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:

2016 Novato Space Festival


One of the best space memorabilia museums in the Bay Area will have its annual Space Festival on Saturday August 6th, from 10 AM to 4 PM. Come see both US and Russian memorabilia, from tools used in space, to garments worn by astronauts. There is also a Lunar Module and Lunar Rover on display. Five former astronauts will be on hand to give talks and meet and greet.

The best part of the 2016 Space Festival is that the event is free, that’s right no admission. Come join the fun and meet the astronauts who have flown in  space. More information can also be found here:


NASA Recruits Adventurous Kids For Mission To Mars


BERKELEY (KPIX) – UC Berkeley space sciences professor Davin Larson is thinking about colonizing Mars. “I think it easily could happen — and will happen — in a thousand-year time scale,” Larson said.

NASA agrees with Larson and has published recruiting posters that encourage people to think about taking the ( at minimum) 30-million-mile trip to the Red Planet. NASA isn’t only looking for astrophysicists, geologists and engineers. The space agency is targeting average folks.


“If man kind eventually wants to colonize Mars, you need all types of people. You don’t just need scientists. You need teachers, farmers, the garbage men — people who do everyday things on earth,” Larson said.

Even by NASA’s own predictions getting a human to Mars is still decades away, perhaps thirty years or so. Given that, most of us who are already working are too old. The ideal recruit is in second grade and that’s who NASA is aiming its promotion at.

“Kids now who don’t really know what they want to do, you’ve got to inspire them. I think these posters are good at inspiring,” Larson said.

When those Mars jobs are posted, we’ll let you know.

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.

MAVEN Deep Dip #5 Has Begun

Photo Courtesy of NASA's MAVEN Mission to Mars

Photo Courtesy of NASA’s MAVEN Mission to Mars

#MAVEN began its fifth “deep dip” campaign of the mission this week. Three maneuvers were successfully carried out to lower the periapsis (or lowest) altitude of the spacecraft by approximately 29 km, placing MAVEN into the targeted density corridor, where the average density of Mars’ atmosphere is 3.0 kg/km³.

The fifth deep dip for MAVEN is uniquely located over the solar terminator (the boundary between dayside and nightside), close to the ecliptic plane, and at a #Martian latitude of 35ºN.

The three maneuvers—carried out on June 7 & 8—required a total ∆V of 4.6 m/s and resulted in a periapsis altitude of ~119 km (74 miles).

The purpose of the MAVEN deep dip campaigns is to sample a full range of altitudes within the upper atmosphere of Mars, providing complete coverage. At 119 km, MAVEN reaches the Martian homopause, which is the lower, well-mixed region of Mars’ upper atmosphere, where the density is about thirty times greater than at periapsis during a typical science orbit.

NASA Goddard
NASA – National Aeronautics and Space Administration
Lockheed Martin
NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory