John Glenn During the Mercury-Atlas 6 Spaceflight

On Feb. 20, 1962, astronaut John H. Glenn, Jr., became the first American to orbit Earth. Launched from Cape Canaveral Launch Complex 14, Glenn’s Mercury-Atlas 6 “Friendship 7” spacecraft completed a successful three-orbit mission, reaching a maximum altitude (apogee) of approximately 162 statute miles and an orbital velocity of approximately 17,500 miles per hour. The flight lasted a total of 4 hours, 55 minutes, and 23 seconds before the spacecraft splashed down in the ocean. This photograph of John Glenn during the Mercury-Atlas 6 spaceflight was taken by a camera onboard the spacecraft.

Image Credit: NASA via NASA http://ift.tt/1CSKR3Z

Magnetospheric Multiscale Observatories Processed for Launch

NASA’s Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS) observatories are processed for launch in a clean room at the Astrotech Space Operations facility in Titusville, Florida. MMS is an unprecedented NASA mission to study the mystery of how magnetic fields around Earth connect and disconnect, explosively releasing energy via a process known as magnetic reconnection. MMS consists of four identical spacecraft that work together to provide the first three-dimensional view of this fundamental process, which occurs throughout the universe.

The mission observes reconnection directly in Earth’s protective magnetic space environment, the magnetosphere. By studying reconnection in this local, natural laboratory, MMS helps us understand reconnection elsewhere as well, such as in the atmosphere of the sun and other stars, in the vicinity of black holes and neutron stars, and at the boundary between our solar system’s heliosphere and interstellar space.

MMS is a NASA mission led by the Goddard Space Flight Center. The instrument payload science team consists of researchers from a number of institutions and is led by the Southwest Research Institute. Launch of the four identical observatories aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station is managed by Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Services Program. Liftoff is currently targeted for 10:44 p.m. EDT on March 12.

Image Credit: NASA/Ben Smegelsky via NASA http://ift.tt/17hsNrB

Snow-Covered Northeastern United States

Yet another potent winter storm battered the northeastern United States on Feb. 14-15, 2015. The nor’easter brought 12 to 20 inches (30 to 50 centimeters) of snow across much of eastern New England, along with tropical storm force winds over 60 miles (100 kilometers) per hour. The latest snowfall pushed Boston to its highest monthly total on record—58 inches and counting—and its third highest yearly snow total.

This image shows the snow-covered northeastern states as observed on Feb. 16, 2015, by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite. Cloud streets over the Atlantic Ocean in both images hint at the potent winds blowing across the East Coast from the Canadian interior. Following the blizzard, temperatures dropped as low as -30 degrees Fahrenheit (-34° Celsius) in parts of New England.

What the images do not show is snow depth. With the latest storm, nearly 8 feet (2.4 meters) of snow has fallen on the city of Boston in just three weeks. With temperatures persistently below freezing, very little snow has melted. According to National Climatic Data Center statistics the snow depth just south of Boston was roughly 42 inches (107 centimeters). Totals were above 30 inches (76 centimeters) in many locations in Maine, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts.

As of Feb. 17, the snow depth near Boston was greater than in all but two reported locations in Alaska. It was significantly higher than the notoriously snowy states of Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. Only Buffalo, New York, had a higher snow pack.

On Feb. 16-17, more snow and ice fell across the eastern United States from northern Mississippi all the way to Maine.

Image Credit: NASA/Jeff Schmaltz, LANCE/EOSDIS Rapid Response, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center
Caption: Mike Carlowicz via NASA http://ift.tt/1vWp2TY

Dawn Approaches: Two Faces of Ceres

These two views of Ceres were acquired by NASA’s Dawn spacecraft on Feb. 12, 2015, from a distance of about 52,000 miles (83,000 kilometers) as the dwarf planet rotated. The images have been magnified from their original size.

The Dawn spacecraft is due to arrive at Ceres on March 6, 2015.

Dawn’s mission to Vesta and Ceres is managed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. Dawn is a project of the directorate’s Discovery Program, managed by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. UCLA is responsible for overall Dawn mission science. Orbital ATK, Inc., of Dulles, Virginia, designed and built the spacecraft. JPL is managed for NASA by the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. The framing cameras were provided by the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, Göttingen, Germany, with significant contributions by the German Aerospace Center (DLR) Institute of Planetary Research, Berlin, and in coordination with the Institute of Computer and Communication Network Engineering, Braunschweig. The visible and infrared mapping spectrometer was provided by the Italian Space Agency and the Italian National Institute for Astrophysics, built by Selex ES, and is managed and operated by the Italian Institute for Space Astrophysics and Planetology, Rome. The gamma ray and neutron detector was built by Los Alamos National Laboratory, New Mexico, and is operated by the Planetary Science Institute, Tucson, Arizona.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA via NASA http://ift.tt/17e9246

Growing Deltas in Atchafalaya Bay

The delta plain of the Mississippi River is disappearing. The lobe-shaped arc of coastal land from the Chandeleur Islands in eastern Louisiana to the Sabine River loses a football field’s worth of land every hour. Put another way, the delta has shrunk by nearly 5,000 square kilometers (2,000 square miles) over the past 80 years. That’s as if most of Delaware had sunk into the sea.

Though land losses are widely distributed across the 300 kilometer (200 mile) wide coastal plain of Louisiana, Atchafalaya Bay stands as a notable exception. In a swampy area south of Morgan City, new land is forming at the mouths of the Wax Lake Outlet and the Atchafalaya River. Wax Lake Outlet is an artificial channel that diverts some of the river’s flow into the bay about 16 kilometers (10 miles) west of where the main river empties.

Both deltas are being built by sediment carried by the Atchafalaya River. The Atchafalaya is a distributary of the Mississippi River, connecting to the “Big Muddy” in south central Louisiana near Simmesport. Studies of the geologic history of the meandering Mississippi have shown that—if left to nature—most of the river’s water would eventually flow down the Atchafalaya. But the Old River Control Structure, built in the 1960s by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, ensures that only 30 percent of the Mississippi flows into the Atchafalaya River, while the rest of the keeps moving toward Baton Rouge and New Orleans.

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Image Credit: NASA/Earth Observatory via NASA http://ift.tt/1D4iXai

NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy

NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) enters the Lufthansa Technik hangar in Hamburg, Germany for its decadal inspection. Flight, aircraft maintenance, and science personnel from the Armstrong Flight Research Center worked alongside Lufthansa’s 747 specialists to perform a wide range of inspections and maintenance.

Image Credit: NASA/ Jeff Doughty via NASA http://ift.tt/1Mg5TkH

Giant Filament Seen on the Sun

A dark, snaking line across the lower half of the sun in this Feb. 10, 2015 image from NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) shows a filament of solar material hovering above the sun’s surface. SDO shows colder material as dark and hotter material as light, so the line is, in fact, an enormous swatch of colder material hovering in the sun’s atmosphere, the corona. Stretched out, that line – or solar filament as scientists call it – would be more than 533,000 miles long. That is longer than 67 Earths lined up in a row. Filaments can float sedately for days before disappearing. Sometimes they also erupt out into space, releasing solar material in a shower that either rains back down or escapes out into space, becoming a moving cloud known as a coronal mass ejection, or CME. SDO captured images of the filament in numerous wavelengths, each of which helps highlight material of different temperatures on the sun. By looking at such features in different wavelengths and temperatures, scientists learn more about what causes these structures, as well as what catalyzes their occasional eruptions.

Launched on Feb. 11, 2010 aboard a ULA Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory is designed to study the causes of solar variability and its impacts on Earth. The spacecraft’s long-term measurements give solar scientists in-depth information to help characterize the interior of the sun, the sun’s magnetic field, the hot plasma of the solar corona, and the density of radiation that creates the ionosphere of the planets. The information is used to create better forecasts of space weather needed to protect aircraft, satellites and astronauts living and working in space.

Image Credit: NASA/SDO via NASA http://ift.tt/1EYkgIf