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Prof. Yin investigates the geology of other worlds

Posted on Sep 5, 2013 in Featured, News

Prof. Yin investigates the geology of other worlds

Few people can claim that their children learned to walk in the forests of Yosemite National Park.  Professor An Yin, who has spent much of his 26 years at UCLA conducting fieldwork in Tibet, the Himalayas, and California, can.  Having spent his graduate career investigating remote areas of Glacier National Park, Yin’s mountaineering experience equipped him for the challenging Asian fieldwork and tectonic research that earned him the Donath Medal from the Geological Society of America. “It was a frontier in an area that was not explored before, despite it being on Earth,” said Yin....

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UCLA scientists work to forecast space weather

Posted on Aug 16, 2013 in Featured, News

UCLA scientists work to forecast space weather

The Sun is a veritable force in our solar system.  It emits a tremendous amount of heat and energy, called the solar wind, which constantly blows and buffets the planets at a velocity almost two thousand times faster than the average jet plane.  Akin to an invisible shield, the Earth’s magnetic field deflects most of the solar wind, but it happens often that the magnetic fields of the Earth and Sun briefly and directly come into contact with one another. When the fields connect, part of Earth’s magnetic field “peels away from the sunward side and drapes around the back of the...

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Prof. Mitchell predicts weather on Titan

Posted on Aug 2, 2013 in Featured, News

Prof. Mitchell predicts weather on Titan

Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, is an icy world dominated by extensive sand dunes at the equator, methane-filled lakes near the poles, and vast networks of dry riverbeds in between.  Wrapped in a nitrogen atmosphere thicker than Earth’s, Titan is an ideal test bed for studying planetary climate models for UCLA Assistant Professor Jonathan Mitchell. “Titan is probably the most Earth-like place in the solar system in terms of its very active weather cycle,” said Mitchell. But a weather forecaster on chilly Titan would be more likely to predict a liquid methane downpour than the...

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The Gemini Planet Imager will directly image planets around young stars

Posted on Jul 12, 2013 in Featured, News

The Gemini Planet Imager will directly image planets around young stars

Most planet-hunting astronomers infer the existence of extrasolar planets by monitoring tiny changes in the parent stars.  With the recently assembled Gemini Planet Imager (GPI), UCLA Assistant Professor Michael Fitzgerald intends to capture images of these extrasolar planets directly. Scheduled to go online at the Gemini South Observatory in Chile in late 2013, GPI will be able to detect planets in newly formed systems where traditional detection methods would be likely to fail.  Sensitive at infrared wavelengths, GPI targets young planets, which are warmer than their more evolved...

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UCLA laboratory puts a spin on fluid dynamics

Posted on Jul 1, 2013 in Featured, News

UCLA laboratory puts a spin on fluid dynamics

The Simulated Planetary Interiors Laboratory, known more fondly as the SPINLab, is a state-of-the-art fluid dynamics research facility among only a handful of such unique labs in the world.  Funded by the National Science Foundation, the group is led by Associate Professor Jonathan Aurnou, who has dedicated over ten years of his life to building functional models of planetary cores and atmospheres. The daily routine for Jon, his graduate students, post-doctoral scholars and researchers involves spinning large, heat-driven containers of water or liquid metal in order to understand the...

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The Asteroid Vesta in the Light of Dawn

Posted on Jun 21, 2013 in Featured, News

The Asteroid Vesta in the Light of Dawn

On September 27th, 2007, NASA’s Dawn spacecraft left Earth and began a multi-year journey to two of the largest objects in the solar system’s main asteroid belt.  The first stop on its interplanetary roadtrip was the asteroid Vesta.  Dawn reached the Arizona-sized chunk of primordial rock in 2011, providing scientists with the first close-up view of the asteroid’s ancient surface. A leftover remnant from the formation of the solar system over four billion years ago, Vesta may be similar in composition to the larger bits of celestial debris that originally came together to form the...

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UCLA Alum Ashwin Vasavada answers questions about his work with the Mars Science Laboratory

Posted on May 26, 2013 in Featured, News

UCLA Alum Ashwin Vasavada answers questions about his work with the Mars Science Laboratory

As Deputy Project Scientist of NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory, Ashwin Vasavada works with other mission scientists at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, CA to decide where the Curiosity rover will next travel on Mars.  Vasavada, who received a B.S. in Geophysics and Space Physics from UCLA in 1992, describes what it is like to command a rover on Mars and gives advice to aspiring planetary scientists. What inspired you to study planetary science and Mars in particular? The late 1970s and early 1980s are sometimes referred to as the Golden Age of planetary exploration.  NASA landed...

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iPLEX newsletter highlights planetary research at UCLA

Posted on Apr 27, 2013 in Featured, News

iPLEX newsletter highlights planetary research at UCLA

Distribution of the first annual iPLEX newsletter began on April 24, 2013.  This 36-page publication highlights planetary research at UCLA undertaken by scientists from the Earth & Space Sciences, Astronomy, and Atmospheric & Oceanic Science departments, including the recent discovery of ice on Mercury, weather on Titan, and the Dawn spacecraft at Vesta.  Also included is an update on the UCLA Meteorite Museum and a Q&A with Ashwin Vasavada, the deputy project scientist for the Mars Science Laboratory mission.  Hard copies of the newsletter are available free of charge in the...

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New evidence for water ice and organics on Mercury

Posted on Nov 26, 2012 in Featured, News

New evidence for water ice and organics on Mercury

By Kim DeRose Planetary scientists have identified water ice and anomalously dark deposits within permanently shadowed regions at Mercury’s north pole.  Using data collected by NASA’s MESSENGER spacecraft, a UCLA team crafted the first accurate thermal model of the solar system’s innermost planet that successfully pinpoints extremely cold regions where ice has been found on or below the surface.  They conclude that the newly discovered black deposits are a thin dark crust of residual organic material brought to the planet over the past several million years by water-rich asteroid and...

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The Grandest Canyon: New insight into Mars’ Valles Marineris

Posted on Jul 17, 2012 in Featured, News

By Ivy S. Carpenter A giant gash scars the surface of Mars.  Known as Valles Marineris, it is one of the largest and most recognizable topographic features in our solar system.  Boasting a whopping 4000-km length and a depth ranging from 10 – 15 km, it easily dwarfs Earth’s Grand Canyon (which is a piddling 2 km deep). But despite the distinction of being the longest trough system in the solar system, its origin and formation remain enigmatic. In a new study selected as Editor’s Choice in the 2012 June 29th issue of Science and to be published in Lithosphere, UCLA’s Professor An Yin...

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SPINLab Fluid Dynamics Educational Film Project

Posted on Dec 17, 2011 in Featured

By Jonathan Aurnou & John Cantwell   Spend a day at the ocean or just stop to watch the clouds: there’s ample evidence that the fluid systems around you—the oceans and the atmosphere—are in constant motion. These enormous systems are not only moving and constantly changing, but they’re also capable of undergoing dramatic fluctuations—like hurricanes—that can have profound consequences in our world. In addition, we also know that human lifestyle is having an impact on the oceans and the atmosphere. From extensive fishing to massive production of carbon dioxide, we are...

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Cabeus crater, as viewed by the Diviner Lunar Radiometer.

Posted on Dec 7, 2011 in Featured

By Michaela Shopland The Diviner Lunar Radiometer team based at UCLA, played an integral role in the LCROSS experiment – not only did observations from their instrument help in the selection of the impact site, but the data they gathered after impact helped to eventually confirm the presence of water ice in the lunar surface. LCROSS slammed into the Moon on October 9 2009, in a controlled impact designed to reveal once and for all whether water ice is present beneath its surface. The impact site was situated within a permanently-shadowed part of Cabeus Crater with an average annual...

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Disrupted Asteroid P/2010 A2

Posted on Dec 7, 2011 in Featured

By David Jewitt Caption: N = principal nucleus, a 120-meter diameter body.  AA and BB = cross arms of the “X” structure, though to consist of larger blocks released from the nucleus.  C = objects embedded in the “X” arms and detected on more than one date. These are secondary sources of dust for the tail. E = faint extension above the main tail, slightly blended with a smeared, background galaxy. F = filaments of dust released from discrete sources within the “X”. S = Star and background galaxy trails, imperfectly removed from the data. P/2010 A2 has the...

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THEMIS measures how solar wind interacts with Earth’s magnetic field

Posted on Dec 6, 2011 in Featured

By Christine Gabrielse Some planets have magnetic fields that act as invisible force fields against the solar wind and the sun’s radiation, called magnetospheres. Although their natural shape is more like a doughnut with the planet at the center, the solar wind is such a strong force that magnetospheres are pulled backwards like a windsock into what we call a magnetotail. The energetic particles carried by the solar wind can sneak into the magnetotail and fill it with energy until an explosive phenomena (“magnetic reconnection”) flings those energetic particles towards the planet....

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Titan, Dione and the ring shepherds Pandora and Pan.

Posted on Dec 6, 2011 in Featured

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Phobos, moon of Mars, with large crater Stickney on the right

Posted on Dec 6, 2011 in Featured

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50,000 yr old Meteor Impact Crater near Flagstaff, Arizona.

Posted on Dec 6, 2011 in Featured

Meteor Crater (aka Barringer Crater) is about 1 km in diameter and located an hour’s drive east from Flagstaff, Arizona.  Formed 50,000 yrs ago by the impact of an iron-nickel asteroid perhaps 50 meters in diameter.  Although seen by Barringer as an iron mining prospect, numerous attempts failed to find a buried iron mass from the impactor.  We now know that this is because the impact was at a speed high enough to vaporize the projectile as well as a large mass of the target sandstones, causing the crater-forming explosion.  Only small fragments of the projectile have been...

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Mercury’s cratered surface observed from MESSENGER.

Posted on Dec 6, 2011 in Featured

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Ice Filled Crater on Mars

Posted on Dec 6, 2011 in Featured

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Volcanic Plume on Io viewed against Jupiter

Posted on Dec 6, 2011 in Featured

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