dimanche 13 octobre 2019

From cosmic rays to clouds

CERN - European Organization for Nuclear Research logo.

13 October, 2019

A new run of the CLOUD experiment examines the direct effect of cosmic rays on clouds 

Image above: The CLOUD experiment in the CERN East Hall at the start of the CLOUDy run, on 23 September 2019. The chamber is enclosed inside a thermal housing that precisely controls the temperature between -65 °C and +40 °C. Instruments surrounding the chamber continuously sample and analyse its contents. (Image: CERN).

CERN’s colossal complex of accelerators is in the midst of a two-year shutdown for upgrade work. But that doesn’t mean all experiments at the Laboratory have ceased to operate. The CLOUD experiment, for example, has just started a data run that will last until the end of November.

The CLOUD experiment studies how ions produced by high-energy particles called cosmic rays affect aerosol particles, clouds and the climate. It uses a special cloud chamber and a beam of particles from the Proton Synchrotron to provide an artificial source of cosmic rays. For this run, however, the cosmic rays are instead natural high-energy particles from cosmic objects such as exploding stars.

“Cosmic rays, whether natural or artificial, leave a trail of ions in the chamber,” explains CLOUD spokesperson Jasper Kirkby, “but the Proton Synchrotron provides cosmic rays that can be adjusted over the full range of ionisation rates occurring in the troposphere, which comprises the lowest ten kilometres of the atmosphere. That said, we can also make progress with the steady flux of natural cosmic rays that make it into our chamber, and this is what we’re doing now.”

In its 10 years of operation, CLOUD has made several important discoveries on the vapours that form aerosol particles in the atmosphere and can seed clouds. Although most aerosol particle formation requires sulphuric acid, CLOUD has shown that aerosols can form purely from biogenic vapours emitted by trees, and that their formation rate is enhanced by cosmic rays by up to a factor 100.

Most of CLOUD’s data runs are aerosol runs, in which aerosols form and grow inside the chamber under simulated conditions of sunlight and cosmic-ray ionisation. The run that has just started is of the “CLOUDy” type, which studies the ice- and liquid-cloud-seeding properties of various aerosol species grown in the chamber, and direct effects of cosmic-ray ionisation on clouds.

The present run uses the most comprehensive array of instruments ever assembled for CLOUDy experiments, including several instruments dedicated to measuring the ice- and liquid-cloud-seeding properties of aerosols over the full range of tropospheric temperatures. In addition, the CERN CLOUD team has built a novel generator of electrically charged cloud seeds to investigate the effects of charged aerosols on cloud formation and dynamics.

“Direct effects of cosmic-ray ionisation on the formation of fair-weather clouds are highly speculative and almost completely unexplored experimentally,” says Kirkby. “So this run could be the most boring we’ve ever done – or the most exciting! We won’t know until we try, but by the end of the CLOUD experiment, we want to be able to answer definitively whether cosmic rays affect clouds and the climate, and not leave any stone unturned.”


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

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

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

Related links:

CLOUD experiment: https://home.cern/science/experiments/cloud

Proton Synchrotron: https://home.cern/science/accelerators/proton-synchrotron

For more information about European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), Visit: https://home.cern/

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

Best regards, Orbiter.ch

Tests start at CERN for large-scale prototype of new technology to detect neutrinos

CERN - European Organization for Nuclear Research logo.

13 October, 2019

Image above: A track made by a cosmic-ray muon, observed in the dual-phase ProtoDUNE detector. The ionisation released by the muon track in liquid argon and by the correlated electromagnetic activity can be seen (Image: ProtoDUNE).

Scientists working at CERN have started tests of a prototype for a new neutrino detector, using novel and very promising technology called “dual phase”. If successful, this technology will be used at a much larger scale for the international Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment (DUNE), hosted at Fermilab in the US.

Scientists began operating the dual-phase ProtoDUNE detector at CERN at the end of August, and have observed the first particle tracks. The detector is a cube about six metres long in each direction – the size of a three-storey house – and is filled with 800 tonnes of argon.

The new technology would be used in addition to so-called single-phase detectors that have been successfully operated for many years. “The single-phase technology is a proven method that will be used to build the first module for the DUNE detector,” said DUNE co-spokesperson Ed Blucher of the University of Chicago. “The dual-phase technology provides a second method that has great potential to add to the DUNE detector’s capabilities.” Indeed, the dual-phase technology may be game-changing: it would significantly amplify the faint signals that particles create when moving through the detector.

The single-phase ProtoDUNE, which began taking data at CERN in September 2018, is filled entirely with liquid argon. Sensors submerged in the liquid record the faint signals generated when a neutrino smashes into an argon atom. The dual-phase version uses liquid argon as the target material and a layer of gaseous argon above the liquid to amplify faint particle signals before they arrive at sensors located at the top of the detector, inside the argon gas. The dual-phase set-up could yield stronger signals and would enable scientists to look for lower-energy neutrino interactions.

The innovative data-collection electronics, each with a surface area of nine square metres, are individually suspended a few millimetres above the liquid level. They sit in the gas layer near the top of the detector, which has special chimneys that open from the outside. This offers the advantage that the electronics can be accessed even when most of the detector is filled with liquid argon at a temperature below -184 °C.

The dual-phase detector features a single active volume with no detector components in the middle of the liquid argon and a reduced number of readout elements at the top. This reduces “dead space” within the detector volume and offers the neutrinos a larger target.

The single- and dual-phase prototypes at CERN are small components of the detector that the DUNE collaboration plans to build in the United States over the next decade: a DUNE detector module will house the equivalent of twenty ProtoDUNEs and operate at up to 600 000 volts.

DUNE plans to build four full-size detector modules based on argon technology. These will be located around 1.5 km underground, at the Sanford Underground Research Facility in South Dakota. Scientists will use them to understand whether neutrinos could be the reason that matter dominates over antimatter in our universe.

The outcomes of the test at CERN will help with deciding how many modules will feature the single-phase technology and how many will use the dual-phase technology.


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

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

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

Related links:

ProtoDUNE, which began taking data at CERN in September 2018: https://home.cern/news/press-release/experiments/first-particle-tracks-seen-prototype-international-neutrino

Dual-phase version: https://www.symmetrymagazine.org/article/a-dual-phase-dune

For more information about European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), Visit: https://home.cern/

Image, Text, Credit: European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN).

Greetings, Orbiter.ch

Hubble Snaps Spiral's Profile

NASA - Hubble Space Telescope patch.

Oct. 13, 2019

The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope sees galaxies of all shapes, sizes, luminosities and orientations in the cosmos. Sometimes, the telescope gazes at a galaxy oriented sideways — as shown here. The spiral galaxy featured in this Hubble image is called NGC 3717, and it is located about 60 million light-years away in the constellation of Hydra (the Sea Serpent).

Seeing a spiral almost in profile, as Hubble has here, can provide a vivid sense of its three-dimensional shape. Through most of their expanse, spiral galaxies are shaped like a thin pancake. At their cores, though, they have bright, spherical, star-filled bulges that extend above and below this disk, giving these galaxies a shape somewhat like that of a flying saucer when they are seen edge-on.

NGC 3717 is not captured perfectly edge-on in this image; the nearer part of the galaxy is tilted ever so slightly down, and the far side tilted up. This angle affords a view across the disk and the central bulge (of which only one side is visible).

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

For more information about Hubble, visit:




Text Credits: ESA (European Space Agency)/NASA/Rob Garner/Image Credits: ESA/Hubble & NASA, D. Rosario.

Best regards, Orbiter.ch

Run top quark run

CERN - European Organization for Nuclear Research logo.

13 October, 2019

The CMS collaboration has measured for the first time the variation, or “running”, of the top-quark mass 

Image above: A candidate event for a top quark–antiquark pair recorded by the CMS detector. Such an event is expected to produce an electron (green), a muon (red) of opposite charge, two high-energy “jets” of particles (orange) and a large amount of missing energy (purple) (Image: CMS/CERN).

Dive into the subatomic world, into the heart of protons or neutrons, and you’ll find elementary particles known as quarks. Measuring the mass of these quarks can be challenging, but new results from the CMS collaboration reveal for the first time how the mass of the top quark – the heaviest of six types of quarks – varies depending on the energy scale used to measure the particle.

The theory of quantum chromodynamics, a component of the Standard Model, predicts this energy-scale variation, known as running, for the masses of all quarks and for the strong force acting between them. Observing the running masses of quarks can therefore provide a way of testing quantum chromodynamics and the Standard Model.

Experiments at CERN and other laboratories have already measured the running masses of the bottom and charm quarks, the second and third heaviest quarks, and the results were in agreement with quantum chromodynamics. Now, the CMS collaboration has used data from high-energy proton–proton collisions at the Large Hadron Collider to chase out the running mass of the top quark.

Large Hadron Collider (LHC). Animation Credit: CERN

The CMS physicists looked for how often pairs of particles comprising a top quark and its antimatter counterpart were produced in the collisions. They did this measurement at three different energy scales, between about 400 GeV and 1 TeV, and then compared the results with theoretical predictions of the top quark–antiquark production rate. From this comparison, they obtained the top-quark mass at those three energy scales.

The result? The top-quark mass does seem to run as predicted by quantum chromodynamics – that is, it decreases with increasing energy scale. However, the result is based on only three experimental data points. More data points, as well as improved theoretical predictions, should be able to tell with more precision whether that’s indeed the case.

Find out more on the CMS website: https://cms.cern/news/watching-top-quark-mass-run


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

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

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

Related links:

Quantum chromodynamics: https://home.cern/tags/qcd

Standard Model: https://home.cern/science/physics/standard-model

Antimatter: https://home.cern/science/physics/antimatter

Large Hadron Collider (LHC): https://home.cern/science/accelerators/large-hadron-collider

For more information about European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), Visit: https://home.cern/

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

Greetings, Orbiter.ch

vendredi 11 octobre 2019

Second of Five Power Upgrade Spacewalks Wraps Up

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

October 11, 2019

Expedition 61 Flight Engineers Christina Koch and Andrew Morgan of NASA concluded their spacewalk at the International Space Station at 2:23 p.m. EDT. During six-hour and 45-minute spacewalk, the two NASA astronauts continued the replacement of nickel-hydrogen batteries with newer, more powerful lithium-ion batteries on the far end of the station’s port truss.

Astronauts also were able to accomplish several get-ahead tasks setting up for the next spacewalk.

Image above: Astronauts Andrew Morgan and Christina Koch are pictured in their U.S. spacesuits during a spacewalk earlier this year. Image above:

These new batteries provide an improved power capacity for operations with a lighter mass and a smaller volume than the nickel-hydrogen batteries. On Oct. 16, Morgan and NASA astronaut Jessica Meir are scheduled to venture outside for another spacewalk to continue the battery replacements on the first of the two power channels for the station’s far port truss. The following spacewalks dedicated to the battery upgrades are scheduled on Oct. 21 and 25.

October 11, 2019 spacewalk. Image Credit: NASA TV

After completion of the battery spacewalks, the second half of this sequence of spacewalks will focus on repairs to the space station’s Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer. Dates for those spacewalks still are being discussed, but they are expected to begin in November.

Space station crew members have conducted 220 spacewalks in support of assembly and maintenance of the orbiting laboratory. Spacewalkers have now spent a total of 57 days 13 hours and 12 minutes working outside the station.

Related links:

Expedition 61: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/expeditions/expedition61/index.html

Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS): https://www.nasa.gov/feature/extending-science-in-the-search-for-the-origin-of-the-cosmos

Space Station Research and Technology: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/index.html

International Space Station (ISS): https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/main/index.html

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Norah Moran.

Best regards, Orbiter.ch

Space Station Science Highlights: Week of October 7, 2019

ISS - Expedition 61 Mission patch.

Oct. 11, 2019

While it was a week full of spacewalks, the crew aboard the International Space Station fit in some science during the week of Oct. 7. In addition to prepping for a series of battery Extravehicular Activities (EVAs), research conducted included collecting air quality samples, watering veggies and recharging free-flying robot assistants. Research like this conducted aboard the space station is a crucial stepping stone for Artemis, NASA’s plans to go forward to the Moon and on to Mars.

Image above: NASA astronaut Andrew Morgan takes an out-of-this-world "space-selfie" during a spacewalk to upgrade space station power systems on the Port-6 (P6) truss structure. He and fellow NASA astronaut Christina Koch (out of frame) worked for about seven hours to begin the latest round of upgrading the station's large nickel-hydrogen batteries with newer, more powerful lithium-ion batteries. Image Credit: NASA.

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

Checking out the air

This past week, the crew helped collect samples for the Spacecraft Atmosphere Monitor (S.A.M.). One of the most important conditions associated with crew health during spaceflight is air quality. Currently, atmosphere quality aboard the space station is assessed by periodic sampling and ground-based analysis using sophisticated instruments. Since samples cannot be returned to Earth during future exploration missions, a complement of smaller and more reliable instruments such as S.A.M. becomes essential to monitor the crew environment.

It’s planting season

Image above: NASA astronaut Christina Koch checks progress on small plant pillows for the Veg-04B investigation. Veg-04B focuses on the effects of light quality and fertilizer on the leafy Mizuna mustard green crop, microbial food safety, nutritional value and the taste acceptability by the crew. Image Credit: NASA.

Watering crops on the space station is a bit different than on Earth. Rather than pouring water onto soil, the crew injected water to small plant pillows that provide needed water to the growing veggies. This is part of Veg-04B, one piece of a phased research project attempting to address the need for a continuous fresh-food production system in space to supplement typical pre-packaged foods for astronauts. Veg-04B focuses on the effects of light quality and fertilizer on the leafy Mizuna mustard green crop, microbial food safety, nutritional value and the taste acceptability by the crew.

Image above: NASA astronaut Andrew Morgan reviews procedures the day before the EVA that took place on Oct. 6 to upgrade the space station’s batteries. Image Credit: NASA.

Getting charged up

The free-flying robot facility known as Astrobee got its batteries charged up this week. The facility is designed to help scientists and engineers develop and test technologies that can assist astronauts with routine chores and give ground controllers additional eyes and ears on the space station. The autonomous robots, powered by fans and vision-based navigation, perform crew monitoring and sampling and logistics management. The robots accommodate up to three investigations.

Animation above: NASA astronaut Christina Koch spins a Grab Sample Container, a device that is used for collecting environmental samples for the Spacecraft Atmosphere Monitor.
Image Credit: NASA.

Other investigations on which the crew performed work:

- The brain is capable of self-regulating blood flow even when the heart and blood vessels cannot maintain an ideal blood pressure. The Cerebral Autoregulation investigation tests whether this self-regulation improves in the microgravity environment of space.

- The Food Physiology experiment is designed to characterize the key effects of an enhanced spaceflight diet on immune function, the gut microbiome and nutritional status indicators.

- Actiwatch is a nonintrusive, wearable monitor that analyzes a crew member’s circadian rhythms, sleep-wake patterns and activity.

- ISS Ham Radio provides students, teachers, parents and other members of the community an opportunity to communicate directly with astronauts using Ham radio units.

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

- The Microgravity Crystals investigation crystallizes a membrane protein that is integral to tumor growth and cancer survival. Results may support development of cancer treatments that target the protein more effectively and with fewer side effects.

- BEST studies the use of DNA sequencing to identify unknown microbial organisms and improve understanding of how humans, plants and microbes adapt to living in space.

Related links:

Expedition 61: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/expeditions/expedition61/index.html

Artemis: https://www.nasa.gov/artemis

Spacecraft Atmosphere Monitor (S.A.M.): https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments/explorer/Investigation.html?#id=1843

Veg-04B: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments/explorer/Investigation.html?#id=7895

Astrobee: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments/explorer/Facility.html?#id=1891

ISS National Lab: https://www.issnationallab.org/

Spot the Station: https://spotthestation.nasa.gov/

Space Station Research and Technology: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/index.html

International Space Station (ISS): https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/main/index.html

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

Best regards, Orbiter.ch

Celebrating a Mission That Changed How We Use Radar

NASA - STS-59 Mission patch.

October 11, 2019

Oct. 11, 2019, marks the 25th anniversary of the end of a space mission that transformed the way we use radar to observe large-scale environmental processes on our home planet. The Spaceborne Imaging Radar-C and X-Band Synthetic Aperture Radar (SIR-C/X-SAR) mission made available to people worldwide the scientific data used to this day to inform decisions to slow and mitigate climate change.

The SIR-C instrument, built by NASA'S Jet Propulsion Laborator in Pasadena, California, and the X-SAR instrument, built by the German Aerospace Center (DLR), constituted the most advanced imaging radar system ever used in air or space. During hundreds of orbits on two flights aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavour, in April and October 1994, the radar system made multiple passes over 19 "supersites" - areas of scientific interest in such locations as the Sahara, Brazil, the Alps and the Gulf Stream. It also imaged events occurring during the flights, such as as a volcano erupting in Russia.

Image above: With SIR-C/X-SAR instruments mounted in the cargo bay atop the shuttle, the Endeavour crew flew upside down, using precise navigation, the hinge on the X-band antenna and "electronic steering" in the C- and L-band antennas to point the radars at "supersites" of scientific interest on Earth. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

"The many innovationsof SIR-C/X-SAR have been used in virtually every air- and spaceborne radar mission since, starting with NASA's Shuttle Radar Topography Mission, which mapped 80% of the Earth in 2000," said Tony Freeman, now manager of JPL's Innovation Foundry, who led end-to-end calibration of SIR-C. "DLR's TerraSAR-X and TanDEM-X missions have since filled remaining gaps."

Radar imaging of Earth has never been the same since SIR-C/X-SAR's demonstration of what's known as simultaneous multifrequency, fully polarized, repeat-pass interferometric SAR. To unpack that sizable trunk of terminology, let's start with "synthetic aperture radar": Since the late 1970s, NASA has been imaging Earth with radar - in darkness, under cloud cover or vegetation, even underground - using the movements of a host airplane or spacecraft to "synthesize" an "aperture" much larger than the antenna itself. The larger the aperture, the greater the image resolution. Indeed, SIR-C's predecessors, SIR-A and SIR-B, were synthetic aperture radar missions.

However, unlike SIR-C/X-SAR, neither predecessor made radar observations simultaneously in three frequencies - C-, L- and X-band - using three adjacent antennas combined into a massive, 12-by-4-meter, 11.5-ton structure. That advance, analogous to the leap from black-and-white to color film, allowed the mission to collect data in different scales, providing a crisp snapshot of each targeted feature, unmuddied by possible changes over time.

Blazing a Trail

In addition to multiple frequencies, some observations were made in multiple "polarizations." Radio frequency waves can be either horizontal (in a wavy plane parallel to the ground) or vertical (in a plane perpendicular to the ground). The C- and L-band antennas could send and receive waves of both horizontal and vertical polarization. Using this "fully polarized" data, scientists can separate out the scattering of radar waves to distinguish, for example, vegetated from unvegetated terrain.

SIR-C/X-SAR wanted to capture changes over time; that's why it flew on shuttle flights six months apart. To observe the same supersites during both flights and to make consistent daily passes over them, the shuttle crew used sophisticated algorithms to navigate the spacecraft in precise orbits as close as 10 meters apart. And they did this flying upside down, since the cargo bay holding the instruments was on top of the shuttle. While the X-band antenna had a hinge, the C- and L-band antennas were fixed at a particular angle, but they had "electronic steering" that allowed them to "see" to either side of what was right in front of them.

Those repeated, slightly offset passes over the same terrain were essential for the data-processing technique of interferometry. Combining views, interferometry creates detailed, 3D topographical images of a target at the moment of simultaneous observations. And it can reveal even minute changes in the target between successive observations - like the gradual creep of an earthquake fault or the movement of an ice sheet.

Image above: These ancient river channels, invisible to the human eye beneath the deep, dry sand of the Sahara Desert, were revealed for the first time by SIR-C/X-SAR instruments during their second shuttle flight in October 1994. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

The SIR-C/X-SAR dataset proved immediately useful, revealing, for instance, ancient riverbeds beneath the Sahara - an artifact of preindustrial climate change - and remains in high demand.

"SIR-C/X-SAR was the path opener for multiple U.S. and international missions that followed," said Charles Elachi, the mission's principal investigator before he became director of JPL. "Imaging of subsurface river channels in the Eastern Sahara enabled new understanding of the environmental history of that and other arid regions. Using multiple frequencies enabled for the first time 'color' radar images that have been used extensively to map vegetation and forests and extract their vegetation content. Using repeat-pass interferometry enabled us for the first time to map surface motion at the centimeter level. This technique is now commonly used to map motions resulting from earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and other natural disasters."

Freeman agrees: "SIR-C/X-SAR was innovative on so many fronts: We knew what we were working on was something special, but we didn't know at the time how many firsts the mission would rack up".

The NASA Image and Video Library makes mission data available to researchers worldwide. The University of Michigan hosts a search tool for accessing its own vast SIR-C/X-SAR database. And in its MapReady tool the University of Alaska Satellite Facility has processed the data for compatibility with multiple computer platforms.

Missions using technologies pioneered by SIR-C/X-SAR have revealed changes in Earth's natural features over increasingly meaningful periods, informing long-term policy to prevent and mitigate climate change. At the same time, they reveal the immediate effects of natural disasters rapidly enough to advise first responders.

Image above: Using the technique of interferometric SAR first demonstrated on SIR-C/X-SAR, four international space agencies cooperated to combine many years' worth of radar observations over the Greenland ice sheet to map its depth and accelerating speed of loss. Image Credits: Courtesy of NASA/GSFC/Jefferson Beck.

SIR-C/X-SAR was a collaboration of NASA, DLR and the Italian Space Agency (ASI), which contributed to the ground segment for X-SAR observations. JPL managed the mission for NASA. DLR was responsible for calibration, operations and data processing for X-SAR.

Related links:

NASA Image and Video Library: https://images.nasa.gov/

MapReady: https://www.asf.alaska.edu/data-tools/mapready/

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/JPL/Matthew Segal.

Greetings, Orbiter.ch

Alexei Leonov, the first spacewalker is dead

Rest In Peace.

Oct. 11, 2019

Alexei Leonov, released in space in 1965, died on Friday at the age of 85.

Cosmonaut Alexei Leonov, the first spacewalker

Soviet cosmonaut Alexei Leonov died Friday at the age of 85. He was the first man to make a spacewalk in 1965 and, ten years later, commanded the first joint space mission of the USSR and the United States.

On March 19, 1965, Alexei Leonov made his first outing from his ship Voskhod-2 in the open space, earning him the nickname of first "pedestrian of space". He had cautiously departed two to three meters from the ship, finding the operation very painful.

First spacewalk, Alexey Leonov, March 18, 1965

Blinded by the Sun, despite his golden visor, he was held securely by a cable at the airlock of his ship. "Here, I try," he said, leaving. The operation lasted twenty minutes, twelve minutes entirely outside the Voskhod.

Long illness

The cosmonaut was also the Soviet side commander of the Apollo-Soyuz mission in 1975, the first joint between the two rivals of the Cold War and the space race. This mission marked the beginning of a technological cooperation that continues today.

The cosmonaut was also a close friend of his compatriot Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space. When he died in a plane crash on March 27, 1968 near Moscow, he was one of the first on the scene.

Alexei Leonov died "after a long illness," his collaborator Natalia Filimonova told AFP. His funeral is scheduled for Tuesday in Moscow, announced the Cosmonaut Preparation Center.

Alexey Leonov - Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexei_Leonov

Image, Video, Text, Credits: ROSCOSMOS/AFP/Orbiter.ch Aerospace/Roland Berga.

R.I.P.; Orbiter.ch

Northrop Grumman Pegasus XL launches ICON

NASA - Ionospheric Connection Explorer (ICON) logo.

11 oct. 2019

L-1011 Stargazer aircraft and Pegasus XL rocket

A Pegasus XL rocket launched NASA’s Ionospheric Connection Explorer (ICON) on 11 October 2019, at 02:00 UTC. The Northrop Grumman L-1011 Stargazer aircraft took off from the Skid Strip runway at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. ICON will explore the ionosphere, the dynamic region where Earth meets space.

Pegasus XL launches ICON (Ionospheric Connection Explorer)

ICON will study the ionosphere, a region of Earth’s upper atmosphere where terrestrial weather meets space weather. Disturbances in the ionosphere triggered by solar storms or weather activity in the lower atmosphere can cause disturbances in GPS navigation and radio transmissions.

Ionospheric Connection Explorer (ICON)

The mission’s staging point was changed from Kwajalein Atoll to Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in mid-2018. Delayed from June 15, Nov. 14, and Dec. 8, 2017. Delayed from June 14, Sept. 24, Oct. 6, Oct. 26 and Nov. 3. Scrubbed on Nov. 7. Delayed from 1st Quarter 2019. Delayed from Oct. 9 by poor weather.

NASA’s Ionospheric Connection Explorer (ICON): https://www.nasa.gov/icon

Images, Video, Text, Credits: NASA/Randy Beaudoin/Ben Smegelsky/USAF 30th SCS/Anthony Vauclin/Northrop Grumman/SciNews/Orbiter.ch Aerospace/Roland Berga.

Greetings, Orbiter.ch

An American astronaut decorated by Vladimir Putin

Order of  Lenin medal.

Oct. 11, 2019

Rescued from the Soyuz rocket accident in October 2018, astronaut Nick Hague has received from the Russian president a prestigious distinction for his courage.

Soyuz MS-10 launch failure

Russian President Vladimir Putin has awarded the Order of Courage, one of the highest honors of the country, to an American astronaut. He had survived a year ago the failed takeoff of a Soyuz rocket.

According to a presidential decree published on Tuesday, the American Nick Hague, 44, is rewarded for "his courage and his high degree of professionalism" in perilous conditions during the launch at the Russian cosmodrome of Baikonur, located in Kazakhstan.

On October 11, 2018, the "Soyuz" rocket in which Nick Hague had sailed and the Russian Alexey Ovchinin had disintegrated minutes after taking off for the International Space Station (ISS), an unprecedented accident for the Russian space program since the end of the USSR.

After being successfully ejected by the automatic rescue system, the two men were released unscathed despite the very strong pressure. "It was a quick flight," commented Alexei Ovchinin, laconic, moments after the start of the incident. According to NASA, "launcher failure" occurred after 119 seconds of travel, while the rocket was launched at over 7500 km / h.

In March, they returned successfully to the ISS, where they returned last week after a six-month mission. It was the first space stay for Nick Hague, and the second for Alexey Ovchinin.

Considered one of the highest Russian distinctions, the Order of Courage is often awarded posthumously.

The International Space Station is one of the latest examples of active cooperation between Russia and the United States in a context of unprecedented tensions since the Cold War.

Related articles:

Crew in Good Condition After Booster Failure

Soyuz MS-10 - Emergency landing after a failure

Images, Video, Text, Credits: ATS / NASA / ROSCOSMOS / SciNews / Orbiter.ch Aerospace / Roland Berga.

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ILS - Proton-M launches EUTELSAT 5 West B & MEV-1

ILS - Proton-M / EUTELSAT 5 West B & MEV-1 poster.

Oct. 11, 2019

Proton-M carrying EUTELSAT 5 West B & MEV-1 lift off

An International Launch Services (ILS) Proton-M launch vehicle, with a Briz-M upper stage (Breeze M), launched the EUTELSAT 5 West B communications satellite and Mission Extension Vehicle-1 (MEV-1) from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, on 9 October 2019, at 10:17 UTC (16:17 local time). EUTELSAT 5 West B (2864 kg)  is a Ku-band satellite to be located at 5° West.

Proton-M launches EUTELSAT 5 West B & MEV-1

Build by Northrop Grumman, MEV-1 (2326 kg) will provide satellite life-extension service by docking to the client’s vehicles in geosynchronous orbit to provide attitude and orbit control. MEV-1 will extend the life of the Intelsat 901 satellite for five years.

Eutelsat 5 West B

Both spacecraft are built by Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems, formerly known as Orbital ATK. Eutelsat 5 West B will join Eutelsat’s communications fleet in geostationary orbit, replacing the Eutelsat 5 West A spacecraft providing digital and television services primarily in the French, Italian and Algerian markets.


The MEV 1 spacecraft is the first in a series of satellite servicing vehicles for SpaceLogistics, a subsidiary of Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems. MEV 1 will dock with the Intelsat 901 communications satellite and provide propulsion and attitude control functions to extend the spacecraft’s mission.

Related links:

International Launch Services (ILS): http://www.ilslaunch.com/

Eutelsat: https://www.eutelsat.com/en/home.html

Images, Video, Text, Credits: ILS/SciNews/Orbiter.ch Aerospace/Roland Berga.

Greetings, Orbiter.ch

jeudi 10 octobre 2019

Space Biology, Human Research Day Before Spacewalk

ISS - Expedition 61 Mission patch.

October 10, 2019

Two astronauts will suit up Friday morning for the second spacewalk in a series of five this month to upgrade International Space Station power systems. In the meantime, the duo and the rest of the Expedition 61 crew are staying on top of ongoing microgravity research today aboard the orbiting lab.

NASA Flight Engineers Andrew Morgan and Christina Koch split their time today between researching space biology and preparing for tomorrow’s spacewalk. Morgan observed and photographed protein crystals in a microscope to support cancer research. Koch explored sequencing the DNA of microbes living on the station.

Image above: NASA astronauts Andrew Morgan (left) and Christina Koch (right) are suited up in U.S. spacesuits inside the Quest airlock for the first of five planned spacewalks that took place on Oct. 6, 2019. Image Credit: NASA.

The duo also worked inside the Quest airlock to ready their spacesuits, tools and tethers before they exit into the vacuum of space Friday at 7:50 a.m. EDT. They will continue swapping out the station’s large nickel-hydrogen batteries with newer, more powerful lithium-ion batteries. NASA TV begins its live coverage at 6:30 a.m.

Commander Luca Parmitano and Flight Engineer Jessica Meir set up an exercise cycle for an aerobic fitness test today. Meir strapped herself on the bike while attached to a variety of sensors for an hour-and-a-half exercise session. Flight surgeons use these evaluations to determine an astronaut’s physiological health before, during and after a flight. She also studied how blood flow to the brain adjusts in microgravity.

International Space Station (ISS). Animation Credit: NASA

Cosmonauts Alexander Skvortsov and Oleg Skripochka continued testing a unique negative pressure suit for its ability to reverse the space-caused upward flow of fluids such as blood in astronaut’s bodies. The veteran station pair also worked on a variety of Russian life support and communications systems.

Related links:

Expedition 61: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/expeditions/expedition61/index.html

Spacewalk: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/spacewalks/

Cancer research: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments/explorer/Investigation.html?#id=7977

sequencing the DNA: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments/explorer/Investigation.html?#id=7687

Quest airlock: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/structure/elements/joint-quest-airlock

NASA TV: https://www.nasa.gov/nasatv

Exercise cycle: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments/explorer/Facility.html?#id=821

Blood flow to the brain: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments/explorer/Investigation.html?#id=1938

Space Station Research and Technology: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/index.html

International Space Station (ISS): https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/main/index.html

Image (mentioned), Animation (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Catherine Williams.

Best regards, Orbiter.ch

Milky Way Raids Intergalactic 'Bank Accounts,' Hubble Study Finds

NASA - Hubble Space Telescope patch.

Oct. 10, 2019

Our Milky Way is a frugal galaxy. Supernovas and violent stellar winds blow gas out of the galactic disk, but that gas falls back onto the galaxy to form new generations of stars. In an ambitious effort to conduct a full accounting of this recycling process, astronomers were surprised to find a surplus of incoming gas.

"We expected to find the Milky Way's books balanced, with an equilibrium of gas inflow and outflow, but 10 years of Hubble ultraviolet data has shown there is more coming in than going out," said astronomer Andrew Fox of the Space Telescope Science Institute, Baltimore, Maryland, lead author of the study to be published in The Astrophysical Journal.

Fox said that, for now, the source of the excess inflowing gas remains a mystery.

Image above: This illustration envisions the Milky Way galaxy's gas recycling above and below its stellar disk. Hubble observes the invisible gas clouds rising and falling with its sensitive Cosmic Origins Spectrograph (COS) instrument. The spectroscopic signature of the light from background quasars shining through the clouds gives information about their motion. Quasar light is redshifted in clouds shooting up and away from the galactic plane, while quasar light passing through gas falling back down appears blueshifted. This differentiation allows Hubble to conduct an accurate audit of the outflowing and inflowing gas in the Milky Way's busy halo — revealing an unexpected and so-far unexplained surplus of inflowing gas. Image Credits: NASA, ESA and D. Player (STScI).

One possible explanation is that new gas could be coming from the intergalactic medium. But Fox suspects the Milky Way is also raiding the gas "bank accounts" of its small satellite galaxies, using its considerably greater gravitational pull to siphon away their resources. Additionally, this survey, while galaxy-wide, looked only at cool gas, and hotter gas could play a role, too.

The new study reports the best measurements yet for how fast gas flows in and out of the Milky Way. Prior to this study, astronomers knew that the galactic gas reserves are replenished by inflow and depleted by outflow, but they did not know the relative amounts of gas coming in compared to going out. The balance between these two processes is important because it regulates the formation of new generations of stars and planets.

Astronomers accomplished this survey by collecting archival observations from Hubble’s Cosmic Origins Spectrograph (COS), which was installed on the telescope by astronauts in 2009 during its last servicing mission. Researchers combed through the Hubble archives, analyzing 200 past ultraviolet observations of the diffuse halo that surrounds the disk of our galaxy. The decade's worth of detailed ultraviolet data provided an unprecedented look at gas flow across the galaxy and allowed for the first galaxy-wide inventory. The gas clouds of the galactic halo are only detectable in ultraviolet light, and Hubble is specialized to collect detailed data about the ultraviolet universe.

"The original Hubble COS observations were taken to study the universe far beyond our galaxy, but we went back to them and analyzed the Milky Way gas in the foreground. It's a credit to the Hubble archive that we can use the same observations to study both the near and the more distant universe. Hubble's resolution allows us to simultaneously study local and remote celestial objects," noted Rongmon Bordoloi of North Carolina State University in Raleigh, North Carolina, a co-author on the paper.

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

Because the galaxy's gas clouds are invisible, Fox's team used light from background quasars to detect these clouds and their motion. Quasars, the cores of active galaxies powered by well-fed black holes, shine like brilliant beacons across billions of light-years. When the quasar's light reaches the Milky Way, it passes through the invisible clouds.

The gas in the clouds absorbs certain frequencies of light, leaving telltale fingerprints in the quasar light. Fox singled out the fingerprint of silicon and used it to trace the gas around the Milky Way. Outflowing and inflowing gas clouds were distinguished by the Doppler shift of the light passing through them — approaching clouds are bluer, and receding clouds are redder.

Currently, the Milky Way is the only galaxy for which we have enough data to provide such a full accounting of gas inflow and outflow.

"Studying our own galaxy in detail provides the basis for understanding galaxies across the universe, and we have realized that our galaxy is more complicated than we imagined," said Philipp Richter of the University of Potsdam in Germany, another co-author on the study.

Future studies will explore the source of the inflowing gas surplus, as well as whether other large galaxies behave similarly. Fox noted that there are now enough COS observations to conduct an audit of the Andromeda galaxy (M31), the closest large galaxy to the Milky Way.

The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between ESA (the European Space Agency) and NASA. 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.

Related links:

The Astrophysical Journal: http://apj.aas.org/

Galaxies: https://www.nasa.gov/subject/6894/galaxies

Hubble Space Telescope (HST): https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/hubble/main/index.html

Image (mentioned), Animation (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Rob Garner/Goddard Space Flight Center/Claire Andreoli/Space Telescope Science Institute/Leah Ramsay/Ray Villard/Andrew Fox.

Best regards, Orbiter.ch

Pressure Runs High at Edge of Solar System

NASA - Voyager 1 & 2 Mission patch.

Oct. 10, 2019

Out at the boundary of our solar system, pressure runs high. This pressure, the force plasma, magnetic fields and particles like ions, cosmic rays and electrons exert on one another when they flow and collide, was recently measured by scientists in totality for the first time — and it was found to be greater than expected.

Voyager probe in deep space. Animation Credits: NASA/JPL

Using observations of galactic cosmic rays — a type of highly energetic particle — from NASA’s Voyager spacecraft scientists calculated the total pressure from particles in the outer region of the solar system, known as the heliosheath. At nearly 9 billion miles away, this region is hard to study. But the unique positioning of the Voyager spacecraft and the opportune timing of a solar event made measurements of the heliosheath possible. And the results are helping scientists understand how the Sun interacts with its surroundings. 

“In adding up the pieces known from previous studies, we found our new value is still larger than what’s been measured so far,” said Jamie Rankin, lead author on the new study and astronomer at Princeton University in New Jersey. “It says that there are some other parts to the pressure that aren’t being considered right now that could contribute.”

On Earth we have air pressure, created by air molecules drawn down by gravity. In space there’s also a pressure created by particles like ions and electrons. These particles, heated and accelerated by the Sun create a giant balloon known as the heliosphere extending millions of miles out past Pluto. The edge of this region, where the Sun’s influence is overcome by the pressures of particles from other stars and interstellar space, is where the Sun’s magnetic influence ends.  (Its gravitational influence extends much farther, so the solar system itself extends farther, as well).

Image above: An illustration depicting the layers of the heliosphere. Image Credits: NASA/IBEX/Adler Planetarium.

In order to measure the pressure in the heliosheath, the scientists used the Voyager spacecraft, which have been travelling steadily out of the solar system since 1977. At the time of the observations, Voyager 1 was already outside of the heliosphere in interstellar space, while Voyager 2 still remained in the heliosheath.

“There was really unique timing for this event because we saw it right after Voyager 1 crossed into the local interstellar space,” Rankin said. “And while this is the first event that Voyager saw, there are more in the data that we can continue to look at to see how things in the heliosheath and interstellar space are changing over time.”

The scientists used an event known as a global merged interaction region, which is caused by activity on the Sun. The Sun periodically flares up and releases enormous bursts of particles, like in coronal mass ejections. As a series of these events travel out into space, they can merge into a giant front, creating a wave of plasma pushed by magnetic fields.

Image above: The Voyager spacecraft, one in the heliosheath and the other just beyond in interstellar space, took measurements as a solar even known as a global merged interaction region passed by each spacecraft four months apart. These measurements allowed scientists to calculate the total pressure in the heliosheath, as well as the speed of sound in the region. Image Credits: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/Mary Pat Hrybyk-Keith.

When one such wave reached the heliosheath in 2012, it was spotted by Voyager 2. The wave caused the number of galactic cosmic rays to temporarily decrease. Four months later, the scientists saw a similar decrease in observations from Voyager 1, just across the solar system’s boundary in interstellar space.

Knowing the distance between the spacecraft allowed them to calculate the pressure in the heliosheath as well as the speed of sound. In the heliosheath sound travels at around 300 kilometers per second — a thousand times faster than it moves through air.

The scientists noted that the change in galactic cosmic rays wasn’t exactly identical at both spacecraft. At Voyager 2 inside the heliosheath, the number of cosmic rays decreased in all directions around the spacecraft. But at Voyager 1, outside the solar system, only the galactic cosmic rays that were traveling perpendicular to the magnetic field in the region decreased. This asymmetry suggests that something happens as the wave transmits across the solar system’s boundary.

“Trying to understand why the change in the cosmic rays is different inside and outside of the heliosheath remains an open question,” Rankin said.

Studying the pressure and sound speeds in this region at the boundary of the solar system can help scientists understand how the Sun influences interstellar space. This not only informs us about our own solar system, but also about the dynamics around other stars and planetary systems.

Related Links:

Learn more about NASA’s IBEX Mission: https://www.nasa.gov/ibex

Learn more about NASA’s Voyager Mission: https://voyager.jpl.nasa.gov/

As the Solar Wind Blows, the Heliosphere Balloons: https://www.nasa.gov/feature/goddard/2018/as-solar-wind-blows-our-heliosphere-balloons

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Rob Garner/Goddard Space Flight Center, by Mara Johnson-Groh.

Greetings, Orbiter.ch

Luca powers up for a spacewalk

ESA - Beyond Mission patch.

10 October 2019

European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Luca Parmitano is preparing to step out into space for his first spacewalk of the Beyond mission.

ESA astronaut Luca Parmitano assists spacewalkers in the Quest airlock

Scheduled for 25 October, he will work with NASA astronaut Jessica Meir to replace nickel hydrogen batteries with newer lithium ion batteries and install battery adapter plates on the Space Station’s Port-6 truss structure.

This is a process fellow ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet knows well, having replaced batteries on another power channel during his Proxima mission. We asked him to tell us more about the task and how the crew will prepare.

The lead-up

Known to the crew as an EVA (Extravehicular Activity), each spacewalk is planned up to a year in advance.

Thomas Pesquet spacewalk test

On Station, preparation begins around two weeks ahead, with a set of procedures called the “Road to EVA”.

“Preparing for a spacewalk will make up 2-3 hours of your schedule every day during this time,” Thomas explains. “The crew often carry out prep in their personal time as well.” 

The big day

Live coverage of Luca and Jessica’s spacewalk starts on NASA TV at 10:30 GMT (12:30 CEST), but the crew will begin their preparation around 6:00. And there is to be no showering, shaving, or applying deodorant for at least a day in advance, as any remnants of these products could mix with the pure oxygen inside the suit and pose a fire risk

Astronauts wear a liquid cooling garment underneath their spacesuit. This is connected to the water system that keeps them cool, or warm, by circulating water around their body. They also don a medical monitor and put a dosimeter in their pocket to measure radiation before entering the hatch.

EMU spacesuit

Thomas describes the process inside the airlock as “like scuba diving in reverse”, as astronauts breathe in a controlled way to rid their blood of nitrogen and adjust to lower pressure.

A third crew member, known as the Intravehicular (IV) crew member, is also isolated in the airlock, before it goes to vacuum. This person helps the astronauts with their oxygen masks and into their spacesuits, while making sure everything is checked, tethered and ready for a safe and successful sortie.

It is a role Luca will play in the two spacewalks before his, on 15 and 21 October.

Out in space

Before exiting the airlock, Thomas says, extreme focus is the overriding feeling. 

“Everybody’s watching, so many people have been involved in the preparation, and the risks are so much higher when you’re outside the Space Station,” he explains. “The only thing you can’t really prepare for are the day/night cycles.

“During the night, you only have your helmet light, so you can’t really see anything except what you’re working on. And because you’re working in all body orientations, it’s easy to get disoriented. But you know you can always follow your tether back towards the hatch.”

Luca Parmitano training at NASA’s Johnson Space Center

After exiting the airlock, Thomas says one astronaut will prepare the worksite while the other breaks torque on the pre-positioned adapter plates. Each astronaut will then work to install the adapter plates, needed to replace two older batteries with one new one.

The spacewalk on 25 October is the one of five scheduled for October. Even more are expected in November as Luca ventures out again with the complex task of repairing and enhancing dark matter hunter AMS-02 – a structure never designed to be maintained in orbit.

Related links:

Truss structure: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/structure/elements/truss-structure

NASA TV: http://www.nasa.gov/nasatv

Human and Robotic Exploration: http://www.esa.int/Our_Activities/Human_and_Robotic_Exploration

Beyond mission brochure English: http://esamultimedia.esa.int/docs/HRE/Beyond_interactive_EN.pdf

International Space Station (ISS): https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/main/index.html

Images, Text, Credits: ESA/S. Corvaja/NASA.

Best regards, Orbiter.ch