Tag Archives: christopher russell

Scientists’ discovery of zebra stripes in space resolves a half-century mystery

Study by UCLA researchers and others could explain mysterious plasma waves in space

In the 1960s, NASA launched six satellites to study the Earth’s atmosphere, magnetosphere and the space between Earth and the moon. Using observations from those satellites, Christopher Russell, a UCLA graduate student at the time, detected mysterious plasma waves in the Van Allen radiation belts, the donut-shaped rings surrounding the Earth that contain high-energy particles trapped by the planet’s magnetic field. (more…)

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Dawn Reaches Milestone Approaching Asteroid Vesta

PASADENA, Calif. — NASA’s Dawn spacecraft has reached its official approach phase to the asteroid Vesta and will begin using cameras for the first time to aid navigation for an expected July 16 orbital encounter. The large asteroid is known as a protoplanet — a celestial body that almost formed into a planet.

At the start of this three-month final approach to this massive body in the asteroid belt, Dawn is 1.21 million kilometers (752,000 miles) from Vesta, or about three times the distance between Earth and the moon. During the approach phase, the spacecraft’s main activity will be thrusting with a special, hyper-efficient ion engine that uses electricity to ionize and accelerate xenon. The 12-inch-wide ion thrusters provide less thrust than conventional engines, but will provide propulsion for years during the mission and provide far greater capability to change velocity. (more…)

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When is an Asteroid Not an Asteroid?

On March 29, 1807, German astronomer Heinrich Wilhelm Olbers spotted Vesta as a pinprick of light in the sky. Two hundred and four years later, as NASA’s Dawn spacecraft prepares to begin orbiting this intriguing world, scientists now know how special this world is, even if there has been some debate on how to classify it.

Vesta is most commonly called an asteroid because it lies in the orbiting rubble patch known as the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. But the vast majority of objects in the main belt are lightweights, 100-kilometers-wide (about 60-miles wide) or smaller, compared with Vesta, which is about 530 kilometers (330 miles) across on average. In fact, numerous bits of Vesta ejected by collisions with other objects have been identified in the main belt. (more…)

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