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Monthly Archives: July 2015

From a NASA press release, July 20, 2015:

A NASA camera on the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) satellite has returned its first view of the entire sunlit side of Earth from one million miles away.

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Credit: NASA/NOAA/USAF

This color image of Earth was taken by NASA’s Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera (EPIC), a four megapixel CCD camera and telescope. The image was generated by combining three separate images to create a photographic-quality image. The camera takes a series of 10 images using different narrowband filters — from ultraviolet to near infrared — to produce a variety of science products. The red, green and blue channel images are used in these color images.

The image was taken July 6, 2015, showing North and Central America. The central turquoise areas are shallow seas around the Caribbean islands. This Earth image shows the effects of sunlight scattered by air molecules, giving the image a characteristic bluish tint. The EPIC team is working to remove this atmospheric effect from subsequent images. Once the instrument begins regular data acquisition, EPIC will provide a daily series of Earth images allowing for the first time study of daily variations over the entire globe. These images, available 12 to 36 hours after they are acquired, will be posted to a dedicated web page by September 2015.

The primary objective of DSCOVR, a partnership between NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the U.S. Air Force, is to maintain the nation’s real-time solar wind monitoring capabilities, which are critical to the accuracy and lead time of space weather alerts and forecasts from NOAA.

Links: NASA press release, DSCOVR homepage.

From a UC Berkeley press release, July 20, 2015:

The Breakthrough Prize Foundation and its founder, internet investor Yuri Milner, have signed a contract with UC Berkeley to lead a major escalation in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI). The foundation has committed $100 million over 10 years to UC Berkeley and other participating institutions for a project called Breakthrough Listen, the most comprehensive scientific SETI project yet.

The Breakthrough Prize Foundation has already contracted with two of the world’s largest radio telescopes – the 100-meter Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia and the 64-meter Parkes Telescope in New South Wales, Australia – to devote between 20 and 25 percent of their telescope time to searching for signals from other civilizations. The funding will also allow the Automated Planet Finder at the Lick Observatory near San Jose, CA, to search for optical laser signals from other planets.

For the Breakthrough Listen program, UC Berkeley will build high-speed digital electronics and high-bandwidth signal processing instruments to gather and analyze the radio and optical data collected by the telescopes, and will train the next generation of SETI scientists.

The program will generate vast amounts of data, all of which will be open to the public. Over time this could constitute the largest amount of scientific data ever made available to the public, according to the foundation.

Links: the full UC Berkeley press release, Breakthrough Listen homepage.

From a NASA press release: After a decade-long journey through our solar system, New Horizons made its closest approach to Pluto Tuesday, July 14, about 7,750 miles above the surface — roughly the same distance from New York to Mumbai, India – making it the first-ever space mission to explore a world so far from Earth.

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Credit: NASA/APL/SwRI

The Pluto story began only a generation ago when young Clyde Tombaugh was tasked to look for Planet X, theorized to exist beyond the orbit of Neptune. He discovered a faint point of light that we now see as a complex and fascinating world. New Horizons’ flyby of the dwarf planet and its five known moons is providing an up-close introduction to the solar system’s Kuiper Belt, an outer region populated by icy objects ranging in size from boulders to dwarf planets. Kuiper Belt objects, such as Pluto, preserve evidence about the early formation of the solar system. New Horizons’ almost 10-year, three-billion-mile journey to closest approach at Pluto took about one minute less than predicted when the craft was launched in January 2006. The spacecraft threaded the needle through a 60-by-90 kilometer window in space – the equivalent of a commercial airliner arriving no more off target than the width of a tennis ball. Because New Horizons is the fastest spacecraft ever launched – hurtling through the Pluto system at more than 30,000 mph, a collision with a particle as small as a grain of rice could have incapacitated the spacecraft.

Meanwhile, on June 30 in New Zealand, author Jay M. Pasachoff and his team of scientists and students from Williams College, M.I.T. and Lowell Observatory successfully observed a two-minute occultation of Pluto, where the dwarf planet’s 1,500-mile-wide silhouette passed between Earth and a star trillions of miles away in precise line with the Mount John Observatory on New Zealand’s South Island. Read more details via JMP’s opinion piece in the NY Times, below.

Links: NASA press release; image gallery via the NY Times; Jay M. Pasachoff’s article in NY Times; JMP’s scientific results from his occultation observations; coverage of JMP’s NZ occultation trip via S&T and planethunters.org.