Science fiction writers have long featured terraforming, the process of creating an Earth-like or habitable environment on another planet, in their stories. Scientists themselves have proposed terraforming to enable the long-term colonization of Mars. A solution common to both groups is to release carbon dioxide gas trapped in the Martian surface to thicken the atmosphere and act as a blanket to warm the planet.
However, Mars does not retain enough carbon dioxide that could practically be put back into the atmosphere to warm Mars, according to a NASA-sponsored study led by LASP Associate Director for Science Bruce Jakosky. Transforming the inhospitable Martian environment into a place astronauts could explore without life support is not possible without technology well beyond today’s capabilities.
New data collected from the Cassini spacecraft have revealed complex organic molecules originating from Saturn’s icy moon Enceladus, strengthening the idea that this ocean world hosts conditions suitable for life.
LASP research scientists Sascha Kempf and Sean Hsu co-authored a new study, published in Nature, based on the data.
Very little was known about Enceladus prior to 2005—the year when Cassini first flew by. Since then, it has become a continuous source of surprises, with secrets still being revealed even now, after the end of the mission.
A LASP instrument package designed to help scientists better understand potentially damaging space weather launched successfully aboard a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) satellite on Thursday, March 1, 2018.
Built at LASP, the instrument suite known as the Extreme Ultraviolet and X-ray Irradiance Sensors (EXIS) is the second of four identical packages that will fly on NOAA’s next-generation Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites-R Series (GOES-R). As part of the NOAA weather forecasting satellite series, EXIS measures energy output from the Sun that can affect satellite operations, telecommunications, GPS navigation, and power grids on Earth.
NASA’s Global-scale Observations of the Limb and Disk, or GOLD, instrument has successfully completed environmental testing at Airbus in Toulouse, France, in preparation for its groundbreaking mission to observe the nearest reaches of space. Scheduled for launch in late January 2018, GOLD will measure densities and temperatures in Earth’s thermosphere and ionosphere.
GOLD is a NASA Mission of Opportunity that will fly an ultraviolet imaging spectrograph on the SES-14 geostationary commercial communications satellite, built by Airbus for SES. The two-channel imaging spectrograph—designed and built at LASP—will explore the boundary between Earth and space, a dynamic area of near-Earth space that responds both to space weather from above and to weather in the atmosphere from below.
LASP planetary scientist Larry Esposito has been eying the fabulous rings of Saturn for much of his career, beginning as a team scientist on NASA’s Pioneer 11 mission when he discovered the planet’s faint F ring in 1979.
He followed that up with observations of Jupiter’s and Saturn’s rings from the Voyager and Galileo spacecraft, which carried instruments designed and built at LASP. Now, as the principal investigator for the Ultraviolet Imaging Spectrograph (UVIS) on the Cassini-Huygens mission to Saturn, Esposito and his Cassini colleagues are feeling a bit somber as the mission nears its end. The spacecraft has run out of fuel and will disintegrate in Saturn’s dense atmosphere early on the morning of Sept. 15.
Deep in space between distant stars, space is not empty. Instead, there drifts vast clouds of neutral atoms and molecules, as well as charged plasma particles called the interstellar medium—that may, over millions of years, evolve into new stars and even planets. These floating interstellar reservoirs are the focus of the NASA-funded CHESS sounding rocket mission, which will check out the earliest stages of star formation.
CHESS—short for the Colorado High-resolution Echelle Stellar Spectrograph—is a sounding rocket payload that will fly on a Black Brant IX suborbital sounding rocket late in the night on June 26, 2017. CHESS measures light filtering through the interstellar medium to study the atoms and molecules within, which provides crucial information for understanding the lifecycle of stars.
NASA’s MAVEN mission to Mars led by LASP and the University of Colorado Boulder will hit a happy milestone on Saturday, June 17: 1,000 days of orbiting the Red Planet.
Since its launch in November 2013 and its orbit insertion in September 2014, the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution Mission (MAVEN) has been exploring the upper atmosphere of Mars, said LASP associate director and CU Boulder Professor Bruce Jakosky, principal investigator of the mission. MAVEN is bringing insight into how the sun stripped Mars of most of its atmosphere, turning a planet once possibly habitable to microbial life into a barren desert world.
Humans have long been shaping Earth’s landscape, but now scientists know we can shape our near-space environment as well. A certain type of communications—very low frequency, or VLF, radio communications—have been found to interact with particles in space, affecting how and where they move. At times, these interactions can create a barrier around Earth against natural high energy particle radiation in space. These results, part of a comprehensive paper on human-induced space weather, were recently published in Space Science Reviews.
“Our recent work with the LASP Van Allen Probes instruments has shown compelling evidence that the radiation belts are quite subject to human-made waves emanating from ground-based radio transmitters. Thus, humans have not only been affecting the oceans and atmosphere of Earth, but have also been affecting near-Earth space,” said Dan Baker, LASP director and co-author of the paper.
A LASP-built instrument that will provide unprecedented imaging of the Earth’s upper atmosphere has been successfully installed on the commercial satellite that will carry it into geostationary orbit some 22,000 miles above the Earth.
The Global-scale Observations of the Limb and Disk (GOLD) mission, led by the University of Central Florida (UCF) and built and operated by LASP, features a collaboration with satellite owner-operator SES Government Solutions (SES GS) to place an ultraviolet instrument as a hosted payload on a commercial satellite.
Toting an ultraviolet instrument designed and built by LASP, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft made the first of 22 dives between the rings of Saturn and the gaseous planet today, the beginning of the end for one of NASA’s most successful missions ever.
Launched in 1997 and pulling up at Saturn in 2004 for the first of hundreds of orbits through the Jovian system, the Cassini-Huygens mission has fostered scores of dazzling discoveries. These include in-depth studies that date and even weigh the astonishing rings; the discovery of methane lakes on the icy moon Titan; hot water plumes found squirting from the moon Enceladus; and closeup views of the bright auroras at the planet’s poles.
University of Colorado Boulder students and LASP professionals will operate an upcoming NASA mission that will investigate the mysterious aspects of some of the most extreme and exotic astronomical objects like stellar and supermassive black holes, neutron stars and pulsars.
Objects such as black holes can heat surrounding gases to more than a million degrees, causing high-energy emissions in the X-ray portion of the electromagnetic spectrum. The high-energy X-ray radiation from this gas can be polarized, which causes it to vibrate in a particular direction.
The NASA Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE) mission will fly three space telescopes with cameras capable of measuring the polarization of cosmic X-rays, allowing astronomers to answer fundamental questions about such turbulent environments.
A multimillion dollar CU-Boulder/LASP instrument package expected to help scientists better understand potentially damaging space weather is now slated to launch aboard a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration satellite on Saturday, Nov. 19.
Designed and built at LASP, the instrument suite known as the Extreme Ultraviolet and X-ray Irradiance Sensors (EXIS) is the first of four identical packages that will fly on four NOAA weather satellites in the coming decade. EXIS will measure energy output from the sun that can affect satellite operations, telecommunications, GPS navigation and power grids on Earth as part of NOAA’s next-generation Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites-R Series (GOES-R).
Today, the LASP-led MAVEN mission has completed one Mars year of science observations. One Mars year is just under two Earth years.
The Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) spacecraft launched on Nov. 18, 2013, and went into orbit around Mars on Sept. 21, 2014. During its time at Mars, MAVEN has answered many questions about the Red Planet.
A bread loaf-sized satellite, designed and built by University of Colorado students, has been collecting data since its deployment from the International Space Station on May 16 and is providing observations of the sun at unprecedented wavelengths and resolution.
The Miniature X-ray Solar Spectrometer (MinXSS)—a 30cm x 10cm x 10 cm, 3-unit satellite—is the first ever science CubeSat launched for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate and has already met its minimum mission science criteria for data and observations.
A group of LASP scientists and students are anxiously awaiting the arrival of NASA’s Juno spacecraft at Jupiter July 4, a mission expected to reveal the hidden interior of the gas giant as well as keys to how our solar system formed.
Launched in 2011, the spacecraft is slated to orbit Jupiter’s poles 37 times roughly 3,000 miles (4,828 kilometers) above its cloud tops to better understand the origin and evolution of the largest planet in the solar system. Scientists hope to determine if Jupiter has a solid core, measure the planet’s magnetic fields, hunt for water vapor and observe the polar auroras.
Three planetary scientists from LASP and five University of Colorado Boulder (CU-Boulder) students are part of the Juno mission.
A team of LASP scientists, led by University of Colorado physics professor Mihály Horányi, has conducted laboratory experiments that may bring closure to a long-standing issue of electrostatic dust transport, explaining a variety of unusual phenomena on the surfaces of airless planetary bodies, including observations from the Apollo era and the recent Rosetta mission to Comet 67P.
Satellites provide data daily on our own planet, our sun and the universe around us. The instruments on these spacecraft are constantly bombarded with solar particles and intense light, not to mention the normal wear and tear from operating in space.
If it were a car that’s a few years old, you would take it to the mechanic for a tune-up to make sure it continues running smoothly. However, with a spacecraft it’s not that easy. Thus, scientists may turn to calibration flights to make sure the instruments are kept up to snuff and providing validated data.
One such flight will be the Extreme UltraViolet (EUV) Variability Experiment, or EVE, from the University of Colorado, Boulder, to observe the sun from a NASA Black Brant IX sounding rocket at 3:02 p.m. EDT May 25 at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.
The bread loaf-sized Miniature X-Ray Solar Spectrometer (MinXSS) CubeSat will be deployed from an airlock on the International Space Station (ISS) at 4 a.m. MDT on Monday, May 16, beginning its journey into space where it will study emissions from the sun that can affect ground-based communications systems.
The NASA-funded MinXSS, designed, built, and operated by University of Colorado Boulder students and faculty at LASP and CU-Boulder’s Aerospace Engineering Sciences Department (AES), will operate in Earth’s orbit for up to 12 months. The CubeSat will be deployed from the ISS via a special deployer designed by NanoRacks, LLC.
The MinXSS will observe soft X-rays from the sun, which can disrupt Earth’s upper atmosphere and hamper radio and GPS signals traveling through the region. The intensity of the soft x-ray emissions emitted from the sun is continuously changing over a large range—with peak emission levels occurring during large eruptions on the sun called solar flares.
Planetary scientists are a step closer to understanding changes in the puzzling jets of gas and dust grains observed shooting into space from cracks on the icy surface of Enceladus, a moon of Saturn.
First observed in 2005 by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft as it orbited the ringed planet, the plume is coming from a subterranean, salty ocean beneath the moon’s surface. The latest observations with NASA’s Cassini spacecraft now at Saturn by a team including Larry Esposito, LASP planetary scientist and University of Colorado Boulder professor, indicate at least some of the narrow jets there blast with increased fury when the moon is farther from Saturn.
NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has detected the faint but distinct signature of dust coming from beyond our solar system. The research, led by a team that includes scientists at the University of Colorado and LASP, will be published in the journal Science on Friday, April 15, 2016.
Cassini has been in orbit around Saturn since 2004, studying the giant planet, its rings, and its moons. The spacecraft has also sampled millions of ice-rich dust grains with its Cosmic Dust Analyzer (CDA) instrument. LASP research scientists Sascha Kempf, Sean Hsu, and Eberhard Grün are all co-investigators for the Cassini CDA instrument and co-authors of the paper.
A LASP-led and University of Colorado Boulder student-built instrument riding on NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft found only a handful of dust grains, the building blocks of planets, when it whipped by Pluto at 31,000 miles per hour last July.
Data downloaded and analyzed by the New Horizons team indicated the space environment around Pluto and its moons contained only about six dust particles per cubic mile, said LASP planetary scientist and CU-Boulder Professor Fran Bagenal, who leads the New Horizons Particles and Plasma Team.
“The bottom line is that space is mostly empty,” said Bagenal. “Any debris created when Pluto’s moons were captured or created during impacts has long since been removed by planetary processes.”
LASP Director, Dan Baker, has been elected Fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) for its class of 2016. AIAA Fellows are elected based on their notable and valuable contributions to the arts, sciences or technology of aeronautics and astronautics.
In addition to his role as LASP director, Baker is a faculty member in the departments of Physics and Astrophysical and Planetary Sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder. Baker, who chaired the National Research Council’s 2012 Decadal Survey for Solar and Space Physics, is currently involved in a number of NASA missions, including the MAVEN mission to Mars, the Van Allen Probes mission, and the Magnetospheric Multiscale mission.
AIAA is the largest aerospace professional society in the world, serving a diverse range of more than 30,000 individual members from 88 countries, and 95 corporate members. The induction ceremony for the new Fellows will take place at the AIAA Aerospace Spotlight Awards Gala on June 15, 2016 at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center in Washington, D.C.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
When NASA’s napping New Horizon’s spacecraft awakens later this week in preparation for its July 2015 encounter with Pluto, a University of Colorado Boulder student instrument onboard already will have been up for years.
The instrument, the Student Dust Counter (SDC), was designed and built to detect dust both on the interplanetary journey to Pluto and beyond, said CU-Boulder physics Professor and LASP research scientist Mihaly Horanyi, principal investigator on the effort. The SDC has been on for most of the mission—even as the other instruments primarily napped—measuring dust grains that are the building blocks of the solar system’s planets, he said.
Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP) Director, Dan Baker, was appointed a University of Colorado Distinguished Professor at a Board of Regents meeting on November 20th. Baker is one of six faculty members within the four university campuses to receive the award this year and takes a place among the 79 faculty members who have earned this distinction since its inception in 1977. Nominations for the award were made by a committee of current Distinguished Professors, reviewed by university president, Bruce Benson, and voted for approval by the Board of Regents.
Selection criteria are based on outstanding contributions of university faculty members to their academic disciplines, including creativity and research, teaching or supervision of student learning, and service to the university and affiliated institutions. Baker, director of LASP for two decades, was recognized for his leadership in the space science community and influence on space policy at the federal level. Baker was also lauded for enabling hundreds of undergraduate and graduate students to conduct authentic research at the lab.
Two NASA and one European spacecraft, including NASA’s MAVEN mission—led by LASP—have gathered new information about the basic properties of a wayward comet that buzzed by Mars Oct. 19, directly detecting its effects on the Martian atmosphere.
Data from observations carried out by MAVEN, NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) and the European Space Agency’s Mars Express spacecraft revealed that debris from the comet, known officially as Comet C/2013 A1 Siding Spring, caused an intense meteor shower and added a new layer of ions, or charged particles, to the ionosphere. The ionosphere is an electrically charged region in the atmosphere that reaches from about 75 miles (120 kilometers) to several hundred miles above the Martian surface.
Using the observations, scientists were able to make a direct connection between the input of debris from the meteor shower to the subsequent formation of the transient layer of ions—the first time such an event has been observed on any planet, including Earth, said the MAVEN research team.
NASA’s MAVEN spacecraft has provided scientists their first look at a storm of energetic solar particles at Mars and produced unprecedented ultraviolet images of the tenuous oxygen, hydrogen and carbon coronas surrounding the Red Planet, said LASP Associate Director for Science and University of Colorado Boulder Professor Bruce Jakosky, the mission’s principal investigator.
In addition, the new observations allowed scientists to make a comprehensive map of highly variable ozone in the Martian atmosphere underlying the coronas, he said. The spacecraft entered Mars’ orbit Sept. 21 and is in the process of lowering its orbit and testing its instruments. The $671 million Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN mission, or MAVEN, was launched toward Mars on Nov. 18, 2013, to help solve the mystery of how the Red Planet lost most of its atmosphere.
A NASA mission to Mars led by LASP is set to slide into orbit around the red planet on Sept. 21 to investigate how its climate has changed over the eons, completing a 10-month interplanetary journey of 442 million miles.
The orbit-insertion maneuver will begin with six thruster engines firing to shed some of the velocity from the spacecraft, known as the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN, or MAVEN mission. The thruster engines will ignite and burn for 33 minutes to slow the spacecraft, allowing it to be captured into an elliptical orbit around Mars.
A NASA-funded miniature satellite built by University of Colorado Boulder students to scrutinize solar flares erupting from the sun’s surface is the latest example of the university’s commitment to advancing aerospace technology and space science through strong partnerships with industry and government.
The $1 million Miniature X-ray Solar Spectrometer (MinXSS), led by CU-Boulder faculty in the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics and the Department of Aerospace Engineering Sciences, recently was selected by NASA for launch in January 2015 from the International Space Station.
Based on a recommendation from NASA’s 2014 Senior Review of its operating missions, the planet hunting Kepler space telescope has received a two-year extension to operate in a new two-wheel mode.
The approval allows the K2 mission to continue exoplanet discovery using two of its four original reaction wheels, and introduces new scientific observation opportunities to observe notable star clusters, young and old stars, active galaxies and supernovae.
A new study led by LASP research scientist Stuart Robbins indicates that volunteer “citizen scientists” counted lunar craters at rates comparable to professional scientists. Using images from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, volunteers for CosmoQuest, which contributes real science data to NASA missions, analyzed the high-resolution photos of the Moon for impact craters. Robbins and his co-authors then compared the volunteers’ results to those of eight professional planetary crater-counters.