Published: March 1, 2010

planet venus

While Venus and Earth were similar at birth, Venus has turned into “Earth’s evil twin” because of its extremely harsh and inhospitable conditions, says Larry Esposito of CU-Boulder’s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics. Photo courtesy NASA.

About 50 students, mostly from aerospace engineering, are working to build a 5-pound spacecraft the size of a loaf of bread that will give scientists a better understanding of solar flares and other so-called space weather.

The National Science Foundation awarded CU $840,000 to build the Colorado Student Space Weather Experiment.

“The aerospace engineering sciences department has been a leader in the development of hands-on learning at all levels of the curriculum, and this is another big step forward,” says associate professor Scott Palo (MElEngr’90, PhD’94), co-principal investigator.

In other news, NASA awarded CU $3.3 million for a detailed one-year concept study for a landing mission to Venus. It has been 25 years since a spacecraft landed there.

“We are very interested in what sent Venus down this hellish path, including its runaway global warming,” says professor Larry Esposito of astrophysical and planetary sciences, referring to the planet’s harsh conditions. “Understanding the physical and chemical reasons for this uncontrolled warming may help scientists better understand the eventual fate of Earth.”

In addition, the $2.2 billion orbiting Herschel Space Observatory is finding galaxies that ground-based telescopes never could detect. Images from the observatory “have revealed thousands of newly discovered galaxies in their early stages of formation,” says associate professor Jason Glenn, a co-investigator on the Spectral and Photometric Imaging Receiver, a CU-Boulder-designed device riding aboard Herschel. Glenn is among more than 100 astronomers from six countries analyzing data from Herschel, which is 1.5 times the diameter of the Hubble Space Telescope and is orbiting nearly 1 million miles above Earth.

Glenn says a major goal of the Herschel mission is to discover how early galaxies formed and evolved to give rise to present-day galaxies like our own. Distant galaxies imaged by Herschel are so far away that astronomers are looking at conditions as early as just over a billion or so years after the Big Bang some 13 billion years ago.