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Author Archives: Jason Major

How NASA’s Lunar Orbiter was Struck by a Meteoroid and Survived to Tell the Tale

This image from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter narrow-angle camera (NAC) shows jagged lines caused by a meteoroid impact in Oct. 2014. (NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/Arizona State University)

On October 13, 2014, something rather…striking…happened to one of the cameras aboard NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), which has been imaging the Moon from lunar orbit since 2008. The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC), which normally produces beautifully clear images of the lunar surface, produced an image that was wild and jittery. From the sudden and jagged pattern apparent in the image, the LROC team determined that the camera must have been hit by a tiny meteoroid, a piece of space debris no larger than the head of a pin but traveling much faster than a bullet.

“A meteoroid impact on the LROC NAC reminds us that LRO is constantly exposed to the hazards of space,” says Noah Petro, deputy project scientist from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. “And as we continue to explore the Moon, it reminds us of the precious nature of the data being returned.”

Read the full story from NASA here: Camera on NASA’s Lunar Orbiter Survived 2014 Meteoroid Hit

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Jupiter’s Surprises Are Revealed In First Juno Science Results

JunoCam image of Jupiter’s south pole, captured during its P6 pass on May 19, 2017. (Credit: NASA / SwRI / MSSS / Gerald Eichstädt / Seán Doran)

Today after almost 11 months in orbit the Juno team revealed the first scientific findings of the mission to the public via a NASA teleconference, giving us our first peek at the inner workings of Jupiter and how much of a surprise our Solar System’s largest planet is proving to be…which of course is quite fitting, as the spacecraft is named after the wife of Jupiter who could see through her mischievous husband’s veiling clouds.

“The new science results from Juno really are our first look close-up at how Jupiter works,” said Scott Bolton, principal investigator for the Juno mission. “For the first time we’re looking inside of Jupiter at the interior, and what we’re seeing is it doesn’t look at all like what we predicted.”

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There’s a New Moon in the Solar System

Hubble WFC3 observations of 2007 OR10 in the Kuiper Belt in Nov. 2009 and Sept. 2010 reveal a small moon. Credits: NASA, ESA, C. Kiss (Konkoly Observatory), and J. Stansberry (STScI).

Ok, technically it’s not a new moon as it’s probably several billion years old but we didn’t know about it before, so it’s new to us! A team of researchers has just announced the discovery of a 150- to 250-mile-wide moon orbiting a dwarf planet in the Kuiper Belt named 2007 OR10. This distant, icy world is only 950 miles wide itself but it’s still the third largest dwarf planet, ranking behind Pluto and Eris in size.

The existence of the moon was first hinted at in observations by NASA’s Kepler telescope, which showed 2007 OR10 to be rotating suspiciously slowly for a KBO—45 hours as compared to a more typical under 24. After reviewing earlier Hubble observations of the object a moon was positively identified.

This discovery not only adds a new member to the Solar System’s family tree but also helps better understand the formation of KBOs.

“The discovery of satellites around all of the known large dwarf planets—except for Sedna—means that at the time these bodies formed billions of years ago, collisions must have been more frequent, and that’s a constraint on the formation models,” said Csaba Kiss of the Konkoly Observatory in Budapest, Hungary, lead author of the research. “If there were frequent collisions, then it was quite easy to form these satellites.”

Read the full article from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center here: Hubble Spots Moon Around Third Largest Dwarf Planet

What Would Happen to You if You Were Exposed to Space?

An empty Russian Orlan space suit released on Feb. 3, 2006 as part of the SuitSat experiment.

We’ve all seen it in some form or another in science fiction movies: a character suddenly finds themself exposed, sans protective suit, to the vacuum of space. Maybe it was a crack in their suit or helmet, or they were caught in an open airlock, or they were sucked out of a hole in a spacecraft hull—possibly by their own fault or through the accidental or malicious actions of another. (If there’s one thing science fiction has taught us is that space is full of enemies.) From that point on, what happens to them seems to be up to the imagination of the director. Does their head swell and explode? Do they instantly freeze solid? Does the unfiltered UV light from the Sun fry them alive? Or do they just run out of oxygen and black out?

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High-Resolution Maps Indicate a Past Watery Environment in Mars’ “Grand Canyon”

HiRISE image of Candor Chasma, a region of Values Marineris recently mapped by the USGS and found to exhibit signs of past water. (NASA/JPL/University of Arizona )

If you’ve ever visited the Grand Canyon in the southwestern U.S. you know why it has the name it does—the vistas from the rim of this geological wonder are simply breathtaking, and it’s even more amazing to realize that it was all carved over the course of millions of years through the erosive action of the Colorado River. But there’s an even grander canyon system in our Solar System, and it’s not on Earth: it’s Mars’ Valles Marineris, which spans over 2,500 miles and is four times deeper than the Grand Canyon in Arizona—in fact, if Valles Marineris were on Earth it could stretch clear across the continental United States!

It’s thought that Mars’ canyon was created as the planet cooled, its crust contracting and splitting apart (as opposed to gradual excavation by a flowing river.) But there are sections of Valles Marineris that appear to have had a watery past, and new maps made by the USGS from data acquired by the HiRISE camera aboard NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter—which has been in orbit around Mars since March 2006—reveal regions that were once likely covered by liquid water.

“The major finding of this work is that the layers of rock exposed within what is called western Candor Chasma record a past environment where groundwater was abundant and occasionally seeped onto the ground surface, forming pools,” said USGS scientist Dr. Chris Okubo, lead author of the maps. “These pools would have been habitable for life, just as they are on Earth. Dust and sand blown into these pools may have buried and preserved evidence of past Martian life, which would be present as fossils within the rocks that we see today.”

Read the full story from the USGS here.

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