NASA News: Herschel Space Observatory Finds Oceans of Water in Planet-Forming Disk Around Nearby Star

WASHINGTON -- Using data from the Herschel Space Observatory,
astronomers have detected for the first time cold water vapor
enveloping a dusty disk around a young star. The findings suggest
that this disk, which is poised to develop into a solar system,
contains great quantities of water, suggesting that water-covered
planets like Earth may be common in the universe. Herschel is a
European Space Agency mission with important NASA contributions.

Scientists previously found warm water vapor in planet-forming disks
close to a central star. Evidence for vast quantities of water
extending out into the cooler, far reaches of disks where comets take
shape had not been seen until now. The more water available in disks
for icy comets to form, the greater the chances that large amounts
eventually will reach new planets through impacts.

"Our observations of this cold vapor indicate enough water exists in
the disk to fill thousands of Earth oceans," said astronomer Michiel
Hogerheijde of Leiden Observatory in The Netherlands. Hogerheijde is
the lead author of a paper describing these findings in the Oct. 21
issue of the journal Science.

The star with this water-logged disk, called TW Hydrae, is 10 million
years old and located about 175 light-years away from Earth, in the
constellation Hydra. The frigid watery haze detected by Hogerheijde
and his team is thought to originate from ice-coated grains of dust
near the disk's surface. Ultraviolet light from the star causes some
water molecules to break free of this ice, creating a thin layer of
gas with a light signature detected by Herschel's Heterodyne
Instrument for the Far-Infrared, or HIFI.

"These are the most sensitive HIFI observations to-date," said Paul
Goldsmith, NASA project scientist for the Herschel Space Observatory
at the agency's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. "It is
a testament to the instrument-builders that such weak signals can be detected."

TW Hydrae is an orange dwarf star, somewhat smaller and cooler than
our yellow-white sun. The giant disk of material that encircles the
star has a size nearly 200 times the distance between Earth and the
sun. Over the next few million years, astronomers believe matter
within the disk will collide and grow into planets, asteroids and
other cosmic bodies. Dust and ice particles will assemble as comets.

As the new solar system evolves, icy comets are likely to deposit much
of the water they contain on freshly created worlds through impacts,
giving rise to oceans. Astronomers believe TW Hydrae and its icy disk
may be representative of many other young star systems, providing new
insights on how planets with abundant water could form throughout the universe.

Herschel is a European Space Agency cornerstone mission launched in
2009, carrying science instruments provided by consortia of European
institutes. NASA's Herschel Project Office based at JPL contributed
mission-enabling technology for two of Herschel's three science
instruments. The NASA Herschel Science Center, part of the Infrared
Processing and Analysis Center at the California Institute of
Technology in Pasadena, supports the U.S. astronomical community.
Caltech manages JPL for NASA.

For NASA's Herschel website, visit:


For ESA's Herschel website, visit:



Press Invited To View NASA Satellite Launch From Suitland NOAA Facility

WASHINGTON -- On Oct. 28, Reporters are invited to join NASA Deputy
Administrator Lori Garver and NOAA Deputy Administrator Kathy
Sullivan to view the launch of the nation's newest Earth-observing
satellite at NOAA's Satellite Operations Facility in Suitland, Md.
Garver and Sullivan will be available for interviews following the launch.

The National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System
Preparatory Project, or NPP, is scheduled to launch from Vandenberg
Air Force Base in California between 5:48 a.m. and 5:57 a.m. EDT on
Oct. 28. The launch heralds a new era of climate change science and
weather forecasting for the nation.

Journalists are invited to the NOAA Satellite Operations Facility
Suitland Federal Campus, located at 4321 Suitland Rd. in Suitland to
view the launch. Journalists wanting to attend the launch and
interview Garver and Sullivan should contact NOAA's John Leslie at
john.leslie@noaa.gov or on 301-713-0214. Reporters must arrive at the
facility by 5 a.m. on launch day.

After launch, NPP will be controlled from the operations center, where
NOAA operates 17 U.S. and foreign environmental satellites. Data from
NPP will enable NOAA to continue issuing accurate forecasts and
provide advance warning for severe weather. NPP also will extend
critical long-term data sets that advance Earth system science and
applications supported by NASA, NOAA, and other agencies. NPP
represents a critical first step in preparing for the next-generation
Joint Polar Satellite System that will collect data on long-term
climate change and short-term weather conditions.

For more information about the NPP mission, visit:



NASA Invites Twitter Followers to Launch of Earth-Observing Satellite

WASHINGTON -- Twenty lucky followers of NASA's Twitter account will
get behind-the-scenes access at the launch of the agency's next
Earth-observing satellite mission. They will participate in a daylong
Tweetup program at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on
Thursday, Oct. 27 and view the launch of NASA's NPP satellite, which
is scheduled to lift off aboard a United Launch Alliance Delta II
rocket between 2:48 and 2:57 a.m. PDT on Friday, Oct. 28.

The National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System
Preparatory Project (NPP) will collect critical data on long-term
climate change and short-term weather conditions. With NPP, NASA
continues gathering key data records initiated by the agency's Earth
Observing System satellites, monitoring changes in the atmosphere,
oceans, vegetation, ice and solid Earth.

Tweetup participants were selected from more than 625 people who
registered online. They will share their experiences with their
followers through the social networking site Twitter. Attendees are
coming from California, the District of Columbia, Illinois, Kansas,
New York and Oregon.

Beginning at 9:30 a.m. PDT on Oct. 27, NASA will broadcast a portion
of the Tweetup when attendees talk with NASA Astronaut Piers Sellers,
the deputy director of the Sciences and Exploration Directorate at
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.; NPP Project
Scientist Jim Gleason; NPP Systems Manager Janice Smith; NASA Launch
Director Tim Dunn; and Scott Asbury, a senior program manager with
Ball Aerospace & Technologies, Corp. in Boulder, Colo. To watch the
broadcast, visit:


Participants also will tour Vandenberg's launch facilities, including
a visit to the launch pad. Vandenberg is headquarters for the 30th
Space Wing, which manages space and missile testing for the
Department of Defense and places satellites into polar orbit from the
West Coast using expendable boosters. Launch management for the
mission is the responsibility of NASA's Launch Services Program at
the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

NASA has invited its Twitter followers to seven previous launches, but
this is the first from the West Coast.

To follow participants on Twitter as they experience the prelaunch
events and NPP's liftoff, follow the #NASATweetup hashtag and the
list of attendees at:


For information about the NPP mission, visit:


For information about Tweetups and ways to connect with NASA via
social media, visit:



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