mardi 19 juin 2018

Crew Packs Up on Science and Cleans Up After Spacewalk

ISS - Expedition 56 Mission patch.

June 19, 2018

The Expedition 56 crew‘s schedule is full of space science today as cleanup continues after last week’s spacewalk. The International Space Station’s three newest crew members also brushed up on their safety skills.

Image above: NASA astronaut Drew Feustel is pictured tethered to the International Space Station just outside of the Quest airlock during a spacewalk he conducted with fellow NASA astronaut Ricky Arnold (out of frame) on June 14, 2018. Image Credit: NASA.

Biology and physics were just part of the microgravity research taking place aboard the orbital laboratory today. NASA astronaut Serena Auñón-Chancellor started her day collecting blood and urine samples for a trio of ongoing human research studies. She then joined European Space Agency astronaut Alexander Gerst for the Myotone study observing how long-term space missions impact the biochemical properties of muscles. Gerst also researched ways to simplify and speed up procedures for astronauts for the Everywear experiment.

Auñón-Chancellor, Gerst and cosmonaut Sergey Prokopyev also gathered midday to review the location of safety gear throughout the space station. The trio also practiced emergency communication in the station’s Russian segment.

NASA astronaut Ricky Arnold spent the day cleaning soot created in a burner during a run of the Advanced Combustion Microgravity Experiment. That study is exploring ways to improve fuel efficiency, reduce pollution and prevent fires in space. Cosmonauts Oleg Artemyev and Prokopyev explored how living in microgravity affects their daily exercise regimen.

Image above: Sunrise over South Indonesia, seen by EarthCam on ISS, speed: 27'598 Km/h, altitude: 408,97 Km, image captured by Roland Berga (on Earth in Switzerland) from International Space Station (ISS) using ISS-HD Live application with EarthCam's from ISS on June 19, 2018 at 21:34 UTC. Image Credits: Aerospace/Roland Berga.

Commander Drew Feustel worked in the Quest airlock today continuing cleanup activities after Thursday’s six-hour, 49-minute spacewalk. Feustel scrubbed the U.S. spacesuit water loops then tested water samples for conductivity before wrapping up his day.

Related article:

Spacewalkers Complete HD Camera Installation Work

Related links:

Expedition 56:


Advanced Combustion Microgravity Experiment:

Daily exercise regimen:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

Best regards,

Sentinel-3 flies tandem

ESA - Sentinel-3 Mission logo.

19 June 2018

The key to monitoring Earth’s changing environment and to guaranteeing a consistent stream of satellite data to improve our daily lives is to take the same measurements over the course of decades. But how do you know that measurements from successive satellites, even though identical in build, are like for like?

The answer, for the Copernicus Sentinel-3 mission, is to engage in some nifty orbital flying.

Tandem in images

Sentinel-3 is a two-satellite mission to supply the coverage and data delivery needed for Europe’s Copernicus environmental monitoring programme.

Launched in 2016, Sentinel-3A has been measuring our oceans, land, ice and atmosphere to monitor and understand large-scale global dynamics and to provide critical information for marine operations, and more.

Its twin, Sentinel-3B, was launched in April 2018 and is having its instruments calibrated and being commissioned for service. Once Sentinel-3B is operational, the two satellites will orbit Earth 140° apart.

Sentinel-3 spacecraft

Now, however, the satellites have been positioned much closer together, flying a mere 30 seconds apart. Travelling at 7.4 km per second, the separation equates to a distance of 223 km.

The reason for this is to see how their instruments compare.

Even though the two Sentinel-3 satellites are identical, each carrying a radar altimeter, a radiometer and an imaging spectrometer, there’s a chance that their instruments could behave slightly differently.

It is important that any differences are carefully accounted for otherwise the information they deliver could be misinterpreted as changes happening on Earth’s surface.

Given the satellites’ current brief separation, their measurements should be virtually the same.

Sentinel-3 going tandem

This tandem phase is also important for the future Sentinel-3 satellites.

ESA’s ocean scientist, Craig Donlon, explains, “Our Sentinel-3 ocean climate record will eventually be derived from four satellites because we will be launching two further Sentinel-3s in the future.

“We need to understand the small differences between each successive satellite instrument as these influence our ability to determine accurate climate trends.

“The four-month Sentinel-3 tandem phase is a fantastic opportunity to do this and will provide results so that climate scientists can use all Sentinel-3 data with confidence.”

ESA’s Sentinel-3 project manager, Bruno Berruti, said, “Following liftoff and the usual checks, the operations team has been expertly flying Sentinel-3B so that it gradually flies closer to Sentinel-3A.

Sentinel-3 comparison

“We recently reached the magic separation of 30 seconds and I am happy to say that we are now officially in the tandem phase.

“This will last around four months, after which the two satellites will be gently moved apart until they reach their operational separation of 140°. This is different to the other Sentinel missions, but for our mission it is better to measure ocean features such as eddies as accurately as possible.”

ESA’s Sentinel-3 mission manager, Susanne Mecklenburg, added, “So far, we are really happy with the results of the tandem phase. Measurements from the satellites’ instrument packages seem to be very much aligned, but we will be analysing the results very carefully over the next months to make sure we account for any minor differences.”

Related links:


Sentinel data access:

Images, Text, Credits: ESA/contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2018), processed by ESA/S3MPC/ACRI-ST/ESA, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO.

Best regards,

Deep Space Navigation: Tool Tested as Emergency Navigation Device

ISS - International Space Station logo.

June 19, 2018

A tool that has helped guide sailors across oceans for centuries is now being tested aboard the International Space Station as a potential emergency navigation tool for guiding future spacecraft across the cosmos. The Sextant Navigation investigation tests use of a hand-held sextant aboard the space station.

Image above: NASA astronaut Alexander Gerst learns how to use a sextant. “I learned how to navigate after the stars using a sextant,” said Gerst. “It’s actually a test for a backup nav method for #Orion & future deep space missions.” Image Credit: NASA.

Sextants have a telescope-like optical sight to take precise angle measurements between pairs of stars from land or sea, enabling navigation without computer assistance. NASA’s Gemini missions conducted the first sextant sightings from a spacecraft, and designers built a sextant into Apollo vehicles as a navigation backup in the event the crew lost communications from their spacecraft. Jim Lovell demonstrated on Apollo 8 that sextant navigation could return a space vehicle home. Astronauts conducted additional sextant experiments on Skylab.

“The basic concepts are very similar to how it would be used on Earth,” says principal investigator Greg Holt. “But particular challenges on a spacecraft are the logistics; you need to be able to take a stable sighting through a window. We’re asking the crew to evaluate some ideas we have on how to accomplish that and to give us feedback and perhaps new ideas for how to get a stable, clean sight. That’s something we just can’t test on the ground.”

Image above: Jim Lovell demonstrated on Apollo 8 that sextant navigation could return a space vehicle home. Image Credit: NASA.

The investigation tests specific techniques for using a sextant for emergency navigation on space vehicles such as Orion. With the right techniques, crews can use the tool to navigate their way home based on angles between the moon or planets and stars, even if communications and computers become compromised.

“No need to reinvent the wheel when it comes to celestial navigation,” Holt says. “We want a robust, mechanical back-up with as few parts and as little need for power as possible to get you back home safely. Now that we plan to go farther into space than ever before, crews need the capability to navigate autonomously in the event of lost communication with the ground.”

Early explorers put a lot of effort into refining sextants to be compact and relatively easy to use. The tool’s operational simplicity and spaceflight heritage make it a good candidate for further investigation as backup navigation.

Related links:

Sextant Navigation:

Spot the Station:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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


lundi 18 juin 2018

Investigation Tests BEST Method of DNA and RNA Sequencing

NASA - Genes in Space logo.

June 18, 2018

Much of present-day science focuses on exploring the molecular world. A primary tool is DNA sequencing, performed for the first time on the International Space Station in August 2016.

International Space Station (ISS). Animation Credit: NASA

An investigation now aboard the space station, Biomolecule Extraction and Sequencing Technology (BEST), seeks to advance use of sequencing in space in three ways: identifying microbes aboard the space station that current methods cannot detect, assessing microbial mutations in the genome because of spaceflight and performing direct RNA sequencing. All use compact tools, including the MinION miniature sequencer, already proven to work onboard the space station.

The remoteness and constrained resources of living in space require simple but effective processes and procedures to monitor the presence of microbial life, some of which might be harmful. A previous investigation, Genes in Space 3, performed in-flight identification of bacteria on the station for the first time. BEST takes that one step farther, says principal investigator Sarah Wallace, identifying unknown microbial organisms using a swab-to-sequencer process rather than a traditional culture-based technique. “That way, we can identify microbes that cannot be detected using traditional culturing methods, and we aren’t increasing the number of potential pathogens that might be present on the station,” Wallace explained.

Image above: Biomolecule Extraction and Sequencing Technology (BEST) seeks to advance use of sequencing in space via three objectives: identifying microbes aboard the space station that current methods cannot detect, assessing microbial mutations in the genome because of spaceflight, and performing direct RNA sequencing. Pictured above are Sarah Stahl and Christian Castro, microbiologists on the project. Image Credit: NASA.

For the second objective, researchers plan to compare full genome sequences from multiple generations of a model organism grown on the space station against those from the same organism grown in parallel on Earth. “This can provide insight into mutation rates in low-Earth orbit,” said project manager Kristen John.

Finally, BEST demonstrates the process of direct RNA sequencing, which opens new avenues for in-flight research. Researchers found that organisms respond to spaceflight by making transcriptomic changes, changes in RNA or gene expression. Sequencing RNA defines what genes are turned on and off, which is important for understanding how life adapts to spaceflight.

“Because the MinION detects changes in current, it can directly sequence RNA as well as DNA,” said co-investigator Aaron Burton. “With most other platforms, you first have to convert RNA to DNA, and this additional processing could bias your data, causing you to miss what’s really going on. Direct RNA sequencing results in near real-time gene expression data.”

Image above: The MinION miniature sequencer and the miniPCR, both compact tools used aboard the space station. Image Credit: NASA.

“With small modifications to our process, you can pretty much do any type of sequencing on the station,” said Wallace. “Until now, we had to bring samples back to the ground to see these changes. We know gene expression changes, but freezing a sample and bringing it back to the ground could result in alterations not caused by the spaceflight environment. If we could look at it while on the station, it might look very different. There is so much to be gained from that real-time snapshot of gene expression.”

The investigation’s DNA and RNA sequencing components provide important information about the station’s microbial occupants, including which organisms are present and how they respond to the spaceflight environment -- knowledge that will help protect humans during future space exploration. The validation of direct RNA sequencing has the potential to be a game-changer for research into crew health by eliminating the need for conversion and bias it may introduce. Knowledge gained from BEST also can be implemented to provide new ways to monitor the presence of microbes in remote locations on Earth.

Related links:

Biomolecule Extraction and Sequencing Technology (BEST):

Genes in Space 3:

Spot the Station:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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


55 Years ago the first woman in space

ROSCOSMOS - Vostok 6 Mission patch.

June 18, 2018

55 years ago Valentina Tereshkova escaped to the stars and herself became a bright star!  The first "Seagull" of Soviet cosmonautics (such a call-sign was invented for Tereshkova by SP Korolev) is still the only woman of the planet who made a single space flight.

Valentina Tereshkova entering inside Vostok 6 spacecraft

The first woman in space was former civilian parachutist Valentina Tereshkova, born 6 March 1937, is a retired Russian cosmonaut, engineer, and politician. She is the first woman to have flown in space, having been selected from more than 400 applicants and five finalists to pilot Vostok 6 on 16 June 1963. In order to join the Cosmonaut Corps, Tereshkova was honorarily inducted into the Soviet Air Force and thus she also became the first civilian to fly in space.

55 years since the flight of Valentina Tereshkova

who entered orbit on June 16, 1963, aboard the Soviet mission Vostok 6. The chief Soviet spacecraft designer, Sergey Korolyov, conceived of the idea to recruit a female cosmonaut corps and launch two women concurrently on Vostok 5/6. However, his plan was changed to launch a male first in Vostok 5, followed shortly afterward by Tereshkova. Khrushchev personally spoke to Tereshkova by radio during her flight.

Valentina Tereshkova

On November 3, 1963, Tereshkova married fellow cosmonaut Andrian Nikolayev, who had previously flown on Vostok 3. On June 8, 1964, she gave birth to the first child conceived by two space travelers.  The second woman to fly to space was aviator Svetlana Savitskaya, aboard Soyuz T-7 on August 18, 1982.

More information:

Chronicle of soviet-russian space program:

Valentina Tereshkova on Wikipedia:

Images, Video, Text, Credits: ROSCOSMOS/Wikipedia.

Best regards,

Star shredded by rare breed of black hole

ESA - XMM-Newton Mission patch.

18 June 2018

ESA’s XMM-Newton observatory has discovered the best-ever candidate for a very rare and elusive type of cosmic phenomenon: a medium-weight black hole in the process of tearing apart and feasting on a nearby star.

There are various types of black hole lurking throughout the Universe: massive stars create stellar-mass black holes when they die, while galaxies host supermassive black holes at their centres, with masses equivalent to millions or billions of Suns.

Black hole candidate and host galaxy

Lying between these extremes is a more retiring member of the black hole family: intermediate-mass black holes. Thought to be seeds that will eventually grow to become supermassive, these black holes are especially elusive, and thus very few robust candidates have ever been found.

Now, a team of researchers using data from ESA’s XMM-Newton X-ray space observatory, as well as NASA’s Chandra X-Ray Observatory and Swift X-Ray Telescope, has found a rare telltale sign of activity. They detected an enormous flare of radiation in the outskirts of a distant galaxy, thrown off as a star passed too close to a black hole and was subsequently devoured.

“This is incredibly exciting: this type of black hole hasn’t been spotted so clearly before,” says lead scientist Dacheng Lin of the University of New Hampshire, USA.

“A few candidates have been found, but on the whole they’re extremely rare and very sought after. This is the best intermediate-mass black hole candidate observed so far.”

This breed of black hole is thought to form in various ways. One formation scenario is the runaway merger of massive stars lying within dense star clusters, making the centres of these clusters one of the best places to hunt for them. However, by the time such black holes have formed, these sites tend to be devoid of gas, leaving the black holes with no material to consume and thus little radiation to emit – which in turn makes them extremely difficult to spot.

XMM-Newton view

“One of the few methods we can use to try to find an intermediate-mass black hole is to wait for a star to pass close to it and become disrupted — this essentially ‘activates’ the black hole’s appetite again and prompts it to emit a flare that we can observe,” adds Lin.

“This kind of event has only been clearly seen at the centre of a galaxy before, not at the outer edges.”

Lin and colleagues sifted through data from XMM-Newton to find the candidate. They identified it in observations of a large galaxy some 740 million light-years away, taken in 2006 and 2009 as part of a galaxy survey, and in additional data from Chandra (2006 and 2016) and Swift (2014).

“We also looked at images of the galaxy taken by a whole host of other telescopes, to see what the emission looked like optically,” says co-author Jay Strader of Michigan State University, USA.

“We spotted the source flaring in brightness in two images from 2005 — it appeared far bluer and brighter than it had just a few years previously. By comparing all the data we determined that the unfortunate star was likely disrupted in October 2003 in our time, and produced a burst of energy that decayed over the following 10 years or so.”

The scientists believe that the star was disrupted and torn apart by a black hole with a mass of around fifty thousand times that of the Sun.

Such star-triggered outbursts are expected to only happen rarely from this type of black hole, so this discovery suggests that there could be many more lurking in a dormant state in galaxy peripheries across the local Universe.

“This candidate was discovered via an intensive search of XMM-Newton’s X-ray Source Catalogue, which is filled with high-quality data covering large areas of sky, essential for determining how large the black hole was and what happened to cause the observed burst of radiation,” says Norbert Schartel, ESA Project Scientist for XMM-Newton.


“The XMM-Newton X-ray Source Catalogue is presently the largest catalogue of this type, containing more than half a million sources: exotic objects like the one discovered in our study are still hidden there and waiting to be discovered through intensive data mining,” adds co-author Natalie Webb, director of the XMM-Newton Survey Science Center at theResearch Institute in Astrophysics and Planetology (IRAP) in Toulouse, France.

“Learning more about these objects and associated phenomena is key to our understanding of black holes. Our models are currently akin to a scenario in which an alien civilisation observes Earth and spots grandparents dropping their grandchildren at pre-school: they might assume that there’s something intermediate to fit their model of a human lifespan, but without observing that link, there’s no way to know for sure. This finding is incredibly important, and shows that the discovery method employed here is a good one to use,” concludes Norbert.

Notes for Editors:

"A luminous X-ray outburst from an intermediate-mass black hole in an off-centre star cluster", by D. Lin et al, is published in Nature Astronomy. DOI: 10.1038/s41550-018-0493-1

The study used data from ESA’s XMM-Newton X-ray space observatory, NASA’s Chandra X-Ray Observatory, and NASA’s Swift X-Ray Telescope, and additional images from the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope, the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, NAOJ’s SubaruTelescope, the Southern Astrophysical Research (SOAR) Telescope, and the Gemini Observatory.

The galaxy is named 6dFGS gJ215022.2-055059, while the X-ray source inferred to contain the IMBH is named 3XMM J215022.4−055108. 

Related links:

Nature Astronomy:


XMM-Newton overview:

XMM-Newton image gallery:

XMM-Newton in-depth:

Images, Text, Credits: ESA/Markus Bauer/XMM-Newton/Norbert Schartel/Natalie Webb/Michigan State University/Jay Strader/University of New Hampshire/Dacheng Lin/Optical: NASA/ESA/Hubble/STScI; X-ray: NASA/CXC/UNH/D. Lin et al./ESA/XMM-Newton; D. Lin et al (University of New Hampshire, USA). Acknowledgement: NASA/CXC.

Best regards,

Dark and Stormy Jupiter

NASA - JUNO Mission logo.

June 18, 2018

This image captures the intensity of the jets and vortices in Jupiter’s North North Temperate Belt.

NASA’s Juno spacecraft took this color-enhanced image at 10:31 p.m. PDT on May 23, 2018 (1:31 a.m. EDT on May 24), as Juno performed its 13th close flyby of Jupiter. At the time, the spacecraft was about 4,900 miles (7,900 kilometers) from the tops of the clouds of the gas giant planet at a northern latitude of about 41 degrees. The view is oriented with south on Jupiter toward upper left and north toward lower right.

The North North Temperate Belt is the prominent reddish-orange band left of center. It rotates in the same direction as the planet and is predominantly cyclonic, which in the northern hemisphere means its features spin in a counter-clockwise direction. Within the belt are two gray-colored anticyclones. 

To the left of the belt is a brighter band (the North North Temperate Zone) with high clouds whose vertical relief is accentuated by the low angle of sunlight near the terminator. These clouds are likely made of ammonia-ice crystals, or possibly a combination of ammonia ice and water. Although the region as a whole appears chaotic, there is an alternating pattern of rotating, lighter-colored features on the zone's north and south sides.

Scientists think the large-scale dark regions are places where the clouds are deeper, based on infrared observations made at the same time by Juno’s JIRAM experiment and Earth-based supporting observations. Those observations show warmer, and thus deeper, thermal emission from these regions.

Juno orbiting Jupiter. Animation Credit: NASA

To the right of the bright zone, and farther north on the planet, Jupiter’s striking banded structure becomes less evident and a region of individual cyclones can be seen, interspersed with smaller, darker anticyclones.

Citizen scientist Kevin M. Gill created this image using data from the spacecraft’s JunoCam imager.

JunoCam's raw images are available for the public to peruse and process into image products at:

More information about Juno is at: and

Image, Animation (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Tony Greicius/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Kevin M. Gill.


Russian Aerospace Forces Successfully Launched the Soyuz-2.1b Rocket Carrying Glonass-M

Russian Aerospace Forces - GLONASS patch.

June 18, 2018

 Souyz-2.1b rocket carrying Glonass-M launch from Plesetsk Cosmodrome

On June 17, 2018, at 0:46 MT, Russian Aerospace Forces have successfully launched the Souyz-2.1b rocket vehicle with a Glonass-M spacecraft from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome. Launch of the rocket vehicle and ascent to orbit were held under normal conditions.

Soyuz-2.1b launches GLONASS-M navigation satellite

A Russian government Soyuz rocket launches a Glonass M navigation satellite. The rocket flight in the Soyuz 2-1b configuration with a Fregat upper stage.

GLONASS-M satellite

In three minutes after the launch, the Soyuz-2.1b was tracked by ground automated control complex of the Main Test Space Centre named after German Titov.

Roscosmos Press Release:

Images, Text, Video, Text, Credits: ROSCOSMOS/SciNews.


dimanche 17 juin 2018

Astronomers See Distant Eruption as Black Hole Destroys Star

NASA - Hubble Space Telescope patch / NASA - Spitzer Space Telescope patch.

June 17, 2018

For the first time, astronomers have directly imaged the formation and expansion of a fast-moving jet of material ejected when the powerful gravity of a supermassive black hole ripped apart a star that wandered too close to the massive monster.

The scientists tracked the event with radio and infrared telescopes, including the National Science Foundation's Very Long Baseline Array (VLBA) and NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope, in a pair of colliding galaxies called Arp 299. The galaxies are nearly 150 million light-years from Earth. At the core of one of the galaxies, a black hole 20 million times more massive than the Sun shredded a star more than twice the Sun's mass, setting off a chain of events that revealed important details of the violent encounter. The researchers also used observations of Arp 299 made by NASA's Hubble space telescope prior to and after the appearance of the eruption.

Black Hole vs. Star: A Tidal Disruption Event (Artist's Concept)

Image above: An artist's concept of a tidal disruption event (TDE) that happens when a star passes fatally close to a supermassive black hole, which reacts by launching a relativistic jet. Image Credits: Sophia Dagnello, NRAO/AUI/NSF.

Only a small number of such stellar deaths, called tidal disruption events, or TDEs, have been detected. Theorists have suggested that material pulled from the doomed star forms a rotating disk around the black hole, emitting intense X-rays and visible light, and also launches jets of material outward from the poles of the disk at nearly the speed of light.

"Never before have we been able to directly observe the formation and evolution of a jet from one of these events," said Miguel Perez-Torres, of the Astrophysical Institute of Andalucia in Granada, Spain, and an author on a paper describing the finding.

Discovery of a jet

The first indication came on January 30, 2005, when astronomers using the William Herschel Telescope in the Canary Islands discovered a bright burst of infrared emission coming from the nucleus of one of the colliding galaxies in Arp 299. On July 17, 2005, the VLBA revealed a new, distinct source of radio emission from the same location.

A Tidal Disruption Event in Arp299B

Image above: An image of the galaxy Arp299B, which is undergoing a merging process with Arp299A (the galaxy to the left), captured by NASA's Hubble space telescope. The inset features an artist's illustration of a tidal disruption event (TDE), which occurs when a star passes fatally close to a supermassive black hole. A TDE was recently observed near the center of Arp299B. Image Credits: Sophia Dagnello, NRAO/AUI/NSF; NASA, STScI.

"As time passed, the new object stayed bright at infrared and radio wavelengths, but not in visible light and X-rays," said Seppo Mattila, of the University of Turku in Finland, another author on the new paper. "The most likely explanation is that thick interstellar gas and dust near the galaxy's center absorbed the X-rays and visible light, then re-radiated it as infrared." The researchers used the Nordic Optical Telescope on the Canary Islands and NASA's Spitzer to follow the object's infrared emission.

Continued observations with the VLBA, the European VLBI Network (EVN), and other radio telescopes, carried out over nearly a decade, showed the source of radio emission expanding in one direction, just as expected for a jet. The measured expansion indicated that the material in the jet moved at an average of one-fourth the speed of light. The radio waves are not absorbed by the dust, but pass through it.

These observations used multiple radio-telescope antennas, separated by thousands of miles, to gain the resolving power, or ability to see fine detail, required to detect the expansion of an object so distant.

Monster appetite

Most galaxies have supermassive black holes, containing millions to billions of times the mass of the Sun, at their cores. In a black hole, the mass is so concentrated that its gravitational pull is so strong that not even light can escape. When those supermassive black holes are actively drawing in material from their surroundings, that material forms a rotating disk around the black hole, and super-fast jets of particles are launched outward. This is the phenomenon seen in radio galaxies and quasars.

Image above: A diagram showing the components of the TDE observed in Arp299B. (Not to scale). The supermassive black hole at the center of the galaxy is surrounded by a highly dense medium, and embedded in a dusty torus. Most of the optical and X-ray emissions produced by the event were absorbed, and re-emitted at infrared (IR) wavelengths due to the existence of polar dust. A few months after the detection at IR wavelengths, the TDE was detected at radio wavelengths with the help of a very sensitive array of radio telescopes. Image Credits: Seppo Mattila, Miguel Pérez-Torres et al. 2018 (Science).

"Much of the time, however, supermassive black holes are not actively devouring anything, so they are in a quiet state," Perez-Torres explained. "Tidal disruption events can provide us with a unique opportunity to advance our understanding of the formation and evolution of jets in the vicinities of these powerful objects."

"Because of the dust that absorbed any visible light, this particular tidal disruption event may be just the tip of the iceberg of what until now has been a hidden population," Mattila said. "By looking for these events with infrared and radio telescopes, we may be able to discover many more, and learn from them."

Spitzer Space Telescope (SST).  Animation Credit: NASA

Such events may have been more common in the distant universe, so studying them may help scientists understand the environment in which galaxies developed billions of years ago.

The discovery, the scientists said, came as a surprise. The initial infrared burst was discovered as part of a project that sought to detect supernova explosions in such colliding pairs of galaxies. Arp 299 has seen numerous stellar explosions, and has been dubbed a "supernova factory." This new object originally was considered to be a supernova explosion. Only in 2011, six years after discovery, the radio-emitting portion began to show an elongation. Subsequent monitoring showed the expansion growing, confirming that what the scientists are seeing is a jet, not a supernova.

Hubble Space Telescope (HST). Animation Credits: NASA/ESA

Mattila and Perez-Torres led a team of 36 scientists from 26 institutions around the world in the observations of Arp 299. They published their findings in the June 14 issue of the journal Science.

The Long Baseline Observatory is a facility of the National Science Foundation, operated under cooperative agreement by Associated Universities, Inc. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, manages the Spitzer Space Telescope mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. Science operations are conducted at the Spitzer Science Center at Caltech in Pasadena. Spacecraft operations are based at Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company, Littleton, Colorado. Data are archived at the Infrared Science Archive housed at IPAC at Caltech. Caltech manages JPL for NASA.

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 conducts Hubble science operations. STScI is operated for NASA by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, Inc., in Washington.

For more information about NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, visit:

For more information about NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope, visit:

Images (mentioned), Animations (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/JPL/Calla Cofield/NRAO/Dave Finley.


vendredi 15 juin 2018

A Refreshing Increase in Access to the Orbiting Lab

ISS - International Space Station logo.

June 15, 2018

A new, simple and cost-effective way to conduct experiments and test technology aboard the International Space Station offers another option to make space more accessible for out-of-this-world research. 

A partnership between the European Space Agency (ESA) and Space Application Services (SpaceAps) tests a new system for conducting research in space that lowers several barriers, including cost, development time and support. The International Commercial Experiment, or ICE Cubes Service, combines a sliding framework permanently installed in the space station’s Columbus module with “plug-and-play” Experiment Cubes. The easy to install and remove Experiment Cubes come in different sizes and often can be built with commercial off-the-shelf components, significantly reducing the cost and time to develop experiments. A ground model allows for integrated tests to verify all interface requirements and operational procedures.

Image above: Preparation of the experiment cubes for the International Commercial Experiment, or ICE Cubes Service. Image Credit: Space Applications Services.

“The idea is to provide fast, direct and affordable access to space for research, technology and education for any organization or customer,” says Hilde Stenuit of SpaceAps, which designed and developed the facility and made it flight-ready for recent delivery to the orbiting laboratory.

Following successful validation of the facility, the plan is to send the first batch of experiments using the system to the space station on an upcoming flight. These include a greenhouse used to observe plant growth rate and morphology under different lighting cycles in microgravity, an investigation of the effects of microgravity on bacteria in order to determine the feasibility of using the microorganisms to produce methane, and a kaleidoscope activated from the ground as a dynamic interactive art event.

SpaceAps, which has more than 30 years of experience developing and coordinating experiments for ESA research, provides service support to users of ICE Cubes. Researchers can monitor and control their orbiting Experiment Cubes in near real-time, from their own facilities, using the complimentary mission control software provided by SpaceAps.

Image above: The sliding framework permanently installed in the Columbus module for “plug-and-play” Experiment Cubes. Image Credit: Space Applications Services.

Ice Cubes Service plans to offer rides on launches approximately every four months, allowing experiments to run for shorter or longer time periods, an important feature for potential commercial users. Use of the system includes astronaut time and expert advice.

“There are many benefits of doing research without the influence of gravity,” Stenuit says. “Removing gravity unveils effects not previously observed or not observable on Earth, allowing research that cannot possibly be done in terrestrial laboratories.”

ICE Cubes reduces the preparation time for launch and offers users one point of contact and a simple, fixed pricing policy.

Image above: An Experiment Cube installed in the ICE Cubes Facility (ICF) in the Columbus European Physiology Module (EPM) rack. Image Credit: NASA.

The system supports both fundamental and applied research in a wide range of disciplines, from pharmaceutical development to experiments on stem cells, radiation, and microbiology, fluid sciences and more. It provides the opportunity to conduct testing and validation of space technologies and processes in a true space environment. Because ICE Cubes can accommodate free-floating experiments in the ESA Columbus module, it can even be used to test guidance, navigation and docking equipment. The system also can support education experiments and demonstrations to inspire future generations of scientists and explorers.

In short, ICE Cubes removes many barriers that limit access to space, providing more people access to flight opportunities.

An international partnership of the United States, Russia, Europe, Japan, and Canada, the space station facilitates growth of a robust commercial market in low-Earth orbit, operating as a microgravity laboratory for scientific research and technology demonstrations under conditions not available on Earth.

Related links:

ICE Cubes Service:

European Space Agency (ESA):

Spot the Station:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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


Space Station Science Highlights: Week of June 11, 2018

ISS - Expedition 56 Mission patch.

Space Station Science Highlights: Week of June 11, 2018

June 15, 2018

Scientific work continued aboard the International Space Station this week, as crew members collected biological samples, observed crystal growth, tested grip force, and more.

International Space Station (ISS). Animation Credit: NASA

NASA astronaut Serena Auñón-Chancellor, Alexander Gerst of the European Space Agency (ESA), and Sergey Prokopyev of Roscosmos recently joined Expedition 56 and began pitching in on these and other science tasks.

Here are more details on this week’s scientific work aboard your orbiting laboratory:

Crystal close-ups

Advanced Colloids Experiment-Temperature-7 (ACE-T-7) investigates self-assembled colloids, which are complex three-dimensional structures made from small particles suspended within a fluid medium. These are vital to design of advanced optical materials and active devices.

Image above: NASA astronaut Ricky Arnold performs maintenance on the Advanced Colloids Experiment Module located inside the Light Microscopy Module, a modified commercial, highly flexible, state-of-the-art light imaging microscope facility that provides researchers with powerful diagnostic hardware and software in microgravity. Image Credit: NASA.

Activity on ACE-T-7 this week included mixing of Capillaries 1, 2 and 3 based on observed crystal formation. Science imaging of all three capillaries continues, as well as adjusting camera settings on Capillary 1 to optimize surface crystal images.

That feeling in your gut

Fecal samples were collected for JAXA’s Multi-Omics experiment and placed in the Minus Eighty-Degree Celsius Laboratory Freezer for ISS (MELFI). Crew also collected saliva samples for the investigation.

Multi-Omics evaluates how the space environment and prebiotics affect an astronauts’ immune function, combining data on changes in the gut microbial composition, metabolites profiles, and the immune system.

Get a grip

Image above: Astronaut Alexander Gerst of the European Space Agency conducts part of the GRIP investigation, which tests how spaceflight affects grip force and upper limb movements. Image Credit: NASA.

The European Space Agency’s GRIP investigation studies the effects of long-duration spaceflight and the forces of gravity and inertia on grip force and upper limb movements during manipulation of objects. Results may provide insight into potential hazards as astronauts move between different gravitational environments, as well as support design and control of human-computer interactions in challenging environments such as space. Information from the investigation also could be useful for rehabilitation of impaired upper limb control as a result of neurological diseases in patients on Earth.

This week, the crew completed the third of three GRIP operations in the supine position, or lying down facing up.

Blood, breath, and no tears

Image above: NASA astronaut Serena Auñón-Chancellor preparing to conduct air sampling for the Marrow investigation, a study of microgravity’s effect on bone marrow and the blood cells it produces. Image Credit: NASA.

Crew collected breath and blood samples for CSA’s Marrow investigation, which looks at the effect of microgravity on bone marrow. It is believed that microgravity has a negative effect on the bone marrow and the blood cells produced in bone marrow, similar to the effects of long-duration bed rest on Earth.

This week also included collection of blood samples for JAXA’s CFE and Medical Proteomics investigations, Vascular Echo, Functional Immune and Probiotics.

Space to Ground: Enhancing the View: 06/15/2018

Other work was done on these investigations: Atomization, Nanoracks/Barrios PCG, CEO, ASIM, Microbial Tracking 2, Plant Habitat, Area PADLES, Veggie/PONDS, HDEV, JEM Camera Robot, Vascular Echo, Functional Immune, Probiotics, and CAL.

Related links:

Advanced Colloids Experiment-Temperature-7 (ACE-T-7):

JAXA’s Multi-Omics:

Minus Eighty-Degree Celsius Laboratory Freezer for ISS (MELFI):

European Space Agency’s GRIP:

CSA’s Marrow:

Vascular Echo:

Functional Immune:



Nanoracks/Barrios PCG:



Microbial Tracking 2:

Plant Habitat:




JEM Camera Robot:


Spot the Station:

Expedition 56:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

Animation (mentioned), Images (mentioned), Video, Text, Credits: NASA/Michael Johnson/John Love, Lead Increment Scientist (Acting) Expeditions 55 & 56.

Best regards,

Record-Setting NASA Astronaut Peggy Whitson Retires

NASA logo.

June 15, 2018

NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson, who holds the U.S. record for most cumulative time in space, is retiring from the agency, effective Friday.

“Peggy Whitson is a testament to the American spirit,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “Her determination, strength of mind, character, and dedication to science, exploration, and discovery are an inspiration to NASA and America. We owe her a great debt for her service and she will be missed. We thank her for her service to our agency and country.”

Whitson, a native of Beaconsfield, Iowa, first came to NASA in 1986 as a National Research Council Resident Research Associate at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. She served in a number of scientific roles, including project scientist for the Shuttle-Mir Program and co-chair of the U.S.-Russian Mission Science Working Group, before her selection to the astronaut corps in 1996.

“It has been the utmost honor to have Peggy Whitson represent our entire NASA Flight Operations team,” said Brian Kelly, director of Flight Operations at Johnson. “She set the highest standards for human spaceflight operations, as well as being an outstanding role model for women and men in America and across the globe. Godspeed, Peg.”

As an astronaut, Whitson completed three long-duration missions to the International Space Station, setting records on each. She made her first trip in 2002 as part of Expedition 5, during which she took part in 21 science investigations and became NASA’s first space station science officer. In 2008, Whitson returned on Expedition 16 and became the first female commander of the space station.

During her most recent mission, spanning Expeditions 50, 51 and 52 from November 2016 to September 2017, Whitson became the first woman to command the space station twice (Expedition 51). She also claimed the title for most spacewalks by a woman – 10 spacewalks totaling 60 hours and 21 minutes – and set the record for most time spent in space by a U.S. astronaut at 665 days.

Whitson’s time on the ground at NASA was no less groundbreaking. She served as chief of the astronaut corps from 2009 to 2012, becoming both the first woman to hold the position and the first non-military astronaut corps chief.

“Peggy is a classmate and a friend, and she will be deeply missed,” said Pat Forrester, current chief of the Astronaut Office. “Along with her record setting career, she leaves behind a legacy of her passion for space.”

Find Whitson’s complete biography at:

First female commander at ISS:

Image (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Stephanie Schierholz/Sean Potter/JSC/Brandi Dean.


Bang and Whoosh!

NASA - Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) patch.

June 15, 2018

This HiRISE image from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) captures a new, dated (within about a decade) impact crater that triggered a slope streak. When the meteoroid hit the surface and exploded to make the crater, it also destabilized the slope and initiated this avalanche.

The crater itself is only 5 meters across, but the streak it started is 1 kilometer long! Slope streaks are created when dry dust avalanches leave behind dark swaths on dusty Martian hills. The faded scar of an old avalanche is also visible to the side of the new dark streak.

The University of Arizona, Tucson, operates HiRISE, which was built by Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp., Boulder, Colorado. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of Caltech in Pasadena, California, manages the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Project for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington.

Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO):

Image, Text, Credits: NASA/Tony Greicius/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona.


Major work starts to boost the luminosity of the LHC

CERN - European Organization for Nuclear Research logo.

15 Jun 2018

Image above: Civil works have begun on the ATLAS and CMS sites to build new underground structures for the High-Luminosity LHC. (Image: Julien Ordan / CERN).

The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is officially entering a new stage. Today, a ground-breaking ceremony at CERN celebrates the start of the civil-engineering work for the High-Luminosity LHC (HL-LHC): a new milestone in CERN’s history. By 2026 this major upgrade will have considerably improved the performance of the LHC, by increasing the number of collisions in the large experiments and thus boosting the probability of the discovery of new physics phenomena.

The LHC started colliding particles in 2010. Inside the 27-km LHC ring, bunches of protons travel at almost the speed of light and collide at four interaction points. These collisions generate new particles, which are measured by detectors surrounding the interaction points. By analysing these collisions, physicists from all over the world are deepening our understanding of the laws of nature.

While the LHC is able to produce up to 1 billion proton-proton collisions per second, the HL-LHC will increase this number, referred to by physicists as “luminosity”, by a factor of between five and seven, allowing about 10 times more data to be accumulated between 2026 and 2036. This means that physicists will be able to investigate rare phenomena and make more accurate measurements. For example, the LHC allowed physicists to unearth the Higgs boson in 2012, thereby making great progress in understanding how particles acquire their mass. The HL-LHC upgrade will allow the Higgs boson’s properties to be defined more accurately, and to measure with increased precision how it is produced, how it decays and how it interacts with other particles. In addition, scenarios beyond the Standard Model will be investigated, including supersymmetry (SUSY), theories about extra dimensions and quark substructure (compositeness).

“The High-Luminosity LHC will extend the LHC’s reach beyond its initial mission, bringing new opportunities for discovery, measuring the properties of particles such as the Higgs boson with greater precision, and exploring the fundamental constituents of the universe ever more profoundly,” said CERN Director-General Fabiola Gianotti.

The HL-LHC project started as an international endeavour involving 29 institutes from 13 countries. It began in November 2011 and two years later was identified as one of the main priorities of the European Strategy for Particle Physics, before the project was formally approved by the CERN Council in June 2016. After successful prototyping, many new hardware elements will be constructed and installed in the years to come. Overall, more than 1.2 km of the current machine will need to be replaced with many new high-technology components such as magnets, collimators and radiofrequency cavities. 

Image above: Prototype of a quadrupole magnet for the High-Luminosity LHC. (Image: Robert Hradil, Monika Majer/

The secret to increasing the collision rate is to squeeze the particle beam at the interaction points so that the probability of proton-proton collisions increases. To achieve this, the HL-LHC requires about 130 new magnets, in particular 24 new superconducting focusing quadrupoles to focus the beam and four superconducting dipoles. Both the quadrupoles and dipoles reach a field of about 11.5 tesla, as compared to the 8.3 tesla dipoles currently in use in the LHC. Sixteen brand-new “crab cavities” will also be installed to maximise the overlap of the proton bunches at the collision points. Their function is to tilt the bunches so that they appear to move sideways – just like a crab.

Another key ingredient in increasing the overall luminosity in the LHC is to enhance the machine’s availability and efficiency. For this, the HL-LHC project includes the relocation of some equipment to make it more accessible for maintenance. The power converters of the magnets will thus be moved into separate galleries, connected by new innovative superconducting cables capable of carrying up to 100 kA with almost zero energy dissipation.

“Audacity underpins the history of CERN and the High-Luminosity LHC writes a new chapter, building a bridge to the future,” said CERN’s Director for Accelerators and Technology, Frédérick Bordry. “It will allow new research and with its new innovative technologies, it is also a window to the accelerators of the future and to new applications for society.”

To allow all these improvements to be carried out, major civil-engineering work at two main sites is needed, in Switzerland and in France. This includes the construction of new buildings, shafts, caverns and underground galleries. Tunnels and underground halls will house new cryogenic equipment, the electrical power supply systems and various plants for electricity, cooling and ventilation.

The road to High Luminosity: what's next for the LHC?

Video above: The LHC will receive a major upgrade and transform into the High-Luminosity LHC over the coming years. But what does this mean and how will its goals be achieved? Find out in this video featuring several people involved in the project. (Video: Polar Media/CERN.).

During the civil engineering work, the LHC will continue to operate, with two long technical stop periods that will allow preparations and installations to be made for high luminosity alongside yearly regular maintenance activities. After completion of this major upgrade, the LHC is expected to produce data in high-luminosity mode from 2026 onwards. By pushing the frontiers of accelerator and detector technology, it will also pave the way for future higher-energy accelerators.


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 22 Member States.

Related links:

Large Hadron Collider (LHC):

High-Luminosity LHC (HL-LHC):

Supersymmetry (SUSY):

Higgs boson:

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

Images (mentioned), Video (mentioned), Text, Credits: CERN/Corinne Pralavorio.

Best regards,