Hurricane Florence | International Space Station


ESA Astronaut Alexander Gerst: “Watch out, America! Hurricane Florence is so enormous, we could only capture her with a super wide angle lens from ISS, 400 km directly above the eye. Get prepared on the East Coast, this is a no-kidding nightmare coming for you.”

“This is why the big picture matters, and listening to the official evacuation orders. Please stay safe down there!”

Follow Alexander and his Horizons mission:
http://bit.ly/AlexanderGerstESA and on http://bit.ly/HorizonsBlogESA

Credit: ESA/NASA
Image Date: September 12, 2018

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A Former NASA Astronaut’s Plea for Earth


Image: British-American astronaut Piers Sellers (1955-2016) during a spacewalk outside the International Space Station.
Astronaut and scientist Piers Sellers is no longer with us, but his words still resonate. A posthumous plea from Sellers arrived this week in the form of an article in the latest issue of PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America):
http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2018/07/05/1716613115

The topic was one that he cared deeply about: building a better space-based system for observing and understanding the carbon cycle and its climate feedback.

As NASA’s Patrick Lynch reported, Sellers wrote the paper along with colleagues at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the University of Oklahoma. Work on the paper began in 2015, and Sellers continued working with his collaborators up until about six weeks before he died. They carried on the research and writing of the paper until its publication in July 2018.

The carbon cycle refers to the constant flow of carbon between rocks, water, the atmosphere, plants, soil, and fossil fuels. Climate change feedbacks—natural effects that may amplify or diminish the human emissions of greenhouse gases—are one of the most poorly understood aspects of climate science.

Here is how Sellers and colleagues characterized the current state of the carbon cycle in the PNAS article:

“It is quite remarkable and telling that human activity has significantly altered carbon cycling at the planetary scale. The atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4) have dramatically exceeded their envelope of the last several million years.”

They also explain in detail how we have altered the carbon cycle:

“The perturbation by humans occurs first and foremost through the transfer of carbon from geological reservoirs (fossil fuels) into the active land–atmosphere–ocean system and, secondarily, through the transfer of biotic carbon from forests, soils, and other terrestrial storage pools (e.g., industrial timber) into the atmosphere.”

Scientists understand the broad outlines of how this works relatively well. What worried Sellers was the potential curve balls the climate might throw at us with unanticipated feedbacks. They addressed some of the the challenges in understanding how climate change might affect concentrations of carbon dioxide and methane through feedbacks.

For carbon dioxide:

“While experimental studies consistently show increases in plant growth rates under elevated CO2 (termed carbon dioxide fertilization), the extrapolation of even the largest-scale experiments to ecosystem carbon storage is problematic, and some ecologists have argued that the physiological response could be eliminated entirely by restrictions due to limitation by nutrients or micronutrients. However, there is recent evidence from the atmosphere that suggests increasing CO2 enhances terrestrial carbon storage, leading to the continued increase in land uptake paralleling CO2 concentrations.”

As we detailed in a separate story, the situation is even more complicated for methane. Sellers and his colleagues explained some of the challenges in understanding the feedbacks that affect that potent greenhouse gas this way:

“Atmospheric methane is currently at three times its preindustrial levels, which is clearly driven by anthropogenic emissions, but equally clearly, some of the change is because of carbon-cycle–climate feedbacks. Atmospheric CH4 rose by about 1 percent per year in the 1970s and 1980s, plateaued in the 1990s, and resumed a steady rise after 2006. Why did the plateau occur? These trends in atmospheric methane concentration are not understood. They may be due to changes in climate: increases in temperature, shifts in the precipitation patterns, changes to wetlands, or proliferation in the carbon availability to methane-producing bacteria.”

The consequences of the gaps in understanding could be significant.

“Terrestrial tropical ecosystem feedbacks from the El Nino drove an ∼2-PgC increase in global CO2 emissions in 2015. If emissions excursions such as this become more frequent or persistent in the future, agreed-upon mitigation commitments could become ineffective in meeting climate stabilization targets. Earth system models disagree wildly about the magnitude and frequency of carbon–climate feedback events, and data to this point have been astonishingly ineffective at reducing this uncertainty.”

Sellers and his colleagues do offer a solution. It has much to do with satellites.

“Space-based observations provide the global coverage, spatial and temporal sampling, and suite of carbon cycle observations required to resolve net carbon fluxes into their component fluxes (photosynthesis, respiration, and biomass burning). These space-based data substantially reduce ambiguity about what is happening in the present and enable us to falsify models more effectively than previous datasets could, leading to more informed projections.”

Credit: Adam Voiland for NASA
Release Date: July 19, 2018

NASA Earth Observatory
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The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine
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American Geophysical Union (AGU)
American Meteorological Society
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European Space Agency, ESA
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Fragile Oasis

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SpaceX Falcon Heavy Launch Successful!

Congratulations to Team SpaceX & Elon Musk!
Video: Go to the 29 minute mark to replay the launch!
“Falcon Heavy is the most powerful operational rocket in the world by a factor of two. With the ability to lift into orbit nearly 64 metric tons (141,000 lb)—a mass greater than a 737 jetliner loaded with passengers, crew, luggage and fuel—Falcon Heavy can lift more than twice the payload of the next closest operational vehicle, the Delta IV Heavy, at one-third the cost. Falcon Heavy draws upon the proven heritage and reliability of Falcon 9.”

“Its first stage is composed of three Falcon 9 nine-engine cores whose 27 Merlin engines together generate more than 5 million pounds of thrust at liftoff, equal to approximately eighteen 747 aircraft. Only the Saturn V moon rocket, last flown in 1973, delivered more payload to orbit. Falcon Heavy was designed from the outset to carry humans into space and restores the possibility of flying missions with crew to the Moon or Mars.”

SpaceX
Elon Musk
NASA’s Kennedy Space Center
NASA Johnson Space Center

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Mars: An Ancient Valley Network | NASA MRO


[Notice the fine shadows in the upper left corner…]
Most of the oldest terrains on Mars have eroded into branching valleys, as seen here in by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), much like many land regions of Earth are eroded by rain and snowmelt runoff. This is the primary evidence for major climate change on Mars billions of years ago. How the climate of Mars could have supported a warmer and wetter environment has been the subject of scientific debates for 40 years. A full-resolution enhanced color closeup reveals details in the bedrock and dunes on the valley floor (upper left). The bedrock of ancient Mars has been hardened and cemented by groundwater.

The University of Arizona, Tucson, operates HiRISE, which was built by Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp., Boulder, Colorado. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of Caltech in Pasadena, California, manages the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Project for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington.

Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona
Image Date: December 2016
Release Date: May 10, 2017

NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory
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Ball Aerospace
USGS News: Everything We’ve Got

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Seeing things sideways | Hubble Space Telescope


This image from Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3) shows NGC 1448, a spiral galaxy located about 50 million light-years from Earth in the little-known constellation of Horologium (The Pendulum Clock). We tend to think of spiral galaxies as massive and roughly circular celestial bodies, so this glittering oval does not immediately appear to fit the visual bill. What’s going on?

Imagine a spiral galaxy as a circular frisbee spinning gently in space. When we see it face on, our observations reveal a spectacular amount of detail and structure—a great example from Hubble is the telescope’s view of Messier 51, otherwise known as the Whirlpool Galaxy. However, the NGC 1448 frisbee is very nearly edge-on with respect to Earth, giving it an appearance that is more oval than circular. The spiral arms, which curve out from NGC 1448’s dense core, can just about be seen.

Although spiral galaxies might appear static with their picturesque shapes frozen in space, this is very far from the truth. The stars in these dramatic spiral configurations are constantly moving and spinning around the galaxy’s core, with those on the inside whirling around faster than those sitting further out. This makes the formation and continued existence of a spiral galaxy’s arms something of a cosmic puzzle, because the arms wrapped around the spinning core should become wound tighter and tighter as time goes on—but this is not what we see. This is known as the winding problem.

Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA
Release Date: March 13, 2017

Hubble Space Telescope
European Space Agency, ESA
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Our Moon Meets Jupiter


What’s that next to the Moon? Jupiter—and its four largest moons. Skygazers around planet Earth enjoyed the close encounter of planets and Moon during the predawn skies of July 15, 2012. And while many saw bright Jupiter next to the slender, waning crescent, Europeans also had the opportunity to watch the ruling gas giant pass behind the lunar disk, occulted by the Moon as it slid through the night. Clouds threaten in this telescopic view from Montecassiano, Italy, but the frame still captures Jupiter after it emerged from the occultation along with all four of its large Galilean moons. The sunlit crescent is overexposed with the Moon’s night side faintly illuminated by Earthshine. Lined up left to right beyond the dark lunar limb are Callisto, Ganymede, Jupiter, Io, and Europa. In fact, Callisto, Ganymede, and Io are larger than Earth’s Moon, while Europa is only slightly smaller. Last week, NASA’s Juno became the second spacecraft ever to orbit Jupiter.

Image Credit & Copyright: Cristian Fattinnanzi
Cristian’s website: www.cristianfattinnanzi.it
Release Date: July 10, 2016

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#NASA #Astronomy #Space #Jupiter #Planet #Moons #Callisto #Ganymede #Jupiter #Io #Europa #Earth #Occultation #Moon #Astrophotography #Art #Montecassiano #Italy #APoD

NASA’s New Horizons Receives Mission Extension to Kuiper Belt


July 1, 2016: Following its historic first-ever flyby of Pluto, NASA’s New Horizons mission has received the green light to fly onward to an object deeper in the Kuiper Belt, known as 2014 MU69. The spacecraft’s planned rendezvous with the ancient object—considered one of the early building blocks of the solar system—is Jan. 1, 2019.

“The New Horizons mission to Pluto exceeded our expectations and even today the data from the spacecraft continue to surprise,” said NASA’s Director of Planetary Science Jim Green. “We’re excited to continue onward into the dark depths of the outer solar system to a science target that wasn’t even discovered when the spacecraft launched.”

Based upon the 2016 Planetary Mission Senior Review Panel report, NASA this week directed nine extended missions to plan for continued operations through fiscal years 2017 and 2018. Final decisions on mission extensions are contingent on the outcome of the annual budget process.

The Kuiper belt is a circumstellar disc in the Solar System beyond the planets, extending from the orbit of Neptune (at 30 AU) to approximately 50 AU from the Sun. It is similar to the asteroid belt, but it is far larger—20 times as wide and 20 to 200 times as massive. Like the asteroid belt, it consists mainly of small bodies, or remnants from the Solar System’s formation. Although many asteroids are composed primarily of rock and metal, most Kuiper belt objects are composed largely of frozen volatiles (termed “ices”), such as methane, ammonia and water. (Source: Wikipedia)

Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI
Release Date: July 1, 2016

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#SouthwestResearchInstitute

Earth Sunset | International Space Station


Earth sunset from the International Space Station. NASA astronaut Jeff Williams captured the photos for this composite of the sun falling slowly across the oceans of our planet.

Credit: NASA/JSC, U.S. Astronaut Jeff Williams
Date: June 8, 2016

NASA Johnson Space Center  

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Planetary Solar Transits: Mercury vs. Venus


“In the days before the Mercury transit of May 9, 2016, many images of the Venus Transit of 2012 were published and people were told that the upcoming transit of Mercury would look similar.”

“Well not quite. Mercury has only 40% the diameter of Venus and lies at its nearest point to earth about twice as far away.”

“This means that the disk of Mercury had only 8% the area of Venus and was not visible to the naked eye.”

“While I missed the Venus transit of 2012, I was in a prime position for the 2004 transit and was able to catch it on film—yes, I am that old! I started photography in the film age… :-)”

“This image shows the Mercury transit of 2016, combined with the path of Venus in June 2004. The different size and transit path is obvious.”

Credit: Flickr user Skypointer
Release Date: May 12, 2016

Technical details:
Equipment:
Celestron NexStar 8GPS with Baader solar filter (it was brand new in 2004)

Vintage Pentax camera with Kodak Gold 200 ASA film for the Venus transit
Canon EOS 6D for the Mercury transit

#NASA #Astronomy #Space #Science #Mercury #Venus #Transit #Sun #Solar #Orbit #Earth #SolarSystem #Astrophotography #Art #STEM #Education #Timelapse