A Centennial Celebration of Charles Townes

Charles TownesThere’s nothing like a spring day to clear the little gray cells and let the imagination wander. In fact, a spring day in 1951 in Washington, DC, helped lead to the development of the laser.

Charles Townes was a physicist at Columbia University. He’d been trying to develop powerful beams of radiation, but he wasn’t having any luck. But as Townes recalled last year in this interview from the University of California, after a meeting in DC, it came to him.

TOWNES: I thought about it and I thought about it, and I sat on a bench in a park. Oh, hey! I got an idea — this is the way to do it. I think it’ll probably work. I went home, and it took me a long time to get it done….

Townes and his students developed that insight into the maser — TOWNESMaser is microwave amplification by stimulated emission of radiation — a device that creates a beam of microwaves of the same wavelength that all move in step, like soldiers marching in review. Later, Townes and others extended the technique with beams of visible light, creating the laser. His work earned Townes a share of the 1964 Nobel Prize for physics.

Townes was born 100 years ago today in South Carolina, and passed away earlier this year. During his long career, he helped develop radar bombing systems for the military and probed the workings of molecules. He advised NASA on the science of the Apollo Moon landings, and the Reagan Administration on a missile system. And he used his creations to study the universe.

Extraterrestrial search gets $100 million from Russian billionaire

Eric Korpela

Eric Korpela, the director of SETI (the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) at Home at the Berkeley SETI research center at UC Berkeley, is seen on Fri. July 17, 2015, in Berkley, Calif. Photo: Michael Macor, The Chronicle

A Russian billionaire announced Monday he has committed $100 million to a 10-year international effort led by UC Berkeley astronomers to seek messages from advanced civilizations on planets throughout the Milky Way and galaxies far beyond.

The project is by far the most ambitious and costly endeavor in what is known as SETI, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence. Astronomers around the world have worked part time at finding signs of intelligent life in space for years with only limited funds — except at Berkeley, where the university has created a major SETI project at its Space Science Laboratory atop the campus.

The complete article courtesy of SFGate and David Perlman.

On its way to Pluto, New Horizons became a tool for education like no other probe


The past few days have been a bit distracting for Andrew Poppe.

Back when he was a student at the University of Colorado at Boulder, he was in charge of one of the seven New Horizons instruments that collect data from outer space. Now, as a research scientist at the University of California at Berkeley who’s no longer part of the mission, Poppe has found himself glued to the Internet, checking for updates on the spacecraft as it approached Pluto earlier this week.

“It’s certainly very exciting, but it’s weird to think 9½ years have already gone by,” Poppe said.

His work on the historical mission was, in essence, a school project. He spent five years  working with the instrument, called the student dust counter — the first student-made instrument ever attached to a planetary probe.


As a student, he got used to always being the youngest person in the room. And when he graduated in 2011, he handed off his duties to the current instrument operator, Jamey Szalay.

“I’m thrilled to be a part of it,” said Szalay, who had the chance to go to the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab to witness the mission’s flyby. “It’s a lot of responsibility, but it’s great to be in the drivers seat.”

Operating the student dust counter means keeping track of any grain of space dust that comes in contact with the instrument during the four billion-mile journey to the unexplored dwarf planet and beyond.

The Washington Post complete story.


STEREO-A Spacecraft Returns Data From the Far Side of the Sun

Image Credit: NASA/STEREO

Image Credit: NASA/STEREO

This image of the sun was taken on July 15, 2015, with the Extreme Ultraviolet Imager onboard NASA’s Solar TErrestrial RElations Observatory Ahead (STEREO-A) spacecraft, which collects images in several wavelengths of light that are invisible to the human eye. This image shows the sun in wavelengths of 171 angstroms, which are typically colorized in blue. STEREO-A has been on the far side of the sun since March 24, where it had to operate in safe mode, collecting and saving data from its radio instrument. The first images in over three months were received from STEREO-A on July 11.

The rest of the Article is courtesy of NASA Image of the Day


MAVEN‬ is in its third “Deep Dip Campaign”

(Image credit: Lockheed Martin)

(Image credit: Lockheed Martin)

MAVEN has started its third deep-dip campaign

The MAVEN spacecraft has successfully begun its third deep-dip campaign of the mission. On Tuesday, July 7th, the ‪#‎MAVEN‬ navigation team executed a maneuver to lower periapsis by 24 km down to 123 km above the surface of ‪#‎Mars‬. At this altitude, Mars’ atmospheric density is currently 1.9 kg/km³. A second maneuver will place the #MAVEN spacecraft into the center of the target density corridor.

The MAVEN “deep dip” campaigns will provide data from the boundary where Mars’ upper and lower atmospheres meet—also referred to as the “homopause”—enabling the spacecraft to sample the entire upper atmosphere of Mars.

(Image credit: NASA)

(Image credit: NASA)

Deep-dip #3 continues to go well

The ‪#‎MAVEN‬ spacecraft is well within the target atmospheric density corridor for our third deep-dip campaign, with a periapsis near 120 km (75 miles) above the surface of Mars.

All spacecraft systems and instruments are performing nominally, although we do not expect to have results from the campaign until the spacecraft has exited the deep-dip.


(Image credit: NASA/GSFC)

Analysis by the #MAVEN navigation team shows that the spacecraft is still within the targeted atmospheric deep-dip corridor.

As a result, no maneuver has been made to adjust the location of the spacecraft within the corridor since the beginning of deep-dip #3. The density of ‪#‎Mars‬‘ atmosphere at periapsis is decreasing slightly with time, as predicted by some of the models. At this rate, we may have to perform a maneuver to keep MAVEN within the density corridor before the “walkout” to resume normal science operations mid-week.

NuSTAR sees the most energetic spots on our sun!


Flaring, active regions of our sun are highlighted in this new image combining observations from several telescopes. High-energy X-rays from NASA’s Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) are shown in blue; low-energy X-rays from Japan’s Hinode spacecraft are green; and extreme ultraviolet light from NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) is yellow and red. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/GSFC/JAXA

This stunning image captured by our NuSTAR Satellite combines observations from several telescopes to show us various active regions on the sun. The high-energy X-rays are shown in blue, while green represents lower-energy X-rays. While this satellite usually investigates black holes and other high-energy objects, it can also be used to uncover some of the sun’s mysteries. More: 

Exploring Ancient and Modern Mars with the MAVEN and the MSL Missions


In his presentation from June 21, 2015, Dr. Paul Mahaffy, planetary scientist at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center and instrument lead for the MAVEN NGIMS and the Mars Science Laboratory SAM instruments, focuses on current and past measurements of isotopes and volatile gases in the Martian surface and atmosphere during the final day of the 2015 MAVEN New Media Professional Development Workshop.

During the presentation and discussion, Dr. Mahaffy demonstrates the compelling case that NASA’s Mars missions are making for long-lasting water on the surface of the Red Planet and what that means for potential past and present habitability.

View all of the videos from the workshop in one playlist, here:

(Video credit: Tom Mason/University of Colorado Boulder-LASP)

Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics
NASA Goddard
NASA’s Curiosity Mars Rover


NuSTAR – “biggest and baddest” black holes are actually buried under thick blankets of gas and dust

NuSTAR Discovery

A montage of images showing an artist’s concept of NuSTAR (top); a color image of one of the galaxies targeted by NuSTAR (lower left); and artist’s concept of a hidden black hole. Credits: Top: NASA/JPL-Caltech. Lower-left: Hubble Legacy Archive, NASA, ESA. Bottom-right: NASA/ESA

Did you know that some of the “biggest and baddest” black holes are actually buried under thick blankets of gas and dust? Their hidden nature makes observing them a challenge, but our NuSTAR Satellite recently caught a glimpse of five of these supermassive black holes. More: