“Destination: Mars” Exhibit Uses Virtual Reality for Space Exploration

alt="Destination: Mars"

NASA’s “Destination: Mars” is one of the most engaging combinations between virtual reality and space travel, allowing the user to take a tour of Mars with none other by Dr. Buzz Aldrin, the second person on the moon.

Viewers will also be guided by Erisa Hines, driver on the Curiosity Mars Rover, who will present the vehicle as well as real sites on Mars where important discoveries were made.

The virtual experience is based on imagery sent back to Earth by the Curiosity Rover, NASA’s car-sized robot which landed on Mars in August 2012.

The exhibition “Destination: Mars” is based on OnSight, a software tool co-created by Microsoft and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) for the Mars rover mission operations. Thanks to OnSight, NASA scientists have gained a more intuitive understanding of the area explored by Mars rovers.

Users who take the tour via virtual reality headset see exactly what scientists do when they look at imagery sent by the Curiosity Rover; they can also interact with a 3D simulation of the Martian surface and conduct science experiments from a first-person perspective.

Before OnSight, scientists working on rover operations were required to “examine Mars imagery on a computer screen, and make inferences about what they are seeing.”

Thanks to advancements in virtual reality, research is now done in a new way, allowing scientists to see clearly details of a planet over 100 million miles away from Earth – while sitting in their offices.

Dave Lavery, program executive for Solar System Exploration at NASA Headquarters, said that OnSight has “fundamentally changed our perception of Mars, and how we understand the Mars environment surrounding the rover.”

This is not the first time augmented reality has paired up with NASA to advance science. Microsoft has previously sent their AR headsets HoloLens to the International Space Station, where astronaut Scott Kelly tested it during his stay abroad the station.

Augmented reality creates a mixed reality experience by overlaying digital images on top of the actual environment surrounding you. After Kelly returned to Earth last month, he said VR has “a lot of potential when it comes to space exploration.”

Besides strategically partnering with Microsoft, NASA has also done the right thing involving Dr. Buzz Aldrin in the “Destination: Mars” project. He has proved to be one of the most convincing advocates for the efforts of landing humans on Mars.

With virtual reality, sending humans to Mars in the 2030s can become a more inclusive experience, allowing the public to follow the experience the astronauts will have as they study the Martian surface.
Image Source: Mars-One

Northern Lights Arise on Planet Jupiter

extraordinary light show whenever solar storms collide with their magnetospheres

While people travel all the way to the northernmost circle of planet Earth to witness the faint but excruciatingly beautiful aurora borealis, planets like Jupiter get an extraordinary light show whenever solar storms collide with their magnetospheres. A group of scientists recently conducted a study on the effect of solar storms on Jupiter and observed an X-ray aurora that is about eight times brighter than what we are used to back on Earth.

The study is the first of its kind and was conducted by researchers from University College London (UCL) who were given access to NASA’s Chandra X-Ray Observatory. The phenomenon that takes place when a solar storm erupts and flies outwards towards the planets of a solar system had never been studied on other planets than ours before.

William Dunn, the author of the research, has used this study to achieve more than just witness the light shows that solar storms spark up at the poles of Jupiter. He believes that the reason behind the luminosity and brightness of the aurora on the gas giant is the result of the way Jupiter’s magnetosphere and the solar wind interact. Because both the magnetic field and the solar wind that comes into collision with it are large, powerful structures, the effect is magnified by a huge amount.

Dunn, Ph.D. student at UCL Mullard Space Science Laboratory, believes that studying this type impact and understanding its workings can help scientists better grasp the way in which magnetism works in the case of exoplanets, neutron stars, and brown dwarf stars.

According to the study, when the solar wind intensifies to the point that we can say a solar storm is taking place, and it hits Jupiter’s magnetosphere, it moves the boundary of this field almost 1.2 million miles through space. At the point of impact, the northern lights create a show of high energy X-rays that is larger than Earth’s very surface.

The study was completed by monitoring the emission of X-rays at the point of impact on Jupiter during two observations lasting a total of 11 hours. Based on the initial results, the researchers used the data to pinpoint the particular areas that the X-rays were coming from and further study the phenomenon.

A NASA spacecraft named Juno was launched back in 2011 and is close to reaching Jupiter. Its mission is to settle in a polar orbit when it reaches the gas giant in July and study the planet a lot closer than it has ever been done before.

A paper describing the entire study and its conclusions was published yesterday in the Journal of Geophysical Research – Space Physics.

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More Progress Made by NASA On the ‘Journey to Mars’ Project

'Journey to Mars' project

The ‘Journey to Mars’ project that is forecast to be ongoing for the next several decades, planned to send manned space crafts to the surface of Mars is already in the works. Until human crews actually get to leave on the trip to the Red Planet, multiple test runs, lander and probe launches and many more will have to be done as prerequisites as humanity setting foot on another planet of our solar system is not an event to be taken lightly.

While NASA is already in process of recruiting the ‘Class of Mars’ that will select a mere 13 individuals out of thousands of applicants to be trained and maybe one day be sent out to the red planet, the real preparation is ongoing on multiple fronts at the same time.

Only recently, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration has made upgrades to a rocket engine and began testing it in preparation for the crewed flight that will take place and take humans outside of Earth’s orbit for the first time in 45 years.

The engine in question dubbed the Space Launch System – or SLS – has seniority, having previously helped launch no less than five different space shuttle missions. Its last launch took place back in 2011, so it was necessary that the rocket engine would receive a well-deserved upgrade. Thus, on the test flight that it was subjected to on March 10th, last week, the SLS was equipped with four RS-25 engines in its core and showcased its capabilities for an entire 8-minute long launch. This officially marked the first flight certification test of the engine since its update.

The SLS rocket engine, as it as right now, is a repurposed piece from the Shuttle program and will help carry a human crew to the surface of an asteroid by year 2025 and to the surface of planet Mars in the 2030s. Before these two assignments, however, the SLS is scheduled to take flight in 2018 to carry an unmanned Orion capsule into orbit along with 13 cubesats. Depending on the result of the launch, as well as the capability of engineers and scientists to handle anything that the engine might be lacking for greater-scale missions, it will be decided whether the next mission remains set for 2023 or a later date.

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The Slow Trek of Humanity Towards Planet Mars

planning and delivering its envisioned mission to Mars

It appears that NASA is quick on its toes with planning and delivering its envisioned mission to Mars. Even if it was only recent that they announced their plans to have manned missions leaving for the Red Planet by the year 2030 the very latest, preparations are already on the way. And while funding the mission, calculating the best time for the mission, building the necessary space craft, gathering the resources necessary and so on are the very basic steps of such a mission alone, preparation entails a little more than that.

In order to send human beings to the surface of the much sought after red planet, humanity must rely on the capabilities of landers and probes that will perform detailed surveys of landing sites, climate conditions, geological information and other facts such as these. One of such landers is NASA’s InSight Mars Lander that is preparing to be sent out by May 2018.

Originally, the InSight Mars Lander was scheduled to be launched from the surface of Earth and sent towards its trek to the red planet this year – next month, in fact – but certain technical issues prevented it from doing so and postponed the mission by a considerable amount of time. To be more exact, a vacuum leak in its prime science instrument convinced NASA to postpone the mission, with scientists having the certainty that they will be able to rework the seismometer’s system and have it finished by 2017.

After that, preparations will once again begin until May 5th, when the launch is believed to be possible. If everything goes according to plan and the lander is successfully launched into outer space on the calculated date, it should arrive on Martial surface by November 26th, 2018, six months and three weeks after its departure.

InSight stands for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations Geodesy and Heat Transport and is specialized in understanding how planets’ geology formed while also collecting seismology and climate data from both above and below Mars’ surface.

NASA’s InSight is not the only spacecraft planning to depart and study the workings of the currently inhabitable Mars. However, the craft has an entire team made of researchers and engineers from across the globe, uniting their efforts to ensure humanity delivers some of its representatives to the red planet as the next step in our long-term exploratory mission.

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The Effect of Comet Flybys onto Planetary Magnetic Fields

flyby of Comet C 2013 A1

Scientists have been studying the effect that the flyby of Comet C/2013 A1 had on planet Mars after the event took place in October 2014. Despite the fact that the comet came no closer than approximately 87,000 miles from the planet itself, it would appear that the impact was gigantic at a magnetic level; even if it only lasted for a few hours.

The way scientists are discovering these things just now is the result of months of research based on the data gathered by the NASA Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution spacecraft (MAVEN) that entered the orbit of the red planet just several weeks before the comet’s flyby. The flyby had been expected for a while, and the craft was ready for defensive procedures.

As the comet was approaching, MAVEN switched all of the sensitive equipment off in order to prevent damage, a technique that all of the other Mars orbiters followed. But not all systems were turned off, with several tools such as a magnetometer remained online to be able to gather data from this extremely rare event. Thus, the MAVEN spacecraft was able to collect multiple series of ‘first-hand’ data regarding the magnetosphere of the planet and the effect that the comet had on it.

According to the study that has been undergoing at NASA since the flyby of Comet C/2013 A1, the effect was downright enormous. According to the scientists, it ‘set off the magnetosphere around Mars into chaos’, along with blowing away a small portion of the red planet’s upper part of the atmosphere.

While that sounds like a terrifying prospect for our planet, should a comet flyby take place near us next time, things are relatively different if you’re to compare Earth to Mars. Earth’s magnetic field is a lot stronger than Mars’; on top of that, the red planet’s magnetosphere is not uniform, having areas where it is patchy and doesn’t completely wrap around the object.

Comets, when interacting with solar winds, produce their own magnetic fields. As a result, when Comet C/2013 A1 flew so close to planet Mars, the former’s magnetism had an outstanding effect on the latter, creating a rather rattling effect that took several hours to calm down. Even as the comet was only drawing near, Mars’ magnetic field started reacting and realigning to various directions. According to scientists, when the comet flew by, Mars’ magnetic field began ‘flapping like a curtain beaten by the wind’, an effect that took hours to end.

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MRO Is Celebrating 10 Years of Orbiting Mars

NASA Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter

NASA Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has now been in the Red Planet’s orbit for ten years, something that we celebrate this March 10th. The MRO is a spacecraft that NASA poured $720 million back in the early 2000s, and it was built alongside the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. After its launch on August 12th, 2005, the space shuttle successfully reached Martian orbit exactly ten years ago. After five months of aerobraking, the MRO entered its final position, joining up with five other active space crafts that had been doing the same since.

The MRO is responsible for a multitude of discoveries that humanity has made about the mysterious Red Planet, the very same that we one day hope to colonize and turn into our smaller home in space. Being equipped with an entire arsenal of scouting, surveying and analysis tools such as cameras, spectrometers, radars and many more, the MRO has transferred fantastic amounts of data back to Earth regarding the geology, weather, climate, stratigraphy and particular features of Mars’ surface.

The MRO mission was originally planned to last just a mere two Earth years, long enough for it to map the landscapes of Mars for potential future landing missions – manned or otherwise. Many such landings were, as a matter of fact, achieved by landers such as the Phoenix, further allowing mankind to explore and study particular areas of the Red Planet. A great amount of interest was shown towards the Martian Arctic where scientists believed they may find water ice.

Its two-year long mission got extended in the end, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter then taking upon the role of communication and navigation system for other probes travelling for the surface and orbit of Mars – whether they are rovers or problems.

However, as its mission began, the MRO took a considerable time to get its first pieces of visual data back to Earth. The first high-resolution image taken by the MRO happened as late as September 29th, 2006. Although the picture was taken from orbit, it showed a shocking amount of detail, being able to resolve items that were as small as 90 cm in diameter. One of such photos that were taken depicts the Candor Chasma region of Valles Marineris on Mars, showing geography that strongly resembles a place where rivers could’ve flown at one point in the very distant past; millions of years to be more exact.

The MRO mission is still, to this day, set to an indefinite duration and most likely, it will remain in commission for a long time to go.

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Hubble Captures Blue Bubble Star 30,000 Light Years Away

Hubble Captures Blue Bubble Star 30,000 Light Years Away

NASA’s news feed recently posted an image of the endeavors of the space telescope as Hubble captures ‘blue bubble’ star 30,000 light years away. Scientists call it the most detailed photo ever of the WR 31a star. The reason it was dubbed the blue bubble was because it is encased in a gigantic blue cloud that is theorized is made up of hydrogen, dust, helium and other gases.

The star in question is found in the Carina constellation and is part of the Wolf-Rayet (hence the WR abbreviation) set of stars, a group that is known to display unusual spectra. They are also known as plasma spheres that are distinguishable thanks to their emission lines of helium, carbon and nitrogen that reach temperatures of 30,000 to 200,000 degrees Kelvin. Some of them are massive enough to be visible to the naked eye.

The stars belonging to this category tend to have short life spans, explosive births and equally spectacular deaths. Researchers believe that the WR 31a star was born around 20,000 years ago and yet still continues to expand at an approximate speed of 136,700 miles per hour – hence the still very visible cloud.

However, it is believed that the cloud will not persist much longer as the lifespan of stars such as these doesn’t exceed around 100,000 years. It is believed that once the life of the star is over, it will turn into a supernova that will, in time give birth to new generations of stars. On a cosmic perspective, this is incredibly short; just comparing it to our own sun, that is already believed to be 4.5 billion years old and expected to live for another 5, most of the WR type stars barely last long enough for a cosmic breath. And because those stars are nearly 20, 30 times bigger than our own sun, it makes the phenomenon even more impressive.

The stunning-looking blue cloud surrounding the WR 31a star is a result – at least according to theorizing done by scientists that have been studying these stars for a lifetime – of fast-moving stellar winds. When they interact with the outer layers of hydrogen that the WR stars eject, the gloriously large nebulas are formed as a result. Very few nebulas in the part of the universe that our telescopes can see are results of Wolf-Rayet stars.

The image that was posted by NASA on their official website is an enhanced and slightly edited version of what the Hubble Space Telescope was able to capture earlier this month.

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Fast Radio Burst Spotting Results in Success for the First Time

Fast Radio Burst Spotting Results in Success for the First Time

Recent news tell us that a fast radio burst spotting results in success for the first time. FRBs are extremely high-energy astrophysical phenomena that manifest through transient radio pulses that only last a few milliseconds. Because of that, they are usually extremely hard to find or detect. Records only show 17 occurrences ever being spotted until February 2016; most of them, however, were not detected at the time of occurrence. Usually, when one would be discovered, it would be a result of looking through months and even years of recorded data being reviewed by scientists.

A fast radio burst is a staggering event; despite their very short-lived duration, they are amazingly powerful. Scientists have estimated that a phenomenon as FRB can generate as much as energy as our Sun creates in roughly 10,000 years. Their origin is just as enigmatic, even though this could very well be an effect of how difficult catching and observing one in real time is.

So far researchers hadn’t been able to detect the nature of these events – what causes them, where they come from or how they manifest. Studying pieces of data that were out of date and without having access to the kind of information you needed in order to pinpoint the origin of a fast radio burst that had occurred months ago for example was like trying to find a needle in a haystack.

However, astronomers from the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan’s Subaru telescope and the ones from Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) recently announced a breakthrough. For the first time, scientists were able to catch a fast radio burst taking place as it was taking place thanks to the preparation they had done in advance.

By setting up a system that gave the scientists an early warning whenever a signal was received, they would send out word to other observatories to zoom in to a particular spot on the sky where the FRB was detected. This system was probably inspired by NASA’s Swift space telescope that does the same, except with gamma ray bursts.

So thanks to this type of collaboration, scientists from different places on the planet were able to not only witness a fast radio burst happening, but also to pinpoint the mysterious location that it had originated from. The answer was that the FRB that had been spotted was coming from a galaxy 6 billion light years away. A galaxy that didn’t thrive in star formation, following studies showed, meaning that these phenomena could not be a result of that.

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Everybody Wants to Go to the Red Planet

Everybody Wants to Go to the Red Planet

It would seem that everybody wants to go to the Red Planet under NASA’s fosterage. Or at least that’s what the number of applicants says, even if ‘everybody’ is an overstatement. Still, following NASA’s advert that it’s looking for its next class of astronauts that will most likely get to go to Mars in person over the next couple of decades, no less than 18,300 Americans have signed up to the program to become an astronaut.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration opened the position just two months ago and an astounding number of people already submitted their resumes. While the enthusiasm for the mission is surely flattering for both NASA and humanity as a whole, the ‘new class of astronauts’ will only be able to be comprised of 12 people, which one could say is a little less than the number of applicants.

This huge amount of interest is relatively hard to explain, especially when one looks at the numbers and realizes this time around the number of applicants is three times larger than the number recorded for the hiring session that NASA held 4 years ago.

And yet, the prerequisites of being an astronaut are not to be taken lightly, and it’s still surprising that so many are qualified to put forward their resumes and recommendations in order to hope for a chance to be one of the very few who will embark on what is probably the most important mission of mankind up to this point in time.

The selection process will drag on for a shocking 18-month period and it’s far from your regular job interview kind of system. Testing, background checks, health verifications and even more than just that are some of the stages of the interview that applicants will be taken through in order to become one of the few.

The lucky ones who end up being selected will have a long trek of trials and tribulations ahead of them before they can even step foot into a space craft and leave for milestones as close to our planet as the International Space Station. The ones who make the cut will have to undergo 2 years of initial training that involves practicing on simulated spacecraft systems, spacewalking, learning how to speak Russian and many more.

A realistic trip will not happen until the early 2020s most likely, however. And before the Mars Mission will even have a chance to happen, there will be plenty of other manned missions planned for NASA astronauts, including ISS boarding, two commercial crew space crafts under U.S. companies brands as well as the Orion deep-space exploration vehicle.

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The Fireball That Hit the Atlantic Ocean Without Anyone Noticing

The Fireball That Hit the Atlantic Ocean Without Anyone Noticing

If you’re in touch with the NASA newsfeed, you may have recently read about the baffling event regarding the fireball that hit the Atlantic Ocean without anyone noticing. The report read a fair amount of scary sounding facts that only become even more frightening to think about once you realize that mankind was particularly lucky without even realizing it.

The event in question seems to have taken place on February 6th at 1:55 PM UTC; a rather quiet Saturday for anyone on the east coast of the United States and South America for sure. It would appear that at the same time that individuals were peacefully having their lunches, a meteor with roughly the same explosive power as a nuclear bomb descended from space, was set on fire by its travel through the Earth’s atmosphere and exploded right over the Atlantic Ocean.

Luckily, this occurred above the ocean and very far away from any sort of land, preventing the event from becoming catastrophic in any way for human settlements. Not to mention that thanks to the fact that it exploded before any collision, it did not end up affecting ocean currents or risking tidal waves.

Even so, scientists say that the fireball occurrence recorded on February 6th this year was hardly worrying even if it had exploded above a populated area. Astronomer Phil Plait reminded us of the Chelyabinsk meteor that exploded over Russian territory in 2013. The Chelyabinsk meteor was estimated to have had the explosive power of 500,000 tons of TNT, while the one that dropped over the Atlantic Ocean only had the same potential as 13,000 tons of TNT.

Scientists say that had it exploded over a city such as New York, it would have surely rattled windows and scare the bejesus out of anyone who was there to see it leave a scorched trail in the sky before exploding, but not much else.

Plait also added that individuals are hardly aware of just how exposed the planet really is. The scientist stated that on average, about 100 tons of meteor debris fall onto the Earth on a daily basis. The reason behind that is the fact that most pieces of debris end up disintegrating during their fall through the atmosphere, reaching 10 to 100 kilometers per second.

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