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NASA launches first ever solar probe to ‘touch the sun’

by UNTV News   |   Posted on Monday, August 13th, 2018

Parker Solar Probe launch (Image courtesy to NASA/Bill Ingalls)

 

NASA on Sunday (August 12) launched a probe that will head closer to the Sun than any other spacecraft before it, enduring wicked heat while zooming through the solar corona to study this outermost part of the stellar atmosphere that gives rise to the solar wind.

The Parker Solar Probe, a robotic spacecraft the size of a small car, launched from Cape Canaveral in Florida, for the planned seven-year mission. It is set to fly into the Sun’s corona within 3.8 million miles (6.1 million km) from the solar surface, seven times closer than any other spacecraft.

The previous closest pass to the Sun was by a probe called Helios 2, which in 1976 came within 27 million miles (43 million km). By way of comparison, the average distance from the Sun for Earth is 93 million miles (150 million km).

The corona gives rise to the solar wind, a continuous flow of charged particles that permeates the solar system.

Unpredictable solar winds cause disturbances in our planet’s magnetic field and can play havoc with communications technology on Earth. NASA hopes the findings will enable scientists to forecast changes in Earth’s space environment.

The project, with a $1.5 billion price tag, is the first major mission under NASA’s Living With a Star programme.

The probe is set to use seven Venus flybys over nearly seven years to steadily reduce its orbit around the Sun, using instruments designed to image the solar wind and study electric and magnetic fields, coronal plasma and energetic particles.

NASA aims to collect data about the inner workings of the highly magnetized corona.

The probe, named after American solar astrophysicist Eugene Newman Parker, will have to survive difficult heat and radiation conditions. It has been outfitted with a heat shield designed to keep its instruments at a tolerable 85 degrees Fahrenheit (29 degrees Celsius) even as the spacecraft faces temperatures reaching nearly 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit (1,370 degrees Celsius) at its closest pass. — Reuters

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Florence captured from space after making landfall in North Carolina

by UNTV News   |   Posted on Saturday, September 15th, 2018

 

Hurricane Florence seen from International Space Station | NASA via REUTERS

Footage released by NASA showed Hurricane Florence as seen from the International Space Station after it made landfall near Wrightsville beach in North Carolina on Friday (September 14), leaving five people dead.

Florence plowed into the Carolinas, knocking down trees, gorging rivers, dumping sheets of rain as it lumbered slowly inland before it was downgraded to a tropical storm still capable of wreaking havoc.

Though Florence‘s shrieking winds diminished from hurricane force as it came ashore, forecasters said the sheer size of the 350-mile-wide storm and its painfully slow progress across North and South Carolina in the coming days could leave much of the region under water.

The storm was expected to move across parts of southeastern North Carolina and eastern South Carolina on Friday and Saturday (September 15), then head north over the western Carolinas and central Appalachian Mountains early next week, the NHC said. The significant weakening was expected over the weekend.

About 10 million people could be affected by the storm.  — Reuters

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NASA astronaut Nick Hague prepares for the ride of a lifetime

by UNTV News   |   Posted on Wednesday, June 20th, 2018

 

Hague undergoing underwater spacewalk training. Image grabbed from Reuters video

 

As a young boy growing up in Kansas, Nick Hague, looked up at the stars and wanted to explore the unknown. In the fall, that dream will come true when he blasts off on a Russian Soyuz spacecraft to the International Space Station.

Before he rockets into space from Kazakhstan in October on Expedition 57/58 for his six-month tour, the 42-year-old father has undergone training in everything from spacewalks to robotics to Russian and the psychology of sharing the station’s small spaces.

“It’s a two and a half year mission on the home front,” Hague said from inside a replica of the space station at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.

An engineer and colonel in the U.S. Air Force, Hague was one of eight selected in 2013 for NASA’s astronaut candidate training program based at the Johnson Space Center.

Hague found his love of space early.

“Growing up as a little boy, staring up the night sky and wanting to just explore the unknown and figure out what’s out there and go find new things,” he said when asked where his love of space started.

In the Air Force, Hague worked as an engineer on satellites and aircraft and then attended test pilot school at Edwards Air Force Base, and realized his dream might be achievable.

More recently, Hague as part of his training donned his space suit for 6-1/2 hours of underwater spacewalk training at the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory in Houston because that is the best way to mimic the effects of zero gravity in space. Before climbing into the 40-foot deep pool, he received instructions to familiarize himself with the equipment.

Hague does not train only in Houston. His training has also taken him to Russia, Japan, and Europe as he trains with NASA’s partners. He said the often-long separation from his wife, who is also in the U.S. Air Force, and two young boys is one of the most challenging parts of the job.

While his sons appreciate the “neat” work their father is doing, Hague said he remains “just dorky dad” at home.

Once he reaches space, Hague said he looks forward to being the eyes and ears of scientists back on earth.

He will work with Russian cosmonauts to monitor the shifts in bodily fluids that occur in space because some astronauts have returned from space missions with changes in eyesight.

Scientists hope to learn if there is a correlation between fluid shifts and vision as such issues need to be better understood before humans are sent on longer duration space flights into deep space.

Just as important as studying the science of the mission, Hague said, is understanding the psychology involved in a space station almost the size of a football field with six sleeping quarters, two bathrooms and a gym.

Hague says the “soft skills” astronauts use, such as learning to work in a team, resolving personal conflict, and keeping personal items in order so they don’t get in colleagues’ way, will be even more important in deep space as trips get longer and spaces more confined. — Reuters

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NASA rover data shows Mars had the ingredients needed for life

by UNTV News   |   Posted on Friday, June 8th, 2018

NASA’s Curiosity Mars Rover snaps a self-portrait at a site called Vera Rubin Ridge on the Martian surface in February 2018 in this image obtained on June 7, 2018. Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/Handout via REUTERS

 

A NASA rover has detected a bonanza of organic compounds at the surface of Mars and seasonal fluctuations of atmospheric methane in findings released on Thursday (June 7) marking some of the strongest evidence ever that Earth’s neighbor may have harbored life.

But NASA scientists emphasized there could be non-biological explanations for both discoveries made by the Curiosity rover at a site called Gale Crater, leaving the issue of Martian life a tantalizing but unanswered question.

Three different types of organic molecules were discovered when the rover dug just 2 inches (5 cm) into roughly 3.5 billion-year-old mudstone at Gale crater, apparently the site of a large lake when ancient Mars was warmer and wetter than the desolate place it is today.

Curiosity also measured an unexpectedly large seasonal cycle to the low levels of atmospheric methane. About 95 percent of the methane in Earth’s atmosphere is produced from biological activity, though the scientists said it is too soon to know if the Martian methane also is related to life.

Organic molecules are the building blocks of life, though they can also be produced by chemical reactions unrelated to life, and the scientists said it is premature to know whether or not the compounds were created in biological processes.

Whether anywhere other than Earth has harbored life, perhaps in microbial form, is one of the paramount questions in science.

“There are three different sources organic materials,” said astrobiologist Jennifer Eigenbrode of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland.

“One of them is the biology. One of them could be meteorites that are in falling into the surface and being directly deposited. And the other one is a rock-forming process that might generate organic matter all on their own.”

The rover, which has allowed scientists to explore whether Mars ever boasted conditions conducive to life, in 2014 made the first definitive detection of organic molecules, also in Gale crater rock formed from ancient lake sediment, but it was a much more limited set of compounds.

“Those organic molecules could have come from life. We don’t know that there was ever life on Mars,” Eigenbrode said.

Christopher Webster, an atmospheric science research fellow at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, said it is possible existing microbes are contributing to the Martian atmospheric methane.

“The biological option is being held and that hasn’t been ruled out,” Webster said.

The amount of methane peaked at the end of summer in the northern hemisphere at about 2.7 times the level of the lowest seasonal amount.

The scientists were surprised to find organic compounds, especially in the amounts detected, considering the harsh conditions including the bombardment of solar radiation on the Martian surface. After drilling, Curiosity heats the rock samples, releasing the compounds.

The scientists hope to find better preserved organic compounds with Curiosity or other rovers that would allow them to check for chemical signatures of life.

The solar system formed about 4.5 billion years ago.

The research was published in the journal Science. — Reuters

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