Category:News

LASP planetary scientist and diversity advocate Fran Bagenal inducted into the National Academy of Sciences

May 17, 2022

Fran Bagenal, a senior research scientist at the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP) at the University of Colorado Boulder and professor emeritus of the university’s Astrophysical and Planetary Sciences Department, has been inducted into the U.S. National Academy of Sciences (NAS). 

LASP-led mission to continue crucial climate record passes major milestone

May 12, 2022

Libera, a new NASA mission to measure Earth’s outgoing radiative energy, has passed a major milestone. It has successfully completed Key Decision Point C, one of several links in the chain of go/no go decisions that the space agency makes for every major mission.

CU Boulder receives NASA grant to develop new technology to monitor space weather effects

May 09, 2022

LASP and Aerospace Engineering researchers will use the funds to advance their concept of a futuristic swarm of satellites to shed new light on how the solar wind affects Earth’s upper atmosphere. A team from the University of Colorado (CU) Boulder has been awarded a prestigious research grant to study a futuristic space-technology concept. Marcin… Read more »

LASP helps host U.S. House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology members

May 04, 2022

This week the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP) at the University of Colorado (CU) Boulder welcomed members of the U.S. House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology along with Colorado’s congressional delegation to our institute. Their visit showcased LASP’s transformational research and innovative engineering solutions resulting from federal partnerships with NASA, NOAA, NSF,… Read more »

LASP instrument selected for the next NASA ‘Living With a Star’ mission

Apr 27, 2022

The spacecraft constellation will make the first global measurements of the coupling between the magnetosphere and the Earth’s upper atmosphere. The results will help detect and predict extreme conditions in space that can impact society and future exploration. An instrument to be jointly designed and built at the University of Colorado Boulder (CU Boulder) and… Read more »

10 ways LASP is a leader in Earth and climate science

Apr 22, 2022

The Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP) is renowned for being the world’s only academic research institute to explore every planet in our solar system (and beyond). But the planet that we study most closely is actually our home planet! About one-third of LASP’s current $1 billion research portfolio relates to studying Earth’s atmosphere… Read more »

LASP’s Hybrid Solar Reference Spectrum named new international standard for climate research

Apr 20, 2022

Earth’s primary source of energy is incoming radiation from our Sun. This “income” side of our planet’s energy budget sets the baseline for determining how quickly Earth is warming. When combined with measurements of the total amount of energy that’s emitted and reflected from our planet back into space, this information allows scientists to calculate… Read more »

CU’s LASP to lead operations for new NASA mission to ‘find asteroids before they find us’

Apr 11, 2022

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California has selected the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP) to lead the operations for NEO Surveyor, a space-based telescope that will use infrared bands to detect, track, and characterize Near Earth Objects (NEOs)—asteroids and comets that come within 48 million kilometers (30 million miles) of Earth’s orbit.

A leader in aerospace: CU innovation to be highlighted at the 37th Space Symposium

Apr 04, 2022

Colorado is at the forefront of America’s aerospace industry, and the University of Colorado plays a fundamental role in ensuring the state remains there. Representatives from LASP and other university affiliates are representing CU at the international meeting hosted in Colorado Springs this week.

‘Go for launch’—the next GOES satellite to include instrument built at CU Boulder

Feb 25, 2022

The GOES satellite, scheduled to launch on March 1, will carry a state-of-the-art solar monitor built at the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at CU Boulder to protect our national technology assets from space weather hazards.

NASA’s IXPE Sends First Science Image

Feb 14, 2022

In time for Valentine’s Day, NASA’s IXPE (Imaging X-Ray Polarimetry Explorer), which launched Dec. 9, 2021, has sent down its first science image to its mission operations center located at the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP) at the University of Colorado Boulder.

LASP and NSO researcher Adam Kowalski awarded early career 2022 Karen Harvey Prize

Feb 02, 2022

Dr. Adam Kowalski is the 2022 recipient of the Karen Harvey Prize awarded by the American Astronomical Society’s Solar Physics Division (AAS/SPD). This honor recognizes Dr. Kowalski’s early career contributions to the study of the Sun.

LASP scientists investigate life in volcanic habitats for clues to habitability on Mars

Jan 28, 2022

A new publication in Frontiers in Astronomy and Space Science led by Justin Wang, a graduate student at the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado Boulder, illustrates how life finds a way in one of the most hostile habitats on Earth, the hydrothermal crater lake of the Poás volcano in Costa Rica. These conditions are similar to those of Mars’ early history, giving clues to the possibly habitability of the planet.

LASP researcher and Atmospheric Sciences professor Brian Toon elected AAAS Fellow

Jan 26, 2022

Brian Toon, a researcher at the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP) at the University of Colorado Boulder, has been elected a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

NASA awards $14 million to CU-LASP for two new CubeSat missions

Dec 14, 2021

Two new CubeSats, to be built by the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP) at the University of Colorado Boulder, will provide first-of-their-kind measurements of gravity waves in Earth’s upper atmosphere and explosions in the Sun’s corona.

Mysterious STEVE light emissions emanate from Earth’s magnetosphere

Dec 12, 2021

For years, amateur aurora watchers from Canada have noticed mysterious streaks of pale purple and green light that seemed to dance across the nighttime sky. But it wasn’t until 2016 that they shared their colorful images with scientists, who soon identified the lightshow as a new type of upper-atmosphere phenomenon that was jokingly named STEVE.

Scientists envision what Mars would look like as an exoplanet

Dec 12, 2021

Which planets beyond our solar system are most likely to host life? By extrapolating the current scientific understanding of Mars, a multi-disciplinary team, including researchers from LASP, are helping to identify alien planets that may be habitable.

Mapping the three-dimensional paths of electromagnetic waves from outer space to the ground

Dec 08, 2021

Scientists have long known that electromagnetic waves help control the near-Earth space environment through aurora and the Van Allen Belts. Now an international research group has combined multiple simultaneous observations of one type of electromagnetic waves to produce a 3D image of how these waves propagate from space to the ground.

NASA to fund LASP’s new OWLS instrument

Dec 07, 2021

NASA has funded a new LASP instrument package, the Occultation Wave Limb Sounder (OWLS), which will fly in 2024 on the International Satellite Program in Research and Education (INSPIRESat-3) satellite.

LASP students, staff are ready to operate NASA’s new IXPE mission to study black holes

Dec 06, 2021

After years of preparation, LASP’s mission operations team, comprised of students and professionals, will assume control of NASA’s IXPE mission shortly after it launches from Cape Canaveral on Wednesday December 8th at 11:00pm MST.

Celebrating CU’s Bruce Jakosky and his dedication to the MAVEN mission to Mars

Dec 02, 2021

The word “maven” means an expert or connoisseur, an appellation that also appropriately describes Bruce Jakosky and his knowledge of—and affinity for—the planet Mars. He has dedicated the last 18 years to making the MAVEN mission to Mars a success. This year, Jakosky decided to step down as the mission’s principal investigator to focus more of his time on scientific research.

LASP-led research shows how hypervelocity dust impacts can affect a spacecraft and its operations

Nov 08, 2021

The Parker Solar Probe spacecraft, NASA’s newest and most ambitious effort to study the Sun, has broken a lot of records: it has gotten closer to the Sun than any other spacecraft to date, its instruments have operated at the hottest temperatures, and the probe is the fastest human-made object ever. But those records come at a cost: The spacecraft is moving so fast that running into even a tiny grain of dust can lead to serious damage.

NASA selects UC Berkeley – Compton Spectrometer and Imager for next Explorers Program mission

Oct 18, 2021

NASA announced today that the next mission in its Explorers Program will be a spacecraft that studies cosmic explosions and their elemental debris. The space agency selected the Compton Spectrometer and Imager (COSI), to be built at the University of California Berkeley, in place of the University of Colorado’s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP) concept, ESCAPE.

LASP: ‘Boldly going’ where no space science research institute has gone before

Oct 13, 2021

When William Shatner, the actor who played the series’ swashbuckling Captain James T. Kirk, takes his seat on a space tourism flight this week, it will highlight the real-world technological advances that have occurred since 1966. LASP has played a staring role in the development of some of the latest technologies in space research.

United Arab Emirates and LASP announce new mission to explore the asteroid belt

Oct 06, 2021

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) Space Agency is embarking on a new space mission in collaboration with the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP) at the University of Colorado Boulder. The mission will build on the success of the UAE’s ongoing Emirates Mars Mission to visit a much more ambitious target: the asteroid belt.

LASP researcher and Aerospace Engineering professor Xinlin Li elected a 2021 AGU Fellow

Sep 30, 2021

Xinlin Li, a researcher at the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP) and a professor in the Department of Aerospace Engineering Sciences (AES) at the University of Colorado Boulder, has been elected a Fellow of the American Geophysical Union (AGU).

CUTE, LASP’s latest cereal box-sized spacecraft, to study ‘Hot Jupiter’ exoplanets

Sep 23, 2021

The CUTE smallsat designed and built by LASP researchers and engineers is slated to launch Sept. 27th as a rideshare on the NASA/USGS Landsat 9 mission.

LASP researchers led by undergraduate discover river of dust around the sun from Parker Solar Probe

Sep 09, 2021

A research team from the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics and led by former undergraduate student Anna Pusack discovered a dusty mystery in a newly explored region around Earth’s Sun.

NASA’s MAVEN mission begins a new chapter with a new leader

Sep 09, 2021

Dr. Shannon Curry, a planetary scientist and the Deputy Assistant Director of Planetary Science at the Space Sciences Laboratory (SSL) at the University of California, Berkeley, has assumed leadership of NASA’s MAVEN mission.

LASP rocket flight to sharpen NASA’s study of the Sun

Sep 07, 2021

The SDO/EVE rocket launch window opens at 11:25am MDT on Sept. 9th, 2021 at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. The measurements will provide necessary instrument calibrations for NASA’s study of the Sun.

LASP and CU showcase expertise at the 36th Space Symposium

Aug 27, 2021

This week leaders from the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP) and other University of Colorado (CU) affiliates participated in the 36th Space Symposium.

LASP researcher Scott Piggott named AIAA Professional Engineer of the Year

Aug 17, 2021

The Rocky Mountain Section of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, the world’s largest aerospace technical society, has selected researcher Scott Piggott as its 2020–2021 Professional Engineer of the Year.

Dust storms on Mars play a huge role in drying out the planet

Aug 16, 2021

A new Nature Astronomy study led by Michael Chaffin, a researcher at the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP) at the University of Colorado Boulder, indicates that regional dust storms can play a significant role in drying out the Red Planet.

Branson vs. Bezos: who wins the race depends on your definition of outer space

Jul 19, 2021

The lack of a uniform definition of where space begins has scientific and engineering implications that extend well beyond which billionaire gets there first.

Hope Probe captures new images of Mars with the Emirates Ultraviolet Spectrometer

Mar 09, 2021

The Emirates Ultraviolet Spectrometer (EMUS) took its first science images on February 20th, 2021, providing information on the composition of Mars’ upper atmosphere.

Decades of Mars research by CU faculty and students lays the groundwork for human astronauts

Mar 05, 2021

2021 is a good year to be a Mars researcher like Bruce Jakosky at the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP) at CU Boulder.

Hope Probe returns its first image of Mars capturing Olympus Mons at Sunrise

Feb 14, 2021

The first science image of the Martian planet was taken by the Emirates eXploration Imager (EXI) on February 10, 2021, one day after orbit insertion.

Emirates Mars Mission to Arrive at Mars on Feb. 9th in partnership with LASP at CU Boulder

Feb 04, 2021

After launching 7 months ago, the Emirates Mars Mission, the first interplanetary exploration undertaken by an Arab nation, is scheduled to reach Mars’ orbit on February 9, 2021 at 8:41 a.m. MST. It will spend one Martian Year (about two Earth years) orbiting the red planet gathering crucial science data.

LASP researcher reveals new clues on what makes the Sun’s atmosphere so hot

Dec 07, 2020

New research appears today in the Journal Nature Astronomy that may help resolve a long-standing mystery about the Sun: Why the solar atmosphere is millions of degrees hotter than the surface.

LASP scientists find hidden pockets of water ice on the moon

Nov 20, 2020

Hidden pockets of water ice could be much more common on the surface of the moon than scientists once suspected, according to new research led by the Laboratory of Atmospheric and Space Physics at CU Boulder. In some cases, these tiny patches of ice might exist in permanent shadows no bigger than a penny. “If you can… Read more »

LASP scientist determine that volcanic ash may have a bigger impact on the climate than we thought

Sep 14, 2020

When volcanos erupt, these geologic monsters produce tremendous clouds of ash and dust—plumes that can blacken the sky, shut down air traffic and reach heights of roughly 25 miles above Earth’s surface. A new study led by the University of Colorado Boulder suggests that such volcanic ash may also have a larger influence on the… Read more »

CU on the Air Podcast: LASP Director Dan Baker talks with CU president Mark Kennedy about the Hope Mars Mission and the future of Space Research at CU

Sep 14, 2020

Podcast Link: Summary of Podcast United Arab Emirates sent its first mission to Mars, the Hope Mars Mission, on July 19. And although the launch was more than 6,000 miles from Colorado, the University of Colorado Boulder played a major role in putting Hope into orbit. CU Boulder Professor Dan Baker and CU President Mark… Read more »

LASP researchers develop method to clean lunar dust from surfaces

Sep 02, 2020

LASP researchers Xu Wang and Mihály Horányi were part of a study to develop a method to clean lunar dust particles off of surfaces.

MAVEN: A new look at Mars’ ultraviolet nighttime glow

Aug 06, 2020

Vast areas of the Martian night sky pulse in ultraviolet light, according to images from NASAʼs MAVEN spacecraft. The results are being used to illuminate complex circulation patterns in the Martian atmosphere.

LASP Researchers take the ultimate Earth selfie

Aug 06, 2020

In a new study, a team led by astrophysicist Allison Youngblood at CU Boulder set out to achieve something new in planetary photography: The group used the Hubble Space Telescope to try to view Earth as if it were an exoplanet—or a world orbiting a star many light years from our own.

Emirates Mars Mission launched July 19th in partnership with LASP at CU Boulder

Jul 14, 2020

The Emirates Mars Mission, the first interplanetary exploration undertaken by an Arab nation, is scheduled to launch this week on Mitsubishi H-IIA launch platform from Tanegashima, Japan and arrive at Mars in February 2021, coinciding with The Emirates’ 50th anniversary as a nation.

ESCAPE funded for Phase A concept study

Apr 22, 2020

ESCAPE is one of two candidates vying to be the next satellite to launch under NASA’s ambitious Explorers Program. NASA has given the team funding to develop their concept further with the agency making its final decision in 2021.  If selected, ESCAPE would survey the radiation streaming from more than 200 stars to make a road map of the most promising habitable worlds.

TSIS-2 funded to continue 40 years of solar measurements

Apr 22, 2020

NASA has awarded a sole source contract to the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP) at the University of Colorado Boulder for the Total and Spectral Solar Irradiance Sensor-2 (TSIS-2). The new sensor provides continuity to data delivered by TSIS-1, which launched in December 2017. LASP will receive funding to build two instruments, the Total Irradiance Monitor (TIM) and Spectral Irradiance Monitor (SIM) and will operate the spacecraft after it launches in 2023. 

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Apr 15, 2020

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LASP awarded Earth Venture Mission Libera

Mar 06, 2020

This week, NASA announced that it has given the green light to Libera, a new space mission that will record how much energy leaves our planet’s atmosphere on a day-by-day basis—data that can provide crucial information about how Earth’s climate is evolving over time.

CU Boulder leads the nation in Cubesat launches

Feb 11, 2020

According to Bryce Space and Technology , a space research and consulting firm, CU Boulder leads all United States academic institutions and non-profits in the launch of small satellites between 2012 and 2019.

Brilliant Martian aurora sheds light on Mars’ changing climate

Dec 12, 2019

A type of Martian aurora first identified by NASA’s MAVEN spacecraft in 2016 is actually the most common form of aurora occurring on the Red Planet, according to new results from the mission. The aurora is known as a proton aurora and can help scientists track water loss from Mars’ atmosphere and sheds light on Mars’ changing climate.

Parker Solar Probe gets its first look at the Sun with help from LASP scientists

Dec 05, 2019

Over the past year, NASA’s Parker Solar Probe came closer to the sun than any other object designed and developed by humans—and CU Boulder scientists have been along for the ride. David Malaspina, a LASP Space plasma researcher, is part of a team of CU Boulder scientists who contributed to those early insights. The group designed a signal processing electronics board that is integral to the FIELDS experiment, one of four suites of instruments onboard Parker Solar Probe.

An India-Pakistan nuclear war could plunge the entire planet into an Ice Age

Oct 02, 2019

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. LASP atmospheric scientist Brian Toon, who led the research published this work in the journal Science Advances.

Think Saturn’s rings are old? Not so fast

Sep 16, 2019

In a paper published 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.

Small satellites tackle big scientific questions

Nov 15, 2018

NASA will soon have new eyes on the Sun. Two miniature satellites designed and built at LASP are scheduled to launch later this month on Spaceflight’s SSO-A: SmallSat Express mission onboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

The new missions—called the Miniature X-ray Solar Spectrometer-2 (MinXSS-2) and the Compact Spectral Irradiance Monitor (CSIM)—will collect data on the physics of the Sun and its impact on life on Earth.

These “CubeSats,” which are smaller than a microwave oven, are set to blast into a near-Earth orbit alongside more than 60 other spacecraft. According to Spaceflight, SSO-A is the largest dedicated rideshare mission from a U.S.-based launch vehicle to date.

Engineers, students played key role in hunt for alien worlds

Nov 12, 2018

Has NASA’s famed planet-hunting spacecraft met its end? Not so fast, say LASP researchers.

NASA recently announced that the Kepler Space Telescope, which searched for planets orbiting stars far away from Earth, had run out of fuel and would finish its nine-year mission. In response, many news outlets reported that Kepler was dead

But Lee Reedy, flight director for Kepler at LASP, said that the mission’s legacy is far from over. To date, Kepler has found a confirmed 2,662 planets beyond our solar system.

NASA retires LASP-operated Kepler space telescope

Oct 30, 2018

After nine years in deep space collecting data that indicate our sky to be filled with billions of hidden planets—more planets even than stars—NASA’s Kepler space telescope has run out of fuel needed for further science operations. NASA has decided to retire the spacecraft within its current, safe orbit, away from Earth. Kepler leaves a legacy of more than 2,600 planet discoveries from outside our solar system, many of which could be promising places for life.

Kepler, which was operated from LASP since its launch in March 2009, has opened our eyes to the diversity of planets that exist in our galaxy. The most recent analysis of Kepler’s discoveries concludes that 20 to 50 percent of the stars visible in the night sky are likely to have small, possibly rocky, planets similar in size to Earth, and located within the habitable zone of their parent stars. That means they’re located at distances from their parent stars where liquid water—a vital ingredient to life as we know it—might pool on the planet surface.

The most common size of planet Kepler found doesn’t exist in our solar system—a world between the size of Earth and Neptune—and we have much to learn about these planets. Kepler also found nature often produces jam-packed planetary systems, in some cases with so many planets orbiting close to their parent stars that our own inner solar system looks sparse by comparison.

LASP director awarded EGU’s Alfvén Medal

Oct 17, 2018

The European Geosciences Union (EGU) has named LASP Director Daniel Baker as the recipient of the 2019 Hannes Alfvén Medal. The medal was established in 1997 in recognition of the scientific achievements of Hannes Alfvén and is awarded for outstanding scientific contributions towards the understanding of plasma processes in the solar system and other cosmical plasma environments.

Baker is one of 45 individuals to be recognized this year for their important contributions to and leadership in the Earth, planetary, and space sciences. Baker will receive his award during the EGU 2019 General Assembly, which will take place from April 7-12, 2019, in Vienna, Austria.

In its final days, Cassini bathed in “ring rain”

Oct 04, 2018

On its last orbits in 2017, the long-running Cassini spacecraft dove between Saturn’s rings and its upper atmosphere and bathed in a downpour of dust that astronomers call “ring rain.”

In research published today in Science, LASP research associate Hsiang-Wen (Sean) Hsu and his colleagues report that they successfully collected microscopic material streaming from the planet’s rings.

The findings, which were made with Cassini’s Cosmic Dust Analyzer and Radio and Plasma Wave Science instruments, come a little more than a year after the spacecraft burned up in Saturn’s atmosphere. They stem from the mission’s “grand finale,” in which Cassini completed a series of risky maneuvers to zip under the planet’s rings at speeds of 75,000 miles per hour.

MAVEN selfie marks four years in orbit at Mars

Sep 20, 2018

Today, NASA’s MAVEN spacecraft celebrates four years in orbit studying the upper atmosphere of the Red Planet and how it interacts with the Sun and the solar wind. To mark the occasion, the team has released a selfie image of the spacecraft at Mars.

MAVEN’s selfie was made by looking at ultraviolet wavelengths of sunlight reflected off of components of the spacecraft. The image was obtained with the Imaging Ultraviolet Spectrograph (IUVS) instrument, built at LASP, that normally looks at ultraviolet emissions from the Martian upper atmosphere. The IUVS instrument is mounted on a platform at the end of a 1.2-m boom (its own “selfie stick”), and by rotating around the boom can look back at the spacecraft. The selfie was made from 21 different images, obtained with the IUVS in different orientations, that have been stitched together.

NASA’s GOLD instrument captures its first image of the Earth

Sep 17, 2018

NASA’s Global-scale Observations of the Limb and Disk, or GOLD, instrument powered on and opened its cover to scan the Earth for the first time, resulting in a “first light” image of the Western Hemisphere in the ultraviolet. GOLD will provide unprecedented global-scale imaging of the temperature and composition at the dynamic boundary between Earth’s atmosphere and space.

The instrument was launched from Kourou, French Guiana, on Jan. 25, 2018, onboard the SES-14 satellite and reached geostationary orbit in June 2018. After checkout of the satellite and communications payload, GOLD commissioning—the period during which the instrument performance is assessed—began on Sept. 4.

Team scientists conducted one day of observations on Sept. 11, during instrument checkout, enabling them to produce GOLD’s “first light” image. Commissioning will run through early October, as the team continues to prepare the instrument for its planned two-year science mission.

LASP director receives AGU’s highest honor

Sep 04, 2018

The American Geophysical Union (AGU) has selected LASP Director Daniel Baker as its 2018 William Bowie Medal recipient. AGU’s highest honor, the William Bowie Medal, is given annually to one honoree in recognition of “outstanding contributions for fundamental geophysics and for unselfish cooperation in research.”

Baker is one of 33 individuals to be recognized this year for their dedication to science for the benefit of humanity and their achievements in Earth and space science. Baker will receive his award during the Honors Tribute at the 2018 AGU Fall Meeting, which will take place on Wednesday, December 12, 2018, in Washington, D.C.

Students race robots, write code at hands-on summer camp

Aug 20, 2018

After three weeks of hard work, nine aspiring young scientists sat eagerly around a table and watched robots they created complete a racecourse. The students, aged 11 to 15 years old, had spent many hours assembling, computer coding and programming their robots to steer around a tabletop course drawn onto paper.

This hands-on learning experience is part of the Institute for Modeling Plasma, Atmospheres, and Cosmic Dust (IMPACT) Junior Aerospace Engineering Camp, a summer program offered by LASP’s Office of Communications and Outreach (OCO).

Now in its fifth year, the NASA-supported program is held at Casa de la Esperanza, a housing community and learning center in Longmont, Colorado, designed to support agricultural migrant workers and their families. The IMPACT camp is one of several educational services that the facility offers to residents.

Here comes the Sun: New spacecraft to fly closer than ever before

Aug 08, 2018

On August 11, LASP research scientist, David Malaspina, will have a front-row seat for the launch of NASA’s newest mission, the Parker Solar Probe.

The event, which is scheduled to take place at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, will be a must-see for scientists who have spent their careers watching the Sun. Over its seven-year mission, the Parker Solar Probe will fly closer to our home star than any spacecraft in history, dipping to within four million miles of the surface and grazing the Sun’s outer atmosphere, or corona.

Mars terraforming not possible using present-day technology

Jul 30, 2018

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.

The outer limits: New satellite to probe solar system’s edges

Jul 26, 2018

Researchers at CU Boulder will soon set their sights on the heliosphere, a massive bubble in space that surrounds our solar system and shields it from incoming radiation.

NASA’s recently announced Interstellar Mapping and Acceleration Probe (IMAP) mission, which is slated to launch in 2024, will hover close to one million miles from Earth where it will observe the outermost edges of the solar system—the limits of our Sun’s influence on space.

LASP will play a major role in the nearly $500 million mission by leading IMAP’s scientific operations and designing an instrument that will fly on the spacecraft, detecting tiny particles of dust that flow through space.

Stolen electrons key to unusual Mars aurora

Jul 24, 2018

Auroras appear on Earth as ghostly displays of colorful light in the night sky, usually near the poles. Our rocky neighbor Mars has auroras too, and NASA’s MAVEN spacecraft just found a new type of Martian aurora, according to a study led by LASP scientists. This phenomenon occurs over much of the day side of the Red Planet, where auroras are very hard to see.

Auroras flare up when energetic particles plunge into a planet’s atmosphere, bombarding gases and making them glow. While electrons generally cause this natural phenomenon, sometime protons can elicit the same response, although it’s more rare. Now, the MAVEN team has learned that protons were doing at Mars the same thing as electrons usually do at Earth—create aurora.

Complex organics bubble from the depths of Enceladus

Jul 09, 2018

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.

LASP sounding rocket takes a second look at the Sun

Jun 15, 2018

LASP Associate Director Tom Woods knows about space gunk.

As the principal investigator for the Extreme Ultraviolet Variability Experiment (EVE) aboard NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, he’s all too familiar with the ways that exposure to the harsh space environment can lead to a spacecraft instrument’s degradation.

GOES-17 shares first data from EXIS instrument

May 31, 2018

NOAA’s GOES-17 satellite has transmitted its first data from the LASP-built Extreme ultraviolet and X-ray Irradiance Sensors (EXIS) space weather monitoring instrument.

EXIS continually monitors the brightness of the Sun. Every 30 seconds, EXIS will create a picture of the Sun’s output in the part of the spectrum which includes X-ray and ultraviolet light—wavelengths that are absorbed by the outermost layers of our Earth’s atmosphere and ionosphere.

Microbes living in a toxic volcanic lake could hold clues to life on Mars

May 02, 2018

LASP-led research has discovered microbes living in a toxic volcanic lake that may rank as one of the harshest environments on Earth. Their findings, published recently online, could guide scientists looking for signs of ancient life on Mars.

The team, led by LASP planetary scientist Brian Hynek, braved second-degree burns, sulfuric acid fumes, and the threat of eruptions to collect samples of water from the aptly-named Laguna Caliente. Nestled in Costa Rica’s Poás Volcano, this body of water is 10 million times more acidic than tap water and can reach near boiling temperatures. It also resembles the ancient hot springs that dotted the surface of early Mars, Hynek said.

The Costa Rican lake supports living organisms—but only one. Hynek and his colleagues found microbes belonging to just a single species of bacteria in the lake water, a rock-bottom level of diversity.

CHESS-4 will examine building blocks of stars and planets

Mar 23, 2018

NASA will launch a LASP-built astronomy experiment to study the chemistry involved in the formation of stars and planets in the Milky Way galaxy. The Colorado High-resolution Echelle Stellar Spectrograph, or CHESS 4, is scheduled for launch on April 13 from Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands on a NASA Black Brant IX sounding rocket.

The CHESS-4 mission will study the interstellar me­dium, the matter between stars. The mission focuses on translucent clouds of gas that provide the fundamental building blocks for stars and planets. These clouds have very low densities and the only way to study them is to measure how a cloud is affected by a star—and its associated outpouring of stellar material, the stellar wind—moving through it. CHESS will point at the star Gamma Ara, in the constellation Ara.

NASA powers on LASP instrument suite staring at the Sun

Mar 15, 2018

NASA has powered on its latest space payload to continue long-term measurements of the Sun’s incoming energy. The LASP-built Total and Spectral solar Irradiance Sensor (TSIS-1), installed on the International Space Station, is now fully operational with all instruments collecting science data.

TSIS-1 was launched from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on Dec. 15, 2017. After a two-week pause, the instrument suite was extracted from the trunk of the SpaceX Dragon capsule and integrated onto its permanent home on the space station.

LASP-led CubeSat will study Earth’s inner radiation belt

Mar 15, 2018

A NASA-funded CubeSat, built and operated at LASP, will study the inner radiation belt of Earth’s magnetosphere, providing new insight into the energetic particles that can disrupt satellites and threaten spacewalking astronauts.

The $4 million Cubesat: Inner Radiation Belt Experiment (CIRBE) mission, tentatively slated for a 2021 launch, will provide some of the first advanced resolution of one of Earth’s two Van Allen belts, a zone that traps energetic particles in the planet’s magnetic field. This powerful radiation, known to physicists since the late 1950s, poses a hazard to solar panels, electronic circuitry, and other hardware onboard spacecraft traveling at and beyond low-Earth orbit.

NOAA satellite launches with LASP space weather instrument onboard

Mar 02, 2018

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.

Undergraduate Student Data Science Employment Opportunity

Feb 06, 2018

Undergraduate Student Data Science Employment Opportunity The Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP) is a world-renowned space science research institute at the University of Colorado, Boulder. LASP leads with a science driven approach, and is the only research institute in the world that has sent an instrument to every planet in the solar system,… Read more »

GOLD launches successfully onboard SES-14 satellite

Jan 25, 2018

UPDATE: SES-14 in good health and on track despite launch anomaly

NASA’s Global-scale Observations of the Limb and Disk (GOLD) instrument, designed and built by LASP, launched today from Kourou, French Guiana aboard SES-14, a commercial communications satellite built by Airbus Defence and Space. GOLD will investigate the dynamic intermingling of space and Earth’s uppermost atmosphere—and is the first NASA science mission to fly an instrument as a commercially hosted payload.

Space is not completely empty: It’s teeming with fast-moving charged particles and electric and magnetic fields that guide their motion. At the boundary between Earth’s atmosphere and space, the charged particles— called the ionosphere—co-exist with the upper reaches of the neutral atmosphere, called the thermosphere. The two commingle and influence one another constantly. This interplay—and the role terrestrial weather, space weather and Earth’s own magnetic field each have in it—is the focus of GOLD’s mission.

GOLD team successfully completes environmental testing

Dec 14, 2017

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.

Major space mystery solved using data from student satellite

Dec 13, 2017

A 60-year-old mystery regarding the source of some energetic and potentially damaging particles in Earth’s radiation belts is now solved using data from a shoebox-sized satellite built and operated by University of Colorado Boulder students at LASP.

The results from the new study indicate energetic electrons in Earth’s inner radiation belt—primarily near its inner edge—are created by cosmic rays born from explosions of supernovas, said the study’s lead author, LASP scientist Xinlin Li. Earth’s radiation belts, known as the Van Allen belts, are layers of energetic particles held in place by Earth’s magnetic field.

MAVEN mission sheds light on habitability of distant planets

Dec 13, 2017

How long might a rocky, Mars-like planet be habitable if it were orbiting a red dwarf star? It’s a complex question but one that NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution mission can help answer.

“The MAVEN mission tells us that Mars lost substantial amounts of its atmosphere over time, changing the planet’s habitability,” said David Brain, a MAVEN co-investigator at LASP. “We can use Mars, a planet that we know a lot about, as a laboratory for studying rocky planets outside our solar system, which we don’t know much about yet.”

At the fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union on Dec. 13, 2017, in New Orleans, Louisiana, Brain, also a professor in the CU Boulder astrophysical and planetary sciences department, described how insights from the LASP-led MAVEN mission could be applied to the habitability of rocky planets orbiting other stars.

TSIS instrument package ready for lift-off to ISS

Dec 08, 2017

A solar instrument package designed and built by LASP to help monitor the planet’s climate is now set for launch Dec. 12 (no earlier than 11:20 AM MT) aboard a SpaceX rocket from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The instrument suite is called the Total and Spectral Solar Irradiance Sensor (TSIS-1) and was designed and built by LASP for NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. The contract value to LASP is $90 million and includes the instrument suite and an associated mission ground system in the LASP Space Technology Building on the CU Boulder East Campus Research Park.

Four decades and counting: TSIS continues measuring solar energy input to Earth

Nov 28, 2017

We live on a solar-powered planet. As we wake up in the morning, the Sun peeks over the horizon to shed light on us, blanket us with warmth, and provide cues to start our day. At the same time, our Sun’s energy drives our planet’s ocean currents, seasons, weather, and climate. Without the Sun, life on Earth would not exist.

For nearly 40 years, NASA has been measuring how much sunshine powers our home planet. This December, NASA is launching a dual-instrument package to the International Space Station to continue monitoring the Sun’s energy input to the Earth system. The LASP-built Total and Spectral solar Irradiance Sensor (TSIS-1) will precisely measure total solar irradiance, a measurement required for establishing Earth’s total energy input. These data will give us a better understanding of Earth’s primary energy supply and help improve models simulating Earth’s climate.

Schneider honored for helping unravel mysteries of Mars

Nov 13, 2017

LASP research associate Nick Schneider has been awarded NASA’s Exceptional Scientific Achievement Medal for his contributions to the success of NASA’s orbiting MAVEN mission now at Mars.

Schneider, also a University of Colorado Boulder professor of astrophysical and planetary sciences, is the lead scientist on the LASP-built Imaging Ultraviolet Spectrograph (IUVS) riding on NASA’s MAVEN spacecraft that arrived at Mars in 2014. LASP Associate Director for Science, Bruce Jakosky, is the principal investigator for the MAVEN mission.

NASA’s Exceptional Scientific Achievement Medal is given for individual efforts that have resulted in key scientific discoveries or contributions of fundamental importance in the field. Schneider was presented with the medal in a ceremony Oct. 31 at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

LASP-led team to study evaporating atmospheres of “hot Jupiters”

Oct 31, 2017

A team led by LASP scientists, engineers, and students has been selected to build a tiny orbiting satellite to study the evaporating atmospheres of gigantic “hot Jupiters”—distant gaseous planets orbiting scorchingly close to their parent stars.

To date more than 100 gas giants have been discovered orbiting very close to their parent stars, said LASP planetary scientist, Kevin France, principal investigator on the four-year, $3.3 million effort funded by NASA. France and his colleagues believe the new study of hot Jupiters—some of which are so close to parent stars they orbit them in a matter of days—will help planetary scientists better understand the evolution of our own solar system.

LASP to collaborate on new Grand Challenge projects

Sep 20, 2017

The University of Colorado Boulder’s cross-campus Grand Challenge initiative this week announced the selection of three new additions to its portfolio starting this fall. The call for proposals, which was announced in June, funded one large research initiative at approximately $1 million per year and two smaller projects at $250,000 per year, each for at least three years. LASP will collaborate on the research initiative and on one of the two smaller projects.

The selections augment the current Grand Challenge portfolio, building on the accomplishments of Earth Lab, Integrated Remote and In Situ Sensing (IRISS), the university’s space minor, and the Center for the Study of Origins.

LASP scientists ready for Cassini’s grand finale

Sep 13, 2017

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.