What Happened This Year @ NASA

In 2013, NASA helped transform access to low Earth orbit, even as one of our venerable spacecraft reached the boundaries of the solar system and we moved ahead on technologies that will help us carry out an ambitious asteroid mission we announced and, eventually, move on to Mars.

To watch a quick trip back through 2013 for those and some of the other big things that happened visit This Year at NASA on the NASA YouTube Channel.

California Rim Fire From Space

The Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite, or VIIRS, on the Suomi NPP satellite tracked the growth of the fire approaching Yosemite National Park between August 23–26. The VIIRS day-night band is extremely sensitive to low light, making it possible to see the fire front from space at night. The brightest, most intense parts of the fire glow white, exceeding the brightness of the lights of Reno, Nevada, to the north. Pale gray smoke streams away from the fire, generally to the north.

To see the image progression and read more about this, visit http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/NaturalHazards/view.php?id=81930

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

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

Perseid Meteor Shower

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

Sun Emits an M5.9 Solar Flare

The sun emitted a mid-level solar flare, peaking at 6:49 p.m. on June 7, 2013. Solar flares are powerful bursts of radiation. Harmful radiation from a flare cannot pass through Earth’s atmosphere to physically affect humans on the ground, however, when intense enough, they can disturb the atmosphere in the layer where communications signals travel. This disrupts radio signals for as long as the flare is ongoing, anywhere from minutes to hours.

This flare is classified as an M5.9 flare. M-class flares are the weakest flares that can still cause some space weather effects near Earth. This flare caused a moderate radio blackout, rated an R2 on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s space weather scales, which range from R1 to R5. It has since subsided.

This is a real-world connection to the NASA Explorer Schools featured lesson, Geometry: Space Math Problems—Solar Storms. To access this lesson, visit the NES Virtual Campus.

To read more about this solar flare and see an image of the flare captured by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, visit https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/sunearth/news/News060813-m5.9flare.html.

Pebbly Rocks on Mars Testify to Old Stream Bed

Rock outcrop on Mars
Detailed analysis and review have borne out researchers’ initial interpretation of pebble-containing slabs that NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity investigated last year: They are part of an ancient stream bed.

The rocks are the first ever found on Mars that contain stream bed gravel. The sizes and shapes of the gravel embedded in these conglomerate rocks — from the size of sand particles to the size of golf balls — enabled researchers to calculate the depth and speed of the water that once flowed at this location.

To learn more about the challenges the Mars Science Laboratory team faced during Curiosity’s landing, also known as the “seven minutes of terror”, check out NASA Now: Forces and Motion: Curiosity—Entry, Descent and Landing. You can access this classroom video on the NASA Explorer Schools Virtual Campus.

To read more about this discovery by Curiosity on Mars, visit https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/msl/news/msl20130530f.html

Approaching Asteroid Has Its Own Moon

NASA is tracking a large near-Earth asteroid as it passes by the Earth-Moon system on May 31st. Amateur astronomers in the northern hemisphere may be able to see the space rock for themselves during the 1st week of June. The closest approach of the asteroid occurs on May 31 at 4:59 p.m. EDT, when the asteroid will get no closer than about 5.8 million kilometers, or about 15 times the distance between Earth and the moon.

Approaching asteroid 1998 QE2 has a moon. Researchers found it in a sequence of radar images obtained by the 70-meter Deep Space Network antenna at Goldstone, Calif., on the evening of May 29th (May 30th Universal Time) when the asteroid was about 6 million kilometers from Earth.

For more information about Asteroids and OSIRIS-REx, log into the NES Virtual Campus and check out these three NASA Now classroom videos:
Earth and Space Science: Asteroids
Exploring Asteroids: An Analog Mission
Primitive Asteroids: OSIRIS-REx

To read more and see a video about asteroid 1998 QE2 go to Science@NASA.

Link to the NASA Explorer Schools home page.

Activity Continues On the Sun

Solar activity continued on May 14, as the sun emitted a fourth X-class flare from its upper left limb, peaking at 9:48 p.m. EDT. This flare is classified as an X1.2 flare and is the 18th X-class flare of the current solar cycle. The flare caused a radio blackout – categorized as an R3, or strong, on NOAA’s space weather scales from R1 to R5 — which has since subsided.

The flare was also associated with a non-Earth-directed Coronal Mass Ejection. CMEs and flares are separate but related solar phenomena: solar flares are powerful bursts that send light and radiation into space; CMEs erupt with billions of tons of solar material. They often, but do not always, occur together. Any time we can see a solar flare from Earth’s view, than at least some of its light and radiation must be directed at Earth. CMEs on the other hand may or may not be Earth directed. NASA observes CMEs even when they are not traveling toward Earth, because they may impact spacecraft.

To read more and see some incredible imagery on this solar activity, visit https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/sunearth/news/News051513-ar1748.html.

This story is a great real-world connection to the NASA Explorer Schools featured lesson, Geometry: Space Math Problems—Solar Storms. To access this lesson, visit the NASA Explorer Schools Virtual Campus.

NASA Now: Engineering Design–Tiltrotors, Aircraft of the Future


Amanda Blough, a NASA Explorer Schools educator from Chambersburg, Penn., introduces NASA Now: Engineering Design: Tilt Rotors, Aircraft of the Future.

Meet Carl Russell, a research aerospace engineer at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California. His team is working on developing aircraft that use tilt rotors as opposed to traditional wings. He discusses how tilt rotors work, including how they demonstrate Bernoulli’s Principle to generate lift. He also shows how this technology could cut down on the time needed for takeoff and landing at the airport.

This NASA Now program is available on the NES Virtual Campus beginning April 17.

NASA Now Minute

Historical photos show change

There’s nothing quite like historical photos of glaciers to show what a dynamic planet we live on. Alaska’s Muir Glacier, like many Alaskan glaciers, has retreated and thinned dramatically since the 19th century.

This particular pair of images shows the glacier’s continued retreat and thinning in the second half of the 20th century. From 1941 to 2004, the front of the glacier moved back about seven miles while its thickness decreased by more than 2,625 feet, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center.

side-by-side comparison of Muir Glacier in 1941, on left, and in 2004, on right.

Photo credits: Photographed by William O. Field on Aug. 13, 1941 (left) and by Bruce F. Molnia on

Aug. 31, 2004 (right). From the Glacier Photograph Collection. Boulder, Colorado USA: National
Snow and Ice Data Center/World Data Center for Glaciology.
Use the study, at http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news.php?release=2012-036, when teaching the NES lessons, Earth Climate Course or Satellite Meteorology, both found on the NASA Explorer Schools Virtual Campus.

For more historical images of glaciers, visit http://nsidc.org/data/glacier_photo/ or http://climate.nasa.gov/interactives/global_ice_viewer.