Sci/tech

NASA Spots the 'Great Pumpkin'; Get ready to see a Halloween Asteroid!
October 22, 2015 09:31 AM - NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA scientists are tracking the upcoming Halloween flyby of asteroid 2015 TB145 with several optical observatories and the radar capabilities of the agency's Deep Space Network at Goldstone, California. The asteroid will fly past Earth at a safe distance slightly farther than the moon's orbit on Oct. 31 at 10:05 a.m. PDT (1:05 p.m. EDT). Scientists are treating the flyby of the estimated 1,300-foot-wide (400-meter) asteroid as a science target of opportunity, allowing instruments on "spacecraft Earth" to scan it during the close pass.

Asteroid 2015 TB145 was discovered on Oct. 10, 2015, by the University of Hawaii's Pan-STARRS-1 (Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System) on Haleakala, Maui, part of the NASA-funded Near-Earth Object Observation (NEOO) Program. According to the catalog of near-Earth objects (NEOs) kept by the Minor Planet Center, this is the closest currently known approach by an object this large until asteroid 1999 AN10, at about 2,600 feet (800 meters) in size, approaches at about 1 lunar distance (238,000 miles from Earth) in August 2027.

NASA studies LA earthquake
October 21, 2015 06:19 AM - NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory

A new NASA-led analysis of a moderate magnitude 5.1 earthquake that shook Greater Los Angeles in 2014 finds that the earthquake deformed Earth's crust across a broad region encompassing the northern Los Angeles Basin and northern Orange County. The shallow ground movements observed from this earthquake likely reflect strain accumulated on deeper faults, which remain locked and may be capable of producing future earthquakes.

A team of NASA and university researchers led by geophysicist Andrea Donnellan of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, used GPS and NASA airborne radar data to measure surface deformation in Earth's crust caused by the March 28, 2014, earthquake, which was centered in La Habra, California. The earthquake was felt widely in Orange, Los Angeles, Ventura, Riverside, San Bernardino, Kern and San Diego counties. While the earthquake was relatively moderate in size, the earthquake's depth (3.6 miles, or 5.85 kilometers) and location within a highly populated region resulted in more than $12 million in damage. Most of the damage occurred within a 3.7-mile (6-kilometer) radius of the epicenter, with a substantial amount of damage south of the main rupture.

Global Ocean found in Saturn's Moon Enceladus
October 18, 2015 07:43 AM - NASA JPL

A global ocean lies beneath the icy crust of Saturn's geologically active moon Enceladus, according to new research using data from NASA's Cassini mission. 

Researchers found the magnitude of the moon's very slight wobble, as it orbits Saturn, can only be accounted for if its outer ice shell is not frozen solid to its interior, meaning a global ocean must be present. 

The finding implies the fine spray of water vapor, icy particles and simple organic molecules Cassini has observed coming from fractures near the moon's south pole is being fed by this vast liquid water reservoir. The research is presented in a paper published online this week in the journal Icarus.

Dates of lunar impacts refined
October 16, 2015 04:51 PM - Universtiy of Wisconsin-Madison via EurekAlert

Phenomenally durable crystals called zircons are used to date some of the earliest and most dramatic cataclysms of the solar system. One is the super-duty collision that ejected material from Earth to form the moon roughly 50 million years after Earth formed. Another is the late heavy bombardment, a wave of impacts that may have created hellish surface conditions on the young Earth, about 4 billion years ago.

Both events are widely accepted but unproven, so geoscientists are eager for more details and better dates. Many of those dates come from zircons retrieved from the moon during NASA's Apollo voyages in the 1970s.

Mars once supported lakes of liquid water
October 9, 2015 08:22 AM - JPL NASA

A new study from the team behind NASA's Mars Science Laboratory/Curiosity has confirmed that Mars was once, billions of years ago, capable of storing water in lakes over an extended period of time.

Using data from the Curiosity rover, the team has determined that, long ago, water helped deposit sediment into Gale Crater, where the rover landed more than three years ago. The sediment deposited as layers that formed the foundation for Mount Sharp, the mountain found in the middle of the crater today.

NASA Confirms Water Flows on Mars
September 29, 2015 08:40 AM - NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory

New findings from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) provide the strongest evidence yet that liquid water flows intermittently on present-day Mars.

Using an imaging spectrometer on MRO, researchers detected signatures of hydrated minerals on slopes where mysterious streaks are seen on the Red Planet. 

El Niño's role in Pacific Ocean sea level rise
September 26, 2015 06:35 AM - Universtiy of Hawaii

Many tropical Pacific island nations are struggling to adapt to gradual sea level rise stemming from warming oceans and melting ice caps. Now they may also see much more frequent extreme interannual sea level swings. The culprit is a projected behavioral change of the El Niño phenomenon and its characteristic Pacific wind response, according to recent computer modeling experiments and tide-gauge analysis by scientists Matthew Widlansky and Axel Timmermann at the International Pacific Research Center, University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, and their colleague Wenju Cai at Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) in Australia.

During El Niño, warm water and high sea levels shift eastward, leaving in their wake low sea levels in the western Pacific. Scientists have already shown that this east-west seesaw is often followed six months to a year later by a similar north-south sea level seesaw with water levels dropping by up to one foot (30 cm) in the Southern Hemisphere. Such sea level drops expose shallow marine ecosystems in South Pacific Islands, causing massive coral die-offs with a foul smelling tide called taimasa (pronounced [kai’ ma’sa]) by Samoans.

New study finds massive eruptions likely triggered mass extinction
September 16, 2015 09:14 AM - Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office

Around 252 million years ago, life on Earth collapsed in spectacular and unprecedented fashion, as more than 96 percent of marine species and 70 percent of land species disappeared in a geological instant. The so-called end-Permian mass extinction ­— or more commonly, the “Great Dying” — remains the most severe extinction event in Earth’s history.

Why we're wired for laziness
September 10, 2015 02:28 PM - Cell Press via EurekAlert!

Those of you who spend hours at the gym with the aim of burning as many calories as possible may be disappointed to learn that all the while your nervous system is subconsciously working against you. Researchers reporting in the Cell Press journal Current Biology on September 10 have found that our nervous systems are remarkably adept in changing the way we move so as to expend the least amount of energy possible. In other words, humans are wired for laziness.

Lunar crust found to be highly fractured
September 10, 2015 01:28 PM - Jennifer Chu | MIT News Office

Scientists believe that about 4 billion years ago, during a period called the Late Heavy Bombardment, the moon took a severe beating, as an army of asteroids pelted its surface, carving out craters and opening deep fissures in its crust. Such sustained impacts increased the moon’s porosity, opening up a network of large seams beneath the lunar surface.

Now scientists at MIT and elsewhere have identified regions on the far side of the moon, called the lunar highlands, that may have been so heavily bombarded — particularly by small asteroids — that the impacts completely shattered the upper crust, leaving these regions essentially as fractured and porous as they could be. The scientists found that further impacts to these highly porous regions may have then had the opposite effect, sealing up cracks and decreasing porosity.

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