MAVEN has been in orbit around Mars for one Earth year!



As of today, MAVEN has been in orbit around Mars for one Earth year! And it’s been an action-packed year.

Some of the highlights include:
– Getting into orbit!
– Surviving the encounter with Comet Siding Spring
– Commissioning the spacecraft
– Carrying out ten months (so far) of observations during our primary mission
– Carrying out four deep-dip campaigns

The success of the mission so far is a direct result of the incredibly hard work of everybody who works (and has worked) on MAVEN. This one year at Mars reflects the tremendous efforts over the preceding dozen years. And the mission continues—we still have two months to go in our primary mission, and then we begin our extended mission. We’re obtaining an incredibly rich data set that is on track to answer the questions we originally posed for MAVEN and that will serve the community for a long time to come.

I hope everybody is as proud of what we’ve accomplished as I am! And here’s to the next year of exciting observations, analyses, and results!

— MAVEN Principal Investigator, Bruce Jakosky


MAVEN Successfully Enters Fourth Deep Dip Campaign

(Image credit: NASA)

(Image credit: NASA)

MAVEN has successfully entered the fourth deep-dip campaign of the mission. Two maneuvers executed over the past two days have placed the ‪#‎MAVEN‬ spacecraft into a deep-dip corridor, with a periapsis altitude of 121.2 km (75.3 mi), where ‪#‎Mars‬‘ atmospheric density is 2.2 kg/km³. At a periapsis latitude of 65.7ºS, this deep-dip campaign will provide coverage of Mars’ south polar region.

This animation depicts MAVEN maneuvering from its normal science orbit to the deep dip orbit and back.

MAVEN’s Mission – How Did Mars Lose Its Atmosphere

High above the thin ‪#‎Martian‬ skies, ‪#‎NASA‬’s MAVEN spacecraft is carrying out a mission: determine how Mars lost its early atmosphere, and with it, its water.

While previous ‪#‎Mars‬ orbiters have peered down at the planet’s surface, MAVEN is spending part of its time gazing at the stars, looking for subtle changes in their color as they dip through the limb of Mars and set below the horizon. Such stellar occultations reveal what Mars’ atmosphere is made of, and how its composition varies with altitude. 

‪#‎MAVEN‬’s observations are providing scientists with the most detailed picture of the Mars upper atmosphere to date, helping them understand how a once-hospitable world changed into the forbidding desert that we see today.

Video credit:
NASA – National Aeronautics and Space Administration
NASA Goddard

Parting Curtains of Dust, and Finding Black Holes

An artist's conception of NuSTAR. Credit NASA

An artist’s conception of NuSTAR. Credit NASA

Though they are millions to billions of times the mass of our sun and gobble every stray star, planet and wisp of dust that wanders by, supermassive black holes are rather shy types.

They are thought to exist in most if not all large galaxies, but they typically hide behind clouds of gas and dust, hampering efforts to better understand them.

This summer, however, a group of astronomers at Durham University in England reported that they had used NASA’s Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array, or NuSTAR, to detect five supermassive black holes rapidly engulfing matter at the center of their galaxies. Although the team had hypothesized that there were undetected black holes existing in particularly dark and dusty galaxies within our universe, the proof was nonexistent — until NuSTAR came along.

Launched in 2012 and controlled by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, NuSTAR is an orbiting telescope with the ability to detect the highest-energy X-rays emitted by active black holes – including ones hidden by dust so thick that previous satellite observatories could not cut through. The team pointed the telescope at these nine galaxies suspected of harboring black holes based on previous observations from other telescopes. NuSTAR confirmed that five of them indeed housed active black holes at their centers. The team speculates that black holes in the other four are hidden even deeper behind gas and dust.

Their finding lends support to the notion that the universe may contain millions of supermassive black holes that are hidden from view.

The astronomers, led by George Lansbury, presented their findings at the Royal Astronomical Society’s national meeting last month in Wales. The Astrophysics Journal has accepted their paper for publication.

In its three years of operation, NuStar has proven to be a game changer in black hole research, Dr. Lansbury said by email. “The next stage would be to hunt for more of these hidden black holes,” he said. And sure enough, his team is currently “exploring new ways to select target galaxies for NuSTAR.”

The future of black holes is bright, friends.

Article courtesy of the New York Times

NASA’s LADEE Spacecraft Finds Neon in Lunar Atmosphere

Artist’s concept of NASA's Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) spacecraft in orbit above the moon. Credits: NASA Ames / Dana Berry

Artist’s concept of NASA’s Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) spacecraft in orbit above the moon.
Credits: NASA Ames / Dana Berry

The moon’s thin atmosphere contains neon, a gas commonly used in electric signs on Earth because of its intense glow. While scientists have speculated on the presence of neon in the lunar atmosphere for decades, NASA’s Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) spacecraft has confirmed its existence for the first time.

The complete Article Courtesy NASA

MAVEN spacecraft status—Thursday, August 13, 2015

(Image credit: NASA)

(Image credit: NASA)

The ‪#‎MAVEN‬ navigation team successfully performed a period correction maneuver on Wednesday, August 12, which increased the orbital period of the spacecraft to 4 hours & 38 minutes. This maneuver was performed in order to keep the spacecraft within the required science corridor.

The maneuver was necessary because there is drag or an aerobraking effect exerted on the spacecraft during periapsis (lowest altitude), when MAVEN enters a more dense region of the ‪#‎Martian‬ atmosphere, which can reduce the orbital period. This effect is especially pronounced during the deep-dip campaigns, where the spacecraft flies through a density corridor during periapsis that is twenty to thirty times the atmospheric density encountered during normal science operations. 

As a result of the period correction maneuver, which had a ∆V (change in velocity) of 31 m/sec, the apoapsis (highest altitude) of the spacecraft is now 6,508 km from the surface of ‪#‎Mars‬ and the periapsis is 147.5 km.

The 4th deep dip campaign is on schedule and will begin with a walk-in maneuver on September 2nd.

Article Courtesy of NASA’s MAVEN Mission to Mars

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.