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LADEE Above Lunar Sunset Artist’s Concept
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Image by NASA Goddard Photo and Video
Artist’s concept of NASA’s Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) spacecraft in orbit above the moon as dust scatters light during the lunar sunset.

Credit: NASA Ames / Dana Berry

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What is LADEE?
The Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) is designed to study the Moon’s thin exosphere and the lunar dust environment. An "exosphere" is an atmosphere that is so thin and tenuous that molecules don’t collide with each other. Studying the Moon’s exosphere will help scientists understand other planetary bodies with exospheres too, like Mercury and some of Jupiter’s bigger moons. The orbiter will determine the density, composition and temporal and spatial variability of the Moon’s exosphere to help us understand where the species in the exosphere come from and the role of the solar wind, lunar surface and interior, and meteoric infall as sources. The mission will also examine the density and temporal and spatial variability of dust particles that may get lofted into the atmosphere.

The mission also will test several new technologies, including a modular spacecraft bus that may reduce the cost of future deep space missions and demonstrate two-way high rate laser communication for the first time from the Moon.

LADEE now is ready to launch when the window opens on Sept. 6, 2013. Read more: www.nasa.gov/ladee

NASA image use policy.

NASA Goddard Space Flight Center enables NASA’s mission through four scientific endeavors: Earth Science, Heliophysics, Solar System Exploration, and Astrophysics. Goddard plays a leading role in NASA’s accomplishments by contributing compelling scientific knowledge to advance the Agency’s mission.

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X Class Solar Flare Sends ‘Shockwaves’ on The Sun [hd video]
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Image by NASA Goddard Photo and Video
NASA image captured March 6, 2012

To view a still image from this event go to: www.flickr.com/photos/gsfc/6961978265

The sun erupted with one of the largest solar flares of this solar cycle on March 6, 2012 at 7PM ET. This flare was categorized as an X5.4, making it the second largest flare — after an X6.9 on August 9, 2011 — since the sun’s activity segued into a period of relatively low activity called solar minimum in early 2007. The current increase in the number of X-class flares is part of the sun’s normal 11-year solar cycle, during which activity on the sun ramps up to solar maximum, which is expected to peak in late 2013.

About an hour later, at 8:14 PM ET, March 6, the same region let loose an X1.3 class flare. An X1 is 5 times smaller than an X5 flare.

These X-class flares erupted from an active region named AR 1429 that rotated into view on March 2. Prior to this, the region had already produced numerous M-class and one X-class flare. The region continues to rotate across the front of the sun, so the March 6 flare was more Earthward facing than the previous ones. It triggered a temporary radio blackout on the sunlit side of Earth that interfered with radio navigation and short wave radio.

In association with these flares, the sun also expelled two significant coronal mass ejections (CMEs), which are travelling faster than 600 miles a second and may arrive at Earth in the next few days. In the meantime, the CME associated with the X-class flare from March 4 has dumped solar particles and magnetic fields into Earth’s atmosphere and distorted Earth’s magnetic fields, causing a moderate geomagnetic storm, rated a G2 on a scale from G1 to G5. Such storms happen when the magnetic fields around Earth rapidly change strength and shape. A moderate storm usually causes aurora and may interfere with high frequency radio transmission near the poles. This storm is already dwindling, but the Earth may experience another enhancement if the most recent CMEs are directed toward and impact Earth.

In addition, last night’s flares have sent solar particles into Earth’s atmosphere, producing a moderate solar energetic particle event, also called a solar radiation storm. These particles have been detected by NASA’s SOHO and STEREO spacecraft, and NOAA’s GOES spacecraft. At the time of writing, this storm is rated an S3 on a scale that goes up to S5. Such storms can interfere with high frequency radio communication.

Besides the August 2011 X-class flare, the last time the sun sent out flares of this magnitude was in 2006. There was an X6.5 on December 6, 2006 and an X9.0 on December 5, 2006. Like the most recent events, those two flares erupted from the same region on the sun, which is a common occurrence.

Credit: NASA/SDO/AIA

NASA image use policy.

NASA Goddard Space Flight Center enables NASA’s mission through four scientific endeavors: Earth Science, Heliophysics, Solar System Exploration, and Astrophysics. Goddard plays a leading role in NASA’s accomplishments by contributing compelling scientific knowledge to advance the Agency’s mission.

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