vendredi 17 décembre 2010

NASA Moves Forward In Commercial Rocket Engine Testing


NASA patch / Orbital logo.

Dec. 17, 2010

NASA conducted a test fire Friday of the liquid-fuel AJ26 engine that will power the first stage of Orbital Sciences Corp.'s Taurus II space launch vehicle. The test at the agency's Stennis Space Center in Mississippi supports NASA's Commercial Transportation Services partnerships to enable commercial cargo flights to the International Space Station.

 Aerojet AJ26 Rocket Engine Arrives at Stennis

Orbital's Taurus II uses a pair AJ26 rocket engines built by Aerojet to provide first stage propulsion. Friday's test on the Stennis' E-1 test stand involved a team of Orbital, Aerojet, and Stennis engineers, with Stennis employees serving as test conductors.

"Once again, the Orbital and Aerojet team have achieved a major milestone with the AJ26 engine," said Doug Cooke, associate administrator for the Exploration Systems Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "This success moves Orbital closer to its goal of providing NASA with commercial space transportation services to the space station."

 Test firing of the AJ26 engine for Orbital Sciences Corp.'s Taurus II launch vehicle at NASA's Stennis Space Center in Mississippi on Dec. 17, 2010

The 55-second firing was the second in a series of verification tests being conducted at the south Mississippi facility. A third hot-fire test also is planned to verify tuning of engine control valves.

"This second test of the AJ26 engine not only moves Orbital's commercial space transport plans a step ahead, but also demonstrates again the quality and versatility of Stennis facilities and the expertise of our test and support team," Stennis Director Patrick Scheuermann said.

Taurus II Space Vehicle

The AJ26 engine is designed to power the Taurus II space vehicle on flights to low Earth orbit. NASA's partnership with Orbital was formed under the agency's Commercial Orbital Transportation Services joint research and development project. The company is under contract with NASA to provide eight cargo missions to the space station through 2015.

For more information about NASA exploration, visit:

For information about Stennis, visit:

Images, Video, Text, Credits: NASA / Orbital /  Stennis Space Center.


Paolo Nespoli and Soyuz TMA-20 Crews arrives at the Space Station


ROSCOSMOS - Soyuz TMA-20 Mission patch / ESA - MagISStra Mission patch.

17 December 2010

The Soyuz TMA-20 spacecraft docked this evening with the International Space Station carrying ESA astronaut Paolo Nespoli and his crewmates Dmitri Kondratyev and Catherine Coleman. They will stay in orbit now for six months and return to Earth next May.

ESA’s third long-duration mission aboard the International Space Station (ISS) began last Wednesday, 15 December, when the Soyuz spacecraft was launched from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

Live connection to the mission control after the ingress

After circling the globe some 35 times in the last two days, the spacecraft docked at 21:12 CET (20:12 GMT) this evening.

During this third flight day, the crew prepared their vessel for arrival, closed the hatch between its two modules, donned their Sokol pressure suits and carefully monitored the approach and docking sequence.

Orbital ballet and firm docking

The automated rendezvous sequence began about two hours before docking, but the crew, especially Soyuz Commander Dmitri Kondratyev, were standing by to take over manually if required.

 Soyuz TMA-20 arriving at Space Station

After two firings of the Soyuz engines, the Kurs rendezvous units on both the Soyuz and Space Station was activated. Soyuz approached the Station slowly, started a majestic fly-around arcing downwards from its position trailing the Station and ended aligned almost perfectly with the Earth-facing docking port of the Russian Zarya module.

With TV cameras transmitting views of the Station, Kurs providing exact position readouts, Mission Control in Korolev, near Moscow, in charge and the crew standing by, the approach was halted about 150 m from the Station for a final readiness check.

Paolo Nespoli arriving at the Space Station

After approval by Mission Control and the crew, Soyuz began the last part of the orbital ballet with short firings of the smaller control rockets and slowly approached the Station.

After the linkup, the firm connection of the craft was verified and, when pressure checks confirmed no air leaks, the crew remove their suits. The pressure is now being equalised between the two vehicles and the hatch to the Station will be opened at any moment.

“It is always a strong feeling to see them entering the ISS and greet the rest of the crew,” commented Simonetta Di Pippo, ESA Director of Human Spaceflight from the Russian control centre.

“A very dense mission awaits Paolo and his crewmates with resupply missions, in particular the second ATV, Johannes Kepler, a major scientific experiment deployment, AMS and numerous scientific experiments.

“I am proud of the level of integration and importance Europe has reached in the ISS partnership also thanks to a regular presence of European astronauts on the ISS.

“I wish Paolo and the whole crew a pleasant stay and a fruitful mission.”

MagISStra mission

During his MagISStra mission, Paolo Nespoli is serving as flight engineer of Expeditions 26 and 27 with Kondratyev and Coleman.

Crew greeting audience at the launch pad

MagISStra includes more than 30 experiments not only for European scientists, but also for the US, Japanese and Canadian space agencies.

His educational programme includes the international ‘Mission X: Train Like an Astronaut’ initiative built around health, well-being and nutrition, and ‘Greenhouse in Space’, a greenhouse to grow plants and observe the life cycle of a flowering plant, with schoolchildren using a similar unit and the same species of plant on the ground.

Paolo will also use ESA’s special 3D camera to show the Space Station and life aboard in a new way. He is also using several social media to communicate with the general public and media – and everyone is invited to participate.

For more information about MagISStra Mission, visit:

ISS Expedition 26 (NASA):



Space Telescope European Coordinating Facility to Close After 26 Successful Years

ESA - Hubble Space Telescope logo / Space Telescope - European Coordinating Facility (ST-ECF) logo.

17 December 2010

 Hubble with spectra from the Space Telescope European Coordinating

The Space Telescope European Coordinating Facility, a unique collaboration between the European Space Agency (ESA) and the European Southern Observatory, will close on 31 December 2010 after 26 years. ESA’s continuing partnership with NASA on the Hubble mission ensures that European astronomers will continue to have access to observing time.

The Space Telescope European Coordinating Facility (ST-ECF), the scientific and technical co-ordination centre for the Hubble Space Telescope in Europe, will close its doors at the end of December 2010. This is part of a process in which the European Space Agency is streamlining its operations and concentrating astronomical operations, archiving and data reduction expertise at its European Space Astronomy Centre (ESAC) in Spain.

The ST-ECF was formed in 1984, six years before Hubble’s launch, as a key plank in ESA’s partnership with NASA and as a vital element in maximising Europe’s scientific return in the pre-internet age. Rather than simply contribute to Hubble science and technology programmes in the US, ESA made the strategic decision to build capabilities in Europe. As a result, the ST-ECF was formed as a joint venture between ESA and the European Southern Observatory (ESO), combining the technical and scientific expertise of both organisations.

The ST-ECF’s primary function has been as a support facility, both by contributing to the Hubble project and providing expertise and advice to European astronomers using Hubble. But this work has also had knock-on benefits elsewhere. ESO Director General, Tim de Zeeuw explains: “Establishing the ST-ECF within ESO allowed a very productive cross-fertilisation of ideas to take place. For example, the ST-ECF’s work on software, imaging and data archives have fed back into NASA’s work on Hubble. Conversely, the experience of being involved in Hubble gave ESO invaluable expertise for our Very Large Telescope.”

One area where the ST-ECF has made a particular impact is in astronomical image processing. In the early days, techniques were developed to counteract the effects of Hubble’s flawed mirror (deconvolution). This work subsequently evolved, in collaboration with NASA’s Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI), to use a combination of multiple, slightly displaced exposures (dithering) with a combination technique (drizzling) to greatly improve the imaging capability of the telescope. This work has proved very productive for astronomy in general, not just for Hubble.

In addition, staff at the ST-ECF made important advances in the modelling of the performance of various astronomical instruments. This theoretical knowledge lets astronomers create highly sophisticated computer simulations of the instruments, allowing for precise calibration of observations and more accurate results. This modelling work has provided substantial improvements in the scientific data produced by Hubble over the years.

The ST-ECF was also a pioneer of the early internet. Communication and co-ordination with NASA in the US and sharing data with astronomers across Europe meant that effective computer networking was key. To this end, the facility pioneered online access to scientific data archives, and set up one of the very first websites in Europe in the summer of 1993.

Hubble with spectra from the Space Telescope European Coordinating Facility

In the last few years, the ST-ECF has developed sophisticated software to exploit a capability that enables Hubble’s cameras to be used for the simultaneous spectroscopy of many sources in the field of view. Applied from a telescope in space this slitless spectroscopy is an enormously powerful technique to study the motions and properties of objects that are so faint that they cannot be reached in any other way.

A separate and very important contribution of the ST-ECF to the ESA Science Programme over many years has been its responsibility for developing communications and outreach in Europe for Hubble.

While the ST-ECF’s closure marks the end for one aspect of Hubble activities in Europe, ESA remains a firm partner to NASA in the space telescope’s continuing mission. To this end, ESA’s Science Programme Committee recently voted unanimously to extend the ESA contribution to the end of 2014, with a further extension possible.

Martin Kessler, head of ESA’s science operations department said: “European astronomers will have access to ESA’s share of observing time for as long as Hubble remains in the sky. Additionally, we expect to preserve access to Hubble data via the European Space Astronomy Centre. As part of the ongoing collaboration with NASA, ESA will continue to deploy staff based at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, USA.”

ESO will continue to support the ESA public outreach effort for Hubble, processing images for public release, running the ESA/Hubble website at and producing the popular Hubblecast podcast series.

The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between ESA and NASA.

More information:

    * Images of Hubble:

Images, Text,  Credits: ESA / ST-ECF.

Best regards,

jeudi 16 décembre 2010

First Quasi-Zenith Satellite MICHIBIKI Technical Verification and Application Verification

JAXA - Quasi-Zenith Satellite System (QZSS) patch / JAXA - First Quasi-Zenith Satellite "MICHIBIKI" logo.

December 15, 2010 (JST)

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), the Geospatial Information Authority of Japan (GSI), the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST), the National Institute of Information and Communication Technology (NICT), the Electronic Navigation Research Institute (ENRI) and the Satellite Positioning Research and Application Center (SPAC) have conducted the initial functional verification of the First Quasi-Zenith Satellite "MICHIBIKI" for about three months.

The MICHIBIKI was launched from the Tanegashima Space Center at 8:17 p.m. on September 11, 2010 (Japan Standard Time, all the following dates and time are JST,) and, during the initial verification, the satellite bus and onboard mission devices were confirmed as functioning.

As a result, all functions and performance were verified to be normal, thus JAXA moved the operation of MICHIBIKI to regular mode on December 13. Accordingly, we will begin technical and application verifications of the MICHIBIKI.

Each organization already started partial technical verifications when the health of their onboard device(s) and ground systems was confirmed. However, as JAXA switched all positioning signals to the standard code* at 11:48 a.m. on December 15, full-scale technical and application verifications will be performed by all organizations.

* Standard code:

Positioning signals were set to a non-standard code during the initial functional verification period; therefore, users were not able to capture signals. By setting them to the standard code, experimental users of the technical and application verifications can receive signals. Aside from the standard code, we also set up an "alert flag" which indicates that MICHIBIKI's positioning signals cannot be used (an alert condition,) thus general users cannot use MICHIBIKI's signals for their positioning calculation even if they acquire the signals.

This "alert flag" will be removed after the quality and reliability of MICHIBIKI's signals are proved to satisfy the user interface specifications of the Quasi-Zenith Satellite System. (We plan to remove the alert flag in three to six months after starting the technical verification. We may temporarily remove it during the verification when experimental users require the removal for a test.)

Reference: Major Schedules of MICHIBIKI since its launch

Mission website:

Quasi-Zenith Satellite-1 "MICHIBIKI":

Images, Text, Credits:
Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA)
Geospatial Information Authority of Japan (GSI)
National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST)
National Institute of Information and Communication Technology (NICT)
Electronic Navigation Research Institute (ENRI)
Satellite Positioning Research and Application Center (SPAC)


NASA Spacecraft Provides Travel Tips for Mars Rover

NASA - Mars Exploration Rover B (MER-B) Opportunity patch / NASA - Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) patch.


NASA's Mars Opportunity rover is getting important tips from an orbiting spacecraft as it explores areas that might hold clues about past Martian environments.

Mars Opportunity rover (Artist's view)

Researchers are using a mineral-mapping instrument aboard NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter to help the rover investigate a large ancient crater called Endeavour. The orbiter's Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars (CRISM) is providing maps of minerals at Endeavour's rim that are helping the team choose which area to explore first and where to go from there. As Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter orbits more than 241 kilometers high (150 miles), the CRISM instrument provides mapping information for mineral exposures on the surface as small as a tennis court.

"This is the first time mineral detections from orbit are being used in tactical decisions about where to drive on Mars," said Ray Arvidson of Washington University in St. Louis. Arvidson is the deputy principal investigator for the Spirit and Opportunity rovers and a co-investigator for CRISM.

Image above: NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity used its navigation camera to record this view of Santa Maria crater at the end of a drive during the 2,450th Martian day, or sol, of the rover's work on Mars (Dec. 15, 2010).

Opportunity's science team chose to begin driving the rover toward the 22.5-kilometer-wide (14-mile-wide) crater in 2008, after four years studying other sites in what initially was planned as a three-month mission. The rover has traveled approximately nine miles since setting out for Endeavour crater. It will take several months to reach it.

The team plans for Opportunity's exploration of Endeavour to begin at a rim fragment called Cape York. That feature is too low to be visible by the rover, but appears from orbit to be nearly surrounded by water-bearing minerals. The planned route then turns southward toward a higher rim fragment called Cape Tribulation, where CRISM has detected a class of clay minerals not investigated yet by a ground mission. Spacecraft orbiting Mars found these minerals to be widespread on the planet. The presence of clay minerals at Endeavour suggests an earlier and milder wet environment than the very acidic, wet one indicated by previous evidence found by Opportunity.

"We used to have a disconnect between the scale of identifying minerals from orbit and what missions on the surface could examine," said CRISM team member Janice Bishop of NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., and the SETI Institute of Mountain View, Calif. "Now, rovers are driving farther and orbital footprints are getting smaller."

Ten years ago, an imaging spectrometer on NASA's Mars Global Surveyor orbiter found an Oklahoma-sized area with a type of the mineral hematite exposed. This discovery motivated selection of the area as Opportunity's 2004 landing site. Each pixel footprint for that spectrometer was 3.2 kilometers (2 miles) across. CRISM resolves areas about 18 meters (60 feet) across. Last fall, the instrument began using a pixel-overlap technique that provided even better resolution.

Opportunity has just reached a 90-meter-diameter crater (300-foot) called Santa Maria, where CRISM detected a patch of ground with indications of water bound into the mineral. Opportunity will conduct a science campaign at the crater for the next several weeks to compare the ground results to the orbital indications.

"Opportunity has driven farther in the past Martian year than in any previous one," said John Callas, Mars Exploration Rover project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

A Martian year lasts approximately 23 months. During the past Martian year, Opportunity covered more than 12 kilometers (7.5 miles) of the mission's 26 total kilometers (16 miles) traveled since it landed in January 2004. The rover has returned more than 141,000 images.

Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (Artist's view)

Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter reached the Red Planet in 2006 to begin a two-year primary science mission. Its data show Mars had diverse wet environments at many locations for differing durations during the planet's history, and climate-change cycles persist into the present era. The mission has returned more planetary data than all other Mars missions combined.

JPL manages the Mars Exploration Rovers and the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. JPL is a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md., manages CRISM.

For more information about Mars missions, visit:

Images, Text, Credits: NASA / JPL-Caltech / Ames Research Center.


NASA Discovers Asteroid Delivered Assortment of Meteorites

NASA logo.

Dec. 16, 2010

An international team of scientists studying remnants of an asteroid that crashed into the Nubian Desert in October 2008 discovered it contained at least 10 different types of meteorites. Some of them contained chemicals that form the building blocks of life on Earth, and those chemicals were spread through all parts of the asteroid by collisions.

Artwork of a collision between asteroids

Chemists at Stanford University found that different meteorite types share the same distinct fingerprint of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). These complex organic molecules are distributed throughout the galaxy and form on Earth from incomplete combustion.

A research team from NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., found amino acids in strongly heated fragments of the asteroid, where all such molecules should have been destroyed. Both PAHs and amino acids are considered building blocks of life.

Before landing on Earth, the 13-foot asteroid was detected by a telescope from the NASA-sponsored Catalina Sky Survey based at the University of Arizona in Tucson. Hours prior to its demise, astronomers and scientists around the world tracked and scanned the asteroid. It was the first time a celestial object was observed prior to entering Earth's atmosphere.

A meteorite from an asteroid tracked by scientists lies in the Nubian Desert in northern Sudan

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., created a search grid and impact target area. The data helped Peter Jenniskens, an astronomer at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., and the SETI Institute of Mountain View, Calif., guide a recovery team from the University of Khartoum in Sudan to search the desert landscape. During four expeditions, approximately 150 students recovered nearly 600 meteorite fragments weighing a total of more than 23 pounds.

"Right from the start, the students were surprised to find so much diversity in meteorite texture and hue," said Muawia Shaddad, an astronomer at the University of Khartoum, who led the search effort. "We estimate the asteroid initially weighed about 59 tons, of which about 86 pounds survived the explosion high in the atmosphere."

Fragment of Asteroid 2008 TC3

Subsequently, scientists determined most of the fragments are a rare type of meteorite called ureilites. Less than 10 of the nearly 1,000 known meteorites are ureilites. The recovery team made history when they found the first-ever freshly fallen mixed-composition, or polymict ureilite. The majority of the remaining fragments are similar to the more common types of meteorites called chondrites.

Other Ames researchers showed the ureilite fragments contained widely varying amounts of the minerals called olivine and pyroxene. Carnegie Institute of Washington researchers found these minerals have the full range of oxygen atom signatures detected in previous ureilites. Scientists believe this is evidence all ureilites originated from the same source, called the ureilite parent body. Astronomers theorize the parent body experienced a giant collision approximately 4.5 billion years ago and caused iron-rich minerals to smelt into metallic iron. However, the olivine and pyroxene didn't melt, which allowed the oxygen atoms in them to stay in the same arrangement as when they first formed.

Tieschitz H/L3.6 (Czech Republic) meteorite fragment (chondrites) seen by microscope, the olivine and pyroxene minerals

Researchers at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston were able to deduce that much of the ureilite parent body was reduced to fragments measuring 30 to 300 feet during this giant collision. After the catastrophic collision, scientists believe the material that ended up making 2008 TC3 had a long history of violent collisions and impacts. These later collisions ground the fragments down into the smaller sand grain-sized pieces that gathered loosely together with many voids.

Researchers believe the amino acids were delivered to 2008 TC3 during the later impacts, or formed directly from trapped gases as the asteroid cooled following the giant collision. Other non-ureilite types of meteorites also became part of the asteroid. To date, ten different meteorite types have been identified, accounting for 20-30 percent of the asteroid's recovered remains.

"Asteroids have just become a lot more interesting," Jenniskens said. "We were surprised to find that not all of the meteorites we recovered were the same, even though we are certain they came from the same asteroid."

Astronomers have known asteroids orbiting the sun frequently are broken and reassembled during collisions, but until now they thought little mixing occurred because asteroids, or impactors that broke them apart, are usually very small. The research is featured in 20 papers published this week in an issue of the Meteoritical Society's journal Meteoritics and Planetary Science. For information about NASA and agency programs, visit:

Images, Text, Credits: NASA / D. Davis / David Weir.


ESO - Light Dawns on Dark Gamma-ray Bursts

ESO - European Southern Observatory logo.

16 December 2010

 Artist's impression of a dark gamma-ray burst

Gamma-ray bursts are among the most energetic events in the Universe, but some appear curiously faint in visible light. The biggest study to date of these so-called dark gamma-ray bursts, using the GROND instrument on the 2.2-metre MPG/ESO telescope at La Silla in Chile, has found that these gigantic explosions don’t require exotic explanations. Their faintness is now fully explained by a combination of causes, the most important of which is the presence of dust between the Earth and the explosion.

Gamma-ray bursts (GRBs), fleeting events that last from less than a second to several minutes, are detected by orbiting observatories that can pick up their high energy radiation. Thirteen years ago, however, astronomers discovered a longer-lasting stream of less energetic radiation coming from these violent outbursts, which can last for weeks or even years after the initial explosion. Astronomers call this the burst’s afterglow.

While all gamma-ray bursts [1] have afterglows that give off X-rays, only about half of them were found to give off visible light, with the rest remaining mysteriously dark. Some astronomers suspected that these dark afterglows could be examples of a whole new class of gamma-ray bursts, while others thought that they might all be at very great distances. Previous studies had suggested that obscuring dust between the burst and us might also explain why they were so dim.

“Studying afterglows is vital to further our understanding of the objects that become gamma-ray bursts and what they tell us about star formation in the early Universe,” says the study’s lead author Jochen Greiner from the Max-Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics in Garching bei München, Germany.

NASA launched the Swift satellite at the end of 2004. From its orbit above the Earth’s atmosphere it can detect gamma-ray bursts and immediately relay their positions to other observatories so that the afterglows could be studied. In the new study, astronomers combined Swift data with new observations made using GROND [2] — a dedicated gamma-ray burst follow-up observation instrument, which is attached to the 2.2-metre MPG/ESO telescope at La Silla in Chile. In doing so, astronomers have conclusively solved the puzzle of the missing optical afterglow.

What makes GROND exciting for the study of afterglows is its very fast response time — it can observe a burst within minutes of an alert coming from Swift using a special system called the Rapid Response Mode — and its ability to observe simultaneously through seven filters covering both the visible and near-infrared parts of the spectrum.

By combining GROND data taken through these seven filters with Swift observations, astronomers were able to accurately determine the amount of light emitted by the afterglow at widely differing wavelengths, all the way from high energy X-rays to the near-infrared. The astronomers used this information to directly measure the amount of obscuring dust that the light passed through en route to Earth. Previously, astronomers had to rely on rough estimates of the dust content [3].

The team used a range of data, including their own measurements from GROND, in addition to observations made by other large telescopes including the ESO Very Large Telescope, to estimate the distances to nearly all of the bursts in their sample. While they found that a significant proportion of bursts are dimmed to about 60–80 percent of the original intensity by obscuring dust, this effect is exaggerated for the very distant bursts, letting the observer see only 30–50 percent of the light [4]. The astronomers conclude that most dark gamma-ray bursts are therefore simply those that have had their small amount of visible light completely stripped away before it reaches us.

“Compared to many instruments on large telescopes, GROND is a low cost and relatively simple instrument, yet it has been able to conclusively resolve the mystery surrounding dark gamma-ray bursts,” says Greiner.

 ESOcast 25: Chasing Gamma Ray Bursts at Top Speed: The VLT’s Rapid Response Mode


[1] Gamma-ray bursts lasting longer than two seconds are referred to as long bursts and those with a shorter duration are known as short bursts. Long bursts, which were observed in this study, are associated with the supernova explosions of massive young stars in star-forming galaxies. Short bursts are not well understood, but are thought to originate from the merger of two compact objects such as neutron stars.

[2] The Gamma-Ray burst Optical and Near-infrared Detector (GROND) was designed and built at the Max-Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics in collaboration with the Tautenburg Observatory, and has been fully operational since August 2007.

[3] Other studies relating to dark gamma-ray bursts have been released. Early this year, astronomers used the Subaru Telescope to observe a single gamma-ray burst, from which they hypothesised that dark gamma-ray bursts may indeed be a separate sub-class that form through a different mechanism, such as the merger of binary stars. In another study published last year using the Keck Telescope, astronomers studied the host galaxies of 14 dark GRBs, and based on the derived low redshifts they infer dust as the likely mechanism to create the dark bursts. In the new work reported here, 39 GRBs were studied, including nearly 20 dark bursts, and it is the only study in which no prior assumptions have been made and the amount of dust has been directly measured.

[4] Because the afterglow light of very distant bursts is redshifted due to the expansion of the Universe, the light that left the object was originally bluer than the light we detect when it gets to Earth. Since the reduction of light intensity by dust is greater for blue and ultraviolet light than for red, this means that the overall dimming effect of dust is greater for the more distant gamma-ray bursts. This is why GROND’s ability to observe near-infrared radiation makes such a difference.
More information

This research is presented in a paper to appear in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics on 16 December 2010

The team is composed of: J. Greiner (Max-Planck-Institut für extraterrestrische Physik [MPE], Germany), T. Krühler (MPE, Universe Cluster, Technische Universität München), S. Klose (Thüringer Landessternwarte, Germany), P. Afonso (MPE), C. Clemens (MPE), R. Filgas (MPE), D.H. Hartmann (Clemson University, USA), A. Küpcü Yoldaş¸ (University of Cambridge, UK), M. Nardini (MPE), F. Olivares E. (MPE), A. Rau (MPE), A. Rossi (Thüringer Landessternwarte, Germany), P. Schady (MPE), and A. Updike (Clemson University, USA)

ESO, the European Southern Observatory, is the foremost intergovernmental astronomy organisation in Europe and the world’s most productive astronomical observatory. It is supported by 14 countries: Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Finland, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. 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, the world’s most advanced visible-light astronomical observatory and VISTA, the world’s largest survey telescope. ESO is the European partner of a revolutionary astronomical telescope ALMA, the largest astronomical project in existence. ESO is currently planning a 42-metre European Extremely Large optical/near-infrared Telescope, the E-ELT, which will become “the world’s biggest eye on the sky”.


    * Research paper in A&A:

    * GROND website:

    * Photos of the La Silla Observatory:

    * Photo of MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope:

Images, Text, Credits: ESO / L. Calçada / La Silla / Paranal / E-ELT and Survey Telescopes.
Video, Credits: ESO. Visual design and editing: Martin Kornmesser and Luis Calçada. Editing: Herbert Zodet. Web and technical support: Lars Holm Nielsen and Raquel Yumi Shida. Written by: Herbert Zodet. Narration: Dr. J and Gaitee Hussain. Music: movetwo. Footage and photos: ESO, NASA / Goddard Space Flight Center, Stéphane Guisard and José Francisco Salgado. Directed by: Herbert Zodet. Executive producer: Lars Lindberg Christensen.

Best regards,

mercredi 15 décembre 2010

Kepler Mission Manager Update 12.14.10

NASA - Kepler Mission logo labeled.


During a regularly scheduled contact with the Kepler spacecraft on Dec. 13, 2010, the project team discovered Kepler had experienced an anomaly. Kepler was found in coarse point attitude, as opposed to finepoint. Coarse point means the Kepler is using its star trackers for pointing at the Kepler Field-of-View (FOV) instead of the fine guidance sensors that are hard-mounted to the Kepler focal plane array. To properly track Kepler’s target stars with fine accuracy, Kepler must be in finepoint attitude.

Project engineers began analysis of the situation to determine the cause of the anomaly. They determined that Kepler failed to transition properly from coarse point to finepoint attitude after a pre-planned momentum wheel de-saturation. Momentum wheel de-saturations occur on a regular basis for the spacecraft, approximately every three-and-one-half days. The de-saturation uses thrusters to dump momentum buildup on Kepler’s reaction wheels, which spin continuously to counter the solar wind, which pushes on the spacecraft body as Kepler points at its FOV.

Kepler instruments description

The project team was able to recover the spacecraft to finepoint relatively quickly. Only 13 hours of science data collection were interrupted by this anomaly. The team will continue to evaluate telemetry from the event to confirm the root cause, and develop any further mitigations. The Kepler mission budgets for interruptions in the mission, including scheduled maintenance on the spacecraft and anomalies such as this. The mission remains well within the budget outages allowed.

Meanwhile, the project science team is preparing for Kepler-related sessions at the upcoming American Astronomical Society meeting in Seattle in early January. The Science Team also is preparing for the planned Feb. 1, 2011 release of Quarter 2 data and release of sequestered target data from Quarter 0 and Quarter 1.

For more information about Kepler, visit:

Images, Text, Credit: NASA.


Newest Space Station Crew Members Launch From Kazakhstan

ROSCOMOS - Soyuz TMA-20 Mission patch
ESA - MagISStra Mission patch.

Dec. 14, 2010

NASA astronaut Cady Coleman, Russian cosmonaut Dmitry Kondratyev, and European Space Agency astronaut Paolo Nespoli launched to the International Space Station from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 2:09 p.m. EST Wednesday (1:09 a.m. local time, Dec. 16).

Soyuz TMA-20 was launched at 20:09:25

Coleman, Kondratyev and Nespoli are scheduled to dock their Soyuz TMA-20 spacecraft to the station's Rassvet docking port at 3:12 p.m., Friday, Dec. 17. They will join Expedition 26 Commander Scott Kelly and Flight Engineers Alexander Kaleri and Oleg Skripochka aboard the orbiting laboratory.

So began MagISStra, Europe’s third long-duration mission to the International Space Station (ISS). During his six-month mission, Paolo will serve as a flight engineer with Kondratyev and Coleman as members of Expeditions 26 and 27. Their return to Earth is planned for next May.

  Launch video replay

Docking on Friday evening

Following their launch, the crew is busy preparing their craft for orbital operations. During the two-day cruise, their orbit will be gradually raised and fine-tuned to arrive at the Station on Friday evening, 17 December.

The cruise will take 35 orbits around the globe and include three major engine burns. Soyuz will do these automatically under the guidance of Mission Control at Korolev, near Moscow, with the crew ready to take action if needed.

On Friday, NASA Television will air docking coverage beginning at 2:30 p.m. Coverage of the hatches opening and a welcoming ceremony aboard the station will begin at 5:30 p.m. For NASA TV streaming video, schedule and downlink information, visit:

Paolo and his crewmates will spend their time with housekeeping, monitoring the flight, checking the systems and preparing equipment for arrival at the ISS. In addition, this quiet phase of the mission is useful for their bodies to adapt to space.

Later this afternoon: Sokol pressure suit testing

The approach and docking are also automated. When Soyuz is within 150 m of the Station, Mission Control will be closely monitoring the trajectory and all systems, with the crew again ready to take over manually at any stage.

The docking is planned for slightly after 21:00 CET (20:00 GMT)

 Today at 14:00: leavin the Cosmonaut hotel

ESA Director of Human Spaceflight, Simonetta Di Pippo, will be following the docking from the mission control centre in Russia: “Ten years from the first expedition to the ISS, Paolo’s mission marks the beginning of a new decade for this permanently inhabited outpost and space laboratory. With the great accomplishments in the last two years, assembly is now virtually over. Paolo and his crewmates will inaugurate a ‘Research Decade’ on the ISS. I wish Paolo and his fellow explorers a safe trip aboard the Soyuz to reach the ISS and I am looking forward to their docking.”

Mission loaded with science and education

Paolo will perform more than 30 experiments during his mission, not only for European scientists, but also for the US, Japanese and Canadian space agencies.

Earlier today: signing the door

His educational programme includes two main activities: the international ‘Mission X: Train Like an Astronaut’ initiative built around health, well-being and nutrition, and ‘Greenhouse in Space’, a greenhouse to grow plants and observe the life cycle of a flowering plant, while schoolchildren use a similar greenhouse and the same species of plant on the ground.

Paolo will also make films with ESA’s novel 3D camera to show the Space Station in a new way:

Paolo on Twitter:

Ask Paolo on YouTube:

ISS Expedition 26 (NASA):

Credits: ROSCOSMOS / NASA / ESA - S. Corvaja.


mardi 14 décembre 2010

Cassini Spots Potential Ice Volcano On Saturn Moon

NASA - Cassini Insider's Mission logo.

Dec. 14, 2010

NASA's Cassini spacecraft has found possible ice volcanoes on Saturn's moon Titan that are similar in shape to those on Earth that spew molten rock.

 Titan seen by Cassini

Topography and surface composition data have enabled scientists to make the best case yet in the outer solar system for an Earth-like volcano landform that erupts in ice. The results were presented today at the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco.

"When we look at our new 3-D map of Sotra Facula on Titan, we are struck by its resemblance to volcanoes like Mt. Etna in Italy, Laki in Iceland and even some small volcanic cones and flows near my hometown of Flagstaff," said Randolph Kirk, who led the 3-D mapping work, and is a Cassini radar team member and geophysicist at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Astrogeology Science Center in Flagstaff, Ariz.

Scientists have been debating for years whether ice volcanoes, also called cryovolcanoes, exist on ice-rich moons, and if they do, what their characteristics are. The working definition assumes some kind of subterranean geological activity warms the cold environment enough to melt part of the satellite's interior and sends slushy ice or other materials through an opening in the surface. Volcanoes on Jupiter's moon Io and Earth spew silicate lava.

Flyover of Sotra Facula, Titan

This image (above) is based on data from NASA's Cassini spacecraft and shows a flyover of an area of Saturn's moon Titan known as Sotra Facula. Image credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / USGS / University of Arizona.

Some cryovolcanoes bear little resemblance to terrestrial volcanoes, such as the tiger stripes at Saturn's moon Enceladus, where long fissures spray jets of water and icy particles that leave little trace on the surface. At other sites, eruption of denser materials might build up volcanic peaks or finger-like flows. But when such flows were spotted on Titan in the past, theories explained them as non-volcanic processes, such as rivers depositing sediment. At Sotra, however, cryovolcanism is the best explanation for two peaks more than 3000 feet high with deep volcanic craters and finger-like flows.

"This is the very best evidence, by far, for volcanic topography anywhere documented on an icy satellite," said Jeffrey Kargel, a planetary scientist at the University of Arizona, Tucson. "It's possible the mountains are tectonic in origin, but the interpretation of cryovolcano is a much simpler, more consistent explanation."

Kirk and colleagues analyzed new Cassini radar images. His USGS group created the topographic map and 3-D flyover images of Sotra Facula. Data from Cassini's visual and infrared mapping spectrometer revealed the lobed flows had a composition different from the surrounding surface. Scientists have no evidence of current activity at Sotra, but they plan to monitor the area.

"Cryovolcanoes help explain the geological forces sculpting some of these exotic places in our solar system," said Linda Spilker, Cassini project scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. "At Titan, for instance, they explain how methane can be continually replenished in the atmosphere when the sun is constantly breaking that molecule down."

Cassini launched Oct. 15, 1997, and began orbiting Saturn in 2004. Saturn has more than 60 known moons, with Titan being the largest. The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency (ASI). JPL manages the mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate at the agency's Headquarters in Washington.

The Cassini orbiter was designed, developed and assembled at JPL. The radar instrument was built by JPL and ASI, working with team members from the U.S. and several European countries. The visual and infrared mapping spectrometer was built by JPL, with a major contribution by ASI. The visual and infrared mapping spectrometer science team is based at the University of Arizona, Tucson.

For more information about the Cassini mission, visit:

Images, Video, Text, Credits: NASA / JPL-Caltech / USGS / University of Arizona / ASI.


ESA makes the Sun available to everyone

ESA / NASA - SOHO Mission patch.

14 December 2010

 A mega-filament erupts on the Sun as seen on JHelioviwer

New software developed by ESA makes available online to everyone, everywhere at anytime, the entire library of images from the SOHO solar and heliospheric observatory. Just download the viewer and begin exploring the Sun.

JHelioviewer is new visualisation software that enables everyone to explore the Sun. Developed as part of the ESA/NASA Helioviewer Project, it provides a desktop program that enables users to call up images of the Sun from the past 15 years.

A solar prominence in JHelioviewer

More than a million images from SOHO can already be accessed, and new images from NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory are being added every day. The downloadable JHelioviewer is complemented by the website, a web-based image browser.

Using this new software, users can create their own movies of the Sun, colour the images as they wish, and image-process the movies in real time. They can export their finished movies in various formats, and track features on the Sun by compensating for solar rotation.

A prominence arcs up from the solar surface

“We wanted to make it easy to view solar images from different observatories and instruments, and to make it easy to make movies,” says Daniel Müller, ESA SOHO Deputy Project Scientist. “Before, it took hours to combine images from different telecopes to make a movie of the Sun for a given period. With JHelioviewer, everyone can do this in minutes. This is an interactive visual archive of the entire SOHO mission.”

JHelioviewer is written in the Java programming language, hence the ‘J’ at the beginning of its name. It is open-source software, meaning that all its components are freely available so others can help to improve the program.

A prominence twists above the solar surface

The code can even be reused for other purposes; it is already being used for Mars data and in medical research. This is because JHelioviewer does not need to download entire datasets, which can often be huge – it can just choose enough data to stream smoothly over the Internet.

It also allows data to be annotated, say, solar flares of a particular magnitude to be marked or diseased tissues in medical images to be highlighted.

An eruption blasts from the Sun on JHelioviewer

“The goal of JHelioviewer, and the Helioviewer Project as a whole, is to offer intuitive interfaces to large datasets from many different sources. In effect, it is a virtual observatory,” says Müller.

For more information, click here:

Solar storms erupt from the Sun in JHelioviewer

Related link:

Related SOHO hotshot:

Images, Videos, Text, Credits: ESA / JHelioviewer Team.


Hubble spots a celestial bauble

ESA - Hubble Space Telescope logo.

14 December 2010

Hubble has spotted a festive bauble of gas in our neighbouring galaxy, the Large Magellanic Cloud. Formed in the aftermath of a supernova explosion that took place four centuries ago, this sphere of gas has been snapped in a series of observations made between 2006 and 2010.

Hubble spots a celestial bauble

The delicate shell, photographed by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, appears to float serenely in the depths of space, but this apparent calm hides an inner turmoil. The gaseous envelope formed as the expanding blast wave and ejected material from a supernova tore through the nearby interstellar medium. Called SNR B0509-67.5 (or SNR 0509 for short), the bubble is the visible remnant of a powerful stellar explosion in the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC), a small galaxy about 160 000 light-years from Earth.

Ripples seen in the shell’s surface may be caused either by subtle variations in the density of the ambient interstellar gas, or possibly be driven from the interior by fragments from the initial explosion. The bubble-shaped shroud of gas is 23 light-years across and is expanding at more than 18 million km/h.

Hubble and Chandra spot a celestial bauble

Astronomers have concluded that the explosion was an example of an especially energetic and bright variety of supernova. Known as Type Ia, such supernova events are thought to result when a white dwarf star in a binary system robs its partner of material, taking on more mass than it is able to handle, so that it eventually explodes.

Hubble’s Advanced Camera for Surveys observed the supernova remnant on 28 October 2006 with a filter that isolates light from the glowing hydrogen seen in the expanding shell. These observations were then combined with visible-light images of the surrounding star field that were imaged with Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 on 4 November 2010.

With an age of about 400 years, the supernova might have been visible to southern hemisphere observers around the year 1600, although there are no known records of a “new star” in the direction of the LMC near that time. A much more recent supernova in the LMC, SN 1987A, did catch the eye of Earth viewers and continues to be studied with ground- and space-based telescopes, including Hubble.


The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between ESA and NASA.


    * Images of Hubble:

    * NASA HubbleSite release:

    * NASA: NASA Hubble Heritage release:

Images, Video, Text, credit: NASA / ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA). Acknowledgement: J. Hughes (Rutgers University) / Video: NASA / ESA and G. Bacon, T. Borders, L. Frattare, Z. Levay, and F. Summers (STScI).

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lundi 13 décembre 2010

Russia's Soyuz Soon to be Only Lifeline to Space

ROSCOSMOS - Soyuz Russian Vehicles patch.


As a Soyuz spacecraft slowly rolls to its launchpad on the icy cold steppes of Kazakhstan, even the most seasoned space fan cannot help but be spellbound by the sight.

Soyuz TMA-13 rollout

With NASA finally retiring the shuttle program next year, the venerable Russian workhorse is now set to become the world's only lifeline to the International Space Station. That predicament is provoking mixed feelings of concern over excess reliance on Russia's space program and enduring admiration for the hardiness of the Soviet-designed Soyuz.

"The vehicle is a rugged 'one trick pony,' no frills or luxuries, and can take any licking and keep on ticking," said James Oberg, a veteran of NASA Space Shuttle Mission Control in Houston.

The next Soyuz mission begins Thursday, when NASA astronaut Catherine Coleman, Russian cosmonaut Dmitry Kondratyev and European Space Agency's Paolo Nespoli of Italy lift off from the Baikonur cosmodrome in southern Kazakhstan.

Soyuz TMA-20 Mission patch

In a procedure polished over more than four decades of Soyuz launches, the carrier rocket was horizontally rolled out of its hangar on a flatbed train at 7 a.m. local time Monday and carefully carried to the blastoff site in the winter darkness.

In contrast to NASA's distinctive winged shuttle, which is reusable albeit exorbitantly expensive to operate, the Soyuz can only be used once. It is a relatively streamlined craft consisting of a tiny capsule sitting atop powerful booster rockets.

The name, which comes from the Russian word for "union," was both a tribute to its Soviet design and a reference to the Soyuz's ability to dock with other modules. That detail was an absolute must even to begin thinking about long-term space missions or possible travel beyond the Earth's orbit.

Soyuz TMA spacecraft cutaway

Whereas the shuttle's viability has been hamstrung by countless delays, the last time a Soyuz launch was postponed was as far back as 1971.

Yet for all its trustworthiness, the first Soyuz launch in April 1967 ended in tragedy when Col. Vladimir Komarov, the sole cosmonaut onboard, died on re-entry.

Soviet authorities had grown alarmed at U.S. strides in the space race and had pushed for hasty deployment of the Soyuz before the United States could get its Apollo rocket off the ground.

That Soyuz disaster led to an immediate postponement of manned flights and injected a new spirit of caution into the Soviet space program. A minute attention to detail, most evident in Russian space officials' obsession with running operations on a timetable counted in seconds, has earned the Soyuz a well-deserved reputation for safety.

"My biggest dream in life has always been to fly in orbit someday, but I can tell you that I would feel a hell of a lot more at ease in a Soyuz than in a shuttle," space historian Bert Vis said.

Soyuz (TMA-6) in orbit

Despite such oft-heard endorsements, a clutch of incidents in recent years has aroused concern. Most notably, problems with the Soyuz capsule's service module during a landing in April 2008 caused a perilously steep re-entry trajectory, which placed crushing gravitational pressure on its three-person crew.

Ahead of watching the Soyuz being winched into place at the launchpad Monday, NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson, who traveled onboard that capsule, said the luxuries afforded by the shuttle would indeed be missed.

"The Soyuz is kind of a gentler launch, but I'd much rather land in a shuttle, because it's much more civilized," Whitson said.

Critics also complain that by leaving themselves so heavily reliant on the Soyuz, the United States could fall victim to costly price gouging at the hands of Russian space authorities.

"Moscow already uses it for leverage and has raised the price to NASA repeatedly over the years, to $50 million now," said Brian Harvey, an expert on the history of the Russian space program. "But a shuttle launch costs $550 million a go, so it's still good value."

Soyuz launchers family

And while the Russian space program is set to enjoy almost a complete monopoly on ferrying people to space for the next few years, things might change. The successful test launch last week of a privately developed rocket from Cape Canaveral is a clear example of how the market could breed viable space competitors.

"If new, commercially developed space transportation systems in the West leapfrog the tried-and-true Russian booster stable in the next decade, Russia will be left with no significant capability of interest to foreign customers," Oberg said.

The politics and economics of space travel is usually far from astronauts' minds, however, and while in Baikonur, most relish the pleasure of witnessing the ingenuity that goes into assembling the rockets.

"It was Michelangelo that said the sculpture was always inside the rock, I just have to take away the unnecessary pieces. The Soyuz is one of those sculptures," said Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield, who plans to fly to the International Space Station onboard a Soyuz spacecraft in 2012.

* The Soyuz launcher: an art masterpiece with the sight of eternity. Share with the public an artistic vision of space technology and architectural design. Bridges between space and art, space technology and artistic creation. By Nathalie Pottier & Jean-Michel Berts.

* Ракета-носитель Союз - объект искусства взглядом вечности. Поделиться с общественностью художественного видения космической техники и архитектурного дизайна. Мосты между космосом и искусством, космической техники и художественным творчеством. По Nathalie Pottier & Jean-Michel Berts.

* Le lanceur Soyouz - un objet d'art sous le regard de l'éternité. Partager avec le grand public une vision artistique de l’espace et de la création architecturale. Des passerelles entre l’espace et l’art, le spatial et la création artistique. Par Nathalie Pottier & Jean-Michel Berts.

Video Artist's websites,visit: and

For more informations about ROSCOSMOS, visit:

Adventure travel: Baikonur Launch Tour, visit:

Images, Video, Text, Credit: Roscosmos / NASA / The Associated Press / Video by Nathalie Pottier & Jean-Michel Berts.