Wednesday, March 31, 2010

New Coming Attractions Trailer Shows an Exciting Webb Telescope Mission

Picture yourself in a movie theater waiting for the main attraction to begin and the scent of popcorn wafts through the air. The screen lights up with coming attractions and you see a "movie trailer" that you think is really cool. That's what the latest promotional video for NASA's James Webb Space Telescope is like, but instead of a coming Hollywood blockbuster, it is about the future of space astronomy.

This new 90 second video produced at NASA hurls the viewer through space and asks if you can imagine seeing 13 billion years back in time, see the first stars, galaxies evolve and solar systems form. That's what the Webb telescope is going to show us after it launches in four years.

The movie trailer also shows some of the technological highlights included in the Webb space telescope, and creates excitement for the mission.

The James Webb Space Telescope is the next-generation premier space observatory, exploring deep space phenomena from distant galaxies to nearby planets and stars. The telescope will give scientists clues about the formation of the universe and the evolution of our own solar system, from the first light after the Big Bang to the formation of star systems capable of supporting life on planets like Earth.

The video was created by Michael McClare, Senior Producer in the multi-media group at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md. McClare said,"It struck me that the perfect way to highlight the Webb Telescope’s mission is with a movie trailer-like production. The challenge is creating something that grabs the viewer right away. Then, in the next 90-seconds explain the mission's science goals, tease its revolutionary technology and hopefully, elicit interjections like, 'Cool!' and 'Wow!' for this incredible endeavor. It’s only the first of series of media features planned. I’m excited to be part of this extraordinary mission and some of that excitement found its way into the movie trailer."

It took a super-computer to create the science parts of the movie trailer and a collaborative "movie-making" effort. Those visuals were based on theoretical super-computer models and NASA worked with the National Center for Supercomputing Applications to create them.

People do not need to run to the theater to see the movie trailer they just need to get on the Internet. The video is available in various formats, High Resolution DVCPro HD, High Resolution Photo JPG, QuickTime format (720 H.264), MPEG-4 (1280x720 29.97) and h264. Mov format. All of these will be available at NASA's Scientific Visualization Studio Web site:, or at the James Webb Space Telescope mission Web Site:

This "movie trailer" has a lot of production behind it, in terms of designing and building the telescope. In fact, this effort is multinational because the Webb telescope is a joint project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency.

The movie trailer had its debut at the American Astronautical Society's Robert H. Goddard Memorial Symposium, in Greenbelt on March 11 and will air for all time on the Internet for all to enjoy. The Webb telescope's "major motion picture" begins when it launches in 2014!

The movie trailer is available in various formats at:

For more information about the Webb Telescope, visit:

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

El Niño's Last Hurrah?

Recent sea-level height data from the NASA/European Ocean Surface   Topography Mission/Jason-2 oceanography satellite shows El Niño   2009-2010 hanging in there
Recent sea-level height data from the NASA/European Ocean Surface Topography Mission/Jason-2 oceanography satellite shows El Niño 2009-2010 hanging in there. Image credit: Credit: NASA/JPL Ocean Surface Topography Team
› Full image and caption
El Niño 2009-2010 just keeps hanging in there. Recent sea-level height data from the NASA/European Ocean Surface Topography Mission/Jason-2 oceanography satellite show that a large-scale, sustained weakening of trade winds in the western and central equatorial Pacific during late-January through February has triggered yet another strong, eastward-moving wave of warm water, known as a Kelvin wave. Now in the central and eastern equatorial Pacific, this warm wave appears as the large area of higher-than-normal sea surface heights (warmer-than-normal sea surface temperatures) between 150 degrees west and 100 degrees west longitude. A series of similar, weaker events that began in June 2009 initially triggered and has sustained the present El Niño condition.

JPL oceanographer Bill Patzert says it's too soon to know for sure, but he would not be surprised if this latest and largest Kelvin wave is the "last hurrah" for this long-lasting El Niño.

Patzert explained, "Since June 2009, this El Niño has waxed and waned, impacting many global weather events. I,and many other scientists, expect the current El Niño to leave the stage sometime soon. What comes next is not yet clear, but a return to El Niño's dry sibling, La Niña, is certainly a possibility, though by no means a certainty. We'll be monitoring conditions closely over the coming weeks and months."

An El Niño also causes unusual changes in atmospheric circulation and convection around the globe. JPL's Microwave Limb Sounder instrument on NASA's Aura spacecraft captured a large eastward shift of deep convection from the current El Niño, indicated by large amounts of cloud ice in the upper troposphere. For more information, visit:

Monday, March 29, 2010

NASA Celebrates Sun-Earth Day Activities with Live Webcast

NASA EDGE, an award-winning talk show known for offbeat, funny and informative behind-the-scene stories about the space agency, will celebrate Sun-Earth Day 2010, with a live webcast about our sun and its effects on Earth. The program will air at 1 p.m. EDT, Saturday, March 20, from the exhibit floor of the National Science Teachers Association conference in Philadelphia.

This year's focus is magnetic storms created by the sun. Magnetism, a force that affects our everyday lives, plays a key role in the workings of the sun. Its force also is responsible for coronal mass ejections, the most violent explosions in the solar system.

NASA research about these storms will help scientists increase their understanding of the connections between the sun and its planets. Scientists also will be able to better predict the impact of solar activity on humans and technological systems.

The NASA EDGE program will feature interviews with scientists, educators and students. Viewers will hear discussions and see demonstrations about the power of magnetism and how magnetic storms affect them. Science centers and museums around the world will provide images from NASA satellites studying the sun and other multimedia products for educators, students and the public.

To view the webcast, visit:

For more information about Sun-Earth Day, visit:

Friday, March 26, 2010

The Wizard Nebula

The Wizard Nebula
This image of the open star cluster NGC 7380, also known as the Wizard Nebula, is a mosaic of images from the WISE mission spanning an area on the sky of about 5 times the size of the full moon. NGC 7380 is located in the constellation Cepheus about 7,000 light-years from Earth within the Milky Way Galaxy. The star cluster is embedded in a nebula, which spans some 110 light-years. The stars of NGC 7380 have emerged from this star-forming region in the last 5 million years or so, making it a relatively young cluster.

WISE, the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer mission, scans the entire sky in infrared light, picking up the glow of hundreds of millions of objects and producing millions of images. The mission is designed to uncover objects never seen before, including the coolest stars, the universe's most luminous galaxies and some of the darkest near-Earth asteroids and comets. Its vast catalogs will help answer fundamental questions about the origins of planets, stars and galaxies.

WISE joins two other infrared missions in space -- NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope and the Herschel Space Observatory, a European Space Agency mission. WISE is different from these missions in that it will survey the entire sky. It is designed to cast a wide net to catch all sorts of unseen cosmic treasures, including rare oddities. All four infrared detectors aboard WISE were used to make this image.

NGC 7380 was discovered by Caroline Herschel in 1787. Her brother, William Herschel, discovered infrared light in 1800.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

NASA Ames 'Tops Out' First Building in Thirty Years

The final beam was placed as the building, called Sustainability  Base, reached its height and completed its skeletal structure"Beam me up!" was the message signed on the final beam hoisted into place on the iron skeleton of NASA’s new building, called Sustainability Base, Friday, March 12, 2010.

Although not yet completed, Sustainability Base has begun ushering in a new era of innovation, good will and renewed American tradition. Under construction at NASA’s Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif., the building advances the standard for what it means to be “green.” Sustainability Base is expected to achieve a platinum rating under the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards for environmentally sustainable. The building, however, goes beyond LEED to serve as a showcase of NASA and partner ingenuity, incorporating technologies designed for space exploration and applied to improve life here on our home planet. Sustainability Base will be a window to the future on Earth.

"It will be one of the greenest and highest performance building in the federal government," said Steve Zornetzer, associate administrator of NASA Ames. "Today is a good day to celebrate. It's a good day to stop, reflect and show appreciation for work that was well done."

It will be one of the greenest and highest performance buildings  in the federal government, said Steve Zornetzer, associate administrator  of NASA AmesTogether, NASA and Swinerton Builders workers and management signed the final beam as part of a celebration, called the "Topping Out." No one really knows how or when it originated, but the tradition places an evergreen tree, a flag or both on the last beam as it is lifted into place, it signifies the structure has reached its height and the skeleton is completed.

"As a company, we are proud to be part of a green effort that is so successful," said Dan Beyer, vice president of Swinerton Builders., San Francisco, Calif. "The tree signifies new growth as the building construction comes to fruition and is used over time; the flag represents who we are as Americans."

Over the years, the Topping Out custom remains important to ironworkers in the steel construction industry. For some, the evergreen symbolizes the successful completion of construction without loss of life, for others, it’s a good luck charm for the occupants. Similarly, the flag also has multiple meanings: the construction of a federal building, patriotism, or the American dream. Whatever the interpretation, it welcomes the future while providing a link with the past.

"We need buildings like this to bring back America," said John W. Elwood, vice president of Swinerton, Builders, Santa Clara, Calif. "The flag represents our full support for our country and our American troops. The evergreen tree is our good luck charm."

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Global Map of Mercury

In December 2009, the first high-resolution global map of Mercury was made publicly available. These images are from MESSENGER, a NASA Discovery mission to conduct the first orbital study of the innermost planet, Mercury. Members of the MESSENGER team and experts from the U. S. Geological Survey (USGS) used images from MESSENGER's three Mercury flybys and from the Mariner 10 mission in 1974-75 to create a global mosaic that covers 97.7% of Mercury's surface at a resolution of 500 meters/pixel (0.31 miles/pixel).

Monday, March 22, 2010

NASA Announces Systems Engineering Student Competition

NASA's Exploration Systems Mission Directorate is inviting teams of undergraduate and graduate students throughout the country to participate in the fourth annual Systems Engineering Paper Competition. Participants in the competition will submit a paper on an Exploration Systems mission topic.

The deadline to register for the competition is April 16. Papers are due April 23. The winning teams will be announced in May. Awards include up to $3,500 in cash scholarships and VIP invitations to attend a future space shuttle or rocket launch at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The competition is designed to engage students in the science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, disciplines critical to NASA's missions.

For information about the competition and how to apply, visit:
For information about NASA's education programs, visit:

Friday, March 19, 2010

Three FASTSAT Instruments Pass Tests

The MINI-ME instrumentThe outer layers of Earth's atmosphere hold many secrets yet to be uncovered and three scientific instruments will fly soon on the FASTSAT-HSV01 satellite and seek to uncover them to benefit us here on Earth. Known as MINI-ME, PISA and TTI, these instruments recently passed a series of important final tests to prove their readiness for spaceflight.

These instruments were conceived and built at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., and were integrated to the satellite and tested at NASA's Marshall Spaceflight Center, Huntsville, Ala.

MINI-ME, acronym for Miniature Imager for Neutral Ionospheric atoms and Magnetospheric Electrons, is a low energy neutral atom imager which will detect neutral atoms formed in the plasma population of the Earth's outer atmosphere to improve global space weather prediction. Low energy neutral atom imaging is a technique first pioneered at Goddard which allows scientists to observe remotely various trapped charged particle populations around Earth that we would normally only be able to observe in-situ through direct instrument contact with the particles.

Michael Collier, Principal Investigator for the MINI-ME instrument at NASA Goddard said, "The satellite has gone through vibration, thermal, and Electromagnetic Interference (EMI) tests and everything looks great. The MINI-ME instrument is performing as expected."

The PISA instrumentPISA is an acronym for the Plasma Impedance Spectrum Analyzer, which will test a new measurement technique for the thermal electron populations in the ionosphere, and their density structuring, which can interfere with or scatter radio signals used for communication and navigation. PISA will tell scientists on Earth when and where the ionosphere becomes structured or turbulent. That will give us better predictions of how space weather will affect GPS signals.

Doug Rowland, PISA's Principal Investigator at NASA Goddard said, "PISA has completed the same tests that the Mini-ME endured and has just passed powered Electromagnetic Interference Test. PISA is on track for spacecraft to be packed up and delivered to the launch site." The EMI, vibration and thermal testing are critical tests for all instruments and satellites before they're loaded aboard a rocket and put into orbit.

The Thermospheric Temperature Imager, or TTI, will provide the first global-scale measurements of thermospheric temperature profiles in the 56-168 mile (90-270 km) region of the Earth's atmosphere. The temperature profile sets the scale height of the thermosphere which determines the density at orbital altitudes and therefore the aerodynamic drag experienced by military spacecraft.

John Sigwarth, TTI's Principal Investigator at NASA Goddard, said "The TTI survived the satellite launch vibration levels, being blasted with radio waves, and the TTI had a great thermal vacuum test. We were able to characterize the operation of the instrument in space-like environments and the TTI is ready for launch. We are eagerly anticipating obtaining great data from orbit."

Electromagnetic Interference or EMI testing is done to ensure that powerful ground-based communications and radar systems do not cause interference on the satellite or instrument systems.

Vibration testing is an important part of the testing process, because when the rocket carrying the satellite lifts off and travels through Earth's atmosphere it experiences intense vibrations. Successful vibration testing assures scientists and engineers that their instrument will remain intact and fully functional after launch.

Thermal testing is also critical, because of the extreme temperatures in space. Scientists need to be sure that the instruments will maintain function at extreme temperatures, from the extreme heat the rocket carrying the satellite will experience during launch and when it travels through Earth's atmosphere into the cold void of space.

"With the completion of the last phase of environmental testing of the integrated FASTSAT-HSV01 spacecraft, our team is focused on readying the satellite and its six science and technology instruments, for its near term shipment to Kodiak, Alaska, and for an on time launch no earlier than May 28, 2010," said FASTSAT Project Manager Mark Boudreaux at NASA Marshall.

"FASTSAT-HSV" means "Fast, Affordable, Science and Technology Satellite, Huntsville" The development, integration, test and operations of the three instruments is a collaborative effort between NASA Goddard, NASA Marshall, and the U.S. Naval Academy, Annapolis, Md.

FASTSAT-HSV01 will be flying a total of six instruments approved by the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) Space Experiments Review Board multi-spacecraft/payload mission named STP-S26, which is executed by the DoD Space Test Program (STP) at the Space Development and Test Wing (SDTW), Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M. which is a unit of the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center. The mission was designated S26 to correspond to the 26th small launch vehicle mission in STP's more than 40 year history of flying DoD space experiments. The mission will launch four satellites and three cubesats into low earth orbit.

The satellite was created at NASA Marshall with the Von Braun Center for Science and Innovation, in partnership with Dynetics, a corporate partner.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

NASA Launches Interactive Simulation of Satellite Communications

NASA today unveiled an interactive computer simulation that allows virtual explorers of all ages to dock the space shuttle at the International Space Station, experience a virtual trip to Mars or a lunar impact, and explore images of star formations taken by the Hubble Space Telescope.

In an effort to excite young people about space and NASA's missions, the agency has launched the online Space Communication and Navigation (SCaN) simulation, designed to entertain and educate. The interactive simulation offers a virtual 3-D experience to visualize how data travels along various space communications paths.

"The elaborate space communications networks that connect scientists and engineers with NASA's spacecraft is essential to all of NASA's missions and can be a challenging concept to comprehend," said Barbara Adde, a policy and strategic communications manager for the Office of Space Communications and Navigation at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "This simulation helps explain this complex infrastructure in an engaging way by using an interactive 3-D game."

The interactive Space Communication and Navigation simulation allows visitors to select spacecraft and experience a "flythrough," or a tutorial with images and descriptions of NASA's three space communication networks. For example, the Near Earth Network flythrough shows how data originates at an antenna at McMurdo Station, McMurdo Sound, Antarctica. The data is then sent to NASA's Ice, Cloud, and land Elevation Satellite, or ICESat, as it passes overhead.

The Space Network flythrough also shows how data is relayed from NASA's White Sands Test Facility, N.M., to the space station via the Tracking and Data Relay Satellite System, a network of communication satellites and ground stations NASA uses for space communications.

Finally, in the Deep Space Network demonstration, visitors learn how NASA communicates with the Mars Exploration Rovers, Sprit and Opportunity, by using the Madrid Deep Space Network antenna to send data to the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which then relays the data to the rover.

"Making this interactive simulation available to young people is important and may lead them to consider a career in engineering, science or information technology as it relates to space," said Chris C. Kemp, chief information officer at NASA's Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, Calif. "NASA is embracing the fact that programs like this help convey NASA's message to people who respond well to virtual and online learning environments."

The space communication network simulation features nine spacecraft to choose from, including the Hubble Space Telescope, the space station, the space shuttle orbiter, the Spirit and Opportunity rovers, Cassini, the Lunar CRater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS), ICESat and Aura. Once a spacecraft is contacted, visitors can request actions such as "choose an imaging target" and "take pictures" of the Crab Nebula as seen from Hubble, or view videos of the space shuttle docking at the station.

In addition to the Space Communication and Navigation simulation, NASA provides interactive applications and other online educational tools on its Web site.

To explore the Space Communication and Navigation network simulation, visit:
For more information about the Space Communications and Navigation network, visit:
For more information about NASA's educational resources, visit:

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

NASA Weather Pioneer Joanne Simpson Passes

Dr. Joanne SimpsonDr. Joanne Simpson, one of NASA's leading weather scientists of the past 30 years, and a world-renowned atmospheric scientist, died on Thursday, March 4, 2010 at George Washington University Hospital, in Washington.

Until her recent retirement, Simpson was Chief Scientist Emeritus for Meteorology, Earth Sun Exploration Division, at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. She worked with a science group on Cloud and Mesoscale modeling and studied hurricanes. She has authored or co-authored over 190 scientific articles.

Dorothy Zukor, Deputy Director of Earth Sciences at Goddard, said "Joanne was a joy to work with. In addition to being excited and enthusiastic about her own research, she was always helping students to become scientists. Many are practicing in the field today because of her guidance and encouragement. She has left a true legacy, not only from her own work but for the future of the field."

Joanne was born in 1923, and was a pioneer by the time she was in her twenties. As a student pilot during World War II, she took a course in meteorology and was fascinated. She earned a B.S. in Meteorology from the University of Chicago, and spent the rest of the war teaching meteorology to Aviation Cadets. In 1949, Simpson became the first woman to earn a Ph.D. in meteorology, focused her research on clouds, and went on to serve on the faculty of the University of Chicago until joining NASA permanently.

Simpson really made her mark in meteorology in the late 1950s, when she and her former professor, Herbert Riehl came up with an explanation of how the atmosphere moved heat and moisture away from the tropics to higher latitudes. That explanation included the "hot tower" hypothesis that later shed light on hurricane behavior.

A "hot tower" is a tropical cumulonimbus cloud that penetrates the tropopause. Basically, the cloud top breaches the top of the troposphere, the lowest layer of the atmosphere and reaches into the stratosphere. These clouds are called "hot" because they rise high due to the large amount of latent heat released as water vapor condenses into liquid.

Simpson developed the first mathematical cloud model using a slide rule to do the calculations because computers weren't available. Her work sparked a brand new field of study in meteorology. In the early 1960s, she developed the first computer cloud model.

Joanne came to NASA Goddard in 1979 as the Chief of NASA’s Laboratory for Atmosphere's Severe Storms Branch. Her arrival at NASA followed an academic career as professor at the University of California at Los Angeles and the University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Va. sandwiched around a long period as the head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) Experimental Meteorology Laboratory in Miami, Fla.

During her career at NASA, Joanne's research focused on convective cloud systems and tropical cyclones using numerical cloud models and observations. She made integral contributions to several historic NASA field missions, including the Convection And Moisture EXperiment (CAMEX) missions, the Tropical Ocean Global Atmospheres/Coupled Ocean Atmosphere Response Experiment (TOGA COARE), the GARP Atlantic Tropical Experiment (GATE), and the Winter Monsoon Experiment (Winter MONEX).

In 1986, NASA asked Joanne to lead the science study for the proposed Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM), a satellite to carry both active and passive microwave instruments to accurately measure rainfall across the tropics and subtropics. TRMM is a joint mission between NASA and JAXA, Japan’s Aerospace Exploration Agency.

Between 1986 and the launch in November 1997, Joanne served first as Study Scientist and then Project Scientist for TRMM, bringing it from concept to reality. TRMM continues to fly today and provide unique surface rainfall and hydrometeor profile data for climate and atmospheric process studies and for real-time operational applications related to convective systems and hurricanes. Joanne often stated that TRMM was the most important accomplishment of her career.

Joanne recently inquired about TRMM and was very enthusiastic about TRMM's potential overlap with Goddard's Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) mission, to be launched in 2013. Dr. Robert Adler, now a Senior Research Scientist at the University of Maryland, College Park, was formerly Joanne’s Deputy on TRMM and also TRMM Project Scientist later in the mission, says "Joanne was the heart and soul of TRMM during the pre-launch phase, sharpening the scientific focus of the mission, resolving critical choices related to instruments, orbit, etc. and fighting (and winning) the budget and political battles to get us to launch and beyond. TRMM would not exist if it hadn’t been for Joanne."

Joanne had a career filled with awards and recognition of her research. She was elected to the National Academy of Engineering, awarded the Carl-Gustaf Rossby Award (the highest honor bestowed by the American Meteorological Society), presented with a Guggenheim Fellowship, served as President of the American Meteorological Society and received numerous NASA and Goddard awards. In 2002, she was awarded the prestigious International Meteorological Organization Prize. She was the first woman to receive the award.

Joanne's contributions will forever live on in NASA hurricane research and are a tremendous part of meteorological history.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Alternative Energy Crops in Space


Fruits of J. curcas. Fruits are produced terminally in the  branches, and each fruit contains three seedsWhat if space held the key to producing alternative energy crops on Earth? That's what researchers are hoping to find in a new experiment on the International Space Station.

The experiment, National Lab Pathfinder-Cells 3, is aimed at learning whether microgravity can help jatropha curcas plant cells grow faster to produce biofuel, or renewable fuel derived from biological matter. Jatropha
is known to produce high quality oil that can be converted into an alternative energy fuel, or biofuel.

By studying the effects of microgravity on jatropha cells, researchers hope to accelerate the cultivation of the plant for commercial use by improving characteristics such as cell structure, growth and development. This is the first study to assess the effects of microgravity on cells of a
biofuel plant.

Fluid Processing Apparatus (FPA) containing cell suspensions of J.  curcas"As the search for alternate energy sources has become a top priority, the results from this study could add value for commercialization of a new product,” said Wagner Vendrame, principal investigator for the experiment at the University of Florida in Homestead. "Our goal is to verify if microgravity will induce any significant changes in the cells that could affect plant growth and development back on Earth."

Launched on
space shuttle Endeavour’s STS-130 mission in February, cell cultures of jatropha were sent to the space station in special flasks containing nutrients and vitamins. The cells will be exposed to microgravity until they return to Earth aboard space shuttle Discovery's STS-131 mission targeted for April.

Seeds of J. curcas. Seeds are pressed for oil extraction, which  can be utilized as biofuelFor comparison studies of how fast the cultures grow, a replicated set of samples are being maintained at the University of Florida's Tropical Research and Education Center in Homestead.

"Watching the space shuttle go up carrying a little piece of my work is an indescribable experience," said Vendrame. "Knowing that my experiment could contribute to creating a sustainable means for biofuel production on Earth, and therefore making this a better world adds special value to the work."

Monday, March 15, 2010

Winds of Change: How Black Holes May Shape Galaxies

Composite image of  galaxy NGC 1068

New observations from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory provide evidence for powerful winds blowing away from the vicinity of a supermassive black hole in a nearby galaxy. This discovery indicates that "average" supermassive black holes may play an important role in the evolution of the galaxies in which they reside.

For years, astronomers have known that a supermassive black hole grows in parallel with its host galaxy. And, it has long been suspected that material blown away from a black hole -- as opposed to the fraction of material that falls into it -- alters the evolution of its host galaxy.

A key question is whether such "black hole blowback" typically delivers enough power to have a significant impact. Powerful relativistic jets shot away from the biggest supermassive black holes in large, central galaxies in clusters like Perseus are seen to shape their host galaxies, but these are rare. What about less powerful, less focused galaxy-scale winds that should be much more common?

"We're more interested here in seeing what an "average"-sized supermassive black hole can do to its galaxy, not the few, really big ones in the biggest galaxies," said Dan Evans of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who presented these results at the High Energy Astrophysics Division of the American Astronomical Society meeting in Kona, Hawaii.

Evans and his colleagues used Chandra for five days to observe NGC 1068, one of the nearest and brightest galaxies containing a rapidly growing supermassive black hole. This black hole is only about twice as massive as the one in the center of our Galaxy, which is considered to be a rather ordinary size.

The X-ray images and spectra obtained using Chandra's High Energy Transmission Grating Spectrometer showed that a strong wind is being driven away from the center of NGC 1068 at a rate of about a million miles per hour. This wind is likely generated as surrounding gas is accelerated and heated as it swirls toward the black hole. A portion of the gas is pulled into the black hole, but some of it is blown away. High energy X-rays produced by the gas near the black hole heat the ouflowing gas, causing it to glow at lower X-ray energies.

This study by Evans and colleagues represents the first X-ray observation that is deep enough to make a high quality map of the cone-shaped volume lit up by the black hole and its winds. By combining measurement of the velocity of the clouds with estimates of the density of the gas, Evans and his colleagues showed that each year several times the mass of the Sun is being deposited out to large distances, about 3,000 light years from the black hole. The wind may carry enough energy to heat the surrounding gas and suppress extra star formation.

"We have shown that even these middle-of-the-road black holes can pack a punch," said Evans. "I think the upshot is that these black holes are anything but ordinary."

Further studies of other nearby galaxies will examine the impact of other AGN outflows, leading to improvements in our understanding of the evolution of both galaxies and black holes.

"In the future, our own Galaxy's black hole may undergo similar activity, helping to shut down the growth of new stars in the central region of the Milky Way," said Evans.

These new results provide a key comparison to previous work performed at Georgia State University and the Catholic University of America with the Hubble Space Telescope's STIS instrument.

NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., manages the Chandra program for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory controls Chandra's science and flight operations from Cambridge, Mass.

More information, including images and other multimedia, can be found at:

Friday, March 12, 2010

NASA Mars Orbiter Speeds Past Data Milestone

Dunes and Inverted Crater in Arabia Terra
NASA's newest Mars orbiter, completing its fourth year at the Red Planet next week, has just passed a data-volume milestone unimaginable a generation ago and still difficult to fathom: 100 terabits.
That 100 trillion bits of information is more data than in 35 hours of uncompressed high-definition video. It's also more than three times the amount of data from all other deep-space missions combined -- not just the ones to Mars, but every mission that has flown past the orbit of Earth's moon.
"What is most impressive about all these data is not the sheer quantity, but the quality of what they tell us about our neighbor planet," said Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Project Scientist Rich Zurek, of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. "The data from the orbiter's six instruments have given us a much deeper understanding of the diversity of environments on Mars today and how they have changed over time."
The spacecraft entered orbit around Mars on March 10, 2006, following an Aug. 12, 2005, launch from Florida. It completed its primary science phase in 2008 and continues investigations of Mars' surface, subsurface and atmosphere.
The orbiter sports a dish antenna 3 meters (10 feet) in diameter and uses it to pour data Earthward at up to 6 megabits per second. Its science instruments are three cameras, a spectrometer for identifying minerals, a ground-penetrating radar and an atmosphere sounder.
The capability to return enormous volumes of data enables these instruments to view Mars at unprecedented spatial resolutions. Half the planet has been covered at 6 meters (20 feet) per pixel, and nearly 1 percent of the planet has been observed at about 30 centimeters (1 foot) per pixel, sharp enough to discern objects the size of a desk. The radar, provided by Italy, has looked beneath the surface in 6,500 observing strips, sampling about half the planet.
Among the mission's major findings is that the action of water on and near the surface of Mars occurred for hundreds of millions of years. This activity was at least regional and possibly global in extent, though possibly intermittent. The spacecraft has also observed that signatures of a variety of watery environments, some acidic, some alkaline, increase the possibility that there are places on Mars that could reveal evidence of past life, if it ever existed.
JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, manages the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver, is the spacecraft development and integration contractor for the project and built the spacecraft.
The Shallow Radar instrument was provided by the Italian Space Agency, and its operations are led by the InfoCom Department, University of Rome "La Sapienza." Thales Alenia Space Italia, in Rome, is the Italian Space Agency's prime contractor for the radar instrument. Astro Aerospace of Carpinteria, Calif., a business unit of Los Angeles-based Northrop Grumman Corp., developed the instrument's antenna as a subcontractor to Thales Alenia Space Italia.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Radar Map of Buried Martian Ice Adds to Climate Record

A radar on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has detected widespread deposits of glacial ice in the mid-latitudes of Mars.
A radar on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has detected widespread deposits of glacial ice in the mid-latitudes of Mars. › Full image and caption
Extensive radar mapping of the middle-latitude region of northern Mars shows that thick masses of buried ice are quite common beneath protective coverings of rubble.
The ability of NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter to continue charting the locations of these hidden glaciers and ice-filled valleys -- first confirmed by radar two years ago -- adds clues about how these deposits may have been left as remnants when regional ice sheets retreated.
The subsurface ice deposits extend for hundreds of kilometers, or miles, in the rugged region called Deuteronilus Mensae, about halfway from the equator to the Martian north pole. Jeffrey Plaut of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., and colleagues prepared a map of the region's confirmed ice for presentation at this week's 41st Lunar and Planetary Science Conference near Houston.
The Shallow Radar instrument on the orbiter has obtained more than 250 observations of the study area, which is about the size of California.
"We have mapped the whole area with a high density of coverage," Plaut said. "These are not isolated features. In this area, the radar is detecting thick subsurface ice in many locations." The common locations are around the bases of mesas and scarps, and confined within valleys or craters.
Plaut said, "The hypothesis is the whole area was covered with an ice sheet during a different climate period, and when the climate dried out, these deposits remained only where they had been covered by a layer of debris protecting the ice from the atmosphere."
The researchers plan to continue the mapping. These buried masses of ice are a significant fraction of the known non-polar ice on Mars. The ice could contain a record of environmental conditions at the time of its deposition and flow, making the ice masses an intriguing possible target for a future mission with digging capability.
The Shallow Radar instrument was provided by the Italian Space Agency, and its operations are led by the InfoCom Department, University of Rome "La Sapienza." Thales Alenia Space Italia, in Rome, is the Italian Space Agency's prime contractor for the radar instrument. Astro Aerospace of Carpinteria, Calif., a business unit of Los Angeles-based Northrop Grumman Corp., developed the instrument's antenna as a subcontractor to Thales Alenia Space Italia.
The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter mission is managed by JPL for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Denver was the prime contractor for the orbiter and supports its operations. The California Institute of Technology in Pasadena manages JPL for NASA.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Salt-Seeking Satellite Shaken By Quake, But Not Stirred

NASA's Aquarius instrument at INVAP's satellite integration facility in Bariloche, ArgentinaNASA's Aquarius instrument, and the Argentinian spacecraft that will carry it into space, the Satelite de Aplicaciones Cientificas (SAC-D), successfully rode out one of the largest earthquakes in recorded history Feb. 27 with no problems. The instrument and spacecraft are at the satellite systems contractor's satellite integration facility in Bariloche, Argentina. The city of Bariloche, located approximately 588 kilometers, or 365 miles, from the epicenter of the magnitude 8.8 earthquake, experienced light shaking, as indicated by the Modified Mercalli Intensity Scale, which evaluates the effects of earthquakes as experienced by people in the region. No damage was reported to the facility or spacecraft. A separate magnitude 6.3 earthquake in Salta, Argentina, later that day that was triggered by the Chile earthquake was too far away (1,900 kilometers or 1,200 miles) to be felt in Bariloche.
The JPL-built Aquarius instrument is at the Bariloche facility to be integrated with the SAC-D satellite.
Aquarius/SAC-D is an international mission between NASA and Argentina's space agency, Comisión Nacional de Actividades Espaciales. The primary instrument on the mission, Aquarius is designed to provide monthly global maps of how salt concentration varies on the ocean surface -- a key indicator of ocean circulation and its role in climate change. Seven Argentine space agency-sponsored instruments will provide environmental data for a wide range of applications, including natural hazards, land processes, epidemiological studies and air quality issues.
The minimum three-year mission is scheduled to launch late this year from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

NASA Announces 2010 Carl Sagan Fellows

The Sagan Fellowship, named after the late Carl Sagan, is one of three fellowships that represent a new theme-based approachNASA has selected seven scientists as recipients of Carl Sagan Postdoctoral Fellowships in exoplanet exploration for 2010. The Sagan Fellowships support outstanding recent postdoctoral scientists in conducting independent research broadly related to the science goals of NASA's Exoplanet Exploration Program. That program's primary goal is to discover and characterize planetary systems and Earth-like planets around other stars.
"The Sagan Fellowship identifies and supports the most promising young scholars who are passionate about the scientific search for and study of planets beyond our solar system," said Charles Beichman, executive director of the NASA Exoplanet Science Institute at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. "These young scientists combine interest in the fields of astronomy, astrobiology or geophysics with expertise in theory, observation, or state-of-the-art instrumentation. They are following a trail blazed by Carl Sagan -- after whom the fellowship program is named -- that may one day lead to the discovery of life on worlds other than Earth."
The program, created in 2008, awards selected postdoctoral scientists with stipends of approximately $62,500 for up to three years, plus an annual research budget of $16,000. Topics range from techniques for detecting the glow of a dim planet in the blinding glare of its host star, to searching for the crucial ingredients of life in other planetary systems.
In addition to the Sagan Fellowships, NASA has two other astrophysics theme-based fellowship programs: the Einstein Fellowship Program, which supports research into the physics of the cosmos; and the Hubble Fellowship Program, which supports research into cosmic origins.
The 2010 Sagan Fellows are:
--Diana Valencia, who will work at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, to study the internal structure, composition and physical evolution of super-Earths.
--Emily Rauscher, who will work at the University of Arizona, Tucson, to investigate the atmospheric conditions necessary to achieve large-scale variability in hot Jupiters. A hot Jupiter is a planet roughly the size of Jupiter that orbits very close to its parent star.
--Lucas Cieza, who will work at the Institute for Astronomy at the University of Hawaii, Honolulu, to study the disks of gas and dust around young stars where there is evidence of planets being formed.
--Ivan Ramirez, who will work at the Carnegie Observatories, Pasadena, Calif., to develop new methods for finding planets based on chemical analyses of their stars.
--Jacob Bean, who will work at Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass., to carry out a sensitive search for planets around the smallest stars by carefully measuring the stellar wobble produced by the planet.
--Laurent Pueyo, who will work at Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Md., to use adaptive optics observations to directly image planets around other stars.
--Aaron Boley, who will attend the University of Florida, Gainesville, Fla., to study the formation of gas giant planets, particularly the formation and heating of large solids in the initial stages of planet-building.
A full description of the 2010 fellows and their projects, and other information about these programs is available at:
More information about NASA's Astrophysics Division is at:
The Sagan Fellowship Program is administered by the NASA Exoplanet Science Institute as part of NASA's Exoplanet Exploration Program at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. The California Institute of Technology manages JPL for NASA.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Former NASA Ames Employee Wants Energy to Bloom Throughout the World

K.R. Sridhar holds the fuel cell technology that is equivalent to 25 watts of powerK.R. Sridhar used to spend his time as a researcher at NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif., looking at the sky and dreaming of ways to sustain life on Mars. Now, CEO of Bloom Energy, Sridhar heads a company that just unveiled new technology that could make energy cleaner, cheaper, more reliable and accessible to everyone in the world.

The journey from NASA to Bloom Energy started with Sridhar and a small team of university researchers working to build a fuel cell powered module to go to Mars. When their NASA project ended, the team left academic life, opened a research and development office in NASA Research Park, and began working to commercialize the fuel cell technology with a new company, ION America, which became Bloom Energy.

"NASA is a tremendous environment for encouraging innovation - it's all about solving problems that are seemingly unsolvable. After realizing that we could make oxygen on Mars, making electrons on Earth seemed far less daunting. We're grateful to NASA for giving us a challenge with serendipitous impact for mankind," said Sridhar.

Bloom Energy servers at eBay. Each server is the equivalent size of one parking spotInvented over a century ago, fuel cells have been used in practically every NASA mission since the 1960s. However, they have not gained widespread acceptance because of their inherently high cost. Traditional fuel cell technology used precious metals but this technology uses sand. Sand is inexpensive, which Sridhar asserts makes the Bloom Energy technology affordable and easy to mass produce.

As more people consume more energy, Sridhar became aware that the world was heading in the wrong direction. “We would be handing our children and their children a broken planet," ventured Sridhar. “I didn’t want to sit on the sidelines and do nothing." Sridhar believed that conservation alone was not enough and that there was a “calling to our generation to find a different way to create energy."

"To make clean reliable energy affordable for everyone in the world," is the mission of Bloom Energy. "One in three humans lives without power," Sridhar asserted. "Energy demand exceeds supply. Global population is growing quickly." Keeping these three facts in mind, Sridhar is working to bring energy to parts of the world that don’t have power.

On Feb. 24, 2010, Bloom Energy held a press conference at the eBay town hall in San Jose, Calif. “This is a day that I have been looking forward to for a long time,” Sridhar commented. Representatives from companies that were early adapters attended, including Larry Page from Google, Inc., Bill Simon from Walmart, Brian Kelly from The Coca-Cola Company, and John Donahoe of eBay, Inc.

Former secretary of state, Colin Powell, and Arnold Schwarzeneggar, California governor, also attended the event. “This technology is an excellent example of the wave of green innovation washing over the state of California,” said Schwarzeneggar. "He [Sridhar] is someone shaping the future of energy not just for California but for the world."

Friday, March 5, 2010

Media Day Planned for First NASA Global Hawk Science Campaign

Reporters are invited to a media day in April to observe the first environmental science mission of NASA's Global Hawk unmanned aircraft system at the Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif.

The Global Hawk Pacific 2010 mission, or GloPac, will involve a series of long-duration flights by the autonomously operated aircraft. The flights will travel over the Pacific Ocean south to the equator, west past Hawaii, and north into the Arctic. Ten instruments on the aircraft will collect a wide range of atmospheric data.

The media day is tentatively scheduled for April 13 from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. PST. News media will have the opportunity to view the Global Hawk, tour the aircraft hangar and ground operations center, and talk with mission personnel.

Presentations will be made by principal investigators Paul Newman of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., David Fahey of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Boulder, Colo., and Global Hawk project manager Chris Naftel from Dryden.

To obtain credentials, journalists must submit a request to Beth Hagenauer, Dryden public affairs, by phone at 661-276-7960/3449 or by e-mail to Requests for foreign nationals and U.S. citizens representing foreign-based media are due March 5. The deadline for U.S. citizens and permanent resident aliens representing domestic media is March 31.

All requests must include full name, date of birth, place of birth, media organization, the last six digits of social security number and driver's license number, including issuing state. In addition, foreign nationals must provide their citizenship, visa or passport number, country of issue and expiration date. Foreign nationals with permanent residency also must provide their alien registration number and expiration date.

For more information about the GloPac mission, visit:

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Media Day Planned for First NASA Global Hawk Science Campaign

Reporters are invited to a media day in April to observe the first environmental science mission of NASA's Global Hawk unmanned aircraft system at the Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif.

The Global Hawk Pacific 2010 mission, or GloPac, will involve a series of long-duration flights by the autonomously operated aircraft. The flights will travel over the Pacific Ocean south to the equator, west past Hawaii, and north into the Arctic. Ten instruments on the aircraft will collect a wide range of atmospheric data.

The media day is tentatively scheduled for April 13 from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. PST. News media will have the opportunity to view the Global Hawk, tour the aircraft hangar and ground operations center, and talk with mission personnel.

Presentations will be made by principal investigators Paul Newman of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., David Fahey of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Boulder, Colo., and Global Hawk project manager Chris Naftel from Dryden.

To obtain credentials, journalists must submit a request to Beth Hagenauer, Dryden public affairs, by phone at 661-276-7960/3449 or by e-mail to Requests for foreign nationals and U.S. citizens representing foreign-based media are due March 5. The deadline for U.S. citizens and permanent resident aliens representing domestic media is March 31.

All requests must include full name, date of birth, place of birth, media organization, the last six digits of social security number and driver's license number, including issuing state. In addition, foreign nationals must provide their citizenship, visa or passport number, country of issue and expiration date. Foreign nationals with permanent residency also must provide their alien registration number and expiration date.

For more information about the GloPac mission, visit:

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Piecing Together the Temperature Puzzle

Piecing Together the Temperature Puzzle illustrates how NASA satellites enable us to study possible causes of climate changeNASA has released a new video and image gallery that illustrate how NASA satellites enable scientists to observe climate change today and make predictions for the future.

The video, “Piecing Together the Temperature Puzzle,” explores possible causes for rising global temperatures. It explains what role fluctuations in the solar cycle, changes in snow and cloud cover, and rising levels of heat-trapping greenhouse gases play in contributing to global warming.

The new gallery consists of ten spectacular satellite images of our warming planet captured during the hottest decade since modern record keeping began. The images show the kinds of events -- including melting glaciers, heat waves, and floods -- that many scientists predict will become more frequent in coming decades due to climate change.

This image, one of 10 in the gallery, shows a false-color image of Spain during a July 2004 heatwave
Both the video and the image gallery are part of a new multimedia collection available with the launch of the “Our Warming World” Web page on NASA’s Global Climate Change Web site. “Our Warming World” features videos, images, articles and interactive visuals that discuss rising global temperatures and the impact of greenhouse gases as the main contributor to today’s climate change.

Related Links

Visit NASA's Global Climate Change Web site to explore the image gallery:

Images from the gallery and the video can also be viewed and downloaded at NASA's Scientific Visualization Studio Web site.

Monday, March 1, 2010

NASA Supports Univision Hispanic Education Campaign, Plans Ongoing Partnership

NASA is working with Univision Communications Inc. to develop a partnership in support of the Spanish-language media outlet's initiative to improve high school graduation rates, prepare Hispanic students for college, and encourage them to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, disciplines.

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden attended Univision's announcement Tuesday at the National Press Club in Washington of a three-year national Hispanic education initiative titled Es El Momento (The Moment is Now).

"Education is a vital component of NASA's mission," Bolden said. "We look forward to developing a partnership with Univision that would allow us to combine NASA's unique STEM education content with Univision's communications platforms -- television, radio, and online and interactive media."

Also present at the event were Univision President and CEO Joe Uva, Univision Networks President Cesar Conde, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis and philanthropist Melinda Gates. Organizations partnering on this initiative include the U.S. Department of Education and the Gates Foundation.

Collaboration with Univision will complement NASA's current education efforts to engage underrepresented and underserved students in the critical STEM fields.

For more information about NASA's education programs, visit:
For more information about Univision's Es El Momento, visit: