News and Updates


NASA has selected five proposals submitted to its Explorers Program to conduct focused scientific investigations on neutron stars, black holes and more. Two of the proposals – GUSTO and SPHEREx – include researchers from Arizona State University’s School of Earth and Space Exploration.

GUSTO (short for Gal/Xgal U/LDB Spectroscopic-Stratospheric Terahertz Observatory), is a balloon-borne observatory designed to map high-frequency radio emissions from our Milky Way galaxy and the Large Magellanic Cloud, that will yield insights into the life cycle of interstellar material.

The GUSTO team is led by Principal Investigator Chris Walker at University of Arizona. ASU is one of the partner institutions.

“GUSTO is a mapping machine that will provide a comprehensive understanding of the inner workings of the Milky Way and Large Magellanic Cloud,” says Chris Groppi, an associate professor in ASU’s School of Earth and Space Exploration. He is a co-investigator with GUSTO.

“We hope to gain knowledge of all phases of the stellar life cycle, from the formation of molecular clouds, through star birth and evolution, to the formation of gas clouds and the reinitiation of the cycle,” explains Groppi.

SPHEREx will perform an all-sky near infrared spectral survey to probe the origin of our Universe; explore the origin and evolution of galaxies, and explore whether planets around other stars could harbor life.
James Bock at the California Institute of Technology is the principal investigator. ASU’s Phil Mauskopf, is a collaborator on the science team.

Image: The Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR), launched in 2012, is an Explorer mission that allows astronomers to study the universe in high energy X-rays. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Written by Nikki Cassis


The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History will host an innovation festival Sept. 26 and 27 as a signature event of the collaboration between the Smithsonian and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). Thirteen companies, universities, government agencies and independent inventors, selected by a juried panel, will participate in the festival, which will explore how today’s inventors are creating the world of the future. ASU will be participating with NASA.

The museum’s Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation is leading the effort to present educational programs from across the Smithsonian. Highlights will include innovation and invention programs, hands-on activities, expert talks and demonstrations and opportunities for visitors to meet and exchange ideas with inventors and innovators while exploring their own creative abilities.

“The Smithsonian may be known for documenting the intricacies of our nation’s history but, it looks at innovation as a way of continuing to tell the story of America,” said John Gray, director of the museum. “The innovation festival gives visitors the opportunity to discover inventions and meet the people who design and create such innovations.”

“From the fields of Kitty Hawk to the orchards of the Silicon Valley, our nation has been driven by ingenuity and fueled by innovation,” said Michelle K. Lee, the undersecretary of commerce for intellectual property and director of the USPTO. “The Innovation Festival provides an excellent opportunity for visitors to learn how America’s intellectual-property system has driven innovation and shaped our nation.”

Organized by The Smithsonian Associates, the Innovation Festival highlights inventors and invention and provides visitors with the opportunity to learn about the patent and intellectual property systems and how they support invention and innovation. The festival will run Sept. 26 and 27, between 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and will feature examples of American ingenuity developed by independent inventors, academic institutions, corporations and government agencies.

NASA will demonstrate the Freeze Resistant Hydration System, which was invented to assure liquid hydration by storing a reservoir of drinking fluid within down clothing and having a closed-loop heating element. The device was originally conceived and designed by a astronaut-mountaineer Scott Parazynski, now ASU Professor of Practice, who recognized the great risk of dehydration in high mountains and the lack of sufficient technology to meet this important need.

Festival participants were selected by experts in patented technology from the Intellectual Property Owners Organization, the American Intellectual Property Law Association, the National Academy of Inventors and the independent inventor community.

The festival will also feature innovative activities that reflect the missions of several Smithsonian museums, research centers and partners including the Smithsonian Latino Center and Lemelson MIT Invent Teams.

The five-year collaboration between the Smithsonian and USPTO, which began in 2014, develops programs and exhibitions showcasing American innovation. These joint efforts include the recently opened “Inventing in America” in the new Innovation Wing of the National Museum of American History. Three large cases focus on inventions and innovators of the past and present, featuring early patent models, trademarks and inventions of National Inventors Hall of Fame members.

The National Museum of American History is located on Constitution Avenue N.W. between 12th and 14th streets. Admission is free. For more information about the Innovation Festival visit


Julia Cartwright has just had a book chapter published in the latest volume of the European Mineralogical Union notes in Mineralogy: Volume 15 Planetary Mineralogy. She is currently a Postdoctoral Scholar working with Professor Mini Wadhwa and Professor Kip Hodges, and specializes in noble gas and chronometry studies of meteorites. She was invited as an expert in her field to lecture at a Workshop on Planetary Materials that was held last year in Glasgow, and also to contribute to the book.

Her chapter is titled "Noble gas chemistry of planetary materials", and it is available from the EMU and the Mineralogical Society of America:



The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has announced that Lawrence Krauss, an Arizona State University Foundation Professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration and the Department of Physics, has been elected chair of the organization’s Board of Sponsors.

Nobel laureate Leon Lederman has been elected chair emeritus, marking the first time the Bulletin has bestowed such an honor. Lederman and Krauss have co-chaired the Bulletin’s Board of Sponsors since 2009.

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists engages science leaders, policy makers and the interested public on topics of nuclear weapons and disarmament, the changing energy landscape, climate change and emerging technologies. It does this through an award-winning journal, the iconic Doomsday Clock, public-access websites and regular meetings.

Members of the Bulletin’s Board of Sponsors are recruited by their peers from among the world’s most accomplished scientific leaders to amplify the gravity and importance of what the Bulletin publishes, and to provide expert counsel on issues of global security, science and survival – particularly for the organization’s annual Doomsday Clock statement.

The board was founded in 1948 by Albert Einstein, and its first chair was J. Robert Oppenheimer. It currently has 35 members, including 16 Nobel laureates. Krauss was appointed to the board in 2006, along with Stephen Hawking.

“I have known and respected the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists since I was a graduate student, and never could have anticipated, given the distinction of the Board of Sponsors, that I would ever have the opportunity to chair this group,” Krauss said.

“Leon Lederman has been a remarkable scientist and humanitarian throughout an equally remarkable career in physics research,” Krauss said. “It has been one of the greatest privileges of my career to co-chair the Board of Sponsors along with a scientist of his distinction, and it is my greatest honor to now chair this remarkable group of scientists, scholars and public intellectuals.”

Krauss elaborated on the broadened mission of the Bulletin in recent years to include existential threats beyond that of nuclear war.

“In the 21st century new threats have emerged, from global climate change to the possibility of cyber terrorism,” Krauss explained. “This recent vote of confidence from the board has re-energized me to help my colleagues at the Bulletin and on the Board of Sponsors continue to lead the effort to explore and expose such threats, and in so doing also examine ways that humanity can avert them.”

Krauss is internationally known for his work in theoretical physics and cosmology and he is a well-known author and science communicator. His research covers science from the beginning of the universe to the end of the universe. His research interests include the interface between elementary particle physics and cosmology, the nature of dark matter, general relativity and neutrino astrophysics.

In addition to being a Foundation Professor, Krauss is the director of the Origins Project at ASU, which explores key questions about our origins, who we are and where we came from, and then holds open forums to encourage public participation.

Krauss is the only physicist to receive major awards from all three U.S. physics societies: the American Physical Society, the American Institute of Physics and the American Association of Physics Teachers. In 2012 he was given the Public Service Award from the National Science Board for his efforts in communicating science to general audiences. He also was awarded the “Roma Award Urbs Universalis 2013” by the mayor of Rome.

Krauss has authored more than 300 scientific publications and nine books, including his most recent best-seller, "A Universe from Nothing," which offers provocative, revelatory answers to the most basic philosophical questions of existence. It was on the New York Times best-seller list for nonfiction within a week of its release.

Image: ASU physicist Lawrence Krauss speaks at an ASU Origins event in 2013. Krauss is the director of the Origins Project at ASU, which explores key questions about who we are and where we came from, and then holds open forums to encourage public participation.
Photo by: Andy DeLisle

Written by Skip Derra


ASU professor strives to better understand the potential for future eruptions at Yellowstone volcano by studying those in the recent past

We’ve long known that beneath the scenic landscapes of Yellowstone National Park sleeps a supervolcano with a giant chamber of hot, partly molten rock below it.

Though it hasn’t risen from slumber in nearly 70,000 years, many wonder when Yellowstone volcano will awaken and erupt again. According to new research at Arizona State University, there may be a way to predict when that happens.

While geological processes don’t follow a schedule, petrologist Christy Till, a professor in ASU’s School of Earth and Space Exploration, has produced one way to estimate when Yellowstone might erupt again.

“We find that the last time Yellowstone erupted after sitting dormant for a long time, the eruption was triggered within 10 months of new magma moving into the base of the volcano, while other times it erupted closer to the 10 year mark,” says Till.

The new study, published Wednesday in the journal Geology, is based on examinations of the volcano’s distant past combined with advanced microanalytical techniques. Till and her colleagues were the first to use NanoSIMS ion probe measurements to document very sharp chemical concentration gradients in magma crystals, which allow a calculation of the timescale between reheating and eruption for the magma.

This does not mean that Yellowstone will erupt in 10 months, or even 10 years. The countdown clock starts ticking when there is evidence of magma moving into the crust. If that happens, there will be some notice as Yellowstone is monitored by numerous instruments that can detect precursors to eruptions such as earthquake swarms caused by magma moving beneath the surface.

And if history is a good predictor of the future, the next eruption won’t be cataclysmic.

Geologic evidence suggests that Yellowstone has produced three enormous eruptions within the past 2.1 million years, but these are not the only type of eruptions that can occur. Volcanologists say there have been more than 23 smaller eruptions at Yellowstone since the last major eruption approximately 640,000 years ago. The most recent small eruption occurred approximately 70,000 years ago.

If a magma doesn’t erupt, it will sit in the crust and slowly cool, forming crystals. The magma will sit in that state – mostly crystals with a tiny amount of liquid magma – for a very long time. Over thousands of years, the last little bit of this magma will crystallize unless it becomes reheated and reignites another eruption.

For Till and her colleagues, the question was, “How quickly can you reheat a cooled magma chamber and get it to erupt?”

Till collected samples from lava flows and analyzed the crystals in them with the NanoSIMS. The crystals from the magma chamber grow zones like tree rings, which allow a reconstruction of their history and changes in their environment through time.

“Our results suggest an eruption at the beginning of Yellowstone’s most recent volcanic cycle was triggered within 10 months after reheating of a mostly crystallized magma reservoir following a 220,000-year period of volcanic quiescence,” says Till. “A similarly energetic reheating of Yellowstone’s current sub-surface magma bodies could end approximately 70,000 years of volcanic repose and lead to a future eruption over similar timescales.”

Caption: ASU professor Christy Till strives to better understand the potential for future eruptions at Yellowstone volcano by studying those in the recent past. She and paper co-author Jorge Vazquez examine Yellowstone lavas in the field.
Credit: Naomi Thompson

Written by Nikki Cassis



Built from scratch in a lab on ASU's campus, the OSIRIS-REx Thermal Emission Spectrometer is leaving home to join a NASA mission to sample an asteroid.

A journey that will stretch millions of miles and take years to complete begins with a short trip to a loading dock.

The OSIRIS-REx Thermal Emission Spectrometer (OTES for short) is the first space instrument built entirely on the Arizona State University campus. It forms a key part of a NASA mission to collect a sample from a primitive asteroid and return the sample to Earth.

About the size of a microwave oven, OTES has spent the last several years being designed, built, tested, and calibrated. It has been bathed in rays to mimic the Sun's radiation, it has endured temperatures high and low, and it has experienced atmospheric pressures ranging from Earth-normal to hard vacuum.

Now after three months of round-the-clock testing, OTES is shipping out for the solar system.

"We're extremely pleased to have built this outstanding instrument here at ASU," says Philip Christensen, OTES' designer and instrument scientist. "Our weeks of testing and calibration have shown that OTES is of exceptional quality and sensitivity.

"We expect it's the first of many instruments to come from ASU."

Christensen is Regents Professor of Geological Sciences in ASU's School of Earth and Space Exploration. While his main research has involved Mars, Christensen says, "OTES is a direct descendant of two highly successful infrared instruments we've sent to Mars. These have mapped the rocks and minerals on that planet."

He explains, "The infrared is great for identifying minerals, and OTES will map the mineralogy of the asteroid's surface."

OTES is one of five instruments on NASA's OSIRIS-REx mission, and the first to be completed. OSIRIS-REx stands for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer. The mission is led by the University of Arizona in Tucson, and is the third mission in NASA's New Frontiers solar system exploration program.

The flight plan calls for the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft to launch in September 2016 and rendezvous with asteroid 101955 Bennu in August 2018, with a first sample-collecting attempt in October 2019. Bennu was chosen as a target in part because it is believed to be little changed from the time it formed, early in the solar system's history. Samples from it could improve our understanding of the origin of Earth's water and organics — both essential to life as we know it.

Touch and go

OSIRIS-REx will spend up to 15 months surveying Bennu's mineralogy and chemistry using OTES and another spectrometer working at shorter infrared and visible wavelengths. A visible-light camera suite, a laser altimeter, and an X-ray spectrometer will complete the picture of the asteroid.

When mission scientists have chosen a spot on the asteroid to sample, OSIRIS-REx will approach the surface, touch it briefly, and collect at least 60 grams (2 ounces) of dust, soil, and rubble.

With the sample collected, OSIRIS-REx will cruise back to Earth and use a return capsule to deliver the sample to a landing site in Utah in September 2023. Then after diverting past Earth, the spacecraft will go into orbit around the Sun.

Says Christensen, "After spending most of my career studying Mars, it's exciting and challenging to focus our attention on the origin and history of asteroids and the early solar system."

The School of Earth and Space Exploration is a unit of ASU's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. 


Long-running NASA Mars Odyssey orbiter has carried ASU Mars camera for 14 years and nearly a billion miles.

Next week, a visual and infrared camera designed at Arizona State University will pass 60,000 orbits of the Red Planet.

It is carried on NASA's Mars Odyssey orbiter, the longest-operating spacecraft from any nation at Mars. Since arriving there, the ASU camera has taken nearly 400,000 images.

 NASA/JPL-Caltech/Arizona State UniversityThe camera – the Thermal Emission Imaging System (THEMIS), which operates in five visual and nine infrared (heat-sensitive) "colors" – was designed by ASU professor Philip Christensen, the instrument's principal investigator.

"Mars Odyssey's enduring success has let THEMIS achieve a longer run of observations than any previous instrument at Mars," says Christensen, Regents Professor of Geological Sciences and the Ed and Helen Korrick Professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration at ASU.

"THEMIS has thus provided the context for most recent Mars scientific research. We're very grateful to the scientists, engineers, and technicians who have kept the spacecraft in good health."

He adds, "THEMIS also continues a tradition of ASU instruments working at Mars. This began almost 20 years ago, with our Thermal Emission Spectrometer (TES), which flew on NASA's Mars Global Surveyor, operating from 1996 to 2006."

Even today, Christensen says, he uses THEMIS in his class for first-year undergraduate students. He challenges the class to think of a Mars geology problem, and the students then target THEMIS to take images to resolve the question.

"THEMIS brings space exploration directly into their studies at first hand," he says.

As of this week, THEMIS has produced 208,240 images in visible-light wavelengths and 188,760 in thermal-infrared wavelengths. THEMIS images are the basis for detailed global maps and for identification of some surface materials, such as chloride salt deposits and silica-rich terrain. Its infrared imaging also indicates how quickly different parts of the surface cool off at night or warm up in sunlight, which provides information about how dusty or rocky the ground is.

These observations have allowed scientists to map the properties of the surface materials over nearly all of Mars. A particular area of interest is 96-mile-wide Gale Crater, currently the exploration site of the Mars Science Laboratory rover, Curiosity.

Mars Odyssey began orbiting the Red Planet on October 23, 2001. It will complete orbit 60,000 on June 23, 2015.

"The spacecraft is in good health, with all subsystems functional and with enough propellant for about 10 more years," says Mars Odyssey project manager David Lehman of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Besides conducting observations, Odyssey also serves as a crucial communications relay to Earth for the two active rovers, Curiosity and Opportunity, operating on the Martian surface.

Dawn patrol

In 2014, Odyssey began a gradual drift in its orbit designed to begin passing over terrain lit by early morning sunlight rather than afternoon light. In its orbit, the spacecraft always flies near each pole. Its current orbit flies along the "terminator" line between night and day both on the northbound and southbound halves of each circuit. The drift will be halted later this year with a maneuver to lock in the Martian time of day that Odyssey crosses the equator.

The goal of the orbit change is to let THEMIS systematically observe the Martian atmosphere and surface shortly after local sunrise. This is to detect transient atmospheric features such as frosts, fogs, hazes, and clouds that burn off or vanish as the Martian day goes on.

Already, an example of this are the clouds that gather around the upper slopes and in the vast summit pit (caldera) of Pavonis Mons. This is one of the giant volcanoes in the Tharsis area, with a summit that reaches about nine miles above the average radius of Mars, a datum that serves as "sea level."

Christensen says, "Pursuing a 'dawn patrol' with THEMIS gives us hope we can catch in the act and study daily effects, seasonal ones, and even those which we think change from year-to-Martian-year."

The School of Earth and Space Exploration is a unit of ASU's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.  


Karen Knierman, a Postdoctoral Research Fellow working with professors Chris Groppi and Paul Scowen in ASU’s School of Earth and Space Exploration, received a prestigious National Science Foundation (NSF) Astronomy and Astrophysics Postdoctoral Fellowship (AAPF). The fellowship will fund three years of her research, including stipend and annual research costs, starting June 1, 2015.

Knierman, an extragalactic observational astrophysicist, will focus her research efforts on characterizing star formation in the tidal debris of minor galaxy mergers. This project will provide the first survey of molecular hydrogen in minor mergers.

“Dr. Knierman’s research focuses on understanding how the process of star formation works in very metal poor environments such as the outer reaches of galaxies that are merging, to gain insight into how material collects together and cools to allow the formation of new stellar and planetary systems,” says Scowen, one of her advisors. “Her work uses data from a range of wavelengths to assess the origins and the success of the star formation process. Her choice to bring her NSF postdoctoral award to work at ASU in SESE adds an important facet to the broader study of star formation as a fundamental process within our School.”

Mergers between galaxies of different mass are very common in the universe and may affect the majority of galaxies including our own Milky Way galaxy. The debris produced in these minor mergers is a unique place to study the factors that influence star formation since it is away from the dense centers of the mergers. Due to the lower pressures and densities in the tidal debris, this study probes the lower bounds of where star formation is possible.

“Thanks to the NSF, I will be able to research the edges of parameter space where star formation occurs in these minor mergers,” says Knierman, who received her Ph.D. in astrophysics in 2013.

In addition to the research component, Knierman will be leading a new astronomy outreach initiative, Multicultural Milky Way, that will engage under-served populations in Arizona in learning about stars and galaxies.

Arizona is home to many diverse populations with rich cultural histories such as Mayan, Navajo, and Apache. Linking astronomy practiced by one’s indigenous culture to that of Western astronomy may increase the interest in science. Through multicultural planetarium shows and associated hands-on activities, under-served families will learn how the Milky Way is represented in different cultures and about the science of galaxies.

Written by Nikki Cassis




Evidence of left-handed cosmic magnetic field provides clues for why the universe contains more matter than antimatter

Giant screw-like magnetic fields in space could offer clues to why there is something rather than nothing in the universe.

According to cosmologists, the Big Bang should have produced equal amounts of matter and antimatter that would almost immediately annihilate each other, leaving a universe that was practically empty. Yet, here we are.

But where is the cosmic antimatter?

Tanmay Vachaspati, a physics professor at Arizona State University, and colleagues at ASU, Washington University and Nagoya University, think they have found a clue to this mystery.

They say that a signal in NASA's Fermi Gamma ray Space Telescope data suggests an overwhelming production of matter in the early universe. They detailed their findings in a paper published May 14 in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.
Finding the signal wasn’t an accident.

In 2001, Vachaspati had predicted that the genesis of matter in the very early universe would also generate a `left-handed’ screw-like magnetic field everywhere in space.

“The surprising connection between matter-antimatter asymmetry and left-handed magnetic fields arises from a detailed theoretical study of how particles interact a billionth of a second after the big bang,” he explained.

Later, Vachaspati and his postdoctoral fellow, Hiroyuki Tashiro, showed that the screw-like magnetic field would imprint a spiral pattern in gamma rays emitted from distant supermassive black holes as they propagate through intergalactic space to Earth.

Describing his recent paper with Francesc Ferrer and Wenlei Chen at Washington University, and ASU Cosmology Initiative postdoctoral fellows, Borun Chowdhury and Hiroyuki Tashiro, Vachaspati said:

“We decided to finally test these theoretical ideas with real data, not expecting to see anything. We were blown away when we observed the predicted spiral pattern in gamma ray data taken by the Fermi Telescope. It is breathtaking that our theoretical ideas might actually have played out in the very early universe, and that we are now beginning to see the effects.”

Caption: An artist’s impression of the Fermi Gamma ray Space Telescope (FGST) in orbit. Credit: NASA.

Written by Nikki Cassis



Extreme environments can be found on Earth, in space, and in the depths of the ocean. Dr. Biology and biologist, astronaut, and mountain climber Scott Parazynski sit down and talk about what life is like to explore these environments. Just what are they teaching us about our bodies and how might they hold up on long voyages in space?

Listen to the podcast at:

Read accompanying story at:

Image by the Hubble Heritage Team.