Category: NASA

This Is Why Mars Is Red And Dead While Earth I…

This Is Why Mars Is Red And Dead While Earth Is Blue And Alive

“Both Mars and Earth had early atmospheres that were heavy, massive, and extraordinarily rich in CO2. While Earth’s carbon dioxide got absorbed into the oceans and locked up into carbonate rocks, Mars was unable to do the same, as its oceans were too acidified. The presence of sulfur dioxide led to Martian oceans that were rich in sulfuric acid. This led to geology of Mars we’ve discovered with rovers and landers, and pointed to a different cause — the solar wind — as the culprit in the mystery of the missing Martian atmosphere.

Thanks to NASA’s MAVEN mission, we’ve confirmed that this story is, in fact, the way it happened. Some four billion years ago, the core of Mars became inactive, its magnetic field disappeared, and the solar wind stripped the atmosphere away. With our magnetic field intact, our planet will remain blue and alive for the foreseeable future. But for a smaller world like Mars, its time ran out long ago. At last, we finally know why.”

For most of the 20th century, we knew that Earth had a carbon dioxide-rich past for its atmosphere, but that those atmospheric molecules were deposited into the ocean and precipitated or fossilized out as carbonate rocks like limestone and dolomite. We assumed that Mars, which once had a thick atmosphere and a water-rich surface, lost its atmosphere the same way. But landers and rovers changed all of that, discovering very little in the way of carbonate rocks, meaning that there must have been a different process at play to strip the Martian atmosphere away.

It wasn’t until NASA’s MAVEN mission that we knew for sure! Come learn why Mars is red and dead while Earth is blue and alive today.

We Have Now Reached The Limits Of The Hubble S…

We Have Now Reached The Limits Of The Hubble Space Telescope

“Finally, there are the wavelength limits as well. Stars emits a wide variety of light, from the ultraviolet through the optical and into the infrared. It’s no coincidence that this is what Hubble was designed for: to look for light that’s of the same variety and wavelengths that we know stars emit.

But this, too, is fundamentally limiting. You see, as light travels through the Universe, the fabric of space itself is expanding. This causes the light, even if it’s emitted with intrinsically short wavelengths, to have its wavelength stretched by the expansion of space. By the time it arrives at our eyes, it’s redshifted by a particular factor that’s determined by the expansion rate of the Universe and the object’s distance from us.

Hubble’s wavelength range sets a fundamental limit to how far back we can see: to when the Universe is around 400 million years old, but no earlier.”

The Hubble Space Telescope, currently entering its 30th year of service, has literally revolutionized our view of the Universe. It’s shown us our faintest and most distant stars, galaxies, and galaxy clusters of all. But as far back as it’s taken us, and as spectacular as what it’s revealed, there is much, much more Universe out there, and Hubble is at its limit.

Here’s how far we’ve come, with a look to how much farther we could yet go. It’s up to us to build the tools to take us there.

Today Marks The Anniversary Of Neil Armstrong&…

Today Marks The Anniversary Of Neil Armstrong’s Near-Fatal Lunar Landing Vehicle Crash

“Softly landing on the Moon, with no horizontal motion and only slight vertical motions, was a tremendous problem facing NASA. There was no computerized guidance or high-resolution maps of the lunar landing site. The eventual lunar module pilot would have to navigate the touchdown manually. Armstrong was training in Lunar Landing Research Vehicle #1 on May 6, 1968, when something went horribly awry.”

A year prior to the Apollo 11 Moon landing, Neil Armstrong was undergoing his 22nd test flight in the Lunar Landing Research Vehicle, the test vehicle for NASA’s Lunar Module. Designed to simulate lunar gravity here on Earth, with vertical takeoff and landing capabilities, it was the ultimate way to train for one of the most essential parts of the mission: landing on the Moon.

But 51 years ago today, something went horribly wrong. Engineers would later determine that a problem with helium pressure, causing the hydrogen peroxide on board to become depleted and leading to a fuel imbalance and the eventual failure of the reserve attitude thrusters. From a height of approximately 200 feet and with no warning, Armstrong ejected.

Five seconds later, the vehicle was a flaming wreck on the ground. Come get the story behind one of the great escapes in NASA history!

This Is What Our Sun’s Death Will Look L…

This Is What Our Sun’s Death Will Look Like, With Pictures From NASA’s Hubble

“Single stars often shed their outer layers spherically, like 20% of planetary nebulae. Stars with binary companions frequently produce spirals or other asymmetrical configurations. But the most common shape for planetary nebulae is a bipolar morphology, containing two opposing jets. The leading explanation is that many stars rotate rapidly, which generates large-scale magnetic fields. Those fields accelerate the loosely-held particles populating the outer stellar regions along the dying star’s poles.”

Our Sun is in for a long life, having over 5 billion additional years until it becomes a red giant, and then will burn helium in its core until it’s approximately 7 billion years from now. But when its core exhausts its fuel, the tenuously-held outer layers will get expelled, while the core contracts down to a white dwarf. The intense heat and radiation from this phase will ionize the outer regions and illuminate the skies in a spectacular show known as a planetary nebula. Although this phase might last a mere 10,000 years, the death throes of Sun-like stars can be seen all throughout the galaxy, and is one of the most spectacular sights there is.

What will our Sun look like, and what do the Sun-like stars we see today, going through this phase, show and teach us? Take a look inside and find out!

Celebrate Earth Day With The Greatest Images O…

Celebrate Earth Day With The Greatest Images Of Our Planet From Space

“Our constant monitoring irrefutably demonstrates human-caused terrestrial changes. And an unambiguously rotating, revolving planet. Still, venturing farther away reveals Earth’s cosmic insignificance. From interplanetary space, our details become blurred and fuzzy. […] But as we venture to the outer planets, we’re barely a speck. From the edge of the Solar System, we’re hardly visible at all. In all the Universe, only Earth is home to humanity.”

Today is April 22nd: Earth Day. This is the one day where we’re supposed to take the time to value and appreciate the only home we’ve ever known, and the only planet that we’re aware of capable of supporting life on it. It is small; it is fragile; it is precious. But it’s also beautiful beyond comparison, and perhaps the best way to appreciate it all is to view it from a perspective that most of us will never have for ourselves: from space.

Celebrate Earth Day in unique fashion by viewing some of the greatest images ever taken of our world from beyond it. And happy Earth Day to every one of you.

Celebrate Earth Day With The Greatest Images O…

Celebrate Earth Day With The Greatest Images Of Our Planet From Space

“Our constant monitoring irrefutably demonstrates human-caused terrestrial changes. And an unambiguously rotating, revolving planet. Still, venturing farther away reveals Earth’s cosmic insignificance. From interplanetary space, our details become blurred and fuzzy. […] But as we venture to the outer planets, we’re barely a speck. From the edge of the Solar System, we’re hardly visible at all. In all the Universe, only Earth is home to humanity.”

Today is April 22nd: Earth Day. This is the one day where we’re supposed to take the time to value and appreciate the only home we’ve ever known, and the only planet that we’re aware of capable of supporting life on it. It is small; it is fragile; it is precious. But it’s also beautiful beyond comparison, and perhaps the best way to appreciate it all is to view it from a perspective that most of us will never have for ourselves: from space.

Celebrate Earth Day in unique fashion by viewing some of the greatest images ever taken of our world from beyond it. And happy Earth Day to every one of you.

One Of These Four Missions Will Be Selected As…

One Of These Four Missions Will Be Selected As NASA’s Next Flagship For Astrophysics

“Choosing which of these missions to build and fly will, in many ways, inform our plans for the next 30 years (or more) of astronomy. NASA is the pre-eminent space agency in the world. This is where science, research, development, discovery, and innovation all come together. The spinoff technologies alone justify the investment, but that’s not why we do it. We are here to discover the Universe. We are here to learn all that we can about the cosmos and our place within it. We are here to find out what the Universe looks like and how it came to be the way it is today.

People will always argue over budgets — the penny-pinchers are always happy to propose something that’s faster, cheaper, and worse — but the reality is this: the budget for NASA Astrophysics as a whole is just $1.35 billion per year: less than 0.1% of the federal discretionary budget and less than 0.03% of the total federal budget. And still, for that tiny amount, NASA has steadily built a flagship program that’s the envy of the free world.”

Every 10 years, NASA performs a decadal survey, where it outlines its highest mission priorities for the next 10 years. The 2020 decadal is happening imminently, and once the recommendations are submitted to the National Resource Council at the National Academies of Science, the four flagship finalists will be ranked. This will determine NASA astrophysics’ direction for the 2030s.

James Webb is the flagship for the 2010s; WFIRST is it for the 2020s. What will we choose for the 2030s? It will be one of these four finalists! Dream big, everyone.

Trump’s Plan To Destroy NASA Science Lai…

Trump’s Plan To Destroy NASA Science Laid Bare In FY2020 Budget

“The most optimistic take on the President’s FY2020 proposal is this: there is bipartisan support for a United States with a strong science program across the board. WFIRST is the top priority space mission, as ranked by the National Academy of Sciences; NASA is doing what the scientific community has recommended to them as a whole by flying these flagship missions. Hubble, James Webb, and WFIRST are transformative observatories, and we can stop the President’s short-sighted recommendations from becoming law.

But the budget proposal also declares that as long as he is in office, this will likely be an annual fight. A single year of missed funding or underfunding can kill a project that took decades to plan and enact. We must not lose our will. Our future and present demands that we not lose sight of a record-breaking cut to the greatest human endeavor of all: the quest to understand our existence.”

Every 10 years, NASA sends its top proposals for an independent, decadal review, where recommendations are made to decide the future of science. The pinnacle of these recommendations are the flagship missions, like Hubble, James Webb, and WFIRST. Well, the FY2020 budget has just been proposed from the President, and guess what he wants to kill?

Did you guess “all flagship missions for astrophysics?” Well, it gets worse.

Regular

Happy Valentine’s day!

Ask Ethan: What Will Our First Direct Image Of…

Ask Ethan: What Will Our First Direct Image Of An Earth-Like Exoplanet Look Like?

“[W]hat kind of resolution can we expect? [A] few pixels only or some features visible?”

I’ve got good news and bad news. With the next generation of space-based and ground-based telescopes on the way, we’ll finally be able to image Earth-sized and super-Earth-sized planets around the nearest stars to us directly. Unfortunately, even the largest of these telescopes won’t be able to resolve these planets beyond being a single pixel (with light leaking into the adjacent pixels) in angular size. But even with that limitation, we should be able to recover signatures of continents, oceans, icecaps, clouds, atmospheric contents, water, and potentially even life.

Come find out what we will (and won’t) be able to do with our first direct images of Earth-sized exoplanets, coming to you in just a few years!