What will the ICON spacecraft do?

Years of development and testing will come to fruition when the ICON spacecraft launches from Kwajalein Atoll in the South Pacific this summer. The UC Berkeley Space Sciences Lab’s ICON team has made several videos describing the long path towards launch — and the hundreds of people involved in building this unique observatory that will study the boundary between our atmosphere and space. The second video describes what ICON will actually do and study while in orbit around the Earth.

What Will ICON Do?

How NASA is planning to touch the sun – Solar Probe Plus

An explosion on the sun shoots fiery plasma out into space.
NASA/Goddard/SDO

Our sun might not seem as enigmatic as more exotic, distant stars, but it’s still a marvelously mysterious miasma of incandescent plasma. And it’s certainly worthy of our scientific attention: Curiosity aside, a violent solar event could disrupt satellites and cause $2 trillion in damages for the U.S. alone. Yet, despite living in its atmosphere, we don’t understand some of its defining phenomena. For sixty years, we haven’t understood why the surface is a cozy 5,500 Celsius, while the halo called the corona—several million kilometers away from the star’s surface and 12 orders of magnitude less dense—boasts a positively sizzling 1-2 million Celsius.

To figure out why, NASA needs to fly a little closer to the sun—and touch it. We know that magnetic reconnection—when magnetic field lines moving in opposite directions intertwine and snap like rubber bands—propels nuclear weapon-like waves of energy away from surface. Meanwhile, magnetohydrodynamic waves—vibrating guitar string-like waves of magnetic force driven by the flow of plasma—transfer energy from the surface into corona. However, without more data, our understanding of phenomena like coronal heating and solar wind acceleration remain largely theoretical…but not for long.

A look behind the scenes of NASA’s advanced solar probe by Ian Graber-Stiehl, care of Popular Science is here.

Exocomets: Now you see them, now you don’t

Dr. Barry Welsh gives a talk on ExoComets at the SETI Institute

Present technology does not enable us to view images of these kilometer-sized infalling bodies, but the evaporation of gaseous products liberated from exocomets that occurs close to a star can potentially cause small disruptions in the ambient circumstellar disk plasma. For circumstellar disks that are viewed “edge-on” this evaporating material may be directly observed through transient (night-to-night and hour-to-hour) gas absorption features seen at rapidly changing velocities. Using high resolution spectrographs mounted to large aperture ground-based telescopes, we have discovered 15 young stars that harbor swarms of exocomets. In this lecture we briefly describe the physical attributes of comets in our own solar system and the instrumental observing techniques to detect the presence of evaporating exocomets present around stars with ages in the 10 – 100 Myr range. We note that this work has particular relevance to the dramatic fluctuations in the flux recorded towards “Tabby’s star” by the NASA Kepler Mission, that may be explained through the piling up of swarms of exocomets in front of the central star.

NuSTAR Finds New Clues to ’Chameleon‘

This image from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory shows spiral galaxy NGC 7331, center, in a three-color X-ray image. Red, green and blue colors are used for low, medium and high-energy X-rays, respectively. An unusual supernova called SN 2014C has been spotted in this galaxy, indicated by the box.
Credits: NASA/CXC/CIERA/R.Margutti et al

In the new study, NASA’s NuSTAR (Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array) satellite, with its unique ability to observe radiation in the hard X-ray energy range—the highest-energy X-rays—allowed scientists to watch how the temperature of electrons accelerated by the supernova shock changed over time. They used this measurement to estimate how fast the supernova expanded and how much material is in the external shell.

To create this shell, SN 2014C did something truly mysterious: it threw off a lot of material—mostly hydrogen, but also heavier elements—decades to centuries before exploding. In fact, the star ejected the equivalent of the mass of the sun. Normally, stars do not throw off material so late in their life.

“Expelling this material late in life is likely a way that stars give elements, which they produce during their lifetimes, back to their environment,” said Margutti, a member of Northwestern’s Center for Interdisciplinary Exploration and Research in Astrophysics.

The complete article thanks to Elizabeth Landau, Jet Propulsion Lab is here.

NuSTAR – Black Holes Hide in our Cosmic Backyard

Monster black holes sometimes lurk behind gas and dust, hiding from the gaze of most telescopes. But they give themselves away when material they feed on emits high-energy X-rays that NASA’s NuSTAR (Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array) mission can detect. That’s how NuSTAR recently identified two gas-enshrouded supermassive black holes, located at the centers of nearby galaxies.

“These black holes are relatively close to the Milky Way, but they have remained hidden from us until now,” said Ady Annuar, a graduate student at Durham University in the United Kingdom, who presented the results at the American Astronomical Society meeting in Grapevine, Texas. “They’re like monsters hiding under your bed.”

Both of these black holes are the central engines of what astronomers call “active galactic nuclei,” a class of extremely bright objects that includes quasars and blazars. Depending on how these galactic nuclei are oriented and what sort of material surrounds them, they appear very different when examined with telescopes.

The complete article here, thanks to http://nustar.ipac.caltech.edu

Two NASA satellites, ICON and GOLD, slated for 2017 launch will focus on edge of space

NASA’s ICON and GOLD missions will take complementary observations of Earth’s ionosphere and upper atmosphere. NASA image.

Scientists at UC Berkeley’s Space Sciences Laboratory are preparing for the 2017 launch of an Earth-orbiting satellite to discover how storms in the atmosphere affect storms in the ionosphere.

The ionosphere is the edge of space where the sun ionizes the air in Earth’s atmosphere to create constantly shifting streams and sheets of charged particles.

The NASA-funded satellite, called the Ionospheric Connection Explorer, or ICON, will complement observations from a sister satellite also scheduled for launch in 2017: the Global Observations of the Limb and Disk, or GOLD. GOLD is being led by the University of Central Florida, though UC Berkeley space scientist Scott England works on both missions.

The complete article by Robert Sanders of Berkeley News is here:

Recently at the annual AGU, American Geophysical Union, meetings in San Francisco, Dr. Thomas Immel Discusses the ICON mission and NRL, Naval Research Labs, MIGHTI instrument. See the video:

 

Super Massive Black Holes blast radiation and ultra-fast winds outward

nustar

The artwork is based on an image of the Pinwheel galaxy (Messier 101) taken by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope

Supermassive black holes at the cores of galaxies blast radiation and ultra-fast winds outward, as illustrated in this artist’s conception. New data from NASA’s Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) and the European Space Agency’s (ESA’s) XMM-Newton telescopes show that these winds, which contain gases of highly ionized atoms, blow in a nearly spherical fashion, emanating in every direction, as shown in the artwork. The findings rule out the possibility that the winds blow in narrow beams.

With the shape and extent of the winds known, the researchers were able to determine the winds’ strength. The high-speed winds are powerful enough to shut down star formation throughout a galaxy.

The artwork is based on an image of the Pinwheel galaxy (Messier 101) taken by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope.

NuSTAR’s mission operations center is at UC Berkeley, Space Sciences Lab, with the ASI providing its equatorial ground station located at Malindi, Kenya. The mission’s outreach program is based at Sonoma State University, Rohnert Park, California. NASA’s Explorer Program is managed by Goddard. JPL is managed by Caltech for NASA.

For more information, visit http://www.nasa.gov/nustar and http://www.nustar.caltech.edu/.