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Heather Lynch is one of three scientists receiving the 2019 Blavatnick National Awards for Young Scientists for her unique synthesis of cutting-edge statistics, mathematical models, satellite remote sensing and Antarctic field biology to understand the inner workings of penguin colonies.

Photo of scientist Heather Lynch in front of a colony of penguins
Heather Lynch at the emperor penguin colony at Snow Hill Island, Antarctica in 2010.
Credit: Heather Lynch

By incorporating satellite imagery into her research, Lynch discovered several previously unknown colonies of Adélie penguins in an archipelago known as the Danger Islands—1.5 million penguins in all. She received a grant from NASA’s Earth Science Applied Sciences Ecological Forecasting Program that allowed her to advance the use of satellite imagery to study penguin presence, abundance, and even diet.

“Heather’s project has done a tremendous job integrating satellite imagery with multiple types of ground-based information within innovative modeling and data management frameworks to do ground-breaking discovery science that also has immediate relevance to conservation,” said Woody Turner, program manager for the Ecological Forecasting Program. “NASA is pleased to be a part of this exciting work.”

Lynch is a regular advisor to Antarctic policymakers, and has shared these findings with the hope of expanding the proposed Marine Protected Area for the Western Antarctic Peninsula to include this important penguin hotspot. She also works closely with affiliated non-governmental organizations and the Antarctic tourism industry to identify and protect environmentally sensitive sites.

Lynch led the team that created a free, open-access online database that integrates remote sensing to provide an assessment of Adélie and other penguin species across Antarctica. Matt Schwaller, of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., provided critical expertise in analyzing Landsat imagery to find penguin guano.

“Now that we’ve had real success with Landsat imagery, we want to automate our interpretation of the really high-resolution [sub-meter commercial] satellite imagery,” Lynch said, adding that they're using artificial intelligence, or AI, tools. “We’re collaborating with computer scientists and learning a lot of new skills in the realm of computer vision and AI. It’s a very ‘hot’ area, and we’re continuing to push the envelope in terms of exploring new and exciting places both remotely and in the field.”

Lynch is an associate professor at Stony Brook University, with a joint appointment in the Department of Ecology & Evolution and the Institute for Advanced Computational Science. Recently, the New York Times Kid’s section interviewed Lynch about her work—and asked her to respond with emojis, a challenge Lynch readily accepted.

“The work we do is really easy to explain to non-scientists because the idea of counting animals is one that everyone can get a handle on,” Lynch said. “There’s been a huge amount of press and a lot of opportunities for outreach. I’m excited to see those things go out to the kids [more] than anything else.”

Photograph of scientist counting penguins in Antarctica
Lynch counting Gentoo penguins at Petermann Island, Antarctica in 2007.
Credit: Heather Lynch

Lynch and her fellow Blavatnik National Laureates, Ana Maria Rey of the University of Colorado Boulder and Emily Balskus of Harvard University, are all women—a first in the program’s 13-year history.

“I’m humbled and honored to be in the company of the other two researchers,” Lynch said. “I was surprised to be a finalist—it never even occurred to me that I would win. I’m the first ecologist to ever win, which for me is one of the most exciting parts.”

Lynch and the other 2019 Blavatnik National Laureates and Finalists will be honored at the Blavatnik National Awards ceremony on Monday, Sept. 23, 2019 at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. Awardees also receive $250,000, the largest unrestricted scientific prize offered to America’s most-promising, faculty-level scientific researches.

By Maddie Ecker
NASA Earth Science Division – Applied Sciences, Washington, D.C.

Read more Making Space for Earth blog posts

Master Image: 
Photo of scientist Heather Lynch in front of a colony of penguins


MONDAY 16. SEPTEMBER 2019


Since August 2017, more than 740,000 Rohingya refugees have fled to Bangladesh, most eventually settling in camps in the hilly terrain in the southeastern part of the country. In the summer monsoon season, increased rainfall means the camps are especially vulnerable to flooding and landslides, made worse as rapid deforestation removes the plants that help keep soil in place. To reduce the risk of disaster, decision makers are now incorporating NASA Earth observations to inform where to build refugee camps – and which areas may be too unstable to even store supplies.

Photo of scientists reviewing landscape in Rohingya
NASA and Columbia University scientists and staff reviewing the landslide potential at a Rohingya refugee camp with UN partners in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. Credit: United Nations Development Programme/Eno Jonathan

NASA’s Applied Sciences Disasters Program and Columbia University’s International Research Institute for Climate and Society (IRI) are working with humanitarian partners to co-design a process for integrating humanitarian considerations into the development of NASA satellite data products and analyses. To that point, Shanna McClain, NASA’s lead for Risk Reduction and Resilience in the Disasters Program; Robert Emberson, a NASA Postdoctoral Program fellow at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center; Andrew Kruczkiewicz, senior research associate with IRI; and Geneva List, senior assistant researcher from IRI; recently co-led a workshop with the United Nations Disaster Programme (UNDP) in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh to work with these partners to identify opportunities for integrating NASA modeling and data into their decision-making process.

During the August 2019 workshop, NASA researchers also learned more about what products and formats could be most useful for local partners on-site. Now, camp managers have access to near real-time NASA data on land use, rainfall and elevation from NASA’s Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) mission and Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) instruments on the Terra and Aqua satellites. This is part of a new approach to improve integration of the needs of users into the early stages of developing data products for humanitarian actors.

The team is sharing information with UNDP, the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), and the Bangladesh government through the Connecting Earth Observations to Decision Makers for Preparedness Actions (COMPAS) project. They are also continuing to incorporate feedback to customize the products NASA provides, to support the highly localized decisions made by humanitarian professionals working in the camps.

By: Lia Poteet
NASA Earth Science Division – Applied Sciences, Washington, D.C.

Read more Making Space for Earth blog posts

Master Image: 
Photo of scientists reviewing landscape in Rohingya

Portal origin nid: 
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Published: 
Monday, September 16, 2019 - 14:27
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NASA has opened media accreditation for the launch of its Ionospheric Connection Explorer (ICON) mission, targeted to be air-launched over the Atlantic Ocean on a Northrop Grumman Pegasus XL rocket Wednesday, Oct. 9.
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FRIDAY 13. SEPTEMBER 2019


In the Davis Mountains of far west Texas, at the University of Texas McDonald Observatory, astronomers spend their nights peering at the stars through some of the world’s most powerful telescopes. Soon they’ll be adding a more down-to-Earth job. Within sight of the giant domes, NASA is installing a sprawling network of equipment to help researchers study planetary change.

News Article Type: 
Published: 
Friday, September 13, 2019 - 10:27


THURSDAY 12. SEPTEMBER 2019


Portal origin nid: 
451689
Published: 
Thursday, September 12, 2019 - 15:08
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Comet C/2019 Q4 (Borisov) has excited the astronomical community because it appears to have originated from outside the solar system.
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WEDNESDAY 11. SEPTEMBER 2019


Portal origin nid: 
451609
Published: 
Wednesday, September 11, 2019 - 13:05
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With data from the Hubble Space Telescope, water vapor has been detected in the atmosphere of a super-Earth with habitable temperatures.
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TUESDAY 10. SEPTEMBER 2019


Portal origin nid: 
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Published: 
Tuesday, September 10, 2019 - 14:30
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While every fire needs a spark to ignite and fuel to burn, it's the hot and dry conditions in the atmosphere that determine the likelihood of a fire starting, its intensity and the speed at which it spreads. Over the past several decades, as the world has increasingly warmed, so has its potential to burn.
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MONDAY 9. SEPTEMBER 2019


This blog post originated in the 2018 Science Mission Directorate Science and Technology Report.

Artist rendition of a sounding rocket in space
Artist’s rendition of the Investigation of Cusp Irregularities-5 (ICI-5) sounding rocket. (Image credit: Andøya Space Center/Trond Abrahamsen)

Project:

ICI-5 Bifocal Flight Opportunity

Key Points:

Developed by a team at the University of Iowa, the Bifocal sensor is a next-generation electron instrument with very high angular resolution. The Bifocal sensor will be demonstrated on the ICI-5 sounding rocket mission, and will provide measurements that enhance our understanding of ionospheric irregularities that can have societal impact.


Modern spacecraft missions require scientific instruments that provide high-quality data while utilizing minimal resources. To meet this need, a NASA-sponsored team designed the Bifocal electron sensor, a compact instrument that provides both routine survey measurements and targeted high-resolution electron observations. The Bifocal sensor will see its first demonstration flight on the upcoming Investigation of Cusp Irregularities-5 (ICI-5) mission from Norway, part of the multi-national “Grand Challenge Initiative – Cusp” program.

Photo of the bifocal electron sensor
The Bifocal electron sensor.

Over the past three years, a NASA-sponsored team led by Professor Jasper Halekas at the University of Iowa has developed a novel next-generation electron sensor that uses a combination of technologies to provide high angular resolution in two dimensions. The Bifocal sensor provides both coarse-resolution survey measurements of electrons from all directions and fine-resolution targeted measurements of electrons from any selected portion of the field of view. The Bifocal sensor accomplishes this feat by utilizing a pair of electrostatically controlled apertures (analogous to the two parts of the lenses of bifocal eyeglasses), paired with an imaging detector system.

“This flight of opportunity will not only help answer fundamental science questions about the ionosphere, but will demonstrate a new sensor appropriate for high-priority future NASA missions.” - PI, Prof. Halekas

To demonstrate the successful operation of the Bifocal sensor in a relevant environment and thereby increase the technology readiness level, a test flight is highly desirable. SMD’s Heliophysics Division is therefore supporting a demonstration flight of the Bifocal sensor on the ICI-5 sounding rocket mission. ICI-5 will launch into the geomagnetic cusp in late 2019 from Norway, as part of the multi-national “Grand Challenge Initiative – Cusp” (GCI) program, which consists of eleven sounding rocket flights by nine teams from three countries.

The goal of the ICI-5 mission is to understand the structure and evolution of ionospheric irregularities – complex density structures that can form in the ionosphere – and the effects of soft electron precipitation on their formation. The geomagnetic cusp provides a unique location to conduct this investigation, since the magnetic field there provides a conduit for electrons to precipitate down onto the ionosphere and influence its structure. The Bifocal sensor will provide high-resolution electron measurements at a high temporal cadence in support of this scientific goal.

Photo of bifocal electronics box
ICI-5/Bifocal Electronics Box.

Understanding ionospheric irregularities is not only scientifically valuable, but has potential societal importance, since their presence can affect Global Positioning System (GPS)/Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) signal fidelity and satellite communications.

For this mission, the Iowa team integrated the prototype Bifocal sensor together with tailored electronics to produce the high voltages that control the Bifocal sensor apertures and interface to the ICI-5 digital processing and power systems. In 2019, the Bifocal sensor and the ICI-5/Bifocal electronics will be fully tested and qualified, integrated with the ICI-5 sounding rocket, and launched from Norway.

According to Prof. Halekas, “This flight of opportunity will not only help answer fundamental science questions about the ionosphere, but will demonstrate a new sensor appropriate for high-priority future NASA missions.” The ICI-5 flight will result in a TRL 6 electron sensor that would meet the requirements of several upcoming heliophysics missions including the Geospace Dynamics Constellation (GDC), the Magnetosphere Energetics, Dynamics, and Ionospheric Coupling Investigation (MEDICI), and others.SPONSORING

Organization:

Heliophysics Division’s H-TIDeS Program

Project Lead:

Dr. Jasper Halekas, University of Iowa

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Master Image: 
Artist rendition of a sounding rocket in space

Portal origin nid: 
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Published: 
Monday, September 9, 2019 - 06:58
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A new theory, based on radar data from NASA's Cassini mission, proposes that some of Titan's lakes formed when pockets of nitrogen blew out basins that filled with methane.
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THURSDAY 5. SEPTEMBER 2019


Portal origin nid: 
450777
Published: 
Thursday, September 5, 2019 - 15:00
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A key tracer used to estimate how much atmosphere Mars lost can change depending on the time of day and the surface temperature on the Red Planet. Previous measurements of this tracer – isotopes of oxygen – have disagreed significantly. Getting an accurate measurement is important to estimate how much atmosphere Mars once had before it was lost.
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TUESDAY 3. SEPTEMBER 2019


Portal origin nid: 
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Published: 
Tuesday, September 3, 2019 - 16:00
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NASA has selected three proposals for concept studies of missions that could help us better understand the dynamic space weather system driven by the Sun that manifests near Earth.
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WEDNESDAY 28. AUGUST 2019


Portal origin nid: 
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Published: 
Wednesday, August 28, 2019 - 08:54
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Reaching a major milestone, engineers have successfully connected the two halves of NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope for the first time at Northrop Grumman’s facilities in Redondo Beach, California.
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TUESDAY 27. AUGUST 2019


This blog post originated in the 2018 Science Mission Directorate Science and Technology Report.

Scientists in lab inspecting a sensor plate
Team members inspecting a 20 cm atomic layer deposited microchannel plate.

Project

High Performance Sealed Tube Cross Strip Photon Counting Sensors

Key Points

These sensors represent an important enabling step in the development of large-area, high-resolution, very sensitive ultraviolet sensors for future-generation large space telescopes currently under study, such as LUVOIR and HabEx.


Future-generation large space telescopes under study at NASA will require very large, high-resolution, high-sensitivity, low-noise sensors capable of measuring ultraviolet through visible wavelengths. Armed with these advanced detectors, these missions would be capable of detecting and characterizing potentially habitable exoplanets. The Experimental Astrophysics Group at University of California Berkeley, in partnership with Photonis USA and INCOM Inc., is developing the pathway technology to realize these large area sensors.

Close up photo of cross strip anode
Cross strip imaging readout anode.

Large area microchannel plate (MCP) detectors are part of the baseline plan for ultraviolet (UV) spectrographs on two of the large mission concepts being studied for inclusion in the National Academy of Sciences Astronomy and Astrophysics Decadal Survey (Astro2020). The Large Ultraviolet/Optical/Infrared Surveyor (LUVOIR) Ultraviolet Multi-Object Spectrograph (LUMOS) and the Habitable Exoplanet Observatory Ultraviolet Spectrograph (HabEx-UVS) will provide improvements in high contrast imaging and sensitivity, spectroscopy, astrometry, angular resolution and wavelength coverage. Both missions propose to employ arrays of large (100 mm and larger) high-performance MCP detectors.

With SAT funding, the Experimental Astrophysics Group at UC Berkeley is advancing the state of the art in MCP detector technology to meet the requirements of potential future large space missions and a variety of small (Explorer) and medium size (e.g., Cosmic Evolution Through UV Spectroscopy, or CETUS) missions. These on-orbit UV facilities would be able to probe the very limits of the universe. Principal Investigator (PI) Dr. Oswald Siegmund notes that, “The development of these large area MCP detectors in the UV-Vis is an important enabling technology for the success of future missions like LUVOIR-LUMOS and HabEx-UVS.”

Close up photo of sealed tube plate sensor
50 mm sealed tube microchannel plate sensor.

MCP detectors with cross strip (XS) readouts have demonstrated potential to combine high spatial resolution (<20 μm) with photon-counting (noiseless) imaging in a robust, radiation-hard package that is scalable up to very large formats (>10 cm with 5,000 x 5,000 resolution elements). These detectors can also operate at room temperature with exceedingly low dark-background count rates and can even match the performance of curved optical focal planes.

The objective of this SAT project is to exploit the developments in atomic layer deposited (ALD) MCPs, ultraviolet detection with high sensitivity photocathodes, and XS image readout techniques to provide a new generation of enhanced-performance, sealed-tube, photon-counting sensors that span the 115-nm to 400-nm wavelength range. The key to this effort is to demonstrate integration of XS readouts into sealed vacuum devices along with ALD MCPs. The final goal is to implement a robust, high-performance sensor that is advanced to Technology Readiness Level-6—i.e., demonstrated in a relevant environment.

“The development of these large area MCP detectors in the UV-Vis is an important enabling technology for the success of future missions like LUVOIR-LUMOS and HabEx-UVS.” - PI, Dr. Oswald Siegmund

Initial work in the first year of the project has successfully demonstrated the construction of XS ceramic anodes that are capable of very high-resolution imaging. Trials also show that they can be hermetically sealed to the final sensor enclosure. Preliminary ALD MCPs with 20-μm and 10-μm channel pore sizes have also been developed. These ALD MCPs show very low background noise characteristics and have already achieved the team’s spatial resolution performance goals. Preliminary processing of ALD MCPs into sealed tube enclosures has been accomplished by our industry partner. The initial data demonstrates that the ALD MCPs suffer no loss of performance subsequent to this integration. Indeed, the post-processing tests with the sealed devices demonstrate better amplification statistics and a high degree of uniformity across the sensor active area. Photocathode deposition trials are also underway. The first tests show state-of-the-art sensitivity at short wavelengths. The trials also achieve photocathodes with a sharp long-wavelength cutoff that excludes red light, which would otherwise increase the effective background noise.

Further work in optimizing the ALD MCPs and photocathodes is currently underway as a precursor to integrating them into fully functional sealed devices. An upcoming major milestone is complete integration of an XS anode with MCPs and a photocathode in a hermetic sensor body. This Engineering Test Unit will enable us to assess the efficacy of the initial components and processing sequence to meet the sensor performance goals and to optimize the final sensor configuration.

SPONSORING ORGANIZATION:

Astrophysics Division’s SAT Program

PROJECT LEAD:

Dr. Oswald Siegmund, UC Berkeley

Read more Technology Stories

Master Image: 
Scientists in lab inspecting a sensor plate

Portal origin nid: 
450957
Published: 
Tuesday, August 27, 2019 - 09:21
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A special kind of streaked aurora has been found to track disturbances in near-Earth space from the ground.
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FRIDAY 23. AUGUST 2019


Portal origin nid: 
450703
Published: 
Friday, August 23, 2019 - 15:31
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NASA is getting ready to test a new way to see the Sun, high over the New Mexico desert: a coronagraph called BITSE. BITSE will fly up to the edge of the atmosphere from Fort Sumner, New Mexico, and seeks to explain how the Sun spits out the solar wind.
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Portal origin nid: 
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Published: 
Friday, August 23, 2019 - 10:02
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NASA in cooperation with the U.S. Geological Survey is helping emergency planners in Southern California get a more complete picture of the increasing risk of coastal flooding by looking at the highest of tides —"king tides."
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THURSDAY 22. AUGUST 2019


Portal origin nid: 
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Published: 
Thursday, August 22, 2019 - 02:26
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Humanity's first and (so far) last visit to the outermost giant planet in our solar system was a monumental event for scientists and the public alike.
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WEDNESDAY 21. AUGUST 2019


Portal origin nid: 
450567
Published: 
Wednesday, August 21, 2019 - 13:00
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Increasingly frequent and severe forest fires could burn generations-old carbon stored in the soils of boreal forests, according to results from the Arctic-Boreal Vulnerability Experiment (ABoVE) funded by NASA’s Earth Science Division.
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MONDAY 19. AUGUST 2019


Portal origin nid: 
450464
Published: 
Monday, August 19, 2019 - 10:15
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With a tight orbit around its parent star, the planet most likely has no atmosphere and is covered in volcanic rock, according to data from NASA's Spitzer telescope.
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THURSDAY 15. AUGUST 2019


Portal origin nid: 
450248
Published: 
Thursday, August 15, 2019 - 15:34
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NASA has selected two proposals to demonstrate small satellite technologies to improve science observations in deep space, which could help NASA develop better models to predict space weather events that can affect astronauts and spacecraft.
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Portal origin nid: 
450206
Published: 
Thursday, August 15, 2019 - 10:00
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If our eyes could see gamma rays, the Moon would appear brighter than the Sun! That's how NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope has seen our neighbor in space for the past decade. These gamma-ray observations are a reminder that astronauts on the Moon will require protection from the same cosmic rays that produce this high-energy gamma radiation.
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