vendredi 15 novembre 2019

Hubble Spots a Curious Spiral

NASA - Hubble Space Telescope patch.

Nov. 15, 2019

The universe is simply so vast that it can be difficult to maintain a sense of scale. Many galaxies we see through telescopes such as the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, the source of this beautiful image, look relatively similar: spiraling arms, a glowing center, and a mixture of bright specks of star formation and dark ripples of cosmic dust weaving throughout.

This galaxy, a spiral galaxy named NGC 772, is no exception. It actually has much in common with our home galaxy, the Milky Way. Each boasts a few satellite galaxies, small galaxies that closely orbit and are gravitationally bound to their parent galaxies. One of NGC 772’s spiral arms has been distorted and disrupted by one of these satellites (NGC 770 — not visible in the image here), leaving it elongated and asymmetrical.

However, the two are also different in a few key ways. For one, NGC 772 is both a peculiar and an unbarred spiral galaxy; respectively, this means that it is somewhat odd in size, shape or composition, and that it lacks a central feature known as a bar, which we see in many galaxies throughout the cosmos — including the Milky Way. These bars are built of gas and stars, and are thought to funnel and transport material through the galactic core, possibly fueling and igniting various processes such as star formation.

Hubble Space Telescope (HST)

For more information about Hubble, visit:

Text Credits: ESA (European Space Agency)/NASA/Isabelle Yan/Image, Animation Credits: ESA/Hubble & NASA, A. Seth et al.


Space Station Science Highlights: Week of November 11, 2019

ISS - Expedition 61 Mission patch.

Nov. 15, 2019

Scientific investigations under way on the International Space Station include research on complex plasmas, controlling biofilms on spacecraft and more. On Friday, Nov. 15, ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Luca Parmitano and NASA astronaut Drew Morgan conducted the first of a series of spacewalks to extend the life of the space station’s Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS-02). The AMS captures cosmic particles and measures their electrical charge in a search for dark matter and dark energy, which make up more than 90 percent of the total mass-energy of the universe.

Image above: NASA astronaut Drew Morgan and European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Luca Parmitano conduct preparations for an extravehicular activity (EVA) to upgrade the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS) on the outside of the space station to extend its search for dark matter in the universe. Image Credit: NASA.

This month marks the beginning of the 20th year of continuous human presence aboard the space station, the only platform for long-duration research in microgravity. The orbiting laboratory makes important contributions to Artemis, NASA’s program to go forward to the Moon and on to Mars.

Here are details on some of the science conducted during the week:

Microgravity enables research on complex plasma

The Plasma Krystall-4 (PK-4) investigation is a collaboration between the ESA and the Russian Federal Space Agency (ROSCOSMOS) to research complex plasmas. These low-temperature gaseous mixtures are composed of ionized gas, neutral gas and micron-sized particles or micro-particles. PK-4 investigates how the micro-particles become highly charged and interact, leading to self-organized structures called plasma crystals. Due to the strong influence of gravity on micro-particles, experiments on complex plasmas require microgravity conditions. The crew conducted PK-4 sessions, catching particle clouds inside the chamber.

Controlling microorganisms on spacecraft surfaces

International Space Station (ISS). Animation Credit: NASA

Biofilms are collections of one or more types of microorganisms – including bacteria, fungi and protists – that grow on wet surfaces. In spacecraft, biofilm formation can cause equipment malfunction and human illness and it could pose a serious problem on future long-term human space missions. The crew conducted operations for the Space Biofilms investigation, which characterizes the mass, thickness, structure, and associated gene expression of biofilms that form in space. The research includes analyzing different microbial species grown on a variety of materials, the role of the material surface on formation of biofilms, and testing of a novel surface containing a lubricant.

Toward printing human organs in space

Operations continued for the BioFabrication Facility (BFF). Biological printing of the tiny, complex structures found inside human organs, such as capillaries, is difficult in Earth’s gravity. Using the BFF to test the printing of human organs and tissues in microgravity is a first step toward a long-term plan to manufacture entire human organs in space using refined biological 3D printing techniques. The facility also may help maintain the health of crews on deep space exploration missions by producing food and personalized pharmaceuticals on demand.

Mapping neutron radiation exposure

Image above: Bubble detectors for Radi-N2, an investigation by the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) to characterize the neutron radiation environment on the space station. Astronauts absorb larger doses of neutron radiation than expected, and mapping exposure across the space station could help reveal sources of this exposure. Image Credit: NASA.

The crew deployed detectors for Radi-N2, an investigation by the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) to characterize the neutron radiation environment on the space station. Neutrons are nuclear "splinters" produced when cosmic rays strike the atoms of a spacecraft or the human body. Results are expected to help define the risk posed to the health of crew members and provide data to support development of advanced protective measures for future spaceflight. Radi-N2 repeats the measurements of Radi-N1, increasing the statistical accuracy of neutron measurements and allowing comparison of neutron fields at different periods of the solar cycle.

Other investigations on which the crew performed work:

- ACE-T-5 examines the physical and chemical characteristics of a new class of soft materials, bijels, which have a unique structure of two liquid phases separated by a layer of small particles or colloids. Bijels have significant potential for design and synthesis of composite materials.

- Rodent Research-14 uses mice to examine the effects of disruptions to the body’s circatidal rhythm or sleep/wake cycle in microgravity on a cellular and key organ level. This 12-hour body clock is an important mechanism controlling stress-responsive pathways.

Animation above: NASA astronaut Jessica Meir harvests leaves from Mizuna mustard greens for analysis and consumption during the Veg-04 experiment, part of a phased research project to address the need for fresh food production in space. Animation Credit: NASA.

- Veg-04B, part of a phased research project to address the need for fresh food production in space, focuses on the effects of light quality and fertilizer on a leafy crop, Mizuna mustard greens.

- NutrISS assesses the body composition of crew members during spaceflight using a device that measures long-term energy balance modification over time. Adjusting diet to maintain a near-neutral energy balance and/or increasing protein intake may limit microgravity-induced bone and muscle loss.

- Ring Sheared Drop examines formation of amyloid fibrils in microgravity. Abnormal fibrous deposits found in organs and tissues, amyloid fibrils are associated with neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease.

- Vascular Echo examines changes in blood vessels and hearts of crew members in space and their recovery upon return to Earth. Some returning crew members have much stiffer arteries after space flight.

- Standard Measures captures a consistent set of measurements from crew members to characterize how their bodies adapt to living in space.

- Food Acceptability examines changes in the appeal of food aboard the space station during long-duration missions. “Menu fatigue” from repeatedly consuming a limited choice of foods may contribute to the loss of body mass often experienced by crew members, potentially affecting astronaut health, especially as mission length increases.

Related links:

Expedition 61:

Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS-02):


Plasma Krystall-4 (PK-4):

Space Biofilms:

BioFabrication Facility (BFF):



Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

Animations (mentioned), Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Michael Johnson/John Love, Lead Increment Scientist Expedition 61.

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New NASA Study Reveals Origin of Organic Matter in Apollo Lunar Samples

NASA - Apollo 12 Mission patch.

November 15, 2019

A team of NASA-funded scientists has solved an enduring mystery from the Apollo missions to the moon – the origin of organic matter found in lunar samples returned to Earth. Samples of the lunar soil brought back by the Apollo astronauts contain low levels of organic matter in the form of amino acids. Certain amino acids are the building blocks of proteins, essential molecules used by life to build structures like hair and skin and to regulate chemical reactions.

Image above: Astronaut Alan L. Bean, Lunar Module pilot for the Apollo 12 lunar landing mission, holds a container filled with lunar soil collected while exploring the lunar surface. Astronaut Charles "Pete" Conrad Jr., commander, who took this picture, is reflected in the helmet visor. Image Credit: NASA.

Since the lunar surface is completely inhospitable for known forms of life, scientists don't think the organic matter came from life on the moon. Instead, they think the amino acids could have come from four possible sources. First, since traces of life are everywhere on Earth, the amino acids could be simply contamination from terrestrial sources, either from material brought to the moon by the missions, or from contamination introduced while the samples were being handled back on Earth.

Second, rocket exhaust from the lunar modules contains precursor molecules used to build amino acids (such as hydrogen cyanide or HCN). This contamination could produce amino acids during lunar sample analysis in the lab.

Third, the solar wind – a thin stream of electrically conducting gas continuously blown off the surface of the Sun -- contains the elements used to make amino acids, such as hydrogen, carbon, and nitrogen. Just like contamination from lunar module exhaust, material from the solar wind could produce amino acids during sample workup.

Fourth, chemical reactions inside asteroids make amino acids. Fragments from asteroid collisions occasionally fall to Earth as meteorites, bringing their extraterrestrial amino acids with them. The lunar surface is frequently bombarded by meteorites and could have amino acids from asteroids as well.

"People knew amino acids were in the lunar samples, but they didn't know where they came from," said Jamie Elsila of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. "The scientists in the 1970s knew the right questions to ask and they tried pretty hard to answer them, but they were limited by the analytical capabilities of the time. We have the technology now, and we've determined that most of the amino acids came from terrestrial contamination, with perhaps a small contribution from meteorite impacts." Elsila is lead author of a paper on this research appearing online in Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta Oct. 28.

The team analyzed seven samples taken during the Apollo missions and stored in a NASA curation facility since return to Earth, and found amino acids in all of them at very low concentrations (105 to 1,910 parts-per-billion). One of the key new capabilities of the Goddard Astrobiology Analytical Laboratory was instrumentation with high enough sensitivity to determine the isotopic composition of an amino acid molecule, according to Elsila. This capability enabled the team to say terrestrial contamination was the primary source of the lunar amino acids.

Image above: Astronaut Alan L. Bean is photographed hammering a double core tube (collecting samples) near Halo Crater during the second Extravehicular Activity EVA 2 of the Apollo 12 mission. Image Credits: NASA/Apollo 12.

Isotopes are versions of an element; for example, Carbon-13 has an extra neutron and is a more massive version of the common Carbon-12. Life prefers to use the lighter Carbon-12, which reacts a bit more readily, so amino acid molecules from terrestrial life will have less Carbon-13 compared to amino acids produced by non-biological reactions in asteroids. This is what the team found in one of the lunar samples that was abundant enough for isotopic analysis. The isotopic composition of the amino acids (glycine, β-alanine, and L-alanine) had less Carbon-13 and more closely resembled that from terrestrial sources than that from meteorites.

Isotopic composition also helped rule out the solar wind as the source, since the solar wind has far less Carbon-13 than what was found in the sample.

Also, if the solar wind were responsible for the amino acids, then samples taken from near the lunar surface, which had the highest exposure to the solar wind, should have a greater abundance of amino acids than samples taken from deeper beneath the surface. This is the opposite of what was found – the deepest samples, which were the most sheltered from the solar wind, produced the most amino acids.

A similar result on amino acid abundances helped rule out the lunar module exhaust as a source. If contamination from the exhaust produced the amino acids, then a sample taken from right under the Apollo 17 lunar module should have more amino acids than a sample taken far away. However, the team found that a sample taken from 6.5 kilometers (four miles) away had similar amino acid abundances to the one taken beneath the module.

The ability to determine the orientation of an amino acid molecule was another significant new capability of the Goddard lab that enabled them to discover the origin of the lunar amino acids, according to Elsila. Amino acid molecules can be built in two versions – left and right -- that are mirror images of each other, like your hands. Terrestrial life uses the left-handed versions, while non-biological chemistry produces the left-handed and right-handed varieties in equal amounts. In the samples, the team found that the left-handed versions were far more common than right-handed ones for several types of amino acids used to make proteins. Since life uses the left-handed versions, this suggests terrestrial life as the source of these amino acids.

Although most of the amino acids likely came from Earth, the team can't rule out a contribution from meteorites because they found some amino acids that are extremely rare in terrestrial biology but common in meteorites (for example, Alpha-aminoisobutyric acid or AIB). This discovery suggests meteorites may make a small contribution to the amino acids found on the lunar surface, according to Elsila.

The research has important implications for future missions that are looking for extraterrestrial organic matter that may be present, but in very small (trace) amounts. "This work highlights the fact that even with thoughtful and careful contamination control efforts, trace organics in extraterrestrial samples can be overwhelmed by terrestrial sources," said Elsila. "Future missions emphasizing organic analysis must consider not only contamination control but also include 'witness samples' that record the environment and potential contamination as the mission is built and launched to understand the unavoidable contamination background."

This is a lesson taken to heart by NASA's OSIRIS-REx mission, which launches in 2016 to return pristine samples of asteroid Bennu in 2023.

The Apollo samples were taken in the late 1960's and early 1970's, and highlight the lasting value of sample return missions. "These samples were collected before I was born, and the techniques used in our study were not yet invented when the samples were collected; curation of the samples for future work allowed us to identify the origins of the amino acids detected in the samples, a question that the original investigators were unable to resolve," said Elsila.

The research was supported by NASA's Lunar Advanced Science and Exploration Research (LASER) Program, as well as the NASA Astrobiology Institute, administered by NASA's Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California, and the Goddard Center for Astrobiology. The team includes researchers from NASA's Johnson Space Center, Houston and Goddard.

Related articles:

50 Years Ago: Return to the Moon

NASA Opens Previously Unopened Apollo Sample Ahead of Artemis Missions

Related links:

Apollo 12:

Apollo missions:

Goddard Astrobiology Analytical Laboratory:

NASA Astrobiology Institute:

Earth's Moon:

OSIRIS-REx mission:

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Bill Steigerwald.


Spacewalkers Complete First Excursion to Repair Cosmic Particle Detector

ISS - Expedition 61 Mission patch / EVA - Extra Vehicular Activities patch.

November 15, 2019

Expedition 61 Commander Luca Parmitano of ESA (European Space Agency) and NASA Flight Engineer Andrew Morgan concluded their spacewalk at 1:18 p.m. EST. During the six hour and 39 minute spacewalk, the two astronauts successfully positioned materials, removed a debris cover on the AMS, and installed handrails in preparation for the subsequent spacewalks.

The duo also completed a number of get-ahead tasks originally planned for the second spacewalk, including the removal of the vertical support beam cover for the area that houses the eight stainless steel tubes that will be cut and spliced together on the upcoming spacewalks.

Image above: Luca Parmitano of ESA (European Space Agency) attached to the Canadarm during the first Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer repair spacewalk on Nov. 15, 2019. Image Credit: NASA TV.

Today’s work clears the way for Parmitano and Morgan’s next spacewalk in the repair series Friday Nov. 22. The main focus of the second spacewalk will be the access, cut, and label the stainless steel tubes that attach the current cooling system to the AMS. The plan is to bypass the old thermal control system, attach a new one off the side of AMS during the third spacewalk, and then conduct leak checks.

Image above: Luca Parmitano of ESA on Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer repair spacewalk and NASA astronaut Andrew Morgan working on truss structure. Image Credit: NASA TV.

In addition to the overall complexity of the instrument, astronauts have never before cut and reconnected fluid lines, like those that are part of the AMS thermal control system, during a spacewalk. To cut the cooling lines and complete other tasks in this series of spacewalks, scientists, engineers and astronauts on Earth have gone through several iterations of designing, prototyping, experimenting and validating many specialized tools in preparation for the complex work in space.

Image above: NASA astronaut Andrew Morgan and ESA (European Space Agency) Commander Luca Parmitano work inside the Quest airlock to prepare for their space walk to upgrade the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer’s (AMS) thermal control system. Image Credit: NASA.

Space station crew members have conducted 222 spacewalks in support of assembly and maintenance of the orbiting laboratory. Spacewalkers have now spent a total of 58 days 3 hours and 8 minutes working outside the station. Parmitano has now conducted three spacewalks in his career and Morgan has now logged four spacewalks since his arrival on the station in July.

Related links:

Expedition 61:

Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS):

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

Best regards,

jeudi 14 novembre 2019

NASA Finds Neptune Moons Locked in ‘Dance of Avoidance’

NASA - Hubble Space Telescope patch.

Nov. 14, 2019

Animation above: Neptune Moon Dance: This animation illustrates how the odd orbits of Neptune's inner moons Naiad and Thalassa enable them to avoid each other as they race around the planet. Animation Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

Even by the wild standards of the outer solar system, the strange orbits that carry Neptune's two innermost moons are unprecedented, according to newly published research.

Orbital dynamics experts are calling it a "dance of avoidance" performed by the tiny moons Naiad and Thalassa. The two are true partners, orbiting only about 1,150 miles (1,850 kilometers) apart. But they never get that close to each other; Naiad's orbit is tilted and perfectly timed. Every time it passes the slower-moving Thalassa, the two are about 2,200 miles (3,540 kilometers) apart.

Neptune Moon Dance (animation)

Video above: An observer sitting on Thalassa would see Naiad in an orbit that varies wildly in a zigzag pattern, passing by twice from above and then twice from below. Video Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

In this perpetual choreography, Naiad swirls around the ice giant every seven hours, while Thalassa, on the outside track, takes seven and a half hours. An observer sitting on Thalassa would see Naiad in an orbit that varies wildly in a zigzag pattern, passing by twice from above and then twice from below. This up, up, down, down pattern repeats every time Naiad gains four laps on Thalassa.

Although the dance may appear odd, it keeps the orbits stable, researchers said.

"We refer to this repeating pattern as a resonance," said Marina Brozović, an expert in solar system dynamics at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, and the lead author of the new paper, which was published Nov. 13 in Icarus. "There are many different types of 'dances' that planets, moons and asteroids can follow, but this one has never been seen before."

Image above: Neptune seen by Hubble Space Telescope. Image Credits: NASA, ESA, and M.H. Wong and A.I. Hsu (UC Berkeley).

Far from the pull of the Sun, the giant planets of the outer solar system are the dominant sources of gravity, and collectively, they boast dozens upon dozens of moons. Some of those moons formed alongside their planets and never went anywhere; others were captured later, then locked into orbits dictated by their planets. Some orbit in the opposite direction their planets rotate; others swap orbits with each other as if to avoid collision.

Neptune has 14 confirmed moons. Neso, the farthest-flung of them, orbits in a wildly elliptical loop that carries it nearly 46 million miles (74 million kilometers) away from the planet and takes 27 years to complete.

Naiad and Thalassa are small and shaped like Tic Tacs, spanning only about 60 miles (100 kilometers) in length. They are two of Neptune's seven inner moons, part of a closely packed system that is interwoven with faint rings.

So how did they end up together — but apart? It's thought that the original satellite system was disrupted when Neptune captured its giant moon, Triton, and that these inner moons and rings formed from the leftover debris.

Hubble Space Telescope (HST). Image Credits: NASA/STS-109

"We suspect that Naiad was kicked into its tilted orbit by an earlier interaction with one of Neptune's other inner moons," Brozović said. "Only later, after its orbital tilt was established, could Naiad settle into this unusual resonance with Thalassa."

Brozović and her colleagues discovered the unusual orbital pattern using analysis of observations by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope. The work also provides the first hint about the internal composition of Neptune's inner moons. Researchers used the observations to compute their mass and, thus, their densities — which were close to that of water ice.

"We are always excited to find these co-dependencies between moons," said Mark Showalter, a planetary astronomer at the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California, and a co-author of the new paper. "Naiad and Thalassa have probably been locked together in this configuration for a very long time, because it makes their orbits more stable. They maintain the peace by never getting too close."

The research is available to read and download here:

The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between NASA and ESA (European Space Agency). NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, manages the telescope. The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore, Maryland, conducts Hubble science operations. STScI is operated for NASA by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy in Washington.

More information about Neptune's moons can be found here:

For more information about Hubble, visit:

Images (mentioned), Animation (mentioned), Video (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Randal Jackson/Alana Johnson/JPL/Gretchen McCartney.


Final Spacewalk Preps During Biology, Physics Studies

ISS - Expedition 61 Mission patch.

November 14, 2019

The Expedition 61 crew is about to kick off a series of complex spacewalks on Friday to repair the International Space Station’s cosmic particle detector. They will have one more spacewalk review today while continuing advanced biology research.

Spacewalkers Luca Parmitano and Andrew Morgan readied the Quest airlock, their U.S. spacesuits and tools for Friday’s excursion set to begin at 7:05 a.m. EST. The duo then joined Flight Engineers Jessica Meir and Christina Koch for a final procedures review. All four astronauts called down to Mission Control to discuss their readiness with spacewalk experts on the ground. Live NASA TV coverage begins at 5:30 a.m.

Image above: The six-member Expedition 61 crew, wearing t-shirts printed with their crew insignia, gathers for a playful portrait inside the International Space Station’s Zvezda service module. From left are, Flight Engineers Andrew Morgan, Oleg Skripochka, Jessica Meir, Christina Koch and Alexander Skvortsov and Commander Luca Parmitano. Image Credit: NASA.

Meir and Koch spent the rest of Thursday on space research and lab upkeep. Meir conducted a test run of a 3-D bioprinter before the device will manufacture complex human organ tissue shapes. Koch measured airflow in the station then serviced microbe samples to extract and sequence their DNA.

Cosmonauts Alexander Skvortsov and Oleg Skripochka focused on their complement of science and maintenance in the station’s Russian segment. Skvortsov updated cargo inventory and explored plasma physics for insights into advanced spacecraft designs. Skripochka collected radiation readings and studied how a crew adapts to piloting in space.

Related links:

Expedition 61:


3-D bioprinter:

Sequence astronaut DNA:

Plasma physics:

Piloting in space:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

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Science Around the Planet Uses Images of Earth from the Space Station

ISS - International Space Station logo.

Nov. 14, 2019

Artificial lighting at night affects the behavior of urban wildlife, according to a recent study published in Nature Scientific Reports, which examined animals in the laboratory and the field. The researchers mapped light levels in the city of Chicago using publicly available images of Earth taken by astronauts from the International Space Station.

The study is only one example of the wide variety of scientific research based on images taken by crew members from space using the Crew Earth Observations (CEO) facility. Other recent research used these images to show that urban green areas, which contribute to human well-being, are rarely in close proximity to where people live. Another study relied on CEO images to create population maps, an important tool for urban planning, resource allocation and disaster prevention and response.

Image above: An image of the city of Chicago at night taken by crew aboard the International Space Station. Scientists have used images such as this one in studies demonstrating the effects of artificial light on urban wildlife and research on the proximity of urban greenspaces to residential areas. Image Credits: Earth Science and Remote Sensing Unit, NASA Johnson Space Center.

“Astronaut photography from the space station provides regional and global perspectives of land surfaces and what is changing on those land surfaces,” said William Stefanov, manager of NASA’s Exploration Science Office at Johnson Space Center and principal investigator for CEO. “The images allow a look at a much broader area, and those regional processes and relationships often become much more obvious when seen from that perspective. It allows you to see the whole picture beyond the fine view you have on the ground.”

Most orbiting satellites collect data at the same place and about the same time of day for set intervals of time. The space station’s inclined equatorial orbit takes its cameras over different parts of the planet at different times, and the station revisits sites at variable intervals, making it possible to collect images from many areas at varying times of day and night.

“That opens up possibilities to investigate a lot of processes,” said Stefanov. “Researchers can compare areas to each other and see changes on a broader scale that you might not notice on a smaller spatial scale and fixed time interval. Things such as how urban lighting patterns change over time, or tracking the recovery of power following a major storm, as represented by lighting.”

Image above: This image from the Gateway to Astronaut Photography of Earth collection shows the eye of 2018’s Hurricane Michael. Such images contribute to preparation and planning for disaster response efforts. Image Credits: Earth Science and Remote Sensing Unit, NASA Johnson Space Center.

CEO images currently support a number of urban night lighting studies, glacier and volcano monitoring, and studies of atmospheric processes such as the frequency of lightning flashes. The images also are used in ecological studies, including a collaborative project called Aviation Migration Aerial Surface Space (AMASS), which tracks bird migration routes and the effects of changes occurring along those routes.

Astronaut photography also supports NASA Disaster Response, a program that works with a number of NASA centers to collect data before, during and following a disaster. “The CEO facility is still the workhorse for data collection on the space station for responding to disasters,” Stefanov said. “Images can show the structure of hurricanes and tropical storms before landfall, and post-storm images of affected areas reveal the extent of flooding and damage.” For wildfires, the images can identify smoke plume location and extent.

In addition, NASA delivers imagery to the US Geological Survey’s Hazards Data Distribution System, which provides access to remotely sensed imagery and other data as they become available during a disaster response. Internally, images support NASA astronaut candidate training.

Apart from supporting scientific research, images from the space station often show up in movies, YouTube productions, and advertising, and contribute to educational uses, including school science projects.

Image above: This image of the Tibetan Plateau showing Gozha Lake and mountain glaciers, taken from the International Space Station, demonstrates how astronaut photographs provide recognizable images. That makes them accessible for a wide range of applications without users needing remote sensing expertise. Image Credits: Earth Science and Remote Sensing Unit, NASA Johnson Space Center.

One advantage of the photographs, taken with handheld digital cameras, is their similarity to those people might take out an airplane window, Stefanov points out. “You can look at an image and pretty much grasp what you are seeing without an explanation, as opposed to, say, a false-color hyperspectral image. You don’t need to be a remote sensing expert to understand the data. That’s very powerful, particularly on the education side.”

CEO imagery is free to the public. Users can access the database at any time at Gateway to Astronaut Photography of Earth. A query page offers several ways to investigate existing data, and researchers and educators can request new imagery as well.

International Space Station (ISS). Animation Credit: NASA

NASA’s Earth Science and Remote Sensing Unit (ESRS) at Johnson Space Center works to enhance the scientific usefulness of astronaut photography from the space station, adding geo-referencing to disaster response images to help users incorporate data into response activities, for example. NASA is also developing machine-learning applications to classify features in the images automatically.

The agency has collected photographs of Earth from space since the early Mercury missions beginning in 1961, Stefanov adds. “This is a pretty incredible data set.”

Related links:

Crew Earth Observations (CEO):

Aviation Migration Aerial Surface Space (AMASS):

NASA Disaster Response:

Hazards Data Distribution System:

Gateway to Astronaut Photography of Earth:

Earth Science and Remote Sensing Unit (ESRS):

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

Images (mentioned), Animation (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Michael Johnson/JSC/International Space Station Program Science Office/Melissa Gaskill.

Best regards,