25 things to bring to the eclipse. 


You know to bring eclipse glasses and a camera, but here are some things you will also want to bring along.
20th_March_2015_total_solar_eclipse_cropped

I drew up this list for people who will be traveling to see the eclipse but won’t be part of an organized travel group. You might be planning to observe the eclipse alone, with friends or family, or at a public event. I wanted to provide a checklist of both common and unusual items that I’ll be bringing along and that I think you should bring to the eclipse as well. Such an inventory could get out of hand quickly, so I limited it to 25 entries. They’re not ordered in any special way except for items #1 and #2, which I consider the most important of all.

1. Sunscreen

When someone says, “solar safety,” this is what I think of. So should you. And here’s something to note: If your bottle of sunscreen is more than two years old, replace it. That’s the standard shelf life for this product. If you see someone who has forgotten sunscreen, please be a peach and share. You also might want to bring an umbrella for some welcome shade.

2. Water 

August 21 will be warm everywhere in the United States and hot in many places. Even large events may run out of this vital fluid. Don’t leave home without it. If you’re driving, bring at least a case of bottled water with you. For just a couple of bucks, you’ll be guaranteed not to dehydrate.

3. Approved solar filter

Whether you use eclipse glasses, a homemade filter using solar Mylar, or a #14 welder’s glass, you will need this to view the partial phases. Also, if you plan to view the partial phases through any equipment (binoculars, telescope, etc.), you will need approved solar filters — not eclipse glasses — for each of them.

ASYFE0817_02TRANSP
If you plan on using a camera to photograph the eclipse, make sure you find a solar filter to protect your equipment.
Mike Reynolds

4. Camera

You’ll want to document the day and the activities surrounding the event. My advice remains firm, though: Do not photograph the eclipse! For those of you ignoring this sage wisdom, also pack a tripod.

5. Transistor radio

Some events (like the one in St. Joseph, Missouri) will be broadcasting as the eclipse happens. Others will be reporting eclipse-related news, including important items like traffic and weather. The nice thing about a radio is that the broadcast will come in no matter how many people are listening. That won’t be true if you’re relying on Wi-Fi or cell service. Make sure your radio’s batteries are fresh.

6. Binoculars

This is a great way to get close-up views of the corona during the total phase of the eclipse. And during the half-hour or so prior to totality, you can scan the sky away from the Sun to try to locate Venus (and Jupiter from locations east of Idaho).

7. An eclipse guide

Several are available as books or e-books. You might, for example, check the selections at Astronomy’s online store, http://www.myscienceshop.com.

8. Food or snacks

Certainly this isn’t as critical as water; I mean, you’re not going to starve. You probably will get hungry waiting for the eclipse to start, however. Don’t assume your location will have food. We expect millions of people to flock to events along the center line. It’s quite possible that even well-stocked stores and supply stands will sell out even before you arrive. Consider having some healthy snacks or premade sandwiches. Such items can help you avoid fast food and give you options in more culinary-challenged communities.

9. Medicine

Be sure you have any prescriptions you need to take with you. And some pain medication also is a good idea. Sometimes too much Sun gives certain people headaches, and too much standing for older folks can be painful. Which leads to . . .

10. Chairs

Bring at least one chair (fold-up varieties pack best) for each person in your party. Even if you attend an organized event, don’t assume anyone will provide seats. Do assume that if there are seats, they will already have been taken. You’re not going to want to stand for (a minimum of) three hours, and if you’re like me, you don’t do well lying on the ground. The best chairs you can bring let you sit upright or recline. Actually, if I weren’t hosting an event, I’d bring the nice air mattress we keep for those occasions when several guests visit.

11. Toilet paper

Let’s see, millions of people on the road, rest stops few and far between . . . you fill in the details.

12. Hand sanitizer

See #11.

ASYEP0617_33copy
These eclipse glasses are equal to 13 pairs of sunglasses. Make sure you’re protecting your eyes with the right products.
Astronomy

13. Extra eyeglasses

You won’t forget the ones on your face, but something may happen to that pair.

14. Kids’ stuff

I have no children, so I can’t specify items. I can, however, advise you to bring whatever you will need to keep your offspring happy, comfortable, and occupied. Be aware that, in many locations, cellphone and Wi-Fi access may be limited or nonexistent. Bring along something that doesn’t rely on wireless access to entertain your kids. You may discover, much to your chagrin, that your young children do not share your appreciation or awe for the eclipse. Obviously, you’re a terrible parent. But don’t worry; they’ll be seven years older when the 2024 eclipse rolls around.

15. Broad-brimmed hat

This will keep the Sun off your head and face, and also your neck if the hat’s brim is wide enough. You’ll probably sweat, but that’s a reasonable trade-off. Keep drinking water.

16. Power inverter 

You can’t plug most laptops or video players directly into a car. A small DC-to-AC power inverter will let your passengers play games or movies for the whole length of the trip without having to worry about draining the batteries in their devices. Another similar device is a car-lighter-plug-to-USB socket. Such adapters can operate or charge items that don’t require much power, like cellphones.

17. Pillow

Actually, bring a pillow for every reclining chair you take along. Your passengers also might like to use these in the car if the ride is long.

18. Sunglasses

Remember, despite their name, sunglasses are not for viewing the Sun through. They are for providing eye comfort when you look at everything else.

19. Cash

If you meet me at the event I’m hosting in St. Joseph, Missouri, you can thank me with this. Seriously, some vendors at eclipse events may not take credit or debit cards, and, even for those who do, with the huge numbers of people in transit, paying with cash may save you some serious time.

20. Insect repellent

The farther along the shadow’s path toward the southeastern United States you set up, the more important this item will become.

320pxAstrophotography
Andrea Tosatto

21. Phone

I list this mainly for completeness. Does anyone ever forget to bring a phone anymore? Certainly nobody under 35. Now, permit me one further note about this item. It’s probable that at large events (especially in smaller towns), the number of people accessing their cellphones will overwhelm nearby cell towers. Be sure to tell anyone tracking your movements that you may be out of touch for a significant amount of time. If you need definite access to communication, consider renting a satellite phone for the weekend. I hope you don’t need it, but a small investment will yield peace of mind.

22. Telescope

But reduce the hassle by bringing along only the minimum number of items to go with it. I won’t detail them here because everyone’s scope “kit” is different. Before you pack it, set up your scope either outside in the daytime or indoors, and verify that you have a complete system.

23. Astrophoto gear

If you’re going to photograph the eclipse, you’ll need more than a camera. Make sure you have whatever essentials you need. Keep these items together, preferably in the same bag or container as your camera. Check them twice, then have someone else check them while you watch.

24. Odd parts and tools

If you have a telescope, you’ll understand what I mean. As an example, some of the things my kit contains are extra knurled knobs, an Allen wrench set, half a dozen small ziplock plastic bags, at least two each of three types of small clamps, a micro-screwdriver set (also useful for fixing eyeglasses), lens-cleaning paper, at least a dozen each of two sizes of plastic zip ties, extra hardware for any tripod-mounted setups I may attempt, extra solar filters, and, you guessed it, duct tape.

25. Personal items

You won’t be hiking the Himalayas or venturing into the deep ocean aboard a submarine to experience this event. You’ll have room for a few extras, especially if you’re driving. If there’s something that’s especially meaningful to you and you want to bring it along, no harm done.

Advertisements

Scientists Just Revealed a Hidden Secret About The Sun’s Inner Core


The beginning of new solar physics.

The innermost region of the Sun is hidden from our eyes, and it looks like this stealth has enabled the core to conceal a massive secret.

For the first time, scientists have been able to accurately measure the rotation of the solar core, revealing that it doesn’t turn at the same speed as the surface – but rotates nearly four times faster.

While researchers had considered the possibility that the Sun’s core rotation might not keep pace with its outer face, up until now there was no way of knowing for sure – and many assumed the whole Sun turned as one, like an integrated merry-go-round.

But the latest data, sourced by the ESA and NASA’s Solar and Heliospheric Observatory(SOHO), provides the first evidence of a kind of low-frequency gravity wave (g-wave, not the same thing as gravitational waves) reverberating through the Sun, which turned out to be the key to capturing the core’s rotation.

3948293487 core 1ESA

“We’ve been searching for these elusive g-waves in our Sun for over 40 years, and although earlier attempts have hinted at detections, none were definitive,” says astronomer Eric Fossat from the Côte d’Azur Observatory in France.

“Finally, we have discovered how to unambiguously extract their signature.”

Up until now, scientists have been able to measure higher-frequency waves, called pressure or primary waves (p-waves), which pass through the upper layers of the Sun and are easily detected on the solar surface.

By contrast, g-waves oscillate deep in the solar interior, and while they can tell us about the behaviour of the core, they have no clear signature at the surface.

“The solar oscillations studied so far are all sound waves, but there should also be gravity waves in the Sun,” Fossat explains, “with up-and-down, as well as horizontal motions like waves in the sea.”

Using some 16 years’ worth of SOHO observational data, the researchers were able to isolate a kind of g-wave called a g-mode, by analysing how long it takes a sound wave to travel through the Sun and back to the surface again: a trip known to be 4 hours, 7 minutes.

By combing through the readings, they uncovered a series of modulations – like a sloshing motion of underwater waves – that showed them how g-waves were shaking the Sun’s core.

The results suggest that the Sun’s core rotates in full about once per week, which is almost four times as fast as the solar surface and intermediate layers, which vary: rotating in 25 days at the equator, and 35 days at the poles.

“This is certainly the biggest result of SOHO in the last decade, and one of SOHO’s all-time top discoveries,” says Bernhard Fleck, SOHO project scientist from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Centre.

As for how this rotational discrepancy came about, the researchers’ best guess is that it’s a throwback to the Sun’s very beginnings.

The thinking goes that somehow the radiation and solar wind projected from the Sun is in fact capable of slowing the orb’s outer regions down – but it’s a surface-only phenomenon that leaves the innermost core spinning undisturbed.

“The most likely explanation is that this core rotation is left over from the period when the Sun formed, some 4.6 billion years ago,” says one of the team, astronomer Roger Ulrich from UCLA.

“It’s a surprise, and exciting to think we might have uncovered a relic of what the Sun was like when it first formed.”

All in all, it’s a massive discovery for astronomers, and now that we’ve finally confirmed the presence of g-modes in the Sun after hunting for them for so long, the researchers say they’re just getting started.

“It is really special to see into the core of our own Sun to get a first indirect measurement of its rotation speed,” Fossat says.

“But, even though this decades-long search is over, a new window of solar physics now begins.”

Source: Astronomy & Astrophysics.

From ice to fire: Study dismantles theory that other planets have ingredients for life


From ice to fire: Study dismantles theory that other planets have ingredients for life
Hopes that other planets could harbor life were dealt a blow Monday when new research punched holes in a theory of how other worlds could hold water.

The theory held that planets, or moons, go through phases where the conditions are right to hold liquid water when they are in the so-called “goldilocks zone,” where they are warm enough so that the water isn’t trapped in ice and also not so hot that the water vaporizes.

This phase would happen when a young, dim star starts warming and melts the ice on planets orbiting it at just the right distance.

Saturn’s moon Enceladus and Jupiter’s moon Europa were touted as potential candidates for such celestial bodies in our solar system. However, a new study published in Nature Geoscience suggests that these worlds would likely not be habitable, even after their icy surfaces melt.

The researchers, from Peking University in China, used 3D climate models to simulate the evolution of icy planets and found that the simulated worlds would likely have skipped the habitable phase because of the incredibly high amount of energy required to melt their surface.

The team found that when the star becomes hot enough to melt the ice, the models quickly transitioned to a “greenhouse state.” The oceans evaporated and the planets skipped over the habitable phase.

“We find that the stellar fluxes that are required to overcome a planet’s initial snowball state are so large that they lead to significant water loss and preclude a habitable planet,” the team wrote, according to Phys.org.

Earth was different, because when it thawed, approximately 600 to 800 million years ago, it required less solar heat to melt the ice due to planet-warming atmospheric greenhouse gases emitted by volcanic eruptions.

Sun’s core rotating 4 times faster than surface


Sun’s core rotating 4 times faster than surface
The sun’s core is rotating four times faster than its surface, according to new solar observations based on gravity waves inside our star.

Scientists using the ESA/NASA solar observatory, SOHO, detected gravity waves in the sun’s interior which revealed a rapidly rotating core.

The discovery took the team of international researchers by surprise as they had assumed the core was “rotating like a merry-go-round at about the same speed as the surface,” according to a statement from research partner UCLA.

The source of the unexpected internal spin could date back billions of years, according to the researchers.

“The most likely explanation is that this core rotation is left over from the period when the sun formed, some 4.6 billion years ago,” said Roger Ulrich, a UCLA professor emeritus of astronomy and co-author of the study, published in the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics.

“It’s a surprise, and exciting to think we might have uncovered a relic of what the sun was like when it first formed.”

The team used over 16 years of data collected by SOHO’s dedicated ‘Global Oscillations at Low Frequencies’ (GOLF) instrument to obtain a signature of imprinted ‘g-waves’ –  lower frequency gravity waves which are especially difficult to detect.

The SOHO spacecraft was launched in 1995 to study the sun from its core to the outer corona and the solar wind.

“We’ve been searching for these elusive g-waves in our Sun for over 40 years, and although earlier attempts have hinted at detections, none were definitive,” said Eric Fossat astronomer at Observatoire de la Côte d’Azur in Nice and lead author of the paper.

By measuring the acoustic waves, the researchers were able to determine the time it takes for the waves to travel from the sun’s surface to its center and back again.

They also noted that the sloshing motion of the gravity waves influenced the travel time.

The results suggest the core is rotating once every week, nearly four times faster than the surface and intermediate layers, whose rotation varies from 25 days at the equator to 35 days at the poles.

The sun’s core and its surface also vary widely in terms of temperature. The former has a temperature of approximately 29 million degrees Fahrenheit or 15.7 million Kelvin while the surface is about 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit, or 5,800 Kelvin.

ISS astronauts snap spellbinding super Typhoon Noru from space


ISS astronauts snap spellbinding super Typhoon Noru from space (PHOTOS)
Astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) have been sharing some awe-inspiring images of one of the strongest storms of the year so far – super Typhoon Noru.

Typhoon Noru is expected to make landfall around southern Japan this weekend, bringing an end to “a long and strange journey the tropical cyclone has already made through the western Pacific Ocean,” the Weather Channel reports.

Astronaut Jack Fischer and Cosmonaut Sergey Ryazansky posted eerie images of Noru from their vantage aboard the ISS as the typhoon gained momentum over the Pacific Ocean.

NASA’s Terra satellite captured a close look at the eye of the storm while passing over Noru in the Northwestern Pacific Ocean. On Tuesday, NASA measured Noru’s maximum sustained winds at 165kmph (103 miles).

READ MORE: Enormous sinkhole devours two homes, threatens Florida neighborhood

Noru grew from an ordinary tropical storm Saturday to a super typhoon, becoming Earth’s most intense storm of the year so far by Sunday.

On Tuesday, Noru’s strength was the equivalent to that of a category 2 hurricane. Japanese authorities are monitoring Noru’s progress closely and will prepare to dispatch emergency services as it ventures closer to the country’s coast.

Let there be light! Astronomers move closer to first glimpse at universe’s ‘cosmic dawn’


Let there be light! Astronomers move closer to first glimpse at universe’s ‘cosmic dawn’
A powerful Dark Energy Camera has allowed scientists to peer billions of years into the past to examine the first signs of light in the universe.

The DECam, as it is known, has contributed to the discovery of 23 young galaxies and even allows astronomers to see them as they were 800 million years after the Big Bang.

The discoveries have been a major boost for researchers from the US, Chile and China as they bid to picture the ‘cosmic dawn’, the time at which the appearance of galaxies and stars marked a dramatic lighting up of the universe after its dark early years – a process known, scientifically, as ‘re-ionization.

“Before re-ionization, these galaxies were very hard to see, because their light is scattered by gas between galaxies, like a car’s headlights in fog,” said Sangeeta Malhotra, an astronomer at Arizona State University and one of the lead researchers.

“As enough galaxies turn on and ‘burn off the fog’, they become easier to see. By doing so, they help provide a diagnostic to see how much of the ‘fog’ remains at any time in the early universe.”

The instrument, which is one of the most powerful in the field of astronomy, is installed at the National Optical Astronomy Observatory in northern Chile, at an altitude of 7,200ft (2,200 meters).

“Our findings in this survey imply that a large fraction of the first galaxies that ionized and illuminated the universe formed early, less than 800 million years after the Big Bang,” said Junxian Wang, a co-author on the study.

The galaxy search is part of the Lyman Alpha Galaxies in the Epoch of Reionization project (LAGER). “[The project] is the largest uniformly selected sample that goes far enough back in the history of the universe to reach cosmic dawn,” the researchers said in a press release.

“The combination of large survey size and sensitivity of this survey enables us to study galaxies that are common but faint, as well as those that are bright but rare, at this early stage in the universe,” Malhotra said.

The astronomers say they plan continue to their work by expanding the search to a wider swathe of the universe.

Source: Astrophysical Journal.

One Giant Leap for Human Spaceflight


One Giant Leap for Human Spaceflight

After spending a year on the International Space Station (ISS), NASA astronaut Scott Kelly believes a long-duration crewed mission to the red planet is possible.

“I personally think going to Mars, if it takes two years or two and half years, that’s doable,” said Kelly.

As one of only two people ever to spend 12 months on the ISS, Kelly has a unique perspective on whether humans are equipped to spend long periods in confined, microgravity environments, such as the kind that would be required for a manned deep space mission to Mars. He and Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko recently returned from the One Year Mission, an ISS-based international initiative to advance understanding of the human body’s response to long-duration spaceflight.

This wasn’t Kelly’s first ISS mission, and he has noticed differences in the way his body is responding to being back on Earth after such an extended time in zero-G. “I flew 159 days last time, and when I got back, I felt like I was feeling pretty good….Initially, this time, coming out of the capsule, I felt better than I did last time. But at some point those two lines have crossed, and my level of muscle soreness and fatigue is a lot higher than it was last time,” he said. “I also have an issue with my skin that, because it hadn’t touched anything for so long, like any significant contact, it’s very, very sensitive. It’s almost like a burning feeling wherever I sit or lie or walk.”

Despite these unexpected sensations, Kelly believes NASA is on track for sending humans to Mars in the not-too-distant future. “I think there’s still things we have to learn, but I think we can learn them. There are challenges we still have to meet—like the radiation issue. If you take six months to get there, that’s a lot of radiation the crew is getting. If you get there quicker, then it’s less radiation. So maybe the solution is a balance between how you protect the crew versus maybe you have a propulsion system that gets you there faster.” He added, “But I think we know enough and I think we’re close enough that if we made the choice, ‘Hey we’re going to do this, we’re going to set a goal, we’re going to set a time,’ yeah—I think we can do it.”

Over the course of their 340 days on the space station, Kelly and Kornienko participated in hundreds of experiments, including 18 Human Research Program studies designed to examine the effects of prolonged spaceflight on human psychology and physiology. Studies for the One Year Mission spanned seven categories, including functional investigations, behavioral health experiments, exploration of visual impairment, metabolic and microbial investigations, physical performance studies, and examination of human factors, such as how astronauts interact with their environment in space.

While the on-orbit segment of the mission is complete, most of the data from the mission has yet to be analyzed. Some of the samples are still on the ISS and won’t return to Earth until May, when SpaceX will provide transportation for frozen materials.

“Now we’re in the phase of collecting the data and starting to analyze the data and seeing what we really learned from this mission,” said Dr. John Charles, chief scientist for NASA’s Human Research Program. “[E]specially for the Twins Study, the metabolic data that are required are going to be batch analyzed, which means all the samples—or most of the samples—will be analyzed by the same technician, in the same hardware, at the same time, in the same place, so any differences we see are not related to variations between the technicians or the location or the time or how long they were in the freezer and so forth.”

The Twins Study focuses specifically on Kelly and his identical twin brother, retired astronaut Mark Kelly, who spent the yearlong mission on Earth undergoing the same studies as his brother in order to provide a baseline for comparison. Looking at the areas where Scott’s results vary from Mark’s, said Charles, “will tell us what areas to investigate in the future on astronauts. Not on twins, because there [are] no more twins in the pipeline, but on astronauts in general using this new set of what I call 21st century medical techniques and technologies to supplement the ongoing research we’re already doing.”

It was the Kelly brothers’ idea to include Mark as an element in the One Year Mission. “It can’t be [over]stated,” said Julie Robinson, chief program scientist for the ISS, “what Scott and Mark gave to science by coming to NASA and saying: ‘Why don’t you take advantage of the fact that we’re twins?’” For both men, the study will continue for close to another year. It will be longer still before information on the results of their study is widely available.

“We have plans for data collection on both Scott and Mark up to nine months after this landing. And that’s just data collection. Not even including the analysis time,” said Charles. “And then NASA likes to give the investigators a good solid year to analyze their data and then to write it up for publication so it can go into the publication, into the scientific literature, and be peer-reviewed.” He added, “So this time next year I’m hopeful we’ll start seeing the initial results come out from the investigations that were fairly quickly completed and fairly quickly analyzed. And then I look for a constant stream of insights and results from this mission for at least another year after that.”

After spending the past year on orbit, Kelly now holds the record for the number of days spent in space—520—for any U.S. astronaut. Kornienko is close behind, with 516 days in total. Despite spending so much time in close quarters, the two did not tire of working together. “[H]e‘s a great, great guy and it was a privilege flying with him and he’ll be a life-long friend of mine,” said Kelly.

The data from their experience on the station is expected to significantly advance insight into human spaceflight. Nonetheless, more data will be needed before NASA and its partners send crew farther into space.

“We really would like to see 10 or 12 crew members with long-duration data in order to be confident that some [day]—when we go around the table, and Health and Medical says they’re “go” for Mars—that we know what all the risks are and we’ve alleviated them all,” said Robinson. Once the data from the One Year Mission is analyzed, NASA will determine whether to send up more crew immediately for long-duration flights on the ISS or if there are advantages to waiting before doing so. Either way, research on the ISS will remain a critical resource for studies concerning manned deep space missions at least until 2024.

“I was thinking about this when I was backing away in the Soyuz: what an incredible achievement that this space station is and this program is,” said Kelly. “I kind of knew that, going into it, but experiencing it every day for 340 days really hit home for me. How if we put our mind to it, we can achieve things that would seem impossible. Like if you would have said to somebody 30 years [ago], ‘Hey, here’s a picture of the space station we’re going to build and keep it manned for 15 years and do all this science and other operations on,’ people would have been like, ‘Are you crazy?’ …It’s just an incredible achievement that I think everyone involved in it, including the people that pay for it—the taxpayers—should be very proud.”

Plans and Progress on the Journey to Mars


Plans and Progress on the Journey to Mars

The agency charts a clear and sustainable path toward human spaceflight beyond low Earth orbit (LEO) in NASA’s Journey to Mars: Pioneering Next Steps in Space Exploration.

“[W]e are closer to sending human beings to the red planet than ever before in human history,” NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden said recently at The Center for American Progress.

The new report sets forth the agency’s plans and current progress in the march toward manned deep space missions. At the heart of the plan are two critical components: an integrated NASA effort across centers and ongoing collaboration with partners at other space agencies and in private industry and academia. The journey itself consists of three phases: Earth Reliant, Proving Ground, and Earth Independent. Each phase will advance technologies and capabilities that pave the way toward the next phase.

“To complete this journey,” said Bolden, “the plan concentrates both on getting to deep space and extending the life of the International Space Station [ISS].”

The Earth Reliant phase, in particular, makes critical use of the ISS as well as commercial cargo and crew transportation. “The reason that keeping the space station operational is so important is that it allows our astronauts to test the technologies that drive exploration. It also allows NASA to continue our study of the effects of long durations in space on the human body while allowing our astronauts to continue their work off the earth for the benefit of Earth,” said Bolden.

The second phase, the Proving Ground, consolidates efforts around cislunar space. From orbit near the moon, NASA can develop and test the capabilities needed for deep space missions while remaining close enough to Earth to return within days, if necessary.

“We’ll be operating in cislunar space robotically and with humans for about ten years, during the decades of the twenties,” Bolden said.

The final phase, Earth Independent, will take NASA and its partners into orbit around Mars, potentially onto Martian moons, and eventually onto the surface of the red planet itself. Mars is a meaningful target for humans because its formation and evolution appear similar to that of Earth’s. As a result, learning about the red planet may provide important information about the past and future of our planet. In addition, Bolden said, the journey to Mars will support life on Earth today.

“Across the board, our country’s new technology economy is driving economic growth and NASA’s work is providing significant fuel for that engine. We’re exploring deep space, but we’re anchored right here on Earth, where we’re creating job and fueling innovation and growth.”

Key technological components of the journey to Mars are already in development. The Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle—the first spacecraft in 40 years designed to transport humans beyond LEO—completed its maiden voyage, Exploration Flight Test 1 (EFT-1), in December of 2014 and is now working toward a second flight, Exploration Mission 1 (EM-1), in 2018. The Space Launch System (SLS), which will power Orion beyond LEO, recently passed its critical design review (CDR). New technology supporting the journey into deep space continues to be advanced with a particular focus on three areas: transportation beyond LEO, including new forms of propulsion; enabling crew to live and work in space; and staying healthy far from home.

The key to realizing these goals, said Bolden, is a sustained commitment to doing so. “We’ve got to stay focused. If we change our minds at any time in the next three or four years—which always is a risk when you go through a government transition—my belief is we’re doomed.”

By maintaining a sustained focus across each phase of the journey, the agency’s path to the red planet is clear. It begins with the current work on the ISS, leads to cislunar efforts—including the Asteroid Redirect Mission—in the 2020s, and culminates with humans on Mars in the 2030s.

ISS Serves as Stepping-Stone to Deep Space Exploration


ISS Serves as Stepping-Stone to Deep Space Exploration

With manned missions to Mars on the horizon, NASA is leveraging the unique capabilities of the International Space Station (ISS) to conduct research into critical exploration technologies. 

At the recent International Space Station Research and Development Conference in Washington, DC, Human Exploration and Operations Directorate Associate Administrator William Gerstenmaier led a discussion about how the agency is using the ISS to explore and resolve technological barriers to crewed deep space missions.

“Station is really a one of a kind testbed,” he said. “It’s a catalyst for the commercial market. It’s an engine of discovery. And, more importantly, it’s a stepping-stone to exploration.”

To reduce risk to crew during long-duration deep space travel, the agency is conducting a spectrum of investigations into areas such as radiation, fire safety, health and human performance, and life support. The ISS is ideally situated to host these investigations because it offers a zero-gravity environment in which to test concepts that cannot be explored fully on Earth, yet it is relatively accessible so that work can be ongoing and progressive.

One area of focus is on the habitation systems that will be crucial to maintaining crew health during deep space missions. Robyn Gatens, Deputy Director, ISS Division at NASA Headquarters (HQ), is leading the system maturation team for the environmental control and life support systems and environmental monitoring systems that will be used in the Orion spacecraft. Gatens and her team are working on a range of systems, including life support, air, water, and waste management. Although these systems exist on the ISS today, they will need to evolve before they are adequate for long-duration missions.

A key challenge in developing the new systems is constraints related to size. Because Orion is significantly smaller than the space station, any systems on the spacecraft will have to be miniaturized in comparison to those used on the station.

A second issue is efficiency. The space station recycles slightly less than half of the oxygen from the existing air system. For the future exploration system, said Gatens, “[W]e want to get to at least 75% of what we call ‘air loop closure.’ Similarly, on the water system today we recover about 95% of the water. And that sounds like a lot, but that still carries a logistic penalty that we want to do better for future missions. So we’re trying to improve that to over 98%.”

The technology and materials used by deep space crew—even their clothing—will have to be extremely durable because replacements will not be available. “The thing that kind of keeps me up at night is thinking ahead to when we load up the deep space transport and we’re sending the crew off to Mars and we close the door—and whatever spares are inside is what they’ve got,” she said.

Reliability, she added, may be the greatest challenge. “The simpler we can make it, the less complex we can make it, then the more reliable it is.”

Radiation monitoring and shielding as well as fire safety are other critical areas of investigation on the space station. Thanks to a radiation monitor on the Curiosity rover, NASA knows that the radiation environment on Mars is surprisingly similar to that of the ISS. The greater concern is the radiation exposure crew will face in getting to the red planet.

“The big problem is the transit phase, where you have no shielding other than what’s in your spacecraft,” said Gerstenmaier. To monitor radiation levels in the Orion spacecraft, the agency has created sensors the size of a thumbnail. Developing sufficient radiation shielding within the spacecraft, however, is still underway and will be essential to protecting crew health.

Other means of supporting astronauts’ well-being are being investigated on station. Experience on the ISS has confirmed that exercise is a key component in maintaining crew health in low gravity environments. Starting in 2020, NASA will test the Advanced Twin Lifting and Aerobics System (ATLAS), a compact combination weight lifting and rowing machine. To fit into Orion, ATLAS will weigh a mere 200 pounds compared with the four thousand pounds of exercise equipment currently on the ISS.

Significant psychological as well as physical stressors await crew during long-duration missions, including the challenge of living in a confined space in a hostile environment with just a few other people for up to three years at a time. There will be a 20-minute lag in communications between the spacecraft and Earth, making it difficult for astronauts to obtain support from the ground in an emergency situation, and no opportunity to send a crew member home should they become ill.

“As soon as you burn for Mars, you’re going to Mars. You’re not going to have resupply. You’re not going to be turning around and dropping somebody off. So you have to take care of people while you’re there,” said NASA Human Research Program (HRP) Director William Paloski.

The HRP has been working with the ISS to develop a series of one-year missions that will involve 10 crew by 2024. “The first year-in-space study was quite a success. Now that we know how to do it, we need to go and get a big enough “n” that has some meaningful data [so we] know what to expect in the breadth of the astronaut corps,” said Paloski.

HRP is also setting up a number of isolation facilities on the ground so that future crew can prepare themselves for the experience of a two- to three-year trip with only a few companions. They’ve established a short-duration isolation facility at Johnson Space Center (JSC) and will be doing four-month, eight-month, and twelve-month stays with multi-national crews at a facility in Russia as well as winter missions in Antarctica.

One of the many challenges for the agency in developing systems to support manned missions beyond LEO is the need to accommodate improvements in technologies as they become available. To address this, said Gerstenmaier, “I think the thing that’s really important is we keep an architecture and a plan that’s open enough that as new technology comes on, we can insert it relatively quickly.”

Considering the work ahead in preparing to send humans to Mars, he said, “When I look at the engineering challenge, it is monumental. But it’s exactly what we ought to be doing. And the first step in that is really station.”

The Moon Is Seriously Loaded With Water, More Than We Ever Expected


There’s way more water locked inside the Moon than we previously thought, according to a new analysis of satellite data.

This unexpected finding about our planet’s grey companion is giving scientists new insights into how the Moon formed and what its internal structure is like. And it has potentially huge implications for any of our future lunar missions.

For a long time we thought the Moon was totally bone dry. On the surface it’s a super-dusty environment with no substantial atmosphere, temperature extremes, and not enough gravity to help retain water molecules.

But recent studies have uncovered several types of lunar water. In 2009, NASA deliberately crashed its LCROSS probe into the Moon’s south pole, discovering loads of water ice in the debris that shot up from the impact.

These ice deposits were thought to be billions of years old, trapped in the permanently shadowy and extremely cold crevasses of the lunar poles. But this water wasn’t always there.

Researchers thought it was likely produced through external forces, such as solar winds sweeping across the surface and providing the right chemical reactions. In fact, there’s a background level of extremely minuscule amounts of this kind of trapped water across the Moon’s surface.

Astronauts from several Apollo missions also brought back geological samples from various parts of the Moon’s surface, and in 2008 these samples were re-analysed to reveal trace water locked up in tiny glass beads.

Those glass beads were found in pyroclastic deposits – rock deposits of volcanic origin from some 100 million years ago when the Moon was still a highly geologically active ball with a bubbling core and surface volcanoes.

Such water, locked up in the Moon’s own geology, is considered to be of local origin or ‘indigenous’, meaning it could have stuck around ever since the Moon was still a chunk of matter violently torn off our young Earth.

But scientists couldn’t tell whether these beads actually indicated a ‘wet’ layer right underneath the Moon’s dusty crust, in the lunar mantle.

“The key question is whether those Apollo samples represent the bulk conditions of the lunar interior or instead represent unusual or perhaps anomalous water-rich regions within an otherwise ‘dry’ mantle,” says Ralph Milliken from Brown University, lead researcher of the latest study.

To answer that key question, Milliken and his team turned to orbital data from India’s Chandrayaan-1 lunar orbiter, which carried aboard the handy Moon Mineralogy Mapper.

Using orbital data from previously mapped large pyroclastic deposits on the Moon’s surface, laboratory analysis of Apollo mission samples, and a detailed model of lunar surface temperature data, the researchers found water-rich volcanic deposits all over the place.

“They’re spread across the surface, which tells us that the water found in the Apollo samples isn’t a one-off,” says Milliken.

Some of these volcanic deposits stretch for thousands of square kilometres, and the team’s data shows that there is four times more water in these than the measurable background level we mentioned above.

“[T]hese deposits are the result of magma that originally comes from deep within the lunar interior,” Milliken told Samantha Mathewson at Space.com.

So did all that water once hitch a ride from Earth or was it dumped there by comets? Unfortunately, the new findings only tell us it’s there – but it’s a step towards finding out more about the Moon’s history.

“Whether it is from the Earth or from impact delivery … we are not ready to answer that question,” one of the team, Shuai Li from Brown University, told The Guardian.

But however it got there, scientists do think all that water could one day become a valuable resource.

“The nearly ubiquitous presence of water in large and small lunar pyroclastic deposits adds to the growing evidence that the lunar mantle is an important reservoir of water,” the team writes in the study.

And if that’s the case, our future Moon colonists might well be able to extract usable water from many of these large volcanic deposits, making their off-Earth home just a little bit more habitable.

Soure: Nature Geoscience.