Reconnection tames the turbulent magnetic fields around Earth

Magnetic reconnection, one of the most important processes in the plasma-filled space around Earth, dissipates magnetic energy and propels charged particles, both of which contribute to a dynamic space weather system that scientists want to understand and someday predict. (NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/Joy Ng video)

The discovery will help scientists understand the role magnetic reconnection plays elsewhere in space, for example, in heating the inexplicably hot solar corona — the sun’s outer atmosphere — and accelerating the supersonic solar wind. NASA’s upcoming Parker Solar Probe mission will be launched directly toward the sun this summer to investigate exactly those phenomena, armed with this new understanding of magnetic reconnection near Earth.

And since magnetic reconnection occurs throughout the universe, what scientists learn about it around our planet — which is easier to examine — can be applied to other processes farther away.

“MMS discovered electron magnetic reconnection, a new process much different from the standard magnetic reconnection that happens in calmer areas around Earth,” said Tai Phan, a senior fellow in the Space Sciences Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley. “This finding helps scientists understand how turbulent magnetic fields dissipate energy throughout the cosmos.”

Phan is lead author of a paper describing the findings that will be published this week in the journal Nature.

The complete article


MAVEN – Solar Storm Impacts Release of Atmospheric Hydrogen on Mars

Significant Space Weather Impact on the Escape of Hydrogen from Mars

Newly published MAVEN results indicate that atmospheric escape of hydrogen during a strong solar storm that impacted Mars in September 2017 was comparable to the seasonal escape of hydrogen over a full #Martian year.

Read the full publication in American Geophysical Union (AGU)‘s Geophysical Research Letters:

Boston University
Center for Space Physics at Boston University
NASA Goddard
UC Berkeley Space Sciences Lab

9 Years Ago Today – COS Launches on the Last Hubble Servicing Mission

May 11th 2009, the Space Shuttle Atlantis, lifted off from Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center on Mission STS-125, the last Hubble Servicing Mission. On board were a variety of new instruments, Wide Field Camera 3, A Soft Capture Mechanism, New Gyroscopes, Batteries, a Science and Data Handling Unit and COS – Cosmic Origins Spectrograph, pictured below.

COS Lifted into Orbiter Transport Carrier. Photo Courtesy of NASA

The microchannel plate detector and associated electronics (low and high voltage power supplies, amplifiers, time to digital converters, and control and processing board) for the far ultraviolet (FUV) channel of COS were built by the Experimental Astrophysics Group at UC Berkeley Space Sciences Lab for Principal Investigator Dr. James Green of the Center for Astrophysics and Space Astronomy at the University of Colorado Boulder.

The servicing mission was intended to extend the life of the Hubble Space Telescope an additional 5 years. All instruments are still working nominally 9 years post launch.

STS 125 Leaving the Vertical Assembly Building on its way to Pad 39A: Courtesy Christopher Scholz

Launch of STS 125 from Pad 39A on it way up to capture the Hubble Space Telescope: Courtesy Christopher Scholz

ICON Spacecraft Arrives at Vandenberg for June Launch

Photo Credit: NASA

NASA’s Ionospheric Connection Explorer, or ICON, arrived at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California for the next stage of its journey to launch, scheduled for June 15 from Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands (in the continental United States the launch date is June 14).

The observatory made the trip overnight from Gilbert, Arizona, where it was in an Orbital ATK facility. At Vandenberg, ICON will be integrated onto a Pegasus XL rocket, which will in turn be flown to Kwajalein on an L-1011 aircraft, which will double as its launcher.

The Ionospheric Connection Explorer will study the frontier of space: the dynamic zone high in our atmosphere where terrestrial weather from below meets space weather from above. This region of space and its changes have practical repercussions — this is the area through which radio communications and GPS signals travel. Variations there can result in distortions or even complete disruption of signals. In order to understand this complicated region of near-Earth space, called the ionosphere, NASA has developed the ICON mission. ICON will help determine the physical process at play in our space environment and pave the way for mitigating their effects on our technology, communications systems and society.

NASA Goddard manages the Explorer Program for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington, D.C. UC Berkeley’s Space Sciences Laboratory developed the ICON mission and the two ultraviolet imaging spectrographs onboard (the largest of which was integrated and tested at the Centre Spatial de Liège); the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C., developed the MIGHTI instrument; the University of Texas in Dallas developed the Ion Velocity Meter; and the ICON spacecraft was built by Orbital ATK in Dulles, Virginia. NASA’s Launch Services Program is responsible for launch management.

Learn More About ICON:

Parker Solar Probe Heat Shield Arrives in Florida

Parker Solar Probe’s heat shield – encased in its metal shipping container – is reunited with the spacecraft – seen in the background – at Astrotech Space Operations in Titusville, Florida, on April 18, 2018. Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins APL/Ed Whitman

The Thermal Protection System — also known as the heat shield — for NASA’s Parker Solar Probe arrived in Titusville, Florida, on April 18, 2018, bringing it one step closer to reuniting with the spacecraft that will be the first to “touch” the Sun.
The Parker Solar Probe spacecraft arrived at Astrotech Space Operations two weeks prior, on April 3, to complete final testing. Though the spacecraft was flown by the Air Force’s 436th Airlift Wing, the Thermal Protection System, or TPS, traveled on a flatbed truck, securely encased in a metal shipping container during its road trip to the Sunshine State. After setting off on a rainy Monday morning from Maryland, it was greeted with Florida’s balmy heat on Wednesday afternoon at Astrotech, where it will eventually be reattached to the spacecraft before launch in late July.

Parker Solar Probe’s Launch Vehicle Rises at Space Launch Complex 37

The United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy that will carry Parker Solar Probe is raised at Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on April 17, 2018.
Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins APL/Ed Whitman

On the morning of Tuesday, April 17, 2018, crews from United Launch Alliance raised the 170-foot tall Delta IV Heavy launch vehicle – the largest and most powerful rocket currently used by NASA – at Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. This Delta IV Heavy will carry Parker Solar Probe, humanity’s first mission to the Sun’s corona, on its journey to explore the Sun’s atmosphere and the solar wind. Launch is scheduled for approximately 4 a.m. EDT on July 31, 2018.
The launch vehicle consists of three Common Booster Cores, with a second stage on the center core; the encapsulated spacecraft, is scheduled to arrive in early July for integration onto the rocket. The spacecraft is now at Astrotech Space Operations in nearby Titusville undergoing final integration and testing. Parker Solar Probe will be the fastest human-made object in the solar system, traveling at speeds of up to 430,000 miles per hour (700,000 kilometers per hour).

The United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy that will carry Parker Solar Probe is raised at Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on April 17, 2018.
Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins APL/Ed Whitman

More Photos from Delta IV Heavy going vertical

NASA’s Mission to Touch the Sun Arrives in the Sunshine State

A C-17 from the United States Air Force’s 436th Airlift Wing, carrying NASA’s Parker Solar Probe, lands at 10:40 a.m. EDT at Space Coast Regional Airport in Titusville, Florida, on the morning of April 3, 2018. After landing, the spacecraft was unloaded and taken to Astrotech Space Operations, also in Titusville, for pre-launch testing and preparations.
Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins APL/Ed Whitman

NASA’s Parker Solar Probe has arrived in Florida to begin final preparations for its launch to the Sun, scheduled for July 31, 2018.
In the middle of the night on April 2, the spacecraft was driven from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, to nearby Joint Base Andrews in Maryland. From there, it was flown by the United States Air Force’s 436th Airlift Wing to Space Coast Regional Airport in Titusville, Florida, where it arrived at 10:40 a.m. EDT. It was then transported a short distance to Astrotech Space Operations, also in Titusville, where it will continue testing, and eventually undergo final assembly and mating to the third stage of the Delta IV Heavy launch vehicle.
Parker Solar Probe is humanity’s first mission to the Sun. After launch, it will orbit directly through the solar atmosphere – the corona – closer to the surface than any human-made object has ever gone. While facing brutal heat and radiation, the mission will reveal fundamental science behind what drives the solar wind, the constant outpouring of material from the Sun that shapes planetary atmospheres and affects space weather near Earth.

Parker Solar Probe: Women on a Mission

We’re celebrating Women’s History Month with a look at a group of women from the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab who are key to the success of NASA’s Parker Solar Probe, a groundbreaking mission to explore our Sun, scheduled to launch on July 31.

Meet APL’s Nicola Fox, project scientist; Betsy Congdon, lead thermal protection system engineer; Yanping Guo, mission design and navigation manager; and Annette Dolbow, integration and test lead engineer — just a few of the women working to ready the Parker Solar Probe spacecraft for its historic journey to our star.

Learn more at