Category:2019

An India-Pakistan nuclear war could kill millions, threaten global starvation

Oct 02, 2019

A nuclear war between India and Pakistan could, over the span of less than a week, kill 50-125 million people—more than the death toll during all six years of World War II, according to new research.

A new study conducted by researchers from CU Boulder and Rutgers University examines how such a hypothetical future conflict would have consequences that could ripple across the globe. Today, India and Pakistan each have about 150 nuclear warheads at their disposal, and that number is expected to climb to more than 200 by 2025.

The picture is grim. That level of warfare wouldn’t just kill millions of people locally, said LASP atmospheric scientist Brian Toon, who led the research published today in the journal Science Advances. It might also plunge the entire planet into a severe cold spell, possibly with temperatures not seen since the last Ice Age.

Think Saturn’s rings are old? Not so fast

Sep 16, 2019

A team of researchers has reignited the debate about the age of Saturn’s rings with a study that dates the rings as most likely to have formed early in the solar system.

In a paper published today in Nature Astronomy and presented at the EPSC-DPS Joint Meeting 2019 in Geneva, the authors, including LASP research associate, Sean Hsu, suggest that processes that preferentially eject dusty and organic material out of Saturn’s rings could make the rings look much younger than they actually are.

Volcanic eruption may explain recent purple sunrises

Sep 12, 2019

Early one morning in late August 2019, Colorado photographer Glenn Randall hiked several miles to a stream flowing into Lake Isabelle in the Indian Peaks Wilderness. He set up his camera near the stream and began photographing about 20 minutes before sunrise when a golden glow developed at the horizon. It wasn’t until Randall was back at home, however, that he noticed something odd: The sky above the golden glow and its reflection in the water were both a deep violet.

He’s not alone. Photographers across the country have noticed that sunrises and sunsets have become unusually purple this summer and early fall.

Now, LASP researchers have collected new measurements that help to reveal the cause of those colorful displays: an eruption that occurred thousands of miles away on a Russian volcano called Raikoke.

LASP scientists and teams receive NASA achievement medals

Sep 05, 2019

LASP scientists Robert Ergun and Richard Eastes have been recognized by NASA for their enduring contributions to their respective fields in recent ceremonies at the agency’s Goddard Spaceflight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

Ergun, also a professor in the CU Boulder Astrophysical and Planetary Sciences Department, was awarded the NASA Distinguished Public Service Medal for designing and building innovative electric field instruments for many NASA flight missions, including the MAVEN Mars mission and the Parker Solar Probe, currently making record-breaking close-in orbits of the Sun. The Distinguished Public Service Medal is NASA’s highest form of recognition awarded to a non-government individual whose service, ability, or vision has personally contributed to NASA’s advancement of the U.S.’s interests.

Eastes, who currently serves as the principal investigator for the LASP-built GOLD instrument, was recognized with the NASA Exceptional Public Service Medal for his work on GOLD and a career devoted to better understanding the complex dynamics of the Earth’s near-space boundary. The Exceptional Public Service Medal is awarded to a non-government individual for sustained performance that embodies multiple contributions on NASA projects, programs, or initiatives.

GOLD reveals unexpected changes in Earth’s nighttime ionosphere

Aug 13, 2019

NASA’s Global-scale Observations of the Limb and Disk (GOLD) mission has observed dramatic and unexplained shifts in the location of features in the Earth’s ionosphere surrounding the equator. Unanticipated changes in the nighttime ionosphere can lead to disruptions in communication and navigation that depend on satellites, such as GPS.

GOLD is an ultraviolet imaging spectrograph that was designed and built at LASP and is hosted on the SES-14 communications satellite. The latest discoveries from the mission are challenging mission scientists and were published last week in Geophysical Research Letters.

Since reaching orbit in October 2018, GOLD has been making observations of the Equatorial Ionization Anomaly (EIA), regions of the ionosphere with enhanced electron density north and south of the magnetic equator. One of the primary goals of the mission is to better understand the behavior of the EIA and the instabilities within it. GOLD presents a new ability to image the variability of ionospheric plasma and, ultimately, to understand its causes.

Planetary scientist honored for his cosmic perspective

Jul 24, 2019

For Nick Schneider, teaching isn’t just something that he has to do—it’s his passion. And one that’s being recognized by the Astronomical Society of the Pacific (ASP) with this year’s Richard H. Emmons award.

This award, which recognizes extraordinary teaching in astronomy, is the only such award given at the national level, and Schneider is the first recipient to focus on planetary science, rather than astrophysics, since the award’s inception in 2006.

An infrared close up of the moon

Jul 02, 2019

A first-of-its-kind camera developed in partnership between CU Boulder and Ball Aerospace will soon be landing on the moon.

NASA announced today that it has selected a scientific instrument, called the Lunar Compact Infrared Imaging System (L-CIRiS), for its Commercial Lunar Payload Services program. The camera will ride along with one of three robotic landers that will touch down on the lunar surface in the next several years—a key step in NASA’s goal of sending people back to the moon by 2024.

LASP planetary scientist Paul Hayne, who is leading the development of the instrument, said that the goal is to collect better maps of the lunar surface to understand how it formed and its geologic history. L-CIRiS will use infrared technology to map the temperatures of the shadows and boulders that dot the lunar surface in greater detail than any images to date.

NASA selects LASP-led IMPACT center to conduct dust-related research

Jul 01, 2019

NASA has selected eight teams to collaborate on research into the intersection of space science and human space exploration as part of the Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute (SSERVI). Among the teams is the CU Boulder and LASP-led Institute for Modeling Plasmas, Atmospheres, and Cosmic Dust (IMPACT).

The IMPACT center, led by LASP scientist and CU Boulder professor of physics, Mihály Horányi, is an international collaboration that includes partners from the CU Boulder departments of physics and aerospace engineering sciences, LASP, and the Colorado School of Mines. The focus of IMPACT center research is the dusty plasma environments around the moon and other airless bodies in the solar system.

Meteors help Martian clouds form

Jun 18, 2019

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.

Rare “superflares” could one day threaten Earth

Jun 17, 2019

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.

MAVEN sets its sights beyond Mars

Apr 29, 2019

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.

From concept to satellite instrument in three months

Apr 12, 2019

In the wake of an unfortunate event, two University of Colorado Boulder (CU) graduate students have accomplished a remarkable feat in space science: they’ve designed and built a new satellite instrument in less than three months.

Bennet Schwab, a graduate student in the Department of Aerospace Engineering Sciences, and Robert Sewell, a graduate student in the Department of Physics, have been on an emotional roller coaster ride over the past few months. One extended peak in that ride came during the preparation and launch of the NASA Miniature X-ray Solar Spectrometer, or MinXSS-2, CubeSat on December 3, 2018, and the subsequent successful observations of X-rays from the Sun. This initial success was soon followed by a setback, when there was a loss of communication with the CubeSat on January 7, 2019.

When deep space calls, students answer

Feb 06, 2019

In one of the spacecraft operations centers inside LASP’s Space Technology Building, a woman’s calm voice pipes in over a speaker:

“Loss of signal, MMS-4,” the voice reports.

The room looks like a smaller version of the NASA flight control centers that show up in every space movie. The announcement is a routine cue that one of the four spacecraft that make up the Magnetospheric MultiScale (MMS) mission has finished its latest round of transmitting data back to Earth.

Often the first person to hear such alerts isn’t a grizzled mission control veteran, but rather a CU Boulder student. That’s because LASP employs student “command controllers” to help operate the space missions under its supervision.

New Horizons goes beyond the known world

Jan 07, 2019

LASP scientists spent the first hours of 2019 in a Maryland operations center watching NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft shoot past a minor planet more than 4 billion miles from Earth—the farthest object that any spacecraft has ever explored.

That icy object, an elongated body about 19 miles tall, is called 2014 MU69 or Ultima Thule, a Latin phrase that means “beyond the known world.”

CU Boulder researchers and students are playing an important role in this brush with the unknown, which took place on Jan. 1. As New Horizons zips through the outermost regions of our solar system, it will collect and analyze specks of dust using an instrument designed by students at LASP.