Sunday, January 10, 2010

NASA's Contribution to Science in '09 5th Highest in 37 Years

This is cool, if you find space science as riveting as I do. Thanks to a lot of hard work by Greg Davidson and Dr. Luke Sollitt, we get a glimpse of NASA contributions to science in 2009 and how they stack up:

NASA’s 8.7% contribution to worldwide scientific discoveries in 2008 is the fifth-highest in the 37 years covered by the Science News metric

Most NASA science continues to come from extended missions, with only 2.3% from spacecraft now in their prime mission (see analysis, below)

Hubble produced 1.1% of discoveries following the final servicing mission

Discoveries include some of the oldest galaxies and development of a new technique which may result in 100 new exoplanets in archived HST data.

Fermi was the most productive prime mission, with 0.8% of discoveries

Confirming that supernovae are indeed the source of high-energy cosmic rays and showing that positrons are produced in lightning storms on Earth.

Space Science contributions at 6.2%

Chance simultaneous flyovers of the two poles by the IMAGE and ISTP-Polar satellites showed anisotropy between the northern and southern aurorae.

MESSENGER mapped previously unknown parts of Mercury.

IBEX and Cassini found that neutral atoms, instead of being isotropic in the solar system, are actually confined to a narrow ribbon.

The Spitzer Space Telescope found the largest planetary ring in the solar system around Saturn, extending outside of the orbit of its moon Phoebe

NASA Earth Science had 1.7% of discoveries, highest total in a decade

GRACE found increased irrigation has greatly depleted groundwater in northern India.

Landsat data used to determine that substituting plant-derived biofuels for fossil fuels will not diminish greenhouse gas emissions if those biofuels are grown at the expense of tropical forests.

Multiple satellite data sets used by researchers to understand Antarctic warming and the effects of aerosols on climate models

NASA’s Exploration Directorate produced 0.8% of discoveries

LCROSS and LRO contributed to the discovery of water on the Moon, both in reservoirs in permanently shadowed basins, and in a thin layer all over the surface.

A zircon collected by Apollo 17 suggests that the lunar surface solidified 4.4 billion years ago, far earlier than previously thought.

NASA’s non-mission science produces 1.5% of world-wide science

NASA Astrobiology discoveries included the existence of plumes of methane in the Martian atmosphere and that organisms during the Late Heavy Bombardment might have survived the impact-induced environmental stress by gravitating to the thermal vents created by the impacts.

Other non-mission science contributions include the use of a DSN antenna as a radio telescope to find the first evidence of lightning on Mars

Most NASA science continues to come from extended missions

Most NASA discoveries in 2009 (4.9%) came from spacecraft which were operating beyond their prime mission lifetimes; 1.5% came from non-flight project science, and only 2.3% came from spacecraft in their prime mission phase. The 2.3% prime mission science came from 2008 prime contributors MESSENGER and Fermi, as well as GRACE, IBEX, LRO and LCROSS
If you are like me, you can vividly remember hearing about some of these things. It has been a big year for NASA, with discoveries that leave the coming years full of new potential.

The development that most captured me last year, was the pictures given to us after the Hubble's last service mission. With new technology, they were able to look farther than we have ever seen before, finding untold galaxies in space we could only see as black previously.
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