Space & Planetary Science: December 2011 Archives

Photo: Titan and Dione As Seen by Cassini

"Saturn's third-largest moon Dione can be seen through the haze of its largest moon, Titan, in this view of the two posing before the planet and its rings from NASA's Cassini spacecraft. This view looks toward the anti-Saturn side of Titan (3200 miles, 5150 kilometers across) and Dione (698 miles, 1123 kilometers across). North is up on the moons. This view looks toward the northern, sunlit side of the rings from just above the ring plane."

GRAIL Is Go For Lunar Orbit

NASA Twin Spacecraft on Final Approach for Moon Orbit

"NASA's twin spacecraft to study the moon from crust to core are nearing their New Year's Eve and New Year's Day main-engine burns to place the duo in lunar orbit. Named Gravity Recovery And Interior Laboratory (GRAIL), the spacecraft are scheduled to be placed in orbit beginning at 1:21 p.m. PST (4:21 p.m. EST) for GRAIL-A on Dec. 31, and 2:05 p.m. PST (5:05 p.m. EST) for GRAIL-B the next day."

Christmas Comet Lovejoy Captured at Paranal

"The recently discovered Comet Lovejoy has been captured in stunning photos and time-lapse video taken from ESO's Paranal Observatory in Chile. The comet graced the southern sky after it had unexpectedly survived a close encounter with the Sun."

Peering Through Titan's Haze

Image: Peering Through Titan's South Pole Haze

"These views from NASA's Cassini spacecraft look toward the south polar region of Saturn's largest moon, Titan, and show a depression within the moon's orange and blue haze layers near the south pole. The close-up view was captured with the narrow-angle camera. Another view taken a second later with the wide-angle camera is also included here for context."

News Embargo Inconsistencies

NASA Discovers First Earth-size Planets Beyond Our Solar System

"NASA's Kepler mission has discovered the first Earth-size planets orbiting a sun-like star outside our solar system. The planets, called Kepler-20e and Kepler-20f, are too close to their star to be in the so-called habitable zone where liquid water could exist on a planet's surface, but they are the smallest exoplanets ever confirmed around a star like our sun."

First Earth-sized Planets Found, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics

"The paper describing the finding will be published in the journal Nature."

Keith's 20 Dec note: How cool. Yet NASA PAO only offers less than 24 hours advanced notice about this announcement and the event is scheduled while people are on vacation or holiday shopping? Yes, I know all about Nature magazine's archaic and self-imposed rules regarding publication, etc. NASA is apparently powerless to challenge the way that external publications release news of its own discoveries. Why NASA cannot simply dictate TO these publications how NASA wishes announce its own taxpayer-funded discoveries simply baffles me. These journals ought to be competing with one another to publish astonishing news like this - not telling NASA if/when it can. These "first" announcements only happen once. I simply do not understand why NASA rushes to put out half-baked news and then misses a chance to fully promote and explain astonishing gems such as this news.

US asks scientific journals to censor bird flu studies, Guardian

"The US government has asked the scientific journals Nature and Science to censor data on a laboratory-made version of bird flu that could spread more easily to humans, fearing it could be used as a potential weapon. The US National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity asked the two journals to publish redacted versions of studies by two research groups that created forms of the H5N1 avian flu that could easily jump between ferrets - typically considered a sign the virus could spread quickly among humans. The journals are objecting to the request, saying it would restrict access to information that might advance the cause of public health."

Keith's 21 Dec update: Hmm, the government asks Science and Nature to restrict the publishing of certain information and they object. Yet they refuse to allow NASA to discuss its own research in advance of a publication embargo. These journals want to have it both ways.

Of course, the odd thing about this Kepler story is that Nature story embargoes do not normally lift several days in advance of publication - this week's issue comes out on 22 December. If NASA and Nature stuck to their usual process the press conference would have been held after 1:00 pm EST today. What's up with that?

Word has it that NASA got wind of a paper - in the same edition of Nature "A compact system of small planets around a former red-giant star" which says "Here we report the presence of two nearly Earth-sized bodies orbiting the post-red-giant, hot B subdwarf star KIC 05807616 ... KIC 05807616 (also known as KPD 194314058) is a seemingly isolated pulsating hot B subdwarf (sdB) star that has been monitored by the Kepler satellite primarily for the study of its oscillations". They used Kepler archival data and it would seem that NASA did not want to have someone else scoop them on finding the first Earth-sized planets without NASA making the announcement.

So, Kepler has found two more Earth-sized extrasolar planets. But not a peep from NASA.

Discovery of two Earth-size planets raises questions about the evolution of stars, University of Montreal

"While analyzing the data obtained with the NASA Kepler mission ..."

Astronomers, Iowa State's Kawler Discover Planets That Survived Their Star's Expansion, Iowa State

"Kawaler said NASA's Kepler mission, launched in March 2009, is a tremendous tool for studying stars and planets. So much so, astronomers are working to extend the Kepler mission another four years, from 2012 into 2016."

Astronomers Discover Deep-Fried Planets, University of Arizona

"... the team used data obtained from NASA's Kepler Space Telescope for this study."

Physicist and Former Astronaut John Grunsfeld to Head NASA Science Directorate

"NASA has named physicist and former astronaut John Grunsfeld as the new associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at the agency's headquarters in Washington. Grunsfeld will take the reins of the office effective Jan. 4, 2012. He succeeds Ed Weiler, who retired from NASA on Sept. 30."

Keith's note: Keith's note: Click here or on the image and you will see why John is the perfect choice for SMD AA.

NASA Reaffirms Agency Scientific Integrity Policy

"Specifically, it is NASA policy that NASA employees wishing to speak to the media or the public about their work shall notify their immediate supervisor and coordinate with their public affairs office in advance of interviews whenever possible, or immediately thereafter, and are encouraged, to the maximum extent practicable, to have a Public Affairs Officer present during interviews. If Public Affairs Officers are present, their role will be to attest to the content of the interview, support the interviewee, and provide post-interview follow up with the media, as necessary."

U.S. climate agency NOAA loosens media restraints, Reuters

"The lead U.S. government agency for climate and weather research unveiled a new policy that will allow its scientists to speak freely to the media and the public about their research without prior permission, the agency's administrator said on Wednesday."

NASA Scientific Integrity Response Under Fire, earlier post

"The present document responds to the May 5, 2011, request. As NASA demonstrated in its April 2011 report to OSTP, NASA already has a variety of policies in place to ensure scientific and engineering integrity."

Keith's note: This is in sharp contrast to NOAA's newly revamped science integrity policy. This could not be more stark: NASA employees "are required" to coordinate with PAO in advance, NOAA employees are not.

NASA POLICY: "(f) All NASA employees are required to coordinate, in a timely manner, with the appropriate public affairs officers prior to releasing information that has the potential to generate significant media, or public interest or inquiry."

NOAA POLICY "Researchers are encouraged (but not required) to take advantage of the media expertise of their operating unit's public affairs office and/or to provide that office with advance notice. The role of the public affairs office is to assist with presentation, style, and logistics of the communication, not to alter its substance."

"Ensuring Scientific Integrity at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration", released today, says "NASA employees may, but are not required to, speak to the media and the public about their work (14 CFR 1213.105(c) and (h)). Specifically, it is NASA policy that NASA employees wishing to speak to the media or the public about their work shall notify their immediate supervisor and coordinate with their public affairs office in advance of interviews whenever possible, or immediately thereafter, and are encouraged, to the maximum extent practicable, to have a Public Affairs Officer present during interviews.

Keith's note: In this document NASA employees "shall notify their immediate supervisor and coordinate with their public affairs office". At NASA "shall" = "required". NOAA employees are only "encouraged" to inform their PAO about any comments they make i.e. its optional.

Low Energy Nuclear Reactions Is there better way to do nuclear power? Dr. Joseph M. Zawodny NASA Langley Research Center

"So What is LENR? LENR is a form of nuclear power However, LENR is NOT cold fusion"

Overview of Low Energy Nuclear Reactions (LENR) as Implemented by Andrea Rossi and Francesca Piantelli 2011 LENR Workshop at GRC September 22, 2011

"Andrea Rossi came to MSFC with officials from Ampenergo, US Aerospace Contractor, other interested parties"

NASA and LENR, Dennis M. Bushnell, Chief Scientist, NASA Langley Research Center

"In Short, LENR, depending upon the TBD performance, appears to be capable of Revolutionizing Aerospace across the board. No other single technology even comes close to the potential impacts of LENR upon Agency Missions."

Slides From Sept. 22 NASA LENR Innovation Forum Workshop, New Energy Times

"On the second day, when the former NASA staff member asked Rossi if his device had an internal reservoir, Rossi became enraged. Quantum's engineers left but NASA engineers offered to come back in a few days to give Rossi time to fix the flow. Rossi declined their offer. He said he was "too busy."

Cold Fusion #1 Claims NASA Chief

"A Chief NASA scientist, Dennis Bushnell has came out in support of Andrea Rossi's E-Cat technology, but denies any type of nuclear fusion is taking place, saying it is probably beta decay per the Widom Larson Theory. Repackaging the terminology to avoid embarrassment will not erase over twenty years of suppression and the reality of cold fusion!"

How to Make Cold Fusion Work: Use Unobtainium, Forbes

"In my last post I said I'd steer clear of the whole cold fusion thing until something interesting happens. Well, in the last week something interesting has happened ... Once again, let me do a quick recap: An Italian inventor, Andrea Rossi, claims to have created a Low Energy Nuclear Reaction, or LENR, device (otherwise called a "cold fusion" device) called the Energy Catlyzer or E-Cat. All an E-Cat system requires is hydrogen gas passing over nickel powder in the presence of an undisclosed catalyst and, it is claimed, the device will generate a significant amount of energy in the form of heat."

Keith's note: Why NASA LaRC and/or HQ management knowingly allows overt quackery such as this to go on in NASA-sanctioned meetings using NASA personnel time while budgets are being slashed on "science" missions simply baffles me. Maybe Dennis Bushnell ( dennis.m.bushnell@nasa.gov 757.864.8987 ) can explain.

NASA Statement on Roscosmos, NASA, ESA, and Future Mars Missions

According to NASA PAO: "Representatives from NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA), and Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) met in Paris on 7 December 2011 to explore partnership opportunities involving future Mars missions. Further technical discussions will continue over the coming months to confirm the interest of all three partners...."

Panel Discussion: U.S. Leadership in Astronomy: Space Telescopes Today, Tomorrow and Beyond

"Featuring: Eric Smith, NASA Headquarters, Dr. John Grunsfeld, Deputy Director of the Space Telescope Science Institute, Dr. Meg Urry, Yale University, and Pam Whitney, House Committee on Science & Technology (invited)."

House Science, Space & Tech Committee Hearing - Assessing the James Webb Space Telescope

"Witnesses:
- [Statement] Rick Howard, Program Manager, James Webb Space Telescope, NASA,
- [Statement] Roger Blandford, Professor of Physics, Stanford University,
- [Statement] Garth Illingworth, Professor & Astronomer, UCO/Lick Observatory, University of California, Santa Cruz,
- [Statement] Jeffrey D. Grant, Sector Vice President & General Manager, Space Systems Division, Northrup Grumman Aerospace Systems"

Tyson criticizes common views on space exploration, Daily Princetonian

"American participation in the space race represented the beginning of the "militarization of space," Tyson said. Likening this struggle for celestial turf to the games that schoolchildren play in sandboxes, he further criticized modern reverence for the Apollo program because it leads to the glorification of antiquated technology rather than to the acknowledgement of improvements made since then.

This appreciation for outdated technology has led to a modern cultural apathy for space exploration, Tyson explained. NASA's budget has remained about the same for the duration of its existence while its operations have become less efficient over time -- but this diminished performance hasn't perturbed post-Kennedy administrations, Tyson said, because "NASA has never been about science" and was originally created in response to geopolitical pressures."

Keith's note: Gee Neil, Apollo stuff may well be antiquated but recent experience shows that it is harder for NASA to do the same thing now than it was when the agency did it half a century ago. Perhaps some of that antiquated hardware is worth a second look and can still teach us a few lessons today. As for the quote wherein you seem to be saying "NASA has never been about science" that is simply false. Explain the planetary missions, space and earth science missions - especially the telescopes you are so fond of. These things are not there for "science"? I am baffled.


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