vendredi 3 août 2018

Space Station ‘Space Botanist’ Observes California, Nevada Wildfires

NASA - ECOSTRESS Mission logo.

Aug. 3, 2018

Image above: ECOSTRESS image acquired on July 28 shows three wildfires burning in the western US (in red) -- the Carr and Whaleback fires in California, and the Perry Fire in Nevada. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

NASA’s Ecosystem Spaceborne Thermal Radiometer Experiment on Space Station (ECOSTRESS) has captured new imagery of three wildfires burning in California and Nevada -- the first image of its kind to be taken by the agency’s newest Earth-observing mission.

ECOSTRESS’ primary mission is to detect plant health by monitoring Earth’s surface temperature from the vantage point of the International Space Station. However, it can also detect other heat-related phenomenon -- like heat waves, volcanoes and fires.

Image above: This zoomed-in ECOSTRESS image shows the Carr Fire burning in California in red. It also shows the fire’s thick smoke plumes. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

The new image, acquired on July 28, captures three wildfires -- the Carr and Whaleback fires in California, and the Perry Fire in Nevada. Surface temperatures above 89.6 degrees Fahrenheit (32 degrees Celsius) are shown in red, highlighting the burning areas along the fire fronts. Zooming in on the Carr and Perry fires shows the heat data in more detail, and also the very distinct smoke plumes the fires are producing. The measurements have a ground resolution of nearly 77 yards by 77 yards (70 meters by 70 meters).

The Carr Fire, one of the largest of more than a dozen fires burning in California,  started on July 23. As of August 2, the fire had grown to over 121,000 acres. The Whaleback Fire started near Spalding, California on July 27 and spanned nearly 19,000 acres on August 2. The Perry Fire, which started just north of Reno, Nevada on July 27, had engulfed more than 49,000 acres as of August 2.

Image above: This zoomed-in ECOSTRESS image shows the Perry Fire burning in Nevada in red. Thick smoke plumes can also be seen rising from the fire. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

ECOSTRESS launched on June 29 as part of a SpaceX commercial resupply mission to the International Space Station. It docked with the space station a few days later, and sent back its first temperature data on July 9. Detecting wildfires is not its primary mission, but its ability to do so is useful to responders as well as scientists.

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, built and manages the ECOSTRESS mission for NASA's Earth Science Division in the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. ECOSTRESS is an Earth Venture Instrument mission; the program is managed by NASA's Earth System Science Pathfinder program at NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia.

More information about ECOSTRESS, visit: and

Related links:

International Space Station (ISS):

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Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Tony Greicius/JPL/Esprit Smith.


Dragon Ends Stay at Station, On Its Way Home

SpaceX - Dragon CRS-15 Mission patch.

August 3, 2018

Robotic flight controllers released the SpaceX Dragon cargo spacecraft from the International Space Station’s robotic arm at 12:38 p.m. EDT, and Expedition 56 Serena Auñon-Chancellor of NASA is monitoring its departure.

Image above: The SpaceX Dragon cargo craft begins its separation from the space station after being released from the Canadarm2. Image Credit: NASA.

Dragon’s thrusters will be fired to move the spacecraft a safe distance from the station before SpaceX flight controllers in Hawthorne, California, command its deorbit burn about 5:23 p.m. The capsule will splashdown about 6:17 p.m. in the Pacific Ocean, where the SpaceX recovery team will retrieve the capsule and its more than 3,800 pounds of cargo, including a variety of technological and biological studies.

NASA and the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS), the non-profit organization that manages research aboard the U.S. National Laboratory portion of the space station, will receive time-sensitive samples and begin working with researchers to process and distribute them within 48 hours of splashdown.

SpaceX CRS-15: Dragon departure from the ISS

Dragon is the only space station resupply spacecraft currently capable of returning cargo to Earth, and this was the second trip to the orbiting laboratory for this spacecraft. SpaceX launched its 15th NASA-contracted commercial resupply mission to the station June 29 from Space Launch Complex 40 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on a Falcon 9 rocket that also previously launched NASA’s TESS mission to study exoplanets.

Related links:

SpaceX Dragon:

Expedition 56:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

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NASA Assigns Crews to First Test Flights, Missions on Commercial Spacecraft

NASA - Commercial Crew Program logo.

Aug. 3, 2018

Image above: NASA introduced to the world on Aug. 3, 2018, the first U.S. astronauts who will fly on American-made, commercial spacecraft to and from the International Space Station – an endeavor that will return astronaut launches to U.S. soil for the first time since the space shuttle’s retirement in 2011. The agency assigned nine astronauts to crew the first test flight and mission of both Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX’s Crew Dragon. The astronauts are, from left to right: Sunita Williams, Josh Cassada, Eric Boe, Nicole Mann, Christopher Ferguson, Douglas Hurley, Robert Behnken, Michael Hopkins and Victor Glover. Image Credit: NASA.

ASA introduced to the world on Friday the first U.S. astronauts who will fly on American-made, commercial spacecraft to and from the International Space Station – an endeavor that will return astronaut launches to U.S. soil for the first time since the space shuttle’s retirement in 2011.

“Today, our country’s dreams of greater achievements in space are within our grasp,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “This accomplished group of American astronauts, flying on new spacecraft developed by our commercial partners Boeing and SpaceX, will launch a new era of human spaceflight. Today’s announcement advances our great American vision and strengthens the nation’s leadership in space.”

NASA Announces Astronaut Crews for First Commercial Vehicle Flights

The agency assigned nine astronauts to crew the first test flight and mission of both Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX’s Crew Dragon. NASA has worked closely with the companies throughout design, development and testing to ensure the systems meet NASA’s safety and performance requirements.

“The men and women we assign to these first flights are at the forefront of this exciting new time for human spaceflight,” said Mark Geyer, director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. “It will be thrilling to see our astronauts lift off from American soil, and we can’t wait to see them aboard the International Space Station.”

Starliner Test Flight Astronauts

Eric Boe was born in Miami and grew up in Atlanta. He came to NASA from the Air Force, where he was a fighter pilot and test pilot and rose to the rank of colonel. He was selected as an astronaut in 2000 and piloted space shuttle Endeavour for the STS-126 mission and Discovery on its final flight, STS-133.

Christopher Ferguson is a native of Philadelphia. He is a retired Navy captain, who piloted space shuttle Atlantis for STS-115, and commanded shuttle Endeavour on STS-126 and Atlantis for the final flight of the Space Shuttle Program, STS-135. He retired from NASA in 2011 and has been an integral part of Boeing's CST-100 Starliner program.

Nicole Aunapu Mann is a California native and a lieutenant colonel in the Marine Corps. She is an F/A-18 test pilot with more than 2,500 flight hours in more than 25 aircraft. Mann was selected as an astronaut in 2013. This will be her first trip to space.

Boeing’s Starliner will launch aboard a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

Crew Dragon Test Flight Astronauts

Robert Behnken is from St. Ann, Missouri. He has a doctorate in engineering and is a flight test engineer and colonel in the Air Force. He joined the astronaut corps in 2000 and flew aboard space shuttle Endeavour twice, for the STS-123 and STS-130 missions, during which he performed six spacewalks totaling more than 37 hours.

Douglas Hurley calls Apalachin, New York, his hometown. He was a test pilot and colonel in the Marine Corps before coming to NASA in 2000 to become an astronaut. He piloted space shuttle Endeavor for STS-127 and Atlantis for STS-135, the final space shuttle mission.

SpaceX’s Crew Dragon will launch aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

After each company successfully completes its crewed test flight, NASA will begin the final process of certifying that spacecraft and systems for regular crew missions to the space station. The agency has contracted six missions, with as many as four astronauts per mission, for each company.

Starliner First Mission Astronauts

Josh Cassada grew up in White Bear Lake, Minnesota. He is a Navy commander and test pilot with more than 3,500 flight hours in more than 40 aircraft. He was selected as an astronaut in 2013. This will be his first spaceflight.

Sunita Williams was born in Euclid, Ohio, but considers Needham, Massachusetts, her hometown. Williams came to NASA from the Navy, where she was a test pilot and rose to the rank of captain before retiring. Since her selection as an astronaut in 1998, she has spent 322 days aboard the International Space Station for Expeditions 14/15 and Expeditions 32/33, commanded the space station and performed seven spacewalks.

Crew Dragon First Mission Astronauts

Victor Glover is from Pomona, California. He is a Navy commander, aviator and test pilot with almost 3,000 hours flying more than 40 different aircraft. He made 400 carrier landings and flew 24 combat missions. He was selected as part of the 2013 astronaut candidate class, and this will be his first spaceflight.

Michael Hopkins was born in Lebanon, Missouri, and grew up on a farm near Richland, Missouri. He is a colonel in the Air Force, where he was a flight test engineer before being selected as a NASA astronaut in 2009. He has spent 166 days on the International Space Station for Expeditions 37/38, and conducted two spacewalks.

Additional crew members will be assigned by NASA’s international partners at a later date.

Image above: NASA’s Commercial Crew Program is working with the American aerospace industry as companies develop a new generation of spacecraft and launch systems to carry crews safely to and from low-Earth orbit – the SpaceX Crew Dragon and Boeing CST-100 Starliner. Image Credit: NASA.

NASA’s continuous presence on the space station for almost 18 years has enabled technology demonstrations and research in biology and biotechnology, Earth and space science, human health, physical sciences. This research has led to dramatic improvements in technology, infrastructure and medicine, and thousands of spinoff technologies that have improved quality of life here on Earth.

The new spaceflight capability provided by Boeing and SpaceX will allow NASA to maintain a crew of seven astronauts on the space station, thereby maximizing scientific research that leads to breakthroughs and also aids in understanding and mitigating the challenges of long-duration spaceflight. 

NASA’s Commercial Crew Program is facilitating the development of a U.S. commercial crew space transportation capability with the goal of achieving safe, reliable and cost-effective access to and from the International Space Station and low-Earth orbit. The public-private partnerships fostered by the program will stimulate growth in a robust commercial space industry and spark life-changing innovations for future generations.

Learn more about NASA’s Commercial Crew Program at:

Commercial Space:

Images (mentioned), Video, Text, Credits: NASA/Stephanie Schierholz/Sean Potter/JSC/Brandi Dean/KSC/Stephanie Martin.


Artistic Portrait of Jupiter

NASA - JUNO Mission logo.

August 3 2018

Tumultuous tempests in Jupiter's northern hemisphere are seen in this portrait taken by NASA's Juno spacecraft.

Like our home planet, Jupiter has cyclones and anticyclones, along with fast-moving jet streams that circle its globe. This image captures a jet stream, called Jet N6, located on the far right of the image. It is next to an anticyclonic white oval that is the brighter circular feature in the top right corner. The North North Little Red Spot is also visible in this view.

The image was taken at 10 p.m. PDT on July 15, 2018 (1 a.m. EDT on July 16), as the spacecraft performed its 14th close flyby of Jupiter. At the time, Juno was about 10,600 miles (17,000 kilometers) from the planet's cloud tops, above a latitude of 59 degrees.

Citizen scientists Brian Swift and Seán Doran created this image using data from the spacecraft's JunoCam imager. The image has been rotated clockwise so that north is to the right. The stars were artfully added to the background for effect.

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

More information about Juno is online at and

Juno orbiting Jupiter

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory manages the Juno mission for the principal investigator, Scott Bolton, of Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. Juno is part of NASA's New Frontiers Program, which is managed at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, for NASA's Science Mission Directorate. Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver, built the spacecraft. Caltech in Pasadena, California, manages JPL for NASA.

Image, Animation, Text, Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Brian Swift and Sean Doran.


jeudi 2 août 2018

Dragon Ready for Return Ahead of Commercial Crew Announcement

ISS - Expedition 56 Mission patch.

August 2, 2018

The SpaceX Dragon cargo craft is packed with science and hardware ready for return to Earth on Friday. NASA is also introducing a team of astronauts who will soon fly Boeing and SpaceX vehicles to the International Space Station.

Image above: The SpaceX Dragon cargo craft is pictured attached to the International Space Station’s Harmony module framed on the left by the Canadarm2 robotic arm and a pair of the station’s main solar arrays. Image Credit: NASA.

The Expedition 56 crew has finished loading Dragon with sensitive research results and station gear for analysis and refurbishment back on Earth. Space station officials from around the world gave the “go” on Thursday for Dragon’s release from the orbital complex.

Image above: NASA’s Commercial Crew Program is working with the American aerospace industry as companies develop a new generation of spacecraft and launch systems to carry crews safely to and from low-Earth orbit – the SpaceX Crew Dragon and Boeing CST-100 Starliner. Image Credit: NASA.

Mission controllers, with astronaut Serena Auñón-Chancellor monitoring, will command the Canadarm2 robotic arm to release Dragon at 12:37 p.m. EDT Friday. Splashdown in the Pacific Ocean will occur less than six hours later under a trio of huge parachutes off the coast of Baja California.

Image above: Flying over North Atlantic Ocean, seen by EarthCam on ISS, speed: 27'625 Km/h, altitude: 407,25 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 August 2, 2018 at 18:28 UTC. Image Credits: Aerospace/Roland Berga.

NASA will introduce Friday at 11 a.m. on NASA TV new astronauts assigned to spaceflights launching from the United States for the first time since July 8, 2011. NASA’s Commercial Crew Program is partnering with Boeing and SpaceX to launch humans on U.S.-built spaceships from Kennedy Space Center on test flights to the space station.

Related links:

SpaceX Dragon:



Commercial Crew Program:


Expedition 56:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

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The Fading Ghost of a Long-Dead Star

NASA - Spitzer Space Telescope patch.

Aug. 2, 2018

Image above: Thin, red veins of energized gas mark the location of the supernova remnant HBH3 in this image from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope. The puffy, white feature in the image is a portion of the star forming regions W3, W4 and W5. Infrared wavelengths of 3.6 microns have been mapped to blue, and 4.5 microns to red. The white color of the star-forming region is a combination of both wavelengths, while the HBH3 filaments radiate only at the longer 4.5 micron wavelength. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/IPAC.

Thin, red veins of energized gas mark the location of one of the larger supernova remnants in the Milky Way galaxy in this image from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope.

A supernova "remnant" refers to the collective, leftover signs of an exploded star, or supernova. The red filaments in this image belong to a supernova remnant known as HBH 3 that was first observed in 1966 using radio telescopes. Traces of the remnant also radiate optical light. The branches of glowing material are most likely molecular gas that was pummeled by a shockwave generated by the supernova. The energy from the explosion energized the molecules and caused them to radiate infrared light.

The white, cloud-like formation also visible in the image is part of a complex of star-forming regions, simply named W3, W4 and W5. However, those regions extend far beyond the edge of this image. Both the white star-forming regions and the red filaments are approximately 6,400 light years away and lie inside our Milky Way galaxy.

HBH 3 is about 150 light-years in diameter, ranking it amongst the largest known supernova remnants. It is also possibly one of the oldest: Astronomers estimate the original explosion may have happened anywhere from 80,000 to one million years ago.

In 2016, NASA’s Fermi Gamma-Ray Telescope detected very high-energy light -- called gamma rays -- coming from the region near HBH 3. This emission may be coming from gas in one of the neighboring star-forming regions, excited by powerful particles emitted by the supernova blast.

The Spitzer Space Telescope is one of NASA's four Great Observatories -- along with the Hubble Space Telescope, the Chandra X-ray Observatory and the Compton Gamma-Ray Observatory -- and will celebrate its 15th birthday in space on Aug. 25. Spitzer sees the universe in infrared light, which is slightly less energetic than the optical light we can see with our eyes. In this image, taken in March 2010, infrared wavelengths of 3.6 microns have been mapped to blue, and 4.5 microns to red. The white color of the star-forming region is a combination of both wavelengths, while the HBH3 filaments radiate only at the longer 4.5-micron wavelength.

JPL 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, California. Spacecraft operations are based at Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Littleton, Colorado. Data are archived at the Infrared Science Archive housed at IPAC at Caltech. Caltech manages JPL for NASA.

More information on Spitzer can be found at its websites: and

Image (mentioned), Animation, Text, Credits: NASA/Tony Greicius/JPL/Calla Cofield.


LHC accelerates its first “atoms”

CERN - European Organization for Nuclear Research logo.

August 2, 2018

On 27 Jul 2018, Protons might be the Large Hadron Collider’s bread and butter, but that doesn’t mean it can’t crave more exotic tastes from time to time. On Wednesday, 25 July, for the very first time, operators injected not just atomic nuclei but lead “atoms” containing a single electron into the LHC. This was one of the first proof-of-principle tests for a new idea called the Gamma Factory, part of CERN’s Physics Beyond Colliders project.

Image above: During a special one-day run, LHC operators injected lead "atoms" containing a single electron into the machine (Image: Maximilien Brice/Julien Ordan/CERN).

“We’re investigating new ideas of how we could broaden the present CERN research programme and infrastructure,” says Michaela Schaumann, an LHC Engineer in Charge. “Finding out what’s possible is the first step.”

During normal operation, the LHC produces a steady stream of proton–proton collisions, then smashes together atomic nuclei for about four weeks just before the annual winter shutdown. But for a handful of days a year, accelerator physicists get to try something completely new during periods of machine development. Previously, they accelerated xenon nuclei in the LHC and tested other kinds of partially stripped lead ions in the SPS accelerator.

This special LHC run was really the last step in a series of tests,” says physicist Witold Krasny, who is coordinating a study group of about 50 scientists to develop new ways to produce high-energy gamma rays.

Accelerating lead nuclei with one remaining electron can be challenging because of how delicate these atoms are. “It’s really easy to accidentally strip off the electron,” explains Schaumann. “When that happens, the nucleus crashes into the wall of the beam pipe because its charge is no longer synchronised with the LHC’s magnetic field.”

During the first run, operators injected 24 bunches of “atoms” and achieved a low-energy stable beam inside the LHC for about an hour. They then ramped the LHC up to its full power and maintained the beam for about two minutes before it was ejected into the beam dump. “If too many particles go off course, the LHC automatically dumps the beam,” states Schaumann. “Our main priority is to protect the LHC and its magnets.”

After running the magnets through the restart cycle, Schaumann and her colleagues tried again, this time with only six bunches. They kept the beam circulating for two hours before intentionally dumping it.

Large Hadron Collider (LHC). Animation Credit: CERN

Physicists are doing these tests to see if the LHC could one day operate as a gamma-ray factory. In this scenario, scientists would shoot the circulating “atoms” with a laser, causing the electron to jump into a higher energy level. As the electron falls back down, it spits out a particle of light. In normal circumstances, this particle of light would not be very energetic, but because the “atom” is already moving at close to the speed of light, the energy of the emitted photon is boosted and its wavelength is squeezed (due to the Doppler effect).

These gamma rays would have sufficient energy to produce normal “matter” particles, such as quarks, electrons and even muons. Because matter and energy are two sides of the same coin, these high-energy gamma rays would transform into massive particles and could even morph into new kinds of matter, such as dark matter. They could also be the source for new types of particle beams, such as a muon beam.

Even though this is still a long way off, the tests this week were an important first step in seeing what is possible.


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:

Dark matter:

Large Hadron Collider (LHC):

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

Image (mentioned), Animation (mentioned), Text, Credits: CERN/Sarah Charley.

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Stellar Corpse Reveals Origin of Radioactive Molecules

ESO - European Southern Observatory logo.

August 2, 2018

Observations using ALMA find radioactive isotope aluminium-26 from the remnant CK Vulpeculae

Radioactive molecules in the remains of a stellar collision

Astronomers using ALMA and NOEMA have made the first definitive detection of a radioactive molecule in interstellar space. The radioactive part of the molecule is an isotope of aluminium. The observations reveal that the isotope was dispersed into space after the collision of two stars, that left behind a remnant known as CK Vulpeculae. This is the first time that a direct observation has been made of this element from a known source. Previous identifications of this isotope have come from the detection of gamma rays, but their precise origin had been unknown.

The team, led by Tomasz Kamiński (Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, Cambridge, USA), used the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) and the NOrthern Extended Millimeter Array (NOEMA) to detect a source of the radioactive isotope aluminium-26. The source, known as CK Vulpeculae, was first seen in 1670 and at the time it appeared to observers as a bright, red “new star”. Though initially visible with the naked eye, it quickly faded and now requires powerful telescopes to see the remains of this merger, a dim central star surrounded by a halo of glowing material flowing away from it.

Artist’s impression of stellar collision

348 years after the initial event was observed, the remains of this explosive stellar merger have led to the clear and convincing signature of a radioactive version of aluminum, known as aluminium-26. This is the first unstable radioactive molecule definitively detected outside of the Solar System. Unstable isotopes have an excess of nuclear energy and eventually decay into a stable form.

“This first observation of this isotope in a star-like object is also important in the broader context of galactic chemical evolution,” notes Kamiński. “This is the first time an active producer of the radioactive nuclide aluminum-26 has been directly identified.”

Artist's impression of radioactive molecules in CK Vulpeculae

Kamiński and his team detected the unique spectral signature of molecules made up of aluminum-26 and fluorine (26AlF) in the debris surrounding CK Vulpeculae, which is about 2000 light-years from Earth. As these molecules spin and tumble through space, they emit a distinctive fingerprint of millimetre-wavelength light, a process known as rotational transition. Astronomers consider this the “gold standard” for detections of molecules [1].

The observation of this particular isotope provides fresh insights into the merger process that created CK Vulpeculae. It also demonstrates that the deep, dense, inner layers of a star, where heavy elements and radioactive isotopes are forged, can be churned up and cast into space by stellar collisions.

“We are observing the guts of a star torn apart three centuries ago by a collision,” remarked Kamiński.

The position of Nova Vul 1670 in the constellation of Vulpecula

The astronomers also determined that the two stars that merged were of relatively low mass, one being a red giant star with a mass somewhere between 0.8 and 2.5 times that of our Sun.

Being radioactive, aluminium-26 will decay to become more stable and in this process one of the protons in the nucleus decays into a neutron. During this process, the excited nucleus emits a photon with very high energy, which we observe as a gamma ray [2].

Previously, detections of gamma ray emission have shown that around two solar masses of aluminium-26 are present across the Milky Way, but the process that created the radioactive atoms was unknown. Furthermore, owing to the way that gamma rays are detected, their precise origin was also largely unknown. With these new measurements, astronomers have definitively detected for the first time an unstable radioisotope in a molecule outside of our Solar System.

Wide-field view of the sky around Nova Vul 1670

At the same time, however, the team have concluded that the production of aluminium-26 by objects similar to CK Vulpeculae is unlikely to be the major source of aluminium-26 in the Milky Way. The mass of aluminium-26 in CK Vulpeculae is roughly a quarter of the mass of Pluto, and given that these events are so rare, it is highly unlikely that they are the sole producers of the isotope in the Milky Way galaxy. This leaves the door open for further studies into these radioactive molecules.


[1] The characteristic molecular fingerprints are usually taken from laboratory experiments. In the case of 26AlF, this method is not applicable because 26-aluminium is not present on Earth. Laboratory astrophysicists from the University of Kassel/Germany therefore used the fingerprint data of stable and abundant 27AlF molecules to derive accurate data for the rare 26AlF molecule.

[2] Aluminium-26 contains 13 protons and 13 neutrons in its nucleus (one neutron fewer than the stable isotope, aluminium-27). When it decays aluminium-26 becomes magnesium-26, a completely different element.

More information:

This research was presented in the paper, Astronomical detection of a radioactive molecule 26AlF in a remnant of an ancient explosion, which will appear in Nature Astronomy.

The team is composed of Tomasz Kamiński (Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA), Romuald Tylenda (N. Copernicus Astronomical Center, Warsaw, Poland), Karl M. Menten (Max-Planck-Institut für Radioastronomie, Bonn, Germany), Amanda Karakas (Monash Centre for Astrophysics, Melbourne, Australia), Jan Martin Winters (IRAM, Grenoble, France), Alexander A. Breier (Laborastrophysik, Universität Kassel, Germany), Ka Tat Wong (Monash Centre for Astrophysics, Melbourne, Australia), Thomas F. Giesen (Laborastrophysik, Universität Kassel, Germany) and Nimesh A. Patel (Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA).

ESO is the foremost intergovernmental astronomy organisation in Europe and the world’s most productive ground-based astronomical observatory by far. It has 15 Member States: Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Finland, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, along with the host state of Chile and with Australia as a strategic partner. ESO carries out an ambitious programme focused on the design, construction and operation of powerful ground-based observing facilities enabling astronomers to make important scientific discoveries. ESO also plays a leading role in promoting and organising cooperation in astronomical research. ESO operates three unique world-class observing sites in Chile: La Silla, Paranal and Chajnantor. At Paranal, ESO operates the Very Large Telescope and its world-leading Very Large Telescope Interferometer as well as two survey telescopes, VISTA working in the infrared and the visible-light VLT Survey Telescope. ESO is also a major partner in two facilities on Chajnantor, APEX and ALMA, the largest astronomical project in existence. And on Cerro Armazones, close to Paranal, ESO is building the 39-metre Extremely Large Telescope, the ELT, which will become “the world’s biggest eye on the sky”.


Research paper:

Photos of ALMA:

Blog post explaining more details:

Images, Text, Credits: ESO/Calum Turner/L. Calçada/Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics/Tomasz Kamiński/ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO), T. Kamiński; Gemini, NOAO/AURA/NSF; NRAO/AUI/NSF, B. Saxton/NRAO/AUI/NSF; S. Dagnello/IAU, and Sky & Telescope/Digitized Sky Survey 2. Acknowledgement: Davide De Martin.

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Dragon Packing, Eye Science and Spacewalk Preps Today

ISS - Expedition 56 Mission patch.

August 2, 2018

The Expedition 56 crew has nearly completed loading the SpaceX Dragon resupply ship with cargo for retrieval back on Earth this Friday. The orbital residents are also busy with an intense day of space research and Russian spacewalk preparations.

Image above: Astronaut Alexander Gerst practices cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) as cosmonaut Sergey Prokopev looks on during an emergency training session aboard the International Space Station. Image Credits: NASA.

Dragon is due to be released Friday at 12:37 p.m. EDT from the International Space Station carrying several tons of experiment results and orbital lab hardware. The crew has been packing the crucial research samples this week inside specialized, portable freezers onboard the commercial space freighter.

SpaceX technicians will pick up Dragon with its precious cargo after it splashes down in the Pacific Ocean and return to shore in southern California. Scientists and engineers will then begin the process of analyzing the critical space science and refurbishing station hardware.

Astronauts Serena Auñón-Chancellor and Alexander Gerst spent Wednesday morning helping doctors understand how living in space impacts the human eye. They are exploring the hypothesis that upward fluid shifts in the body caused by microgravity increases pressure on the brain possibly pushing against the eyes. This may affect the shape of the eye and permanently affect vision.

Image above: Astronauts Drew Feustel and Serena Auñón-Chancellor are seen while Auñón-Chancellor works inside the Microgravity Science Glovebox on the Micro-11 investigation. The study is looking to provide fundamental data indicating whether successful human reproduction beyond Earth is possible. Image Credit: NASA.

Cosmonauts Oleg Artemyev and Sergey Prokopyev are getting ready for a spacewalk on Aug. 15. The duo reviewed the translation paths to their work sites on the outside of the station’s Russian segment. During the near seven-hour excursion, the spacewalkers will hand-deploy four tiny satellites, install antennas and cables on the Zvezda service module and collect exposed science experiments.

A host of life science studies being returned aboard Dragon looked at cancer therapies, gut microbes, and a variety of other biological phenomena. Samples collected from those studies, including the experiment hardware housing the research, are being transferred from the station and stowed inside the Dragon.

The AngieX Cancer Therapy investigation is completing its run today with NASA astronaut Serena Auñón-Chancellor finalizing research operations inside the Microgravity Science Glovebox. The experiment tested a treatment that targets tumors and the resulting samples are being stowed inside Dragon science freezers.

International Space Station (ISS). Animation Credit: NASA

Rodents studied for the Rodent Research-7 experiment to understand how microbes interact with the gut in space are being returned Friday. Biological samples observed in July for the Micro-11 human reproduction study are also being cold stowed aboard Dragon.

Related links:

Expedition 56:

SpaceX Dragon:

Fluid shifts:

AngieX Cancer Therapy:

Rodent Research-7:


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

Spot the Station:

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Top Five Technologies Needed for a Spacecraft to Survive Deep Space

NASA - Orion Crew Vehicle patch.

August 2, 2018

When a spacecraft built for humans ventures into deep space, it requires an array of features to keep it and a crew inside safe. Both distance and duration demand that spacecraft must have systems that can reliably operate far from home, be capable of keeping astronauts alive in case of emergencies and still be light enough that a rocket can launch it.

Image above: Artist rendering of NASA’s Orion spacecraft as it travels 40,000 miles past the Moon during Exploration Mission-1, its first integrated flight with the Space Launch System rocket. Image Credit: NASA.

Missions near the Moon will start when NASA’s Orion spacecraft leaves Earth atop the world’s most powerful rocket, NASA’s Space Launch System. After launch from the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, Orion will travel beyond the Moon to a distance more than 1,000 times farther than where the International Space Station flies in low-Earth orbit, and farther than any spacecraft built for humans has ever ventured. To accomplish this feat, Orion has built-in technologies that enable the crew and spacecraft to explore far into the solar system.

Systems to Live and Breathe

As humans travel farther from Earth for longer missions, the systems that keep them alive must be highly reliable while taking up minimal mass and volume. Orion will be equipped with advanced environmental control and life support systems designed for the demands of a deep space mission. A high-tech system already being tested aboard the space station will remove carbon dioxide (CO2) and humidity from inside Orion. Removal of CO2 and humidity is important to ensure air remains safe for the crew breathing. And water condensation on the vehicle hardware is controlled to prevent water intrusion into sensitive equipment or corrosion on the primary pressure structure.

The system also saves volume inside the spacecraft. Without such technology, Orion would have to carry many chemical canisters that would otherwise take up the space of 127 basketballs (or 32 cubic feet) inside the spacecraft—about 10 percent of crew livable area. Orion will also have a new compact toilet, smaller than the one on the space station. Long duration missions far from Earth drive engineers to design compact systems not only to maximize available space for crew comfort, but also to accommodate the volume needed to carry consumables like enough food and water for the entirety of a mission lasting days or weeks.

Highly reliable systems are critically important when distant crew will not have the benefit of frequent resupply shipments to bring spare parts from Earth, like those to the space station. Even small systems have to function reliably to support life in space, from a working toilet to an automated fire suppression system or exercise equipment that helps astronauts stay in shape to counteract the zero-gravity environment in space that can cause muscle and bone atrophy. Distance from home also demands that Orion have spacesuits capable of keeping astronaut alive for six days in the event of cabin depressurization to support a long trip home.

Proper Propulsion

The farther into space a vehicle ventures, the more capable its propulsion systems need to be to maintain its course on the journey with precision and ensure its crew can get home.

Orion has a highly capable service module that serves as the powerhouse for the spacecraft, providing propulsion capabilities that enable Orion to go around the Moon and back on its exploration missions. The service module has 33 engines of various sizes. The main engine will provide major in-space maneuvering capabilities throughout the mission, including inserting Orion into lunar orbit and also firing powerfully enough to get out of the Moon’s orbit to return to Earth. The other 32 engines are used to steer and control Orion on orbit.

In part due to its propulsion capabilities, including tanks that can hold nearly 2,000 gallons of propellant and a back up for the main engine in the event of a failure, Orion’s service module is equipped to handle the rigors of travel for missions that are both far and long, and has the ability to bring the crew home in a variety of emergency situations.

The Ability to Hold Off the Heat

Going to the Moon is no easy task, and it’s only half the journey. The farther a spacecraft travels in space, the more heat it will generate as it returns to Earth. Getting back safely requires technologies that can help a spacecraft endure speeds 30 times the speed of sound and heat twice as hot as molten lava or half as hot as the sun.

When Orion returns from the Moon, it will be traveling nearly 25,000 mph, a speed that could cover the distance from Los Angeles to New York City in six minutes. Its advanced heat shield, made with a material called AVCOAT, is designed to wear away as it heats up. Orion’s heat shield is the largest of its kind ever built and will help the spacecraft withstand temperatures around 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit during reentry though Earth’s atmosphere.

Before reentry, Orion also will endure a 700-degree temperature range from about minus 150 to 550 degrees Fahrenheit. Orion’s highly capable thermal protection system, paired with thermal controls, will protect Orion during periods of direct sunlight and pitch black darkness while its crews will comfortably enjoy a safe and stable interior temperature of about 77 degrees Fahrenheit.

Radiation Protection

As a spacecraft travels on missions beyond the protection of Earth’s magnetic field, it will be exposed to a harsher radiation environment than in low-Earth orbit with greater amounts of radiation from charged particles and solar storms that can cause disruptions to critical computers, avionics and other equipment. Humans exposed to large amounts of radiation can experience both acute and chronic health problems ranging from near-term radiation sickness to the potential of developing cancer in the long-term.

Orion was designed from the start with built in system-level features to ensure reliability of essential elements of the spacecraft during potential radiation events. For example, Orion is equipped with four identical computers that each are self-checking, plus an entirely different backup computer, to ensure Orion can still send commands in the event of a disruption. Engineers have tested parts and systems to a high standard to ensure that all critical systems remain operable even under extreme circumstances.

Orion also has a makeshift storm shelter below the main deck of the crew module. In the event of a solar radiation event, NASA has developed plans for crew on board to create a temporary shelter inside using materials on board. A variety of radiation sensors will also be on the spacecraft to help scientists better understand the radiation environment far away from Earth. One investigation called AstroRad, will fly on Exploration Mission-1 and test an experimental vest that has the potential to help shield vital organs and decrease exposure from solar particle events.

Constant Communication and Navigation

Spacecraft venturing far from home go beyond the Global Positioning System (GPS) in space and above communication satellites in Earth orbit. To talk with mission control in Houston, Orion’s communication and navigation systems will switch from NASA’s Tracking and Data Relay Satellites (TDRS) system used by the International Space Station, and communicate through the Deep Space Network.

Orion is also equipped with backup communication and navigation systems to help the spacecraft stay in contact with the ground and orient itself if it’s primary systems fail. The backup navigation system, a relatively new technology called optical navigation, uses a camera to take pictures of the Earth, Moon and stars and autonomously triangulate Orion’s position from the photos. Its backup emergency communications system doesn’t use the primary system or antennae for high-rate data transfer.

Related links:

NASA’s Orion spacecraft:

NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS):

International Space Station (ISS):

Exploration Mission-1:

Deep Space Network:

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Living in Space:

Moon to Mars:

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Space Station Experiment Reaches Ultracold Milestone

ISS - International Space Station logo.

August 2, 2018

The International Space Station is officially home to the coolest experiment in space.

NASA’s Cold Atom Lab: The Coolest Experiment in the Universe

Video above: NASA’s Cold Atom Lab will produce clouds of ultra-cold atoms aboard the International Space Station to perform quantum physics experiments in microgravity. Atoms are chilled to about one 10 billionth of a degree above Absolute Zero, or about 10 billion times colder than the average temperature of deep space. At those temperatures, atoms behave in strange ways, allowing scientists to investigate the fundamental nature of matter. Video Credit: NASA.

NASA's Cold Atom Laboratory (CAL) was installed in the station's U.S. science lab in late May and is now producing clouds of ultracold atoms known as Bose-Einstein condensates. These "BECs" reach temperatures just above absolute zero, the point at which atoms should theoretically stop moving entirely. This is the first time BECs have ever been produced in orbit.

Image above: This series of graphs show the changing density of a cloud of atoms as it is cooled to lower and lower temperatures (going from left to right) approaching absolute zero. The emergence of a sharp peak in the later graphs confirms the formation of a Bose-Einstein condensate -- a fifth state of matter -- occurring here at a temperature of 130 nanoKelvin, or less than 1 Kelvin above absolute zero. (Absolute zero, or zero Kelvin, is equal to minus 459 degrees Fahrenheit or minus 273 Celsius). Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

CAL is a multiuser facility dedicated to the study of fundamental laws of nature using ultracold quantum gases in microgravity. Cold atoms are long-lived, precisely controlled quantum particles that provide an ideal platform for the study of quantum phenomena and potential applications of quantum technologies. This NASA facility is the first of its kind in space. It is designed to advance scientists' ability to make precision measurements of gravity, probing long-standing problems in quantum physics (the study of the universe at the very smallest scales), and exploring the wavelike nature of matter.

"Having a BEC experiment operating on the space station is a dream come true," said Robert Thompson, CAL project scientist and a physicist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. "It's been a long, hard road to get here, but completely worth the struggle, because there's so much we're going to be able to do with this facility."

Image above: The Cold Atom Laboratory (CAL) consists of two standardized containers that will be installed on the International Space Station. The larger container is called a “quad locker,” and the smaller container is called a “single locker.” The quad locker contains CAL’s physics package, or the compartment where CAL will produce clouds of ultra-cold atoms. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Tyler Winn.

CAL scientists confirmed last week that the facility has produced BECs from atoms of rubidium, with temperatures as low as 100 nanoKelvin, or one ten-millionth of one Kelvin above absolute zero. (Absolute zero, or zero Kelvin, is equal to minu 459 degrees Fahrenheit, or minus 273 degrees Celsius). That's colder than the average temperature of space, which is about 3 Kelvin (minus 454 degrees Fahrenheit/minus 270 degrees Celsius). But the CAL scientists have their sights set even lower, and expect to reach temperatures colder than what any BEC experiments have achieved on Earth.

At these ultracold temperatures, the atoms in a BEC begin to behave unlike anything else on Earth. In fact, BECs are characterized as a fifth state of matter, distinct from gases, liquids, solids and plasma. In a BEC, atoms act more like waves than particles. The wave nature of atoms is typically only observable at microscopic scales, but BECs make this phenomenon macroscopic, and thus much easier to study. The ultracold atoms all assume their lowest energy state, and take on the same wave identity, becoming indistinguishable from one another. Together, the atom clouds are like a single "super atom," instead of individual atoms.

Image above: Shown here, the "physics package" inside the Cold Atom Lab, where ultracold clouds of atoms called Bose-Einstein condensates are produced. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Tyler Winn.

Not a simple instrument

"CAL is an extremely complicated instrument," said Robert Shotwell, chief engineer of JPL‘s astronomy and physics directorate, who has overseen the challenging project since February 2017. "Typically, BEC experiments involve enough equipment to fill a room and require near-constant monitoring by scientists, whereas CAL is about the size of a small refrigerator and can be operated remotely from Earth. It was a struggle and required significant effort to overcome all the hurdles necessary to produce the sophisticated facility that's operating on the space station today."

The first laboratory BECs were produced in 1995, but the phenomenon was first predicted 71 years earlier by physicists Satyendra Nath Bose and Albert Einstein. Eric Cornell, Carl Wieman and Wolfgang Ketterle shared the 2001 Nobel Prize in Physics for being the first to create and characterize BECs in the lab. Five science groups, including groups led by Cornell and Ketterle, will conduct experiments with CAL during its first year. Hundreds of BEC experiments have been operated on Earth since the mid-1990s, and a few BEC experiments have even made brief trips to space aboard sounding rockets. But CAL is the first facility of its kind on the space station, where scientists can conduct daily studies of BECs over long periods.

Image above: JPL scientists and members of the Cold Atom Lab's atomic physics team (l to r) David Aveline, Ethan Elliott and Jason Williams, shown here in the Earth Orbiting Missions Operation Center at JPL, where Cold Atom Lab (CAL) is remotely controlled and tuned. Displayed on the screen behind them is an image of CAL on the International Space Station. Aveline, Elliott and Williams were instrumental in producing the first ever Bose-Einstein condensates (BECs) in orbit with CAL. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

BECs are created in atom traps, or frictionless containers made out of magnetic fields or focused lasers. On Earth, when these traps are shut off, gravity pulls on the ultracold atoms and they can only be studied for fractions of a second. The persistent microgravity of the space station allows scientists to observe individual BECs for five to 10 seconds at a time, with the ability to repeat these measurements for up to six hours per day. As the atom cloud decompresses inside the atom trap, its temperature naturally drops, and the longer the cloud stays in the trap, the colder it gets. This natural phenomenon (that a drop in pressure also means a drop in temperature) is also the reason that a can of spray paint gets cold when the paint is sprayed out: the can's internal pressure is dropping. In microgravity, the BECs can decompress to colder temperatures than any earthbound instrument. Day-to-day operations of CAL require no intervention from the astronauts aboard the station.

In addition to the BECs made from rubidium atoms, the CAL team is working toward making BECs using two different isotopes of potassium atoms.

CAL is currently in a commissioning phase, in which the operations team conducts a long series of tests to fully understand how the CAL facility operates in microgravity.

"There is a globe-spanning team of scientists ready and excited to use this facility," said Kamal Oudrhiri, JPL's mission manager for CAL. "The diverse range of experiments they plan to perform means there are many techniques for manipulating and cooling the atoms that we need to adapt for microgravity, before we turn the instrument over to the principal investigators to begin science operations." The science phase is expected to begin in early September and will last three years.

The Cold Atom Laboratory launched to the space station on May 21, 2018, aboard a Northrop Grumman (formerly Orbital ATK) Cygnus spacecraft from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Designed and built at JPL, CAL is sponsored by the International Space Station Program at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, and the Space Life and Physical Sciences Research and Applications (SLPSRA) Division of NASA's Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

For more information about the Cold Atom Lab, visit:

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New Horizons Team Prepares for Stellar Occultation Ahead of Ultima Thule Flyby

NASA - New Horizons Mission logo.

August 2, 2018

Successfully observing an object from more than four billion miles away is difficult, yet NASA’s New Horizons mission team is banking that they can do that—again.

Preparations are on track for a final set of stellar occultation observations to gather as much information about the size, shape, environment, and other conditions around New Horizons’ next flyby target, the ancient Kuiper Belt object 2014 MU69, nicknamed Ultima Thule.

Image above: Four members of the observation team scan the sky while waiting for the start of the 2014 MU69 occultation, early on the morning of June 3, 2017. The target field was in the Milky Way, seen here from their observation site in the Karoo desert near Vosburg, South Africa. They used portable telescopes in an attempt to observe MU69, a small Kuiper Belt object (now nicknamed Ultima Thule) and the next flyby target of NASA's New Horizons spacecraft, pass in front of a star. New Horizons team members will attempt similar observations of Ultima this week in Colombia and Senegal. Image Credits: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI/Henry Throop.

The occultation team used data from the Hubble Space Telescope and European Space Agency’s Gaia satellite to pinpoint two roughly 18.5 miles (30 kilometer) strips on Earth where Ultima Thule will cast its shadow on August 4th. Telescopes will be placed at multiple points in those strips to attempt to observe the occultation when Ultima Thule passes in front of a star and momentarily blocks its light. In a similar effort in 2017, the team struck observation gold from multiple sites in Patagonia, Argentina. Fighting high winds and extreme winter conditions from multiple sites in Patagonia,  team members captured a similar occultation from five sites, a major success that taught them much about the flyby target and helped define the flyby distance of 2,175 miles (3,500 kilometers).

“Gathering occultation data is an incredibly difficult task,” said New Horizons occultation event leader Marc Buie of the Southwest Research Institute, Boulder, Colorado, who also discovered Ultima Thule about a year before New Horizons flew past Pluto in July 2015. “We are literally at the limit of what we can detect with Hubble and the amount of computer processing needed to resolve the data is staggering.”

The final occultation observations of Ultima Thule are scheduled for Aug. 4 in Senegal and Colombia, with Buie again leading the effort. “Our team of almost 50 researchers using telescopes in Senegal and in Colombia are certainly hoping lightning will strike twice and we’ll see more blips in the stars,” he said. “This occultation will give us hints about what to expect at Ultima Thule and help us refine our flyby plans.”

Preparations for the occultation are intense. Travel to the remote locations while carrying sensitive equipment is a challenge. Several days ahead of the observations, the teams will begin to rehearse every detail of the observation, so they can adapt to variable weather conditions and other adverse conditions. Enthusiasm and support for this effort from the Senegal and Colombia governments has been exceptional, as well as that from the resident U.S. embassies and the French, Senegalese, Colombian, and Mexican astronomy communities — resulting in a truly multinational collaboration.

Image above: New Horizons co-investigator Amanda Zangari was the first occultation campaign scientist to see the telltale signature of Kuiper Belt object 2014 MU69 – now nicknamed Ultima Thule – while analyzing data captured in Patagonia, Argentina, on July 17,2017. "We nailed it spectacularly," she said of the occultation observations. Image Credits: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI/Adriana Ocampo.

“If the team is successful, the results will help guide our planning for the flyby,” said Alan Stern, New Horizons mission principal investigator, also of the Southwest Research Institute.

Ultima Thule and other Kuiper Belt objects hold clues to the formation of planets and the “third zone” of our solar system in which they reside, the wide expanse beyond the giant planets. Last year’s observations showed that Ultima Thule could be either two objects that orbit each other (a “binary”), two objects that touch (a “contact binary”), and may possibly also sport a moon. Its size is estimated to be 20 miles (30 kilometers) long if a single object or 9-12 miles each (15-20 kilometers) if two objects.

For the past several weeks, the New Horizons mission team has been collecting navigation tracking data and sending commands to New Horizons' spacecraft onboard computers to begin preparations for the Ultima Thule flyby; the flyby activities include memory updates, Kuiper Belt science data retrieval, and a series of subsystem and science-instrument checkouts. Next month, the team will command New Horizons to begin making distant observations of Ultima Thule, images that will help the team refine the spacecraft's course to fly by the object.

When New Horizons whizzes past Ultima Thule on New Year’s Day, at a distance of more than 4 billion miles (6.5 billion kilometers) from Earth, the object will become the most distant object ever explored.

Follow New Horizons on its voyage at and

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NASA’s TESS Spacecraft Starts Science Operations

NASA - Tess Mission logo.

August 2, 2018

NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite has started its search for planets around nearby stars, officially beginning science operations on July 25, 2018. TESS is expected to transmit its first series of science data back to Earth in August, and thereafter periodically every 13.5 days, once per orbit, as the spacecraft makes it closest approach to Earth. The TESS Science Team will begin searching the data for new planets immediately after the first series arrives.

Image above: An artist’s illustration of the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite. Image Credits: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.

“I’m thrilled that our new planet hunter mission is ready to start scouring our solar system’s neighborhood for new worlds,” said Paul Hertz, NASA Astrophysics division director at Headquarters, Washington. “Now that we know there are more planets than stars in our universe, I look forward to the strange, fantastic worlds we’re bound to discover.”

TESS is NASA’s latest satellite to search for planets outside our solar system, known as exoplanets. The mission will spend the next two years monitoring the nearest and brightest stars for periodic dips in their light. These events, called transits, suggest that a planet may be passing in front of its star. TESS is expected to find thousands of planets using this method, some of which could potentially support life.

How NASA's Newest Planet Hunter Scans the Sky

Video above: Animation showing how TESS will observe the sky. TESS will watch each observation sector for at least 27 days, before rotating to the next one, covering first the southern then the northern hemisphere to build a map of 85 percent of the sky. Video Credits: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.

TESS is a NASA Astrophysics Explorer mission led and operated by MIT in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and managed by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. Dr. George Ricker of MIT’s Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research serves as principal investigator for the mission. Additional partners include Northrop Grumman, based in Falls Church, Virginia; NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley; the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts; MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory in Lexington, Massachusetts; and the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore. More than a dozen universities, research institutes and observatories worldwide are participants in the mission.

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NASA Mars Exploration Rover Status Report

NASA - Mars Exploration Rover B (MER-B) patch.

August 2, 2018

t's the beginning of the end for the planet-encircling dust storm on Mars. But it could still be weeks, or even months, before skies are clear enough for NASA's Opportunity rover to recharge its batteries and phone home. The last signal received from the rover was on June 10.

Scientists observing the global event -- which is actually caused by a series of local and regional storms throwing dust into the Martian atmosphere -- say that, as of Monday, July 23, more dust is falling out than is being raised into the planet's thin air. That means the event has reached its decay phase, when dust-raising occurs in ever smaller areas, while others stop raising dust altogether.

Graphic above: This graphic compares atmospheric opacity in different Mars years from the point of view of NASA’s Opportunity rover. The green spike in 2018 (Mars Year 34) shows how quickly the global dust storm building at Mars blotted out the sky. A previous dust storm in 2007 (red, Mars Year 28) was slower to build. The vertical axis shows atmospheric opacity and the horizontal axis shows the Martian season, which is measured by where the Sun is in the Martian sky compared to its apparent position on Mars’ northern spring equinox. Graphic Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/TAMU.

Surface features in many areas are beginning to re-appear as seen from orbit. This should even be apparent through telescopes on the ground: Next week, Mars will make its closest approach to Earth since 2003 -- a particularly good time for observing the Red Planet.  Meanwhile, in Gale Crater, the nuclear-powered Mars Science Laboratory/Curiosity rover has noted a decline in dust overhead.

Temperatures in the middle atmosphere of Mars are no longer rising, and in some areas are starting to decrease. That indicates less solar heating by the dust.

Mars Exploration Rover. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Calttech

The changes were spotted by the Mars Color Imager (MARCI), a wide-angle camera, and by the Mars Climate Sounder (MCS), a temperature profiler, on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). MARCI is managed by Malin Space Science Systems in San Diego. MSL, MRO and MCS are managed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

All of NASA's Mars spacecraft have been observing the storm, both to support the Opportunity mission and to collect unique science about this global phenomenon.

Related articles:

Martian Dust Storm Grows Global: Curiosity Captures Photos of Thickening Haze

NASA Encounters the Perfect Storm for Science

Shades of Martian Darkness

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Mars Exploration Rovers (Spirit and Opportunity):

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