Category: atmosphere

What Can We Learn from the Universe’s Baby Pic…

If you look at your baby photos, you might see hints of the person you are today — a certain look in the eyes, maybe the hint of your future nose or ears. In the same way, scientists examine the universe’s “baby picture” for clues about how it grew into the cosmos we know now. This baby photo is the cosmic microwave background (CMB), a faint glow that permeates the universe in all directions.

In late September, NASA plans to launch a balloon-based astronomical observatory from Fort Sumner, New Mexico, to study the universe’s baby picture. Meet PIPER! The Primordial Inflation Polarization Explorer will fly at the edge of our atmosphere to look for subtle patterns in the CMB.

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The CMB is cold. Really, really cold. The average temperature is around minus 455 degrees Fahrenheit. It formed 380,000 years after the big bang, which scientists think happened about 13.8 billion years ago. When it was first discovered, the CMB temperature looked very uniform, but researchers later found there are slight variations like hot and cold spots. The CMB is the oldest light in the universe that we can see. Anything before the CMB is foggy — literally.

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Credit: Rob van Hal

Before the CMB, the universe was a fog of hot, dense plasma. (By hot, we’re talking about 500 million degrees F.) That’s so hot that atoms couldn’t exist yet – there was just a soup of electrons and protons. Electrons are great at deflecting light. So, any light that existed in the first few hundred thousand years after the big bang couldn’t travel very far before bouncing off electrons, similar to the way a car’s headlights get diffused in fog.  

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After the big bang, the universe started expanding rapidly in all directions. This expansion is still happening today. As the universe continued to expand, it cooled. By the time the universe reached its 380,000th birthday, it had cooled enough that electrons and protons could combine into hydrogen atoms for the first time. (Scientists call this era recombination.) Hydrogen atoms don’t deflect light nearly as well as loose electrons and the fog lifted. Light could now travel long distances across the universe.

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The light we see in the CMB comes from the recombination era. As it traveled across the universe, through the formation of stars and galaxies, it lost energy. Now we observe it in the microwave part of the electromagnetic spectrum, which is less energetic than visible light and therefore invisible to our eyes. The first baby photo of the CMB – really, a map of the sky in microwaves – came from our Cosmic Background Explorer, which operated from 1989 to 1993.

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Why are we so interested in the universe’s baby picture? Well, it’s helped us learn a lot about the structure of the universe around us today. For example, the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe produced a detailed map of the CMB and helped us learn that the universe is 68 percent dark energy, 27 percent dark matter and just 5 percent normal matter — the stuff that you and stars are made of.

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Right after the big bang, we’re pretty sure the universe was tiny. Really tiny. Everything we see today would have been stuffed into something smaller than a proton. If the universe started out that small, then it would have followed the rules of quantum mechanics. Quantum mechanics allows all sorts of strange things to happen. Matter and energy can be “borrowed” from the future then crash back into nothingness. And then cosmic inflation happened and the universe suddenly expanded by a trillion trillion times.

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All this chaos creates a sea of gravitational waves. (These are called “primordial” gravitational waves and come from a different source than the gravitational waves you may have heard about from merging neutron stars and black holes.) The signal of the primordial gravitational waves is a bit like white noise, where the signal from merging dead stars is like a whistle you can pick up over the noise.

These gravitational waves filled the baby universe and created distinct patterns, called B-mode polarization, in the CMB light. These patterns have handedness, which means even though they’re mirror images of each other, they’re not symmetrical — like trying to wear a left-hand glove on your right hand. They’re distinct from another kind of polarization called E-mode, which is symmetrical and echoes the distribution of matter in the universe.

That’s where PIPER comes in. PIPER’s two telescopes sit in a hot-tub-sized container of liquid helium, which runs about minus 452 degrees F. It’ll look at 85 percent of the sky and is extremely sensitive, so it will help us learn even more about the early days of the universe. By telling us more about polarization and those primordial gravitational waves, PIPER will help us understand how the early universe grew from that first baby picture.

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PIPER’s first launch window in Fort Sumner, New Mexico, is in late September. When it’s getting ready to launch, you’ll be able to watch the balloon being filled on the Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility website. Follow NASA Blueshift on Twitter or Facebook for updates about PIPER and when the livestream will be available.

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Packing for a Journey into the Twilight Zone

Submitted for your consideration: A team of researchers from
more than 20 institutions, boarding two research vessels, heading into the ocean’s
twilight zone.

The twilight zone is a dimly lit region between 650 and 3300
feet below the surface, where we’re unfolding the mystery of how tiny ocean
organisms affect our planet’s climate.

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These tiny organisms – called phytoplankton – are plant-like
and mostly single-celled. They live in water, taking in carbon dioxide and
releasing oxygen.

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Two boats, more than 100 researchers from more than 20
partner institutions, and a whole fleet of robotic explorers make up the EXport
Processes in the Ocean from RemoTe Sensing (EXPORTS)
team. We’re learning more
about what happens to carbon dioxide after phytoplankton digest it.

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The Equipment to Find
Phytoplankton

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Phytoplankton have predators in the ocean called
zooplankton. They absorb the phytoplankton’s carbon, carrying it up the food
chain. The EXPORTS mission will focus partly on how that happens in the ocean’s
twilight zone, where some zooplankton live.  When phytoplankton die, sometimes their bodies
sink through the same area. All of this carries carbon dioxide into the ocean’s
depths and out of Earth’s atmosphere.

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Counting Life

Studying the diversity of these organisms is important to
better understand what’s happening to the phytoplankton as they die.
Researchers from the Virginia Institute of Marine Science are using a very fine
mesh net to sample water at various depths throughout the ocean to count
various plankton populations.

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Researchers from the University of Rhode Island are bringing
the tools to sequence the DNA of phytoplankton and zooplankton to help count
these organism populations, getting a closer look at what lives below the
ocean’s surface.

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Science at 500 Feet

Taking measurements at various depths is important, because
phytoplankton, like plants, use sunlight to digest carbon dioxide. That means that
phytoplankton at different levels in the ocean absorb and digest carbon
differently. We’re bringing a Wirewalker, an instrument that glides up and down
along a vertical wire to take in water samples all along its 500-foot long
tether.

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This journey to the twilight zone will take about thirty
days, but we’ll be sending back dispatches from the ships. Follow along as we
dive into ocean diversity on our Earth Expeditions blog: https://blogs.nasa.gov/earthexpeditions.

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Cracking Earth’s Carbon Puzzle

It’s a scientific conundrum with huge implications for our future: How will our planet react to increasing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere?

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Carbon – an essential building block for life – does not stay in one place or take only one form. Carbon, both from natural and human-caused sources, moves within and among the atmosphere, ocean and land. 

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We’ve been a trailblazer in using space-based and airborne sensors to observe and quantify carbon in the atmosphere and throughout the land and ocean, working with many U.S. and international partners.

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Our Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2) is making unprecedented, accurate global measurements of carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere and providing unique information on associated natural processes.

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ABoVE, our multi-year field campaign in Alaska and Canada is investigating how changes in Arctic ecosystems such as boreal forests in a warming climate result in changes to the balance of carbon moving between the atmosphere and land.

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This August we’re embarking on an ocean expedition with the National Science Foundation to the northeast Pacific called EXPORTS that will help scientists develop the capability to better predict how carbon in the ocean moves, which could change as Earth’s climate changes. 

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ECOSTRESS is slated to launch this summer to the International Space Station to make the first-ever measurements of plant water use and vegetation stress on land – providing key insights into how plants link Earth’s global carbon cycle with its water cycle.

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Later this year, ECOSTRESS will be joined on the space station by GEDI, which will use a space borne laser to help estimate how much carbon is locked in forests and how that quantity changes over time.

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In early 2019, the OCO-3 instrument is scheduled to launch to the space station to complement OCO-2 observations and allow scientists to probe the daily cycle of carbon dioxide exchange processes over much of the Earth.

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And still in the early stages of development is the Geostationary Carbon Cycle Observatory (GeoCarb) satellite, planned to launch in the early 2020s. GeoCarb will collect 10 million observations a day of carbon dioxide, methane and carbon monoxide.

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Our emphasis on carbon cycle science and the development of new carbon-monitoring tools is expected to remain a top priority for years to come. READ MORE.

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10 Ways to BBQ on an Alien World

There are over 3,700 planets in our galaxy. Many of them orbit stars outside our solar system, these are known as exoplanets. Spend a summer weekend barbecuing it up on any of these alien worlds.

(WARNING: Don’t try any of this on Earth—except the last one.)

1. Lava World

Janssen aka 55 Cancri e

Hang your steak on a fishing pole and dangle your meat over the boiling pools of lava on this possible magma world. Try two to three minutes on each side to get an ashy feast of deliciousness.

2. Hot Jupiter

Dimidium aka 51 Pegasi b

Set your grill to 1800 degrees Fahrenheit (982 degrees Celsius) or hop onto the first exoplanet discovered and get a perfect char on your hot dogs. By the time your dogs are done, it’ll be New Year’s Eve, because a year on this planet is only four days long.

3. Super Earth

HD 40307 g

Super air fry your duck on this Super Earth, as you skydive in the intense gravity of a planet twice as massive as Earth. Why are you air frying a duck? We don’t know. Why are you skydiving on an exoplanet? We’re not judging.

4. Lightning Neptune

HAT-P-11b

I’ve got steaks, they’re multiplying/and I’m looooosing control. Cause the power this planet is supplying/is electrifying!

Sear your tuna to perfection in the lightning strikes that could flash across the stormy skies of this Neptune-like planet named HAT-P-11b.

5. Red Earth

Kepler-186f

Tired of all that meat? Try a multi-colored salad with the vibrant plants that could grow under the red sun of this Earth-sized planet. But it could also be a lifeless rock, so BYOB (bring your own barbecue).

6. Inferno World

Kepler-70b

Don’t take too long to prep your vegetables for the grill! The hottest planet on record will flash-incinerate your veggies in seconds!

7. Egg-shaped

WASP-12b

Picture this: You are pressure cooking your chicken on a hot gas giant in the shape of an egg. And you’re under pressure to cook fast, because this gas giant is being pulled apart by its nearby star.

8. Two suns

Kepler-16b

Evenly cook your ribs in a dual convection oven under the dual stars of this “Tatooine.” Kick back and watch your two shadows grow in the fading light of a double sunset.

9. Takeout

Venus

Order in for a staycation in our own solar system. The smell of rotten eggs rising from the clouds of sulfuric acid and choking carbon dioxide will put you off cooking, so get that meal to go.

10. Take a Breath

Earth

Sometimes the best vacations are the ones you take at home. Flip your burgers on the only planet where you can breathe the atmosphere.

Grill us on Twitter and tell us how bad our jokes are.

Read the full version of this week’s ‘Solar System: 10 Things to Know’ Article HERE.

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Solar System 10 Things to Know: Planetary Atmo…

Every time you take a breath of fresh air, it’s easy to forget you can safely do so because of Earth’s atmosphere. Life on Earth could not exist without that protective cover that keeps us warm, allows us to breathe and protects us from harmful radiation—among other things.

What makes Earth’s atmosphere special, and how do other planets’ atmospheres compare? Here are 10 tidbits:

1. On Earth, we live in the troposphere, the closest atmospheric layer to Earth’s surface. “Tropos” means “change,” and the name reflects our constantly changing weather and mixture of gases. 

It’s 5 to 9 miles (8 to 14 kilometers) thick, depending on where you are on Earth, and it’s the densest layer of atmosphere. When we breathe, we’re taking in an air mixture of about 78 percent nitrogen, 21 percent oxygen and 1 percent argon, water vapor and carbon dioxide. More on Earth’s atmosphere›

2. Mars has a very thin atmosphere, nearly all carbon dioxide. Because of the Red Planet’s low atmospheric pressure, and with little methane or water vapor to reinforce the weak greenhouse effect (warming that results when the atmosphere traps heat radiating from the planet toward space), Mars’ surface remains quite cold, the average surface temperature being about -82 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 63 degrees Celsius). More on the greenhouse effect›

3. Venus’ atmosphere, like Mars’, is nearly all carbon dioxide. However, Venus has about 154,000 times more carbon dioxide in its atmosphere than Earth (and about 19,000 times more than Mars does), producing a runaway greenhouse effect and a surface temperature hot enough to melt lead. A runaway greenhouse effect is when a planet’s atmosphere and surface temperature keep increasing until the surface gets so hot that its oceans boil away. More on the greenhouse effect›

4. Jupiter likely has three distinct cloud layers (composed of ammonia, ammonium hydrosulfide and water) in its “skies” that, taken together, span an altitude range of about 44 miles (71 kilometers). The planet’s fast rotation—spinning once every 10 hours—creates strong jet streams, separating its clouds into dark belts and bright zones wrapping around the circumference of the planet. More on Jupiter›

5. Saturn’s atmosphere—where our Cassini spacecraft ended its 13 extraordinary years of exploration of the planet—has a few unusual features. Its winds are among the fastest in the solar system, reaching speeds of 1,118 miles (1,800 kilometers) per hour. Saturn may be the only planet in our solar system with a warm polar vortex (a mass of swirling atmospheric gas around the pole) at both the North and South poles. Also, the vortices have “eye-wall clouds,” making them hurricane-like systems like those on Earth.

Another uniquely striking feature is a hexagon-shaped jet streamencircling the North Pole. In addition, about every 20 to 30 Earth years, Saturn hosts a megastorm (a great storm that can last many months). More on Saturn›

6. Uranus gets its signature blue-green color from the cold methane gas in its atmosphere and a lack of high clouds. The planet’s minimum troposphere temperature is 49 Kelvin (minus 224.2 degrees Celsius), making it even colder than Neptune in some places. Its winds move backward at the equator, blowing against the planet’s rotation. Closer to the poles, winds shift forward and flow with the planet’s rotation. More on Uranus›

7. Neptune is the windiest planet in our solar system. Despite its great distance and low energy input from the Sun, wind speeds at Neptune surpass 1,200 miles per hour (2,000 kilometers per hour), making them three times stronger than Jupiter’s and nine times stronger than Earth’s. Even Earth’s most powerful winds hit only about 250 miles per hour (400 kilometers per hour). Also, Neptune’s atmosphere is blue for the very same reasons as Uranus’ atmosphere. More on Neptune›

8. WASP-39b, a hot, bloated, Saturn-like exoplanet (planet outside of our solar system) some 700 light-years away, apparently has a lot of water in its atmosphere. In fact, scientists estimate that it has about three times as much water as Saturn does. More on this exoplanet›

9. A weather forecast on “hot Jupiters”—blistering, Jupiter-like exoplanets that orbit very close to their stars—might mention cloudy nights and sunny days, with highs of 2,400 degrees Fahrenheit (about 1,300 degrees Celsius, or 1,600 Kelvin). Their cloud composition depends on their temperature, and studies suggest that the clouds are unevenly distributed. More on these exoplanets›

10. 55 Cancri e, a “super Earth” exoplanet (a planet outside of our solar system with a diameter between Earth’s and Neptune’s) that may be covered in lava, likely has an atmosphere containing nitrogen, water and even oxygen–molecules found in our atmosphere–but with much higher temperatures throughout. Orbiting so close to its host star, the planet could not maintain liquid water and likely would not be able to support life. More on this exoplanet›

Read the full version of this week’s Solar System 10 Things to Know HERE.

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Science-Heavy SpaceX Dragon Headed to Space St…

Heads up: a new batch of science is headed to the International Space Station aboard the SpaceX Dragon on April 2, 2018. Launching from Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Station atop a Falcon 9 rocket, this fire breathing (well, kinda…) spacecraft will deliver science that studies thunderstorms on Earth, space gardening, potential pathogens in space, new ways to patch up wounds and more.

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Let’s break down some of that super cool science heading 250 miles above Earth to the orbiting laboratory:

Sprites and Elves in Space

Atmosphere-Space Interactions Monitor (ASIM) experiment will survey severe thunderstorms in Earth’s atmosphere and upper-atmospheric lightning, or transient luminous events. 

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These include sprites, flashes caused by electrical break-down in the mesosphere; the blue jet, a discharge from cloud tops upward into the stratosphere; and ELVES, concentric rings of emissions caused by an electromagnetic pulse in the ionosphere.

Here’s a graphic showing the layers of the atmosphere for reference:

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Metal Powder Fabrication

Our Sample Cartridge Assembly (MSL SCA-GEDS-German) experiment will determine underlying scientific principles for a fabrication process known as liquid phase sintering, in microgravity and Earth-gravity conditions.

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Science term of the day: Liquid phase sintering works like building a sandcastle with just-wet-enough sand; heating a powder forms interparticle bonds and formation of a liquid phase accelerates this solidification, creating a rigid structure. But in microgravity, settling of powder grains does not occur and larger pores form, creating more porous and distorted samples than Earth-based sintering. 

Sintering has many applications on Earth, including metal cutting tools, automotive engine connecting rods, and self-lubricating bearings. It has potential as a way to perform in-space fabrication and repair, such as building structures on the moon or creating replacement parts during extraterrestrial exploration.

Plants in space! It’s l[a]unch time!

Understanding how plants respond to microgravity and demonstrating reliable vegetable production in space represent important steps toward the goal of growing food for future long-duration missions. The Veggie Passive Orbital Nutrient Delivery System (Veggie PONDS) experiment will test a passive nutrient delivery system in the station’s Veggie plant growth facility by cultivating lettuce and mizuna greens for harvest and consumption on orbit.

The PONDS design features low mass and low maintenance, requires no additional energy, and interfaces with the Veggie hardware, accommodating a variety of plant types and growth media.

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Quick Science Tip: Download the Plant Growth App to grow your own veggies in space! Apple users can download the app HERE! Android users click HERE!

Testing Materials in Space

The Materials ISS Experiment Flight Facility (MISSE-FF) experiment will provide a unique platform for testing how materials, coatings and components react in the harsh environment of space.

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A continuation of a previous experiment, this version’s new design eliminates the need for astronauts to perform spacewalks for these investigations. New technology includes power and data collection options and the ability to take pictures of each sample on a monthly basis, or more often if required. The testing benefits a variety of industries, including automotive, aeronautics, energy, space, and transportation.

Patching up Wounds

NanoRacks Module 74 Wound Healing (Wound Healing) experiment will test a patch containing an antimicrobial hydrogel that promotes healing of a wound while acting as a foundation for regenerating tissue. Reduced fluid motion in microgravity allows more precise analysis of the hydrogel behavior and controlled release of the antibiotic from the patch.

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For the first part of the experiment, the hydrogels will be assembled aboard the station and returned to Earth for analysis of mechanical and structural properties. The second part of the experiment assembles additional hydrogels loaded with an antibiotic. Crew members will collect real-time data on release of antibiotics from these gels into surrounding water during spaceflight. This patch could serve as a non-surgical treatment for military combat wounds and reduce sepsis, or systemic inflammation, usually caused by contamination of an open wound.

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What Scientists Are Learning from the Eclipse

While millions of
people in North America headed outside to watch the eclipse on Aug. 21, 2017, hundreds of scientists got out telescopes, set up instruments, and
prepared balloon launches – all so they could study the Sun and its complicated
influence on Earth.

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Total solar
eclipses happen about once every 18 months somewhere in the world, but the
August eclipse was rare because of its long path over land. The total eclipse
lasted more than 90 minutes over land, from when it first reached Oregon to
when it left the U.S. in South Carolina.

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This meant that
scientists could collect more data from land than during most eclipses, giving
us new insight into our world and the star that powers it.

A moment in the Sun’s
atmosphere

During a total solar
eclipse, the Sun’s outer atmosphere, the corona, is visible from Earth. It’s
normally too dim to see next to the Sun’s bright face, but, during an eclipse, the
Moon blocks out the Sun, revealing the corona.

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Image Credit: Peter Aniol, Miloslav Druckmüller and Shadia Habbal

Though we can
study parts of the corona with instruments that create artificial eclipses, some
of the innermost regions of the corona are only visible during total solar
eclipses. Solar scientists think this part of the corona may hold the secrets
to some of our most fundamental questions about the Sun: Like how the solar
wind – the constant flow of magnetized material that streams out from the Sun
and fills the solar system – is accelerated, and why the corona is so much
hotter than the Sun’s surface below.  

Depending on
where you were, someone watching the total solar eclipse on Aug. 21 might have
been able to see the Moon completely obscuring the Sun for up to two minutes
and 42 seconds. One scientist wanted to stretch that even further – so he used
a pair of our WB-57 jets to chase the path of the Moon’s shadow, giving their
telescopes an uninterrupted view of the solar corona for just over seven and half minutes.

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These
telescopes were originally designed to help monitor space shuttle launches, and
the eclipse campaign was their first airborne astronomy project!

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These
scientists weren’t the only ones who had the idea to stretch out their view of
the eclipse: The Citizen CATE project (short for Continental-America Telescopic
Eclipse) did something similar, but with the help of hundreds of citizen scientists. 

Citizen CATE included
68 identical small telescopes spread out across the path of totality, operated
by citizen and student scientists. As the Moon’s shadow left one telescope, it reached
the next one in the lineup, giving scientists a longer look at the way the
corona changes throughout the eclipse.

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After
accounting for clouds, Citizen CATE telescopes were able to collect 82 minutes
of images, out of the 93 total minutes that the eclipse was over the US. Their
images will help scientists study the dynamics of the inner corona, including
fast solar wind flows near the Sun’s north and south poles.

The magnetized solar
wind can interact with Earth’s magnetic field, causing auroras, interfering
with satellites, and – in extreme cases – even straining our power systems, and
all these measurements will help us better understand how the Sun sends this
material speeding out into space.

Exploring the Sun-Earth
connection

Scientists also
used the eclipse as a natural laboratory to explore the Sun’s complicated
influence on Earth.

High in Earth’s
upper atmosphere, above the ozone layer, the Sun’s intense radiation creates a
layer of electrified particles called the ionosphere. This region of the
atmosphere reacts to changes from both Earth below and space above. Such
changes in the lower atmosphere or space weather can manifest as disruptions in
the ionosphere that can interfere with communication and navigation signals.

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One group of
scientists used the eclipse to test computer models of the ionosphere’s effects
on these communications signals. They predicted that radio signals would travel
farther during the eclipse because of a drop in the number of energized particles.
Their eclipse day data – collected by scientists spread out across the US and
by thousands of amateur radio operators – proved that prediction right.

In another
experiment, scientists used the Eclipse Ballooning Project to investigate the eclipse’s effects
lower in the atmosphere. The project incorporated weather balloon flights from
a dozen locations to form a picture of how Earth’s lower atmosphere – the part
we interact with and which directly affects our weather – reacted to the
eclipse. They found that the planetary boundary layer, the lowest part of
Earth’s atmosphere, actually moved closer to Earth during the eclipse, dropped
down nearly to its nighttime altitude.

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A handful of these
balloons also flew cards containing harmless bacteria
to explore the potential
for contamination
of other planets with Earth-born life. Earth’s stratosphere is similar to the surface of Mars, except in one main way:
the amount of sunlight. But during the eclipse, the level of sunlight dropped
to something closer to what you’d expect to see on Mars, making this the
perfect testbed to explore whether Earth microbes could hitch a ride to the Red
Planet and survive. Scientists are working through the data collected, hoping
to build up better information to help robotic and human explorers alike avoid
carrying bacterial hitchhikers to Mars.

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Image: The small metal card used to transport bacteria.

Finally, our
EPIC instrument aboard NOAA’s DSCOVR satellite provided awe-inspiring views of the
eclipse, but it’s also helping scientists understand Earth’s energy balance. Earth’s energy system is in a constant
dance to maintain a balance between incoming radiation from the Sun and
outgoing radiation from Earth to space, which scientists call the Earth’s
energy budget. The role of clouds, both thick and thin, is important in their
effect on energy balance.

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Like a giant
cloud, the Moon during the total solar eclipse cast a large shadow across a
swath of the United States. Scientists know the dimensions and light-blocking
properties of the Moon, so they used ground- and space-based instruments to
learn how this large shadow affects the amount of sunlight reaching Earth’s
surface, especially around the edges of the shadow. Measurements from EPIC show
a 10% drop in light reflected from Earth during the eclipse (compared to about
1% on a normal day). That number will help scientists model how clouds radiate the
Sun’s energy – which drives our planet’s ocean currents, seasons, weather and
climate – away from our planet.

For
even more eclipse science updates, stay tuned to nasa.gov/eclipse.

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After 20 years in space, the Cassini spacecraft is running out…

After 20 years in space, the Cassini spacecraft is running out of fuel. In 2010, Cassini began a seven-year mission extension in which the plan was to expend all of the spacecraft’s propellant exploring Saturn and its moons. This led to the Grand Finale and ends with a plunge into the planet’s atmosphere at 6:32 a.m. EDT on Friday, Sept. 15.

The spacecraft will ram through Saturn’s atmosphere at four times the speed of a re-entry vehicle entering Earth’s atmosphere, and Cassini has no heat shield. So temperatures around the spacecraft will increase by 30-to-100 times per minute, and every component of the spacecraft will disintegrate over the next couple of minutes…

Cassini’s gold-colored multi-layer insulation blankets will char and break apart, and then the spacecraft’s carbon fiber epoxy structures, such as the 11-foot (3-meter) wide high-gain antenna and the 30-foot (11-meter) long magnetometer boom, will weaken and break apart. Components mounted on the outside of the central body of the spacecraft will then break apart, followed by the leading face of the spacecraft itself.

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Our pale blue dot, planet Earth, is seen in this video captured…

Our pale blue dot, planet Earth, is seen in this video captured by NASA astronaut Jack Fischer from his unique vantage point on the International Space Station. From 250 miles above our home planet, this time-lapse imagery takes us over the Pacific Ocean’s moon glint and above the night lights of San Francisco, CA. The thin hue of our atmosphere is visible surrounding our planet with a majestic white layer of clouds sporadically seen underneath.

The International Space Station is currently home to 6 people who are living and working in microgravity. As it orbits our planet at 17,500 miles per hour, the crew onboard is conducting important research that benefits life here on Earth.

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Freaky fast and really awesome! NASA astronaut Jack Fischer…

Freaky fast and really awesome! NASA astronaut Jack Fischer posted this GIF to his social media Tuesday saying, “I was checking the view out the back window & decided to take a pic so you can see proof of our ludicrous speed! #SpaceIsAwesome”.

In case you didn’t know, the International Space Station travels 17,500 miles per hour as it orbits 250 miles above the Earth.

Currently, three humans are living and working there, conducting important science and research. The orbiting laboratory is home to more than 250 experiments, including some that are helping us determine the effects of microgravity on the human body. Research on the station will not only help us send humans deeper into space than ever before, including to Mars, but also benefits life here on Earth.

Follow NASA astronaut Jack Fischer on Instagram and Twitter

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