Citizen Science, Space Sciences and Alzheimer’s research meet

A new online science game allows the general public to directly contribute to Alzheimer’s disease research and help scientists search for a cure.

A screenshot of the Stall Catchers game.

A screenshot of the Stall Catchers game.

The game, called Stall Catchers, was developed by the Human Computation Institute, in collaboration with UC Berkeley and other institutions, as part of the EyesOnALZ citizen science project. Stall Catchers will allow participants to look at movies of real blood vessels in mouse brains and search for clogged capillaries, or stalls, where blood is no longer flowing, Previous research suggests that capillary stalls could be a key culprit in Alzheimer’s disease.

The citizen science approach for Stall Catchers was developed by physicist Andrew Westphal, a senior fellow at the UC Berkeley Space Sciences Laboratory. The approach was first used in a project called Stardust@home, developed here at Space Sciences Lab, in which more than 30,000 amateur scientists have carried out more than 100 million searches to identify interstellar dust in collectors returned by the NASA Stardust comet sampling mission. Stardust@home led to the discovery of seven particles of likely interstellar origin, reported in the journal Science in 2014.

You can read more about Stall Catchers in a Berkeley News article.

NASA’s Van Allen Probes Spot Electron Rainfall in Atmosphere

Our planet is nestled in the center of two doughnut-shaped regions of powerful, dynamic radiation: the Van Allen belts, where high-energy particles are trapped by Earth’s magnetic field. Depending on incoming radiation from the sun, they can gain energetic particles. On the other hand, the belts can lose energized particles too.

This video illustrates the complexity of Earth’s magnetic environment, from the radiation belts encircling Earth to the magnetic field lines, depicted as blue ribbons, extending far out into space. During a drop-out, ultra-relativistic electrons stream down along powerful electromagnetic waves, as if they are raining into the atmosphere.
Credits: NASA Goddard/Joy Ng/Martin Rother/GFZ-Potsdam

We are familiar with rapid changes in weather, and the radiation belts can experience these too – particles can be depleted by a thousand-fold in mere hours. These dramatic loss events are called drop-outs, and they can happen when intense bouts of solar radiation disturb Earth’s magnetic environment. There have been many theories on how this happens, but scientists have not had the data to pinpoint which one is correct.

However, on Jan. 17, 2013, NASA’s Van Allen Probes were in just the right position to watch a drop-out in progress and resolve a long-standing question as to how the lower region of the belts close to Earth loses high-energy electrons – known as ultra-relativistic electrons for their near-light speeds. During a drop-out, a certain class of powerful electromagnetic waves in the radiation belts can scatter ultra-relativistic electrons. The electrons stream down along these waves, as if they are raining into the atmosphere. A team led by Yuri Shprits of University of California in Los Angeles published a paper summarizing these findings in Nature Communications on Sept. 28, 2016.

Such information helps illustrate the complexity of Earth’s magnetic surroundings.  Understanding changes within the belts is crucial for protecting the satellites and astronauts travelling through this sometimes harsh space environment.

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NASA’s Deep Space Network, or DSN, “established a lock on the STEREO-B

Credit: NASA

Credit: NASA

NASA re-established contact with a wayward sun-watching science satellite Sunday nearly two years after the spacecraft suddenly dropped off line during a test, the agency said in a statement Monday.

NASA’s Deep Space Network, or DSN, “established a lock on the STEREO-B (spacecraft’s) downlink carrier at 6:27 p.m. EDT,” NASA said in a statement. “The downlink signal was monitored by the Mission Operations team over several hours to characterize the attitude of the spacecraft and then transmitter high voltage was powered down to save battery power.

“The STEREO Missions Operations team plans further recovery processes to assess observatory health, re-establish attitude control and evaluate all subsystems and instruments.”

The complete article courtesy of SpaceFlight Now:

NuSTAR Principal Investigator Honored for Research


Artists Concept of the NuSTAR Satellite

Fiona Harrison, principal investigator of NASA’s NuSTAR (Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array) mission, has been selected to receive the 2016 Massey Award, given by the Committee on Space Research (COSPAR).

The Massey Award honors “outstanding contributions to the development of space research in which a leadership role is of particular importance” and honors the memory of Sir Harrie Massey.

“It has been great to work with such a strong and talented team on NuSTAR,” said Harrison, a professor of astronomy at Caltech. “The whole team deserves credit in NuSTAR’s success.”

NuSTAR launched in June 2012, opening a new window to the universe as the first focusing telescope to operate in a high-frequency band of X-rays called hard X-rays.

Read the complete article: courtesy of Elizabeth Landau, Jet Propulsion Lab

NASA’s getting ready to plunge a spacecraft deeper into the sun than ever before


NASA is one step closer in its mission to “touch” the sun. Last week, it announced that the Solar Probe Plus mission had passed a huge milestone, keeping it on track for a 2018 launch.

The Solar Probe Plus mission will start with the launch of a spaceship that will complete 24 orbits of the sun. Then, after completing seven flybys of Venus to get closer and closer, the spacecraft will dive into the corona, or the outer atmosphere of the sun.

The three closest orbits will be just under 4 million miles from the Sun’s surface — that’s seven times closer than any spacecraft has ever come to our neighborhood fireball.

The complete article, courtesy of Ali Sundermier, provided by Business Insider

MAVEN begins Deep Dip campaign #6

The MAVEN navigation team executed maneuvers on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week that provided a total delta-V (∆V) of 4.0 m/sec. to the spacecraft and lowered the periapsis (lowest altitude) by a total of 24.5 km to 120.5 km above the ‪#‎Martian‬ surface.

This Deep Dip campaign—the 6th of the mission to-date—is located in shadow near midnight on the red planet, and spans both sides of ‪#‎Mars‬’ equator.

(Video credit: NASA/GSFC)

MAVEN Status and Extended-Mission Planning thru 2018


MAVEN at Mars

The MAVEN mission to Mars completed its one-Earth-year primary mission in November 2015, is in the middle of its first (relatively short) extended mission that runs through September 2016, and was just approved for a two-year extended mission that runs through September 2018. Now is a good time to take stock of we’ve learned so far and to describe our plans for the extended mission.

‪#‎MAVEN‬ principal investigator Bruce Jakosky has written a very nice summary of the mission results to-date and offers unique insight into what new observations to expect during the two-year extended mission that runs through September 2018.

The article appears as a “guest blog” on The Planetary Society web site:

Space Tsunami Causes Third Van Allen Belt


Earth’s magnetosphere, the region of space dominated by Earth’s magnetic field, protects our planet from the harsh battering of the solar wind. Like a protective shield, the magnetosphere absorbs and deflects plasma from the solar wind which originates from the Sun. When conditions are right, beautiful dancing auroral displays are generated. But when the solar wind is most violent, extreme space weather storms can create intense radiation in the Van Allen belts and drive electrical currents which can damage terrestrial electrical power grids. Earth could then be at risk for up to trillions of dollars of damage.

Announced today in Nature Physics, a new discovery led by researchers at the University of Alberta shows for the first time how the puzzling third Van Allen radiation belt is created by a “space tsunami.” Intense so-called ultra-low frequency (ULF) plasma waves, which are excited on the scale of the whole magnetosphere, transport the outer part of the belt radiation harmlessly into interplanetary space and create the previously unexplained feature of the third belt. “Remarkably, we observed huge plasma waves,” says Ian Mann, physics professor at the University of Alberta, lead author on the study and former Canada Research Chair in Space Physics. “Rather like a space tsunami, they slosh the radiation belts around and very rapidly wash away the outer part of the belt, explaining the structure of the enigmatic third radiation belt.”

The complete article courtesy of Ross Lockwood, University of Alberta, here.