Highlights for 06/19/09

star cluster
star cluster

Tom Greene (Astrophysics Branch)

Tom Greene attended a meeting of the joint US – European Mid-Infrared Science Team of the James Webb Space Telescope in Chicago. The team started planning guaranteed time observations with the mid-infrared instrument (MIRI). Greene made presentations on the protostar and exoplanet programs that he is leading. Collaboration discussions were started with the European guaranteed time holders, and Greene will continue working with the European and US members to plan and coordinate observations for these programs.

Lou Allamandola (Astrophysics Branch)

– Lou gave an invited talk entitled “Astronomical PAHs- from Spitzer to Herschel and Beyond” which was very well received and stimulated a lot of discussion.

– Lou has just completed the last of his three separate, two-month research visits to the ‘Sackler Laboratory for Astrophysics’ at Leiden University in the Netherlands.

Working with Prof. H. Linnartz and graduate student J. Bouwman, Dr. Allamandola. explored a new research area on PAH cosmic ice processes combining the unique experimental capabilities in the Sackler Laboratory with his expertise in astronomical polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).

While in Leiden they studied the UV induced processes of the PAH pyrene in cometary and interstellar ice analogs. The results have been remarkable. They showed there are two quite distinct reaction channels possible in these cosmic ice analogs, one controlled by the PAH ionization process and the unique reactions only charged species induce, and one involving the more normal organic photochemistry of neutral radicals. The temperature at which the ice is irradiated determines which path is followed. A paper describing the initial results will be published in the Astrophysical Journal in July, and two additional follow-up articles are now in preparation. Based on these new results, a proposal was submitted to the Very Large Telescope (VLT) and we received telescope time. The data are now coming in and will be analyzed over the summer. In addition to this work, Mr. Bouwman will spend two months working in the Astrochemistry Laboratory at NASA Ames Research Center in the fall of 2009.

– Lou A. attended the opening of a new exhibit at the NEMO Museum in Amsterdam dedicated to Astrobiology. This museum is similar to the Exploratorium in San Francsico, a hands on “Fun with Science” museum.

During the past two months Dr. Allamandola presented the following invited talks:

May 7 “Astronomical Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons:Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow”, presented to the Free Electron Laser Facility Molecular physics group, (FOM Institute) Rijnhuizen, The Netherlands.

May 22 “From Astrochemistry to Astrobiology” presented to the research staff at the ‘Center For Astrobiology’ (Centro de Astrobiologica), Madrid, Spain.

May 27 “Is Astrochemistry really Astrobiology?” Presented seminar and lead discussion on this topic at The Leiden University Observatory, The Netherlands.

June 9 “Astronomical PAHs- From Spitzer to Herschel and Beyond” presented as part of the ‘Laboratory Astrophysics Meeting’ at the 214 Meeting of the American Astronomical Society, Pasadena, California.

Farid Salama (Astrophysics Branch)

Farid Salama (SSA), chair of the AAS Working Group on Laboratory Astrophysics, was the lead organizer of the “Bridging Laboratory and Astrophysics” Meeting that was held at the AAS Conference last week in Pasadena, CA. The three day meeting, devoted to the interplay between laboratory astrophysics and IR, FIR and submm astronomy, was a success as attested by the high attendance that highlighted the increasing role of laboratory astrophysics within the astronomical community. Ames was strongly represented at the meeting with three invited speakers from the Space Science division: Lou Allamandola (SSA), Dale Cruikshank (SSA) and Mark Marley (SST).

Jennifer Heldmann (Planetary Systems Branch on detail to HQ)

– Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Steps Aside For Endeavour Launch. NASA will try again to launch the space shuttle Endeavour on June 17, and still push to get the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) under way this week as well. Both spacecraft were scheduled to launch from Florida that day, after a gaseous hydrogen leak forced the shuttle program to scrub Endeavour’s planned June 13 launch. But in an effort to “maximize” the space agency’s launch opportunities this week, the LRO team relinquished its June 17 slot to the space shuttle program to give Endeavour one more chance to lift off to the International Space Station (ISS) before its launch window closes until July. Steve Payne, NASA test director, said June 15 that shuttle crews at Kennedy Space Center are on track to repair a hydrogen vent line leak that forced a scrub before the original June 13 launch date. There are even a couple of extra hours to accommodate delays in finishing the work if lightning or other weather forces workers inside. The leak, very similar to one that forced a scrub on the STS-119 launch in March, came at the point where gaseous hydrogen is vented from the shuttle’s external tank into the pad structure at Launch Complex 39A for burnoff. Once it was safe for workers to approach the tank, they found slight gaps where the ground umbilical carrier plate (GUCP) joins the external tank, and set to work to replace the seals. Payne and Leroy Cain, the mission management team chair, stressed that the root cause of the leak hadn’t been discovered. But the same repair protocols that are being followed this time stopped the leak after the STS-119 scrub. If the repair holds when Endeavour’s external tank is filled with supercold liquid hydrogen on the evening of June 16, liftoff of the shuttle will come at 5:40 a.m. EDT the next morning. It will allow Endeavour to accomplish its full planned 16-day mission, including 11 days docked to the ISS. A shuttle launch the morning of June 17 is expected to give the Eastern Range time to reconfigure for the Atlas V launch with LRO by the afternoon of June 18, with the first of three opportunities that day coming at 5:12 p.m. EDT. The launch timing is important to get the piggyback Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS) lined up for its planned crash into a polar crater at a time and place that will be visible to Earth-based observatories. Launch windows also are available on June 19 and June 20 for LRO. After that, the mission will slip until no earlier than June 30. Payne said the shuttle program has agreed to make only one more attempt to launch before its window closes Saturday, June 20, leaving Thursday, Friday and Saturday to get LRO under way. If Endeavour can’t launch on Wednesday, the next window would open on July 11. The STS-127 mission is to deliver the porch-like Exposed Facility for Japan’s Kibo laboratory module, as well as three large spare pieces of hardware that won’t be deliverable after the shuttle stops flying next year. The mission also will replace a set of station batteries, install experiments on the Exposed Facility, and return Japanese ISS crew member Koichi Wakata to Earth. U.S. Army Col. Tim Kopra will replace him on the ISS. – Frank Morring, Jr. * morring@aviationweek.com

– LRO, LCROSS Could Give “Definitive” Answer To Lunar Water Question. The New York Times (6/16, D3, Chang, 1.06M) continues reporting on the upcoming launch of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, its mission and what it hopes to find, most notably water that could be frozen in craters at the Moon’s poles. “The mission’s primary purpose is to help NASA locate landing places for the astronauts and plan how to build a Moon base. The data will also be a boon to scientists. The ice, if it exists, could provide a unique record of the past two billion years of the solar system.” Craig Tooley, the project manager of the mission, said, “We have much better maps of Mars than we have of our Moon’s polar regions.” According to the article, the LRO, and the accompanying LCROSS spacecraft that will be purposefully crashed into a crater, will hopefully provide the “definitive” answer to whether water exists.

– Meteorite Isotope Concentrations May Require Revised Solar System Theories. Chemistry World (6/15, Urquhart) reported, “French and Italian scientists have analysed a meteorite and discovered that it contains a unique and primordial rock fragment that is thought to have remained largely unaltered since the solar system formed around 4.6 billion years ago.” Giacomo Briani analyzed the isotopic ratios in the PX-18 meteorite. “The scientists believe the xenolith, which shows unprecedented isotopic variations of nitrogen, may offer insight into the solar system’s formation and say it poses serious problems for current models of light element isotopic fractionation.” Jamie Elsila of the Goddard Space Flight Center said, “This discovery will make us reevaluate models of nitrogen fractionation in the early solar system.” Max Bernstein of the Ames Research Center also called it a “beautiful” example of isotopic mapping.

– LRO/LCROSS Blast Off For Moon. MOONBOUND: NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) and its piggyback Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS) are en route to the moon following launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., at 5:32 p.m. EDT June 18 on an Atlas V rocket. LCROSS and the Centaur upper stage of the Atlas will crash into the lunar surface so that Earth- and space-based telescopes can scan the debris plume for signs of water ice and hydrogen (Aerospace DAILY, June 18). – Frank Morring, Jr. * morring@aviationweek.com

– Ball Aerospace Wins Kepler Service Contract. The Boulder County Business Report (6/18) reoirted, “Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. in Boulder has received a contract for $11,590,961 from NASA’s Ames Research Center for an on-orbit service operation of the Kepler mission.” The company will “provide support to the Kepler flight planning and mission operations centers, and be responsible for returning science data to the ground for analysis.”