Category: research

NASA Science Show & Tell

This week, we’re at one of the biggest science conferences in the country, where our scientists are presenting new results from our missions and projects. It’s called the American Geophysical Union’s Fall Meeting.

Here are a few of the things we shared this week…

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The Sun

A few months into its seven-year mission, Parker Solar Probe has already flown far closer to the Sun than any spacecraft has ever gone. The data from this visit to the Sun has just started to come back to Earth, and scientists are hard at work on their analysis.

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Parker Solar Probe sent us this new view of the Sun’s outer atmosphere, the corona. The image was taken by the mission’s WISPR instrument on Nov. 8, 2018, and shows a coronal streamer seen over the east limb of the Sun. Coronal streamers are structures of solar material within the Sun’s atmosphere, the corona, that usually overlie regions of increased solar activity. The fine structure of the streamer is very clear, with at least two rays visible. Parker Solar Probe was about 16.9 million miles from the Sun’s surface when this image was taken. The bright object near the center of the image is Mercury, and the dark spots are a result of background correction.

Hurricane Maria

Using a satellite view of human lights, our scientists watched the lights go out in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria. They could see the slow return of electricity to the island, and track how rural and mountainous regions took longer to regain power.

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In the spring, a team of scientists flew a plane over Puerto Rico’s forests, using a laser instrument to measure how trees were damaged and how the overall structure of the forests had changed.

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Earth’s Ice

Our scientists who study Antarctica saw some surprising changes to East Antarctica. Until now, most of the continent’s melting has been on the peninsula and West Antarctica, but our scientists have seen glaciers in East Antarctica lose lots of ice in the last few years.

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Our ICESat-2 team showed some of their brand new data. From the changing height of Antarctic ice to lagoons off the coast of Mexico, the little satellite has spent its first few months measuring our planet in 3D. The laser pulses even see individual ocean waves, in this graph.

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Scientists are using our satellite data to track Adélie penguin populations, by using an unusual proxy – pictures of their poop! Penguins are too small to be seen by satellites, but they can see large amounts of their poop (which is pink!) and use that as a proxy for penguin populations.

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Asteroid Bennu

Our OSIRIS-REx mission recently arrived at its destination, asteroid Bennu. On approach, data from the spacecraft’s spectrometers revealed chemical signatures of water trapped in clay minerals.  While Bennu itself is too small to have ever hosted liquid water, the finding indicates that liquid water was present at some time on Bennu’s parent body, a much larger asteroid.

We also released a new, detailed shape model of Bennu, which is very similar to our ground-based observations of Bennu’s shape. This is a boon to ground-based radar astronomy since this is our first validation of the accuracy of the method for an asteroid! One change from the original shape model is the size of the large boulder near Bennu’s south pole, nicknamed “Benben.” The boulder is much bigger than we thought and overall, the quantity of boulders on the surface is higher than expected. Now the team will make further observations at closer ranges to more accurately assess where a sample can be taken on Bennu to later be returned to Earth.

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Jupiter

The Juno mission celebrated it’s 16th science pass of #Jupiter, marking the halfway point in data collection of the prime mission. Over the second half of the prime mission — science flybys 17 through 32 — the spacecraft will split the difference, flying exactly halfway between each previous orbit. This will provide coverage of the planet every 11.25 degrees of longitude, providing a more detailed picture of what makes the whole of Jupiter tick.

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Mars

The Mars 2020 team had a workshop to discuss the newly announced landing site for our next rover on the Red Planet. The landing site…Jezero Crater! The goal of Mars 2020 is to learn whether life ever existed on Mars. It’s too cold and dry for life to exist on the Martian surface today. But after Jezero Crater formed billions of years ago, water filled it to form a deep lake about the same size as Lake Tahoe. Eventually, as Mars’ climate changed, Lake Jezero dried up. And surface water disappeared from the planet.

Interstellar Space

Humanity now has two interstellar ambassadors. On Nov. 5, 2018, our Voyager 2 spacecraft left the heliosphere — the bubble of the Sun’s magnetic influence formed by the solar wind. It’s only the second-ever human-made object to enter interstellar space, following its twin, Voyager 1, that left the heliosphere in 2012.

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Scientists are especially excited to keep receiving data from Voyager 2, because — unlike Voyager 1 — its plasma science instrument is still working. That means we’ll learn brand-new information about what fills the space between the stars.

Learn more about NASA Science at science.nasa.gov

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Human Research, Robotic Refueling, Crystallogr…

New
science is headed to the International Space Station aboard
the SpaceX Dragon.

Investigations
on this flight include a test of robotic technology for refueling spacecraft, a
project to map the world’s forests and two student studies inspired by Marvel’s
“Guardians of the Galaxy” series.

Learn
more about the science heading into low-Earth orbit:

The
forest is strong with this one: GEDI studies Earth’s forests in 3D

The Global Ecosystem
Dynamics Investigation (GEDI) is an instrument to measure and map Earth’s
tropical and temperate forests in 3D.

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The Jedi knights may help
protect a galaxy far, far away, but our GEDI
will help us study and understand forest changes right here on Earth.

Robotic
refueling in space

What’s cooler than cool? Cryogenic propellants,
or ice-cold spacecraft fuel! Our Robotic Refueling Mission 3 (RRM3) will demonstrate technologies for storing and
transferring these special liquids. By establishing ways to replenish this fuel
supply in space, RRM3 could help spacecraft live
longer and journey farther
.

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The mission’s techniques could even be applied
to potential lunar gas stations at the Moon, or refueling
rockets departing from Mars.

Staying
strong in space

The
Molecular Muscle investigation examines the
molecular causes of muscle abnormalities from spaceflight in C. elgans, a
roundworm and model organism.

This
study could give researchers a better understanding of why muscles deteriorate
in microgravity so they can improve methods to help crew members maintain their
strength in space.

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Investigation
studies space-grown crystals for protection against radiation

Perfect Crystals is a study to learn more about an
antioxidant protein called manganese superoxide dismutase that protects the
body from the effects of radiation and some harmful chemicals.

The
station’s microgravity environment allows researchers to grow more perfectly
ordered crystals of the proteins. These crystals are brought back to Earth and
studied in detail to learn more about how the manganese superoxide dismutase
works. Understanding how this protein functions may aid researchers in
developing techniques to reduce the threat of radiation exposure to astronauts
as well as prevent and treat some kinds of cancers on Earth.

Satellite
deployment reaching new heights with SlingShot

SlingShot
is a new, cost-effective commercial satellite deployment system that will be
tested for the first time.

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SlingShot
hardware, two small CubeSats, and a hosted payload will be carried to the
station inside SpaceX’s Dragon capsule and installed on a Cygnus spacecraft
already docked to the orbiting laboratory. Later, Cygnus will depart station
and fly to a pre-determined altitude to release the satellites and interact
with the hosted payload.

Investigation
studies accelerated aging in microgravity

Spaceflight
appears to accelerate aging in both humans and mice. Rodent Research-8 (RR-8) is a study to understand the physiology of
aging and the role it plays on the progression of disease in humans. This
investigation could provide a better understanding of how aging changes the
body, which may lead to new therapies for related conditions experienced by
astronauts in space and people on Earth.

Guardians
of the space station: Student contest flies to orbiting lab

The
MARVEL ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ Space Station Challenge is a joint project between
the U.S. National Laboratory and Marvel Entertainment featuring two winning
experiments from a contest for American teenage students. For the contest,
students were asked to submit microgravity experiment concepts that related to
the Rocket and Groot characters from Marvel’s “Guardians of the Galaxy” comic
book series.

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Team
Rocket: Staying Healthy in Space

If
an astronaut suffers a broken tooth or lost filling in space, they need a
reliable and easy way to fix it. This experiment investigates how well a dental
glue activated by ultraviolet light would work in microgravity. Researchers
will evaluate the use of the glue by treating simulated broken teeth and
testing them aboard the station.

Team
Groot: Aeroponic Farming in Microgravity

This
experiment explores an alternative method for watering plants in the absence of
gravity using a misting device to deliver water to the plant roots and an air
pump to blow excess water away. Results from this experiment may enable humans
to grow fruits and vegetables in microgravity, and eliminate a major obstacle
for long-term spaceflight.

These
investigation join hundreds of others currently happening aboard the station.
For more info, follow @ISS_Research!

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Uncovering a Massive Meteor Crater Found Lurki…

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For the first time ever, we’ve found a massive crater hiding under one of Earth’s ice sheets. Likely caused by a meteor, it was uncovered in Greenland by a team of international scientists using radar data.

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The data was collected by missions like our Operation IceBridge, which flies planes over Greenland and Antarctica to study the ice and snow at our planet’s poles.

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In this case, the crater is near Hiawatha Glacier, covered by a sheet of ice more than half a mile thick. We’re pretty sure that the crater was caused by a meteor because it has characteristics traditionally associated with those kinds of impacts, like a bowl shape and central peaks.

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It’s also one of the 25 largest impact craters in the world, large enough to hold the cities of Paris or Washington, D.C. The meteor that created it was likely half a mile wide.

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Currently, there’s still lots to learn about the crater – and the meteor that created it – but it’s likely relatively young in geologic timescales. The meteor hit Earth within the last 3 million years, but the impact could have been as recent as 13,000 years ago.

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While it was likely smaller than the meteor credited with knocking out the dinosaurs, this impact could have potentially caused a large influx of fresh water into the northern Atlantic Ocean, which would have had profound impacts for life in the region at the time.

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Go here to learn more about this discovery: https://www.nasa.gov/press-release/international-team-nasa-make-unexpected-discovery-under-greenland-ice

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Operation IceBridge continues to uncover the hidden secrets under Earth’s ice. IceBridge has been flying for 10 years, providing a data bridge between ICESat, which flew from 2003 to 2009, and ICESat-2, which launched in September. IceBridge uses a suite of instruments to help track the changing height and thickness of the ice and the snow cover above it. IceBridge also measures the bedrock below the ice, which allows for discoveries like this crater.

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Experience High-Res Science in First 8K Footag…

Fans
of science in space can now experience fast-moving footage in even higher
definition as NASA delivers the first 8K ultra high definition (UHD) video of
astronauts living, working and conducting research from the International
Space Station
.

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The
same engineers who sent high-definition (HD) cameras, 3D cameras, and a camera
capable of recording 4K footage to the space station have now delivered a new
camera– Helium
8K camera by RED – capable of recording images
with four times the
resolution than the previous camera offered.

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Let’s compare this
camera to others
: The Helium 8K camera is capable of
shooting at resolutions ranging from conventional HDTV up to 8K, specifically 8192
x 4320 pixels. By comparison, the average HD consumer television displays up to
1920 x 1080 pixels of resolution, and digital cinemas typically project 2K to 4K.

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Viewers can
watch as crew members advance DNA sequencing in space with the BEST
investigation, study dynamic forces between sediment particles with BCAT-CS,
learn about genetic differences in space-grown and Earth-grown plants with Plant
Habitat-1
, observe low-speed water jets to improve combustion
processes within engines with Atomization
and explore station facilities such as the MELFI,
the Plant
Habitat
, the Life
Support Rack
, the JEM Airlock and
the CanadArm2.

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Delivered to the station aboard the fourteenth SpaceX
cargo resupply mission through a Space Act Agreement between NASA and RED, this
camera’s ability to record twice the pixels and at resolutions four times
higher than the 4K camera brings science in orbit into the homes, laboratories
and classrooms of everyone on Earth. 

While
the 8K resolutions are optimal for showing on movie screens, NASA video editors
are working on space station footage for public viewing on YouTube. Viewers will
be able to watch high-resolution footage from inside and outside the orbiting
laboratory right on their computer screens. Viewers will need a screen capable
of displaying 8K resolution for the full effect, but the imagery still trumps
that of standard cameras. RED videos and pictures are shot at a higher fidelity
and then down-converted, meaning much more information is captured in the
images, which results in higher-quality playback, even if viewers don’t have an
8K screen.   

The full UHD files are available for download for use in broadcast. Read the NASA media usage
guidelines

Squaring Off with Icebergs with Operation IceB…

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From onboard a NASA research plane, Operation IceBridge
is flying survey flights over Antarctica, studying how the frozen continent is
changing.

The average Antarctic flight is 11-12 hours
long; with all that time in the air, the science team sees some striking and
interesting views, including two rectangular-looking icebergs off Antarctica’s
Larsen C ice shelf.

They’re both tabular icebergs, which are relatively
common in the Antarctic. They form by breaking off ice shelves – when they are
“fresh,” they have flat tops and angular lines and edges because they haven’t
been rounded or broken by wind and waves.

Operation IceBridge is one part of NASA’s exploration of
the cryosphere – Earth’s icy reaches. Follow along as we explore the frozen
regions of our home planet
.

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Space-Grown Crystals May Lead to More Efficien…

The International Space
Station
is a perfect environment for
creating protein crystal structures for research.

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In microgravity, protein molecules
form more orderly, high-quality crystals. Studying these structures helps
scientists understand their function and contributes to development of more
effective treatments for diseases.

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Experiments often need more than
one try to generate ideal crystals, though. Researchers may have to return
samples to Earth for analysis and then try again on a later mission on the
space station.

Scientists are testing new methods
of growing crystals that allow crew members to observe imperfections, make
real-time adjustments, and try growing them again right away. This dramatically
reduces the time and cost of conducting experiments aboard the space station
and opens up the orbiting lab to more users. More efficient use of time and
resources can produce research results in less time and lead to development of
better drugs sooner.

Learn more @ISS_Research!

Your Gut in Space

Finding the Right Balance for the Microbiota

Trillions of microorganisms live on and in the human body, many of them essential to its function and health. These organisms, collectively known as the microbiota, outnumber cells in the body by at least five times. 

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Microorganisms in the intestinal tract, the gut microbiota, play an especially important role in human health. An investigation on the International Space Station, Rodent Research-7 (RR-7), studies how the gut microbiota changes in response to spaceflight, and how that change in turn affects the immune system, metabolic system, and circadian or daily rhythms. 

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Research shows that the microbiota in the mammalian digestive tract has a major impact on an individual’s physiology and behavior. In humans, disruption of microbial communities has been linked to multiple health problems affecting intestinal, immune, mental and metabolic systems.

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The investigation compares two different genetic strains of mice and two different durations of spaceflight. Twenty mice, ten of each strain, launch to the space station, and another 20 remain on the ground in identical conditions (except, of course, for the absence of gravity). Mice are a model organism that often serves as a scientific stand-in for other mammals and humans. 

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Fecal material collected from the mice every two weeks will be examined for changes in the gut microbiota. Researchers plan to analyze fecal and tissue samples after 30 and 90 days of flight to compare the effects of different durations of time in space. 

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With a better understanding of relationships between changes such as disruption in sleep and an imbalance of microbial populations, researchers can identify specific factors that contribute to changes in the microbiota. Further studies then can determine proactive measures and countermeasures to protect astronaut health during long-term missions. 

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Distance: Hazard Far From Home

A human journey to Mars, at first glance, offers an inexhaustible amount
of complexities. To bring a mission to the Red Planet from fiction to fact, our Human
Research Program
has
organized some of the hazards astronauts will encounter on a continual basis
into five classifications.

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The third and perhaps most apparent hazard is, quite
simply, the distance.

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Rather than a three-day lunar trip, astronauts would
be leaving our planet for roughly three years. Facing a communication delay of
up to 20 minutes one way and the possibility of equipment failures or a medical
emergency, astronauts must be capable of confronting an array of situations
without support from their fellow team on Earth.

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Once you burn your engines for Mars, there is no
turning back so planning and self-sufficiency are essential keys to a
successful Martian mission. The Human Research Program is studying and
improving food formulation, processing, packaging and preservation systems.

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While International Space Station expeditions serve as
a rough foundation for the expected impact on planning logistics for such a
trip, the data isn’t always comparable, but it is a key to the solution.

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Exploration to the Moon and Mars
will expose astronauts to five known hazards of spaceflight, including distance
from Earth. To learn more, and find out what our Human Research
Program is doing to protect humans in space, check out the “Hazards
of Human Spaceflight
" website. Or,
check out this week’s episode of “Houston We Have a Podcast,” in which host Gary Jordan
further dives into the threat of distance with Erik Antonsen, the
Assistant Director for Human Systems Risk
Management at the Johnson Space Center.

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Isolation, Hazard of the Mind

Make sure to follow us on Tumblr for your regular dose of space: http://nasa.tumblr.com.A human journey to Mars, at first glance, offers an inexhaustible amount of complexities. To bring a mission to the Red Planet from fiction to fact, our Human Research Program has organized hazards astronauts will encounter on a continual basis into five classifications. (View the first hazard). Let’s dive into the second hazard:

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Overcoming the second hazard, isolation and confinement, is essential for a successful mission to Mars. Behavioral issues among groups of people crammed in a small space over a long period of time, no matter how well trained they are, are inevitable. It is a topic of study and discussion currently taking place around the selection and composition of crews.

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On Earth, we have the luxury of picking up our cell phones and instantly being connected with nearly everything and everyone around us. 

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On a trip to Mars, astronauts will be more isolated and confined than we can imagine. 

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Sleep loss, circadian desynchronization (getting out of sync), and work overload compound this issue and may lead to performance decrements or decline, adverse health outcomes, and compromised mission objectives.

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To address this hazard, methods for monitoring behavioral health and adapting/refining various tools and technologies for use in the spaceflight environment are being developed to detect and treat early risk factors. Research is also being conducted in workload and performance, light therapy for circadian alignment or internal clock alignment, and team cohesion.

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Exploration to the Moon and Mars will expose astronauts to five known hazards of spaceflight, including isolation and confinement. To learn more, and find out what the Human Research Program is doing to protect humans in space, check out the “Hazards of Human Spaceflight” website. Or, check out this week’s episode of “Houston We Have a Podcast,” in which host Gary Jordan further dives into the threat of isolation and confinement with Tom Williams, a NASA Human Factors and Behavior Performance Element Scientist at the Johnson Space Center. 

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Space Radiation: Hazard of Stealth

A human journey to Mars, at first glance, offers an inexhaustible amount of complexities. To bring a mission to the Red Planet from fiction to fact, our Human Research Program has organized hazards astronauts will encounter on a continual basis into five classifications.

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The first hazard of a human mission to Mars is also the most difficult to visualize because, well, space radiation is invisible to the human eye. Radiation is not only stealthy, but considered one of the most menacing of the five hazards.

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Above Earth’s natural protection, radiation exposure increases cancer risk, damages the central nervous system, can alter cognitive function, reduce motor function and prompt behavioral changes. To learn what can happen above low-Earth orbit, we study how radiation affects biological samples using a ground-based research laboratory.

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Exploration to the Moon and Mars will expose astronauts to five known hazards of spaceflight, including radiation. To learn more, and find out what our Human Research Program is doing to protect humans in space, check out the “Hazards of Human Spaceflight” website or check out this week’s episode of “Houston We Have a Podcast,” in which our host Gary Jordan further dives into the threat of radiation with Zarana Patel, a radiation lead scientist at the Johnson Space Center.

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Make sure to follow us on Tumblr for your regular dose of space: http://nasa.tumblr.com.