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  • Scientists Find Evidence for Subsurface “Great Lake” On Europa
    surface and subsurface is a big key for astrobiology says Wes Patterson a planetary scientist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory APL in Laurel Maryland and a co author of the study Europa s subsurface harbors much of what we believe is necessary for life but chemical nutrients found at the surface are likely vital for driving biology One opinion in the scientific community has been If the ice shell is thick that s bad for biology that it might mean the surface isn t communicating with the underlying ocean adds Britney Schmidt the paper s lead author and a postdoctoral fellow at The University of Texas at Austin s UT Institute for Geophysics Now we see evidence that it s a thick ice shell that can mix vigorously and new evidence for giant shallow lakes That could make Europa and its ocean more habitable Besides Patterson and Schmidt the other co authors of the paper are Don Blankenship senior research scientist at UT s Institute for Geophysics and Paul Schenk planetary scientist at the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston The scientists focused on Galileo spacecraft images of two roughly circular bumpy features on Europa s surface called chaos terrains Based on similar processes seen here on Earth on ice shelves and under glaciers overlaying volcanos they developed a four step model to explain how the features form on Europa It resolves several conflicting observations some of which seemed to suggest that the ice shell is thick and others that it is thin While one of the chaos terrains appears to be fully formed the other might still be forming an indication that Europa s surface is still geologically active For quite some time Europa geologists have been struggling figure out what these features are and how

    Original URL path: http://www.lpi.usra.edu/features/europa/GreatLake/ (2016-02-15)
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  • Graduate Students Eligible for the LPI Career Development Award
    to help cover travel expenses for attending the LPSC in March The application deadline for the LPI Career Development Award is January 13 2012 Applications should be directed to Dr Stephen Mackwell c o Claudia Quintana 3600 Bay Area Boulevard Houston TX 77058 1113 cquintana hou usra edu Awards will be based on a review of the application materials by a panel of lunar and planetary scientists Applications must include Letter outlining why the applicant would like to participate at the LPSC and what he or she will contribute to the conference Letter of recommendation from his or her research advisor Copy of the first author abstract Curriculum Vita for the applicant The 43rd LPSC will be held at The Woodlands Waterway Marriott Hotel Convention Center in The Woodlands Texas More than 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 LPI maintains a highly focused education effort chartered to engage excite and educate the public about lunar and planetary science and invests in the development of future generations of scientists The LPI Career Development Award has

    Original URL path: http://www.lpi.usra.edu/features/cda_award/2011/ (2016-02-15)
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  • NASA Launches Mission to Study Moon from Crust to Core
    the Moon to measure its gravity field GRAIL will answer longstanding questions about the Moon and give scientists a better understanding of how Earth and other rocky planets in the solar system formed If there was ever any doubt that Florida s Space Coast would continue to be open for business that thought was drowned out by the roar of today s GRAIL launch said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden GRAIL and many other exciting upcoming missions make clear that NASA is taking its next big leap into deep space exploration and the space industry continues to provide the jobs and workers needed to support this critical effort The spacecraft were launched onboard a United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket GRAIL mission controllers acquired a signal from GRAIL A at 10 29 a m EDT 7 29 a m PDT GRAIL B s signal was received eight minutes later The telemetry downlinked from both spacecraft indicates they have deployed their solar panels and are operating as expected Our GRAIL twins have Earth in their rearview mirrors and the Moon in their sights said David Lehman GRAIL project manager at NASA s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena California The mission team is ready to test analyze and fine tune our spacecraft over the next three and a half months on our journey to lunar orbit The straight line distance from Earth to the Moon is approximately 250 000 miles 402 336 kilometers NASA s Apollo Moon crews needed approximately three days to cover that distance However each spacecraft will take approximately 3 5 months to arrive covering more than 2 5 million miles 4 million kilometers along the way This low energy trajectory results in the longer travel time The size of the launch vehicle allows more time for spacecraft check out

    Original URL path: http://www.lpi.usra.edu/features/grail/ (2016-02-15)
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  • NASA Study of Clays Suggests Watery Mars Underground
    needed a much thicker atmosphere than it has now to keep the water from evaporating or freezing Researchers have sought evidence of processes that could cause a thick atmosphere to be lost over time This new study supports an alternative hypothesis that persistent warm water was confined to the subsurface and many erosional features were carved during brief periods when liquid water was stable at the surface If surface habitats were short term that doesn t mean we should be glum about prospects for life on Mars but it says something about what type of environment we might want to look in said the report s lead author Bethany Ehlmann assistant professor at the California Institute of Technology Pasadena and scientist at NASA s Jet Propulsion Laboratory also in Pasadena The most stable Mars habitats over long durations appear to have been in the subsurface On Earth underground geothermal environments have active ecosystems The discovery of clay minerals by the OMEGA spectrometer on the European Space Agency s Mars Express orbiter added to earlier evidence of liquid martian water Clays form from the interaction of water with rock Different types of clay minerals result from different types of wet conditions During the past five years researchers used OMEGA and NASA s Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer CRISM instrument on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter to identify clay minerals at thousands of locations on Mars Clay minerals that form where the ratio of water interacting with rock is small generally retain the same chemical elements as those found in the original volcanic rocks later altered by the water The study interprets this to be the case for most terrains on Mars with iron and magnesium clays In contrast surface environments with higher ratios of water to rock can alter rocks further Soluble elements

    Original URL path: http://www.lpi.usra.edu/features/mars/110311/ (2016-02-15)
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  • Herschel Finds Oceans of Water in Disk of Nearby Star
    Scientists previously found warm water vapor in planet forming disks close to a central star Evidence for vast quantities of water extending out into the cooler far reaches of disks where comets take shape had not been seen until now The more water available in disks for icy comets to form the greater the chances that large amounts eventually will reach new planets through impacts Our observations of this cold vapor indicate enough water exists in the disk to fill thousands of Earth oceans said astronomer Michiel Hogerheijde of Leiden Observatory in The Netherlands Hogerheijde is the lead author of a paper describing these findings in the October 21 issue of the journal Science The star with this waterlogged disk called TW Hydrae is 10 million years old and located about 175 light years away from Earth in the constellation Hydra The frigid watery haze detected by Hogerheijde and his team is thought to originate from ice coated grains of dust near the disk s surface Ultraviolet light from the star causes some water molecules to break free of this ice creating a thin layer of gas with a light signature detected by Herschel s Heterodyne Instrument for the Far Infrared HIFI These are the most sensitive HIFI observations to date said Paul Goldsmith NASA project scientist for the Herschel Space Observatory at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory It is a testament to the instrument builders that such weak signals can be detected TW Hydrae is an orange dwarf star somewhat smaller and cooler than our yellow white Sun The giant disk of material that encircles the star has a size nearly 200 times the distance between Earth and the Sun Over the next few million years astronomers believe matter within the disk will collide and grow into planets asteroids and

    Original URL path: http://www.lpi.usra.edu/features/herschel/ (2016-02-15)
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  • Dawn Science Team Presents Early Science Results
    Science findings also include an in depth analysis of a set of equatorial troughs on Vesta and a closer look at the object s intriguing craters The surface appears to be much rougher than most asteroids in the main asteroid belt In addition preliminary dates from a method that uses the number of craters indicate that areas in the southern hemisphere are as young as 1 billion to 2 billion years old much younger than areas in the north Scientists do not yet understand how all the features on Vesta s surface formed but they did announce after analysis of northern and southern troughs that results are consistent with models of fracture formation due to giant impact Since July the Dawn spacecraft has been spiraling closer and closer to Vesta moving in to get better and better views of the surface In early August the spacecraft reached an orbital altitude of 1700 miles 2700 kilometers and mapped most of the sunlit surface during survey orbit with its framing camera and visible and infrared mapping spectrometer That phase was completed in late August and the spacecraft began moving in to what is known as the High Altitude Mapping Orbit HAMO at

    Original URL path: http://www.lpi.usra.edu/features/dawn/101311/ (2016-02-15)
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  • Enceladus Weather: Snow Flurries and Perfect Powder for Skiing
    Monday October 3 Mapping of global color patterns and measurements of surface layer thicknesses show that ice particles fall back onto the surface of Enceladus in a predictable pattern Mapping of these deposits indicate that the plumes and their heat source are relatively long lived features lasting millennia and probably tens of million years or more and have blanketed areas of the surface in a thick layer of tiny ice

    Original URL path: http://www.lpi.usra.edu/features/enceladus/weather/index.shtml (2016-02-15)
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  • Michael J. Drake, 1946–2011
    Bristol England Drake graduated with a degree in geology from Victoria University in Manchester and then he left for a doctoral program in geology from the University of Oregon graduating in 1972 After a postdoctoral program at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory Drake moved to and immediately fell in love with Arizona As a young assistant professor Drake joined a much smaller LPL in 1973 The lab occupied only a part of what is now the Kuiper Space Sciences Building and most of his colleagues came from astronomy Planetary sciences did not have the cachet then that it does now It was from my point of view a strange environment Drake wrote earlier on LPL s website It s like the Tower of Babel you talk in your own language and your own jargon and communicating across fields is surprisingly difficult It took a few years before I think most of us began to understand what motivated the other ones what we were really saying I think it helped us to speak in clearer plain English and minimize the jargon because we came from such different backgrounds Regents Professor Peter Strittmatter who recently retired as director of the UA s Steward Observatory and head of the UA astronomy department said Drake used those communication skills to expand LPL and form close relationships with NASA Mike thought and spoke clearly so you always knew where he stood on an issue Strittmatter said He was a superb director of LPL a great leader and a great personal friend He will be sorely missed by all of us at the University of Arizona and especially those involved in the space sciences Peter Smith the principal investigator for the Phoenix Mars Lander mission said he began working with Drake when Smith was building the camera for the 1997 Mars Pathfinder He called Drake s handling of the complexities of proposal development masterful We would meet monthly to review progress and plan strategy Smith said Mike always encouraged excellence and made sure that the university was providing full support to our programs Over the years as my career progressed through various missions to Mars he was there when troubles surfaced and a political push was needed said Smith who is also part of the OSIRIS REx mission He watched our flight projects from the sidelines his enthusiasm made it clear that he wished for a more direct involvement After winning the project of his dreams Mike will continue to inspire and lead through the legacy of his accomplishments Edgar J McCullough retired professor and head of the UA geosciences department and dean of the College of Science said he and Drake became friends in the early 1970s when they would go on weeklong backpacking excursions around the West When he was in planetary sciences and I was head of the geosciences department we set up a microprobe laboratory with funding from both departments It was the first big piece of diagnostic equipment here at a time

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