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  • Planetary Decadal Survey Public Release at 42nd LPSC
    by Dr Steve Squyres Chair of the Decadal Committee followed by the response from the NASA Science Mission Directorate SMD by Dr Jim Green Director of the Planetary Science Division of SMD Monday March 7 at 6 30 p m EST 5 30 p m CST GMT 6 Waterway Ballroom 4 42nd Lunar and Planetary Science Conference The Woodlands Waterway Marriott Hotel and Convention Center 1601 Lake Robbins Dr The

    Original URL path: http://www.lpi.usra.edu/features/decadal/ (2016-02-15)
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  • LPI Career Development Award Recipients Announced
    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 2011 recipients Humberto Carvajal Ortiz Indiana University Jonathan Craig University of Arkansas Joshua Garber University of California Davis Maria Gritsevich Moscow State University Samantha Kate Harrison The Open University Matthew Huber Universität Wien Richard Kraus Harvard University Eriita Jones The Australian National University Marianne Mader University of Western Ontario Collen Milbury University of California Los Angeles Ian O McGlynn University of Tennessee Jan Raack Westfälische Wilhelms Universität Aidan Ross University College London M Shanmugam Physical Research Laboratory PLANEX Amy J Williams University of California Davis 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 been provided from the generous endowments that the LPI has received over the past year from those in the community who are equally committed to the education of students in lunar and planetary science The LPI is managed by the Universities Space Research

    Original URL path: http://www.lpi.usra.edu/features/cda_award/020711/ (2016-02-15)
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  • Kepler Finds Earth-Sized Planet Candidates in Habitable Zone
    Earth to larger than Jupiter The findings are based on the results of observations conducted May 12 to September 17 2009 of more than 156 000 stars in Kepler s field of view which covers approximately 1 400th of the sky The fact that we ve found so many planet candidates in such a tiny fraction of the sky suggests there are countless planets orbiting Sun like stars in our galaxy said William Borucki of NASA s Ames Research Center the mission s science principal investigator We went from zero to 68 Earth sized planet candidates and zero to 54 candidates in the habitable zone some of which could have moons with liquid water Among the stars with planetary candidates 170 show evidence of multiple planetary candidates Kepler 11 located approximately 2000 light years from Earth is the most tightly packed planetary system yet discovered All six of its confirmed planets have orbits smaller than Venus and five of the six have orbits smaller than Mercury s The only other star with more than one confirmed transiting planet is Kepler 9 which has three The Kepler 11 findings were published in the February 3 issue of the journal Nature Kepler 11 is a remarkable system whose architecture and dynamics provide clues about its formation said Jack Lissauer a planetary scientist and Kepler science team member at Ames These six planets are mixtures of rock and gases possibly including water The rocky material accounts for most of the planets mass while the gas takes up most of their volume By measuring the sizes and masses of the five inner planets we determined they are among the lowest mass confirmed planets beyond our solar system All the planets orbiting Kepler 11 are larger than Earth with the largest ones being comparable in

    Original URL path: http://www.lpi.usra.edu/features/kepler/020311/ (2016-02-15)
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  • Mars Rover Will Check for Ingredients of Life
    one of the most intriguing areas on Mars has offered environmental conditions favorable for life and favorable for preserving evidence about whether life has ever existed there NASA will launch Curiosity from Florida between November 25 and December 18 2011 as part of the Mars Science Laboratory mission s spacecraft The spacecraft will deliver the rover to the martian surface in August 2012 The mission plan is to operate Curiosity on Mars for two years If we don t find any organics that s useful information said Mahaffy of NASA s Goddard Space Flight Center That would mean the best place to look for evidence about life on Mars may not be near the surface It may push us to look deeper It would also aid understanding of the environmental conditions that remove organics If we do find detectable organics that would be an encouraging sign that the immediate environment in the rocks we re sampling is preserving these clues he said Then we would use the tools we have to try to determine where the organics may have come from Organics delivered by meteorites without involvement of biology come with more random chemical structures than the patterns seen in mixtures of organic chemicals produced by organisms Mahaffy paused in describing what SAM will do on Mars while engineers and technicians lowered the instrument into its position inside Curiosity this month A veteran of using earlier spacecraft instruments to study planetary atmospheres he has coordinated work of hundreds of people in several states and Europe to develop build and test SAM after NASA selected his team s proposal for it in 2004 It has been a long haul getting to this point he said We ve taken a set of experiments that would occupy a good portion of a room on Earth and put them into that box the size of a microwave oven SAM has three laboratory tools for analyzing chemistry The tools will examine gases from the martian atmosphere as well as gases that ovens and solvents pull from powdered rock and soil samples Curiosity s robotic arm will deliver the powdered samples to an inlet funnel SAM s ovens will heat most samples to about 1000 C about 1800 F One tool a mass spectrometer identifies gases by the molecular weight and electrical charge of their ionized states It will check for several elements important for life as we know it including nitrogen phosphorous sulfur oxygen and carbon Another tool a laser spectrometer uses absorption of light at specific wavelengths to measure concentrations of selected chemicals such as methane and water vapor It also identifies the proportions of different isotopes in those gases Isotopes are variants of the same element with different atomic weights such as carbon 13 and carbon 12 or oxygen 18 and oxygen 16 Ratios of isotopes can be signatures of planetary processes For example Mars once had a much denser atmosphere than it does today and if the loss occurred at the top

    Original URL path: http://www.lpi.usra.edu/features/mars_rover/012011/ (2016-02-15)
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  • NASA Spacecraft Prepares for Valentine’s Day Comet Rendezvous
    may capture an image of the crater created by the impactor This would be an added bonus to the huge amount of data that mission scientists expect to obtain Every day we are getting closer and closer and more and more excited about answering some fundamental questions about comets said Joe Veverka Stardust NExT principal investigator at Cornell University in Ithaca New York Going back for another look at Tempel 1 will provide new insights on how comets work and how they were put together four and a half billion years ago At approximately 336 million kilometers 209 million miles away from Earth Stardust NExT will be almost on the exact opposite side of the solar system at the time of the encounter During the flyby the spacecraft will take 72 images and store them in an onboard computer Since 2007 Stardust NExT executed eight flight path correction maneuvers logged four circuits around the Sun and used one Earth gravity assist to meet up with Tempel 1 Another three maneuvers are planned to refine the spacecraft s path to the comet Tempel 1 s orbit takes it as close in to the Sun as the orbit of Mars and almost as far away as the orbit of Jupiter The spacecraft is expected to fly past the nearly 6 kilometer wide comet 3 7 miles at a distance of approximately 200 kilometers 124 miles In 2004 the Stardust mission became the first to collect particles directly from Comet Wild 2 as well as interstellar dust Samples were returned in 2006 for study via a capsule that detached from the spacecraft and parachuted to the ground southwest of Salt Lake City Mission controllers placed the still viable Stardust spacecraft on a trajectory that could potentially reuse the flight system if a target

    Original URL path: http://www.lpi.usra.edu/features/stardust/012011/ (2016-02-15)
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  • The End of Planet Formation, as Told by Trace Elements from the Mantles of Earth, the Moon, and Mars
    work indicates that the Moon formed as a result of a collision between a Mars sized body and the early Earth about 4 5 billion years ago While the idea that the Earth Moon system owes its existence to a single random event was initially viewed as radical it is now believed that such large impacts were commonplace during the end stages of planet formation The giant impact is believed to have led to a final phase of core formation and global magma oceans on both Earth and the Moon For the giant impact hypothesis to be correct one might expect samples from Earth and the Moon s mantle brought to the surface by volcanic activity to back it up In particular scientists have examined the abundance in these rocks of so called highly siderophile or metal loving elements Re Os Ir Ru Pt Rh Pd Au These elements should have followed the iron and other metals to the core in the aftermath of the Moon forming event leaving the rocky crusts and mantles of these bodies void of these elements Accordingly their near absence from mantle rocks should provide a key test of the giant impact model However as described by team member Walker The big problem for the modelers is that these metals are not missing at all but instead are modestly plentiful Team member Day adds This is a good thing for anyone who likes their gold wedding rings or the cleaner air provided by the palladium in their car s catalytic convertors A proposed solution to this conundrum is that highly siderophile elements were indeed stripped from the mantle by the effects of the giant impact but were then partially replenished by later impacts from the original building blocks of the planets called planetesimals This is not a surprise planet formation models predict such late impacts but their nature numbers and most especially size of the accreting bodies are unknown Presumably they could have represented the accretion of many small bodies or a few large events To match observations the late arriving planetesimals need to deliver 0 5 of Earth s mass to Earth s mantle equivalent to one third the mass of the Moon and about 1200 times less mass to the Moon s mantle Using numerical models the team showed that they could reproduce these amounts if the late accretion population was dominated by massive projectiles Their results indicate the largest Earth impactor was 1500 2000 miles in diameter roughly the size of Pluto while those hitting the Moon were only 150 200 miles across Lead author Bottke says These impactors are thought to be large enough to produce the observed enrichments in highly siderophile elements but not so large that their fragmented cores joined with the planet s core They probably represent the largest objects to hit those worlds since the giant impact that formed our Moon Intriguingly the predicted distribution of projectile sizes where most of the mass of the population is

    Original URL path: http://www.lpi.usra.edu/features/planetFormation/ (2016-02-15)
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  • SOFIA Observatory Completes First Science Flight
    and planets are born how organic substances form in interstellar space and how supermassive black holes feed and grow This premiere science flight took off from an Air Force runway in Palmdale California on November 30 flying for approximately 10 hours This major milestone marks the beginning of regular science observations with SOFIA and an exciting time for infrared astronomy said USRA President Fred Tarantino Adds NASA Astrophysics Division Director Jon Morse We anticipate a number of important discoveries from this unique observatory as well as extended investigations of discoveries by other space telescopes SOFIA is fitted with a 100 inch diameter airborne infrared telescope It is based and managed at NASA s Dryden Aircraft Operations Facility in Palmdale The aircraft s instruments can analyze light from a wide range of celestial objects including warm interstellar gas and dust of bright star forming regions by observing wavelengths between 0 3 and 1600 micrometers microns A micrometer equals one millionth of a meter For comparison the human eye sees light with wavelengths between 0 4 and 0 7 micrometers The first three science flights phase one of SOFIA s early science program will employ the Faint Object InfraRed Camera for the SOFIA Telescope FORCAST instrument developed by Cornell University and led by principal investigator Terry Herter FORCAST observes the mid infrared spectrum from 5 to 40 micrometers Researchers used the FORCAST camera on SOFIA during a test flight two weeks ago to produce infrared images of areas within the Orion star formation complex a region of the sky for which more extensive data were collected during the November 30 flight The early science flight program serves to validate SOFIA s capabilities and demonstrate the observatory s ability to make observations not possible from Earth based telescopes said Bob Meyer NASA s

    Original URL path: http://www.lpi.usra.edu/features/sofia/ (2016-02-15)
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  • Announcing the 2010 Shoemaker Impact Cratering Award Recipient
    of the University of Puerto Rico Mayaguez Erickson is pursuing a masters degree and is studying the erosion of shocked minerals from the Vredefort structure and their deposition in sediments as a function of distance from the impact site This unique sedimentary provenance study is designed to assist interpretations of shocked minerals in ancient sediments where all other remnants of the impact event have been erased from the geologic record Erickson s thesis advisor is Aaron Cavosie and he is working with additional collaborators at the University of Wisconsin at Madison The Eugene M Shoemaker Impact Cratering Award is designed to support undergraduate and graduate students of any nationality working in any country in the disciplines of geology geophysics geochemistry astronomy or biology Grants support the study of impact cratering processes on Earth and other bodies in the solar system including asteroids and comets that produce impacts and the geological chemical or biological results of impact cratering This award is generously provided by the Planetary Geology Division of the Geological Society of America and administered by the LPI It commemorates the work of Eugene Gene Shoemaker who greatly influenced planetary sciences during the Apollo era and for several decades thereafter

    Original URL path: http://www.lpi.usra.edu/features/shoemaker_award/2010/ (2016-02-15)
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