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Singapore university launches 7th satellite into space

Singapore (XNA)

Jan 19, 2017

Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University (NTU) has successfully launched its 7th satellite into space from the International Space Station (ISS) Monday evening, said NTU in a press release on Tuesday.

Named the AOBA VELOX-III, the satellite is the first Singapore satellite to be launched from the ISS, a 110-meter habitable human-made satellite that orbits the earth, according to the release.

NTU said the satellite was delivered to the ISS in December 2016 by Japan’s national aerospace agency, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, on a resupply rocket from the Yoshinobu Launch Complex at Tanegashima Space Center, Japan.

Unlike the conventional way of launching a satellite directly into space from a rocket, the two-kilogram VELOX-III was shot into orbit around earth using a special launcher by a Japanese astronaut at the ISS.

The AOBA VELOX-III is a joint project between NTU and Japan’s Kyushu Institute of Technology (Kyutech). The nano-satellite features a unique micro-thruster built by NTU, which enables the satellite to remain in space twice as long than it usually would.

Traditionally, small satellites do not have thrusters due to modest budgets and insufficient space to mount conventional thrusters used by bigger satellites. Without thrusters, satellites have no means to keep them in orbit and will gradually lose altitude.

Director of the NTU Satellite Research Center Lim Wee Seng said they have successfully made contact with AOBA VELOX-III, which is now orbiting 400 kilometers above the Earth.

The satellite will be conducting several tests, including the made-in-NTU micro-propulsion system, a new wireless communication system developed by Kyutech and experiments to evaluate the durability of commercial off-the-shelf microprocessors in space.

Professor Mengu Cho, Director of Kyutech’s Laboratory of Spacecraft Environment Interaction Engineering, said the launch of AOBA VELOX-III is the tangible result of research collaboration between Kyutech and NTU for the past three years.

AOBA VELOX-III is an important milestone in the Japan-Singapore inter-university space exploration.

Source: Space Daily.

Link: http://www.spacedaily.com/reports/Singapore_university_launches_7th_satellite_into_space_999.html.

Great valley found on Mercury

Laruel MD (SPX)

Nov 21, 2016

Scientists have discovered a new large valley on Mercury that may be the first evidence of buckling of the planet’s outer silicate shell in response to global contraction. The researchers discovered the valley using a new high-resolution topographic map of part of Mercury’s southern hemisphere created by stereo images from NASA’s MESSENGER spacecraft. The findings were reported in a new study published in Geophysical Research Letters, a journal of the American Geophysical Union.

The most likely explanation for Mercury’s Great Valley is buckling of the planet’s lithosphere – its crust and upper mantle – in response to global contraction, according to the study’s authors.

Earth’s lithosphere is broken up into many tectonic plates, but Mercury’s lithosphere consists of just one plate. Cooling of Mercury’s interior caused the planet’s single plate to contract and bend. Where contractional forces are greatest, crustal rocks are thrust upward while an emerging valley floor sags downward.

“There are examples of lithospheric buckling on Earth involving both oceanic and continental plates, but this may be the first evidence of lithospheric buckling on Mercury,” said Thomas R. Watters, senior scientist at the Center for Earth and Planetary Studies at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., and lead author of the new study.

The valley is about 400 kilometers (250 miles) wide with its floor as much as 3 kilometers (2 miles) below the surrounding terrain. The valley is more than 1,000 kilometers (600 miles) long and extends into the Rembrandt basin, one of the largest and youngest impact basins on Mercury.

The valley is bound by two large fault scarps – steps on the planet’s surface where one side of a fault has moved vertically with respect to the other. Mercury’s contraction caused the fault scarps bounding the Great Valley to become so large they essentially became cliffs.

The elevation of the valley floor is far below the terrain surrounding the mountainous faults scarps, which suggests the valley floor was lowered by the same mechanism that formed the scarps themselves, according to the study authors.

“Unlike Earth’s Great Rift Valley in East Africa, Mercury’s Great Valley is not caused by the pulling apart of lithospheric plates due to plate tectonics; it is the result of the global contraction of a shrinking one-plate planet,” Watters said.

“Even though you might expect lithospheric buckling on a one-plate planet that is contracting, it is still a surprise when you find that it’s formed a great valley that includes the largest fault scarp and one of the largest impact basins on Mercury.”

Source: Space Daily.

Link: http://www.spacedaily.com/reports/Great_valley_found_on_Mercury_999.html.

Space station receives oldest female astronaut, bit of Mars

November 20, 2016

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — The International Space Station gained three new residents Saturday, including the oldest and most experienced woman to orbit the world. A bit of Mars also arrived, courtesy of a Frenchman who brought along a small piece of a Mars meteorite.

Launched Thursday from Kazakhstan, the Russian Soyuz capsule docked at the 250-mile-high outpost just an hour or two before NASA launched a weather satellite from Florida. The Soyuz delivered NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson, French astronaut Thomas Pesquet and Russian cosmonaut Oleg Novitskiy. They joined three men already on board, one American and two Russians.

This is the third space station mission for Whitson, who at 56 is older than each of her crewmates. She already holds the record for most time in space for a woman: nearly 400 days during her various missions. By the time she returns next spring, she should break the record for any American, man or woman.

“We could not be more proud,” NASA Administrator Charles Bolden told Whitson once she entered the space station. He joined the new crew’s family and friends at Russia’s Mission Control outside Moscow to welcome the newcomers on board.

“I’m really happy to be here,” Whitson replied. A biochemist by training, Whitson will celebrate her 57th birthday at the orbiting lab in February. Until Thursday, no woman older than 55 had flown in space.

Pesquet, meanwhile, is making his first spaceflight and Novitskiy his second. Before rocketing away, Pesquet told reporters he was taking up a piece of a Mars meteorite to illustrate the necessary union between human and robotic explorers. He intends to bring the stone back with him to Earth in six months. It then will launch aboard a Mars rover and return to its home planet.

“So it’s going to be the most experienced space traveler there is in the world,” Pesquet said Wednesday at the Baikonur Cosmodrome. “The idea is to show that space exploration is just the whole … we’re not competing against robotic exploration, we’re all working together. What we do on the (space station) is just one step on that road to exploration.”

Sunday marks the 18th anniversary of the launch of the first space station piece. It’s now as big as a football field, with a mass of 1 million pounds and eight miles of electrical wiring. Whitson and company represent its 50th full-time expedition.

“So we can celebrate the station’s birthday today,” said Sergei Krikalev, a cosmonaut-turned-space official who spoke from the Russian control center. “Good luck.”

Ceres: The tiny world where volcanoes erupt ice

Tempe AZ (SPX)

Sep 05, 2016

Ahuna Mons is a volcano that rises 13,000 feet high and spreads 11 miles wide at its base. This would be impressive for a volcano on Earth. But Ahuna Mons stands on Ceres, a dwarf planet less than 600 miles wide that orbits the sun between Mars and Jupiter. Even stranger, Ahuna Mons isn’t built from lava the way terrestrial volcanoes are – it’s built from ice.

“Ahuna is the one true ‘mountain’ on Ceres,” said David A. Williams, associate research professor in Arizona State University’s School of Earth and Space Exploration. “After studying it closely, we interpret it as a dome raised by cryovolcanism.”

Volcanic dome Ahuna Mons rises above a foreground impact crater, as seen by NASA’s Dawn spacecraft with no vertical exaggeration. Eruptions of salty, muddy water built the mountain by repeated eruptions, flows and freezing. Streaks from falls of rocks and debris run down its flanks, while overhead views show fracturing across its summit.

This is a form of low-temperature volcanic activity, where molten ice – water, usually mixed with salts or ammonia – replaces the molten silicate rock erupted by terrestrial volcanoes. Giant mountain Ahuna is a volcanic dome built from repeated eruptions of freezing salty water.

Williams is part of a team of scientists working with NASA’s Dawn mission who have published papers in the journal Science this week. His specialty is volcanism, and that drew him to the puzzle of Ahuna Mons.

“Ahuna is truly unique, being the only mountain of its kind on Ceres,” he said. “It shows nothing to indicate a tectonic formation, so that led us to consider cryovolcanism as a method for its origin.”

Dawn scientist Ottaviano Ruesch, of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, is the lead author on the Science paper about Ceres volcanism. He says, “This is the only known example of a cryovolcano that potentially formed from a salty mud mix, and which formed in the geologically recent past.”

Williams explained that “Ahuna has only a few craters on its surface, which points to an age of just couple hundred million years at most.”

According to the Dawn team, the implications of Ahuna Mons being volcanic in origin are enormous. It confirms that although Ceres’ surface temperature averages almost -40 (Celsius or Fahrenheit; the scales converge at this temperature), its interior has kept warm enough for liquid water or brines to exist for a relatively long period. And this has allowed volcanic activity at the surface in recent geological time.

Ahuna Mons is not the only place where icy volcanism happens on Ceres. Dawn’s instruments have spotted features that point to cryovolcanic activity that resurfaces areas rather than building tall structures. Numerous craters, for example, show floors that appear flatter than impacts by meteorites would leave them, so perhaps they have been flooded from below. In addition, such flat-floored craters often show cracks suggesting that icy “magma” has pushed them upward, then subsided.

A few places on Ceres exhibit a geo-museum of features. “Occator Crater has several bright spots on its floor,” said Williams. “The central spot contains what looks like a cryovolcanic dome, rich in sodium carbonates.” Other bright spots, he says, occur over fractures that suggest venting of water vapor mixed with bright salts.

“As the vapor has boiled away,” he explained, “it leaves the bright 1salts and carbonate minerals behind. ” Looking inside

Although volcanic-related features appear across the surface of Ceres, for scientists perhaps the most interesting aspect is what these features say about the interior of the dwarf world. Dawn observations suggest that Ceres has an outer shell that’s not purely ice or rock, but rather a mixture of both.

Recently, Williams was involved in research that discovered that large impact craters are missing, presumably erased by internal heat, but smaller craters are preserved.

“This shows that Ceres’ crust has a variable composition – it’s weak at large scales but strong at smaller scales,” he said. “It has also evolved geologically.”

In the big picture, said Williams, “Ceres appears differentiated internally, with a core and a complex crust made of 30 to 40 percent water ice mixed with silicate rock and salts.” And perhaps pockets of brine still exist in its interior.

“We need to continue studying the data to better understand the interior structure of Ceres,” said Williams.

Ceres is the second port of call for the Dawn mission, which was launched in 2007 and visited another asteroid, Vesta, from 2011 to 2012. The spacecraft arrived at Ceres in March 2015. It carries a suite of cameras, spectrometers and gamma-ray and neutron detectors. These were built to image, map and measure the shape and surface materials of Ceres, and they collect information to help scientists understand the history of these small worlds and what they can tell us of the solar system’s birth.

NASA plans for Dawn to continue orbiting Ceres and collecting data for another year or so. The dwarf planet is slowly moving toward its closest approach to the sun, called perihelion, which will come in April 2018. Scientists expect that the growing solar warmth will produce some detectable changes in Ceres’ surface or maybe even trigger volcanic activity.

“We hope that by observing Ceres as it approaches perihelion, we might observe some active venting. This would be an ideal way to end the mission,” said Williams.

Source: Space Daily.

Link: http://www.spacedaily.com/reports/Ceres_The_tiny_world_where_volcanoes_erupt_ice_999.html.

Cassini discovers flooded canyon on Titan

by Brooks Hays

Pasadena, Calif. (UPI)

Aug 10, 2016

NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has found deep, steep-sided canyons on Saturn’s moon Titan that are flooded with liquid hydrocarbons. The finding represents the first direct evidence of the presence of liquid-filled channels on Titan, as well as the first observation of canyons hundreds of meters deep.

A new paper in the journal Geophysical Research Letters describes how scientists analyzed Cassini data from a close pass the spacecraft made over Titan in May 2013. During the flyby, Cassini’s radar instrument focused on channels that branch out from the large, northern sea Ligeia Mare.

The Cassini observations reveal that the channels – in particular, a network of them named Vid Flumina – are narrow canyons, generally less than half a mile (a bit less than a kilometer) wide, with slopes steeper than 40 degrees. The canyons also are quite deep – those measured are 790 to 1,870 feet (240 to 570 meters) from top to bottom.

The branching channels appear dark in radar images, much like Titan’s methane-rich seas. This suggested to scientists that the channels might also be filled with liquid, but a direct detection had not been made until now. Previously it wasn’t clear if the dark material was liquid or merely saturated sediment – which at Titan’s frigid temperatures would be made of ice, not rock.

Cassini’s radar is often used as an imager, providing a window to peer through the dense haze that surrounds Titan to reveal the surface below. But during this pass, the radar was used as an altimeter, sending pings of radio waves to the moon’s surface to measure the height of features there. The researchers combined the altimetry data with previous radar images of the region to make their discovery.

Key to understanding the nature of the channels was the way Cassini’s radar signal reflected off the bottoms of the features. The radar instrument observed a glint, indicating an extremely smooth surface like that observed from Titan’s hydrocarbon seas. The timing of the radar echoes, as they bounced off the canyons’ edges and floors, provided a direct measure of their depths.

The presence of such deep cuts in the landscape indicates that whatever process created them was active for a long time or eroded down much faster than other areas on Titan’s surface. The researchers’ proposed scenarios include uplift of the terrain and changes in sea level, or perhaps both.

“It’s likely that a combination of these forces contributed to the formation of the deep canyons, but at present it’s not clear to what degree each was involved. What is clear is that any description of Titan’s geological evolution needs to be able to explain how the canyons got there,” said Valerio Poggiali of the University of Rome, a Cassini radar team associate and lead author of the study.

Earthly examples of both of these types of canyon-carving processes are found along the Colorado River in Arizona. An example of uplift powering erosion is the Grand Canyon, where the terrain’s rising altitude caused the river to cut deeply downward into the landscape over the course of several million years. For canyon formation driven by variations in water level, look to Lake Powell. When the water level in the reservoir drops, it increases the river’s rate of erosion.

“Earth is warm and rocky, with rivers of water, while Titan is cold and icy, with rivers of methane. And yet it’s remarkable that we find such similar features on both worlds,” said Alex Hayes, a Cassini radar team associate at Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, and a co-author of the study.

While the altimeter data also showed that the liquid in some of the canyons around Ligeia Mare is at sea level – the same altitude as the liquid in the sea itself – in others it sits tens to hundreds of feet (tens of meters) higher in elevation. The researchers interpret the latter to be tributaries that drain into the main channels below.

Future work will extend the methods used in this study to all other channels Cassini’s radar altimeter has observed on Titan. The researchers expect their continued work to produce a more comprehensive understanding of forces that have shaped the Saturnian moon’s landscape.

Source: Saturn Daily.

Link: http://www.saturndaily.com/reports/Cassini_discovers_flooded_canyon_on_Titan_999.html.

Pluto’s Subsurface Ocean Likely Exists Today

Tucson AZ (SPX)

Jun 24, 2016

Ongoing geological activity on Pluto seen by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft could be caused by the partial freezing of a subsurface ocean that likely still exists today, a new paper in Geophysical Research Letters says.

Noah P. Hammond, Brown University, is lead author on the paper, “Recent Tectonic Activity on Pluto Driven by Phase Changes in the Ice Shell.” Planetary Science Institute Senior Scientist Amy C. Barr is Hammond’s academic graduate adviser and co-author on the paper.

“Our model shows that recent geological activity on Pluto can be driven just from phase changes in the ice – no tides or exotic materials or unusual processes are required. If Pluto’s most recent tectonic episode is extensional, that means that Pluto may have an ocean at present. This lends support to the idea that oceans may be common among large Kuiper Belt objects, just as they are common among the satellites of the outer planets,” said Barr, who helped formulate the numerical model and interpret the results.

“In our paper, we look at tectonic features on the surface of Pluto to understand the interior and we run thermal evolution models to help us understand how Pluto’s interior may have evolved over time,” Hammond said. “Our study further supports that hypothesis by showing that if the ocean froze, ice II would likely form, causing compressional tectonic features which are absent from the surface.

“The formation of ice II would cause Pluto to experience volume contraction and compressional tectonic features to form on the surface,” Hammond said. “Since the tectonic features on Pluto’s surface are all extensional and there is no obvious compressional features, it suggests that ice II has not formed and that therefore, Pluto’s subsurface ocean has likely survived to present day.”

Ice II is a phase of ice that is 25 percent more dense than the ice we are familiar with on Earth, which floats on water. Ice II forms at high pressures and low temperatures, the kind of conditions expected in Pluto’s ice shell.

“We have been waiting a long time to see the surface of Pluto, and it did not disappoint,” Barr said. “Many people thought that Pluto would be geologically ‘dead,’ that it would be covered in craters and have an ancient surface.

“Our work shows how even Pluto, at the edge of the solar system, with very little energy, can have tectonics. We are grateful to the New Horizons team for working so hard to guide the craft to Pluto and return the beautiful images that motivated our study. They have provided another piece in the puzzle of the comparative planetology of icy worlds.”

Source: Space Daily.

Link: http://www.spacedaily.com/reports/Plutos_Subsurface_Ocean_Likely_Exists_Today_999.html.

NASA Scientists Discover Unexpected Mineral on Mars

Pasadena CA (JPL)

Jun 24, 2016

Scientists have discovered an unexpected mineral in a rock sample at Gale Crater on Mars, a finding that may alter our understanding of how the planet evolved.

NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory rover, Curiosity, has been exploring sedimentary rocks within Gale Crater since landing in August 2012. In July 2015, on Sol 1060 (the number of Martian days since landing), the rover collected powder drilled from rock at a location named “Buckskin.”

Analyzing data from an X-ray diffraction instrument on the rover that identifies minerals, scientists detected significant amounts of a silica mineral called tridymite.

This detection was a surprise to the scientists, because tridymite is generally associated with silicic volcanism, which is known on Earth but was not thought to be important or even present on Mars.

The discovery of tridymite might induce scientists to rethink the volcanic history of Mars, suggesting that the planet once had explosive volcanoes that led to the presence of the mineral.

Scientists in the Astromaterials Research and Exploration Science (ARES) Division at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston led the study. A paper on the team’s findings has been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“On Earth, tridymite is formed at high temperatures in an explosive process called silicic volcanism. Mount St. Helens, the active volcano in Washington State, and the Satsuma-Iwojima volcano in Japan are examples of such volcanoes.

“The combination of high silica content and extremely high temperatures in the volcanoes creates tridymite,” said Richard Morris, NASA planetary scientist at Johnson and lead author of the paper.

“The tridymite was incorporated into ‘Lake Gale’ mudstone at Buckskin as sediment from erosion of silicic volcanic rocks.”

The paper also will stimulate scientists to re-examine the way tridymite forms. The authors examined terrestrial evidence that tridymite could form at low temperatures from geologically reasonable processes and not imply silicic volcanism. They found none. Researchers will need to look for ways that it could form at lower temperatures.

“I always tell fellow planetary scientists to expect the unexpected on Mars,” said Doug Ming, ARES chief scientist at Johnson and co-author of the paper.

“The discovery of tridymite was completely unexpected. This discovery now begs the question of whether Mars experienced a much more violent and explosive volcanic history during the early evolution of the planet than previously thought.”

Source: Mars Daily.

Link: http://www.marsdaily.com/reports/NASA_Scientists_Discover_Unexpected_Mineral_on_Mars_999.html.

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