Tag Archives: NASA’s

Here’s what the polar vortex looks like from NASA’s heat-mapping satellite

Here’s what the polar vortex looks like from NASA’s heat-mapping satelliteYou don't have to live in the U.S. Midwest to have heard about the polar vortex, but if you do you've no doubt felt its effects. Frigid temperatures are swallowing up many states thanks to a mass of arctic air making its way much farther south than it normally does, and NASA caught a glimpse of it using one of its trusty satellites.

The Aqua satellite, launched way back in 2002, is equipped with an instrument called the Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS for short) and it's capable of producing detailed heat maps over a huge geographical area. NASA used this tool to monitor the change in temperature created by the polar vortex.

The AIRS instrument detects infrared and microwave energy which can then be overlaid on a map to reveal information about weather patterns and overall climate. It's an incredibly powerful tool that has aided the weather forecasting community in more accurately predicting changes over both the short and long term. In this case it gives us a great visual of what just happened and why.

NASA explains what we're seeing here:

> The lowest temperatures are shown in purple and blue and range from -40 degrees Fahrenheit (also -40 degrees Celsius) to -10 degrees Fahrenheit (-23 degrees Celsius). As the data series progresses, you can see how the coldest purple areas of the air mass scoop down into the U.S.

The temperatures, which brought wind chills to -50 degrees Fahrenheit and even lower in some areas, have caused massive problems for many midwestern states. Schools and businesses have closed for multiple days and the cold snap has also claimed several lives.

The region is expected to gradually warm back up over the next few days and return to temperatures more akin to what we'd expect for late January or early February.

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NASA’s Cassini spacecraft spotted fresh rainfall on Saturn’s moon Titan

NASA’s Cassini spacecraft spotted fresh rainfall on Saturn’s moon TitanNASA's Cassini orbiter has been dead for well over a year now, but its incredible discoveries continue to trickle in as researchers pore over data and images it collected while it was active.

Consequently, studies focused on the orbiter's findings continue to crop up on a regular basis, such as a recent study from University of Idaho in Moscow doctoral student Rajani Dhingra, who, along with her colleagues, found evidence of rainfall on the north pole of Saturn's largest moon, Titan, in an image taken on June 7th, 2016. This indicates that summer had arrived on the moon's northern hemisphere later than climate models had predicted.

"The whole Titan community has been looking forward to seeing clouds and rains on Titan's north pole, indicating the start of the northern summer, but despite what the climate models had predicted, we weren't even seeing any clouds," said Dhingra, lead author of the study. "People called it the curious case of missing clouds."

Dhingra and her colleagues spotted a reflective feature near the north pole of Titan in the aforementioned image — a feature which covered approximately 46,332 square miles — which had never appeared before, and didn't appear when Cassini passed by again. Dhingra concluded that the reflective nature of the feature was due to sunlight reflecting off of a wet surface, which she believes was the result of a methane rainfall event.

This is the first time summer rainfall has ever been observed on Titan. While Earth experiences four seasons over the course of a year, a single season on Titan lasts seven Earth years. When Cassini reached Titan, clouds and rainfall were observed in the southern hemisphere, signaling a southern summer. Climate models predicted the rain would move to the northern hemisphere "leading up to the northern summer solstice in 2017," but the clouds still hadn't appeared by 2016. The images above should help reseachers understand why this was the case.

We want our model predictions to match our observations. This rainfall detection proves Cassini's climate follows the theoretical climate models we know of," Dhingra said. "Summer is happening. It was delayed, but it's happening. We will have to figure out what caused the delay, though."

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Here’s what NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft sees as it orbits Bennu asteroid

Here’s what NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft sees as it orbits Bennu asteroidIt's only been about a week since NASA successfully inserted its OSIRIS-REx asteroid probe into orbit around the large space rock known as Bennu, after initially arriving in early December. The diamond-shaped object will quickly become one of the most closely-studied asteroids ever, but for now NASA wants to learn as much about Bennu's surface as possible, and that means observing it from every angle.

In a new video animation that has been stitched together from numerous still shots we get one of our best looks yet at the asteroid. As the probe circles the rock, its powerful lens has captured Bennu from just about every angle, making for a neat little movie.

"During the month of December, the spacecraft performed a preliminary survey of Bennu, conducting three flyovers of the asteroid's north pole and one each of its equator and south pole," NASA's OSIRIS-REx team explains. "The data gathered during these flybys allowed the mission team to more precisely estimate Bennu's mass so that the spacecraft could go into orbit around the asteroid."


OSIRIS-REx has a fairly long road ahead of it before NASA declares the mission a complete success. The spacecraft will remain in orbit around Bennu for at least the next year or so, closely studying it and delivering even more images of its messy surface. During that time, NASA will decide on a spot from which to collect a material sample, eventually touching down on Bennu and retrieving some of its surface material before flying back to Earth.

OSIRIS-REx is expected to arrive back on Earth sometime in 2023, at which point eager scientists will have an opportunity to study the sample in great detail. If everything goes according to plan, the mission should teach scientists a great deal about asteroid formation and perhaps even give us a window into the earliest days of our Solar System.

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NASA’s asteroid probe just entered orbit around Bennu in a record-breaking maneuver

NASA’s asteroid probe just entered orbit around Bennu in a record-breaking maneuverNASA's OSIRIS-REx asteroid probe arrived at its target, a large space rock known as Bennu, in early December. The spacecraft's mission will take several years to complete, but it hit a major milestone to close out 2018 by entering orbit around Bennu. It might not sound like much, but it's actually a major accomplishment for NASA, and it's set a couple of new records in the process.

As AP reports, the probe's successful maneuver to enter orbit around Bennu makes it the first spacecraft to orbit a celestial object so small. At only around 1,600 feet in diameter, it's the smallest object ever to be successfully orbited, and OSIRIS-REx's close orbital distance of just over a mile is also record-breaking.

The OSIRIS-REx mission was originally launched way back in late 2016. It took a couple of years for the probe to even make it to its asteroid target, but now that it's there it can begin studying Bennu in much greater detail than has ever been possible before.

We got our first clear look at the rock's surface last month. The images delivered by the probe reveal a messy collection of debris strewn all over the asteroid's exterior. Ultimately, the mission's biggest challenge will be to collect some of that material and then return it to Earth, but the touch-and-go sample collection process won't begin until 2020.

Once the probe snatches some rock from Bennu's exterior it will begin the long trip back to Earth, eventually arriving sometime in 2023 if all goes according to plan.

The in-orbit surveys of the asteroid and eventual delivery of asteroid material will help researchers understand what makes up some of the larger asteroids in our Solar System. Determining how they formed and other details about their origins could help astronomers tell a more detailed story about the origins of our system and Earth itself, and perhaps help us prepare and forecast asteroid impacts in the future.

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NASA’s New Horizons zoomed past Ultima Thule, and now we wait

NASA’s New Horizons zoomed past Ultima Thule, and now we waitNASA kicked off the new year with a midnight flyby of the most distant Solar System object ever visited by a manmade spacecraft. New Horizons passed within a few thousand miles of the oblong space rock known as Ultima Thule just after the calendar page turned to 2019 on the East Coast, and it's a huge achievement for the space agency and astronomy community in general.

Unfortunately, NASA has very little to show for its accomplishment, at least right now.

NASA's live stream of the event was very informative, providing details about the mission and animations to show where the spacecraft was in relation to Ultima Thule. We did not, however, get a good look at Ultima Thule itself or even confirmation that the mission was a success, so now we wait.

Our Solar System is a big place, and Ultima Thule is very far away. A live stream or even the rapid delivery of still images from the spacecraft wasn't a realistic expectation and, as NASA has already explained, it's going to take months for the probe to send back all the information it gathered during its brief rendezvous with its rocky target.

In fact, retrieving information from New Horizons is so delayed that even NASA doesn't know with certainty that the spacecraft pulled off its mission without a hitch. NASA's Deep Space Network is still relaying that information back to Earth, and it's expected to arrive by midday.

NASA already has a number of press conferences scheduled for the coming days, and we're sure to learn a lot about how well New Horizons performed and, hopefully, some new information about Ultima Thule as well. However, the real science can't begin until the probe delivers all the data it's gathered, and that could take months.

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Watch NASA’s New Horizons flyby live stream right here

Watch NASA’s New Horizons flyby live stream right hereNASA is celebrating the new year in the best way it knows how, and that just so happens to be with a live stream. Scientists and engineers will have to hold off on popping their champagne cork just a little longer than usual as they wait for the New Horizons space probe to make history, and you can watch it live. The New Horizons spacecraft is scheduled to fly by the most distant Solar System object ever visited, a large rock in the Kuiper belt known as Ultima Thule, at right around midnight, eastern time. NASA will be streaming a feed of mission control, complete with commentary and real time animations of where the probe is in relation to the massive space rock. www.youtube.com/watch?v=21X5lGlDOfg NASA's stream will be broadcast via its YouTube channel, which you can watch above. Here's the full lineup of events, via NASA: Monday, December 31

* 2 p.m.: New Horizons media briefing and spacecraft final approach before flyby of Ultima Thule
* 3 p.m.: Q&A with the New Horizons Team
* 8 p.m.: Panel Discussion: New Horizons Flyby of Ultima Thule

Tuesday, Jan. 1

* 12:15 a.m.: New Horizons flyby of Ultima Thule, a Kuiper belt object.
* 9:45 a.m.:  New Horizons Signal Acquisition from Ultima Thule Flyby (All Channels)
* 11:30 a.m.: New Horizons Post-Flyby Press Conference

NASA will also be holding a number of press conferences on Wednesday and Thursday to reveal information they've gathered in the time since the flyby. We're sure to learn some interesting things about Ultima Thule this week, but the bulk of the data the spacecraft collects won't be available for researchers to study until later. New Horizons will begin transferring that data a little later, sending the information back over the course of several months throughout 2019. As scientists dive deep into those numbers we'll likely know more about what Ultima Thule is like, how it formed, and perhaps what factors contributed to its current status tumbling through our Solar System's belt of debris.

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NASA’s InSight Spacecraft Lands Successfully On Mars After 300-Million-Mile Journey

NASA’s InSight Spacecraft Lands Successfully On Mars After 300-Million-Mile JourneyAfter nearly seven months and more than 300 million miles, NASA's InSight

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‘Goodnight, Kepler’: NASA’s Planet-Hunting Telescope Has Finally Run Out Of Fuel

‘Goodnight, Kepler’: NASA’s Planet-Hunting Telescope Has Finally Run Out Of FuelNASA is saying "goodnight" to its pioneering Kepler telescope, which a few

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These Stunning Photos of Saturn Are a Beautiful Goodbye From NASA’s Cassini Probe

These Stunning Photos of Saturn Are a Beautiful Goodbye From NASA’s Cassini ProbeEight striking images Cassini captured of the ringed planet

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NASA’s Golden Records Coming Back to Life, 40 Years Later

NASA’s Golden Records Coming Back to Life, 40 Years LaterGolden records were brought aboard the Voyager space shuttle. Each record contained greetings in 55 languages, music and images – the idea was to give extraterrestrials an idea of life on earth. They are now being recreated as a box set and a book.

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