Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Mysterious Voynich Manuscript

Sunday, January 31, 2010 0 comments

The ancient text has no known title, no known author, and is written in no known language: what does it say and why does it have many astronomy illustrations? The mysterious book was once bought by an emperor, forgotten on a library shelf, sold for thousands of dollars, and later donated to Yale. Possibly written in the 15th century, the over 200-page volume is known most recently as the Voynich Manuscript, after its (re-)discoverer in 1912. Pictured above is an illustration from the book that appears to be somehow related to the Sun. The book labels some patches of the sky with unfamiliar constellations. The inability of modern historians of astronomy to understand the origins of these constellations is perhaps dwarfed by the inability of modern code-breakers to understand the book's text. Can the eclectic brain trust of APOD readers make any progress? If you think you can provide any insight, instead of sending us email please participate in a fresh online discussion. The book itself remains in Yale's rare book collection under catalog number "MS 408."

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Saturday, January 30, 2010

Messier 88

Saturday, January 30, 2010 0 comments
Charles Messier described the 88th entry in his 18th century catalog of Nebulae and Star Clusters as a spiral nebula without stars. Of course the gorgeous M88 is now understood to be a galaxy full of stars, gas, and dust, not unlike our own Milky Way. In fact, M88 is one of the brightest galaxies in the Virgo Galaxy Cluster some 50 million light-years away. M88's beautiful spiral arms are easy to trace in this colorful cosmic portait. The arms are lined with young blue star clusters, pink star-forming regions, and obscuring dust lanes extending from a yellowish core dominated by an older population of stars. Spiral galaxy M88 spans over 100,000 light-years.

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Bayfordbury Open Evenings February and March 0 comments
Visit a working astronomical observatory and see the telescopes. Weather permitting there will be the opportunity to view interesting objects in the sky both looking through the telescopes and also using CCD imaging cameras.

(If the weather is bad, we will show you some pictures we took earlier!).

In addition to the observatory there will be a number of other activities that you may choose in the nearby Science Learning Centre. They include a variety of activities which typically include:

  • two different astronomy talks
  • a planetarium
  • computer astronomy workshop
  • MadLab (extra charge)
  • ask an astronomer
  • timesnail

A cafe will also be available.

Bayfordbury Evenings are run by the School of Physics, Astronomy and Mathematics and the East of England Science Learning Centre.


  • Friday 5 February 2010
  • Friday 5 March 2010


The East of England Science Learning Centre and the University of Hertfordshire's Bayfordbury Observatory are co-located about 1.5 miles South of Hertford on the B158, entrance opposite the St Mary's Lane junction. Upon registering for the event you will be sent a map link showing the exact location.


Book tickets online to attend one of the evenings. To help things run smoothly we require you to reserve places in advance. Please indicate the size of your group and your preferred choice of arrival time. A typical visit length is 2 hours.


The cost of each ticket is:

  • £4 for adults
  • £2 for pensioners, students and children 5 years and over

(Children under 5 years old are also very welcome and are free of charge, you do not need to include them in your request for places).

Please pay at the door by cash or cheque.

There will be extra charges for other workshops and refreshments.

More information

Please email or telephone Jan Webb on +44(0)1707 284254 between 9.00 and 12.00 Monday to Friday, for further information.

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Ice on Galway Docks 0 comments

The photo above showing ice at the docks in Galway, Ireland was captured in the early afternoon of January 9, 2010. The Atlantic coast of Ireland hasn't experienced seawater freezing in its dock area since the early 1980s. The freezing temperature of seawater varies according to the salinity of the water: the greater the concentration of salts, the lower the initial freezing temperature. Seawater typically has a salinity of at least 35 parts per thousand or 3.5 percent. Given this level of salinity water will normally freeze at a temperature of approximately 28.6 degrees F or -1.9 degrees C.

Galway, Ireland

Earth Observatory images:

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Let There be Light on Earth 0 comments

An early morning sun illuminated the light rain over Nevada, Missouri, on May 14, 2009, spraying rays across the sky. Photographer Tommy Hornbeck captured what some viewers may believe to be virga, rain that evaporates before reaching the surface. However, Jim Foster, a hydrologist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, confirmed with Hornbeck that the rain did indeed dampen the ground and the photographer below.

The Earth Science Picture of the Day, a web site led by Foster, has received and posted hundreds of captivating images like this one. The site, which marks its 10th anniversary this year, showcases imagery of people who want to share what they observe; photographs that illustrate the marvels and nuances of Earth and our relationship to it. Sun bounces off rain drops. Bright-colored insects take temporary refuge on plant leaves. Ocean mist changes the look of the air where it hangs suspended. You get the idea.

With support from the Universities Space Research Association and NASA, Foster’s longtime project to educate and engage the public about Earth science has made as many as 3,600 images available online for science enthusiasts.

Want to submit an image to Earth Science Picture of the Day? Click here to learn more. Keep in mind that the images must be your own, and you’ll also need to provide permission for Foster’s team to post them to the site. Good luck!

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ESMD Highlight 0 comments

Electronic Nose (ENose)

Challenge: Provide rapid, automated air-quality monitoring to prevent astronaut exposure to dangerous substances.

Research Objective: Demonstrate six months of experimental operation of the Electronic Nose (ENose) on the International Space Station (ISS).

Mission Description: The third generation ENose, developed by the Exploration Technology Development Program, is designed as a monitor to provide rapid, early identification and quantification of changes in the atmosphere caused by 10 dangerous chemicals, within 40 minutes of detection; it can also detect electrical fires. With minimal crew interfacing, the autonomous ENose will monitor the quality of the recycled air in the ISS by continuously sampling air and documenting events where chemical substances have potentially been released.

Mission Duration: ENose was launched on the Space Shuttle Endeavour, STS-126 on Nov. 14, 2008. It returned to Earth aboard on the Space Shuttle Discovery STS-128 on Sept. 11, 2009.

› Learn more: ENose Web site

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Endeavour's STS-130 Mission 0 comments

Commander George Zamka will lead the STS-130 mission to the International Space Station aboard space shuttle Endeavour. Terry Virts will serve as the pilot. Mission Specialists are Nicholas Patrick, Robert Behnken, Stephen Robinson and Kathryn Hire. Virts will be making his first trip to space.

Shuttle Endeavour and its crew will deliver to the space station a third connecting module, the Italian-built Tranquility node and the seven-windowed cupola, which will be used as a control room for robotics. The mission will feature three spacewalks.

Liftoff from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida is scheduled for February 7, 2010, at 4:39 a.m. EST

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Day of Remembrance: Honoring NASA's Fallen Heroes 0 comments

NASA's Day of Remembrance to honors the fallen heroes of Apollo 1, Challenger and Columbia, and others who have given their lives for exploration and discovery.

› President Obama's Message

› Administrator Bolden's Message

› Feature

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Friday, January 29, 2010

Mars Opposition 2010

Friday, January 29, 2010 0 comments

Mars is at opposition tonight, opposite the Sun in planet Earth's sky. Of course, it will be easy to spot because Mars appears close to tonight's Full Moon, also opposite the Sun in Earth's night sky in the constellation Cancer. For this opposition, Mars remains just over 99 million kilometers away, not a particularly close approach for the Red Planet. Still, this sharp view of Mars recorded on January 22nd is an example of the telescopic images possible in the coming days. The planet's whitish north polar cap is at the upper right. Mars' tiny red disk is about 14 arcseconds in angular diameter, less than 1/100th the diameter of the Full Moon.

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Next Generation Weather/Environmental Satellite Marks Major Milestone 0 comments

The development of a new series of weather and environmental monitoring satellites has marked a significant milestone with the delivery and the beginning of spacecraft integration efforts for a key science instrument.

The Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) will be one of five instruments to fly on the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS) Preparatory Project (NPP) spacecraft. VIIRS is regarded as a key component in NPP’s suite of instruments because it will provide highly detailed imagery of clouds, vegetation, snow cover, dust storms, sea surface temperature and other environmental phenomena.

NPP is a joint mission to extend the time series environmental data records initiated with NASA’s Earth Observing System, including measurements made by the Terra, Aqua, and Aura satellites, and to provide risk reduction for NPOESS instruments, algorithms, ground data processing, archive, and distribution prior to the launch of the first NPOESS spacecraft.

"The delivery of the VIIRS instrument marks a long awaited and huge step towards completing the integration of the NPP mission. VIIRS will be the fourth flight instrument integrated onto the NPP spacecraft, only the CrIS instrument remains," said Ken Schwer, NPP Project Manager at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

The Raytheon Corporation, El Segundo, Calif. built VIIRS under contract to the NPOESS prime contractor, Northrop Grumman. The ITT Corporation, Fort Wayne, IN is building CrIS also under contract to the NPOESS prime contractor, Northrop Grumman. Ball Aerospace and Technologies Corp., Boulder, Colo. under contract to the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center built the NPP spacecraft and is performing the integration and checkout of the NPP spacecraft.

NPP is scheduled for launch in Fall 2011 aboard a Delta rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif.

The NPP Project is a joint effort of the NPOESS Integrated Program Office (IPO), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and NASA. NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center manages the NPP mission on behalf of the Earth Science Division of the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters.

NPOESS represents the next-generation low-Earth orbiting weather and climate monitoring satellites that will provide operational and long-term weather and climate data for both military and civilian use for the next two decades.

The NPOESS will collect a massive amount of very precise earth surface, atmospheric and space environmental measurements from a variety of on-board sensors. This volume of data will allow scientists and forecasters to monitor and predict weather patterns with greater speed and accuracy.

Related Links:

› More information about NPOESS
› NOAA's NPOESS site

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The Coolest of Orbs 0 comments
An international team of astronomers using several telescopes has discovered what appears to be the coolest star-like body known, a brown dwarf called SDSS1416+13B. The dim ball of gas is roughly 400 degrees Fahrenheit (200 degrees Celsius). NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope helped nail down the temperature of the object by observing at a particular range of light called mid-infrared.

Too small to be stars, brown dwarfs have masses lower than stars but larger than gas-giant planets like Jupiter. Due to their low temperature, these objects are very faint in visible light, and are detected by their glow at infrared wavelengths. They were originally dubbed "brown dwarfs" long before any were actually discovered, to describe bodies that are cooler, fainter and redder than "red dwarf" stars, with the color brown representing the mix of red and black.

To read more, visit:

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President Barack Obama on NASA's Day of Remembrance 0 comments

The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release January 29, 2010

Message from the President on NASA's Day of Remembrance

For more than a half-century, NASA has explored our final frontier and transformed humankind's understanding of our planet and its place in the universe. These extraordinary achievements have required great sacrifice.

On this Day of Remembrance, we pause to reflect on the Apollo 1, Challenger and Columbia crews, as well as others who lost their lives supporting NASA’s mission of exploration and study of the earth, the planets and the stars. All of humanity has benefited from their courage and devotion.

We mourn their loss while celebrating their spirit of discovery. May their sacrifice be an inspiration as we continue our nation's work to explore our universe.

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Out-of-This-World Super Bowl Coin Lands in Ohio 0 comments
After traveling more than four million miles, and making 171 orbits around Earth on board space shuttle Atlantis, the Super Bowl XLIV opening-toss coin took a slight detour to the Pro Football Hall of Fame Museum in Canton, Ohio, on Jan. 27, before heading to the Super Bowl.

The coin was flown last November on STS-129 by crew members Commander Charlie Hobaugh, Pilot Barry Wilmore, and Mission Specialists Leland Melvin, Randy Bresnik, Mike Foreman and Bobby Satcher.

The astronauts stopped by the museum to return the silver-minted coin, as well as a few other space-flown memorabilia, including a football inscribed with the name of every member of the Hall of Fame. They also returned flown jerseys from the Detroit Lions and the Dallas Cowboys, the two teams Melvin played for in his short stint in the NFL.

After stopping at the Hall of Fame, the coin will journey to Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla., to be the one of the stars of the Super Bowl XLIV pre-game coin toss on Feb. 7.

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Thursday, January 28, 2010

Kemble's Cascade

Thursday, January 28, 2010 0 comments

An asterism is just a recognized pattern of stars that is not one the 88 official constellations. For example, one of the most famous (and largest) asterisms is the Big Dipper within the constellation Ursa Major. But this pretty chain of stars, visible with binoculars towards the long-necked constellation of Camelopardalis, is also a recognized asterism. Known as Kemble's Cascade, it contains about 20 stars nearly in a row, stretching over five times the width of a full moon. Tumbling from the upper right to lower left in the picture, Kemble's Cascade was made popular by astronomy enthusiast Lucian Kemble. The bright object at the lower left is the relatively compact open cluster of stars, NGC 1502.

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New NASA Web Site Launches Kids on Mission to Save Our Planet 0 comments
Climate change can be a daunting topic for most adults to grasp, let alone kids. A new NASA Web site can help our future explorers and leaders understand how and why their planet is changing and what they can do to help keep it habitable.

Called "Climate Kids," the new Web site is the latest companion to NASA's award-winning Global Climate Change Web site, . Geared toward students in grades 4 through 6, the multimedia-rich Climate Kids site uses age-appropriate language, games and humorous illustrations and animations to help break down the important issue of climate change. Climate Kids can be found at .

Visitors to Climate Kids can:

- Command an interactive Climate Time Machine to travel back and forth through time and see how climate changes have affected our world or may affect it in the future.
- Choose the "greenest" transportation options in a game called "Go Green," or go on a "Wild Weather Adventure."
- Learn about green careers from people who are working to understand climate change.

"The climate our children inherit will be different from what we as adults know today," said Diane Fisher of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., who developed the content for the site. "Climate Kids aims to answer some of the big questions about global climate change using simple, fun illustrations and language kids can relate to, helping them become better stewards of our fragile planet. Students will learn basic Earth science concepts such as what the difference is between weather and climate, how we know Earth's climate is changing and what the greenhouse effect is."

Climate Kids is a collaboration between JPL's Earth Science Communications Team and NASA's award-winning Space Place website, which is at .

NASA's Global Climate Change Web site is devoted to educating the public about Earth's changing climate, providing easy-to-understand information about the causes and effects of climate change and how NASA studies it. For more on NASA's Earth Science Program, visit:

JPL is a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.

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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Tethys Behind Titan

Wednesday, January 27, 2010 0 comments

What's that behind Titan? It's another of Saturn's moons: Tethys. The robotic Cassini spacecraft orbiting Saturn captured the heavily cratered Tethys slipping behind Saturn's atmosphere-shrouded Titan late last year. The largest crater on Tethys, Odysseus, is easily visible on the distant moon. Titan shows not only its thick and opaque orange lower atmosphere, but also an unusual upper layer of blue-tinted haze. Tethys, at about 2 million kilometers distant, was twice as far from Cassini as was Titan when the above image was taken. In 2004, Cassini released the Hyugens probe which landed on Titan and provided humanity's first views of the surface of the Solar System's only known lake-bearing moon.

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Newborn Black Holes Boost Explosive Power of Supernovae 0 comments
An international team of scientists, including two astronomers from NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., have observed a supernova with peculiar radio emission. In the Jan. 28 issue of Nature, the team -- led by Zsolt Paragi of the Joint Institute for Very Long Baseline Interferometry in Europe, or JIVE -- reveals new details of these highly energetic explosions.

Supernova SN 2007gr was discovered less than five days after its explosion at a distance of just 35 million light years away -- one of the closest Type Ic supernovae ever seen in radio waves from Earth. Supernovae mark the violent deaths of massive stars via core collapse, followed by a gigantic explosion which expels their outer layers in an expanding fireball. As the explosion ejecta expand, they cool and slow down, and their emission progressively move to longer wavelengths, from X-rays to radio waves. SN 2007gr was close enough and found early enough to be a great candidate for extensive follow-up observations.

"The explosion dynamics in typical supernovae limit the speed of the expanding matter to about three percent of the speed of light," said Chryssa Kouveliotou, an astrophysicist at the Marshall Center who co-authored the new study. "Yet in this new object we're tracking gas moving some 20 times faster than this."

Type Ic supernovae also have been associated with another very energetic phenomenon in high energy astrophysics: Gamma Ray Bursts. Though most of the energy in these bursts is released by gamma-ray jets traveling almost at the speed of light no such fast expansion evidence has yet been observed from other Type Ic supernovae.

Kouveliotou quickly put together an international team of radio astronomers. Led by Paragi and JIVE, the team included 14 members from 12 institutions spread over seven countries -- including the United States, the Netherlands, Hungary, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and South Africa.

The team proposed to use the highest-resolution imaging technique -- Very Long Baseline Interferometry, or VLBI -- to collect the extremely faint emission from SN 2007gr and reveal details of the explosion process. With the VLBI technique, multiple radio telescopes thousands of kilometers from one another carry out measurements simultaneously. The astronomers exploited the electronic VLBI capabilities of the European VLBI Network, by which the data are streamed in real time from the telescopes to the joint institute's central data processor in the Netherlands.

A rapid analysis of the SN 2007gr data, obtained 22 days after initial discovery, showed that the source was still visible in the radio. Based on this result, the team carried out further observations with the European VLBI Network and the Green Bank Telescope in Pocahontas County, W.V. For the first time ever, scientists measured mildly relativistic expansion in such a source.

One other instrument, the Westerbork Synthesis Array Telescope played an important role in obtaining this result due to its large collecting area, which significantly improved the sensitivity of the VLBI observations. Westerbork telescope observations, combined with radio data from the Very Large Array in Socorro, N.M., provided an independent measurement of the total flux density, or brightness, of the source.

In the second VLBI observation, the source was less bright when measured in very high resolution with the global VLBI network of radio telescopes than it was with the Westerbork telescope. The team of radio astronomers concluded that the latter had captured all the radio waves coming from the supernova, while the VLBI zoomed in so much that it only observed part of the source.

"It was the synergy between these radio observatories that led to our discovery," said Alexander van der Horst, a NASA postdoctoral program fellow in Huntsville and a co-author on the Nature article. "Zooming in and out on the supernova quickly led us to the conclusion that the ejecta had to be expanding very fast."

Although it showed peculiar radio properties, SN 2007gr was otherwise a normal type Ic supernova. It appears that only a small fraction of the matter ejected in the explosion reached a velocity of at least half the speed of light -- what scientists call mildly relativistic speed. According to the emerging picture, this mildly relativistic matter was beamed into a bipolar narrow cone, or jet. The team concluded that it is possible that most or all type Ic supernovae produce bipolar jets, but the energy content of these outflows varies dramatically, whereas the total energy of the explosions is much more standard.

"We've now found evidence for the unsung crowd of supernovae -- those with relatively dim and mildly relativistic jets that only can be detected nearby," Kouveliotou said. "These likely represent most of the population."

These observations showcase how the new electronic capabilities of the European VLBI Network empower astronomers to react quickly when transient events occur.

"Using the electronic VLBI technique eliminates some of the major issues," said Huib Jan van Langevelde, the director of JIVE "Moreover it allows us to produce immediate results necessary for the planning of additional measurements."

"This is a fantastic new facility that has proven to be extremely valuable for studies of supernovae and other transient sources in the radio sky," said Van der Horst.

The scientific outcome from the SN 2007gr observations demonstrates the impact of new technological development in radio astronomy in recent years, enabling highly efficient international collaboration between radio telescopes in the United States, Europe and elsewhere across the globe.

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Route 66: Cassini's Next Look at Titan 0 comments

Sixteen days after last visiting Saturn's largest moon, NASA's Cassini spacecraft returns for another look-see of the cloud-shrouded moon - this time from on high. The flyby on Thursday, Jan. 28, referred to as "T-66" in the hollowed halls of Cassini operations, will place the spacecraft within 7,490 kilometers (4,654 miles) above the surface during time of closest approach.

While this latest close approach places Cassini more than 6,400 kilometers (3,970 miles) higher above Titan's surface than the Jan. 12 flyby, it should not considered of lesser scientific value. Instead, this high-altitude encounter will provide an opportunity for some of the spacecraft's instruments to gain another unique perspective on this crepuscular world.

During T-66, the Imaging Science Subsystem is set to acquire high-resolution observations during and after closest-approach, covering territory from the trailing hemisphere at high southern latitudes northeast to near-equatorial Adiri. On the inbound leg, the Visual and Infrared Mapping Spectrometer will have the opportunity to do one stellar occultation. (A stellar occultation occurs when an intervening body -- in this case Titan -- blocks the light from a star). Thursday's stellar occultation should allow the Cassini science team to further constrain the composition and the spectral properties of Titan's atmosphere.

Although this latest flyby is dubbed "T66," planning changes early in the orbital tour made this the 67th targeted flyby of Titan. T66 is the 22nd Titan encounter in Cassini's Solstice Mission.

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the Cassini mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington, D.C. JPL designed, developed and assembled the Cassini orbiter. The Huygens probe, built and managed by the European Space Agency, was bolted to Cassini and rode along during its nearly seven-year journey to Saturn, before being released for its descent through Titan's atmosphere.

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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Annular Eclipse Over Myanmar

Tuesday, January 26, 2010 0 comments

A hole crossed the Sun for a few minutes this month, as seen across a thin swath of planet Earth. The event on January 15 was actually an annular solar eclipse, and the hole was really Earth's Moon, an object whose dark half may appear even darker when compared to the tremendously bright Sun. The Moon was too far from Earth to create a total solar eclipse, but instead left well placed observers with a bright surrounding circle called the ring of fire. Pictured above was a complete solar annular eclipse sequence as seen above the Ananda Temple in Bagan, Myanmar. The image of the ancient temple, built around the year 1100, was taken after sunset on the same day of the eclipse. The next solar eclipse will be a total solar eclipse during 2010 July.

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Now a Stationary Research Platform, NASA's Mars Rover Spirit Starts a New Chapter in Red Planet Scientific Studies 0 comments
After six years of unprecedented exploration of the Red Planet, NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Spirit no longer will be a fully mobile robot. NASA has designated the once-roving scientific explorer a stationary science platform after efforts during the past several months to free it from a sand trap have been unsuccessful.

The venerable robot's primary task in the next few weeks will be to position itself to combat the severe Martian winter. If Spirit survives, it will continue conducting significant new science from its final location. The rover's mission could continue for several months to years.

"Spirit is not dead; it has just entered another phase of its long life," said Doug McCuistion, director of the Mars Exploration Program at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "We told the world last year that attempts to set the beloved robot free may not be successful. It looks like Spirit's current location on Mars will be its final resting place."

Ten months ago, as Spirit was driving south beside the western edge of a low plateau called Home Plate, its wheels broke through a crusty surface and churned into soft sand hidden underneath.

After Spirit became embedded, the rover team crafted plans for trying to get the six-wheeled vehicle free using its five functioning wheels – the sixth wheel quit working in 2006, limiting Spirit's mobility. The planning included experiments with a test rover in a sandbox at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., plus analysis, modeling and reviews. In November, another wheel quit working, making a difficult situation even worse.

Recent drives have yielded the best results since Spirit became embedded. However, the coming winter mandates a change in strategy. It is mid-autumn at the solar-powered robot's home on Mars. Winter will begin in May. Solar energy is declining and expected to become insufficient to power further driving by mid-February. The rover team plans to use those remaining potential drives for improving the rover's tilt. Spirit currently tilts slightly toward the south. The winter sun stays in the northern sky, so decreasing the southward tilt would boost the amount of sunshine on the rover's solar panels.

"We need to lift the rear of the rover, or the left side of the rover, or both," said Ashley Stroupe, a rover driver at JPL. "Lifting the rear wheels out of their ruts by driving backward and slightly uphill will help. If necessary, we can try to lower the front right of the rover by attempting to drop the right-front wheel into a rut or dig it into a hole."

At its current angle, Spirit probably would not have enough power to keep communicating with Earth through the Martian winter. Even a few degrees of improvement in tilt might make enough difference to enable communication every few days.

"Getting through the winter will all come down to temperature and how cold the rover electronics will get," said John Callas, project manager at JPL for Spirit and its twin rover, Opportunity. "Every bit of energy produced by Spirit's solar arrays will go into keeping the rover's critical electronics warm, either by having the electronics on or by turning on essential heaters."

Even in a stationary state, Spirit continues scientific research.

"There's a class of science we can do only with a stationary vehicle that we had put off during the years of driving," said Steve Squyres, a researcher at Cornell University and principal investigator for Spirit and Opportunity. "Degraded mobility does not mean the mission ends abruptly. Instead, it lets us transition to stationary science."

One stationary experiment Spirit has begun studies tiny wobbles in the rotation of Mars to gain insight about the planet's core. This requires months of radio-tracking the motion of a point on the surface of Mars to calculate long-term motion with an accuracy of a few inches.

"If the final scientific feather in Spirit's cap is determining whether the core of Mars is liquid or solid, that would be wonderful -- it's so different from the other knowledge we've gained from Spirit," said Squyres.

Tools on Spirit's robotic arm can study variations in the composition of nearby soil, which has been affected by water. Stationary science also includes watching how wind moves soil particles and monitoring the Martian atmosphere.

Spirit and Opportunity landed on Mars in January 2004. They have been exploring for six years, far surpassing their original 90-day mission. Opportunity currently is driving toward a large crater called Endeavor and continues to make scientific discoveries. It has driven approximately 12 miles and returned more than 133,000 images.

JPL manages the rovers for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. For more information about Spirit and Opportunity, visit: .

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NASA Airborne Radar to Study Quake Faults in Haiti, Dominican Republic 0 comments
In response to the disaster in Haiti on Jan. 12, NASA has added a series of science overflights of earthquake faults in Haiti and the Dominican Republic on the island of Hispaniola to a previously scheduled three-week airborne radar campaign to Central America.

NASA's Uninhabited Aerial Vehicle Synthetic Aperture Radar, or UAVSAR, left NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center in Edwards, Calif., on Jan. 25 aboard a modified NASA Gulfstream III aircraft.

During its trek to Central America, which will run through mid-February, the repeat-pass L-band wavelength radar, developed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., will study the structure of tropical forests; monitor volcanic deformation and volcano processes; and examine Mayan archeology sites. After the Haitian earthquake, NASA managers added additional science objectives that will allow UAVSAR's unique observational capabilities to study geologic processes in Hispaniola following the earthquake. UAVSAR's ability to provide rapid access to regions of interest, short repeat flight intervals, high resolution and its variable viewing geometry make it a powerful tool for studying ongoing Earth processes.

"UAVSAR will allow us to image deformations of Earth's surface and other changes associated with post-Haiti earthquake geologic processes, such as aftershocks, earthquakes that might be triggered by the main earthquake farther down the fault line, and the potential for landslides," said JPL's Paul Lundgren, the principal investigator for the Hispaniola overflights. "Because of Hispaniola's complex tectonic setting, there is an interest in determining if the earthquake in Haiti might trigger other earthquakes at some unknown point in the future, either along adjacent sections of the Enriquillo-Plantain Garden fault that was responsible for the main earthquake, or on other faults in northern Hispaniola, such as the Septentrional fault."

Lundgren says these upcoming flights, and others NASA will conduct in the coming weeks, months and years, will help scientists better assess the geophysical processes associated with earthquakes along large faults and better understand the risks.

UAVSAR uses a technique called interferometric synthetic aperture radar, or InSAR, that sends pulses of microwave energy from the aircraft to the ground to detect and measure very subtle deformations in Earth's surface, such as those caused by earthquakes, volcanoes, landslides and glacier movements. Flying at a nominal altitude of 12,500 meters (41,000 feet), the radar, located in a pod under the aircraft's belly, collects data over a selected region. It then flies over the same region again, minutes to months later, using the aircraft's advanced navigation system to precisely fly over the same path to an accuracy of within 5 meters (16.5 feet). By comparing these camera-like images, interferograms are formed that have encoded the surface deformation, from which scientists can measure the slow surface deformations involved with the buildup and release of strain along earthquake faults.

Since November of 2009, JPL scientists have collected data gathered on a number of Gulfstream III flights over California's San Andreas fault and other major California earthquake faults, a process that will be repeated about every six months for the next several years. From such data, scientists will create 3-D maps for regions of interest.

Flight plans call for multiple observations of the Hispaniola faults this week and in early to mid-February. Subsequent flights may be added based on events in Haiti and aircraft availability. After processing, NASA will make the UAVSAR imagery available to the public through the JPL UAVSAR website and the Alaska Satellite Facility Distributed Active Archive Center. The initial data will be available in several weeks.

Lundgren said the Dominican Republic flights over the Septentrional fault will provide scientists with a baseline set of radar imagery in the event of future earthquakes there. Such observations, combined with post-event radar imagery, will allow scientists to measure ground deformation at the time of the earthquakes to determine how slip on the faults is distributed and also to monitor longer-term motions after the earthquakes to learn more about fault zone properties. The UAVSAR data could also be used to pinpoint exactly which part of the fault slipped during an earthquake, data that can be used by rescue and damage assessment officials to better estimate what areas might be most affected.

For more on UAVSAR, visit: For more on how UAVSAR is being used to study earthquake faults and landslide processes, visit: .

JPL is managed for NASA by the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.

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Monday, January 25, 2010

The Magellanic Stream

Monday, January 25, 2010 0 comments

Spanning the sky toward the majestic Clouds of Magellan is an unusual stream of gas: the Magellanic Stream. The origin of this gas remains unknown but likely holds a clue to the origin and fate of our Milky Way's most famous satellite galaxies: the LMC and the SMC. Until recently, two leading genesis hypotheses have been considered: that the stream was created by gas stripped off these galaxies as they passed through the halo of our Milky Way, or that the stream was created by the differential gravitational tug of the Milky Way. Recently, however, wide angle radio images -- including those from the Byrd Green Bank Telescope -- have shown that the Magellanic Stream is longer and older than previously thought, perhaps as old as 2.5 billion years. These observations bolster a third possible origin for the stream -- that the Large and Small Magellanic Cloud galaxies once passed so close to each other that gravitational tides triggered a burst of star formation that left the stream. Pictured above digitally superposed on a recently-completed all-sky image in visible light, the radio emission of Magellanic stream is shown in false color pink extending across the sky and ending at the two Magellanic galaxies on the lower right.

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Sunday, January 24, 2010

Watch Jupiter Rotate

Sunday, January 24, 2010 0 comments

What would it be like to coast by Jupiter and watch it rotate? This was just the experience of the New Horizons spacecraft as it approached and flew by Jupiter in 2007. Clicking on the image will bring up a movie of what the robotic spacecraft saw. Visible above in the extensive atmosphere of the Solar System's largest planet are bands and belts of light and dark clouds, as well as giant rotating storm systems seen as ovals. Other movies compiled by New Horizons and other passing spacecraft have captured the clouds swirling and moving relative to themselves. Jupiter has a diameter of about eleven times that of our Earth, and rotates once in about 10 hours. The robotic New Horizons spacecraft, launched four years ago last week, continues to speed toward the outer Solar System and has recently passed the halfway point between Earth and Pluto. New Horizons will reach Pluto in 2015.

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Saturday, January 23, 2010

School kids verify NASA satellite observations

Saturday, January 23, 2010 0 comments
The S'COOL program has been urging students outside to help verify NASA satellite measurements and learn about clouds and climate for 13 years now. Credit: Science Directorate, NASA Langley Research Center

Most scientific observations are made by the most sophisticated of instruments. We build miles-long particle accelerators to see the smallest bits of atoms. We send bus-sized satellites all the way out to space to observe the dynamic interactions happening in our planet’s atmosphere.

Sometimes, though, a machine just won’t do. Sometimes a school kid looking up at the sky does the job quite well.

That is the premise of NASA’s S’COOL (Students’ Cloud Observations On-Line) project. While a satellite passes overhead observing the radiation emitted by Earth, S’COOL participants look upwards and take careful notes on the type and multitude of clouds in the sky.

This is not just for fun, and it's not just to get children and teens interested in the basics of atmospheric science. These observations are put to use by NASA scientists to verify that a satellite instrument overhead – the Clouds and the Earth’s Radiant Energy System (CERES) sensor – is accurately observing clouds from above. In some cases, CERES’ radiometers may interpret a glare or a land feature as a cloud. Student observations act as a “ground truthing” method to make sure the satellite is accurate.

The more observations, the better. In this regard, the gold star goes to the students at Chartiers-Houston Jr./Sr. High School in Houston, Pa. These students have made more than 5,000 all-time observations for the S’COOL folks at NASA’s Langley Research Center. (5,276 observations as of Jan.10, to be exact.) The number is a record and nearly the doubles the total reported by any other school.

The S’COOL program is beginning its 14th year and has inspired school children in more than 75 countries to take their cloud charts outside. Chartiers-Houston has long been among the most active in the program. Students can make observations anytime, but ideally they walk outside at the precise time that the satellite is passing over their town. They must know the types of clouds and know the recording methods to make useful observations. This requires, in other words, dedication.

Science teacher Gary Popiolkowski, who’s been leading students outside to look skyward since Aug. 2000, said he likes S’COOL because it allows students to get “involved doing real science, acting like real scientists.” He said his students even make observations after school and on weekends, on their own time.

“My students have developed a sense of pride in continuing our observations over the years,” he said. “Besides recording the scheduled observations, we also identify the clouds each period throughout the day as a daily class starter. S’COOL is integrated into our weather unit and fits into my philosophy of “no child left inside” as we constantly “look up” anytime we are outside.”

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Made in NASA - JSC Advance 0 comments
Last weekend my family and I ran in the Houston ½ Marathon and 5k. It was a perfect weekend for a great race and Houston has a great Expo where you can find a bunch of neat gadgets. My daughter, who loves jewelry of any kind, was fascinated by this one booth that was selling a bracelet that was suppose to help increase your balance strength and agility.I was for the most part ignoring the sales pitch until they said that the secret to their bracelet was the holographic technology developed by NASA and my daughter shot me a questioning, but knowing glance, “Really?” Then she saw the look in my eyes that told her, “Of course not.” But it got me thinking about how much is associated with NASA and how much is not known about the true technology that comes from NASA.

We are lucky enough to have within our Advanced Planning Office the responsibility for transferring technology from the Johnson Space Center to the external community. So I get to see examples of the real technology that benefits the public as a direct result from our efforts to explore space. Oh, and for the record Tang, Velcro and Teflon did not come from NASA. Each year NASA’s Innovative Partnership program publishes the Spinoff magazine which captures those innovations that have found their way into the public domain. One of my favorites is the Shuttle Fuel Pump Technology that Helps Children's Hearts. “Not much larger than a penlight battery, the pump is the result of two decades of NASA collaboration with famed heart surgeon Dr. Michael DeBakey.” I for one would rather be associated with technology that is saving children than Velcro.Of course being a strategist I am looking forward to the future innovations that result from NASA reaching beyond Low Earth Orbit.Also the medical advances that will come from the International Space Station like the new methods for delivering medicine to cancer cells. Or personally, to help with my commute to work, I’m looking forward to the Jetson’s flying car.

So take a look at the history of NASA’s spinoff’s and let me know which is your favorite or let me know what spinoff you would like to see in the future.

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Galaxy Cluster Has Two 'Tails' to Tell 0 comments
Two spectacular tails of X-ray emission have been seen trailing behind a galaxy using the Chandra X-ray Observatory. A composite image of the galaxy cluster Abell 3627 shows X-rays from Chandra in blue, optical emission in yellow and emission from hydrogen light -- known to astronomers as 'H-alpha' -- in red. The optical and H-alpha data were obtained with the Southern Astrophysical Research (SOAR) Telescope in Chile.

At the front of the tail is the galaxy ESO 137-001. The brighter of the two tails has been seen before and extends for about 260,000 light years. The detection of the second, fainter tail, however, was a surprise to the scientists.

The X-ray tails were created when cool gas from ESO 137-001 (with a temperature of about ten degrees above absolute zero) was stripped by hot gas (about 100 million degrees) as it travels towards the center of the galaxy cluster Abell 3627. What astronomers observe with Chandra is essentially the evaporation of the cold gas, which glows at a temperature of about 10 million degrees. Evidence of gas with temperatures between 100 and 1,000 degrees Kelvin in the tail was also found with the Spitzer Space Telescope.

Galaxy clusters are collections of hundreds or even thousands of galaxies held together by gravity that are enveloped in hot gas. The two-pronged tail in this system may have formed because gas has been stripped from the two major spiral arms in ESO 137-001. The stripping of gas is thought to have a significant effect on galaxy evolution, removing cold gas from the galaxy, shutting down the formation of new stars in the galaxy, and changing the appearance of inner spiral arms and bulges because of the effects of star formation.

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NASA Adds Extensive Data to Open Government Initiative Web Site 0 comments
NASA has contributed a wide range of scientific data to the new publicly accessible Web site "" in accordance with the administration's Open Government Directive issued in Dec. 2009.

The purpose of is to increase public access to high value datasets generated by the Executive Branch of the federal government. Public users may search for information by topic or by accessing the data contributed by any of the 24 participating major government departments and agencies.

NASA's input includes timely, extensive, accurate and relevant data about, Earth science and observation research, global change, agency missions, projects and instruments. is a searchable Web site providing access to government information through the Raw Data, Tool and GeoData Catalogs.

The data may be read on line or downloaded to improve public knowledge of the agency and its operations; potentially create economic opportunities; or respond to need and demand as identified through public or industry consultation.

NASA products are in the Tool and GeoData Catalogs. Tool Catalog products include planet counter and climate change widgets and various Earth observation and other analysis utilities. In the GeoData Catalog, the agency posted more than 600 datasets across a wide range of imagery, maps, atmospheric, climate, geological and geophysical data. NASA will continuously update and add new data sets as they become available.

NASA's submission of an additional 18 catalogs released today is the first milestone within the Open Government Directive. Over the coming weeks, NASA will release a new Web site and provide a platform for public participation and engagement becoming a more transparent, participatory and collaborative agency.

For information about and access to, visit:

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The First of Many Asteroid Finds for WISE 0 comments
NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE, has spotted its first never-before-seen near-Earth asteroid, the first of hundreds it is expected to find during its mission to map the whole sky in infrared light.

The near-Earth object, designated 2010 AB78, was discovered by WISE Jan. 12. After the mission's sophisticated software picked out the moving object against a background of stationary stars, researchers followed up and confirmed the discovery with the University of Hawaii's 2.2-meter (88-inch) visible-light telescope near the summit of Mauna Kea.

The asteroid is currently about 158 million kilometers (98 million miles) from Earth. It is estimated to be roughly 1 kilometer (0.6 miles) in diameter and circles the sun in an elliptical orbit tilted to the plane of our solar system. The object comes as close to the sun as Earth, but because of its tilted orbit, it is not thought to pass near our planet. This asteroid does not pose any foreseeable impact threat to Earth, but scientists will continue to monitor it.

WISE, which began its all-sky survey on Jan. 14, is expected to find about 100-thousand previously undiscovered asteroids in the Main Belt between Mars and Jupiter, and hundreds of new near-Earth asteroids. It will also spot millions of new stars and galaxies.

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., manages the WISE for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. The principal investigator, Edward Wright, is at UCLA. The mission was competitively selected under NASA's Explorers Program managed by the Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md. The science instrument was built by the Space Dynamics Laboratory, Logan, Utah, and the spacecraft was built by Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp., Boulder, Colo. Science operations and data processing take place at the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. Caltech manages JPL for NASA. The ground-based observations are partly supported by the National Science Foundation.

More information is online at, .

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2009: Second Warmest Year on Record; End of Warmest Decade 0 comments
2009 was tied for the second warmest year in the modern record, a new NASA analysis of global surface temperature shows. The analysis, conducted by the Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) in New York City, also shows that in the Southern Hemisphere, 2009 was the warmest year since modern records began in 1880.

Although 2008 was the coolest year of the decade -- due to strong cooling of the tropical Pacific Ocean -- 2009 saw a return to near-record global temperatures. The past year was only a fraction of a degree cooler than 2005, the warmest year on record, and tied with a cluster of other years -- 1998, 2002, 2003, 2006 and 2007 -- as the second warmest year since recordkeeping began.

“There’s always an interest in the annual temperature numbers and on a given year’s ranking, but usually that misses the point,” said James Hansen, the director of GISS. “There's substantial year-to-year variability of global temperature caused by the tropical El Niño-La Niña cycle. But when we average temperature over five or ten years to minimize that variability, we find that global warming is continuing unabated."

January 2000 to December 2009 was the warmest decade on record. Throughout the last three decades, the GISS surface temperature record shows an upward trend of about 0.2°C (0.36°F) per decade. Since 1880, the year that modern scientific instrumentation became available to monitor temperatures precisely, a clear warming trend is present, though there was a leveling off between the 1940s and 1970s.

The near-record temperatures of 2009 occurred despite an unseasonably cool December in much of North America. High air pressures in the Arctic decreased the east-west flow of the jet stream, while also increasing its tendency to blow from north to south and draw cold air southward from the Arctic. This resulted in an unusual effect that caused frigid air from the Arctic to rush into North America and warmer mid-latitude air to shift toward the north.

"Of course, the contiguous 48 states cover only 1.5 percent of the world area, so the U.S. temperature does not affect the global temperature much,' said Hansen.

In total, average global temperatures have increased by about 0.8°C (1.4°F) since 1880.

“That’s the important number to keep in mind,” said Gavin Schmidt, another GISS climatologist. “In contrast, the difference between, say, the second and sixth warmest years is trivial since the known uncertainty -- or noise -- in the temperature measurement is larger than some of the differences between the warmest years."

Decoding the Temperature Record

Climate scientists agree that rising levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases trap incoming heat near the surface of the Earth and are the key factors causing the rise in temperatures since 1880, but these gases are not the only factors that can impact global temperatures.

Three others key factors -- including changes in the sun’s irradiance, oscillations of sea surface temperature in the tropics, and changes in aerosol levels -- can also cause slight increases or decreases in the planet's temperature. Overall, the evidence suggests that these effects are not enough to account for the global warming observed since 1880.

El Niño and La Niña are prime examples of how the oceans can affect global temperatures. They describe abnormally warm or cool sea surface temperatures in the South Pacific that are caused by changing ocean currents.

Global temperatures tend to decrease in the wake of La Niña, which occurs when upwelling cold water off the coast of Peru spreads westward in the equatorial Pacific Ocean. La Niña, which moderates the impact of greenhouse-gas driven warming, lingered during the early months of 2009 and gave way to the beginning of an El Niño phase in October that’s expected to continue in 2010.

An especially powerful El Niño cycle in 1998 is thought to have contributed to the unusually high temperatures that year, and Hansen’s group estimates that there’s a good chance 2010 will be the warmest year on record if the current El Niño persists. At most, scientists estimate that El Niño and La Niña can cause global temperatures to deviate by about 0.2°C (0.36°F).

Warmer surface temperatures also tend to occur during particularly active parts of the solar cycle, known as solar maximums, while slightly cooler temperatures occur during lulls in activity, called minimums.

A deep solar minimum has made sunspots a rarity in the last few years. Such lulls in solar activity, which can cause the total amount of energy given off by the sun to decrease by about a tenth of a percent, typically spur surface temperature to dip slightly. Overall, solar minimums and maximums are thought to produce no more than 0.1°C (0.18°F) of cooling or warming.

“In 2009, it was clear that even the deepest solar minimum in the period of satellite data hasn’t stopped global warming from continuing,” said Hansen.

Small particles in the atmosphere called aerosols can also affect the climate. Volcanoes are powerful sources of sulfate aerosols that counteract global warming by reflecting incoming solar radiation back into space. In the past, large eruptions at Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines and El Chichón in Mexico have caused global dips in surface temperature of as much as 0.3°C (0.54°F). But volcanic eruptions in 2009 have not had a significant impact.

Meanwhile, other types of aerosols, often produced by burning fossil fuels, can change surface temperatures by either reflecting or absorbing incoming sunlight. Hansen’s group estimates that aerosols probably counteract about half of the warming produced by man-made greenhouse gases, but he cautions that better measurements of these elusive particles are needed.

Data Details

To conduct its analysis, GISS uses publicly available data from three sources: weather data from more than a thousand meteorological stations around the world; satellite observations of sea surface temperature; and Antarctic research station measurements. These three data sets are loaded into a computer program, which is available for public download from the GISS website. The program calculates trends in temperature anomalies -- not absolute temperatures — but changes relative to the average temperature for the same month during the period of 1951-1980.

Other research groups also track global temperature trends but use different analysis techniques. The Met Office Hadley Centre, based in the United Kingdom, uses similar input measurements as GISS, for example, but it omits large areas of the Arctic and Antarctic, where monitoring stations are sparse.

In contrast, the GISS analysis extrapolates data in those regions using information from the nearest available monitoring stations, and thus has more complete coverage of the polar areas. If GISS didn't extrapolate in this manner, the software that performs the analysis would assume that areas without monitoring stations warm at the same rate as the global mean, an assumption that doesn't line up with changes that satellites have observed in Arctic sea ice, Schmidt explained. Although the two methods produce slightly different results in the annual rankings, the decade-long trends in the two records are essentially identical.

"There's a contradiction between the results shown here and popular perceptions about climate trends," Hansen said. "In the last decade, global warming has not stopped."

Related Links

GISS Surface Temperature Analysis

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Rover Gives NASA an "Opportunity" to View Interior of Mars 0 comments
NASA's Mars exploration rover Opportunity is allowing scientists to get a glimpse deep inside Mars.

Perched on a rippled Martian plain, a dark rock not much bigger than a basketball was the target of interest for Opportunity during the past two months. Dubbed "Marquette Island," the rock is providing a better understanding of the mineral and chemical makeup of the Martian interior.

"Marquette Island is different in composition and character from any known rock on Mars or meteorite from Mars," said Steve Squyres of Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y. Squyres is principal investigator for Opportunity and its twin, Spirit. "It is one of the coolest things Opportunity has found in a very long time."

During six years of roving, Opportunity has found only one other rock of comparable size that scientists conclude was ejected from a distant crater. The rover studied the first such rock during its initial three-month mission. Called "Bounce Rock," that rock closely matched the composition of a meteorite from Mars found on Earth.

Marquette Island is a coarse-grained rock with a basalt composition. The coarseness indicates it cooled slowly from molten rock, allowing crystals time to grow. This composition suggests to geologists that it originated deep in the crust, not at the surface where it would cool quicker and have finer-grained texture.

"It is from deep in the crust and someplace far away on Mars, though exactly how deep and how far we can't yet estimate," said Squyres.

The composition of Marquette Island, as well as its texture, distinguishes it from other Martian basalt rocks that rovers and landers have examined. Scientists first thought the rock could be another in a series of meteorites that Opportunity has found. However, a much lower nickel content in Marquette Island indicates a Martian origin. The rock's interior contains more magnesium than in typical Martian basalt rocks Spirit has studied. Researchers are determining whether it might represent the precursor rock altered long ago by sulfuric acid to become the sulfate-rich sandstone bedrock that blankets the region of Mars that Opportunity is exploring.

"It's like having a fragment from another landing site," said Ralf Gellert of the University of Guelph, in Ontario, Canada. Gellert is lead scientist for the alpha particle X-ray spectrometer on Opportunity's robotic arm. "With analysis at an early stage, we're still working on some riddles about this rock."

The rover team used Opportunity's rock abrasion tool to grind away some of Marquette Island's weathered surface and expose the interior. This was the 38th rock target Opportunity has ground into, and one of the hardest. The tool was designed to grind into one Martian rock, and this rock may not be its last.

"We took a conservative approach on our target depth for this grind to ensure we will have enough of the bit left to grind the next hard rock that Opportunity comes across," said Joanna Cohen of Honeybee Robotics Spacecraft Mechanisms Corp., in New York, which built and operates the tool.

Opportunity currently is about 30 percent of the way on a 12-mile trek begun in mid-2008 from a crater it studied for two years. It is en route toward a much larger crater, Endeavour. The rover traveled 3.3 miles in 2009, farther than in any other year on Mars. Opportunity drove away from Marquette Island on Jan. 12.

"We're on the road again," said Mike Seibert, a rover mission manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. "The year ahead will include lots more driving, if all goes well. We'll keep pushing for Endeavour crater but watch for interesting targets along the way where we can stop and smell the roses."

Since landing on Mars in 2004, Opportunity has made numerous scientific discoveries, including the first mineralogical evidence that Mars had liquid water. After working 24 times longer than originally planned, Opportunity has driven more than 11 miles and returned more than 133,000 images. JPL manages the rovers for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

For more information about the rovers, visit:

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NASA Extends the World Wide Web Out Into Space 0 comments
Astronauts aboard the International Space Station received a special software upgrade this week - personal access to the Internet and the World Wide Web via the ultimate wireless connection.

Expedition 22 Flight Engineer T.J. Creamer made first use of the new system Friday, when he posted the first unassisted update to his Twitter account, @Astro_TJ, from the space station. Previous tweets from space had to be e-mailed to the ground where support personnel posted them to the astronaut's Twitter account.

"Hello Twitterverse! We r now LIVE tweeting from the International Space Station -- the 1st live tweet from Space! :) More soon, send your ?s"

This personal Web access, called the Crew Support LAN, takes advantage of existing communication links to and from the station and gives astronauts the ability to browse and use the Web. The system will provide astronauts with direct private communications to enhance their quality of life during long-duration missions by helping to ease the isolation associated with life in a closed environment.

During periods when the station is actively communicating with the ground using high-speed Ku-band communications, the crew will have remote access to the Internet via a ground computer. The crew will view the desktop of the ground computer using an onboard laptop and interact remotely with their keyboard touchpad.

Astronauts will be subject to the same computer use guidelines as government employees on Earth. In addition to this new capability, the crew will continue to have official e-mail, Internet Protocol telephone and limited videoconferencing capabilities.

To follow Twitter updates from Creamer and two of his crewmates, ISS Commander Jeff Williams and Soichi Noguchi, visit:

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Eclipses in the Shade 0 comments
Eclipses are everywhere in this shady scene. The picture was taken on the Indian Ocean atoll island of Ellaidhoo, Maldives, on January 15, during the longest annular solar eclipse for the next 1,000 years. Tall palm trees provided the shade. Their many crossed leaves created gaps that acted like pinhole cameras, scattering recognizable eclipse images across the white sands of a tropical garden near the beach. From this idyllic location near the centerline of the Moon's shadow track, the ring of fire or annular phase of the eclipse lasted about 10 minutes and 55 seconds.

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