LASP-built MinXSS CubeSat to study solar flares, X-rays emitted by the sun

Dec 03, 2015

A NASA-funded miniature satellite built by LASP and University of Colorado Boulder students will launch at 5:55 p.m. EST on Thursday from Cape Canaveral, Florida, the start of a six-month-long mission to study solar flares and the powerful X-rays emitted by the sun.

The Miniature X-ray Solar Spectrometer (MinXSS) CubeSat, which was built by students in CU-Boulder’s Department of Aerospace Engineering (AES) in collaboration with LASP researchers, will help shed light on how powerful electromagnetic emissions from the sun impact the Earth’s atmosphere, an effect known as space weather.

AAAS and the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics Announce 2015 Fellows

Nov 24, 2015

Michael King and Cora Randall of the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics, University of Colorado Boulder, have been named Fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). Election as a AAAS Fellow is an honor bestowed upon AAAS members by their peers.

MAVEN Mission Reveals Speed of Solar Wind Stripping Martian Atmosphere

Nov 06, 2015

Scientists involved in NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) mission, which is being led by the LASP team at the University of Colorado Boulder, have identified the process that appears to have played a key role in the transition of the Martian climate from an early, warm and wet environment that might have supported surface life to the cold, arid planet Mars is today.

MAVEN data have enabled researchers to determine the rate at which the Martian atmosphere currently is losing gas to space via stripping by the solar wind. The findings reveal that the erosion of Mars’ atmosphere increases significantly during solar storms. The scientific results from the mission appear in the Nov. 5 issues of the journals Science and Geophysical Research Letters.

LASP director receives prestigious Shen Kuo award

Oct 08, 2015

LASP director Daniel Baker has received the 2015 Shen Kuo Award from the International Association of Geomagnetism and Aeronomy (IAGA), the top award for interdisciplinary achievements given every four years by the organization.

Baker, a University of Colorado Boulder Distinguished Professor, was presented with the award at the 26th General Assembly of the International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics (IUGG) held in Prague in the Czech Republic. IAGA is a constituent organization of IUGG and is dedicated to advancing, promoting and communicating knowledge of the Earth system, its space environment, and the dynamical processes causing change.

Salt flat indicates some of the last vestiges of surface water on Mars, CU-Boulder study finds

Aug 07, 2015

Mars turned cold and dry long ago, but LASP-led research at the University of Colorado Boulder has unveiled evidence of an ancient lake that likely represents some of the last potentially habitable surface water ever to exist on the Red Planet.

The study, published Thursday in the journal Geology, examined an 18-square-mile chloride salt deposit (roughly the size of the city of Boulder) in the planet’s Meridiani region near the Mars Opportunity rover’s landing site. As seen on Earth in locations such as Utah’s Bonneville Salt Flats, large-scale salt deposits are considered to be evidence of evaporated bodies of water.

LASP scientist elected AGU fellow

Jul 29, 2015

In recognition of his accomplishments and exceptional scientific contributions, LASP research associate W.K. (Bill) Peterson has been elected as a fellow of the American Geophysical Union (AGU). Peterson is being recognized by his peers in the scientific community for his outstanding work in Earth and space sciences with an honor that is bestowed upon no more than 0.1% of the AGU membership annually.

Instrument designed by CU Boulder students speeds by Pluto on historic New Horizons mission

Jul 14, 2015

In 1930, an object smaller than our moon was discovered, labeled the ninth planet from the sun, and named Pluto at the suggestion of 11-year-old British girl Venetia Burney. The name was adopted because it was thought to be fitting as Pluto is the Roman God of the Underworld who is able to make himself invisible.

Invisible no longer.

CU Boulder Students, Faculty Primed for July 14 Pluto Encounter

Jul 10, 2015

After a nine-year journey of 3 billion miles, a piano-sized, power-packed NASA spacecraft has an upcoming date with history that some University of Colorado Boulder students, faculty and alumni wouldn’t miss for the world.

MAVEN Results Find Mars Behaving Like a Rock Star

Jun 20, 2015

If planets had personalities, Mars would be a rock star according to recent preliminary results from NASA’s MAVEN spacecraft. Mars sports a “Mohawk” of escaping atmospheric particles at its poles, “wears” a layer of metal particles high in its atmosphere, and lights up with aurora after being smacked by solar storms. MAVEN is also mapping out the escaping atmospheric particles. The early results are being discussed at a MAVEN-sponsored “new media” workshop held in Berkeley, California, on June 19-21.

Moon engulfed in permanent, lopsided dust cloud

Jun 17, 2015

The moon is engulfed in a permanent but lopsided dust cloud that increases in density when annual events like the Geminids spew shooting stars, according to a new study led by LASP scientists at the University of Colorado Boulder.

The cloud is made up primarily of tiny dust grains kicked up from the moon’s surface by the impact of high-speed, interplanetary dust particles, said CU-Boulder physics Professor and LASP research associate Mihály Horányi. A single dust particle from a comet striking the moon’s surface lofts thousands of smaller dust specks into the airless environment, and the lunar cloud is maintained by regular impacts from such particles, said Horányi.

New Horizons in Astronomy

Jun 16, 2015

By Fran Bagenal, CU-Boulder Professor of Astrophysical and Planetary Sciences and New Horizons co-investigator

I admit that I love giving presentations on New Horizons to public audiences. It’s the killer combination of Pluto and space exploration. Everyone digs it. The best are astronomy clubs—just bursting with enthusiasm. And my favorite group of all time is the Rocky Mountain Star Stare (RMSS). Based in Colorado Springs, RMSS meets every year on a piece of land close to the Colorado–New Mexico border that is far from city lights. The trek is worth it—the Milky Way blazes across the sky.And these guys have brought along the most amazing astro-geek equipment.

LASP instrument selected for NASA mission to Europa

May 26, 2015

An instrument to be designed and built at LASP has been selected to fly on a NASA mission to Jupiter’s icy moon, Europa, which is believed to harbor a subsurface ocean that may provide conditions suitable for life.

The LASP instrument, known as the SUrface Dust Mass Analyzer (SUDA), will be used to measure the composition of solid particles released from Europa’s surface due to meteoroid bombardment. The instrument also will be able to measure the properties of small, solid particles believed to be spewing from a hidden ocean within the moon, said University of Colorado Boulder Assistant Professor of Physics, Sascha Kempf, who will serve as principal investigator on the project.

Using a Sounding Rocket to Help Calibrate NASA’s SDO

May 19, 2015

Watching the sun is dangerous work for a telescope. Solar instruments in space naturally degrade over time, bombarded by a constant stream of solar particles that can cause a film of material to adhere to the optics. Decades of research and engineering skill have improved protecting such optics, but one crucial solution is to regularly recalibrate the instruments to accommodate such changes.

In mid-May, the seventh calibration mission for an instrument on NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, or SDO, will launch into space onboard a sounding rocket for a 15-minute flight. The instrument to be calibrated is called EVE, short for the EUV Variability Experiment, where EUV stands for extreme ultraviolet. EVE’s job is to observe the total energy output of the sun in EUV light waves. The calibration mission is scheduled to launch on May 21, 2015, on a Terrier-Black Brant suborbital sounding rocket around 3 pm EDT from White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico.

PRESS RELEASE: United Arab Emirates to partner with CU-Boulder on 2021 Mars mission

May 07, 2015

A mission to study dynamic changes in the atmosphere of Mars over days and seasons led by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) involves the University of Colorado Boulder as the leading U.S. scientific-academic partner.

Known as the Emirates Mars Mission, the project is being designed to observe weather phenomena like Martian clouds and dust storms as well as changes in temperature, water vapor and other and gases throughout the layers of the atmosphere. The CU-Boulder part of the mission will be undertaken at LASP.

The mission will be headquartered at and controlled from the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre in Dubai, which is affiliated with the Emirates Institution for Advanced Science and Technology. According to Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Prime Minister of Dubai, the new Mars probe will be named Hope.

CU-Boulder hitches a ride to space on commercial satellite

Apr 16, 2015

The University of Colorado announced today that it has awarded a five-year contract to SES Government Solutions (SES GS), of Reston, Va., to host a NASA-funded science instrument on board SES-14, a communications satellite to be stationed over the Americas.

The Global-Scale Observations of the Limb and Disk (GOLD) mission, a NASA Explorers mission led from the University of Central Florida and built and operated at the University of Colorado (CU-Boulder), will collaborate with SES GS to place a science instrument on a commercial satellite as a hosted payload. This is the first time a university and a commercial spacecraft operator have teamed to host a NASA science mission. At a cost of roughly 10% of a traditional science satellite, working with a communications satellite represents the most cost-effective way to reach geostationary orbit.

After successful mission to Mercury, spacecraft on a crash course with history

Apr 16, 2015

NASA’s MESSENGER mission to Mercury, carrying an instrument designed and built at LASP, is slated to run out of fuel and crash into the planet in the coming days after a wildly successful, four-year orbiting mission chock-full of discoveries.

The mission began in 2004, when the MESSENGER spacecraft launched from Florida on a 7-year, 4.7 billion mile journey that involved 15 loops around the sun before the spacecraft settled into orbit around Mercury in March 2011. LASP provided the Mercury Atmospheric and Surface Composition Spectrometer (MASCS), which has been successfully making measurements of Mercury’s surface and its tenuous atmosphere, called the exosphere, since orbit insertion.

LASP Director Awarded Sarabhai Professorship and Prize

Apr 02, 2015

LASP Director and University of Colorado Boulder Distinguished Professor, Daniel Baker, was awarded the Vikram A. Sarabhai Professorship and Prize for 2015, which honors internationally distinguished scholars and is named for the founder of India’s space program.

As part of the award, Baker traveled to the Physical Research Laboratory (PRL) in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India, in February to work with scientists and students and give seminars and lectures. His primary research interests include the study of physical and energetic particle phenomena in the plasma of planetary magnetospheres.

PRESS RELEASE: GOLD Approved for Final Design and Fabrication

Mar 31, 2015

The Global-scale Observations of the Limb and Disk (GOLD) mission, part of the NASA Explorers Program, passed a rigorous examination on March 5th at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, enabling the mission to move into the final design and fabrication phase.

LASP cubesat will study the sun in soft X-rays

Mar 24, 2015

At any given moment, our sun emits a range of light waves far more expansive than what our eyes alone can see: from visible light to extreme ultraviolet to soft and hard X-rays. Different wavelengths can have different effects at Earth and, what’s more, when observed and analyzed correctly, those wavelengths can provide scientists with information about events on the sun. In 2012 and 2013, a detector was launched on a sounding rocket for a 15 minute trip to look at a range of sunlight previously not well-observed: soft X-rays.

MAVEN spacecraft detects aurora and mysterious dust cloud around Mars

Mar 18, 2015

NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) spacecraft has observed two unexpected phenomena in the Martian atmosphere: an unexplained high-altitude dust cloud and aurora that reaches deep into the Martian atmosphere.

The presence of dust at orbital altitudes from about 93 miles (150 kilometers) to 190 miles (300 kilometers) above the surface was not predicted. Although the source and composition of the dust are unknown, there is no hazard to MAVEN and other spacecraft orbiting Mars.

MMS launches to study magnetic reconnection

Mar 13, 2015

Following a successful launch at 8:44 p.m. MDT Thursday, NASA’s four Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS) spacecraft are positioned in Earth’s orbit to begin the first space mission dedicated to the study of a phenomenon called magnetic reconnection. This process is thought to be the catalyst for some of the most powerful explosions in our solar system.

The spacecraft, positioned one on top of the other on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V-421 rocket, launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. After reaching orbit, each spacecraft deployed from the rocket’s upper stage sequentially, in five-minute increments, beginning at 10:16 p.m., with the last separation occurring at 10:32 p.m. NASA scientists and engineers were able to confirm the health of all separated spacecraft at 10:40 p.m.

Comprised of four identical, octagonal spacecraft flying in a pyramid formation, the MMS mission is designed to better understand the physical processes of geomagnetic storms, solar flares, and other energetic phenomena throughout the universe.

PRESS RELEASE: Saturn Moon’s Ocean May Have Hydrothermal Activity

Mar 11, 2015

Scientists with NASA’s Cassini mission, led by LASP and University of Colorado postdoctoral researcher, Sean Hsu, have found that microscopic grains of rock detected near Saturn imply hydrothermal activity is taking place within the moon Enceladus.

This is the first clear indication of an icy moon having hydrothermal activity—in which seawater infiltrates and reacts with a rocky crust, emerging as a heated, mineral-laden solution. The finding adds to the tantalizing possibility that Enceladus, which displays remarkable geologic activity including geysers, could contain environments suitable for living organisms.

The results were published today in the journal Nature.

LASP brings New Horizons science to rural Colorado communities

Mar 04, 2015

After a decade-long voyage through the solar system, NASA’s New Horizons mission is scheduled to fly by Pluto in July 2015, carrying with it the LASP-built Student Dust Counter (SDC). The New Horizons mission also involves LASP scientists and CU-Boulder students, who await data from the unprecedented approach and close encounter of the dwarf planet and its five known moons.

In preparation for the July encounter, LASP Office of Communications and Outreach staff recently traveled to two rural Colorado communities and delivered Pluto-related programming to students and their families. Accompanying them was Fran Bagenal, LASP planetary scientist, CU-Boulder professor of astrophysical and planetary sciences, and New Horizons mission co-investigator. Bagenal served as the New Horizons and Pluto science expert during the school visits and gave public presentations to both communities.

CU-Boulder students to help control instruments on MMS from LASP

Mar 04, 2015

LASP will serve as the Science Operations Center for a NASA mission launching this month to better understand the physical processes of geomagnetic storms, solar flares and other energetic phenomena throughout the universe.

The $1.1 billion Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS) mission will be comprised of four identical, octagonal spacecraft flying in a pyramid formation, each carrying 25 instruments. The goal is to study in detail magnetic reconnection, the primary process by which energy is transferred from the solar wind to Earth’s protective magnetic space environment known as the magnetosphere, said LASP Director Daniel Baker, Science Operations Center (SOC) lead scientist for MMS.

MMS Prepared for Launch to Study Earth’s Dynamic Magnetic Space Environment

Feb 27, 2015

Final preparations are underway for the launch of NASA’s quartet of Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS) spacecraft, which constitute the first space mission dedicated to the study of magnetic reconnection. This fundamental process occurs throughout the universe where magnetic fields connect and disconnect with an explosive release of energy.

The launch of MMS, on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket, is scheduled for 8:44 p.m. MDT on Thursday, March 12 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.