The Sky from Mauna Kea : What if you could stand at the top of a volcano and peer out across the universe? If the timing is right, you might see an amazing panorama like the one featured here. In this case, the volcano is the Hawaii’s Mauna Kea, and the time was a clear night last summer In the foreground of this south-facing panorama lies a rugged landscape dotted with rocks and hardy plants. Slightly above and further out, a white blanket of clouds spreads horizontally to the horizon, seemingly dividing heaven and Earth. City lights illuminate the clouds and sky on the far left, while orange lava in the volcanic caldera of Kilauea lights up the clouds just left of center. The summit of an even more distant Hawaiian volcano, Mauna Loa, is visible in dark silhouette near the central horizon. Green airglow is visible above the clouds, caused by air molecules excited by the Sun during the day. The Moon is the bright orb on the right. A diffuse band of light-colored zodiacal light extends up from the far right. Most distant, the dramatic central band of our Milky Way Galaxy appears to rise vertically from Mauna Loa. The person who witnessed and captured this breathtaking panorama stands before you in the image center. via NASA


The long journey to Europa has begun.

The instruments dictating what powers NASA’s robot to Europa will have were announced today.

This mission is going to fly by the water world at both near and far distances 45 times.

This orbital spacecraft will have ice-piercing radar that will allow it to scan and determine how deep the icy crust is. It will analyze Europa’s magnetosphere to gain insights on the depth of the ocean below and the salinity therein.

Thermal instruments will inspect the moon for hotspots where water geysers may have recently erupted into space… spitting out clues of what might lie below.

You know, by looking at the two moons Io and Europa together, two very important features stand out.

Io’s surface is young. We estimate age by looking at how many craters a surface has. Io’s surface has none larger then 10 km and some disappear in between NASA photographs. This is geological phenomena at hyper-speed.

Here’s a nice NASA image of Europa’s surface:

Craters virtually don’t exist on Europa. Its surface is also young.

While Io spits its innards up, material falls back to the surface, creating new layers.

Some of this material, however, doesn’t fall back to Io’s surface. Much of it actually is sent into space. Some reaches the orbit of Europa.

If much of this material were to make it to the surface of Europa, the moon would have a source of regular possible chemical energy. This would enter the subsurface ocean whenever the crust gets recycled down.

This mission is going to answer some very important questions. 

This mission has a much more important goal though: it will allow us to finally ask one of humanity’s most profound questions:

Are we alone?

It’s unlikely this mission will be able to give all the evidence one way or the other with regards to life on Europa. Because of this however, a possible follow-up mission will finally be able to ask this question.

We are watching a wonder unfold far beyond the scope of the Pyramids of Giza or the Colossus of Rhodes. We stand on the backs of people like Newton and Einstein, and finally are putting the finishing touches on the equipment necessary to embark on the strangest and most exciting voyage there’s ever been.

Humanity is stepping among the stars in search of company.

MyCn18: An Hourglass Planetary Nebula : The sands of time are running out for the central star of this hourglass-shaped planetary nebula. With its nuclear fuel exhausted, this brief, spectacular, closing phase of a Sun-like stars life occurs as its outer layers are ejected - its core becoming a cooling, fading white dwarf. In 1995, astronomers used the Hubble Space Telescope outline the tenuous walls of the hourglass. The unprecedented sharpness of the HST images has revealed surprising details of the nebula ejection process that are helping to resolve the outstanding mysteries of the complex shapes and symmetries of planetary nebulas. via NASA


Happy Birthday Sally Ride - The first American woman to fly in space

Before beating out 1,000 other applicants for a spot in NASA’s astronaut program, the Los Angeles native double-majored in Physics and English at Stanford University. Upon receiving bachelor’s degrees in both subjects in 1973, Sally continued to study physics, completing a master’s degree in 1975 and a Ph.D. in 1978.

On June 18, 1983, after years of rigorous training following her Ph.D program, Ride joined the Challenger shuttle mission and earned her famous title of “first American woman in space.” In the role of mission specialist, Ride helped deploy satellites and worked other projects before returning to Earth on June 24.

She completed a second flight but a third was cancelled after the Challenger disaster, which she investigated as part of the presidential commission for the accident.

Following NASA, Ride became both the director of the California Space Institute at the University of California, San Diego, and professor of physics at the school in 1989. In 2001, she started Sally Ride Science (where she served as president and CEO) to create educational programs and products to help inspire girls and young women to pursue their interests in science and math.

Ride received many honors for her contributions to the field of science and space exploration, including the NASA Space Flight Medal, the NCAA’s Theodore Roosevelt Award, and inductions into the National Women’s Hall of Fame and the Astronaut Hall of Fame.

Sally Ride passed away on July 23, 2012, after a 17-month-long battle with pancreatic cancer, but her legacy lives on through her work and through space and science professionals and enthusiasts all over the world.

Today would’ve been her 64th birthday.

Read more about Sally Ride here:


enceladus & cryovolcano plumes, photographed by cassini, 10th may 2015.

53 images. the lower image shows a detail of the same sequence. 

without knowing the exact image times it’s hard to work out the exact geometry here, but i think cassini is moving into line with the sun and enceladus. the plumes appear brighter as cassini reaches the angle where it can see sunlight scattered through the plumes.

enceladus’s plumes are impure water ice particles escaping from fissures in the moon’s south pole. the plumes are taken as evidence of an ocean below enceladus’ ice surface, presumably kept warm by tidal heating of the moon’s core by saturn.

image credit: nasa/jpl/ssi. animation: ageofdestruction.

Venus Cloud Tops Viewed by Hubble

This is a NASA /ESA Hubble Space Telescope ultraviolet-light image of the planet Venus, taken on January 24 1995, when Venus was at a distance of 114 million kilometers) from Earth. Venus is covered with clouds made of sulfuric acid, rather than the water-vapor clouds found on Earth. These clouds permanently shroud Venus’ volcanic surface.

This is a NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope ultraviolet-light image of theplanet Venus, taken on January 24 1995, when Venus was at a distance of 70.6 million miles (113.6 million kilometres) from Earth.

Venus is covered with clouds made of sulfuric acid, rather than thewater-vapor clouds found on Earth. These clouds permanently shroudVenus’ volcanic surface, which has been radar mapped by spacecraft and from Earth-based telescope.

Credit: L. Esposito (University of Colorado, Boulder), and NASA/ESA

In the Heart of the Tarantula Nebula
Credit: ESA, NASA, ESO, & Danny LaCrue

Explanation: In the heart of monstrous Tarantula Nebula lies huge bubbles of energetic gas, long filaments of dark dust, and unusually massive stars. In the center of this heart, is a knot of stars so dense that it was once thought to be a single star. This star cluster, labeled as R136 or NGC 2070, is visible just above the center of theabove image and home to a great number of hot young stars. The energetic light from these stars continually ionizes nebula gas, while their energetic particle windblows bubbles and defines intricate filaments. The above representative-color picture of this great LMC nebula details its tumultuous center. The Tarantula Nebula, also known as the 30 Doradus nebula, is one of the largest star-formation regions known, and has been creating unusually strong episodes of star formation every few million years.

“Science is fun. Science is curiosity. We all have natural curiosity. Science is a process of investigating. It’s posing questions and coming up with a method. It’s delving in… Science is solving puzzles.” -Sally Ride

Today, on what would have been her 64th birthday, we’re celebrating Sally Ride, the first woman and first known LGBTQ person to ride into space with NASA. Her first space flight was on the Challenger for the STS-7 mission, and it launched on June 18, 1983. Later in her life, she advocated for better representation of women and girls in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) programs. She died of cancer in 2012—since then, the Navy has named a ship in her honor and Janelle Monae has released a song called “Sally Ride.”  

Happy birthday, Sally Ride!

NASA’s Europa Mission Begins with Selection of Science Instruments

NASA patch / NASA - Galileo Mission patch.

May 26, 2015

Color image of Europa seen by Galileo spacecraft. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech
NASA has selected nine science instruments for a mission to Jupiter’s moon Europa, to investigate whether the mysterious icy moon could harbor conditions suitable for life.

NASA’s Galileo mission yielded strong evidence that Europa, about the size of Earth’s moon, has an ocean beneath a frozen crust of unknown thickness. If proven to exist, this global ocean could have more than twice as much water as Earth. With abundant salt water, a rocky sea floor, and the energy and chemistry provided by tidal heating, Europa could be the best place in the solar system to look for present day life beyond our home planet.

Image above: Bizarre features on Europa’s icy surface suggest a warm interior. This view of the surface of Jupiter’s moon Europa was obtained by NASA’s Galileo mission, and shows a color image set within a larger mosaic of low-resolution monochrome images. Galileo was able to survey only a small fraction of Europa’s surface in color at high resolution; a future mission would include a high-resolution imaging capability to capture a much larger part of the moon’s surface. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

“Europa has tantalized us with its enigmatic icy surface and evidence of a vast ocean, following the amazing data from 11 flybys of the Galileo spacecraft over a decade ago and recent Hubble observations suggesting plumes of water shooting out from the moon,“ said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “We’re excited about the potential of this new mission and these instruments to unravel the mysteries of Europa in our quest to find evidence of life beyond Earth.”

NASA’s fiscal year 2016 budget request includes $30 million to formulate a mission to Europa. The mission would send a solar-powered spacecraft into a long, looping orbit around the gas giant Jupiter to perform repeated close flybys of Europa over a three-year period. In total, the mission would perform 45 flybys at altitudes ranging from 16 miles to 1,700 miles (25 kilometers to 2,700 kilometers).

Image above: Artist’s rendering of possible Europa mission spacecraft. This artist’s rendering shows a concept for a future NASA mission to Europa in which a spacecraft would make multiple close flybys of the icy Jovian moon, thought to contain a global subsurface ocean. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

The payload of selected science instruments includes cameras and spectrometers to produce high-resolution images of Europa’s surface and determine its composition. An ice penetrating radar will determine the thickness of the moon’s icy shell and search for subsurface lakes similar to those beneath Antarctica. The mission also will carry a magnetometer to measure strength and direction of the moon’s magnetic field, which will allow scientists to determine the depth and salinity of its ocean.

A thermal instrument will scour Europa’s frozen surface in search of recent eruptions of warmer water, while additional instruments will search for evidence of water and tiny particles in the moon’s thin atmosphere. NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope observed water vapor above the south polar region of Europa in 2012, providing the first strong evidence of water plumes. If the plumes’ existence is confirmed – and they’re linked to a subsurface ocean – it will help scientists investigate the chemical makeup of Europa’s potentially habitable environment while minimizing the need to drill through layers of ice.

Last year, NASA invited researchers to submit proposals for instruments to study Europa. Thirty-three were reviewed and, of those, nine were selected for a mission that will launch in the 2020s.

“This is a giant step in our search for oases that could support life in our own celestial backyard,” said Curt Niebur, Europa program scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “We’re confident that this versatile set of science instruments will produce exciting discoveries on a much-anticipated mission.”

The NASA selectees are:

Plasma Instrument for Magnetic Sounding (PIMS) – principal investigator Dr. Joseph Westlake of Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL), Laurel, Maryland. This instrument works in conjunction with a magnetometer and is key to determining Europa’s ice shell thickness, ocean depth, and salinity by correcting the magnetic induction signal for plasma currents around Europa.

Interior Characterization of Europa using Magnetometry (ICEMAG) – principal investigator Dr. Carol Raymond of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), Pasadena, California. This magnetometer will measure the magnetic field near Europa and – in conjunction with the PIMS instrument – infer the location, thickness and salinity of Europa’s subsurface ocean using multi-frequency electromagnetic sounding.

Mapping Imaging Spectrometer for Europa (MISE) – principal investigator Dr. Diana Blaney of JPL. This instrument will probe the composition of Europa, identifying and mapping the distributions of organics, salts, acid hydrates, water ice phases, and other materials to determine the habitability of Europa’s ocean.

Europa Imaging System (EIS) – principal investigator Dr. Elizabeth Turtle of APL. The wide and narrow angle cameras on this instrument will map most of Europa at 50 meter (164 foot) resolution, and will provide images of areas of Europa’s surface at up to 100 times higher resolution.

Radar for Europa Assessment and Sounding: Ocean to Near-surface (REASON) – principal investigator Dr. Donald Blankenship of the University of Texas, Austin. This dual-frequency ice penetrating radar instrument is designed to characterize and sound Europa’s icy crust from the near-surface to the ocean, revealing the hidden structure of Europa’s ice shell and potential water within.

Europa Thermal Emission Imaging System (E-THEMIS) – principal investigator Dr. Philip Christensen of Arizona State University, Tempe. This “heat detector” will provide high spatial resolution, multi-spectral thermal imaging of Europa to help detect active sites, such as potential vents erupting plumes of water into space.

MAss SPectrometer for Planetary EXploration/Europa (MASPEX) – principal investigator Dr. Jack (Hunter) Waite of the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), San Antonio. This instrument will determine the composition of the surface and subsurface ocean by measuring Europa’s extremely tenuous atmosphere and any surface material ejected into space.

Ultraviolet Spectrograph/Europa (UVS) – principal investigator Dr. Kurt Retherford of SwRI. This instrument will adopt the same technique used by the Hubble Space Telescope to detect the likely presence of water plumes erupting from Europa’s surface. UVS will be able to detect small plumes and will provide valuable data about the composition and dynamics of the moon’s rarefied atmosphere.

SUrface Dust Mass Analyzer (SUDA) – principal investigator Dr. Sascha Kempf of the University of Colorado, Boulder. This instrument will measure the composition of small, solid particles ejected from Europa, providing the opportunity to directly sample the surface and potential plumes on low-altitude flybys.

Separate from the selectees listed above, the SPace Environmental and Composition Investigation near the Europan Surface (SPECIES) instrument has been chosen for further technology development. Led by principal investigator Dr. Mehdi Benna at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, this combined neutral mass spectrometer and gas chromatograph will be developed for other mission opportunities.  

Europa’s Jupiter-Facing Hemisphere. Image Credits: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona
This 12-frame mosaic provides the highest resolution view ever obtained of the side of Jupiter’s moon Europa that faces the giant planet. It was obtained on Nov. 25, 1999 by the camera onboard the Galileo spacecraft, a past NASA mission to Jupiter and its moons which ended in 2003. NASA will announce today, Tuesday, May 26, the selection of science instruments for a mission to Europa, to investigate whether it could harbor conditions suitable for life. The Europa mission would conduct repeated close flybys of the small moon during a three-year period.

Numerous linear features in the center of this mosaic and toward the poles may have formed in response to tides strong enough to fracture Europa’s icy surface. Some of these features extend for over 1,500 kilometers (900 miles). Darker regions near the equator on the eastern (right) and western (left) limb may be vast areas of chaotic terrain. Bright white spots near the western limb are the ejecta blankets of young impact craters.

Image above: This artist’s rendering shows the Galileo orbiter arriving at Jupiter on Dec. 7, 1995. Image Credit: NASA.

North is to the top of the picture and the sun illuminates the surface from the left. The image, centered at 0 latitude and 10 longitude, covers an area approximately 2,500 by 3,000 kilometers. The finest details that can discerned in this picture are about 2 kilometers across (about 1,550 by 1,860 miles). The images were taken by Galileo’s camera when the spacecraft was 94,000 kilometers (58,000 miles) from Europa.

NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington conducts a wide variety of research and scientific exploration programs for Earth studies, space weather, the solar system and the universe.

Related links:

The images were taken by Galileo’s camera:

For more information about Galileo mission, visit:

For more information about Europa, visit:

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Felicia Chou/Laurie Cantillo/Sarah Loff.

Full article


9 NASA Technologies Shaping YOUR Future By PBS Space Time

NASA is really good at going to space, amongst other things, but did you know that part of their mission is to work also for the public good!? It’s part of NASA’s doctrine that they must release the patents on the stuff they work on, which has, over the years, given us some really awesome things you would have never thought have come from NASA! There’s also some CRAZY stuff they’ve worked on that will very likely define your future! Watch this episode of Space Time to find out what’s next for your future and for NASA!