Scientists, who conducted the preliminary assessment of the Genesis canister, are encouraged by what they see. They believe it may be possible to achieve the most important portions of their science objectives.
"We are bouncing back from a hard landing, and spirits are picking up again," said Orlando Figueroa, Deputy Associate Administrator for Programs for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington.
"This may result in snatching victory from the jaws of defeat," added Dr. Roger Wiens of the Los Alamos National Laboratory, a member of the Genesis science team. "We are very encouraged."
Based on initial inspection, it is possible a repository of solar wind materials may have survived that will keep the science community busy for some time.
"We are pleased and encouraged by the preliminary inspection," said NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe. "The outstanding design and sturdy construction of Genesis may yield the important scientific results we hoped for from the mission," he said.
"I want to emphasize the excellent work by the navigation team to bring the capsule back exactly on target was key in our ability to recover the science," said Andrew Dantzler, Director of the Solar System Division at NASA Headquarters, Washington. "In addition, the robustness of the design of the spacecraft was the reason it could take such a hard landing and still give us a chance to recover the samples," he said.
The mission's main priority is to measure oxygen isotopes to determine which of several theories is correct regarding the role of oxygen in the formation of the solar system. Scientists hope to determine this with isotopes collected in the four target segments of the solar wind concentrator carried by the Genesis spacecraft.
"From our initial look, we can see that two of the four concentrator segments are in place, and all four may be intact," Wiens said.
The mission's second priority is to analyze nitrogen isotopes that will help understand how the atmospheres of the planets in our solar system evolved. "These isotopes will be analyzed using gold foil, which we have also found intact," Wiens said.
Other samples of solar winds are contained on hexagonal wafers. It appears these are all or nearly all broken, but sizable pieces will be recovered, and some are still mounted in their holders. "We won't really know how many can be recovered for some time, but we are far more hopeful important science can be conducted than we were on Wednesday," Wiens said.Another type of collector material, foils contained on the canister's lid, were designed to collect other isotopes in the solar wind. It appears approximately three-fourths of these are recoverable, according to Dr. Dave Lindstrom, Mission Program Scientist at NASA Headquarters. However, these foils have been exposed to elements of the Utah desert.
Related Web sites:
No one has ever seen a total solar eclipse from over the Antarctic. But next Sunday, passengers on two separate chartered aircraft will get first-ever views of a total solar eclipse from high over a small slice of the South Polar continent.
University of Arizona astronomer Glenn Schneider helped plan the two aircraft intercepts of the Nov. 23 total solar eclipse, which won't be visible from land anywhere else on Earth.
Schneider will be in the navigator's seat on one of the aircraft, a chartered Qantas Boeing 747-400. It will carry solar eclipse chasers, scientists, photographers, amateur astronomers and tourists on a 14-hour, nonstop roundtrip flight out of Melbourne, Australia. Schneider has worked with Qantas pilots for the past several years in planning the special flight, arranged through Croydon Travel of Melbourne. He will assist the flight crew in navigating the plane through the moon's shadow during "totality," when the moon entirely blocks the sun.
Passengers in the moving aircraft might see totality for as long as 2 minutes, 36 seconds, if there is little or no wind, compared to less than 2 minutes that totality will last at ground sites. The eclipse occurs at 22:40 Universal Time (5:40 p.m. Eastern time), which is 9:40 a.m. Monday, Nov. 24, Melbourne time.
Schneider developed computer software called "EFLIGHT," a navigational program specifically for flying aircraft into the path of total eclipses. It helps pilots respond to real-time, in-flight conditions to get the best possible "totality run." He used EFLIGHT in planning two previous airborne missions that intercepted the total solar eclipses of Oct. 3, 1986, and June 30, 1992. He also planned to use EFLIGHT on the Concorde for a 2001 eclipse. But that flight was canceled after Air France grounded its Concorde fleet following a crash.
For the Nov. 23 eclipse, pilots on two aircraft will use EFLIGHT in their flight management systems. Schneider and the Qantas pilots conducted a dry-run test on the system last July in a 747 flight simulator. Meanwhile, Sky and Telescope magazine and Travelquest International chartered a Lan Chile Airbus A340 for the eclipse. That plane will fly out of Punta Arenas, Chile. Sky and Telescope recruited Schneider to assist planning its flight, too.
On the Qantas eclipse flight, Schneider will operate four cameras on a gyro-stabilized platform suspended over the flight deck by bungee cords. The cameras will be controlled by computer software that Schneider wrote, and a Sony video camera will guide the platform by feeding images to the computer system. Three still photo cameras will be used to photograph the eclipse: a Pentax ZX-5n equipped with a 500 mm f/5.6 lens, a Nikon F5 equipped with Nikon Vibration-Reduction 80-400 mm zoom, and a Santa Barbara Instrument Group 1024 x 1024 CCD digital camera with a 300 mm lens and special green filter. The filter is used to create better images of the sun's inner corona.=20
The camera equipment was provided by collaborators including Jay M. Pasachoff of Williams College. Pasachoff, who chairs the International Astronomical Union's Working Group on Eclipses, will be on the Qantas flight.
Schneider occasionally may have to blow on the camera platform if it begins to drift away from the 16-by-27-inch window that the cameras peer through. A breath of air is all that's needed -- touching the platform would send it swinging.
The B747-400 will fly at about 470 nautical mph at 38,000 feet. It will fly within a kilometer of the center of the moon's shadow, within 100 meters of its target vertical position, and within a 6-second time margin.
The moon's shadow, which is about 64 nautical miles across, moves at 2,200 nautical mph, or about 4-and-one-half times faster than the airplane. It will overtake the plane from behind.
"The moon's shadow will be projected down below us onto the cloud tops, so the snow and ice will be dark," Schneider said. "There will be no reflected sunlight coming back up. The sky will be black."
Scientists plan to make some unique light-scattering measurements on Earth's upper atmosphere during the flight, Schneider said. They will use the moon's shadow as an illumination probe to get information on particle distribution that they can=B9t get with remote sensing or LIDAR.
Schneider is an associate astronomer at the UA Steward Observatory. He also is the project instrument scientist for the NICMOS, the instrument that gives the Hubble Space Telescope its infrared vision.
Schneider describes himself as an "umbraphile," literally a "shadow lover," one who is "addicted to the glory and majesty of total solar eclipses." Umbraphillia "is not only an addiction, but an affliction, and a way of life, the real raison d'etre for many of us," Schneider said. Umbraphiles are commonly called "solar elipse chasers," people who once every 16 months or so "will drop whatever they are doing and trek by plane, ship, train, foot, and camel-back to gather along a narrow strip in some remote God-forsaken corner of the globe."
Because Schneider is willing to travel, he has seen 23 eclipses since 1970 and been clouded out only three times.
But travel often entails killer jet lag. The 14-hour eclipse flight returns to Melbourne at 3 p.m. local time. Schneider then will repack the cameras, gryo platform, computers, inverters, power supplies, etc. into shipping crates to catch an 8 a.m. flight the following morning -- the start of his 28-hour trip back to Tucson.
"I missed Thanksgiving last year because I was in the Australian outback for the last eclipse, and I promised my wife I'd be home for Thanksgiving this year," he said.Macintosh users can download Schneider's software for photographing a solar eclipse, called "Umbraphile," from the Internet for free. Given the particulars of an eclipse, the program computes an exposure sequence table synced to Universal Time and automatically fires the camera at correct exposures. The software is online at:
Seehttp://www.esa.int/export/esaSC/SEMNFTWLDMD_index_0.html for information about the solar flare.
See http://www.spaceweather.com for daily images and a gallery of photographs of auroras.
"This is the real thing," says John Kohl, a solar astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) and principal investigator for the Ultraviolet Coronagraph Spectrometer on board NASA's Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) spacecraft. "The eruption was positioned perfectly. It's headed straight for us like a freight train, so a major geomagnetic storm is bound to happen when it reaches us on October 29th or 30th."
"Last week's CME hit the Earth with only a glancing blow," says Kohl, although it was sufficient to disrupt airline communications. "Today's eruption was pointed directly at us, and is expected to have major effects."
"This is the strongest flare we've seen in the past 30 years," says Leon Golub, CfA astrophysicist and author of "Nearest Star: The Surprising Science Of Our Sun." Today's solar flare was classified as an X18-category explosion, meaning that it can trigger planet-wide radio blackouts and long-lasting radiation storms.
"We are waiting for the prediction of the geomagnetic storm level from NOAA (the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)," says Kohl. "What we know at this point is that the flare was nearly perfectly positioned near the center of the Sun, and that a halo coronal mass ejection has left the Sun and is heading toward the Earth. The geomagnetic storm is likely to be a strong one, and will last about 24 hours."
NOAA classifies geomagnetic storms on a scale from 1 to 5. Initial indications show that this has the potential to be a G5 storm - the top of the scale. The most benign effect of such a storm would be bright auroras visible from more southern latitudes than usual. However, the geomagnetic storm triggered by the CME also could interfere with satellite communications; disrupt power grids (as occurred in the 1989 Quebec blackout); even short out orbiting satellites, rendering them permanently inoperable.
"We've already had to shut down our SOHO instrument for safety reasons. It's getting blasted by high-energy particles from this solar flare," says Kohl. "Of more concern, geosynchronous communications satellites are likely to be affected." In California, where raging wildfires have damaged many microwave communication antennas on the ground, satellite communications have been crucial to emergency efforts. Emergency personnel should be prepared for potential disruptions and communication interference.
"There's no direct danger to people on the ground," Kohl adds, "and I'm sure that NASA is monitoring the situation for any potential effects on the space station crew, and that they are taking appropriate precautions."
According to NOAA, a G5-class geomagnetic storm can have the following effects:
Power systems: Widespread voltage control problems and protective system problems can occur, some grid systems may experience complete collapse or blackouts. Transformers may experience damage.
Spacecraft operations: May experience extensive surface charging, problems with orientation, uplink/downlink and tracking satellites.
Other systems: Pipeline currents can reach hundreds of amps, HF (high frequency) radio propagation may be impossible in many areas for one to two days, satellite navigation may be degraded for days, low-frequency radio navigation can be out for hours, and aurora has been seen as low as Florida and southern Texas (typically 40 degrees geomagnetic lat.).
Solar astronomers say to stay tuned. This eruption is coming our way!
The December 4 total solar eclipse was observed by professionals, amateurs, tourists, and locals in southern Africa and southern Australia. Heavy clouds prevented many from seeing it, but holes in the clouds at many locations and clear weather at the end of the path meant that many of the travellers had an excellent view. The Sun had a round, bright configuration that is typical of the maximum of the solar-activity cycle. Several prominences were visible in addition to the many coronal streamers.
At Ceduna, Australia, where my own expedition from Williams College went, a hole in the clouds at the right place and in the right direction gave us an excellent view of the 33 seconds of totality.
One of our images, compounded with an image from the SOHO spacecraft, was released by NASA as http://www.gsfc.nasa.gov/topstory/2002/1204eclipse.html.
See the link to Web sites for more information and images: Eclipse 2002 Web Sites.
See an animation of the previous total eclipse (2001) at http://antwrp.gsfc.nasa.gov/apod/ap021209.html
JHUAPL Press Release, May 28, 2002
The online version
of this release is available on the APL Web site:
NASA's TIMED (Thermosphere, Ionosphere, Mesosphere, Energetics and Dynamics) spacecraft recently observed our atmosphere's response to a series of strong solar storms, providing important new information on the final link in the Sun-Earth Connection (SEC) chain of physical processes connecting the Sun and Earth.
"Several NASA spacecraft measured this strong activity coming from the Sun. Now TIMED provides the critical link between what happened on the Sun and Earth's response," says Dr. Sam Yee, TIMED project scientist, from the spacecraft's operations center at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md., and leader of the mission's science team.
"TIMED allows us to observe the global reaction of our upper atmosphere to solar activity," says Dr. Mary Mellott, TIMED program scientist from NASA Headquarters in Washington. "One of the current puzzles for the Sun-Earth Connection community is determining why some solar activity has significant geospace impact and some does not. Being able to monitor the impact so well with TIMED should allow the scientific community to make significant progress toward solving this SEC mystery."
Preliminary TIMED data will be featured in a special session at the Spring 2002 American Geophysical Union meeting, May 31, in Washington, D.C., which is open to the media. Information about this session can be found at www.agu.org/meetings/sm02Sessions.html#SA (item SA02). Interested members of the press should visit www.agu.org/sci_soc/media.html for registration information.
Since TIMED's science mission began in January 2002, science team members say it has made great strides in helping them learn more about one of Earth's least understood atmospheric regions-the Mesosphere and Lower Thermosphere/Ionosphere-a gateway between Earth's environment and space. TIMED is the first of NASA's Solar Terrestrial Probes missions to globally study the influences of the Sun and humans on the MLTI region, located approximately 40-110 miles (60-180 kilometers) above the surface.
"TIMED's study of short-term events, such as the recent solar storms, will help us gain a better understanding of the dynamics of this gateway region," says Dr. Yee. "But our main goal is to understand the region's overall climate through a comprehensive set of global measurements we're collecting using TIMED's 4-instrument suite. With the core data we've already collected, we've taken the first step in assessing the region's global characteristics and seasonal variations-information that will help us establish a baseline for future studies."
Space weather in Earth's upper atmospheric regions can change as suddenly as our weather patterns on the ground. It can affect satellite communications and orbital tracking, spacecraft lifetimes and the reentry of piloted vehicles. "When a change occurs in one region of our atmosphere, it affects other regions," Dr. Yee says. "It's important that we better understand how this gateway region responds to various solar inputs, which affect our atmosphere's overall energy balance."
Images and videos of
preliminary TIMED data can be downloaded from
The Solar Terrestrial Probes Program Office at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md., oversees the TIMED mission for the Office of Space Science at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C. The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, in Laurel, Md., built and now operates the spacecraft, leads the project's science effort and manages the mission's Science Data Center for NASA.
ESA Press Release, May 21, 2002
For centuries, we have worshipped it and wondered at it, but it's only now that we are getting a really good look at it. Although you can't gaze at the Sun with the naked eye, thanks to modern science, in particular ESA's solar fleet, we can view images of our nearest star that confirm the fiery glory our ancestors could only imagine.
Remarkable imagery from ESA's SOHO spacecraft is the inspiration behind Sunsation - an exhibition that seeks to bring our vision of the Sun up to date by combining the most stunning solar images from space with other images from our everyday world.
Read more about this
and visit the
Sunsation exhibition at:
A new NASA spacecraft that will study the effects of the sun and human-induced activities on the least explored and understood region of Earth's atmosphere soared into a clear early morning California sky on December 7, 2001.
The TIMED (Thermosphere Ionosphere Mesosphere Energetics and Dynamics) spacecraft lifted off from the Western Range of Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., aboard a Delta II rocket at 10:07 a.m. EST. Spacecraft separation from the Delta II rocket's second stage motor occurred at 12:13 p.m. EST, inserting TIMED into a 388-mile (625-kilometer) circular orbit around the Earth.
At 1:10 p.m. EST, controllers at the TIMED Mission Operations Center of The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Md., made contact with TIMED as it passed over a ground station in Kiruna, Sweden, confirming that solar arrays deployed, providing power to the spacecraft.
"Three hours is a long time to hold your breath," said TIMED Project Manager Bruce Campbell at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., "and we're pleased with the way things look right now."
Solar array deployment occurred immediately following spacecraft separation. During the next 30 days or so, controllers will turn the four instruments on and check them out prior to starting science observations. TIMED should be ready to begin its global study of the MLTI region in mid-January 2002.
"TIMED will provide a very important benchmark for future studies of both natural and human-induced changes to the Earth's atmosphere, said Sam Yee, TIMED project scientist at APL. "TIMED's measurements will help scientists understand how the region's composition is affected by contaminants that are released into Earth's atmosphere and by solar energy entering this region."
The TIMED mission is sponsored by NASA's Office of Space Science in Washington, D.C., and managed by the Solar Terrestrial Probes Program Office at Goddard. APL designed, built and will operate the TIMED spacecraft and lead the science effort for NASA.
about the TIMED mission is available on the following web sites:
Space scientists around the world are today celebrating the first anniversary of the European Space Agency's revolutionary Cluster mission to explore near-Earth space and study the interaction between the Sun and Earth.
This groundbreaking mission began exactly one year ago, on 16 July 2000, when two of the four Cluster spacecraft were launched from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Within a month, a second pair of identical satellites joined them in similar orbits that pass over the Earth's poles.
After the most complex period of spacecraft commissioning ever undertaken for any space mission - including the verification and testing of 44 separate instruments and 64 boom deployment sequences - full scientific operations started on 1 February 2001.
Since then, the Cluster quartet has been carrying out the most comprehensive exploration of the Earth's environment ever undertaken. For the first time, scientists have been able to explore the magnetosphere - the magnetic bubble that surrounds the Earth - with a flotilla of four identical spacecraft.
"Although Cluster has only been fully operational for five months, we have already gathered a huge amount of new information about the Sun - Earth connection," said Professor David Southwood, ESA Director of Science. "More than 200 scientists around the world are currently analysing this remarkable treasure trove of data."
"It has been a very challenging, but satisfying year," said Philippe Escoubet, Cluster project scientist. "Cluster is a completely new type of scientific mission, so it took us a while to find out how to get the best out of the satellites and their suite of instruments. Now we are receiving exciting new information about the magnetosphere and making new discoveries all the time."
By flying in a close, tetrahedral (lop-sided pyramid) formation, the four spacecraft have provided scientists with their first small-scale, three-dimensional views of near-Earth space.
"Cluster's new three-dimensional 'picture' of the magnetosphere is rather like looking at photos of an old familiar scene, but instead of the dull black-and-white pictures, we now have the same view in brilliant colours," said Professor Andre Balogh of Imperial College, London, principal investigator for the FGM experiment on Cluster.
Monitoring the magnetic shield around Spaceship Earth
Like a spacecraft orbiting another world, our Earth is trapped on an everlasting journey around the Sun. During its eternal voyage, Spaceship Earth is continuously exposed to the solar wind, a perpetual blast of plasma (electrically charged particles) sweeping outwards from our nearest star.
Fortunately for us, the Earth is protected by a powerful magnetic field which forces the supersonic solar wind to sweep around the planet. In the process, the magnetic field is shaped into a gigantic teardrop that typically extends approximately 65 000 km towards the Sun and more than two million km - five times the distance to the Moon - in the opposite direction.
However, a continuous struggle for supremacy rages as gusts in the solar wind cause the magnetosphere to balloon in and out. The fluctuating fortunes of the magnetic field are monitored by the Cluster flotilla as it flies through different regions of this unpredictable teardrop - the bow shock, the magnetopause, the cusps and the tail.
On the sunward side of the Earth lies the bow shock, where particles of the solar wind slam into the magnetosphere at a speed of about 400 km/s (around 1.5 million km per hour). This creates an enormous shock wave similar to a sonic boom ahead of a supersonic aircraft.
The new three-dimensional view from Cluster reveals a fast-moving, complex surface, in contrast to the motionless snapshots, frozen in time, provided by previous spacecraft measurements. During their encounters with the bow shock, the Cluster satellites have found that this turbulent boundary moves through space at 5 to 6 km/s (about the same speed that the International Space Station travels around the Earth).
Cluster has also provided the first confirmation of waves along the magnetopause - the outer limit of Earth's magnetic field. Until now, these plasma waves have only existed in computer simulations, but the Cluster spacecraft have surfed these waves and confirmed their existence. The speed of the waves has been estimated at around 70 km/s - equivalent to travelling from London to Paris in 4.5 seconds.
One of the real surprises concerned the polar cusps - 'windows' above the northern and southern polar regions where the particles from the solar wind can penetrate the magnetic shield. These cusps rapidly shift position due to gusts in the solar wind. The Cluster quartet has shown that they pivot through space at between 10 and 30 km/s - the first time this motion has been directly measured by spacecraft.
Closer to Earth, the mini-armada has flown through the plasmasphere - a doughnut-shaped region of dense plasma, mostly electrons and protons, that lies between the Earth's two magnetic poles. By flying in formation through the narrow part of the doughnut, Cluster has provided the best data yet on its complex ingredients of particles, electric and magnetic fields.
Radio signals from lightning, auroras (the curtains of red and green light that illuminate the polar skies) and particles that are trapped in the Earth's radiation belts have also been detected by Cluster. The new data are enabling scientists to find out where these signals originate and how they travel through near-Earth space.
Most dramatic of all have been the Cluster observations of solar storms. With the Sun now at maximum activity in its 11 year cycle, numerous powerful sunstorms are expected to occur. When one of the biggest solar storms on record began on 8 November 2000, instruments on Cluster were used to monitor the dramatic changes around Spaceship Earth.
About 8 minutes after a huge cloud of hot gas, known as a Coronal Mass Ejection (CME), was blasted from the Sun, the WHISPER instrument on Cluster detected an intense radio emission. Several days later, when the CME arrived at the Earth, it punched into the magnetosphere, pushing the magnetic shield toward the planet and leaving the Cluster spacecraft exposed to the solar wind, where they stayed for many hours.
The best is yet to come...
The latest chapter in Cluster's exciting exploration began in June, when ESA's intrepid flotilla began to explore the elongated magnetotail which stretches far beyond the Moon. During the next few months, Cluster will cast new light on this region where storms of high energy particles are generated. When these particles arrive at the Earth, they can cause intense auroras on the nightside of the Earth. A less attractive consequence is their ability to cause power cuts, damage satellites and disrupt communications.
"Cluster will provide us with a mass of new information about what takes place inside this magnetic 'power station' and help us to find out what generates such surges of energetic particles," said Dr. Escoubet.
"As we pass Cluster's
first launch anniversary, we are all looking forward to even more
exciting results in the months ahead," he added. "The best is yet to
Significant discoveries about the Sun made during and outside of solar eclipses.
the book Totality: Eclipses of the Sun, 2nd ed., by Mark Littmann, Ken
Willcox, and Fred Espenak (Oxford University Press, 1999)