Showing posts with label NASA. Show all posts
Showing posts with label NASA. Show all posts

December 1, 2018

NASA Roasts SpaceX CEO Elon Musk for Public Pot Smoking Like Nuts on a Roasting Fire

 1. Let's see if this is as good as any of my rockets 2. Let'sts see if it takes me to at least the Int. Space Station
3. I really don't give a rat's arse, just feeling ~~ G r o o v y~~

  • NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine told reporters that SpaceX CEO Elon Musk's smoking weed on a livestreamed podcast in September "was not appropriate behavior," according to The Atlantic.
  • Bridenstine said he had "a number of conversations" with Musk about the incident, adding, "You won't be seeing that again."
  • Bridenstine confirmed he ordered safety reviews of SpaceX and Boeing, another NASA contractor, after Musk smoked on the podcast, but he said that was always the plan.
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine told reporters on Thursday that Elon Musk's smoking weed live on the internet "did not inspire confidence," The Atlantic reported
Musk's company SpaceX became the focus of a NASA safety reviewafter he smoked cannabis on a livestreamed "Joe Rogan Experience" podcast in September. 
Bridenstine commented publicly on the incident for the first time on Thursday, telling reporters, according to The Atlantic: "I will tell you that was not helpful, and that did not inspire confidence, and the leaders of these organizations need to take that as an example of what to do when you lead an organization that's going to launch American astronauts." 
Bridenstine said he ordered safety reviews of SpaceX and Boeing, another NASA contractor — which were first reported by The Washington Post earlier this month — but stressed that he had wanted the reviews of their corporate culture before Musk was filmed smoking weed.  
According to The Atlantic, Bridenstine said his decision was influenced by tragedies in NASA's history, including the Apollo 1 fire in 1967, which killed three astronauts during a ground test, as well as the Challenger and Columbia space shuttle disasters in 1986 and 2003. 
Bridenstine said that a frequent question was whether the culture at NASA and its contractors contributed to those accidents. "Were there people that were raising a red flag that we didn't listen to, and ultimately did that culture contributes to the failure and, in those cases, to disaster?" he said. 
The Atlantic's Marina Koren asked Bridenstine whether Musk's actions on the podcast constituted a red flag. "I think those were not helpful," he responded. 
Bridenstine also said he had "a number of conversations" with Musk about his behavior.  
"I will tell you, he is as committed to safety as anybody, and he understands that that was not appropriate behavior, and you won't be seeing that again," Bridenstine said of Musk. 
SpaceX and NASA did not immediately respond to Business Insider's request for comment.

September 15, 2017

Devoid of Science His Anti LGBTQ Views Stands Out for NASA and LGBTQ

Advocacy groups are now hoping to derail President Donald Trump’s nominee to run NASA over his history of anti-LGBT stances, including criticism of same-sex marriage as "contrary to millennia of human experience" and his description of bathroom protections for transgender people as "lawless federal bullying."

Rep. Jim Bridenstine, a Republican congressman from Oklahoma and former Navy pilot, has drawn praise from the space community for his thoughtfulness on space policy and support for both traditional government programs and new private-sector ventures.

 Trump, space cadet himself comfortable with people with no knowledge of the heavens above beyond Trump Tower

But lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender advocates are now trying to thwart his nomination based on Bridenstine’s controversial social stances, as they did with one of Trump's nominees for Army secretary.

"It is rather hypocritical to have an individual so entrenched in his idea of 'traditionalism' to be nominated to lead an agency that has for almost 60 years pushed to expand our understanding and knowledge,” said Matt Thorn, executive director of OutServe-SLDN, which represents the LGBT military community. “NASA is rich in diversity. Rep. Bridenstine doesn't have that same view. The Senate should block this nomination."

Thorn said he plans to raise his concerns with senators who will have to approve the nomination, which was announced in late August. The Senate Commerce Committee has not yet scheduled his confirmation hearing.  

Bridenstine, whose views on climate change have stirred controversy given NASA's role in climate science, also opposes same-sex marriage, saying that "many studies have shown that both a mother and father are essential for raising successful and healthy children."

He railed against the 2013 Supreme Court decision declaring same-sex marriage constitutional. "The court’s decision was a disappointment not only because it is contrary to millennia of human experience," he said, "but also because it is clearly contrary to the choice of the people as expressed in a constitutionally valid process.”

And he has criticized the Boy Scouts for allowing LGBT members.

“The left’s agenda is not about tolerance, and it’s not about diversity of thought,” Bridenstine said in 2013. “It’s about presenting a worldview of relativism, where there is no right and wrong, then using the full force of the government to silence opposition and reshape organizations like the Boy Scouts into instruments for social change.”

He later called former President Barack Obama’s executive order to allow transgender students to use the bathroom of their identified gender “lawless federal bullying.”

These instances are all part of a list of Bridenstine’s anti-LGBT actions that GLAAD, formerly the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, is maintaining as part of its so-called Trump Accountability Project.

“The Trump administration has hired unqualified anti-LGBTQ blowhards from Day One and shown they are more concerned with furthering attacks on marginalized communities than selecting leaders who will better our country,” said Sarah Kate Ellis, president of GLAAD.

She expressed concern about Bridenstine leading an agency that has fostered a welcoming workplace for sexual minorities.

“NASA’s Kennedy Space Center released an LGBTQ Pride month video earlier this year featuring LGBTQ NASA employees as well as allies," she noted, using an acronym that includes people who identify as queer. "It is critical for our country’s continued success that NASA employees bring their best selves to work, and that can’t happen when the head of an organization is known first and foremost for being anti-LGBTQ." 

The White House declined to address the criticism but a spokesman said in the statement that “the President selects the highest caliber of individuals to fill positions in his Administration. Rep. Bridenstine’s tenure in Congress has been defined by a focus towards space. He has consistently been one of NASA’s strongest advocates in Congress.”

Bridenstine is not the first nominee tapped by Trump to face blowback for his stance on gay rights. Mark Green, a Republican state senator in Tennessee, withdrew from consideration as Army secretary after a torrent of criticism over his statements on gays, Islam, and evolution.

At the time, Green said his "Christian beliefs have been mischaracterized and attacked by a few on the other side of the aisle for political gain." He said he was withdrawing to avoid an unnecessary distraction.

Bridenstine is also facing criticism for his assertions that climate change — a key research area for the space agency — is not caused by humans.

Phil Plait, an astronomer and science blogger, said he opposes the nomination out of concern that Bridenstine could drastically cut NASA’s climate change research if he is confirmed.

“Climate change due to global warming is one of the greatest threats facing us as a species,” Plait wrote in a blog. “The leader of the world’s premier space agency should at the very bare minimum be willing to admit it exists.”

Aside from a few swipes from Florida's senators, the space community has generally supported Bridenstine, despite his lack of a science background compared with past NASA administrators.

Supporters call him highly qualified to lead NASA because of his experience as an aviator, his tenure as executive director of the Tulsa Air and Space Museum and his support for key legislation in the House.  

“I would expect him to represent a very thoughtful and pragmatic merger of both traditional and entrepreneurial space,” said John Logsdon, founder of the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University. “I think he thought this through and has come out with a very reasoned position that the two approaches can be combined into something that’s win-win.”

“He’s a highly qualified individual, one I’ve grown to respect while he’s been in Congress,” said former Rep. Robert Walker, a space lobbyist and informal space policy adviser to the White House.

Pics: adamfoxie* and Google

December 6, 2016

Trump Wants NASA’s 58 Yr Mission to Study the Earth Slashed

Just before Thanksgiving this year, a coalition of meteorologists, climatologists, biologists, ecologists, and other researchers took up a new ritual of thankfulness: tweeting the small and large ways NASA data has helped them understand planet Earth, and attaching the hashtag #ThanksNASA.
For the most part, the scientists avoided mentioning politics or political figures. But context is everything. Bob Walker, a senior adviser to President-elect Donald Trump, had just told The Guardian that the incoming administration planned to strip NASA's earth science programs of funding.
"We see NASA in an exploration role, in deep space research," Walker told The Guardian's Oliver Milman. "Earth-centric science is better placed at other agencies where it is their prime mission."
In the past, the Guardian story notes, Walker has described earth science as "politically correct environmental monitoring." 
In reality, earth science goes far beyond direct climate change research — and includes everything from the health of oceans to the threat of devastating solar storms in the upper atmosphere.
Dozens of scientists, including the 13 researchers who spoke to Business Insider for this story and many more who reached out on Twitter and by email, said they were rattled and dismayed by the news.
Several said that cutting earth science would represent a radical change from the mission NASA has carried out for nearly six decades.
"If you go to the Space Act that founded NASA in 1958 and then was amended under President Reagan in 1985, the very first responsibility ascribed to NASA is to understand the Earth and the atmosphere," said Waleed Abdalati, who directs the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado and served as chief scientist at NASA from 2011-12.
"It shows up before putting people in space."
Indeed, it does. The beginning of Section 102(c) of the National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958 begins to lay out the role of NASA:
"(c) The aeronautical and space activities of the United States shall be conducted so as to contribute materially to one or more of the following objectives:
"(1) The expansion of human knowledge of phenomena in the atmosphere and space;
"(2) The improvement of the usefulness, performance, speed, safety, and efficiency of aeronautical and space vehicles;
"(3) The development and operation of vehicles capable of carrying instruments, equipment, supplies and living organisms through space."
So far, NASA has carried out that mission with gusto under six Republican administrations and five Democratic ones. The agency's trove of satellite data and analysis is the largest in the world and, critically, available freely on the internet for any scientist or interested person to access.
Some researchers said they didn't recognize how much NASA data they used until it was threatened they could lose it all.
"I started going back and trying to think about what I use in my day-to-day work," said Peter Gleick, a hydrologist who looks at the movement of water all over the world to understand and predict droughts and flooding. "The truth is, I didn't fully comprehend the incredible diversity of products that I use that originated with a NASA satellite or an observing platform or a data archive."
The notion of losing that, researchers told Business Insider, had seemed impossible — that is, until they read the news.
Just days before the Guardian piece with Walker's statement was published, NASA climate scientist Gavin Schmidt, who declined to be interviewed again for this story, told Business Insider that he thought NASA climate research was safe from political tampering because it was too intimately connected to the agency's other critical earth science missions.
It doesn't seem to have occurred to most people that earth science itself might be in jeopardy.

The end of an era?

arctic sea ice meltingThe 2015 Arctic sea ice summertime minimum was 699,000 square miles below the 1981-2010 average, shown here as a gold line in this visual representation of a NASA analysis.NASA via Reuters
Walker's proposal would axe or redirect more than 40% of NASA's budget and operations, and spell an end to the period that researchers across the world and across a wide range of disciplines refer to simply as "the satellite era" — not the time since Sputnik launched, but the decades of high-quality, consistent, and regular data on the global environment from space.
Marshall Shepherd, who directs the University of Georgia's Department of Atmospheric Sciences and has worked on satellites for NASA in the past, said that the moment a satellite's sensor goes dark without another of the same type to replace it, crucial scientific information will be lost.
An unbroken record is necessary to understand how the past and present fit together, and to make firm judgments about the future.
"If you're trying to detect change in something, you need long and continuous uninterrupted records of things like the sea ice or sea level rise or Greenland's ice sheet," Shepherd said. "By shutting those off, you are literally shutting off your long-term record of the diagnostics of the planet."
goes r_spacecraft_sepThe NOAA Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite provides images of storms and helps predict weather forecasts, warnings, and longer-term forecasting. NASA
Julienne Stroeve, a researcher with the National Snow and Ice Data Center, said those gaps would undermine our ability to make even basic judgments about the health of the planet.
"You need the [satellites] to consistently be processed with the same type of sensors over and over again to have a long-term data record, otherwise you have these data gaps and these long-term uncertainties, and you have no idea what the long-term changes really are," she said.

Looking for alternatives

It's all well and good that NASA has the most complete sources of earth science data in the world. But what's really important, researchers said, is how easy it is to access.
"This is not politically correct to say in Europe, but the US is much better than Europe about sharing data with the whole world," said Jon Saenz, a professor of applied physics at the University of the Basque Country in Spain.
Other agencies tend to tie up their data behind red tape and bureaucracy, Saenz said. He said that if he had to rely on the European Space Agency's limited, difficult-to-access data for his work checking climate model predictions against reality, he'd be "more or less blind" — particularly in the vast, uninhabited stretches of the globe like the Pacific, which are vital for understanding the world climate.
RPSAVzThe vast, uninhabited Pacific Ocean. Google
Some scientists said that if the satellite era in their field ended, they would still be able to continue their work. Instead of satellites, they said, they would use a combination of often lower-quality, more difficult-to-access data from satellites operated by other countries and increased data collection at the ground level.
But that can be difficult and even dangerous work, often with much weaker and more uncertain results.
Ulyana Nadia Horodyskyj is a glaciologist who operates a scientific outreach program in Nepal and analyzes lakes that form on melting glaciers high in the Himalayas. If those lakes grow too large or their natural dams become too weak, the dams can burst and flow down-mountain, threatening tens of thousands of lives.
Horodyskyj brings together images and measurements from NASA's Landsat satellites with observations taken on long hikes around the edges of glacial lakes to advise the Nepalese government on how to address the threat.
Without Landsat, "we would be flying blind," she told Business Insider. "We need those eyes in the sky to complement our ground efforts."
Juanita van Zyl is the geographic information system manager at a company called Manstrat in South Africa. She provides information to the South African government and other companies about droughts, wildfires, and grazing conditions in the country. She said she uses data from NASA to help her clients understand where to move resources.
"South Africa isn't a big country," she said. "But when we are in a drought situation like we are in now, the government can only give out so much money out to help subsistence farmers and commercial farmers. Remote sensing is tremendously important in telling them where to send money."
She said the state of the US presidential election in the spring led her to look for ways to build redundancy into her data sources.
"It's scary to think that something might happen and you won't have access to the data anymore," she said.
But — unique among scientists interviewed for this story — the data sets she studies happen to be replicated by a European data set called Copernicus. After some preparation efforts over the course of the last year, she said she's confident that if NASA earth science were to go dark tomorrow, she would be able to keep up a similar level of quality in her work.
No other scientist interviewed for this story said the same.

Business Insider

April 8, 2016

NASA Reveals Solar Eclipses Image and Graphics

Solar eclipses,NASA,Indonesia
 Observers in parts of Southeast Asia will be treated to a celestial spectacle,S olar eclipses next week — a total eclipse of the sun.The total solar eclipse will occur Wednesday (March 9) local time (Tuesday, March 8, EST). It will begin over the Indian Ocean, then darken sections of Sumatra, Borneo, Sulawesi and other islands before petering out in the Pacific Ocean northeast of Hawaii

Many eclipse-chasers are making the long journey to see Solar eclipses as firsthand

The moon’s dark umbral shadow will first strike the Earth’s surface over the eastern Indian Ocean about 900 miles (1,400 kilometers) west of Sumatra at 0017 GMT on March 9. Just 2 minutes later, the shadow will sweep across central Sumatra and then envelop the much smaller islands of Bangka and Belitung. In the Makassar Strait, a cruise ship with more than a thousand rabid eclipse chasers will be waiting for the arrival of the lunar shadow. Totality here will last 2 minutes and 45 seconds. Should unfavorable weather conditions prevail, the ship will utilize its mobility to seek out a location where good breaks in any cloud cover may afford a view of this amazing spectacle.
After passing across the Molucca Sea, the umbra will pass over Halmahera, before heading out over the open waters of the South Pacific. Traveling to the northeast, the shadow will pass 335 miles (540 km) south of Guam, where local residents will see 84 percent of the sun obscured.
Viewers 350 miles (560 km) east of Manila, Philippines, will see the maximum duration of totality — 4 minutes and 9.5 seconds. The umbra does not make contact with any other land masses, although it will narrowly miss Wake Island — one of the most isolated islands in the world — providing those few who man the Wake Island Airfield a chance to see more than 99 percent of the sun covered at maximum eclipse. As Maxwell Smart might have said, “Missed it by that much!”
In all, the moon’s umbra will take 3 hours and 21 minutes to trace a path, like a black crayon, that will stretch for 8,800 miles (14,200 km) and will average 78 miles (125 km) in width.

Unexpected bonus for airline passengers

If you draw a line from Anchorage, Alaska, to Honolulu, the totality path of the eclipse, Solar eclipses will cross this line at almost a right angle; it might just be possible for an aircraft either traveling north from Honolulu to Anchorage, or south from Anchorage to Honolulu, to possibly intercept the moon’s dark umbral shadow.
The passengers who board Alaska Airlines flight 870 in Anchorage are probably wondering why it differed from the regularly scheduled departure time (compared to other days) by 25 minutes, but that is necessary in order to try and intercept the shadow on route to Hawaii. The aircraft, a 737-800, plans to rendezvous with the moon’s dark umbra at 5:35 p.m. Hawaii-Time on Tuesday, at a point 695 miles (1,120 km) north of Honolulu.
Rather than using a hand-turned polarization wheel to take three separate images in each polarized direction, the new camera uses thousands of tiny polarization filters to read light polarized in different directions simultaneously. Each pixel in the new camera is made of four subpixels with differently-oriented polarization filters, which provides the team with four separate but simultaneous images of the corona and cuts out the need to change polarization filters between exposures.
“We’ve cut down the length of time required for our experiment by more than 50 percent,” said Gopalswamy. “The polarization camera is faster and less risky, because it’s one less moving part.”
Though the team will be performing the experiment for the first time in the province of North Maluku, Indonesia – chosen for its accessibility and high chances of clear skies during the Solar eclipses – they’ve already given their updated instrument a test run.
“The brightness of the full moon is about equal to the brightness of the total solar eclipse,” said Reginald. “So we set up our telescope in the parking lot for practice.”
Solar eclipses,NASA,Indonesia

What is Solar eclipses

Solar eclipses happens whenever the new moon passes in front of the sun, and the moon’s shadow falls on our planet. A solar eclipse is only possible at new moon because that’s the only time whereby the moon can go in front of the sun, as seen from Earth. Most of the time, however, the new moon either swings north or south of the solar disk, so no eclipse of the sun takes place.

September 7, 2013

TO THE MOON ALICE!! Nasa” LADEE Moon Today For Lander 10 Yrs For Landees'

Apollo astronautDust was a major nuisance for the Apollo  Science correspondent, BBC News
  • Lunar atmosphere thought to be only 1/100,000th the density of Earth's atmosphere
  • Earth's atmosphere contains some 100 billion air molecules per cubic cm at sea level
  • May be only about 100,000 to 10 million molecules per cubic cm at the Moon's surface
  • Very little known about this atmosphere's precise atomic and molecular composition

The US space agency (Nasa) is about to launch its latest mission to the Moon.
The unmanned LADEE probe is set to lift-off from the Wallops rocket facility on the US east coast at 23:27 local time (03:27 GMT on Saturday).
Its $280m (£180m) mission is to investigate the very tenuous atmosphere that surrounds the lunar body.
It will also try to get some insights on the strange behaviour of moondust, which appears on occasions to levitate high above the surface.
In addition, LADEE will test a new laser communications system that Nasa hopes at some point to put on future planetary missions. Lasers have the capacity to transmit data at rates that dwarf conventional radio connections.
 LADEE stands for Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer.Collisionless environment
Its programme scientist, Sarah Noble, says the mission is likely to surprise a lot of people who have been brought up to believe the Moon has no atmosphere.
“It does; it’s just it's really, really thin,” she told reporters.
“It’s so thin that the individual molecules are so few and far between that they don’t interact with each other; they never collide.
“It’s something we call an exosphere. The Earth has an exosphere as well, but you have to get out past where the International Space Station orbits before you get to this condition that we can consider an exosphere. At the Moon, it happens right at the surface.”
Scientists are interested in understanding such wispy shrouds because they are actually the most common type of atmosphere in the Solar System. Mercury has one, as do a lot of the moons of the giant planets. Even some big asteroids are likely to have one, too.
The dust phenomenon has puzzled researchers for decades. Apollo astronauts reported seeing a diffuse glow above the lunar horizon just before sunrise. The speculation has been that this glow was caused by electrically charged dust particles being lifted from the Moon's surface by ultraviolet light from the Sun. LADEE’s remote-sensing and sampling instrumentation will test this idea.
What it learns about the dust is also likely to inform engineers who are developing the systems to take humans back to the Moon and to other destinations where dust could be an issue, such as on asteroids.
This fine particulate material, which comprises remnant rock shattered through eons of meteorite impacts, is considered a major hazard.
“It’s not like terrestrial dust,” observed Butler Hine, Nasa’s LADEE project manager.
“Terrestrial dust is like talcum powder. On the Moon, it’s very rough. It’s kinda evil. It follows electric field lines; it works its way into equipment. One of the questions about dust on the Moon is an engineering question: how do you design things so that they can survive the dust environment.”
LADEE artist's impression

  • "Spacecraft is 2.4m high and 1.8m wide, and weighs 383kg fully fuelled
  • Based on a new low-cost modular chassis for use on other planetary missions
  • Mission will last six months in total with 100-day science observation phase
  • LADEE will be crashed into the lunar surface when its fuel supply has run out"
 Once launched by its Minotaur V rocket, LADEE will be sent on a long spiral out to the Moon. This will take about a month. A further month will then be needed to commission the spacecraft before its altitude is taken down to as low as 20km above the surface for a 100-day phase of science observations.
LADEE will end its mission by crashing into the Moon.
As well as its three science instruments, LADEE carries a demonstration laser telecommunications payload.
This system promises a big jump in data transmission rates. Engineers are hoping the test terminal on LADEE will achieve download rates in the region of 600 megabits per second. A number of receiving stations on Earth will be used, including the European Space Agency’s (Esa) optical ground station on Tenerife.
Esa is keen to participate in the LADEE comms project because it too has ambitions in this area. Today, Europe and the US will often download data from each other's probes, and there will need to be some cooperation if the new technology is to be used the same way in the future.
"We need some common standards, especially in optics," said Zoran Sodnik, the manager for Esa's Lunar Optical Communication Link project.
"There are a lot of ground stations that operate in radio frequencies, and Esa and Nasa have a long-lasting cross-support agreement. But in optical comms, there are very few ground stations. And if you don't try to agree on some standards, you will not be able to support the other agency's activities, and you would not be able to download the amounts of data that you would be able to download otherwise," he told BBC News.
John Grunsfeld, the head of science at Nasa, said he had no doubts that optical communications was the way of the future.
Our Mars 2020 mission – we’ve already been having discussions about whether you could do laser comms on a rover on the surface of Mars. I think there is no question that as we send humans further out into the Solar System, certainly to Mars, if we want to have high-def, 3D video, we’re going to have laser comms sending that information back.”
Laser ground stationThe European Space Agency is participating in the laser communications demonstration

August 18, 2013

Want to See The Earth Breathe For Real? NASA Makes Available Here

Wanna See the Earth Breathe for Real? Watch This Stunning GIF

Images laced together from NASA’s Visible Earth show the cycling seasons of our planet reduced to just a few seconds of ceaseless movement. 

(Photo: John Nelson/NASA)
You can almost hear it sigh. Our third rock from the sun inhaling the solid ice of winter and exhaling in the heat of summer, as the world keeps turning and spinning.
John Nelson, a user-experience expert for the software firm IDV Solutions, posted this GIF, which laces together NASA's Visible Earthimages. The GIF is made up of 12 NASA photographs, one taken each month in 2004.
The GIF reveals the dramatic way Earth freezes over each season, only to thaw into the infinite blue deep in the warmth of a summer sun.
Unfortunately, climate change has the power to skew the yin-yang balance. Unprecedented Arctic ice cap loss could tip the scale in favor of the great watery drink, to the detriment of human and fauna alike. 

September 7, 2012

It Only Takes a Minute { To Watch The Journey of Curiosity}

Take a few minutes to watch this amazing simulation of the journey of Curiosity. No narration is needed, just a sense of wonder and amazement as you feast your eyes on this marvel that science has made happen. I found myself smiling.  May be you will too. adamfoxie*
Thank You Nasa

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January 1, 2012

NASA } Are We Alone?

Are We Alone? Where are our Nearest Neighbors?
By: Astrobiology News staff writer

Edward Weiler, NASA's Associate Administrator for Space Science discusses the search for life in the Universe. Are we alone?
Excerpts from the written testimony submitted by Edward Weiler, Associate Administrator for Space Science, National Aeronautics and Space Administration 

"There are countless suns and countless Earths all rotating around their suns in exactly the same way as the seven planets of our system. We see only the suns because they are the largest bodies and are luminous, but their planets remain invisible to us because they are smaller and non-luminous. The countless worlds in the universe are no worse and no less inhabited than our Earth."
These words, written in 1584 by Giordano Bruno, lay out the major challenge of NASA's Origins program - namely, to use 21st century science to discover whether Earth-like planets exist beyond our Solar System and whether any of those planets are habitable, or even inhabited, by primitive life. The public and the scientific response to NASA's search for habitable planets and life has been considerably more enthusiastic than that of Bruno's contemporaries, who had him burned at the stake in 1600.
So how do we determine whether or not a planet has life? When the Galileo spacecraft flew by Earth on its way to Jupiter, the spacecraft turned its instruments toward Earth to look for signs of life. Other than the radio signals and the lights being on at night, the signs of life from Earth were surprisingly subtle. There was a complex green color on the continents (which we know are plants) and chemicals like carbon dioxide, oxygen, methane, and nitrites coexisting in the atmosphere - a chemical impossibility unless maintained by something like life.
But Earth did not always have this kind of atmosphere. Early Earth hosted a high-temperature, non-photosynthetic biosphere that was rich in carbon dioxide and poor in oxygen. Life on Earth was microbial and acquired energy-consuming hydrogen and sulfide, resulting in a broad array of reduced carbon and sulfur gases. What chemicals would be identifiable signs of life in the early Earth's atmosphere?
The challenge to astrobiologists is to determine what biosignatures can be expected on any living planet. To this end, astrobiologists are studying microbial ecosystems in extreme environments here on Earth as microcosms of what might have been on early Earth and what may be possible on extrasolar planets.
Techniques Currently Used in the Search for Extrasolar Planets
One of the most successful means of discovering extrasolar worlds is the Doppler technique. The small tug of a planet on its parent star causes a small (only a few miles an hour) variation in the velocity of the star. This variation can be detected by measuring the Doppler shift -- the change in frequencies of the light when the star is moving toward us versus moving away from us.
To date, we have found almost 75 stars showing significant Doppler variations. From these we have learned that approximately 7 percent of stars like the Sun have large planets located within a few Astronomical Units (the Earth-Sun distance, or AU). These large planets range from 0.2 Jupiter masses to approximately 15 Jupiter masses.
Although masses measured with the Doppler technique suffer from an ambiguity related to the orientation of the orbital plane to the line of sight, the vast majority of objects detected to date are certainly much less massive than stars - most are gas giant planets similar to Jupiter or Saturn. The recent measurement of one object that happens to pass directly in front of its star (as seen from Earth) has shown definitively that this object is a planet with a mass slightly smaller than Jupiter's and with the density of a light, gas giant planet like Saturn.
More than half of the stars under study may have additional planets on more distant, longer period orbits. The data strongly suggest the existence of a large number of objects that are just below the present limits of detection. While multiple systems eventually may prove to be common, as yet we know of no similar counterpart to our own solar system. Furthermore, the broad range of eccentricities and small orbital radii of the known giant planets may be inconsistent with the stable conditions needed for the formation and survival of habitable, terrestrial planets.
Some have argued that these results mean solar systems like our own are rare. However, most scientists would respond that this is because the Doppler technique is fundamentally limited to finding massive planets on short-period orbits. Before being discouraged about the prospects for finding other Earths, we should note that we do not yet have the observational capability to find solar systems like our own!
The Promise of Astrometry
A second indirect planet-search technique looks for the positional (astrometric) wobble of a star induced by the presence of a planet. NASA has two complementary astrometric experiments aimed at planet detection: the Space Interferometer Mission (SIM) and the Keck Interferometer (Keck-I). SIM will have the exquisite sensitivity needed to detect planets of just a few Earth masses in 1 to 5 AU orbits around stars as far away as 30 light years. SIM will push the detectable mass limits for planets around the nearest stars into the range predicted for the "rocky" as opposed to "gas giant" planets. Keck-I will be less sensitive than SIM, but because it will operate for up to 25 years, Keck-I will be able to find planets as massive as Uranus on long-period orbits. Together SIM and Keck-I will provide a complete and unbiased census of thousands of nearby stars to determine whether systems more similar to our own are the exception or the rule.
The Challenge of Direct Detection and the Terrestrial Planet Finder
While indirect techniques are very powerful at finding planets, the search for habitability and for life requires that we directly detect the planets and use spectroscopic analysis to learn about their physical and atmospheric conditions. Thus, the goal of the Terrestrial Planet Finder (TPF) is to find and characterize any Earth-like planets orbiting 250 of the closest stars. This search will focus on the habitable zone, which is defined by the range of temperatures where liquid water, and thus the conditions for the formation of life, might be present. TPF will make detailed observations of the atmospheres of the most promising candidates to search for the spectral signatures of habitability and of life.
Understanding the conditions needed for life and identifying promising bio-signatures requires a close and continuing collaboration with biologists, atmospheric chemists, and geologists. NASA's astrobiology scientists have been intimately involved in setting the observing requirements for TPF.
While the launch of TPF is more than a decade away, we are not standing still in terms of expanding our scientific knowledge. The results of other projects will help us to understand better the difficulty of the TPF challenge by finding out, for example, the distance to the nearest systems likely to harbor Earths. We are also beginning to think about the next steps beyond TPF, including a "Planet Imager" to provide more detailed images and/or spectroscopy of any planets found by TPF.
What will be the legacy of NASA's Origins program as seen from 20 years in the future? We will have a complete census of the planets orbiting thousands of stars over a wide range of periods (from days to decades), planetary masses (from Jupiter's to Earth's), and distances (a few to a few hundred light years). We will have correlated these facts with the properties of the parent stars to develop a deeper understanding of the physical processes controlling the formation and evolution of planetary systems. We will have identified what nearby stars, if any, harbor analogs to our solar system with its stable habitable zone. From this information we will understand whether our Solar System and our Earth are common or rare. And, if we are lucky, we will have found one or more places where the complex physical and chemical processes we call life were able to develop. Through the NASA's Origins program, we are beginning to answer one of the longest standing questions in the history of the human intellect: Are we alone?
Distant galaxies known, called GN-108036

Distant Galaxy Bursts with Stars
This image shows one of the most distant galaxies known, called GN-108036, dating back to 750 million years after the Big Bang that created our universe. The galaxy's light took 12.9 billion years to reach us.

The galaxy was discovered and confirmed using the Subaru telescope and the W.M. Keck Observatory, respectively, both located atop Mauna Kea in Hawaii. After the galaxy was discovered, astronomers looked at infrared observations of it taken by NASA's Spitzer and Hubble space telescopes, and were surprised by how bright the galaxy appeared. This brightness resulted from an extreme burst of star formation -- a rare event for such an early cosmic era. In fact, GN-108036 is the most luminous galaxy found to date at these great distances.

Astronomers refer to a galaxy's distance by its "redshift," a number that refers to how much the light has been stretched to longer, redder wavelengths by the expansion of the universe. Galaxies with higher redshifts are more distant, and are seen farther back in time. GN-108036 has a redshift of 7.2, making it one of only a handful of galaxies detected this far away and this early in cosmic history.

The main Hubble image shows a field of galaxies, known as the Great Observatories Origins Deep Survey, or GOODS. A close-up of the Hubble image, and a Spitzer image, are called out at right. In the Spitzer image, infrared light captured by its Infrared Array Camera at wavelengths of 3.6 and 4.5 microns is colored green and red, respectively. In the Hubble image, visible light taken by its Advanced Camera for Surveys instrument at 0.6 and 0.9 microns is blue and green, respectively, while infrared light captured by Hubble's new Wide Field Camera 3 at 1.6 microns is red. GN-108036 is only detected in the infrared, and is completely invisible in the optical Hubble images, explaining its very red color in this picture.

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/STScI/University of Tokyo  

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