samedi 5 février 2011

Soft Lаnding on the Moon - 45 Years Ago



Forty five years ago, on February 3rd, 1966, to be more precise, automatic station Luna-9 (Е6 Project) performed soft landing on Moon's surface for the first time in the world cosmonautics history and transmitted to the ground TV images of that surface from the landing site.

 First image of the landing site of Luna-9

The flights of automatic stations Luna-2 (Е1 Project) and Luna-3 (Е2 Project) came before the successful performance of the above task with the Luna-9. At the time, in 1959, we were also the first to perform transfer flight from Earth to Moon and reach its surface by hard landing chart (with the pennant delivered) and get photographic images of this celestial body reverse side.

Luna-9 Spacecraft

In implementing Е6 Project, the team of OKB-1 (RSC Energia now) under the direction of S.P. Korolev and in cooperation with subcontracting entities created the following:

Autonomous automatic lunar station (ALS) with radio complex, command and telemetry channels to operate the station on the Moon, small-size TV camera, its own thermal control system, automatics and chemical sources of current; shock-absorbing system with pneumatic jackets to be pressurized; correcting-braking propulsion system for automatic station flight trajectory correction and its braking during lunar landing; Луну; two equipment sections to be detached prior to deceleration near the Moon.

Luna-9 landing deployment

The Е6 Project - related activities started in 1961; at the end of 1965, OKB after S.A. Lavochkin and the manufacturing plant after S.A. Lavochkin were involved in the E6 Project; in so doing, all the documentation under the E6 Project had been handed over to them, with OKB-1 remaining responsible for solving the task of soft landing.

Launched January 31, 1966, Luna 9 was the first spacecraft to conduct a soft landing on the Moon. (Illustration Richard Kruse, 2002)

We congratulate all those who contributed to building automatic interplanetary station Luna-9 and performance of its soft landing on Earth satellite surface, as well as veterans and employees of the enterprise and space industry on the important event in the national cosmonautics history.

We wish You, our dear veterans and developers of new advanced space systems, robust health, happiness and further creative successes!

Luna-9 Mission in Orbiter Space Flight Simulator

For reference:

Mass of ALS delivered to the Moon is 100 kg.
Station Luna-9 was launched on January 31, 1966 at 14 hours : 41 minutes : 37 seconds Moscow Time; landing on the Moon took place on February 03, 1966 at 21 hour : 45 minutes : 04 seconds.
During the flight time 13 communication sessions with a total duration of 4 hours 40 min were conducted; 182 commands were generated by radio command link; six settings for autonomous flight control were established.

During the period of February 3 through 7, 1966 the ALS TV camera unit was activated six times, which made it possible for the first time to get all-round view of lunar surface in the vicinity of the landing site.

Orbiter Space Flight Simulator, Luna-9 add-on autor site:

Orbithangar Orbiter add-on's:

Images, Text, Video, Credits: ROSCOSMOS / RSC-Energia PAO / Richard Kruse /

Best regards,

vendredi 4 février 2011

NASA Releasing First Views Of The Entire Sun On Super Sun-Day

NASA - STEREO Mission logo labeled.

Feb. 04, 2011

NASA will score big on super SUN-day at 11 a.m. EST, Sunday, Feb. 6, with the release online of the first complete view of the sun's entire surface and atmosphere.

Seeing the whole sun front and back simultaneously will enable significant advances in space weather forecasting for Earth, and improve planning for future robotic or crewed spacecraft missions throughout the solar system.

These views are the result of observations by NASA's two Solar TErrestrial Relations Observatory (STEREO) spacecraft. The duo are on diametrically opposite sides of the sun, 180 degrees apart. One is ahead of Earth in its orbit, the other trailing behind.

Launched in October 2006, STEREO traces the flow of energy and matter from the sun to Earth. It also provides unique and revolutionary views of the sun-Earth system. The mission observed the sun in 3-D for the first time in 2007. In 2009, the twin spacecraft revealed the 3-D structure of coronal mass ejections which are violent eruptions of matter from the sun that can disrupt communications, navigation, satellites and power grids on Earth.

STEREO is the third mission in NASA's Solar Terrestrial Probes program within the agency's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., manages the mission, instruments and science center.

STEREO spacecraft (Artist's view)

The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md., designed and built the spacecraft and is responsible for mission operations.

The STEREO imaging and particle detecting instruments were designed and built by scientific institutions in the U.S., UK, France, Germany, Belgium, Netherlands and Switzerland.

To view the image with supporting visuals and information, visit:

For information about NASA and other agency programs, visit:

Images, Text, Credits: NASA / Goddard Space Flight Center.


Mars Express puts craters on a pedestal

ESA - Mars Express Mission patch.

4 February 2011

ESA’s Mars Express has returned new views of pedestal craters in the Red Planet’s eastern Arabia Terra.

Arabia Terra on Mars

Craters are perhaps the quintessential planetary geological feature. So much so that early planetary geologists expended a lot of effort to understand them. You could say they put craters on a pedestal. This latest image of Mars shows how the Red Planet does it in reality. 

Craters are the result of impacts by asteroids, comets and meteorites. In a pedestal crater, the surrounding terrain is covered by pulverised rock thrown out of the crater. This material creates a platform or pedestal around the crater often with steep cliffs, and is usually rich in volatile materials such as water and ice.

Arabia Terra in context

Arabia Terra is part of the highlands of Mars, stretching east to west across 4500 km in the northern hemisphere, and named for a feature drawn on Giovanni Schiaparelli’s 19th-century map of Mars.

The whole area is characterised by steep-sided hills, valleys and ancient impact craters that have been extensively resurfaced by old lava flows and modified by profound erosion over millions of years. The eastern areas rise up to 4 km above the low-lying north-western parts. To the north, Arabia Terra drops and blends into the northern lowlands.

Arabia Terra in perspective

Pedestal craters are visible in this new view of a 159 km by 87 km region of eastern Arabia Terra, taken by the High Resolution Stereo Camera on ESA’s Mars Express orbiter.

Arabia Terra Elevation

The large crater to the top centre has a pedestal that looks like a skirt, rising almost up to the crater rim. Mounds and table mountains on the floors of the larger craters show layered deposits that could be the result of volcanic processes, or that may have been deposited by wind or water.

Arabia Terra in perspective

In the north (right), layered deposits appear as smooth plains covering the highlands. These were thought to have formed during the Late Noachian and Early Hesperian eras, about 4 billion years ago.

Later, the deposits experienced heavy erosion by wind and partially by water, leading to the variety of landscapes seen in this region today.

Arabia Terra in high resolution

 Arabia Terra in 3D

Related links:

High Resolution Stereo Camera:

Behind the lens...:

Frequently asked questions:

For specialists:

ESA Planetary Science archive (PSA):

NASA Planetary Data System:

HRSC data viewer:

Images, Text, Credits: ESA  / DLR / FU Berlin (G. Neukum) / NASA  / MGS / MOLA Science Team.


ESA - XMM-Newton technology on new telescopes

ESA - XMM-Newton Mission Patch.

4 February 2011

Astronomers gazing deep into the night sky to uncover the Universe's secrets will soon be able to discover even more star-births and planets thanks to new telescopes being built in Chile and Mexico drawing on space technology.

 ALMA radio telescope

Leading-edge production technology, developed by Italian company Media Lario Technologies for the extraordinary X-ray telescope on ESA's XMM-Newton spaceborne observatory, will be used for both the world’s biggest radio telescope, the Atacama Large Millimeter Array Project (ALMA) in Chile, and the large single-dish Large Millimeter Telescope in Mexico.


“Two of the key requests for ALMA were the precision of the panels and the need not to perform any special maintenance of the panels during the life of the telescope,” explained Michele Suita, ALMA Programme Manager at Thales Alenia Space Italia.

Accuracy better than the width of a human hair

To provide ALMA’s high accuracy and performance, all of the 3000 reflector panels forming the 25 antennas 12 m across that are Europe’s contribution to the giant 66-antenna array are being built using the same precise electroforming technology used for XMM-Newton.

Chajnantor plateau in Chile

The surface must not deviate by more than 25 microns from the ideal shape and by only eight microns for each of the 120 single panels that form each antenna. A human hair is at least 17 microns thick.

“The panels developed by Media Lario Technologies were the only ones to fit the bill,” added Mr Suita. Media Lario is producing the panels under prime contractor Thales Alenia Space Italia.

XMM-Newton image

Radio astronomy found evidence for Big Bang

Radio astronomy is similar to optical astronomy but uses radio frequencies instead of visible light to detect astronomical objects. Beginning in the 1930s, radio astronomy has found many new stars and galaxies, as well as new objects such as quasars, pulsars and masers. The compelling evidence for the Big Bang theory was provided by radio astronomy.

When ALMA is completed in 2012 its amazing giant array of 66 high-precision antennas will make it the biggest radio telescope on Earth. It will help scientists to study stars, planetary systems and galaxies, and provide insight into star births when the Universe was young.

LMT telescope in Mexico

Media Lario's electroforming production technology was also selected for the 50 m-diameter single dish of the impressive Large Millimeter Telescope now under construction on the summit of the Sierra Negra, at an altitude of 4600 m in Mexico.

Space spurs leading-edge technology developments

The electroforming replication technology developed to produce the exceptional mirrors for XMM-Newton, has led to breakthrough technological advances in several non-space fields. The same space production technology is being used to make smaller, faster and cheaper microchips. (ref: article in link list)

 Media Lario's production area

When selected by ESA to produce the mirrors for the XMM-Newton, Media Lario were already known for their ability to realise highly accurate electroformed mirror assemblies. Following the delivery of the mirrors and the stunning X-ray images of our Universe from the space telescope, Media Lario's replication technology has been recognised worldwide.

“The replica technique is extremely interesting when identical highly accurate panels or mirrors are to be produced, such as those required for large-diameter and highly accurate antennas and telescopes,” explained Giovanni Nocerino, Media Lario Technologies President and CEO.

ALMA 12 m antenna

“A circular symmetric main reflector can be realised by a set of rings with a number of identical panels in each ring. The advantage is even greater when many equal antennas are needed, as in the case of ALMA.”

“The key aspects of the ESO-ALMA antenna are the innovative design and technologies applied for the production of the different subsystems to achieve the state-of-the-art requirement of the project,” explained Stefano Stanghellini, ESO ALMA Antenna Project Manager.

ALMA antenna installation

“The panels produced by Media Lario Technologies are an additional new design feature of the European contribution to the ALMA array.”

“We have installed, recently, the first six antennas with our prime contractor Thales Alenia Space Italia in Chile, of which the first two will go through acceptance testing until February 2011. The rest of the antennas will then be installed in the course of 2011 and 2012,” added Dr Nocerino.

ESA’s Technology Transfer Programme Office (TTPO)

The TTPO’s main mission is to facilitate the use of space technology and space systems for non-space applications and to demonstrate the benefit of the European space programme to European citizens.

The office is responsible for defining the overall approach and strategy for the transfer of space technologies, including the incubation of start-up companies and their funding.

Related links:

Media Lario Technologies:


Faster, cheaper chips from space technology:

Media Lario leads the way to the most powerful X-ray telescope:

Credits: ESA / C. Carreau / F.Haberl/ MPE / ESO / INAOE / Media Lario.


jeudi 3 février 2011

Lunar Fly-Around in Soyuz is Feasible – Roscosmos



Space tourists can really get the opportunity to fly around the Moon and get back to the Earth in Russian Soyuz, Roscosmos Human Spaceflight Directorate Head Alexey Krasnov told news media.

“It is technically feasible”, Krasnov said, quoted by Interfax-AVN. Roscosmos official was commenting the statement by Space Adventures which had revealed the information about selling the first ticket for the lunar fly-around.

Soyuz fly around the Moon (photo-montage using Apollo 8 picture and Soyuz undocking to ISS, by

According to Krasnov, this objective will demand negligible Soyuz upgrading. In addition, several Soyuz-orbital ferry docking operations are to be carried out in orbit in order to make the mission of 3 humans to the Moon true. The space tugs are required to deliver the vehicle to the LLO, make a fly-around and return to the Earth.

Use the space station as "transit port" for the trip to the Moon is a possibility

Roscosmos official also stated that an additional Soyuz for touristic missions would be built on the edge of 2013-2014. The vehicle with two tourists onboard will be controlled by one commander. This Soyuz will undergo extra-certification.

Images, Text, Credits: ROSCOSMOS / NASA /

Best regards,

Northern Mars Landscape Actively Changing

NASA - Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) patch.


Sand dunes in a vast area of northern Mars long thought to be frozen in time are changing with both sudden and gradual motions, according to research using images from a NASA orbiter.

These dune fields cover an area the size of Texas in a band around the planet at the edge of Mars' north polar cap. The new findings suggest they are among the most active landscapes on Mars. However, few changes in these dark-toned dunes had been detected before a campaign of repeated imaging by the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which reached Mars five years ago next month.

Scientists had considered the dunes to be fairly static, shaped long ago when winds on the planet's surface were much stronger than those seen today, said HiRISE Deputy Principal Investigator Candice Hansen of the Planetary Science Institute, Tucson, Ariz. Several sets of before-and-after images from HiRISE over a period covering two Martian years -- four Earth years -- tell a different story.

"The numbers and scale of the changes have been really surprising," said Hansen.

A report by Hansen and co-authors in this week's edition of the journal Science identifies the seasonal coming and going of carbon-dioxide ice as one agent of change, and stronger-than-expected wind gusts as another.

A seasonal layer of frozen carbon dioxide, or dry ice, blankets the region in winter and changes directly back to gaseous form in the spring.

"This gas flow destabilizes the sand on Mars' sand dunes, causing sand avalanches and creating new alcoves, gullies and sand aprons on Martian dunes," she said. "The level of erosion in just one Mars year was really astonishing. In some places, hundreds of cubic yards of sand have avalanched down the face of the dunes."

Image above: Three images of the same location taken at different times on Mars show seasonal activity causing sand avalanches and ripple changes on a Martian dune. Image credit: NASA /JPL-Caltech / University of Arizona.

Wind drives other changes. Especially surprising was the discovery that scars of past sand avalanches could be partially erased by wind in just one Mars year. Models of Mars' atmosphere do not predict wind speeds adequate to lift sand grains, and data from Mars landers show high winds are rare.

"Perhaps polar weather is more conducive to high wind speeds," Hansen said.

In all, modifications were seen in about 40 percent of these far-northern monitoring sites over the two-Mars-year period of the study.

Related HiRISE research previously identified gully-cutting activity in smaller fields of sand dunes covered by seasonal carbon-dioxide ice in Mars' southern hemisphere. A report four months ago showed that those changes coincided with the time of year when ice builds up.

"The role of the carbon-dioxide ice is getting clearer," said Serina Diniega of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., lead author of the earlier report and a co-author of the new report. "In the south, we saw before-and-after changes and connected the timing with the carbon-dioxide ice. In the north, we're seeing more of the process of the seasonal changes and adding more evidence linking the changes with the carbon dioxide."

Researchers are using HiRISE to repeatedly photograph dunes at all latitudes, to understand winds in the current climate on Mars. Dunes at latitudes lower than the reach of the seasonal carbon-dioxide ice do not show new gullies. Hansen said, "It's becoming clear that there are very active processes on Mars associated with the seasonal polar caps."

MRO orbiting Mars (Artist's view). Image credit: NASA

The new findings contribute to efforts to understand what features and landscapes on Mars can be explained by current processes, and which require different environmental conditions.

"Understanding how Mars is changing today is a key first step to understanding basic planetary processes and how Mars changed over time," said HiRISE Principal Investigator Alfred McEwen of the University of Arizona, Tucson, a co-author of both reports. "There's lots of current activity in areas covered by seasonal carbon-dioxide frost, a process we don't see on Earth. It's important to understand the current effects of this unfamiliar process so we don't falsely associate them with different conditions in the past."

The University of Arizona Lunar and Planetary Laboratory operates the HiRISE camera, which was built by Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp., Boulder, Colo. JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver, built the orbiter. For more about the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, visit . For more about HiRISE, visit

Images, (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA.


International Partners Discuss Space Station Operations

ISS - International Space Station patch.

Feb. 03, 2011

The International Space Station partner agencies met Thursday, Feb. 3, by videoconference to discuss coordinating the increased use of the space station as a research laboratory. The agencies want to continue using the station as a test-bed for exploration and find innovative ways to reduce costs while increasing use.

The Multilateral Coordination Board (MCB) meeting included senior representatives from NASA; the Canadian Space Agency (CSA); the European Space Agency (ESA); the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos); and the Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT). As the senior management board, the MCB meets periodically to ensure coordination of station operations and activities among the partners.

The MCB reaffirmed its commitment to reduce operational costs, develop an integrated transportation plan and maximize return by increasing research aboard the station while developing techniques for future exploration outside Earth's orbit.

ISS - International Space Station (Artist's view)

The MCB members reviewed ongoing international use of the station as a laboratory for scientific research, technology development and testing and educational activities. In the six months between March and September 2010, the five partner agencies have provided 195 research opportunities on the orbiting outpost for 385 investigators from 29 countries. Increasing the station's use as a unique laboratory is of paramount importance to the international partners. The International Space Station has proven to be an important platform for research in biology and biotechnology, Earth and space science, human physiology, physical science, technology development and education.

The partners also renewed their commitment to use station resources and observation capability to assist in humanitarian needs such as aiding in disaster recovery, tracking oil spills and monitoring climate change.

All of the partners also recognize the station's role in inspiring students around the world to learn about science, technology, engineering and mathematics. More than 30 million students have participated in human spaceflight through communications downlinks and interactive experiments with station astronauts.

The governments of Japan and the Russian Federation have approved continued ISS operations beyond 2016. The NASA Authorization Act of 2010 extended operations until at least 2020. ESA and CSA are working with their respective governments to reach consensus about the continuation of the station.

For more information about NASA and agency programs, visit:

For more information about the CSA, visit:

For more information about the ESA, visit:

For more information about Roscosmos, visit:

For more information about MEXT, visit:

Images, Text, Credits: NASA.


Europe’s ATV space ferry ready for launch

ESA - ATV2 Johannes Kepler Mission patch.

3 February 2011

ESA’s latest Automated Transfer Vehicle is ready for launch to the International Space Station on Tuesday, 15 February at 22:08 GMT from Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana. The unmanned spaceship will deliver essential supplies and reboost the Station during its mission lasting three and half months.

 Artist's impression of the Automated Transfer Vehicle Johannes Kepler

The launch will be covered live from Kourou for broadcasters and on the Web, and celebrated at a launch event in Bremen, Germany.

Europe’s second ATV

Johannes Kepler is the first operational ATV, following the highly successful Jules Verne qualification flight in 2008. With a total mass of over 20 tonnes, it is the heaviest payload ever launched by Europe.

ATV is a highly sophisticated spacecraft, combining an autonomous free-flying platform, a manoeuvrable space vehicle and – when docked – a space station module.

ATV Johannes Kepler during transfer from S5C to S5A

To achieve an automated docking under the very tight safety constraints imposed by human spaceflight rules, ATV carries high-precision navigation systems, highly redundant flight software and a fully autonomous collision-avoidance system with its own independent power supplies, control and thrusters.

About 10 m high with a diameter of 4.5 m, ATV includes a 45-cubic m pressurised module and a Russian docking system, similar to those used on the Soyuz manned ferries and the Progress resupply ships.

With its solar wings deployed, ATV spans 22 m. Almost three times larger than Russia’s Progress, it can also deliver about three times the cargo load.

Propellant and cargo for the ISS

On this first operational mission, ATV-2 is carrying over 7 tonnes of payload, including 4534 kg of propellant for International Space Station (ISS) reboost and attitude control.

Artist's view of ESA's ATV Johannes Kepler

Once docked to the ISS, this propellant will be used by ATV’s own thrusters to raise the Station’s orbit periodically in order to compensate for the natural decay caused by atmospheric drag.

It may also be used to move the ISS out of the way of potentially dangerous space debris that comes too close to the manned space complex.

ATV’s payload includes almost 1600 kg of dry cargo, 850 kg of propellant for Russia’s Zvezda module and 100 kg of oxygen.

Before leaving the ISS, in June, Johannes Kepler will be filled with waste bags and unwanted hardware by the crew. It will then be deorbited over the Southern Pacific Ocean and perform a controlled reentry to burn up harmlessly in the atmosphere.

ATV late cargo loading on 29 January

ATV Johannes Kepler is named after the famous German astronomer and mathematician who lived in the 16th and 17th centuries. He first depicted the movement of planetary bodies in elliptical orbits, thus paving the way for Isaac Newton’s theory of gravitation.

It is the second in a series of five spaceships developed as Europe’s contribution to the operational costs of the ISS. Astrium Space Transportation is prime industrial contractor, leading a team of more than 30 contractors in 10 European countries.

ATV-2, Europe's heaviest spacecraft

Covering the launch

ESA TV is providing extensive coverage of the ATV mission. Several stories featuring the latest images and interviews from Kourou will be released on ESA TV’s FTP server and via satellite on the Europe by Satellite (EbS) service. Already available are two Video News Releases covering the ATV-2 mission, with shots of the launch campaign in Kourou, and interviews in English, German, French and Swedish. The launch will be transmitted live from Kourou in cooperation with Arianespace. Later in the month, the docking with the ISS will also be available live via satellite. All details will be found on ESA TV’s site:

The latest high-resolution images can be found by registering on ESA’s Photo Library for Professionals:

Questions on images for media can be directed to

Follow the ATV-2 mission via

Related links:

International Space Station:

EADS Astrium:

Images, Text, Video, Credits: ESA - D. Ducros / CNES / Arianespace - Photo Optique Vidéo du CSG.


mercredi 2 février 2011

CERN - LHC to run in 2012

CERN logo.

Feb. 02, 2011

CERN today announced that the LHC will run through to the end of 2012 with a short technical stop at the end of 2011. The beam energy for 2011 will be 3.5 TeV. This decision, taken by CERN management following the annual planning workshop held in Chamonix last week and a report delivered today by the laboratory’s machine advisory committee, gives the LHC’s experiments a good chance of finding new physics in the next two years, before the LHC goes into a long shutdown to prepare for higher energy running starting 2014.

Moving calorimeter side C in the ATLAS cavern

“If LHC continues to improve in 2011 as it did in 2010, we’ve got a very exciting year ahead of us,” said CERN’s Director for Accelerators and Technology, Steve Myers. “The signs are that we should be able to increase the data collection rate by at least a factor of three over the course of this year.”

Moving calorimeter side C in the ATLAS cavern

The LHC was previously scheduled to run to the end 2011 before going into a long technical stop necessary to prepare it for running at its full design energy of 7 TeV per beam. However, the machine’s excellent performance in its first full year of operation forced a rethink. Expected performance improvements in 2011 should increase the rate that the experiments can collect data by at least a factor of three compared to 2010. That would lead to enough data being collected this year to bring tantalising hints of new physics, if there is new physics currently within reach of the LHC operating at its current energy. However, to turn those hints into a discovery would require more data than can be delivered in one year, hence the decision to postpone the long shutdown. If there is no new physics in the energy range currently being explored by the LHC, running through 2012 will give the LHC experiments the data needed to fully explore this energy range before moving up to higher energy.

Engineers working in the ATLAS experimental cavern during the LHC's planned technical stop, January 2011

“With the LHC running so well in 2010, and further improvements in performance expected, there’s a real chance that exciting new physics may be within our sights by the end of the year,” Said CERN’s Research Director, Sergio Bertolucci. “For example, if nature is kind to us and the lightest supersymmetric particle, or the Higgs boson, is within reach of the LHC’s current energy, the data we expect to collect by the end of 2012 will put them within our grasp.”

The schedule announced today foresees beams back in the LHC next month, and running through to mid December. There will then be a short technical stop over the year before resuming in early 2012.


CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, is the world's leading laboratory for particle physics. It has its headquarters in Geneva. At present, its Member States are Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. India, Israel, Japan, the Russian Federation, the United States of America, Turkey, the European Commission and UNESCO have Observer status.

Images Credit: Claudia Marcelloni, Text, Credit: CERN.

Greetings (from the CERN area),

ESA - Cluster encounters a natural particle accelerator

ESA - Cluster II Mission patch.

2 February 2011

ESA’s Cluster satellites have flown through a natural particle accelerator just above Earth’s atmosphere. The data they collected are unlocking how most of the dramatic displays of the northern and southern lights are generated.

Two of Cluster’s four satellites found themselves in a natural particle accelerator above the northern hemisphere on 5 June 2009. The first to cross was satellite C3 at an altitude of 6400 km, followed five minutes later by C1 at 9000 km.

Cluster path through aurora region

This is the first time that scientists have measured such a region simultaneously using more than one satellite. The readings allow the electrical landscape of the acceleration region to be mapped.

“This is like geography, only instead of the contours being the height of a landscape, they are the electrical potentials that span the region,” says Göran Marklund from the Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm, Sweden.

These electrical potentials act in both uphill and downhill directions, accelerating particles towards and away from Earth, according to their charges.

When particles strike the atmosphere, they create the shimmering curtains of light known as the aurora, or more commonly the northern and southern lights. About two-thirds of the bright auroras are estimated to be produced in this way.

 Energetic electrons creating aurora

Since 2006, the Cluster satellites have been drifting away from their initial orbits because they are being constantly nudged by the gravity of the Moon and the Sun. Fortuitously, the current orbit occasionally passes through the Auroral Acceleration Region, which spans 4000 km to 12000 km above our planet.

The satellites do not encounter a natural particle accelerator on every orbit. Those responsible for the bright auroras are temporary alignments of the electrical fields around Earth. They are highly variable in altitude and so not always present.

This first encounter with a natural particle accelerator associated with a large-scale aurora has proved that they may be stable for at least five minutes. A few more encounters are expected in the near future before Cluster’s orbit drifts back out of the region.

“Cluster has now shown us the very heart of the acceleration process responsible for most bright auroras. It has given us our first look at the electrical structure and stability of such an accelerator,” says Prof. Marklund.

Such natural particle accelerators pop up ubiquitously throughout the Solar System, especially in the strong magnetic fields of the gas giants Jupiter and Saturn.

The new results from Cluster allow theoreticians to place much tighter constraints on their models of exactly how such accelerators work and give greater insight into the workings of space plasma.

In depth:

This story in depth:

Custer, Exploring the Sun-Earth connection:

Images, Text, Credits: ESA / G. Marklund.

Best regards,

NASA Finds Earth-Size Planet Candidates In Habitable Zone, Six Planet System

NASA - Kepler Mission logo.

Feb. 02, 2011

NASA's Kepler mission has discovered its first Earth-size planet candidates and its first candidates in the habitable zone, a region where liquid water could exist on a planet's surface. Five of the potential planets are near Earth-size and orbit in the habitable zone of smaller, cooler stars than our sun.

Kepler-11 is a sun-like star around which six planets orbit. At times, two or more planets pass in front of the star at once, as shown in this artist's conception of a simultaneous transit of three planets observed by NASA's Kepler spacecraft on Aug. 26, 2010.

Candidates require follow-up observations to verify they are actual planets. Kepler also found six confirmed planets orbiting a sun-like star, Kepler-11. This is the largest group of transiting planets orbiting a single star yet discovered outside our solar system.

"In one generation we have gone from extraterrestrial planets being a mainstay of science fiction, to the present, where Kepler has helped turn science fiction into today's reality," said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. "These discoveries underscore the importance of NASA's science missions, which consistently increase understanding of our place in the cosmos."

This artist’s conception shows the Kepler-11 planetary system and our solar system from a tilted perspective to demonstrate that the orbits of each lie on similar planes.

The discoveries are part of several hundred new planet candidates identified in new Kepler mission science data, released on Tuesday, Feb. 1. The findings increase the number of planet candidates identified by Kepler to-date to 1,235. Of these, 68 are approximately Earth-size; 288 are super-Earth-size; 662 are Neptune-size; 165 are the size of Jupiter and 19 are larger than Jupiter.

Kepler's candidates of multi-planet systems

Of the 54 new planet candidates found in the habitable zone, five are near Earth-sized. The remaining 49 habitable zone candidates range from super-Earth size -- up to twice the size of Earth -- to larger than Jupiter.

Kepler's planets displayed by size comparison

The findings are based on the results of observations conducted May 12 to Sept. 17, 2009, of more than 156,000 stars in Kepler's field of view, which covers approximately 1/400 of the sky.

"The fact that we've found so many planet candidates in such a tiny fraction of the sky suggests there are countless planets orbiting sun-like stars in our galaxy," said William Borucki of NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., the mission's science principal investigator. "We went from zero to 68 Earth-sized planet candidates and zero to 54 candidates in the habitable zone, some of which could have moons with liquid water."

Video above: The Kepler instrument views 1/400th of the sky. Imagine how many more planets there might be if we expand Kepler's field-of-view to look at the rest of the galaxy? Animation credit: NASA / Bill Moede.

Among the stars with planetary candidates, 170 show evidence of multiple planetary candidates. Kepler-11, located approximately 2,000 light years from Earth, is the most tightly packed planetary system yet discovered. All six of its confirmed planets have orbits smaller than Venus, and five of the six have orbits smaller than Mercury's. The only other star with more than one confirmed transiting planet is Kepler-9, which has three. The Kepler-11 findings will be published in the Feb. 3 issue of the journal Nature.

"Kepler-11 is a remarkable system whose architecture and dynamics provide clues about its formation," said Jack Lissauer, a planetary scientist and Kepler science team member at Ames. "These six planets are mixtures of rock and gases, possibly including water. The rocky material accounts for most of the planets' mass, while the gas takes up most of their volume. By measuring the sizes and masses of the five inner planets, we determined they are among the lowest mass confirmed planets beyond our solar system."

Image above: This artist’s conception shows the Kepler-11 planetary system and our solar system from a tilted perspective to demonstrate that the orbits of each lie on similar planes.

All of the planets orbiting Kepler-11 are larger than Earth, with the largest ones being comparable in size to Uranus and Neptune. The innermost planet, Kepler-11b, is ten times closer to its star than Earth is to the sun. Moving outward, the other planets are Kepler-11c, Kepler-11d, Kepler-11e, Kepler-11f, and the outermost planet, Kepler-11g, which is half as far from its star as Earth is from the sun.

The planets Kepler-11d, Kepler-11e and Kepler-11f have a significant amount of light gas, which indicates that they formed within a few million years of the system's formation.

"The historic milestones Kepler makes with each new discovery will determine the course of every exoplanet mission to follow," said Douglas Hudgins, Kepler program scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

Kepler's candidates of multi-planet systems

Kepler, a space telescope, looks for planet signatures by measuring tiny decreases in the brightness of stars caused by planets crossing in front of them. This is known as a transit.

Since transits of planets in the habitable zone of sun-like stars occur about once a year and require three transits for verification, it is expected to take three years to locate and verify Earth-size planets orbiting sun-like stars.

Video above: NASA's Kepler space telescope watches a star, Kepler-11. The star appears to blink in a pattern. It dims like clockwork as six "hands" of differing size orbit around it at different rates. Kepler-11 dims when its six orbiting planets cross between it and the Kepler spacecraft. Calculations show the planets are nested in circular orbits that lie in almost the same plane. Animation credit: NASA / Tim Pyle.

The Kepler science team uses ground-based telescopes and the Spitzer Space Telescope to review observations on planetary candidates and other objects of interest the spacecraft finds.

The star field that Kepler observes in the constellations Cygnus and Lyra can only be seen from ground-based observatories in spring through early fall. The data from these other observations help determine which candidates can be validated as planets.

For more information about the Kepler mission, visit: 

Images, Text, Credits: NASA / Tim Pyle / Wendy Stenzel.