vendredi 13 juillet 2018

NASA Juno Data Indicate Another Possible Volcano on Jupiter Moon Io

NASA - JUNO Mission logo.

July 13, 2018

Image above: This annotated image highlights the location of the new heat source close to the south pole of Io. The image was generated from data collected on Dec. 16, 2017, by the Jovian Infrared Auroral Mapper (JIRAM) instrument aboard NASA's Juno mission when the spacecraft was about 290,000 miles (470,000 kilometers) from the Jovian moon. The scale to the right of image depicts of the range of temperatures displayed in the infrared image. Higher recorded temperatures are characterized in brighter colors – lower temperatures in darker colors. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/ASI/INAF/JIRAM.

Data collected by NASA’s Juno spacecraft using its Jovian InfraRed Auroral Mapper (JIRAM) instrument point to a new heat source close to the south pole of Io that could indicate a previously undiscovered volcano on the small moon of Jupiter. The infrared data were collected on Dec. 16, 2017, when Juno was about 290,000 miles (470,000 kilometers) away from the moon.

“The new Io hotspot JIRAM picked up is about 200 miles (300 kilometers) from the nearest previously mapped hotspot,” said Alessandro Mura, a Juno co-investigator from the National Institute for Astrophysics in Rome. “We are not ruling out movement or modification of a previously discovered hot spot, but it is difficult to imagine one could travel such a distance and still be considered the same feature.”

Image above: This infrared image of the southern hemisphere of Jupiter’s moon Io was derived from data collected by the Jovian Infrared Auroral Mapper (JIRAM) instrument aboard NASA's Juno spacecraft on Dec. 16, 2017, when the spacecraft was about 290,000 miles (470,000 kilometers) from the Jovian moon. In this infrared image, the brighter the color the higher the temperature recorded by JIRAM. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/ASI/INAF/JIRAM.

The Juno team will continue to evaluate data collected on the Dec. 16 flyby, as well as JIRAM data that will be collected during future (and even closer) flybys of Io. Past NASA missions of exploration that have visited the Jovian system (Voyagers 1 and 2, Galileo, Cassini and New Horizons), along with ground-based observations, have located over 150 active volcanos on Io so far. Scientists estimate that about another 250 or so are waiting to be discovered.

Juno has logged nearly 146 million miles (235 million kilometers) since entering Jupiter's orbit on July 4, 2016. Juno's 13th science pass will be on July 16.

Image above: This annotated image highlights the location of the new heat source in the southern hemisphere of the Jupiter moon Io. The image was generated from data collected on Dec. 16, 2017, by the Jovian Infrared Auroral Mapper (JIRAM) instrument aboard NASA's Juno mission when the spacecraft was about 290,000 miles (470,000 kilometers) from the Jovian moon. In this infrared image, the brighter the color the higher the temperature recorded by JIRAM. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/ASI/INAF/JIRAM.

Juno launched on Aug. 5, 2011, from Cape Canaveral, Florida. During its mission of exploration, Juno soars low over the planet's cloud tops -- as close as about 2,100 miles (3,400 kilometers). During these flybys, Juno is probing beneath the obscuring cloud cover of Jupiter and studying its auroras to learn more about the planet's origins, structure, atmosphere and magnetosphere.

JPL manages the Juno mission for the principal investigator, Scott Bolton, of Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. The Juno mission is part of the New Frontiers Program managed by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, for the Science Mission Directorate. The Italian Space Agency (ASI), contributed two instruments, a Ka-band frequency translator (KaT) and the Jovian Infrared Auroral Mapper (JIRAM). Lockheed Martin Space, Denver, built the spacecraft. JPL is a division of Caltech in Pasadena, California.

More information on the Juno mission is available at:

The public can follow the mission on Facebook and Twitter at:

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Jon Nelson/JoAnna Wendel/Southwest Research Institute/Deb Schmid/JPL/DC Agle.


Hubble and Gaia Team Up to Fuel Cosmic Conundrum

NASA - Hubble Space Telescope patch / ESA - Gaia Mission patch.

July 13, 2018

Using the power and synergy of two space telescopes, astronomers have made the most precise measurement to date of the universe’s expansion rate.

The results further fuel the mismatch between measurements for the expansion rate of the nearby universe, and those of the distant, primeval universe — before stars and galaxies even existed.

This so-called “tension” implies that there could be new physics underlying the foundations of the universe. Possibilities include the interaction strength of dark matter, dark energy being even more exotic than previously thought, or an unknown new particle in the tapestry of space.

Image above: Using two of the world’s most powerful space telescopes — NASA’s Hubble and ESA’s Gaia — astronomers have made the most precise measurements to date of the universe’s expansion rate. This is calculated by gauging the distances between nearby galaxies using special types of stars called Cepheid variables as cosmic yardsticks. By comparing their intrinsic brightness as measured by Hubble, with their apparent brightness as seen from Earth, scientists can calculate their distances. Gaia further refines this yardstick by geometrically measuring the distances to Cepheid variables within our Milky Way galaxy. This allowed astronomers to more precisely calibrate the distances to Cepheids that are seen in outside galaxies. Image Credits: NASA, ESA, and A. Feild (STScI).

Combining observations from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope and the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Gaia space observatory, astronomers further refined the previous value for the Hubble constant, the rate at which the universe is expanding from the big bang 13.8 billion years ago.

But as the measurements have become more precise, the team’s determination of the Hubble constant has become more and more at odds with the measurements from another space observatory, ESA’s Planck mission, which is coming up with a different predicted value for the Hubble constant.

Planck mapped the primeval universe as it appeared only 360,000 years after the big bang. The entire sky is imprinted with the signature of the big bang encoded in microwaves. Planck measured the sizes of the ripples in this Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB) that were produced by slight irregularities in the big bang fireball. The fine details of these ripples encode how much dark matter and normal matter there is, the trajectory of the universe at that time, and other cosmological parameters.

These measurements, still being assessed, allow scientists to predict how the early universe would likely have evolved into the expansion rate we can measure today. However, those predictions don’t seem to match the new measurements of our nearby contemporary universe.

“With the addition of this new Gaia and Hubble Space Telescope data, we now have a serious tension with the Cosmic Microwave Background data,” said Planck team member and lead analyst George Efstathiou of the Kavli Institute for Cosmology in Cambridge, England, who was not involved with the new work.

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

“The tension seems to have grown into a full-blown incompatibility between our views of the early and late time universe,” said team leader and Nobel Laureate Adam Riess of the Space Telescope Science Institute and the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. “At this point, clearly it’s not simply some gross error in any one measurement. It’s as though you predicted how tall a child would become from a growth chart and then found the adult he or she became greatly exceeded the prediction. We are very perplexed.”

In 2005, Riess and members of the SHOES (Supernova H0 for the Equation of State) team set out to measure the universe’s expansion rate with unprecedented accuracy. In the following years, by refining their techniques, this team shaved down the rate measurement’s uncertainty to unprecedented levels. Now, with the power of Hubble and Gaia combined, they have reduced that uncertainty to just 2.2 percent.

Because the Hubble constant is needed to estimate the age of the universe, the long-sought answer is one of the most important numbers in cosmology. It is named after astronomer Edwin Hubble, who nearly a century ago discovered that the universe was uniformly expanding in all directions—a finding that gave birth to modern cosmology.

Galaxies appear to recede from Earth proportional to their distances, meaning that the farther away they are, the faster they appear to be moving away. This is a consequence of expanding space, and not a value of true space velocity. By measuring the value of the Hubble constant over time, astronomers can construct a picture of our cosmic evolution, infer the make-up of the universe, and uncover clues concerning its ultimate fate.

The two major methods of measuring this number give incompatible results. One method is direct, building a cosmic “distance ladder” from measurements of stars in our local universe. The other method uses the CMB to measure the trajectory of the universe shortly after the big bang and then uses physics to describe the universe and extrapolate to the present expansion rate. Together, the measurements should provide an end-to-end test of our basic understanding of the so-called “Standard Model” of the universe. However, the pieces don’t fit.

Using Hubble and newly released data from Gaia, Riess’ team measured the present rate of expansion to be 73.5 kilometers (45.6 miles) per second per megaparsec. This means that for every 3.3 million light-years farther away a galaxy is from us, it appears to be moving 73.5 kilometers per second faster. However, the Planck results predict the universe should be expanding today at only 67.0 kilometers (41.6 miles) per second per megaparsec. As the teams’ measurements have become more and more precise, the chasm between them has continued to widen, and is now about four times the size of their combined uncertainty.

Over the years, Riess’ team has refined the Hubble constant value by streamlining and strengthening the “cosmic distance ladder,” used to measure precise distances to nearby and far-off galaxies. They compared those distances with the expansion of space, measured by the stretching of light from nearby galaxies. Using the apparent outward velocity at each distance, they then calculated the Hubble constant.

To gauge the distances between nearby galaxies, his team used a special type of star as cosmic yardsticks or milepost markers. These pulsating stars, called Cephied variables, brighten and dim at rates that correspond to their intrinsic brightness. By comparing their intrinsic brightness with their apparent brightness as seen from Earth, scientists can calculate their distances.

Artist's view of Gaia spacecraft. Image Credit: ESA

Gaia further refined this yardstick by geometrically measuring the distance to 50 Cepheid variables in the Milky Way. These measurements were combined with precise measurements of their brightnesses from Hubble. This allowed the astronomers to more accurately calibrate the Cepheids and then use those seen outside the Milky Way as milepost markers.

“When you use Cepheids, you need both distance and brightness,” explained Riess. Hubble provided the information on brightness, and Gaia provided the parallax information needed to accurately determine the distances. Parallax is the apparent change in an object’s position due to a shift in the observer’s point of view. Ancient Greeks first used this technique to measure the distance from Earth to the Moon.

“Hubble is really amazing as a general-purpose observatory, but Gaia is the new gold standard for calibrating distance. It is purpose-built for measuring parallax—this is what it was designed to do,” Stefano Casertano of the Space Telescope Science Institute and a member of the SHOES team added. “Gaia brings a new ability to recalibrate all past distance measures, and it seems to confirm our previous work. We get the same answer for the Hubble constant if we replace all previous calibrations of the distance ladder with just the Gaia parallaxes. It’s a crosscheck between two very powerful and precise observatories.”

The goal of Riess’ team is to work with Gaia to cross the threshold of refining the Hubble constant to a value of only one percent by the early 2020s. Meanwhile, astrophysicists will likely continue to grapple with revisiting their ideas about the physics of the early universe.

The Riess team's latest results are published in the July 12 issue of the Astrophysical Journal:

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, D.C.

Hubble Space Telescope (HST):

ESA's Gaia:

Images (mentioned), Animation (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Karl Hille/Space Telescope Science Institute/Ann Jenkins/Ray Villard/Adam Riess.

Best regards,

Jamming with the 'Spiders' from Mars

NASA - Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) logo.

July 13, 2018

This image from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, acquired May 13, 2018 during winter at the South Pole of Mars, shows a carbon dioxide ice cap covering the region and as the sun returns in the spring, "spiders" begin to emerge from the landscape.

But these aren't actual spiders. Called "araneiform terrain," describes the spider-like radiating mounds that form when carbon dioxide ice below the surface heats up and releases. This is an active seasonal process not seen on Earth. Like dry ice on Earth, the carbon dioxide ice on Mars sublimates as it warms (changes from solid to gas) and the gas becomes trapped below the surface.

Over time the trapped carbon dioxide gas builds in pressure and is eventually strong enough to break through the ice as a jet that erupts dust. The gas is released into the atmosphere and darker dust may be deposited around the vent or transported by winds to produce streaks. The loss of the sublimated carbon dioxide leaves behind these spider-like features etched into the surface.

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.


"Pleasure" flights in the space planned from 2019

Virgin Galactic logo / Blue Origin logo.

July 13, 2018

Pioneering companies in the field of space tourism claim to be able to offer flights in just a few months. Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin are racing to be the first to finish the tests.

SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity attached under a carrier plane, WhiteKnightTwo

The two most advanced private companies in the space tourism market say they are only a few months away from their first flights into space with customers on board, although each remains cautious and refrains from advancing a specific date.

Blue Origin New Shepard rocket launch

Virgin Galactic, founded by British billionaire Richard Branson, and Blue Origin, by the more discreet billionaire Jeff Bezos, boss of Amazon, are racing to be the first to finish the tests. Both companies have radically different technologies.

Few minutes of weightlessness

For both, the passengers will not go into orbit around the Earth: their experience in weightlessness will only last a few minutes, unlike the few space tourists who paid tens of millions of dollars to travel aboard a Soyuz and of the International Space Station (ISS) in the 2000s.

For a ticket much cheaper (250 000 dollars at Virgin, an amount unknown at Blue Origin), these new tourists will be propelled to several tens of kilometers, before falling back to Earth. By comparison, the ISS is in orbit at 400 km.

The goal is to approach or exceed the imaginary line marking the beginning of space, the Karman line, 100 km, or the line preferred by the US military, 50 miles (80 km). At this altitude, the sky becomes darker, and the curvature of the Earth appears clearly.

Virgin Galactic

At Virgin Galactic, six passengers and two pilots will set up aboard the SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity, which looks like a private jet. The VSS Unity will be attached under a carrier plane, dubbed WhiteKnightTwo. Once dropped at an altitude of 15,000 meters, the ship will light its rocket towards the sky. There passengers will float in weightlessness for several minutes.

The descent will be slowed down by a system of "empennage": the fins of the tail of the ship will pivot and the ship will arch before returning to normal. Then the aircraft will land on an airstrip from Virgin's "spaceport" in the New Mexico desert.

SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity

In a May 29 test in the Mojave desert, the ship reached an altitude of 35 km. In October 2014, Virgin's ship crashed into flight due to a pilot error, killing one of the two pilots. The tests resumed with a new device.

Virgin has reached an agreement to open a second spaceport in Italy, at Taranto-Grottaglie airport. Richard Branson said in May, on BBC Radio 4, he hoped to be one of the first passengers in the next 12 months. About 650 customers are on the waiting list, says Virgin to AFP.

Blue Origin

Blue Origin has developed a system that resembles traditional rockets: the New Shepard. Six passengers will sit in the seats of a "capsule", a cabin attached to the top of a vertical rocket 18 meters in height. After the launch, which will propel the capsule to near Mach 3, it will detach and continue its trajectory a few kilometers to the sky. In a test on April 29, the capsule reached 107 km. During this time, the rocket will come down again ... and will land, slowly, vertically.

Blue Origin Crew Capsule

After several minutes of weightlessness, during which passengers can get up and look out through large portholes, the capsule will fall back to Earth, slowed by three large parachutes and retrofuses. From take-off to landing, the flight of the last test lasted 10 minutes.

So far only manikin testing has been done on the Blue Origin site in Texas. But a leader, Rob Meyerson, said in June that the first inhabited tests would take place "soon". Another official, Yu Matsutomi, said Wednesday at a conference that they would be held "at the end of this year," according to Space News.

And after?

SpaceX and Boeing are developing capsules to transport NASA astronauts, probably from 2020 as a result of delays. Considerable investments that these companies will probably seek to amortize by offering trips to individuals.

Boeing and SpaceX Crew Vehicles

"If you want to go into space, you'll soon have four times more options than you've ever had," says AFP Phil Larson, deputy dean of the School of Engineering of the United States. University of Colorado at Boulder.

In the longer term, the Russian company building the Soyuz is studying the possibility of bringing tourists back to the ISS. And an American start-up, Orion Span, has announced this year to place a space station in orbit in a few years, but this project is still very far from the day.

Related links:

Virgin Galactic:

Blue Origin:

Images, Text, Credits: Virgin Galactic/Blue Origin/Boeing/SpaceX/AFP/ Aerospace/Roland Berga.

Best regards,

jeudi 12 juillet 2018

Multi-messenger astronomy

ESA - INTEGRAL Mission patch.

12 July 2018

An international team of scientists has found first evidence of a source of high-energy neutrinos: a flaring active galaxy, or blazar, 4 billion light years from Earth. Following a detection by the IceCube Neutrino Observatory on 22 September 2017, ESA's INTEGRAL satellite joined a collaboration of observatories in space and on the ground that kept an eye on the neutrino source, heralding the thrilling future of multi-messenger astronomy.

Neutrinos are nearly massless, ‘ghostly’ particles that travel essentially unhindered through space at close to the speed of light [1]. Despite being some of the most abundant particles in the Universe – 100 000 billion pass through our bodies every second – these electrically neutral, subatomic particles are notoriously difficult to detect because they interact with matter incredibly rarely.

Image above: Artist's impression of blazar neutrinos and gamma rays reaching Earth. Image Credits: IceCube/NASA.

While primordial neutrinos were created during the Big Bang, more of these elusive particles are routinely produced in nuclear reactions across the cosmos. The majority of neutrinos arriving at Earth derive from the Sun, but those that reach us with the highest energies are thought to stem from the same sources as cosmic rays – highly energetic particles originating from exotic sources outside the Solar System.

Unlike neutrinos, cosmic rays are charged particles and so their path is bent by magnetic fields, even weak ones. The neutral charge of neutrinos instead means they are unaffected by magnetic fields, and because they pass almost entirely through matter they can be used to trace a straight path all the way back to their source.

Acting as ‘messengers’, neutrinos directly carry astronomical information from the far reaches of the Universe. Over the past decades, several instruments have been built on Earth and in space to decode their messages, though detecting these particles is no easy feat. In particular, the source of high-energy neutrinos has, until now, remained unproven.

On 22 September 2017, one of these high-energy neutrinos arrived at the IceCube Neutrino Observatory at the South Pole [2]. The event was named IceCube-170922A.

The IceCube observatory, which encompasses a cubic kilometre of deep, pristine ice, detects neutrinos through their secondary particles, muons. These muons are produced on the rare occasion that a neutrino interacts with matter in the vicinity of the detector, and they create tracks, kilometres in length, as they pass through layers of Antarctic ice. Their long paths mean their position can be well defined, and the source of the parent neutrino can be pinned down in the sky.

During the 22 September event, a traversing muon deposited 22 TeV of energy in the IceCube detector. From this, scientists estimated the energy of the parent neutrino to be around 290 TeV, indicating a 50 percent chance that it had an astrophysical origin beyond the Solar System.

Image above: Neutrino detection at the IceCube observatory. Image Credits: IceCube Collaboration/NSF.

When the origin of a neutrino cannot be robustly identified by IceCube, like in this case, multi-wavelength observations are required to investigate its source. So, following the detection, IceCube scientists circulated the coordinates in the sky of the neutrino’s origin, inferred from their observations, to a worldwide network of ground and space-based observatories working across the full electromagnetic spectrum.

These included NASA's Fermi gamma-ray space telescope and the Major Atmospheric Gamma-Ray Imaging Cherenkov (MAGIC) on La Palma, in the Canary Islands, which looked to this portion of the sky and found the known blazar, TXS 0506+056, in a ‘flaring’ state – a period of intense high-energy emission – at the same time the neutrino was detected at the South Pole.

Blazars are the central cores of giant galaxies that host an actively accreting supermassive black-hole at their heart, where matter spiralling in forms a hot, rotating disc that generates enormous amounts of energy, along with a pair of relativistic jets.

These jets are colossal columns that funnel radiation, photons and particles – including neutrinos and cosmic rays – tens of light years away from the central black hole at speeds very close to the speed of light. A specific feature of blazars is that one of these jets happens to point towards Earth, making its emission appear exceptionally bright.

Scientists around the world began observing this blazar – the likely source of the neutrino detected by IceCube – in a variety of wavelengths, from radio waves to high-energy gamma rays. ESA's INTEGRAL gamma-ray observatory was part of this international collaboration [3].

“This is a very important milestone to understanding how high-energy neutrinos are produced,” says Carlo Ferrigno from the INTEGRAL Science Data Centre at the University of Geneva, Switzerland.

“There have been previous claims that blazar flares were associated with the production of neutrinos, but this, the first confirmation, is absolutely fundamental. This is an exciting period for astrophysics,” he adds.

INTEGRAL, which surveys the sky in hard X-rays and soft gamma rays, is also sensitive to transient high-energy sources across the whole sky. At the time the neutrino was detected, it did not record any burst of gamma rays from the location of the blazar, so scientists were able to rule out prompt emissions from certain sources, such as a gamma-ray burst.

Image above: Artist's impression of INTEGRAL. Image Credit: ESA.

After the neutrino alert from IceCube, INTEGRAL pointed to this area of the sky on various occasions between 30 September and 24 October 2017 with its wide-field instruments, and it did not observe the blazar to be in a flaring state in the hard X-ray or soft gamma-ray range.

The fact that INTEGRAL could not detect the source in the follow-up observations provided significant information about this blazar, allowing scientists to place a useful upper limit on its energy output during this period.

“INTEGRAL was important in constraining the properties of this blazar, but also in allowing scientists to exclude other neutrino sources such as gamma-ray bursts,” explains Volodymyr Savchenko from the INTEGRAL Science Data Centre, who led the analysis of the INTEGRAL data.

With facilities spread across the globe and in space, scientists now have the capability to detect a plethora of 'cosmic messengers' travelling vast distances at extremely high speeds, in the form of light, neutrinos, cosmic rays, and even gravitational waves.

“The ability to globally marshal telescopes to make a discovery using a variety of wavelengths in cooperation with a neutrino detector like IceCube marks a milestone in what scientists call multi-messenger astronomy,” says Francis Halzen from the University of Wisconsin–Madison, USA, lead scientist for the IceCube Neutrino Observatory.

By combining the information gathered by each of these sophisticated instruments to investigate a wide range of cosmic processes, the era of multi-messenger astronomy has truly entered the phase of scientific exploitation.

ESA’s high-energy space telescopes are fully integrated into this network of large multi-messenger collaborations, as demonstrated during the recent detection of gravitational waves with a corresponding gamma-ray burst – the latter detected by INTEGRAL – released by the collision of two neutron stars, and in the subsequent follow-up campaign, with contributions by INTEGRAL as well as the XMM-Newton X-ray observatory.

Pooling resources from these and other observatories is key for the future of astrophysics, fostering our ability to decode the messages that reach us from across the Universe.

“INTEGRAL is the only observatory available in the hard X-ray and soft gamma-ray domain that has the ability to perform dedicated imaging and spectroscopy, as well as having an instantaneous all-sky view at any time,” notes Erik Kuulkers, INTEGRAL project scientist at ESA.

“After more than 15 years of operations, INTEGRAL is still at the forefront of high-energy astrophysics.”


[1] Described by Frederick Reines, one of the scientists who made the first neutrino detection, as “... the most tiny quantity of reality ever imagined by a human being,” one neutrino is estimated to contain one millionth of the mass of an electron.

[2] The IceCube Collaboration is funded primarily by the National Science Foundation and is operated by a team headquartered at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, USA. The research efforts, including critical contributions to the detector operation, are supported by funding agencies in Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Japan, New Zealand, Republic of Korea, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the USA.

[3] These results are detailed in the paper “Multimessenger observations of a flaring blazar coincident with high-energy neutrino IceCube-170922A” by The IceCube, Fermi-LAT, MAGIC, AGILE, ASAS-SN, HAWC, H.E.S.S, INTEGRAL, Kanata, Kiso, Kapteyn, Liverpool telescope, Subaru, Swift/NuSTAR, VERITAS, and VLA/17B-403 teams, published in Science:

Related article:

NASA’s Fermi Traces Source of Cosmic Neutrino to Monster Black Hole

ESA's INTEGRAL gamma-ray observatory:

ESA's XMM-Newton X-ray observatory:

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: ESA/Markus Bauer/Erik Kuulkers/INTEGRAL Science Data Centre/University of Geneva/Volodymyr Savchenko/Carlo Ferrigno/IceCube/University of Wisconsin–Madison/Francis Halzen/Sílvia Bravo Gallart.


Cancer, Fertility Research and Cargo Work Fill Crew Schedule

ISS - Expedition 56 Mission patch.

July 12, 2018

The Expedition 56 crew members explored a variety of microgravity science today potentially improving the lives of people on Earth and astronauts in space. The orbital residents are also unpacking a new resupply ship and getting ready for the departure of another.

Image above: NASA astronaut Ricky Arnold is inside the seven-windowed Cupola that provides views of the Earth below as well as approaching and departing resupply ships. Image Credit: NASA.

Cancer research is taking place aboard the International Space Station possibly leading to safer, more effective therapies. Flight Engineer Serena Auñón-Chancellor contributed to that research today by examining endothelial cells through a microscope for the AngieX Cancer Therapy study. AngieX is seeking a better model in space to test a treatment that targets tumor cells and blood vessels.

She also teamed up with Commander Drew Feustel imaging biological samples in a microscope for the Micro-11 fertility study. The experiment is researching whether successful reproduction is possible off the Earth.

The Northrop Grumman Cygnus space freighter has been packed full of trash and is due to leave the space station Sunday morning. Flight Engineer Alexander Gerst will command the Canadarm2 robotic arm to release Cygnus at 8:35 a.m. EDT as Auñón-Chancellor backs him up.  It will orbit Earth until July 30 for engineering studies before burning up harmlessly over the Pacific Ocean.

Image above: Sunset over South Pacific Ocean, seen by EarthCam on ISS, speed: 27'574 Km/h, altitude: 420,90 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 July 12, 2018 at 21:44 UTC. Image Credits: Aerospace/Roland Berga.

Cosmonauts Oleg Artemyev and Sergey Prokopyev were back at work unpacking cargo delivered Monday aboard the new Progress 70 cargo craft. The 70P will stay at the station’s Pirs docking compartment until January.

Related links:

AngieX Cancer Therapy:


Cygnus space freighter:

Progress 70 cargo craft:

Expedition 56:

Spot the Station:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

Best regards,

Observatories Team Up to Reveal Rare Double Asteroid

Asteroid Watch logo.

July 12, 2018

New observations by three of the world‘s largest radio telescopes have revealed that an asteroid discovered last year is actually two objects, each about 3,000 feet (900 meters) in size, orbiting each other.

Rare Double Asteroid Revealed by NASA, Observatories

Video above: Three of the world's largest radio telescopes team up to show a rare double asteroid. 2017 YE5 is only the fourth binary near-Earth asteroid ever observed in which the two bodies are roughly the same size, and not touching. This video shows radar images of the pair gathered by Goldstone Solar System Radar, Arecibo Observatory and Green Bank Observatory. Video Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

Near-Earth asteroid 2017 YE5 was discovered with observations provided by the Morocco Oukaimeden Sky Survey on Dec. 21, 2017, but no details about the asteroid's physical properties were known until the end of June. This is only the fourth "equal mass" binary near-Earth asteroid ever detected, consisting of two objects nearly identical in size, orbiting each other. The new observations provide the most detailed images ever obtained of this type of binary asteroid.

On June 21, the asteroid 2017 YE5 made its closest approach to Earth for at least the next 170 years, coming to within 3.7 million miles (6 million kilometers) of Earth, or about 16 times the distance between Earth and the Moon. On June 21 and 22, observations by NASA's Goldstone Solar System Radar (GSSR) in California showed the first signs that 2017 YE5 could be a binary system. The observations revealed two distinct lobes, but the asteroid's orientation was such that scientists could not see if the two bodies were separate or joined. Eventually, the two objects rotated to expose a distinct gap between them.

Animation above: Bi-static radar images of the binary asteroid 2017 YE5 from the Arecibo Observatory and the Green Bank Observatory on June 25. The observations show that the asteroid consists of two separate objects in orbit around each other. Animation Credits: Arecibo/GBO/NSF/NASA/JPL-Caltech.

Scientists at the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico had already planned to observe 2017 YE5, and they were alerted by their colleagues at Goldstone of the asteroid's unique properties. On June 24, the scientists teamed up with researchers at the Green Bank Observatory (GBO) in West Virginia and used the two observatories together in a bi-static radar configuration (in which Arecibo transmits the radar signal and Green Bank receives the return signal). Together, they were able to confirm that 2017 YE5 consists of two separated objects. By June 26, both Goldstone and Arecibo had independently confirmed the asteroid's binary nature.

The new observations obtained between June 21 and 26 indicate that the two objects revolve around each other once every 20 to 24 hours. This was confirmed with visible-light observations of brightness variations by Brian Warner at the Center for Solar System Studies in Rancho Cucamonga, California.

Anamation above: Radar images of the binary asteroid 2017 YE5 from NASA's Goldstone Solar System Radar (GSSR). The observations, conducted on June 23, 2018, show two lobes, but do not yet show two separate objects. Animation Credits: GSSR/NASA/JPL-Caltech.

Radar imaging shows that the two objects are larger than their combined optical brightness originally suggested, indicating that the two rocks do not reflect as much sunlight as a typical rocky asteroid. 2017 YE5 is likely as dark as charcoal. The Goldstone images taken on June 21 also show a striking difference in the radar reflectivity of the two objects, a phenomenon not seen previously among more than 50 other binary asteroid systems studied by radar since 2000. (However, the majority of those binary asteroids consist of one large object and a much smaller satellite.) The reflectivity differences also appear in the Arecibo images and hint that the two objects may have different densities, compositions near their surfaces, or different surface roughnesses.

Animation above: Artist's concept of what binary asteroid 2017 YE5 might look like. The two objects showed striking differences in radar reflectivity, which could indicate that they have different surface properties. Animation Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

Scientists estimate that among near-Earth asteroids larger than 650 feet (200 meters) in size, about 15 percent are binaries with one larger object and a much smaller satellite. Equal-mass binaries like 2017 YE5 are much rarer. Contact binaries, in which two similarly sized objects are in contact, are thought to make up another 15 percent of near-Earth asteroids larger than 650 feet (200 meters) in size.

Animation above: Artist's illustration of the trajectory of asteroid 2017 YE5 through the solar system. At its closest approach to Earth, the asteroid came to within 16 times the distance between Earth and the moon. Animation Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

The discovery of the binary nature of 2017 YE5 provides scientists with an important opportunity to improve understanding of different types of binaries and to study the formation mechanisms between binaries and contact binaries, which may be related. Analysis of the combined radar and optical observations may allow scientists to estimate the densities of the 2017 YE5 objects, which will improve understanding of their composition and internal structure, and of how they formed.

Study contributors

The Goldstone observations were led by Marina Brozović, a radar scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

Anne Virkki, Flaviane Venditti and Sean Marshall of the Arecibo Observatory and the University of Central Florida led the observations using the Arecibo Observatory.

Patrick Taylor of the Universities Space Research Association (USRA), scientist at the Lunar and Planetary Institute, led the bi-static radar observations with GBO, home of the Green Bank Telescope (GBT), the world’s largest fully steerable radio telescope.

Image above: This optical composite image shows asteroid 2017 YE5, taken on June 30, 2018, by the Cadi Ayyad University Morocco Oukaimeden Sky Survey, one of the first surveys to identify 2017 YE5 in December 2017. Image Credits: Cadi Ayyad University Morocco Oukaimeden Sky Survey.

The Arecibo, Goldstone and USRA planetary radar projects are funded through NASA's Near-Earth Object Observations Program within the Planetary Defense Coordination Office (PDCO), which manages the Agency’s Planetary Defense Program. The Arecibo Observatory is a facility of the National Science Foundation operated under cooperative agreement by the University of Central Florida, Yang Enterprises, and Universidad Metropolitana. GBO is a facility of the National Science Foundation, operated under a cooperative agreement by Associated Universities, Inc.

In addition to the resources NASA puts into understanding asteroids, the PDCO also partners with other U.S. government agencies, university-based astronomers, and space science institutes across the country, often with grants, interagency transfers and other contracts from NASA. They also collaborate with international space agencies and institutions that are working to track and better understand these smaller objects of the Solar System. In addition, NASA values the work of numerous highly skilled amateur astronomers, whose accurate observational data helps improve asteroid orbits after discovery.

More information about asteroids and near-Earth objects is at these sites:


Images (mentioned), Animation (mentioned), Video (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/JoAnna Wendel/Tony Greicius/JPL/Calla Cofield.


NASA’s Fermi Traces Source of Cosmic Neutrino to Monster Black Hole

NASA - Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope logo.

July 12, 2018

For the first time ever, scientists using NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope have found the source of a high-energy neutrino from outside our galaxy. This neutrino traveled 3.7 billion years at almost the speed of light before being detected on Earth. This is farther than any other neutrino whose origin scientists can identify.

High-energy neutrinos are hard-to-catch particles that scientists think are created by the most powerful events in the cosmos, such as galaxy mergers and material falling onto supermassive black holes. They travel at speeds just shy of the speed of light and rarely interact with other matter, allowing them to travel unimpeded across distances of billions of light-years.

Image above: NASA's Fermi (top left) has achieved a new first—identifying a monster black hole in a far-off galaxy as the source of a high-energy neutrino seen by the IceCube Neutrino Observatory (sensor strings, bottom). Image Credits: NASA/Fermi and Aurore Simonnet, Sonoma State University.

The neutrino was discovered by an international team of scientists using the National Science Foundation’s IceCube Neutrino Observatory at the Amundsen–Scott South Pole Station. Fermi found the source of the neutrino by tracing its path back to a blast of gamma-ray light from a distant supermassive black hole in the constellation Orion.

“Again, Fermi has helped make another giant leap in a growing field we call multimessenger astronomy,” said Paul Hertz, director of the Astrophysics Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “Neutrinos and gravitational waves deliver new kinds of information about the most extreme environments in the universe. But to best understand what they’re telling us, we need to connect them to the ‘messenger’ astronomers know best—light.”

Scientists study neutrinos, as well as cosmic rays and gamma rays, to understand what is going on in turbulent cosmic environments such as supernovas, black holes and stars. Neutrinos show the complex processes that occur inside the environment, and cosmic rays show the force and speed of violent activity. But, scientists rely on gamma rays, the most energetic form of light, to brightly flag what cosmic source is producing these neutrinos and cosmic rays.

“The most extreme cosmic explosions produce gravitational waves, and the most extreme cosmic accelerators produce high-energy neutrinos and cosmic rays,” says Regina Caputo of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, the analysis coordinator for the Fermi Large Area Telescope Collaboration. “Through Fermi, gamma rays are providing a bridge to each of these new cosmic signals.”

The discovery is the subject of two papers published Thursday in the journal Science. The source identification paper also includes important follow-up observations by the Major Atmospheric Gamma Imaging Cherenkov Telescopes and additional data from NASA’s Neil Gehrels Swift Observatory and many other facilities.

Image above: The discovery of a high-energy neutrino on September 22, 2017, sent astronomers on a chase to locate its source—a supermassive black hole in a distant galaxy. Image Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.

On Sept. 22, 2017, scientists using IceCube detected signs of a neutrino striking the Antarctic ice with energy of about 300 trillion electron volts—more than 45 times the energy achievable in the most powerful particle accelerator on Earth. This high energy strongly suggested that the neutrino had to be from beyond our solar system. Backtracking the path through IceCube indicated where in the sky the neutrino came from, and automated alerts notified astronomers around the globe to search this region for flares or outbursts that could be associated with the event.

Data from Fermi’s Large Area Telescope revealed enhanced gamma-ray emission from a well-known active galaxy at the time the neutrino arrived. This is a type of active galaxy called a blazar, with a supermassive black hole with millions to billions of times the Sun’s mass that blasts jets of particles outward in opposite directions at nearly the speed of light. Blazars are especially bright and active because one of these jets happens to point almost directly toward Earth.

Image above: Fermi-detected gamma rays from TXS 0506+056 are shown as expanding circles. Their maximum size, color—from white (low) to magenta (high)—and associated tone indicate the energy of each ray. Image Credits: NASA/DOE/Fermi LAT Collab.

Fermi scientist Yasuyuki Tanaka at Hiroshima University in Japan was the first to associate the neutrino event with the blazar designated TXS 0506+056 (TXS 0506 for short).

“Fermi’s LAT monitors the entire sky in gamma rays and keeps tabs on the activity of some 2,000 blazars, yet TXS 0506 really stood out,” said Sara Buson, a NASA Postdoctoral Fellow at Goddard who performed the data analysis with Anna Franckowiak, a scientist at the Deutsches Elektronen-Synchrotron research center in Zeuthen, Germany. “This blazar is located near the center of the sky position determined by IceCube and, at the time of the neutrino detection, was the most active Fermi had seen it in a decade.”

Visualizing Gamma Rays From Blazar TXS 0506+056

Video above: Fermi-detected gamma rays from TXS 0506+056 are shown as expanding circles. Their maximum size, color—from white (low) to magenta (high)—and associated tone indicate the energy of each ray. The first sequence shows typical emission; the second shows the 2017 flare leading to the neutrino detection. Video Credits: NASA/DOE/Fermi LAT Collab., Matt Russo and Andrew Santaguida/SYSTEM Sounds.

NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope is an astrophysics and particle physics partnership, developed in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Energy and with important contributions from academic institutions and partners in France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Sweden and the United States. The NASA Postdoctoral Fellow program is administered by Universities Space Research Association under contract with NASA.

For more about NASA’s Fermi mission, visit:

Fermi Gamma-Ray Space Telescope:

Related links:

The source identification paper:

Major Atmospheric Gamma Imaging Cherenkov Telescopes:

NASA’s Neil Gehrels Swift Observatory:

Deutsches Elektronen-Synchrotron:

Images (mentioned), Video (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Felicia Chou/Sean Potter/GSFC/Dewayne Washington.


James Webb Space Telescope to Inspect Atmospheres of Gas Giant Exoplanets

NASA / ESA / CSA - James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) patch.

July 12, 2018

In April 2018, NASA launched the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS). Its main goal is to locate Earth-sized planets and larger “super-Earths” orbiting nearby stars for further study.  One of the most powerful tools that will examine the atmospheres of some planets that TESS discovers will be NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope. Since observing small exoplanets with thin atmospheres like Earth will be challenging for Webb, astronomers will target easier, gas giant exoplanets first.

Image above: This is an artist's impression of the Jupiter-size extrasolar planet, HD 189733b, being eclipsed by its parent star. Astronomers using the Hubble Space Telescope have measured carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide in the planet's atmosphere. The planet is a "hot Jupiter," which is so close to its star that it completes an orbit in only 2.2 days. The planet is too hot for life as we know it. But under the right conditions, on a more Earth-like world, carbon dioxide can indicate the presence of extraterrestrial life. This observation demonstrates that chemical biotracers can be detected by space telescope observations. Image Credits: ESA, NASA, M. Kornmesser (ESA/Hubble), and STScI.

Some of Webb’s first observations of gas giant exoplanets will be conducted through the Director’s Discretionary Early Release Science program. The transiting exoplanet project team at Webb’s science operations center is planning to conduct three different types of observations that will provide both new scientific knowledge and a better understanding of the performance of Webb’s science instruments.

“We have two main goals. The first is to get transiting exoplanet datasets from Webb to the astronomical community as soon as possible. The second is to do some great science so that astronomers and the public can see how powerful this observatory is,” said Jacob Bean of the University of Chicago, a co-principal investigator on the transiting exoplanet project.

James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). Image Credit: NASA/ESA/CSA

“Our team’s goal is to provide critical knowledge and insights to the astronomical community that will help to catalyze exoplanet research and make the best use of Webb in the limited time we have available,” added Natalie Batalha of NASA Ames Research Center, the project’s principal investigator.

Transit – An atmospheric spectrum

When a planet crosses in front of, or transits, its host star, the star’s light is filtered through the planet’s atmosphere. Molecules within the atmosphere absorb certain wavelengths, or colors, of light. By splitting the star’s light into a rainbow spectrum, astronomers can detect those sections of missing light and determine what molecules are in the planet’s atmosphere.

For these observations, the project team selected WASP-79b, a Jupiter-sized planet located about 780 light-years from Earth. The team expects to detect and measure the abundances of water, carbon monoxide, and carbon dioxide in WASP-79b. Webb also might detect new molecules not yet seen in exoplanet atmospheres.

Phase curve – A weather map

Planets that orbit very close to their stars tend to become tidally locked. One side of the planet permanently faces the star while the other side faces away, just as one side of the Moon always faces the Earth. When the planet is in front of the star, we see its cooler backside. But as it orbits the star, more and more of the hot day-side comes into view. By observing an entire orbit, astronomers can observe those variations (called a phase curve) and use the data to map the planet’s temperature, clouds, and chemistry as a function of longitude.

How Do We Learn About a Planet's Atmosphere?

Video above: This animation describes how Webb will use transmission spectroscopy to study the atmospheres of distant exoplanets. Video Credits: NASA, ESA, CSA, and L. Hustak (STScI).

The team will observe a phase curve of the “hot Jupiter” known as WASP-43b, which orbits its star in less than 20 hours. By looking at different wavelengths of light, they can sample the atmosphere to different depths and obtain a more complete picture of its structure. “We have already seen dramatic and unexpected variations for this planet with Hubble and Spitzer. With Webb we will reveal these variations in significantly greater detail to understand the physical processes that are responsible,” said Bean.

Eclipse – A planet’s glow

The greatest challenge when observing an exoplanet is that the star’s light is much brighter, swamping the faint light of the planet. To get around this problem, one method is to observe a transiting planet when it disappears behind the star, not when it crosses in front of the star. By comparing the two measurements, one taken when both star and planet are visible, and the other when only the star is in view, astronomers can calculate how much light is coming from the planet alone.

This technique works best for very hot planets that glow brightly in infrared light. The team plans to study WASP-18b, a planet that is baked to a temperature of almost 4,800 degrees Fahrenheit (2,900 K). Among other questions, they hope to determine whether the planet’s stratosphere exists due to the presence of titanium oxide, vanadium oxide, or some other molecule.

Habitable planets

Ultimately, astronomers want to use Webb to study potentially habitable planets. In particular, Webb will target planets orbiting red dwarf stars since those stars are smaller and dimmer, making it easier to tease out the signal from an orbiting planet. Red dwarfs are also the most common stars in our galaxy.

“TESS should locate more than a dozen planets orbiting in the habitable zones of red dwarfs, a few of which might actually be habitable. We want to learn whether those planets have atmospheres and Webb will be the one to tell us,” said Kevin Stevenson of the Space Telescope Science Institute, a co-principal investigator on the project. “The results will go a long way towards answering the question of whether conditions favorable to life are common in our galaxy.”

The James Webb Space Telescope will be the world's premier space science observatory. Webb will solve mysteries of our solar system, look beyond to distant worlds around other stars, and probe the mysterious structures and origins of our universe and our place in it. Webb is an international project led by NASA with its partners, the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA).

For more information about Webb, visit

Related links:

Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS):

Director’s Discretionary Early Release Science:


Images (mentioned), Video (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Lynn Jenner/Space Telescope Science Institute, by Christine Pulliam.

Best regards,

Space Station Shrinks Fluorescence Microscopy Tool

ISS - International Space Station logo.

July 12, 2018

Honey, I shrunk the microscope! A miniaturized fluorescence microscope makes it possible to observe changes in living cells in microgravity. Future observations of astronauts’ cells could tell scientists important information about how the body adapts to space.

Image above: FLUMIAS team members install the 3D fluorescence microscope that will allow live-cell imaging in microgravity into Payload Card-8 of the TangoLab in preparation for launch aboard the SpaceX Dragon last month. Image Credit: DLR.

"An astronaut’s physiology changes during long duration spaceflight because of the lack of gravity,” said Principal Investigator Oliver Ullrich, University of Magdeburg. “Knowing the molecular basis of this cellular response to altered gravity is key for risk management, monitoring, and development of countermeasures for future long-term space exploration. Cellular adaptation to the microgravity environment can only be studied and understood in dynamic or live measurements. Live imaging experiments in space are a crucial contribution to the understanding of cellular adaptation to microgravity.”

An investigation aboard the International Space Station will demonstrate this new technology. FLUMIAS-DEA observes samples of fixed cells and live cells using a modified, patented illumination technique that contributes to the microscope’s smaller size and reduced technical complexity.

Image above: FLUMIAS-DEA miniaturized fluorescence microscope loaded in TangoLab 2.  Image Credit: Airbus.

“The dimensions of FLUMIAS-DEA can be accommodated in the volume of seven cubes inside the Space Tango TangoLab,” said investigator Rainer Treichel of Airbus Defence and Space, which operates the investigation for the German Space Agency (DLR). “At the beginning of its development, it was not clear whether this could be accomplished. Standard laboratory microscopes with comparable capabilities typically take up the space of a full-sized writing desk.”

Fluorescence microscopy is a key tool in biological and medical science, used to visualize the spatial structure of cells and tissues. The technique applies an array of fluorochromes, or stains that respond to different wavelengths of irradiated light, to a specimen. The fluorescence microscope then irradiates the specimen with specific wavelengths to separate the signals of the stains. This makes it possible to identify specific cells and sub-microscopic cellular components. Using fluorescence microscopy to observe living cells provides insights into dynamic cellular processes such as the transport of proteins within and between cells, cytoskeleton rearrangement, and ion flux, such as the flow of calcium ions into and out of a cell. High-resolution microscopes document these processes over time and in 3D.

This tool for 3D imaging of biological samples has many applications for research on the space station.

Image above: Image of fixed macrophages using three chromophores created by the FLUMIAS-DEA miniaturized fluorescence microscope during Science Verification Test. Image Credit: Airbus.

The FLUMIAS-DEA investigation is meant to pave the way for the use of fluorescence microscopy for more complex biological studies in space. A next-generation facility, called FLUMIAS-ISS, is currently in development for potential flight as early as 2020. It will enable investigation of inner cellular processes of mammalian and plant cells under variable artificial gravity levels between microgravity and 1 g. 

A compact fluorescence microscope capable of providing 3D imaging of biological samples has potential applications on Earth, making it possible to use this valuable technology in remote environments and disaster situations.

This microscope might have shrunk, but there is nothing small about its potential.
This investigation was sponsored by the ISS National Lab, which is managed by the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS).

Related links:


Space Tango TangoLab:

Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS):

ISS National Lab:

German Space Agency (DLR):

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.


mercredi 11 juillet 2018

First 3D colour X-ray of a human using CERN technology

CERN - European Organization for Nuclear Research logo.

July 11, 2018

Timepix3, one of the read-out chips of Medipix (Image: CERN)

What if, instead of a black and white X-ray picture, a doctor of a cancer patient had access to colour images identifying the tissues being scanned? This colour X-ray imaging technique could produce clearer and more accurate pictures and help doctors give their patients more accurate diagnoses.

This is now a reality, thanks to a New-Zealand company that scanned, for the first time, a human body using a breakthrough colour medical scanner based on the Medipix3 technology developed at CERN. Father and son scientists Professors Phil and Anthony Butler from Canterbury and Otago Universities spent a decade building and refining their product.

Medipix is a family of read-out chips for particle imaging and detection. The original concept of Medipix is that it works like a camera, detecting and counting each individual particle hitting the pixels when its electronic shutter is open. This enables high-resolution, high-contrast, very reliable images, making it unique for imaging applications in particular in the medical field.

Hybrid pixel-detector technology was initially developed to address the needs of particle tracking at the Large Hadron Collider, and successive generations of Medipix chips have demonstrated over 20 years the great potential of the technology outside of high-energy physics.

MARS Bioimaging Ltd, which is commercialising the 3D scanner, is linked to the University of Otago and Canterbury. The latter together with more than 20 research institutes forms the third generation of Medipix collaboration. The Medipix3 chip is the most advanced chip available today and Professor Phil Butler recognises that “this technology sets the machine apart diagnostically because its small pixels and accurate energy resolution mean that this new imaging tool is able to get images that no other imaging tool can achieve.”

MARS’ solution couples the spectroscopic information generated by the Medipix3 enabled detector with powerful algorithms to generate 3D images. The colours represent different energy levels of the X-ray photons as recorded by the detector hence identifying different components of body parts such as fat, water, calcium, and disease markers.

Image above: A 3D image of a wrist with a watch showing part of the finger bones in white and soft tissue in red. (Image: MARS Bioimaging Ltd).

So far, researchers have been using a small version of the MARS scanner to study cancer, bone and joint health, and vascular diseases that cause heart attacks and strokes. “In all of these studies, promising early results suggest that when spectral imaging is routinely used in clinics it will enable more accurate diagnosis and personalisation of treatment,” Professor Anthony Butler says.

CERN's Knowledge Transfer group has a long-standing expertise in transferring CERN technologies, in particular for medical applications. In the case of the 3D scanner, a license agreement has been established between CERN, on behalf of Medipix3 collaboration and MARS Bioimaging Ltd. As Aurélie Pezous, CERN Knowledge Transfer Officer states, “It is always satisfying to see our work leveraging benefits for patients around the world. Real-life applications such as this one fuels our efforts to reach even further.”

In the coming months, orthopaedic and rheumatology patients in New Zealand will be scanned by the revolutionary MARS scanner in a clinical trial that is a world first, paving the way to a potentially routine use of this new generation equipment.


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):

CERN's Knowledge Transfer group:

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

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: CERN/Romain Muller.


Israel wants to land on the Moon

SpaceIL - Lunar XPRIZE Team SpaceIL patch.

July 11, 2018

An Israeli spacecraft is expected to be sent to the moon in December using a SpaceX launcher.

Image above: The Israeli company SpaceIL did not win the "Google Lunar XPtice" but continued its project. Photo Credit: SpaceIL.

SpaceIL, an Israeli private company, announced on Tuesday that it plans to send an Israeli spacecraft to the moon for the first time in December. It will be launched with a rocket from SpaceX company of American entrepreneur Elon Musk.

The unmanned 585-kilogram vessel will land on the moon on February 13, 2019, if all goes according to plan, the organizers said at a press conference. His mission will include the study of lunar magnetic waves.

His first task will be to plant an Israeli flag on the moon, the organizers added. The project was launched as part of the "Google Lunar XPtice" award, which has invested $ 30 million to encourage scientists and private sector entrepreneurs to organize inexpensive missions around the moon.

Image above: A drawing of the SpaceIL lunar spacecraft. Image Credits: Google Lunar XPRIZE.

The Israeli company SpaceIL then decided to take part in the competition and joined forces with Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), the largest Israeli aerospace group. The price of Google was finally not awarded, which did not stop the Israeli team to continue the project.

Funded by private funds, it is expected to cost $ 95 million, most of which will be paid by Israeli-born billionaire Morris Khan of South Africa. "It will show the way to the rest of the world" and prove that it is possible to send a spacecraft to the moon without an exorbitant cost, said IAI official Ofer Doron.

For more information about SpaceIL, visit:

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: SpaceIL/ATS/ Aerospace/Roland Berga.

Best regards,