vendredi 18 février 2011

ESA astronaut Luca Parmitano assigned to 2013 Space Station mission

ESA logo labeled.

18 February 2011

ESA astronaut Luca Parmitano has been assigned to fly on the International Space Station from May to November 2013, serving as a flight engineer for Expeditions 36 and 37.

Recently qualified as a European astronaut, Luca will head into orbit aboard a Soyuz TMA spacecraft and will work on the Station for over six months. This will be his first spaceflight and the fifth long-duration mission for an ESA astronaut.

NASA has announced the crewmembers to fly to the International Space Station (ISS) for Expeditions 36–39. Now part of a six-astronaut international ISS crew, Luca was selected as an ESA astronaut in 2009 and was proposed by the Italian space agency, ASI, for this mission. The flight opportunity has been provided by ASI in agreement with NASA.

 Luca Parmitano will fly to ISS in 2013

Aged 34 and a Captain in the Italian Air Force, Luca Parmitano has logged more than 2000 hours of flying time, is qualified on more than 20 types of military aircraft and has flown over 40 aircraft types. He will be the fourth Italian citizen to fly to the Space Station.

From May to September 2013, Luca will be accompanied on the ISS by the cosmonauts Pavel Vinogradov, Maxim Suraev and Aleksander Misurkin, as well as by the NASA astronauts Karen Nyberg and Christopher Cassidy.

From September to November 2013, cosmonauts Oleg Kotov and Sergey Ryazansky, together with NASA astronaut Michael Hopkins, will also join him on the Station.

A new class of European astronauts

ESA Director of Human Spaceflight, Simonetta Di Pippo, stressed her satisfaction at seeing the first astronaut of the 2009 group assigned to a mission.

Luca Parmitano EVA training

"Luca is a member of the new class of ESA astronauts, and he will be a perfect space ambassador to promote the benefits of human spaceflight on Earth," said Mrs Di Pippo.

"His assignment brings the certainty that Europeans will be part of a new era of the utilisation of the International Space Station, an era with broader exploration ambitions.

"We are now in the process to extend the ISS operations until 2020, and we have also to think about additional flight opportunities for our astronauts, who perform our research in orbit.

"We need to trigger a collective effort among the international partners, the European industry and ESA teams on the ground.

Europe's new astronauts

"Having followed closely the selection process among thousands of European candidates, I’m proud to say today that Luca is the story of a success. He brilliantly passed the first ESA basic training showing a huge team spirit and a strong leadership, all indispensable values for the success of the human spaceflight endeavour."

As a member of the European Astronaut Corps, Luca will be extensively trained for this mission at the various ISS facilities in the USA, Russia, Japan and Canada.

The Corps is heavily involved in ISS operations. While Paolo Nespoli is currently flying a long-duration mission on the Station, Roberto Vittori is assigned to an ASI flight opportunity on the Space Shuttle, to be launched in April. André Kuipers will serve as a flight engineer for Expeditions 31–32 at the end of this year.

More information:

Luca Parmitano - Bio:

Future Space Station crews (NASA):

Images, Text, Credits: ESA / M. Koell / D. Baumbach.

Best regards,

A Solar System Family Portrait, From the Inside Out

NASA - MESSENGER Mission to Mercury patch.

18 February 2011

 (Click to enlarge)

NASA's MESSENGER spacecraft has constructed the first portrait of our solar system by combining 34 images taken by the spacecraft’s Wide Angle Camera on Nov. 3 and 16, 2010. The mosaic, pieced together over a period of a few weeks, comprises all of the planets except for Uranus and Neptune, which were too faint to detect. On March 17, 2011, MESSENGER may become the first probe ever to orbit Mercury. Scientists hope orbital observations will provide new answers to how Earth-like planets, like Mercury, are assembled and evolve.

Image Credit: NASA, Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, Carnegie Institution of Washington.


World race yields salinity data for ESA's SMOS mission

ESA - SMOS Mission logo.

18 February 2011

A new initiative sees world-class sport and science merge as a yacht competing in the Barcelona World Race gathers information on ocean salinity to help validate data from ESA's SMOS water mission.

Competitors are about half way through the race, which takes them around the world from Barcelona in Spain and back. The yachts left Barcelona on 31 December and, on reaching the Atlantic, headed south to circle Earth via the capes of Good Hope (South Africa) Leeuwin, (Australia) and Horn (Chile), with Antarctica to starboard.

Fòrum Marítim Català
Since this 46 300-km route takes the competitors through some of the most remote parts of the Southern Ocean, the Spanish Institute of Marine Sciences in collaboration with the race organisers, the Fundació Navegació Oceànica de Barcelona, have looked beyond mere sport and sought to offer opportunities to benefit science.

With this objective in mind, the Spanish Institute for Marine Science arranged for the Fòrum Marítim Català 60-foot yacht to be equipped with a sensor to collect data on sea-surface temperature and salinity throughout the three-month race. This information is being relayed by satellite back to the institute automatically in almost real time.

Salinity measurements from the race

Dr Jordi Font, Lead Investigator for ocean salinity for ESA's Soil Moisture and Ocean Salinity (SMOS), mission said, "The data we are receiving from ESA's SMOS mission is improving our understanding of the variations in the salinity of the surface waters of the oceans.

"The measurements, currently being acquired by the yacht, now in the Southern Ocean, contribute to the bank of data we are building from other in situ instruments in other parts of the world to help validate the accuracy of the data from SMOS."

Mapping ocean salinity

Launched in November 2009, the Earth Explorer SMOS mission is dedicated to providing global measurements of soil moisture and ocean salinity for a better understanding of the water cycle and to improve weather and climate models.

Along with temperature, ocean salinity is a key variable that drives global ocean circulation patterns, which in turn play a role in moderating the climate. Accurate data on ocean salinity will provide a better insight into the processes influencing ocean currents.

Barcelona World Race route (click to enlarge)

An important part of any Earth observation mission is to check the accuracy of the data acquired from space by comparing them with measurements taken in situ. The Southern Ocean, however, is sparsely sampled.

The yacht race circumnavigates the Southern Ocean at around 50°S, so provides an excellent opportunity to gather data in this region. The instrument system, which weighs less than 3 kg, is autonomous and does not interfere with the task of the two skippers, Gerard Marían and Ludovic Aglaor, of sailing around the world as fast as they can.

 SMOS in orbit

Soil moisture variations in Australia:

The southern hemisphere has also been the focus for SMOS recently – but to monitor changes in soil moisture before, during and after the floods that devastated Queensland and Victoria in Australia.

In addition, data from SMOS showed that soils were fairly dry in the northern part of Queensland before cyclone Yasi hit on 2 February, so that runoff was not enough to cause major flooding in this region.


Access SMOS data:

Barcelona World Race: Fòrum Marítim Català:

UNESCO Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission:

Institute of Marine Sciences:

Ifremer-Cersat Salinity Center:


Images, Video, Text, Credits: ESA / J. Salat, ICM-CSIC / AOES Medialab / Fundació Navegació Oceànica de Barcelona / CESBIO.


jeudi 17 février 2011

NASA Seeks K-12 Educators To Defy Gravity, Conduct Research

NASA logo / Zero-Gravity Corp. logo labeled.

Feb. 17, 2011

For the first time, NASA is offering teachers from across the country an opportunity usually reserved for researchers -- the chance to design a science experiment and then test it aboard a microgravity research plane. Proposals should be submitted to NASA's Teaching From Space office by March 14.

For more information about the program, send an e-mail to:

Reduced Gravity Education Flight Program, please visit:

"Any teacher from anywhere in the country can submit a proposal to fly an experiment," said Cindy McArthur, Teaching From Space project manager. "It doesn't matter if you teach kindergarten or advanced placement in high school. What better way to make science and math come alive? We can't wait to see the experiments educators and their students propose."

Previous proposals were tied to NASA education programs such NASA Explorer Schools. This year the opportunity is open to any certified teacher, kindergarten through 12th grade, who is in the classroom and is a U.S. citizen. The teachers chosen to participate will design and fabricate an experiment that takes advantage of a reduced gravity environment – just like the environment onboard the International Space Station and the space shuttle.

On March 30, NASA will select 14 teams, composed of four or more teachers. This summer, teachers and their experiments will fly aboard a modified Boeing 727 jetliner provided by the Zero-Gravity Corp. of Las Vegas.

Modified Boeing 727 jetliner provided by the Zero-Gravity Corp

To achieve weightlessness, the aircraft makes roller-coaster-like climbs and dips to produce periods of micro- and hyper-gravity, ranging from 0 g's to 2 g's. It takes about 30 climbs to complete an experiment.

Teaching From Space is partnering with the Reduced Gravity Education Flight Program at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston to provide the flights. The program continues NASA's investment in the nation's education programs by supporting the goal of attracting and retaining students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics disciplines critical to future space exploration.

For more information about NASA's education activities, visit:

Images, Text, Credits: NASA / Zero-Gravity Corp.


Valentine’s Day Solar Flare

NASA - Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) patch / NASA-ESA - SOHO Mission patch.


The particle cloud produced by the Valentines Day event appears to be rather weak and is not expected to produce any strong effects at Earth other than perhaps some beautiful aurora in the high northern and southern latitudes on Feb. 17.

 Credit: NASA / SDO / SOHO

The video clip (above) is of the large X2 flare seen by Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) in extreme ultraviolet light on February 15, 2011, has been enlarged and superimposed on a video of SOHO's C2 coronagraph for the same period. This was the largest solar flare since December 5, 2006. The coronagraph images show the faint edge of a "halo" CME as it raced away from the Sun and began heading towards Earth. The video covers about 11 hours.

The lastest 48 hour solar movie from SDO in 304 angstrom. Credit: NASA / SDO / SOHO

 Credit: NASA / SDO (click on the image to see the animation)

Looks like the new solar cycle is beginning to ramp up. The sun emitted its first X-class flare in more than four years on February 14 at 8:56 p.m. EST.

X-class flares are the most powerful of all solar events that can trigger radio blackouts and long-lasting radiation storms.

This particular flare comes on the heels of a few M-class and several C-class flares over the past few days. It also has a CME associated with it that is traveling about 900 Km/second and is expected to reach Earth’s orbit on Feb. 16 at about 10 p.m. EST.

Image above: Active region 1158 let loose with an X2.2 flare late on February 15, the largest flare since Dec. 2006 and the biggest flare so far in Solar Cycle 24. Active Region 1158 is in the southern hemisphere, which has been lagging the north in activity but now leads in big flares! Here is a blowup of the flaring region taken by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory in the extreme ultraviolet wavelength of 193 Angstroms. Much of the vertical line in the image is caused by the bright flash overwhelming the SDO imager. Credit: NASA / SDO.

More information about NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center:

Images (mentioned), Videos (mentioned) Text, Credits: Susan Hendrix, NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.


ATV Johannes Kepler operating flawlessly

ESA - ATV2 Johannes Kepler Mission patch.

17 February 2011

Following a spectacular launch on 16 February, Europe's space freighter is now in its planned orbit. Mission controllers are preparing to match its trajectory with that of the International Space Station, where it will dock seven days from now.

After a one-day launch delay, ESA's next Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV), Johannes Kepler, lifted-off yesterday on an Ariane 5 launcher from Europe's Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana, at 21:50 GMT. A few minutes later, the vessel attained its initial operational orbit at 260 km altitude.

Launch of ATV-2 seen from space

Mission controllers immediately began checking out the spacecraft and ensuring that programmed sequences – including deployment of ATV's four large solar wings – had correctly taken place.

In-flight communication via relay satellites

ATV has established communications with its control centre in Toulouse, France, sending data and information via NASA's Tracking and Data Relay Satellite System, a constellation of satellites that provides full-time communications with the International Space Station.

Flight dynamics experts on the joint ESA–CNES (French space agency) team in the control centre also carried out the first orbit determination, precisely fixing ATV's position and trajectory in space.

ESA mission controllers on console

This was done initially using the on-board startrackers and later via GPS satellite signals.

This information is being used to plan and conduct the first of a series of 'phasing manoeuvres'. This complex set of thruster burns will start raising ATV's altitude to that of the Station, currently about 350 km. By 24 February, ATV will be just 30 km behind the Station.

"We had an excellent orbit injection thanks to Ariane, and the spacecraft itself is performing flawlessly. With the one-day launch delay, docking with the ISS is now set for one day later than initially planned, now on 24 February," said ESA's Alberto Novelli, Head of the ATV Operations Division.

Arrival at ISS set for 24 February

In 2008, after the launch of the first ATV, Jules Verne, the vessel spent almost three weeks performing a series of test manoeuvres to prove its automated docking system worked as expected.

"This time, we have a proven spacecraft and an experienced team, so we'll get up to Station in just about a week," said Alberto.

An artist's impression of the ATV during final approach

Operating ATV requires an extended 'team of teams' spread around several establishments across Europe.

In addition to ESA and CNES personnel at the Toulouse centre, ESA specialists at the Agency's ESTEC technical centre, in the Netherlands, and at ESOC, the European Space Operations Centre, Germany, are supporting the mission.

ESA's Columbus Control Centre, near Munich, jointly staffed by ESA and DLR, the German Aerospace Center, is also involved in ATV operations, as are numerous experts from the industrial partners that build ATV.

"ATV is a truly European spacecraft. Flying it requires experts from ESA, partner agencies and industry across half a dozen countries," said ESA's Bob Chesson, Head of the Human Spaceflight Operations Department.

"Getting it built, into orbit and operating it in flight to docking requires a lot of hard work and dedication from hundreds of people."

Related links:

International Space Station:

EADS Astrium:


ATV blog:

ATV-2 Mission Operations:

Images, Text, Credits: ESA / NASA.

Best regards,

Hubble - Flocculent spiral NGC 2841

ESA - HUBBLE Space Telescope logo.

17 February 2011

The galaxy NGC 2841 - shown here in this NASA / ESA Hubble Space Telescope image, taken with the space observatory’s newest instrument, the Wide Field Camera 3 - currently has a relatively low star formation rate compared to other spirals. It is one of several nearby galaxies that have been specifically chosen for a new study in which a pick ’n’ mix of different stellar nursery environments and birth rates are being observed.

Star formation is one of the most important processes in shaping the Universe; it plays a pivotal role in the evolution of galaxies and it is also in the earliest stages of star formation that planetary systems first appear.

Wide-field view of NGC 2841

Yet there is still much that astronomers don’t understand, such as how do the properties of stellar nurseries vary according to the composition and density of the gas present, and what triggers star formation in the first place? The driving force behind star formation is particularly unclear for a type of galaxy called a flocculent spiral, such as NGC 2841 shown here, which features short spiral arms rather than prominent and well-defined galactic limbs.

In an attempt to answer some of these questions, an international team of astronomers is using the new Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3) installed on the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope to study a sample of nearby, but wildly differing, locations where stars are forming. The observational targets include both star clusters and galaxies, and star formation rates range from the baby-booming starburst galaxy Messier 82 to the much more sedate star producer NGC 2841.

Zoom into NGC 2841

WFC3 was installed on Hubble in May 2009 during Servicing Mission 4, and replaces the Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2. It is particularly well-suited to this new study, as the camera is optimised to observe the ultraviolet radiation emitted by newborn stars (shown by the bright blue clumps in this image of NGC 2841) and infrared wavelengths, so that it can peer behind the veil of dust that would otherwise hide them from view.

Pan across NGC 2841

While the image shows lots of hot, young stars in the disc of NGC 2841, there are just a few sites of current star formation where hydrogen gas is collapsing into new stars. It is likely that these fiery youngsters destroyed the star-forming regions in which they were formed.


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

More information:

    * Images of Hubble:

Images, Videos, Text, Credit: NASA /  ESA and the Hubble Heritage (STScI / AURA)-ESA / Hubble Collaboration Acknowledgment: M. Crockett and S. Kaviraj (Oxford University, UK), R. O'Connell (University of Virginia), B. Whitmore (STScI) and the WFC3 Scientific Oversight Committee / Digitized Sky Survey 2. Acknowledgement: Davide De Martin / Oli Usher.


mercredi 16 février 2011

Astronaut Koichi Wakata Selected as Member of ISS Expedition Crew

JAXA logo labeled.

February 17, 2011 (JST)

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) would like to announce that Astronaut Koichi Wakata has been selected as a crewmember for the 38th/39th Expedition Mission to the International Space Station (ISS).

Astronaut Koichi Wakata crossing the airlock of the space station (ISS Expedition 18)

Astronaut Wakata stayed at the ISS for about four months in 2009, and, after returning to Earth, he has been engaged in the ISS operations as the chief of ISS Operations Branch in NASA and also as the manager of the JAXA Astronaut Group, while he has been continuing his astronaut training.

Astronaut Wakata's leadership has been highly appraised and recognized domestically and internationally, thus he will exercise his capability as the first Japanese commander for the 39th ISS Expedition Mission.

Period of stay at the ISS:
    About 6 months from the end of 2013

Transportation means to the ISS:
    Launch and return by Soyuz

Major tasks at the ISS:

During the first four months for the 38th Expedition Mission, he will be in charge of ISS operations as a flight engineer, science experiments using the space environment, and system operations for the ISS facilities including the Japanese Experiment Module "Kibo." For the 39th Expedition Mission (about two months), he will be the ISS commander in addition to the above duties. The responsibilities of the ISS commander are to ensure the safety of all ISS expedition crewmembers and to succeed in all missions.

Astronaut Wakata's schedule until his departure:

    He will begin training necessary for the Soyuz trip and ISS expedition missions in March 2011.

Attached reference:

    Brief Personal History of Astronaut Wakata:

    Onboard Plan of Japanese Astronauts:

Reference Link:

    International Space Station/ Kibo website:

Brief Personal History of Astronaut Koichi Wakata

Koichi Wakata

JAXA Astronaut
47 years old (as of February 17, 2011)

Total flight and space expedition time:
Total space stay amounts to 159 days, 10 hours and 46 minutes by combining three space flights in 1996, 2000, and 2009.

JAXA President's Comment on the Selection of Astronaut Koichi Wakata as a Member of the ISS Expedition Crew

It is a great pleasure and privilege for me to introduce Astronaut Koichi Wakata to you as a Japanese astronaut to be assigned to stay at the International Space Station (ISS) for a prolonged period. This is the fifth assignment for the Japanese astronaut to reside at the ISS.

Astronaut Wakata was the first Japanese astronaut to stay at the ISS for an expedition mission. He successfully achieved his manned space activities of about four and half months during which he contributed to completing the assembly of Japanese Experiment Module “Kibo” of the ISS in July 2008. His achievements were highly praised and recognized domestically and internationally, thus he was assigned as the chief of ISS Operations Branch in NASA after he returned to the Earth as his leadership exhibited during his expedition was highly evaluated.

Astronaut Wakata will be the first Japanese ISS commander, and I firmly believe that he will fulfill such an important role based on his abundant experience and trustworthiness.

I would like to express my profound appreciation to all people and parties concerned in the selection this time.

Keiji Tachikawa
President Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency

Determination to Become Expedition Crew

By Koichi Wakata

I am very honored yet also feel the heavy responsibility for being selected as a flight engineer for the 38th Expedition Mission as well as a commander for the 39th mission.

Astronauts Satoshi Furukawa and Astronaut Akihiko Hoshide are also slated for staying at the ISS for about six months from the end of May this year and June next year, respectively.

Japan has been steadily increasing its significance and contributions to the ISS project. The KOUNOTORI2, a cargo transporter to the ISS, successfully arrived at the ISS at the end of last month to carry necessary materials for ISS operations. The mission control team and researchers at the Tsukuba Space Center have also attained substantial achievements through the Japanese Experiment Module "Kibo."

I am resolved to earnestly engage in preparation and training for space flight so that I will optimize my space expedition and utilization of the ISS based on my training and previous space flight experiences, as well as knowledge I acquired through JAXA's and NASA's management operations.

I would like to express my sincere gratitude to all people who have worked hard for my selection and who have been supporting me.

Koichi Wakata
JAXA Astronaut

Images, Text, Credits: Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) / NASA.


Europe’s ATV Johannes Kepler supply ship on its way to Space Station

ESA - ATV2 Johannes Kepler Mission patch / ARIANESPACE - "Launches Speak Louder Than Words" patch.

16 February 2011

Ariane flight V200 lifts off and carries ATV Johannes Kepler to orbit
ESA’s second Automated Transfer Vehicle, Johannes Kepler, has been launched into its targeted low orbit by an Ariane 5. The unmanned supply ship is planned to deliver critical supplies and reboost the International Space Station during its almost four-month mission.

The Ariane 5 lifted off from Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana, at 21:50 GMT (18:50 local) on Wednesday 16 February.

The launcher and its 20.06-tonne payload flew over the Atlantic towards the Azores and Europe. An initial 8-minute burn of the upper stage injected it, with Johannes Kepler, into a low orbit inclined at 51.6 degrees to the equator.

 Ariane 5 flight V200 launch

After a 42-minute coast, the upper stage reignited for 30 seconds to circularise the orbit at an altitude of 260 km. About 64 minutes into flight, the unmanned supply ship separated safely from the spent upper stage.

The Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) deployed its four solar wings soon after and will proceed with early orbit operations over the coming hours to begin its climb to the International Space Station (ISS).

“This launch takes place in a crowded and changing manifest for the ISS access, with HTV, Progress, ATV and the Shuttle coming and going. In October last year we had fixed the ATV launch schedule with our international partners,” said Jean-Jacques Dordain, ESA’s Director General, “and we could keep that schedule thanks to the expertise and dedication of the European industry and Arianespace, of ESA and CNES teams and of our international partners. ATV-2 is the first of a production of four and this new step is the result of technical expertise and political support from Member States to ESA and to international cooperation. We are now looking for the docking to ISS to declare success.”

 Booster jettison of the V200

“ATV Johannes Kepler is inaugurating our regular service line to the ISS,” added Simonetta Di Pippo, ESA’s Director for Human Spaceflight.

For the first time, ESA used a special access device to load last-minute cargo items. “This late access confirms ATV’s role as a critical resupply vehicle for the Space Station,” she said.

“Right now, integration for the next vehicle in line, Edoardo Amaldi, will be finished in Europe in August 2011, and production is under way for ATV-4 and -5.” Mrs Di Pippo confirmed that “Edoardo Amaldi is planned for launch in about 12 months. The other two will follow by 2014.”

Cargo compartment of the ATV-3

Flying in the same orbital plane as the Station but well below its 350 km-high orbit, ATV is being constantly monitored by the dedicated ESA/CNES ATV Control Centre (ATV-CC) in Toulouse, France, in coordination with the ISS control centres in Moscow and Houston.

During the coming week, ATV will adjust its orbit to rendezvous with the ISS for docking on Thursday, 24 February.

Europe’s smart supply ship

Unlike its 2008 predecessor, ATV Jules Verne, ATV Johannes Kepler will not perform practice demonstration manoeuvres. Instead, it will dock directly and autonomously with Russia’s Zvezda module to deliver cargo, propellant and oxygen to the orbital outpost.

ATV Johannes Kepler

The ATVs are contributing to the support and maintenance of the ISS together with Russia’s Progress and Japan’s H-II Transfer Vehicle, the second of which is now docked to the European-built Node-2.

These three independent servicing systems provide a secure logistics lifeline, while NASA’s Space Shuttle is going to be phased out later this year.

ESA mission directors on console at the ATV-CC

This launch also marks the 200th flight of an Ariane vehicle since the debut of 24 December 1979. The total includes 116 flights of Ariane 4 from 1988 to 2003 and 56 flights of Ariane 5 from 1996.

Now in its fourth decade of service, Europe’s family of launchers has lofted some 330 payloads to Earth orbit and beyond. Among these, 31 were for ESA, including deep-space probes, astronomical observatories, meteorology, remote sensing and communication satellites, as well as Space Station resupply ships.

Related links:

International Space Station:

EADS Astrium:


Images, Videos, Text, Credits: ESA / Arianespace / CNES / S.Girard / D. Ducros / Thales Alenia Space.


Herschel finds less dark matter but more stars

ESA - HERSCHEL Mission patch.

16 February 2011

ESA’s Herschel space observatory has discovered a population of dust-enshrouded galaxies that do not need as much dark matter as previously thought to collect gas and burst into star formation.

The galaxies are far away and each boasts some 300 billion times the mass of the Sun. The size challenges current theory that predicts a galaxy has to be more than ten times larger, 5000 billion solar masses, to be able form large numbers of stars.

 The calculated distribution of dark matter

The new result is published today in a paper by Alexandre Amblard, University of California, Irvine, and colleagues.

Most of the mass of any galaxy is expected to be dark matter, a hypothetical substance that has yet to be detected but which astronomers believe must exist to provide sufficient gravity to prevent galaxies ripping themselves apart as they rotate.

Current models of the birth of galaxies start with the accumulation of large amounts of dark matter. Its gravitational attraction drags in ordinary atoms. If enough atoms accumulate, a ‘starburst’ is ignited, in which stars form at rates 100–1000 times faster than in our own galaxy does today.

Herschel's target: the so-called Lockman Hole

“Herschel is showing us that we don’t need quite so much dark matter as we thought to trigger a starburst,” says Asantha Cooray, University of California, Irvine, a co-author on today’s paper.

This discovery was made by analysing infrared images taken by Herschel’s SPIRE (Spectral and Photometric Imaging Receiver) instrument at wavelengths of 250, 350, and 500 microns. These are roughly 1000 times longer than the wavelengths visible to the human eye and reveal galaxies that are deeply enshrouded in dust.

“With its very high sensitivity to the far-infrared light emitted by these young, enshrouded starburst galaxies, Herschel allows us to peer deep into the Universe and to understand how galaxies form and evolve,” says Göran Pilbratt, the ESA Herschel project scientist.

There are so many galaxies in Herschel’s images that they overlap, creating a fog of infrared radiation known as the cosmic infrared background. The galaxies are not distributed randomly but follow the underlying pattern of dark matter in the Universe, and so the fog has a distinctive pattern of light and dark patches.

The calculated distribution of dark matter

Analysis of the brightness of the patches in the SPIRE images has shown that the star-formation rate in the distant infrared galaxies is 3–5 times higher than previously inferred from visible-wavelength observations of similar, very young galaxies by the Hubble Space Telescope and other telescopes.

Further analysis and simulations have shown that this smaller mass for the galaxies is a sweet spot for star formation. Less massive galaxies find it hard to form more than a first generation of stars before fizzling out. At the other end of the scale, more massive galaxies struggle because their gas cools rather slowly, preventing it from collapsing down to the high densities needed to ignite star formation.

HERSCHEL spacecraft (Artist's view)

But at this newly identified ‘just-right’ mass of a few hundred billion solar masses, galaxies can make stars at prodigious rates and thus grow rapidly.

“This is the first direct observation of the preferred mass scale for igniting a starburst,” says Dr Cooray.

Models of galaxy formation can now be adjusted to reflect these new results, and astronomers can take a step closer to understanding how galaxies – including our own –came into being.

Read more:

Observations: Seeing in infrared wavelengths:

Why infrared astronomy is a hot topic:

L2, the second Lagrangian Point:

Herschel first science results in depth:

Herschel in depth:

Herschel Science Centre:

Images, Text, Credits: ESA / SPIRE / The Virgo Consortium / HerMES consortium / Alexandre Amblard / Thales Aliena Space.


NASA Releases Images Of Man-Made Crater On Comet

NASA - Stardust-NExT Mission patch.

Feb. 16, 2011

NASA's Stardust spacecraft returned new images of a comet showing a scar resulting from the 2005 Deep Impact mission. The images also showed the comet has a fragile and weak nucleus.

This image obtained by NASA's Stardust spacecraft shows a side of the nucleus of comet Tempel 1 that has never been seen before. In the image, three terraces of different elevations are visible, with dark, banded scarps, or slopes, separating them. The widest of the banded slopes is about 2 kilometers (1 mile). The lowest terrace has two circular features that are about 150 meters (500 feet) in diameter.

NASA's Stardust-NExT mission took this image of comet Tempel 1 at 8:39 p.m. PST (11:39 p.m. EST) on Feb 14, 2011
This image mosaic shows four different views of comet Tempel 1 as seen by NASA's Stardust spacecraft as it flew by on Feb. 14, 2011

This pair of images shows a before-and-after comparison of the area on comet Tempel 1 targeted by an impactor from NASA's Deep Impact spacecraft in July 2005. The left-hand image is one of the last obtained of the Tempel 1 surface by the impactor's high resolution imager before the impactor hit the surface. An arrow shows the direction the impactor traveled toward the surface, with a yellow spot that shows the impact target.

The spacecraft made its closest approach to comet Tempel 1 on Monday, Feb. 14, at 8:40 p.m. PST at a distance of approximately 111 miles. Stardust took 72 high-resolution images of the comet. It also accumulated 468 kilobytes of data about the dust in its coma, the cloud that is a comet's atmosphere. The craft is on its second mission of exploration called Stardust-NExT, having completed its prime mission collecting cometary particles and returning them to Earth in 2006.

These two images show the different views of comet Tempel 1 seen by NASA's Deep Impact spacecraft (left) and NASA's Stardust spacecraft (right). Two craters, about 300 meters (1,000 feet) in diameter, help scientists locate the area hit by the impactor released by Deep Impact in July 2005. The dashed lines correlate the features.

The Stardust-NExT mission met its goals which included observing surface features that changed in areas previously seen during the 2005 Deep Impact mission; imaging new terrain; and viewing the crater generated when the 2005 mission propelled an impactor at the comet.

This image is part of a news conference about NASA's Stardust-NExT mission

"This mission is 100 percent successful," said Joe Veverka, Stardust-NExT principal investigator of Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y. "We saw a lot of new things that we didn't expect, and we'll be working hard to figure out what Tempel 1 is trying to tell us." Several of the images provide tantalizing clues to the result of the Deep Impact mission's collision with Tempel 1.

This pair of images shows the area affected by the impactor released by NASA's Deep Impact spacecraft in July 2005. On the left, the image from Deep Impact shows a dark mound about 50 meters (160 feet) in size. It is inside a yellow circle that shows the area hit by the impactor released by Deep Impact. The image on the right, newly obtained by NASA's Stardust spacecraft, shows the impactor erased that dark mound and flattened the area. The outer circle annotated on the right-hand image shows the outer rim of the crater and the inner circle shows the crater floor. The crater is estimated to be 150 meters (500 feet) in diameter.

"We see a crater with a small mound in the center, and it appears that some of the ejecta went up and came right back down," said Pete Schultz of Brown University, Providence, R.I. "This tells us this cometary nucleus is fragile and weak based on how subdued the crater is we see today."

This image layout depicts changes in the surface of comet Tempel 1, observed first by NASA's Deep Impact Mission in 2005 (top right) and again by NASA's Stardust-NExT mission on Feb. 14, 2011 (bottom right). Between the two visits, the comet made one trip around the sun. The image at top left is a wider shot from Deep Impact.

Engineering telemetry downlinked after closest approach indicates the spacecraft flew through waves of disintegrating cometary particles including a dozen impacts that penetrated more than one layer of its protective shielding.

"The data indicate Stardust went through something similar to a B-17 bomber flying through flak in World War II," said Don Brownlee, Stardust-NExT co-investigator from the University of Washington in Seattle. "Instead of having a little stream of uniform particles coming out, they apparently came out in chunks and crumbled."

While the Valentine's Day night encounter of Tempel 1 is complete, the spacecraft will continue to look at its latest cometary obsession from afar.                                           

"This spacecraft has logged over 3.5 billion miles since launch, and while its last close encounter is complete, its mission of discovery is not," said Tim Larson, Stardust-NExT project manager at JPL. "We'll continue imaging the comet as long as the science team can gain useful information, and then Stardust will get its well-deserved rest."

Stardust-NExT is a low-cost mission that is expanding the investigation of comet Tempel 1 initiated by the Deep Impact spacecraft. The mission is managed by JPL for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Denver built the spacecraft and manages day-to-day mission operations.

The latest Stardust-Next/Tempel 1 images are online at:

For more information about Stardust-NExT, visit:

Images, Text, Credits: NASA / JPL-Caltech / University of Maryland /Cornell.