The ultraviolet (UV) portion of the electromagnetic spectrum provides some of the most powerful diagnostics to shape our understanding of stars, planets, galaxies, and all the material in-between, but it has long been one of the most difficult regions to explore. The principal go-to observatory for astronomers is the venerable Hubble Space Telescope—the most sensitive ultraviolet eyes into the universe we have ever known. NASA is now studying a behemoth space observatory as a potential successor to Hubble to answer the pressing questions of the future, the Large UltraViolet/Optical/InfraRed Observatory (LUVOIR). At a massive 50 feet in diameter, LUVOIR would be more than 40 times larger than Hubble and 150 times more sensitive, but it’s more than a decade from being built.
Recent advances in technology have opened up a new and perhaps unexpected dimension in UV space astronomy that will fill the gap between Hubble and a possible LUVOIR: small satellites. At sizes ranging from a shoebox to a mini-fridge, these tiny spacecraft have the potential to do science that is exceedingly difficult even for Hubble, and outside the capabilities of other space astronomy missions.
In this talk, Dr. Brian Fleming will tell us what has changed to make a shoebox satellite suddenly have outsized potential, and highlight some exciting science that will be carried out by LASP scientists with the first batch of astrophysics CubeSats in the coming years.
How did the Red Planet get all of its clouds? LASP scientists may have discovered the secret: just add meteors.
Astronomers have long observed clouds in Mars’ middle atmosphere, which begins about 18 miles (30 kilometers) above the surface, but have struggled to explain how they formed.
Now, a new study, published on June 17 in the journal Nature Geoscience, examines those wispy accumulations and suggests that they owe their existence to a phenomenon called “meteoric smoke”—essentially, the icy dust created by space debris slamming into the planet’s atmosphere.
Astronomers probing the edges of the Milky Way have in recent years observed some of the most brilliant pyrotechnic displays in the galaxy: superflares.
These events occur when stars, for reasons that scientists still don’t understand, eject huge bursts of energy that can be seen from hundreds of light years away. Until recently, researchers assumed that such explosions occurred mostly on stars that, unlike Earth’s, were young and active.
Now, new research shows with more confidence than ever before that superflares can occur on older, quieter stars like our own—albeit more rarely, or about once every few thousand years.
For more than four years, NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) mission has explored the mysteries of the Red Planet’s upper atmosphere. More recently, the spacecraft has gotten up close and personal with that same expanse of gas.
Earlier this year, MAVEN dipped into the highest reaches of Mars’ atmosphere over a two-month “aerobraking” campaign, using the resistance there to slow itself down in space and shift the dynamics of its orbit.
Those maneuvers ushered in a new era for MAVEN and for LASP, which leads the overall mission and the science operations for MAVEN, and built two of its instruments.