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Hubble’s Holiday Nebula “Ornament” : The Hubble Space…

Hubble’s Holiday Nebula “Ornament” : The Hubble Space…

Hubble’s Holiday Nebula “Ornament” : The Hubble Space Telescope captured what looks like a colorful holiday ornament in space. It’s actually an image of NGC 6326, a planetary nebula with glowing wisps of outpouring gas. (via NASA)

Source: Just Space

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Studying the tiny life of phytoplankton

Studying the tiny life of phytoplankton

Phytoplankton. Have you ever heard of them? At NASA, these
tiny organisms are kind of a big deal.


Biodiversity in the ocean is a delicate, but essential
balance for life on Earth. One way NASA
studies this balance is by observing phytoplankton – microalgae that contain
chlorophyll, require light to grow, and form the base of the marine food chain.

Phytoplankton even have an essential role in an upcoming
NASA mission.

This mission is called PACE- “Plankton, Aerosol,
Cloud, ocean Ecosystem.” It will reveal interactions between the ocean and
atmosphere, including how they exchange carbon dioxide and how atmospheric
aerosols might fuel phytoplankton growth in the surface ocean.

Here are four areas main areas the mission will focus on as
part of #WorldOceansMonth.

Harmful algal blooms: Not the good kind of bloom

The word “bloom” sounds pretty, but harmful algal blooms
(HABs) are anything but.

When an ocean region is rich in nutrients – think of it as adding
fertilizer to the ocean –  phytoplankton such
as cyanobacteria multiply much faster than usual. This is called a “bloom.”

Some blooms are smelly and ugly but harmless. Others, like
HABs, release toxins into the water that can make fish, shellfish, turtles and
even humans very sick.

NASA’s PACE mission will help track phytoplankton growth
and ocean health to make sure all of us stay healthy, balanced and blooming. In
a good way.

Aerosols: The sea-sky connection

What do phytoplankton and clouds have in common? More than
you might think.

PACE will also study aerosols, which are any particles or
droplets suspended in our atmosphere. Humans create aerosols, like soot or car
exhaust, but some phytoplankton release aerosols too.

For example, dust – also an aerosol – can blow into the
ocean, depositing iron that helps phytoplankton grow. These phytoplankton then
release dimethyl sulfide, a gas that turns into an aerosol, which can influence
how clouds form.

Whether the aerosols in our atmosphere come from the ocean
or land, it’s important to know how they are impacting our environment. PACE
will help clear up some of our questions about what is in our air.

3. Biodiversity:
The more, the merrier

A healthy ocean supports healthy industries and economies,
contributes to a healthy atmosphere and helps keep plants, animals and humans
healthy and happy. One key to a healthy, balanced ocean is lots of biodiversity.

Biodiversity means having a wide variety of plant and
animal species in an ecosystem. It’s important to have many different species
of phytoplankton, because each species plays a different role in processing
carbon, providing food for tiny animals, and keeping the ocean healthy.

PACE will track the size and movements of phytoplankton
populations from space to help our seas stay diverse and bountiful.

Fisheries: Phytoplankton feed fish feed friends

One simple reason for tracking the ocean’s health is that
fish eat tiny animals that eat phytoplankton, and people eat fish.

Fisheries and aquaculture support about 12 percent of jobs
around the world, including employing more than 3 million people in the United
States. By better understanding our ocean’s health and how it might change in
the future, we can make predictions about impacts to our economies and food

To learn more about phytoplankton, visit our website.

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Source: NASA

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Launch Day! : On Dec. 21, 1968, the Apollo 8 crew leaves the…

Launch Day! : On Dec. 21, 1968, the Apollo 8 crew leaves the…

Launch Day! : On Dec. 21, 1968, the Apollo 8 crew leaves the Kennedy Space Center’s then-named Manned Spacecraft Operations Building during the mission’s prelaunch countdown on the way to their history-making lunar orbiting flight. (via NASA)

Source: Just Space

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Hello From Above : Greetings from @Astro_Sabot, otherwise known…

Hello From Above : Greetings from @Astro_Sabot, otherwise known…

Hello From Above : Greetings from @Astro_Sabot, otherwise known as Mark Vande Hei, from aboard the International Space Station. (via NASA)

Source: Just Space

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5 Out-of-This World Technologies Developed for Our Webb Space Telescope

5 Out-of-This World Technologies Developed for Our Webb Space Telescope

Our James Webb Space Telescope is the most ambitious and complex space science observatory ever built. It will study every phase in the history of our universe, ranging from the first luminous glows after the Big Bang, to the formation of solar systems capable of supporting life on planets like Earth, to the evolution of our own Solar System.


In order to carry out such a daring mission, many innovative and powerful new technologies were developed specifically to enable Webb to achieve its primary mission.  

Here are 5 technologies that were developed to help Webb push the boundaries of space exploration and discovery:

1. Microshutters


Microshutters are basically tiny windows with shutters that each measure 100 by 200 microns, or about the size of a bundle of only a few human hairs. 

The microshutter device will record the spectra of light from distant objects (spectroscopy is simply the science of measuring the intensity of light at different wavelengths. The graphical representations of these measurements are called spectra.)


Other spectroscopic instruments have flown in space before but none have had the capability to enable high-resolution observation of up to 100 objects simultaneously, which means much more scientific investigating can get done in less time. 

Read more about how the microshutters work HERE.

2. The Backplane


Webb’s backplane is the large structure that holds and supports the big hexagonal mirrors of the telescope, you can think of it as the telescope’s “spine”. The backplane has an important job as it must carry not only the 6.5 m (over 21 foot) diameter primary mirror plus other telescope optics, but also the entire module of scientific instruments. It also needs to be essentially motionless while the mirrors move to see far into deep space. All told, the backplane carries more than 2400kg (2.5 tons) of hardware.


This structure is also designed to provide unprecedented thermal stability performance at temperatures colder than -400°F (-240°C). At these temperatures, the backplane was engineered to be steady down to 32 nanometers, which is 1/10,000 the diameter of a human hair!

Read more about the backplane HERE.

3. The Mirrors


One of the Webb Space Telescope’s science goals is to look back through time to when galaxies were first forming. Webb will do this by observing galaxies that are very distant, at over 13 billion light years away from us. To see such far-off and faint objects, Webb needs a large mirror. 

Webb’s scientists and engineers determined that a primary mirror 6.5 meters across is what was needed to measure the light from these distant galaxies. Building a mirror this large is challenging, even for use on the ground. Plus, a mirror this large has never been launched into space before! 


If the Hubble Space Telescope’s 2.4-meter mirror were scaled to be large enough for Webb, it would be too heavy to launch into orbit. The Webb team had to find new ways to build the mirror so that it would be light enough – only 1/10 of the mass of Hubble’s mirror per unit area – yet very strong. 

Read more about how we designed and created Webb’s unique mirrors HERE.

4. Wavefront Sensing and Control


Wavefront sensing and control is a technical term used to describe the subsystem that was required to sense and correct any errors in the telescope’s optics. This is especially necessary because all 18 segments have to work together as a single giant mirror.

The work performed on the telescope optics resulted in a NASA tech spinoff for diagnosing eye conditions and accurate mapping of the eye.  This spinoff supports research in cataracts, keratoconus (an eye condition that causes reduced vision), and eye movement – and improvements in the LASIK procedure.

Read more about the tech spinoff HERE

5. Sunshield and Sunshield Coating


Webb’s primary science comes from infrared light, which is essentially heat energy. To detect the extremely faint heat signals of astronomical objects that are incredibly far away, the telescope itself has to be very cold and stable. This means we not only have to protect Webb from external sources of light and heat (like the Sun and the Earth), but we also have to make all the telescope elements very cold so they don’t emit their own heat energy that could swamp the sensitive instruments. The temperature also must be kept constant so that materials aren’t shrinking and expanding, which would throw off the precise alignment of the optics.


Each of the five layers of the sunshield is incredibly thin. Despite the thin layers, they will keep the cold side of the telescope at around -400°F (-240°C), while the Sun-facing side will be 185°F (85°C). This means you could actually freeze nitrogen on the cold side (not just liquify it), and almost boil water on the hot side. The sunshield gives the telescope the equivalent protection of a sunscreen with SPF 1 million!

Read more about Webb’s incredible sunshield HERE

Learn more about the Webb Space Telescope and other complex technologies that have been created for the first time by visiting THIS page.

For the latest updates and news on the Webb Space Telescope, follow the mission on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

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Source: NASA

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