Aeronautics and Space Report of the President FY 1995 Activities

Executive Summary

National Science Foundation (NSF)

Researchers who were supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and who used NSF-sponsored facilities made a number of advances in astronomy and space physics during FY 1995. Observations from the Very Long Baseline Array provided observational proof of the existence of a black hole in the center of the galaxy NGC 4258. Scientists using observations from the Kitt Peak National Observatory analyzed the shape and age of the Galactic Halo (an enigmatic distribution of older stars that appears key to understanding the formation of our galaxy), concluding that the formation of the Milky Way may have been the product of both the collapse of a protogalaxy and the capture and shredding of neighboring dwarf galaxies. Observations from the Cerro-Tololo Inter-American Observatory provided for an improved understanding of the origins of the Magellanic Stream (a large filament of neutral hydrogen gas from the Milky Way's radio emission that originates at the Small Magellanic Cloud, a Milky Way satellite dwarf galaxy, and extends almost one-third of the way around the sky). Researchers at the National Solar Observatory's Vacuum Tower Telescope used a new observational technique that produced special time-series images to analyze the transport of energy along the margins of hot bubbles of gas that rise as convective cells to the Sun's surface.

The enhancement of Antarctic facilities also fostered astronomy and space physics research. Wintertime astrophysical observations made by the South Pole InfraRed Explorer telescope indicated that the sky at the South Pole is much darker than at any other site previously surveyed. An additional Automatic Geophysical Observatory was deployed during FY 1995. NASA and NSF continued their joint program of long-duration ballooning in Antarctica, with payloads taking measurements to study the composition of heavy cosmic particles and the presence of high-energy gamma rays.

Upper atmospheric research supported by NSF during FY 1995 included a set of coordinated campaigns that used lidar, radar, and all-sky optical imagery to obtain signatures of "breaking" gravity waves at mesopause altitudes. A Magnetospheric Specification and Forecast Model that provides short-term forecasts of particle fluxes associated with geomagnetic activity was refined, and a campaign mounted near the magnetic equator in South America contributed critical information about the physical processes that control the onset of equatorial scintillations.

NSF also supported the April 3, 1995, launch and operation as well as a proof-of-concept GPS-Metereological (GPS-MET) experiment of the low-orbit Microlab 1 satellite, which receives signals from the constellation of GPS satellites. Initial interpretation of measurements taken by GPS-MET instruments when compared with conventional measurements indicated that temperature profiles between 5 and 40 kilometers are excellent. NSF scientists planned to make further refinements to improve the reliability of temperature measurements at other altitudes and the measurement of water vapor.

In the area of technology transfer, NSF-sponsored scientists formed a collaboration with cancer researchers to adapt astronomical computer software for use in detecting breast cancer in mammograms. Positive results from initial work on this project heightened prospects that the products of astronomical research can be adapted for other life-saving medical purposes.

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Curator: Lillian Gipson
Last Updated: September 5, 1996
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