samedi 21 avril 2012

A New View of the Tarantula Nebula

NASA - Chandra X-ray Observatory logo.


To celebrate its 22nd anniversary in orbit, the Hubble Space Telescope has released a dramatic new image of the star-forming region 30 Doradus, also known as the Tarantula Nebula because its glowing filaments resemble spider legs. A new image from all three of NASA's Great Observatories - Chandra, Hubble, and Spitzer - has also been created to mark the event.

30 Doradus is located in the neighboring galaxy called the Large Magellanic Cloud, and is one of the largest star-forming regions located close to the Milky Way . At the center of 30 Doradus, thousands of massive stars are blowing off material and producing intense radiation along with powerful winds. The Chandra X-ray Observatory detects gas that has been heated to millions of degrees by these stellar winds and also by supernova explosions. These X-rays, colored blue in this composite image, come from shock fronts -- similar to sonic booms -- formed by this high-energy stellar activity.

The Hubble data in the composite image, colored green, reveals the light from these massive stars along with different stages of star birth including embryonic stars a few thousand years old still wrapped in cocoons of dark gas. Infrared emission from Spitzer, seen in red, shows cooler gas and dust that have giant bubbles carved into them. These bubbles are sculpted by the same searing radiation and strong winds that comes from the massive stars at the center of 30 Doradus.

Read more/access all images:

Image, Text, Credits: X-ray: NASA / CXC / PSU / L.Townsley et al.; Optical: NASA / STScI; Infrared: NASA / JPL / PSU / L.Townsley et al.

Best regards,

vendredi 20 avril 2012

Investigation on Envisat continues

ESA - ENVISAT Mission logo.

20 April 2012

Optical, radar and laser observations of the Envisat satellite show that it is still in a stable orbit. Efforts to regain contact with the satellite have been under way since 8 April, when it unexpectedly stopped sending data to Earth.

To determine if Envisat has entered its ‘safe mode’ – which would be a starting point for revival – the recovery team is drawing on every information source available.

Valuable help is coming from many European and international partners. France’s new Pleiades satellite normally provides very high-resolution images of Earth, but is now focusing on Envisat to shed more light on the situation.

Pleiades image of Envisat

On 15 April, the French space agency CNES turned Pleiades to capture images of Envisat passing within about 100 km. This remarkable feat was possible thanks to the exceptional agility of Pleiades.

Flight specialists and engineers are using the images to determine the orientation of Envisat’s solar panel – the satellite’s power source.

If the panel is in a suitable position for sufficient exposure to the Sun, enough power is being generated to put Envisat into safe mode, and could allow for re-establishing communications with Earth.

“We are really grateful to CNES for offering to acquire images of Envisat using their Pleiades and Spot satellites,” said Volker Liebig, ESA’s Director of Earth Observation Programmes. 

“Additional observations being acquired across the globe show how the international space community has come together to track this veteran satellite.”

The Fraunhofer Institute for High Frequency Physics and Radar Techniques in Wachtberg, Germany, is also providing images to help determine Envisat’s orientation.

Radar image of Envisat

Images from the TIRA ground-based tracking and imaging radar show the satellite’s body, solar panel and radar antenna.

“These unique images will enable us to analyse Envisat’s orientation, which will indicate whether we are able to regain contact with the satellite,” said Manfred Warhaut, Head of ESA’s Mission Operations Department.

Information on Envisat’s orbit is being provided by the US Joint Space Operations Center. In addition, multiple laser ranging stations on the ground are providing information to verify the stability of the satellite’s orbit.

The sudden interruption of Envisat services has disrupted data provision to the international Earth observation user community, which relies on data continuity.

The launch of the upcoming Sentinel series being developed for Europe’s Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES) programme has become even more urgent.

The Sentinels will provide the data needed for information services to improve the management of the environment, understand and mitigate the effects of climate change and ensure civil security.

Related links:



Pleiades images:

Fraunhofer FHR:


Related missions:



Operations & Situational Awareness:

Images, Text, Credits: ESA / CNES / Fraunhofer FHR.


Successful launch for Soyuz-U with THC Progress M-15M



 Successful launch for Soyuz-U with THC Progress M-15M

In accordance with the flight program of the International Space Station April 20 at 16.50 Moscow time from Launch Complex 31 area Baikonur launched cargo spacecraft Progress M-15M.

Soyuz-U with THC Progress M-15M launch

After regular office the third stage of the launch vehicle, THC, "Progress M-15M" launched into orbit Sputnik and adopted by the management of the Mission Control Center near Moscow (Korolev).

Docking THC Progress M-15M to the International Space Station is scheduled for 18.40 GMT April 22.

Russian truck will deliver to the ISS fuel, oxygen, equipment for scientific experiments, medical care facilities, as well as containers with food and water, expendables, etc.

Progress-M cargo spacecraft cutaway

The ISS crew continues to work 30/31-y long expedition in the Commander Daniel Burbank (NASA), flight engineers Anton Shkaplerova (Roscosmos), Anatoly Ivanishin (Roscosmos), Oleg Kononenko (Roscosmos), Andre Cowper (ESA) and Donald Pettit (NASA .)

Original text in Russian:

Images, Video, Text, Credits: Press Service of the Russian Space Agency (Roscosmos PAO) / Roscosmos TV / Translation:


LHC reaches 1380 proton bunches per beam

CERN - European Organization for Nuclear Research logo.

20 April 2012

Image above: Physicist Despina Hatzifotiadou inspects the wiring on the ALICE detector at the Large Hadron Collider (Image: CERN).

In just two weeks of operation in "stable beams" mode, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) has aready reached 1380 proton bunches per beam, the maximum value set for this year. The number of bunches was increased in steps from 624 to then 840 bunches last week, and now from 1092 to 1380.

The machine has also exceeded the maximum peak luminosity – a measure of the instantaneous collision rate – achieved in 2011. The LHC has now reached 3.9 × 1033 collisions per square centimetre per second, while the top value for last year was 3.6 × 1033 cm-2 s-1. Stable beams mode enables the experiments to collect data for physics analysis.

So far this year the total amount of data delivered to the experiments – the integrated luminosity – is now about 0.6 inverse femtobarn, a measure of accelerator performance equivalent to about 60 trillion collisions. Last year, it took about 12 weeks of operation to reach that number.

LHC tunnel (Credit: CERN)

This year, the higher collision energy of 4 TeV per beam (compared to 3.5 TeV per beam in 2011) and the resulting higher number of collisions expected both enhance the machine's discovery potential considerably, opening up new possibilities for searches for new and heavier particles. So keep an eye on us!


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

Follow CERN at:

Images, Text, Credit: CERN.


jeudi 19 avril 2012

Far-off cousin of part-time African lake found on Titan

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

19 April 2012

A region on Saturn’s moon Titan has been found to be similar to the Etosha Pan in Namibia, Africa. Both are ephemeral lakes – large, shallow depressions that sometimes fill with liquid.

Ontario Lacus is the largest lake in the southern hemisphere of Saturn’s moon, Titan. It is a little smaller than its namesake, Lake Ontario in North America, but otherwise differs from it in some major ways.

Ephemeral lakes on Titan and Earth

Ontario Lacus is the largest lake in the southern hemisphere of Saturn’s moon, Titan. It is a little smaller than its namesake, Lake Ontario in North America, but otherwise differs from it in some major ways.

It is filled with liquid hydrocarbons, not water, and it is only a few metres deep at most, located in an extremely shallow depression in a flat sedimentary basin, surrounded by small mountain ranges.

In addition, a new study shows that these landforms and the climatic conditions in the region are similar to those of semi-arid regions on Earth, such as the salt pans of southern Africa.

The observations were made by the Cassini orbiter, part of the NASA, ESA and Italian Space Agency Cassini–Huygens mission to Saturn’s system.

While Ontario Lacus was previously thought to be permanently filled with liquid methane, ethane and propane, these latest observations, published in the journal Icarus, suggest otherwise.

By combining data from Cassini’s imaging, spectroscopic and radar instruments – each of which observed Ontario Lacus twice – scientists led by Thomas Cornet of the Université de Nantes, France, found evidence for channels etched into the lake bed within the southern boundary of the depression. These channels remained visible between December 2007 and January 2010, each time the spatial resolution was able to resolve them.

“We conclude that the solid floor of Ontario Lacus is most probably exposed in those areas,” says Cornet.

In addition, Cassini shows sediments around Ontario Lacus that also indicate the liquid level has been higher in the past.

Titan in natural color by Cassini

This is similar to ephemeral lakes on Earth. The researchers suggest its nearest cousin is the Etosha Pan in Namibia. This salt lake bed fills with a shallow layer water, provided by the rise of the underground aquifer during the rainy season, before evaporating to leave sediments like tide marks showing the previous extent of the water.

Cornet and colleagues thus believe that Ontario Lacus is also the result of subsurface hydrocarbon fluids occasionally welling up and flooding the depression, before then partially drying out again.

Beyond Earth, Titan is the only other world known to bear stable liquids on its surface. Where Earth has a water cycle, Titan has a full hydrocarbon cycle, based on hydrogen, carbon and nitrogen, taking place between the atmosphere, the surface and the subsurface. Titan’s lakes are an integral part of this process.

“These results emphasise the importance of comparative planetology in modern planetary sciences: finding familiar geological features on alien worlds like Titan allows us to test the theories explaining their formation,” says Nicolas Altobelli, ESA’s Cassini–Huygens project scientist. 

Notes for Editors:

The Cassini–Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and ASI, the Italian space agency. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington, DC. The Cassini orbiter was designed, developed and assembled at JPL. The radar instrument was built by JPL and the Italian Space Agency, working with team members from the US and several European countries. JPL is a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.

‘Geomorphological Significance of Ontario Lacus on Titan: Integrated interpretation of Cassini VIMS, ISS and RADAR data and comparison with the Etosha Pan (Namibia),’ by T. Cornet, O. Bourgeois, S. Le Mouélic, S. Rodriguez, C. Sotin, T. Lopez Gonzalez, G. Tobie, C. Fleurant, J.W. Barnes, R.H. Brown, K.H. Baines, B.J. Buratti, R.N. Clark and P.D. Nicholson, Icarus 218(2), 788–806, April 2012, doi:10.1016/j.icarus.2012.01.013.

Related link:

At Saturn and Titan:

Images, Text, Credits: ESA / Cassini radar image JP L / NASA / Envisat radar image ESA /  Composite image: LPGNantes.


Russian cargo spacecraft "Progress M-14M" undocked from the ISS

ROSCOSMOS - Russian Vehicles patch.


In accordance with the schedule of the flight the International Space Station today at 15:04 GMT Department made ​​cargo vehicle (THC), "Progress M-14M" from the docking module "Pirs".

After separation from the ISS during free flight in orbit working on a ship scheduled for six series of experiment, "Radar-Progress", which consists in the study of ground-based observations of the reflective characteristics of plasma irregularities in the ionosphere generated by the onboard engine THC "Progress".

Progress-M undocking from ISS

The purpose of the experiment is to determine the spatial and temporal dependence of the density, temperature, ionic composition of local inhomogeneities of the ionosphere, occurring as a result of on-board liquid-propellant rocket engines.

In the experiment, "Radar-Progress" is involved full-time equipment: propulsion THC "Progress" and VHF radio (Torah), as well as a set of ground-based radio observations.

Original text in Russian:

Image, Text, Credits: Press Service of the Russian Space Agency (Roscosmos PAO) / NASA / Translation:


Bepi Colombo mission to Mercury

ESA - BepiColombo Mission patch.

19 April 2012

Mercury, the closest planet to the Sun, remains somewhat of a mystery to us.

In the past, because of its proximity to the Sun, it has been difficult for Earth-based telescopes to observe Mercury against the ferocious solar light. In 2015, to increase our understanding of this mysterious planet, Europe is launching BepiColombo, the first dedicated mission to Mercury. It will reach its destination in 2022.

BepiColombo's Mercury Planetary Orbiter

Its observations of Mercury should also offer new insights into the workings of extra-solar planets in other solar systems. These planets, which like Mercury are formed in very close proximity to their parent star the sun, are a hot topic in planetary science and astronomy at the moment.

Bepi Colombo mission to Mercury

 The BepiColombo mission will place two orbiters around Mercury: the European-made Mercury Planetary Orbiter (MPO), seen here, that will map the planet, and Japanese-made Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter (MMO), that will investigate its magnetosphere.

MPO will orbit tightly around Mercury, coming as close as 400 x 1500 km from the planet's heat-radiating surface. In certain orbital positions, when the orbiter comes between the Sun on one side and Mercury on the other, it will have to endure temperatures as high as 450°C. As one of the scientific objectives, BepiColombo will make a complete map of Mercury at different wavelengths. The mission will map the planet's mineralogy and elemental composition and determine whether or not its interior is molten.

BepiColombo will provide information on the composition and history of Mercury, and the history and formation of the inner planets in general, including Earth.
Related links:

ESA BepiColombo team site:

BepiColombo in-depth:

Image, Video, Text, Credits: ESA / P. Carril.

Best regards,

Serious Blow to Dark Matter Theories?

ESO - European Southern Observatory logo.

19 April 2012

New study finds mysterious lack of dark matter in Sun’s neighbourhood

Artist’s impression of the expected dark matter distribution around the Milky Way

The most accurate study so far of the motions of stars in the Milky Way has found no evidence for dark matter in a large volume around the Sun. According to widely accepted theories, the solar neighbourhood was expected to be filled with dark matter, a mysterious invisible substance that can only be detected indirectly by the gravitational force it exerts. But a new study by a team of astronomers in Chile has found that these theories just do not fit the observational facts. This may mean that attempts to directly detect dark matter particles on Earth are unlikely to be successful.

A team using the MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope at ESO’s La Silla Observatory, along with other telescopes, has mapped the motions of more than 400 stars up to 13 000 light-years from the Sun. From this new data they have calculated the mass of material in the vicinity of the Sun, in a volume four times larger than ever considered before.

“The amount of mass that we derive matches very well with what we see — stars, dust and gas — in the region around the Sun,” says team leader Christian Moni Bidin (Departamento de Astronomía, Universidad de Concepción, Chile). “But this leaves no room for the extra material — dark matter — that we were expecting. Our calculations show that it should have shown up very clearly in our measurements. But it was just not there!”

Artist’s impression of the expected dark matter distribution around the Milky Way (annotated)

Dark matter is a mysterious substance that cannot be seen, but shows itself by its gravitational attraction for the material around it. This extra ingredient in the cosmos was originally suggested to explain why the outer parts of galaxies, including our own Milky Way, rotated so quickly, but dark matter now also forms an essential component of theories of how galaxies formed and evolved.

Today it is widely accepted that this dark component constitutes about the 80% of the mass in the Universe [1], despite the fact that it has resisted all attempts to clarify its nature, which remains obscure. All attempts so far to detect dark matter in laboratories on Earth have failed.

By very carefully measuring the motions of many stars, particularly those away from the plane of the Milky Way, the team could work backwards to deduce how much matter is present [2]. The motions are a result of the mutual gravitational attraction of all the material, whether normal matter such as stars, or dark matter.

Astronomers’ existing models of how galaxies form and rotate suggest that the Milky Way is surrounded by a halo of dark matter. They are not able to precisely predict what shape this halo takes, but they do expect to find significant amounts in the region around the Sun. But only very unlikely shapes for the dark matter halo — such as a highly elongated form — can explain the lack of dark matter uncovered in the new study [3].

Artist’s impression of the expected dark matter distribution around the Milky Way

The new results also mean that attempts to detect dark matter on Earth by trying to spot the rare interactions between dark matter particles and “normal” matter are unlikely to be successful.

“Despite the new results, the Milky Way certainly rotates much faster than the visible matter alone can account for. So, if dark matter is not present where we expected it, a new solution for the missing mass problem must be found. Our results contradict the currently accepted models. The mystery of dark matter has just become even more mysterious. Future surveys, such as the ESA Gaia mission, will be crucial to move beyond this point.” concludes Christian Moni Bidin.


[1] According to current theories dark matter is estimated to constitute 83% of the matter in the Universe with the remaining 17% in the form of normal matter. A much larger amount of dark energy also seems present in the Universe, but is not expected to affect the motions of the stars within the Milky Way.

[2] The observations were made using the FEROS spectrograph on the MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope, the Coralie instrument on the Swiss 1.2-metre Leonhard Euler Telescope, the MIKE instrument on the Magellan II Telescope and the Echelle Spectrograph on the Irene du Pont Telescope. The first two telescopes are located at ESO’s La Silla Observatory and the latter two telescopes are located at the Las Campanas Observatory, both in Chile. A total of more than 400 red giant stars at widely differing heights above the plane of the galaxy in the direction towards the south galactic pole were included in this work.

[3] Theories predict that the average amount of dark matter in the Sun’s part of the galaxy should be in the range 0.4-1.0 kilograms of dark matter in a volume the size of the Earth. The new measurements find 0.00±0.07 kilograms of dark matter in a volume the size of the Earth.

More information:

This research was presented in a paper, “Kinematical and chemical vertical structure of the Galactic thick disk II. A lack of dark matter in the solar neighborhood”, by Moni-Bidin et al. to appear in The Astrophysical Journal.

The team is composed of C. Moni Bidin (Departamento de Astronomía, Universidad de Concepción, Chile), G. Carraro (European Southern Observatory, Santiago, Chile), R. A. Méndez (Departamento de Astronomía, Universidad de Chile, Santiago, Chile) and R. Smith (Departamento de Astronomía, Universidad de Concepción, Chile).

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”.


    Research paper: ApJ preprint:
    Photos of the MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope:
    Photos of the Swiss 1.2-metre Leonhard Euler Telescope:

Images, Video, Text, Credit: Credit: ESO / L. Calçada.


mercredi 18 avril 2012

Rings, Titan and Enceladus

ESA / NASA - Cassini "Insider's" logo.

18 April 2012

 Saturn’s rings, Titan and Enceladus

Saturn’s icy moon Enceladus hangs below the gas giant’s rings while Titan lurks in the background, in this new image taken by the Cassini spacecraft.

Faint detail of the tiger stripe markings can be seen on Enceladus’ surface, which is framed against Titan, Saturn’s largest moon. With jets of water ice and vapour streaming from Enceladus’ south pole, and liquid hydrocarbon lakes pooling beneath Titan’s thick atmosphere, these are two of Saturn’s most enigmatic moons.

The northern, sun-lit side of Saturn’s rings are seen from just above the ring plane in this image, which was taken in visible green light by Cassini’s narrow-angle camera on 12 March while it was approximately one million kilometres from Enceladus. The image scale is six kilometres per pixel on Enceladus. 

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. The Cassini orbiter and its two onboard cameras were designed, developed and assembled at JPL. The imaging operations team is based at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colo. JPL is a division of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena.

Related links:

At Saturn and Titan:

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


Life after Mars

ESA - Mars500 Mission patch.

18 April 2012

Seventeen months of isolation on a simulated trip to Mars came to an end five months ago. Their mission was over and they breathed fresh air again. What have ESA ‘marsonauts’ Diego Urbina and Romain Charles been doing since they left their ‘spacecraft’?

Mars500’s aim was to prepare for human exploration missions to Mars. Confined in their habitat for 520 days, the six crewmembers studied human behaviour during the lengthy isolation. The experiments focused on their bodies, mental states and performance.

Mars500 crewmembers testing the Russian Orlan suits

Their isolation ended on 4 November 2011 but Mars500 is not over for Diego and Romain. Most of the experiments they did while ‘travelling’ to Mars are being repeated to compare the results. 

The marsonauts stayed in Moscow for a month after stepping out of their spacecraft, monitored and subjected to further biomedical tests.

Three months after the end of their mission, they went through the same tests in Germany and will return for a final round in May.

Saliva samples

One experiment requires monitoring their temperature for 36 hours via a sensor stuck on the forehead.

While in isolation with just five colleagues, embarrassing experiments were not a problem. Out in the real world, the device produced strange looks: “You get used to sleeping with the sensor but not to the people staring at you in the Moscow metro,” remembers Romain.

Romain and Diego are writing a detailed report of their time in isolation. Reporting on 520 days of experience and offering recommendations for future exploration missions is time-consuming, but of utmost importance for the project.

Marsonaut Alexej Sitew with temperature sensor

Scientists preparing similar missions are eager to learn more about the marsonauts’ experiences.

Other people are also keen to hear from Romain and Diego. In between the experiments and writing up their experiences, the pair are travelling Europe to give presentations at conferences and universities, and for media and public events.

Diego filling in questionnaires

In parallel, both are looking forward to using their hard-won expertise on new projects in Europe’s space industry.

Soon, the marsonauts will finally be able to experience real microgravity, even if only for 20 seconds at a time. With their Russian and Chinese crewmates, they will take part in ESA’s parabolic aircraft flights in May and undergo the same Mars500 tests.

Romain at the medical checkup

As Diego puts it: “Our bodies are among the most researched in the world. It is very interesting for scientists to examine how our bodies will react to microgravity.”

After years of constant monitoring, prodding and taking blood, the challenging mission is almost over for Diego and Romain. Their contract with ESA ends in May and the Mars500 project is over for them.

Related links:

Mars500 quick facts:

Mars500 crew:

End of the Mars500 520-day isolation:


Institute of Biomedical Problems (IBMP):

Mars500 (IMBP):

Images, Text, Credits: ESA / IBMP/ Oleg Voloshin / ROSCOSMOS.


mardi 17 avril 2012

Hubble's panoramic view of a turbulent star-making region

ESA - Hubble Space Telescope logo.

17 Apr 2012

Several million stars are vying for attention in this NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image of a raucous stellar breeding ground in 30 Doradus, located in the heart of the Tarantula nebula.

Hubble's panoramic view of a star-forming region

30 Doradus is the brightest star-forming region in our galactic neighbourhood and home to the most massive stars ever seen. The nebula resides 170 000 light-years away in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a small, satellite galaxy of our Milky Way. No known star-forming region in our galaxy is as large or as prolific as 30 Doradus.

The image comprises one of the largest mosaics ever assembled from Hubble photos and consists of observations taken by Hubble's Wide Field Camera 3 and Advanced Camera for Surveys, combined with observations from the European Southern Observatory's MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope that trace the location of glowing hydrogen and oxygen.

The image is being released to celebrate Hubble's 22nd anniversary.

The stars in this image add up to a total mass millions of times bigger than that of our Sun. The image is roughly 650 light-years across and contains some rambunctious stars, from one of the fastest rotating stars to the speediest and most massive runaway star.

Close-up images of features in the Tarantula Nebula

The nebula is close enough to Earth that Hubble can resolve individual stars, giving astronomers important information about the stars' birth and evolution. Many small galaxies have more spectacular starbursts, but the Large Magellanic Cloud's 30 Doradus is one of the only star-forming regions that astronomers can study in detail. The star-birthing frenzy in 30 Doradus may be partly fueled by its close proximity to its companion galaxy, the Small Magellanic Cloud.

The image reveals the stages of star birth, from embryonic stars a few thousand years old still wrapped in dark cocoons of dust and gas to behemoths that die young in supernova explosions. 30 Doradus is a star-forming factory, churning out stars at a furious pace over millions of years. The Hubble image shows star clusters of various ages, from about 2 million to about 25 million years old.

Labelled view of the Tarantula Nebula

The region's sparkling centerpiece is a giant, young star cluster named NGC 2070, only 2 million to 3 million years old. Its stellar inhabitants number roughly 500 000. The cluster is a hotbed for young, massive stars. Its dense core, known as RMC 136, is packed with some of the heftiest stars found in the nearby Universe, weighing more than 100 times the mass of our Sun.

The massive stars are carving deep cavities in the surrounding material by unleashing a torrent of ultraviolet light, which is etching away the enveloping hydrogen gas cloud in which the stars were born. The image reveals a fantasy landscape of pillars, ridges, and valleys. Besides sculpting the gaseous terrain, the brilliant stars also may be triggering a successive generation of offspring.

When the radiation hits dense walls of gas, it creates shocks, which may be generating a new wave of star birth.

The colours come from the glowing hot gas that dominates regions of the image. Red signifies hydrogen gas and blue, oxygen.

The image was made from 30 separate fields, 15 from each camera. Hubble made the observations in October 2011. Both cameras were making observations at the same time.

Hubblecast 54: 22 years in images

To celebrate the 22nd anniversary of the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope this month, episode 54 of the Hubblecast gives a slideshow of some of the best images from over two decades in orbit, set to specially commissioned music.


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

ESA Hubble website:

Images, Text, Credits: NASA, ESA, D. Lennon and E. Sabbi (ESA/STScI), J. Anderson, S. E. de Mink, R. van der Marel, T. Sohn, and N. Walborn (STScI), N. Bastian (Excellence Cluster, Munich), L. Bedin (INAF, Padua), E. Bressert (ESO), P. Crowther (Sheffield), A. de Koter (Amsterdam), C. Evans (UKATC/STFC, Edinburgh), A. Herrero (IAC, Tenerife), N. Langer (AifA, Bonn), I. Platais (JHU) and H. Sana (Amsterdam)/ Video: ESA/Hubble Visual design and editing: Martin Kornmesser/Written by: Oli Usher/Images: NASA, ESA/Music: Toomas Erm/Directed by: Oli Usher
Web and technical support: Raquel Yumi Shida/Executive producer: Lars Lindberg Christensen.

Best regards,

ESA concludes student ESMO Moon orbiter project

ESA - ESTEC logo / JTAG Technologies - ESMO logo.

17 April 2012

The European Student Moon Orbiter project passed its Preliminary Design Review in March. However, although the review board was confident that the mission’s objectives could be met, ESA’s Education Office has announced that the project will not continue to the next phase.

Following a full evaluation of the costs of completing the programme, Agency education officials decided that ESMO was not sustainable within current budget constraints.

ESMO internal view

A final presentation of the ESA-approved preliminary design took place at ESA’s ESTEC European Space Research and Technology Centre in Noordwijk, the Netherlands, on 16 April.

The European Student Moon Orbiter (ESMO) was started as an inspirational educational project that would attract science and engineering students with a long-term objective of ensuring a bright future for Europe’s space industry.

It also offered a unique opportunity for students to contribute to the scientific knowledge and future exploration of the Moon by returning new data and testing new technologies.

These objectives were spectacularly successful, with more than 300 students from over 20 different universities from across Europe contributing to the project to date.

The students performed their work on ESMO as part of their academic studies, under the supervision of their university staff, with Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd (SSTL), the ESMO industrial prime contractor, in charge of project management and technical development.

The educational objectives of the project have been achieved by providing students with technical guidance and mentoring from senior SSTL and ESA experts, through project workshops, intensive internships and concurrent engineering sessions. 

ESMO spacecraft

The Preliminary Design Review (PDR) was conducted by a panel of ESA technical experts from the Directorates of Technical and Quality Management, and Human Spaceflight and Operations.

They concluded that the information presented was sufficient to demonstrate that the mission objectives could be met: using an onboard propulsion system to reach lunar orbit after a low-cost piggyback launch into Earth orbit, followed by imaging of the lunar surface and other experiments.

After the PDR, the Education Office conducted a thorough evaluation of the total cost-to-completion of the project, based on the approved preliminary design.

“Unfortunately, the total cost has increased during the evolution of the project to a level which substantially exceeds the current and projected budget constraints of the Education Office,” said Hugo Marée, Head of ESA’s Education and Knowledge Management Office.

However, the PDR confirmed that the approved preliminary design of ESMO is a valid, low-cost option for reaching lunar orbit or interplanetary space with a small payload. This capability could be exploited by ESA in the development of future missions beyond low-Earth orbit.

The exploitation of an ESMO-derived small lunar and interplanetary mission capability is now being assessed by ESA’s Technical Directorate, and was discussed at the PDR final presentation on 16 April.

Potential applications include advanced technology demonstration beyond Earth orbit for future exploration, and small science missions.

Related links:


ESMO fact sheet:

ESA Education Projects Division:

Register for ESA Education projects:

JTAG Technologies - ESMO:

Images, Text, Credits: ESA / Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd.


lundi 16 avril 2012

Cassini Successfully Flies over Enceladus

NASA / ESA - Cassini "Mission to Saturn" patch.


This image was taken by NASA's Cassini spacecraft on April 14, 2012. The camera was pointing toward Enceladus at approximately 75,067 miles (120,808 kilometers) away. Image Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute.

These raw, unprocessed images of Saturn's moons Enceladus and Tethys were taken on April 14, 2012, by NASA's Cassini spacecraft.

Cassini flew by Enceladus at an altitude of about 46 miles (74 kilometers). This flyby was designed primarily for the ion and neutral mass spectrometer to analyze, or "taste," the composition of the moon's south polar plume as the spacecraft flew through it. Cassini's path took it along the length of Baghdad Sulcus, one of Enceladus' "tiger stripe" fractures from which jets of water ice, water vapor and organic compounds spray into space. At this time, Baghdad Sulcus is in darkness, but that was not an obstacle for another instrument, the composite infrared spectrometer, which can see features by their surface temperatures and which also took measurements during this flyby.

This image was taken by NASA's Cassini spacecraft on April 14, 2012. The camera was pointing toward Enceladus at approximately 115 miles (185 kilometers) away. Image Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute.

As soon as daylight passed into the spacecraft's remote sensing instruments' line of sight, Cassini's cameras acquired images of the surface. The wide-angle-camera image included in the new batch, taken from around the time of closest approach, has some smearing from the movement of the spacecraft during the exposure, but still shows the surface in vivid detail.

Cassini's cameras also imaged Enceladus' south polar plume at a high phase angle as the satellite appeared as a thin crescent and the plume was backlit.

This image was taken by NASA's Cassini spacecraft on April 15, 2012. The camera was pointing toward Tethys at approximately 115,714 miles (186,224 kilometers) away. Image Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute.

After the Enceladus encounter, Cassini passed the moon Tethys with a closest approach distance of about 5,700 miles (9,100 kilometers). This was Cassini's best imaging encounter with Tethys since a targeted encounter in September 2005. The 2005 encounter, with a closest approach distance of about 930 miles (1,500 kilometers), provided the images of Tethys with the best resolution and captured views of the side of Tethys that faces Saturn in its orbit. This new encounter examined the opposite side of Tethys, providing some of the highest-resolution images of the side that faces away from Saturn. Cassini acquired a 22-frame mosaic of this side, which features the large impact basin named Odysseus. Scientists will use these new data in conjunction with images from previous encounters to create digital elevation maps of the moon's surface.

This image was taken by NASA's Cassini spacecraft on April 14, 2012. The camera was pointing toward TETHYS at approximately 10,875 miles (17,502 kilometers) away. Image Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute.

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. The Cassini orbiter and its two onboard cameras were designed, developed and assembled at JPL. The imaging operations team is based at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colo. JPL is a division of Caltech.

Cassini spacecraft. Credit: NASA/JPL

For more information about the Cassini-Huygens mission, visit and and

Images (mentioned), Text, Credit: NASA / JPL / Jia-Rui C. Cook.