Comet ISON set to brush the sun

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A NASA image of Comet ISON taken in April 2013.

Experts still not sure if the comet will survive

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Sky watchers hoping for a spectacular appearance by Comet ISON are carefully tracking the comet’s path as it approaches the sun. Though the comet isn’t visible to casual observers just yet, astronomers have been able to capture some clear images, especially after an outburst in mid-November boosted the comet’s brightness tenfold, according to NASA.

But nobody knows for sure what will happen next, especially since the comet is on a path for a close pass by the sun on Thanksgiving Day. There’s a chance the comet could disintegrate at any time — according to NASA, that happens less than 1 percent of the time when they get this close to the sun. Continue reading

Climate: NASA takes close look at Greenland ice sheet

Surface measurements will provide baseline data for upcoming satellite mission

Click on the image for more information on Greenland's rapidly thinning ice cap.

Click on the image for more information on Greenland’s thinning ice cap.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — A new airborne research effort by NASA will help measure ice loss in the Arctic by measuring changes in the height of the Greenland ice sheet and surrounding Arctic sea ice produced by a single season of summer melt.

The survey flights, running through Nov. 16, will collect data to improve the understanding of seasonal melt and provide baseline measurements for future satellite missions.

The land and sea ice data gathered during this campaign will give researchers a more comprehensive view of seasonal changes and provide context for measurements that will be gathered during NASA’s ICESat-2 mission, which is scheduled for launch in 2016. Continue reading

The Grand Canyon … of Greenland

Radar data deciphers topography beneath the ice

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Someday, if the Greenland ice cap melts because of global warming, tourists may have a new destination to rival the Grand Canyon.

After studying data from NASA’s Operation IceBridge, geographers at the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom said they found evidence of 460-mile canyon hidden under a mile of Greenland ice. In places, the previously undiscovered canyon is 2,600 feet deep. The huge gash is thought to predate the ice sheet that has covered Greenland for the last few million years.

“One might assume that the landscape of the Earth has been fully explored and mapped,” said Jonathan Bamber, professor of physical geography at the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom, and lead author of the study. “Our research shows there’s still a lot left to discover.” Continue reading

Climate: Arctic sea ice trend is ‘strongly downward’

New record unlikely this year, NASA says

Sun glint off a sea ice lead in an otherwise heavily ridged ice pack, Canada Basin (Arctic Ocean). Credit: NASA/Sinead Farrell

Sun glints off a sea ice lead in an otherwise heavily ridged ice pack, Canada Basin (Arctic Ocean). Photo courtesy NASA/Sinead Farrell.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Arctic sea ice loss is unlikely to reach last year’s record low level, but there’s no sign of any recovery, either, NASA scientists said the week. This summer’s melt rate is consistent with the sustained decline of the Arctic ice cover observed by NASA and other satellites over the last several decades, the U.S. space agency said.

Overall, Arctic sea ice has declined at a rate of about 14 percent per decade since satellite measurements started in 1978, and rate has accelerated since 2007.

“Even if this year ends up being the sixth- or seventh-lowest extent, what matters is that the 10 lowest extents recorded have happened during the last 10 years,” said Walt Meier, a glaciologist with NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. “The long-term trend is strongly downward.” Continue reading

Space: NASA plans 2016 asteroid mission

Long-range goal includes planning missions to redirect potentially dangerous asteroids in near-Earth orbit

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A NASA satellite image shows an asteroid pockmarked with craters.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — NASA may not be flying any shuttle missions in the immediate future, but that doesn’t mean the U.S. space agency has stopped working. Research continues on deep space exploration, including a potential manned mission to Mars in the 2030s.

Another important focus is the idea of being able to capture a near-Earth asteroid and put it into a stable orbit around the moon. The planning is beyond the science fiction stage, with engineers working on ion and electric-solar propulsion systems that could be used to reach, and then move, an asteroid.

As a first step, NASA is already planning to launch an asteroid sampling mission in 2016. OSIRIS-REx already has a target in mind — a 2018 rendezvous with the asteroid Bennu in 2018, bringing samples back to Earth in 2023. Continue reading

Climate: NASA to probe forest and forest fire emissions

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New climate research could help fine-tune global warming models. Photo courtesy NASA.

Satellites and planes to scour atmosphere from top to bottom

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Since clouds and pollution high in the atmosphere are still somewhat of a global warming wild card, scientists have been trying to refine their understanding of how those factors affect the climate.

Better data could help refine climate models used to project how much temperatures will increase the next few decades, and a new NASA research project starting in early August could deliver some of that information.

Satellite sensors will probe from above, while planes with instruments on board will fly near the edge of space and at lower elevations simultaneously to provide a multi-dimensional look at how air pollution and natural emissions, which are pushed high into the atmosphere by large storms, affect atmospheric composition and climate. Continue reading

Climate: NASA satellites see thinning forest cover

Study says mid-Atlantic region most affected

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A spruce beetle infestation is thinning forests in southwestern Colorado, and in some cases, wiping out huge stands of mature trees. Photo courtesy U.S. Forest Service.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Between mountain pine beetles, sudden aspen decline, spruce beetles and ips beetles that attacked southwest Colorado piñon pines in early 2000s, a significant chunk of the state’s forests have changed significantly in the past decade.

But climate change is also driving more subtle changes in forests around the country, and on the ground, those changes may not be as easy to see as a stand of dead lodgepoles.

Using satellite images, to track vegetation patterns, NASA scientists say warmer temperatures and changes in precipitation have resulted in a significant decline in forest canopy cover.The changes were most striking in the mid-Atlantic region, where the researchers estimate that 40 percent forests have been affected. Continue reading

NASA scientists eye asteroid fly-by

Russian meteor unrelated to today’s close call

Russian seismographs show the magnitude of the blast from the meteor that exploded over Siberia. Graph courtesy Helmholtz Centre, Potsdam.

Russian seismographs show the magnitude of the blast from the meteor that exploded over Siberia. Graph courtesy Helmholtz Centre, Potsdam.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — NASA scientists say the trajectory of the meteor over Russia was completely opposite of the asteroid expected to shave Earth’s orbit today, emphasizing that the pair of celestial close-calls is an unrelated coincidence.

The meteor over Russia likely exploded as it heated up from the friction generated as it encountered Earth’s atmosphere. Smaller pieces may have hit the ground as meteorites, but most of the reported damage and injuries in Siberia were the result of the pressure wave generated by the blast. Continue reading

Record-breaking NASA balloon flight over Antarctica gathering data on high energy cosmic rays

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Giant balloon has circumnavigated Antarctica three times

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Somewhere out in deep space, an as-yet unknown source is producing high-energy cosmic rays that bombard the Earth on a regular basis. After gathering data from a record-setting unmanned balloon flight over Antarctica, NASA scientists hope to  better understand where these energetic atomic nuclei are produced and how they achieve their very high energies.

The record-breaking balloon carried an instrument with a name that’s straight out of science fiction comic book, the Super Trans-Iron Galactic Element Recorder. So far, the balloon has been aloft for 46 days. Taking advantage of the unbroken circumpolar winds, the balloon is on its third orbit around the South Pole.

You can track the balloon on its flight by visiting this page: http://www.csbf.nasa.gov/antarctica/ice.htm and learn more about NASA’s balloon programs here: http://www.wff.nasa.gov/balloons. Continue reading

Global warming hits Amazon rainforest

More frequent droughts take a toll on forest canopy

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A megadrought starting in 2005 resulted in widespread damaged to the canopy of the Amazon rainforest. Photo courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — With climate scientists warning that droughts are likely to become more frequent and severe as global temperatures continue to climb, a recent study led by NASA scientists shows what that could mean for the Amazon rainforest.

After analyzing more than 10 years worth of satellite data collected from over the Amazon region, the researchers said rainforest damage first observed during the start of a megadrought in 2005 persisted the next several years, even as rainfall gradually rose back to average levels. But another dry period that started in 2010 may exacerbate the impacts, suggesting that the Amazon rainforests may be showing the first signs of potential large-scale degradation due to climate change. Continue reading

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