NASA News: NASA's Voyager Hits New Region at Solar System Edge

WASHINGTON -- NASA's Voyager 1 spacecraft has entered a new region
between our solar system and interstellar space. Data obtained from
Voyager over the last year reveal this new region to be a kind of
cosmic purgatory. In it, the wind of charged particles streaming out
from our sun has calmed, our solar system's magnetic field piles up
and higher energy particles from inside our solar system appear to be
leaking out into interstellar space.

"Voyager tells us now that we're in a stagnation region in the
outermost layer of the bubble around our solar system," said Ed
Stone, Voyager project scientist at the California Institute of
Technology in Pasadena. "Voyager is showing that what is outside is
pushing back. We shouldn't have long to wait to find out what the
space between stars is really like."

Although Voyager 1 is about 11 billion miles (18 billion kilometers)
from the sun, it is not yet in interstellar space. In the latest
data, the direction of the magnetic field lines has not changed,
indicating Voyager is still within the heliosphere, the bubble of
charged particles the sun blows around itself. The data do not reveal
exactly when Voyager 1 will make it past the edge of the solar
atmosphere into interstellar space, but suggest it will be in a few
months to a few years.

The latest findings, described today at the American Geophysical
Union's fall meeting in San Francisco, come from Voyager's Low Energy
Charged Particle instrument, Cosmic Ray Subsystem and Magnetometer.

Scientists previously reported the outward speed of the solar wind had
diminished to zero in April 2010, marking the start of the new
region. Mission managers rolled the spacecraft several times this
spring and summer to help scientists discern whether the solar wind
was blowing strongly in another direction. It was not. Voyager 1 is
plying the celestial seas in a region similar to Earth's doldrums,
where there is very little wind.

During this past year, Voyager's magnetometer also detected a doubling
in the intensity of the magnetic field in the stagnation region. Like
cars piling up at a clogged freeway off-ramp, the increased intensity
of the magnetic field shows that inward pressure from interstellar
space is compacting it.

Voyager has been measuring energetic particles that originate from
inside and outside our solar system. Until mid-2010, the intensity of
particles originating from inside our solar system had been holding
steady. But during the past year, the intensity of these energetic
particles has been declining, as though they are leaking out into
interstellar space. The particles are now half as abundant as they
were during the previous five years.

At the same time, Voyager has detected a 100-fold increase in the
intensity of high-energy electrons from elsewhere in the galaxy
diffusing into our solar system from outside, which is another
indication of the approaching boundary.

"We've been using the flow of energetic charged particles at Voyager 1
as a kind of wind sock to estimate the solar wind velocity," said Rob
Decker, a Voyager Low-Energy Charged Particle Instrument
co-investigator at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics
Laboratory in Laurel, Md. "We've found that the wind speeds are low
in this region and gust erratically. For the first time, the wind
even blows back at us. We are evidently traveling in completely new
territory. Scientists had suggested previously that there might be a
stagnation layer, but we weren't sure it existed until now."

Launched in 1977, Voyager 1 and 2 are in good health. Voyager 2 is 9
billion miles (15 billion kilometers) away from the sun.

The Voyager spacecraft were built by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory
in Pasadena, Calif., which continues to operate both. JPL is a
division of the California Institute of Technology. The Voyager
missions are a part of the NASA Heliophysics System Observatory,
sponsored by the Heliophysics Division of the Science Mission
Directorate in Washington. For more information about the Voyager
spacecraft, visit:


For more information about NASA media events at the American
Geophysical Union meeting, visit:



Indiana Students Will Talk Live With Space Station Commander

WASHINGTON -- Students at the Westchester Intermediate School in
Chesterton, Ind., will speak with Expedition 30 Commander Dan Burbank
aboard the International Space Station at approximately 11:35 a.m.
EST on Friday, Dec. 9. Media representatives are invited to attend.
The event will be broadcast live on NASA Television.

Fifth- and sixth-grade students will ask Burbank questions about
living and working in space aboard the orbiting laboratory. The
students will take part in a series of activities leading up to the
event focused on science, technology, engineering and mathematics

To attend the event, reporters must call Bridget Martinson at
219-983-3600 or e-mail bridget.martinson@duneland.k12.in.us The
school is located at 1050 S. 5th Street.

Burbank and Russian cosmonauts Anton Shkaplerov and Anatoly Ivanishin
arrived at the station Nov. 15. They are scheduled to live and work
there until March, while performing dozens of experiments and
preparing for the arrival of new commercial resupply spacecraft. They
will be joined by three crewmates in late December.

This in-flight education downlink is one in a series with educational
organizations in the United States and abroad to improve STEM
teaching and learning. It is an integral component of NASA's Teaching
From Space education program, which promotes learning opportunities
and builds partnerships with the education community using the unique
environment of space and NASA's human spaceflight program.

The exact time of the downlink is subject to change. For NASA TV
downlink, schedule and streaming video information, visit:


For information about NASA's education programs, visit:


For information about the International Space Station, visit:


To follow Twitter updates from Burbank, visit:



NASA Finds 'Merging Tsunami' Doubled Japan Destruction

WASHINGTON -- NASA and Ohio State University researchers have
discovered the major tsunami generated by the March 2011 Tohoku-Oki
quake centered off northeastern Japan was a long-hypothesized
"merging tsunami." The tsunami doubled in intensity over rugged ocean
ridges, amplifying its destructive power at landfall.

Data from NASA and European radar satellites captured at least two
wave fronts that day. The fronts merged to form a single, double-high
wave far out at sea. This wave was capable of traveling long
distances without losing power. Ocean ridges and undersea mountain
chains pushed the waves together along certain directions from the
tsunami's origin.

The discovery helps explain how tsunamis can cross ocean basins to
cause massive destruction at some locations while leaving others
unscathed. The data raise hope that scientists may be able to improve
tsunami forecasts.

Research scientist Y. Tony Song of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in
Pasadena, Calif., and professor C.K. Shum of The Ohio State
University discussed the data and simulations that enabled them to
piece the story together at a media briefing Monday, Dec. 5, at the
American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco.

"It was a one in 10 million chance that we were able to observe this
double wave with satellites," Song said. He is the principal
investigator in the NASA-funded study.

"Researchers have suspected for decades that such 'merging tsunamis'
might have been responsible for the 1960 Chilean tsunami that killed
about 200 people in Japan and Hawaii, but nobody had definitively
observed a merging tsunami until now," Song said. It was like looking
for a ghost. A NASA-French Space Agency satellite altimeter happened
to be in the right place at the right time to capture the double wave
and verify its existence."

The NASA-Centre National d'Etudes Spaciales Jason-1 satellite passed
over the tsunami on March 11, as did two other satellites -- the
NASA-European Jason-2 and the European Space Agency's EnviSAT. All
three carry radar altimeters, which measure sea level changes to an
accuracy of a few centimeters. Each satellite crossed the tsunami at
a different location, measuring the wave fronts as they occurred.
Jason-1 launched 10 years ago this week on Dec. 7, 2001.

"We can use what we learned to make better forecasts of tsunami danger
in specific coastal regions anywhere in the world, depending on the
location and the mechanism of an undersea quake," Shum said.

The researchers think ridges and undersea mountain chains on the ocean
floor deflected parts of the initial tsunami wave away from each
other to form independent jets shooting off in different directions,
each with its own wave front.

The sea floor topography nudges tsunami waves in varying directions
and can make its destruction appear random. For that reason, hazard
maps that try to predict where tsunamis will strike rely on sub-sea
topography. Previously, these maps considered only topography near a
particular shoreline. This study suggests scientists may be able to
create maps that take into account all undersea topography, even
sub-sea ridges and mountains far from shore.

Song and his team were able to verify the satellite data through model
simulations based on independent data, including GPS data from Japan
and buoy data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration's Deep-ocean Assessment and Reporting of Tsunamis

"Tools based on this research could help officials forecast the
potential for tsunami jets to merge," Song said. "This, in turn,
could lead to more accurate coastal tsunami hazard maps to protect
communities and critical infrastructure."

For more information about presentations at the American Geophysical
Union meeting, visit:



NASA TV Moving to New Satellite; Liveshot Service Moving to Ku Band

WASHINGTON -- Effective Dec. 19, 2011, NASA Television's Public, HD,
Media and Education channels will be available for downlink on
satellite AMC-18.

NASA TV will provide dual service on AMC-18 and its current satellite,
SES-2, through Dec. 18, 2011. By Dec. 19, cable and satellite service
providers, broadcasters, and educational and scientific institutions
must have their receiving devices tuned to AMC-18 to continue
accessing NASA TV for distribution.

NASA TV's Live Interactive Media Service (LIMS) for media liveshots
will be moving to KU-band service, effective Dec.17, 2011. Satellite,
transponder and KU-Band parameters will be provided before each
interview event. NASA will attempt to schedule each set of liveshots
on a satellite in close proximity to AMC-18.

For complete NASA TV and NASA LIMS downlink information, visit:



NASA's Kepler Confirms Its First Planet in Habitable Zone of Sun-Like Star

MOFFET FIELD, Calif. -- NASA's Kepler mission has confirmed its first
planet in the "habitable zone," the region where liquid water could
exist on a planet's surface. Kepler also has discovered more than
1,000 new planet candidates, nearly doubling its previously known
count. Ten of these candidates are near-Earth-size and orbit in the
habitable zone of their host star. Candidates require follow-up
observations to verify they are actual planets.

The newly confirmed planet, Kepler-22b, is the smallest yet found to
orbit in the middle of the habitable zone of a star similar to our
sun. The planet is about 2.4 times the radius of Earth. Scientists
don't yet know if Kepler-22b has a predominantly rocky, gaseous or
liquid composition, but its discovery is a step closer to finding
Earth-like planets.

Previous research hinted at the existence of near-Earth-size planets
in habitable zones, but clear confirmation proved elusive. Two other
small planets orbiting stars smaller and cooler than our sun recently
were confirmed on the very edges of the habitable zone, with orbits
more closely resembling those of Venus and Mars.

"This is a major milestone on the road to finding Earth's twin," said
Douglas Hudgins, Kepler program scientist at NASA Headquarters in
Washington. "Kepler's results continue to demonstrate the importance
of NASA's science missions, which aim to answer some of the biggest
questions about our place in the universe."

Kepler discovers planets and planet candidates by measuring dips in
the brightness of more than 150,000 stars to search for planets that
cross in front, or "transit," the stars. Kepler requires at least
three transits to verify a signal as a planet.

"Fortune smiled upon us with the detection of this planet," said
William Borucki, Kepler principal investigator at NASA Ames Research
Center at Moffett Field, Calif., who led the team that discovered
Kepler-22b. "The first transit was captured just three days after we
declared the spacecraft operationally ready. We witnessed the
defining third transit over the 2010 holiday season."

The Kepler science team uses ground-based telescopes and the Spitzer
Space Telescope to review observations on planet candidates the
spacecraft finds. The star field that Kepler observes in the
constellations Cygnus and Lyra can only be seen from ground-based
observatories in spring through early fall. The data from these other
observations help determine which candidates can be validated as

Kepler-22b is located 600 light-years away. While the planet is larger
than Earth, its orbit of 290 days around a sun-like star resembles
that of our world. The planet's host star belongs to the same class
as our sun, called G-type, although it is slightly smaller and

Of the 54 habitable zone planet candidates reported in February 2011,
Kepler-22b is the first to be confirmed. This milestone will be
published in The Astrophysical Journal.

The Kepler team is hosting its inaugural science conference at Ames
Dec. 5-9, announcing 1,094 new planet candidate discoveries. Since
the last catalog was released in February, the number of planet
candidates identified by Kepler has increased by 89 percent and now
totals 2,326. Of these, 207 are approximately Earth-size, 680 are
super Earth-size, 1,181 are Neptune-size, 203 are Jupiter-size and 55
are larger than Jupiter.

The findings, based on observations conducted May 2009 to September
2010, show a dramatic increase in the numbers of smaller-size planet

Kepler observed many large planets in small orbits early in its
mission, which were reflected in the February data release. Having
had more time to observe three transits of planets with longer
orbital periods, the new data suggest that planets one to four times
the size of Earth may be abundant in the galaxy.

The number of Earth-size and super Earth-size candidates has increased
by more than 200 and 140 percent since February, respectively.

There are 48 planet candidates in their star's habitable zone. While
this is a decrease from the 54 reported in February, the Kepler team
has applied a stricter definition of what constitutes a habitable
zone in the new catalog, to account for the warming effect of
atmospheres, which would move the zone away from the star, out to
longer orbital periods.

"The tremendous growth in the number of Earth-size candidates tells us
that we're honing in on the planets Kepler was designed to detect:
those that are not only Earth-size, but also are potentially
habitable," said Natalie Batalha, Kepler deputy science team lead at
San Jose State University in California. "The more data we collect,
the keener our eye for finding the smallest planets out at longer
orbital periods."

For more information about the Kepler mission and to view the digital
press kit, visit:



Veteran Space Shuttle Commander Chris Ferguson to Leave Agency

HOUSTON -- Astronaut Chris Ferguson, the last commander of a space
shuttle mission, has announced his plans to retire from NASA on Dec.
9. He will leave for a new job in the private sector.

"Chris has been a true leader at NASA," NASA Administrator Charles
Bolden said, "not just as a commander of the space shuttle, but also
as an exemplary civil servant, a distinguished Navy officer and a
good friend. I am confident he will succeed in his next career as he
brings his skill and talents to new endeavors."

Ferguson, a retired U.S. Navy captain, served as the commander for
STS-135, the final flight of space shuttle Atlantis and the 135th and
final mission of America's 30-year Space Shuttle Program.

Atlantis' flight was Ferguson's third trip to space. During the 13-day
mission, he and his crew delivered approximately 10,000 pounds of
supplies and spare parts to the International Space Station. Before
his assignment to STS-135, Ferguson served as deputy chief of the
Astronaut Office at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston.

"Chris has been a great friend, a tremendous professional and an
invaluable asset to the NASA team and the astronaut office," said
Peggy Whitson, chief of the Astronaut Office. "His exceptional
leadership helped ensure a perfect final flight of the space shuttle,
a fitting tribute to the thousands who made the program possible."

Ferguson first flew in space as the pilot of Atlantis on STS-115 in
2006, during which the P3/P4 truss segments were delivered to the
station. He next flew as commander of Endeavour on STS-126 in 2008.
During the mission, Ferguson and his crew delivered water recycling
and habitation hardware to the station and exchanged station crew
members. In total, Ferguson logged more than 40 days in space.

Ferguson joined the astronaut corps in 1998. After completing his
initial training, he performed technical duties related to the
shuttle's main engines, external tank, solid rocket boosters and
flight software. He also served as a spacecraft communicator in
mission control for four shuttle missions.

For Ferguson's complete biography, visit:



NASA Challenges Students To Train Like An Astronaut

WASHINGTON -- An engaging new NASA program brings the excitement of
space exploration to children learning to live a healthy lifestyle.
Inspired by First Lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move! initiative,
NASA's Train Like an Astronaut program aims to increase opportunities
both in and out of school for kids to become more physically and
mentally active.

The program uses the excitement of space exploration and astronaut
training to challenge, inspire and educate kids to set physical
fitness goals and practice fitness and proper nutrition. Kids will
explore mission challenges, learn the science behind nutrition and
learn to train like an astronaut.

The activities used in the Train Like an Astronaut program were
developed in cooperation with NASA scientists and fitness
professionals who work directly with astronauts. Although designed
for 8-12 year olds, the program is for anyone who is curious about
space exploration and what it takes to be an astronaut.

"A part of the human space exploration mission is to inspire our youth
to stay in school and master professions in the sciences and
engineering fields to carry on this important work well into the 21st
century," said Charles Lloyd, NASA's Human Research Program Education
and Outreach Project manager. "We believe this starts with our youth
in elementary school, and hope this ongoing fitness challenge will
assist them with that lifelong endeavor."

The activities align with national education standards and are part of
the physical education and health curriculum in schools throughout
the country. Teachers easily can modify the activities to create an
environment that supports all learners.

No special equipment is required and while adult supervision is
suggested, the activities are routine and involve no heavy-lifting so
children are free to play alone. Participants simply visit the
website, find a favorite exercise and get started.

For more information about the program, visit:

For more information about the Mrs. Obama's Let's Move! initiative,

For more information about other NASA education programs, visit:


Media Invited to Orion Spacecraft Water Landing Test at Langley

HAMPTON, Va. -- Reporters are invited to watch a test version of the
Orion crew capsule take its final splash of the year Tuesday, Dec.
13, at the Hydro Impact Basin of NASA's Langley Research Center in
Hampton, Va.

Testing began this summer to certify the Orion spacecraft for water
landings. Orion will carry astronauts deeper into space than ever
before, provide emergency abort capability, sustain the crew during
space travel and ensure a safe re-entry and landing.

Since July, engineers have conducted six tests from different angles,
heights and pitches to simulate varying sea conditions and impacts
Orion could face upon landing in the Pacific Ocean.

The Hydro Impact Basin is 115 feet long, 90 feet wide and 20 feet
deep. It is located at the west end of Langley's historic Landing and
Impact Research Facility, where Apollo astronauts trained for moon

Journalists must arrive by 2:30 p.m. EST at Langley's main gate. The
test will occur between 3-4 p.m. Because of the nature of the
testing, an exact drop time cannot be given. If the test date changes
because of weather or technical reasons, NASA will issue an advisory.

To ensure access and badging, reporters must contact Amy Johnson at
757-272-9859 or at amy.johnson@nasa.gov by 4 p.m. Monday, Dec. 12.

For video and still imagery of the Hydro Impact Basin groundbreaking
Orion testing, visit:



Space Station Astronaut Will Answer Video Questions From Public

HOUSTON -- NASA has announced a unique opportunity to ask the
commander of the International Space Station a question about his
role on the orbiting outpost. Commander Dan Burbank will answer
videotaped questions from the public during a live event tentatively
set for Friday, Jan. 20 on NASA Television.

The video questions must be less than 30 seconds. Submitters should
introduce themselves and mention their location. Questions must be
posted as responses to a video Burbank recorded on YouTube at:


Burbank launched to the station on Nov. 13. He will conduct a variety
of science experiments and perform station maintenance during his
nearly six-month stay on the outpost. Burbank's life aboard the
station in near-weightlessness requires unique approaches to everyday
activities such as eating, sleeping and exercising.

Burbank will answer questions during the time available. In addition
to airing live on NASA TV, Burbank's answers will be posted to
YouTube. To follow Burbank on Twitter, visit:


For more information about the International Space Station, Expedition
30 and the exact time of the event, visit:



Norah Jones, Astronaut Piers Sellars Featured in New NASA Spinoff Technology Public Service Announcements

WASHINGTON -- Much of the technology we rely on daily was developed by
NASA for space exploration and then adapted or enhanced for use here
on Earth. This includes many technologies used in schools, homes,
cars, computers and industry.

Singer Norah Jones and NASA Astronaut Piers Sellers talk about how
some of the agency's outstanding accomplishments in space are used to
improve our life on Earth in a new public service announcement
available on NASA's website.

The duo concentrate on NASA technology that increases production and
use of clean energy, fuel efficiency, reduction of carbon footprints,
and the study and understanding of climate change.

Also, this year in the holiday movie release "Arthur Christmas,"
Santa's North Pole turns to technology to deliver billions of gifts
around the world. Run by thousands of computer-savvy elves, the North
Pole uses NASA-style technology to track gifts being delivered by
Santa's high-speed S-1, a giant spacecraft in the shape of a sleigh.

"NASA provides industry and innovators with opportunities to bring
technology initially developed for space to consumers around the
world," said Daniel Lockney, program executive for technology
transfer at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

Hundreds of examples of NASA spinoff technologies and innovations
adapted for use in our everyday lives appear on NASA's Spinoff
website at:


To view the Jones-Sellers and "Arthur Christmas" public service
announcements, visit:


For more information about NASA and agency programs, visit:



NASA Awards Stennis Space Center Protective Service Contract

WASHINGTON -- NASA has selected ISS Action, Inc. of Jamaica, N.Y., to
provide protective services at the agency's Stennis Space Center near
Bay St. Louis, Miss.

The firm, fixed price contract consists of a base period of eight
months and four one-year option periods; with a total value of $25.9

ISS Action, Inc. will provide security services at Stennis including
physical security operations, personnel security, access control,
badging, 911 dispatch center, access monitoring, traffic control and
locksmith services.

For information about NASA and agency programs, visit:



Asteroids, Mars and Drought Among NASA News Highlights at American Geophysical Union Meeting

WASHINGTON -- NASA researchers will present new findings on a wide
range of Earth and space science topics at the 2011 fall meeting of
the American Geophysical Union. The meeting takes place Dec. 5-9 at
the Moscone Convention Center, 747 Howard St., in San Francisco.
Media registration for the event is open.

Media briefings during the meeting will feature topics such as new
results about the asteroid Vesta, the future risk of major droughts,
new discoveries at the edge of our solar system, and the 2011
Japanese tsunami. In addition, NASA scientists and their colleagues
who use NASA research capabilities will present noteworthy findings
during scientific sessions that are open to registered journalists.

For a complete list of NASA-related news briefings at the meeting,


The website contains detailed information about how reporters can
participate in the briefings, both on-site and remotely. The site
will be updated throughout the week with additional information about
NASA presentations.

For more information about NASA and agency programs, visit:



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