Mission: Mars—MAVEN Draws Nigh

NASA, via Facebook:

At 8 pm EDT today, MAVEN will be at a distance of 205,304,736 km (127,570,449 miles) from Earth with an Earth-centered velocity of 27.95 km/s (17.37 mi/s or 62,532 mph) and a Sun-centered velocity of 22.29 km/s (13.58 mi/s or 48,892 mph). We are now just 17 days from Mars orbit insertion on September 21st.

NASA's MAVEN satellite approaches Mars.Having traveled a total of 678,070,879 km (421,332,902 mi) in its heliocentric transfer orbit, the MAVEN spacecraft has now covered ~95% of its total journey from Earth to #Mars.

The spacecraft is currently at a distance of 4,705,429 km (2,923,818 mi) from Mars, and 215,446,454 km (133,872,220 mi) from the Sun. One-way light time to the #MAVEN spacecraft from Earth is 11 minutes and 24 seconds.

All navigation solutions continue to produce trajectory arrival predictions that ensure a successful transition to MAVEN’s required science orbit.

This is the sort of thing that we ought to be getting excited about. The MAVEN mission is awesome.

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OCO Hits Orbit

OCO-2 Liftoff

Say hello to OCO.

OCO-2, that is, the Orbiting Carbon Observatory 2.

NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2, or OCO-2, is expected to provide insight into how the planet adjusts to the increased production of carbon dioxide from a vantage point in orbit that will allow it to take readings on a scale never achieved before.

Technicians and engineers work with the OCO-2 spacecraft during processing inside a facility at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.  (NASA/USAF 30th Space Wing)While ground stations have been monitoring carbon dioxide concentrations, OCO-2 will be the first spacecraft to conduct a global-scale reading over several seasons. The spacecraft is expected to produce detailed readings to provide regional sources of carbon dioxide as well as sinks for the greenhouse gas.

“There’s quite a lot of urgency to see what we can get from a satellite like OCO-2,” said David Crisp, the science team lead for the mission.

The spacecraft flew into orbit aboard a United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The July 2 liftoff came at 5:56 a.m. Eastern time, 2:56 Pacific time. The hexagonal spacecraft is about 6 feet long and 3 feet in diameter and weighs 985 pounds. The Delta II first stage’s single liquid-fueled engine ignited moments before the three solid-fueled boosters roared to life to catapult the rocket and spacecraft off the pad toward space.

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Might we suggest some light, enlightening reading?

Linden-2014-FermiGC-detail-smDark matter?

• Or, maybe, zebra stripes around planet Earth?

• Perhaps contemplating the multiverse?

• Or puzzling over the “strangest magma on Earth”? How about extraterrestrial volcanoes?

• Would you believe the Permian-Triassic extinction was caused by microbes?

• Was that whole skydiver and meteorite thing true?

Photosynthesize This

via JPL
So there is this joke we have, about how being the one government agency that routinely does its job … never mind. At any rate, NASA would have you know:

Data from satellite sensors show that during the Northern Hemisphere’s growing season, the Midwest region of the United States boasts more photosynthetic activity than any other spot on Earth, according to NASA and university scientists.

Healthy plants convert light to energy via photosynthesis, but chlorophyll also emits a fraction of absorbed light as a fluorescent glow that is invisible to the naked eye. The magnitude of the glow is an excellent indicator of the amount of photosynthesis, or gross productivity, of plants in a given region.

Research in 2013, led by Joanna Joiner of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., demonstrated that fluorescence from plants could be teased out from existing data from satellites that were designed and built for other purposes. The new research, led by Luis Guanter of the Freie Universität Berlin, used the data for the first time to estimate photosynthesis from agriculture. Results were published March 25 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

According to co-author Christian Frankenberg of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., “The paper shows that fluorescence is a much better proxy for agricultural productivity than anything we’ve had before. This can go a long way regarding monitoring—and maybe even predicting—regional crop yields.”

Guanter, Joiner and Frankenberg launched their collaboration at a 2012 workshop, hosted by the Keck Institute for Space Studies at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in Pasadena, to explore measurements of photosynthesis from space. The team noticed that on an annual basis, the tropics are the most active in photosynthesis. But during the Northern Hemisphere’s growing season, the U.S. Corn Belt “really stands out,” Frankenberg said. “Areas all over the world are not as productive as this area.”

You are allowed to be impressed. It really is cool, after all.

Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “Satellite Shows High Productivity from U.S. Corn Belt”. March 31, 2014.

(Tip o’the hat to S.L.)

Tornado Time

“By the grace of God almighty, and the pressures of the marketplace, the human race has civilized itself. It’s a miracle.

Roger Waters

Well, this isn’t good:

New Tornado AlleySome of the deadliest tornadoes have hit far east and south of Tornado Alley, which may be in part due to higher population density in some of these areas than in rural plains regions. After a rash of tornadoes killed more than 300 people in the Southern and Eastern U.S. in 2011, researchers questioned Tornado Alley’s traditional boundaries.

Data released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) show that severe tornadoes extend far beyond the plains, from the Midwest to the Deep South, according to a 2012 report from the research firm CoreLogic. Most of the Eastern half of the country is susceptible to tornado damage, with significant parts of 15 states facing extreme tornado risk.

Hall and Diehm

CoreLogic, as a point of reference, is the latest iteration of a growing real estate information enterprise. With an eye toward real estate, insurance, and development clientele, the firm concluded:

Record-breaking severe weather outbreaks and destruction, particularly in 2011, have
changed how insurers define high-risk areas beyond Tornado Alley and measure damage from all levels of storms. Insurers are now placing particular emphasis on improving their understanding of the geographic distribution and frequency of tornados and hail storms, which in turn provides a more accurate and complete analysis of risk potential. As more precise geospatial hazard risk modeling is used to fine tune this risk analysis, the way in which policies and rates are constructed will be affected.

Something about the private sector goes here. To the other, one can certainly see their interst; CoreLogic found “extreme tornado risk” in at least twenty-six states, and the company is not at all shy about its pitch to customers. Call it what you want, but it’s a starting point for … er … ah … well, some useful discussion, we might hope.