Parker Solar Probe – Cool Power

The solar panels are shown here on this artist rendering of Parker Solar Probe; they are the black squares with gray rectangles on the center of the spacecraft. Credit: NASA/JHUAPL

As NASA’s Parker Solar Probe spacecraft begins its first historic encounter with the sun’s corona in late 2018—flying closer to our star than any other mission in history—a revolutionary cooling system will keep its solar arrays at peak performance, even in extremely hostile conditions.

Every instrument and system on board Parker Solar Probe (with the exception of four antennas and a special particle detector) will be hidden from the sun behind a breakthrough thermal protection system (TPS)—an eight-foot diameter shield that the spacecraft uses to defend itself against the intense heat and energy of our star.

Every system will be protected, that is, except for the two solar arrays that power the spacecraft. When the spacecraft is closest to the sun, the solar arrays will be receiving 25 times the solar energy they would while orbiting Earth, and the temperature on the TPS will reach more than 2,500°F (1,370°C). The cooling system will keep the arrays at a nominal temperature of 320°F (160°C) or below.

The complete article is found here.

1,000 Days in Orbit: MAVEN’s Top 10 Discoveries at Mars

This artist concept shows the MAVEN spacecraft and the limb of Mars.
Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

“MAVEN has made tremendous discoveries about the Mars upper atmosphere and how it interacts with the sun and the solar wind,” said Bruce Jakosky, MAVEN principal investigator from the University of Colorado, Boulder. “These are allowing us to understand not just the behavior of the atmosphere today, but how the atmosphere has changed through time.”

During its 1,000 days in orbit, MAVEN has made a multitude of exciting discoveries. Here is a countdown of the top 10 discoveries from the mission:

10. Imaging of the distribution of gaseous nitric oxide and ozone in the atmosphere shows complex behavior that was not expected, indicating that there are dynamical processes of exchange of gas between the lower and upper atmosphere that are not understood at present.

9. Some particles from the solar wind are able to penetrate unexpectedly deep into the upper atmosphere, rather than being diverted around the planet by the Martian ionosphere; this penetration is allowed by chemical reactions in the ionosphere that turn the charged particles of the solar wind into neutral atoms that are then able to penetrate deeply.

See the remaining eight discoveries here:

NuSTAR’s First Five Years in Space

This artist’s concept shows NASA’s Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) spacecraft on orbit. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Five years ago, on June 13, 2012, Caltech’s Fiona Harrison, principal investigator of NASA’s NuSTAR mission, watched with her team as their black-hole-spying spacecraft was launched into space aboard a rocket strapped to the belly of an aircraft. The launch occurred over the Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands. Many members of the team anxiously followed the launch from the mission’s operations center at the University of California, Berkeley, anxious to see what NuSTAR would find.

Now, Harrison shares her take on five of the mission’s many iconic images and artist—ranging from our flaring sun to distant, buried black holes. NuSTAR is the first telescope capable of focusing high-energy X-rays—and it has taken the most detailed images of the sky in this energy regime to date.

Read the complete article and see the images.

Parker Solar Probe – Follow Up

The Parker Solar Probe, our first mission to touch the sun, was renamed on May 31st in honor of astrophysicist Eugene Parker. Here is a short video showing the mission and its objectives.

NASA Renames Solar Probe Mission to Honor Pioneering Physicist Eugene Parker

Illustration of the Parker Solar Probe spacecraft approaching the sun. Credit: NASA/JHUAPL

CHICAGO – NASA has renamed the Solar Probe Plus spacecraft – humanity’s first mission to a star, which will launch in 2018 – as the Parker Solar Probe in honor of astrophysicist Eugene Parker. The announcement was made at a ceremony at the University of Chicago, where Parker serves as the S. Chandrasekhar Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus, Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics.

In 1958, Parker—then a young professor at the university’s Enrico Fermi Institute—published an article in the Astrophysical Journal called “Dynamics of the interplanetary gas and magnetic fields.” Parker believed there was highly energized matter and radiation constantly escaping the sun, and that it affected the planets and space throughout our solar system.

This phenomenon, now known as the solar wind, has been proven to exist repeatedly through direct observation. Parker’s work forms the basis for much of our understanding about how stars interact with the worlds that orbit them.

Read the complete news release.

Space Weather Model Simulates Solar Storms From Nowhere

Our ever-changing sun continuously shoots solar material into space. The grandest such events are massive clouds that erupt from the sun, called coronal mass ejections, or CMEs. These solar storms often come first with some kind of warning — the bright flash of a flare, a burst of heat or a flurry of solar energetic particles. But another kind of storm has puzzled scientists for its lack of typical warning signs: They seem to come from nowhere, and scientists call them stealth CMEs.

Now, an international team of scientists, led by the Space Sciences Laboratory at University of California, Berkeley, and funded in part by NASA, has developed a model that simulates the evolution of these stealthy solar storms. The scientists relied upon NASA missions STEREO and SOHO for this work, fine-tuning their model until the simulations matched the space-based observations. Their work shows how a slow, quiet process can unexpectedly create a twisted mass of magnetic fields on the sun, which then pinches off and speeds out into space — all without any advance warning.

The complete article is found here.

NASA’s Van Allen Probes Spot Man-Made Barrier Shrouding Earth

Humans have long been shaping Earth’s landscape, but now scientists know we can shape our near-space environment as well. A certain type of communications — very low frequency, or VLF, radio communications — have been found to interact with particles in space, affecting how and where they move. At times, these interactions can create a barrier around Earth against natural high energy particle radiation in space. These results, part of a comprehensive paper on human-induced space weather, were recently published in Space Science Reviews.

Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/Genna Duberstein, Download in HD

“A number of experiments and observations have figured out that, under the right conditions, radio communications signals in the VLF frequency range can in fact affect the properties of the high-energy radiation environment around the Earth,” said Phil Erickson, assistant director at the MIT Haystack Observatory, Westford, Massachusetts.

VLF signals are transmitted from ground stations at huge powers to communicate with submarines deep in the ocean. While these waves are intended for communications below the surface, they also extend out beyond our atmosphere, shrouding Earth in a VLF bubble. This bubble is even seen by spacecraft high above Earth’s surface, such as NASA’s Van Allen Probes, which study electrons and ions in the near-Earth environment.

The probes have noticed an interesting coincidence — the outward extent of the VLF bubble corresponds almost exactly to the inner edge of the Van Allen radiation belts, a layer of charged particles held in place by Earth’s magnetic fields. Dan Baker, director of the University of Colorado’s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics in Boulder, coined this lower limit the “impenetrable barrier” and speculates that if there were no human VLF transmissions, the boundary would likely stretch closer to Earth. Indeed, comparisons of the modern extent of the radiation belts from Van Allen Probe data show the inner boundary to be much farther away than its recorded position in satellite data from the 1960s, when VLF transmissions were more limited.

With further study, VLF transmissions may serve as a way to remove excess radiation from the near-Earth environment. Plans are already underway to test VLF transmissions in the upper atmosphere to see if they could remove excess charged particles — which can appear during periods of intense space weather, such as when the sun erupts with giant clouds of particles and energy.

Cosmic Origins Spectrograph Launches Aboard STS-125 Atlantis

Photo Courtesy of Chris Scholz

May 11th, 2009 Shuttle STS-125 Atlantis roared into space from the Kennedy Space Center for the final Hubble Servicing Mission. On board were a myriad of instruments to keep the Hubble Space Telescope working well into the future.

Space Shuttle Atlantis carried two new instruments to the Hubble Space Telescope, the Cosmic Origins Spectrograph and the Wide Field Camera 3. The mission also replaced a Fine Guidance Sensor, six gyroscopes, and two battery unit modules to allow the telescope to continue to function at least through 2014.[3][7] The crew also installed new thermal blanket insulating panels to provide improved thermal protection, and a soft-capture mechanism that would aid in the safe de-orbiting of the telescope by an unmanned spacecraft at the end of its operational lifespan.[NASA 5][8] The mission also carried an IMAX camera with which the crew documented the progress of the mission for the Hubble IMAX movie.[NASA 6]

The mission was intended to extend the life of Hubble at least another five years and today we celebrate the 8 year anniversary. All instruments are working well and continue to return great science as well as the fantastic pictures we have come to love.

NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)