NASA’s Parker Solar Probe Mission to Touch the Sun Explained (Infographic)

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NASA’s Parker Solar Probe Mission to Touch the Sun Explained (Infographic)

NASA aims to launch its sun-studying Parker Solar Probe in July 2018.

Credit: Jef Castro/

NASA’s Parker Solar Probe mission, which is scheduled to launch in July 2018, will come within 3.9 million miles (6.2 million kilometers) of the sun — seven times closer than any other spacecraft ever has.

The specially shielded Parker Solar Probe will have to endure temperatures up to 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit (1,370 degrees Celsius) and solar radiation intensities 475 times higher than we’re used to here on Earth.

If all goes according to plan, the Parker Solar Probe will zoom close to the sun 24 times between 2018 and 2025, gathering a variety of data about the sun’s structure and magnetic and electric fields, as well as the energetic particles cruising near and away from Earth’s star. This information could help researchers solve two longstanding mysteries: How the solar wind is accelerated and why the sun’s outer atmosphere, or corona, is so much hotter than the solar surface, NASA officials have said.

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Icy Water Moons That Might Host Life (Infographic)

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Icy Water Moons That Might Host Life (Infographic)

Alien life may be lurking right in Earth’s cosmic backyard. Some of the icy moons of Saturn and Jupiter are known to harbor subsurface oceans that could provide habitable environments.

In the dark, cold sections of the Earth’s ocean floor, communities of life-forms survive on the heat and nutrients from hydrothermal vents. Under the ice of Antarctica, scientists have found rich microbial ecosystems.

These discoveries have opened up the possibility that life could also survive in extreme environments on other worlds.

There are five icy moons in our solar system that could potentially host extraterrestrial life.


This icy moon of Jupiter is thought to harbor a liquid-water ocean more than twice the volume of all Earth’s oceans. The subsurface sea, which lies underneath a thick layer of subsurface ice, likely remains a liquid because of tidal heating, which (similar to tides on Earth) comes from the gravitational pull of Jupiter.

Other geologic activity in the moon’s rocky core could create an additional heat source for life-forms. The ice layer on Europa is more likely at least 10 to 15 miles (15 to 25 km) thick, so getting a look at those life-forms would be extremely challenging. There may be, however, isolated lakes at shallower depths.

NASA has green-lit a mission to orbit Europa and learn more about this potentially habitable world.


Saturn’s moon Titan might appear hospitable at first glance, because it is covered in rivers, lakes and oceans. Unfortunately, all of them are flowing with liquid ethane and methane, and all known life-forms need water to survive. In addition, the surface temperature on Titan is about minus 292 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 180 Celsikus) — far too cold for life as we know it.

But the active chemistry on Titan has led some scientists to hypothesize about how life could arise there. Living organisms create most of Earth’s methane supply, but it’s unclear where Tian’s methane comes from. The source could be an underground ocean, where temperatures might be warmer.


The bluish-gray surface of Enceladus looks too frigid to host life, but under its surface lies a vast ocean. Just like on Europa, it’s possible the underground ocean contains a suitable environment for life. Over 100 geysers on the moon’s surface vent material from that ocean up and away from the satellite. Analysis of the plumes by the Cassini probe revealed water, ammonia, salts and organics (molecules that contain carbon, the building block for life on Earth).

A proposed mission to Enceladus would send a probe to collect samples from those plumes and analyze them in situ.


Like their siblings, Europa and Enceladus, the Jovian moons Ganymede and Callisto may have subsurface, liquid oceans. But in these cases, the underground seas would be buried under at least 60 miles (100 km) of rock.

These moons are less likely to support life than icy worlds like Enceladus, according to NASA. But the European Space Agency is planning a mission to study the buried oceans of the Jupiter system, with particular emphasis on Ganymede.

1st American in Orbit: How John Glenn (And NASA) Made History (Infographic)

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1st American in Orbit: How John Glenn (And NASA) Made History (Infographic)

John Glenn’s Mercury mission was the first American space flight around the world.

Credit: Karl Tate, Contributor

When NASA launched astronaut John Glenn into orbit on Feb. 20, 1962, the U.S. joined the realm of orbital spaceflight and never looked back. Seven years later, the first Americans would land on the moon. See how NASA made the leap into orbital spaceflight with Glenn’s historic Friendship 7 spaceflight in the inforgrahic above.

 John Glenn died on Dec. 8, 2016 at age 95. Read our full obituary here.

Total Solar Eclipse 2017: When, Where and How to See It (Safely)

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Total Solar Eclipse 2017: When, Where and How to See It (Safely)

On Aug. 21, 2017, people across the United States will see the sun disappear behind the moon, turning daylight into twilight,  causing the temperature drop rapidly and revealing massive streamers of light streaking through the sky around the silhouette of the moon. On that day, America will fall under the path of a total solar eclipse.

Read our latest story! June 8: The 2017 total solar eclipse is an amazing sight to share with children. But don’t be fooled by an old myth. Find out more here:
Don’t Let an Old Myth Prevent Your Child from Seeing the Solar Eclipse All Eclipse News

Bonus: Check out our Solar Eclipse Books Guide! Best Books to Prepare for the 2017 Total Solar Eclipse

The so-called Great American Total Solar Eclipse will darken skies all the way from Oregon to South Carolina, along a stretch of land about 70 miles (113 kilometers) wide. People who descend upon this “path of totality” for the big event are in for an unforgettable experience.

Here is’s complete guide to the 2017 total solar eclipse. It includes information about where and when to see it, how long it lasts, what you can expect to see, and how to plan ahead to ensure you get the most out of this incredible experience.

REMEMBER: Looking directly at the sun, even when it is partially covered by the moon, can cause serious eye damage or blindness. NEVER look at a partial solar eclipse without proper eye protection. See our complete guide to find out how to view the eclipse safely.

Solar Eclipse Glasses: Where to Buy the Best, High-Quality Eyewear

Map showing the path of totality for the Aug. 21, 2017 total solar eclipse.

Credit: Fred Espenak/NASA GSFC

A total solar eclipse occurs when the disk of the moon appears to completely cover the disk of the sun in the sky. The fact that total solar eclipses occur at all is a quirk of cosmic geometry. The moon orbits an average of 239,000 miles (385,000 kilometers) from Earth — just the right distance to seem the same size in the sky as the much-larger sun. However, these heavenly bodies line up only about once every 18 months.

Outside the path of totality, skywatchers in the continental U.S. and other nearby areas will see a partial solar eclipse, in which the moon appears to take a bite out of the sun’s disk. Two to five solar eclipses occur each year on average, but total solar eclipses happen just once every 18 months or so.

How Solar Eclipses Work: When the moon covers up the sun, skywatchers delight in the opportunity to see a rare spectacle. See how solar eclipses occur in this infographic.

Credit: Karl Tate, Contributor

During a total solar eclipse, the disk of the moon blocks out the last sliver of light from the sun, and the sun’s outer atmosphere, the corona, becomes visible. The corona is far from an indistinct haze; skywatchers report seeing great jets and ribbons of light, twisting and curling out into the sky.

“It brings people to tears,” Rick Fienberg, a spokesperson for the American Astronomical Society (AAS), told of the experience. “It makes people’s jaw drop.”

During totality, the area inside the moon’s shadow is cloaked in twilight — a very strange feeling to experience in the middle of the day. Just before and just after totality, observers can see this cloak of darkness moving toward them across the landscape, and then moving away.

These effects are not visible during a partial solar eclipse, so skywatchers are encouraged to see if they are inside the path of totality during the total eclipse.

The path of totality for the Aug. 21, 2017, total solar eclipse is about 70 miles wide and stretches from Oregon to South Carolina. It passes through Idaho, Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina.

You can use this interactive map from NASA to zoom in on the path and find out the exact locations from which it will be visible.

You can also check out our state-by-state guide to find out which major cities and prime locations will fall inside the path of totality. You may also want to attend one of the many eclipse parties and organized events taking place around the path of totality.

The timing of the total solar eclipse and its duration both depend on where you are inside the path of totality.

At most, the moon will completely cover the disk of the sun for 2 minutes and 40 seconds. That’s about how long totality will last for observers positioned anywhere along the center of the path of totality. As you move toward the edge of the path, the duration of totality will decrease. People standing at the very edge of the path may observe totality for only a few seconds.

The chart below lists the moment of mid-totality and the duration of totality for a handful of cities that lie close to the center of the path. Data from NASA.

Eclipse Begins Totality Begins Totality Ends Eclipse Ends
Madras, OR 09:06 a.m. 10:19 a.m. 10:21 a.m. 11:41 a.m. PDT
Idaho Falls, ID 10:15 a.m. 11:33 a.m. 11:34 a.m. 12:58 p.m. MDT
Casper, WY 10:22 a.m. 11:42 a.m. 11:45 a.m. 01:09 p.m. MDT
Lincoln, NE 11:37 a.m. 01:02 p.m. 01:04 p.m. 02:29 p.m. CDT
Jefferson City, MO 11:46 a.m. 01:13 p.m. 01:15 p.m. 02:41 p.m. CDT
Carbondale, IL 11:52 a.m. 01:20 p.m. 01:22 p.m. 02:47 p.m. CDT
Paducah, KY 11:54 a.m. 01:22 p.m. 01:24 p.m. 02:49 p.m. CDT
Nashville, TN 11:58 a.m. 01:27 p.m. 01:29 p.m. 02:54 p.m. CDT
Clayton, GA 01:06 p.m. 02:35 p.m. 02:38 p.m. 04:01 p.m. EDT
Columbia, SC 01:03 p.m. 02:41 p.m. 02:44 p.m. 04:06 p.m. EDT

Because the shadow of the moon will move from west to east, totality will occur later in the day the farther east you travel. Use the NASA interactive eclipse map to find out exactly when totality will occur and how long it will last in the location where you plan to observe the eclipse. Just click on a spot on the map, and an informational box will appear with specific times.

Anyone planning to view the total solar eclipse of 2017 should get a pair of solar viewing glasses. These protective shades make it possible for observers to look directly at the sun before and after totality. The following four companies sell eclipse glasses that meet the international standard (ISO 12312-2) recommended by NASA, the AAS and other scientific organizations: Rainbow SymphonyAmerican Paper OpticsThousand Oaks Optical and TSE 17.

Sunglasses cannot be used in place of solar viewing glasses.

REMEMBER: Looking directly at the sun, even when it is partially covered by the moon, can cause serious eye damage or blindness. NEVER look at a partial solar eclipse without proper eye protection. See our complete guide to find out how to view the eclipse safely.

During totality, when the disk of the sun is completely covered by the moon, it is safe to look up at the celestial sight with the naked eye. (See our in-depth safety guide for more details about when it is safe to view the eclipse with unaided eyes.) Binoculars are helpful for seeing more detail in the solar corona. Telescopes are not necessary, but some skywatchers may use low-powered telescopes.

Skywatchers outside the path of totality will still be able to see a partial solar eclipse. Solar viewing glasses allow skywatchers to look directly at the moon’s progress across the face of the sun. You can also view the progress of a partial solar eclipse using a pinhole camera.

For more information, see our complete guide for how to view the eclipse safely.

Aug. 21, 2017, may be one of the worst traffic days in national history, some NASA representatives predict. Although about 12 million people live within the narrow band of totality, approximately 25 million reside within a day’s drive of it, and the agency has estimated that the population inside the path of totality may double on the day of the eclipse.

With that in mind, make sure you plan for extra travel time, especially on the day of the eclipse. Most hotel rooms inside the path of totality have been booked for months or years, so you may not be able to stay inside the path the night before.

When selecting a location where you plan to view the eclipse, keep in mind your proximity to food, water, parking and facilities. Attending an organized eclipse event is an ideal way to make sure those things are close by. Traveling even short distances could be difficult in some areas, and midday in the middle of August can mean punishing heat in many parts of the country.

In 2024, a total solar eclipse will darken the skies above Mexico and Texas, up through the Midwest and northeastern U.S.

For more information about the total solar eclipse of 2017, check out these additional articles:

General eclipse info

How to Survive the Total Solar Eclipse of 2017

How Long Will the 2017 Solar Eclipse Last? Depends Where You Are

How to Plan for (and Preview) the 2017 Solar Eclipse on Your Phone

How to Safely Watch the 2017 Total Solar Eclipse

Total Solar Eclipse 2017: Path, Viewing Maps and Photo Guide

Eclipse science and history

Here’s What Scientists Have Learned From Total Solar Eclipses

Scientists Practice Total Eclipse Science During Annular Solar Eclipse Sunday

This Is How YOU Can Do Science During the Great American Eclipse

NASA Remembers 1970 Solar ‘Eclipse of the Century’

The 8 Most Famous Solar Eclipses in History

Eclipse events and photography

Watch a Livestream of the 2017 Solar Eclipse From 100,000 Feet in the Air

How to Use Your Phone or DSLR to Help Make an Eclipse ‘Megamovie’

Eclipse Party! 13 Solar Eclipse Celebrations Across the U.S.

Where to See the 2017 Total Solar Eclipse, State by State

Editor’s note: If you take an amazing photo of the 2017 solar eclipse or any other celestial sight you’d like to share with us and our news partners for a possible story or image gallery, send images and comments to managing editor Tariq Malik at

Follow us @Spacedotcom, Facebook or Google+. Originally published on

NASA’s Curiosity Rover Traces Ancient Environmental Changes on Mars

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NASA’s Curiosity Rover Traces Ancient Environmental Changes on Mars

This self-portrait of NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover shows the vehicle at the “Mojave” site, where its drill collected the mission’s second taste of Mount Sharp.

Credit: NASA

What is history of the climate on Mars, and what were the conditions like long ago, before the Red Planet lost its atmosphere? Were they possibly favorable for life to have taken hold?

Data gathered by NASA’s Curiosity rover over the past five years have allowed scientists to construct a detailed portrait of the history of Gale Crater and the lowermost layers of Mount Sharp where the rover has been traversing. Rocks studied during the mission have shown that this site was once a muddy lakebed, filled with water.

The latest research suggests with even more certainty that this was once likely a habitable environment. The diversity of minerals in the rock samples collected by Curiosity are also revealing details about the ancient environmental changes that occurred as Mars started to shed its atmosphere millions of years ago and much of the water on the planet’s surface was lost to space.

“We went to Gale Crater to investigate these lower layers of Mount Sharp that have these minerals that precipitated from water and suggest different environments,” said Elizabeth Rampe, a NASA exploration mission scientist at Johnson Space Center and lead author of a new study, in a press statement. “These layers were deposited about 3.5 billion years ago, coinciding with a time on Earth when life was beginning to take hold. We think early Mars may have been similar to early Earth, and so these environments might have been habitable.”

The researchers looked specifically at four samples that were collected from the lower layers of Mount Sharp using the rover’s drill and studied with the onboard chemistry lab, the Chemistry and Mineralogy (CheMin) instrument. They looked specifically at the mineralogy of a layered mudstone called lacustrine, which is formed by lake sedimentation. (On Earth, lacustrine environments are a major contributor of petroleum source rocks.)

RELATED: Volcanic Activity on Ancient Mars May Have Produced Organic Life

A rock’s various layers can tell the story of the geologic and climate history of Mars, yielding information about the planet’s past likelihood of habitability. Determining what minerals can be found in the layers of Martian sedimentary rock can also yield much data about the environment in which they formed.

The team said that the minerals found in the four different samples vary widely within the various layers of the rocks, which suggests that several different environments were present in ancient Gale Crater. There is evidence for waters with different pH and other varying conditions.

At the base are minerals that are volcanic in origin that are rich in iron and magnesium, similar to basalts in Hawaii. Moving higher in the section, scientists saw more silica-rich minerals. In the Telegraph Peak sample, scientists found minerals similar to quartz. In the Buckskin sample, scientists found tridymite. Tridymite is found on Earth, for example, in rocks that formed from partial melting of Earth’s crust or in the continental crust. Scientists say this is a strange finding because Mars never had plate tectonics.

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover examined a mudstone outcrop area called “Pahrump Hills” on lower Mount Sharp, in 2014 and 2015. This view shows locations of some targets the rover studied there. The blue dots indicate where drilled samples of powdered rock were collected for analysis.

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

In the Confidence Hills and Mojave 2 samples, scientists found clay minerals, which generally form in the presence of liquid water with a near-neutral pH, and therefore could be good indicators of past environments that were conducive to life. The other mineral discovered here was jarosite, a salt that forms in acidic solutions. The jarosite finding indicates that there were acidic fluids at some point in time in this region.

Additionally, there are different iron-oxide minerals in the samples, reflecting the oxidation of the rock minerals as they reacted with oxygen. This tells scientists the water in the lake changed over time.

In their paper, published in Earth and Planetary Science Letters, the researchers discuss two hypotheses to explain this mineralogical diversity. The lake waters themselves at the base were oxidizing, so either there was more oxygen in the atmosphere or other factors encouraged oxidation.

Another hypothesis is that the groundwater changed over time, and that the environmental conditions present in the lake and in later groundwater were quite different. But both offered liquid water and a chemical diversity that could have been favorable for microbial life.

RELATED: Mars Astronauts Face Double the Cancer Risk as Previously Estimated, Says Study

“We have all this evidence that Mars was once really wet but now is dry and cold,” Rampe said. “Today, much of the water is locked up in the poles and in the ground at high latitudes as ice. We think that the rocks Curiosity has studied reveal ancient environmental changes that occurred as Mars started to lose its atmosphere.”

The question is, how long did the water remain on Mars, and was it long enough for life to flourish?

These findings, along with all of the data gathered during Curiosity’s mission, are helping to give scientists a full picture of ancient Mount Sharp, where the rocks appear to be made from the silt that settled out from the lakes.

In my book, Incredible Stories From Space: A Behind-the-Scenes Look at the Missions Changing Our View of the Cosmos, Mars Science Laboratory project scientist Ashwin Vasavada explained that the explanation that best fits the “morphology” in this region — that is, the configuration and evolution of rocks and land forms — is that rivers formed deltas as they emptied into a lake. This likely occurred 3.8 to 3.3 billion years ago. The idea is that the rivers delivered sediment that slowly built up the lower layers of Mount Sharp.

RELATED: Mars May Have Been Born in the Asteroid Belt

“The entire lower few hundred meters of Mount Sharp were likely laid down by these river and lake sediments,” Vasavada explained. “That means this event didn’t take hundreds or thousands of years; it required millions of years for lakes and rivers to be present to slowly build up, millimeter by millimeter, the bottom of the mountain.”

For this to be possible, Mars also needed a thicker atmosphere than it has now, and a greenhouse gas composition that Vasavada said they are still working on figuring out.

But then Mars lost its magnetic field as the planet — which is roughly half the size of Earth — cooled off more quickly. Mars subsequently lost its atmosphere and water, which very likely means that any life that was starting to flourish was lost, leaving Mars the dry barren planet it is today.

Vasavada noted that the Curiosity rover landed in exactly the right place, because here in one area is a record of much of the Red Planet’s environmental history, including evidence of a major shift in the planet’s climate, when the water that once covered Gale Crater with sediment either dried up or was lost to space.

Originally published on Seeker.