Category: solar system

5 Out-of-This World Technologies Developed for…

Our James Webb Space Telescope is the most ambitious and complex space science observatory ever built. It will study every phase in the history of our universe, ranging from the first luminous glows after the Big Bang, to the formation of solar systems capable of supporting life on planets like Earth, to the evolution of our own Solar System.

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In order to carry out such a daring mission, many innovative and powerful new technologies were developed specifically to enable Webb to achieve its primary mission.  

Here are 5 technologies that were developed to help Webb push the boundaries of space exploration and discovery:

1. Microshutters

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Microshutters are basically tiny windows with shutters that each measure 100 by 200 microns, or about the size of a bundle of only a few human hairs. 

The microshutter device will record the spectra of light from distant objects (spectroscopy is simply the science of measuring the intensity of light at different wavelengths. The graphical representations of these measurements are called spectra.)

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Other spectroscopic instruments have flown in space before but none have had the capability to enable high-resolution observation of up to 100 objects simultaneously, which means much more scientific investigating can get done in less time. 

Read more about how the microshutters work HERE.

2. The Backplane

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Webb’s backplane is the large structure that holds and supports the big hexagonal mirrors of the telescope, you can think of it as the telescope’s “spine”. The backplane has an important job as it must carry not only the 6.5 m (over 21 foot) diameter primary mirror plus other telescope optics, but also the entire module of scientific instruments. It also needs to be essentially motionless while the mirrors move to see far into deep space. All told, the backplane carries more than 2400kg (2.5 tons) of hardware.

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This structure is also designed to provide unprecedented thermal stability performance at temperatures colder than -400°F (-240°C). At these temperatures, the backplane was engineered to be steady down to 32 nanometers, which is 1/10,000 the diameter of a human hair!

Read more about the backplane HERE.

3. The Mirrors

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One of the Webb Space Telescope’s science goals is to look back through time to when galaxies were first forming. Webb will do this by observing galaxies that are very distant, at over 13 billion light years away from us. To see such far-off and faint objects, Webb needs a large mirror. 

Webb’s scientists and engineers determined that a primary mirror 6.5 meters across is what was needed to measure the light from these distant galaxies. Building a mirror this large is challenging, even for use on the ground. Plus, a mirror this large has never been launched into space before! 

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If the Hubble Space Telescope’s 2.4-meter mirror were scaled to be large enough for Webb, it would be too heavy to launch into orbit. The Webb team had to find new ways to build the mirror so that it would be light enough – only 1/10 of the mass of Hubble’s mirror per unit area – yet very strong. 

Read more about how we designed and created Webb’s unique mirrors HERE.

4. Wavefront Sensing and Control

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Wavefront sensing and control is a technical term used to describe the subsystem that was required to sense and correct any errors in the telescope’s optics. This is especially necessary because all 18 segments have to work together as a single giant mirror.

The work performed on the telescope optics resulted in a NASA tech spinoff for diagnosing eye conditions and accurate mapping of the eye.  This spinoff supports research in cataracts, keratoconus (an eye condition that causes reduced vision), and eye movement – and improvements in the LASIK procedure.

Read more about the tech spinoff HERE

5. Sunshield and Sunshield Coating

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Webb’s primary science comes from infrared light, which is essentially heat energy. To detect the extremely faint heat signals of astronomical objects that are incredibly far away, the telescope itself has to be very cold and stable. This means we not only have to protect Webb from external sources of light and heat (like the Sun and the Earth), but we also have to make all the telescope elements very cold so they don’t emit their own heat energy that could swamp the sensitive instruments. The temperature also must be kept constant so that materials aren’t shrinking and expanding, which would throw off the precise alignment of the optics.

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Each of the five layers of the sunshield is incredibly thin. Despite the thin layers, they will keep the cold side of the telescope at around -400°F (-240°C), while the Sun-facing side will be 185°F (85°C). This means you could actually freeze nitrogen on the cold side (not just liquify it), and almost boil water on the hot side. The sunshield gives the telescope the equivalent protection of a sunscreen with SPF 1 million!

Read more about Webb’s incredible sunshield HERE

Learn more about the Webb Space Telescope and other complex technologies that have been created for the first time by visiting THIS page.

For the latest updates and news on the Webb Space Telescope, follow the mission on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

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10 Things: Calling All Pluto Lovers

June 22 marks the 40th anniversary of Charon’s discovery—the dwarf planet Pluto’s largest and first known moon. While the definition of a planet is the subject of vigorous scientific debate, this dwarf planet is a fascinating world to explore. Get to know Pluto’s beautiful, fascinating companion this week.

1. A Happy Accident

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Astronomers James Christy and Robert Harrington weren’t even looking for satellites of Pluto when they discovered Charon in June 1978 at the U.S. Naval Observatory Flagstaff Station in Arizona – only about six miles from where Pluto was discovered at Lowell Observatory. Instead, they were trying to refine Pluto’s orbit around the Sun when sharp-eyed Christy noticed images of Pluto were strangely elongated; a blob seemed to move around Pluto. 

The direction of elongation cycled back and forth over 6.39 days―the same as Pluto’s rotation period. Searching through their archives of Pluto images taken years before, Christy then found more cases where Pluto appeared elongated. Additional images confirmed he had discovered the first known moon of Pluto.

2. Forever and Always

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Christy proposed the name Charon after the mythological ferryman who carried souls across the river Acheron, one of the five mythical rivers that surrounded Pluto’s underworld. But Christy also chose it for a more personal reason: The first four letters matched the name of his wife, Charlene. (Cue the collective sigh.)

3. Big Little Moon

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Charon—the largest of Pluto’s five moons and approximately the size of Texas—is almost half the size of Pluto itself. The little moon is so big that Pluto and Charon are sometimes referred to as a double dwarf planet system. The distance between them is 12,200 miles (19,640 kilometers).

4. A Colorful and Violent History

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Many scientists on the New Horizons mission expected Charon to be a monotonous, crater-battered world; instead, they found a landscape covered with mountains, canyons, landslides, surface-color variations and more. High-resolution images of the Pluto-facing hemisphere of Charon, taken by New Horizons as the spacecraft sped through the Pluto system on July 14 and transmitted to Earth on Sept. 21, reveal details of a belt of fractures and canyons just north of the moon’s equator.

5. Grander Canyon

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This great canyon system stretches more than 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometers) across the entire face of Charon and likely around onto Charon’s far side. Four times as long as the Grand Canyon, and twice as deep in places, these faults and canyons indicate a titanic geological upheaval in Charon’s past.

6. Officially Official

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In April 2018, the International Astronomical Union—the internationally recognized authority for naming celestial bodies and their surface features—approved a dozen names for Charon’s features proposed by our New Horizons mission team. Many of the names focus on the literature and mythology of exploration.

7. Flying Over Charon

This flyover video of Charon was created thanks to images from our New Horizons spacecraft. The “flight” starts with the informally named Mordor (dark) region near Charon’s north pole. Then the camera moves south to a vast chasm, descending to just 40 miles (60 kilometers) above the surface to fly through the canyon system.

8. Strikingly Different Worlds

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This composite of enhanced color images of Pluto (lower right) and Charon (upper left), was taken by New Horizons as it passed through the Pluto system on July 14, 2015. This image highlights the striking differences between Pluto and Charon. The color and brightness of both Pluto and Charon have been processed identically to allow direct comparison of their surface properties, and to highlight the similarity between Charon’s polar red terrain and Pluto’s equatorial red terrain.

9. Quality Facetime

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Charon neither rises nor sets, but hovers over the same spot on Pluto’s surface, and the same side of Charon always faces Pluto―a phenomenon called mutual tidal locking.

10. Shine On, Charon

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Bathed in “Plutoshine,” this image from New Horizons shows the night side of Charon against a star field lit by faint, reflected light from Pluto itself on July 15, 2015.

Read the full version of this week’s ‘10 Things to Know’ article on the web HERE.

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Solar System: 10 Things to Know

Movie Night

Summer break is just around the corner. Hang a sheet from the clothesline in the backyard and fire up the projector for a NASA movie night.

1. Mars in a Minute

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Back in the day, movies started with a cartoon. Learn the secrets of the Red Planet in these animated 60 second chunks.

2. Crash of the Titans

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Watch two galaxies collide billions of years from now in this high-definition visualization.

3. Tour the Moon in 4K

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Wait for the dark of the waning Moon next weekend to take in this 4K tour of our constant celestial companion.

4. Seven Years of the Sun

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Watch graceful dances in the Sun’s atmosphere in this series of videos created by our 24/7 Sun-sentinel, the Solar Dynamic Observatory (SDO).

5. Light ‘Em Up

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Crank up the volume and learn about NASA science for this short video about some of our science missions, featuring a track by Fall Out Boy.

6. Bennu’s Journey

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Follow an asteroid from its humble origins to its upcoming encounter with our spacecraft in this stunning visualization.

7. Lunar Landing Practice

Join Apollo mission pilots as they fly—and even crash—during daring practice runs for landing on the Moon.

8. Earthrise

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Join the crew of Apollo 8 as they become the first human beings to see the Earth rise over the surface of the Moon.

9. Musical Descent to Titan

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Watch a musical, whimsical recreation of the 2005 Huygens probe descent to Titan, Saturn’s giant moon.

10. More Movies

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Our Goddard Scientific Visualization Studio provides a steady stream of fresh videos for your summer viewing pleasure. Come back often and enjoy.

Read the full version of this article on the web HERE

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Where in the World is Our Flying Telescope? Ne…

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Our flying observatory SOFIA carries a telescope inside this Boeing 747SP aircraft. Scientists use SOFIA to study the universe — including stars, planets and black holes — while flying as high as 45,000 feet.

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SOFIA is typically based at our Armstrong Flight Research Center in Palmdale, California, but recently arrived in Christchurch, New Zealand, to study celestial objects that are best observed from the Southern Hemisphere.

So what will we study from the land down under?

Eta Carinae

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Eta Carinae, in the southern constellation Carina, is the most luminous stellar system within 10,000 light-years of Earth. It’s made of two massive stars that are shrouded in dust and gas from its previous eruptions and may one day explode as a supernova. We will analyze the dust and gas around it to learn how this violent system evolves.

Celestial Magnetic Fields

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We can study magnetic fields in the center of our Milky Way galaxy from New Zealand because there the galaxy is high in the sky — where we can observe it for long periods of time. We know that this area has strong magnetic fields that affect the material spiraling into the black hole here and forming new stars. But we want to learn about their shape and strength to understand how magnetic fields affect the processes in our galactic center.

Saturn’s Moon Titan

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Titan is Saturn’s largest moon and is the only moon in our solar system to have a thick atmosphere — it’s filled with a smog-like haze. It also has seasons, each lasting about seven Earth years. We want to learn if its atmosphere changes seasonally.

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Titan will pass in front of a star in an eclipse-like event called an occultation. We’ll chase down the shadow it casts on Earth’s surface, and fly our airborne telescope directly in its center. 

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From there, we can determine the temperature, pressure and density of Titan’s atmosphere. Now that our Cassini Spacecraft has ended its mission, the only way we can continue to monitor its atmosphere is by studying these occultation events.

Nearby Galaxies

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The Large Magellanic Cloud is a galaxy near our own, but it’s only visible from the Southern Hemisphere! Inside of it are areas filled with newly forming stars and the leftovers from a supernova explosion.

The Tarantula Nebula

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The Tarantula Nebula, also called 30 Doradus, is located in the Large Magellanic Cloud and shown here in this image from Chandra, Hubble and Spitzer. It holds a cluster of thousands of stars forming simultaneously. Once the stars are born, their light and winds push out the material leftover from their parent clouds — potentially leaving nothing behind to create more new stars. We want to know if the material is still expanding and forming new stars, or if the star-formation process has stopped. So our team on SOFIA will make a map showing the speed and direction of the gas in the nebula to determine what’s happening inside it.

Supernova 1987A

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Also in the Large Magellanic Cloud is Supernova 1987A, the closest supernova explosion witnessed in almost 400 years. We will continue studying this supernova to better understand the material expanding out from it, which may become the building blocks of future stars and planets. Many of our telescopes have studied Supernova 1987A, including the Hubble Space Telescope and the Chandra X-ray Observatory, but our instruments on SOFIA are the only tools we can use to study the debris around it with infrared light, which let us better understand characteristics of the dust that cannot be measured using other wavelengths of light.

For live updates about our New Zealand observations follow SOFIA on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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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

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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

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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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Celebrating the Earth (Off the Earth!)

To find the perfect perch for Earth observation research, just look up – about 240 miles up. The International Space Station serves as an optimal platform for studying our dynamic planet, where spectacular views support science.

With currently active instruments and facilities like High Definition Earth Viewing, Crew Earth Observations, Lightning Imaging Sensor, SAGE-III and Meteor, researchers on the ground are able to use the station’s unique (and useful!) vantage point to track Earth’s weather patterns, obtain images documenting changes on the planet’s surface, understand the origin of meteors falling towards Earth, and better understand the atmosphere.

The space station’s 90-minute orbit allows it to cover 90% of the Earth’s populated surfaces. That means we are able to study A LOT of that big blue marble.

Let’s talk a little about how the space station serves as a platform for Earth observation:

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Each day, as the space station passes over regions of the Earth, crew members photograph the area below as a part of the Crew Earth Observations Facility investigation, one of the longest-running experiments on the orbiting laboratory. Crew members are able to photograph large-scale weather events like the recent Hurricane Harvey from the space station’s Cupola. These little science postcards from space can be used by researchers and the public to learn more about our home planet.

Want to see a picture of your hometown from space? Search for it in the Gateway to Astronaut Photography of Earth (GAPE).

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The High Definition Earth Viewing (HDEV) experiment streams live video of Earth for online viewing. This investigation not only provides hours and hours of footage of the Earth below, but also demonstrates how the technology holds up against the harsh environment of space. High school students helped design some of the cameras’ components, through the High Schools United with NASA to Create Hardware (HUNCH) program, and student teams perform most of the HDEV operation. (Whoa! Check out HUNCH and STEM on Station for more opportunities for student involvement!)

Useful for weather forecasting, hurricane monitoring, and observations of large-scale climate phenomena such as El Niño, RapidScat used radar pulses reflected off the ocean to measure wind speed and direction over the ocean.

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RapidScat completed its successful two-year mission, outlasting its original decommission date before suffering a power loss. Although RapidScat is no longer transmitting data back to Earth, the station hosts many other Earth-observation tools the Cyclone Intensity Measurements from the ISS (CyMISS) an experiment that seeks to develop detailed information on tropical storm structure to better estimate storm intensity, which will help government agencies to better prepare communities for impending natural disasters; and the Cloud-Aerosol Transport System (CATS), a previously-flown lidar instrument which measured atmospheric profiles of aerosols and clouds to better understand their properties and interactions, as well as provided data useful to improving climate change models.

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Learn more about RapidScat’s mission conclusion HERE! Take a look at CATS mission data HERE!

Watch more inspiring videos and learn about how we’re capturing the beauty of Earth HERE.

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Crew members are able to photograph large-scale weather events like the recent Hurricane Harvey from the space station’s Cupola. These little science postcards from space can be used by researchers and the public to learn more about our home planet.

Plants in space!

Future long-duration missions into the solar system will require a fresh food supply to supplement crew diets, which means growing crops in space. Growing food in such a harsh environment also teaches us a little bit about growing in harsh environments here on Earth.

Here are a few plant-based investigations currently happening aboard the orbiting laboratory:

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Veggie is a chamber on the space station that helps scientists grow, harvest and study different space crops. This experiment is called VEG-03D and they’ve been able to grow six rounds of crops so far.

SpaceX’s 13th Commercial Resupply vehicle carried many valuable items to the orbiting laboratory, including Plant Gravity Perception, an investigation that uses the European Modular Cultivation System (EMCS) to simulate gravity to help plants grow its roots downward, and shoots upwards. The shoots need to face upwards, towards the light, so they can absorb sunlight and nutrients. Without this, plants wouldn’t know which way to grow. Yikes!

Learn more about Plant Gravity Perception HERE!

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The Advanced Plant Habitat is a large chamber that supports commercial and fundamental plant research for at least one year of continuous use. A great feature to this habitat is that the astronauts can view the plant’s progress through a window on the door.

Whether astronauts are taking pictures of the planet or growing crops in space, all science aboard the space station plants seeds for a better life on Earth. Biology investigations directly grow our knowledge of agricultural techniques for harsh environments and imagery from space can give us a clearer idea of our planet’s health and emerging weather patterns.

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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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10 Things: Journey to the Center of Mars

May the fifth be with you because history is about to be made: As early as May 5, 2018, we’re set to launch Mars InSight, the very first mission to study the deep interior of Mars. We’ve been roaming the surface of Mars for a while now, but when InSight lands on Nov. 26, 2018, we’re going in for a deeper look. Below, 10 things to know as we head to the heart of Mars.

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Coverage of prelaunch and launch activities begins Thursday, May 3, on NASA Television and our homepage.

1. What’s in a name? 

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“Insight” is to see the inner nature of something, and the InSight lander—a.k.a. Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport—will do just that. InSight will take the “vital signs” of Mars: its pulse (seismology), temperature (heat flow) and reflexes (radio science). It will be the first thorough check-up since the planet formed 4.5 billion years ago.

2. Marsquakes. 

You read that right: earthquakes, except on Mars. Scientists have seen a lot of evidence suggesting Mars has quakes, and InSight will try to detect marsquakes for the first time. By studying how seismic waves pass through the different layers of the planet (the crust, mantle and core), scientists can deduce the depths of these layers and what they’re made of. In this way, seismology is like taking an X-ray of the interior of Mars.

Want to know more? Check out this one-minute video.

3. More than Mars. 

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InSight is a Mars mission, but it’s also so much more than that. By studying the deep interior of Mars, we hope to learn how other rocky planets form. Earth and Mars were molded from the same primordial stuff more than 4.5 billion years ago, but then became quite different. Why didn’t they share the same fate? When it comes to rocky planets, we’ve only studied one in great detail: Earth. By comparing Earth’s interior to that of Mars, InSight’s team hopes to better understand our solar system. What they learn might even aid the search for Earth-like planets outside our solar system, narrowing down which ones might be able to support life.

4. Robot testing. 

InSight looks a bit like an oversized crane game: When it lands on Mars this November, its robotic arm will be used to grasp and move objects on another planet for the first time. And like any crane game, practice makes it easier to capture the prize.

Want to see what a Mars robot test lab is like? Take a 360 tour.

5. The gang’s all here. 

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InSight will be traveling with a number of instruments, from cameras and antennas to the heat flow probe. Get up close and personal with each one in our instrument profiles.

6. Trifecta. 

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InSight has three major parts that make up the spacecraft: Cruise Stage; Entry, Descent, and Landing System; and the Lander. Find out what each one does here.

7. Solar wings. 

Mars has weak sunlight because of its long distance from the Sun and a dusty, thin atmosphere. So InSight’s fan-like solar panels were specially designed to power InSight in this environment for at least one Martian year, or two Earth years.

8. Clues in the crust. 

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Our scientists have found evidence that Mars’ crust is not as dense as previously thought, a clue that could help researchers better understand the Red Planet’s interior structure and evolution. “The crust is the end-result of everything that happened during a planet’s history, so a lower density could have important implications about Mars’ formation and evolution,” said Sander Goossens of our Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

9. Passengers. 

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InSight won’t be flying solo—it will have two microchips on board inscribed with more than 2.4 million names submitted by the public. “It’s a fun way for the public to feel personally invested in the mission,” said Bruce Banerdt of our Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the mission’s principal investigator. “We’re happy to have them along for the ride.”

10. Tiny CubeSats, huge firsts. 

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The rocket that will loft InSight beyond Earth will also launch a separate NASA technology experiment: two mini-spacecraft called Mars Cube One, or MarCO. These suitcase-sized CubeSats will fly on their own path to Mars behindInSight. Their goal is to test new miniaturized deep space communication equipment and, if the MarCOs make it to Mars, may relay back InSight data as it enters the Martian atmosphere and lands. This will be a first test of miniaturized CubeSat technology at another planet, which researchers hope can offer new capabilities to future missions.

Check out the full version of ‘Solar System: 10 Thing to Know This Week’ HERE

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

Craving some summer Sun? We’re inviting …

Craving some summer Sun? We’re inviting people around the world to submit their names to be placed on a microchip that will travel to the Sun aboard Parker Solar Probe! 

Launching summer 2018, Parker Solar Probe will be our first mission to “touch” a star. The spacecraft – about the size of a small car – will travel right through the Sun’s atmosphere, facing brutal temperatures and radiation as it traces how energy and heat move through the solar corona and explores what accelerates the solar wind and solar energetic particles.

Send your name along for the ride at go.nasa.gov/HotTicket! Submissions will be accepted through April 27, 2018. 

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

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