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Stunning light shows in a planet's atmosphere Featured Print

Stunning light shows in a planet's atmosphere

Astronomers are using the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope to study auroras — stunning light shows in a planet's atmosphere — on the poles of the largest planet in the solar system, Jupiter. This observation program is supported by measurements made by NASA's Juno spacecraft, currently on its way to Jupiter. Jupiter, the largest planet in the solar system, is best known for its colorful storms, the most famous being the Great Red Spot. Now astronomers have focused on another beautiful feature of the planet, using Hubble's ultraviolet capabilities. The extraordinary vivid glows shown in the new observations are known as auroras. They are created when high-energy particles enter a planet's atmosphere near its magnetic poles and collide with atoms of gas. As well as producing beautiful images, this program aims to determine how various components of Jupiter's auroras respond to different conditions in the solar wind, a stream of charged particles ejected from the sun. This observation program is perfectly timed as NASA's Juno spacecraft is currently in the solar wind near Jupiter and will enter the orbit of the planet in early July 2016. While Hubble is observing and measuring the auroras on Jupiter, Juno is measuring the properties of the solar wind itself; a perfect collaboration between a telescope and a space probe. “These auroras are very dramatic and among the most active I have ever seen”, said Jonathan Nichols from the University of Leicester, U.K., and principal investigator of the study. “It almost seems as if Jupiter is throwing a firework party for the imminent arrival of Juno.” Credits: NASA, ESA, and J. Nichols (University of Leicester)


Pale Blue Dot Revisited Featured Print

Pale Blue Dot Revisited

For the 30th anniversary of one of the most iconic images taken by NASA's Voyager mission, a new version of the image known as "the Pale Blue Dot." Planet Earth is visible as a bright speck within the sunbeam just right of center and appears softly blue, as in the original version published in 1990 (see PIA00452). This updated version uses modern image-processing software and techniques to revisit the well-known Voyager view while attempting to respect the original data and intent of those who planned the images. In 1990, the Voyager project planned to shut off the Voyager 1 spacecraft's imaging cameras to conserve power and because the probe, along with its sibling Voyager 2, would not fly close enough to any other objects to take pictures. Before the shutdown, the mission commanded the probe to take a series of 60 images designed to produce what they termed the "Family Portrait of the Solar System." Executed on Valentine's Day 1990, this sequence returned images for making color views of six of the solar system's planets and also imaged the Sun in monochrome. The popular name of this view is traced to the title of the 1994 book by Voyager imaging scientist Carl Sagan, who originated the idea of using Voyager's cameras to image the distant Earth and played a critical role in enabling the family portrait images to be taken. The image of Earth was originally published by NASA in 1990. It is republished here to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the Family Portrait of the Solar System (see PIA00451) and the Pale Blue Dot image in particular. The planet occupies less than a single pixel in the image and thus is not fully resolved. (The actual width of the planet on the sky was less than one pixel in Voyager's camera.) By contrast, Jupiter and Saturn were large enough to fill a full pixel in their family portrait images. The direction of the Sun is toward the bottom of the view (where the image is brightest). Rays of sunlight scattered within the camera optics stretch across the scene. One of those light rays happens to have intersected dramatically with Earth. From Voyager 1's vantage point — a distance of approximately 3.8 billion miles (6 billion kilometers) — Earth was separated from the Sun by only a few degrees. The close proximity of the inner planets to the Sun was a key factor preventing these images from being taken earlier in the mission, as our star was still close and bright enough to damage the cameras with its blinding glare. The view is a color composite created by combining images taken using green, blue and violet spectral filters by the Voyager 1 Narrow-Angle Camera. They were taken at 4:48 GMT on Feb. 14, 1990, just 34 minutes before Voyager 1 powered off its cameras forever. Like the original version, this is technically a "false-color" view, as the color-filter images used were mapped to red, green and blue, respectively. The brightness of each color channel was balanced relative to the others, which is likely why the scene appears brighter but less grainy than the original. In addition, the color was balanced so that the main sunbeam (which overlays Earth) appears white, like the white light of the Sun. At its original resolution, the newly processed color image is 666 by 659 pixels in size; this is Figure A. The main image is an enlarged version. The image was processed by JPL engineer and image processing enthusiast Kevin M. Gill with input from two of the image's original planners, Candy Hansen and William Kosmann.

NASA Langley Magnetic Suspension/Balance System Featured Print

NASA Langley Magnetic Suspension/Balance System

A shuttle model is magnetically suspended in the transparent hexagonal test section of the MIT/NASA Langley 6 inch MSBS. Massive power supplies are required to drive electromagnets for model position control. A unique electromagnetic position sensor, similar to a linear variable differential transformer, provides five degrees of freedom for the test model. The low speed (Mach 0.5) wind tunnel was hand crafted from mahogany. Aerodynamic forces on the test model are measured by the proportional electrical current used to hold the model in place. The system was built by MIT in the late sixties, and was relocated to Langley in the mid eighties. In a joint effort with Old Dominion University in 1992 the MSBS was used to test the aerodynamics of store separation, simulating a bomb released from an aircraft. The system has been donated to Old Dominion University.