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  • Largest Solar System Moon Detailed in Geologic Map
    surface and is the first global geologic map of this icy outer planet moon This map illustrates the incredible variety of geological features on Ganymede and helps to make order from the apparent chaos of its complex surface said Robert Pappalardo of NASA s Jet Propulsion Laboratory This map is helping planetary scientists to decipher the evolution of this icy world and will aid in upcoming spacecraft observations The European Space Agency s Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer mission is slated to be orbiting Ganymede around 2032 NASA is contributing a U S led instrument and hardware for two European led instruments for the mission Since its discovery in January 1610 Ganymede has been the focus of repeated observation first by Earth based telescopes and later by the flyby missions and spacecraft orbiting Jupiter These studies depict a complex icy world whose surface is characterized by the striking contrast between its two major terrain types the dark very old highly cratered regions and the lighter somewhat younger but still very old regions marked with an extensive array of grooves and ridges According to the scientists who have constructed this map three major geologic periods have been identified for Ganymede that involve the dominance of impact cratering then tectonic upheaval followed by a decline in geologic activity The map which illustrates surface features such as furrows grooves and impact craters allows scientists to decipher distinct geologic time periods for an object in the outer solar system for the first time The highly detailed colorful map confirmed a number of outstanding scientific hypotheses regarding Ganymede s geologic history and also disproved others said Baerbel Lucchitta scientist emeritus at the U S Geological Survey in Flagstaff Arizona who has been involved with geologic mapping of Ganymede since 1980 For example the more detailed Galileo

    Original URL path: http://www.lpi.usra.edu/features/voyager/031114/ (2016-02-15)
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  • Kepler Team Marks Five Years in Space
    planets Because of Kepler we now know that most stars have planets Earth sized planets are common and planets quite unlike those in our solar system exist By analyzing Kepler data scientists have identified more than 3600 candidates believed to be planets and verified that 961 of those candidates actually are planets many as small as Earth Discoveries made using Kepler now account for more than half of all the known exoplanets In five years Kepler has revolutionized our view of our place in the universe said James Fanson of NASA s Jet Propulsion Laboratory JPL the former project manager for the mission during development and launch Now we know Earth sized planets are common across the galaxy Kepler s finds include planets that orbit in the habitable zone the range of distances from a star where the surface temperature of an orbiting planet may be suitable for life giving liquid water One example of a habitable zone planet found by the mission is known as Kepler 22b At 2 4 times the size of Earth it is thought to be too big to be rocky and support life Scientists believe other habitable zone planets found by the Kepler mission might be rocky such as Kepler 62f which is 40 larger in size than Earth A twin to Earth a planet with the same temperature and size as our planet has not yet been identified but the analysis is far from over as scientists continue to search the Kepler data for the tiny signature of such a planet Other Kepler discoveries include hundreds of star systems hosting multiple planets and establishing a new class of planetary system where planets orbit more than one sun In August of last year the mission ended its science observations after a faulty reaction wheel

    Original URL path: http://www.lpi.usra.edu/features/kepler/031114/ (2016-02-15)
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  • NASA Moves Longest-Serving Mars Spacecraft for New Observations
    any other NASA Mars orbiter since the 1970s has flown an orbital pattern with a view of the ground in morning daylight Earlier NASA orbiters and the European Space Agency s Mars Express orbiter have provided some tantalizing views of morning mists on Mars but have concentrated on afternoon observation times when views of the surface are less hazy Odyssey was launched in 2001 and began its science mission 12 years ago this month It is the longest working spacecraft ever sent to Mars Odyssey flies in an orbit nearly over the poles and synchronized with the Sun For most of its first six years at Mars the orbit was set at about 5 00 local solar time At every spot Odyssey flew over as it made its dozen daily passes from the north pole region to the south pole region the local solar time was about 5 00 p m Beneath the south to north leg of the orbit the time was about 5 00 a m That orbit provided an advantage for the orbiter s Gamma Ray Spectrometer to have its cooling equipment pointed away from the Sun The spectrometer checked for evidence of water near the martian surface It made important discoveries of how widely water ice detected as hydrogen and other elements are distributed on Mars Later Odyssey worked for three years in a 4 00 orbit That provided an advantage for mineral mapping by the orbiter s Thermal Emission Imaging System THEMIS Mid afternoon warmth made the infrared signatures of minerals easier to identify This timing however added stress to Odyssey s power system It put more of each orbit into the planet s shadow where solar panels are unproductive After providing radio relay support for the 2012 landing of NASA s Curiosity Mars rover

    Original URL path: http://www.lpi.usra.edu/features/mars_odyssey/031114/ (2016-02-15)
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  • LPI Announces Career Development Award Winners
    awards are based on a review of the application materials by a panel of planetary scientists and recipients will receive an 1000 00 travel stipend to help cover their expenses for attending the conference The 45th LPSC will be held at The Woodlands Waterway Marriott Hotel Convention Center in The Woodlands Texas Approximately 2000 participants from all over the world are expected to gather for the annual meeting which has gained the reputation of being the premiere gathering place for lunar and planetary scientists The meeting provides an invaluable opportunity for students not only to present their own research but also to hear and see firsthand the latest breaking results from other researchers in their field Opportunities are also provided for students to meet and network with an international group of distinguished researchers Congratulations to the 2014 recipients Elena Amador University of Washington United States Mohit Melwani Daswani The Open University United Kingdom Subramania Athiray University of Calicut India Rebecca Mickol University of Arkansas United States Jessica Barnes The Open University United Kingdom Wladimir Neumann Westfälische Wilhelms Universität Münster Germany Patricio Becerra The University of Arizona United States Marc Neveu Arizona State University United States Elizabeth Frank University of Colorado

    Original URL path: http://www.lpi.usra.edu/features/cda_award/021914/ (2016-02-15)
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  • Herschel Telescope Detects Water on Dwarf Planet
    outgassing activity For the last century Ceres was known as the largest asteroid in our solar system But in 2006 the International Astronomical Union the governing organization responsible for naming planetary objects reclassified Ceres as a dwarf planet because of its large size It is roughly 950 kilometers 590 miles in diameter When it first was spotted in 1801 astronomers thought it was a planet orbiting between Mars and Jupiter Later other cosmic bodies with similar orbits were found marking the discovery of our solar system s main belt of asteroids Scientists believe Ceres contains rock in its interior with a thick mantle of ice that if melted would amount to more fresh water than is present on all of Earth The materials making up Ceres likely date from the first few million years of our solar system s existence and accumulated before the planets formed Until now ice had been theorized to exist on Ceres but had not been detected conclusively It took Herschel s far infrared vision to see finally a clear spectral signature of the water vapor But Herschel did not see water vapor every time it looked While the telescope spied water vapor four different times on one occasion there was no signature Here is what scientists think is happening When Ceres swings through the part of its orbit that is closer to the Sun a portion of its icy surface becomes warm enough to cause water vapor to escape in plumes at a rate of about 6 kilograms 13 pounds per second When Ceres is in the colder part of its orbit no water escapes The strength of the signal also varied over hours weeks and months because of the water vapor plumes rotating in and out of Herschel s views as the object spun

    Original URL path: http://www.lpi.usra.edu/features/herschel/021914/ (2016-02-15)
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  • NASA and Smithsonian Host 10-Year Mars Rover Events
    went on to perform extended missions for years The rovers made important discoveries about wet environments on ancient Mars that may have been favorable for supporting microbial life Although Spirit ceased communicating with Earth in March 2010 the Opportunity rover continues its work on the Red Planet On January 7 NASA and the museum facilitated two panel discussions on Mars robotic and human missions Held in the museum s Moving Beyond Earth gallery participants discussed the MER program and its scientific successes Participants also provided updates on the agency s activities to advance a human mission to Mars in the 2030s The museum is also featuring a new exhibit Spirit and Opportunity 10 Years Roving Across Mars with more than 50 mosaic and panoramic photographs taken by the rovers From a view of the Sun setting over the rim of a crater to a study of abstract dunes to a shot of rover tracks disappearing over the horizon the images were chosen for their scientific and aesthetic content by MER mission team members On Thursday January 16 at 7 00 p m PST JPL will host a public celebration of a decade of the twin Mars Exploration rovers The event will be held in the Beckman Auditorium on the California Institute of Technology campus 1200 E California Blvd Pasadena California The participants will be Charles Elachi JPL Director Steve Squyres professor of astronomy at Cornell University and principal investigator for the Mars Exploration Rover mission John Callas project manager Mars Exploration Rover Project and Bill Nye chief executive officer of the Planetary Society The event will be streamed live at ustream tv NASAJPL On Friday January 17 at 7 00 p m PST JPL will host a public lecture delivered by John Callas entitled The Mars Exploration Rovers A Decade

    Original URL path: http://www.lpi.usra.edu/features/mars_rover/011314/ (2016-02-15)
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  • NASA’s Deep Space Network: The Original “Wireless Network” Turns 50
    now known as the Deep Space Network first existed as just a few small antennas called the Deep Space Instrumentation Facility The facility was originally operated by the U S Army in the 1950s and then later moved over to the jurisdiction of the newly created National Aeronautics and Space Administration NASA On December 24 1963 the Deep Space Instrumentation Facility officially morphed into the Deep Space Network and quickly became the de facto network for any planned missions into deep space Three antenna complexes were established around the globe spread out at roughly 120 longitude so that even as Earth rotated spacecraft would always be above the horizon of at least one complex While some of the communication facilities have moved over the decades today the three complexes which operate 24 7 365 are located in Canberra Australia Madrid Spain and Goldstone California Space agencies in Europe Japan and Russia have all relied on the Deep Space Network when planning and communicating with their own missions over the decades The Deep Space Network has been used recently by India s first interplanetary probe the Mars Orbiter Mission MOM Today the DSN supports a fleet of more than 30 U S and international robotic space missions said DSN Project Manager Al Bhanji of NASA s Jet Propulsion Laboratory which manages the Deep Space Network Without the DSN we would never have been able to undertake voyages to Mercury and Venus or visit asteroids and comets we d never have seen the stunning images of robots on Mars or close up views of the majestic rings of Saturn In addition to allowing missions to upload and download data to and from dozens of spacecraft the network helps navigators pinpoint spots for landings and conduct burns that place spacecraft into orbit around other planets or fine tune their trajectory Currently the list of spacecraft supported by the DSN includes NASA s Curiosity rover on Mars the Spitzer Space Telescope the Saturn explorer Cassini and the two Voyager spacecraft which are more than 9 6 billion miles 15 5 billion kilometers away from Earth The Deep Space Network is also instrumental in carrying out its own science investigations For instance the 230 foot 70 meter antenna at Goldstone is capable of using its radar to ping the near Earth asteroids to determine a highly accurate position and velocity and scientists are then able to calculate trajectories the asteroids will take over the next 100 years or more This is crucial for tracking asteroids that could potentially cause damage were they to impact Earth If an asteroid is close enough they can also use the radar to image the object to determine its size shape and rotation Additionally by combining signals from the DSN antennas with other radio telescopes in an appropriate manner one can create a synthetic telescope that s able to peer into the cores of active galaxies halfway across the observable universe Likewise the DSN can be used to probe interiors

    Original URL path: http://www.lpi.usra.edu/features/dsn/ (2016-02-15)
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  • Recently Reactivated NASA Spacecraft Spots Its First New Asteroid
    in characterizing previously detected asteroids that could be considered potential targets for future exploration missions NEOWISE s first discovery of its renewed mission came on December 29 a near Earth asteroid designated 2013 YP139 The mission s sophisticated software picked out the moving object against a background of stationary stars As NEOWISE circled Earth scanning the sky it observed the asteroid several times over half a day before the object moved beyond its view Researchers at the University of Arizona used the Spacewatch telescope at the Kitt Peak National Observatory southwest of Tucson to confirm the discovery Peter Birtwhistle an amateur astronomer at the Great Shefford Observatory in West Berkshire England also contributed follow up observations NASA expects 2013 YP139 will be the first of hundreds of asteroid discoveries for NEOWISE We are delighted to get back to finding and characterizing asteroids and comets especially those that come into Earth s neighborhood said Amy Mainzer the mission s principal investigator from NASA s Jet Propulsion Laboratory With our infrared sensors that detect heat we can learn about their sizes and reflectiveness 2013 YP139 is about 27 million miles 43 million kilometers from Earth Based on its infrared brightness scientists estimate it to be roughly 0 4 miles 650 meters in diameter and extremely dark like a piece of coal The asteroid circles the Sun in an elliptical orbit tilted to the plane of our solar system and is classified as potentially hazardous It is possible for its orbit to bring it as close as 300 000 miles from Earth a little more than the distance to the Moon However it will not come that close within the next century WISE discovered more than 34 000 asteroids and characterized 158 000 throughout the solar system during its prime mission in 2010

    Original URL path: http://www.lpi.usra.edu/features/neowise/ (2016-02-15)
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