our nearest neighbors in the solar system.

Click the image above to see the entire 55-minute presentation on Blip TV. This version, compressed to play in a continues clip, is a little grainy. That short-changes you a bit on the fantastic computer simulations and images packed into Garvin’s talk. You have the option of watching the presentation in six higher-resolution YouTube clips (below). Or you could download the high-res files from Goddard’s Scientific Visualization Studio site.

Garvin covers Mercury, Venus, the moon, asteroids, Earth (a wee bit), and then Mars (quite a bit). He covers the detailed history of what we’ve done and what we still want to do. Garvin scores big points with his enormous energy and enthusiasm, deep knowledge of the subject (he’s a planetary scientist), and a humorous touch.

Check it out if you want an update from the bleeding edge of NASA planetary science from a true insider. It’s watchable and packed with interesting science/tech tidbits.

If you have a fast Internet connection, set the video segments below to play back at 720p for the maximum High Def data blast.


http://www.youtube.com/v/ePffS0N_HZk?fs=1&hl=en_US


http://www.youtube.com/v/-dQ2YYrE8yI?fs=1&hl=en_US


http://www.youtube.com/v/hXE2rEodGEA?fs=1&hl=en_US


http://www.youtube.com/v/0VsbXLVr2P0?fs=1&hl=en_US


http://www.youtube.com/v/znx77MdPTxg?fs=1&hl=en_US


http://www.youtube.com/v/mHbFFv1Pq5c?fs=1&hl=en_US

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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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Blogolicious image of the day: Earth and its moon as seen from the MESSENGER spacecraft

Some images are so extraordinary you don’t have to say all that much. And you don’t even need color.

So, briefly, here is an image snapped by the MESSENGER spacecraft, now exploring Mercury. The big blob is us, the littler blob is our moon. MESSENGER snapped the image May 6, 2010, from 114 million miles away — greater than Earth’s average distance from the sun.

And that’s all I gotta say about that. Read more about it at OnOrbit.

Earth and its moon

Earth and its moon

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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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