5-year cruise to Jupiter to begin
July 29th, 2011
02:09 PM ET

5-year cruise to Jupiter to begin

The launch window for NASA’s next mission, one the agency is calling a “five-year cruise to Jupiter”, opens next week, and scientists are hoping it will answer some giant questions about the giant planet.

Juno, named after the god Jupiter’s wife in Greek and Roman mythology, has been in the making since the early 2000s. In the ancient Roman stories, Jupiter, the god of the sky, pulled a veil of clouds around himself to hide his mischief, and only his wife was able to peek through and see him as he truly was.


Navy drops former astronaut Nowak
The Navy released a statement saying Lisa Nowak's conduct "demonstrated a complete disregard for the well-being of a fellow service member."
July 29th, 2011
01:44 PM ET

Navy drops former astronaut Nowak

(CNN) - A former astronaut accused of assaulting a romantic rival has been forced to retire from the Navy with an "other than honorable" discharge.

Capt. Lisa Nowak's retirement is effective September 1.

Her "conduct fell well short of that expected of senior officers in our Navy and demonstrated a complete disregard for the well-being of a fellow service member," Juan Garcia, the assistant secretary of the Navy, said in a statement.

Prosecutors accused Nowak of driving nearly 900 miles from Houston to Orlando - wearing NASA diapers to cut down on the number of stops she needed to make - and donning a disguise before following former Air Force Capt. Colleen Shipman from the airport's baggage claim to the parking lot in February 2007.

Her attorney denied that she wore the diapers.

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Filed under: In Space • News
5 questions with Dr. Brian Cox
Dr. Brian Cox currently hosts "Wonders of the Universe" on BBC.
July 29th, 2011
11:28 AM ET

5 questions with Dr. Brian Cox

Every Friday, Light Years will bring you "5 Questions" with a newsmaker, author or influencer in the space and science worlds.

Rock star-turned-physicist Brian Cox, at 43 years old,  has quite the impressive resume. This British particle physicist left rock ’n’ roll in the early '90s to pursue his first and true love: science. Dr. Cox is the host of the BBC program “Wonders of the Universe,” which debuted in the U.S. this week, and is the author of the recently released book by the same name. Cox is a Royal Society University Research Fellow at the University of Manchester. In addition, he is working on the ATLAS Experiment at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN in Switzerland.

You went from playing the keyboard in a British rock band to teaching science. How did that transition take place?

 I’d always been interested in astronomy and space exploration. My dad tells me that I watched Apollo 8 go around the moon back in 1968, when I was only a baby, so I’ve always been interested in science. Being a musician came a bit later. When I was 14 or 15, I got into music and took a little detour and then went back to the university.  Being a musician was fun. I traveled out of the UK just once, going to LA when I was 19 to make an album. But to be honest, I think I got out of it at the right time. I wouldn’t want to be doing it now. I love being a physicist. Before doing a TV program and writing books, I was just doing research in labs in Germany and Switzerland, and that’s what I love doing. I accidentally stumbled on this new career of making TV programs, but that’s been quite fun as well.  

Are there planets in our universe, besides Earth, that can sustain life?  

Technically, we don’t know. We know that on Earth, where you find liquid water, you find life. Mars is getting more and more interesting every month. The evidence is that there’s probably liquid water there, but it hasn’t been proven yet. Another one is Europa, one of Jupiter’s moons. It has a saltwater ocean beneath the surface. That’s real tempting — what you better do is go and find out.

Do you believe the human population will be living on those planets anytime soon?  

At some point, yes I do. I would be very disappointed if I didn’t see us land on Mars within my lifetime. We should be there already — we know how to do it. We already live in space. The space station’s been there for over a decade. There should be a base on the moon, too. I guess it’s up to the ambition of the human race.  


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Filed under: News • Voices
July 29th, 2011
10:17 AM ET

Rock Layers in Gale Crater

"This oblique view of the lower mound in Gale Crater shows layers of rock that preserve a record of environments on Mars. Here, orbiting instruments have detected signatures of both clay minerals and sulfate salts, with more clay minerals apparent in the foreground of this image and fewer in higher layers. This change in mineralogy may reflect a change in the ancient environment in Gale Crater.

Mars scientists have several important hypotheses about how these minerals may reflect changes in the amount of water on the surface of Mars. The Mars Science Laboratory rover, Curiosity, will use its full suite of instruments to study these minerals to provide insights into these ancient Martian environments. These rocks are also a prime target in the search for organic molecules since these past environments may have been habitable - able to support microbial life. Scientists will study how organic molecules, if present, vary with mineralogical variations in the layers to understand how they formed and what influences their preservation.

The smaller hills in this view may provide clues to the modern water cycle on Mars. They contain sulfate salts that have water in them, and as temperatures warm into summer, some of that water may be released to the atmosphere. As temperatures cool, they may absorb water from the atmosphere. The Mars Science Laboratory team will investigate how water is exchanged between these minerals and the atmosphere, helping us understand Mars' modern climate. The hills are particularly useful for this investigation because different parts of the hills are exposed to different amounts of sunlight and thus to different temperatures. Curiosity will be able to compare the water in these contrasting areas as part of its investigations.

This three-dimensional perspective view was created using visible-light imaging by the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and the High Resolution Stereo Camera on the European Space Agency's Mars Express orbiter. Three-dimensional information was derived by stereo analysis of image pairs. The vertical dimension is not exaggerated. Color information is derived from color imaging of portions of the scene by the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment camera.

The Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft is being prepared for launch on Nov. 25, 2011. In a prime mission lasting one Martian year - nearly two Earth years - after landing, researchers will use the rover's tools to study whether the landing region has had environmental conditions favorable for supporting microbial life and for preserving clues about whether life existed."

Source: NASA

Filed under: Light up the screen
July 29th, 2011
10:04 AM ET


Every Friday, @CNNLightYears will suggest interesting and exciting space and science Twitter accounts to follow.

Today, @CNNLightYears is giving a #FollowFriday to @NASA’s official Earth science mission accounts. "NASA’s goal is to understand the changing climate, its interaction with life, and how human activities affect the environment,” according to NASA’s Earth science website.

NASA’s Earth Observatory tweets images and discoveries about climate and the environment.

NASA’s Hurricane and Tropical Cyclone account tweets the latest storm images and data.

@NASA_ICE tweets about the Earth's sea ice, land ice, snow, and permafrost. Follow this account for tweets from #ICESCAPE, a multi-year NASA shipborne project taking place in the Arctic Ocean.

NASA's "Eyes on the Earth" Twitter account offers news on all-things climate.

The official Twitter account from NASA's newest climate and weather satellite, NPP, which is scheduled to launch on October 25th.  The NPOESS Preparatory Project "will orbit the Earth about 16 times each day and observe nearly the entire surface."

You can also follow Twitter updates from @CNNLightYears.

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Filed under: FollowFriday • Voices


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