NASA Spacecraft Capture an Earth Directed Coronal Mass Ejection

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On August 20, 2013 at 4:24 a.m. EDT, the sun erupted with an Earth-directed coronal mass ejection, or CME, a solar phenomenon which can send billions of tons of particles into space that can reach Earth one to three days later. These particles cannot travel through the atmosphere to harm humans on Earth, but they can affect electronic systems in satellites and on the ground.

Experimental NASA research models, based on observations from NASA’s Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory, show that the CME left the sun at speeds of around 570 miles per second, which is a fairly typical speed for CMEs.

To see images of this CME and read more, visit https://www.nasa.gov/content/goddard/20130820-nasa-spacecraft-capture-earth-directed-coronal-mass-ejection/index.html#.UhOSCYWC4vQ

This story is a great extension to the NASA Explorer Schools featured lesson, Geometry: Space Math Problems—Solar Storms. To access this lesson, visit the NES Virtual Campus at http://explorerschools.nasa.gov.

Seeing Photosynthesis from Space: NASA Scientists Use Satellites to Measure Plant Health

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NASA scientists have established a new way to use satellites to measure what’s occurring inside plants at a cellular level.

For more information about this new use, visit https://www.nasa.gov/content/goddard/seeing-photosynthesis-from-space-nasa-scientists-use-satellites-to-measure-plant-health/index.html#.UhIcz2RMTrG

“Wheel Tracks Now, Boot Prints Later”

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NASA’s Curiosity rover has just marked one year on Mars and has already achieved its main science goal of revealing ancient Mars could have supported life. The mobile laboratory also is guiding designs for future planetary missions.

“Successes of our Curiosity…advance us toward further exploration, including sending humans to an asteroid and Mars,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. “Wheel tracks now, will lead to boot prints later.”

To read more about Curiosity, visit https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/msl/curiosity-nearing-first-anniversary-on-Mars/index.html#.UgEJnYXTovQ

This story is an excellent extension to the NASA Explorer Schools Mars Month NASA Now programs from September, 2012. To access and view these programs, visit the NES Virtual Campus.

NASA’s IRIS Telescope Offers First Glimpse of Sun’s Mysterious Atmosphere

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The moment when a telescope first opens its doors represents the culmination of years of work and planning — while simultaneously laying the groundwork for a wealth of research and answers yet to come. It is a moment of excitement and perhaps even a little uncertainty. On July 17, 2013, the international team of scientists and engineers who supported and built NASA’s Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph, or IRIS, all lived through that moment. As the spacecraft orbited around Earth, the door of the telescope opened to view the mysterious lowest layers of the sun’s atmosphere and the results thus far are nothing short of amazing. The data is crisp and clear, showing unprecedented detail of this little-observed region.

To read more about IRIS and see images of the sun’s atmosphere, visit: https://www.nasa.gov/content/goddard/iris-telescope-first-glimpse-of-suns-mysterious-atmosphere/index.html#.Ufa_zYXTovQ

This story is a great extension to the NASA Explorer Schools featured lesson, Geometry: Space Math Problems—Solar Storms. To access this lesson, visit the NES Virtual Campus at: http://explorerschools.nasa.gov.

Large Coronal Hole Near the Sun’s North Pole

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The European Space Agency/NASA Solar and Heliospheric Observatory, or SOHO, captured this image of a gigantic coronal hole hovering over the sun’s north pole on July 18, 2013, at 9:06 a.m. EDT. Coronal holes are dark, low-density regions of the sun’s outermost atmosphere, the corona. They contain little solar material, have lower temperatures, and therefore, appear much darker than their surroundings.

To read more about this discovery and view an image of this coronal hole, visit: https://www.nasa.gov/content/goddard/large-coronal-hole-near-sun-north-pole/index.html#.Ue6fxoXTovQ

This article is a great extension to the NASA Explorer Schools featured lesson, Geometry: Space Math Problems—Solar Storms. This lesson can be found on the NES Virtual Campus.

Perseid Meteor Shower

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New research by NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office shows that one annual meteor shower produces more fireballs than any other–the Perseids. This year’s Perseid peak is just around the corner on August 12-13.

FULL STORY: http://science.nasa.gov/science-news/science-at-nasa/2013/26jul_perseids/

VIDEO: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zO83KP54YXs

NASA Scientists Search for Habitable Planets

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There is only one planet we know of, so far, that is drenched with life. That planet is Earth, as you may have guessed, and it has all the right conditions for critters to thrive on its surface. Do other planets beyond our solar system, called exoplanets, also host life forms?

Astronomers still don’t know the answer, but they search for potentially habitable planets using a handful of criteria. Ideally, they want to find planets just like Earth, since we know without a doubt that life took root here. The hunt is on for planets about the size of Earth that orbit at just the right distance from their star – in a region termed the habitable zone.

NASA’s Kepler mission is helping scientists in the quest to find these worlds, sometimes called Goldilocks planets after the fairy tale because they orbit where conditions are “just right” for life. Kepler and other telescopes have confirmed a handful so far, all of which are a bit larger than Earth — the Super Earths. The search for Earth’s twin, a habitable-zone planet as small as Earth, is ongoing.

To read more about the search for life in the universe, visit https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/kepler/news/kepler20130717.html#.UebhlIXTovQ .

If you think your students would be interested in searching for habitable planets, check out the NASA Explorer Schools featured lesson, Algeraic Equations: Transit Tracks—Finding Habitable Planets. Students use algebra and Kepler’s 3rd Law to find habitable planets in other solar systems. To access this activity, visit the NES Virtual Campus.

Wave at Saturn Photograph

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On July 19, 2013, one of the most exciting events of the Cassini mission this year will be when the satellite takes images of the whole Saturn system while it is backlit by the sun. With Saturn covering the harsh light of the sun, mission scientists will be able to gather unique ring science.

Cassini is also going to take images of Earth from the satellite’s location in space, some 1.44 billion kilometers (898 million miles) away. Opportunities to image Earth from the outer solar system are few and far between, and special care must be taken so the satellite’s cameras are not “blinded” by looking in the direction of the sun, where Earth is. There have been only two images of Earth made from the outer solar system in all the time humankind has been exploring space. The first and most distant image was taken 23 years ago by NASA’s Voyager 1 spacecraft from 6 billion kilometers (4 billion miles) away, showing Earth as a pale blue dot. The other image was captured by Cassini in 2006 from a distance of 1.49 billion kilometers (926 million miles).

Cassini’s July image is a special opportunity for Earthlings to wave at the “photographer” in the Saturn system. Mission personnel are asking you, or your group, to go outside July 19 and have a photograph taken of you or your group waving, while looking in the general direction of Saturn. You can share your pictures by joining the Flickr group wave at Saturn, adding them to the Wave at Saturn Facebook event page, or tagging pictures on Twitter #waveatsaturn. The mission hopes to make a special collage of all of the images if they receive enough of them.

The Cassini portrait session of Earth will last about 15 minutes from 2:27 to 2:42 p.m. PDT. For more information about Waving at Saturn, visit http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov/news/waveatsaturn/.

NASA’s IBEX provides first view of the solar system’s tail

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It has long been assumed that our solar system, like a comet, has a tail. Just as any object moving through another medium – for example, a meteor traveling through Earth’s atmosphere – causes the particles to form a stream trailing off behind it. But the tail of our solar bubble, called the heliosphere, has never actually been observed, until now.

NASA’s Interstellar Boundary Explorer, or IBEX, has mapped the boundaries of the tail of the heliosphere, something that has never before been possible. Scientists describe this tail, called the heliotail, in detail in a paper published on July 10, 2013, in The Astrophysical Journal. By combining observations from the first three years of IBEX imagery, the team mapped out a tail that shows a combination of fast and slow moving particles. There are two lobes of slower particles on the sides, faster particles above and below, with the entire structure twisted, as it experiences the pushing and pulling of magnetic fields outside the solar system.

To see images and read more about this development, visit https://www.nasa.gov/content/nasa-s-ibex-provides-first-view-of-the-solar-system-s-tail/index.html#.Ud74gIVTcvQ.

This discovery is a great extension to NASA Now: Space Science: Voyager’s Grand Tour of the Solar System. To access this video, visit the NASA Explorer Schools Virtual Campus NASA Explorer Schools Virtual Campus website.

Mars rover passes half-way point to next destination

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NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover, Opportunity, has traveled more than half of the distance needed to get from a site where it spent 22 months to its next destination.

The rover has less than 800 meters to go to finish a 2 kilometer dash from the rim of one crater segment, where it has worked since mid-2011, to another, where mission controllers intend to keep Opportunity busy during the upcoming Martian winter.

Opportunity departed the southern tip of the Cape York segment 6 weeks ago and headed south for Solander Point. Both are raised portions of the western rim of 22 kilometer-wide Endeavour Crater, offering access to older geological deposits than the rover visited during its first seven years on Mars.

This story is a great extension to the NES NASA Now Mars Month episodes housed on the NASA Explorer Schools Virtual Campus website.

To read more about Opportunity and why it’s heading to Solander Point, visit https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/mer/news/mer20130702.html#.UdReYoV8mds.

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