vendredi 8 juin 2012

Full moon pulls LHC from its protons

CERN - European Organization for Nuclear Research logo.

8 June 2012

Image above: Corrections to proton orbits in the LHC appear as regular dips in the instantaneous luminosity measured by CMS (beige) and ATLAS (green). Click for full size (Image: CERN).

The orbits of protons in the 27-kilometre Large Hadron Collider (LHC) have to be adjusted regularly to account for the gravitational effect of the moon.

In the graph above, the two lower curves (in beige and green) show the instantaneous luminosity measured last weekend – when the moon was full – by the two largest detectors at the LHC, CMS and ATLAS. Instantaneous luminosity is a measure of how many collisions happen per second in each experiment between the two beams of protons circulating in opposite directions in the LHC tunnel.

LHC tunnel

The LHC is so large that the gravitational force exerted by the moon is not the same at all points, which creates small distortions of the tunnel. And the machine is sensitive enough to detect minute deformations created by the small differences in gravitational force across its diameter.

As the moon rises in the sky, the force it exerts changes enough to require a periodic correction of the orbit of the proton beams in the accelerator to adapt to a deformed tunnel. The corrections appear as regular dips in luminosity (see graph above) as the LHC operator adjusts the orbits.


CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, is one of the world’s largest and most respected centres for scientific research. Its business is fundamental physics, finding out what the Universe is made of and how it works. At CERN, the world’s largest and most complex scientific instruments are used to study the basic constituents of matter — the fundamental particles. By studying what happens when these particles collide, physicists learn about the laws of Nature.

The instruments used at CERN are particle accelerators and detectors. Accelerators boost beams of particles to high energies before they are made to collide with each other or with stationary targets. Detectors observe and record the results of these collisions.

Founded in 1954, the CERN Laboratory sits astride the Franco–Swiss border near Geneva. It was one of Europe’s first joint ventures and now has 20 Member States.

Find out more:

    Quatum Diaries: Is the moon full? Just ask the LHC operators:

Images, Text, Credit: CERN.


jeudi 7 juin 2012

NASA's Spitzer Finds First Objects Burned Furiously

NASA - Spitzer Space Telescope patch.


Image above: These two panels show the same slice of sky in the constellation Boötes, dubbed the "Extended Groth Strip." The area covered is about 1 by 0.12 degrees. Image credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / GSFC. (Click on the image for enlarge).

The faint, lumpy glow given off by the very first objects in the universe may have been detected with the best precision yet, using NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope. These faint objects might be wildly massive stars or voracious black holes. They are too far away to be seen individually, but Spitzer has captured new, convincing evidence of what appears to be the collective pattern of their infrared light.

The observations help confirm the first objects were numerous in quantity and furiously burned cosmic fuel.

"These objects would have been tremendously bright," said Alexander "Sasha" Kashlinsky of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., lead author of a new paper appearing in The Astrophysical Journal. "We can't yet directly rule out mysterious sources for this light that could be coming from our nearby universe, but it is now becoming increasingly likely that we are catching a glimpse of an ancient epoch. Spitzer is laying down a roadmap for NASA's upcoming James Webb Telescope, which will tell us exactly what and where these first objects were."

Spitzer first caught hints of this remote pattern of light, known as the cosmic infrared background, in 2005, and again with more precision in 2007. Now, Spitzer is in the extended phase of its mission, during which it performs more in-depth studies on specific patches of the sky. Kashlinsky and his colleagues used Spitzer to look at two patches of sky for more than 400 hours each.

The team then carefully subtracted all the known stars and galaxies in the images. Rather than being left with a black, empty patch of sky, they found faint patterns of light with several telltale characteristics of the cosmic infrared background. The lumps in the pattern observed are consistent with the way the very distant objects are thought to be clustered together.

Kashlinsky likens the observations to looking for Fourth of July fireworks in New York City from Los Angeles. First, you would have to remove all the foreground lights between the two cities, as well as the blazing lights of New York City itself. You ultimately would be left with a fuzzy map of how the fireworks are distributed, but they would still be too distant to make out individually.

"We can gather clues from the light of the universe's first fireworks," said Kashlinsky. "This is teaching us that the sources, or the "sparks," are intensely burning their nuclear fuel."

The universe formed roughly 13.7 billion years ago in a fiery, explosive Big Bang. With time, it cooled and, by around 500 million years later, the first stars, galaxies and black holes began to take shape. Astronomers say some of that "first light" might have traveled billions of years to reach the Spitzer Space Telescope. The light would have originated at visible or even ultraviolet wavelengths and then, because of the expansion of the universe, stretched out to the longer, infrared wavelengths observed by Spitzer.

Spitzer Space Telescope

The new study improves on previous observations by measuring this cosmic infrared background out to scales equivalent to two full moons -- significantly larger than what was detected before. Imagine trying to find a pattern in the noise in an old-fashioned television set by looking at just a small piece of the screen. It would be hard to know for certain if a suspected pattern was real. By observing a larger section of the screen, you would be able to resolve both small- and large-scale patterns, further confirming your initial suspicion.

Likewise, astronomers using Spitzer have increased the amount of sky examined to obtain more definitive evidence of the cosmic infrared background. The researchers plan to explore more patches of sky in the future to gather more clues hidden in the light of this ancient era.

"This is one of the reasons we are building the James Webb Space Telescope," said Glenn Wahlgren, Spitzer program scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "Spitzer is giving us tantalizing clues, but James Webb will tell us what really lies at the era where stars first ignited."

Other authors are Richard Arendt of Goddard and the University of Maryland in Baltimore County; Matt Ashby and Giovanni Fazio of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Mass.; and John Mather and Harvey Moseley of Goddard. Fazio led the initial observations of these sky fields.

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., manages the Spitzer Space Telescope mission for the agency's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. Science operations are conducted at the Spitzer Science Center at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. Data are archived at the Infrared Science Archive housed at the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center at Caltech. Caltech manages JPL for NASA.

For more information about Spitzer, visit:

Images, Text, Credit: NASA / J.D. Harrington / JPL / Whitney Clavin.


Pressure now on to launch ESA’s Sentinel missions

ESA - SENTINEL 3 Mission logo.

7 June 2012

The loss of the Envisat satellite is affecting services by Europe’s Global Monitoring for Environment and Security programme. Efforts are being coordinated with other space agencies to fill some of the gaps, but the situation adds further urgency to launch the Sentinel missions.

Carrying an array of sophisticated instruments, Envisat provided a continuous stream of information about the state of our planet for 10 years.

Envisat not only advanced science, but also supplied data for many operational services to monitor the environment and respond to crises such as oil spills – and, importantly, paved the way for developing Europe’s future monitoring services.

Photosynthetic activity

Headed by the EU, the Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES) programme has been established to support European policies and provide decision-makers with key information services.

These services focus on improving the way the environment is managed, help mitigate the effects of climate change and ensure civil security.

The success of this ambitious initiative relies on the provision of robust satellite data, which will be supplied largely by a new family of missions called Sentinels, developed by ESA. 

SENTINEL-1 spacecraft

Although it is planned to launch the first three Sentinel satellites in 2013, funding to operate the satellites in orbit, which comes from the European Commission, is not yet confirmed.

SENTINEL-2 spacecraft

Until the launch of the Sentinels, services already being offered through GMES relied heavily on data from Envisat, so its loss is having an effect.

SENTINEL-3 spacecraft

Joël Dorandeu from MyOcean, which provides marine services for GMES, said, “The quality of MyOcean products, derived exclusively from Envisat’s Advanced Synthetic Aperture Radar and MERIS sensors such as those for monitoring sea ice and ocean water quality, has obviously been affected and the corresponding services have ceased.

Chlorophyll in the Mediterranean Sea

“The quality of monitoring and forecasting model products based on multiple sensors has also been impacted. The situation is particularly critical for the altimetry constellation.”

Services associated with the atmosphere are also suffering from the loss of Envisat. For example, the Monitoring Atmospheric Composition and Climate (MACC) project used Envisat as a source of information to monitor methane and ozone.

Richard Engelen from the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts said, “Observations of ozone from Envisat’s Sciamachy and MIPAS instruments were routinely used in MACC near-realtime monitoring and forecasting services.

“They were used with other instruments, but they were the only ones covering the morning orbit, which allowed the diurnal cycle to be captured better.

“MIPAS was one of only two satellite instruments providing accurate detailed profile information of ozone in near-real time. Sciamachy provided the only satellite observations of methane, so there has been a significant impact to MACC’s greenhouse-gas service.

“The Sentinel missions will provide important information on ozone and methane, as well as other atmospheric gases. It is therefore crucial that these missions are launched on schedule.”

Atmospheric methane

Near-realtime optical data from Envisat’s MERIS were used for the automatic production of a set of biophysical variables over Europe’s land surfaces.

“With no data from Envisat, the production of MERIS-derived agricultural and environmental indicators has stopped,” said Markus Jochum from the GMES Geoland2 project.

ESA is working with partners to see if other missions contributing to GMES can help compensate, to some extent, for the lack of Envisat data.

However, with many services affected, the hope is that the funding process can soon be put in place so that the Sentinel satellites can be launched to bring GMES to maturity.

Related links:

Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES):

Marine service MyOcean:

Atmosphere monitoring service MACC:

Land monitoring service Geoland-2:

Emergency response service SAFER:

GMES data access:

Related missions:


Envisat overview:

Images, Text, Credits: ESA / Geoland-2 / MyOcean / MACC.


Origin of particle acceleration in cusps of Earth's magnetosphere uncovered

ESA - Cluster II Mission patch.

7 Jun 2012

While flying through one of the cusps in Earth's magnetic field, the four spacecraft of ESA's Cluster mission have sampled the population of highly energetic particles that often fill these 'cavities'. A study of the data shows that particles are accelerated locally, within the cusps, as they cross regions characterised by different electric potential - a configuration that results from magnetic reconnection events. This is an important contribution to the long-standing debate concerning how and where these particles are accelerated.

The magnetosphere of the Earth arises from the interaction between the solar wind – a stream of electrically charged particles released by the Sun – and our planet's internal magnetic field. In fact, the magnetosphere acts as a shield that prevents most of the solar wind particles from infiltrating Earth's atmosphere. The only sites where this shielding effect is not fully efficient are the polar cusps, two regions above the planet's magnetic poles where the magnetic field is extremely weak. Through the cusps, particles from the solar wind can access the upper layer of Earth's atmosphere – the ionosphere – and thus can have an impact on activities such as telecommunication networks.

Image above: Artist's impression of the Cluster spacecraft crossing the northern cusp of Earth's magnetosphere. Credit: ESA / AEOS Medialab.

As the solar wind's direct gateway to Earth's atmosphere, the cusps are a key element in our planet's magnetic environment and have been the target of investigation for decades. In-situ measurements have shown that they are often densely populated with highly energetic particles, including electrons with energies above 40 keV and protons and oxygen ions with energies above 28 keV.

These observations have triggered an intense debate regarding the nature of such particles: exactly where and how are they being accelerated to such high energies? Several acceleration sites have been suggested in the literature: the magnetosphere, the bow shock – a standing shock wave formed in the solar wind flow as it impacts the magnetosphere – and the cusps themselves, but the issue had thus far remained open. A solid answer to these questions has now been proposed by a new study based on data from ESA's Cluster mission.

"Our analysis of the Cluster data and comparison with simulations provide the first robust evidence in favour of a local acceleration mechanism: particles are being energised within the cusps," explains Katariina Nykyri from the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (USA). Nykyri has led a study based on data gathered by the four Cluster spacecraft as they flew from the magnetosphere into the cusps on 14 February 2003. The results of the study are reported in a special issue of the Journal of Atmospheric and Solar-Terrestrial Physics, dedicated to studies of the cusps.

"We searched through the first five years of data in the Cluster archive, looking for an event during which the spacecraft moved from the magnetosphere into the cusps in a way that best enabled us to study how the cusp's properties vary in space and time," Nykyri explains. The event that Nykyri and her collaborators identified was particularly favourable in this context because, while the four spacecraft of the Cluster mission entered the northern cusp on 14 February 2003, their separation was very large, about 5000 km. "In the meantime, the interplanetary magnetic field changed direction from northward to southward, thus shifting the site where magnetic reconnection events occur from one side of the cusp to the opposite side," she adds.

The various components of Earth's magnetic environment. Credit: ESA.

A magnetic reconnection event is a variation in the magnetic field line configuration, which also results in the release of energy. A shift in the reconnection site changes the location, size and shape of the region of weak magnetic field in the cusp – the so-called diamagnetic cavity. As they crossed the cusp on 14 February 2003, the four Cluster spacecraft encountered a cavity whose structure was varying in space and time due to magnetic reconnection. Hence, they repeatedly entered and exited regions of weaker and stronger magnetic field; at times, three spacecraft were in the cavity and one outside of it, or vice versa.

During these crossings, the Cluster spacecraft probed the distribution of electrons, protons and oxygen ions. The data revealed that these particles have substantially higher energy within the cavity, where the magnetic field is low, whereas their energy declines farther away from it. Furthermore, the data indicated that most electrons were moving almost perpendicularly to the magnetic field's direction.

Graphic above: High-energy electron density and magnetic field intensity in the cusp of Earth's magnetosphere, as recorded by instruments on board the four Cluster spacecraft on 14 February 2003. Image from Nykyri et al., JASTP, 2012.

"The fact that we observe large amounts of high-energy particles in the cavity and hardly any in the magnetosheath – where the magnetic field is stronger – already suggests that the particles are being energised locally," notes Nykyry. "Nevertheless, our smoking-gun argument is the direction of motion of the electrons in the cavity," she adds. Acceleration taking place at the bow shock or in the magnetosphere would result in electrons moving mainly parallel to the magnetic field in the diamagnetic cavity. Since they appear to be moving perpendicularly to it, they must be accelerated within the cusps.

Having narrowed down the site where particles gain their energy, Nykyri and her collaborators investigated possible acceleration mechanisms. Since the data suggested that a correlation exists between changes in the cavity's structure and the occurrence of magnetic reconnection, they checked whether this mechanism could be responsible for accelerating the particles.

"We used simulations to study the dynamics of the cusp region during magnetic reconnection," explains co-author Eric Adamson from the Max-Planck-Institut für Sonnensystemforschung (Germany). "Our simulations revealed that magnetic reconnection events contribute significantly to modifying the structure of the electric potential within the cusp region," he adds. This is particularly interesting in this context since particles gain energy as they cross regions with potential differences. The simulations also showed that the cavity's geometrical configuration can efficiently trap particles for significant periods of time within the cusp.

Further simulations were run by Antonius Otto from the University of Alaska Fairbanks (USA), also a co-author of the paper, in order to investigate how much energy can be gained by particles via this mechanism. "When trapped long enough in the cavities, particles with energies of a few tens or hundreds of eV can easily be accelerated up to the observed values of 40 keV or more," explains Otto. "In particular, changes to the structure of the electric potential induced by magnetic reconnection events can boost the particles' energy gain," he adds.

This new analysis of Cluster data might not only have solved the long standing debate about the origin of high-energy particles in the cusps of Earth's magnetosphere, it also has interesting implications for other environments where magnetic reconnection takes place in a similar magnetic field line geometry. An example is the surface of the Sun, where this phenomenon is known to give rise to solar flares. "Scaling up our improved understanding of magnetic reconnection in the cusps of the Earth to the much stronger magnetic field of the Sun, we have shown that particles there can easily reach energies of the order of MeV and even GeV," notes Nykyri. This simple argument supports the hypothesis that magnetic reconnection might indeed be an important player in the heating of the Sun's corona, an issue that is still unclear in the field of solar physics.

"Understanding the physics of the cusps in Earth's magnetosphere has been one of Cluster's main science goals, and this result addresses one of the hottest topics that concerns these intriguing regions," comments Philippe Escoubet, Cluster Mission Manager at ESA. "Once more, Cluster's ability to probe Earth's magnetic field in-situ with four spacecraft has brought us a fresh view on a phenomenon, such as magnetic reconnection, that is relevant to a wide range of other physical and astrophysical environments," he concludes.

Notes for editors:
The study presented here is based on data gathered by the four Cluster spacecraft on 14 February 2003 as they were moving across the northern cusp of Earth's magnetosphere. During this event, the separation between the four spacecraft was large enough (about 5000 km) that spacecraft within and outside the cusp could take simultaneous measurements. The spacecraft measured the density and energy of high-energy electrons, protons and oxygen ions, the strength of the magnetic field and the pitch angle of the particles (the inclination of the direction of motion of a particle with respect to the magnetic field).

The data collected by the four spacecraft, together with high-resolution, three-dimensional magneto-hydrodynamic simulations, suggest that the high-energy particles observed in the cusps are accelerated locally as they drift along the potential gradients created by magnetic reconnection. Not all reconnection events are able to accelerate particles up to such high energies. The particles need to remain trapped for a sufficiently long time in a region with weak magnetic field, such as the diamagnetic cavity in the cusp, in order to gain large amounts of energy.

Cluster is a constellation of four spacecraft flying in formation around Earth. It is the first space mission able to study, in three dimensions, the natural physical processes occurring within and in the near vicinity of the Earth's magnetosphere. Launched in 2000, it is composed of four identical spacecraft orbiting the Earth in a pyramidal configuration, along a nominal polar orbit of 4 × 19.6 Earth radii (1 Earth radius = 6380 km). Cluster's payload consists of state-of-the-art plasma instrumentation to measure electric and magnetic fields over a wide frequency range, and key physical parameters characterizing electrons and ions from energies of nearly 0 eV to a few MeV. The science operations are coordinated by the Joint Science Operations Centre (JSOC), at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, United Kingdom, and implemented by ESA's European Space Operations Centre (ESOC), in Darmstadt, Germany.

Related publications:

K. Nykyri, et al., "On the origin of high-energy particles in the cusp diamagnetic cavity," 2012, Journal of Atmospheric and Solar-Terrestrial Physics, in press

K. Nykyri, et al., "Cluster observations of a cusp diamagnetic cavity: Structure, size, and dynamics," 2011, Journal of Geophysical Research, Vol. 116, A03228. DOI: 10.1029/2010JA015897

E. Adamson, et al., "3-D mesoscale MHD simulations of a cusp-like magnetic configuration: methods and first results," 2011, Annales Geophysicae, 29, 759-770. DOI: 105195/angeo-29-759-2011.

For more information about Cluster Mission, visit: &

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: ESA / Max-Planck-Institut für Sonnensystemforschung
Katlenburg-Lindau, Germany / Eric Adamson / Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University Daytona Beach, Florida, USA/Katariina Nykyri/University of Alaska Fairbanks, USA/Antonius Otto/Cluster Project Scientist/Matt Taylor.


Mars crater shows evidence for climate evolution

ESA - Mars Express Mission patch.

7 June 2012

ESA’s Mars Express has provided images of a remarkable crater on Mars that may show evidence that the planet underwent significant periodic fluctuations in its climate due to changes in its rotation axis.

On 19 June 2011, Mars Express pointed its high-resolution stereo camera at the Arabia Terra region of Mars, imaging the Danielson and Kalocsa craters.

Danielson and Kalocsa craters

Danielson crater is named after the late George E Danielson, who was instrumental in the development of many spacecraft cameras flown to Mars. Seen to the right (north) in the image, it is the larger crater, roughly 60 km across.

Kalocsa crater lies in the centre of the image and is smaller, about 33 km in diameter and a kilometre shallower than Danielson. It is named after a town in Hungary famed for its astronomical observatory. 

Danielson and Kalocsa craters context

Danielson crater, like many in the Arabia Terra region, is filled with layered sediments, which in this instance have been heavily eroded over time. Within the crater are peculiarly layered buttes, known as yardangs.

Yardangs are streamlined hills carved from bedrock or any consolidated or semi-consolidated material by abrasive dust and sand particles carried in the wind.

They are seen on Earth in desert regions, with notable examples in North Africa, Central Asia and Arizona in the United States.

Danielson and Kalocsa context

In the case of Danielson crater, it is believed that sediments were cemented by water, possibly from an ancient deep groundwater reservoir, before being eroded by the wind.

The orientation of the yardangs leads scientists to theorise that strong north–northeasterly winds (from the lower right in the image) both deposited the original sediments and then caused their subsequent erosion in a later drier period of martian history.

A 30 km-long field of darker dunes can be seen bisecting the yardangs and is thought to have formed at a later epoch.

Danielson and Kalocsa topography

The crater floor of Danielson shows evidence for a series of alternating sedimentary layers with roughly uniform thickness and separation.

Some scientists believe that this indicates periodic fluctuations in the climate of Mars, triggered by regular changes in the planet’s axis of rotation. The different layers would have been laid down during different epochs.

By marked contrast, Kalocsa crater shows a completely different topography.

Danielson and Kalocsa 3D anaglyph

Here, no layered sediments are seen. This is thought to be due to the higher altitude of its floor, with the crater not tapping in to the suspected underlying ancient water reservoir.

Another hypothesis is that this crater is younger than its neighbour, created when water was not present anymore.

Related links:

High Resolution Stereo Camera:

Behind the lens:

Frequently asked questions:

For specialists:

ESA Planetary Science archive (PSA):

NASA Planetary Data System:

HRSC data viewer:

Images, Text, Credits: ESA / DLR / FU Berlin (G. Neukum) / NASA / MGS /  MOLA Science Team.

Best regards,

mercredi 6 juin 2012

Dawn Mission Video Shows Vesta's Coat of Many Colors

NASA - DAWN Mission patch.


 Vesta's Coat of Many Colors

A new video from NASA's Dawn mission reveals the dappled, variegated surface of the giant asteroid Vesta. The animation drapes high-resolution false color images over a 3-D model of the Vesta terrain constructed from Dawn's observations. This visualization enables a detailed view of the variation in the material properties of Vesta in the context of its topography.

Vesta's Coat of Many Colors

This animation of Vesta is made from images taken with Dawn's framing camera. Many of the images were taken at different viewing angles to provide stereo for use in determining the topography.

The video is available online at:

The colors were chosen to highlight differences in surface composition that are too subtle for the human eye to see. Scientists are still analyzing what some of the colors mean for the composition of the surface. But it is clear that the orange material thrown out from some impact craters is different from the surrounding surface material. Green shows the relative abundance of iron. Parts of the huge impact basin known as Rheasilvia in Vesta's southern hemisphere, for instance, have areas with less iron than nearby areas.

Dawn has imaged the majority of the surface of Vesta with the framing camera to provide this 3-D map. While some areas in the north were in shadow at the time the images were obtained by the camera, Dawn expects to improve its coverage of Vesta's northern hemisphere with additional observations. Dawn's viewing geometry also prevented mapping of a portion of the mountain of the south pole.

The spacecraft is currently spiraling up from its lowest-altitude orbit into its final science orbit, where its average altitude will be about 420 miles (680 kilometers). Dawn is scheduled to leave Vesta around Aug. 26.

DAWN spacecraft

The Dawn mission is managed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., for the agency's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. Dawn is a project of the directorate's Discovery Program, managed by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. UCLA is responsible for overall Dawn mission science. Orbital Sciences Corp. of Dulles, Va., designed and built the Dawn spacecraft. The framing cameras were developed and built under the leadership of the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Katlenburg-Lindau, Germany. The German Aerospace Center (DLR) Institute of Planetary Research in Berlin made significant contributions in coordination with the Institute of Computer and Communication Network Engineering in Braunschweig. The framing camera project is funded by the Max Planck Society, DLR and NASA. JPL is a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.

For more information about Dawn, visit: and

Images, Video, Text, Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / Priscilla Vega / UCLA / MPS / DLR / IDA / PSI.


mardi 5 juin 2012

Bertrand Piccard successfully brings the HB-SIA (SolarImpulse) to Rabat

SolarImpulse Destination Morocco patch.

June 6, 2012

The crowds cheered as the HB-SIA landed in Morocco’s Rabat-Salé international airport at 23:30 (UTC+1) after 19 hours of flight. It was a spectacular site with representatives of the Moroccan Agency for Solar Energy (MASEN), journalists, invitees and, of course, the Solar Impulse team that had impatiently waited to complete this symbolic intercontinental leg of the 2012 Crossing Frontiers mission.

SolarImpulse Rabat landing

“Aside from technical and political reasons behind the decision to fly to Morocco, simply the flight over the Gibraltar straight was a magical moment and represents one of the highlights of my carrier as an aeronaut,” said Bertrand Piccard as the ground crew opened the cockpit.

Since November 2011, both MASEN and the Solar Impulse team have worked very hard to make this event possible. The arrival of the solar airplane is a wonderful apex to the months of preparations and growing expectations.

André Borschberg, Bertrand Piccard winner's of the first intercontinental flight solar

“We are Solar Impulse’s first intercontinental landing and we are ready to host this worldwide premier, this historical moment, as we are also landing with it,” said Mr. Bakkoury, President of MASEN. “It is an important moment for the MASEN. As initiators of another innovative project, the world’s largest thermo-solar power plant, we share a common message with Solar Impulse; a strong one: solar energy no longer restricted to the scientific world but is becoming an integrative part of daily. We will begin production in 2014, coinciding with Solar Impulse’s world tour.”

“This flight marks a new stage in the history of the project because we have reached another continent,” added André Borschberg, in consensus with Mr. Bakkoury’s comments “After almost 20 hours of flight we landed with a full set of batteries. This is extraordinary as it represents an increase in confidence in new technologies.”

SolarImpulse descrption & Flight Plan

Official events for youth and adult audiences, seminars and conferences organized by MASEN will take place throughout the week in Rabat in an effort to raise awareness about the possibilities clean technologies can offer. So don’t miss out on the photos and videos that will be posted daily on our website and the blog throughout the week directly from Rabat!

Flight Report: Madrid - Rabat

Takeoff time: 0322z

LDG: 2230z

Duration: 19:08

Average Ground Speed: 28kts

Battery SOC @ landing: 95%

Total Distance: 448 NM

Altitude over street of Gibraltar: 22616ft

Landing RWY: 03

Crossing of street of Gibraltar: 1435z

Highest Altitude: 27000ft

SolarImpulse website & Mission Control:

Images, Video, Text, Credits: Solar Impulse / AFP.

Best regards,

Solar Impulse fly to Morocco, to conquer a new continent

SolarImpulse Destination Morocco patch.

June 5, 2012

The Solar Impulse set sail Tuesday on Morocco after taking off at dawn in Madrid, for the first time to conquer a new continent.

Image above: Technicians and the Swiss driver Bernard Piccard preparing the Solar Impulse before his flight to Morocco, June 5, 2012 in Madrid (AFP Dominique Faget).

The plane, piloted by Bertrand Piccard Switzerland, co-founder of the project, flew smoothly, almost silently, the airport of Madrid-Barajas to 5:22 (3:22 ​​GMT). He headed to the south of Spain, flying, at sunrise, landscapes flooded with light.

For an hour I had a full moon on my right and the sunrise on my left, it's absolutely magical. I had all the colors of the rainbow in the sky and also on land, told from the cockpit Bertrand Piccard, explorer, 54, reached by telephone by AFP.

Solar Impulse is the first aircraft designed to fly day and night without fuel or polluting emissions, thanks to solar energy.

The carbon fiber aircraft is powered by four electric motors, a power of 10 horsepower each, powered by 12,000 photocells covering its huge wing.

Energy is stored during the day in batteries, allowing the aircraft to fly at night.

Image above: The Solar Impulse solar aircraft took off from Madrid, 201 June 5 (AFP Dominique Faget).

Solar Impulse has the wingspan of an Airbus A340 (63.4 meters) but weighs only 1.6 tons, or the weight of an average car.

At sunrise, a camera mounted on the aircraft has released images of the valleys south of Madrid, while the aircraft was en route to Seville in southern Spain.

The goal is not to use solar energy for normal aircraft, the pilot explained.

The goal is to prove that we can achieve outstanding goals, almost impossible with new technologies, without fuel, and make people aware that if we can do in heaven, of course anyone can do it on the ground .

After flying over the south of Spain at 3,600 meters and a speed of about 40 km / hour, Bertrand Piccard should gradually lead his plane at 8,500 meters above the Strait of Gibraltar, before entering the Moroccan airspace and flying over the port of Tangier.

The landing is scheduled in Rabat from 11 p.m. (2200 GMT).

The solar plane had arrived in Madrid on May 25, from Switzerland, for a scheduled stop, but had been off again since because of the wind.

I think the challenge really is to succeed the first intercontinental flight using solar energy, said Bertrand Piccard.

SolarImpulse description

We will leave Europe to come into Africa across the Strait of Gibraltar, bringing a message of support to the Moroccan agency of solar energy, which is preparing a comprehensive solar program, very ambitious for this country, he added driver.

According to the organizers of the flight, it was planned to coincide with the launch of construction of the largest solar thermal plant ever built in Morocco, in the region of Ouarzazate in the south.

The solar plane, then controlled by the co-founder of the project, Switzerland André Borschberg, aged 59, took off on May 24 at Payerne in Switzerland for a journey of 2,500 kilometers in total to Morocco, with a stopover in Madrid .

This is a rehearsal for the world tour of Solar Impulse in 2014.

Seven years of work went to a team of 70 people and 80 partners to build this revolutionary aircraft.

Solar Impulse had entered the history of aviation looping, in July 2010, a first flight of 24 hours without interruption and only powered by its solar panels and batteries.

Solar Impulse Mission Control website:

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: AFP / Translation:


lundi 4 juin 2012

Giant Black Hole Kicked Out of Home Galaxy

NASA - Chandra X-ray Observatory patch.

June 6, 2012

Astronomers have found strong evidence that a massive black hole is being ejected from its host galaxy at a speed of several million miles per hour. New observations from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory suggest that the black hole collided and merged with another black hole and received a powerful recoil kick from gravitational wave radiation.

"It's hard to believe that a supermassive black hole weighing millions of times the mass of the sun could be moved at all, let alone kicked out of a galaxy at enormous speed," said Francesca Civano of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA), who led the new study. "But these new data support the idea that gravitational waves -- ripples in the fabric of space first predicted by Albert Einstein but never detected directly -- can exert an extremely powerful force."

Although the ejection of a supermassive black hole from a galaxy by recoil because more gravitational waves are being emitted in one direction than another is likely to be rare, it nevertheless could mean that there are many giant black holes roaming undetected out in the vast spaces between galaxies.

Image above: System CID-42, located about four billion light years away (X-ray: NASA/CXC/SAO/F.Civano et al; Optical: NASA/STScI; Optical (wide field): CFHT, NASA/STScI).

"These black holes would be invisible to us," said co-author Laura Blecha, also of CfA, "because they have consumed all of the gas surrounding them after being thrown out of their home galaxy."

Civano and her group have been studying a system known as CID-42, located in the middle of a galaxy about four billion light years away. They had previously spotted two distinct, compact sources of optical light in CID-42, using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope.

More optical data from the ground-based Magellan and Very Large Telescopes in Chile supplied a spectrum (that is, the distribution of optical light with energy) that suggested the two sources in CID-42 are moving apart at a speed of at least 3 million miles per hour.

Previous Chandra observations detected a bright X-ray source likely caused by super-heated material around one or more supermassive black holes. However, they could not distinguish whether the X-rays came from one or both of the optical sources because Chandra was not pointed directly at CID-42, giving an X-ray source that was less sharp than usual.

Simulation of Black Hole Ejection

"The previous data told us that there was something special going on, but we couldn't tell if there were two black holes or just one," said another co-author Martin Elvis, also of CfA. "We needed new X-ray data to separate the sources."

When Chandra's sharp High Resolution Camera was pointed directly at CID-42, the resulting data showed that X-rays were coming only from one of the sources. The team thinks that when two galaxies collided, the supermassive black holes in the center of each galaxy also collided. The two black holes then merged to form a single black hole that recoiled from gravitational waves produced by the collision, which gave the newly merged black hole a sufficiently large kick for it to eventually escape from the galaxy.

The other optical source is thought to be the bright star cluster that was left behind. This picture is consistent with recent computer simulations of merging black holes, which show that merged black holes can receive powerful kicks from the emission of gravitational waves.

There are two other possible explanations for what is happening in CID-42. One would involve an encounter between three supermassive black holes, resulting in the lightest one being ejected. Another idea is that CID-42 contains two supermassive black holes spiraling toward one another, rather than one moving quickly away.

Both of these alternate explanations would require at least one of the supermassive black holes to be very obscured, since only one bright X-ray source is observed. Thus the Chandra data support the idea of a black hole recoiling because of gravitational waves.

Chandra X-ray Observatory. Credit: NASA

These results will appear in the June 10 issue of The Astrophysical Journal.

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

For Chandra images, multimedia and related materials, visit:

For an additional interactive image, podcast, and video on the finding, visit:

Images (mentioned), Video, Text, Credits: NASA/J.D. Harrington/Marshall Space Flight Center/Janet Anderson/Chandra X-ray Center/Megan Watzke.


CERN adopts new scheme for easy access to intellectual property

CERN - European Organization for Nuclear Research logo.

4 May 2012

The challenges of CERN's scientific research programme push technical boundaries and drive innovative technologies and know-how in many fields. Image: David Merle/CERN

CERN has adopted a new approach to knowledge transfer. CERN Easy Access IP is an initiative to make it easier for businesses and entrepreneurs to access intellectual property generated at CERN in the course of its research programme.


CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, is one of the world’s largest and most respected centres for scientific research. Its business is fundamental physics, finding out what the Universe is made of and how it works. At CERN, the world’s largest and most complex scientific instruments are used to study the basic constituents of matter — the fundamental particles. By studying what happens when these particles collide, physicists learn about the laws of Nature.

The instruments used at CERN are particle accelerators and detectors. Accelerators boost beams of particles to high energies before they are made to collide with each other or with stationary targets. Detectors observe and record the results of these collisions.

Founded in 1954, the CERN Laboratory sits astride the Franco–Swiss border near Geneva. It was one of Europe’s first joint ventures and now has 20 Member States.

More information:

CERN Easy Access IP:

Press release: CERN adopts new scheme for easy access to intellectual property:

CERN Knowledge Transfer:

Image (mentioned), Text, Credit: CERN.

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Hubble Sees a Celestial Swan and Butterfly

NASA - Hubble Space Telescope patch.

June 4, 2012

This image from the Hubble Space Telescope shows planetary nebula NGC 7026. Located just beyond the tip of the tail of the constellation of Cygnus (The Swan), this butterfly-shaped cloud of glowing gas and dust is the wreckage of a star similar to the sun.

Planetary nebulae, despite their name, have nothing to do with planets. They are, in fact, a relatively short-lived phenomenon that occurs at the end of the life of mid-sized stars. As a star's nuclear fuel runs out, its outer layers are puffed out, leaving only the hot core of the star behind. As the gaseous envelope heats up, the atoms in it are excited, and it lights up like a fluorescent sign.

Fluorescent lights on Earth get their bright colors from the gases with which they are filled. Neon signs, famously, produce a bright red color, while ultraviolet lights (black lights) typically contain mercury. The same is true for nebulae: their vivid colors are produced by the mix of gases present in them.

This image was produced by the Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2 aboard the Hubble Space Telescope. A version of it was entered into the Hubble’s Hidden Treasures Competition by contestant Linda Morgan-O'Connor. Hidden Treasures is an initiative to invite astronomy enthusiasts to search the Hubble archive for stunning images that have never been seen by the general public.


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

ESA Hubble website:

NASA Hubble website:

Image Text,  Credit: ESA / NASA.


ESA missions gear up for transit of Venus

ESA - Venus Express Mission patch.

4 June 2012

ESA’s Venus Express and Proba-2 space missions, along with the international SOHO, Hinode, and Hubble spacecraft, are preparing to monitor Venus and the Sun during the transit of Earth’s sister planet during 5-6 June.

ESA’s Venus Express is the only spacecraft orbiting Venus at the moment and while the transit is being watched from Earth, it too will use light from the Sun to study the planet’s atmosphere.

As sunlight filters through the atmosphere it reveals the concentration of different gas molecules at different altitudes.

Stellar occultation at Venus

This technique is also used to probe the atmospheres of planets outside our Solar System – exoplanets – to determine their potential habitability.

Simultaneous measurements are planned during the transit from ground-based observatories around the world to compare with the Venus Express results. 

Exoplanet scientists can then test their techniques for looking at the characteristics of rocky Earth-sized planets.

Proba-2 observes partial solar eclipse

Because Venus Express is in orbit around the planet, it will not notice any difference while the transit is being observed from Earth. But the spacecraft will be watching the Sun setting through the atmosphere of Venus, and its data will be compared to measurements made at the Earth at the same time.

These will include data from ESA’s Proba-2 microsatellite and Japan’s Hinode solar satellite, which will have ringside seats in low-Earth orbit to watch as Venus passes in front of the Sun.

“Proba-2 is expected to see a dip in the solar brightness as soon as the thick atmosphere of Venus makes first contact with the solar disc, which is an important measurement for exoplanet scientists,” says Joe Zender, ESA’s Proba-2 mission manager.

There is also the possibility that if Venus passes exactly in front of an active region on the Sun we can obtain information about the energy emitted by that region.

“This is important for space weather studies that help us to understand the Sun and its influence on Earth.”

Venus approaches Sun

Hinode will be watching the transit in visible, X-ray, and ultraviolet wavelengths to study phenomena such as the ’black drop effect’ – the small black teardrop shape that appears to connect Venus to the limb of the Sun just after it has fully entered the solar disc and again later, when it begins to leave the disc.

It will also observe the aureole, an arc of light seen around the planet’s disc during the first and last minutes of the transit.

“The most spectacular images and movies should come from Hinode’s Solar Optical Telescope, which has by far the highest resolution of any solar instrument in space,” says Bernhard Fleck, ESA’s Hinode and SOHO project scientist.

“Unfortunately, SOHO will not be well placed to observe the transit. However, it has one thing that no other spacecraft can provide: views of Venus as it approaches the Sun days before the actual transit, and then moves away from the Sun for several days after the transit.”

Meanwhile, NASA/ESA’s Hubble Space Telescope will use the Moon as a giant mirror to capture diffuse, reflected sunlight: a small fraction of that light will have passed through the atmosphere of Venus en-route to the Moon.

This will test techniques aimed at measuring the atmospheres of Earth-sized rocky exoplanets that could potentially reveal traces of life on planets outside our Solar System.

Related links:

Venus Transit Monitor:

ESA's 2004 transit activities:

SOHO sees 2004 transit:

Venus Express operations:

Venus Express and the 2012 transit:

Image, Animation, Video, Text, Credits: ESA (Animation by AOES Medialab) / ROB / NASA / SOHO.


Blowing bubbles in the Carina Nebula

ESA - HERSCHEL Mission patch.

4 June 2012

 Blowing bubbles in the Carina Nebula

Giant bubbles, towering pillars and cascading clouds of dust and gas fill the star-forming nursery of the Carina Nebula seen here in a stunning new view from Herschel to launch ESA Space Science’s image of the week feature.

The Carina Nebula is some 7500 lightyears from Earth and hosts some of the most massive and luminous stars in our Galaxy, including double-star system eta Carinae, which boasts over 100 times the mass of our Sun.

The total amount of gas and dust traced by ESA’s Herschel space observatory in this image is equivalent to some 650 000 Suns. Including warmer gas not well traced by Herschel, the total mass may be as high as 900 000 Suns.

Surrounding pillars of gas and dust point towards the bright central region of nebulosity – home to eta Carinae and numerous other massive stars.

The pillars are carved by intense stellar winds and radiation blasted out by these stars, eating away at the surrounding material.

Above and to the left is a chaotic web of bubbles and broken bubble arcs molded by individual regions of star formation that have swept up shells of dense clouds around them.

At top right is the Gum 31 nebula, which has blown a giant bubble out of the surrounding dense clouds thanks to winds and radiation emitted by the young stellar cluster NGC 3324 that sits at its heart.

Herschel spacecraft (Artist's view)

This latest Herschel image launches ESA Space Science’s new image of the week series, which will present a variety of images and animations capturing all aspects of space science from the Sun, planets, stars, and galaxies to the edge of the Universe, along with the spacecraft that provide us with these spectacular views.

Every week, look to the top right of the Space Science homepage and prepare to be amazed!

Related links:

Herschel: ESA's giant infrared observatory:

Herschel overview:

Online Showcase of Herschel Images OSHI:

Images, Text, Credits: ESA/PACS/SPIRE/Thomas Preibisch, Universitäts-Sternwarte München, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München, Germany.