samedi 21 juillet 2012

Launch Result of H-IIB Launch Vehicle No. 3 with H-II Transfer Vehicle "KOUNOTORI3" (HTV3) Onboard

JAXA - H-II Transfer Vehicle "KOUNOTORI3" (HTV-3) patch.

July 21, 2012 (JST)

 H-IIB Launch Vehicle No.3 liftoff

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) launched the H-IIB Launch Vehicle No.3 (H-IIB F3) with the KOUNOTORI3 (HTV3, a cargo transfer vehicle to the International Space Station) onboard at 11:06:18 a.m. on July 21 (Sat.) 2012 (Japan Standard Time, JST) from the Tanegashima Space Center.

HTV-3 Launch

The launch vehicle flew smoothly, and, at about 14 minutes and 53 seconds after liftoff, the separation of the KOUNOTORI3 was confirmed.

 H-IIB F3 (Click on the image for enlarge)

We would like to express our profound appreciation for the cooperation and support of all related personnel and organizations that helped contribute to the successful launch of the H-IIB F3.
At the time of the launch, the weather was rainy, a wind speed was 2.3 meters/second from the west-northwest and the temperature was 27.1 degrees Celsius.

KOUNOTORI1 (HTV Demonstration Flight)

JAXA we have confirmed that the second stage controlled re-entry test for the H-IIB Launch Vehicle No.3 (H-IIB F3) was conducted as planned by re-igniting the second stage engine for the second time after separating its payload, the KOUNOTORI3 (HTV3, a cargo transfer vehicle to the International Space Station).

Mission website:

KOUNOTORI3/H-IIB Launch Vehicle No. 3 Special Site:

H-IIB Launch Vehicle:

H-II Transfer Vehicle "KOUNOTORI" (HTV):

Images, Video, Text, Credits: Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) / Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Ltd.


vendredi 20 juillet 2012

NASA Telescope Captures Sharpest Images of Sun's Corona

NASA - EVE EUV Variability Experiment patch.

July 20, 2012

A telescope launched July 11 aboard a NASA sounding rocket has captured the highest-resolution images ever taken of the sun's million-degree atmosphere called the corona. The clarity of the images can help scientists better understand the behavior of the solar atmosphere and its impacts on Earth's space environment.

Image above: Hi-C has captured the highest resolution images ever taken of the corona of the sun in the extreme ultraviolet wavelength. (NASA).

"These revolutionary images of the sun demonstrate the key aspects of NASA's sounding rocket program, namely the training of the next generation of principal investigators, the development of new space technologies, and scientific advancements," said Barbara Giles, director for NASA's Heliophysics Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

EVE Underflight Calibration Sounding Rocket Launch

Video above: On March 23, 2011, two on-board cameras followed a sounding rocket on its journey from Earth to space and back again. The rocket was launched to measure solar energy output and calibrate the EVE instrument on the Solar Dynamics Observatory. Credit: NASA.

Launched from White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, the 58-foot-tall sounding rocket carried NASA's High Resolution Coronal Imager (Hi-C) telescope. Weighing 464 pounds, the 10-foot-long payload took 165 images during its brief 620-second flight. The telescope focused on a large active region on the sun with some images revealing the dynamic structure of the solar atmosphere in fine detail. These images were taken in the extreme ultraviolet wavelength. This higher energy wavelength of light is optimal for viewing the hot solar corona.

"We have an exceptional instrument and launched at the right time," said Jonathan Cirtain, senior heliophysicist at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. "Because of the intense solar activity we're seeing right now, we were able to clearly focus on a sizeable, active sunspot and achieve our imaging goals."

AIA can see structures on the sun's surface with clarity of approximately 675 miles. (NASA)

The telescope acquired data at a rate of roughly one image every 5 seconds. Its resolution is approximately five times more detailed than the Atmospheric Imaging Assembly (AIA) instrument flying aboard NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO). For comparison, AIA can see structures on the sun's surface with the clarity of approximately 675 miles and observes the sun in 10 wavelengths of light. Hi-C can resolve features down to roughly 135 miles, but observed the sun in just one wavelength of light.

Image above: Shown in green to enhance detail, these Hi-C images reveal detailed tangles of magnetic field. (NASA).

The high-resolution images were made possible because of a set of innovations on Hi-C's optics array. Hi-C's mirrors are approximately 9 1/2 inches across, roughly the same size as the SDO instrument's. The telescope includes some of the finest mirrors ever made for space-based instrumentation. The increase in resolution of the images captured by Hi-C is similar to making the transition in television viewing from a cathode ray tube TV to high definition TV.

Initially developed at Marshall, the final mirror configuration was completed with inputs from partners at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory (SAO) in Cambridge, Mass., and a new manufacturing technique developed in coordination with L-3Com/Tinsley Laboratories of Richmond, Calif.

Image above: Members of the NASA Hi-C team prepare to recover the telescope at White Sands Missile Range on July 11, 2012. (NASA).

The high-quality optics were aligned to determine the spacing between the optics and the tilt of the mirror with extreme accuracy. Scientists and engineers from Marshall, SAO, and the University of Alabama in Huntsville worked to complete alignment of the mirrors, maintaining optic spacing to within a few ten-thousandths of an inch.

NASA's suborbital sounding rockets provide low-cost means to conduct space science and studies of Earth's upper atmosphere. In addition, they have proven to be a valuable test bed for new technologies for future satellites or probes to other planets.

Image above: Hi-C was successfully launched on a Black Brant sounding rocket from the White Sands Missile Range. (NASA).

Launched in February 2010, SDO is an advanced spacecraft studying the sun and its dynamic behavior. The spacecraft provides images with clarity 10 times better than high definition television and provides more comprehensive science data faster than any solar observing spacecraft in history.

Video of Hi-C's observations of the sun

Partners associated with the development of the Hi-C telescope also include Lockheed Martin's Solar Astrophysical Laboratory in Palo Alto, Calif.; the University of Central Lancashire in Lancashire, England; and the Lebedev Physical Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow.

For more information about SDO, visit:

For more information about NASA's sounding rocket program, visit:

For more information about Hi-C, visit:

Images, Videos, Text, Credit: NASA / Dwayne Brown / Marshall Space Flight Center / Janet Anderson.


Apollo 11 Descent: Film and LRO Imagery

NASA - Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) patch / NASA - Apollo 11 - 40th Anniversary patch.

July 20,2012

Side by side view of Apollo 11's descent, showing the view out of the lunar module's window side by side with the broader panorama reconstructed from LRO data.Video Courtesy of GoneToPlaid.

On the moon we will develop technologies to survive in the infinite frontier of space, because the moon presents the same challenges we will encounter throughout the universe: harmful radiation, electrified dust, and extreme temperatures.

Just as a scout finds the safest way for expeditions on Earth, NASA will first send a robotic scout, called the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), to gather crucial data on the lunar environment that will help astronauts prepare for long-duration lunar expeditions.

Artist's concept of LRO. Credit: NASA

LRO will spend at least a year in a low polar orbit approximately 50 kilometers (31 miles) above the lunar surface, while its seven instruments find safe landing sites, locate potential resources, characterize the radiation environment and test new technology.

For more information on the seven instruments that will work together to give us the most comprehensive atlas of the moon’s features and resources:

Images, Video, Text, Credits: NASA / GoneToPlaid.


jeudi 19 juillet 2012

Sun Sends Out Mid-Level Solar Flare

NASA - Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) patch.

July 19, 2012

This image was captured by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) on July 19, 2012 of an M7.7 class solar flare. The image represents light in the 131 Angstrom wavelength, which is particularly good for seeing flares, and which is typically colorized in teal. Credit: NASA / SDO.

The sun emitted a mid-level solar flare on July 19, 2012, beginning at 1:13 AM EDT and peaking at 1:58 AM. Solar flares are gigantic bursts of radiation that cannot pass through Earth's atmosphere to harm humans on the ground, however, when strong enough, they can disrupt the atmosphere and degrade GPS and communications signals.

This image was captured by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) on July 19, 2012 of an M7.7 class solar flare. (Complete Sun).

The flare is classified as an M7.7 flare. This means it is weaker than the largest flares, which are classified as X-class. M-class flares can cause brief radio communications blackouts at the poles.

Increased numbers of flares are currently quite common, since the sun's standard 11-year activity cycle is ramping up toward solar maximum, which is expected in 2013. It is quite normal for there to be many flares a day during the sun’s peak activity.

Updates will be provided as they are available on the flare and whether there was an associated Earth-directed coronal mass ejection (CME), another solar phenomenon that can send solar particles into space and affect electronic systems in satellites and on Earth.

Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) in orbit

What is a solar flare? What is a coronal mass ejection?

For answers to these and other space weather questions, please visit the Spaceweather Frequently Asked Questions page:

Related Link:

View Past Solar Eruptions:

Images, Text, Credits: NASA / Goddard Space Flight Center / Karen C. Fox / SDO.

Best regards,

Gravity satellite to benefit future missions

ESA - GOCE Mission logo.

19 July 2012

ESA’s GOCE satellite is not only mapping Earth’s gravity with unrivalled precision, but is also revealing new insight into air density and wind in space. This additional information is expected to improve the design and operation of future Earth observation missions.

Most satellites orbit Earth higher than 400 km. Lower than that and atmospheric drag causes them to slow down quickly and reenter the atmosphere prematurely.


This posed a problem for the designers of the GOCE mission. They needed to fly the satellite much closer to Earth, at around 270 km, so that the gradiometer instrument could measure tiny variations in the gravity field with high precision.

The solution was to equip the satellite with an electric ion engine. This novel system continuously generates tiny thrusts to compensate for the drag GOCE experiences as it orbits through the remnants of Earth’s atmosphere. 

The design has proven to work extremely well and this extraordinary satellite has been making measurements for more than three years.

Air density from GOCE

What was considered a complication at the design stage of the mission has now become an opportunity for further scientific investigation.

A team led by Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands is combining GOCE accelerometer measurements with data on the activation of the ion thrusters.

The aim of the study, which is being carried out within ESA’s Earth Observation Support to Science Element, has little to do with mapping the gravity field. Instead, the data are used to learn more about air densities and wind speeds that the satellite encounters along its orbital path.

Crosswinds in space from GOCE

The first results of this investigation show fine details of space weather at this altitude, confirming the usefulness of the GOCE instruments for this additional application.

The information has many practical uses relating to estimating how long a satellite will function in space, establishing propellant budgets, optimising mission orbits, planning reentry operations and avoiding collisions with space debris.

The density and wind data will soon be ready for further analysis by experts in upper atmospheric and space physics.

The GOCE density measurements are lower than those predicted by models. This is in line with the results of other recent investigations, which suggest that the upper atmosphere has been cooling and contracting over the last decades.

GOCE geiod

There was an additional drop in temperature and density around the time GOCE was launched.

The causes of these drops are only partly understood. However, GOCE has benefited from the current environment, using far less propellant than predicted.

These measurements will continue to be used to improve our knowledge of the gravity field as well as the upper atmosphere.

Related links:

TU Delft Astrodynamics and Space Missions:


Hypersonic Technology Goettingen:


Images, Animation, Text, Credits: ESA / AOES Medialab / TU Delft / HPF / DLR.


mercredi 18 juillet 2012

Study Finds Heat is Source of ‘Pioneer Anomaly’

NASA - Pioneer Missionpatch.

July 18, 2012

The unexpected slowing of NASA’s Pioneer 10 and 11 spacecraft – the so-called “Pioneer Anomaly” – turns out to be due to the slight, but detectable effect of heat pushing back on the spacecraft, according to a recent paper. The heat emanates from electrical current flowing through instruments and the thermoelectric power supply. The results were published on June 12 in the journal Physical Review Letters.

An artist's impression of Pioneer 10 heading out of the solar system towards the galactic center. Image credit: NASA Ames.

“The effect is something like when you’re driving a car and the photons from your headlights are pushing you backward,” said Slava Turyshev, the paper’s lead author at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. “It is very subtle.”

Launched in 1972 and 1973, Pioneer 10 and 11 are on an outward trajectory from our sun. In the early 1980s, navigators saw a deceleration on the two spacecraft, in the direction back toward the sun, as the two spacecraft were approaching Saturn. They dismissed it as the effect of dribbles of leftover propellant still in the fuel lines after controllers had cut off the propellant. But by 1998, as the spacecraft kept traveling on their journey and were over 8 billion miles (13 billion kilometers) away from the sun, a group of scientists led by John Anderson of JPL realized there was an actual deceleration of about 300 inches per day squared (0.9 nanometers per second squared). They raised the possibility that this could be some new type of physics that contradicted Einstein’s general theory of relativity.

Image above: Pioneers 10 and 11 both carried small metal plaques identifying their time and place of origin for the benefit of any other spacefarers that might find them in the distant future. Pioneer 10 is heading towards the star Aldebaran in the Taurus constellation and will take more than two million years to reach it. Image credit: NASA Ames.

In 2004, Turyshev decided to start gathering records stored all over the country and analyze the data to see if he could definitively figure out the source of the deceleration. In part, he and colleagues were contemplating a deep space physics mission to investigate the anomaly, and he wanted to be sure there was one before asking NASA for a spacecraft.

He and colleagues went searching for Doppler data, the pattern of data communicated back to Earth from the spacecraft, and telemetry data, the housekeeping data sent back from the spacecraft. At the time these two Pioneers were launched, data were still being stored on punch cards. But Turyshev and colleagues were able to copy digitized files from the computer of JPL navigators who have helped steer the Pioneer spacecraft since the 1970s. They also found over a dozen of boxes of magnetic tapes stored under a staircase at JPL and received files from the National Space Science Data Center at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center and worked with NASA Ames Research Center to save some of their boxes of magnetic optical tapes. He collected over 43 gigabytes of data, which may not seem like a lot now, but is quite a lot of data for the 1970s. He also managed to save a vintage tape machine that was about to be discarded so that he could play the magnetic tapes.

Image above: On December 4, 1973, excitement rose as the Pioneer 10 spacecraft sent back images of a Jupiter of ever-increasing size as it plunged at high speed toward its closest approach to the planet. PICS (Pioneer Image Converter System) began to show a few spots on the screens, which gradually built up into a very distorted crescent-shaped Jupiter. "Sunrise on Jupiter," exclaimed a scientist excitedly. Subsequent PICS images were of a crescent Jupiter gradually decreasing in size as the spacecraft sped away out of the Jovian system. Image credit: NASA Ames.

The effort was a labor of love for Turyshev and others. The Planetary Society sent out appeals to its members to help fund the data recovery effort. NASA later also provided funding. In the process, a programmer in Canada, Viktor Toth, contacted Turyshev because he heard about the effort. He helped Turyshev create a program that could read the telemetry tapes and clean up the old data.

They saw that what was happening to Pioneer wasn’t happening to other spacecraft, mostly because of the way the spacecraft were built. For example, the Voyager spacecraft are less sensitive to the effect seen on Pioneer because its thrusters align it along three axes, whereas the Pioneer spacecraft rely on spinning to stay stable.

With all the data newly available, Turyshev and colleagues were able to calculate the heat put out by the electrical subsystems and the decay of plutonium in the Pioneer power sources, which matched the anomalous acceleration seen on both Pioneers.

“The story is finding its conclusion because it turns out that standard physics prevail,” Turyshev said. “While of course it would’ve been exciting to discover a new kind of physics, we did solve a mystery.”

Pioneer 10 and 11 were managed by NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif. Pioneer 10's last signal was received on Earth in January 2003. Pioneer 11's last signal was received in November 1995. JPL is a division of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena.

For more information on the Pioneer mission please visit:

Images, Text, Credit: NASA / JPL / Ames Research Center.


Spitzer Finds Possible Exoplanet Smaller Than Earth

NASA - Spitzer Space Telescope patch.

July 18, 2012

Image above: Astronomers using NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope have detected what they believe is an alien world just two-thirds the size of Earth - one of the smallest on record. The exoplanet candidate, known as UCF-1.01, orbits a star called GJ 436, which is located a mere 33 light-years away. UCF-1.01 might be the nearest world to our solar system that is smaller than our home planet. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech.

Astronomers using NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope have detected what they believe is a planet two-thirds the size of Earth. The exoplanet candidate, called UCF-1.01, is located a mere 33 light-years away, making it possibly the nearest world to our solar system that is smaller than our home planet.

Exoplanets circle stars beyond our sun. Only a handful smaller than Earth have been found so far. Spitzer has performed transit studies on known exoplanets, but UCF-1.01 is the first ever identified with the space telescope, pointing to a possible role for Spitzer in helping discover potentially habitable, terrestrial-sized worlds.

"We have found strong evidence for a very small, very hot and very near planet with the help of the Spitzer Space Telescope," said Kevin Stevenson from the University of Central Florida in Orlando. Stevenson is lead author of the paper, which has been accepted for publication in The Astrophysical Journal. "Identifying nearby small planets such as UCF-1.01 may one day lead to their characterization using future instruments."

The hot, new-planet candidate was found unexpectedly in Spitzer observations. Stevenson and his colleagues were studying the Neptune-sized exoplanet GJ 436b, already known to exist around the red-dwarf star GJ 436. In the Spitzer data, the astronomers noticed slight dips in the amount of infrared light streaming from the star, separate from the dips caused by GJ 436b. A review of Spitzer archival data showed the dips were periodic, suggesting a second planet might be orbiting the star and blocking out a small fraction of the star's light.

This technique, used by a number of observatories including NASA's Kepler space telescope, relies on transits to detect exoplanets. The duration of a transit and the small decrease in the amount of light registered reveals basic properties of an exoplanet, such as its size and distance from its star. In UCF-1.01's case, its diameter would be approximately 5,200 miles (8,400 kilometers), or two-thirds that of Earth. UCF-1.01 would revolve quite tightly around GJ 436, at about seven times the distance of Earth from the moon, with its "year" lasting only 1.4 Earth days. Given this proximity to its star, far closer than the planet Mercury is to our sun, the exoplanet's surface temperature would be more than 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit (almost 600 degrees Celsius).

If the roasted, diminutive planet candidate ever had an atmosphere, it almost surely has evaporated. UCF-1.01 might therefore resemble a cratered, mostly geologically dead world like Mercury. Paper co-author Joseph Harrington, also of the University of Central Florida and principal investigator of the research, suggested another possibility; that the extreme heat of orbiting so close to GJ 436 has melted the exoplanet's surface.

"The planet could even be covered in magma," Harrington said.

Spitzer Space Telescope

In addition to UCF-1.01, Stevenson and his colleagues noticed hints of a third planet, dubbed UCF-1.02, orbiting GJ 436. Spitzer has observed evidence of the two new planets several times each. However, even the most sensitive instruments are unable to measure exoplanet masses as small as UCF-1.01 and UCF-1.02, which are perhaps only one-third the mass of Earth. Knowing the mass is required for confirming a discovery, so the paper authors are cautiously calling both bodies exoplanet candidates for now.

Of the approximately 1,800 stars identified by NASA' Kepler space telescope as candidates for having planetary systems, just three are verified to contain sub-Earth-sized exoplanets. Of these, only one exoplanet is thought to be smaller than the Spitzer candidates, with a radius similar to Mars, or 57 percent that of Earth.

"I hope future observations will confirm these exciting results, which show Spitzer may be able to discover exoplanets as small as Mars," said Michael Werner, Spitzer project scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. "Even after almost nine years in space, Spitzer's observations continue to take us in new and important scientific directions."

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

More information about exoplanets and NASA's planet-finding program is at:

Images, Text, Credits: NASA / J.D. Harrington / JPL / Whitney Clavin / JPL-Caltech.


APEX takes part in sharpest observation ever

ESO - European Southern Observatory logo.

18 July 2012

Telescopes in Chile, Hawaii, and Arizona reach sharpness two million times finer than human vision

Artist’s impression of the quasar 3C 279

An international team of astronomers has observed the heart of a distant quasar with unprecedented sharpness, two million times finer than human vision. The observations, made by connecting the Atacama Pathfinder Experiment (APEX) telescope [1] to two others on different continents for the first time, is a crucial step towards the dramatic scientific goal of the “Event Horizon Telescope” project [2]: imaging the supermassive black holes at the centre of our own galaxy and others.

Video above: Positions of the telescopes used in the 1.3 mm VLBI observations of the quasar 3C 279.

Astronomers connected APEX, in Chile, to the Submillimeter Array (SMA) [3] in Hawaii, USA, and the Submillimeter Telescope (SMT) [4] in Arizona, USA. They were able to make the sharpest direct observation ever [5], of the centre of a distant galaxy, the bright quasar 3C 279, which contains a supermassive black hole with a mass about one billion times that of the Sun, and is so far from Earth that its light has taken more than 5 billion years to reach us. APEX is a collaboration between the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy (MPIfR), the Onsala Space Observatory (OSO) and ESO. APEX is operated by ESO.

Positions of the telescopes used in the 1.3 mm VLBI observations of the quasar 3C 279

The telescopes were linked using a technique known as Very Long Baseline Interferometry (VLBI). Larger telescopes can make sharper observations, and interferometry allows multiple telescopes to act like a single telescope as large as the separation — or “baseline” — between them. Using VLBI, the sharpest observations can be achieved by making the separation between telescopes as large as possible. For their quasar observations, the team used the three telescopes to create an interferometer with transcontinental baseline lengths of 9447 km from Chile to Hawaii, 7174 km from Chile to Arizona and 4627 km from Arizona to Hawaii. Connecting APEX in Chile to the network was crucial, as it contributed the longest baselines.

The Atacama Pathfinder Experiment (APEX)

The observations were made in radio waves with a wavelength of 1.3 millimetres. This is the first time observations at a wavelength as short as this have been made using such long baselines. The observations achieved a sharpness, or angular resolution, of just 28 microarcseconds  — about 8 billionths of a degree. This represents the ability to distinguish details an amazing two million times sharper than human vision. Observations this sharp can probe scales of less than a light-year across the quasar — a remarkable achievement for a target that is billions of light-years away.

The Submillimeter Telescope (SMT) at the Arizona Radio Observatory

The observations represent a new milestone towards imaging supermassive black holes and the regions around them. In future it is planned to connect even more telescopes in this way to create the so-called Event Horizon Telescope. The Event Horizon Telescope will be able to image the shadow of the supermassive black hole in the centre of our Milky Way galaxy, as well as others in nearby galaxies. The shadow — a dark region seen against a brighter background — is caused by the bending of light by the black hole, and would be the first direct observational evidence for the existence of a black hole’s event horizon, the boundary from within which not even light can escape.

The Submillimeter Array (SMA) on Mauna Kea, Hawaii

The experiment marks the first time that APEX has taken part in VLBI observations, and is the culmination of three years hard work at APEX’s high altitude site on the 5000-metre plateau of Chajnantor in the Chilean Andes, where the atmospheric pressure is only about half that at sea level. To make APEX ready for VLBI, scientists from Germany and Sweden installed new digital data acquisition systems, a very precise atomic clock, and pressurised data recorders capable of recording 4 gigabits per second for many hours under challenging environmental conditions [6]. The data — 4 terabytes from each telescope — were shipped to Germany on hard drives and processed at the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn.

Position of the quasar 3C 279 in the constellation of Virgo

The successful addition of APEX is also important for another reason. It shares its location and many aspects of its technology with the new Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) telescope [7]. ALMA is currently under construction and will finally consist of 54 dishes with the same 12-metre diameter as APEX, plus 12 smaller dishes with a diameter of 7 metres. The possibility of connecting ALMA to the network is currently being studied. With the vastly increased collecting area of ALMA’s dishes, the observations could achieve 10 times better sensitivity than these initial tests. This would put the shadow of the Milky Way's supermassive black hole within reach for future observations.

Artist’s impression of the quasar 3C 279

Artist’s impression of the quasar 3C 279 (alternative version)


[1] APEX is a collaboration between the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy (MPIfR), the Onsala Space Observatory (OSO) and ESO. Operation of APEX at Chajnantor is entrusted to ESO. APEX is a pathfinder for the next-generation submillimetre telescope, the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), which is being built and operated on the same plateau.

[2] The Event Horizon Telescope project is an international collaboration, coordinated by the MIT Haystack Observatory (USA).

[3] The Submillimeter Array (SMA) on Mauna Kea, Hawaii, consisting of 8 dishes of 6 m diameter each, is operated by the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory (USA) and the Academia Sinica Institute of Astronomy and Astrophysics (Taiwan).

[4] The Submillimeter Telescope (SMT) of 10 m diameter on top of Mount Graham, Arizona, is operated by the Arizona Radio Observatory (ARO) in Tucson, Arizona (USA).

[5] Some indirect techniques have been used to probe finer scales, for example using microlensing (see heic1116) or interstellar scintillation, but this is a record for direct observations.

[6] These systems were developed in parallel in the USA (MIT-Haystack observatory) and in Europe (MPIfR, INAF — Istituto di Radioastronomia Noto VLBI Station, and HAT-Lab). A hydrogen maser time standard (T4Science) was installed as the very precise atomic clock. The SMT and SMA had already been equipped similarly for VLBI.

[7] The Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), an international astronomy facility, is a partnership of Europe, North America and East Asia in cooperation with the Republic of Chile. ESO is the European partner in ALMA.

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”.

    Press release from MPIfR: in English and in German:

    Information about APEX:

    APEX telescope:

    Max-Planck-Institute für Radioastronomie (MPIfR), Bonn, Germany:

    Submillimeter Array, Hawaii:

    Submillimeter Telescope, Arizona Radio Observatory:

    Event Horizon Telescope:

    MIT Haystack Observatory, USA:

    INAF/Noto Digital BaseBand Converter Project:

    ESO ALMA pages:

    Joint ALMA Observatory:

Images, Text, Credits: ESO / M. Kornmesser / L. Calçada / B. Tafreshi / TWAN / University of Arizona, David Harvey / J. Weintroub / IAU and Sky & Telescope / Videos: ESO / M. Kornmesser / L. Calçada.

Best regards,

mardi 17 juillet 2012

Inflatable Spacecraft Heat Shield Set to Launch

NASA's Wallops Flight Facility patch.

July 17, 2012

NASA technicians and engineers are putting the finishing touches on a unique experiment designed to demonstrate that an inflatable aeroshell/heat shield could be used to protect spacecraft when entering a planet's atmosphere or returning here to Earth.


Workers from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility on Virginia's Eastern Shore and NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va., are preparing the Inflatable Reentry Vehicle Experiment (IRVE-3) for launch from Wallops as early as July 21.

IRVE-3 is one of NASA's many research efforts to develop new technologies to advance space travel. It's part of the Hypersonic Inflatable Aerodynamic Decelerator or HIAD project -- within the NASA Space Technology Program's Game Changing Development Program.

"We have developed a 10-foot (3 meters) diameter heat shield that we are packing -- uninflated -- into the 22-inch (56 centimeters) diameter nose cone of a three-stage Black Brant XI sounding rocket," said Robert Dillman, IRVE-3 chief engineer. The inflated structure will protect a payload that consists of four segments including the inflation system, steering mechanisms, telemetry equipment and camera gear.

Image above: Technicians at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Wallops Island, Va., mated the components of the Inflatable Reentry Vehicle Experiment into the nosecone and sounding rocket. Credit: NASA / Kathy Barnstorff.

The heat shield is a cone of inflatable rings, which when filled with nitrogen look a little like a giant stacking ring toy or a mushroom. The rings are covered by a high-tech blanket or thermal protection system that is made up of layers of heat resistant materials. According to engineers fitting the inflatable structure into the rocket wasn't as difficult as folding up its cover.

"Packing actually turns out to be quite a challenge," said Neil Cheatwood, principal investigator for IRVE-3 and HIAD -- the Hypersonic Inflatable Aerodynamic Decelerator project that oversees the flight experiment. "One reason is because the IRVE-3 thermal protection system has this insulating layer of pyrogel -- an aerogel -- that is largely air. That makes it very difficult to compress. It's like trying to compress a sponge."

The IRVE-3 needs that kind of insulation because of the force of entry into Earth's atmosphere and temperatures that may reach as high as 1,850 degrees Fahrenheit (1,010 degrees Celsius). To achieve realistic reentry heating, the rocket will launch the inflatable spacecraft technology about 280 miles into the air. The 680-pound (308 kilograms) IRVE-3 will separate from the rocket and cutters will snip the strings on the inflatable's restraining bag, allowing the inflation system to pump the Kevlar rings to the right pressure. Then the inflatable heat shield and its payload will plummet back through Earth's atmosphere, splashing down in the Atlantic Ocean about 20 minutes after launch -- 350 miles (563 kilometers) down range from Wallops.

Image above: A three-stage Black Brant XI sounding rocket similar to this one will launch the Inflatable Reentry Vehicle Experiment (IRVE-3) about 280 miles (451 kilometers) into the air over the Atlantic Ocean. The IRVE-3 will separate from the nose cone, inflate and plummet back through Earth's atmosphere. Credit: NASA / Wallops Flight Facility.

During reentry four video cameras will transmit images to the Wallops control room to confirm that the IRVE-3 is holding its shape. Instruments on board will also send temperature and pressure data to researchers.

It sounds so simple when the engineers describe it, but nothing could be further from the truth. Way before launch day there have been literally years of designing, fabricating and testing to try to make sure everything goes right. About 50 people have worked for more than three years to make the experiment happen.

Invitation to the IRVE-3 Launch poster. Credit: NASA.

"We like it when it looks simple," said Carrie Rhoades, flight systems engineer. "It actually took quite a bit of work to get to where we are now. We have to do all kinds of different testing -- in wind tunnels, high temperature facilities and laboratories."

This will be the third IRVE suborbital flight. But why pursue inflatable spacecraft technology development in the first place? According to engineers such a system could offer more flexibility for future missions, by reducing some of the size and weight restrictions that are part of the rigid aeroshells we currently use for planetary exploration. An inflatable heat shield could accommodate larger payloads that could deliver more science instruments to other worlds and allow us to land at higher elevations on planets such as Mars or bring gear safely back from the International Space Station.

Images (mentioned), Video, Text, Credits: NASA / NASA Langley Research Center / Kathy Barnstorff.

Best regards,

SolarImpulse - Switzerland approaching

SolarImpulse - Destination Morocco patch.

July 17, 2012

Bertrand Piccard took off this morning at 3:36AM (UTC), Tuesday 17 July, beginning the last part of this year’s Crossing Frontiers mission flights. Unfortunately the chances of making another speed record, either forwards or backwards, are quite slim today given the placid weather conditions.

There was an initial suspense around the flight plan for this return leg home. Over the weekend, the Mission Control Center and the Flight Director were evaluating whether to wait for the perfect weather forecast for a direct Madrid to Payerne flight or rather seize the opportunity to get closer to the final destination by crossing the Pyrenees today and proceeding to Payerne tomorrow, after an overnight pit stop in Toulouse. But as you may have noticed, the Solar Impulse team has opted for the latter, slowly approaching Switzerland in these ideal weather conditions.

Flight Madrid-Toulouse takeoff

Today’s flight is predicted to unfold smoothly. Bertrand will navigate HB-SIA in the direction of Atlantic crossing the western part of the Pyrenees around Biarritz and into France. It will then veer to the east and make its way to Toulouse. The prototype will keep a fairly low altitude throughout the flight allowing the pilot to breathe without an oxygen mask for most of it.

Don’t forget about the photo contest! Be Solar Impulse’s exclusive photographer for this last bit of the Crossing Frontiers mission flights by taking either an in-flight or a landing photo and posting it here. You will have the chance to be one of two winners of a number of prizes. At stake are a Solar Impulse cap, an official team T-Shirt and a Solar Impulse book signed by its founders and pilots, André and Bertrand!

SolarImpulse in flight

Flight: Madrid - Toulouse


DATE: 17.07.2012

TAKE OFF: Bajaras-Madrid Airport 03:33 AM (UTC)

EXPECTED LANDING: Toulouse-Francazal airport after 06:30 PM (UTC)

Follow the SolarImpulse flight live online:

Image, Video, Text, Credit: SolarImpulse.


New Crew Docks With International Space Station

ROSCOSMOS - Soyuz TMA-05M Mission patch.

July 17, 2012

NASA astronaut Suni Williams, Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Aki Hoshide and Russian cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko joined their Expedition 32 crewmates at the International Space Station early Tuesday.

Image above: The Soyuz TMA-05M carrying Expedition 32 crew members Yuri Malenchenko, Sunita Williams and Akihiko Hoshide approaches the International Space Station. Credit: NASA TV.

The docking occurs 37 years to the day after the first ever docking of American and Russian spacecraft during the 1975 Apollo-Soyuz mission.

New Expedition 32 Trio Arrives at Station

Video above: Expedition 32 Flight Engineers Suni Williams, Yuri Malenchenko and Aki Hoshide have arrived at the International Space Station after two days in orbit. The new trio docked its Soyuz TMA-05M spacecraft to the Rassvet module at 12:51 a.m. EDT Tuesday.

The hatches between the Soyuz and the Rassvet module opened at 3:23 a.m. and Commander Gennady Padalka and Flight Engineers Joe Acaba and Sergei Revin greeted their new crewmates. The six-member crew conducted a welcoming ceremony with family and mission officials then participated in a safety briefing.

Hatches Open, Expedition 32 Expands to Six

Video above: The six-member Expedition 32 crew gathers in the Zvezda service module for a welcoming ceremony. Credit: NASA TV.

Williams, Malenchenko and Hoshide launched at 10:40 p.m. EDT Saturday (8:40 a.m. Kazakhstan time on Sunday) from Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan. They are expected to live and work aboard the orbital laboratory until November.

The launch and docking of Expedition 32 coincides with the 37th anniversary of the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project, the first docking of an American spacecraft with a Russian spacecraft. An Apollo spacecraft from Kennedy Space Center and a Soyuz 7K-TM vehicle from Baikonur Cosmodrome launched on July 15, 1975, then docked two days later.

International Space Station (ISS)

American astronauts Commander Thomas Stafford, Command Module Pilot Vance Brand and Docking Module Pilot Donald Slayton were aboard the Apollo spacecraft. Russian cosmonauts Commander Alexei Leonov and Flight Engineer Valeri Kubasov were aboard the Soyuz 7K-TM. Stafford and Leonov shook hands after the hatches opened, the first time international crew members greeted each other in space.

Read more about Expedition 32:

Expedition 32 Mission Summary (4.7 MB PDF):

For more information about the International Space Station (ISS), visit:

Images, Videos, Text, Credits: ROSCOSMOS / ROSCOMOS TV / NASA / NASA TV.


lundi 16 juillet 2012

A magnetic monster’s dual personality

ESA - XMM-Newton Mission patch.

16 July 2012

 A strange star’s curious behaviour

Is it a magnetar or is it a pulsar? A second member of a rare breed of dead, spinning star has been identified thanks to an armada of space-based X-ray telescopes, including ESA’s XMM-Newton. Its curious behaviour is illustrated in this animation.

Magnetars are a type of neutron star, the dead cores of massive stars that have collapsed in on themselves after burning up all their fuel and exploding as dramatic supernovas.

They typically display bright, persistent X-ray emission and the most intense magnetic fields known in the Universe.

Pulsars meanwhile are spinning neutron stars with much lower magnetic fields than magnetars that appear to pulse radio waves as they rotate rapidly.

The pulses are seen when beams of radiation rotate through our line of sight from Earth, rather like the sweeping beam of a lighthouse.

The recently discovered star appears to be a hybrid of these two stellar breeds: the spinning stellar skeleton appears as a pulsar while hiding an intense internal magnetic field much like a magnetar.

The internal field is many times stronger than its external magnetic field, leading to its entry into the new class of ‘low-field magnetars’.

As this animation illustrates, the turbulent interior arises as a result of twisted magnetic field lines.

As the field lines unwind, energy is released as a steady burst of X-rays through fractures in the star’s ‘crust’.

Only two examples of low-field magnetars are known. The first was discovered in 2010 and the second in July 2011, given away by short X-ray bursts that were detected by NASA’s Swift space telescope.

ESA’s XMM-Newton

NASA’s Rossi X-Ray Timing Explorer and Chandra X-ray Observatory, ESA’s XMM-Newton and Japan’s Suzaku satellite, as well as the ground-based Gran Telescopio Canarias and the Green Bank Telescope, were alerted and the star’s activity was monitored until April 2012, during which time the outburst began to decay.

The discovery of a second member of this rare family of star strengthens the idea that magnetar-like behaviour may be much more widespread than believed in the past.

More about XMM-Newton:

XMM-Newton overview:

XMM-Newton operations:

XMM-Newton in-depth:

Image, Video, Text, Credits: ESA / C. Carreau.