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  • Dawn Spacecraft Enters Orbit Around Asteroid Vesta
    is the only large asteroid that had volcanic activity when it formed Over the next year Dawn s exploration of Vesta will help us to understand the processes that affected the history of this unique asteroid said Walter Kiefer staff scientist at the Lunar and Planetary Institute who is a member of the Dawn mission science team NASA Administrator Charles Bolden called the Dawn mission s successful orbital entry an incredible exploration milestone He added Dawn s study of the asteroid Vesta marks a major scientific accomplishment and also points the way to the future destinations where people will travel in the coming years President Obama has directed NASA to send astronauts to an asteroid by 2025 and Dawn is gathering crucial data that will inform that mission The spacecraft relayed information to confirm it entered Vesta s orbit but the precise time this milestone occurred was unknown at that time The time of Dawn s capture depended on Vesta s mass and gravity which only has been estimated until now The asteroid s mass determines the strength of its gravitational pull If Vesta is more massive its gravity is stronger meaning it pulled Dawn into orbit sooner If the

    Original URL path: http://www.lpi.usra.edu/features/dawn/vesta/072211/ (2016-02-15)
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  • High Resolution Topographic Data Available for Research
    behalf of NASA s Planetary Geology and Geophysics program Qualified scientists are welcome to use this facility to produce digital topographic models DTMs from stereo images Training and use of the system are free but researchers are responsible for their travel expenses because the state of the art hardware software system cannot be used remotely For more information about capabilities and how to apply see http astrogeology usgs gov Technology

    Original URL path: http://www.lpi.usra.edu/features/topographicData/ (2016-02-15)
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  • NASA Mission Successfully Flies by Comet Hartley 2
    computer terminal screens The mission team and scientists have worked hard for this day said Tim Larson EPOXI project manager at NASA s Jet Propulsion Laboratory It s good to see Hartley 2 up close Mission navigators are working to determine the spacecraft s closest approach distance Preliminary estimates place the spacecraft close to the planned for 700 kilometers 435 miles Eight minutes after closest approach at 6 59 47 a m PDT 9 59 47 a m EDT the spacecraft s high gain antenna was pointed at Earth and began downlinking vital spacecraft health and other engineering data stored on the spacecraft s onboard computer during the encounter About 20 minutes later the first images of the encounter made the 37 million kilometer 23 million mile trip from the spacecraft to NASA s Deep Space Network antennas in Goldstone California appearing moments later on the mission s computer screens We are all holding our breath to see what discoveries await us in the observations near closest approach said EPOXI principal investigator Michael A Hearn of the University of Maryland College Park EPOXI is an extended mission that utilizes the already in flight Deep Impact spacecraft to explore distinct celestial

    Original URL path: http://www.lpi.usra.edu/features/cometHartley2/ (2016-02-15)
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  • Cassini Spacecraft Captures Images and Sounds of Big Saturn Storm
    monitored since Cassini s arrival to Saturn in 2004 The data appear in a paper recently published in the journal Nature Cassini shows us that Saturn is bipolar said Andrew Ingersoll an author of the study and a Cassini imaging team member at the California Institute of Technology Saturn is not like Earth and Jupiter where storms are fairly frequent Weather on Saturn appears to hum along placidly for years and then erupt violently I m excited we saw weather so spectacular on our watch At its most intense the storm generated more than 10 lightning flashes per second Even with millisecond resolution the spacecraft s radio and plasma wave instrument had difficulty separating individual signals during the most intense period Scientists created a sound file from data obtained on March 15 at a slightly lower intensity period Cassini has detected 10 lightning storms on Saturn since the spacecraft entered the planet s orbit and its southern hemisphere was experiencing summer with full solar illumination not shadowed by the rings Those storms rolled through an area in the southern hemisphere dubbed Storm Alley But the Sun s illumination on the hemispheres flipped around August 2009 when the northern hemisphere began experiencing spring This storm is thrilling because it shows how shifting seasons and solar illumination can dramatically stir up the weather on Saturn said Georg Fischer the paper s lead author and a radio and plasma wave science team member at the Austrian Academy of Sciences in Graz We have been observing storms on Saturn for almost seven years so tracking a storm so different from the others has put us at the edge of our seats The storm s results are the first activities of a new Saturn Storm Watch campaign During this effort Cassini looks at likely storm

    Original URL path: http://www.lpi.usra.edu/features/cassini/071111/ (2016-02-15)
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  • Hubble Makes One-Millionth Science Observation
    milestone while studying a faraway planet is a remarkable reminder of its strength and legacy Although Hubble is best known for its stunning imagery of the cosmos the millionth observation is a spectroscopic measurement where light is divided into its component colors These color patterns can reveal the chemical composition of cosmic sources Hubble s one millionth exposure is of the planet HAT P 7b a gas giant planet larger than Jupiter orbiting a star hotter than our Sun HAT P 7b also known as Kepler 2b has been studied by NASA s planet hunting Kepler observatory after it was discovered by groundbased observations Hubble now is being used to analyze the chemical composition of the planet s atmosphere We are looking for the spectral signature of water vapor This is an extremely precise observation and it will take months of analysis before we have an answer said Drake Deming of the University of Maryland and NASA Goddard Space Flight Center Hubble demonstrated it is ideally suited for characterizing the atmospheres of exoplanets and we are excited to see what this latest targeted world will reveal Hubble was launched April 24 1990 onboard space shuttle s Discovery s STS 31

    Original URL path: http://www.lpi.usra.edu/features/hubble/071111/ (2016-02-15)
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  • NASA Research Offers New Prospect of Water on Mars
    on the Red Planet Scientists conduct field experiments in desert regions because the extremely dry conditions are similar to Mars Researchers realized the importance of the varnish earlier this year when Bishop and Chris McKay a planetary scientist at Ames investigated carbonate rocks coated with iron oxides collected in a location called Little Red Hill in the Mojave Desert When we examined the carbonate rocks in the lab it became evident that an iron oxide skin may be hindering the search for clues to the Red Planet s hydrological history McKay said We found that the varnish both altered and partially masked the spectral signature of the carbonates McKay also found dehydration resistant blue green algae under the rock varnish Scientists believe the varnish may have extended temporarily the time that Mars was habitable as the planet s surface slowly dried up The organisms in the Mojave Desert are protected from deadly ultraviolet light by the iron oxide coating McKay said This survival mechanism might have played a role if Mars once had life on the surface In addition to being used to help characterize Mars water history carbonate rocks also could be a good place to look for the signatures of early life on the Red Planet Every mineral is made up of atoms that vibrate at specific frequencies to produce a unique fingerprint that allows scientists to accurately identify its composition Research data were similar to observations provided by NASA s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter MRO spacecraft as it orbited an ancient region of Mars called Nili Fossae The area revealed the strongest carbonate signature ever found Although MRO recently detected small patches of carbonates approximately 200 500 feet wide on the martian surface the Mojave study suggests more patches may have been overlooked because their spectral signature could

    Original URL path: http://www.lpi.usra.edu/features/mars/071111/ (2016-02-15)
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  • SOFIA Successfully Observes Challenging Pluto Occultation
    atmosphere Occultations give us the ability to measure pressure density and temperature profiles of Pluto s atmosphere without leaving the Earth said Ted Dunham of the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff who led the team of scientists onboard SOFIA during the Pluto observations Because we were able to maneuver SOFIA so close to the center of the occultation we observed an extended small but distinct brightening near the middle of the occultation This change will allow us to probe Pluto s atmosphere at lower altitudes than is usually possible with stellar occultations Dunham is the principal investigator for the High Speed Imaging Photometer for Occultation HIPO essentially an extremely fast and accurate electronic light meter He was a member of the group that originally discovered Pluto s atmosphere by observing a stellar occultation from SOFIA s predecessor the Kuiper Airborne Observatory in 1988 Pluto itself was discovered at Lowell Observatory in 1930 A group of SOFIA German scientists and engineers were also onboard to monitor the performance of the German built telescope and Fast Diagnostic Camera FDC That camera has been used on previous flights to measure the stability of SOFIA and its optical systems On this flight the FDC provided supplemental observations of the Pluto occultation There were some tense moments for SOFIA s international science team in the minutes leading up to Thursday s occultation The precise position of Pluto in relation to Earth could not be sufficiently refined until a few hours before the event That evening a Lowell astronomer used facilities at the U S Naval Observatory in Flagstaff to take multiple photographs of Pluto and the star Those data were passed to collaborators at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology MIT in Cambridge Massachusetts who refined their prediction of the exact position and timing of Pluto s

    Original URL path: http://www.lpi.usra.edu/features/sofia/070111/ (2016-02-15)
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  • International Students Receive Hands-On Research Opportunities in Lunar Geology and Aerospace Engineering
    The students were accepted as part of the 2011 Universities Space Research Association USRA undergraduate student research program Beginning April 1 this 13 week program provided the IIST students with the unique opportunity to participate in cutting edge research in lunar and planetary science The students worked closely with LPI scientists on research projects pertaining to lunar geology with particular emphasis on the geology of impact craters by using recently acquired imagery from current lunar missions The program was made possible through a Memorandum of Understanding MOU between USRA and IIST The University of Texas at Arlington also participated in the program as a collaborative partner The program culminated with a closing ceremony on June 23 during which the students presented the results of the research they had conducted while at the LPI and UT Arlington Presentations were also made by LPI postdoctoral fellows Dr Gerald Galgana and Dr Juliane Gross The ceremony opened with comments by Dr Donald Kniffen USRA Vice President for Science Dr Stephen Mackwell LPI Director and Dr Erian Armanios Professor and Chairperson of the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at the University of Texas at Arlington and it concluded with a reception honoring the

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