Stories tagged nasa

President Signs NASA Authorization Act: President Barack Obama signs the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Authorization Act of 2010 in the Oval Office, Monday, Oct. 11, 2010.
President Signs NASA Authorization Act: President Barack Obama signs the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Authorization Act of 2010 in the Oval Office, Monday, Oct. 11, 2010.Courtesy Official White House Photo by Pete Souza
President Obama signed the NASA 2010 Authorization Act into law yesterday, giving approval for $58.4 billion to be spent on NASA programs over the next three years.

The details are yet to be ironed out, but we do know that the budget includes one more shuttle flight (meaning there are three now remaining (STS-133 (Discovery), November 1st, 2010; STS-134 (Endeavor) February 26, 2011; and the newly added STS-135 (Atlantis) likely in June 2011), the life of the International Space Station will be extended to at least 2020, and the development of a heavy-lift launch vehicle will start as early as 2011.

Lighting Up the Night
Lighting Up the NightCourtesy Tom Moler
Lights and space shuttle Discovery are reflected in the water as it rolls to the pad on its final planned mission to the International Space Station.

Sep
18
2010

New space launcher proposal

Magnetic Levitation (MagLev) System
Magnetic Levitation (MagLev) SystemCourtesy NASA

Starting with several existing cutting-edge technologies, NASA might be able to develop a way to catapult satellites and spacecraft into orbit.

An early proposal has emerged that calls for a wedge-shaped aircraft with scramjets to be launched horizontally on an electrified track or gas-powered sled. The aircraft would fly up to Mach 10, using the scramjets and wings to lift it to the upper reaches of the atmosphere where a small payload canister or capsule similar to a rocket's second stage would fire off the back of the aircraft and into orbit. The aircraft would come back and land on a runway by the launch site. NASA.gov

The new NASA app
The new NASA appCourtesy NASA
NASA has announced the launch of a new app for the popular Apple iPad. Apparently it's an upgrade from a similar app created for the iPhone. Since I have neither device, I'm posting this as public service to Buzz readers (like Liza) who do. The free software gives users access to thousands of space-related images, information about planets, stars, galaxies, and the rest of the universe, and even allows them to watch a live stream of NASA-TV. You can read all about it at the NASA app page.

Aug
20
2010

We have heard about the many fires in Russia. NASA satellites have detected over 600 600 hotspots from wildfires within Russian territory in one day!

Fires produce a heat signature that is detectable by satellites even when the fires represent a small fraction of the pixel. Fires produce a stronger signal in the mid-wave IR bands (around 4 microns) than they do in the long wave IR bands (such as 11 microns). That differential response forms the basis for most algorithms that detect the presences of a fire, the size of the fire, the instantaneous fire temperature.

The unusually hot and dry mid-August conditions beneath a strong ridge of high pressure across British Columbia led to a major outbreak of wildfires across that western Canadian province. The satellite image shows the location of those fires as red squares. The smoke plumes are also seen on the satellite imagery.

Here's an image from a NASA instrument: The red squares are fire locations and the smoke from the fires is evident.
http://rapidfire.sci.gsfc.nasa.gov/gallery/?2010228-0816/BritishColumbia...

The aerosols released by fires and the degraded air quality caused by them represent tremendous costs to society, so reliable information on fire locations and characteristics is important to a wide variety of users. For this reason, NOAA tracks these plumes and makes them publically available from NOAA at:
http://www.osdpd.noaa.gov/ml/land/hms.html

Great Ball of Fire
Great Ball of FireCourtesy NASA/SDO/AIA
Today's image of the day from NASA is super sweet, I wanted to share it.

From the Image of the Day site:

On August 1, 2010, almost the entire Earth-facing side of the sun erupted in a tumult of activity. This image from the Solar Dynamics Observatory of the news-making solar event on August 1 shows the C3-class solar flare (white area on upper left), a solar tsunami (wave-like structure, upper right), multiple filaments of magnetism lifting off the stellar surface, large-scale shaking of the solar corona, radio bursts, a coronal mass ejection and more.

This multi-wavelength extreme ultraviolet snapshot from the Solar Dynamics Observatory shows the sun's northern hemisphere in mid-eruption. Different colors in the image represent different gas temperatures. Earth's magnetic field is still reverberating from the solar flare impact on August 3, 2010, which sparked aurorae as far south as Wisconsin and Iowa in the United States. Analysts believe a second solar flare is following behind the first flare and could re-energize the fading geomagnetic storm and spark a new round of Northern Lights.

It's Friday, so it's time for another Science Friday video. Science Friday
Science Friday
Courtesy Science Friday
NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO), launched in February, has started to send back data. The instruments are giving solar scientists an unprecedented look at the sun, says Dean Pesnell, SDO project scientist. The hope is to better understand how solar activity--solar flares, coronal mass ejections, coronal holes--is linked to the sun's magnetic field.

No, it's not the Green Lantern.: It's Aurora Australis, or the Southern Lights, as seen from the International Space Station.
No, it's not the Green Lantern.: It's Aurora Australis, or the Southern Lights, as seen from the International Space Station.Courtesy NASA

Or possibly ever. An aurora over the Indian Ocean, photographed from the International Space Station.

Jun
25
2010

Adios El Niño, Hello La Niña?: The Pacific has switched from warm (red) to cold (blue).
Adios El Niño, Hello La Niña?: The Pacific has switched from warm (red) to cold (blue).Courtesy NASA

How to measure ocean temperature

There are many ways to measure the temperature of an ocean. Oceans are big and temperatures at different locations vary. To get a sense of whether the ocean is warming or cooling, lots of spread out measurements need to be made.

  • Thermometers under buoys or ships Since about 1990 an extensive array of moored buoys across the equatorial Pacific Ocean has beamed temperature data from a 1 meter depth up to a satellite. Lots of ships are also recording their intake water temperatures but the depths and locations vary making this data harder to use.
  • Satellite remote sensing NASA's Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) SST satellites have been providing global SST (Sea Surface Temperature) data since 2000. Unlike buoys, the satellites can sense the surface temperature everywhere. The temp measured is of the surface only, though. The surface "skin" temp can be quite different than the temp of the water below because of things like evaporation, wind, sunshine, and humidity. Also, cloud cover prevents satellites from sensing surface temperatures.
  • Acoustic Tomography Sound, especially low frequencies, can travel long distances under water. Since the speed of sound under water varies with temperature, measuring how long sound takes to travel a certain distance will give you the average temperature of the water over that distance. Acoustic Thermometry of Ocean Climate (ATOC) is using trans-basin acoustic transmissions to observe the world's oceans, and the ocean climate in particular.
  • Ocean Surface Topography By bouncing microwaves off the the ocean surface and using GPS location, satellites can precisely measure the height of any spot on the ocean surface. Reasoning that water expands and contracts as it heats and cools, then so too would the height of the sea surface. I think Ocean Surface Topography is the easiest and best technique for measuring ocean temperature.
    In a 2005 study researchers compared satellite measurements of sea surface height in the northeast Pacific Ocean from 1993-2004 to recordings of sea surface temperature in the region during the same period. The sea surface height measurements proved to be as accurate as temperature measurements as indicators of ocean conditions resulting from long-term climate cycles as well as being more consistent. PhysOrg

El Niño and La Niña effect on hurricanes

Ocean temperature information is useful in predicting hurricane season severity and forecasting individual storm severity. The image above shows that the Pacific Ocean is changing from hot to cold.

A La Niña is essentially the opposite of an El Niño. During a La Niña, trade winds in the western equatorial Pacific are stronger than normal, and the cold water that normally exists along the coast of South America extends to the central equatorial Pacific. La Niñas change global weather patterns and are associated with less moisture in the air, resulting in less rain along the coasts of North and South America. They also tend to increase the formation of tropical storms in the Atlantic.

"For the American Southwest, La Niñas usually bring a dry winter, not good news for a region that has experienced normal rain and snowpack only once in the past five winters," said Patzert. NASA

May
23
2010

Climate science is hard

2010 (Jan - April) sets record for global warming
2010 (Jan - April) sets record for global warmingCourtesy NASA
Why can't scientists agree whether we are experiencing "global cooling" or "global warming" (Science Buzz covers both)?
I just spent a couple hours reading articles and comments about NASA's predicting that a new record global temperature will be set this year. Even though I have a degree in science education, I am overwhelmed by the complexity of the information.

  • Do temperatures taken down to 2000 meters below the surface give better results than down to 700 meters deep?
  • Are the thermometers used located too near the heated buildings?
  • How are large areas without temperature taking stations factored in?
  • One commenter questioned whether the heat contained by the ocean is measured in Joules per meter squared or joules per meter cubed (or should we use Watts per meter squared)?
  • What is the best way to measure a trend on a graph?

NASA scientists have this to say

Global warming trend: Anomaly means how much the temperature was above or below average.
Global warming trend: Anomaly means how much the temperature was above or below average.Courtesy NASA
NASA scientists just published a report on trends in global warming. Here is a link to a 34 page Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) analysis of global surface temperature change Here is their conclusion and a graph from page 28.

Climate trends can be seen clearly if we take the 60-month (5-year) and 132-month (11-year) running means, as shown in Figure 21 for data through January 2010. The 5-year mean is sufficient to minimize El Nino variability, while the 11-year mean also minimizes the effect of solar variability. We conclude that there has been no reduction in the global warming trend of 0.15-0.20°C/decade that began in the late 1970s. pg 28

What I think

We have just had an extended period of minimum solar activity which should have had a cooling effect on the Earth (see our post Link between sunspots and weather explained). Increased solar activity will probably add even more energy. Warmer water means increased evaporation. Warmer air holds more moisture. So expect more extreme rainfalls (my sister experienced the Nashville flood of 2010) High temperatures mean higher energies so expect more violent weather (tornadoes and hurricanes).

Want more information?

Source article: Climate Progress