samedi 12 mars 2011

NASA Satellite Images Show Extent of Sendai Tsunami Flooding

ASTER - EOS Terra Mission patch.

March 13, 2011

NASA's Earth Observatory team has published enhanced satellite images comparing before and after shots of the northeastern Japanese city of Sendai after a massive 8.9 magnitude earthquake and tsunami struck the coast, pointing out areas hit by flooding.

"Both images were made with infrared and visible light, a combination that increases the contrast between muddy water and land," according to Holli Biebeek of NASA's Earth Observatory website.

In the image, water looks black or dark blue. (See images below). One image from March 12, 2011 at 10:30 a.m. is compared with another from February 26, 2011.

Image above: A March 12, 2011 image from the Modis instrument aboard NASA’s Terra satellite shows the Sendai area in Japan on March 12, 2011 at 10:30 a.m., a day after a massive 8.9 magnitude earthquake and tsunami struck the coastal city. (Credit: NASA).

The center of the March 12 photo shows a thin green line representing the Sendai coastline. The darker areas extend several kilometers to the west.

The center of the February 26 photo shows a solid coastline. Both images identify Sendai and the areas of flooding.

Image above: A February 26, 2011 image from the Modis instrument aboard NASA’s Terra satellite shows the Sendai area in Japan, weeks before a massive 8.9 magnitude earthquake and tsunami struck the coastal city. (Credit: NASA).

The image identifies the northern direction and shows a 10km scale line on the bottom left hand corner.

In the images, plant-covered land is green. Snow covered land is pale blue. Clouds are white and pale blue. Paved surfaces are brown.

The images come from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) instrument aboard the NASA's Terra satellite.

Image above: Satellite image by GoolgleEarth, we see very clearly the enormous chasm between the two continental plates which departure of the earthquake (the region where there is the orange symbols).

NASA Shows Topography of Tsunami-Damaged Japan City

The extent of inundation from the destructive and deadly tsunami triggered by the March 11, 2011, magnitude 8.9 earthquake centered off Japan's northeastern coast about 130 kilometers (82 miles) east of the city of Sendai is revealed in this before-and-after image pair from the Multi-angle Imaging SpectroRadiometer (MISR) instrument on NASA's Terra spacecraft.

The image comparison is online at . For optimum viewing, click the link to open the full-resolution TIFF image.

Image above: Coastal flooding from the March 11, 2011 tsunami triggered by a magnitude 8.9 earthquake off Japan's northeast coast can be seen in this before/after image pair from the Multi-angle Imaging SpectroRadiometer (MISR) instrument on NASA's Terra spacecraft. Image credit: NASA / GSFC / LaRC / JPL .

The new image, shown on the right, was acquired at 10:30 a.m. local time (01:30 UTC) on March 12, 2011. For comparison, shown on the left is a MISR image from about 10 years ago, on March 16, 2001, acquired under nearly identical illumination conditions. Flooding extending more than 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) inland from the eastern shoreline is visible in the post-earthquake image. The white sand beaches visible in the pre-earthquake view are now covered by water and can no longer be seen. Among the locations where severe flooding is visible is the area around Matsukawa-ura Bay, located just north and east of the image center.

From top to bottom, each image extends from just north of the Abukuma River (about 21 kilometers, or 13 miles, south of Sendai) to south of the town of Minamisoma (population 71,000, located in Japan's Fukushima Prefecture about 70 kilometers, or 44 miles, south of Sendai). The images cover an area of 78 kilometers (48 miles) by 104 kilometers (65 miles).

These unique images enhance the presence of water in two ways. First, their near-infrared observations cause vegetated areas to appear red, which contrasts strongly with the blue shades of the water. Second, by combining nadir (vertical-viewing) imagery with observations acquired at a view angle of 26 degrees, reflected sunglint enhances the brightness of water, which is shown in shades of blue. This use of different view-angle observations causes a stereoscopic effect, where elevated clouds have a yellow tinge at their top edges and blue tinge at their bottom edges.

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., built MISR and manages the mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington, D.C. More information about MISR is online at:

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA /


vendredi 11 mars 2011

SOLAR: three years observing and ready for solar maximum

ESA - Columbus Module patch.

11 March 2011

Europe’s Columbus research module has been part of the International Space Station for three years now. During that time, its external SOLAR package has been faithfully monitoring the energy flowing from the Sun.

The Sun does not always shine with unchanging power: its output varies minutely over the period of about 11 years known as the ‘solar cycle’. In principle, these fluctuations can affect us on Earth.

Columbus external payloads SOLAR and EuTEF

Building a picture of the interaction between the solar flux and Earth’s atmosphere is essential for understanding our atmosphere, its chemistry and climatology – and how the Sun is contributing to climate change.

In addition, precise measurements of the solar flux contribute to our understanding of solar and stellar physics.

This information also feeds into our designs for future satellites, prolonging their lives in orbit by withstanding the harsh battering from radiation.

Likewise, it will improve the accuracy of navigation data, as well as helping to forecast the orbits of satellites and dangerous debris.

Three in one

The SOLAR package of three complementary instruments is measuring the Sun’s output across most of the electromagnetic spectrum. It can track 99% of the emitted energy.

SOLAR External Payload Facility

In order to make its observations undisturbed by our bright planet, SOLAR is mounted on the top face of the Columbus External Payload Facility, pointing away from Earth.

The package is operated remotely by ground controllers without the need for any effort from the astronauts aboard the Station. During the three years in orbit, exposed to the most severe of environmental conditions, it has never needed any maintenance by spacewalkers.

During Space Shuttle mission STS-122 in February 2008, spacewalking astronaut Stanley Love moved SOLAR from the Shuttle Atlantis payload bay and installed it on Columbus.

Sun view by SOHO

SOLAR was designed to operate for 18 months, with the possibility of extending its mission by up to three years. After that, it should have been returned to Earth, but its smooth operation and flow of valuable data prompted the scientists to request an even longer mission.

The robustness of the design has now allowed ESA to extend its operation to at least 2013.

Over the last three years, the SOLAR science teams have gathered precious data during the minimum of solar activity. This minimum phase has been unusual: pronounced, long and with a dearth of sunspots in comparison to other cycles.

The project’s extension is allowing scientists to observe the increase in solar activity towards the expected peak in mid-2013.

More information:

Columbus external experiments installed during spacewalk:


ESA makes the Sun available to everyone:

SOHO 10-year special:

Images, Text, Credits: NASA  /  ESA.


Endeavour on the Pad

NASA - STS-134 Mission patch.

Mar 11, 2011

Endeavour on the Pad

Bathed in xenon lights, space shuttle Endeavour, attached to its external fuel tank and solid rocket boosters, took one last journey from the Vehicle Assembly Building to Launch Pad 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The 3.4-mile trek, known as rollout, began at 7:56 p.m. EST and took about seven hours to complete. This is the final scheduled rollout for Endeavour, which is attached to its external fuel tank and solid rocket boosters atop a crawler-transporter.

STS-134 Roll-out

Endeavour and its six STS-134 crew members will deliver the Express Logistics Carrier-3, Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer-2 (AMS), a high-pressure gas tank, additional spare parts for the Dextre robotic helper and micrometeoroid debris shields to the International Space Station on the shuttle's final spaceflight. Launch is targeted for April 19 at 7:48 p.m. EDT.

Images, Video, Text,  Credit: NASA / NASA TV / Jim Grossmann.


Fasting for science on Space Station

ESA - MagISStra Mission patch.

11 March 2011

With almost half of the MagISStra mission behind him, ESA astronaut Paolo Nespoli has not had much free time on the International Space Station. In addition to his heavy workload, he has been also on a special diet.

The International Space Station is preparing for a new era without Space Shuttles visiting every few months. The focus is shifting from building it to learning to work and live in space and doing scientific research.

The International Space Station is preparing for a new era without Space Shuttles visiting every few months. The focus is shifting from building it to learning to work and live in space and doing scientific research.

“Space is a unique place for many kinds of science,” says Christer Fuglesang, astronaut and head of ESA’s scientific utilisation of the International Space Station. 

Paolo Nespoli shows a food warmer on ISS

“Science on the ISS is connected with science on Earth. We are studying the same issues in a similar way, but in a different environment and with different constraints.”
“Looking up to deep space or down to Earth and conducting experiments benefiting from microgravity or the space environment – reproducing these on Earth is difficult or impossible.

“The Station’s diary is already stuffed with science, done by the astronauts or conducted remotely. The astronauts also act as test subjects themselves.

“How our bodies adapt to space conditions is still one of the most interesting questions we must answer, both for fundamental biology and future space exploration.”

Blood, please

Scientists in Europe, Japan, USA and Canada are keeping their eyes on the crew’s physiological and neurological conditions.

 EuroMir-94: Merbold blood sampling

That means a lot of blood and urine samples, taken regularly, stored in a freezer and sent back to Earth periodically for analysis.

Astronauts are also taking hair samples from each other and packing them in the –95°C deep freeze.

Reaction tests following a precise timetable map the daily effects of fatigue. Two special watches worn by the astronauts log their movements.

Ultrasound scans, electrocardiograms, blood-pressure measurements and electroencephalographs are all part of the daily timetable of the Station astronauts.

The Bone tissue culture facility

Their food intake is monitored and the effects of different diets are recorded via blood and usine samples, bone measurements and gas analysis.

For instance, Paolo’s SOLO experiment is studying his salt levels during periods of high and neutral salt intake. The work is contributing directly to ground studies for maintaining good health.

Science and technology

Some of the research promises exciting applications. The SODI-Colloid experiment, for example, is studying the growth and properties of advanced photonic materials, core elements of the super-fast optical computers to come.

Metal nanoparticles produced in microgravity

The research aboard the Station is helping to push these materials from development to real applications.

The Geoflow experiment is zooming in on complicated flow patterns of liquids to help scientists understand their behaviour – and even our planet’s molten core.

Radiation issues

A human expedition will one day set sail for Mars, but the dangerous radiation in interplanetary space is a major concern.

To understand the problem, the radiation levels in different areas of the Station are being measured and the doses in dummies are being monitored.

Work inside the Columbus laboratory

In addition, racks of biological samples are exposed outside the Station to the harsh space environment.

The Sun is our star, our main source of light and energy. Mounted outside of Europe’s Columbus laboratory, SOLAR is measuring the small changes in the Sun’s brightness across a broad spectrum.

SOLAR is helping us to probe the interaction between the solar energy flux and Earth's atmosphere – of great importance for understanding how our climate works.

Related links:

ISS Science News (NASA):

MagISStra mission:

Columbus science status reports:

European User Guide to Low-Gravity Platforms / ISS:

Images, Text, Credits: ESA / NASA / IBT / ETH Zürich / IFAM, Germany.

Best regards,

The 'Eye of Sauron'

NASA - Chandra X-Ray Observatory logo.


This composite image shows the central region of the spiral galaxy NGC 4151, dubbed the "Eye of Sauron" by astronomers for its similarity to the eye of the malevolent character in "The Lord of the Rings". In the "pupil" of the eye, X-rays (blue) from the Chandra X-ray Observatory are combined with optical data (yellow) showing positively charged hydrogen ("H II") from observations with the 1-meter Jacobus Kapteyn Telescope on La Palma. The red around the pupil shows neutral hydrogen detected by radio observations with the NSF's Very Large Array. This neutral hydrogen is part of a structure near the center of NGC 4151 that has been distorted by gravitational interactions with the rest of the galaxy, and includes material falling towards the center of the galaxy. The yellow blobs around the red ellipse are regions where star formation has recently occurred.

A recent study has shown that the X-ray emission was likely caused by an outburst powered by the supermassive black hole located in the white region in the center of the galaxy. Evidence for this idea comes from the elongation of the X-rays running from the top left to the bottom right and details of the X-ray spectrum. There are also signs of interactions between a central source and the surrounding gas, particularly the yellow arc of H II emission located above and to the left of the black hole.

Two different scenarios to explain the X-ray emission have been proposed. One possibility is that the central black hole was growing much more quickly about 25,000 years ago (in Earth's time frame) and the radiation from the material falling onto the black hole was so bright that it stripped electrons away from the atoms in the gas in its path. X-rays were then emitted when electrons recombined with these ionized atoms.

The second possibility also involved a substantial inflow of material into the black hole relatively recently. In this scenario the energy released by material flowing into the black hole in an accretion disk created a vigorous outflow of gas from the surface of the disk. This outflowing gas directly heated gas in its path to X-ray emitting temperatures. Unless the gas is confined somehow, it would expand away from the region in less than 100,000 years. In both of these scenarios, the relatively short amount of time since the last episode of high activity by the black hole may imply such outbursts occupy at least about 1% of the black hole's lifetime.

NGC 4151 is located about 43 million light years away from the Earth and is one of the nearest galaxies which contains an actively growing black hole. Because of this proximity, it offers one of the best chances of studying the interaction between an active supermassive black hole and the surrounding gas of its host galaxy. Such interaction, or "feedback", is recognized to play a key role in the growth of supermassive black holes and their host galaxies. If the X-ray emission in NGC 4151 originates from hot gas heated by the outflow from the central black hole, it would be strong evidence for feedback from active black holes to the surrounding gas on galaxy scales. This would resemble the larger scale feedback, observed on galaxy cluster scales, from active black holes interacting with the surrounding gas, as seen in objects like the Perseus Cluster.

These results were published in the August 20, 2010 issue of The Astrophysical Journal Letters. The authors were Junfeng Wang and Giuseppina Fabbiano from the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA), Guido Risaliti from CfA and INAF-Arcetri Observatory, in Firenze, Italy, Martin Elvis from CfA, Carole Mundell from Liverpool John Moores University in Birkenhead, UK, Gaelle Dumas and Eva Schinnerer from the Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics in Heidelberg, Germany, and Andreas Zezas, from CfA and the University of Crete in Greece.

NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., manages the Chandra program for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory controls Chandra's science and flight operations from Cambridge, Mass.

Images, Text, Credits: X-ray: NASA / CXC / CfA / J.Wang et al.; Optical: Isaac Newton Group of Telescopes, La Palma / Jacobus Kapteyn Telescope, Radio: NSF / NRAO / VLA.

Read more/access larger images:


jeudi 10 mars 2011

MESSENGER Poised for Mercury Orbit Insertion

NASA - MESSENGER Mission to Mercury patch.


After more than a dozen laps through the inner solar system, NASA's MESSENGER spacecraft will move into orbit around Mercury on March 17, 2011. The durable spacecraft--carrying seven science instruments and fortified against the blistering environs near the sun--will be the first to orbit the innermost planet.

Artist's concept of MESSENGER in orbit around Mercury

At 8:45 p.m. EDT, MESSENGER--having pointed its largest thruster very close to the direction of travel--will fire that thruster for nearly 14 minutes, with other thrusters firing for an additional minute, slowing the spacecraft by 862 meters per second (1,929 mph) and consuming 31 percent of the propellant that the spacecraft carried at launch. Less than 9.5 percent of the usable propellant at the start of the mission will remain after completing the orbit insertion maneuver, but the spacecraft will still have plenty of propellant for future orbit correction maneuvers.

The orbit insertion will place the spacecraft into a 12-hour orbit about Mercury with a 200 kilometer (124 mile) minimum altitude. At the time of orbit insertion, MESSENGER will be 46.14 million kilometers (28.67 million miles) from the sun and 155.06 million kilometers (96.35 million miles) from Earth.

MESSENGER has been on a six-year mission to become the first spacecraft to orbit Mercury. The spacecraft followed a path through the inner solar system, including one flyby of Earth, two flybys of Venus, and three flybys of Mercury. This impressive journey is returning the first new spacecraft data from Mercury since the Mariner 10 mission over 30 years ago.

Image above: Follow these simple instructions to explore Mercury in the Google Earth interface:

On March 7, antennas from each of the three Deep Space Network (DSN) ground stations began continuous monitoring, allowing flight control engineers at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory to observe MESSENGER on its final approach to Mercury. The spacecraft also began executing the last cruise command sequence of the mission, when the command sequence containing the orbit-insertion burn will start.

"This is a milestone event for our small, but highly experienced, operations team, marking the end of six and one half years of successfully shepherding the spacecraft through six planetary flybys, five major propulsive maneuvers, and sixteen trajectory-correction maneuvers, all while simultaneously preparing for orbit injection and primary mission operations," said MESSENGER Systems Engineer Eric Finnegan. "Whatever the future holds, this team of highly dedicated engineers ( has done a phenomenal job methodically generating, testing, and verifying commands to the spacecraft, getting MESSENGER where it is today."

"The cruise phase of the MESSENGER mission has reached the end game," adds MESSENGER Principal investigator Sean Solomon, of the Carnegie Institution of Washington.  "Orbit insertion is the last hurdle to a new game level, operation of the first spacecraft in orbit about the solar system's innermost planet.  The MESSENGER team is ready and eager for orbital operations to begin."

MESSENGER Poised for Mercury Orbit Insertion

Images, Video, Text, Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech.

Best regards,

CERN - LHC Report: Beams are back in the LHC

CERN - European Organization for Nuclear Research logo.

March 10, 2011

The LHC has shaken itself awake after the winter break, and, as the snow melts on the lower slopes, the temperature in the magnets has dropped to a chilly 1.9 K once more.

Following the cool-down, the last few weeks have seen an intense few tests of the magnets, power supplies and associated protection systems. These tests, referred to as hardware commissioning, have been completed in record time. At the same time the other accelerator systems have been put through the preparatory machine checkout.

Temperature graphic in the LHC

In parallel, the injectors (LINAC2, Booster, PS and SPS) have also come out of the technical stop in order to prepare to deliver beam to the LHC very early in the season. Of particular note here was the remarkably seamless transition to POPS, the PS's new main power supply system.


All this work culminated in the LHC taking beam again for the first time in 2011 on Saturday, 19 February. The careful preparation paid off, with circulating beams being rapidly re-established. There then followed a programme of beam measurements and re-commissioning of the essential sub-systems such as RF, beam dumps, beam instrumentation, feedback systems, etc. Initial measurements show that the LHC is in good shape and magnetically little changed from last year.

Low intensity beams were taken back up to 3.5 TeV on Monday night and then through the squeeze. The squeeze reduces the beam size at the collision point inside the experiments and thus increases the collision rate. This year the beam sizes at the collision point are being pushed to lower values than those of 2010 and the first test of 2011 was very encouraging.

CERN - Stars Underground

For more information about CERN, visit:

CERN, The Bulletin:

Images, Video, Text, Credit: CERN / CERN Bulletin.


mercredi 9 mars 2011

Space Shuttle Discovery Returns Home After Final Mission

NASA - STS-133 Mission patch.

March 9, 2011

Space shuttle Discovery and its six-astronaut crew ended a 13-day journey of more than five million miles and concluded the spacecraft's illustrious 27-year career with an 11:57 a.m. EST landing Wednesday at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Discovery Comes Home

STS-133 was the last mission for the longest-serving veteran of NASA's space shuttle fleet. Since 1984, Discovery flew 39 missions, spent 365 days in space, orbited Earth 5,830 times and traveled 148,221,675 miles.

"Discovery is an amazing spacecraft and she has served her country well," NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said. "The success of this mission and those that came before it is a testament to the diligence and determination of everyone who has worked on Discovery and the Space Shuttle Program, over these many years. As we celebrate the many accomplishments of this magnificent ship, we look forward to an exciting new era of human spaceflight that lies ahead."

Steve Lindsey commanded the flight and was joined by Pilot Eric Boe and Mission Specialists Alvin Drew, Steve Bowen, Michael Barratt and Nicole Stott. Discovery delivered the Pressurized Multipurpose Module, or PMM, which was converted from the Multipurpose Logistics Module, Leonardo. The PMM can host experiments in fluid physics, materials science, biology, biotechnology and other areas.

STS-133 also brought critical spare components and the Express Logistics Carrier 4 to the International Space Station. Robonaut 2, or R2, became the first human-like robot in space and a permanent resident of the station. The mission's two spacewalks assisted in outfitting the truss of the station and completed a variety of other tasks designed to upgrade station systems.

A welcome ceremony for the astronauts will be held Thursday, March 10, in Houston. The public is invited to attend the 4 p.m. CST event at Ellington Field's NASA Hangar 276. Gates to Ellington Field will open at 3:30 p.m.

Highlights from the ceremony will be broadcast on NASA Television's Video File. For NASA TV downlink information, schedules and links to streaming video, visit:

STS-133 was the 133rd shuttle flight and the 35th shuttle mission dedicated to station assembly and maintenance. With Discovery and its crew safely home, the stage is set for the launch of shuttle Endeavour on its STS-134 mission, targeted to lift off on April 19.

Endeavour's flight will deliver the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS) to the space station. AMS will use the unique environment of space to advance knowledge of the universe, leading to a better understanding of the universe's origin by searching for antimatter, dark matter and strange matter, and by measuring cosmic rays.

STS-133 Discovery landing

The AMS will be attached to the outside of the station on the starboard truss. The device is expected to remain active for 10 or more years. Endeavour also will fly the Express Logistics Carrier 3, a platform that carries a number of spare parts that will sustain space station operations after the shuttles are retired from service.

For more information about the STS-133 mission and the upcoming STS-134 flight, visit:

For information about the space station, visit:

Images, Video,Text,  Credits: NASA / NASA TV / MCC / Jack Pfaller.


Experts to meet at space surveillance conference

ESA logo labeled.

9 March 2011

ESA will host the first European Space Surveillance Conference in Spain in June. International experts will share their latest research findings on space debris, orbital hazard detection and satellite safety.

The European Space Surveillance Conference (ESS2011) provides an opportunity for professionals working in orbital debris detection to exchange ideas, concepts and solutions to the many challenges affecting safer satellite operations in space.

Europe relies on spaceborne assets to support a wide and growing range of activities in daily life.

SSA will help detect hazards to critical space infrastructure

Any shutdown or loss of services from these systems would seriously affect an enormous range of commercial and civil activities, including land, air and sea travel, maritime navigation, telecommunications, information technology and networks, broadcasting, weather prediction, climate monitoring and agricultural survey.

Satellites are critical economic infrastructure

This space-based infrastructure is vulnerable to orbital debris. A collision with an object as small as a coin can destroy a satellite and create thousands of additional pieces of debris in the process.

Efficiently solving these problems is not easy and draws upon the skills and knowledge of a wide-range of engineers, scientists and policy-makers. Teams across the globe depend on a level of interoperability that crosses professional, regional and national borders.

The ESS2011 conference is designed to facilitate open discussions between these groups and serve as a catalyst toward cross-disciplinary connections.

Control room at ESA's Optical Ground Station, Tenerife

"The development of flexible, efficient and economic solutions to the hazards posed by space debris is a challenge that affects all of us, but we aim to find novel answers that will benefit everyone," says Emmet Fletcher, Head of the Space Surveillance Segment at ESA's Space Situational Awareness (SSA) programme office.

ESA's SSA programme is developing services and infrastructure to enable Europe to detect, predict and assess the risk to life and property due to orbital debris, remnant man-made space objects, reentries, orbital explosions and release events or in-orbit collisions.

It will also provide services to monitor the effects of space weather phenomena on space- and ground-based assets and to watch for potential impacts of near-Earth objects.

ESS2011, Madrid, Spain

ESS2011 will be held 7–9 June 2011 in Madrid, Spain. The conference will be hosted by ESA and co-chaired by international experts. Delegates from ESA, NASA and the French, German, UK, Japanese and Italian space agencies, as well as the private and public sectors, are expected to attend.

EESS2011 will cover areas related to the creation of a common catalogue, such as object surveillance and tracking, orbit determination, propagation and correlation.

Topics will also include collision warning, interoperability and standards, and the overarching issues of governance, data policies and legal issues.

More information on the conference and details on the venue and registration can be found via the link at top right or via the Congrex website here:

Conference calendar

Contact for further information:

Emmet Fletcher
Head, SSA-SST Segment
Email: emmet.fletcher [@]

ESA Conference Bureau
P.O. Box 299
2200 AG Noordwijk
The Netherlands
Fax: +31 71 565 5658

Images, Text,Credits: ESA / P. Carrill.


ESA takes first steps towards MetOp Second Generation

ESA - EPS METOP Satellite logo.

9 March 2011

To ensure that a continuous flow of accurate and timely satellite data is available to forecast the weather and study climate change in the coming decades, ESA is looking to the future by preparing the next generation of MetOp satellites.

The current MetOp series has three identical satellites. Launched in 2006, MetOp-A is Europe's first polar-orbiting mission dedicated to operational meteorology, and will be followed by MetOp-B in 2012 and MetOp-C in 2016.


These first three MetOp satellites guarantee the continuous delivery of high-quality data for medium- and long-term weather forecasting and for climate monitoring until at least 2020.

To ensure this supply of meteorological data from polar orbit is carried though to the decades beyond 2020, ESA has recently embarked upon the initial steps towards developing concepts for the next generation of MetOp satellites.

Europe's commitment to improving the accuracy of weather forecasts goes back almost 35 years. However, until the launch of MetOp-A, these satellites were all placed in geostationary orbit, 36 000 km above the equator.

MetOp in polar orbit

This vantage point offers a large view of part of the planet to monitor rapidly evolving weather patterns for short-term forecasting.

By orbiting Earth much closer to home and from pole to pole, MetOp can achieve global coverage in a few days.

Moreover, the impressive suite of instruments provides accurate and high-resolution data on a host of different aspects of the atmosphere for numerical weather prediction – a perfect complement to the ongoing series of geostationary Meteosat satellites.

The Meteosat and MetOp programmes are joint ventures between ESA and Eumetsat, although the operation of the satellites, once they are in orbit, lies with Eumetsat.

MSG views one quarter of Earth

The services provided by the first series of Meteosat missions have now been replaced and improved by the Meteosat Second Generation (MSG), with two in orbit, renamed Meteosat-8 and Meteosat-9.

The programme is set to continue with two further MSG missions and will then be followed by the Meteosat Third Generation.

As for the geostationary Meteosat missions, it is time to develop the future for their MetOp polar partner, which serves as the space segment for the Eumetsat Polar System (EPS).

Hubert Barre, ESA's MetOp-SG Study Manager, said, "In partnership with Eumetsat, we have prepared the technical specifications for Phase-A and begun two feasibility studies. The preliminary concept reviews are planned for this summer.

"These first steps are helping to shape the future of European and worldwide meteorology for the decades of 2020–40."

MetOp orbits Earth in 100 minutes

While the three satellites in the first series are identical, the current concept for MetOp Second Generation (MetOp-SG), also known as 'Post-EPS', will comprise two different satellites orbiting as a pair. It is envisaged that each satellite will carry a different, but complementary, instrument package.

Together, these packages offer a wide range of capabilities to monitor variables such as atmospheric temperature, ozone, water vapour, trace gases, aerosols, ice in clouds, wind speed over the ocean, vegetation, snow cover, precipitation and ocean colour.

Notably, the first MetOp-SG satellite will also carry, as a guest payload, the Sentinel-5 instrument for air quality monitoring and forecasting as part of Europe's Global Monitoring for Environment and Security programme.

More information:

Proposed instruments for MetOp Second Generation:

Images, Video, Text, Credits: ESA/AOES Medialab / EUMETSAT 2002.


ESO - The Most Distant Mature Galaxy Cluster

ESO - European Southern Observatory logo.

9 March 2011

Young, but surprisingly grown-up

The most remote mature cluster of galaxies yet found

Astronomers have used an armada of telescopes on the ground and in space, including the Very Large Telescope at ESO’s Paranal Observatory in Chile to discover and measure the distance to the most remote mature cluster of galaxies yet found. Although this cluster is seen when the Universe was less than one quarter of its current age it looks surprisingly similar to galaxy clusters in the current Universe.

“We have measured the distance to the most distant mature cluster of galaxies ever found”, says the lead author of the study in which the observations from ESO’s VLT have been used, Raphael Gobat (CEA, Paris). “The surprising thing is that when we look closely at this galaxy cluster it doesn’t look young — many of the galaxies have settled down and don’t resemble the usual star-forming galaxies seen in the early Universe.”

Hubble infrared image of the most remote mature cluster of galaxies yet found

Clusters of galaxies are the largest structures in the Universe that are held together by gravity. Astronomers expect these clusters to grow through time and hence that massive clusters would be rare in the early Universe. Although even more distant clusters have been seen, they appear to be young clusters in the process of formation and are not settled mature systems.

The international team of astronomers used the powerful VIMOS and FORS2 instruments on ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) to measure the distances to some of the blobs in a curious patch of very faint red objects first observed with the Spitzer space telescope. This grouping, named CL J1449+0856 [1], had all the hallmarks of being a very remote cluster of galaxies [2]. The results showed that we are indeed seeing a galaxy cluster as it was when the Universe was about three billion years old — less than one quarter of its current age [3].

Wide-field view of the sky around the remote cluster CL J1449+0856

Once the team knew the distance to this very rare object they looked carefully at the component galaxies using both the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope and ground-based telescopes, including the VLT. They found evidence suggesting that most of the galaxies in the cluster were not forming stars, but were composed of stars that were already about one billion years old. This makes the cluster a mature object, similar in mass to the Virgo Cluster, the nearest rich galaxy cluster to the Milky Way.

Further evidence that this is a mature cluster comes from observations of X-rays coming from CL J1449+0856 made with ESA’s XMM-Newton space observatory. The cluster is giving off X-rays that must be coming from a very hot cloud of tenuous gas filling the space between the galaxies and concentrated towards the centre of the cluster. This is another sign of a mature galaxy cluster, held firmly together by its own gravity, as very young clusters have not had time to trap hot gas in this way.

Zooming in on the remote cluster CL J1449+0856

Video above: This sequence starts with a view of the constellation of Boötes (The Herdsman) and the bright star Arcturus. As we zoom in we can see many faint stars in the Milky Way and then, as we go even deeper, huge numbers of remote galaxies become visible. The final detailed view shows an image of the most remote mature galaxy cluster yet found — appearing as a scattering of faint red objects. This image was created from many long exposures in both optical and near-infrared light using exposures from both ESO’s Very Large Telescope and the Subaru telescope on Hawaii.

As Gobat concludes: “These new results support the idea that mature clusters existed when the Universe was less than one quarter of its current age. Such clusters are expected to be very rare according to current theory, and we have been very lucky to spot one. But if further observations find many more then this may mean that our understanding of the early Universe needs to be revised.”


[1] The strange name refers to the object’s position in the sky.

[2] The galaxies appear red in the picture partly because they are thought to be mainly composed of cool, red stars. In addition the expansion of the Universe since the light left these remote systems has increased the wavelength of the light further so that it is mostly seen as infrared radiation when it gets to Earth.

[3] The astronomers measured the distance to the cluster by splitting the light up into its component colours in a spectrograph. They then compared this spectrum with one of a similar object in the nearby Universe. This allowed them to measure the redshift of the remote galaxies — how much the Universe has expanded since the light left the galaxies. The redshift was found to be 2.07, which means that the cluster is seen about three billion years after the Big Bang.
More information

This research was presented in a paper, “A mature cluster with X-ray emission at z = 2.07”, by R. Gobat et al., published in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics.

The team is composed of R. Gobat (Laboratoire AIM-Paris-Saclay, France), E. Daddi (AIM-Paris), M. Onodera (ETH Zürich, Switzerland), A. Finoguenov (Max-Planck-Institut für extraterrestrische Physik [MPE], Garching, Germany), A. Renzini (INAF–Osservatorio Astronomico di Padova), N. Arimoto (National Astronomical Observatory of Japan), R. Bouwens (Lick Observatory, Santa Cruz, USA), M. Brusa (MPE), R.-R. Chary (California Institute of Technology, USA), A. Cimatti (Università di Bologna, Italy), M. Dickinson (NOAO, Tucson, USA), X. Kong (University of Science and Technology of China), and M.Mignoli (INAF – Osservatorio Astronomico di Bologna, Italy).

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 15 countries: Austria, Belgium, Brazil, 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:

    * Photos of the VLT:

Images, Text, Credits: ESO / NOAJ / Subaru / NASA / ESA, R. Gobat (Laboratoire AIM-Paris-Saclay, CEA / DSM-CNRS–Université Paris Diderot) / Digitized Sky Survey 2. Acknowledgment: Davide De Martin / Video: ESO / R. Gobat / A. Fujii/Digitized Sky Survey 2. Music: John Dyson (from the album Moonwind).

Best regards,

mardi 8 mars 2011

STS-133 Mission, The Journey Home

NASA - STS-133 Mission patch.


Discovery undocked from the International Space Station at 6 a.m. CST, ending a stay of eight days, 16 hours and 46 minutes.

Space shuttle Discovery is seen after leaving the International Space Station

As the shuttle moved away, Station Commander Scott Kelly praised the cooperation among crew members of both spacecraft. Discovery Commander Steve Lindsey said the team effort had allowed them “to accomplish well over 100 percent of our objectives.”

Pilot Eric Boe flew the orbiter in a vertical circle around the station while crew members took pictures of the station to document its condition. One big change from the previous fly-around by Atlantis during STS-132 last May was the addition of the Permanent Multipurpose Module brought up by Discovery. The circle complete, Discovery did two separation burns to take it away from the station.

Lindsey later had words for Bryan Lunney, the lead STS-133 shuttle flight director working his last shift before leaving NASA. “Bryan has been a great friend, a terrific flight director and a leader. We’re going to really miss him,” the Discovery commander radioed down during a farewell gathering in Mission Control.

Image above: Space shuttle Discovery is seen after leaving the International Space Station where the combined crews of 12 astronauts and cosmonauts worked together for over a week.

Lindsey, Boe and Mission Specialist Alvin Drew devoted much of their day to the standard late inspection of the heat resistant reinforced carbon-carbon surfaces. Using the robotic arm and its 50-foot orbiter boom sensor system extension, they began the inspection just after 10 a.m. with a look at the right wing.

STS-133 Daily Mission Recap - Flight Day 12

The subsequent nose cap inspection was followed by a look at the left wing. Images and data from the survey are sent to the ground for evaluation by experts. They will make sure no damage to the thermal protection system occurred during its stay in orbit. The crew is to begin its sleep period at 6:23 p.m.

Images, Video, Text, Credits: NASA / NAS TV / MCC.


lundi 7 mars 2011

How to keep LISA’s laser on target five million km away

ESA - LISA Mission patch.

7 March 2011

A key technical challenge of the joint ESA–NASA LISA mission has been solved: how to maintain precise pointing of a laser beam across five million km of space.

The next-decade Laser Interferometer Space Antenna (LISA) mission will look for ripples in spacetime – their existence predicted by Albert Einstein – known as gravitational waves. A trio of identical spacecraft will fly five million km apart in an equilateral triangle formation, linked by laser beams.

LISA satellite connected by lasers

A precision-measuring method called interferometry can combine these laser beams to identify the slightest movement between free-floating metallic cubes within each spacecraft.

Motion within a set frequency range will be scrutinised to search out gravitational waves emitted by massive black holes and similarly energetic cosmic objects.

“Our research set out to solve one of LISA’s most challenging elements,” said Lucio Scolamiero, overseeing some of the LISA technology studies for ESA.

Three LISA spacecraft

“How do we maintain the optical pathways between the spacecraft and therefore the measurement chain between them?”

Owing to the finite speed of light, it will take 16 seconds for each laser beam to cover the five million km to its receiving spacecraft.

LISA must steer the laser beam to compensate for the orbital movement of each spacecraft during this time.

In the process, the steering mirror has to remain stable down to the subatomic scale: any motion would be misinterpreted as a gravitational wave.

“That this could be achieved at all was by no means certain: to begin with, we didn’t even have available means to measure the performance of such a system,” Lucio added.

TNO-developed pointing system

“But we received two promising proposals and decided to pursue both of them.”

The two designs were developed independently by separate industrial groups: TNO in the Netherlands and RUAG and CSEM in Switzerland.

“ESA doesn’t duplicate technology development but does sometimes pursue complementary approaches,” Lucio explained.

RUAG & CSEM pointing system

“If one proves inadequate then we have another as backup.”

The two palm-sized designs share some elements. Both use capacitance-based sensors to measure mirror angle errors needing correction. Electrodes are spaced a very short distance apart; any shift in this distance causes a change in the electric charge running between them.

Test setup

The motor to make the adjustment is based on piezoelectric ceramics similar to those found in quartz watches, which convert electric signals into movement.

These ceramics are sliced up for precision performance. TNO’s design uses ‘piezo-stacks’ while RUAG–CSEM’s employs a ‘piezo-leg’ reproducing ‘walking’ motion.

To steer the mirror, both approaches reject ball-bearing components in favour of ‘flexural hinges’. Metallic blades around 0.1 mm thick are carefully shaped using a precision manufacturing technique.

The Albert Einstein Institute in Hannover, Germany, developed an ultra-stable measuring system to validate device performance. They used laser-based interferometry – the same technique LISA will rely on – with the experiment performed inside a vacuum chamber and mounted on a bench of ZERODUR glass, all-but immune to temperature-driven distortion.

“Both developments are fully compliant to our extreme performance requirements,” Lucio concluded. A decision on which version to fly will be taken later during LISA's implementation phase.

A single-satellite precursor, LISA Pathfinder, will be launched in 2013 to flight-validate key technologies for the full LISA mission, a large-mission candidate in ESA's Cosmic Vision programme.

Related links:




Albert Einstein Institute, Hannover:

Images, Text, Credits: ESA / AEI/ MildeMarketing / Exozet / TNO / RUAG / CSEM / Albert Einstein Institute.

Best regards,

Space Shuttle Discovery Makes Final Return to Earth Wednesday

NASA - STS-133 Mission patch.

7 March 2011

Space shuttle Discovery is scheduled to return to Earth for the final time on Wednesday, March 9, completing a 13-day mission to outfit the International Space Station. If Discovery lands Wednesday, it will have spent a total of 365 days in space and traveled more than 148 million miles during 39 flights. It launched on its first mission on Aug. 30, 1984.

Space shuttle Discovery performs its flyaround of the International Space Station as both spacecraft orbit over the Sahara Desert

After touchdown, the astronauts will undergo routine physical examinations and meet with their families. The crew may participate in a post-landing news conference about 6.5 hours after landing. The news events will be broadcast live on NASA Television and the agency's website.

The Kennedy news center will open for landing activities at 8 a.m. Wednesday and remain open until 11 p.m. because of shuttle Endeavour's 8 p.m. rollout to Launch Pad 39A. Endeavour is targeted to launch April 19 on the STS-134 mission to the space station.

STS-133 Flyaround
The STS-133 media badges are in effect through landing. The media accreditation building on State Road 3 will be open from 7 to 10 a.m. Wednesday. The last bus will depart from the news center for the Shuttle Landing Facility one hour before landing.

The NASA News Twitter feed is updated throughout the shuttle mission and landing. To follow, visit:

For NASA TV downlink information, schedules and links to streaming video, visit:

For the latest information about the STS-133 mission and accomplishments, visit:

For more information about the space station and its crew, visit:

Images, Video, Text, Credit: NASA / NAS TV / MCC.