Science

Monday, October 20, 2014

HiRISE Survives Close Encounter with Comet

Posted By on Mon, Oct 20, 2014 at 11:00 AM


It appears that that the UA's HiRISE camera aboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter survived this weekend's brush with comet Siding Spring and will be sending back some photos soon.

Phil Plait's Bad Astronomy blog has a roundup of other images of Sliding Spring's approach.

NASA reports:

NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which has sent home more data about Mars than all other missions combined, is also now providing data about a comet that buzzed The Red Planet today (Oct. 19).

The orbiter continues operating in good health after sheltering behind Mars during the half hour when high-velocity dust particles from comet C/2013 A1 Siding Spring had the most chance of reaching the paths of Mars orbiters. It maintained radio communications with Earth throughout the comet's closest approach, at 11:27 a.m. PDT (2:27 p.m. EDT), and the peak dust-risk period centered about 100 minutes later.

"The spacecraft performed flawlessly throughout the comet flyby," said Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Project Manager Dan Johnston of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California. "It maneuvered for the planned observations of the comet and emerged unscathed."

Following the critical period of dust flux, the orbiter is communicating at 1.5 megabits per second with NASA's Deep Space Network. It remained on Side A of its two redundant computers, and all subsystems are working as expected.

Downlink of data has begun from today's comet observations by three instruments on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. The full downlink may take days. These instruments — the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE), the Compact Imaging Spectrometer for Mars (CRISM), and the Context Camera (CTX) — also observed the comet for days before the flyby and will continue to make observations of it in the next few days. The orbiter's other three instruments are being used to study possible effects of gas and dust in the comet's tail interacting with the atmosphere of Mars. These are the Mars Climate Sounder (MCS), the Mars Color Imager (MARCI) and the Mars Shallow Radar (SHARAD).

Three NASA Mars orbiters, two Mars rovers and other assets on Earth and in space are studying comet Siding Spring. This comet is making its first visit this close to the sun from the outer solar system's Oort Cloud, so the concerted campaign of observations may yield fresh clues to our solar system's earliest days more than 4 billion years ago.

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Friday, October 17, 2014

UA Scientists Go for "One in a Million" Shot of Comet As It Passes Mars

Posted By on Fri, Oct 17, 2014 at 9:30 AM

An animated simulation of how the rover Curiosity might see the fly-by of the comet Siding Spring.

On Sunday, Oct. 19, UA scientists are going to try to use their robotic cameras in orbit around Mars to capture an image of the comet Sliding Spring as it passes the planet. UA News has details:

University of Arizona scientists have their eyes on Mars for the fly-by of comet Siding Spring, which will pass the red planet on Oct. 19, closer than any comet has ever zoomed past the Earth in recorded history.

"We expect Mars to be bathed in the comet's coma, the gas and dust clouds that make for their famous tails," said Roger Yelle, a professor of planetary science in the UA's Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, who is on the science team of NASA's MAVEN spacecraft, which went into orbit at Mars on Sept. 21.

"The probability of an encounter like this is one in a million."

MAVEN — short for NASA's Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution mission — is the latest addition to an armada of seven spacecraft currently studying Mars, either observing from high above or roving and digging on the surface.

During the comet fly-by, NASA has programmed its orbiters to take measurements and images, then "duck and cover" behind the planet, just in case.

"It only takes a half-a-millimeter-size particle traveling at 56 kilometers per second to injure one of these spacecraft," said Don Yeomans, manager of NASA's Near Earth Object Program Office.

Continue reading »

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Let's Learn About Near-Earth Objects

Posted By on Thu, Sep 25, 2014 at 11:30 AM

The UA's OSIRIS-REx mission—which will be sending a robot into space to capture a sample from an asteroid and returning it to earth in a few years—is educating us about why they're embarking on this project. Here's the latest YouTube video about Near Earth Objects, or NEOs.

More on OSISIS-REx here.

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Monday, September 15, 2014

Phoenix's Strip Mall Signs Are Going to Ruin Our Dark Skies

Posted By on Mon, Sep 15, 2014 at 3:30 PM

P. Marenfeld & NOAO/AURA/NSF
  • P. Marenfeld & NOAO/AURA/NSF

The Arizona Republic ran a frightening article over the weekend about light pollution and the greater Phoenix area. The basic premise? In ten years, there will only be a few places in America where you will be able to see the Milky Way in the night sky and Tucson won't be one of them:

That's why Tucson, among other Arizona cities, implemented dark-skies-friendly lighting codes decades ago. Tucson hasn't gotten brighter in 30 years even though the population has increased 59 percent since 1980, said Katy Garmany, an associate scientist at the National Optical Astronomy Observatory outside Tucson, which just completed a study of Tucson's skyglow.

But scientists at the National Observatory on Kitt Peak estimate that if the Valley continues to brighten, they've got about 10 years left, said Garmany.

Then astronomers will have to travel to Hawaii or Chile to do certain research, such as trying to spot planets outside our solar system.

"It keeps getting brighter and brighter," Garmany said. "It's just really hard to do the cutting-edge stuff, and you have to go ... where it's darker. (Scientists) have ways of eliminating extra scattered light in the sky, but there's only so much they can do."

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Thursday, August 21, 2014

UA's Liverman: "I wanted to turn my students into change agents"

Posted By on Thu, Aug 21, 2014 at 1:00 PM

In yesterday's The Washington Post, UA professor Diana Liverman, co-director of the UA's Institute of the Environment, perfectly describes how many parents feel when talking to their children about climate change, except Liverman's op-ed is about how she was teaching her college students.

Liverman, a member of the Op-Ed Public Voices fellowship and a current Guggenheim fellow, wrote that her Intro to Environmental Studies class student had renamed her class "Environmental Depression."

Maybe we can learn something from this college professor and create our own change agents at home.

From The Washington Post:

I’ve been teaching college undergraduates about the environment for 20 years. Like many others, I focus on how humans are changing the earth system through pollution, deforestation, resource exploitation and climate change. I school them on the inadequacies of environmental policy and try to shock them out of complacency and into action.

Problem was, it wasn’t working. Many students left my class feeling despondent and powerless. As one wrote to me, “what you have taught me makes me desperately sad, clinging to the last memories we will have of the planet as the world chooses material comfort over breathing fresh air.”

Grim, no? I wanted to turn my students into change agents. Instead, I was doing the opposite. I was ignoring important research in my own field of climate change that demonstrates that fearful people feel disempowered and less willing to act. How would my students be motivated to do something if they felt paralyzed by fear and hopelessness?

Continue reading »

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Monday, July 28, 2014

UA Documentary "Earthlight" Examines the Key to Sustainability on Earth

Posted By on Mon, Jul 28, 2014 at 9:00 AM

Earthlight is a documentary produced by the University of Arizona College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and filmmaker Cody Sheehy. It poses the question: Is learning to live on the Moon the key to sustainability on Earth? The documentary aired recently on PBS but is now available online for viewing. Viewers can also purchase the documentary by clicking the shopping cart icon at http://cals.arizona.edu/earthlight.

Film synopsis:

When Apollo astronauts stood on the Moon and looked back at the Earth, they were the first humans to see our planet as a completely isolated system, bounded on all sides by black. Now, 45 years later, a new documentary produced by the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at the University of Arizona (UA), “Earthlight,” explores the challenges facing the human race and how the technology we are designing to return to the Moon might be extremely useful here on Earth as well.

This 30-minute documentary leads the audience into a story about the current food challenges our civilization faces through the lens of UA Scientists who are building a greenhouse food production system that may someday be used on the Moon.



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Friday, July 11, 2014

Watch the 'Hand vs. Liquid Nitrogen' Video to Burn Time

Posted By on Fri, Jul 11, 2014 at 3:43 PM


The smart scientist says you shouldn't try this at home. Apparently, the Leidenfrost effect only works for him.
The Leidenfrost effect is the formation of a gas barrier between a hot surface and a boiling liquid if the temperature difference is great enough. This gas barrier greatly slows the heat transfer between the two and allows the liquid to last longer and consequently the hot surface to remain hot longer. This effect can be seen in a frying pan as it's being heated. At first the water quickly boils as it's dropped in but at a hot enough temperature the Leidenfrost effect takes over and makes the water skate around the surface lasting a very long time.
So,don't try this at home. Send us a video if you do. Depending on the outcome, we will probably share it here.

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Tuesday, July 8, 2014

UA Astronomy Prof Chris Impey Receives $1M Grant to Improve Undergrad Science Education

Posted By on Tue, Jul 8, 2014 at 12:00 PM

UA News and Tucson Weekly contributor Eric Swedlund shared the news that UA Astronomy Professor Chris Impey was recently named a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Professor, an award that comes with $1 million to support undergraduate science education.

Impey is the first HHMI professor from the UA and first astronomer selected:

A total of 15 educators were chosen to receive the five-year grant "to create activities that integrate their research with student learning in ways that enhance undergraduate students' understanding of science," according to the institute.

"Exceptional teachers have a lasting impact on students," said HHMI President Robert Tjian. "These scientists are at the top of their respective fields and they bring the same creativity and rigor to science education that they bring to their research."

Continue reading »

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