Southern California breaking news and trends

JPL/NASA: Underground ocean likely exists on Saturn moon

saturn titan ocean

Photo: A. Tavani/JPL/NASA

Inside Titan This artist's concept shows a possible scenario for the internal structure of Titan, as suggested by data from NASA's Cassini spacecraft. Scientists have been trying to determine what is under Titan's organic-rich atmosphere and icy crust. Data from the radio science experiment make the strongest case yet for a global subsurface ocean, sitting above a subsurface layer of high-pressure ice and a water-infused silicate core.

Scientists say they have strong evidence to support what they have long suspected -- that Saturn's largest moon harbors a subsurface ocean. 

If confirmed, Titan would join a short list of bodies in the solar system with liquid water essential for life. However, the presence of liquid water itself does not necessarily indicate life, according to researchers at NASA's Pasadena-based Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Scientists think life is more likely to arise when liquid water is in contact with rock, and these measurements cannot tell whether the ocean bottom is made up of rock or ice. The results have a bigger implication for the mystery of methane replenishment on Titan.

JPL researchers say their findings -- that 100 kilometers beneath the gassy/icy surface likely exists an ocean -- came from data collected by NASA's Cassini spacecraft. The discovery was published in the June 29 issue of Science.

Read More...

NASA's newest X-ray telescope hops a Pegasus to space

Image Credit: Orbital Sciences Corporation/JPL

NASA's NuSTAR and its rocket drop from the carrier "Stargazer" plane.

NASA's new black hole-hunting, X-ray telescope was launched into orbit Wednesday from a remote island in the Pacific. This is real life.

Managed by SoCal's JPL, the Pasadena-controlled peeper begins a two-year mission to seek out celestial objects in the Milky Way, and other galaxies, that are difficult to see. 

The NuSTAR telescope, short for Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array, is designed to cut through interstellar dust and gas to capture light that's gone undetected by other orbiting telescopes.

Paul Hertz, director of NASA's Astrophysics Division, says the telescope will focus on the "poorly explored hard X-ray region of the electromagnetic spectrum" and could open up "a new window on the universe."

The space agency opted for the less expensive air-launch option (instead of rocketing from a launch pad) and sent its $170 million mission into the sky via a Pegasus rocket dropped by an aircraft that took off from the Pacific's Kwajalein Atoll.

Read More...

Mars Odyssey detects an oddity, JPL opens its doors this weekend

Dr. Edward Tunstel Jr, (L), Mars Explora

ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images

A full-scale functioning model of the Mars rover in the In-situ Instrument Laboratory at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory In Pasadena.

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena will be welcoming space watchers to its annual "open house" this weekend where visitors will get the first look at JPL's new Earth Science Center, closely encounter scientists and engineers, and go outer limits with high-definition imagery and 3-D videos.

On Friday, NASA announced that the Mars Odyssey spacecraft, currently orbiting Mars, put itself into a standby safe mode after a problem was detected. JPL, managing the mission from Pasadena, is currently troubleshooting the Odyssey's oddity located in a gyroscope-like device that helps control orientation.

The Odyessy, launched in 2001, is photographing the planet's surface and will play an key role when NASA's lands its newest rover in August. JPL mission manager Chris Potts said in a statement that engineers are communicating with the spacecraft and working on a plan to resume normal operations.

Read More...

SpaceX 'Dragon' wings back to Earth, splashes down in the Pacific

DRAGON LEAVING ISS

Photo credit: ESA/NASA

SpaceX "Dragon" smoothly undocked, moved out, released and on its way home on May 31, 2012.

Six hours after departing the International Space Station, the now legendary SpaceX "Dragon" parachuted back to its home planet and splashed into the Pacific Ocean. 

The unmanned cargo ship, returing from space with nearly 1,400 pounds of old gear, was launched last week by Hawthorne-based Space Exploration Technologies, or "SpaceX," making history as the first private rocket company to fly cargo to the International Space Station.  

NASA, having made its last space shuttle flight earlier this year, is now relying on private companies like Space X to make those space runs. The world's first commercial supply ship was let loose by astronauts on Thursday after a five-day visit to the final frontier. 

Dutch astronaut Andre Kuipers described the experience via Twitter, writing that "Dragon smoothly undocked, moved out, released and on its way home."

Read More...

'Dawn' breaks discovery of double crater on Vesta, says NASA

Asteroid Mission

AP Photo/NASA

This Jan. 5, 2012 image provided by NASA shows bright and dark material at the rim of the Marcia crater on the Vesta asteroid, taken by NASA's Dawn spacecraft. The lighter areas of the crater's edge is causing high interest and speculation by NASA scientists.

The NASA Dawn spacecraft mission has made some surprising discoveries about the asteroid Vesta, the parent body of an asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

Carol Raymond, with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, told KPCC that the data Dawn gathers could help scientists better understand how Earth and other planets emerged.

"Vesta’s history appears to be more similar to rocky terrestrial planets -  Mars, Mercury, and the Earth’s moon - than to its larger sibling Ceres, which will be the second target of the Dawn mission," says Raymond.

Scientists say cosmic collisions, likely with a smaller asteroids, are to blame for Vesta's scars. High-resolution images have revealed, however, that two massive overlapping craters are creating the huge depression (the southern hemisphere depressions were first seen the Hubble Space Telescope).

Read More...