NASA News: NASA Developing Instruments For New Solar Orbiter Mission

WASHINGTON -- NASA will begin development and testing of two science
instruments, in cooperation with the European Space Agency (ESA), to
be placed on ESA's newly selected Solar Orbiter mission. The
spacecraft will study the sun from a closer distance than any previous mission.

At its closest approach, the European-led project will operate
approximately 21 million miles from the sun's surface, near the orbit
of Mercury, roughly 25 percent of the distance from the sun to the
Earth. This unique vantage point will enhance the ability to forecast
space weather.

Space weather produces disturbances in electromagnetic fields on Earth
that can induce extreme currents in wires, disrupt power lines and
cause widespread blackouts. These sun storms can interfere with
communications between ground controllers and satellites and with
airplane pilots flying near Earth's poles. Radio noise from the
storms also can disrupt cell phone service.

"Solar Orbiter is an exciting mission that will improve our
understanding of the sun and its environment," said Barbara Giles,
director for NASA's Heliophysics Division in Washington. "This
collaboration will create a new chapter in heliophysics research and
continue a strong partnership with the international science
community to complement future robotic and human exploration activities."

Solar Orbiter will be close enough to the sun to sample solar wind
shortly after the wind has been ejected from the sun's surface.
Additionally, the spacecraft will observe in great detail the process
that accelerates the wind on the sun's surface. Data will provide
views of the sun's polar regions and far side. The spacecraft's
elliptical orbit will allow it to follow the star's rotation,
enabling observations of specific areas for much longer than is
currently possible.

Launch is planned for 2017 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station,
Fla., aboard a NASA-provided expendable launch vehicle. Among the
science investigations, two instruments valued at $80 million are
provided by NASA:

- The Solar Orbiter Heliospheric Imager (SoloHI), which will provide
revolutionary measurements to pinpoint coronal mass ejections or
CMEs. CMEs are space weather events with violent solar eruptions that
travel from 60 miles per second to more than 2,000 miles per second
with masses greater than a few billion tons. Russell Howard from the
Naval Research Laboratory in Washington is principal investigator.

- The Heavy Ion Sensor (HIS), one of a suite of sensors that will
measure density, velocity, and temperature of the solar wind. Stefano
Livi from the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio is
principal investigator.

The NASA investigations for Solar Orbiter are part of NASA's Living
with a Star Program. NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt,
Md., manages the program for the Heliophysics Division in the
agency's Science Mission Directorate. The program's goal is to
develop the scientific understanding necessary to address those
aspects of the connected sun-Earth system that directly affect our
lives and society.

Launch management for the mission is the responsibility of NASA's
Launch Services Program at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

For more information about the Living with a Star Program, visit:


For more information about the Solar Orbiter program, visit:


For more information about the Solar Orbiter selection, visit:



Space Observatory Provides Clues To Creation Of Earth's Oceans

WASHINGTON -- Astronomers have found a new cosmic source for the same
kind of water that appeared on Earth billions of years ago and
created the oceans. The findings may help explain how Earth's surface
ended up covered in water.

New measurements from the Herschel Space Observatory show that comet
Hartley 2, which comes from the distant Kuiper Belt, contains water
with the same chemical signature as Earth's oceans. This remote
region of the solar system, some 30 to 50 times as far away as the
distance between Earth and the sun, is home to icy, rocky bodies
including Pluto, other dwarf planets and innumerable comets.

"Our results with Herschel suggest that comets could have played a
major role in bringing vast amounts of water to an early Earth," said
Dariusz Lis, senior research associate in physics at the California
Institute of Technology in Pasadena and co-author of a new paper in
the journal Nature, published online Oct. 5. "This finding
substantially expands the reservoir of Earth ocean-like water in the
solar system to now include icy bodies originating in the Kuiper Belt."

Scientists theorize Earth started out hot and dry, so that water
critical for life must have been delivered millions of years later by
asteroid and comet impacts. Until now, none of the comets previously
studied contained water like Earth's. However, Herschel's
observations of Hartley 2, the first in-depth look at water in a
comet from the Kuiper Belt, paint a different picture.

Herschel peered into the comet's coma, or thin, gaseous atmosphere.
The coma develops as frozen materials inside a comet vaporize while
on approach to the sun. This glowing envelope surrounds the comet's
"icy dirtball"-like core and streams behind the object in a
characteristic tail.

Herschel detected the signature of vaporized water in this coma and,
to the surprise of the scientists, Hartley 2 possessed half as much
"heavy water" as other comets analyzed to date. In heavy water, one
of the two normal hydrogen atoms has been replaced by the heavy
hydrogen isotope known as deuterium. The ratio between heavy water
and light, or regular, water in Hartley 2 is the same as the water on
Earth's surface. The amount of heavy water in a comet is related to
the environment where the comet formed.

By tracking the path of Hartley 2 as it swoops into Earth's
neighborhood in the inner solar system every six and a half years,
astronomers know that it comes from the Kuiper Belt. The five comets
besides Hartley 2 whose heavy-water-to-regular-water ratios have been
obtained all come from an even more distant region in the solar
system called the Oort Cloud. This swarm of bodies, 10,000 times
farther afield than the Kuiper Belt, is the wellspring for most
documented comets.

Given the higher ratios of heavy water seen in Oort Cloud comets
compared to Earth's oceans, astronomers had concluded that the
contribution by comets to Earth's total water volume stood at
approximately 10 percent. Asteroids, which are found mostly in a band
between Mars and Jupiter but occasionally stray into Earth's
vicinity, looked like the major depositors. The new results, however,
point to Kuiper Belt comets having performed a previously
underappreciated service in bearing water to Earth.

How these objects ever came to possess the tell-tale oceanic water is
puzzling. Astronomers had expected Kuiper Belt comets to have even
more heavy water than Oort Cloud comets because the latter are
thought to have formed closer to the sun than those in the Kuiper
Belt. Therefore, Oort Cloud bodies should have had less frozen heavy
water locked in them prior to their ejection to the fringes as the
solar system evolved.

"Our study indicates that our understanding of the distribution of the
lightest elements and their isotopes, as well as the dynamics of the
early solar system, is incomplete," said co-author Geoffrey Blake,
professor of planetary science and chemistry at Caltech. "In the
early solar system, comets and asteroids must have been moving all
over the place, and it appears that some of them crash-landed on our
planet and made our oceans."

Herschel is a European Space Agency cornerstone mission, with science
instruments provided by consortia of European institutes. NASA's
Herschel Project Office is based at the agency's Jet Propulsion
Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., which 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 Caltech in Pasadena, supports the U.S. astronomical community.

For NASA's Herschel website, visit:


For ESA's Herschel website, visit:



NASA Announces News Briefing On Next Earth Science Launch

WASHINGTON -- NASA will hold a news briefing on Wednesday, Oct. 12, at
1 p.m. EDT, on the agency's next Earth-observing satellite mission,
the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite
System Preparatory Project (NPP), scheduled to launch on Oct. 27 from
Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif.

NPP is the first of a new generation of satellites that will observe
many facets of our changing Earth. The mission will collect critical
data to improve our understanding of long-term climate change and
short-term weather conditions. With NPP, NASA continues many key data
records of Earth's atmosphere, oceans, vegetation, and ice initiated
by the agency's Earth Observing System satellites.

The panelists are:
- Andrew Carson, NPP program executive, NASA Headquarters
- Ken Schwer, NPP project manager, Goddard Space Flight Center,
Greenbelt, Md.
- Dr. Jim Gleason, NPP project scientist, Goddard Space Flight Center
- Dr. Louis Uccellini, director, National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration's National Centers for Environmental Prediction, Camp
Springs, Md.

The briefing will be held in the James E. Webb Auditorium at NASA
Headquarters, 300 E St. SW, Washington. Reporters unable to attend in
person may ask questions from participating NASA centers or by
telephone. To participate by phone, reporters must contact Dwayne
Brown at 202-358-1726 or dwayne.c.brown@nasa.gov by 9 a.m. on Oct. 12.

The news conference will air live on NASA Television and the agency's
website. For NASA TV streaming video, downlink and scheduling
information, visit:


For more information about the NPP mission, visit:



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