Archive | Solar

NASA Plans Close Encounter with the Sun

WASHINGTON, Sept. 3 (UPI) — NASA has started development of Solar Probe Plus, a mission to study the sun more closely than ever before, with a target launch date of 2018, the agency says.

The spacecraft will plunge directly into the sun’s atmosphere at approximately 4 million miles from the sun’s surface, into a region that no other probe has ever encountered, an agency release said.

The mission will carry five separate science investigations hoping to discover more about our sun than any previous mission, NASA said.

“The experiments selected for Solar Probe Plus are specifically designed to solve two key questions of solar physics — why is the sun’s outer atmosphere so much hotter than the sun’s visible surface and what propels the solar wind that affects Earth and our solar system? ” Dick Fisher, director of NASA’s Heliophysics Division in Washington, said.

“We’ve been struggling with these questions for decades and this mission should finally provide those answers.”

A revolutionary carbon-composite heat shield will withstand temperatures exceeding 2,550 degrees Fahrenheit and blasts of intense radiation as the spacecraft approaches the sun.

NASA has earmarked $180 million for preliminary analysis, design, development and tests of the mission’s science experiments.

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Asteroid Survey Gathers Mixed Bag

WASHINGTON, Sept. 2 (UPI) — A survey of near-Earth asteroids shows they come in a far wider variety of shapes, sizes and surfaces than previously thought, U.S. researchers say.

The findings are based on infrared scanning of about 100 asteroids by NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope, SPACE.com reported Thursday.

The effort is part of a larger Spitzer telescope project to look at 700 near-Earth objects to identify their individual characteristics.

“These rocks are teaching us about the places they come from,” lead study author David Trilling of Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff, said. “It’s like studying pebbles in a stream bed to learn about the mountains they tumbled down.

“Very little is known about the physical characteristics of the near-Earth population,” Trilling said. “Our data will tell us more about the population, and how it changes from one object to the next. This information could be used to help plan possible future space missions to study a near-Earth object.”

The asteroids observed so far have a greater degree of diversity than expected, scientists say, indicating that they might have different origins.

Some might come from the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, and others could come from farther out in the solar system, they say.

The research is being published in the September issue of the Astronomical Journal.

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NASA Says New Satellite Ready for Service

GREENBELT, Md., Sept. 1 (UPI) — NASA and the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration say their newest weather and solar satellite has completed testing and is entering service.

The Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite, GOES-15, has successfully completed five months of in-orbit testing of its science systems, instrumentation and communications services, a NASA release said Wednesday.

GOES-15 is the third and final spacecraft in the GOES N-P fleet of geostationary environmental weather satellites that will help NOAA forecasters track life-threatening weather and solar activity that can impact the satellite-based electronics and communications industry, the release said.

“NASA is ecstatic that we were able to deliver on our promise to provide NOAA and this nation with three geosynchronous weather satellites,” Andre Dress of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md., said.

The GOES 15 satellite will be placed in a “storage” orbit location to act as a backup for the operational GOES-11 and GOES-13 satellites should either degrade or run out of fuel. GOES-15 can be made operational within 24 hours to replace an older satellite, NASA said.

“With more than 35 million Americans living in hurricane-prone areas, we need the reliable, accurate data GOES provide,” Gary Davis, director of the Office of Systems Development at NOAA’s Satellite and Information Service, said.

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Spacecraft Finds Two Planets Orbiting Star

WASHINGTON, Aug. 26 (UPI) — A NASA spacecraft has discovered the first planetary system with more than one planet transiting, or crossing in front of, the same star, researchers say.

The Kepler spacecraft detected the transit signatures of two distinct planets in data gathered on the sun-like star designated Kepler-9, a NASA release said Thursday.

The planets have been named Kepler-9b and Kepler-9c.

The discovery came during seven months of observations of more than 156,000 stars as part of an ongoing search for Earth-sized planets outside our solar system, NASA said.

The spacecraft’s ultra-precise camera measures tiny variations in the star’s brightness that occur when a planet moves in front of — or transits — it.

The size of the planet can be determined from these temporary dips in brightness.

“Kepler’s high quality data and round-the-clock coverage of transiting objects enable a whole host of unique measurements to be made of the parent stars and their planetary systems,” Doug Hudgins, a Kepler program scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington, said.

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NASA Prepares for Asteroid Rendezvous

PASADENA, Calif., Aug. 24 (UPI) — NASA is getting ready for its Dawn spacecraft’s encounter with a giant asteroid, set to happen in less than a year, the agency said.

Dawn will conduct a detailed study as it spends a year circling the asteroid Vesta, becoming the first spacecraft to orbit a body in the solar system’s asteroid belt, SPACE.com reported Tuesday.

There have been previous missions to asteroids, but scientists say Vesta offers a chance for something special.

“Vesta is going to amaze us,” Marc Rayman, Dawn’s chief engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said.

At 350 miles across, Vesta is the second-largest body in the asteroid belt, containing almost 10 percent of the entire belt’s mass. Only the asteroid Ceres, so large it is considered a dwarf planet, is a bigger belt object than Vesta.

“It’s a big, rocky, terrestrial-type body — more likely similar to the moon and Mercury than to the little chips of rocks we’ve flown by in the past,” Rayman said of Vesta.

Scientists expect Dawn’s mission will help them understand how planets form.

Astronomers think Vesta was in the process of becoming a full-fledged planet when Jupiter interrupted its growth as the gas giant’s gravity stirred up the material in the asteroid belt so objects there could no longer come together and coalesce.

After a year orbiting Vesta, Dawn will move on to take a look at the only asteroid considered even more interesting, the dwarf planet Ceres.

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U.S. Energy 'appetite' Trimmed in 2009

LIVERMORE, Calif., Aug. 24 (UPI) — Americans are using less energy overall and availing themselves of more renewable energy sources, a report says.

Data released by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory showed the United States used significantly less coal and petroleum in 2009 than in 2008 while utilizing considerably more wind power.

And while there was a decline in natural gas consumption, solar, hydro and geothermal power use was up, the laboratory said.

“Energy use tends to follow the level of economic activity, and that level declined last year,” A.J. Simon, an LLNL energy systems analyst, said.

“At the same time, higher efficiency appliances and vehicles reduced energy use even further,” he said. “As a result, people and businesses are using less energy in general.”

Wind power increased dramatically in 2009, and since most of that energy is tied directly to electricity generation it helps decrease the use of coal for electricity production, he said.

“The increase in renewables is a really good story, especially in the wind arena,” Simon said. “It’s a result of very good incentives and technological advancements.”

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Scientist: Wind, Solar Energy is Future

BOSTON, Aug. 24 (UPI) — A Nobel Prize-winning U.S. scientist says the world could soon enter an era where renewable wind and solar power will be the globe’s main sources of energy.

Walter Kohn, who shared the 1998 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, told a meeting of the American Chemical Society that total oil and natural gas production, which today provides about 60 percent of global energy consumption, is expected to peak about 10 to 30 years from now, followed by a rapid decline, an ACS release said Tuesday.

But ongoing research and development of alternative energy could lead to a new era in human history in which two renewable sources — solar and wind — will become Earth’s dominant contributors of energy, Kohn said.

Global photovoltaic energy production increased by a factor of about 90 and wind energy by a factor of about 10 over the last 10 years, Kohn said, and he expects vigorous growth of these two effectively inexhaustible energies to continue.

Kohn, from the University of California, Santa Barbara, cited students on his campus who spent their own funds to convert an athletic building to total solar power.

“When it comes to providing leadership by young people in the area of energy conservation and energy efficiency and global warming — they are fantastic,” he said. “It is a major social commitment for our times.”

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Posted in Consumption, Energy Conservation, Energy Efficiency, Natural Gas, Other, Solar, Wind0 Comments

Astronomers Discover Many-planet System

LA SILLA, Chile, Aug. 24 (UPI) — European astronomers say they’ve discovered a planetary system with at least five and possibly seven planets, the most yet seen outside our own solar system.

Scientists of the European Southern Observatory using a telescope at La Silla, Chile, found the planets orbiting a sun-like star 127 light years from earth, an ESO release said Tuesday.

“We have found what is most likely the system with the most planets yet discovered,” Christophe Lovis, lead author of the paper reporting the result, said. “This remarkable discovery also highlights the fact that we are now entering a new era in exoplanet research: the study of complex planetary systems and not just of individual planets.”

The astronomers measured tiny oscillating movements of the star caused by the complex gravitational attractions from five or more planets. The five strongest signals correspond to planets with masses similar to Neptune orbiting the star with periods ranging from about 6 to 600 days.

“We also have good reasons to believe that two other planets are present,” says Lovis.

One is suspected to be a Saturn-like planet orbiting in 2200 days. The other is thought to be the least massive exoplanet ever discovered, with a mass of about 1.4 times that of the Earth.

It is very close to its host star, at just 2 percent of the Earth-sun distance, ESO scientists say.

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Solar System Said Older by 2 Million Years

TEMPE, Ariz., Aug. 23 (UPI) — Study of a meteorite found in the Sahara Desert suggests the solar system may be almost 2 million years older than previously thought, researchers say.

A study found the meteorite contained pieces of calcium- and aluminum-rich substances, some of the oldest material ever found in primordial rocks and believed to be among the first solids that condensed from gas at the beginning of the solar system’s formation, ScienceNews.org reported Monday.

The age of the material suggests the solar system formed 4,500 million years ago, as much as 1.9 million years earlier than other estimates.

“All the interesting things we want to understand about the chemistry of our solar system happened within the first five to 10 million years,” study coauthor Meenakshi Wadhwa, a cosmochemist from Arizona State University, says. “When you push it back by 2 million years, that’s a substantial proportion of that 5 to 10 million years.”

The 3-pound softball-sized meteorite was found in Morocco in 2004.

“It’s like crime-scene investigation four and a half billion years after the scene is vacated,” astrophysicist Alan Boss of the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington, D.C. says. “We’re coming toward more of a cohesive picture of how things happened.”

The results were published online Aug. 22 in Nature Geoscience.

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British Bacteria Are Hardy Space Travelers

LONDON, Aug. 23 (UPI) — Bacteria from cliffs on the south coast of England have proved themselves hardy astronauts, surviving a year and a half as space travelers, researchers say.

Taken from the cliffs near the small fishing village of Beer in Devon, the bacteria were placed on the outside of the International Space Station to see how they would deal with harsh conditions in Earth orbit, the BBC reported.

The bacteria were sent up still sitting on, and in, small chunks of cliff rock. They were placed in experiment boxes on the outside of the station, exposed to the vacuum of space.

Scientists inspecting the bugs after a year and a half exposure to extreme ultraviolet light, cosmic rays and dramatic shifts in temperature say many were still alive.

The survivors, brought back to Earth, are thriving in a laboratory at the Open University in Milton Keynes, the BBC reported.

The experiment was intended to find microbes that could be useful to future astronauts who leave Earth orbit to explore the rest of the solar system.

“It has been proposed that bacteria could be used in life-support systems to recycle everything,” OU researcher Karen Olsson-Francis said.

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