vendredi 20 janvier 2012

Closest Dione Flyby

NASA / ESA - Cassini-Huygens Mission to Saturn & Titan patch.

Jan. 20, 2012

Flying past Saturn's moon Dione, Cassini captured this view which includes two smaller moons, Epimetheus and Prometheus, near the planet's rings.

The image was taken in visible light with Cassini's narrow-angle camera during the spacecraft's flyby of Dione on Dec. 12, 2011. This encounter was the spacecraft's closest pass of the moon's surface, but, because this flyby was intended primarily for other Cassini instruments, it did not yield Cassini's best images of the moon. Higher resolution images were obtained during earlier flybys (see PIA07638 on NASA website, link below).

Dione (698 miles, or 1,123 kilometers across) is closest to Cassini here and is on the left of the image. Potato-shaped Prometheus (53 miles, or 86 kilometers across) appears above the rings near the center top of the image. Epimetheus (70 miles, or 113 kilometers across) is on the right.

This view looks toward the northern, sunlit side of the rings from less than one degree above the ring plane. The view was acquired at a distance of approximately 67,000 miles (108,000 kilometers) from Dione. Image scale is 2,122 feet (647 meters) per pixel on Dione.

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena manages the mission for the agency's Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

For more information about Cassini Mission, visit:

Image, Text, Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / Space Science Institute.


Revisiting the 'Pillars of Creation'

ESA - Herschel Mission patch.

Jan. 20, 2012

The Herschel Space Observatory captured this image of the Eagle nebula, with its intensely cold gas and dust. The "Pillars of Creation," made famous by NASA'S Hubble Space Telescope in 1995, are seen inside the circle. Image credit: ESA / Herschel / PACS / SPIRE / Hill, Motte, HOBYS Key Programme Consortium.

In 1995, NASA's Hubble Space Telescope took an iconic image of the Eagle nebula, dubbed the "Pillars of Creation," highlighting its finger-like pillars where new stars are thought to be forming. Now, the Herschel Space Observatory has a new, expansive view of the region captured in longer-wavelength infrared light.

The Herschel mission is led by the European Space Agency, with important NASA contributions.

This view of the Eagle nebula combines data from almost opposite ends of the electromagnetic spectrum. Herschel captured longer-wavelength, or far, infrared light, and the space telescope XMM-Newton imaged X-rays. Image credit: ESA / Herschel / PACS / SPIRE / Hill, Motte, HOBYS Key Programme Consortium; X-ray: ESA / XMM-Newton / EPIC / XMM-Newton-SOC / Boulanger.

The Eagle nebula is 6,500 light-years away in the constellation of Serpens. It contains a young, hot star cluster, NGC6611, visible with modest backyard telescopes, which is sculpting and illuminating the surrounding gas and dust. The result is a huge, hollowed-out cavity and pillars, each several light-years long.

The new Herschel image shows the pillars and the wide field of gas and dust around them. Captured in far-infrared wavelengths, the image allows astronomers to see inside the pillars and structures in the region. Herschel's image also makes it possible to search for young stars over a much wider region, and come to a much fuller understanding of the creative and destructive forces inside the Eagle nebula.

The "Pillars of Creation" in the Eagle nebula, as seen by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope in 1995. Image credit: NASA / ESA / STScI / Arizona State University.

Read the European Space Agency story at .

Herschel is a European Space Agency cornerstone mission, with science instruments provided by consortia of European institutes and with important participation by NASA. NASA's Herschel Project Office is based at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. JPL contributed mission-enabling technology for two of Herschel's three science instruments. The NASA Herschel Science Center, part of the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, supports the United States astronomical community. Caltech manages JPL for NASA.

More information is online at , and .

Images (mentioned), Text, Credit: ESA / NASA / JPL / Whitney Clavin.


jeudi 19 janvier 2012

Voyager Instrument Cooling After Heater Turned off

NASA - VOYAGER Mission patch.

Jan. 19, 2012

Voyager mission status report

In order to reduce power consumption, mission managers have turned off a heater on part of NASA’s Voyager 1 spacecraft, dropping the temperature of its ultraviolet spectrometer instrument more than 23 degrees Celsius (41 degrees Fahrenheit). It is now operating at a temperature below minus 79 degrees Celsius (minus 110 degrees Fahrenheit), the coldest temperature that the instrument has ever endured. This heater shut-off is a step in the careful management of the diminishing electrical power so that the Voyager spacecraft can continue to collect and transmit data through 2025.

At the moment, the spectrometer continues to collect and return data. It was originally designed to operate at temperatures as low as minus 35 degrees Celsius (minus 31 degrees Fahrenheit), but it has continued to operate in ever chillier temperatures as heaters around it have been turned off over the last 17 years. It was not known if the spectrometer would continue working, but since 2005, it has been operating at minus 56 degrees Celsius (minus 69 degrees Fahrenheit.) So engineers are encouraged that the instrument has continued to operate, even after the nearby heater was turned off in December. (The spectrometer is likely operating at a temperature somewhat lower than minus 79 degrees Celsius, or minus 110 degrees Fahrenheit, but the temperature detector does not go any lower.)

Artist concept of NASA's Voyager spacecraft. Image credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech

Scientists and mission managers will continue to monitor the spectrometer’s performance. It was very active during Voyager 1’s encounters with Jupiter and Saturn, and since then an international team led by scientists in France has been analyzing the spectrometer’s data.

This latest heater shut-off was actually part of the nearby infrared spectrometer, which itself has not been operational on Voyager 1 since 1998.

The Voyager spacecraft were built by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., which continues to operate both. JPL is a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. The Voyager missions are a part of the NASA Heliophysics System Observatory, sponsored by the Heliophysics Division of the Science Mission Directorate in Washington. For more information about the Voyager spacecraft, visit: and .

Image, Text, Credit: NASA / JPL / Jia-Rui C. Cook.


The Helix in New Colours

ESO - European Southern Observatory logo.

19 January 2012

 VISTA’s look at the Helix Nebula

ESO’s VISTA telescope, at the Paranal Observatory in Chile, has captured a striking new image of the Helix Nebula. This picture, taken in infrared light, reveals strands of cold nebular gas that are invisible in images taken in visible light, as well as bringing to light a rich background of stars and galaxies.

The Helix Nebula is one of the closest and most remarkable examples of a planetary nebula [1]. It lies in the constellation of Aquarius (The Water Bearer), about 700 light-years away from Earth. This strange object formed when a star like the Sun was in the final stages of its life. Unable to hold onto its outer layers, the star slowly shed shells of gas that became the nebula. It is evolving to become a white dwarf star and appears as the tiny blue dot seen at the centre of the image.

The Helix Nebula in the constellation of Aquarius

The nebula itself is a complex object composed of dust, ionised material as well as molecular gas, arrayed in a beautiful and intricate flower-like pattern and glowing in the fierce glare of ultraviolet light from the central hot star.

The main ring of the Helix is about two light-years across, roughly half the distance between the Sun and the nearest star. However, material from the nebula spreads out from the star to at least four light-years. This is particularly clear in this infrared view since red molecular gas can be seen across much of the image.

Digitized Sky Survey Image of the Helix Nebula

While hard to see visually, the glow from the thinly spread gas is easily captured by VISTA’s special detectors, which are very sensitive to infrared light. The 4.1-metre telescope is also able to detect an impressive array of background stars and galaxies.

Zooming into the Helix Nebula

The powerful vision of ESO’s VISTA telescope also reveals fine structure in the nebula’s rings. The infrared light picks out how the cooler, molecular gas is organised. The material clumps into filaments that radiate out from the centre and the whole view resembles a celestial firework display.

Infrared/visible light comparison view of the Helix Nebula

Even though they look tiny, these strands of molecular hydrogen, known as cometary knots, are about the size of our Solar System. The molecules in them are able to survive the high-energy radiation that emanates from the dying star precisely because they clump into these knots, which in turn are shielded by dust and molecular gas. It is currently unclear how the cometary knots may have originated.

An infrared/visible light comparison of views of the Helix Nebula


Please note that this text was modified on 18 January 2012 to correct some minor errors.

[1] Planetary nebulae have nothing to do with planets. This confusing name arose because many of them show small bright discs when observed visually and resemble the outer planets in the Solar System, such as Uranus and Neptune. The Helix Nebula, which also bears the catalogue number NGC 7293, is unusual as it appears very large, but also very faint, when viewed through a small telescope.

More information:

The year 2012 marks the 50th anniversary of the founding of the European Southern Observatory (ESO). ESO 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 VISTA:

Images, Text, Credits: ESO / VISTA / J. Emerson. Acknowledgment: Cambridge Astronomical Survey Unit / IAU and Sky & Telescope / Digitized Sky Survey 2. Acknowledgment: Davide De Martin / VISTA / J. Emerson. Acknowledgment: Cambridge Astronomical Survey Unit / Videos: ESO / VISTA / J. Emerson/S. Brunier / A. Fujjii / Digitized Sky Survey 2 Acknowledgment: Cambridge Astronomical Survey Unit
Music: John Dyson (from the album Moonwind) / ESO / VISTA / J. Emerson. Acknowledgment: Cambridge Astronomical Survey Unit.

Best regards,

Vega rocket ready for first flight

ESA - VEGA Rocket logo.

19 January 2012

Final checkout of Europe’s new Vega launcher was completed last Friday, marking another milestone towards its maiden flight from Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana.

The first Vega launch campaign began in November with the installation of the P80 first stage on the launch pad. The two solid-propellant second and third stages were added to the vehicle, followed by the AVUM – Attitude & Vernier Upper Module – liquid-propellant fourth stage. 

Flight VV01

All four stages have undergone final acceptance, including the testing of the avionics, guidance, telemetry, propulsion, separation pyrotechnics and safety systems.

These steps culminated on 13 January with Vega’s ‘synthesis control checks’, where all systems were put into launch mode for the vehicle’s final acceptance. This included pressurising the AVUM propulsion systems that actuate the thruster valves.

AVUM pressurisation

The rocket’s elements were switched on from the control bench to simulate the launch countdown. The onboard software then took over and simulated the different stages of a flight. The interfaces between the vehicle and the control bench were also tested.

The test review confirmed that everything ran as expected and that the launcher is ready for flight.

What’s next?

The ‘upper composite’ – the fairing and payload – will be integrated, followed by final checkout of the fully assembled launcher and the countdown rehearsal.


The first launch, VV01, is targeted for 9 February. It will carry nine satellites into orbit: the Italian space agency’s LARES and ALMASat-1, together with seven CubeSats from European universities.

This mission aims to qualify the Vega launch system, including the vehicle, its launch infrastructure and operations, from the launch campaign to payload separation and disposal of the upper module.

A flexible system

Vega is designed to cope with a wide range of missions and payload configurations in order to respond to different market opportunities and provide great flexibility.

Vehicle VV01

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.

More information on Vega and updates are now available on the new launch website here.

Related links:

Vega VV01 launch website:








Images, Text, Credits: ESA / J. Huart.


mardi 17 janvier 2012

SOPA Blackout for WordPress

Jan. 18, 2012

On Wednesday Jan. 18th thousands of sites will go dark to protest SOPA & PIPA, two US bills racing through Congress that threaten prosperity, online security, and freedom of expression. SOPA Strike!

 Click on the banner

Jan. 18, 2012. I participate at SOPA Blackout for WordPress. So today will be no posts published in my blog.

Web on Strike!

lundi 16 janvier 2012

Planck's HFI completes its survey of early Universe

ESA - Planck Mission patch.

16 January 2012

The High Frequency Instrument on ESA's Planck mission has completed its survey of the remnant light from the Big Bang. The sensor ran out of coolant on Saturday as expected, ending its ability to detect this faint energy.

"Planck has been a wonderful mission; spacecraft and instruments have been performing outstandingly well, creating a treasure trove of scientific data for us to work with," said Jan Tauber, ESA's Planck Project Scientist.

Planck’s instruments

Less than half a million years after the Universe was created in the Big Bang 13.7 billion years ago, the fireball cooled to temperatures of about 4000ºC, filling the sky with bright, visible light.

As the Universe has expanded, that light has faded and moved to microwave wavelengths.

By studying patterns imprinted in that light today, scientists hope to understand the Big Bang and the very early Universe, long before galaxies and stars first formed.

Planck has been measuring these patterns by surveying the whole sky with its High Frequency Instrument (HFI) and its Low Frequency Instrument (LFI).

Combined, they give Planck unparalleled wavelength coverage and the ability to resolve faint details.

Launched in May 2009, the minimum requirement for success was for the spacecraft to complete two whole surveys of the sky.

In the end, Planck worked perfectly for 30 months, about twice the span originally required, and completed five full-sky surveys with both instruments.

"This gives us even better data than we were expecting from the mission," said Jean-Loup Puget, Université Paris Sud, Orsay, France, Principal Investigator of HFI.

Able to work at slightly higher temperatures than HFI, the LFI will continue surveying the sky for a large part of 2012, providing calibration data to improve the quality of the final results. 

Planck sees not only the primordial microwaves from the Big Bang but also the emission from cold dust throughout the Universe.

Initial results from Planck were announced last year. These include a catalogue of galaxy clusters in the distant Universe, many of which had not been seen before and included some gigantic 'superclusters' – probably merging clusters.

Artist's impression of the Planck spacecraft

Another highlight from the initial results was the best measurement yet of an infrared background covering the sky, produced by stars forming in the early Universe.

This showed how some of the first galaxies were producing a thousand times more stars every year than our own Galaxy does today.

More results from Planck will be announced next month, but the first results on the Big Bang and very early Universe will not come for another year.

Extremely careful and painstaking analysis of the data is needed to remove all of the contaminating foreground emission and tease out the faintest, most subtle signals in the remnant emission.

The results are widely anticipated because, despite two previous space missions to map this emission, there are still many competing ideas about what happened during the Big Bang.

"Planck's data will kill off whole families of models; we just don't know which ones yet," said Prof. Puget.

The Big Bang data will be released in two stages, the first 15.5 months' worth in early 2013, and then the full data release from the entire mission a year after that.

"We're very pleased with how Planck has performed, well beyond expectations," said Prof. Alvaro Giménez, ESA's Director of Science and Robotic Exploration.

"This is a great credit to the work done by the many scientists and engineers involved across Europe and elsewhere in the world.

"In reality though, we're only halfway through the mission: there's a lot still to be done to analyse the data and come up with the exciting scientific results that everyone's anxiously expecting."

Related links:

Planck on Chromoscope:

Planck in depth:

For specialists:

Planck Science Team:

Images, Text, Credits: ESA / AOES Medialab / C. Carreau.


Music in Space

ISS - International Space Station patch / ESA - PromISSe Mission patch.

16 January 2012

"I'll go where your music takes me..."

Music has accompanied humans into space since the earliest years of spaceflight. Music and space, it seems, have a deep association, with some pieces becoming permanently connected with space in popular culture.

Some music certainly remains in the collective consciousness: the Blue Danube waltz by Johann Strauss reminds us of the classic scene in the film ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ where a Shuttle docks with an orbiting space station. But the first notes to be heard in space were those of some Hawaiian music broadcast to the crew of Gemini 7 in December 1965.

André Kuipers in Cupola on ISS

In the late 1960s, the first compact cassette tapes were being taken on Apollo flights. These tapes were loaded with music, but were recorded over as the astronauts used them to store data and observations. Apollo 8 was the first mission to carry such tapes, with songs specially recorded by country and western star Buck Owens.

The first Moon landing crew of Apollo 11 famously carried Dvorak’s New World Symphony. By the time Apollo 15 went to the Moon in 1971, tastes had become more varied, with songs by The Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, The Moody Blues and, of course, Frank Sinatra’s ‘Fly me to the Moon’.

Space station from 2001: A Space Odyssey

Why do astronauts take music into space? NASA astronaut Steve Robinson said, “It’s one of the most personal things that you’re able to take up in space. Wherever your music is, that’s sort of a version of home.”

Indeed, music has an effect on memories and associations, and there are some notable studies on the positive effects of music on performance, learning and attention. Music can aid relaxation and help the body to release hormones, including oxitocyn which stimulates positive teamwork and empathy.

But music also comes in handy for cross-cultural cooperation in space. While preparing for a Shuttle mission to the Mir space station, Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield knew he would meet up with ESA astronaut Thomas Reiter, an accomplished classical guitarist.

ESA astronaut Thomas Reiter on Mir

Hadfield also knew that an old guitar left on Mir was broken, so he had a new electric guitar modified and made foldable to fit his luggage. United in space, Hadfield and Reiter were able to sing pop songs and Russian folk ballads.

Music has the power to inspire, and it can convey emotions often much better than written words. Hadfield said, “There are certain stanzas of music, certain harmonies, certain lyrics, which sometimes just send a warm rush up your backbone. And you get that almost continuously up there.”

Expedition 30's Dan Burbank with guitar

As the current ESA astronaut on the ISS, André Kuipers feels the same way. He is a big music lover, with wide tastes, from Armin van Buuren to Albinoni, and Vangelis to Vaughan-Williams. For off-duty moments during his busy five-month PromISSe mission, André wanted to get his playlist just right, and spent a lot of time collecting music with the help of his family and friends.

But unlike his mission in 2004, when André carried three Minidiscs with him, or earlier astronauts who took tapes into space, today’s musical choices are transmitted as digital files to the ISS, much like when we download tunes for our laptops or smartphones (for those who can play, there is also a keyboard installed on the ISS).

Music can be both very personal and yet connect many people so, just as André’s playlist is personal to him, it also has the potential for other people to take inspiration from those same songs. André has agreed to let us see his playlist, helping us to share his experience on the ISS and adding another dimension to our imagination.

Marillion's Steve Hogarth and Steve Rothery visit ESTEC

Adding to this celebration of music in space, several bands and artists sent greetings when they found out that André was a fan of their music, including the UK band rock band Marillion, Nick Mason of Pink Floyd, Dutch household names Fluitsma and Van Tijn and guitarist Harry Sacksioni.

Because of his great interest in music, André also appeared on the popular Dutch national Radio 2 Top 2000 music programme on Christmas Day, heard by a record 11.2 million listeners of all ages. The featured Top2000 songs are also included his playlist.

You can download the full list of André’s music at:

To see André’s tune of the day, check out his daily logbook at:

If you want to write or dedicate a song to André, or suggest more songs for his playlist, drop us a line at:

PromISSe mission: André's music

Best regards,

dimanche 15 janvier 2012

Fragments of Phobos-Grunt fall into the Pacific

ROSCOSMOS - Phobos-Grunt Mission poster.

Jan. 15, 2012

Russia believes that the fragments of his defective Mars probe Phobos-Grunt fell Sunday in the Pacific Ocean to 24:45 (EST), said an official of the Ministry of Defense.

"Our calculations (...), the fall of fragments of the device Phobos-Grunt must have taken place at 21:45 Moscow time (12:45 in Montreal) in the Pacific Ocean," said Colonel Valery Zolotukhin cited Interfax news agency. Quoted by the state agency Itar-Tass, he said that the fragments had fallen to 1250 km west of the island of Wellington.

Image above: The Fraunhofer Institute for High Frequency Physics and Radar Techniques FHR in Wachtberg, Germany has produced this image of Phobos-Grunt, created with the TIRA space observation radar. One can clearly see the extended solar panels (center) and the tank ring (bottom). Credit: Fraunhofer FHR.

The space forces of the Department of Defense controlled the final phase of the output of the orbit, he said. "This helped to predict with high probability the place and time of the fall of the device," said Colonel Zolotukhin.

The Russian space agency Roscosmos who struggled in recent days to say where the probe was about to fall could not be reached Sunday evening. The latest information available on its site and reports of the situation at 11:15 (EST) announced that the fall would occur between 12:50 ET 1:34 p.m. (EST) by designating the "midpoint" in the Atlantic Ocean.

A source in the space sector quoted by Ria Novosti agency, for its part said that the fragments fell into the Atlantic Ocean, near the Brazilian coast. Phobos-Grunt, launched on November 9, would move to a satellite of Mars, Phobos, and bring back samples, but failed to overcome the pull of Earth.

This Russian-language map depicts the latest re-entry prediction for Russia's failed Phobos-Grunt Mars Probe for Jan. 14, 2012. The map indicates that the 14-ton spacecraft could crash somewhere off the southwestern coast of South America on Jan. 15. Credit: Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos).

This unit at a cost of $ 165 million was to mark the return of Russia in interplanetary exploration, abandoned after the failure in November 1996 of the Mars 96, which had fallen into the Pacific Ocean.
Russia will struggle to establish the causes of this failure, said Sunday at the source in the Russian space agency quoted Interfax. "We have virtually no telemetry data from the device, the proxy data are not sufficient," said the official.

"I am sure that the conclusions of the inquiry will be based on assumptions and not on fact," he said.

Phobos-Grunt Mission description and re-entry animation

Phobos-Grunt, launched on November 9, would move to a satellite of Mars, Phobos, and bring back samples, but failed to overcome the pull of Earth. Since then, its orbit down slowly. This unit at a cost of $ 165 million was to mark the return of Russia in interplanetary exploration, abandoned after the failure in November 1996 of the Mars 96, which had fallen into the Pacific Ocean.

Russian space industry has had a bad year in 2011, the loss of Phobos-Grunt is one of five Russian launches have failed. The latest dates from December 23, when a communications satellite military and civilian fell in Siberia due to a failure of the Soyuz rocket carrying it. Worse, the failure of the August launch of a Soyuz supply ship to the International Space Station has paralyzed for about three months departures to the ISS.

 Phobos-Grunt component details

Returning to these setbacks January 10, the director of Roscosmos, Vladimir Popovkin spoke a foreign plot to explain the loss of some devices. ESA, among a host of other space agencies and organizations, has been closely monitoring the decay of the doomed Russian spacecraft.

Images, Text, Video, Credit: Roscosmos PAO / AFP / Fraunhofer FHR / AGI / Translation: