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  • USRA Part of Team Selected to Manage Arecibo Observatory
    John Kelly Ph D program director for the Center for GeoSpace Studies at SRI We will use our combined expertise to allow the observatory to become an ever greater resource to the astronomy planetary science and space science communities The SRI team and its on site partners USRA the Universidad Metropolitana UMET in San Juan Puerto Rico and the University of Puerto Rico UPR will work together under the leadership of Robert Kerr Ph D SRI s director designate of the Arecibo Observatory to forge a new future for the observatory SRI and the USRA will leverage their science operations and management experience to enhance and develop observatory capabilities in radio astronomy AST planetary radar science PRS and space and atmospheric science SAS UMET part of Puerto Rico s second largest private university system brings expertise in education public outreach and facilities management and will cover site operations and education and public outreach activities at the observatory UPR will sponsor joint faculty appointments and will develop education and research opportunities To advance research and education at the observatory SRI and its partners are working with multiple Puerto Rican government agencies and private organizations to ensure close collaboration with educational and economic development institutions in Puerto Rico This development is a turning point in the future of the observatory where we will create and expand Puerto Rican and international educational opportunities in ways that were never before possible said UMET s Dr Juan Arratia vice president for Planning and Academic Affairs This is an excellent collaborative effort and will represent expanded opportunities for research and graduate studies in astronomy and atmospheric sciences at UPR said UPR President Dr Miguel Munoz I look forward to a new bright and expanding future building on past scientific successes and the skill expertise and dedication

    Original URL path: http://www.lpi.usra.edu/features/arecibo/ (2016-02-15)
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  • NASA Spacecraft Confirms Theories, Sees Surprises at Mercury
    has another three Mercury years to run and we can expect more surprises as our solar system s innermost planet reveals its long held secrets Flyby images of Mercury had detected bright patchy deposits on some crater floors Without high resolution images to obtain a closer look these features remained only a curiosity Now new detailed images have revealed these patchy deposits to be clusters of rimless irregular pits varying in size from several hundred feet to a few miles wide These pits are often surrounded by diffuse halos of more reflective material and are found on central peaks peak rings and rims of craters The etched appearance of these landforms is unlike anything we ve seen before on Mercury or the Moon said Brett Denevi a staff scientist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory APL in Laurel Maryland and a member of the MESSENGER imaging team We are still debating their origin but they appear to be relatively young and may suggest a more abundant than expected volatile component in Mercury s crust One of two instruments on the spacecraft designed to measure the quantity of key chemical elements on Mercury has made several important discoveries since the orbital mission began Elemental ratios averaged over large areas of the planet s surface show that Mercury s surface differs markedly in composition from that of the Moon Observations have revealed substantial amounts of sulfur at Mercury s surface lending support to prior suggestions from groundbased telescopic observations that sulfide minerals are present This discovery suggests that the original building blocks from which Mercury formed may have been less oxidized than those that formed the other terrestrial planets The result also hints that sulfur containing gases may have contributed to past explosive volcanic activity on Mercury Topography data of

    Original URL path: http://www.lpi.usra.edu/features/messenger/062011/ (2016-02-15)
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  • NASA Spacecraft Making Cross-Country Voyage
    15 16 at the Pima Air and Space Museum in Tucson Arizona the next two stops are June 19 20 at the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum in Austin Texas and June 24 25 at the Tallahassee Challenger Learning Center in Florida The module will also be on display June 29 July 4 at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex During a test flight in New Mexico last year

    Original URL path: http://www.lpi.usra.edu/features/MPCV/ (2016-02-15)
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  • Scientists Make Lunar Watershed Discovery
    sized body very early in its history The study also provides additional scientific justification for returning similar samples from other planetary bodies in the solar system Water plays a critical role in determining the tectonic behavior of planetary surfaces the melting point of planetary interiors and the location and eruptive style of planetary volcanos said Erik Hauri a geochemist with the Carnegie Institution of Washington and lead author of the study I can conceive of no sample type that would be more important to return to Earth than these volcanic glass samples ejected by explosive volcanism which have been mapped not only on the Moon but throughout the inner solar system In contrast to most volcanic deposits the lunar melt inclusions are encased in crystals that prevent the escape of water and other volatiles during eruption These samples provide the best window we have on the amount of water in the interior of the Moon where the orange glass came from said science team member James Van Orman of Case Western Reserve University In a 2008 study led by Alberto Saal of Brown University the same team reported the first evidence of water in lunar volcanic glasses They used magma degassing models to estimate how much water was originally in the magmas before eruption Building on that study a Brown undergraduate student Thomas Weinreich searched for and found the melt inclusions With that data the team measured the preeruption concentration in the magma and estimated the amount of water in the Moon s interior The bottom line is that in 2008 we said the primitive water content in the lunar magmas should be similar to lavas coming from the Earth s depleted upper mantle Saal said Now we have proven that is indeed the case The study also puts a

    Original URL path: http://www.lpi.usra.edu/features/lunar/watershed/ (2016-02-15)
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  • NASA to Launch New Science Mission to Asteroid in 2016
    gradually will move closer to the site and the arm will extend to collect more than two ounces of material for return to Earth in 2023 The mission excluding the launch vehicle is expected to cost approximately 800 million The sample will be stored in a capsule that will land at Utah s Test and Training Range in 2023 The capsule s design will be similar to that used by NASA s Stardust spacecraft which returned the world s first comet particles from Comet Wild 2 in 2006 The OSIRIS REx sample capsule will be taken to NASA s Johnson Space Center in Houston The material will be removed and delivered to a dedicated research facility following stringent planetary protection protocol Precise analysis will be performed that cannot be duplicated by spacecraft based instruments RQ36 is approximately 1900 feet in diameter or roughly the size of five football fields The asteroid little altered over time is likely to represent a snapshot of our solar system s infancy The asteroid also is likely rich in carbon a key element in the organic molecules necessary for life Organic molecules have been found in meteorite and comet samples indicating some of life s ingredients can be created in space Scientists want to see if they also are present on RQ36 This asteroid is a time capsule from the birth of our solar system and ushers in a new era of planetary exploration said Jim Green director NASA s Planetary Science Division in Washington The knowledge from the mission also will help us to develop methods to better track the orbits of asteroids The mission will accurately measure the Yarkovsky effect for the first time The effect is a small push caused by the Sun on an asteroid as it absorbs sunlight and reemits

    Original URL path: http://www.lpi.usra.edu/features/OSIRIS_REx/ (2016-02-15)
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  • Dawn Spacecraft Captures First Image of Nearing Asteroid
    The asteroid appears as a small bright pearl against a background of stars Vesta also is known as a protoplanet because it is a large body that almost formed into a planet After plying the seas of space for more than a billion miles the Dawn team finally spotted its target said Carol Raymond Dawn s deputy principal investigator at NASA s Jet Propulsion Laboratory This first image hints of detailed portraits to come from Dawn s upcoming visit Vesta is 330 miles 530 kilometers in diameter and the second most massive object in the asteroid belt Ground and space based telescopes obtained images of the bright orb for about two centuries but with little surface detail Mission managers expect Vesta s gravity to capture Dawn in orbit on July 16 To enter orbit Dawn must match the asteroid s path around the Sun which requires very precise knowledge of the body s location and speed By analyzing where Vesta appears relative to stars in framing camera images navigators will pin down its location and enable engineers to refine the spacecraft s trajectory Dawn will start collecting science data in early August at an altitude of approximately 1700 miles 2700 kilometers above the asteroid s surface As the spacecraft gets closer it will snap multi angle images allowing scientists to produce topographic maps Dawn will later orbit at approximately 120 miles 200 kilometers to perform other measurements and obtain closer shots of parts of the surface Dawn will remain in orbit around Vesta for one year After another long cruise phase Dawn will arrive in 2015 at its second destination Ceres an even more massive body in the asteroid belt Gathering information about these two icons of the asteroid belt will help scientists unlock the secrets of our solar system

    Original URL path: http://www.lpi.usra.edu/features/dawn/vesta/051111/ (2016-02-15)
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  • NASA Selects Investigations for Future Key Missions
    planet s interior Radio capability for Doppler tracking of tiny variations in the planet s wobble would provide information about the size and nature of the core Understanding more about the deep interior of another planet would enable important new comparisons with what is known about Earth s interior We want to know more about how the pieces that formed planets came together in the first place and about the changes that took place afterwards Banerdt said This would be a mission to understand the formation and evolution of terrestrial planets Titan Mare Explorer TiME would provide the first direct exploration of an ocean environment beyond Earth by landing in and floating on a large methane ethane sea on Saturn s moon Titan Ellen Stofan of Proxemy Research Inc is principal investigator Comet Hopper would study cometary evolution by landing on a comet multiple times and observing its changes as it interacts with the Sun Jessica Sunshine of the University of Maryland College Park is principal investigator This is high science return at a price that s right said Jim Green director of NASA s Planetary Science Division in Washington The selected studies clearly demonstrate a new era with missions that all touch their targets to perform unique and exciting science The three selected technology development proposals will expand the ability to catalog near Earth objects or NEOs enhance the capability to determine the composition of comet ices and validate a new method to reveal the population of objects in the poorly understood far distant part of our solar system During the next several years selected teams will receive funding that is determined through contract negotiations to bring their respective technologies to a higher level of readiness To be considered for flight teams must demonstrate progress in a future mission

    Original URL path: http://www.lpi.usra.edu/features/nasa/discovery/ (2016-02-15)
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  • Voyager Set to Enter Interstellar Space
    moon Titan the crazily tipped magnetic poles of Uranus and Neptune icy geysers on Neptune s moon Triton and planetary winds that blow faster and faster with increasing distance from the Sun Each of these discoveries changed the way we thought of other worlds says Stone In 1980 Voyager 1 used the gravity of Saturn to fling itself slingshot style out of the plane of the solar system In 1989 Voyager 2 got a similar assist from Neptune Both probes set sail into the void Sailing into the void sounds like a quiet time but the discoveries have continued Stone sets the stage by directing our attention to the kitchen sink Turn on the faucet he instructs Where the water hits the sink that s the Sun and the thin sheet of water flowing radially away from that point is the solar wind Note how the Sun blows a bubble around itself There really is such a bubble researchers call it the heliosphere and it is gargantuan Made of solar plasma and magnetic fields the heliosphere is about three times wider than the orbit of Pluto Every planet asteroid spacecraft and lifeform belonging to our solar system lies inside The Voyagers are trying to get out but they re not there yet To locate them Stone peers back into the sink As the water or solar wind expands it gets thinner and thinner and it can t push as hard Abruptly a sluggish turbulent ring forms That outer ring is the heliosheath and that is where the Voyagers are now The heliosheath is a very strange place filled with a magnetic froth no spacecraft has ever encountered before echoing with low frequency radio bursts heard only in the outer reaches of the solar system so far from home that the Sun is a mere pinprick of light In many ways the heliosheath is not like our models predicted says Stone In June 2010 Voyager 1 beamed back a startling number zero That s the outward velocity of the solar wind where the probe is now No one thinks the solar wind has completely stopped it may have just turned a corner But which way Voyager 1 is trying to figure that out through a series of weather vane maneuvers in which the spacecraft turns itself in a different direction to track the local breeze The old spacecraft still has some moves left it seems No one knows exactly how many more miles the Voyagers must travel before they pop free into interstellar space Most researchers believe however that the end is near The heliosheath is 3 to 4 billion miles in thickness estimates Stone That means we ll be out within five years or so There is plenty of power for the rest of the journey Both Voyagers are energized by the radioactive decay of a plutonium 238 heat source This should keep critical subsystems running through at least 2020 After that he says Voyager will become our silent ambassador

    Original URL path: http://www.lpi.usra.edu/features/voyager/042911/ (2016-02-15)
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