Parker Solar Probe – Follow Up

The Parker Solar Probe, our first mission to touch the sun, was renamed on May 31st in honor of astrophysicist Eugene Parker. Here is a short video showing the mission and its objectives.

NASA Renames Solar Probe Mission to Honor Pioneering Physicist Eugene Parker

Illustration of the Parker Solar Probe spacecraft approaching the sun. Credit: NASA/JHUAPL

CHICAGO – NASA has renamed the Solar Probe Plus spacecraft – humanity’s first mission to a star, which will launch in 2018 – as the Parker Solar Probe in honor of astrophysicist Eugene Parker. The announcement was made at a ceremony at the University of Chicago, where Parker serves as the S. Chandrasekhar Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus, Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics.

In 1958, Parker—then a young professor at the university’s Enrico Fermi Institute—published an article in the Astrophysical Journal called “Dynamics of the interplanetary gas and magnetic fields.” Parker believed there was highly energized matter and radiation constantly escaping the sun, and that it affected the planets and space throughout our solar system.

This phenomenon, now known as the solar wind, has been proven to exist repeatedly through direct observation. Parker’s work forms the basis for much of our understanding about how stars interact with the worlds that orbit them.

Read the complete news release.

Space Weather Model Simulates Solar Storms From Nowhere

Our ever-changing sun continuously shoots solar material into space. The grandest such events are massive clouds that erupt from the sun, called coronal mass ejections, or CMEs. These solar storms often come first with some kind of warning — the bright flash of a flare, a burst of heat or a flurry of solar energetic particles. But another kind of storm has puzzled scientists for its lack of typical warning signs: They seem to come from nowhere, and scientists call them stealth CMEs.

Now, an international team of scientists, led by the Space Sciences Laboratory at University of California, Berkeley, and funded in part by NASA, has developed a model that simulates the evolution of these stealthy solar storms. The scientists relied upon NASA missions STEREO and SOHO for this work, fine-tuning their model until the simulations matched the space-based observations. Their work shows how a slow, quiet process can unexpectedly create a twisted mass of magnetic fields on the sun, which then pinches off and speeds out into space — all without any advance warning.

The complete article is found here.

NASA’s Van Allen Probes Spot Man-Made Barrier Shrouding Earth

Humans have long been shaping Earth’s landscape, but now scientists know we can shape our near-space environment as well. A certain type of communications — very low frequency, or VLF, radio communications — have been found to interact with particles in space, affecting how and where they move. At times, these interactions can create a barrier around Earth against natural high energy particle radiation in space. These results, part of a comprehensive paper on human-induced space weather, were recently published in Space Science Reviews.

Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/Genna Duberstein, Download in HD

“A number of experiments and observations have figured out that, under the right conditions, radio communications signals in the VLF frequency range can in fact affect the properties of the high-energy radiation environment around the Earth,” said Phil Erickson, assistant director at the MIT Haystack Observatory, Westford, Massachusetts.

VLF signals are transmitted from ground stations at huge powers to communicate with submarines deep in the ocean. While these waves are intended for communications below the surface, they also extend out beyond our atmosphere, shrouding Earth in a VLF bubble. This bubble is even seen by spacecraft high above Earth’s surface, such as NASA’s Van Allen Probes, which study electrons and ions in the near-Earth environment.

The probes have noticed an interesting coincidence — the outward extent of the VLF bubble corresponds almost exactly to the inner edge of the Van Allen radiation belts, a layer of charged particles held in place by Earth’s magnetic fields. Dan Baker, director of the University of Colorado’s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics in Boulder, coined this lower limit the “impenetrable barrier” and speculates that if there were no human VLF transmissions, the boundary would likely stretch closer to Earth. Indeed, comparisons of the modern extent of the radiation belts from Van Allen Probe data show the inner boundary to be much farther away than its recorded position in satellite data from the 1960s, when VLF transmissions were more limited.

With further study, VLF transmissions may serve as a way to remove excess radiation from the near-Earth environment. Plans are already underway to test VLF transmissions in the upper atmosphere to see if they could remove excess charged particles — which can appear during periods of intense space weather, such as when the sun erupts with giant clouds of particles and energy.

Cosmic Origins Spectrograph Launches Aboard STS-125 Atlantis

Photo Courtesy of Chris Scholz

May 11th, 2009 Shuttle STS-125 Atlantis roared into space from the Kennedy Space Center for the final Hubble Servicing Mission. On board were a myriad of instruments to keep the Hubble Space Telescope working well into the future.

Space Shuttle Atlantis carried two new instruments to the Hubble Space Telescope, the Cosmic Origins Spectrograph and the Wide Field Camera 3. The mission also replaced a Fine Guidance Sensor, six gyroscopes, and two battery unit modules to allow the telescope to continue to function at least through 2014.[3][7] The crew also installed new thermal blanket insulating panels to provide improved thermal protection, and a soft-capture mechanism that would aid in the safe de-orbiting of the telescope by an unmanned spacecraft at the end of its operational lifespan.[NASA 5][8] The mission also carried an IMAX camera with which the crew documented the progress of the mission for the Hubble IMAX movie.[NASA 6]

The mission was intended to extend the life of Hubble at least another five years and today we celebrate the 8 year anniversary. All instruments are working well and continue to return great science as well as the fantastic pictures we have come to love.

NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

Solar Array Cooling System Coming Together on Solar Probe Plus

The Solar Array Cooling System on Solar Probe Plus has one critical job – to protect the NASA spacecraft’s solar arrays from incineration as it moves through the blazing atmosphere of the sun.

Several key elements of that system are now on board the spacecraft, installed last week during ongoing integration and test operations at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland. On April 5, engineers carefully attached the deck that holds the solar array cooling system components, solar array cooling system radiators and the truss structure assembly, or TSA. The TSA will support the spacecraft’s signature 8-foot-wide, 4.5-inch-thick carbon-carbon foam heat shield, as well components from the FIELDS experiment and Solar Wind Electrons, Alphas and Protons (SWEAP) suite that will make direct measurements of the charged particles and electrical fields in the solar environment.

Solar Probe Plus is on track for launch during a 20-day window that opens July 31, 2018. Integration and testing will continue at APL through November; after that, the spacecraft will be moved to NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, for four months of final space-environmental testing, it is then shipped to Kennedy Space Center/Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, in March 2018 for final launch preparations. APL designed, is building, and will operate Solar Probe Plus for NASA.

Mission integration and test team members secure the deck holding the structure assembly and several other critical thermal-protection components atop NASA’s Solar Probe Plus spacecraft body on April 5, 2017, in the cleanroom at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland. NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory

Follow Solar Probe Plus on Facebook and see the complete article here.

Humanity Will ‘Touch the Sun’ with the Fastest Spacecraft Ever Made

The most ambitious NASA mission you’ve never heard of.

Sun worship is a popular theme in human history, for good reason. Our local yellow dwarf star is the head of our solar family, the most influential body in our cosmic vicinity, and the midwife of all life on Earth. It’s the biggest cheese for light years around, and it’s earned its share of reverence.

Yet our Sun remains one of the most unexplored bodies in the solar system. After all, it is tough to study a massive fusion reactor that will burn out your retinas if you even look at it the wrong way, let alone send a spacecraft to brave the inferno up close.

Enter: Solar Probe Plus (SPP), a NASA mission in development at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory. This robotic explorer will venture closer to the Sun than any other probe before it, flying through its corona—the searing atmosphere surrounding the star—for the first time in history. It will brave both fiery and freezing temperatures, travel faster than anything ever made by humans, and deliver the most intimate glimpse of our star—and the forceful solar wind it emits—in spaceflight history.

The Complete Article care of Motherboard is here:

NASA Spacecraft Investigate Clues in Radiation Belts

High above Earth, two giant rings of energetic particles trapped by the planet’s magnetic field create a dynamic and harsh environment that holds many mysteries — and can affect spacecraft traveling around Earth. NASA’s Van Allen Probes act as space detectives, to help study the complex particle interactions that occur in these rings, known as the Van Allen radiation belts. Recently, the spacecraft were in just the right place, at just the right time, to catch an event caused by the fallout of a geomagnetic storm as it happened. They spotted a sudden rise in particles zooming in from the far side of the planet, improving our understanding of how particles travel in near-Earth space.

The twin Van Allen Probes orbit one behind the other, investigating clues in a way a single spacecraft never could. In this model, the trailing spacecraft saw an increase in injected oxygen particles (blue), which was unobserved by the first. The increase in particles was due to a geomagnetic storm front that moved across the path of the orbit after the first spacecraft passed.
Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/Mike Henderson/Joy Ng, Producer

The two twin Van Allen Probe spacecraft orbit one behind the other, investigating clues in a way a single spacecraft never could. On one typical day, as the first instrument traveled around Earth, it spotted nothing unusual, but the second, following just an hour later, observed an increase in oxygen particles speeding around Earth’s dayside — the side nearest the sun. Where did these particles come from? How had they become so energized?

Scientists scoured the clues to figure out what was happening. With the help of computer models, they deduced that the particles had originated on the night side of Earth before being energized and accelerated through interactions with Earth’s magnetic field. As the particles journeyed around Earth, the lighter hydrogen particles were lost in collisions with the atmosphere, leaving an oxygen-rich plasma. The findings were presented in a recent paper in Geophysical Review Letters.

The unique double observations of the Van Allen Probes help untangle the complex workings of Earth’s magnetic environment. Such information has provided the very first view of these harsh belts from the inside — and it helps us better protect satellites and astronauts traveling through the region