Engineer Jack Marshall held his breath. The “heart” of the James Webb Space Telescope hung from a cable 30 feet in the air as it was lowered slowly into the massive thermal vacuum chamber at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.
This “heart” of Webb is called the ISIM or Integrated Science Instrument Module, which along with its thermal vacuum test frame and supporting hardware, weighs about as much as an elephant. Within this test frame, ISIM sits inside a big-mirrored cube of cryo-panels and blankets. This process can be seen in a video by a Goddard videographer.
All the superlatives associated with Orion’s first mission this year – farthest a spacecraft for humans has gone in 40 years, largest heat shield, safest vehicle ever built – can be dazzling, no doubt. But the reason engineers are chomping at the bit for Orion’s first mission is the promise of crucial flight test data that can be applied to the design for future missions. Orion only has two flight test opportunities before astronauts climb aboard for the first crewed mission in 2021 – so gleaning the maximum information possible from Exploration Flight Test (EFT)-1 in December (and later, Exploration Mission-1 in 2017) is of the highest priority.
Water is thought to be embedded in the moon’s rocks or, if cold enough, “stuck” on their surfaces. It’s predominantly found at the poles. But scientists probably won’t find it intact on the sunlit side.
New research at the Georgia Institute of Technology indicates that ultraviolet photons emitted by the sun likely cause H2O molecules to either quickly desorb or break apart. The fragments of water may remain on the lunar surface, but the presence of useful amounts of water on the sunward side is not likely.
Hubble to Look Beyond Pluto for New Mission Target
After careful consideration and analysis, the Hubble Space Telescope Time Allocation Committee has recommended using Hubble to search for an object the Pluto-bound NASA New Horizons mission could visit after its flyby of Pluto in July 2015.
The planned search will involve targeting a small area of sky in search of a Kuiper Belt object (KBO) for the outbound spacecraft to visit. The Kuiper Belt is a vast debris field of icy bodies left over from the solar system’s formation 4.6 billion years ago. A KBO has never been seen up close because the belt is so far from the sun, stretching out to a distance of five billion miles into a never-before-visited frontier of the solar system.
Airbus Group and French engineering company Safran have agreed to merge their rocket launcher businesses into a new joint venture aimed at helping the European space sector stay globally competitive.
The two companies said in a statement today that they have signed a memorandum of understanding for the plan, for which financial figures were not disclosed, and that they hope the venture can start operating by the end of this year. Shares in the companies rose after the news.
Pluto’s Moon May Have Once Had an Underground Ocean
If the icy surface of Pluto’s giant moon Charon is cracked, analysis of the fractures could reveal if its interior was warm, perhaps warm enough to have maintained a subterranean ocean of liquid water, according to a new NASA-funded study.
Pluto is an extremely distant world, orbiting the sun more than 29 times farther than Earth. With a surface temperature estimated to be about -380 F (around-229 C), the environment at Pluto is far too cold to allow liquid water on its surface. Pluto’s moons are in the same frigid environment.
NASA scientists have created a new recipe that captures key flavors of the brownish-orange atmosphere around Saturn’s largest moon, Titan.
The recipe is used for lab experiments designed to simulate Titan’s chemistry. With this approach, the team was able to classify a previously unidentified material discovered by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft in the moon’s smoggy haze.
NASA’s first spacecraft dedicated to measuring carbon dioxide levels in Earth’s atmosphere is in final preparations for a July 1 launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California.
The Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2) mission will provide a more complete, global picture of the human and natural sources of carbon dioxide, as well as their “sinks,” the natural ocean and land processes by which carbon dioxide is pulled out of Earth’s atmosphere and stored. Carbon dioxide, a critical component of Earth’s carbon cycle, is the leading human-produced greenhouse gas driving changes in Earth’s climate.
Earth, Moon are Around 60 M Years Older than Thought
Work presented at the European Association of Geochemistry’s Goldschmidt Geochemistry Conference in Sacramento, California shows that the timing of the giant impact between Earth’s ancestor and a planet-sized body occurred around 40 million years after the start of solar system formation. This means that the final stage of Earth’s formation is around 60 million years older than previously thought.
Climate Change May Explain Lack of Alien Encounters
Enrico Fermi, when asked about intelligent life on other planets, famously replied, “Where are they?” Any civilization advanced enough to undertake interstellar travel would, he argued, in a brief period of cosmic time, populate its entire galaxy. Yet, we haven’t made any contact with such life. This has become the famous “Fermi Paradox.”
So why don’t we see advanced civilizations swarming across the universe? One problem may be climate change. It is not that advanced civilizations always destroy themselves by over-heating their biospheres (although that is a possibility). Instead, because stars become brighter as they age, most planets with an initially life-friendly climate will become uninhabitably hot long before intelligent life emerges.
The “man in the moon” appeared when meteoroids struck the Earth-facing side of the moon creating large flat seas of basalt that we see as dark areas called maria. But no “face” exists on far side of the moon and now, Penn State Univ. astrophysicists think they know why.
"I remember the first time I saw a globe of the moon as a boy, being struck by how different the far side looks," says Jason Wright, assistant professor of astrophysics. "It was all mountains and craters. Where were the maria? It turns out it’s been a mystery since the fifties."
A group of scientists believe that a previously unexplained isotopic ratio from deep within the Earth may be a signal from material from the time before the Earth collided with another planet-sized body, leading to the creation of the moon. This may represent the echoes of the ancient Earth, which existed prior to the proposed collision 4.5 billion years ago. This work is being presented this week at the Goldschmidt conference, cosponsored by the European Association of Geochemistry.
The currently favored theory says that the moon was formed 4.5 billion years ago, when the Earth collided with a Mars-sized mass, which has been given the name “Theia.” According to this theory, the heat generated by the collision would have caused the whole planet to melt, before some of the debris cooled and spun off to create the moon. Now however, a group of scientists from Harvard Univ. believe that they have identified a sign that only part of the Earth melted, and that an ancient part still exists within the Earth’s mantle.
Collecting samples from the volcanic lakes of northern Chile, scientists have discovered microscopic organisms preserved in long, narrow blades of gypsum salt. The discovery, according to researchers, suggests a new way to examine Mars for evidence of life.
It might not just be fossils encased in the Martian salts, either: the gypsum salts from Chile contained tiny bubbles, or “inclusions,” filled with water and air. If these imperfections exist in salt crystals found on the Red Planet, they could harbor “a living, yet isolated and likely dormant, microbiological community on Mars today,” researchers write in a new study that will be published in an upcoming issue of the journal Geology.