Month: March 2017

Waves on Sun Give NASA New Insight into Space Weather Forecasting

Our sun is a chaotic place, simmering with magnetic energy and constantly spewing out particles. Sometimes the sun releases solar flares and coronal mass ejections — huge eruptions of charged particles — which contribute to space weather and can interfere with satellites and telecommunications on Earth. While it has long been hard to predict such events, new research has uncovered a mechanism that may help forecasting these explosions.

The research finds a phenomenon similar to a common weather system seen on our own planet. Weather on Earth reacts to the influence of jet streams, which blow air in narrow currents around the globe. These atmospheric currents are a type of Rossby wave, movements driven by the planet’s rotation. Using comprehensive imaging of the entire sun with data from the NASA heliophysics Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory — STEREO — and Solar Dynamics Observatory — SDO — scientists have now found proof of Rossby waves on the sun.

The results, published in a new article in Nature Astronomy may allow for long-term space weather forecasting, thus helping better protect satellites and manned missions vulnerable to high-energy particles released from solar activity.

Rossby waves, large movement patterns in the atmosphere, have been found on the sun, and their discovery could help make better long-term space weather predictions.
Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/Genna Duberstein, Producer

“It’s not a huge surprise that these things exist on the sun. The cool part is what they do,” said lead author Scott McIntosh, director of the High Altitude Observatory at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado. “Just like the jet stream and the gulf stream on Earth, these guys on the sun drive weather — space weather.”

Currently, we can forecast short-term effects after a solar flare erupts, but not the appearance of the flare itself. Understanding the solar Rossby waves and the interior process that drive them, may allow for predictions of when the solar flares might occur — an invaluable tool for future interplanetary manned missions which will fly through regions unprotected from the damaging energetic particles flares can release.

The scientists tracked coronal brightpoints — small, luminous features that can be observed on the sun, directly tied to magnetic activity beneath the surface — using data from 2010 to 2013 with NASA’s heliophysics fleet of space observatories.

In this north pole view of the sun, the brightpoints can be seen circling counter-clockwise, revealing the magnetized Rossby waves flowing beneath the surface.
Credits: NCAR High Altitude Observatory

“The main thing is we were able to observe Rossby waves because of STEREO A and STEREO B, in conjunction with SDO, which allowed us to get a full picture of the entire sun,” said co-author William Cramer, a graduate student at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut.

The STEREO mission used two near-identical observatories in orbit ahead and behind Earth, STEREO A and STEREO B, to get a complete 360-degree view of the sun.

“These missions allowed the researchers to see the entire sun for over three years, something that would not be possible without the STEREO mission,” said Terry Kuchera, STEREO project scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. In October 2014, after eight years in orbit, STEREO B lost contact with ground operations, but the multi-point view STEREO offers remains invaluable. “Having more than one vantage point to look at the sun has a lot of uses, and even with just STEREO A and SDO we can understand how events, like coronal mass ejections, move through the solar system better than we can with just one eye on the sun.”

The results clearly show trains of brightpoints slowly circling the sun traveling westwards, revealing the magnetized Rossby waves flowing beneath the surface. The researchers also found the brightpoints shed light on the solar cycle — the sun’s 22-year activity cycle, driven by the constant movement of magnetic material inside the sun. The brightpoints may serve as a clue, linking how the solar cycle leads to increased numbers of solar flares every 11 years.

“These waves couple activity happening on instantaneous timescales with things that are happening on decadal and longer timescales,” McIntosh said. “What this points to, is that something that might at first glance appear random, like flares and coronal mass ejections, are probably governed at some level by the process that are driving the wave.”

When terrestrial satellites were first used to observe the jet stream on Earth, it allowed huge advances in predictive weather forecasting. These results show such forecasting advances may also be possible with observations of the entire sun simultaneously.

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Editor: Rob Garner

 

Photo Credit: NASA

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NASA to Preview ‘Grand Finale’ of Cassini Saturn Mission

NASA will hold a news conference at 3 p.m. EDT Tuesday, April 4, at the agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, to preview the beginning of Cassini’s final mission segment, known as the Grand Finale, which begins in late April. The briefing will air live on NASA Television and the agency’s website.

Cassini has been orbiting Saturn since June 2004, studying the planet, its rings and its moons. A final close flyby of Saturn’s moon Titan on April 22 will reshape the Cassini spacecraft’s orbit so that it begins its final series of 22 weekly dives through the unexplored gap between the planet and its rings. The first of these dives is planned for April 26. Following these closer-than-ever encounters with the giant planet, Cassini will make a mission-ending plunge into Saturn’s upper atmosphere on Sept. 15.

The panelists for the briefing are:

  • Jim Green, director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division at the agency’s headquarters in Washington
  • Earl Maize, Cassini project manager at JPL
  • Linda Spilker, Cassini project scientist at JPL
  • Joan Stupik, Cassini guidance and control engineer at JPL

Media who would like to attend the event at JPL must arrange access in advance by contacting Gina Fontes in the JPL Media Relations Office at 818-354-9380 or georgina.d.fontes@jpl.nasa.gov. Media who arrange access must bring to the event valid media credentials, and for non-U.S. citizens, valid passports.

To participate by phone, media must email their name and affiliation to georgina.d.fontes@jpl.nasa.gov by 8 a.m. April 4.

Media and the public also may ask questions during the briefing on Twitter using the hashtag #askNASA.

Supporting graphics, video and background information about Cassini’s Grand Finale will be posted before the briefing at:

http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov/grandfinale

The Cassini mission is a cooperative project of NASA, ESA (European Space Agency) and the Italian Space Agency. JPL, a division of Caltech in Pasadena, California, manages the mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. JPL designed, developed and assembled the Cassini orbiter.

For more information about Cassini, go to:

http://www.nasa.gov/cassini

and

http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov

Dwayne Brown / Laurie Cantillo
Headquarters, Washington
202-358-1726 / 202-358-1077
dwayne.c.brown@nasa.gov / laura.l.cantillo@nasa.gov

Preston Dyches
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
818-394-7013
preston.dyches@jpl.nasa.gov

Editor: Karen Northon

 

Photo Credit: NASA

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Article 50 triggered – but is a Brexit deal really possible in two years?

The phony war phase of Brexit is brought to an end by the UK government’s decision to formally submit its request to leave the European Union. After a protracted period of speculation, now begins the two-year formal countdown for Britain to depart from the EU.

But the question of whether Brexit will be completed in an orderly fashion within that timeframe will be determined between now and the summer.

Three key objectives will need to be realized by then. First, the divorce settlement. This is the outline of the exit agreement on what the UK owes the EU in funding commitments and otherwise. Then the two sides will need to agree on the contours of their trade and immigration relationship. The UK wants to leave the EU’s single market and customs union and strike a comprehensive free trade and investment agreement instead. Both sides need to agree on that, as well as how immigration is going to work in the future.

There will need to be a deal on the principle of a transition agreement. This is to cover the period of time between the end of the two-year negotiation and any successor agreement coming into force. This is to avoid any disconnection (a cliff-edge Brexit) between the current membership relationship and whatever comes next.

Ticking clock

Realistically, a full Brexit agreement cannot be reached by March 2019 but its broad principles will need to be determined before the UK’s EU exit to allow for clarity on what will need to be covered in a transition agreement. Reaching a consensus between the UK and the EU on what should be included in the exit, successor and transition agreements by the summer of 2017 would allow for a substantive period of negotiations (and the ratification of exit and transition agreements) by the end of the two-year period covered under the provisions of Article 50.

But this is unlikely to happen either. This is due to the different political and economic forces at work on both sides. The UK government will approach the negotiations from a much more settled political and economic condition than the EU. Prime Minister Theresa May leads a party and government which is now overwhelmingly committed to Brexit. For the foreseeable future, she faces no serious parliamentary, party, public opinion or electoral threat to her commitment to see through on her plans.

In contrast, the EU faces a period of uncertainty in political leadership. Elections loom in France, Germany, and Ireland. More problematically, substantive disagreements exist between the member states over the future goals of the EU project – and especially whether they should loosen or deepen their integration. A lack of a settled consensus among the member states on the future shape of the EU will significantly affect their ability to agree on what they, as a group, want their relationship with the UK to be in the future.

They do agree, however, that the divorce settlement is a priority. They’ve made this clear through very public statements about the UK’s outstanding financial commitments to the EU, even before Article 50 was triggered.

The UK, though, looks to be hardening its negotiating stance on the divorce settlement. The continuing absence of a “Brexit shock” to the economy has provided a political morale booster by creating the sense that the UK can weather the economic consequences of EU departure. An extended period of megaphone diplomacy over UK debts to the EU will make the political climate for consensus on both sides for the outlines of the exit, transition and successor agreements impossible.

In the absence of agreement by the summer of 2017 on the broad objectives for the two-year Article 50 timetable the negotiations will settle into a condition of “muddling through”. Work will continue on the technical and legal aspects of Brexit but the significant questions about the shape of the future EU-UK relationship will remain undecided after 2019. The UK is due to have a general election in 2020 – and its future relationship with the EU could be a key issue.

Richard Whitman, Director of the Global Europe Centre, University of Kent and Senior Visiting Fellow, Chatham House, University of Kent

Photo Credit: Shutterstock

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This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

How I used math to develop an algorithm to help treat diabetes

When people ask me why I, an applied mathematician, study diabetes, I tell them that I am motivated for both scientific and human reasons.

Type 2 diabetes runs in my family. My grandfather died of complications related to the condition. My mother was diagnosed with the disease when I was 10 years old, and my Aunt Zacharoula suffered from it. I myself am pre-diabetic.

As a teen, I remember being struck by the fact that my mother and her sister received different treatments from their respective doctors. My mother never took insulin, a hormone that regulates blood sugar levels; instead, she ate a limited diet and took other oral drugs. Aunt Zacharoula, on the other hand, took several injections of insulin each day.

Though they had the same heritage, the same parental DNA and the same disease, their medical trajectories diverged. My mother died in 2009 at the age of 75 and my aunt died the same year at the age of 78, but over the course of her life dealt with many more serious side effects.

When they were diagnosed back in the 1970s, there were no data to show which medicine was most effective for a specific patient population.

Today, 29 million Americans are living with diabetes. And now, in an emerging era of precision medicine, things are different.

Increased access to troves of genomic information and the rising use of electronic medical records, combined with new methods of machine learning, allow researchers to process large amounts data. This is accelerating efforts to understand genetic differences within diseases – including diabetes – and to develop treatments for them. The scientist in me feels a powerful desire to take part.

Using big data to optimize treatment

My students and I have developed a data-driven algorithm for personalized diabetes management that we believe has the potential to improve the health of the millions of Americans living with the illness.

It works like this: The algorithm mines patient and drug data, finds what is most relevant to a particular patient based on his or her medical history and then makes a recommendation on whether another treatment or medicine would be more effective. Human expertise provides a critical third piece of the puzzle.

After all, it is the doctors who have the education, skills and relationships with patients who make informed judgments about potential courses of treatment.

We conducted our research through a partnership with Boston Medical Center, the largest safety net hospital in New England that provides care for people of lower income and uninsured people. And we used a data set that involved the electronic medical records from 1999 to 2014 of about 11,000 patients who were anonymous to us.

These patients had three or more glucose level tests on record, a prescription for at least one blood glucose regulation drug, and no recorded diagnosis of type 1 diabetes, which usually begins in childhood. We also had access to each patient’s demographic data, as well their height, weight, body mass index, and prescription drug history.

Next, we developed an algorithm to mark precisely when each line of therapy ended and the next one began, according to when the combination of drugs prescribed to the patients changed in the electronic medical record data. All told, the algorithm considered 13 possible drug regimens.

For each patient, the algorithm processed the menu of available treatment options. This included the patient’s current treatment, as well as the treatment of his or her 30 “nearest neighbors” in terms of the similarity of their demographic and medical history to predict potential effects of each drug regimen. The algorithm assumed the patient would inherit the average outcome of his or her nearest neighbors.

If the algorithm spotted substantial potential for improvement, it offered a change in treatment; if not, the algorithm suggested the patient remain on his or her existing regimen. In two-thirds of the patient sample, the algorithm did not propose a change.

The patients who did receive new treatments as a result of the algorithm saw dramatic results. When the system’s suggestion was different from the standard of care, an average beneficial change in the hemoglobin of 0.44 percent at each doctor’s visit was observed, compared to historical data. This is a meaningful, medically material improvement.

Based on the success of our study, we are organizing a clinical trial with Massachusetts General Hospital. We believe our algorithm could be applicable to other diseases, including cancer, Alzheimer’s, and cardiovascular disease.

It is professionally satisfying and personally gratifying to work on a breakthrough project like this one. By reading a person’s medical history, we are able to tailor specific treatments to specific patients and provide them with more effective therapeutic and preventive strategies. Our goal is to give everyone the greatest possible opportunity for a healthier life.

Best of all, I know my mom would be proud.

Dimitris Bertsimas, Professor of Applied Mathematics, MIT Sloan School of Management

Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com

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This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

As the European Union celebrates 60 years, can Asia use it as a model for economic integration?

On 25 March 2017, the European Union’s heads of state and government will meet in Rome to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the European project. The date marks the signing of the Treaties of Rome, which established the foundations of European Community that preceded the EU.

While the EU is a unique experiment in integration in many ways, the world abounds in other kinds of regional trade agreements; the World Trade Organization records more than 635. Still, as the most advanced form of market integration in the world, the EU provides a good model for other regions, including Asia.

Why the EU is a good model

Market integration is one of the tools that helped take Europe out of the ashes of the world wars and supported its transition out of the Cold War into peace. It provided a historically fragmented, war-torn, extremely diverse continent with a period of geopolitical stability, and thus brought wealth and prosperity.

Despite Britain’s impending exit from the group, the EU remains the most advanced and successful model for peace through economics in Europe’s history. The bloc continues to attract neighboring countries, having expanded from the original group of six to the current 28, with a combined population of more than 500 million and GDP of more than €14 billion. These countries work together across a single market and carefully selected common policy areas.

The EU’s market integration began with the free circulation of goods, based on the logic that the more states trade with one another and become interdependent, the less they are likely to go to war. It has extended to the free movement of people (stimulating travel, work abroad and cultural exchange), and enhanced economic integration through freer movement of capital and services, the option of joining a common currency, and other joint initiatives and policies.

Later members joined for mainly economic reasons; many others to fill the geopolitical void left by the collapse of the Soviet Union and its regime transition. Central and Eastern European countries, for instance, were supported in their transition to market economy and democracy by joining the EU and various other international institutions.

All signed up to trade with each other, but also to promote shared values of freedom, democracy, human rights, peace, solidarity, strength through diversity and the rule of law. But increasingly negative attitudes towards the EU in some member states, and the EU’s struggle with confidence in its achievements and its future potential is a sign this stability came at the price of dynamic decision-making.

Integration in Asia

Asia is home to more than half of the world’s population and to most of the world’s production. These make it one of the most dynamic regions in the world, with huge economic potential.

Just as for the EU and its members, some countries in the region feel a certain frustration with the lack of progress by the World Trade Organization in dealing with the most urgent economic issues. While this may make regional integration à la EU seem desirable, the scope to achieve similar outcomes in Asia is shaky.

National contexts and ideologies in the region differ as much as economic structures, institutional differences, geopolitical, cultural and historic conditions. The motivation in Asia to work towards greater integration is often subject to the economies’ interdependence through trade and production networks within the global value chain, and is often commercially driven.

Nonetheless, Asia has numerous geo-economic groupings that may lead to EU-like integration including the East Asia Free Trade Agreement (EAFTA), the Comprehensive Economic Partnership in East Asia (CEPEA) and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). These already make it the world’s second-most integrated region after the EU.

ASEAN also has a network of additional free trade agreements with neighboring countries, such as those between Australia and New Zealand (AANZFTA, China (ACFTA), South Korea (AKFTA), India (AIFTA) and a Comprehensive Economic Partnership with Japan (AJCEP).

Then there is ASEAN+3 – China, Japan, and South Korea, which has an ambitious Master Plan on ASEAN Connectivity, which aims to expand sectors and topics of interaction by 2025.

Countries in the area are also working towards the establishment of a Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) as an alternative to Trans Pacific Partnership, which has been rejected by US President Donald Trump.

The scene for further economic integration across Asia is clearly set. The RCEP would be a good start, providing the basis for economic cooperation, poverty alleviation, facilitation of trade in products and services and more.

Hurdles for further integration

But significant hurdles would need to be overcome if this project were to succeed along similar lines to the long-term achievements of the EU.

The first involves the question of will for unity in diversity, an idea that guides the EU. The region’s cultures, political regimes, economic systems and religious beliefs are more disparate than Europe. And we can count on many governments resisting sufficient institutional proximity, which would necessarily result in some diluting of sovereignty, non-interference, and territorial integrity.

The second hurdle entails superpower interests in seeing such integration take place – or not – and in what shape. Asia remains under the influence of fiercely competing superpowers, buffeted by the conflicting interests of China, the United States, and Russia. What are the chances the region can achieve equal partnership rather than extending the predominance of major regional actors; of reaching partnership rather than absorption?

There is no power balance between states in Asia as exists in Europe with Germany and France. These countries share a strong belief in European integration, and social and cultural understanding. What would be the parallel historical, ideological and social drivers in Asia? What or who would hold Asian integration together in times of crisis, something the more consolidated and stable EU is currently struggling with?

If Asia could integrate in its own way – most likely much more loosely than the EU and with fewer joint institutions and policies – then the formidable growth potential of the region could become a great driving force for dealing with the biggest challenges of today and tomorrow. These include national security, migration, competition and the re-emergence of protectionism, automation and unemployment, and aging work forces.

Working together to solve these complex challenges would make them much easier to deal with.

In December 2016, the EU and ASEAN celebrated the 40th anniversary of their relationship. As a summary to their underlying beliefs, they stated that “regional integration (is) the most effective way to foster stability, build prosperity and address global challenges.”

Each needs to promote this in its own setting to succeed.

Gabriele Suder, Principal Fellow, Faculty of Business & Economics/Melbourne Business School, University of Melbourne

Photo Credit: Europa.eu

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This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Humans may have transformed the Sahara from lush paradise to barren desert

Once upon a time, the Sahara was green. There were vast lakes. Hippos and giraffe lived there, and large human populations of fishers foraged for food alongside the lakeshores.

The “African Humid Period” or “Green Sahara” was a time between 11,000 and 4,000 years ago when significantly more rain fell across the northern two-thirds of Africa than it does today.

The vegetation of the Sahara was highly diverse and included species commonly found on the margins of today’s rainforests along with desert-adapted plants. It was a highly productive and predictable ecosystem in which hunter-gatherers appear to have flourished.

These conditions stand in marked contrast to the current climate of northern Africa. Today, the Sahara is the largest hot desert in the world. It lies in the subtropical latitudes dominated by high-pressure ridges, where the atmospheric pressure at the Earth’s surface is greater than the surrounding environment. These ridges inhibit the flow of moist air inland.

How the Sahara became a desert

The stark difference between 10,000 years ago and now largely exists due to changing orbital conditions of the earth – the wobble of the earth on its axis and within its orbit relative to the sun.

But this period ended erratically. In some areas of northern Africa, the transition from wet to dry conditions occurred slowly; in others, it seems to have happened abruptly. This pattern does not conform to expectations of changing orbital conditions since such changes are slow and linear.

The most commonly accepted theory about this shift holds that devegetation of the landscape meant that more light reflected off the ground surface (a process known as albedo), helping to create the high-pressure ridge that dominates today’s Sahara.

But what caused the initial devegetation? That’s uncertain, in part because the area involved with studying the effects is so vast. But my recent paper presents evidence that areas where the Sahara dried out quickly happen to be the same areas where domesticated animals first appeared. At this time, where there is evidence to show it, we can see that the vegetation changes from grasslands into scrublands.

Scrub vegetation dominates the modern Saharan and Mediterranean ecosystems today and has significantly more albedo effects than grasslands.

If my hypothesis is correct, the initial agents of change were humans, who initiated a process that cascaded across the landscape until the region crossed an ecological threshold. This worked in tandem with orbital changes, which pushed ecosystems to the brink.

Historical precedent

There’s a problem with testing my hypothesis: datasets are scarce. Combined ecological and archaeological research across northern Africa is rarely undertaken.

But well-tested comparisons abound in prehistoric and historic records from across the world. Early Neolithic farmers of northern Europe, China, and southwestern Asia are documented as significantly deforesting their environments.

In the case of East Asia, nomadic herders are believed to have intensively grazed the landscape 6,000 years ago to the point of reducing evapo-transpiration – the process which allows clouds to form – from the grasslands, which weakened monsoon rainfall.

Their burning and land clearance practices were so unprecedented that they triggered significant alterations to the relationship between the land and the atmosphere that were measurable within hundreds of years of their introduction.

Similar dynamics occurred when domesticated animals were introduced to New Zealand and North America upon initial settlement by Europeans in the 1800s – only in these instances they were documented and quantified by historical ecologists.

New Zealand’s colonial pastoralists transformed the country’s landscape.
William Allsworth

Ecology of fear

Landscape burning has been occurring for millions of years. Old World landscapes have hosted humans for more than a million years and wild grazing animals for more than 20 million years. Orbitally induced changes in the climate are as old as the earth’s climate systems themselves.

So what made the difference in the Sahara? A theory called the “ecology of fear” may contribute something to this discussion. Ecologists recognize that the behavior of predatory animals toward their prey has a significant impact on landscape processes. For example, deer will avoid spending significant time in open landscapes because it makes them easy targets for predators (including humans).

If you remove the threat of predation, the prey behaves differently. In Yellowstone National Park, the absence of predators is argued to have changed grazers’ habits. Prey felt more comfortable grazing alongside the exposed riverbanks, which increased the erosion in those areas. The re-introduction of wolves into the ecosystem completely shifted this dynamic and forests regenerated within several years. By altering the “fear-based ecology”, significant changes in landscape processes are known to follow.

The introduction of livestock to the Sahara may have had a similar effect. Landscape burning has a deep history in the few places in which it has been tested in the Sahara. But the primary difference between pre-Neolithic and post-Neolithic burning is that the ecology of fear was altered.

Most grazing animals will avoid landscapes that have been burned, not only because the food resources there are relatively low, but also because of exposure to predators. Scorched landscapes present high risks and low rewards.

But with humans guiding them, domesticated animals are not subject to the same dynamics between predator and prey. They can be led into recently burned areas where the grasses will be preferentially selected to eat and the shrubs will be left alone. Over the succeeding period of landscape regeneration, the less palatable scrubland will grow faster than succulent grasslands – and, thus, the landscape has crossed a threshold.

It can be argued that early Saharan pastoralists changed the ecology of fear in the area, which in turn enhanced scrubland at the expense of grasslands in some places, which in turn enhanced albedo and dust production and accelerated the termination of the African Humid Period.

I tested this hypothesis by correlating the occurrences and effects of early livestock introduction across the region, but more detailed paleoecological research is needed. If proven, the theory would explain the patchy nature of the transition from wet to dry conditions across northern Africa.

Lessons for today

Although more work remains, the potential of humans to profoundly alter ecosystems should send a powerful message to modern societies.

More than 35% of the world’s population lives in dryland ecosystems, and these landscapes must be carefully managed if they are to sustain human life. The end of the African Humid Period is a lesson for modern societies living on drylands: if you strip the vegetation, you alter the land-atmosphere dynamics, and rainfall is likely to diminish.

This is precisely what the historical records of rainfall and vegetation in the south-western desert of the United States demonstrates, though the precise causes remain speculative.

In the meantime, we must balance economic development against environmental stewardship. Historical ecology teaches us that when an ecological threshold is crossed, we cannot go back. There are no second chances, so the long-term viability of 35% of humanity rests on maintaining the landscapes where they live. Otherwise, we may be creating more Sahara Deserts, all around the world.

David K Wright, Associate Professor, Department of Archaeology and Art History, Seoul National University

Photo Credit: hbieser

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This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

NASA Selects Mission to Study Churning Chaos in our Milky Way and Beyond

NASA has selected a science mission that will measure emissions from the interstellar medium, which is the cosmic material found between stars. This data will help scientists determine the life cycle of interstellar gas in our Milky Way galaxy, witness the formation and destruction of star-forming clouds, and understand the dynamics and gas flow in the vicinity of the center of our galaxy.

The Galactic/Extragalactic ULDB Spectroscopic Terahertz Observatory (GUSTO) mission, led by the principal investigator of the University of Arizona, Christopher Walker, will fly an Ultralong-Duration Balloon (ULDB) carrying a telescope with carbon, oxygen, and nitrogen emission line detectors. This unique combination of data will provide the spectral and spatial resolution information needed for Walker and his team to untangle the complexities of the interstellar medium, and map out large sections of the plane of our Milky Way galaxy and the nearby galaxy known as the Large Magellanic Cloud.

“GUSTO will provide the first complete study of all phases of the stellar life cycle, from the formation of molecular clouds, through star birth and evolution, to the formation of gas clouds and the re-initiation of the cycle,” said Paul Hertz, astrophysics division director in the Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “NASA has a great history of launching observatories in the Astrophysics Explorers Program with new and unique observational capabilities. GUSTO continues that tradition.”

The mission is targeted for launch in 2021 from McMurdo, Antarctica, and is expected to stay in the air between 100 to 170 days, depending on weather conditions. It will cost approximately $40 million, including the balloon launch funding and the cost of post-launch operations and data analysis.

The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, is providing the mission operations, and the balloon platform where the instruments are mounted, known as the gondola. The University of Arizona in Tucson will provide the GUSTO telescope and instrument, which will incorporate detector technologies from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Arizona State University in Tempe, and SRON Netherlands Institute for Space Research.

NASA’s Astrophysics Explorers Program requested proposals for mission of opportunity investigations in September 2014. A panel of NASA and other scientists and engineers reviewed two mission of opportunity concept studies selected from the eight proposals submitted at that time, and NASA has determined that GUSTO has the best potential for excellent science return with a feasible development plan.

NASA’s Explorers Program is the agency’s oldest continuous program and is designed to provide frequent, low-cost access to space using principal investigator-led space science investigations relevant to the astrophysics and heliophysics programs in agency’s Science Mission Directorate. The program has launched more than 90 missions. It began in 1958 with the Explorer 1, which discovered the Earth’s radiation belts, now called the Van Allen belt, named after the principal investigator. Another Explorer mission, the Cosmic Background Explorer, led to a Nobel Prize. NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland manages the program for the Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

For more information on the Explorers Program, visit:

https://explorers.gsfc.nasa.gov

For more information on scientific balloons, visit:

https://www.nasa.gov/scientificballoons

-end-

Felicia Chou
Headquarters, Washington
202-358-0257
felicia.chou@nasa.gov

Last Updated: March 24, 2017
Editor: Katherine Brown

Photo Credit: NASA

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