jeudi 23 mai 2019

ATLAS surveys new supersymmetry territory

CERN - European Organization for Nuclear Research logo.

23 May, 2019

New studies from the ATLAS collaboration search for hypothetical “supersymmetric” particles around uncharted corners 

The ATLAS detector (Image: CERN)

Experiments have confirmed the Standard Model of particle physics time and again. But the model is incomplete. Among other features, it cannot explain dark matter, or the small mass of the Higgs boson or why the forces acting between particles do not unify at high energies. Give each particle a “superpartner”, however, and these three problems could disappear. If such superpartners, which are predicted by an extension of the Standard Model called supersymmetry, exist and are not too weighty, then they could turn up in data from proton collisions collected by experiments at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC).

At the Large Hadron Collider Physics (LHCP) conference, taking place this week in Puebla, Mexico, the ATLAS collaboration reported new searches for three such superpartners around uncharted regions of particle masses.

The Standard Model classifies particles as either fermions or bosons depending on a property known as spin, which can be thought of as the rotation of a system around its axis. The fermions, which make up matter, all have half of a unit of spin. The bosons, which carry forces, have 0, 1 or 2 units of spin.

Supersymmetry predicts that each fermion or boson in the Standard Model has a superpartner with a spin that differs by half of a unit. That is, bosons are accompanied by superpartner fermions and vice versa. So, for example, an electron has a superpartner called selectron and a Higgs boson has a superpartner called a Higgsino; superpartners of bosons get the suffix “ino” and those of fermions get the prefix “s”.

In its latest supersymmetry studies, the ATLAS collaboration has sifted through the entire proton–proton collision data collected by the experiment during the LHC’s second run, which took place between 2015 and 2018, to look for signs of staus and higgsinos; staus are the superpartners of heavier versions of the electron called taus. Such superpartners are expected to be produced in very little amounts at the LHC and to be unstable, so the ATLAS team searched for them by tracking particles into which they can transform, or “decay”.

In the search for staus, ATLAS looked for pairs of staus each decaying into a tau and a hypothetical “lightest supersymmetric particle”, which would be invisible and a possible candidate for dark matter. Each tau further decays into composite particles called hadrons and an invisible neutrino. The invisible particles are detected by identifying missing momentum in the collisions: if the combined momentum of the particles that are produced in a proton–proton collision does not match the momentum of the two protons in the direction perpendicular to the axis of the proton beams, it is deduced that an invisible particle carried away the missing momentum.

Large Hadron Collider (LHC). Animation Credit: CERN

The collaboration explored an unprecedented range of possible masses for the stau, but did not see any signs of this superpartner in the data. However, it was able to place the tightest limits yet on the stau mass.

Meanwhile, the higgsinos search focused on higgsinos transforming into pairs of electrons or muons with very low momenta; like the taus, muons are also heavier versions of the electron. Such low-momenta particles are very hard to catch, but the collaboration was able to expand this search to the lowest-yet measured muon momenta for ATLAS. Just like for the staus search, this search did not reveal any signs of higgsinos, but the results led to stronger limits on their mass than those previously obtained by ATLAS and by the LHC’s predecessor the Large Electron–Positron collider.

For more information about these studies and the mass limits obtained, see the ATLAS website:


CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, is one of the world’s largest and most respected centres for scientific research. Its business is fundamental physics, finding out what the Universe is made of and how it works. At CERN, the world’s largest and most complex scientific instruments are used to study the basic constituents of matter — the fundamental particles. By studying what happens when these particles collide, physicists learn about the laws of Nature.

The instruments used at CERN are particle accelerators and detectors. Accelerators boost beams of particles to high energies before they are made to collide with each other or with stationary targets. Detectors observe and record the results of these collisions.

Founded in 1954, the CERN Laboratory sits astride the Franco–Swiss border near Geneva. It was one of Europe’s first joint ventures and now has 23 Member States.

Related links:

Standard Model:

Dark matter:

Higgs boson:


Large Hadron Collider (LHC):

Large Hadron Collider Physics (LHCP):

Large Electron–Positron collider:

For more information about European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), Visit:

Image (mentioned), Animation (mentioned), Text, Credits: CERN/Ana Lopes.

Best regards,

DNA, Physics and Robotics Pack Station Research Schedule Today

ISS - Expedition 59 Mission patch.

May 23, 2019

The Expedition 59 astronauts focused on DNA editing, high-end physics and free-flying robotics aboard the International Space Station today. Two cosmonauts are also ramping up their preparations for next week’s spacewalk.

A docked Russian cargo craft fired its thrusters for 20 minutes today increasing the station’s altitude by about 2.5 miles. The orbital reboost places the station in the correct trajectory for the undocking and landing of three Expedition 59 crewmembers June 24.

Image above: NASA astronaut Nick Hague of Expedition 59 sequences DNA samples for a study exploring how increased exposure to space radiation impacts crew health. Image Credit: NASA.

The wide range of advanced space research taking place every day on the orbiting lab benefits humans on Earth and in space. Scientists use the results to treat terrestrial ailments and the negative impacts of microgravity more effectively. Engineers also take the data to improve industrial and commercial processes and design safer, more advanced spacecraft and habitats as NASA prepares to go to the Moon in 2024.

NASA astronaut Nick Hague is researching how space radiation damages DNA today using the CRISPR genome-editing tool. The Genes in Space-6 study also uses DNA extraction and sequencing tools to observe how the damaged DNA repairs itself in space. Results may advance the development of treatments for radiation exposure hazards in harsh environments.

Space manufacturing eliminates the detrimental effect of Earth’s gravity and may provide superior results than on the ground. Flight Engineer Christina Koch of NASA set up hardware in the Microgravity Science Glovebox to explore the production of high-quality optical fibers on the station. The study seeks to create a high commercial value product benefitting both Earth and space industries.

International Space Station (ISS). Image Credit: NASA

The Astrobee robotic assistant is being checked out today by Canadian Space Agency astronaut David Saint-Jacques. He set up the cube-shaped robotic free flyer to map the inside the of Kibo laboratory module and spun it rapidly afterward calibrating its navigation camera. Astrobee is being tested for its ability to perform routine maintenance duties and provide additional lab monitoring capabilities.

Two cosmonauts are ensuring their physical readiness and outfitting a pair of Russian Orlan spacesuits ahead of a May 29 spacewalk. Commander Oleg Kononenko and Flight Engineer Alexey Ovchinin each spent over an hour on an exercise bike today measuring their cardiovascular response. Flight surgeons want to make sure the spacewalkers are able to endure the several hours of intense physical exertion. The duo also installed lights and other components onto the spacesuits.

Related links:

Expedition 59:

Advanced space research:

Space radiation damages DNA:

Genes in Space-6:

Microgravity Science Glovebox:

High-quality optical fibers:

Kibo laboratory module:

Moon in 2024:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Mark Garcia.

Best regards,

NASA Awards Artemis Contract for Lunar Gateway Power, Propulsion

NASA logo.

May 23, 2019

Image above: The power and propulsion element provides a communications relay capability for NASA's Gateway, enabling it to serve as a mobile command and service module for human and robotic expeditions to the lunar surface. Image Credit: NASA.

In one of the first steps of the agency’s Artemis lunar exploration plans, NASA announced on Thursday the selection of Maxar Technologies, formerly SSL, in Westminster, Colorado, to develop and demonstrate power, propulsion and communications capabilities for NASA’s lunar Gateway.

“The power and propulsion element is the foundation of Gateway and a fine example of how partnerships with U.S. companies can help expedite NASA’s return to the Moon with the first woman and next man by 2024,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “It will be the key component upon which we will build our lunar Gateway outpost, the cornerstone of NASA’s sustainable and reusable Artemis exploration architecture on and around the Moon.”

The power and propulsion element is a high-power, 50-kilowatt solar electric propulsion spacecraft – three times more powerful than current capabilities. As a mobile command and service module, the Gateway provides a communications relay for human and robotic expeditions to the lunar surface, starting at the Moon’s South Pole.

Image above: The power and propulsion element of NASA's Gateway is a high-power, 50-kilowatt solar electric propulsion spacecraft – three times more powerful than current capabilities. Image Credit: NASA.

This firm-fixed price award includes an indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity portion and carries a maximum total value of $375 million. The contract begins with a 12-month base period of performance and is followed by a 26-month option, a 14-month option and two 12-month options.

Spacecraft design will be completed during the base period, after which the exercise of options will provide for the development, launch, and in-space flight demonstration. The flight demonstration will last as long as one year, during which the spacecraft will be fully owned and operated by Maxar. Following a successful demonstration, NASA will have the option to acquire the spacecraft for use as the first element of the Gateway. NASA is targeting launch of the power and propulsion element on a commercial rocket in late 2022.

“We’re excited to demonstrate our newest technology on the power and propulsion element. Solar electric propulsion is extremely efficient, making it perfect for the Gateway,” said Mike Barrett, power and propulsion element project manager at NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland. “This system requires much less propellant than traditional chemical systems, which will allow the Gateway to move more mass around the Moon, like a human landing system and large modules for living and working in orbit.”

Charged with returning to the Moon within five years, NASA’s lunar exploration plans are based on a two-phase approach: the first is focused on speed – landing on the Moon by 2024 – while the second will establish a sustained human presence on and around the Moon by 2028. We then will use what we learn on the Moon to prepare to send astronauts to Mars.

For more information about NASA’s Moon to Mars exploration plans, visit:

Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway:

NASA’s lunar exploration plans:

Moon to Mars:

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Karen Northon/Bettina Inclán/Gina Anderson/Glenn Research Center/Jimi Russell.


Clocks, gravity, and the limits of relativity

ESA - Columbus Space Lab patch.

23 May 2019

The International Space Station will host the most precise clocks ever to leave Earth. Accurate to a second in 300 million years the clocks will push the measurement of time to test the limits of the theory of relativity and our understanding of gravity.

Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity predicted that gravity and speed influences time, the faster you travel the more time slows down, but also the more gravity pulling on you the more time slows down.

European space laboratory Columbus where ACES will be installed

On 29 May 1919 Einstein’s theory was first put to the test when Arthur Eddington observed light “bending” around the Sun during a solar eclipse. Forty years later, the Pound-Rebka experiment first measured the redshift effect induced by gravity in a laboratory – but a century later scientists are still searching for the limits of the theory.

“The theory of relativity describes our Universe on the large scale, but on the border with the infinitesimally small scale the theory does not jibe and it remains inconsistent with quantum mechanics,” explains Luigi Cacciapuoti, ESA’s Atomic Clock Ensemble in Space (ACES) project scientist. “Today’s attempts at unifying general relativity and quantum mechanics predict violations of the Einstein’s equivalence principle.”

Negative photo of the 1919 solar eclipse

Einstein’s principle details how gravity interferes with time and space. One of its most interesting manifestations is time dilation due to gravity. This effect has been proven by comparing clocks at different altitudes such as on mountains, in valleys and in space. Clocks at higher altitude show time passes faster with respect to a clock on the Earth surface as there is less gravity from Earth the farther you are from our planet.

Flying at 400 km altitude on the Space Station, the Atomic Clock Ensemble in Space will make more precise measurements than ever before.

Internet of clocks

ACES will create an “internet of clocks”, connecting the most accurate atomic timepieces the world over and compare their timekeeping with the ones on humankind’s weightless laboratory as it flies overhead.

Comparing time down to a stability of hundreds femtoseconds – one millionth of a billionth of a second – requires techniques that push the limits of current technology. ACES has two ways for the clocks to transmit their data, a microwave link and an optical link. Both connections exchange two-way timing signals between the ground stations and the space terminal, when the timing signal heads upwards to the Space Station and when it returns down to Earth.

ACES clock

The unprecedented accuracy this setup offers brings some nice bonuses to the ACES experiment. Clocks on the ground will be compared among themselves providing local measurements of geopotential differences, helping scientists to study our planet and its gravity.

The frequencies of the laser and microwave links will help understand how light and radio waves propagate through the troposphere and ionosphere thus providing information on climate. Finally, the internet of clocks will allow scientists to distribute time and to synchronise their clocks worldwide for large-scale Earth-based experiments and for other applications that require precise timing.

Columbus module with ACES

“The next generation of atomic clocks and the link techniques that we are developing could one-day be used to observe gravitational waves themselves as ESA’s proposed LISA mission,” adds Luigi, “but right now ACES will help us test as best we can Einstein’s theory of general relativity, searching for tiny violations that, if found, might open a window to a new theory of physics that must come.”

The clocks have been tested and integrated on the ACES payload and the microwave link for ACES is undergoing tests before final integration with the full experiment. ACES will be ready for launch to the Space Station by 2020.

Related links:

European space laboratory Columbus:

Pound-Rebka experiment:

International Space Station Benefits for Humanity:

Images, Text, Credits: ESA/D. Ducros/NASA/Royal Astronomical Society/CNES.


A unique experiment to explore black holes

ESA - LISA Mission patch.

23 May 2019

What happens when two supermassive black holes collide? Combining the observing power of two future ESA missions, Athena and LISA, would allow us to study these cosmic clashes and their mysterious aftermath for the first time.

Black holes after a merger

Supermassive black holes, with masses ranging from millions to billions of Suns, sit at the core of most massive galaxies across the Universe. We don’t know exactly how these huge, enormously dense objects took shape, nor what triggers a fraction of them to start devouring the surrounding matter at extremely intense rates, radiating copiously across the electromagnetic spectrum and turning their host galaxies into ‘active galactic nuclei’.

Tackling these open questions in modern astrophysics is among the main goals of two future missions in ESA’s space science programme: Athena, the Advanced Telescope for High-ENergy Astrophysics, and LISA, the Laser Interferometer Space Antenna. Currently in the study phase, both missions are scheduled for launch in the early 2030s.

Merging black holes

“Athena and LISA are both outstanding missions set to make breakthroughs in many areas of astrophysics,” says Günther Hasinger, ESA Director of Science.

“But there is one extremely exciting experiment that we could only perform if both missions are operational at the same time for at least a few years: bringing sound to the ‘cosmic movies’ by observing the merger of supermassive black holes both in X-rays and gravitational waves.

“With this unique opportunity to perform unprecedented observations of one of the most fascinating phenomena in the cosmos, the synergy between Athena and LISA would greatly increase the scientific return from both missions, ensuring European leadership in a key, novel area of research.”

Athena will be the largest X-ray observatory ever built, investigating some of the hottest and most energetic phenomena in the cosmos with unprecedented accuracy and depth.

It is designed to answer two fundamental questions: how supermassive black holes at the centre of galaxies form and evolve, and how ‘ordinary’ matter assembles, along with the invisible dark matter, to form the wispy ‘cosmic web’ that pervades the Universe.

“Athena is going to measure several hundreds of thousands of black holes, from relatively nearby to far away, observing the X-ray emission from the million-degree-hot matter in their surroundings,” says Matteo Guainazzi, Athena study scientist at ESA.

“We are in particular interested in the most distant black holes, those that formed in the first few hundred million years of the Universe’s history, and we hope we’ll be able to finally understand how they formed.”

Meanwhile, LISA will be the first space-borne observatory of gravitational waves – fluctuations in the fabric of spacetime produced by the acceleration of cosmic objects with very strong gravity fields, like pairs of merging black holes.

Gravitational-wave astronomy, inaugurated only a few years ago, is currently limited to the high-frequency waves that can be probed by ground-based experiments like LIGO and Virgo. These experiments are sensitive to the mergers of relatively small black holes – a few times to a few tens of times more massive than the Sun. LISA will expand these studies by detecting low-frequency gravitational waves, such as the ones released when two supermassive black holes collide during a merger of galaxies.

Two merging supermassive black holes

“LISA will be the first mission of its kind, looking primarily for gravitational waves coming from supermassive black holes smashing into one another,” explains Paul McNamara, LISA study scientist at ESA.

“This is one of the most energetic phenomena we know of, releasing more energy than all the quiescent Universe does at any time. If two supermassive black holes merge anywhere in the cosmos, LISA will see it.”

The first few gravitational wave events detected by LIGO and Virgo between 2015 and 2017 all originated from pairs of stellar-mass black holes, which are known to not radiate any light upon coalescence. Then, in August 2017, gravitational waves coming from a different source – the merger of two neutron stars – were discovered.

This time, the gravitational waves were accompanied by radiation across the electromagnetic spectrum, readily observed with a multitude of telescopes on Earth and in space. By combining information from the various types of observations in an approach known as multi-messenger astronomy, scientists could delve into the details of this never-before-observed phenomenon.

With Athena and LISA together, we would be able to apply multi-messenger astronomy to supermassive black holes for the first time. Simulations predict that their mergers, unlike those of their stellar-mass counterparts, emit both gravitational waves and radiation – the latter originating in the hot, interstellar gas of the two colliding galaxies stirred by the black holes pair when they fall towards one another.

The merger of supermassive black holes

LISA will detect the gravitational waves emitted by the spiralling black holes about a month before their final coalescence, when they are still separated by a distance equivalent to several times their radii. Scientists expect that a fraction of the mergers found by LISA, especially those within distances of a few billion light years from us, will give rise to an X-ray signal that can be eventually seen by Athena.

“When LISA first detects a signal, we won’t know yet where exactly it’s coming from, because LISA is an all-sky sensor, so it works more like a microphone than a telescope,” explains Paul.

“However, as the black holes inspiral towards each other, the amplitude of their gravitational wave signal increases. This, coupled with the motion of the satellites along their orbits, will allow LISA to gradually improve the localisation of the source in the sky, up until the time when the black holes finally merge.”

A few days before the final phase of the merger, the gravitational wave data will constrain the position of the source to a patch on the sky measuring about 10 square degrees – roughly 50 times the area of the full Moon. This is still pretty large, but would allow Athena to start scanning the sky to search for an X-ray signal from this titanic clash. Simulations indicate that the two spiralling black holes modulate the motion of the surrounding gas, so it is likely that the X-ray signature will have a  frequency commensurate to that of the gravitational wave signal.

Then, just a few hours before the final coalescence of the black holes, LISA can provide a much more precise indication in the sky, roughly the size of the field of view of Athena’s Wide Field Imager (WFI), so the X-ray observatory can directly point towards the source.

“Catching the X-ray signal before the black holes become one will be very challenging, but we are pretty confident that we can make a detection during and after the merger,” explains Matteo.

“We could see the emergence of a new X-ray source, and perhaps witness the birth of an active galactic nucleus, with jets of high-energy particles being launched at close to the speed of light above and beyond the newly formed black hole.”

Negative photo of the 1919 solar eclipse

We have never observed merging supermassive black holes – we do not yet have the facilities for such observations. First, we need LISA to detect the gravitational waves and tell us where to look in the sky; then we need Athena to observe it with high precision in X-rays to see how the mighty collision affects the gas surrounding the black holes. We can use theory and simulations to predict what might happen, but we need to combine these two great missions to find out.

One hundred years ago this month, on 29 May 1919, observations of the positions of stars during a total eclipse of the Sun provided the first empirical evidence of the gravitational bending of light predicted a few years earlier by Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity.

This historic eclipse inaugurated a century of gravity experiments on Earth and in space, setting the stage for inspiring missions like Athena and LISA, and more exciting discoveries.

Notes for editors:

Athena was selected as the second large (L2) mission in ESA's Cosmic Vision programme in 2014, and LISA as the third large (L3) mission in 2017. The additional science that could be performed with both missions operating jointly is described in a 2019 white paper by the Athena-LISA synergy working group.

Athena is an ESA-led mission with important contributions from NASA and JAXA. The WFI instrument is provided by an international consortium led by the Max Planck Institute for extraterrestrial Physics in Germany, involving several ESA Member States and the US. Under the management of CNES, the X-IFU instrument is provided by an international consortium led by France, The Netherlands, and Italy, furthermore involving several ESA Member States, Japan and the US.

LISA is an ESA-led mission with important contributions from NASA. The LISA Consortium, led by the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics in Germany, involves several ESA Member States and the US.


On Earth, we deal with gravity every day. We feel it, we fight it, and – more importantly – we investigate it. Space agencies such as ESA routinely launch spacecraft against our planet’s gravity, and sometimes these spacecraft borrow the gravity of Earth or other planets to reach interesting places in the Solar System. We study the gravity field of Earth from orbit, and fly experiments on parabolic flights, sounding rockets and the International Space Station to examine a variety of systems under different gravitational conditions. On the grandest scales, our space science missions explore how gravity affects planets, stars and galaxies across the cosmos and probe how matter behaves in the strong gravitational field created by some of the Universe’s most extreme objects like black holes. Join the conversation online this week following the hashtag #GravityRules

Related links:



Athena-LISA paper:

Images, Animation, Text, Credits: ESA/Markus Bauer/Paul McNamara/Matteo Guainazzi.


mercredi 22 mai 2019

Midweek Immunology Research and Spacewalk Preps for Lab Residents

ISS - Expedition 59 Mission patch.

May 22, 2019

Immunology research has been keeping the Expedition 59 astronauts busy since the SpaceX Dragon space freighter delivered new science gear in early May. Two cosmonauts are also one week away from starting the fourth spacewalk this year at the International Space Station.

NASA astronaut Anne McClain was back inside Japan’s Kibo laboratory module today observing how the immune systems of mice, which are similar to humans, respond to the lack of gravity. She teamed up with Flight Engineers Christina Koch and David Saint-Jacques for the on-orbit research to help doctors improve astronauts’ immunity in space. The potential for advanced vaccines and therapies may also benefit Earthlings as well as future astronauts exploring the Moon and beyond.

Image above: This oblique nighttime view of Western Europe and the well-lit coasts (from left) of Spain, France and Italy was taken from the International Space Station as it orbited 256 miles above the Mediterranean Sea. Image Credit: NASA.

A variety of other space biology and human research took place today as Flight Engineer Nick Hague collected and stowed his blood and urine samples for later scientific analysis. He also worked on the Biolab hardware before stowing the Biomolecule Sequencer that sequences DNA aboard the space station. The advanced science gear is part of the Genes In Space-6 experiment researching how space radiation impacts DNA and the cell repair mechanism.

Commander Oleg Kononenko and Flight Engineer Alexey Ovchinin were back on spacesuit duty today. The Roscosmos cosmonauts transferred their Orlan spacesuits to the Pirs airlock and installed portable repressurization tanks in the Russian lab module. Next week they will review procedures and timelines for their approximately six-hour spacewalk for external maintenance scheduled for Wednesday, May 29.

International Space Station (ISS). Animation Credit: NASA

A docked Russian Progress cargo craft will fire its engines for 20 minutes raising the station’s orbit on Thursday. The reboost will place the orbiting complex in the correct trajectory for the undocking and landing of three Expedition 59 crewmembers June 24.

Related links:

Expedition 59:

SpaceX Dragon:

Kibo laboratory module:

Biomolecule Sequencer:

Biolab hardware:

Genes In Space-6:

Pirs airlock:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

Image (mentioned), Animation (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Mark Garcia.

Best regards,

NASA Invites Public to Help Asteroid Mission Choose Sample Site

NASA - OSIRIS-REx Mission patch.

May 22, 2019

Citizen scientists assemble! NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission to the asteroid Bennu needs extra pairs of eyes to help choose its sample collection site on the asteroid – and to look for anything else that might be scientifically interesting.

Image above: This image shows a view of asteroid Bennu’s surface in a region near the equator. It was taken by the PolyCam camera on NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft on March 21 from a distance of 2.2 miles (3.5 km). The field of view is 158.5 ft (48.3 m). For scale, the light-colored rock in the upper left corner of the image is 24 ft (7.4 m) wide. Image Credits: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona.

The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft has been at Bennu since Dec. 3, 2018, mapping the asteroid in detail, while the mission team searches for a sample collection site that is safe, conducive to sample collection and worthy of closer study. One of the biggest challenges of this effort, which the team discovered after arriving at the asteroid five months ago, is that Bennu has an extremely rocky surface and each boulder presents a danger to the spacecraft’s safety. To expedite the sample selection process, the team is asking citizen scientist volunteers to develop a hazard map by counting boulders.

“For the safety of the spacecraft, the mission team needs a comprehensive catalog of all the boulders near the potential sample collection sites, and I invite members of the public to assist the OSIRIS-REx mission team in accomplishing this essential task,” said Dante Lauretta, OSIRIS-REx principal investigator at the University of Arizona, Tucson.

For this effort, NASA is partnering with CosmoQuest, a project run out of the Planetary Science Institute that supports citizen science initiatives. Volunteers will perform the same tasks that planetary scientists do – measuring Bennu’s boulders and mapping its rocks and craters – through the use of a simple web interface. They will also mark other scientifically interesting features on the asteroid for further investigation.

The boulder mapping work involves a high degree of precision, but it is not difficult. The CosmoQuest mapping app requires a computer with a larger screen and a mouse or trackpad capable of making precise marks. To help volunteers get started, the CosmoQuest team provides an interactive tutorial, as well as additional user assistance through a Discord community and livestreaming sessions on Twitch.

“We are very pleased and excited to make OSIRIS-REx images available for this important citizen science endeavor,” said Rich Burns, OSIRIS-REx project manager at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. “Bennu has surprised us with an abundance of boulders. We ask for citizen scientists’ help to evaluate this rugged terrain so that we can keep our spacecraft safe during sample collection operations.”

Image above: This image shows the wide variety of boulder shapes, sizes and compositions found on asteroid Bennu. It was taken by the PolyCam camera on NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft on March 28 from a distance of 2.1 miles (3.4 km). The field of view is 162.7 ft (49.6 m). For scale, the large, light-colored boulder at the top of the image is 15.7 ft (4.8 m) tall. Image Credits: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona.

Sample return isn’t new for NASA – this year, the agency is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Apollo missions to the Moon, which allowed astronauts to bring back 842 pounds (382 kilograms) of rocks and lunar soil. Those samples helped scientists discover that the Moon has water locked in its rocks and even permanently frozen in craters. These findings and others inspired the agency to create the Artemis program to return humans to the Moon by 2024 and start preparing for human exploration on Mars.

“The OSIRIS-REx mission will continue the Apollo legacy by giving scientists precious samples of an asteroid,” said Lori Glaze, director of the Planetary Science Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “These samples will help scientists discover the secrets of planetary formation and the origins of our planet Earth.”

The Bennu mapping campaign continues through July 10, when the mission begins the sample site selection process. Once primary and secondary sites are selected, the spacecraft will begin closer reconnaissance to map the two sites to sub-centimeter resolution. The mission’s Touch-and-Go (TAG) sampling maneuver is scheduled for July 2020, and the spacecraft will return to Earth with its cargo in September 2023.

OSIRIS-REx sample operation. Image Credit: NASA

Goddard provides overall mission management, systems engineering, and the safety and mission assurance for OSIRIS-REx. Dante Lauretta of the University of Arizona, Tucson, is the principal investigator, and the University of Arizona also leads the science team and the mission’s science observation planning and data processing. Lockheed Martin Space in Denver built the spacecraft and is providing flight operations. Goddard and KinetX Aerospace are responsible for navigating the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft. OSIRIS-REx is the third mission in NASA’s New Frontiers Program, which is managed by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, for the agency’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

To volunteer as a Bennu mapper, visit:

OSIRIS-REx (Origins Spectral Interpretation Resource Identification Security Regolith Explorer):

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Tricia Talbert.

Best regards,