Tag: #technology

NASA’s Juno Spacecraft Set for Fifth Jupiter Flyby

NASA’s Juno spacecraft will make its fifth flyby over Jupiter’s mysterious cloud tops on Monday, March 27, at 1:52 a.m. PDT (4:52 a.m. EDT, 8:52 UTC).

At the time of closest approach (called perijove), Juno will be about 2,700 miles (4,400 kilometers) above the planet’s cloud tops, traveling at a speed of about 129,000 miles per hour (57.8 kilometers per second) relative to the gas-giant planet. All of Juno’s eight science instruments will be on and collecting data during the flyby.

“This will be our fourth science pass — the fifth close flyby of Jupiter of the mission — and we are excited to see what new discoveries Juno will reveal,” said Scott Bolton, principal investigator of Juno from the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. “Every time we get near Jupiter’s cloud tops, we learn new insights that help us understand this amazing giant planet.”

The Juno science team continues to analyze returns from previous flybys. Scientists have discovered that Jupiter’s magnetic fields are more complicated than originally thought and that the belts and zones that give the planet’s cloud tops their distinctive look extend deep into its interior. Observations of the energetic particles that create the incandescent auroras suggest a complicated current system involving charged material lofted from volcanoes on Jupiter’s moon Io.

Peer-reviewed papers with more in-depth science results from Juno’s first flybys are expected to be published within the next few months.

Juno launched on Aug. 5, 2011, from Cape Canaveral, Florida, and arrived in orbit around Jupiter on July 4, 2016. During its mission of exploration, Juno soars low over the planet’s cloud tops — as close as about 2,600 miles (4,100 kilometers). During these flybys, Juno is probing beneath the obscuring cloud cover of Jupiter and studying its auroras to learn more about the planet’s origins, structure, atmosphere, and magnetosphere.

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, manages the Juno mission for the principal investigator, Scott Bolton, of Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. The Juno mission is part of the New Frontiers Program managed by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, for the Science Mission Directorate. Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver, built the spacecraft. JPL is a division of Caltech in Pasadena, California.

More information on the Juno mission is available at:

http://www.nasa.gov/juno

http://missionjuno.org

The public can follow the mission on Facebook and Twitter at:

http://www.facebook.com/NASAJuno

http://www.twitter.com/NASAJuno

DC Agle
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
818-393-9011
agle@jpl.nasa.gov

Dwayne Brown / Laurie Cantillo
NASA Headquarters, Washington
202-358-1726 / 202-358-1077
dwayne.c.brown@nasa.gov / laura.l.cantillo@nasa.gov

 

Editor: Martin Perez

Photo Credit: NASA

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Andromeda’s Bright X-Ray Mystery Solved by NuSTAR

The Milky Way’s close neighbor, Andromeda, features a dominant source of high-energy X-ray emission, but its identity was mysterious until now. As reported in a new study, NASA’s NuSTAR (Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array) mission has pinpointed an object responsible for this high-energy radiation.

The object, called Swift J0042.6+4112, is a possible pulsar, the dense remnant of a dead star that is highly magnetized and spinning, researchers say. This interpretation is based on its emission in high-energy X-rays, which NuSTAR is uniquely capable of measuring. The object’s spectrum is very similar to known pulsars in the Milky Way.

It is likely in a binary system, in which material from a stellar companion gets pulled onto the pulsar, spewing high-energy radiation as the material heats up.

“We didn’t know what it was until we looked at it with NuSTAR,” said Mihoko Yukita, lead author of a study about the object, based at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. The study is published in The Astrophysical Journal.

This candidate pulsar is shown as a blue dot in a NuSTAR X-ray image of Andromeda (also called M31), where the color blue is chosen to represent the highest-energy X-rays. It appears brighter in high-energy X-rays than anything else in the galaxy.

The study brings together many different observations of the object from various spacecraft. In 2013, NASA’s Swift satellite reported it as a high-energy source, but its classification was unknown, as there are many objects emitting low energy X-rays in the region. The lower-energy X-ray emission from the object turns out to be a source first identified in the 1970s by NASA’s Einstein Observatory. Other spacecraft, such as NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and ESA’s XMM-Newton had also detected it. However, it wasn’t until the new study by NuSTAR, aided by supporting Swift satellite data, that researchers realized it was the same object as this likely pulsar that dominates the high energy X-ray light of Andromeda.

Traditionally, astronomers have thought that actively feeding black holes, which are more massive than pulsars, usually dominate the high-energy X-ray light in galaxies. As gas spirals closer and closer to the black hole in a structure called an accretion disk, this material gets heated to extremely high temperatures and gives off high-energy radiation. This pulsar, which has a lower mass than any of Andromeda’s black holes, is brighter at high energies than the galaxy’s entire black hole population.

Even the supermassive black hole in the center of Andromeda does not have significant high-energy X-ray emission associated with it. It is unexpected that a single pulsar would instead be dominating the galaxy in high-energy X-ray light.

“NuSTAR has made us realize the general importance of pulsar systems as X-ray-emitting components of galaxies, and the possibility that the high energy X-ray light of Andromeda is dominated by a single pulsar system only adds to this emerging picture,” said Ann Hornschemeier, co-author of the study and based at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland.

Andromeda is a spiral galaxy slightly larger than the Milky Way. It resides 2.5 million light-years from our own galaxy, which is considered very close, given the broader scale of the universe. Stargazers can see Andromeda without a telescope on dark, clear nights.

“Since we can’t get outside our galaxy and study it in an unbiased way, Andromeda is the closest thing we have to looking in a mirror,” Hornschemeier said.

NuSTAR is a Small Explorer mission led by Caltech and managed by JPL for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. NuSTAR was developed in partnership with the Danish Technical University and the Italian Space Agency (ASI). The spacecraft was built by Orbital Sciences Corp., Dulles, Virginia. NuSTAR’s mission operations center is at UC Berkeley, and the official data archive is at NASA’s High Energy Astrophysics Science Archive Research Center. ASI provides the mission’s ground station and a mirror archive. JPL is managed by Caltech for NASA.

For more information on NuSTAR, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/nustar

http://www.nustar.caltech.edu

Elizabeth Landau
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
818-354-6425
elizabeth.landau@jpl.nasa.gov

Photo Credit: NASA

 

Editor: Tony Greicius

 

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Can social media, loud and inclusive, fix world politics?

The Conversation Global’s new series, Politics in the Age of Social Media, examines how governments around the world rely on digital tools to exercise power.

Privacy is no longer a social norm, said Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg in 2010, as social media took a leap to bring more private information into the public domain.

But what does it mean for governments, citizens and the exercise of democracy?
Donald Trump is clearly not the first leader to use his Twitter account as a way to both proclaim his policies and influence the political climate. Social media presents novel challenges to strategic policy and has become a managerial issues for many governments.

But it also offers a free platform for public participation in government affairs. Many argue that the rise of social media technologies can give citizens and observers a better opportunity to identify pitfalls of government and their politics.

As government embrace the role of social media and the influence of negative or positive feedback on the success of their project, they are also using this tool to their advantages by spreading fabricated news.

This much freedom of expression and opinion can be a double-edged sword.

A tool that triggers change

On the positive side, social media include social networking applications such as Facebook and Google+, microblogging services such as Twitter, blogs, video blogs (vlogs), wikis, and media-sharing sites such as YouTube and Flickr, among others.

Social media as a collaborative and participatory tool, connects users with each other and help shaping various communities. Playing a key role in delivering public service value to citizens it also helps people to engage in politics and policy-making, making processes easier to understand, through information and communication technologies (ICTs).

Today four out of five countries in the world have social media features on their national portals to promote interactive networking and communication with the citizen. Although we don’t have any information about the effectiveness of such tools or whether they are used to their full potential, 20% of these countries shows that they have “resulted in new policy decisions, regulation or service”.

Social media can be an effective tool to trigger changes in government policies and services if well used. It can be used to prevent corruption, as it is a direct method of reaching citizens. In developing countries, corruption is often linked to governmental services that lack automated processes or transparency in payments.

Can new technologies increase government accountability? India was ranked 79th on 176 countries by Transparency International in 2016.
Nirzardp/Wikimedia, CC BY

The UK is taking the lead on this issue. Its anti-corruption innovation hub aims to connect several stakeholders – including civil society, law enforcement, and technologies experts – to engage their efforts toward a more transparent society.

With social media, governments can improve and change the way they communicate with their citizens – and even question government projects and policies. In Kazakhstan, for example, a migration-related legislative amendment entered into force early January 2017 and compelled property owners to register people residing in their homes immediately or else face a penalty charge starting in February 2017.

Citizens were unprepared for this requirement, and many responded with indignation on social media. At first, the government ignored this reaction. However, as the growing anger soared via social media, the government took action and introduced a new service to facilitate the registration of temporary citizens.

Shaping political discourse

Increasing digital services have engaged and encourage the public to become more socially responsible and politically involved. But many governments are wary of the power that technology, and most specifically smart media, exert over how citizens’ political involvement.

Popular social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp are being censored by many governments. China, South Africa and others are passing laws to regulate the social media sphere.

Availability of Youtube.com as of May 2016. May be incomplete or incorrect due to lack of information.
SurrogateSlav/Wikimedia, CC BY-NC

The dominance of social media allows citizens to have quick access to government information – information whose legitimacy may not be validated. As this happens, the organic image formed in their minds will be affected and changed and an induced image, whether negative or positive, will be formulated.

For example, the top trending topics on social media right now are related to a tweet from Wikileaks claiming that CIA can get into smart electronics – like iPhones and Samsung TVs – to spy on individuals. This series of revelations led Wikileaks founder Julian Assange to see his internet access cut off, allegedly by the government of Ecuador, in October 2016.

Julian Assange in 2014.
David G Silvers- Cancillería del Ecuador/Flickr, CC BY-SA

For his supporters, this step jeopardizes what they perceive as the voice of truth. WikiLeaks usually spread a mass of sensitive and reliable information into the public domain about politics, society and the economy.

Others state that confidential information should not be published in social media because it might endanger life and could be misinterpreted.

In 2011, social media played a crucial role in the direction of the Arab spring in Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya, enabling protesters in those countries to share information and disclose the atrocities committed by their own governments. This ignited a “domino effect” that led to mass revolts.

Governments reacted by trying to impose draconian restrictions on social media, from censorship to promoting fake new and propaganda against them.

Social networks played a vital role in initiating Egypt’s 2011 uprising.
Essam Sharaf/Wikimedia, CC BY-ND

The dissemination of uncensored information through social media has precipitated a wave of public shows of dissatisfaction, characterized by a mix of demands for better public services, changes in the institutions and instating a socially-legitimated state. Citizens use social media to meet up and interact with different groups, and some of those encounters lead to concrete actions.

Where’s the long-term fix?

But the campaigns that result do not always evolve into positive change.

Egypt and Libya are still facing several major crises over the last years, along with political instability and domestic terrorism. The social media influence that triggered the Arab Spring did not permit these political systems to turn from autocracy to democracy.

Brazil exemplifies a government’s failure to react properly to a massive social media outburst. In June 2013 people took to the streets to protest the rising fares of public transportation. Citizens channeled their anger and outrage through social media to mobilize networks and generate support.

The Brazilian government didn’t understand that “the message is the people”.
Though the riots some called the “Tropical Spring” disappeared rather abruptly in the months to come, they had a major and devastating impact on Brazil’s political power, culminating in the impeachment of President Rousseff in late 2016 and the worst recession in Brazil’s history.

As in the Arab Spring countries, the use of social media in Brazil did not result in economic improvement. The country has tumbled down into depression, and unemployment has risen to 12.6%.

The movement #Blacklivesmatter has grown immensely on social media.
The All-Nite Images/Wikimedia, CC BY-SA

Extremism, fake news and hate speech

Social media is also used to propagate “fake news” in order to destabilize an organization or a country. The spread of disinformation through social media shows how governments can use the art of communication to channel specific facts to their own citizens – or to the world.

In 2014, Russia spread conspiracy theories and fake stories, both during the Crimea crisis and the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 , to hide its military involvement in Ukraine. More recently, the Kremlin (or its agents) manipulated social media to spread “fake news” and pro-Trump messages during the American presidential election. The objective of this digital disinformation campaign was to shake the American political system, rather than to change the results of the election.

Social media also provide a powerful platform for extremism and hate speech, citizen activities that should compel government action.

Social media may have been used for extreme purposes, to topple presidents, spread calumny, and meddle in internal affairs of foreign countries. But it remains a potent technological tool that governments can use to capture and understand the needs and preferences of their citizens, and to engage them, on their own terms from the very beginning of the process as agencies develop public services.

Government typically asks “how can we adapt social media to the way in which we do e-services, and then try to shape their policies accordingly. They would be wiser to ask, “how can social media enable us to do things differently in a way they’ve never been done before?” – that is, policy-making in collaboration with people.

Rania Fakhoury, Chercheur associé à LaRIFA, Université Libanaise

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This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

What’s behind phantom cellphone buzzes?

Have you ever experienced a phantom phone call or text? You’re convinced that you felt your phone vibrate in your pocket, or that you heard your ring tone. But when you check your phone, no one actually tried to get in touch with you.

You then might plausibly wonder: “Is my phone acting up, or is it me?”

Well, it’s probably you, and it could be a sign of just how attached you’ve become to your phone.

At least you’re not alone. Over 80 percent of college students we surveyed have experienced it. However, if it’s happening a lot – more than once a day – it could be a sign that you’re psychologically dependent on your cellphone.

There’s no question that cellphones are part of the social fabric in many parts of the world, and some people spend hours each day on their phones. Our research team recently found that most people will fill their downtime by fiddling with their phones. Others even do so in the middle of a conversation. And most people will check their phones within 10 seconds of getting in line for coffee or arriving at a destination.

Clinicians and researchers still debate whether excessive use of cellphones or other technology can constitute an addiction. It wasn’t included in the latest update to the DSM-5, the American Psychiatric Association’s definitive guide for classifying and diagnosing mental disorders.

But given the ongoing debate, we decided to see if phantom buzzes and rings could shed some light on the issue.

A virtual drug?

Addictions are pathological conditions in which people compulsively seek rewarding stimuli, despite the negative consequences. We often hear reports about how cellphone use can be problematic for relationships and for developing effective social skills.

One of the features of addictions is that people become hypersensitive to cues related to the rewards they are craving. Whatever it is, they start to see it everywhere. (I had a college roommate who once thought that he saw a bee’s nest made out of cigarette butts hanging from the ceiling.)

So might people who crave the messages and notifications from their virtual social worlds do the same? Would they mistakenly interpret something they hear as a ring tone, their phone rubbing in their pocket as a vibrating alert or even think they see a notification on their phone screen – when, in reality, nothing is there?

A human malfunction

We decided to find out. From a tested survey measure of problematic cellphone use, we pulled out items assessing psychological cellphone dependency. We also created questions about the frequency of experiencing phantom ringing, vibrations and notifications. We then administered an online survey to over 750 undergraduate students.

Those who scored higher on cellphone dependency – they more often used their phones to make themselves feel better, became irritable when they couldn’t use their phones and thought about using their phone when they weren’t on it – had more frequent phantom phone experiences.

Cellphone manufacturers and phone service providers have assured us that phantom phone experiences are not a problem with the technology. As HAL 9000 might say, they are a product of “human error.”

So where, exactly, have we erred? We are in a brave new world of virtual socialization, and the psychological and social sciences can barely keep up with advances in the technology.

Phantom phone experiences may seem like a relatively small concern in our electronically connected age. But they raise the specter of how reliant we are on our phones – and how much influence phones have in our social lives.

How can we navigate the use of cellphones to maximize the benefits and minimize the hazards, whether it’s improving our own mental health or honing our live social skills? What other new technologies will change how we interact with others?

Our minds will continue to buzz with anticipation.

Daniel J. Kruger, Research Assistant Professor, University of Michigan

Photo Credit: ‘Brain’ via http://www.shutterstock.com

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This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Fly me to the Moon? Why the world should be wary of Elon Musk’s space race

Want to fly to the moon? Well, now you won’t have to bother with all those years of rigorous astronaut training – all you need is a huge wad of cash. Elon Musk, technopreneur, has built a small spaceship called Dragon and if you slap down enough money – maybe a hundred million dollars or so – he’ll fly you to the Moon. The Conversation

The first flight is set for 2018, a target so ambitious it verges on the incredible.

Musk’s moonshot plan has been greeted enthusiastically by most space fans but some are a little doubtful. Other commentators remain totally uninspired, ridiculing the idea as a gigantic waste of money.

This ambivalence isn’t surprising really, since history shows that soon after the Apollo 11 moon landing in 1969, people switched their televisions to more down-to-earth events while wondering why NASA kept going back to the Moon again and again with Apollo 12, then Apollo 13, then Apollo 14 – all the way up to Apollo 17.

Natural process, or a social one?

Musk would tell you he’s not using taxpayer funds for his moonshot and that his SpaceX venture is a private commercial business. But SpaceX’s only significant customer so far has been NASA – a taxpayer-funded agency that pays it to deliver cargo to the International Space Station.

And even before SpaceX had delivered anything, NASA made a massive investment in the firm to get it up and running. Any claim that SpaceX is purely a commercial business, then, is also incredible.

Like many space fans, Musk will tell you that this moonshot is the first step in the “natural process” of human space expansion. The next steps involve the colonization of the Moon and then Mars.

But space travel is not a natural process; it’s a social process involving domestic politics, international competition, the marketing of patriotic heroism, and the divvying up of state funds.

Harkening back to the dark past

The “colonization” theme of space expansion is also problematic since it signifies a potential re-emergence of the social injustices and environmental disasters wrought by past colonial ventures. Being a fan of “space colonization”, then, can be likened to rejoicing in the displacement of native peoples and celebrating the destruction of wilderness.

Unfortunately, too often space expansion has utilized historic conquests to map out the future; witness Star Trek’s Space: the Final Frontier theme, or Musk’s own idea to colonize Mars.

Calling for a new “age of exploration” in space recalls past voyages of discovery ignores how Christopher Columbus decimated native tribes with smallpox and how Spanish conquistadors ransacked Meso-America’s temples to loot gold.

Space fans might argue that there are no people in space to be colonized, that the Moon and Mars are uninhabited lands. But the plan to settle Mars, for example, and then to set about extracting valuable resources without working out if some alien species is living there – even if those life forms are microbial – seems reckless.

It also smacks of anthropocentrism since humans will doubtless carry to Mars the attitude that microbes are lower lifeforms and that it’s OK to stomp all over their planet spreading pollution and mucking up their environment.

Even if they are lifeless, we should consider that the Moon and Mars belong to all of us; they are the common heritage of humankind. And those who first to get to the Moon or to Mars shouldn’t be permitted to plunder these worlds just for the sake of their own adventure or profit.

An alliance of interests

One prominent fan of American space expansion is US President Donald Trump. “Space is terrific,” he said in Florida last year. Trump also called for more space exploration in his recent speech to Congress.

Many scientists are wary of Trump’s attitude to science but, in a surprising willingness to embrace both science and the wider universe beyond America, the president wants NASA to “explore the mysteries of deep space”.

In the process, Trump is also working out how to rid NASA of the those pesky climate scientists who, he claims, are peddling “politicized” science.

Trump met Elon Musk within days of assuming the presidency and, with their shared love of capitalism and penchant for self-promotion, they seem to be entering a working relationship, described by some as cronyism.

Trump seems willing to support Musk if the entrepreneur can help Make America Great Again by shooting Americans off to the Moon before China gets there. Musk may seem confident about his 2018 plans because he believes he has presidential blessing.

A note of caution

But perhaps it’s too soon to worry about Moon grabs or Martian colonialism.

First, both Trump and Musk are notorious “big talkers” and they may be playing with the macho spectacle of space travel. If their space plans gurgle into an economic sinkhole, they’ll probably quietly abandon them.

And the 2018 moonshot is not going to actually land on the Moon; it’s merely going to shoot around it and then head back to Earth. Nobody will get the chance to plant a flag.

Space tourism, moon bases and Martian colonies have all been predicted for decades and nothing has ever come of them. Wernher von Braun, the Apollo rocket hero (and ex-Nazi) showcased such prospective space endeavors on a television show with Walt Disney in the 1950s (using whizzing Disney graphics). But 70 years later, a space colony is nowhere to be found.

An outright Moon grab would also be illegal, since the 1967 UN Outer Space Treaty forbids such acts. The US has re-interpreted this treaty to suggest that it permits resource extraction from the Moon and the planets in the Solar System, but not all nations accept this view.

Not what we all want

If Musk does get his rich clients to circle the Moon next year, and then manages to set up bases and colonies on the lunar surface and then Mars, it won’t be because he’s made a business success out of space expansion. And it won’t be due to the scientific merit of moon bases.

Rather, it will be because he has managed to dupe the American taxpayer with expensive technological fantasies and because he’s broken the ideal of the common heritage of mankind enshrined in international law. Humanity and the Earth will be diminished in the process.

It’s possible the cosmos will be diminished and despoiled too with mining firms digging up the moonscape, rocket fuel spilled all over the Martian surface, and neon lights flashing in shiny space casinos.

Of course, some space fans believe the only way they’ll realize their space fantasies is to ride behind the glory of “visionaries” such as Musk – and the unknown mega-rich space passengers set to shoot off around the Moon next year.

But the Earth abounds with those willing to poke fun at such showy space adventures, which is good – Musk needs to know that not everybody is on board.

Alan Marshall, Lecturer in Environmental Social Sciences, Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities, Mahidol University

Photo Credit: Fe Ilya

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This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

NASA’s Kepler Provides Another Peek At Ultra-cool Neighbor

On Feb. 22, astronomers announced that the ultra-cool dwarf star, TRAPPIST-1, hosts a total of seven Earth-size planets that are likely rocky, a discovery made by NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope in combination with ground-based telescopes. NASA’s planet-hunting Kepler space telescope also has been observing this star since December 2016. Today these additional data about TRAPPIST-1 from Kepler are available to the scientific community.

During the period of Dec. 15, 2016 to March 4, the Kepler spacecraft, operating as the K2 mission, collected data on the star’s minuscule changes in brightness due to transiting planets. These additional observations are expected to allow astronomers to refine the previous measurements of six planets, pin down the orbital period and mass of the seventh and farthest planet, TRAPPIST-1h, and learn more about the magnetic activity of the host star.

“Scientists and enthusiasts around the world are invested in learning everything they can about these Earth-size worlds,” said Geert Barentsen, K2 research scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, California. “Providing the K2 raw data as quickly as possible was a priority to give investigators an early look so they could best define their follow-up research plans. We’re thrilled that this will also allow the public to witness the process of discovery.”

The release of the raw, uncalibrated data collected will aid astronomers in preparing proposals due this month to use telescopes on Earth next winter to further investigate TRAPPIST-1. By late May, the routine processing of the data will be completed and the fully calibrated data will be made available at the public archive.

The observation period, known as K2 Campaign 12, provides 74 days of monitoring. This is the longest, nearly continuous set of observations of TRAPPIST-1 yet, and provides researchers with an opportunity to further study the gravitational interaction between the seven planets, and search for planets that may remain undiscovered in the system.

TRAPPIST-1 wasn’t always on the radar to study. In fact, the initial coordinates for the patch of sky defined as Campaign 12 were set in Oct. 2015. That was before the planets orbiting TRAPPIST-1 were known to exist, so Kepler would have just missed the region of space that is home to this newfound star system of interest.

But in May 2016, when the discovery of three of TRAPPIST-1’s planets was first announced, the teams at NASA and Ball Aerospace quickly reworked the calculations and rewrote and tested the commands that would be programmed into the spacecraft’s operating system to make a slight pointing adjustment for Campaign 12. By Oct. 2016, Kepler was ready and waiting to begin the study of our intriguing neighbor in the constellation Aquarius.

“We were lucky that the K2 mission was able to observe TRAPPIST-1. The observing field for Campaign 12 was set when the discovery of the first planets orbiting TRAPPIST-1 was announced, and the science community had already submitted proposals for specific targets of interest in that field,” said Michael Haas, science office director for the Kepler and K2 missions at Ames. “The unexpected opportunity to further study the TRAPPIST-1 system was quickly recognized and the agility of the K2 team and science community prevailed once again.”

The added refinements to the previous measurements of the known planets and any additional planets that may be discovered in the K2 data will help astronomers plan for follow-up studies of the neighboring TRAPPIST-1 worlds using NASA’s upcoming James Webb Space Telescope.

During Campaign 12, a cosmic ray event reset the spacecraft’s onboard software causing a five-day break in science data collection. The benign event is the fourth occurrence of cosmic ray susceptibility since launch in March 2009. The spacecraft remains healthy and is operating nominally.

Ames manages the Kepler and K2 missions for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, managed Kepler mission development. Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. operates the flight system with support from the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado in Boulder.

For more information about the Kepler and K2 missions, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/kepler

For more information on the TRAPPIST-1 system, visit:

http://exoplanets.nasa.gov/trappist1

Media contact:

Michele Johnson
Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.
650-604-6982
michele.johnson@nasa.gov

Elizabeth Landau
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
818-354-6425
elizabeth.landau@jpl.nasa.gov

Editor: Michele Johnson

 

Photo Credit: NASA

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This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

NASA Wants to Create the Coolest Spot in the Universe

This summer, an ice chest-sized box will fly to the International Space Station, where it will create the coolest spot in the universe.

Inside that box, lasers, a vacuum chamber and an electromagnetic “knife” will be used to cancel out the energy of gas particles, slowing them until they’re almost motionless. This suite of instruments is called the Cold Atom Laboratory (CAL), and was developed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. CAL is in the final stages of assembly at JPL, ahead of a ride to space this August on SpaceX CRS-12.

Its instruments are designed to freeze gas atoms to a mere billionth of a degree above absolute zero. That’s more than 100 million times colder than the depths of space.

“Studying these hyper-cold atoms could reshape our understanding of matter and the fundamental nature of gravity,” said CAL Project Scientist Robert Thompson of JPL. “The experiments we’ll do with the Cold Atom Lab will give us insight into gravity and dark energy — some of the most pervasive forces in the universe.”

When atoms are cooled to extreme temperatures, as they will be inside of CAL, they can form a distinct state of matter known as a Bose-Einstein condensate. In this state, familiar rules of physics recede and quantum physics begins to take over. Matter can be observed behaving less like particles and more like waves. Rows of atoms move in concert with one another as if they were riding a moving fabric. These mysterious waveforms have never been seen at temperatures as low as what CAL will achieve.

NASA has never before created or observed Bose-Einstein condensates in space. On Earth, the pull of gravity causes atoms to continually settle towards the ground, meaning they’re typically only observable for fractions of a second.

But on the International Space Station, ultra-cold atoms can hold their wave-like forms longer while in freefall. That offers scientists a longer window to understand physics at its most basic level. Thompson estimated that CAL will allow Bose-Einstein condensates to be observable for up to five to 10 seconds; future development of the technologies used on CAL could allow them to last for hundreds of seconds.

Bose-Einstein condensates are a “superfluid” — a kind of fluid with zero viscosity, where atoms move without friction as if they were all one, solid substance.

“If you had superfluid water and spun it around in a glass, it would spin forever,” said Anita Sengupta of JPL, Cold Atom Lab project manager. “There’s no viscosity to slow it down and dissipate the kinetic energy. If we can better understand the physics of superfluids, we can possibly learn to use those for more efficient transfer of energy.”

Five scientific teams plan to conduct experiments using the Cold Atom Lab. Among them is Eric Cornell of the University of Colorado, Boulder and the National Institute for Standards and Technology. Cornell is one of the Nobel Prize winners who first created Bose-Einstein condensates in a lab setting in 1995.

The results of these experiments could potentially lead to a number of improved technologies, including sensors, quantum computers and atomic clocks used in spacecraft navigation.

Especially exciting are applications related to dark energy detection, said Kamal Oudrhiri of JPL, the CAL deputy project manager. He noted that current models of cosmology divide the universe into roughly 27 percent dark matter, 68 percent dark energy and about 5 percent ordinary matter.

“This means that even with all of our current technologies, we are still blind to 95 percent of the universe,” Oudrhiri said. “Like a new lens in Galileo’s first telescope, the ultra-sensitive cold atoms in the Cold Atom Lab have the potential to unlock many mysteries beyond the frontiers of known physics.”

The Cold Atom Lab is currently undergoing a testing phase that will prepare it prior to delivery to Cape Canaveral, Florida.

“The tests we do over the next months on the ground are critical to ensure we can operate and tune it remotely while it’s in space, and ultimately learn from this rich atomic physics system for years to come,” said Dave Aveline, the test-bed lead at JPL.

JPL is developing the Cold Atom Laboratory, sponsored by the International Space Station Program at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.

The Space Life and Physical Sciences Division of NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington manages the Fundamental Physics Program.

Caltech manages JPL for NASA.

For more information about the Cold Atom Lab, visit:

http://coldatomlab.jpl.nasa.gov/

The Cold Atom Lab will be the topic of two free lectures in March, one of which will be streamed live at:

http://www.ustream.tv/NASAJPL2

Details about the lecture are at:

http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/events/lectures_archive.php?year=2017&month=3

Andrew Good
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
818-393-2433
andrew.c.good@jpl.nasa.gov

Editor: Tony Greicius

Photo Credit: NASA

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