NASA’s NEOWISE Mission Spies One Comet, Maybe Two

NASA’s NEOWISE mission has recently discovered some celestial objects traveling through our neighborhood, including one on the blurry line between asteroid and comet. Another–definitely a comet–might be seen with binoculars through next week.

An object called 2016 WF9 was detected by the NEOWISE project on Nov. 27, 2016. It’s in an orbit that takes it on a scenic tour of our solar system. At its farthest distance from the sun, it approaches Jupiter’s orbit. Over the course of 4.9 Earth-years, it travels inward, passing under the main asteroid belt and the orbit of Mars until it swings just inside Earth’s own orbit. After that, it heads back toward the outer solar system. Objects in these types of orbits have multiple possible origins; it might once have been a comet, or it could have strayed from a population of dark objects in the main asteroid belt.

2016 WF9 will approach Earth’s orbit on Feb. 25, 2017. At a distance of nearly 32 million miles (51 million kilometers) from Earth, this pass will not bring it particularly close. The trajectory of 2016 WF9 is well understood, and the object is not a threat to Earth for the foreseeable future.

A different object, discovered by NEOWISE a month earlier, is more clearly a comet, releasing dust as it nears the sun. This comet, C/2016 U1 NEOWISE, “has a good chance of becoming visible through a good pair of binoculars, although we can’t be sure because a comet’s brightness is notoriously unpredictable,” said Paul Chodas, manager of NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object (NEO) Studies at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

As seen from the northern hemisphere during the first week of 2017, comet C/2016 U1 NEOWISE will be in the southeastern sky shortly before dawn. It is moving farther south each day and it will reach its closest point to the sun, inside the orbit of Mercury, on Jan. 14, before heading back out to the outer reaches of the solar system for an orbit lasting thousands of years. While it will be visible to skywatchers at Earth, it is not considered a threat to our planet either.

NEOWISE is the asteroid-and-comet-hunting portion of the Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) mission. After discovering more than 34,000 asteroids during its original mission, NEOWISE was brought out of hibernation in December of 2013 to find and learn more about asteroids and comets that could pose an impact hazard to Earth. If 2016 WF9 turns out to be a comet, it would be the 10th discovered since reactivation. If it turns out to be an asteroid, it would be the 100th discovered since reactivation.

What NEOWISE scientists do know is that 2016 WF9 is relatively large: roughly 0.3 to 0.6 mile (0.5 to 1 kilometer) across.

It is also rather dark, reflecting only a few percent of the light that falls on its surface. This body resembles a comet in its reflectivity and orbit, but appears to lack the characteristic dust and gas cloud that defines a comet.

“2016 WF9 could have cometary origins,” said Deputy Principal Investigator James “Gerbs” Bauer at JPL. “This object illustrates that the boundary between asteroids and comets is a blurry one; perhaps over time this object has lost the majority of the volatiles that linger on or just under its surface.”

Near-Earth objects (NEOs) absorb most of the light that falls on them and re-emit that energy at infrared wavelengths. This enables NEOWISE’s infrared detectors to study both dark and light-colored NEOs with nearly equal clarity and sensitivity.

“These are quite dark objects,” said NEOWISE team member Joseph Masiero, “Think of new asphalt on streets; these objects would look like charcoal, or in some cases are even darker than that.”

NEOWISE data have been used to measure the size of each near-Earth object it observes. Thirty-one asteroids that NEOWISE has discovered pass within about 20 lunar distances from Earth’s orbit, and 19 are more than 460 feet (140 meters) in size but reflect less than 10 percent of the sunlight that falls on them.

The Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) has completed its seventh year in space after being launched on Dec. 14, 2009.

Data from the NEOWISE mission are available on a website for the public and scientific community to use. A guide to the NEOWISE data release, data access instructions and supporting documentation are available at:


Access to the NEOWISE data products is available via the on-line and API services of the NASA/IPAC Infrared Science Archive.

A list of peer-reviewed papers using the NEOWISE data is available at:


News Media Contact

Laurie Cantillo / Dwayne Brown NASA Headquarters, Washington 202-358-1077 / 202-358-1726 laura.l.cantillo@nasa.gov / dwayne.c.brown@nasa.gov



NASA’s NEOWISE Mission Spies One Comet, Maybe Two

New NASA radar technique finds lost lunar spacecraft – Science Daily

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New NASA radar technique finds lost lunar spacecraft – Science Daily

Trump, with NASA, has a new rocket and spaceship. Where’s he going to go? – Washington Post

NEW ORLEANS NASA is building a jumbo rocket. Its called the Space Launch System, or simply the SLS. The core stage of the SLS is slowly materializing in a sprawling facility on the north bank of the Mississippi River. Technicians are welding up a storm and have completed the largest component a liquid hydrogen fuel tank thats 133 feet from nose to tail and looks like a shiny metallic zeppelin.

This is our big boy, said NASA engineer Stephen C. Doering, dwarfed by the tank resting on cradles in a high bay.

NASA has a complicated way of building rockets that funnels money to multiple states in the southeastern United States. The SLS program is based in Alabama, at the Marshall Space Flight Center. Engine tests will be done in Mississippi, at the Stennis Space Center. The final stacking of the rocket and the launch will be from Cape Canaveral, Fla., at the Kennedy Space Center.

Construction of the core stage is handled here in Louisiana, at the Michoud Assembly Facility, which covers the equivalent of 31 football fields. The vast structure survived Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and then a direct hit from a tornado earlier this year.

But the new rocket will have to survive the unpredictable crosswinds of Washington.

President Trump is now in charge of the space program, and no one in Washington seems to have a clear idea whats going to happen next. Trump has expressed interest in President John F. Kennedys vow in 1961 to put American astronauts on the moon by the end of the 1960s. Thus everyone expects Trump to try to create a Kennedy moment.

The 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 lunar landing is coming up in two years. For NASA, and the entire space industry, thats a huge anniversary and suddenly everyone seems to be talking about moon missions.

President George W. Bush wanted U.S. boots on the moon by 2020. President Barack Obama killed the Bush program, saying wed been there and done that. But with Republicans in control of both Congress and the White House, the moon looms larger in the sky.

Last month, in his address to Congress, Trump made a single, enigmatic comment about space: American footprints on distant worlds are not too big a dream.

Did that mean the moon? Mars?

Trump hasnt nominated anyone yet to lead NASA, nor has he picked a science adviser. He is expected to issue an executive order re-forming the long-disbanded National Space Council, which would be headed by Vice President Pence and oversee civilian and military space programs.

In the meantime, civil servants at NASA headquarters are reexamining the current human spaceflight schedule to see whether theres a way to do something dramatic before the end of Trumps term.

The first SLS launch, penciled in for late next year, will also be the first time it is paired with the new Orion crew capsule. No one will be aboard. Its a shakedown cruise to test the hardware and life support equipment. Instead of live astronauts, mannequins will serve as the crew.

But last month, NASAs acting administrator, Robert Lightfoot, asked his team to look at the feasibility of adding astronauts to the first test flight. The feasibility study should be complete within weeks.

And then theres Elon Musk.

Musk, the founder and chief engineer of SpaceX, has met at least four times with Trump or his aides recently. Last month, in what appeared to be a hastily called teleconference with reporters, Musk announced that he intends to send two tourists next year on a figure-eight joy ride past the moon and back to Earth.

He did not identify the tourists, saying only that they were wealthy people who know each other and have already put down deposits. Musk said that he could do the moon flyby with his own new rocket, still under development, called the Falcon Heavy.

Another wrinkle: Musk told reporters that SpaceX would be willing to bump the rich tourists from that first flight and let NASA astronauts take their place.

There are reasons to view such a scenario as extremely unlikely. Powerful people in the space world would be unhappy to see Musk and SpaceX steal any thunder from the SLS and Orion. Huge aerospace corporations, including Boeing and Lockheed Martin, have contracts for this hardware.

The Alabama factor comes into play. The SLS is based at NASA Marshall, in Huntsville, the historic center of American rocketry. The Trump administration has a number of influential Alabamians, starting with Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Two former Sessions senate staffers, Stephen Miller and Rick Dearborn, work in the White House.

There are practical issues, too: Musk has a reputation for overpromising on timelines. SpaceX has never launched anyone into space. The Falcon Heavy has never flown. Moreover, NASA officials would be unlikely to embrace a SpaceX moon flyby unless it clearly fit into the agencys long-term plans for deep-space exploration.

What does Elon want to do with this is it just a one-off tourist flight? said NASAs top official for human spaceflight, William Gerstenmaier, in an interview with The Washington Post. I dont see it as advancing human presence in the solar system.

At the annual Robert H. Goddard Memorial Symposium this week in Greenbelt, Md., a student from Purdue University asked a panel of space experts a pointed question: Whats harder in spaceflight, the technical engineering or the political engineering?

Mary Lynne Dittmar, executive director of the Coalition for Deep Space Exploration, which represents aerospace companies such as Boeing and Lockheed Martin, found that one easy to answer:

Political engineering is always more challenging.

* * *

Things were so much simpler in the 1960s. The United States and the Soviet Union were locked in a Cold War and racing to the moon in government-owned rockets. The United States won that race, planted a flag, left bootprints.

NASA today is faced with basic questions of destination, hardware and motivation. China has a growing space program but does not seem in a hurry to put astronauts on the moon, so theres no indication that a space race is heating up. NASA and Russia work shoulder to shoulder on the International Space Station.

Six years after NASA retired the space shuttle, the agency relies on Russian spacecraft to ferry American astronauts to and from orbit. SpaceX and Boeing have contracts to take astronauts to the International Space Station, but the first flights are probably a couple years away. In the meantime, NASA is building the SLS and Orion for deep space exploration.

In the 2020s, that would mean astronauts orbiting the moon but not going to the lunar surface. The most ambitious such mission would last a full year and function as a trial run for the much more daunting trip to Mars. Gerstenmaier, questioned this week by an audience member at the Goddard Symposium, said he would not rule out a landing on the moon but did not think it was necessary for NASAs long-term Mars ambitions.

Gerstenmaier is a civil servant who has survived many strategic pivots at NASA. In his brief remarks at the rostrum this week, he said the SLS will only launch about once a year, which he said is not often enough for a compelling space program. He showed a graphic with government-owned rockets like the SLS lined up next to private rockets like SpaceXs Falcon Heavy and Blue Origins New Glenn. I love every one of these rockets, he said.

But NASAs steady-as-she-goes, methodical way of operating has been criticized by outsiders as overly slow and cautious. The current manifest for the SLS envisions several years between the first two flights.

Newt Gingrich, for one, has seen enough. Gingrich is a space buff who has consulted with Trump in an unofficial capacity. When Gingrich ran for president in 2012, he spoke of his dream of a moon base. He even cited one of his old ideas: that Americans in a moon colony could achieve statehood.

The answer is to open the system up to competition, establish prizes, take risk, and dream big, Gingrich said in an email to The Post.

He added, The key is to liberate space from government monopoly and maximize the inventive entrepreneurial spirit of the Wright brothers, Edison, Ford and other classic Americans.

The SLS is an old-fashioned rocket in many ways. NASA fully owns the rocket. It oversees every aspect of the rockets design and operation. Its being built by the prime contractor, Boeing, under a traditional cost-plus contract that offers little incentive to do hold down the cost. The booster is also disposable.

All that exquisitely welded metal in the giant tank at Michoud will wind up at the bottom of the ocean. Thats an expensive way to do business. The cost of a single launch of the SLS could be in the vicinity of $1 billion.

SpaceX and Blue Origin the space start-up owned by Jeffrey P. Bezos (who also owns The Post) have emphasized reusability. The two companies have built boosters that can land softly back on land or on a platform at sea.

Musk has said he wants to launch the first humans to the surface of Mars in 2024. He envisions gigantic spaceships that could carry 100 people at a time. The goal is to create cities on Mars so that the Martian civilization can be independent and self-sustaining, and humanity will be a multi-planet species.

Humans are Earthlings, however: Any mission to Mars would take many months and human bones deteriorate in weightless environments. Space is shot through with radiation, particularly beyond the Earths protective magnetic field. No country has ever landed anything on Mars heavier than a rover. The atmosphere is too thin to be of much help in slowing down a vehicle deploying parachutes, but its thick enough to cause turbulence and overheating.

Bezos is less focused on Mars, but he has repeatedly said he wants to see millions of people living and working in space. He would like industrial activity moved off-planet to help protect Earths natural environment. Blue Origin has circulated a white paper describing how it would like to provide cargo delivery service as soon as 2020 for a (still hypothetical) NASA lunar base.

We should make American Space Great Again, Gingrich said in the email to The Post. Done properly we can be on the moon in President Trumps first term and orbiting Mars by the end of his second term.

Gerstenmaier is preaching cooperation: None of us can do it alone, he said at the Greenbelt symposium.

It is not a race to the moon between NASA and the private sector, said Dittmar, whose coalition is funded by the big aerospace companies.

But it feels like a race, somehow. At the very least, everyone is suddenly in a hurry. Gerstenmaier talked about an urgency to NASAs activities. Thats because, even without Trump channeling Kennedy, NASA has a serious plan to blast people back to the vicinity of the moon sometime in 2021, 2022, Gerstenmaier said. Thats not that far away.

If the plan holds, the big fuel tank at Michoud, plus another, smaller tank for liquid oxygen, and some other Michoud-created hardware, will wind up in Florida, at the Cape, as part of a stack of components forming a complete, full-fledged rocket thats taller than the Statue of Liberty.

At that point it will simply need a destination.

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Trump, with NASA, has a new rocket and spaceship. Where’s he going to go? – Washington Post

NASA offers first look at planet-rich Trappist-1 star system – Engadget

Why rush to offer such a rough look? As with the raw info, it’s all in the name of research. NASA explains that this data gives scientists an “early look” so that they can shape their research proposals for further investigations that start next winter. They’ll have a better sense of what they want to look for. Fully calibrated data will be available in May, NASA says, so don’t despair if you’re hoping for more polished material.

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NASA offers first look at planet-rich Trappist-1 star system – Engadget

NASA moving ahead with plans for cislunar human outpost – SpaceNews

A Lockheed Martin concept of a cislunar outpost that could support future human missions to the moon or elsewhere. Credit: Lockheed Martin

GREENBELT, Md. Despite uncertainty about potential policy changes, NASA is pressing ahead with plans for a cislunar gateway outpost for future human missions, with decisions about how to develop it expected in the coming months.

Speaking at the American Astronautical Societys Goddard Memorial Symposium here March 8, Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA associate administrator for human exploration and operations, said he was studying concepts for launching the first elements of the proposed outpost as secondary payloads on early flights of the Space Launch System.

Theres starting to be a sense of urgency about selecting what to fly on those initial SLS missions to support development of the cislunar outpost, he said. Weve really got to start making some decisions about what that cargo is.

The outpost will be a collection of habitation, cargo and other modules that could support crews working in lunar orbit or elsewhere in cislunar space for extended periods. Orion spacecraft would ferry astronauts to and from the outpost, where they could test technologies and perform other work needed to support NASAs long-term plans for human missions to Mars in the 2030s.

Gerstenmaier said development of the outpost could begin with the second and third SLS missions, EM-2 and -3, which will be the first flights of the SLS to use the more powerful Exploration Upper Stage (EUS). That version of the SLS will have the ability to carry secondary payloads weighing up to several thousand kilograms within the rockets Universal Stage Adapter, an area between the EUS and Orion spacecraft.

Current schedules call for the launch of EM-2 as soon as 2021, which Gerstenmaier said pushes NASA to make decisions soon on what element of the outpost, if any, to fly on that launch. Weve really got to start making some decisions about what that cargo is, whom we partner with and how we build the equipment, he said. Youre going to see us, over the next several months, starting to make some pretty crisp decisions about what goes on those flights.

EM-1 and the moon

A wild card in those plans is the ongoing study of putting a crew on the first SLS/Orion mission, EM-1. That mission is currently scheduled to launch in late 2018 without a crew, but if NASA does decide to place astronauts on that mission, it would likely slip until 2019, pushing back EM-2 and later missions.

Gerstenmaier, in an interview after his conference presentation, said putting a crew on EM-1 could open up new possibilities for EM-2 and later missions. It makes EM-2 be more of an aggressive mission, and we can do more with the cargo thats behind the Orion capsule on that flight, he said.

Gerstenmaier and others cautioned that no decision had been made about flying crew on EM-1, as the study was ongoing. We realize the challenges associated with that. Thats not an easy task to do, NASA Acting Administrator Robert Lightfoot said in remarks at the conference earlier the same day. I expect to hear pretty soon in terms what we could do.

The idea of the study had its roots in the potential for other delays in EM-1. Chris Shank, who led the NASA landing team for the incoming Trump administration late last year, said on a conference panel that Gerstenmaier informed him at a meeting that the service module for that mission, being provided by the European Space Agency, could be delivered several months late.

We asked, if given more time, if there are some additional things that you could do with the mission, Shank said. That led to consideration of flying crew on the mission. As part of the transition, there were no preconceived conclusions. This is genuinely a study on how to get the best bang for the buck.

Whether or not NASA decides to fly a crew on EM-1, theres widespread speculation in the space community that the Trump administration might redirect NASAs human spaceflight efforts towards lunar missions, including a human return to the lunar surface. Industry officials, though, said that a cislunar gateway would still be useful for human missions to the surface of the moon.

I would argue that none of it becomes obsolete. This was intended to be a first step, or an outpost regardless of ultimate destination, said Matt Duggan, exploration manager at Boeing, during a March 9 conference panel.

Boeing is one of six companies that received contracts in August from NASA as part of its Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships, or NextSTEP, program. The contracts call on the companies to develop designs for habitat modules that could be used on future cislunar habitats.

Some of the companies, like Boeing, have also developed more comprehensive cislunar outpost designs, which Duggan said takes into account their potential use supporting lunar landing missions, originally by international partners and not NASA. We may be talking more now about a U.S. trip to the surface of moon, he said, but an international trip to the surface of the moon has always been in the trade space.

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NASA moving ahead with plans for cislunar human outpost – SpaceNews

Meet ‘Europa Clipper’: NASA Mission to Icy Jupiter Moon Officially Named – Space.com

Artist’s illustration of NASAs Europa Clipper spacecraft, which will perform multiple flybys of the ocean-harboring Jupiter moon.

NASA’s upcoming mission to Jupiter’s ocean-harboring moon Europa finally has an official name,and it’s the one we’ve been calling it all along.

The $2 billion mission which will launch in the 2020s to assess Europa’s potential to host life is called Europa Clipper, which has long been its informal moniker, NASA officials announced Thursday (March 9).

The name is a nod to the fast, three-masted sailing vessels known as clippers, which delivered a variety of goods around the world in the 19th century, NASA officials said.

“In the grand tradition of these classic ships, the Europa Clipper spacecraft would sail past Europa at a rapid cadence, as frequently as every two weeks, providing many opportunities to investigate the moon up close,” they wrote in a statement Thursday. “The prime mission plan includes 40 to 45 flybys, during which the spacecraft would image the moon’s icy surface at high resolution and investigate its composition and the structure of its interior and icy shell.”

Astrobiologists regard the 1,900-mile-wide (3,100 kilometers) Europa, along with the Saturn satellite Enceladus, as one of the solar system’s best bets to host extraterrestrial life. Both moons harbor oceans of liquid water beneath their icy shells. And both of these oceans are thought to be in contact with the rocky mantle below, making possible a lot of interesting chemical reactions, researchers have said.

The solar-powered Europa Clipper probe will set up shop in Jupiter orbit. During the Europa flybys, the spacecraft will use a variety of instruments to study the moon’s ice shell and ocean, with the overall aim of assessing Europa’s ability to support life as we know it.

In late 2015, Congress ordered NASA to develop a surface component for the Europa mission as well. The space agency is now studying the best ways to do that. The current vision calls for a stationary lander that would launch separately from the Clipper probe. Once it reached Europa, the lander would use three science instruments to search for signs of life in the ice just beneath the surface.

Follow Mike Wall on Twitter@michaeldwallandGoogle+.Follow us @Spacedotcom, Facebookor Google+. Originally published onSpace.com.

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Meet ‘Europa Clipper’: NASA Mission to Icy Jupiter Moon Officially Named – Space.com

NASA stunned by incredible photo near Saturn – Morning Ticker

This astonishing photo of a cosmic body orbiting Saturn is prompting some to call it a “space ravioli.”

A new photograph has just been released by researchers using NASAs Cassini spacecraft near Saturn, and its getting the attention of many in the space community. This picture of the tiny, elusive moon Pan orbiting Saturn is prompting some to call it a space ravioli, and its the best picture weve yet gotten of this odd looking moon just 22 miles in diameter.

The images were taken back on March 7 after Cassini zoomed past the moon from a distance of just 15,268 miles. It is one of more than 60 moons that orbit Saturn, with many of them being quite small and irregularly shaped like Pan. Iapetus, for example, has drawn comparisons to a giant walnut because of its equatorial ridge, and Mimas has been likened to the Death Star because of a massive crater.

These many diverse moons are of huge interest to the scientific community. The giant moon Titan, for example, is the only other known cosmic body in our solar system other than Earth with stable bodies of liquid, although hydrocarbons rather than water make up these oceans. And Enceladus has been proposed a possible place where life could exist under because of its oceans underneath an icy crust.

NASA says on its website: Pan, the innermost of Saturns known moons, has a mean radius of 8.8 miles (14.1 km) and orbits 83,000 miles (134,000 km) away from Saturn, within the Encke Gap of Saturns A-ring. As it orbits Saturn every 13.8 hours, it acts as a shepherd moon and is responsible for keeping the Encke Gap open. The gap is a 200 mile (325 km) opening in Saturns A ring.

Pan creates stripes, called wakes, in the ring material on either side of it. Since ring particles closer to Saturn than Pan move faster in their orbits, these particles pass the moon and receive a gravitational kick from Pan as they do. This kick causes waves to develop in the gap and also throughout the ring, extending hundreds of miles into the rings. These waves intersect downstream to create the wakes, places where ring material has bunched up in an orderly manner thanks to Pans gravitational kick.

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NASA stunned by incredible photo near Saturn – Morning Ticker

NASA finds lunar spacecraft that vanished 8 years ago – myfox8.com

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NASA finds lunar spacecraft that vanished 8 years ago – myfox8.com

NASA just captured a stunning sight near Saturn – BABW News

Scientists have just used NASAs Cassini spacecraft to take pictures of what everyone is calling space ravioli: Saturns moon Pan. The images were taken on March 7 during a flyby when it came with 15,268 miles of the moon, which is a mere 22 miles wide and is one of Saturns smallest moons.

Its the closest images ever taken of Pan, and they will help scientists understand the shape and geology of this cosmic body, NASA said in a statement. Saturn has more than 60 moons, and many of them are quite small like Pan with an odd shape. For example, Iapetus has a weird oblong shape due to an equatorial ridge, drawing comparisons to a walnut. And a huge crater in the moon Mimas makes it look like the death star.

Saturns moons fascinate scientists, and for many diverse reasons. Scientists want to take a closer look at the giant moon Titan, which is the only other cosmic body in the solar system other than Earth to have stable bodies of liquid on its surface, although the liquid is from hydrocarbons not water. And then theres Enceladus, which may hold an ocean of liquid water beneath its icy surface that scientists think may harbor life.

The statement from NASA follows below.

These raw, unprocessed images of Saturns tiny moon, Pan, were taken on March 7, 2017, by NASAs Cassini spacecraft. The flyby had a close-approach distance of 24,572 kilometers (15,268 miles).

These images are the closest images ever taken of Pan and will help to characterize its shape and geology.

Additional raw images from Cassini are available at NASAs website.

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, ESA (European Space Agency) and the Italian Space Agency. NASAs Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, manages the mission for the agencys Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The Cassini imaging operations center is based at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colorado. Caltech in Pasadena manages JPL for NASA.

Pan is seen in this color view as it sweeps through the Encke Gap with its attendant ringlets.

Pan, the innermost of Saturns known moons, has a mean radius of 8.8 miles (14.1 km) and orbits 83,000 miles (134,000 km) away from Saturn, within the Encke Gap of Saturns A-ring. As it orbits Saturn every 13.8 hours, it acts as a shepherd moon and is responsible for keeping the Encke Gap open. The gap is a 200 mile (325 km) opening in Saturns A ring.

Pan creates stripes, called wakes, in the ring material on either side of it. Since ring particles closer to Saturn than Pan move faster in their orbits, these particles pass the moon and receive a gravitational kick from Pan as they do. This kick causes waves to develop in the gap and also throughout the ring, extending hundreds of miles into the rings. These waves intersect downstream to create the wakes, places where ring material has bunched up in an orderly manner thanks to Pans gravitational kick.

Pan, like Saturns moon Atlas, has a prominent equatorial ridge that gives it a distinctive flying saucer shape.

Discovery Pan was discovered by M.R. Showalter in 1990 using images taken by the Voyager 2 spacecraft nine years earlier.

How Pan Got its Name Moons of Saturn were originally named for Greco-Roman Titans and descendants of the Titans. But as many new moons were discovered scientists began selecting names from more mythologies, including Gallic, Inuit and Norse stories.

Pan, a satyr (a creature resembling a man with the hind legs and hooves of a goat), is a Greek god of nature and the forest.

Here is what Wikipedia says about Pan.

The existence of a moon in the Encke Gap was first predicted by Jeffrey N. Cuzzi and Jeffrey D. Scargle in 1985, based on wavy edges of the gap which indicated a gravitational disturbance.[4] In 1986 Showalter et al. inferred its orbit and mass by modeling its gravitational wake. They arrived at a very precise prediction of 133,603 10 km for the semi-major axis and a mass of 5101012 Saturn masses, and inferred that there was only a single moon within the Encke gap.[5] The actual semi-major axis differs by 19 km and the actual mass is 8.61012 of Saturns.

The moon was later found within 1 of the predicted position. The search was undertaken by considering all Voyager 2 images and using a computer calculation to predict whether the moon would be visible under sufficiently favorable conditions in each one. Every qualifying Voyager 2 image with resolution better than ~50 km/pixel shows Pan clearly. In all, it appears in eleven Voyager 2 images.

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NASA just captured a stunning sight near Saturn – BABW News

NASA Celebrates International Women’s Day with New Virtual Tour – Space.com

A group photo featuring some of NASA’s female astronauts adorns the agency’s Twitter page today (March 8), in celebration of International Women’s Day.

America’s space agency is celebrating International Women’s Day (March 8) and Women’s History Month in multiple ways.

At the top of NASA’s Twitter page today is a group photograph of 17 women who have served as astronauts for the agency, including four members of NASA’s newest astronaut class, astronaut Peggy Whitson who is currently on the International Space Station (she appears on the screen behind the other women), and some former astronauts who have now serve other roles with the agency.

NASA also released a new virtual-reality tour starring several women who work in the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) within the agency. The tour is part of a collaboration between NASA and Google to create free virtual field trips for teachers and educators. [Lego to Make ‘Women of NASA’ Minifigs, Including Sally Ride, Katherine Johnson]

The NASA Modern Figures virtual tour is available via the Google Expeditions mobile app, which requires a smartphone and a VR viewing apparatus, such as Google Cardboard. Unlike a regular video, the VR experience lets viewers look around at the various NASA locations.

Tracy Drain, deputy chief engineer for NASA’s Juno mission to Jupiter, takes viewers on a tour of the Space Flight Operations Facility at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory via NASA’s Modern Figures career expedition, available on the free Google Expeditions mobile app.

One of the stars of the tour is Tracy Drain, deputy chief engineer for NASA’s Juno mission to Jupiter, who takes viewers on a tour of the Space Flight Operations Facility at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, according to a statement from the agency. The facility is home to the Deep Space Communications Network, the hub of communications with robots exploring various corners of the solar system. It is also where NASA staff assisted the Mars Curiosity Rover down to the surface of the Red Planet.

The rest of the tour “gives students a three-dimensional experience in a 100,000-square-foot aircraft hangar, simulated Martian landscape, space flight operations facility, and other fascinating locations where these women work as materials scientists, launch directors, software engineers, and in other STEM fields,” according to the statement.

“Modern Figures” is a reference to a NASA project called “From Hidden Figures to Modern Figures,” which is a dedicated section on NASA’s website featuring biographies of the three women at the center of the Oscar-nominated movie “Hidden Figures.” The movie was based on Margot Lee Shetterly’s book, “Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race” (William Morrow, 2016). The book and subsequent film told the stories of three African-American women who worked at NASA in the 1960s and contributed to NASA’s early human spaceflight program. The Modern Figures web page features videos and information that highlight the diversity of people who work or have worked at NASA.

The new Modern Figures virtual tour is part of the Google Expeditions series. Additional Google Expeditions offer 3D virtual tours of the International Space Station and the surface of Mars.

In NASA’s Modern Figures career expedition, Christina Diaz, an engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, brings viewers to the Mars Yard at JPL where she develops instruments for Mars rovers such as NASA’s Curiosity rover. The virtual tour is available on the free Google Expeditions mobile app.

“The Google Expeditions partnership supports NASA’s mission to inspire and attract kids into STEM studies and careers by providing opportunities for students to virtually step out of the classroom and experience NASA careers, missions and locations in space without leaving their desks,” the statement said.

The NASA home page also published this historical photo featuring six women scientists at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Virginia, taken in 1959. (Langley was also the setting of the “Hidden Figures” book and movie.)

You can learn more about the women of NASA via the agency’s Women@NASA website, which includes video interviews with over 60 women who work at the agency in various capacities.

Follow Calla Cofield @callacofield. Follow us @Spacedotcom, Facebook and Google+. Original article on Space.com.

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NASA Celebrates International Women’s Day with New Virtual Tour – Space.com

Education Landsat Science – landsat.gsfc.nasa.gov

Landsat Education offers a wide range of resources, including Landsat images, animations, K-14 classroom exercises, data tutorials, fact sheets, and more.

We encourage you to contact us with your questions and feedback and to share your ideas about using Landsat for learning and teaching.

Additionally, NASAWavelength.org is a digital collection of NASA Earth and space science resources for educators of all levels from elementary to college, to out-of-school programs. These resources, developed through funding of the NASA Science Mission Directorate (SMD), have undergone a peer-review process through which educators and scientists ensure the content is accurate and useful in an educational setting. Use NASA Wavelength to quickly and easily locate resources, create your own collections within NASA Wavelength, connect them to other websites using atom feeds, and even share resources through social media.

How people use Landsat; understanding Landsat; how to get data; multimedia

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Education Landsat Science – landsat.gsfc.nasa.gov

The NASA-Hollywood Bromance – Men’s Journal

During preproduction for Ridley Scott’s 2015 filmThe Martian, the director ran into an issue: He and his production designer, Arthur Max, realized they had no idea what a human outpost on Mars would actually look like. So Scott made a call to NASA.

I had just come back from the cafeteria when I was asked if I could speak with Ridley,” recalls Jim Green, director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division, who counts Scott’s Alien among his favorite films. I said that I could probably clear my schedule.” That afternoon, Green spent roughly an hour on the phone with Scott, discussing things like how artificial gravity works in a spaceship, what a radioisotopic power system looks like, and how ion engines create thrust.

Green was even able to arrange a field trip for Max to the Johnson Space Center, in Houston, where he got a rare look at NASA’s prototypes for its Mars habitats and rovers items only a handful of civilians” had ever seen. He must have taken a couple thousand pictures,” says Green.

The result was one of the most realistic depictions of a mission to the Red Planet ever constructed, full of ergonomic space suits, massive spaceships, and Mars living pods. It was a laborious undertaking on all sides. For four months during The Martian’s production, Green received 30 to 50 questions a week from the crew, with concerns about everything from radiation shielding to the Pathfinder communications system. He dutifully responded. Still, he wasn’t able to catch everything. There is a scene where Matt Damon’s character watches the sun go down on Mars,” says Green. They made it red, but sunsets there are blue [because of fine dust in the air]. I wish I had told them about that.”

You could argue that the head of a $1.6 billion division has better things to do than answer endless questions from a movie studio, but NASA’s investment in The Martian paid off: In addition to seven Oscar nominations, the film generated priceless publicity for the space program, something the agency believes is crucial to maintaining public interest in its missions, which are sometimes hard to explain or even see. After the movie was completed, Damon even visited the Jet Propulsion Laboratory facility in California for a press event alongside real-life astronaut Drew Feustel and other NASA employees.

It was an exciting opportunity to start conversations about our work,” says Green.

As you may have noticed, Hollywood has been bingeing on space movies as of late: Gravity, Hidden Figures, and Passengers, among others. February saw the release of The Space Between Us, about a boy born on Mars, and in March, Ryan Reynolds, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Rebecca Ferguson starred in Daniel Espinosa’s Life, a sci-fi thriller about a rogue martian life-form. In many of these cases, NASA offered expertise and personnel, even shooting locations, to help bring these films to life. The goal, simply, is to promote the space agency and its next big-picture mission: a manned flight to Mars.

I wouldn’t consider what we do propaganda,” says Bert Ulrich, NASA’s multimedia liaison for film. But we are looking to inspire kids to look to the stars and other planets.”

The U.S. government has a long history of leveraging Hollywood for publicity purposes Top Gun, for example, was given free rein to use Navy aircraft carriers and fighter jets but no agency has become so intertwined with Hollywood as NASA. Without Cold War competition to justify its $19 billion annual budget, the space agency has had to stoke the public’s fascination (and support) for its missions with increasingly savvy PR gambits: interviews with astronauts from space, kid-friendly science experiments from the International Space Station, and, yes, material support for big-budget thrillers.

As the liaison between NASA and filmmakers, Ulrich has worked on dozens of films, including The Avengers, Hidden Figures, and Transformers: Dark of the Moon. During the filming of Tomorrowland at the Kennedy Space Center, Ulrich watched the launch of the Mars maven probe alongside Hugh Laurie and George Clooney, who star in the sci-fi flick. He’s currently waiting to see, for approval, a revised script for La La Land director Damien Chazelle’s First Man, with Ryan Gosling as Neil Armstrong. This position didn’t exist when I started in 1990,” he says.

The first big-budget film that NASA worked on was Ron Howard’s Apollo 13, in 1995, about the near-disastrous moon shot. At first the agency was skeptical of how the dramatization would play out, but Howard convinced them with the help of mission commander Jim Lovell, whom Howard had wooed by buying his life rights. It helped a lot to have Jim as our ambassador,” says Howard, a two-time Oscar winner. But I also think they saw the value in sharing a story with that kind of heroism.”

Among other help, the production was given use of NASA’s Boeing KC-135 aircraft, better known as the vomit comet.” The plane, used to prepare astronauts for zero gravity, allowed Howard to shoot the weightless scenes with Tom Hanks, Kevin Bacon, and Bill Paxton 25 seconds at a time. In total, the production did 612 drops in the plane. The process was grueling but worth it: The movie earned several technical Oscar nominations, and Hanks spent the press tour singing the praises of Lovell and all of NASA.

Their movie and the Mars Pathfinder mission really helped get the program back into the public eye,” says Ulrich.

NASA’s latest PR win came last year, after director Theodore Melfi was sent Margot Lee Shetterly’s book Hidden Figures, the true story of how three African-American mathematicians helped launch John Glenn. Not only did the movie’s script have an important civil rights message, but it also harkened back to the agency’s golden era.

That one was a complete no-brainer for us,” says Ulrich, who connected Melfi with the agency’s historian to consult on the script. For a critical scene in a wind tunnel, they filmed at Lockheed Martin, one of NASA’s primary contractors. I couldn’t have done this movie without NASA,” says Melfi. Their crew was integral to every part of the process.”

Of course, not every film gets approval. You wont see any official NASA logos in Life, for example, about a martian life-form terrorizing the space-station crew. It is not the kind of story that we wanted to tell,” says Ulrich. NASA’s general policy is that a film needs to have a NASA story line in it, with clear value to the agency. When the producers of Marvel’s The Avengers applied to shoot, they were initially denied. They sent the script, but there was no mention of us,” says Ulrich. So the writers went back and drafted a few shiny new scenes. The whole opening sequence ended up about us,” says Ulrich.

These days NASA’s moon-shot mission is Mars Donald Trump even met with Elon Musk and reportedly talked about a possible flight and that’s reflected in the agency’s choice of projects. One of the most prominent was Ron Howard’s Mars, a National Geographic special combining documentary vignettes with a futuristic story line. They seem to realize better now that the story of space needs exposure,” says Howard. Both about what they are working toward for the future and what they have done in the past, like we showed in Apollo 13.”

Other movies coming down the pike include the documentary The Mars Generation, Transformers: The Last Knight, and a yet-to-be-titled film produced by J.J. Abrams, about a space station crew that fights for survival all to be released this year. Of course, the project that Ulrich is most looking forward to is about a human civilization extending its reach beyond its home planet, and NASA hopes to have it ready in a decade or two.

NASA is on the journey to Mars,” Ulrich says. It may be science fiction today, but it will be science fact tomorrow.”

Continued here:

The NASA-Hollywood Bromance – Men’s Journal

NASA Found an Indian Spacecraft Lost Since 2009 – Atlas Obscura

Goldstone Deep Space Communications Complex in California. NASA/Public Domain

Ground control to Major Tom: NASA has just rediscovered a lunar satellite that was wandering on an unknown course around the moon, a bit lost in space.

Locating small objects in the vast distances of space is no easy task, even with the most advanced technologies, but as Gizmodo is reporting, scientists at NASAs Jet Propulsion Laboratory have devised a new radar scheme that has allowed them to pinpoint the location of a couple errant satellites.

Both NASAs Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and the Indian Space Research Organizations Chandrayaan-1 (the first lunar craft India ever sent to space) were launched in the late 2000s. Thanks to the moons pockets of irregular gravity, their paths have diverged from their original orbits. NASA is still tracking its orbiter, but the last contact anyone on Earth had with the Indian craft was in 2009.

To locate the two spacecraft, NASA beamed a high-powered microwave at the moon from the Goldstone Deep Space Communications Complex in California and caught the signal when it bounced back to Earth with the Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia. This one-two punch was not only able to help track the two orbiters but also demonstrated how this strategy could letNASA track future lunar satellites with greater precision.

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NASA Found an Indian Spacecraft Lost Since 2009 – Atlas Obscura

NASA’s Jupiter moon mission gets a super-retro name – CNET

Jupiter’s moon Europa beckons a new NASA mission.

NASA has some questions about the potential habitability of Jupiter’s fascinating icy moon Europa and it hopes a new mission will help answer them. That mission now has an official name: Europa Clipper.

The name has nothing to do with coupons, but rather references an old-school type of sailing ship. The space agency revealed the formal name on Thursday.

NASA offers up this history lesson: “The moniker harkens back to the clipper ships that sailed across the oceans of Earth in the 19th century. Clipper ships were streamlined, three-masted sailing vessels renowned for their grace and swiftness. These ships rapidly shuttled tea and other goods back and forth across the Atlantic Ocean and around globe.”

The Europa Clipper spacecraft will zip past the moon multiple times, gathering data and images as it goes. NASA expects it will engage in at least 40 flybys.

Europa is especially intriguing due to a hidden saltwater ocean below its frozen crust. Scientists have also seen evidence of what may be water vapor plumes erupting from the surface. Researchers are curious if Europa might host the building blocks of life, or even microorganisms.

Europa Clipper is scheduled to sail away into space in the 2020s. It will take several years for it to reach Europa and begin its investigations, but the results should be fascinating.

Tech Enabled: CNET chronicles tech’s role in providing new kinds of accessibility.

Special Reports: CNET’s in-depth features in one place.


Jaw-dropping Jupiter: NASA’s Juno mission eyes the gas giant

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NASA’s Jupiter moon mission gets a super-retro name – CNET

NASA Releases Images of Saturn’s Ravioli-Shaped Moon Pan – KTLA

NASA on Thursday released pictures of Pan, one of Saturns many moons, and its distinctive shape is drawing comparisons to flying saucers and stuffed pasta.

Saturns ravioli-shaped moon Pan is seen in recently released photos. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute)

The images of the moon come courtesy of NASAs Cassini spacecraft, and reveal the UFO-like form of the tiny satellite, which has an average radius of just 8.8 miles.

Cassinis Twitter account tweeted a gif showing the raw images.

Twitter users quickly chimed in. Should or could be called Wonton or Ravioli but thats amazing!!! one wrote. Sign me up! Ravioli is one of my favorite foods, said another.

One artist even took the time to make a little comic.

According to NASAs website, Pans strange shape comes from what is called an equatorial ridge, a characteristic it shares with one of its sister moons, Atlas.

The ridge has formed over the course of Pans history because it orbits Saturn inside the planets rings, collecting stray particles as it goes, said Preston Dyches, a spokesman for NASAs Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

Pan is Saturns closest moon, and orbits the planet in just 13.8 hours.

Earlier this year, Cassini sent back images of Tethys, another Saturn moon that has a striking resemblance to the Death Star from Star Wars.

Cassini is a joint effort between NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian space agency, Agenzia Spaziale Italiana. It was originally launched in June 2008 on a mission to explore the Saturn System.

In September, Cassinis mission will come to an end when it hurtles towards Saturns surface for what NASA is calling the Grand Finale. On its way down, the spacecraft will collect information and data such as the strength of Saturns gravity as well as more pictures of the planets rings.

But for now, it will continue to beam back stunning images of Saturn and space ravioli.

38.907192 -77.036871

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NASA Releases Images of Saturn’s Ravioli-Shaped Moon Pan – KTLA

When you can get tickets to visit NASA’s 2017 JPL open house – 89.3 KPCC

Tickets for the annual “Explore JPL” event at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena will be distributed starting at 9 a.m. Saturday morning. The tickets are free, but will only be availableonlineon a first-come, first-served basis.

The weekend-long event takes place May 20-21. With a ticket, attendees will get an up-close look at JPL’s Space Flight Operations Facility, along with the chance to see models of spacecraft and Mars rovers, according to the event’s website.

Until last year, the event wasn’t ticketed. But, due to its increasing popularity, JPL was forced to limit the number of attendees:

NASA scientists will be around to answer questions and educate guests, Kimberly Lievense, JPL’s public services office manager, told KPCC. It’s an event the staff looks forward to every year, she said.

“JPL is a NASA facility, and it’s difficult to get into NASA facilities just because it’s a working environment not like Disneyland,” she said. “It’s an opportunity to see things [the public] wouldn’t normally get to see.”

Each day of the event has 18,000 tickets available, all of which will probably sell out in less than hour, Lievense said.

The maximum number of tickets per visitor is five. Children under 2 don’t require a ticket. Guests must have a ticket in hand, plus they need to bring a matching ID if they’re 18 years old or older. The tickets can’t be sold, according to the event’s website.

The facility has held public open houses for decades. In addition to the “Explore JPL” event each year, the facility hosts public lectures and weekday tours that draw tens of thousands of visitors from all over the world, according to its website.

The JPL Public Services Office also offers tours free of charge for groups and individuals on a limited reservation basis. Visitor parking is also available free of charge, according to JPL’s website.

JPL is a federally funded research and development facility, carrying out robotic space and Earth science missions, according to its website.

With contributions from Matt Bloom


When you can get tickets to visit NASA’s 2017 JPL open house – 89.3 KPCC

Getting Students Into STEM With Help From NASA – Rhode Island Public Radio

Select middle school students from across Rhode Island meet with a NASA engineer Saturday as part of NASAs Globe Challenge. The program, a collaboration between NASA and U.S. Department of Education, aims to get lower income and at-risk students interested in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) careers.

Ayana Crichton is director of the Rhode Island program, based in Cranston. She says the programs design is key to keeping students engaged.

We just try and focus on real-world application in our program to keep the middle school student interest because theyre the first one to say, ‘This is boring, said Crichton.

Crichton says students take the work seriously, knowing they have to submit results to NASA engineers.

The challenge had students studying cloud coverage and its effects on the earths surface temperature. Students conducted their research and experiments for weeks and had opportunities to Skype with actual NASA engineers throughout the process.

It felt like they were working with NASA scientists, right alongside them, said Crichton.

Rhode Island is one of 15 states chosen to participate in the program this year.

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Getting Students Into STEM With Help From NASA – Rhode Island Public Radio

NASA’s aerial survey of polar ice expands its Arctic reach – Science Daily

Science Daily
NASA's aerial survey of polar ice expands its Arctic reach
Science Daily
"This is IceBridge's ninth year in the Arctic and we're expecting this to be one of our most extensive campaigns to date," said Nathan Kurtz, Operation IceBridge's project scientist and a sea ice scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in

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NASA’s aerial survey of polar ice expands its Arctic reach – Science Daily

Congress wants NASA to hurry up and get to Mars – New York Post

New York Post
Congress wants NASA to hurry up and get to Mars
New York Post
Both the Senate and House approved a bill that authorizes a whopping $19.508 billion in spending for NASA in 2017, a $208 million increase from 2016. The 146-page bill is jam packed with mandates for the space agency to position the US as a thriving …
US Government Issues NASA Demand, 'Get Humans to Mars By 2033'Futurism
New NASA budget focuses almost exclusively on spaceEngadget
House passes NASA authorization billSpaceNews
Arizona Daily Sun –AL.com –Gizmodo –Congress.gov
all 124 news articles »

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Congress wants NASA to hurry up and get to Mars – New York Post