vendredi 28 octobre 2011

NASA's NPP Satellite Launch

NASA - NPP Satellite patch / NASA - NPOESS patch labeled.

Fri, 28 Oct 2011

Launch of the NPP spacecraft aboard a Delta II rocket

NASA and NOAA officials congratulated each other this morning following the successful launch of the NPP spacecraft aboard a Delta II rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. Ken Schwer, NPP Project Manager, led off a news conference this morning about three hours after liftoff. He will be part of the team who will get the spacecraft checked out during the next several weeks so it can begin its Earth observing mission.

Image above: Liftoff of the NPP aboard a Delta II rocket at Space Launch Complex-2 at Vandenberg Air Force Base in Calif. Photo credit: NASA / Bill Ingalls.

"Now the future of NPP starts and we look forward to NPP touching the rest of the world," Schwer said.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association is expected to use the data from NPP as part of its weather forecasting.

NPP Launch

NPP will "make America a more weather-ready nation," said Mary Glackin, NOAA's deputy undersecretary for Oceans and Atmosphere. The NPP spacecraft was launched on-time at 5:48 a.m. EDT.

The NPOESS Preparatory Project (NPP) represents a critical first step in building the next-generation Earth-observing satellite system that will collect data on both long-term climate change and short-term weather conditions.

NPP Satellite in orbit

NPP will extend and improve upon the Earth system data records established by NASA's Earth Observing System (EOS) fleet of satellites that have provided critical insights into the dynamics of the entire Earth system: clouds, oceans, vegetation, ice, solid Earth and atmosphere.

The mission is scheduled to launch on Oct. 28, 2011 at 2:48 a.m. PDT/ 5:48 a.m. EDT, from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md., is managing NPP for the Earth Science Division in NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington.

For more information about NPP Mission, visit:

Images, Video, Text, Credits: NASA / NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center / NOAA.


Vega getting ready for exploitation

ESA - VEGA Launcher logo.

28 October 2011

The Vega launch vehicle programme has recently taken several major steps towards operation: the decision has been made to start the qualification launch campaign; ESA and Arianespace have ordered four new launchers; studies for the launch of the LISA Pathfinder mission have started.

Full-scale Vega mock-up on launch pad

Launch campaign kickoff

The Flight Readiness Review (FFR) for the Vega launcher was held in Frascati, Italy on 13 and 14 October. Based on this review, the Director General of the European Space Agency (ESA) decided to start the Vega qualification launch campaign, with Arianespace's operating staff providing their support for this campaign. The stages for the qualification launcher arrived in Kourou on 24 October, and the launch campaign will start on 7 November 2011 with the transfer of the first stage to the launch pad. The first launch is scheduled for the end of January 2012.

ESA and Arianespace have ordered four new Vega launchers

ESA, Arianespace and ELV, the launcher production prime, signed a contract in September for the production of four new Vega operational launchers. This contract complements the purchase of a first launcher in an agreement signed last year within the framework of the Verta contract, covering the five launches that follow Vega’s qualification flight.

Vega elements being unloaded at Kourou harbour

Studies under way for the LISA Pathfinder mission

The studies for the launch of the LISA Pathfinder scientific satellite of ESA, using a Vega launcher from the Verta batch, started at the end of September. The mission is scheduled for a launch window from October 2013 to September 2014.

A small launcher for Europe

Vega is Europe’s new, small launcher. Its performance will perfectly complement that of the heavy Ariane 5 and medium Soyuz rockets. It is designed to cope with a wide range of missions and payload configurations in order to respond to different market opportunities.

Vega launch zone

In particular, it offers configurations able to handle payloads ranging from a single satellite up to one main satellite plus six microsatellites.

Vega is compatible with payload masses ranging from 300 kg to 2500 kg, depending on the type and altitude of the orbit required by the customers. The benchmark is for 1500 kg into a 700 km-altitude polar orbit.

Vega is an ESA programme funded by Italy, France, Spain, Belgium, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Sweden.

Vega dry-run (time-lapse)

The industrial prime contractor is ELV SpA, 70% of which is owned by Avio SpA and 30% by ASI. ELV is responsible for the development and production of the launcher and for its delivery and integration at the launch site.

As the future Vega launch service provider, Arianespace is responsible for launch operations.

Related Links:



Images, Video, Text, Credits: ESA / S. Corvaja / CNES / ARIANESPACE - Optique Video CSG - P. Baudon, 2011.


70 years of Aerospace industry in Samara

State Research and Production Space Rocket Center "TsSKB-Progress"(FSUE SRPSRC "TsSKB-Progress") logo.


October 28 marks the 70th anniversary of the beginning of the State Aircraft Plant № 1 (now the Federal State Unitary Enterprise "SRP" TsSKB-Progress) on the Volga land.

Founded in 1894, the Moscow workshop "Dux", which produced bicycles in the early twentieth century into a plant of airships and airplanes. In 1919, the "Dux" was renamed the State Aircraft Plant № 1. Until 1940 the plant mastered the production of 23 types of aircraft, and on models of aircraft can trace the history of the Russian aerospace industry.

By the early 1940s, plant number 1 to 10 mass-produced high-speed MiG-3 per day.


October 8, 1941, it was decided to evacuate the Moscow aviation industry. In a short time large industrial enterprises, including plant № 1, relocated to new sites. October 28, 1941 People's Commissar of Aviation Industry of the USSR Shakhurin AI signed the order to the beginning of the aviation plant № 1 in Kuibyshev.

On the new production facility came about 7000 employees of the plant. 14 days after the arrival of the last train with the equipment in unfinished workshops was assembled the first MiG-3.

In December 1941, the first Kuibyshev IL-2 flew into the sky. Was adjusted production Il-2 and IL-10, MiG-3, an average of 15 aircraft per day.

Ilyushin Il-2 Sturmovik

During the war, was collected 16 210 aircraft (11 863 Il-2, 1225 Il-10, 3000 MiG-3).

Ilyushin Il-10

For Valiant Labor during the Great Patriotic War in 1945, an aircraft factory number 1 was awarded the Red Banner. 370 of the best factory workers were awarded orders and medals of the Soviet Union.

From 1946 to 1958 by the number 1 produced jets MiG-9 MiG-15, MiG-17 and strategic bombers Tu-16.




Strategic Bombers Tu-16

In 1958 over 10 months was arranged production of intercontinental ballistic missiles, aircraft plant number 1 (with 1961 plant was renamed in "Progress"), fully redesigned for rocket and space themes.

 Russian Rocket's Evolution

For more than half a century in the Samara Space Rocket Center "TsSKB-Progress" developed and produced reliable rocket and space technology: launch vehicles and spacecraft for the Federal Space Program and on projects with foreign partners. Missiles, made in "TsSKB-Progress", was launched into orbit on a working spacecraft in 1970, 980 of them are proprietary.

TsSKB-Progress' today

Original text in Russian:

Images, Text, Credits: Roscosmos PAO / Press office of FSUE "SRP"TsSKB-Progress / Russian Air Force / Translation:

Best regards,

jeudi 27 octobre 2011

Asteroid Lutetia: postcard from the past

ESA - Rosetta Mission patch.

27 October 2011

ESA's Rosetta spacecraft has revealed asteroid Lutetia to be a primitive body, left over as the planets were forming in our Solar System. Results from Rosetta's fleeting flyby also suggest that this mini-world tried to grow a metal heart.

Rosetta flew past Lutetia on 10 July 2010 at a speed of 54 000 km/hr and a closest distance of 3170 km. At the time, the 130 km-long asteroid was the largest encountered by a spacecraft. Since then, scientists have been analysing the data taken during the brief encounter.

Landslide on Lutetia

All previous flybys went past objects, which were fragments of once-larger bodies. However, during the encounter, scientists speculated that Lutetia might be an older, primitive 'mini-world'.

Now they are much more certain. Images from the OSIRIS camera reveal that parts of Lutetia's surface are around 3.6 billion years old. Other parts are young by astronomical standards, at 50–80 million years old.

Astronomers estimate the age of airless planets, moons, and asteroids by counting craters. Each bowl-shaped depression on the surface is made by an impact. The older the surface, the more impacts it will have accumulated. Some parts of Lutetia are heavily cratered, implying that it is very old.

Lutetia coverage

On the other hand, the youngest areas of Lutetia are landslides, probably triggered by the vibrations from particularly jarring nearby impacts.

Debris resulting from these many impacts now lies across the surface as a 1 km-thick layer of pulverised rock.

There are also boulders strewn across the surface: some are 300–400 m across, or about half the size of Ayers Rock, in Australia.

Some impacts must have been so large that they broke off whole chunks of Lutetia, gradually sculpting it into the battered wreck we see today.

Lutetia polar projection

"We don't think Lutetia was born looking like this," says Holger Sierks, Max-Planck-Institut für Sonnensystemforschung, Lindau, Germany. "It was probably round when it formed."

Rosetta's VIRTIS spectrometer found that Lutetia's composition is remarkably uniform across all the observed regions.

"It is striking that an object of this size can bear scars of events so different in age across its surface while not showing any sign of surface compositional variation," says Fabrizio Capaccioni, INAF, Rome, Italy.

This is just the start of the mystery.

Read further

Rosetta also let scientists investigate beneath the asteroid's surface. It appears that Lutetia tried to grow an iron core like a bona-fide planet when it formed.

During the encounter, Lutetia's weak gravity tugged on Rosetta. The slight change in Rosetta's path was reflected in radio signals received back at Earth, indicating a mass of 1.7 million billion tonnes.

This was a surprise.

"The mass was lower than expected. Ground-based observations had suggested much higher values," says Martin Pätzold, Universität zu Köln, Germany, leader of the radio science team.

Lutetia regions

Nevertheless, when combined with its volume, Lutetia still turns out to have one of the highest densities of any known asteroid: 3400 kg per cubic metre. The density implies that Lutetia contains significant quantities of iron, but not necessarily in a fully formed core.

To form an iron core, Lutetia would have had to melt as a result of heat released by radioactive isotopes in its rocks. The dense iron would then sink to the centre and the rocky material would float to the top.

However, VIRTIS indicates that Lutetia's surface composition remains entirely primordial, displaying none of the rocky material expected to form during such a molten phase.

The only explanation appears to be that Lutetia was subjected to some internal heating early in its history but did not melt completely and so did not end up with a well-defined iron core.

Lutetia at Closest approach

These results, all gathered during just a short flyby, make Lutetia a unique asteroid and an invaluable postcard from the past, at a time when Earth was forming.

"We picked a most important member of the asteroid belt," said Rita Schulz, ESA's Rosetta Project Scientist.

"All the asteroids encountered so far were different from each other, but Lutetia is the only one in which both primordial and differentiation features have been found.

"These unexpected results clearly show that there is still much more to investigate before we understand the belt fully."

Having now left Lutetia far behind, Rosetta is in hibernation and en route to its 2014 rendezvous with comet Churyumov–Gerasimenko.

Related links:

Rosetta Blog:

ESA's comet chaser:

Rosetta in depth:

Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research:

Images, Text, Credits: ESA 2011 MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS / UPD / LAM / IAA / RSSD / INTA / UPM / DASP / IDA.


NASA's Terra Spacecraft Sees Thailand Flooding

NASA - EOS TERRA Mission patch.

Oct. 27, 2011

 (Click on the image for enlarge)

Since July 2011, heavy monsoon rains in southeast Asia have resulted in catastrophic flooding. In Thailand, about one third of all provinces are affected. On Oct. 23, 2011, when this image from ASTER, the Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer instrument on NASA's Terra spacecraft was acquired, flood waters were approaching the capital city of Bangkok as the Ayutthaya River overflowed its banks. In this image, vegetation is displayed in red, and flooded areas are black and dark blue. Brighter blue shows sediment-laden water, and gray areas are houses, buildings and roads. The image covers an area of 35.2 by 66.3 miles (56.7 by 106.9 kilometers) and is located at 14.5 degrees north latitude, 100.5 degrees east longitude.

With its 14 spectral bands from the visible to the thermal infrared wavelength region and its high spatial resolution of 15 to 90 meters (about 50 to 300 feet), ASTER images Earth to map and monitor the changing surface of our planet. ASTER is one of five Earth-observing instruments launched Dec. 18, 1999, on Terra. The instrument was built by Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry. A joint U.S./Japan science team is responsible for validation and calibration of the instrument and data products. The broad spectral coverage and high spectral resolution of ASTER provides scientists in numerous disciplines with critical information for surface mapping and monitoring of dynamic conditions and temporal change.

Image, Text, Credit: NASA / GSFC / METI / ERSDAC / JAROS, and U.S. / Japan ASTER Science Team.


Swarm: magnetic field satellites get their bearings

ESA - SWARM Mission logo.

27 October 2011

ESA’s Swarm satellites, which will unravel the complexities of Earth’s magnetic shield, are being put through their paces to ensure that they will withstand the rigours of space. Marking an important milestone, the first satellite has undergone magnetic testing.

Comprising three identical satellites, Swarm is ESA’s first constellation of Earth observation satellites. They are due to liftoff together on a Rockot launcher from Plesetsk in northern Russia next year.

Swarm constellation

As the launch date grows closer, all three satellites are being subjected to an intense testing programme at IABG in Ottobrunn, Germany.

The magnetic field acts like a shield protecting the planet from charged particles that stream towards Earth in solar winds. Without it, life on Earth could not exist.

It is known that the field is mainly generated deep inside Earth by an ocean of swirling iron that makes up the liquid outer core.

Magnetic testing

Other sources of magnetism come from rocks in the crust and electric currents flowing in the ionosphere, magnetosphere and oceans.

However, Earth’s magnetic field holds many mysteries; how it is generated and how it changes over time is complex and not fully understood. It is in a constant state of flux and, currently, shows signs of weakening.

ESA’s Earth Explorer Swarm mission sets out to improve our understanding of this enigmatic force.

To do this, the satellites carry a new generation of magnetometers to identify and measure the magnetic signals that stem from the various sources with unprecedented accuracy.

Testing mass properties

These advanced sensors are mounted on the satellite’s 4 m-long boom to minimise interference from the electric units on the craft.

Carried out by engineers from EADS-Astrium, the testing programme began over a year ago. This long series of tests simulates the harsh environment of space, exposing each satellite to different temperatures, vibration and shocks.

The instruments and satellites have, so far, all performed well.

As part of this intense period, the first of the three satellites has recently completed the all-important magnetic tests.

The satellites and instruments are, in themselves, magnetic and therefore influence the measurements they make. The origins of all the magnetic signals stemming from different parts of the satellites have to be determined and accounted for very carefully so that the measurements taken in orbit are not misinterpreted.

Swarm with boom open

These particular tests are carried out in a ‘magnetically clean’ environment – hence the wooden floor, which may seem a little unusual for a satellite cleanroom.

In fact, the magnetic testing facility is in a forest, far from any other buildings to minimise any magnetic disturbance.

Determining the magnetic properties of the satellite and different instruments is a painstaking exercise. The satellite is put in a number of positions and readings taken to work out where the signals come from and how strong they are.

One of the most important tests is to characterise the properties of the magnetotorquers, which are used continuously to keep the satellites at the correct attitude as they orbit Earth. As their name suggests, they are magnetic so an accurate assessment of the field they generate is essential to the accuracy of the mission.

The testing programme will conclude next February, after which the three satellites will be packed up and shipped to the Plesetsk Cosmodrome where they will be made ready for launch in July.

Related links:


EADS Astrium:


Images, Text, Credits: ESA / P. Carril / R. Bock / IABG / EADS Astrium.

Best regards,

mercredi 26 octobre 2011

Faraway Eris is Pluto's Twin

ESO - European Southern Observatory logo.

26 October 2011

Dwarf planet sized up accurately as it blocks light of faint star

 Artist’s impression of the dwarf planet Eris

Astronomers have accurately measured the diameter of the faraway dwarf planet Eris for the first time by catching it as it passed in front of a faint star. This event was seen at the end of 2010 by telescopes in Chile, including the Belgian TRAPPIST telescope at ESO’s La Silla Observatory. The observations show that Eris is an almost perfect twin of Pluto in size. Eris appears to have a very reflective surface, suggesting that it is uniformly covered in a thin layer of ice, probably a frozen atmosphere. The results will be published in the 27 October 2011 issue of the journal Nature.

The occultation of the dwarf planet Eris in November 2010

In November 2010, the distant dwarf planet Eris passed in front of a faint background star, an event called an occultation. These occurrences are very rare and difficult to observe as the dwarf planet is very distant and small. The next such event involving Eris will not happen until 2013. Occultations provide the most accurate, and often the only, way to measure the shape and size of a distant Solar System body.

Artist’s impression of the dwarf planet Eris and its moon Dysnomia

The candidate star for the occultation was identified by studying pictures from the MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope at ESO’s La Silla Observatory. The observations were carefully planned and carried out by a team of astronomers from a number of (mainly French, Belgian, Spanish and Brazilian) universities using — among others — the TRAPPIST [1] (TRAnsiting Planets and PlanetesImals Small Telescope, eso1023) telescope, also at La Silla.

Path of the shadow of the dwarf planet Eris during the occultation of November 2010

“Observing occultations by the tiny bodies beyond Neptune in the Solar System requires great precision and very careful planning. This is the best way to measure Eris’s size, short of actually going there,” explains Bruno Sicardy, the lead author.

Observations of the occultation were attempted from 26 locations around the globe on the predicted path of the dwarf planet’s shadow — including several telescopes at amateur observatories, but only two sites were able to observe the event directly, both of them located in Chile. One was at ESO’s La Silla Observatory using the TRAPPIST telescope, and the other was located in San Pedro de Atacama and used two telescopes [2]. All three telescopes recorded a sudden drop in brightness as Eris blocked the light of the distant star.

Artist’s impression of the dwarf planet Eris

The combined observations from the two Chilean sites indicate that Eris is close to spherical. These measurements should accurately measure its shape and size as long as they are not distorted by the presence of large mountains. Such features are, however, unlikely on such a large icy body.

Eris was identified as a large object in the outer Solar System in 2005. Its discovery was one of the factors that led to the creation of a new class of objects called dwarf planets and the reclassification of Pluto from planet to dwarf planet in 2006. Eris is currently three times further from the Sun than Pluto.

Artist’s animation showing the dwarf planet Eris and its moon Dysnomia

While earlier observations using other methods suggested that Eris was probably about 25% larger than Pluto with an estimated diameter of 3000 kilometres, the new study proves that the two objects are essentially the same size. Eris’s newly determined diameter stands at 2326 kilometres, with an accuracy of 12 kilometres. This makes its size better known than that of its closer counterpart Pluto, which has a diameter estimated to be between 2300 and 2400 kilometres. Pluto’s diameter is harder to measure because the presence of an atmosphere makes its edge impossible to detect directly by occultations. The motion of Eris’s satellite Dysnomia [3] was used to estimate the mass of Eris. It was found to be 27% heavier than Pluto [4]. Combined with its diameter, this provided Eris’s density, estimated at 2.52 grams per cm3 [5].

Path of the shadow of the dwarf planet Eris during the occultation of November 2010

“This density means that Eris is probably a large rocky body covered in a relatively thin mantle of ice,” comments Emmanuel Jehin, who contributed to the study [6].

The surface of Eris was found to be extremely reflective, reflecting 96% of the light that falls on it (a visible albedo of 0.96 [7]). This is even brighter than fresh snow on Earth, making Eris one of the most reflective objects in the Solar System, along with Saturn’s icy moon Enceladus. The bright surface of Eris is most likely composed of a nitrogen-rich ice mixed with frozen methane — as indicated by the object's spectrum — coating the dwarf planet’s surface in a thin and very reflective icy layer less than one millimetre thick.

 Animation of the principle of the occultation

“This layer of ice could result from the dwarf planet’s nitrogen or methane atmosphere condensing as frost onto its surface as it moves away from the Sun in its elongated orbit and into an increasingly cold environment,” Jehin adds. The ice could then turn back to gas as Eris approaches its closest point to the Sun, at a distance of about 5.7 billion kilometres.

The new results also allow the team to make a new measurement for the surface temperature of the dwarf planet. The estimates suggest a temperature for the surface facing the Sun of -238 Celsius at most, and an even lower value for the night side of Eris.

“It is extraordinary how much we can find out about a small and distant object such as Eris by watching it pass in front of a faint star, using relatively small telescopes. Five years after the creation of the new class of dwarf planets, we are finally really getting to know one of its founding members,” concludes Bruno Sicardy.


[1] TRAPPIST is one of the latest robotic telescopes installed at the La Silla Observatory. With a main mirror just 0.6 metres across, it was inaugurated in June 2010 and is mainly dedicated to the study of exoplanets and comets. The telescope is a project funded by the Belgian Fund for Scientific Research (FRS-FNRS), with the participation of the Swiss National Science Foundation, and is controlled from Liège.

[2] The Caisey Harlingten and ASH2 telescopes.

[3] Eris is the Greek goddess of chaos and strife. Dysnomia is Eris’ daughter and the goddess of lawlessness.

[4] Eris’s mass is 1.66 x 1022 kg, corresponding to 22% of the mass of the Moon.

[5] For comparison, the Moon’s density is 3.3 grams per cm3, and water’s is 1.00 gram per cm3.

[6] The value of the density suggests that Eris is mainly composed of rock (85%), with a small ice content (15%). The latter is likely to be a layer, about 100 kilometre thick, that surrounds the large rocky core. This very thick layer of mostly water ice is not to be confused with the very thin layer of frozen atmosphere on Eris’s surface that makes it so reflective.

[7] The albedo of an object represents the fraction of the light that falls on it that is scattered back into space rather than absorbed. An albedo of 1 corresponds to perfect reflecting white, while 0 is totally absorbing black. For comparison, the Moon’s albedo is only 0.136, similar to that of coal.

More information:

This research was presented in a paper to appear in the 27 October 2011 issue of the journal Nature.

The team is composed of B. Sicardy (LESIA-Observatoire de Paris (OBSPM), CNRS, Université Pierre et Marie Curie (UPMC), Université Paris-Diderot (Paris 7), Institut Universitaire de France (IUF), France) , J. L. Ortiz (Instituto de Astrofísica de Andalucía (CSIC), Spain), M. Assafin (Observatório do Valongo/UFRJ (OV/UFRJ), Brazil), E. Jehin (Institut d'Astrophysique de I'Université de Liège (IAGL), Belgium), A. Maury (San Pedro de Atacama Celestial Explorations, Chile), E. Lellouch (LESIA, CNRS, UPMC, Paris 7), R. Gil Hutton ( Complejo Astronómico El Leoncito (CASLEO) and San Juan National University, Argentina), F. Braga-Ribas (LESIA, CNRS, UPMC, Paris 7, France, and Observatório Nacional/MCT (ON/MCT), Brazil), F. Colas (OBSPM, IMCCE, UPMC, CNRS, France), D. Hestroffer (OBSPM, IMCCE, UPMC, CNRS, France), J. Lecacheux (LESIA-OBSPM, CNRS, UPMC, Paris 7, IUF, France), F. Roques (LESIA-OBSPM, CNRS, UPMC, Paris 7, IUF, France), P. Santos Sanz (LESIA-OBSPM, CNRS, UPMC, Paris 7, IUF, France), T. Widemann (LESIA-OBSPM, CNRS, UPMC, Paris 7, IUF, France), N. Morales (CSIC, Spain), R. Duffard (CSIC, Spain), A. Thirouin (CSIC, Spain), A. J. Castro-Tirado (CSIC, Spain), M. Jelínek (CSIC, Spain), P. Kubánek (CSIC, Spain), A. Sota (CSIC, Spain), R. Sánchez-Ramírez (CSIC, Spain), A. H. Andrei (OV/UFRJ, ON/MCT, Brazil), J. I. B. Camargo (OV/UFRJ, ON/MCT, Brazil), D. N. da Silva Neto (ON/MCT, Centro Universitário Estadual da Zona Oeste (UEZO), Brazil), A. Ramos Gomes Jr (OV/UFRJ, Brazil), R. Vieira Martins (OV/UFRJ, ON/MCT, Brazil, OBSPM, IMCCE, UPMC, CNRS, France), M. Gillon (IAGL, Belgium), J. Manfroid (IAGL, Belgium), G. P. Tozzi (INAF, Osservatorio Astrofisico di Arcetri, Italy), C. Harlingten (Caisey Harlingten Observatory, UK), S. Saravia (San Pedro de Atacama Celestial Explorations, Chile), R. Behrend (Observatoire de Genève, Switzerland), S. Mottola (DLR – German Aerospace Center, Germany), E. García Melendo (Fundació Privada Observatori Esteve Duran, Institut de Ciències de I'Espai (CSIC-IEEC), Spain), V. Peris ( Observatori Astronòmic, Universitat de València (OAUV), Spain), J. Fabregat (OAUV, Spain), J. M. Madiedo ( Universidad de Huelva, Facultad de Ciencias Experimentales, Spain), L. Cuesta (Centro de Astrobiología (CSIC-INTA), Spain), M. T. Eibe (CSIC-INTA, Spain), A. Ullán (CSIC-INTA, Spain), F. Organero ( Observatorio astronómico de La Hita, Spain), S. Pastor (Observatorio de la Murta, Spain), J. A. de los Reyes (Observatorio de la Murta, Spain), S. Pedraz (Calar Alto Observatory, Centro Astronómico Hispano Alemán, Spain), A. Castro (Sociedad Astronómica Malagueña, Centro Cultural José María Gutiérrez Romero, Spain), I. de la Cueva (Astroimagen, Spain), G. Muler (Observatorio Nazaret, Spain), I. A. Steele (Liverpool JMU, UK), M. Cebrián (Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias (IAC), Spain), P. Montañés-Rodríguez (IAC, Spain), A. Oscoz (IAC, Spain), D. Weaver (Observatório Astronomico Christus, Colégio Christus, Brazil), C. Jacques (Observatório CEAMIG-REA, Brazil), W. J. B. Corradi (Departamento de Física – Instituto de Ciências Exatas – Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais (ICEx–UFMG), Brazil), F. P. Santos (Departamento de Física, ICEx–UFMG, Brazil), W. Reis (Departamento de Física, ICEx–UFMG, Brazil), A. Milone (Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas Espaciais (INPE-MCT), Brazil), M. Emilio ( Universidade Estadual de Ponta Grossa, O.A. – DEGEO, Brazil), L. Gutiérrez (Instituto de Astronomía, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM), México), R. Vázquez (Instituto de Astronomía, UNAM, México) & H. Hernández-Toledo (Instituto de Astronomía, UNAM, México).

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 two survey telescopes. VISTA works in the infrared and is the world’s largest survey telescope and the VLT Survey Telescope is the largest telescope designed to exclusively survey the skies in visible light. ESO is the European partner of a revolutionary astronomical telescope ALMA, the largest astronomical project in existence. ESO is currently planning a 40-metre-class European Extremely Large optical/near-infrared Telescope, the E-ELT, which will become “the world’s biggest eye on the sky”.


    Photos of La Silla:

    Article about TRAPPIST in September 2011 issue of the ESO Messenger:

    TRAPPIST webpage:

    Video of event observed using the TRAPPIST telescope:

    Observations of the event observed by the Caisey Harlingten 50cm  telescope at San Pedro de Atacama:


ESOcast 38: Faraway Eris is Pluto’s twin:

Path of the shadow of the dwarf planet Eris during the occultation of November 2010:

Images, Videos, Text, Credits: ESO / L. Calçada / La Silla / Paranal / E-ELT & Survey Telescopes / Richard Hook / LESIA-Observatoire de Paris / CNRS / Université Pierre et Marie Curie / Bruno Sicardy / Institut d'Astrophysique de I'Université de Liège / Emmanuel Jehin.


Countdown is on!

ESA - Mars500 Mission patch / ROSCOSMOS - Mars500 (IMBP) patch.

26 October 2011

Romain writes in his diary about the long last months and the excitement of approaching Earth and liberty, as well as their preparations for hatch opening on 4 November. Most important of all: he explains when their personal countdown started.

Mars500 crew started their countdown to end of the mission 10 days before the hatch opening

A few months ago the six of us were sitting around the little table in our wooden kitchen finishing a nice lunch. While everybody was slowly sipping their hot tea, I brought a question to the attention of our gathering: "Shall we begin our final countdown 100 days before the end of the Mars500 mission or at another moment?".

The idea of a countdown is quite a strong symbol for us and everybody had a different view on it. Finally we reached a unanimous conclusion: "we'll start it for the last 10 days and not before." Today, on 25 October 2011, 10 days before our egress, we're ready to count!

Mars500's own 'official' 16 months-in-isolation portrait

However, I'll rewind a few months to give you an overview of the latest and toughest part of our motionless trip. It was difficult to realize it while we were enduring it but now that we're close to the end I can say without a doubt that, except for a few colourful days, our months of August and September were dull.

It's actually a sum of little things which led to this:

- We receive almost daily some messages from our family and friends and they help us to cope with this long-duration isolation. However, quite naturally, the holidays in August and the first days back at work in September kept them quite busy. I don't blame anybody because I would have been doing the same if I was outside. The fact is that, from our modules, we saw a diminution of these highly appreciated letters from the outside world.

- Another factor is the repetition of our scientific experiments. After more than one year rehearsing the same experiments with the same equipment and the same test subjects, it's sometimes hard to find as much interest as during the first session 500 days ago. We still perform each experiment as efficiently as before - and often more efficiently - but what we're looking forward to is discovering the conclusion of all the studies being followed by the world-wide community of scientists.

- The last obvious cause is linked to our food. Thanks to the degustation that we did during our training period, all the food stored in our spaceship is fine. However, our menu is based on a one week cycle with little variation. We could adjust some dishes at our convenience but our favourite choices were the quickest to disappear. For example, after only one month the delicious tuna in oil vanished and, after four months, our good favourite chocolate bars followed the same fate. This led to a monotonous diet for the last couple of months.

But enough with the gloom. The light came for us when we reached the Earth's vicinity which allowed the long-awaited ‘direct communications’. Our first guests arrived at the mission control centre in Moscow at the end of September. This event was the first step toward the bright and pleasant month of October.

You can easily picture this month as a stair leading to a delightful state of mind. Each day we took one step forward and our mood rose accordingly. As mentioned above, the first step was the phone conversation with our family members and especially the possibility to speak in our native languages.

On my side, after 500 days, I didn't forget my French but I must admit that some words were harder to find than their English counterpart… my sister enjoyed teasing me for that!

Another point which brings me some pleasure is the action of storing the scientific experiment's devices for ‘the last time’. We'll have the opportunity to go through all the experiments once again for the ‘Post-flight Data Collection’ in November but at that moment we'll be living in the open on Earth!

Alexander was the last to celebrate his birthday during the Mars500 mission. His birthday was on 13 October

Of course, we didn't forget the important event which happened on 13 October: Alexander was the last to celebrate his birthday during the Mars500 mission. As usual, we followed our tradition and he received his presents during the breakfast that we share in the morning.

One further hint of the end of our trip is the amount of messages that we receive from our families talking about tickets booked for Moscow and asking for information regarding the detailed planning of our 520th day.

Some of us are also going through a spring cleaning of their rooms to make sure that nothing is forgotten behind. It's amazing to realize the amount of bits and pieces which can end up below our beds… even when you're in a closed environment!

At last the countdown embodies the feeling that was constantly growing throughout October: the end is close! Our international crew went through the Mars500 mission successfully and we're happy and proud to answer positively to the question asked one year and a half ago: "Is Man able to endure, physiologically and psychologically, the confinement of a trip to Mars?”

Yes, we're ready to go!


Related links:

Mars500 quick facts:

Mars500 crew:


Institute of Biomedical Problems (IBMP):

Mars500 (IMBP):

Online video:

ESA TV: One year inside:

Images, Text,Credits: ESA / Mars500 / ROSCOSMOS / Romain Charles.

Best regards,

mardi 25 octobre 2011

Watching the dragon spit fire

ESA / ESTEC logo.

25 October 2011

This video catches the moment when a Draconid meteor exploded in Earth's atmosphere earlier this month. The dramatic footage comes from a campaign to observe this important meteor shower using aircraft to beat the clouds.

On the evening of Saturday 8 October, Earth plunged through a stream of dust and rocks that had been expelled into space by the comet Giacobini–Zinner. The resultant meteor shower lit the skies over Europe with shooting stars.

A Draconid meteor burns up as a fireball in the atmosphere of Earth on 8 October 2011

The display radiates from the constellation of Draco, The Dragon, giving the name of "Draconids" to this shower which occurs at the same time every year as the Earth passes through the debris trail. In 2011, however, there was a difference. Astronomers had predicted an unusually high numbers of meteors as Earth was due to encounter particularly dense patches of the cometary detritus.

Detlef Koschny, leader of the Meteor Research Group at ESA, led the Agency's involvement in a project to find out if the prediction was right.

With cameras and other equipment packed into two Falcon-20 research planes, Detlef's colleagues took to the skies over Europe to rise above the clouds and watch for meteors.

DLR research aircraft's Falcon 20 E

"The Draconids peaked as predicted. A small peak at 17:30 GMT and then a larger one at 20:05 GMT," says Detlef.

The two planes flew on parallel tracks roughly 100 km apart as the researchers pointed their cameras at the same volume of Earth's atmosphere. The data they collected will allow each meteor to be triangulated, to determine its altitude and trajectory. Typically, meteors burn up between 80-120 km above the ground, well above the cruising altitude of an airliner. This will give updated information about the meteor stream itself, and the way the comet ejected the material.

It has been calculated that most of the meteors hitting Earth that night were ejected by comet Giacobini–Zinner in 1900 and have been circling the Sun ever since.

The team also recorded the spectrum of at least one meteor, which will reveal its chemical composition.

The Draconid meteor stream is important to understand because, like other streams, it can pose a danger to orbiting spacecraft. The tiny impacts can damage solar panels or sensitive optics.

The Draconids tend to be overlooked in favour of more visible displays such as the Leonids in November. This could be a mistake according to Detlef: "The Draconids move more slowly relative to Earth, so we don't see all of the smaller ones burning up. But they are still there, probably as many in number as the Leonids, only its harder to find them." 

Notes to editors:

The airborne observing campaign was led by Jeremie Vaubaillon (IMCCE, Paris) and Pavel Koten (Ondrejov Observatory). Jonathan McAuliffe from ESA / ESAC and Joe Zender from ESA / ESTEC were flying on the Falcon-20 aircraft to operate the cameras. 

Image, Video, Text, Credit: ESA / ESTEC / Markus Bauer / Detlef Koschny / DLR.


NASA Telescopes Help Solve Ancient Supernova Mystery

NASA - SPITZER Space Telescope Patch / ESA - XMM Newton Mission patch.

Oct. 24, 2011

A mystery that began nearly 2,000 years ago, when Chinese astronomers witnessed what would turn out to be an exploding star in the sky, has been solved. New infrared observations from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope and Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE, reveal how the first supernova ever recorded occurred and how its shattered remains ultimately spread out to great distances.

The findings show that the stellar explosion took place in a hollowed-out cavity, allowing material expelled by the star to travel much faster and farther than it would have otherwise.

"This supernova remnant got really big, really fast," said Brian J. Williams, an astronomer at North Carolina State University in Raleigh. Williams is lead author of a new study detailing the findings online in the Astrophysical Journal. "It's two to three times bigger than we would expect for a supernova that was witnessed exploding nearly 2,000 years ago. Now, we've been able to finally pinpoint the cause."

This image combines data from four different space telescopes to create a multi-wavelength view of all that remains of the oldest documented example of a supernova, called RCW 86. Image credit: NASA / ESA / JPL-Caltech / UCLA / CXC / SAO.

A new image of the supernova, known as RCW 86, is online at .

In 185 A.D., Chinese astronomers noted a "guest star" that mysteriously appeared in the sky and stayed for about 8 months. By the 1960s, scientists had determined that the mysterious object was the first documented supernova. Later, they pinpointed RCW 86 as a supernova remnant located about 8,000 light-years away. But a puzzle persisted. The star's spherical remains are larger than expected. If they could be seen in the sky today in infrared light, they'd take up more space than our full moon.

The solution arrived through new infrared observations made with Spitzer and WISE, and previous data from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory and the European Space Agency's XMM-Newton Observatory.

The findings reveal that the event is a "Type Ia" supernova, created by the relatively peaceful death of a star like our sun, which then shrank into a dense star called a white dwarf. The white dwarf is thought to have later blown up in a supernova after siphoning matter, or fuel, from a nearby star.

"A white dwarf is like a smoking cinder from a burnt-out fire," Williams said. "If you pour gasoline on it, it will explode."

Infrared images from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope and Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) are combined in this image of RCW 86, the dusty remains of the oldest documented example of an exploding star, or supernova. Image credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / UCLA.

The observations also show for the first time that a white dwarf can create a cavity around it before blowing up in a Type Ia event. A cavity would explain why the remains of RCW 86 are so big. When the explosion occurred, the ejected material would have traveled unimpeded by gas and dust and spread out quickly.

Spitzer and WISE allowed the team to measure the temperature of the dust making up the RCW 86 remnant at about minus 325 degrees Fahrenheit, or minus 200 degrees Celsius. They then calculated how much gas must be present within the remnant to heat the dust to those temperatures. The results point to a low-density environment for much of the life of the remnant, essentially a cavity.

Scientists initially suspected that RCW 86 was the result of a core-collapse supernova, the most powerful type of stellar blast. They had seen hints of a cavity around the remnant, and, at that time, such cavities were only associated with core-collapse supernovae. In those events, massive stars blow material away from them before they blow up, carving out holes around them.

But other evidence argued against a core-collapse supernova. X-ray data from Chandra and XMM-Newton indicated that the object consisted of high amounts of iron, a telltale sign of a Type Ia blast. Together with the infrared observations, a picture of a Type Ia explosion into a cavity emerged.

"Modern astronomers unveiled one secret of a two-millennia-old cosmic mystery only to reveal another," said Bill Danchi, Spitzer and WISE program scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "Now, with multiple observatories extending our senses in space, we can fully appreciate the remarkable physics behind this star's death throes, yet still be as in awe of the cosmos as the ancient astronomers."

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., manages the Spitzer Space Telescope mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. Science operations are conducted at the Spitzer Science Center at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. Caltech manages JPL for NASA. For more information about Spitzer, visit and .

JPL manages, and operated, WISE for NASA's Science Mission Directorate. The spacecraft was put into hibernation mode after it scanned the entire sky twice, completing its main objectives. Edward Wright is the principal investigator and is at UCLA. The mission was selected competitively under NASA's Explorers Program managed by the agency's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. The science instrument was built by the Space Dynamics Laboratory in Logan. The spacecraft was built by Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. in Boulder, Colo. Science operations and data processing take place at the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center at Caltech. Caltech manages JPL for NASA. More information is online at and and

Images (mentioned), Text, Credit: NASA / JPL / Whitney Clavin / Trent J. Perrotto.


Planets Under a Red Sun

NASA - Galaxy Evolution Explorer (GALEX) patch.

Oct. 24, 2011

This artist's concept illustrates a young, red dwarf star surrounded by three planets. Such stars are dimmer and smaller than yellow stars like our sun, which makes them ideal targets for astronomers wishing to take images of planets outside our solar system, called exoplanets. NASA's Galaxy Evolution Explorer is helping to identify young, red dwarf stars that are close to us by detecting their ultraviolet light (stars give off a lot of ultraviolet light in their youth).

Galaxy Evolution Explorer (GALEX)

For more information about GALEX, visit:

Image, Text, Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech.