NASA Space Place May 2017
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The Fizzy Seas of Titan
By Marcus Woo

With clouds, rain, seas, lakes and a nitrogen-filled atmosphere, Saturn's moon Titan appears to be one of the worlds most similar to Earth in the solar system. But it's still alien; its seas and lakes are full not of water but liquid methane and ethane.

At the temperatures and pressures found on Titan’s surface, methane can evaporate and fall back down as rain, just like water on Earth. The methane rain flows into rivers and channels, filling lakes and seas.

Nitrogen makes up a larger portion of the atmosphere on Titan than on Earth. The gas also dissolves in methane, just like carbon dioxide in soda. And similar to when you shake an open soda bottle, disturbing a Titan lake can make the nitrogen bubble out.

But now it turns out the seas and lakes might be fizzier than previously thought. Researchers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory recently experimented with dissolved nitrogen in mixtures of liquid methane and ethane under a variety of temperatures and pressures that would exist on Titan. They measured how different conditions would trigger nitrogen bubbles. A fizzy lake, they found, would be a common sight.

On Titan, the liquid methane always contains dissolved nitrogen. So when it rains, a methane-nitrogen solution pours into the seas and lakes, either directly from rain or via stream runoff. But if the lake also contains some ethane—which doesn't dissolve nitrogen as well as methane does—mixing the liquids will force some of the nitrogen out of solution, and the lake will effervesce.

"It will be a big frothy mess," says Michael Malaska of JPL. "It's neat because it makes Earth look really boring by comparison."

Bubbles could also arise from a lake that contains more ethane than methane. The two will normally mix, but a less-dense layer of methane with dissolved nitrogen—from a gentle rain, for example--could settle on top of an ethane layer.

In this case, any disturbance—even a breeze—could mix the methane with dissolved nitrogen and the ethane below. The nitrogen would become less soluble and bubbles of gas would fizz out.

Heat, the researchers found, can also cause nitrogen to bubble out of solution while cold will coax more nitrogen to dissolve. As the seasons and climate change on Titan, the seas and lakes will inhale and exhale nitrogen.

But such warmth-induced bubbles could pose a challenge for future sea-faring spacecraft, which will have an energy source, and thus heat. "You may have this spacecraft sitting there, and it's just going to be fizzing the whole time," Malaska says. "That may actually be a problem for stability control or sampling."

Bubbles might also explain the so-called magic islands discovered by NASA's Cassini spacecraft in the last few years. Radar images revealed island-like features that appear and disappear over time. Scientists still aren't sure what the islands are, but nitrogen bubbles seem increasingly likely.

To know for sure, though, there will have to be a new mission. Cassini is entering its final phase, having finished its last flyby of Titan on April 21. Scientists are already sketching out potential spacecraft—maybe a buoy or even a submarine—to explore Titan's seas, bubbles and all.

To teach kids about the extreme conditions on Titan and other planets and moons, visit the NASA Space Place: **link**

Caption: Radar images from Cassini showed a strange island-like feature in one of Titan's hydrocarbon seas that appeared to change over time. One possible explanation for this "magic island" is bubbles. Image credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASI/Cornell

NASA Space Place April 2017
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NOAA's Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) to monitor Earth as never before
By Ethan Siegel

Later this year, an ambitious new Earth-monitoring satellite will launch into a polar orbit around our planet. The new satellite—called JPSS-1—is a collaboration between NASA and NOAA. It is part of a mission called the Joint Polar Satellite System, or JPSS.

At a destination altitude of only 824 km, it will complete an orbit around Earth in just 101 minutes, collecting extraordinarily high-resolution imagery of our surface, oceans and atmosphere. It will obtain full-planet coverage every 12 hours using five separate, independent instruments. This approach enables near-continuous monitoring of a huge variety of weather and climate phenomena.

JPSS-1 will improve the prediction of severe weather events and will help advance early warning systems. It will also be indispensable for long-term climate monitoring, as it will track global rainfall, drought conditions and ocean properties.

The five independent instruments on board are the main assets of this mission:
• The Cross-track Infrared Sounder (CrIS) will detail the atmosphere’s 3D structure, measuring water vapor and temperature in over 1,000 infrared spectral channels. It will enable accurate weather forecasting up to seven days in advance of any major weather events.
• The Advanced Technology Microwave Sounder (ATMS) adds 22 microwave channels to CrIS’s measurements, improving temperature and moisture readings.
• Taking visible and infrared images of Earth’s surface at 750 meter resolution, the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) instrument will enable monitoring of weather patterns, fires, sea temperatures, light pollution, and ocean color observations at unprecedented resolutions.
• The Ozone Mapping and Profiler Suite (OMPS) will measure how ozone concentration varies with altitude and in time over every location on Earth's surface. This can help us understand how UV light penetrates the various layers of Earth’s atmosphere.
• The Clouds and the Earth’s Radiant System (CERES) instrument will quantify the effect of clouds on Earth’s energy balance, measuring solar reflectance and Earth’s radiance. It will greatly reduce one of the largest sources of uncertainty in climate modeling.

The information from this satellite will be important for emergency responders, airline pilots, cargo ships, farmers and coastal residents, and many others. Long and short term weather monitoring will be greatly enhanced by JPSS-1 and the rest of the upcoming satellites in the JPSS system.

Want to teach kids about polar and geostationary orbits? Go to the NASA Space Place: **link**

Caption: Ball and Raytheon technicians integrate the VIIRS Optical and Electrical Modules onto the JPSS-1 spacecraft in 2015. The spacecraft will be ready for launch later this year. Image Credit: Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp.

NASA Space Place March 2017
This article is provided by NASA Space Place.
With articles, activities, crafts, games, and lesson plans, NASA Space Place encourages everyone to get excited about science and technology.
Visit to explore space and Earth science!

What It’s Like on a TRAPPIST-1 Planet
By Marcus Woo

With seven Earth-sized planets that could harbor liquid water on their rocky, solid surfaces, the TRAPPIST-1 planetary system might feel familiar. Yet the system, recently studied by NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope, is unmistakably alien: compact enough to fit inside Mercury's orbit, and surrounds an ultra-cool dwarf star—not much bigger than Jupiter and much cooler than the sun.

If you stood on one of these worlds, the sky overhead would look quite different from our own. Depending on which planet you're on, the star would appear several times bigger than the sun. You would feel its warmth, but because it shines stronger in the infrared, it would appear disproportionately dim.

"It would be a sort of an orangish-salmon color—basically close to the color of a low-wattage light bulb," says Robert Hurt, a visualization scientist for Caltech/IPAC, a NASA partner. Due to the lack of blue light from the star, the sky would be bathed in a pastel, orange hue.

But that's only if you're on the light side of the planet. Because the worlds are so close to their star, they're tidally locked so that the same side faces the star at all times, like how the Man on the Moon always watches Earth. If you're on the planet's dark side, you'd be enveloped in perpetual darkness—maybe a good thing if you're an avid stargazer.

If you're on some of the farther planets, though, the dark side might be too cold to survive. But on some of the inner planets, the dark side may be the only comfortable place, as the light side might be inhospitably hot.

On any of the middle planets, the light side would offer a dramatic view of the inner planets as crescents, appearing even bigger than the moon on closest approach. The planets only take a few days to orbit TRAPPIST-1, so from most planets, you can enjoy eclipses multiple times a week (they'd be more like transits, though, since they wouldn't cover the whole star).

Looking away from the star on the dark side, you would see the outer-most planets in their full illuminated glory. They would be so close—only a few times the Earth-moon distance—that you could see continents, clouds, and other surface features.

The constellations in the background would appear as if someone had bumped into them, jostling the stars—a perspective skewed by the 40-light-years between TRAPPIST-1 and Earth. Orion's belt is no longer aligned. One of his shoulders is lowered.

And, with the help of binoculars, you might even spot the sun as an inconspicuous yellow star: far, faint, but familiar.

Want to teach kids about exoplanets? Go to the NASA Space Place and see our video called, “Searching for other planets like ours”: **link**

This artist's concept allows us to imagine what it would be like to stand on the surface of the exoplanet TRAPPIST-1f, located in the TRAPPIST-1 system in the constellation Aquarius. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/T. Pyle (IPAC)

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