Super Pressure Balloon Flight Enables Pioneering Infrasound Study

It’s all about that bass and lots of it. Deep, deep base—sound at frequencies too low for the human ear to pick-up.

It’s called infrasound, low-frequency soundwaves formed by events as diverse as ocean waves crashing together, volcanic eruptions and earthquakes to rocket launches. These soundwaves, capable of traveling around the world multiple times, have never been recorded from the stratosphere for more than a day and a half and never over the ocean. That is, not until this past year.

NASA’s 2016 Super Pressure Balloon flight from Wanaka, New Zealand, carried the Compton Spectrometer and Imager (COSI) payload, a gamma ray telescope. Tucked behind one of COSI’s solar panels was the Carolina Infrasound instrument, a three-kilogram payload resembling a small styrofoam ice chest on the outside but with a trio of InfraBSU infrasound microphones on the inside. A Boise State University team led by Associate Professor Jeff Johnson originally designed the microphones to record volcanic explosions, but the sensors have found an unexpected new use in the stratosphere.

The Compton Spectrometer and Imager (COSI) payload just prior to launch from Wanaka, New Zealand, on a NASA super pressure balloon in May 2016. The Carolina Infrasound payload hitched a ride on the mission on a pioneering study to measure infrasound from the stratosphere. Credits: NASA/Bill Rodman

The complete story is found here:

Scientists say thinning atmosphere drove the drying and cooling of Mars

Artist’s concept of a solar storm hitting Mars and stripping ions from the upper atmosphere. Credit: NASA/GSFC

Data collected by NASA’s MAVEN spacecraft in its first two years at Mars confirm suspicions that the solar wind is blasting away the planet’s atmosphere and helped transform the world from a warmer, wetter and potentially habitable world into the barren landscape seen today, scientists said.

The robotic orbiter has been looping around Mars since September 2014, skimming just above the Martian atmosphere at the low point of its elongated orbit and searching for particles streaming away from the planet.

As Mars is bombarded by the solar wind, a stream of solar particles that flow out through the solar system at a million miles per hour, the red planet’s atmosphere is buffeted and eroded, chipping away bit by bit, according to Bruce Jakosky, MAVEN’s principal investigator at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

Researchers examining data from MAVEN’s instruments have identified multiple processes by which Mars loses parts of its atmosphere.

Discover the processes and read the complete article here:

Relativistic Electrons Uncovered with NASA’s Van Allen Probes

Earth’s radiation belts, two doughnut-shaped regions of charged particles encircling our planet, were discovered more than 50 years ago, but their behavior is still not completely understood. Now, new observations from NASA’s Van Allen Probes mission show that the fastest, most energetic electrons in the inner radiation belt are not present as much of the time as previously thought. The results are presented in a paper in the Journal of Geophysical Research and show that there typically isn’t as much radiation in the inner belt as previously assumed — good news for spacecraft flying in the region.

Past space missions have not been able to distinguish electrons from high-energy protons in the inner radiation belt. But by using a special instrument, the Magnetic Electron and Ion Spectrometer — MagEIS — on the Van Allen Probes, the scientists could look at the particles separately for the first time. What they found was surprising —there are usually none of these super-fast electrons, known as relativistic electrons, in the inner belt, contrary to what scientists expected.

“We’ve known for a long time that there are these really energetic protons in there, which can contaminate the measurements, but we’ve never had a good way to remove them from the measurements until now,” said Seth Claudepierre, lead author and Van Allen Probes scientist at the Aerospace Corporation in El Segundo, California.

The complete article is found here:

NuSTAR Helps Find Universe’s Brightest Pulsars

NGC 5907 ULX is the brightest pulsar ever observed. This image comprises X-ray emission data (blue/white) from ESA’s XMM-Newton space telescope and NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory, and optical data from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (galaxy and foreground stars). The inset shows the X-ray pulsation of the spinning neutron star.Credit: ESA/XMM-Newton; NASA/Chandra and SDSS

There’s a new record holder for brightest pulsar ever found — and astronomers are still trying to figure out how it can shine so brightly. It’s now part of a small group of mysterious bright pulsars that are challenging astronomers to rethink how pulsars accumulate, or accrete, material.

A pulsar is a spinning, magnetized neutron star that sweeps regular pulses of radiation in two symmetrical beams across the cosmos. If aligned well enough with Earth, these beams act like a lighthouse beacon — appearing to flash on and off as the pulsar rotates. Pulsars were previously massive stars that exploded in powerful supernovae, leaving behind these small, dense stellar corpses.

The brightest pulsar, as reported in the journal Science, is called NGC 5907 ULX. In one second, it emits the same amount of energy as our sun does in three-and-a-half years. The European Space Agency’s XMM-Newton satellite found the pulsar and, independently, NASA’s NuSTAR (Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array) mission also detected the signal. This pulsar is 50 million light years away, which means its light dates back to a time before humans roamed Earth. It is also the farthest known neutron star.

The complete article is here:

NASA’s MAVEN spacecraft avoids potential collision with Martian moon

NASA’s MAVEN spacecraft maneuvered Feb. 28 to avoid a “high probability” of colliding with the moon Phobos March 6. Credit: NASA – See more at: http://spacenews.com/nasa-spacecraft-avoids-potential-collision-with-martian-moon

NASA’s MAVEN spacecraft in orbit around Mars maneuvered out of the path of Phobos earlier this week after navigators predicted the spacecraft could run into the Martian moon in the near future, highlighting the challenge of tracking an international fleet of Mars probes set to double in size by 2021.

The MAVEN orbiter, in its third year studying the Martian atmosphere, performed a minor rocket burn Feb. 28 to change its speed by less than 1 mph (0.4 meters per second), NASA said, tweaking its trajectory enough to dodge a projected collision with Phobos a week later.

On its new path, MAVEN will miss the irregularly-shaped moon by around two-and-a-half minutes. The rocket burn was MAVEN’s first collision avoidance maneuver to move out of the way of Phobos, NASA said.

Phobos is located around 3,700 miles (6,000 kilometers) above Mars, higher than the altitude of NASA’s other operational orbiters — Mars Odyssey and the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. But MAVEN is positioned in an elliptical orbit, carrying it as high as 3,800 miles (about 6,100 kilometers) on each lap around the planet before skimming the Martian atmosphere at the orbit’s lowest point.

See the complete article here.

10 Years Strong with NASA’s THEMIS Mission

Our THEMIS mission just marked its 10th anniversary in space, discovering how mass and energy move through the near-Earth environment to determine how auroras form. The mission is still making new discoveries.

The magical night lights of the aurora are known to be caused by a space weather phenomenon known as a substorm. But prior to THEMIS, no one understood what triggered these substorms. Thanks to the mission, scientists now understand how the constant outpouring of solar material, called the solar wind, tangles Earth’s magnetic field, initiating the substorms that cause auroras. Scientists also understand the mysteries of why there are different type of auroras – like diffuse and pulsating auroras – much better now.

Learn More Here.

THEMIS by the numbers (infographic)• 5 – Number of spacecraft (two now part of ARTEMIS mission)• 2 – Number of orbits (one around Earth, one near the moon)• 25 – Number of scientific instruments aboard• 20 – Number of ground-based observatories working with THEMIS• 37 watts – Average amount of power each spacecraft needs• 282 pounds – Weight of each spacecraft• 365 GB Data – Average amount collected annually and made publicly available
Credits: NASA

GRIPS Balloon Recovered in Antarctica

The recovery of the GRIPS Balloon Gondola was staged from Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station and took place over a series of day trips out to the gondola landing site. We were able to recover all the high priority science and electronic components, although bad weather and a fuel crisis at the Pole prevented us from being able to recover the main gondola frame.

All of the recovered equipment is currently on its way back to the United States on the yearly resupply vessel from McMurdo Station. Hopefully we’ll see it all back in Berkeley in a couple of months!

A video of the GRIPS Balloon Launch, Flight and Recovery can be viewed,

The Complete NASA Article is here.

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?