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    • By NASA
      5 min read
      Preparations for Next Moonwalk Simulations Underway (and Underwater)
      This visualization shows monthly global surface temperatures from 1880 to May 2024. The last 12 months (June 2023 through May 2024) hit record highs for each respective month. Download this visualization from NASA Goddard’s Scientific Visualization Studio: https://svsdev.gsfc.nasa.gov/5311NASA’s Scientific Visualization Studio May 2024 was the warmest May on the books, marking a full year of record-high monthly temperatures, NASA scientists found. Average global temperatures for the past 12 months hit record highs for each respective month – an unprecedented streak – according to scientists from NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) in New York.
      “It’s clear we are facing a climate crisis,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson. “Communities across America—like Arizona, California, Nevada—and communities across the globe are feeling first-hand extreme heat in unprecedented numbers. NASA and the Biden-Harris Administration recognize the urgency of protecting our home planet. We are providing critical climate data to better lives and livelihoods, and benefit all humanity.”
      The run of record temperatures fits within a long-term warming trend driven by human activity — primarily greenhouse gas emissions. The trend has become evident over the past four decades, with the last 10 consecutive years being the warmest 10 since record-keeping began in the late 19th century. Before this streak of 12 straight months of record temperatures, the second longest streak lasted for seven months between 2015 and 2016.
      “It’s clear we are facing a climate crisis. Communities across America—like Arizona, California, Nevada—and communities across the globe are feeling first-hand extreme heat in unprecedented numbers.
      Bill Nelson
      NASA Administrator Bill Nelson
      “We’re experiencing more hot days, more hot months, more hot years,” said Kate Calvin, NASA’s chief scientist and senior climate advisor. “We know that these increases in temperature are driven by our greenhouse gas emissions and are impacting people and ecosystems around the world.”
      In NASA’s analysis, a temperature baseline is defined by several decades or more – typically 30 years. The average global temperature over the past 12 months was 2.34 degrees Fahrenheit (1.30 degrees Celsius) above the 20th century baseline (1951 to 1980). This is slightly over the 2.69 degree Fahrenheit (1.5 degree Celsius) level with respect to the late 19th century average.
      To calculate Earth’s global temperature, NASA scientists gather data from tens of thousands of meteorological stations on land, plus thousands of instruments on ships and buoys on the ocean surface. This raw data is analyzed using methods that account for the varied spacing of temperature stations around the globe and for urban heating effects that could skew the calculations.
      El Niño Subsiding, La Niña Arriving?
      Phenomena such as El Niño and La Niña, which alternately warm and cool the tropical Pacific Ocean, can contribute a small amount of variability in global temperatures from year to year. The strong El Niño that began in spring 2023 helped stoke last year’s extreme summer and fall heat.
      As of May 2024, scientists at the NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) Climate Prediction Center projected a 49% chance of La Niña developing between June and August, and a 69% chance of it developing between July and September. By cooling a large swath of the tropical Pacific, a La Niña event could partially suppress average global temperatures this year.
      Dr. Kate Calvin, NASA’s Chief Scientist and Senior Climate Advisor, answers some of the top questions pertaining to these temperature records and our changing climate. NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/ Katie Jepson It’s hard to know whether 2024 will set another global heat record. Factors like volcanic eruptions and sun-blocking aerosol emissions can affect our climate in any given year. NASA missions are actively studying these influences, said Gavin Schmidt, director of GISS.
      “There are open questions that can impact our predictions over the next few years and decades, and we’re in evidence-gathering mode,” Schmidt said. “This year may well end up setting another global temperature record. Right now, it’s in line to be close to 2023.”
      Ocean Temperatures and Hurricanes

      Scientists are watching to see how ocean temperatures may influence this year’s hurricane season. Temperatures remained high as the 2024 hurricane and typhoon seasons got underway. Across the Northern Hemisphere, ocean temperatures for the January-April period were 2.12 degrees Fahrenheit (1.18 degrees Celsius) above average, according to NOAA. Despite the waning El Niño, temperatures at the sea surface and at deeper depths are still above average in many places, said Josh Willis, an oceanographer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California.

      Willis cited rising carbon dioxide emissions as the main driver of ocean warming. As much as 90% of the excess atmospheric heat in recent decades has been absorbed by the ocean, with much of that heat stored near the water surface.  
      “The ocean is the flywheel of our climate,” Willis said. “Since the ocean covers more than two-thirds of Earth, whatever sea surface temperatures are, the rest of the planet follows.”  
      La Niña years also can contribute to more active Atlantic hurricane seasons. That’s because La Niña conditions weaken westerly winds high in the atmosphere near the Americas, over the Caribbean Sea and tropical Atlantic Ocean. Wind shear – abrupt changes in wind speed and direction – can cut hurricanes down before they grow. La Niña effectively lifts this brake, allowing tropical storms to form and intensify unimpeded.
      NASA’s full dataset of global surface temperatures, as well as details of how NASA scientists conducted the analysis, are publicly available from GISS, a NASA laboratory managed by the agency’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. 
      About the Author
      Sally Younger
      Senior Science Writer
      Last Updated Jun 11, 2024 ContactSally YoungerLocationGoddard Institute for Space Studies Related Terms
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    • By European Space Agency
      Image: A citizen scientist digging through data from the ESA/NASA Solar and Heliospheric Observatory has found the mission’s 5000th comet.
      The tiny comet – indicated between the vertical lines in the inset – belongs to the ‘Marsden group’, named after the British astronomer Brian Marsden, who first recognised the group based on SOHO observations. Marsden group comets are thought to be pieces shed by the much bigger Comet 96P/Machholz, which SOHO observes as it passes close to the Sun every 5.3 years.
      This 5000th comet was discovered by Hanjie Tan, an astronomy PhD student in Prague, Czechia. Hanjie has been comet hunting since he was just 13 years old, discovering over 200 comets since 2009.
      Hanjie explains how he felt upon spotting this comet in the data: “The Marsden group comets represent only about 1.5% of all SOHO comet discoveries, so finding this one as the 5000th SOHO comet felt incredibly fortunate. It's really exciting to be the first to see comets get bright near the Sun after they've been travelling through space for thousands of years.”
      Launched in 1995, SOHO studies the Sun from its interior to its outer atmosphere, providing unique views and investigating the cause of the solar wind. During the last three decades, SOHO has become the most prolific discoverer of comets in astronomical history.
      The telescope’s prowess as a comet-hunter was unplanned, but turned out to be an unexpected success. With its clear view of the Sun’s surroundings, SOHO can easily spot a special kind of comet called a sungrazer – so-called because of their close approach to the Sun.
      Like most who have discovered comets in SOHO’s data, Hanjie Tan is a volunteer citizen scientist, searching for comets in his free time with the Sungrazer Project. This NASA-funded citizen science project, managed by Karl Battams from the US Naval Research Lab, grew out of the huge number of comet discoveries by citizen scientists early into SOHO’s mission.
      “Prior to the launch of the SOHO mission and the Sungrazer Project, there were only a couple dozen sungrazing comets on record – that’s all we knew existed,” said Karl Battams, who is the principal investigator for the Sungrazer Project. “The fact that we’ve finally reached this milestone – 5000 comets – is just unbelievable to me.”
      SOHO is a cooperative effort between ESA and NASA. Mission control is based at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. SOHO’s Large Angle and Spectrometric Coronagraph Experiment, or LASCO, which is the instrument that provides most of the comet imagery, was built by an international consortium, led by the US Naval Research Lab.
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    • By NASA
      3 min read
      NASA Delivers Science Instrument to JAXA’s Martian Moons Mission
      On March 14, NASA delivered its gamma-ray and neutron spectrometer instrument to JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) for integration onto JAXA’s MMX (Martian Moons eXploration) mission spacecraft and final system-level testing.  
      U.S. and Japanese team members gather around and discuss the gamma-ray spectrometer portion of the MEGANE instrument during its development at Johns Hopkins APL. NASA/JAXA/Johns Hopkins APL/Ed Whitman NASA’s Mars-moon Exploration with Gamma Ray and Neutrons (MEGANE) instrument, developed by the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland, in collaboration with colleagues from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) in California, will play a major role in the MMX mission, which aims to characterize and determine the origin of Mars’ moons Phobos and Deimos and deliver a sample from Phobos to Earth. 
      Scientists suspect the asteroid-sized bodies either are remnants of an ancient collision between Mars and a large impactor or are themselves asteroids captured by Mars’ gravity. By measuring the energies of neutrons and gamma rays emitted from the surface of Phobos, MEGANE will let MMX “see” the elemental composition of the moon’s surface and help peg the likely origin of the moon. 
      “MEGANE will be a key instrument on MMX, making a big contribution toward the goal of understanding the origin of the Martian moons,” said Thomas Statler, MEGANE program scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “NASA is glad to see MEGANE ready for integration, another step in NASA’s continuing collaboration with JAXA on this groundbreaking mission.”
      The instrument team received the green light last fall to ship MEGANE (pronounced meh-GAH-nay, the Japanese word for “eyeglasses”) after the project’s standing review board evaluated the device’s readiness. That milestone marked the end of a demanding 6-year design and development process, which met NASA’s cost and schedule constraints. 
      “Passing the pre-ship review and delivering the hardware are significant steps for all those working on MEGANE,” said APL’s David Lawrence, the instrument’s principal investigator. “Like all spaceflight builds, we have had challenges getting to this point, but we are excited to see how MEGANE works with all the other spacecraft components for this exciting MMX mission.”    
      With MEGANE now in Japan, the MMX team will begin integrating the scientific instruments, including MEGANE, with other spacecraft components, before putting the entire system through a series of tests in preparation for launch, which is scheduled for fiscal year 2026, aboard a JAXA H3 rocket. 
      “For me personally, I’m looking forward to all the integration and test operations that are to come,” said Sarah Bucior, a space systems engineer in SES and the MEGANE I&T Lead Engineer. “I love rockets, so I’m really interested to see how they build their spacecraft and then follow it along to launch operations and liftoff.”
      MEGANE was developed under NASA’s Discovery Program, which provides low-cost access to space. The Discovery Program is managed by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. The instrument science team includes investigators from APL, LLNL, Marietta College, NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley, and JAXA. 
      To learn more about MEGANE and the MMX mission, visit http://megane.jhuapl.edu.
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    • By European Space Agency
      Video: 00:14:13 Climate change exacerbates droughts by making them more frequent, longer, and more severe. This can have a wide range of impacts on the environment, agriculture, ecosystems and communities including water scarcity, crop failure and food shortages.
      The upcoming Copernicus Land Surface Temperature Monitoring, LSTM, mission will improve sustainable agricultural productivity in a world of increasing water scarcity and variability.
      The mission will carry a high spatial-temporal resolution thermal infrared sensor to provide observations of land-surface temperature.
      These data are key to understand and respond to climate variability, manage water resources for agricultural production, predict droughts and also to address land degradation.
      LSTM is one of six Copernicus Sentinel Expansion missions that ESA is developing on behalf of the EU. The missions will expand the current capabilities of the Copernicus Space Component – the world’s biggest supplier of Earth observation data.
      This video features interviews with Ana Bolea Alamanac, LSTM Mission Project Manager, Ilias Manolis, LSTM Mission Payload Manager and Itziar Barat, LSTM Mission System and Operations Manager.
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    • By NASA
      On March 3, 1959, the United States launched Pioneer 4 with the goal of photographing the Moon during a close flyby. As part of the International Geophysical Year that ran from July 1, 1957, to Dec. 31, 1958, the United States planned to send five probes to study the Moon. The first three planned to orbit the Moon, while the last two simpler probes planned to photograph it during flybys. After NASA opened for business in October 1958, the new space agency inherited the Pioneer program from the Advanced Research Projects Agency, a branch of the Department of Defense established earlier in 1958 as part of America’s initiative to respond to early Soviet space accomplishments. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, part of the U.S. Army until transferred to NASA in December 1958, built the two Pioneer lunar flyby spacecraft. While the first four missions did not succeed in reaching their target, Pioneer 4 became the first American spacecraft to flyby the Moon and enter solar orbit.

      Left: A replica of the Pioneer 1 spacecraft. Image credit: courtesy National Air and Space Museum.  Right:  Liftoff of Pioneer 1, the first satellite launched by NASA.
      The first Pioneer launch attempt on August 17, 1958, ended in failure 77 seconds after liftoff when the Thor-Able booster exploded. Engineers identified and corrected the problem with the rocket and on Oct. 11, Pioneer 1, weighing 84 pounds, thundered off from Cape Canaveral’s Launch Complex 17A. The launch took place just 10 days after NASA officially opened for business. Liftoff seemed to go well, but tracking soon showed that the spacecraft was traveling more slowly than expected and was also off course.  Relatively minor errors in the first stage’s performance were compounded by other issues with the second stage, making it clear that Pioneer 1 would not achieve its primary goal of entering orbit around the Moon. The spacecraft did reach a then-record altitude of 70,770 miles about 21 hours after launch before beginning its fall back to Earth. It burned up on reentry over the Pacific Ocean 43 hours after liftoff. The probe’s instruments confirmed the existence of the Van Allen radiation belts discovered by Explorer 1 earlier in the year. The third and final lunar orbiter attempt, Pioneer 2 on November 8, met with less success. The rocket’s first and second stages performed well, but the third stage failed to ignite. Pioneer 2 could not achieve orbital velocity and only reached a peak altitude of 960 miles before falling back to Earth after a brief 42-minute flight.

      Left: Juno rocket developer Wernher von Braun, left, Pioneer project engineer John R. Casani, and project scientist James A. Van Allen inspect the instruments in the Pioneer 4 spacecraft. Image credit: courtesy LIFE Magazine. Middle: Kurt H. Debus, left, and von Braun in the blockhouse for the Pioneer 4 launch. Right: Launch of Pioneer 4, the first American spacecraft to flyby the Moon and enter solar orbit.
      The two lunar flyby missions came next, each carrying a radiation counter and photographic equipment. The 13-pound Pioneer 3 took off on Dec. 6. The Juno-II rocket’s first stage engine cut off early, and the probe could not reach its destination, falling back to Earth 38 hours after launch. Despite this problem, Pioneer 3 returned significant radiation data and discovered a second outer Van Allen belt encircling the Earth. The second attempt on March 3, 1959, met with more success as Pioneer 4 became the first American spacecraft to reach Earth escape velocity. The Juno-II’s second stage burned for an extra few seconds, resulting in Pioneer 4 passing at 36,650 miles of the Moon’s surface 41 hours after launch. At that distance, instead of the planned 5,000 miles, the spacecraft could not achieve its objective of photographing the Moon. Pioneer 4 then went on to become the first American spacecraft to enter solar orbit, a feat the Soviet Luna 1 accomplished two months earlier. Pioneer 4 returned radiation data for 82 hours, out to 409,000 miles, nearly twice the Earth-Moon distance, until its batteries died.

      Left: Pioneer 4’s trajectory to the Moon and beyond. Right: The Deep Space Station-11, also known as Pioneer Station, in 1958.
      Although these early Pioneer lunar probes met with limited mission success, the program marked the first use of the 26-meter antenna and tracking station at Goldstone, California. This antenna, completed in 1958 and known as Deep Space Station 11 (DSS-11), was the first component of what eventually became the NASA Deep Space Network. Although called Pioneer Station, DSS-11 not only followed these early spacecraft, starting with Pioneer 3, but later monitored the Ranger, Surveyor, and Lunar Orbiter robotic precursor missions and tracked the Apollo 11 Lunar Module Eagle to the Moon’s surface on July 20, 1969, and the other Apollo lunar missions as well. It also tracked Mariner, Viking, and Voyager missions to the planets before its decommissioning in 1978.
      Watch a video about Pioneer 4:  https://youtu.be/mM4U78sFYpQ
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