NASA Awards Education Research Grants to Minority Universities

NASA has awarded education grants to five minority serving institutions to develop innovative projects in support of higher education teaching and learning in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, disciplines.

NASA's Minority University Research and Education Programs Small Programs project is designed to enhance students' academic experiences and encourage underserved and underrepresented groups to pursue STEM careers, which are critical to NASA's missions.

Grants were awarded to the following colleges, universities and partnerships:
  • Navajo Technical College in Crownpoint, N.M.
  • Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University in Tallahassee, Fla.
  • New Mexico State University in Las Cruces, N.M.
  • North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University in Greensboro, N.C.
  • Sistema Universitario Ana G. Mendez Inc. in Caguas, Puerto Rico

The five projects will receive funding ranging from $90,800 to $345,850. They are eligible for renewal for two years, based on project performance and funding availability. NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida manages the project for the agency.

For project descriptions, click on "Selected Proposals" and look for "Minority University Research and Education Programs Small Programs Competitive Grant Opportunity" at:

For more information about NASA's education programs, visit:

Antarctic Airborne Science Mission Nears Mid-Point

Sea ice is seen out the window of NASA's DC-8 research aircraft on Oct. 21, 2009With seven science flights over Antarctica completed in the first 13 days of Operation Ice Bridge's first southern campaign in NASA's DC-8 flying laboratory, the mission is on track to complete its planned flights by mid-November.

The mission has 17 planned flights over different parts of the continent, focusing on the ice sheet, glaciers, and sea ice in West Antarctica. Which flight target is flown on a given day is largely determined by difficult-to-forecast Antarctic weather conditions. Several of the instruments onboard cannot gather data through clouds. Twice so far, however, flights have been scrubbed at the last minute due to snow at the airport in southernmost Chile.

Mission planners use a mix of weather forecasting tools and satellite observations to make their daily decisions about when and where to fly. In addition, updates from meteorologists at the airport provide critical information. "The Antarctic weather is a terrible problem for us," says Ice Bridge project scientist Seelye Martin of the University of Washington, Seattle. "We could not operate without the support we receive from the Chilean meteorologists here."

As of the landing of the Oct. 27 flight, completed targets included: three flights over glaciers, two over sea ice, one over the Getz ice shelf, and one to study the topography of the ice sheet on the mission's closest approach to the South Pole.

The Getz Ice Shelf was the target of the first flight on Oct. 16. Thwaites Glacier was the focus of the flight on Oct. 18, with Pine Island Glacier the target of a high-altitude flight on Oct. 20 and a low-altitude flight on Oct. 27.

"Pine Island Glacier is a major focus for our mission," says Martin. "We have four flights planned for this glacier. One of our hopes with these flights is to understand the detailed topography under the floating ice tongue. That topography controls the rate of melting there."

The mission's first sea ice flight on Oct. 21 over the Bellingshausen and Amundsen seas was a "pioneering flight," according to Martin. "We don't know what the thickness of the sea ice is here. These will be the first direct measurements of sea ice in this area. This area is important because it is the only Antarctic sector where the sea ice is actually retreating."

Martin was excited about the prospect that the combined data from two different instruments would give scientists a new way to make more accurate measurements of sea ice thickness. Thickness of sea ice is estimated from measurements of the depth of the snow and ice visible above the sea surface. But scientists have not been able to distinguish accurately how much of this material above the sea is snow and how much is ice. An accurate measurement of the two is needed to improve their calculation of overall ice thickness.

"With this flight we did something that has not been done successfully before," says Martin. "We flew a snow radar from the University of Kansas that is designed to measure the snow depth on sea ice and the laser Airborne Topographic Mapper from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility to measure the sea surface and the height of the combined snow/ice layer above the sea. If everything worked as planned, this will give us the first combined measurement of the 'layer cake' and the snow layer to an accuracy of about 2 inches."

The second sea ice flight on Oct. 24 flew over the Weddell Sea for low-altitude flights some 1500 feet above the sea under sporadically cloudy conditions.

The farthest flight of the mission took place on Oct. 25. The target was a portion of the circle of latitude at 86 degrees south. This area has been intensely mapped by NASA's ICESat satellite because the spacecraft's orbit only goes as far south as this latitude. By remapping the ICESat data points with another laser-based topographic instrument -- the Land, Vegetation, and Ice Sensor (LVIS) -- scientists hope to improve the accuracy of the ICESat data record and prepare to extend these critical ice surface change observations into the future.


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Fermi Telescope Caps First Year With Glimpse of Space-Time

photonDuring its first year of operations, NASA's Fermi Gamma Ray Space Telescope mapped the extreme sky with unprecedented resolution and sensitivity.

It captured more than 1,000 discrete sources of gamma rays -- the highest-energy form of light. Capping these achievements was a measurement that provided rare experimental evidence about the very structure of space and time, unified as space-time in Einstein's theories.

"Physicists would like to replace Einstein's vision of gravity -- as expressed in his relativity theories -- with something that handles all fundamental forces," said Peter Michelson, principal investigator of Fermi's Large Area Telescope, or LAT, at Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif. "There are many ideas, but few ways to test them."

Many approaches to new theories of gravity picture space-time as having a shifting, frothy structure at physical scales trillions of times smaller than an electron. Some models predict that the foamy aspect of space-time will cause higher-energy gamma rays to move slightly more slowly than photons at lower energy.

Such a model would violate Einstein's edict that all electromagnetic radiation -- radio waves, infrared, visible light, X-rays and gamma rays -- travels through a vacuum at the same speed.

On May 10, 2009, Fermi and other satellites detected a so-called short gamma ray burst, designated GRB 090510. Astronomers think this type of explosion happens when neutron stars collide. Ground-based studies show the event took place in a galaxy 7.3 billion light-years away. Of the many gamma ray photons Fermi's LAT detected from the 2.1-second burst, two possessed energies differing by a million times. Yet after traveling some seven billion years, the pair arrived just nine-tenths of a second apart.

"This measurement eliminates any approach to a new theory of gravity that predicts a strong energy dependent change in the speed of light," Michelson said. "To one part in 100 million billion, these two photons traveled at the same speed. Einstein still rules."

Fermi's secondary instrument, the Gamma ray Burst Monitor, has observed low-energy gamma rays from more than 250 bursts. The LAT observed 12 of these bursts at higher energy, revealing three record setting blasts.

gamma-ray skyGRB 090510 displayed the fastest observed motions, with ejected matter moving at 99.99995 percent of light speed. The highest energy gamma ray yet seen from a burst -- 33.4 billion electron volts or about 13 billion times the energy of visible light -- came from September's GRB 090902B. Last year's GRB 080916C produced the greatest total energy, equivalent to 9,000 typical supernovae.

Scanning the entire sky every three hours, the LAT is giving Fermi scientists an increasingly detailed look at the extreme universe. "We've discovered more than a thousand persistent gamma ray sources -- five times the number previously known," said project scientist Julie McEnery at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. "And we've associated nearly half of them with objects known at other wavelengths."

Blazars -- distant galaxies whose massive black holes emit fast-moving jets of matter toward us -- are by far the most prevalent source, now numbering more than 500. In our own galaxy, gamma ray sources include 46 pulsars and two binary systems where a neutron star rapidly orbits a hot, young star.

"The Fermi team did a great job commissioning the spacecraft and starting its science observations," said Jon Morse, Astrophysics Division director at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "And now Fermi is more than fulfilling its unique scientific promise for making novel, high-impact discoveries about the extreme universe and the fabric of space-time."‪

NASA's Fermi Gamma Ray Space Telescope is an astrophysics and particle physics partnership, developed in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Energy, along with important contributions from academic institutions and partners in France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Sweden and the United States.

Related Links:

› Multimedia related to the Oct. 28, 2009, NASA briefing on Fermi's findings
› NASA's Fermi Finds Gamma-ray Galaxy Surprises
› NASA's Fermi Mission, Namibia's HESS Telescopes Explore a Blazar
› Active Galaxies Flare and Fade in Fermi Telescope All-Sky Movie
› Continent-sized Radio Telescope Takes Close-ups of Fermi Active Galaxies
› NASA's Fermi Telescope Probes Dozens of Pulsars

Five-year-old Romanian weightlifter becomes Internet star

Giuliano Stroe has six-pack abs before turning six years old. And he's also in the Guinness Book of World Records before he can probably even read it.

Though it's highly unusual (and possibly unhealthy) for a child to start weight training at such a young age, the pre-schooler entered the record books earlier this year after completing the fastest ever 10-meter walk with a weight ball between the legs, which is both both highly impressive and highly specific. Since then, a four-minute video of Stroe has hit the Internet and made him a viral sensation.

It looks like a training montage from a Rocky movie, minus the Survivor soundtrack. (And, interestingly, Guiliano Stroe is almost the same size as Sylvester Stallone.)

The highlights:

0:32 -- The "Crouching Tiger" wall flip.

0:41 -- Backflips on the kitchen table. Even Richard Heene thinks that's questionable parenting.

1:43 -- Doing barbell curls with toddlers dancing to 50 Cent in the background.

3:19 -- More flipping, this time from a high bar.

3:39 -- My arms hurt from just watching that.

The pre-schooler's gymnastic skills are every bit as impressive as his weightlighting prowess. Both sports are national obsessions in Romania, so Stroe should have plenty of options when he becomes a teenager ... in 2017.

Ares I-X at the Launch Pad

Ares I-X at the Launch Pad
NASA's Ares I-X rocket is seen on Launch Pad 39B at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., Monday, Oct. 26, 2009. The flight test of Ares I-X, scheduled for today, Oct. 27, 2009, will provide NASA with an early opportunity to test and prove flight characteristics, hardware, facilities and ground operations associated with the Ares I.

Robot Armada Might Scale New Worlds

Artist concept of orbiter, airblimps, rovers and robots working togetherAn armada of robots may one day fly above the mountain tops of Saturn's moon Titan, cross its vast dunes and sail in its liquid lakes.

Wolfgang Fink, visiting associate in physics at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena says we are on the brink of a great paradigm shift in planetary exploration, and the next round of robotic explorers will be nothing like what we see today.

"The way we explore tomorrow will be unlike any cup of tea we've ever tasted," said Fink, who was recently appointed as the Edward and Maria Keonjian Distinguished Professor in Microelectronics at the University of Arizona, Tucson. "We are departing from traditional approaches of a single robotic spacecraft with no redundancy that is Earth-commanded to one that allows for having multiple, expendable low-cost robots that can command themselves or other robots at various locations at the same time."

Fink and his team members at Caltech, the U.S. Geological Survey and the University of Arizona are developing autonomous software and have built a robotic test bed that can mimic a field geologist or astronaut, capable of working independently and as part of a larger team. This software will allow a robot to think on its own, identify problems and possible hazards, determine areas of interest and prioritize targets for a close-up look.

The way things work now, engineers command a rover or spacecraft to carry out certain tasks and then wait for them to be executed. They have little or no flexibility in changing their game plan as events unfold; for example, to image a landslide or cryovolcanic eruption as it happens, or investigate a methane outgassing event.

"In the future, multiple robots will be in the driver's seat," Fink said. These robots would share information in almost real time. This type of exploration may one day be used on a mission to Titan, Mars and other planetary bodies. Current proposals for Titan would use an orbiter, an air balloon and rovers or lake landers.

In this mission scenario, an orbiter would circle Titan with a global view of the moon, with an air balloon or airship floating overhead to provide a birds-eye view of mountain ranges, lakes and canyons. On the ground, a rover or lake lander would explore the moon's nooks and crannies. The orbiter would "speak" directly to the air balloon and command it to fly over a certain region for a closer look. This aerial balloon would be in contact with several small rovers on the ground and command them to move to areas identified from overhead.

"This type of exploration is referred to as tier-scalable reconnaissance," said Fink. "It's sort of like commanding a small army of robots operating in space, in the air and on the ground simultaneously."

A rover might report that it's seeing smooth rocks in the local vicinity, while the airship or orbiter could confirm that indeed the rover is in a dry riverbed - unlike current missions, which focus only on a global view from far above but can't provide information on a local scale to tell the rover that indeed it is sitting in the middle of dry riverbed.

A current example of this type of exploration can best be seen at Mars with the communications relay between the rovers and orbiting spacecraft like the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. However, that information is just relayed and not shared amongst the spacecraft or used to directly control them.

"We are basically heading toward making robots that command other robots," said Fink, who is director of Caltech's Visual and Autonomous Exploration Systems Research Laboratory, where this work has taken place.

"One day an entire fleet of robots will be autonomously commanded at once. This armada of robots will be our eyes, ears, arms and legs in space, in the air, and on the ground, capable of responding to their environment without us, to explore and embrace the unknown," he added.

Papers describing this new exploration are published in the journal "Computer Methods and Programs in Biomedicine" and in the Proceedings of the SPIE.

For more information on this work, visit . More information on JPL missions is at http:/ .

2012: Is it the End of the World as We Know It?

In director Roland Emmerich’s newest disaster film, the entire world comes to a cataclysmic end in the year 2012. The earth beneath our feet shifts, causing buildings to collapse and tidal waves to form, killing millions and leaving only a small percentage of the population struggling to escape on a limited number of ships built by the government for this very purpose.

It’s not like we didn’t now this was coming. We were warned and that’s not just a line from the movie. Here’s what the folks at National Geographic have to say about the truth beyond the legend.

The Maya believed that everything — including creation and destruction — occurred in cycles. Their calendar spanned five cycles, each lasting approximately 5,200 years. At the end of each cycle before this one, the Maya believed the current, flawed creation had to be destroyed for the world to be born again. Some believe the end of the current cycle on December 21, 2012, is an apocalyptic sign. And those who see a connection between the complex and incredibly accurate Maya calendar and a prophecy that the world will end in 2012 point to an unexpected discovery made by Princeton University scientist Adam Maloof as proof.

On Sunday, November 8, 2009, at 8 pm, National Geographic Channel examines the evidence behind the Maya calendar prophecies in 2012: Countdown to Armageddon. The special follows Maloof to three continents on a detective story that spans eons — with clues embedded in the oldest rocks on the planet.

In this special, you’ll see the investigation of identical rock shifts in both Norway and Australia, take a closer looks at the ruins of Chichén Itzá, which some believe to be the physical embodiment of the Maya calendar, and examine the Dresden Codex — the most comprehensive source for Maya astronomy, which has been locked in a high-security vault.

Is there proof that the Maya knew what they were talking about when they predicted the end of the world? Watch 2012: Countdown to Armageddon on November 8 on the National Geographic Channel, then catch 2012 the movie opening in theaters on November 13.

Video “Maya Doomsday Prophecy” – The Maya calendar will end on December 21, 2012. Are we three years from the end of the world?

Video “The Maya’s Lost Civilization” – The abrupt abandonment of the Maya’s great cities has stumped scholars for centuries

For more information visit:

Tattooed Mars

This high-resolution picture from the HiRISE camera on board the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter shows twisting dark trails criss-crossing light-colored terrain on the Martian surface. Newly formed trails like these had presented researchers with a tantalizing mystery but are now known to be the work of miniature wind vortices known to occur on the red planet, in other words Martian dust devils. Such spinning columns of rising air heated by the warm surface are also common in dry and desert areas on planet Earth. Typically lasting only a few minutes, dust devils become visible as they pick up loose red-colored dust leaving the darker and heavier sand beneath intact. Ironically, dust devils have been credited with unexpectedly cleaning the solar panels of the Mars rovers.

JPL's 'Green' Space Flight Building Debuts with Ribbon-Cutting

JPL Director Charles Elachi and other dignitaries cut the ribbon for JPL's new, environmentally friendly Flight Projects Center, which is NASA's greenest building to dateNASA's "greenest" building to date -- an environmentally friendly Flight Projects Center at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. -- is now open for business, following a ribbon-cutting ceremony today attended by lawmakers and local dignitaries.

The building houses missions during their design and development phases. It will enable engineers and scientists from various countries to collaborate more closely during these critical mission phases.

"It seems fitting that the new building, where teams will plan future space missions that use new technologies, also has the latest 'green' technologies to help JPL do its part to improve our environment here on Earth," said JPL Director Charles Elachi, who helped cut the ribbon at today's ceremony.

Also attending today's ceremony were U.S. Rep. David Drier; La Canada-Flintridge Mayor Laura Olhasso; staff representing U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff; and Caltech President Jean-Lou Chameau.

JPL's new Flight Projects Center is the first NASA building to receive a The building has received the "LEED Gold Certification" under the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design rating system, set up by the non-profit U.S. Green Building Council. It is the first NASA building to achieve that certification. To qualify, buildings must meet several criteria. For example, they must make efficient use of water, energy and resources, and provide a healthy and comfortable indoor workspace.

The many "green" features of the new building include:
  • A living roof to keep the building cool in summer months and warm in the winter. Desert plants on the roof and other landscaping require 72 percent less water than a typical Southern California landscape design.
  • Outdoor lighting is used for safety purposes only and is directed toward the ground, reducing the amount of light pollution that escapes to the night sky.
  • Low-flow faucets and toilets reduce water use by 40 percent compared with typical fixtures.
  • Improved wall insulation, efficient chillers and boilers and window shading devices.
  • The paints and other surface materials have low levels of toxic fumes.
  • The heating and cooling system is "smart" -- it knows whether people are in a room and adjusts the temperature and ventilation accordingly.
  • The janitorial staff uses green cleaning products and practices.
More than 75 percent of the waste generated during construction of the new building was diverted from a landfill to a local recycling facility. Wood was acquired from Forest Stewardship Council-certified suppliers, ensuring sustainable harvesting of trees.

More information about the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design rating system and the U.S. Green Building Council is online at .

More information about JPL is online at . The California Institute of Technology in Pasadena manages JPL for NASA.

Astronauts to Fly Amelia Earhart Watch, Scarf

Joan Kerwin, director of The Ninety-Nines, joins astronaut Shannon Walker as the two display a special item to onlookers in an Ellington Field hangar on Oct. 22Along with the obvious thrill of launching into space, astronaut Shannon Walker's flight to the space station next year will hold a sentimental and historical significance. Flying alongside Walker will be the watch of Amelia Earhart, the legendary aviator who was the first woman to fly as a passenger across the Atlantic Ocean. Earhart later became the first woman to pilot a plane across that same ocean in a solo flight.

Earhart was one of the first female pilots best known for her two trans Atlantic flights. She was also a charter member and the first president of The Ninety-Nines, an international organization of licensed women pilots from 35 countries that has more than 5,500 members worldwide. While there are other female pilot organizations in various states and countries, nearly all women of achievement in aviation are past or current members of The Ninety-Nines. Walker is among those women.

Earhart wore the watch during her two trans Atlantic flights, “one as a passenger and one as a solo flight,” said Joan Kerwin, director of The Ninety-Nines and member for 39 years.

When asked how she feels about the watch flying into space, Kerwin described it as “kind of scary in a way and Amelia is such an icon with women in aviation and now with women in space. We are thrilled that Shannon is a Ninety-Nine and will be taking Amelia into space with her.”

Kerwin presented the watch to Walker at Ellington Field in Houston on Oct. 22.

H. Gordon Selfridge, Jr. gave Earhart a watch in one of his shops in America. In return, she gave him the watch she wore on her two trans Atlantic flights.

“Shortly after Amelia disappeared the watch was given (by H. Gordon Selfridge, Jr.) to Fay Gillis Wells, a charter member of The Ninety-Nines, and she kept it in her Washington, D.C., apartment until she founded the Forest of Friendship to honor other individuals in aviation. She needed funds for the Forest of Friendship in Amelia’s hometown of Atchison, Kan., so the watch was auctioned off,” said Kerwin, who bought the watch at the auction.

“She is a fascinating lady,” Walker said in regard to Earhart.

A licensed pilot since 1995, Walker learned to fly in a Cessna 150. Her grandmother served as an air traffic controller at William P. Hobby airport in Houston and had a private pilot’s license. Walker’s mother was also a pilot.

“One thing I really like about flying is that it is an activity that my mother and I can do together,” Walker said. “There is something quite special about getting into a plane with my mother and going somewhere.”

Walker said “it was something that I had wanted to do for a long time,” regarding her inspiration to become a pilot.

At age 30 Walker flew her first solo flight which was “the required short flight as part of pilot training.” Earhart was 24 years old when she flew her first solo flight in 1921.

Recognizing the significance of Earhart’s watch going into space with her, Walker says she is “very excited and honored to fly the watch” and hopes “that by flying the watch people will become interested in the continuing story of women in aviation, and perhaps draw some new pilots to the field.”

Walker shares some words of inspiration for women in aviation: “If you work hard, the things to which you aspire can happen. Flying gives me a tremendous sense of freedom and I hope that anyone who wishes to learn has the opportunity to do so.”

Along with the watch, another personal belonging of Earhart’s will soon fly into space. Astronaut Randy Bresnik, grandson of Earhart’s only authorized photographer, will take a scarf of Amelia’s with him aboard space shuttle Atlantis as part of STS-129, scheduled to launch in November 2009.

Once the watch comes back to Earth from being in orbit with Walker next year it will be put on display in The Ninety-Nines Museum of Women Pilots in Oklahoma City.

NASA App Now Available from App Store

Screens from the NASA for iPhone appThe NASA App for the iPhone and iPod touch is now available free of charge on the Apple App Store. The NASA App delivers a wealth of NASA's mission information, videos, images and news updates to people's fingertips.

"Making NASA more accessible to the public is a high priority for the agency," said Gale Allen, director of Strategic Integration and Management for NASA's Exploration Systems Mission Directorate in Washington. "Tools like this allow us to provide users easy access to NASA information and progress at a fast pace."

The NASA App collects, customizes and delivers an extensive selection of dynamically updated information, images and videos from various online NASA sources. Users can access NASA countdown clocks, the NASA Image of the Day, Astronomy Image of the Day, online videos, NASA's many Twitter feeds and other information in a convenient mobile package. It delivers NASA content in a clear and intuitive way by making full use of the iPhone and iPod touch features, including the Multi-Touch user interface. The New Media Team at NASA's Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, Calif., developed the application.

Screens from the NASA for iPhone appThe NASA App also allows users to track the current positions of the International Space Station and other spacecraft currently orbiting Earth in three views: a map with borders and labels, visible satellite imagery, or satellite overlaid with country borders and labels.

"We're excited to deliver a wide range of up-to-the-minute NASA content to iPhone and iPod touch users," said Gary Martin, director of the New Ventures and Communications Directorate at Ames. "The NASA App provides an easy and interesting way for the public to experience space exploration."

For more information about NASA's iPhone application, visit:

Spirit's Robotic Stretch

NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Spirit recorded this forward view of its arm and surroundings during the rover's 2,052nd Martian day, or sol, on Oct. 11, 2009.

Bright soil in the left half of the image is loose, fluffy material churned by the rover's left-front wheel as Spirit, driving backwards, approached its current position in April 2009 and the wheel broke through a darker, crusty surface.

Spirit used its front hazard-avoidance camera to take this image. The turret of tools at the end of the rover's robotic arm is positioned with the Moessbauer spectrometer up and the rock abrasion tool extending toward the right. Spirit's right-front wheel, visible in this image, has not worked since 2006. It is the least-embedded of the rover's six wheels at the current location, called "Troy."

Spirit and its twin, Opportunity, have been working on Mars for more than 58 months in what were originally planned as 3-month missions on Mars.

Galaxy Cluster Smashes Distance Record

Chandra's 'Greatest Hits'

The most distant galaxy cluster yet has been discovered by combining data from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory and optical and infrared telescopes. The cluster is located about 10.2 billion light years away, and is observed as it was when the Universe was only about a quarter of its present age.

The galaxy cluster, known as JKCS041, beats the previous record holder by about a billion light years. Galaxy clusters are the largest gravitationally bound objects in the Universe. Finding such a large structure at this very early epoch can reveal important information about how the Universe evolved at this crucial stage.

Composite image of JKCS041, the most distant galaxy cluster ever detectedJKCS041 is found at the cusp of when scientists think galaxy clusters can exist in the early Universe based on how long it should take for them to assemble. Therefore, studying its characteristics -- such as composition, mass, and temperature -- will reveal more about how the Universe took shape.

"This object is close to the distance limit expected for a galaxy cluster," said Stefano Andreon of the National Institute for Astrophysics (INAF) in Milan, Italy. "We don't think gravity can work fast enough to make galaxy clusters much earlier."

Distant galaxy clusters are often detected first with optical and infrared observations that reveal their component galaxies dominated by old, red stars. JKCS041 was originally detected in 2006 in a survey from the United Kingdom Infrared Telescope (UKIRT). The distance to the cluster was then determined from optical and infrared observations from UKIRT, the Canada-France-Hawaii telescope in Hawaii and NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope. Infrared observations are important because the optical light from the galaxies at large distances is shifted into infrared wavelengths because of the expansion of the universe.

The Chandra data were the final - but crucial - piece of evidence as they showed that JKCS041 was, indeed, a genuine galaxy cluster. The extended X-ray emission seen by Chandra shows that hot gas has been detected between the galaxies, as expected for a true galaxy cluster rather than one that has been caught in the act of forming.

Also, without the X-ray observations, the possibility remained that this object could have been a blend of different groups of galaxies along the line of sight, or a filament, a long stream of galaxies and gas, viewed front on. The mass and temperature of the hot gas detected estimated from the Chandra observations rule out both of those alternatives.

The extent and shape of the X-ray emission, along with the lack of a central radio source argue against the possibility that the X-ray emission is caused by scattering of cosmic microwave background light by particles emitting radio waves.

It is not yet possible, with the detection of just one extremely distant galaxy cluster, to test cosmological models, but searches are underway to find other galaxy clusters at extreme distances.

"This discovery is exciting because it is like finding a Tyrannosaurus Rex fossil that is much older than any other known," said co-author Ben Maughan, from the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom. "One fossil might just fit in with our understanding of dinosaurs, but if you found many more, you would have to start rethinking how dinosaurs evolved. The same is true for galaxy clusters and our understanding of cosmology."

The previous record holder for a galaxy cluster was 9.2 billion light years away, XMMXCS J2215.9-1738, discovered by ESA's XMM-Newton in 2006. This broke the previous distance record by only about 0.1 billion light years, while JKCS041 surpasses XMMXCS J2215.9 by about ten times that.

"What's exciting about this discovery is the astrophysics that can be done with detailed follow-up studies," said Andreon.

Among the questions scientists hope to address by further studying JKCS041 are: What is the build-up of elements (such as iron) like in such a young object? Are there signs that the cluster is still forming? Do the temperature and X-ray brightness of such a distant cluster relate to its mass in the same simple way as they do for nearby clusters?

The paper describing the results on JKCS041 from Andreon and his colleagues will appear in an upcoming issue of the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics. NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., manages the Chandra program for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington, DC. The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory controls Chandra's science and flight operations from Cambridge, Mass.

More information, including images and other multimedia, can be found at:

NASA Sponsors Women in Astronomy and Space Science 2009 Conference

From L to R: Anne Kinney, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.; Vera Rubin, Dept. of Terrestrial Magnetism, Carnegie Institute of Washington; Nancy Grace Roman Retired NASA Goddard; Kerri Cahoy, NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.; Randi Ludwig. University of Texas, Austin, TexasSpace science research institutions have traditionally been populated by a strong male workforce, but this structure is rapidly changing. Today’s workforce is much more diverse with individuals from various cultures and backgrounds, a higher percentage of women, and in many cases, up to six generations in the same workplace.

Both management and employees are in need of tools to help them understand where they are headed and how to get there successfully together. To help meet these challenges, the "Women in Astronomy and Space Science 2009: Meeting the Challenges of an Increasingly Diverse Workforce," conference is being held on Oct. 21-23, 2009, at the Inn and Conference Center, University of Maryland University College, Adelphi, Md.

"NASA has a high concentration of dedicated scientists," stated Anne Kinney, Director of the Solar System Exploration Division at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md. "The goal of this conference is to foster diversity and help build a stronger workforce in science, engineering and technology which will open doors for everyone."

This three-day conference highlights the diversity of today’s scientific professions by establishing the statistics of the current workforce and defining the roles of institutions and professional societies in preparing future scientists to succeed in their chosen fields. Discussions will provide strategies for fostering a successful work environment, allowing both managers and employees to explore pertinent topics including management best practices, early career needs, work/life balance, and managing future expectations.

Professional societies, institutions and organized groups have always played an important part in improving the status of women and minorities in the scientific workforce. Topics presented include best practices for recruiting, promoting, mentoring, and retaining women and minorities in majority-dominated fields. Speakers will share their personal route to careers in areas such as international development, science management, non-profit organizations, and aerospace administration and answer questions.

Opening day remarks will be presented by Anne Kinney, Director of the Solar Exploration Division at NASA Goddard, and the keynote welcome by Ed Weiler, NASA Associate Administrator, Science Mission Directorate, NASA Headquarters, Washington.

Group shot of attendees at the Women in Astronomy and Space Science 2009
Attendees at the Women in Astronomy and Space Science 2009.
› Larger image

The keynote address will be presented on the final day of the conference by Congresswoman Donna Edwards, and a panel discussion, "What It Takes to Become a Principal Investigator, Project Scientist, or Instrument Scientist," will be chaired by Nobel laureate and NASA Senior Astrophysicist John Mather of NASA Goddard.

A tour of the White House will cap off this exciting conference with a discussion with Tina Tchen, Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement and Executive Director of the White House Council on Women and Girls. The discussion will focus on women in science, engineering, technology and math and where they are headed in future.

In conjunction with the Women in Astronomy (WIA) and Space Science 2009 Conference, a professional skills development COACH workshop was held on Tuesday, October 20. The participants learned negotiation skills through interactive means including case studies, personal assessments, and role-playing.

Related Link:

› More information about WIA 2009

NASA Researchers Explore Lightning's NOx-ious Impact on Pollution, Climate

Flashes of intracloud lightning, the horizontal type shown here, usually occur within clouds high in the atmosphereEvery year, scientists learn something new about the inner workings of lightning.

With satellites, they have discovered that more than 1.2 billion lightning flashes occur around the world every year. (Rwanda has the most flashes per square kilometer, while flashes are rare in polar regions.) Laboratory and field experiments have revealed that the core of some lightning bolts reaches 30,000 Kelvin (53,540 ºF), a temperature hot enough to instantly melt sand and break oxygen and nitrogen molecules into individual atoms.

And then there is this: each of those billion lightning flashes produces a puff of nitrogen oxide gas (NOx) that reacts with sunlight and other gases in the atmosphere to produce ozone. Near Earth’s surface, ozone can harm human and plant health; higher in the atmosphere, it is a potent greenhouse gas; and in the stratosphere, its blocks cancer-causing ultraviolet radiation.

In 1827, the German chemist Justin von Liebig first observed that lightning produced NOx—scientific shorthand for a gaseous mixture of nitrogen and oxygen that includes nitric oxide (NO) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2). Nearly two centuries later, the topic continues to attract the attention of scientists.

Fossil fuel combustion, microbes in the soil, lightning, and forest fires all produce NOx. Scientists think lightning's contribution to Earth's NOx budget—probably about 10 percent—is relatively small compared to fossil fuel emissions. Yet they haven't been sure whether global estimates of NOx produced by lightning are accurate.

New research suggests that the bulk of NOx produced during lightning storms ends up significantly higher in the atmosphere—and thus has a stronger impact on ozone and the climate—than previously thought"There's still a lot of uncertainty about how much NOx lightning produces," said Kenneth Pickering, an atmospheric scientist who studies lightning at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. "Indeed, even recent published estimates of lightning's global NOx production still vary by as much as a factor of four. We're trying to narrow that uncertainty in order to improve the accuracy of both global climate models and regional air quality models."

Using data gleaned from aircraft observations and satellites, Pickering and Goddard colleague Lesley Ott recently took steps toward a better global estimate of lightning-produced NOx and found that lightning may have a considerably stronger impact on the climate in the mid-latitudes and subtropics—and less on surface air quality—than previously thought.

According to a new paper by Ott and Pickering in the Journal of Geophysical Research, each flash of lightning on average in the several mid-latitude and subtropical thunderstorms studied turned 7 kilograms (15.4 pounds) of nitrogen into chemically reactive NOx. "In other words, you could drive a new car across the United States more than 50 times and still produce less than half as much NOx as an average lightning flash," Ott estimated. The results were published July.

When the researchers multiplied the number of lightning strokes worldwide by 7 kilograms, they found that the total amount of NOx produced by lightning per year is 8.6 terragrams, or 8.6 million metric tons. "That's somewhat high compared to previous estimates," said Pickering.

More remarkable than the number, however, is where the NOx is produced. A decade ago, many researchers believed cloud-to-ground lightning produced far more NOx per flash than intracloud lightning, which occurs within a cloud and far higher in the atmosphere.

The new evidence suggests that the two types of lightning produce approximately the same amount of NOx per flash on average. But since most lightning is intracloud, this suggests a great deal more NOx is produced and remains higher in the atmosphere. Compounding this effect, the research also shows that strong updrafts within thunderstorms help transfer lower level NOx to higher altitudes in the atmosphere.

"We've really started to question some of our old assumptions as we've gotten better at measuring lightning in the field," said Ott.

The observations spring out of field projects conducted in Germany, Colorado, Florida, Kansas, and Oklahoma between 1985 and 2002. For example, in a NASA field campaign called the Cirrus Regional Study of Tropical Anvils and Cirrus Layers Florida – Florida Area Cirrus Experiment (CRYSTAL-FACE) aircraft flew headlong through anvil-shaped thunderheads to measure the anatomy of the thunderstorms. Sensors sampled the pressure, humidity, temperature, wind, and the amount of trace gases such as NOx and ozone.

Later, Ott input this data, as well as additional data from the U.S. National Lightning Detection Network and NASA's Total Ozone Mapping Spectrometer (TOMS), into a complex computer model that simulated the six storms and calculated the amount of NOx that the average flash of lightning produced. With that number, she could then estimate the amount of NOx that lightning produces globally each year.

Central Africa receives the most flashes of lightning per square kilometer, while the polar regions receive the least"One of the things we’re trying to understand is how much ozone changes caused by lightning affect radiative forcing, and how that might translate into climate impacts," said Pickering.

There's a possibility that lightning could produce a feedback cycle that accelerates global warming. "If a warming globe creates more thunderstorms," Pickering noted, "that could lead to more NOx production, which leads to more ozone, more radiative forcing, and more warming," Pickering emphasizes that this is a theory, and while some global modeling studies suggest this is indeed the case, it has not yet been borne out by field observations.

The new findings also have implications for regional air quality models. Scientists from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), for example, are already plugging the new numbers into a widely-used air quality model called the Community Multi-scale Air Quality Model. "Lightning is one of the smaller factors for surface ozone levels, but in some cases a surge of ozone formed from lightning NOx could be enough to put a community out of compliance with EPA air quality standards during certain times of the year," said Pickering.

Pickering offered one important caveat to the findings: The value of 7 kilograms per flash was derived without consideration of lightning from storms in the tropics, where most of the Earth’s lightning occurs. Only very recently have data become available for tropical regions, he noted.

Related Links:

> Lightning Primer
> Noxious Lightning
> Lightning Study Promises Fresh Insight Into Severe-storm Behavior

Friction Stir Weld

This close-up view of the friction stir weld tack tool used to manufacture of space shuttle external tanks shows the process of tack welding barrel panels together. Barrels were previously fabricated using traditional fusion welding, but friction stir welding is different in that the materials are not melted. A rotating tool pin uses friction and applied pressure to join the 20-foot longitudinal panels together.

Friction stir welding is the most recent upgrade to the space shuttle's external tank, the largest element of the shuttle and the only element that is not reusable. The new welding technique utilizes frictional heating combined with forging pressure to produce high-strength bonds virtually free of defects. Friction stir welding transforms the metals from a solid state into a "plastic-like" state, and then mechanically stirs the materials together under pressure to form a welded joint. Invented and patented by The Welding Institute, a British research and technology organization, the process is applicable to aerospace, shipbuilding, aircraft and automotive industries. One of the key benefits of this new technology is that it allows welds to be made on aluminum alloys that cannot be readily fusion arc welded, the traditional method of welding.

NASA Dryden People

NASA Announces Global Climate Change Education Awards

NASA has awarded $6.1 million in cooperative agreements to 15 organizations across the United States to enhance learning through the use of NASA's Earth Science resources. The selected organizations include colleges and universities, nonprofit groups, museums, science centers and a school district.

The winning proposals illustrated innovative approaches to using NASA content to support elementary, secondary and undergraduate teaching and learning, and through lifelong learning. There is a particular emphasis on engaging students using NASA Earth observation data and Earth system models.

Each cooperative agreement is expected to leverage NASA's unique contributions in climate and Earth system science. These grants support NASA's goal of engaging students in the critical disciplines of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, and inspiring the next generation of explorers.

The 15 proposals will fund organizations in 12 states: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, North Dakota, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin. Winning proposals were selected through a merit-based, peer-reviewed competition. The awards have up to a three-year period of performance and range in value from about $170,000 to $650,000.

The cooperative agreements are part of a program Congress began in fiscal year 2008. For a list of selected organizations and projects descriptions, click on "Selected Proposals" and look for "Global Climate Change Education" at:

For information about NASA's Education programs, visit:

NASA Selects 18 University Proposals for Steckler Space Grants

NASA has chosen 18 proposals from universities around the country to receive up to $70,000 for Phase One of the NASA Ralph Steckler Space Grant Colonization Research and Technology Development Opportunity.

Grant money will support university research and technology development activities that support a sustained human presence in space, increase understanding of the moon's environment and develop basic infrastructure for future space colonies.

"I'm excited that many of the awards will provide a dual benefit to exploration and to Earth conservation by focusing on important issues such as water recycling, food production and power storage," said Frank Prochaska, manager of the Steckler Space Grant Project at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston.

NASA selected two proposals from Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., and the University of Arizona in Tucson and one proposal from each of the following academic institutions:
  • Desert Research Institute in Reno
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge
  • Montana State University in Bozeman
  • New Mexico State University in Las Cruces
  • Ohio Aerospace Institute in Cleveland
  • Old Dominion University Research Foundation in Norfolk, Va.
  • Pennsylvania State University in University Park
  • Texas Tech University System in Lubbock
  • University of California in San Diego
  • University of Central Florida in Orlando
  • University of Hartford in West Hartford, Conn.
  • University of Idaho in Moscow
  • University of North Texas in Denton
  • University of Wisconsin in Green Bay
The projects selected to receive Steckler Space Grants will be implemented through three funding and development phases. Phase One will last nine months with a maximum award up to $70,000. The purpose of Phase One is to establish the scientific and technical merit and feasibility of a proposed innovation, research, or technology development effort that could enable space colonization or settlement. Primary exploration elements include habitation, rovers, surface power, communications and extravehicular activity systems.

Phase Two, which lasts two years, will provide a maximum of $250,000 each to four of the most promising Phase One projects through a competitive selection based on scientific and technical merit. The purpose of Phase Two is to begin conducting the research and technology development effort. Two awards of up to $275,000 each will be given for the third phase, also two years, during which time the Phase Two efforts will be integrated with NASA programs or projects.

NASA received 35 proposals. The agency released the cooperative agreement notice inviting lead institutions of the National Space Grant College and Fellowship Program to submit proposals for these grants in November 2008. The Space Grant national network includes more than 850 affiliates from universities, colleges, industry, museums, science centers, and state and local agencies supporting and enhancing science and engineering education, research and public outreach efforts for NASA's aeronautics and space projects. These affiliates belong to one of 52 consortia in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.

Ralph Steckler was an assistant film director and photographer from southern California who had a lifelong interest in space colonization. He left part of his estate to NASA for the colonization of space and the betterment of mankind. Those funds are now providing universities with NASA research opportunities based on his vision.

With this program and NASA's other college and university programs, the agency continues its tradition of investing in the nation's education programs with the goal of developing science, technology, engineering and math skills and capabilities critical to achieving the nations' exploration goals.

For more information about NASA's education programs visit:

John McTigue, Betty Love Honored as Eagles

Retired NASA Dryden employees Betty Love and John McTigue have been honored as “2009 Eagles” by the Flight Test Historical FoundationRetired long-time NASA Dryden Flight Research Center employees John McTigue and Betty Love were among four individuals honored as 2009 Eagles by the Flight Test Historical Foundation during the group's annual Gathering of Eagles event Oct. 16. The foundation supports operation and improvements to the Air Force Flight Test Center Museum at Edwards Air Force Base.

This year's Gathering of Eagles, held at the Antelope Valley Fairgrounds in Lancaster, Calif., focused on the 50th anniversary of the X-15 rocket plane's first glide and powered flights.

After serving as project engineer of X-15 number three during his earlier years at NASA Dryden, McTigue went on to become the Deputy Director of Flight Operations and then Chief of the Flight Support Division at Dryden, then under the management of NASA's Ames Research Center. His well-earned reputation as an engineer and manager perched him perfectly as a 2009 Eagle.

Love began her NASA career as a human computer, preparing and reducing flight data on research projects over two decades from the X-1 to the X-15 eras. Her well-known "can do" attitude and encouragement to others during her working years, as well as her dedication to voluntarily supporting Dryden's history office to ensure accurate documentation of Dryden's illustrious history in recent years, earned her the well-deserved honor as an Eagle of the foundation.

Also honored as 2009 Eagles during the event were retired U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Robert White, a former X-15 pilot and Air Force Flight Test Center commander, and retired flight test engineer Robert Hoey, who supervised mission planning and data analysis for many Air Force / NASA X-15 flights.

JPL Develops High-Speed Test to Improve Pathogen Decontamination

Chemist Adrian Ponce has devised a new method to quickly validate - from days to minutes - a spacecraft's cleanlinessA chemist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., has developed a technology intended to rapidly assess any presence of microbial life on spacecraft. This new method may also help the military test for disease-causing bacteria, such as a causative agent for anthrax, and may also be useful in the medical, pharmaceutical and other fields.

Adrian Ponce, the deputy manager for JPL's planetary science section, devised the new microscope-based method, which has the potential to quickly validate -- from days to minutes -- a spacecraft's cleanliness.

NASA adheres to international protocols by striving to ensure that spacecraft don't harbor life from Earth that could contaminate other planets or moons and skew science research. Microbes known as bacterial endospores can withstand extreme temperatures, ultraviolet rays and chemical treatments, and have been known to survive in space for six years. This resilience makes them important indicators for cleanliness and biodefense, Ponce said.

"Bacterial endospores are the toughest form of life on Earth," Ponce explained. "Therefore, if one can show that all spores are killed, then less-resistant, disease-causing organisms will also be dead."

The new technology works by looking for dipicolinic acid -- a major component of endospores and evidence of endospore growth -- by first applying terbium to a dime-sized area. Terbium is a chemical element used to generate the color green on television screens. That area is then illuminated under an ultraviolet lamp. Within minutes, one can see through a microscope aided by a digital camera whether live endospores are present. That's because they will literally glow: The terbium will show the endospores as bright green spots.

Ponce co-authored a paper on the new technology, called Germinable Endospore Biodosimetry, along with Pun To Young, a post-doctoral student at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, in the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology. The research was also highlighted in Microbe, a magazine of the American Society for Microbiology.

The technology has piqued the interest of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The federal agency is funding development of a portable instrument based on Ponce's research that could quickly check for decontamination of pathogens after a biological attack. Ponce is working with the Department of Homeland Security and Advance Space Monitor, a company based in Falls River, Mass., to develop the instrument, which they plan to have ready for use by 2011. JPL and Caltech licensed the technology to Advance Space Monitor.

"As part of the Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate's near-term bioassays effort, the technology could enable the rapid assessment of facility sterilization. This could significantly reduce the time and cost of building restoration following a bio-contamination event," said James Anthony, chemical and biological research and development program manager at the Dept. of Homeland Security. A bioassay is an assessment of whether certain biological material is present on a surface being tested.

Anthony added that the technology could also be used in bio-containment facilities that have regularly scheduled decontamination requirements and rapidly reactivate important bio-defense research facilities.

Besides outer space and defense purposes, this new technology might also be applied in hospitals, child-care centers, dentists' offices and nursing homes.

"Given all the problems with hospital-acquired infections, assessing the sterility and hygiene of medical equipment and surfaces is becoming increasingly important," said Ponce.

Funding for Ponce's project was provided by NASA's Astrobiology Science and Instrument Development Program and Mars Technology Program, and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Chemical and Biological Research and Development division.

Caltech manages JPL for NASA.

More information on JPL's planetary science department is at .

More information about Ponce and his research is at .

More information about the U.S. Department of Homeland Security is at

More information about Advance Space Monitor is at .

Find Organic Molecules Around Gas Planet - Astronomers do it Again

This artist's concept shows a cloudy Jupiter-like planet that orbits very close to its fiery hot star.
Peering far beyond our solar system, NASA researchers have detected the basic chemistry for life in a second hot gas planet, advancing astronomers toward the goal of being able to characterize planets where life could exist. The planet is not habitable but it has the same chemistry that, if found around a rocky planet in the future, could indicate the presence of life.

"It's the second planet outside our solar system in which water, methane and carbon dioxide have been found, which are potentially important for biological processes in habitable planets," said researcher Mark Swain of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. "Detecting organic compounds in two exoplanets now raises the possibility that it will become commonplace to find planets with molecules that may be tied to life."

Swain and his co-investigators used data from two of NASA's orbiting Great Observatories, the Hubble Space Telescope and Spitzer Space Telescope, to study HD 209458b, a hot, gaseous giant planet bigger than Jupiter that orbits a sun-like star about 150 light years away in the constellation Pegasus. The new finding follows their breakthrough discovery in December 2008 of carbon dioxide around another hot, Jupiter-size planet, HD 189733b. Earlier Hubble and Spitzer observations of that planet had also revealed water vapor and methane.

The detections were made through spectroscopy, which splits light into its components to reveal the distinctive spectral signatures of different chemicals. Data from Hubble's near-infrared camera and multi-object spectrometer revealed the presence of the molecules, and data from Spitzer's photometer and infrared spectrometer measured their amounts.

"This demonstrates that we can detect the molecules that matter for life processes," said Swain. Astronomers can now begin comparing the two planetary atmospheres for differences and similarities. For example, the relative amounts of water and carbon dioxide in the two planets is similar, but HD 209458b shows a greater abundance of methane than HD 189733b. "The high methane abundance is telling us something," said Swain. "It could mean there was something special about the formation of this planet."

Other large, hot Jupiter-type planets can be characterized and compared using existing instruments, Swain said. This work will lay the groundwork for the type of analysis astronomers eventually will need to perform in shortlisting any promising rocky Earth-like planets where the signatures of organic chemicals might indicate the presence of life.

Rocky worlds are expected to be found by NASA's Kepler mission, which launched earlier this year, but astronomers believe we are a decade or so away from being able to detect any chemical signs of life on such a body.

If and when such Earth-like planets are found in the future, "the detection of organic compounds will not necessarily mean there's life on a planet, because there are other ways to generate such molecules," Swain said. "If we detect organic chemicals on a rocky, Earth-like planet, we will want to understand enough about the planet to rule out non-life processes that could have led to those chemicals being there."

"These objects are too far away to send probes to, so the only way we're ever going to learn anything about them is to point telescopes at them. Spectroscopy provides a powerful tool to determine their chemistry and dynamics."

You can follow the history of planet hunting from science fiction to science fact with NASA's PlanetQuest Historic Timeline at .

This interactive web feature, developed by JPL, conveys the story of exoplanet exploration through a rich tapestry of words and images spanning thousands of years, beginning with the musings of ancient philosophers and continuing through the current era of space-based observations by NASA's Spitzer and Kepler missions. The timeline highlights milestones in culture, technology and science, and includes a planet counter that tracks the pace of exoplanet discoveries over time.

More information about exoplanets and NASA's planet-finding program is at .

The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between NASA and the European Space Agency and is managed by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. The Space Telescope Science Institute, Baltimore, Md., conducts Hubble science operations. The institute is operated for NASA by the Association of Universities for research in Astronomy, Inc., Washington, D.C.

JPL manages the Spitzer Space Telescope mission for NASA. Science operations are conducted at the Spitzer Science Center at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. Caltech manages JPL for NASA.

NASA and the National Federation of the Blind Celebrate Release of the 2009 Louis Braille Bicentennial Silver Dollar

Limited Edition 2009 Louis Braille Bicentennial Silver DollarTo commemorate the United States Mint's release of the 2009 Louis Braille Bicentennial Silver Dollar and to recognize the critical role that Braille plays in the pursuit of careers in math and science by the blind, NASA's STS-125 mission flew two of the coins aboard during the Hubble Servicing Mission. This commemorative coin, only available until Dec. 11, 2009, is the first U.S. coin to have readable Braille on it and is a testament to the importance of Braille in the lives of the blind people.

Associate Administrator Chris Scolese presented them to Mark Riccobono, executive director of the Jernigan Institute of the National Federation of the Blind during the closing ceremony of the NFB Youth Slam--the largest gathering of blind students and mentors brought together to inspire and engage blind youth in science, technology, engineering and math.

In celebration of the 200th anniversary of Louis Braille's birthday, Congress authorized the minting of the 2009 Louis Braille Bicentennial Silver Dollar. The coins are the first to feature tactile, readable Braille, which enables the blind to read and learn, just as Hubble allows people to learn about the universe.

As authorized by Congress, the United States Braille coin will fund efforts by the National Federation of the Blind to reverse the Braille literacy crisis in America. After Dec. 11, any unsold coins are melted down.

NASA Associate Administrator Chris Scolese, left, presented Mark Riccobono, executive director of the Jernigan Institute of the National Federation of the Blind a Braille-inscribed award with two Louis Braille Bicentennial Silver Dollars flown on Atlantis' STS-125 missionDr. Marc Maurer, President of the National Federation of the Blind, said: "This is an exciting moment because the general public has the chance to buy a piece of history -- a coin that not only represents knowledge and empowerment for blind people but that also [visited] the Hubble Space Telescope."

NASA astronaut Gregory H. Johnson will speak at the celebratory closing of the National Federation of the Blind's 2009 Youth Slam. At the Youth Slam, 200 blind high school students from across the nation will participate in five days of activities to help encourage the blind youth of America to consider careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

NASA and the National Federation of the Blind have been collaborating for more than five years to inspire and engage blind students to lend their unique talents to disciplines critical to the nation's engineering, scientific and technical missions.

For more information about the National Federation of the Blind, visit: