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Wednesday, January 30, 2013

New NASA Mars Robot: RASSOR is Remarkable

NASA Mars Robot

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This Little Robot Will Help Turn Mars Dust Into Rocket Fuel 

by Dina Spector on Jan 30, 2013, 6:38 PM


At 100 pounds and just 2.5-feet tall, NASA's newest planet-roaming robot could easily become roadkill in a match-up with the one-ton Mars Curiosity rover. Fortunately, this little robot isn't headed for the Red Planet any time soon. The RASSOR (pronounced "razor") is still in the very early stages of design. When it when finally does lift of the ground, it will be flying to the moon with the task of digging up lunar soil.
A current prototype of the RASSOR looks like a miniature tank with tracks for zooming around the moon's surface at a top speed of around 20 centimeters per second or .44 miles per hour. Sure, it's no NASCAR, but that's about five times faster than Curiosity.

The moon only has one-sixth the gravity of Earth, so building a robot that is light enough to fly on a rocket, but hefty enough to complete excavation tasks has been the key challenge. Engineers think they have solved this by attaching two bucket drums to moving arms on either side of the robot's body. One bucket drum will skim the soil (rather thanks scooping up big loads like a bulldozer), while the other drum acts as a grip so the whole machine doesn't tip over. The drums also act as legs, so the mobile digger can climb over big rocks, or easily morph into different shapes.


Next, the robot will dump the soil "into a device that would pull water and ice out of the dirt and turn their chemicals into rocket fuel or breathing air for astronauts working on the surface," according to a NASA press release.

"The device would be part of the lander that carries the RASSOR to the moon's surface. So the robot would be the feeder for a lunar resource processing plant, a level of industry never before tried anywhere besides Earth."
Scientists think this concept could also work on Mars, since the soil at the planet's poles is believed to hold lots of water ice.
Since rocket fuel is very heavy, being able to produce propellant on the moon would save money and free up space for other cargo.
There's just one catch: The RASSOR would need to operate about 16 hours a day for five years to gather up enough soil in order to produce a meaningful amount of fuel.

Guess that means NASA needs to get crackin' on improving this little buddy, or send multiple up to the moon at once.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Participate in the Search for Exoplanets

Photo capture of the home page of Planet Hunters

Search for Extrasolar Planets

Want to take part in the search for Exoplanets around our neighboring star systems? Even if you don't understand any of the math or physics behind searching for extrasolar planets, you can learn what you need to do and how to do so (and be part of a growing Astronomy Community online) over at the tutorial on
Planet Hunters.

There's a comprehensive tutorial, knowledgebase and some really stellar web technologies at work on this site. You can participate in many ways. Mine own has been to help measure (or to go through the data) magnitude changes in light from nearby stars, hoping to find changes that are indicative of a planet or other planetary body passing between the star and our observation point here on Earth.

"The Kepler spacecraft stares at a field of stars in the Cygnus constellation and records the brightness of those stars every thirty minutes to search for transiting planets."

Exoplanet Search 

To Join up with (as well as several other really cool Astronomy and NASA-related websites, you first need a free Zooniverse Profile:

Learn more about how to participate in some of the bleeding edge of Science at:

Here are the collection of Projects you can participate with:

Live Projects

AL Logo
PH Logo
MWP Logo
Moon Zoo Logo
Galaxy Zoo Logo
Old Weather Logo
Solar Stormwatch Logo
Galaxy Zoo Mergers Logo
Galaxy Zoo Supernovae Logo

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Remains of a Supernova

Photo from NASA: Space after a star went supernova
NASA Photo: Supernova Remnant Cassiopeia A

Left after a Supernova

This new view of the historical supernova remnant Cassiopeia A, located 11,000 light-years away, was taken by NASA's Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array, or NuSTAR. Blue indicates the highest energy X-ray light, where NuSTAR has made the first resolved image ever of this source. Red and green show the lower end of NuSTAR's energy range, which overlaps with NASA's high-resolution Chandra X-ray Observatory.

Stellar Explosion

Light from the stellar explosion that created Cassiopeia A is thought to have reached Earth about 300 years ago, after traveling 11,000 years to get here. While the star is long dead, its remains are still bursting with action. The outer blue ring is where the shock wave from the supernova blast is slamming into surrounding material, whipping particles up to within a fraction of a percent of the speed of light.

NuSTAR observations should help solve the riddle of how these particles are accelerated to such high energies X-ray light with energies between 10 and 20 kiloelectron volts are blue; X-rays of 8 to 10 kiloelectron volts are green; and X-rays of 4.5 to 5.5 kiloelectron volts are red.

False Color Image of Cassiopeia A
A false color image off Cassiopeia using observations from both the Hubble and Spitzer telescopes as well as the Chandra X-ray Observatory (from NASA)
The starry background picture is from the Digitized Sky Survey. › Image without background stars Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/DSS.

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Solar Eruption for the New Year

Eruption of gas from the sun picured here

New Year's Solar Flare

A solar eruption gracefully rose up from the sun on Dec. 31, 2012, twisting and turning. Magnetic forces drove the flow of plasma, but without sufficient force to overcome the sun’s gravity much of the plasma fell back into the sun. The length of the eruption extends about 160,000 miles out from the Sun. With Earth about 7,900 miles in diameter, this relatively minor eruption is about 20 times the diameter of our planet. › See video and relative size of Earth to eruption on 'Solar Ballet on the Sun' feature. Image Credit: NASA/SDO

NASA Telescopes See Weather Patterns in Brown Dwarf

NASA Exoplanet Discovery:
Brown Dwarf Stars have Weather


Artist's Concept Drawing of Brown Dwarf Star named 2MASSJ22282889-431026. Catchy name, isn't it?
This artist's conception illustrates the brown dwarf named 2MASSJ22282889-431026. 

Artist's illustration shows the atmosphere of a brown dwarf called 2MASSJ22282889-431026This artist's illustration shows the atmosphere of a brown dwarf called 2MASSJ22282889-431026,  observed simultaneously by NASA's Spitzer and Hubble space telescopes.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
PASADENA, Calif. -- Astronomers using NASA's Spitzer and Hubble space telescopes have probed the stormy atmosphere of a brown dwarf, creating the most detailed "weather map" yet for this class of cool, star-like orbs. The forecast shows wind-driven, planet-sized clouds enshrouding these strange worlds.

This graph shows the brightness variations of the brown dwarf named 2MASSJ22282889-431026
Brightness of Brown Dwarf. Reading
Taken by NASA Hubble and Spitzer
Space Telescopes. (credit: NASA -PL)

Brown dwarfs form out of condensing gas, as stars do, but lack the mass to fuse hydrogen atoms and produce energy. Instead, these objects, which some call failed stars, are more similar to gas planets with their complex, varied atmospheres. The new research is a stepping-stone toward a better understanding not only of brown dwarfs, but also of the atmospheres of planets beyond our solar system.

"With Hubble and Spitzer, we were able to look at different atmospheric layers of a brown dwarf, similar to the way doctors use medical imaging techniques to study the different tissues in your body," said Daniel Apai, the principal investigator of the research at the University of Arizona in Tucson, who presented the results at the American Astronomical Society meeting Tuesday in Long Beach, Calif.

A study describing the results, led by Esther Buenzli, also of the University of Arizona, is published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters.

Mission: Astronomy Photos of Outer Space

NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope shown here Pre-Launch
The Spitzer Space Telescope (prior to launch), responsible for collecting photometric data on Kepler-14. 
The researchers turned Hubble and Spitzer simultaneously toward a brown dwarf with the long name of 2MASSJ22282889-431026. They found that its light varied in time, brightening and dimming about every 90 minutes as the body rotated. But more surprising, the team also found the timing of this change in brightness depended on whether they looked using different wavelengths of infrared light.

These variations are the result of different layers or patches of material swirling around the brown dwarf in windy storms as large as Earth itself. Spitzer and Hubble see different atmospheric layers because certain infrared wavelengths are blocked by vapors of water and methane high up, while other infrared wavelengths emerge from much deeper layers.

Important Space Telescope Images

Space Photo of Hubble Space Telescope via SS Discovery
The Hubble Space Telescope (HST), via Space Shuttle Discovery following its release on mission STS-82.
"Unlike the water clouds of Earth or the ammonia clouds of Jupiter, clouds on brown dwarfs are composed of hot grains of sand, liquid drops of iron, and other exotic compounds," said Mark Marley, research scientist at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., and co-author of the paper. "So this large atmospheric disturbance found by Spitzer and Hubble gives a new meaning to the concept of extreme weather."

Buenzli says this is the first time researchers can probe variability at several different altitudes at the same time in the atmosphere of a brown dwarf. "Although brown dwarfs are cool relative to other stars, they are actually hot by earthly standards. This particular object is about 1,100 to 1,300 degrees Fahrenheit (600 to 700 degrees Celsius)," Buenzli said.

Jupiter's Larger and Hotter Siblings

Artist's conception illustrates the brown dwarf named 2MASSJ22282889-431026
Brown Dwarf Star Weather
"What we see here is evidence for massive, organized cloud systems, perhaps akin to giant versions of the Great Red Spot on Jupiter," said Adam Showman, a theorist at the University of Arizona involved in the research. "These out-of-sync light variations provide a fingerprint of how the brown dwarf's weather systems stack up vertically. The data suggest regions on the brown dwarf where the weather is cloudy and rich in silicate vapor deep in the atmosphere coincide with balmier, drier conditions at higher altitudes -- and vice versa."

Researchers plan to look at the atmospheres of dozens of additional nearby brown dwarfs using Spitzer and Hubble.
NASA Scientist Video: "What is a Brown Dwarf Star?"
NASA Scientist and YouTube Partner "SpitzerJim"

"From studies such as this we will learn much about this important class of objects, whose mass falls between that of stars and Jupiter-sized planets," said Glenn Wahlgren, Spitzer program scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "This technique will see extensive use when we are able to image individual exoplanets."

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., manages the Spitzer Space Telescope mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. Science operations are conducted at the Spitzer Science Center at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. Data are archived at the Infrared Science Archive housed at the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center at Caltech. Caltech manages JPL for NASA. For more information about Spitzer, visit and .

The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between NASA and the European Space Agency. NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., manages the telescope. The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore, Md., conducts Hubble science operations. STScI is operated by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, Inc., in Washington. For more information about Hubble, visit

CREDIT: Majority of content from NASA Press Release written by:
Whitney Clavin 818-354-4673 , Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
Content Curation, Additional Web Content creation:
Robert Hughey (Contact Robert for any Web Content Marketing and Content Creation needs:
Ghostwriting, Blog Posts, Articles, Reviews, SEO Management)

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Robonaut Operates Task Board in Space

Robonaut 2 is Operational aboard the ISS

In the International Space Station's Destiny laboratory, Robonaut 2 is pictured on Jan. 2, during a round of testing for the first humanoid robot in space. Ground teams put Robonaut through its paces as they remotely commanded it to operate valves on a task board. Robonaut is a testbed for exploring new robotic capabilities in space, and its form and dexterity allow it to use the same tools and control panels as its human counterparts do aboard the station.

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Saturday, January 5, 2013

Infared Portrait: Zeta Ophiuchi

Photo of Star in Infrared Wavelength
Zeta Ophiuchi

 Zeta Ophiuchi Bow Shock

The giant star Zeta Ophiuchi is having a "shocking" effect on the surrounding dust clouds in this infrared

 image from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech 
Like a ship plowing through still waters, the giant star Zeta Ophiuchi is speeding through space, making waves in the dust ahead. NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope has captured a dramatic, infrared portrait of these glowing waves, also known as a bow shock.

Astronomers theorize...

Astronomers theorize that this star was once sitting pretty next to a companion star even heftier than itself...

Full Article Published on Astronomy Website.

NASA Space Photos of Zeta Ophiuchi
WISE image of Zeta OPhiuchi

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Friday, January 4, 2013

100 Billion Planets in Milky Way Galaxy

Billions and Billions of Planets

Release 1/3/13
Look up at the night sky and you'll see stars, sure. But the sky is also filled with planets -- billions and billions of them at least.
That's the conclusion of a new study by astronomers at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, which provides yet more evidence that planetary systems are the cosmic norm. The team made their estimate while analyzing planets orbiting a star called Kepler-32 -- planets that are representative, they say, of the vast majority of planets in our galaxy and thus serve as a perfect case study for understanding how most of these worlds form.
"There are at least 100 billion planets in the galaxy, just our galaxy," says John Johnson, assistant professor of planetary astronomy at Caltech and coauthor of the study, which was recently accepted for publication in the Astrophysical Journal. "That's mind-boggling."
A new analysis of data from NASA's Kepler mission finds evidence for at least 100 billion planets in our galaxy.
Image credit: NASA/Ames/JPL-Caltech

"It's a staggering number, if you think about it," adds Jonathan Swift, a postdoctoral student at Caltech and lead author of the paper. "Basically, there's one of these planets per star."
One of the fundamental questions regarding the origin of planets is how many of them there are. Like the Caltech group, other teams of astronomers have estimated that there is roughly one planet per star, but this is the first time researchers have made such an estimate by studying M-dwarf systems, the most numerous population of exoplanets known.

Kepler Space Telescope

The planetary system in question, which was detected by NASA's Kepler space telescope, contains five planets. 

  • Two of the planets orbiting Kepler-32 had previously been discovered by other astronomers. 

  • The Caltech team confirmed the remaining three, then analyzed the five-planet system and compared it to other systems found by Kepler.  

  • M-dwarf systems like Kepler-32's are quite different from our own solar system. For one, M dwarfs are cooler and much smaller than the sun. Kepler-32, for example, has half the mass of the sun and half its radius.
 The radii of its five planets range from 0.8 to 2.7 times that of Earth, and those planets orbit extremely close to their star. The whole Kepler-32 system fits within just over a tenth of an astronomical unit (the average distance between Earth and the sun) -- a distance that is about a third of the radius of Mercury's orbit around the sun.

The fact that M-dwarf systems vastly outnumber other kinds of systems carries a profound implication, according to Johnson, which is that our solar system is extremely rare. "It's just a weirdo," he says. 

Read the full Caltech story at .
Ames manages Kepler's ground system development, mission operations and science data analysis. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., managed the Kepler mission development. Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. in Boulder, Colo., developed the Kepler flight system and supports mission operations with the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado in Boulder. The Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore archives, hosts and distributes Kepler science data. Kepler is NASA's 10th Discovery Mission and is funded by NASA's Science Mission Directorate at the agency's headquarters in Washington.

For more information about NASA's Kepler mission, visit:  .

Full Article Credit:

Whitney Clavin 818-354-4673
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
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Thursday, January 3, 2013

WISE: Nearby Brown Dwarf Stars

Space Photo: Our Nearby Stellar Neighborhood
Nearby Brown Dwarf Stars

NASA Survey of Nearby Brown Dwarf Stars

The WISE Infared survey of our Nearby Stellar neighborhood finds fewer Brown Dwarf Stars than originally expected. Brown Dwarf Stars are those that are very dark and hard to find by visual light telescopes. Watch the following video prepared by NASA.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Extrasolar Planets (Video)

From Science 360: an excellent video to learn the Science behind the News: Extrasolar Planets (Exoplanets)

Graphic of a Typical Stellar System
Solar System Simulation

Extrasolar planets are called exoplanets. The heavenly bodies are planets that orbit stars other than our sun. Astronomers primarily use two methods to detect these distant planets: Doppler Method and the Transit method. "Science Behind the News" is produced in partnership with NBC Learn. This video features Dr. William Welsh, an exceptional Astronomer and Scientist at San Diego State University.

Provided by the National Science Foundation & NBC Learn

Runtime: 4:35


More Science Behind The News videos
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