vendredi 21 septembre 2012

NASA Dawn Spacecraft Sees Hydrated Minerals on Giant Asteroid

NASA - Dawn Mission patch.

Sept. 21, 2012

NASA's Dawn spacecraft has revealed the giant asteroid Vesta has its own version of ring around the collar. Two new papers, based on observations from the low-altitude mapping orbit of the Dawn mission, show volatile, or easily evaporated, materials have colored Vesta's surface in a broad swath around its equator.

Hydrogen Hot Spots on Vesta

The animation from NASA's Dawn mission shows abundances of hydrogen in a wide swath around the equator of the giant asteroid Vesta. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

The volatiles were released from minerals likely containing water. Pothole-like features mark some of the asteroid's surface where the volatiles boiled off. Dawn did not find actual water ice at Vesta. However, it found evidence of hydrated minerals delivered by meteorites and dust in the giant asteroid's chemistry and geology. The findings appear Thursday in the journal Science.

One paper, led by Thomas Prettyman, the lead scientist for Dawn's gamma ray and neutron detector (GRaND) at the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson, Ariz., describes how the instrument found signatures of hydrogen, likely in the form of hydroxyl or water bound to minerals in Vesta's surface.

"The source of the hydrogen within Vesta's surface appears to be hydrated minerals delivered by carbon-rich space rocks that collided with Vesta at speeds slow enough to preserve their volatile content," said Prettyman.

A complementary paper, led by Brett Denevi, a Dawn participating scientist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md., describes the presence of pitted terrain created by the release of the volatiles.

This perspective view of Marcia crater on the giant asteroid Vesta shows the most spectacularly preserved example of "pitted terrain," an unexpected discovery in data returned by NASA's Dawn mission. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA/JHUAPL.

Vesta is the second most massive member of our solar system's main asteroid belt. Dawn was orbiting at an average altitude of about 130 miles (210 kilometers) above the surface when it obtained the data. Dawn left Vesta on Sept. 5 EDT (Sept. 4) and is on its way to a second target, the dwarf planet Ceres.

Scientists thought it might be possible for water ice to survive near the surface around the giant asteroid's poles. Unlike Earth's moon, however, Vesta has no permanently shadowed polar regions where ice might survive. The strongest signature for hydrogen in the latest data came from regions near the equator, where water ice is not stable.

In some cases, space rocks crashed into these deposits at high speed. The heat from the collisions converted the hydrogen bound to the minerals into water, which evaporated. Escaping water left holes as much as six-tenths of a mile (1 kilometer) wide and as deep as 700 feet (200 meters). Seen in images from Dawn's framing camera, this pitted terrain is best preserved in sections of Marcia crater.

A distinctive "pitted terrain” observed by NASA's Dawn mission on Vesta has also been seen on Mars. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona/MPS/DLR/IDA/JHUAPL.

"The pits look just like features seen on Mars, and while water was common on Mars, it was totally unexpected on Vesta in these high abundances," said Denevi. "These results provide evidence that not only were hydrated materials present, but they played an important role in shaping the asteroid's geology and the surface we see today."

GRaND's data are the first direct measurements describing the elemental composition of Vesta's surface. Dawn's elemental investigation by the instrument determined the ratios of iron to oxygen and iron to silicon in the surface materials. The new findings solidly confirm the connection between Vesta and a class of meteorites found on Earth called the Howardite, Eucrite and Diogenite meteorites, which have the same ratios for these elements. In addition, more volatile-rich fragments of other objects have been identified in these meteorites, which supports the idea the volatile-rich material was deposited on Vesta.

This map from NASA's Dawn mission shows the global distribution of hydrogen on the surface of the giant asteroid Vesta. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/PSI/MPS/DLR/IDA.

The Dawn mission is managed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory for the Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The spacecraft is as a project of the Discovery Program managed by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. The University of California, Los Angeles, is responsible for overall mission science. Orbital Sciences Corporation of Dulles, Va., designed and built the spacecraft.

The framing cameras that saw the pitted terrain were developed and built under the leadership of the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, Katlenburg-Lindau, Germany, with contributions by the German Aerospace Center (DLR) Institute of Planetary Research, Berlin, and in coordination with the Institute of Computer and Communication Network Engineering, Braunschweig. The framing camera project is funded by NASA, the Max Planck Society and DLR. The gamma ray and neutron detector instrument was built by Los Alamos National Laboratory, N.M., and is operated by the Planetary Science Institute.

To view new images and for more information about Dawn, visit:

Images (mentioned), Video (mentioned), Text, Credit: NASA.


ESA’s ATV Edoardo Amaldi’s, so long… and thanks for all the oxygen

ESA - ATV-3 Edoardo Amaldi Mission patch.

21 September 2012

ESA’s ATV Edoardo Amaldi’s time is near. Next week the spacecraft will undock from the International Space Station and burn up in Earth’s atmosphere, its hugely successful mission coming to an end six months after launch.

ATV Edoardo Amaldi will undock during the night of 25/26 September, and, just 24 hours later, will be commanded to perform a controlled destructive reentry high over an uninhabited area of the South Pacific.

ATV-1 reentry

Automated Tranfer Vehicles (ATV) supply the Space Station with all the essentials to keep Earth’s only permanent microgravity laboratory operating smoothly. Edoardo Amaldi, ESA’s third cargo ship in the series, delivered about 3400 kg of oxygen, air, water, equipment and food to the astronauts orbiting our planet. 

ATVs are the largest cargo ferries to visit the Space Station and Edoardo Amaldi was the most heavily packed ATV with dry cargo to date.

Each day, the Space Station falls back to Earth by a tiny amount, and every so often needs a push to remain in orbit. When docked, ATV can fire its engines to give its host a boost.

Image above: ATV Edoardo Amaldi and the International Space Station firing their thrusters to boost the orbital outpost’s orbit.

In August, Edoardo Amaldi raised the Station’s entire orbit to above 415 km altitude, the highest it has been since the first Space Station module was launched in 1998.

Supply ship, extra crew quarters and extra engine for the Space Station – ATVs are versatile ships that dock autonomously under the watchful eyes of ESA and French space agency CNES experts from the ATV Control Centre in Toulouse, France.

When ATV leaves, the astronauts on the ISS will have one room less in which to work. Luckily the loss is only temporary as ATV-4 has already arrived at its launch site in Kourou, French Guiana.


ATV-4, named after Albert Einstein, is ready to take over the tasks of Edoardo Amaldi. It will be launched in spring 2013.

“The increasing pace of ISS science exploitation means that new crew and station supplies are already needed, so there’s not much rest time before ATV-4 goes up" says Massimo Cislaghi, ATV-3 and ATV-5 Mission Manager.

“With each flight, our mission team becomes just a little better at managing and flying the most sophisticated spacecraft ever built in Europe.”

ATV-4 Albert Einstein Mission patch

Work on ATV-4 started shortly after ATV-3. It will follow so closely that the Control Centre was already sending it test commands at the manufacturing facility in Germany while ATV-3 was still in orbit.

André Kuipers unloading ATV-3 cargo

 When ATV Edoardo Amaldi leaves the Space Station it will fulfil one last task, it will take out the rubbish as it leaves. The spacecraft has been loaded with waste from the Space Station that will burn up on reentry.

“ATV-3 has been an excellent vessel and has fully performed all tasks we’ve asked of it and, on a few occasions, even a little bit more,” added Massimo.

Related links:

Automated Transfer Vehicle:

ATV blog:

ATV Factsheet:

ATV-3 Poster:

ATV video gallery:

Images, Text, Credits: ESA / NASA.

Best regards,

jeudi 20 septembre 2012

NASA Mars Rover Targets Unusual Rock on Its Journey

NASA - Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) patch.

Sept. 20, 2012

The drive by NASA's Mars rover Curiosity during the mission's 43rd Martian day, or sol, (Sept. 19, 2012) ended with this rock about 8 feet (2.5 meters) in front of the rover. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

NASA's Mars rover Curiosity has driven up to a football-size rock that will be the first for the rover's arm to examine.

Curiosity is about 8 feet (2.5 meters) from the rock. It lies about halfway from the rover's landing site, Bradbury Landing, to a location called Glenelg. In coming days, the team plans to touch the rock with a spectrometer to determine its elemental composition and use an arm-mounted camera to take close-up photographs.

This mosaic from the Mast Camera on NASA's Curiosity rover shows a close-up view looking toward the "Glenelg" area, where three different terrain types come together. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS.

Both the arm-mounted Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer and the mast-mounted, laser-zapping Chemistry and Camera Instrument will be used for identifying elements in the rock. This will allow cross-checking of the two instruments.

The rock has been named "Jake Matijevic." Jacob Matijevic (mah-TEE-uh-vik) was the surface operations systems chief engineer for Mars Science Laboratory and the project's Curiosity rover. He passed away Aug. 20, at age 64. Matijevic also was a leading engineer for all of the previous NASA Mars rovers: Sojourner, Spirit and Opportunity.

Curiosity now has driven six days in a row. Daily distances range from 72 feet to 121 feet (22 meters to 37 meters).

Mars has two small, asteroid-sized moons named Phobos and Deimos. From the point of view of the rover, located near the equator of Mars, these moons occasionally pass in front of, or "transit," the disk of the sun. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS.

"This robot was built to rove, and the team is really getting a good rhythm of driving day after day when that's the priority," said Mars Science Laboratory Project Manager Richard Cook of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

The team plans to choose a rock in the Glenelg area for the rover's first use of its capability to analyze powder drilled from interiors of rocks. Three types of terrain intersect in the Glenelg area -- one lighter-toned and another more cratered than the terrain Curiosity currently is crossing. The light-toned area is of special interest because it retains daytime heat long into the night, suggesting an unusual composition.

"As we're getting closer to the light-toned area, we see thin, dark bands of unknown origin," said Mars Science Laboratory Project Scientist John Grotzinger of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena. "The smaller-scale diversity is becoming more evident as we get closer, providing more potential targets for investigation."

Researchers are using Curiosity's Mast Camera (Mastcam) to find potential targets on the ground. Recent new images from the rover's camera reveal dark streaks on rocks in the Glenelg area that have increased researchers' interest in the area. In addition to taking ground images, the camera also has been busy looking upward.

On two recent days, Curiosity pointed the Mastcam at the sun and recorded images of Mars' two moons, Phobos and Deimos, passing in front of the sun from the rover's point of view. Results of these transit observations are part of a long-term study of changes in the moons' orbits. NASA's twin Mars Exploration Rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, which arrived at Mars in 2004, also have observed solar transits by Mars' moons. Opportunity is doing so again this week.

"Phobos is in an orbit very slowly getting closer to Mars, and Deimos is in an orbit very slowly getting farther from Mars," said Curiosity's science team co-investigator Mark Lemmon of Texas A&M University, College Station. "These observations help us reduce uncertainty in calculations of the changes."

Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) "Curiosity"

In Curiosity's observations of Phobos this week, the time when the edge of the moon began overlapping the disc of the sun was predictable to within a few seconds. Uncertainty in timing is because Mars' interior structure isn't fully understood.

Phobos causes small changes to the shape of Mars in the same way Earth's moon raises tides. The changes to Mars' shape depend on the Martian interior which, in turn, cause Phobos' orbit to decay. Timing the orbital change more precisely provides information about Mars' interior structure.

During Curiosity's two-year prime mission, researchers will use the rover's 10 science instruments to assess whether the selected field site inside Gale Crater ever has offered environmental conditions favorable for microbial life.

For more about Curiosity, visit: and . You can follow the mission on Facebook and Twitter at: and .

Images, Text, Credits: NASA / Dwayne Brown / JPL / Guy Webster / D.C. Agle.


NASA Telescopes Spy Ultra-Distant Galaxy Amidst Cosmic 'Dark Ages'

NASA - SPITZER Space Telescope patch.

Sept. 20, 2012

In the big image at left, the many galaxies of a massive cluster called MACS J1149+2223 dominate the scene. Gravitational lensing by the giant cluster brightened the light from the newfound galaxy, known as MACS 1149-JD, some 15 times. At upper right, a partial zoom-in shows MACS 1149-JD in more detail, and a deeper zoom appears to the lower right.. Image credit: NASA/ESA/STScI/JHU.

With the combined power of NASA's Spitzer and Hubble space telescopes, as well as a cosmic magnification effect, astronomers have spotted what could be the most distant galaxy ever seen. Light from the young galaxy captured by the orbiting observatories first shone when our 13.7-billion-year-old universe was just 500 million years old.

The far-off galaxy existed within an important era when the universe began to transit from the so-called cosmic dark ages. During this period, the universe went from a dark, starless expanse to a recognizable cosmos full of galaxies. The discovery of the faint, small galaxy opens a window onto the deepest, remotest epochs of cosmic history.

"This galaxy is the most distant object we have ever observed with high confidence," said Wei Zheng, a principal research scientist in the department of physics and astronomy at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and lead author of a new paper appearing in Nature. "Future work involving this galaxy, as well as others like it that we hope to find, will allow us to study the universe's earliest objects and how the dark ages ended."

Light from the primordial galaxy traveled approximately 13.2 billion light-years before reaching NASA's telescopes. In other words, the starlight snagged by Hubble and Spitzer left the galaxy when the universe was just 3.6 percent of its present age. Technically speaking, the galaxy has a redshift, or "z," of 9.6. The term redshift refers to how much an object's light has shifted into longer wavelengths as a result of the expansion of the universe. Astronomers use redshift to describe cosmic distances.

Unlike previous detections of galaxy candidates in this age range, which were only glimpsed in a single color, or waveband, this newfound galaxy has been seen in five different wavebands. As part of the Cluster Lensing And Supernova Survey with Hubble Program, the Hubble Space Telescope registered the newly described, far-flung galaxy in four visible and infrared wavelength bands. Spitzer measured it in a fifth, longer-wavelength infrared band, placing the discovery on firmer ground.

SPITZER Space Telescope

Objects at these extreme distances are mostly beyond the detection sensitivity of today's largest telescopes. To catch sight of these early, distant galaxies, astronomers rely on gravitational lensing. In this phenomenon, predicted by Albert Einstein a century ago, the gravity of foreground objects warps and magnifies the light from background objects. A massive galaxy cluster situated between our galaxy and the newfound galaxy magnified the newfound galaxy's light, brightening the remote object some 15 times and bringing it into view.

Based on the Hubble and Spitzer observations, astronomers think the distant galaxy was less than 200 million years old when it was viewed. It also is small and compact, containing only about 1 percent of the Milky Way's mass. According to leading cosmological theories, the first galaxies indeed should have started out tiny. They then progressively merged, eventually accumulating into the sizable galaxies of the more modern universe.

These first galaxies likely played the dominant role in the epoch of reionization, the event that signaled the demise of the universe's dark ages. This epoch began about 400,000 years after the Big Bang when neutral hydrogen gas formed from cooling particles. The first luminous stars and their host galaxies emerged a few hundred million years later. The energy released by these earliest galaxies is thought to have caused the neutral hydrogen strewn throughout the universe to ionize, or lose an electron, a state that the gas has remained in since that time.

"In essence, during the epoch of reionization, the lights came on in the universe," said paper co-author Leonidas Moustakas, a research scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, Calif.

Astronomers plan to study the rise of the first stars and galaxies and the epoch of reionization with the successor to both Hubble and Spitzer, NASA's James Webb Telescope, which is scheduled for launch in 2018. The newly described distant galaxy likely will be a prime target.

For more information about Spitzer, visit:

For more information about Hubble, visit:

Image, Text, Credits: NASA / ESA.

Best regards,

mercredi 19 septembre 2012

Europe’s second polar-orbiting weather satellite is aloft

Arianespace / ESA - "Launches Speak Louder Than Words" patch.

19 September 2012

17 September 2012 - The second Metop satellite was launched today from the Baikonur cosmodrome, in Kazakhstan, atop a Russian Soyuz launcher.

MetOp-B launch

Metop-B will ensure the continuity of the weather and atmospheric monitoring service provided by its predecessor Metop-A, which has been circling the globe from pole to pole, 14 times a day, since 2006 and has now exceeded its design lifetime.

Launch of MetOp-B on Soyuz-2-1A

The Soyuz-Fregat vehicle lifted off at 16:28 GMT on Monday, 17 September. The Fregat upper stage manoeuvred to release the satellite into a polar orbit at an altitude of 810 km some 69 minutes later, over the Kerguelen Archipelago, in the Indian Ocean.

Metop-B, developed for EUMETSAT’s polar satellite system, is now under the control of ESA’s Operations Centre in Darmstadt, Germany.

In the coming days, its systems will be tested before it is handed over to EUMETSAT, also based in Darmstadt, for six months of commissioning of its payload before entering routine service with Metop-A.

For ESA’s Director General Jean-Jacques Dordain: “The launch of this second Metop satellite has taken place about two and a half months after that of MSG-3; this is a perfect illustration of the vitality of Europe’s weather satellite programmes developed in cooperation between ESA and EUMETSAT. The fact that the next generation satellites in line are already being prepared by ESA shows the strong commitment of Member States of both organisations to continue and improve collecting data that are supporting not only weather-forecasting but also monitoring and understanding of climate change. Such services are demonstrating daily the economical and societal value of investing in space infrastructure.”

Volker Liebig, ESA’s Director of Earth Observation Programmes, commented: “Metop-B will become operational while Metop-A is still active and performing well. This will ensure the continuity of the service without any risk of interruption in the data feed. Meanwhile, we are working with EUMETSAT to prepare the future with the second generation of European polar satellites.”

Astrium Metop-B Weather satellite

Unlike the Meteosat satellites, which are watching about half of our planet from a fixed vantage point almost 36 000 km above the Gulf of Guinea, Metops work at lower altitude and fly over the whole globe to provide additional data on the atmosphere.

Beyond weather monitoring, the Metop and Meteosat satellites are part of ESA’s effort on climate watch, which includes the experimental Earth Explorer satellites, to probe Earth and its atmosphere.

Three Earth Explorers have been launched since 2009 – the GOCE gravity mapper, the SMOS water satellite and the CryoSat ice satellite – and more are in preparation.

In 2013, ESA will start launching Sentinel satellites to monitor our environment and climate under the Global Monitoring for Environment & Security (GMES) initiative with the European Commission. 

Related links:


EADS Astrium:



Images, Video, Text, Credits: ESA / EUMETSAT / Astrium / Arianespace.

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lundi 17 septembre 2012

International Space Station Astronauts Land Safely in Kazakhstan

ISS - Expedition 32 Mission patch.

Sept. 17, 2012

Expedition 32 Undock from ISS

 Expedition 32 Landing

Three members of the Expedition 32 crew undocked from the International Space Station and returned safely to Earth on Sunday, wrapping up a mission lasting more than four months.

[ISS] Expedition 32 Safely Landed

Flight Engineer Joe Acaba of NASA, and Commander Gennady Padalka and Flight Engineer Sergei Revin of the Russian Federal Space Agency, undocked their Soyuz TMA-04M spacecraft from the space station at 7:09 p.m. EDT and landed north of Arkalyk, Kazakhstan, at 10:53 p.m. (8:53 a.m., Sept. 17, Kazakhstan time). The trio arrived at the station May 17 and spent 125 days in space, 123 of which were aboard the orbiting laboratory.

 Joe Acaba is carried by personnel to a medical tent for a checkup after landing. Credit: NASA TV.

Image above: Gennady Padalka rests outside the Soyuz TMA-04M spacecraft moments after landing. Credit: NASA TV.

After the Soyuz spacecraft separated from the space station, NASA astronaut Sunita Williams took command of Expedition 33. Williams is the second woman to command the station. She and her crewmates, Russian cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko and Akihiko Hoshide of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, will work aboard the station as a three-person crew until the arrival of three new crew members, including NASA astronaut Kevin Ford, in mid-October.

Gennady Padalka ceremonially hands control of the International Space Station to Suni Williams. Credit: NASA TV.

Acaba, Padalka and Revin orbited Earth 2,000 times and traveled 52,906,428 miles. Padalka now ranks fourth for the most days spent in space -- a total of 711 days during four flights.

To follow Twitter updates from NASA's Expedition 33 astronauts, visit: and

For more information about the International Space Station and its crew, visit:

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