SESDA Scientist Helps Reveal Additional Strange Behavior from Betelgeuse

August 20, 2020

An image from the Heliospheric Imager aboard NASA’s STEREO spacecraft shows the star Betelgeuse, circled. For several weeks in 2020, STEREO was the only observatory making measurements of Betelgeuse because of the spacecraft’s unique position in space. Credits: NASA/STEREO/HI

The red giant star Betelgeuse has intrigued astronomers by showing unusual dimming over the past several months. Led by a SESDA scientist, a team of investigators from Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, Naval Research Laboratory, and Rutherford Appleton Lab used observations from the STEREO spacecraft to confirm that Betelgeuse is dimming again. This finding is surprising as Betelgeuse typically goes through brightness cycles lasting about 420 days, with the previous minimum in February 2020. Hence, this dimming is happening unexpectedly early and is currently a mystery. The science team reported these observations via The Astronomer’s Telegram on July 28, 2020.

SESDA Supports ESA/NASA in First Returns of Solar Orbiter Data

July 16, 2020

Solar Orbiter spots ‘campfires’ on the Sun. Locations of campfires are annotated with white arrows.
Credits: Solar Orbiter/EUI Team (ESA & NASA); CSL, IAS, MPS,

Solar Orbiter is a new collaborative mission between ESA (European Space Agency) and NASA to obtain detailed observations of the polar regions of the Sun. It was launched in February 2020 from Cape Canaveral with a scientific payload of 10 different instruments. One of these instruments is the Spectral Imaging of the Coronal Environment (SPICE) spectrometer which was built with the support of SESDA staff at GSFC. The mission just released its first new images to the public, including the closest (48 million miles) pictures ever taken of the Sun. These high-resolution images reveal evidence of ubiquitous brightenings or “campfires” dotting the Sun. The SPICE instrument will play a crucial role in understanding the physical nature of these campfires by providing precise measurements of their temperature.

SESDA Communications Staff Support Solar Orbiter Launch, a Mission Taking Solar Science to New Heights

February 27, 2020

The United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket, carrying the Solar Orbiter, lifts off Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida at 11:03 p.m. EST, on Feb. 9, 2020. Photo credit: NASA/Tony Gray and Tim Terry

More than ten SESDA science writers, outreach and production staff travelled to Kennedy Space Center to help NASA communicate launch events to the public. Solar Orbiter, a new collaborative mission between ESA (European Space Agency) and NASA to study the Sun, launched at 11:03 p.m. EST on Feb. 9, 2020, on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. With a scientific payload of 10 different instruments — each complementing and supporting the others — Solar Orbiter combines high-resolution telescopes with measurements from the environment directly surrounding the spacecraft. Together the observations create a one-of-a-kind, comprehensive picture of the Sun’s inner workings and how they can affect the space environment further out in the solar system. During its mission, Solar Orbiter will journey out of the ecliptic plane — the belt of space roughly aligned with the Sun’s equator through which the planets orbit — to get a bird’s eye view of the Sun’s poles. This unprecedented perspective will allow Solar Orbiter to take the first-ever images of this region on the Sun.

SESDA Engineer Receives Exceptional Engineering Achievement Medal

February 3, 2020

Congratulations to Tim Cameron in the Heliophysics Ionosphere, Thermosphere, Mesosphere Physics (ITM) Laboratory on receiving an Exceptional Engineering Achievement Medal for his accomplishments in electrical engineering.

“This prestigious NASA medal is awarded to both Government and non-Government individuals for exceptional engineering contributions toward achievement of the NASA mission. This award is given for individual efforts for applications of engineering principles or methods that have resulted in a contribution of fundamental importance in this field or have significantly enhanced understanding of this field or have significantly advanced the state of the practice as demonstrated by an application to aerospace systems.”

SESDA Web Developer Implements Promising New Technology

WebGL is a relatively new cross-platform web standard for enabling low-level 3D graphics functionality directly within a browser. It is supported by all major browsers (Safari, Chrome, Edge, and Firefox) and allows for dynamic rendering of images. SESDA web developer Kirill Vorobyev recognized the intrinsic value of applying this technology to the Helioviewer visualization tool to stream user-selected movies of solar data and perform rapid on-the-fly image processing such as changing the user’s perspective. You can play with a beta version here.

HECN Work at SC19

December 20, 2019

Paul Lang next to the HECN-built equipment

SESDA’s HECN team, working with the Mid-Atlantic Crossroads (MAX), the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL), the 100-GigE Ciena Testbed, the StarLight national and international optical network exchange facility, CenturyLink, Internet2, and SCinet, created a multi-100-GigE network topology for live demos at SuperComputing 2019 in Denver, CO.  This included 4×100-GigE network paths between NASA Goddard and SC19, 2×100-GigE network paths between StarLight and SC19, and 2×100-GigE network paths between NASA Goddard and StarLight. 

At SC19 the HECN team demonstrated the use of NVMe over Fabric over TCP (NVMe-oF/TCP) technology across a 4×100-GigE wide-area network (WAN) infrastructure as a SCinet Network Research Experiment (NRE).  The experiments showcased very high performance disk-to-memory and disk-to-disk network data transfers between a single high performance 4×100-GigE NVMe server at SC19 and a single 2×100-GigE high performance NVMe client at NASA Goddard, with only a moderate level of system CPU utilization on the server.  The top result was an aggregate throughput of nearly 200 Gigabits per second (Gbps) on 64 reads across 16 NVMe drives using 2 100-GigE WAN links. When doing full disk-to-disk network data transfers using NVMe-oF/TCP to read a remote NVMe drive and then write to a local NVMe drive, the aggregate throughput dropped to about 120 Gbps.  This may be due to inadequate buffering to handle the slower NVMe write speeds and requires further investigation.  Also performed were more traditional network data transfers using the normal Linux TCP/IP network stack, which achieved an aggregate throughput of almost 200 Gbps while totally consuming all of the system CPU resources.

Network Topology used for the used for the demonstrations at the SuperComputing 2019 (SC19) event in  Denver, CO in Nov 2019


December 16, 2019

The SESDA team helped host the 3rd International Heliophysics Data Environment Alliance (IHDEA) meeting at the Goddard Corporate Park facility during October 16-18, 2019. The primary goal of the meeting was to establish the IHDEA, which has the goals of fostering coordinated development of common data standards and services, and promoting their use to enable efficient and effective sharing of Heliophysics data (from space, ground, and models) so as to enhance the scientific return of the data and facilitate new discovery. The meeting was a resounding success marked by the completion of drafts of the IHDEA Charter and Bylaws documents which will be finalized and released to the International Heliophysics community with a formal announcement of the establishment of the IHDEA.

NASA Scientists Observe the Earth’s Atmosphere Leaking into Space

December 10, 2019

This time-lapse photograph shows the first stages of the VISION-2 Black Brant X rockets as they leave the launch pad from Ny-Ålesund, Svalbard, in Norway. Credits: NASA/ Allison Stancil-Ervin
This time-lapse photograph shows the first stages of the VISION-2 Black Brant X rockets as they leave the launch pad from Ny-Ålesund, Svalbard, in Norway. Credits: NASA/ Allison Stancil-Ervin

In the tiny Arctic town of Ny-Ålesund, Svalbard, Norway, north of the Arctic Circle, where polar bears outnumber people, winter means three months without sunlight. The unending darkness is ideal for those who seek a strange breed of northern lights, normally obscured by daylight. When these unusual auroras shine, Earth’s atmosphere leaks into space.

NASA scientists traveled to Ny-Ålesund to launch rockets through these auroras and witness oxygen particles right in the middle of their escape. Piercing these fleeting auroras, some 300 miles high, would require strategy, patience — and a fair bit of luck. The Mission is called VISIONS-2 and rockets were launched Dec, 7, 2018. SESDA Outreach staff travelled with the scientists to help document and report their story and continuing science results. This video describes the mission:

Parker Solar Probe First Data Release

November 21, 2019

(Image: © Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory)
An artist’s depiction of NASA’s Parker Solar Probe gathering data about the sun
(Image: © Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory)
NASA’s Parker Solar Probe mission released its first set of data following two close passes of the Sun in 2018 and 2019. SESDA staff in the Space Physics Data Facility (SPDF) played critical roles in ensuring that available data could be readily accessed and retrieved from its archives via the CDAWeb system. They worked closely with instrument providers to test and validate data sets, and developed custom display software to facilitate analysis and discovery.

The Heliophysics STEM Innovation Lab on TED

A special shout out to SESDA’s Troy Cline for an illuminating invited TED-x talk on Space Science and Education at Chandigarh, India. As the director of the Heliophysics STEM Innovation Lab, Troy highlighted NASA’s involvement in supporting international outreach events such as the 2017 Total Solar Eclipse and in using novel technologies such as Virtual Reality to advance public awareness and understanding of science and engineering.