NuSTAR Finds Cosmic Clumpy Doughnut Around Black Hole


The most massive black holes in the universe are often encircled by thick, doughnut-shaped disks of gas and dust. This deep-space doughnut material ultimately feeds and nourishes the growing black holes tucked inside.

Until recently, telescopes weren’t able to penetrate some of these doughnuts, also known as tori.

“Originally, we thought that some black holes were hidden behind walls or screens of material that could not be seen through,” said Andrea Marinucci of the Roma Tre University in Italy, lead author of a new Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society study describing results from NASA’s Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array, or NuSTAR, and the European Space Agency’s XMM-Newton space observatory.

The complete story, courtesy of Caltech is here.

El Niño has effects all the way to the edge of the atmosphere


The warm El Niño conditions affecting weather around the Pacific Ocean are also affecting conditions in space, according to UC Berkeley scientists.

El Niño conditions and the ionosphere

El Niño conditions thicken the ionosphere. Karin Hauck graphic.

El Niño is commonly observed as a global change in rainfall due to changes in surface water temperatures in the southern Pacific Ocean. However, UC Berkeley scientists reported today at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco that the processes that lead to increased precipitation are also driving unexpected changes in the ionosphere, the uppermost level of the atmosphere.

“We expected that we would see some changes in the ionosphere when we started this study, but we were shocked at how strong the effect has turned out to be,” said Thomas Immel, a senior fellow at UC Berkeley’s Space Sciences Laboratory. “The connection between the lower and upper atmosphere has been getting more attention lately, largely because we keep discovering new ways in which the lower atmosphere affects the conditions higher up.”

The results, presented by Immel and based on calculations by Astrid Maute of the High Altitude Observatory in Boulder, Colorado, came from a study being conducted in advance of a new NASA mission, the Ionospheric Connection Explorer (ICON), which is being led by UC Berkeley and will study this and similar effects. ICON is currently scheduled for launch in the summer of 2017.

The researchers observed large enhancements in ionospheric density after dusk, a time when the ionosphere generally relaxes and is significantly thinner. This means that the ionosphere is disproportionately thick, even after sunset.

El Niño

According to Immel’s UC Berkeley colleague Katelynn Greer, “El Niño is the term used to describe abnormally high temperatures in the Pacific Ocean, which results in temporary changes in global weather patterns. During El Niño, changes in wind and ocean current patterns result in warm waters stretching across the whole Pacific Ocean. This causes more water to vaporize into the atmosphere, which in turn will absorb more solar energy into the atmosphere. This extra heating causes changes in wind patterns, which causes atmosphere to react and change all the way from the ground to the edge of space around Earth.”

Although support for this effect is quite convincing, she said, the evidence currently consists exclusively of theoretical models. This is because there is no way to observe these kinds of changes in the ionosphere at the current time. The ICON satellite mission will directly observe and measure these ionospheric shifts.

“ICON will help us to understand what’s happening in our own atmosphere, during El Niño and during normal conditions,” said Immel, who is principal investigator for the mission. “This is very exciting for us, since ICON will observe El Niño in the ionosphere for the first time ever.”

Article Courtesy of Robert Sanders, and for more information and images, link to,

ICON research summary.

ICON mission website

MAVEN Mission to Mars has been Extended


Photo Courtesy of the Alumni Association University of Colorado Boulder

MAVEN update from Chief Investigator Bruce Jakosky:

The MAVEN team announced its first major scientific results on Nov. 5 at a press conference at NASA Headquarters that was televised live on NASA TV. At the same time, we published five papers in the prestigious scientific journal Science, and 44 in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

Our results focused on the structure of the upper atmosphere, its interactions with the Sun and the solar wind and the escape of atmospheric gases into space – literally the stripping of the Martian atmosphere by the solar wind. The escape rate is relatively low today, approximately 100 grams per second, or about 0.25 pounds per second. Our conclusion is that stripping of the

atmosphere by the solar wind likely was a major driver of the climate change that occurred on ancient Mars. During this period, Mars transitioned from a warmer, wetter environment to the cold, dry, desert-like planet we see today.

You might be wondering why The Earth’s atmosphere hasn’t suffered a similar fate.

Our planet is protected by a strong magnetic field, which keeps the solar wind from hitting Earth’s atmosphere directly. Mars did have a magnetic field early in its history, but not today. Thus, Earth’s atmosphere has been protected from stripping by the solar wind, while Mars’ atmosphere has not.

MAVEN completed its one-Earth-year primary science mission on Nov. 15. NASA has approved us for an extended mission, allowing for the continued collection and analysis of data. During the extended mission, we’ll observe the behavior of the solar wind during other seasons on Mars and measure its affect on the upper atmosphere. Solar activity follows an 11-year cycle and we are in that part of the cycle during which it gradually declines, affording us the opportunity to measure and study atmospheric erosion under decreasing solar stress.

The spacecraft and all of the instruments continue to operate well. Provided nothing goes wrong, we have enough fuel to support a ten-year science mission!

The MAVEN science team is working incredibly hard on data analysis, and has been very productive so far. Our initial results are really exciting, and we are looking forward to the continuing mission!


Bruce M. Jakosky

GRIPS Balloon Team at McMurdo Station Antartica


#GRIPSballoon during our successful compatibility test!! We integrated nicely with NASA’s CSBF telemetry systems :)

The GRIPS Balloon Project, pictured above has been shipped down to McMurdo Station Antartica. The GRIPS balloon team has now been in McMurdo for a couple of weeks and is preparing the gondola with the various scientific instruments and detectors for launch.
You can follow their progress as they prepare for launch, at the started of December, via our twitter feed @GRIPSBalloon or at, where the tweets are being echoed.
Best wishes from all of us on the ice!

MAVEN Reveals Speed of Solar Wind Stripping Martian Atmosphere

This image is an artist’s rendering of a solar storm hitting Mars and stripping ions from the planet's upper atmosphere. Credits: NASA/GSFC

This image is an artist’s rendering of a solar storm hitting Mars and stripping ions from the planet’s upper atmosphere. Credits: NASA/GSFC

Did you miss today’s news about what happened to Mars’ atmosphere? Here’s the recap video:

NASA’s MAVEN Mission to Mars has identified the process that appears to have played a key role in the transition of the Martian climate from an early, warm and wet environment that might have supported surface life to the cold, arid planet Mars is today. The Martian atmosphere was stripped by solar wind. Details

Mars is a cold and barren desert today, but scientists think that in the ancient past it was warm and wet. The loss of the early Martian atmosphere may have led to this dramatic change, and one of the prime suspects is the solar wind.

NASA to announce new MAVEN results

Photo courtesy of NASA's MAVEN Mission to Mars

Photo courtesy of NASA’s MAVEN Mission to Mars

NASA will provide details of key science findings from the agency’s ongoing exploration of #Mars during a news briefing at 2 p.m. EST on Thursday, Nov. 5 in the James Webb Auditorium at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

The event will be broadcast live on NASA Television and the agency’s website:

The news conference participants will be:
— Michael Meyer, lead scientist for the Mars Exploration Program at NASA Headquarters
— Bruce Jakosky, #MAVEN principal investigator at the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP) at the University of Colorado Boulder
— Jasper Halekas, MAVEN Solar Wind Ion Analyzer instrument lead at the University of Iowa
— Yaxue Dong, MAVEN science team member at LASP
— Dave Brain, MAVEN co-investigator at LASP

A brief question-and-answer session will take place during the event with media on site and by phone. Members of the public also can ask questions during the briefing on social media using #askNASA.

Lockheed Martin
NASA Goddard
NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory
UC Berkeley