Juno: Exploring a gas giant

On July 4, 2016 NASA’s New Frontier spacecraft Juno will enter into its first orbit around the planet Jupiter. Over the following twenty months Juno will complete a total of thirty-seven orbits before being deliberately crashed into the giant’s atmosphere and destroyed.

During these orbits Juno’s instruments will work to complete the work begun by the spacecraft which have preceded it over the last forty plus years.

Quoting NASA:

“Juno’s principal goal is to understand the origin and evolution of Jupiter. Underneath its dense cloud cover, Jupiter safeguards secrets to the fundamental processes and conditions that governed our solar system during its formation. As our primary example of a giant planet, Jupiter can also provide critical knowledge for understanding the planetary systems being discovered around other stars.”

Continue reading “Juno: Exploring a gas giant”

Spitzer & SOFIA track birth of a solar system

Over the course of one year in 1936 to 1937 a star in the Orion constellation became 250 times brighter, increasing from a magnitude of 16 to a magnitude of 10. In one three month period the star became 100 times brighter.

The star is FU Orionis and is the first star to be observed going through this phase of growth.

Quoting Joel Green of the Space Telescope Science Institute:

“By studying FU Orionis, we’re seeing the absolute baby years of a solar system. Our own sun may have gone through a similar brightening, which would have been a crucial step in the formation of Earth and other planets in our solar system.”

Continue reading “Spitzer & SOFIA track birth of a solar system”

Journey To Mars: Where astronauts might live when they get there

In March 2016 NASA awarded three prizes for proposals on the use of in situ Martian resources to construct habitats for astronauts.

The focus of the proposal was on using Martin regolith to build the habitat as opposed to earlier proposal which envisioned using regolith to shield a habitat brought from Earth.

This approach would have an extremely significant impact on the journey to Mars.

Quoting NASA:

“ . . . for every kilogram of native materials used, one saves 11 kg of transportation propellant and spacecraft mass required to launch to Low Earth Orbit . . .”

NASA estimates the cost of lifting one kilogram into Low Earth Orbit to be US$110,000. Building habitats on site rather than carrying them there results in cost savings which can be channeled into the science aspects of the mission. Continue reading “Journey To Mars: Where astronauts might live when they get there”