vendredi 19 avril 2013

Spacewalkers Deploy Plasma Experiment, Install Navigational Aid

ISS - International Space Station patch / ISS - Expedition 35 Mission patch.

April 19, 2013

Image above: International Space Station Expedition 35 flight engineers Pavel Vinogradov and Roman Romanenko of the Russian Federal Space Agency. Image Credit: NASA TV.

Two members of the Expedition 35 crew wrapped up a 6-hour, 38 minute spacewalk at 4:41 p.m. EDT Friday to deploy and retrieve several science experiments on the exterior of the International Space Station and install a new navigational aid.

Russian Flight Engineers Pavel Vinogradov and Roman Romanenko opened the hatch to the Pirs airlock and docking compartment to start the spacewalk at 10:03 a.m.

Image above: Flight Engineer Roman Romanenko's helmet camera captured this view of Flight Engineer Pavel Vinogradov during Friday's spacewalk. Credit: NASA TV.

The spacewalkers' first task was to install the Obstanovka experiment on the station's Zvezda service module. Obstanovka will study plasma waves and the effect of space weather on Earth's ionosphere.

While at the far end of Zvezda, Vinogradov and Romanenko replaced a faulty retro-reflector device, one of a suite of navigational aids that will provide assistance to the European Space Agency's Albert Einstein Automated Transfer Vehicle 4 cargo ship during its final approach for an automated docking to the space station in June.

Russian Spacewalk Underway outside International Space Station

After deploying a pair of sensor booms for Obstanovka, Vinogradov and Romanenko retrieved the Biorisk experiment from the exterior of Pirs. The Biorisk experiment studied the effect of microbes on spacecraft structures.

For their final task, the two spacewalkers translated to the Poisk module to retrieve one of two Vinoslivost Materials Sample Experiment panels from the Poisk module. As Vinogradov was removing the panel, it slipped out of his grasp and was irretrievable. The trajectory the panel took will move it away from the space station with no chance of the two making contact.

This image of Flight Engineer Roman Romanenko participating in Friday's spacewalk was posted on Twitter by Flight Engineer Tom Marshburn. Credit: NASA.

This was the 167th spacewalk in support of space station assembly and maintenance, totaling 1,055 hours, 39 minutes. Vinogradov's seven spacewalks total 38 hours, 25 minutes. Romanenko completed his first spacewalk.

This was the first of as many as six Russian spacewalks planned for this year. Two U.S. spacewalks are scheduled in July.

During Friday’s spacewalk, Flight Engineers Alexander Misurkin and Chris Cassidy were restricted to their Soyuz TMA-08M spacecraft and the Poisk module to which it is docked. This is a standard procedure during Russian spacewalks as hatches are closed to protect the remainder of the station while still providing crew members access to their Soyuz vehicles.

Image above: Commander Chris Hadfield performs maintenance on the Waste and Hygiene Compartment. Credit: NASA TV.

Commander Chris Cassidy and Flight Engineer Tom Marshburn, whose Soyuz TMA-07M spacecraft is docked to Rassvet module, had a freer run of the station, including the Zarya module and all modules on the U.S. side of the station. While Vinogradov and Romanenko performed their spacewalk outside the station, Hadfield and Marshburn continued scientific research and maintenance activities inside.

Marshburn delved into his first onboard session with the BP Reg, a Canadian medical experiment that seeks to understand the causes of fainting and dizziness seen in some station astronauts upon return to Earth. BP Reg collects data before, during and after the mission using inflatable cuffs attached to the legs. The experiment will not only help understand dizziness in astronauts, but also have direct benefits for people on Earth – particularly those predisposed to falls and resulting injuries, as seen in the elderly.

In this image made from video provided by NASA, Russian Cosmonauts Pavel Vinogradov, left, and Roman Romanenko perform a spacewalk outside the International Space Station to gather old science experiments and install new ones, and replace a navigation device. Image credit: NASA TV.

Read more about BP Reg from the Canadian Space Agency:

Marshburn also collected data from NanoRacks and transferred the data to a laptop computer. NanoRacks provides microgravity research facilities for small standardized payloads aboard the station.

Flight Engineer Roman Romanenko works outside the Pirs docking compartment shortly after the start of the spacewalk. Credit: NASA TV.

Hadfield retrieved acoustic dosimeters that Cassidy deployed throughout the station Thursday and downloaded the data from these devices to track the noise levels that crew members are exposed to.

Hadfield also performed some maintenance on the Waste and Hygiene Compartment, one of the toilets aboard the station. The commander rounded out his workday loading software on a laptop computer associated with EXPRESS rack 8. Each of the eight EXPRESS racks aboard the complex provides simple, standard interfaces to accommodate up to ten small payloads, resulting in a total capability to operate up to 80 experiments.

Image above: Russian Cosmonauts Pavel Vinogradov, left, and Roman Romanenko perform a spacewalk outside the International Space Station. Image credit: NASA TV.

Read more about EXPRESS racks:

Over the weekend, the Russian crew members will spend some time drying out their Orlan spacesuits and stowing the tools used in Friday’s spacewalk. All six crew members will participate in weekly housekeeping tasks and enjoy some off-duty time to rest and catch up with friends and family back on Earth.

Read more about Expedition 35:

Images (mentioned), Video, Text, Credits: NASA / NASA TV.


Herschel and Hubble see the Horsehead in new light

ESA / NASA - Herschel Exploring the Cold Universe patch / ESA - Hubble Space Telescope patch.

19 April 2013

New views of the Horsehead Nebula and its turbulent environment have been unveiled by ESA’s Herschel space observatory and the NASA/ESA Hubble space telescope.

Herschel’s view of the Horsehead Nebula and surrounds

The Horsehead Nebula lies in the constellation Orion, about 1300 light-years away, and is a popular target for amateur and professional astronomers alike. It sits just to the south of star Alnitak, the easternmost of Orion’s famous three-star belt, and is part of the vast Orion Molecular Cloud complex.

Zooming in on the Horsehead

The new far-infrared Herschel view shows in spectacular detail the scene playing out around the Horsehead Nebula at the right-hand side of the image, where it seems to surf like a ‘white horse’ in the waves of turbulent star-forming clouds.

Hubble’s view of the Horsehead Nebula

It appears to be riding towards another favourite stopping point for astrophotographers: NGC 2024, also known as the Flame Nebula. This star-forming region appears obscured by dark dust lanes in visible light images, but blazes in full glory in the far-infrared Herschel view.

Intense radiation streaming away from newborn stars heats up the surrounding dust and gas, making it shine brightly to Herschel’s infrared-sensitive eyes.

Zooming in on the Horsehead (3D)

The panoramic view also covers two prominent sites of massive star formation to the northeast (left-hand side of this image), known as NGC 2068 (or M78) and NGC 2071. These take on the appearance of beautifully patterned butterfly wings, with long tails of colder gas and dust streaming away.

Both are reflection nebulas, so called because they reflect the light of nearby stars, revealing them even at visible wavelengths.

Visible and infrared views of the Horsehead Nebula

Extensive networks of cool gas and dust weave throughout the scene in the form of red and yellow filaments, some of which may host newly forming lightweight stars.

The new Hubble view, taken at near-infrared wavelengths with its Wide Field Camera 3 to celebrate the 23rd anniversary of the launch of the observatory, zooms in on the Horsehead to reveal fine details of its structure.

Zooming in on the Horsehead Nebula (2D)

Nearby stars illuminate the backlit wisps along the upper ridge of the nebula in an ethereal glow. The harsh ultraviolet glare from these bright stars is slowly evaporating the dusty stellar nursery. Two fledgling stars have already been exposed from their protective cocoons, and can just be seen peeking out from the upper ridge.

The Horsehead Nebula in new light

These latest views are also presented in a new fly-through animation, which puts the Horsehead in context and shows it at both visible and infrared wavelengths. The new views from Herschel and Hubble are complemented by ground-based images from other telescopes.

Note for Editors:

The Herschel image was obtained as part of a wider study of the Orion B region for the Herschel Gould Belt Survey, a guaranteed-time key programme of the mission. The image is a composite of individual images made at wavelengths of 70 microns (blue), 160 microns (green) and 250 microns (red).

A paper describing these results “What determines the density structure of molecular clouds? A case study of Orion B with Herschel,” by N. Schneider et al., is published in Astrophysical Journal Letters, 766, L17, April 2013.

The Hubble Space Telescope image depicts the Horsehead Nebula at near-infrared wavelengths of 1.1 microns (blue/cyan) and 1.6 microns (red/orange). It was photographed by the Wide Field Camera 3 to mark the 23rd anniversary of its launch on the Space Shuttle in April 1990. Wide Field Camera 3 was installed on the space telescope by astronauts during the 2009 servicing mission.

Images, Text, Credits: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (AURA/STScI); ESO/Videos: NASA, ESA, the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA); G. Bacon, T. Borders, L. Frattare, Z. Levay, and F. Summers (Viz 3D team, STScI); ESO.


Bion-M1 with a crew of duplicate mice into orbit

ROSCOSMOS - Bion M1 Mission patch.

April 19, 2013

 Soyuz-2.1a launch

April 19, 14 hours, 00 minutes. MSK from Launch Complex 31, site Baikonur calculations of rocket launchers and space industry Russia conducted a successful launch Vehicle (ILV) "Soyuz-2.1a," designed to the orbit of the Russian scientific spacecraft (SC) "Bion-M" number 1.

Soyuz 2-1A - Bion M1 Launch - April 19, 2013

Spacecraft "Bion-M" was created under the Federal Space Program and is designed for orbital flight in basic and applied research in space biology, physiology and biotechnology with the return of the results of experiments on Earth (under "Research in the field of space biology"). In accordance with the mission spacecraft must spend 30 days in orbit.

Together with the spacecraft "Bion-M" were brought into orbit six small satellites (ICA) of domestic and foreign production standard «CubeSat»:

- MCA "AIST" (HNP RCC "TsSKB-Progress", the Russian Federation);

- ICA «BeeSat-2", "VeeSat W», «SOMP» (Germany);

- ICA «DOVE-2" (United States);

- ICA «G.O.D. Sat »(South Korea).

Cubesat deployment pods on top of the Bion-M1 satellite

All ICA attached to the outer surface of the spacecraft "Bion-M-1" and will be transferred to the autonomous flight through separation systems in the period from the 4th to the 35th round.

Within one month space flight on a spacecraft "Bion-M" went 45 mice, 15 geckos, 8 Mongolian gerbils, 20 snails, and plants and their seeds. "Bion-M" into orbit from Baikonur led carrier rocket "Soyuz-2.1a." The spacecraft rocket in Samara Space Center was referred to as "Noah's Ark".

Together with the spacecraft, "Bion-M" rocket "Soyuz-2.1a" put into orbit six small satellites AIST, three German satellite - BeeSat-2, Beesat-3, SOMP, American Dove-2 (USA) and South Korean GODSat. "Bion-M" will be launched into orbit altitude of 575 km and an inclination of 65 degrees. Return of the device is planned for May 18. Place a touchdown - the Orenburg region, ITAR-TASS reported.

Before the start of the crew of the future astronauts mice had a conflict in which one of the crew members died tailed Space Explorers. As a result, the entire crew of 45 mice was removed from the flight and replaced by a group of mice-doubles.

Mongolian Gerbil

"In the space flying males are prone to stress and aggression. Had a conflict in which one of the animals died. This resulted in the complete replacement of one group of mice," - said the representative of the Institute of Biomedical key problems.

Biosatellites launch was planned for May 2012. But the start was moved to the fall because of the unavailability of the machine. But the fall run "Bion-M" was not possible, because the return of "bioturistov" on Earth would have taken place in the coldest time of the year.

A month flight aboard the "Bion-M" will be held more than 70 experiments. The research will be divided into two groups. The purpose of the first - study the effects of weightlessness and space flight factors on intracellular changes. The second group of experiments will focus on the study of the effects of space on living organisms of ionizing radiation, as well as testing of new methods and tools for space dosimetry.

Bion M1 animal facility

The program of experiments on "BION-M" is unique. "For the first time in the world we will be able to carry out physiological studies, not only during orbital flight, but also on the most critical and complex stages: during start and landing," - said the deputy director of the Institute of Biomedical Problems (IBMP), Russian Academy of Sciences Valery Boyarintsev.

The emphasis in the new project, unlike the previous two launches a series of "Bion" will be on the study of the processes occurring at the molecular and genetic levels, whereas previously studied processes at the level of tissues, organs and the body as a whole.

Bion M1 description (in Russian)

"Now it will attempt to descend to the level of cells, molecules and genes that penetrate more deeply into the nature of the surgery, the changes that occur in the body in space flight," - said the chief researcher at the Institute of Biomedical Problems Yevgeny Ilyin.

The most interesting will be the research that will be useful for future interplanetary missions. "Of course, the most interesting are the experiments on mammals, it is - experiments in mice and Mongolian gerbils. They are both from a scientific point of view and in terms of improving the application of the system of medical support manned missions are the most important," - said Yevgeny Ilyin.

Bion M1

Previous scientific apparatus with animals on board the "Foton-M" flew into space six years ago. It was launched on 14 September 2007 and returned to Earth after 12 days. On board the "Photon-M" in spaceflight visited 12 Mongolian gerbils, mice, 20 newts, five lizards, 20 snails and thousands of micro-organisms, as well as pupae of butterflies, caterpillars, silkworms and cockroaches.

Upgraded unit "Bion-M" structurally consists of a descent module, equipment module, for hosting provides the equipment and the sealed container with the chemical power sources.

Satellite "Bion-M" is designed for orbital flight in basic and applied research on space biomedicine and biotechnology with the return of the results of experiments on Earth. Experiments conducted on the satellite will contribute to the improvement of medical care and long-term manned flight of human activities in extreme conditions.

Mass of the satellite, "Bion-M" is 6300 pounds, the weight of scientific equipment - up to 900 pounds. In this case, up to 700 pounds of payload placed inside the lander and 200 pounds - outside.

Lifetime spacecraft with animals on board - up to 30 days.

Roscosmos Press Release:

Images, Video, Text, Credits: ROSCOSMOS PAO / ROSCOSMOS TV / TsSKB Progress / ITAR-TASS / Translation: Aerospace.

Best regards,

jeudi 18 avril 2013

Swift's Christmas Burst From Blue Supergiant Star Explosion

NASA - Swift Mission patch.

April 18, 2013

Image above: Artist's illustration of one model of the bright gamma-ray burst GRB 080319B. The explosion is highly beamed into two bipolar jets, with a narrow inner jet surrounded by a wider outer jet. Credit: NASA.

GRB 101225A, better known as the 'Christmas burst,' was an unusually long-lasting gamma-ray burst. Because its distance was not measured, astronomers came up with two radically different interpretations. In the first, a solitary neutron star in our own galaxy shredded and accreted an approaching comet-like body.

Swift's Christmas Burst From Blue Supergiant Star Explosion

In the second, a neutron star is engulfed by, spirals into and merges with an evolved giant star in a distant galaxy. Now, thanks to a measurement of the Christmas burst’s host galaxy, astronomers have determined that it represented the collapse and explosion of a supergiant star hundreds of times larger than the sun. Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio.

For more information about Swift Mission, visit:

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


The SPHERES Have Eyes

ISS - International Space Station patch / NASA - Zero Robotics logo.

April 18, 2013

It looks like something out of a sci-fi robotic spheres hovering around the International Space Station with goggles on. The Visual Estimation and Relative Tracking for Inspection of Generic Objects (VERTIGO) study, a part of the Synchronized Position, Hold, Engage and Reorient Experimental Satellites (SPHERES) investigation explores the use of small satellites equipped to analyze and capture data from specified objects, producing a 3-D model of those objects.

The 1.6 kilogram VERTIGO goggles designed for each SPHERES satellite are similar to a small computer tablet -- with 1.2 gigahertz data processor, camera, Wi-Fi device and batteries -- allowing the satellite to see what it is navigating around. This technology could result in techniques for space recycling of old aperture satellites or mapping of an asteroid for exploration, among other missions.

Image above: The SPHERES-VERTIGO investigation setup showing tracking (with goggles) and target SPHERES. Each satellite is an 18-sided polyhedron that is 0.2 meter in diameter and weighs 3.5 kilograms. (MIT Development Team).

In a March 26 interview on NASA Television, Brent Tweddle, a doctoral candidate at the Space Systems Laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass., said the goggles allow for each satellite to, "see, perceive and understand its world visually. We use that … to communicate that information to the SPHERES satellites using a package called the VERTIGO goggles. [The goggles] are their own little intelligence block that sticks on the front-end of the SPHERES satellite and allows it to see the rest of the world that it wants to navigate through."

Image above: NASA astronaut Tom Marshburn conducts the SPHERES-VERTIGO investigation aboard the International Space Station to study the ability to create a three-dimensional model of an unknown object in space using only one or two small satellites. (NASA).

Tweddle talked about a variety of topics related to the SPHERES and VERTIGO during the interview, including the different teams interested in this research. He described how the SHPERES are commanded by algorithms. Tweedle also spoke on the February 2012 test run and future SPHERES tests.


The VERTIGO addition to the SPHERES satellites is part of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency-funded International Space Station SPHERES Integrated Research Experiments (InSPIRE) program that leverages the human presence in space for rapid, iterative experimentation and design of space capabilities. It is providing the next generation of scientists and engineers (through the ZERO Robotics Competition) with exposure and experience in carrying out meaningful space experimentation economically and over reasonable time scales.

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

Visual Estimation and Relative Tracking for Inspection of Generic Objects (VERTIGO) study:

Synchronized Position, Hold, Engage and Reorient Experimental Satellites (SPHERES):

Images (mentioned), Video, Text, Credit: NASA's Johnson Space Center / Lori Keith.


NASA's Kepler Discovers its Smallest 'Habitable Zone' Planets to Date

NASA - Kepler Mission patch.

April 18, 2013

Image above: Relative sizes of Kepler habitable zone planets discovered as of April 18, 2013. Left to right: Kepler-22b, Kepler-69c, Kepler-62e, Kepler-62f, and Earth (except for Earth, these are artists' renditions). Image credit: NASA Ames/JPL-Caltech.

NASA's Kepler mission has discovered two new planetary systems that include three super-Earth-size planets in the "habitable zone," the range of distance from a star where the surface temperature of an orbiting planet might be suitable for liquid water.

The Kepler-62 system has five planets; 62b, 62c, 62d, 62e and 62f. The Kepler-69 system has two planets; 69b and 69c. Kepler-62e, 62f and 69c are the super-Earth-sized planets.

The artist's concept depicts Kepler-69c, a super-Earth-size planet in the habitable zone of a star like our sun. Image credit: NASA Ames/JPL-Caltech.

Two of the newly discovered planets orbit a star smaller and cooler than the sun. Kepler-62f is only 40 percent larger than Earth, making it the exoplanet closest to the size of our planet known in the habitable zone of another star. Kepler-62f is likely to have a rocky composition. Kepler-62e, orbits on the inner edge of the habitable zone and is roughly 60 percent larger than Earth.

The third planet, Kepler-69c, is 70 percent larger than the size of Earth, and orbits in the habitable zone of a star similar to our sun. Astronomers are uncertain about the composition of Kepler-69c, but its orbit of 242 days around a sun-like star resembles that of our neighboring planet Venus.

The diagram compares the planets of the inner solar system to Kepler-69, a two-planet system about 2,700 light-years from Earth. Image credit: NASA Ames/JPL-Caltech.

Scientists do not know whether life could exist on the newfound planets, but their discovery signals we are another step closer to finding a world similar to Earth around a star like our sun.

"The Kepler spacecraft has certainly turned out to be a rock star of science," said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator of the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "The discovery of these rocky planets in the habitable zone brings us a bit closer to finding a place like home. It is only a matter of time before we know if the galaxy is home to a multitude of planets like Earth, or if we are a rarity."

This artist's concept depicts Kepler-62e, a super-Earth-size planet in the habitable zone of a star smaller and cooler than the sun, located about 1,200 light-years from Earth. Image credit: NASA Ames/JPL-Caltech.

The Kepler space telescope, which simultaneously and continuously measures the brightness of more than 150,000 stars, is NASA's first mission capable of detecting Earth-size planets around stars like our sun. Orbiting its star every 122 days, Kepler-62e was the first of these habitable zone planets identified. Kepler-62f, with an orbital period of 267 days, was later found by Eric Agol, associate professor of astronomy at the University of Washington and co-author of a paper on the discoveries published in the journal Science.

The size of Kepler-62f is now measured, but its mass and composition are not. However, based on previous studies of rocky exoplanets similar in size, scientists are able to estimate its mass by association.

This artist's concept depicts Kepler-62f, a super-Earth-size planet in the habitable zone of its star. Image credit: NASA/Ames/JPL-Caltech.

"The detection and confirmation of planets is an enormously collaborative effort of talent and resources, and requires expertise from across the scientific community to produce these tremendous results," said William Borucki, Kepler science principal investigator at NASA's Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, Calif., and lead author of the Kepler-62 system paper in Science. "Kepler has brought a resurgence of astronomical discoveries and we are making excellent progress toward determining if planets like ours are the exception or the rule."

The two habitable zone worlds orbiting Kepler-62 have three companions in orbits closer to their star, two larger than the size of Earth and one about the size of Mars. Kepler-62b, Kepler-62c and Kepler-62d, orbit every five, 12, and 18 days, respectively, making them very hot and inhospitable for life as we know it.

The diagram compares the planets of the inner solar system to Kepler-62, a five-planet system about 1,200 light-years from Earth. Image credit: NASA Ames/JPL-Caltech.

The five planets of the Kepler-62 system orbit a star classified as a K2 dwarf, measuring just two-thirds the size of the sun and only one-fifth as bright. At seven billion years old, the star is somewhat older than the sun. It is about 1,200 light-years from Earth in the constellation Lyra.

A companion to Kepler-69c, known as Kepler-69b, is more than twice the size of Earth and whizzes around its star every 13 days. The Kepler-69 planets' host star belongs to the same class as our sun, called G-type. It is 93 percent the size of the sun and 80 percent as luminous and is located approximately 2,700 light-years from Earth in the constellation Cygnus.

Image above: Much like our solar system, Kepler-62 is home to two habitable zone worlds. The small shining object seen to the right of Kepler-62f is Kepler-62e. Orbiting on the inner edge of the habitable zone, Kepler-62e is roughly 60 percent larger than Earth. Image credit: NASA Ames/JPL-Caltech.

"We only know of one star that hosts a planet with life, the sun. Finding a planet in the habitable zone around a star like our sun is a significant milestone toward finding truly Earth-like planets," said Thomas Barclay, Kepler scientist at the Bay Area Environmental Research Institute in Sonoma, Calif., and lead author of the Kepler-69 system discovery published in the Astrophysical Journal.

When a planet candidate transits, or passes in front of the star from the spacecraft's vantage point, a percentage of light from the star is blocked. The resulting dip in the brightness of the starlight reveals the transiting planet's size relative to its star. Using the transit method, Kepler has detected 2,740 candidates. Using various analysis techniques, ground telescopes and other space assets, 122 planets have been confirmed.

Kepler Discovers its Smallest 'Habitable Zone' Planets to Date

Early in the mission, the Kepler telescope primarily found large, gaseous giants in very close orbits of their stars. Known as "hot Jupiters," these are easier to detect due to their size and very short orbital periods. Earth would take three years to accomplish the three transits required to be accepted as a planet candidate. As Kepler continues to observe, transit signals of habitable zone planets the size of Earth orbiting stars like the sun will begin to emerge.

Ames is responsible for Kepler's ground system development, mission operations, and science data analysis. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., managed Kepler mission development.

Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. in Boulder, Colo., developed the Kepler flight system and supports mission operations with the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado in Boulder.

The Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore archives, hosts and distributes Kepler science data. Kepler is NASA's 10th Discovery Mission and was funded by the agency's Science Mission Directorate.

For more information about the Kepler mission and to view the digital press kit, visit:

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

Best regards,

Supernova Remnant SN 1006

NASA - Chandra X-ray Observatory patch.

April 18, 2013

This year, astronomers around the world have been celebrating the 50th anniversary of X-ray astronomy. Few objects better illustrate the progress of the field in the past half-century than the supernova remnant known as SN 1006.

When the object we now call SN 1006 first appeared on May 1, 1006 A.D., it was far brighter than Venus and visible during the daytime for weeks. Astronomers in China, Japan, Europe, and the Arab world all documented this spectacular sight. With the advent of the Space Age in the 1960s, scientists were able to launch instruments and detectors above Earth's atmosphere to observe the universe in wavelengths that are blocked from the ground, including X-rays. SN 1006 was one of the faintest X-ray sources detected by the first generation of X-ray satellites.

A new image of SN 1006 from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory reveals this supernova remnant in exquisite detail. By overlapping ten different pointings of Chandra's field-of-view, astronomers have stitched together a cosmic tapestry of the debris field that was created when a white dwarf star exploded, sending its material hurtling into space. In this new Chandra image, low, medium, and higher-energy X-rays are colored red, green, and blue respectively.

The new Chandra image provides new insight into the nature of SN 1006, which is the remnant of a so-called Type Ia supernova. This class of supernova is caused when a white dwarf pulls too much mass from a companion star and explodes, or when two white dwarfs merge and explode. Understanding Type Ia supernovas is especially important because astronomers use observations of these explosions in distant galaxies as mileposts to mark the expansion of the universe.

NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory

The new SN 1006 image represents the most spatially detailed map yet of the material ejected during a Type Ia supernova. By examining the different elements in the debris field -- such as silicon, oxygen, and magnesium -- the researchers may be able to piece together how the star looked before it exploded and the order that the layers of the star were ejected, and constrain theoretical models for the explosion.

Scientists are also able to study just how fast specific knots of material are moving away from the original explosion. The fastest knots are moving outward at almost eleven million miles per hour, while those in other areas are moving at a more leisurely seven million miles per hour. SN 1006 is located about 7,000 light years from Earth. The new Chandra image of SN 1006 contains over eight days worth of observing time by the telescope. These results were presented at a meeting of High Energy Astrophysics Division of the American Astronomical Society in Monterey, CA.

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

Read more/access all images:

Chandra's Flickr photoset:

For more information about Chandra, visit:

Images, Text, Credits: Credits: NASA / CXC / Middlebury College / F.Winklerch.


Focus on growing threat of space debris

ESA - European Space Agency patch.

18 April 2013

The continuing growth in space debris poses an increasing threat to economically vital orbital regions. Next week, hundreds of top experts from across the globe will meet at Europe’s largest-ever debris forum to share their latest research findings and discuss potential solutions.

Satellite operators worldwide, including those flying telecom, weather, navigation, broadcast and climate-monitoring missions, are now focusing their efforts on controlling space debris.

Distribution of debris

All human-made objects now in space result from the near-5000 launches by all spacefaring nations since the start of the space age. Around two thirds of catalogued objects originate from orbital break-ups – more than 240 explosions – and fewer than 10 known collisions.

The 2009 collision between America’s Iridium-33 civil communications satellite and Russia’s Kosmos-2251 military satellite destroyed both and created a large amount of debris – more than 2200 tracked fragments.

Scientists estimate the level of space debris orbiting Earth to be around 29 000 objects larger than 10 cm, 670 000 pieces larger than 1 cm, and more than 170 million above 1 mm.

29'000 objects larger than 10 centimeters

“Any of these objects can harm an operational spacecraft,” says Heiner Klinkrad, Head of ESA’s Space Debris Office.

Heiner explains that satellites collisions with fragments larger than 10 cm would be catastrophic, releasing hazardous debris clouds that can cause further catastrophic collisions that may lead to increasing debris in some orbits.

“Space debris mitigation measures, if properly implemented by satellite designers and mission operators, can curtail the growth rate of the debris population. Active debris removal, however, has been shown to be necessary to reverse the debris increase,” says Heiner.

Heiner Klinkrad

The ultimate goal is to prevent collisional cascading from setting in over the next few decades.

“As this is a global task, active removal is a challenge that should be undertaken by joint efforts in cooperation with the world’s space agencies and industry,” says Thomas Reiter, Director of Human Spaceflight and Operations.

“ESA, as a space technology and operations agency, has identified the development of active removal technologies as a strategic goal.”

Top experts meet at ESA

The 6th European Conference on Space Debris will be held at ESOC, ESA’s European Space Operations Centre, Darmstadt, Germany, 22–25 April.

Explosions of satellites and rocket bodies

During four days, the conference will present and discuss the latest results, define future directions of research, and look at active debris removal.

More than 300 researchers, engineers, policy-makers, space law specialists, insurance underwriters, space and ground system operators, and institutional organisations such as the EU and the UN are expected to attend.

Related links:

Space debris environment:

Space debris modelling:

Space debris measurements:

Collision & re-entry risk control:

Regulations & treaties:

Space debris - Frequently asked questions:

ESA Space Debris Office:

ESA Space Debris team:

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


mercredi 17 avril 2013

Star factory in the early Universe challenges galaxy evolution theory

ESA - Herschel Mission patch.

17 April 2013

ESA’s Herschel space observatory has discovered an extremely distant galaxy making stars more than 2000 times faster than our own Milky Way. Seen at a time when the Universe was less than a billion years old, its mere existence challenges our theories of galaxy evolution.

The galaxy, known as HFLS3, appears as little more than a faint, red smudge in images from the Herschel Multi-tiered Extragalactic Survey (HerMES). Yet appearances can be deceiving: this small smudge is actually a star-building factory, furiously transforming gas and dust into new stars.

Starburst galaxy

Our own Milky Way makes stars at a rate equivalent to one solar mass per year, but HFLS3 is seen to be churning out new stars at more than two thousand times more rapidly. This is one of the highest star formation rates ever seen in any galaxy.

The extreme distance to HFLS3 means that its light has travelled for almost 13 billion years across space before reaching us. We therefore see it as it existed in the infant Universe, just 880 million years after the Big Bang or at 6.5% of the Universe’s current age.

Even at that young age, HFLS3 was already close to the mass of the Milky Way, with roughly 140 billion times the mass of the Sun in the form of stars and star-forming material. After another 13 billion years, it should have grown to be as big as the most massive galaxies known in the local Universe.

This makes the object an enigma. According to current theories of galaxy evolution, galaxies as massive as HFLS3 should not be present so soon after the Big Bang.

The first galaxies to form are expected to be relatively small and lightweight, containing only a few billion times the mass of our Sun. They form their first stars at rates of a few times that experienced by the Milky Way today.

The small galaxies then grow by feeding off cold gas from intergalactic space and by merging with other small galaxies. So, finding the age at which the first massive galaxies appeared can constrain galaxy evolution theories. But this is not easy.

“Looking for the first examples of these massive star factories is like searching for a needle in a haystack; the Herschel dataset is extremely rich,” says Dominik Riechers of Cornell University, who led the investigation.

Tens of thousands of massive, star-forming galaxies have been detected by Herschel as part of HerMES and sifting through them to find the most interesting ones is a challenge.

“This particular galaxy got our attention because it was bright, and yet very red compared to others like it,” says co-investigator Dave Clements of Imperial College London.

Red in this case means brightest at longer infrared wavelengths and, owing to the effect of redshift in our expanding Universe, this can indicate extreme distance. Follow-up observations with a suite of ground-based telescopes confirmed that HFLS3 was the most distant galaxy of its kind ever found, seen just 880 million years after the Big Bang, at redshift 6.34.

Starburst galaxy HFLS3

With this in hand, the astronomers were able to confidently translate the galaxy’s infrared brightness into a star formation rate, discovering its extraordinary nature.

HFLS3 is making so many stars that it is called a ‘maximum starburst’. The whole galaxy is wreathed in star formation, to the point where the intense radiation of the young stars almost blows away the star-forming material in the galaxy. Environments like this do not exist on galaxy-wide scales in the Universe today.

“Early starbursts like HFLS3 produced the heavy elements that made up later generations of stars and galaxies, and much of the matter we know today,” says Dr Riechers.

Even in the early Universe, they are expected to be extremely rare. The mere existence of a single such object so early in the Universe poses a challenge to current theories of early galaxy formation, which predict that they should reach such large masses only much later.

The team are continuing to comb the enormous dataset from Herschel looking for more examples of such extreme, early galaxies.

“With these observations, Herschel has found a rare example of a galaxy bursting with stars at a time in cosmic history when there were very few such galaxies,” says Göran Pilbratt, ESA’s Herschel Project Scientist.

“This underlines the pioneering nature of Herschel and its ability to reveal a previously hidden Universe, improving our understanding of how galaxies form.”

ESA’s Herschel space observatory

Notes for Editors:

“A Dust‐Obscured Massive Hyper‐Starburst Galaxy at Redshift 6.34” by D. A. Riechers et al. is published in Nature, 18 April 2013.

The survey was conducted as part of the Herschel Multi-tiered Extragalactic Survey (HerMES), led by S. Oliver of the University of Sussex, UK and J. Block of JPL/Caltech, USA.

Herschel is an ESA space observatory with science instruments provided by European-led Principal Investigator consortia and with important participation from NASA.

Related links:

Herschel overview:

Online Showcase of Herschel Images OSHI:

Herschel operations:

Herschel in depth:

Herschel Science Centre:

Herschel postcard gallery:

The Milky Way Project:

Images, Text, Credits: ESA / C.Carreau / Herschel / HerMES / IRAM / GTC / W.M. Keck Observatory.

Best regards,

SOFIA Observations Reveal a Surprise in Massive Star Formation

NASA / DLR - SOFIA patch.

April 17, 2013

Figures 1a and 1b show the G35 protostar at wavelengths of 31 and 37 microns taken by the FORCAST instrument on the SOFIA observatory's infrared telescope in 2011. (Zhang et al. 2013, Astrophysical Journal).

Researchers using the airborne Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) have captured the most detailed mid-infrared images yet of a massive star condensing within a dense cocoon of dust and gas.

The star is G35.20-0.74, commonly known as G35. It is one of the most massive known protostars and is located relatively close to Earth at a distance of 8,000 light-years.

Until now, scientists expected the formation process of massive stars would be complicated by the turbulent, chaotic environments in the centers of new star clusters where they form. But observations of G35 suggest this giant star, more than 20 times the mass of our sun, is forming by the same orderly process as do stars with the same mass as the sun. Stars most like the sun are understood to form by simple, symmetric collapse of interstellar clouds.

"The focus of our study has been to determine how massive stars actually form," said Yichen Zhang of the University of Florida. Zhang is lead author of a paper about the discovery published April 10 in the Astrophysical Journal. "We thought the G35 protostar's structure would be quite complicated, but instead we found it is simple, like the cocoons of protostars with the sun's mass."

Image above: NASA's SOFIA flying observatory lifts off from Air Force Plant 42 in Palmdale, Calif., at sunset on July 15, 2011 to begin an all-night astronomical observation mission. The highly modified Boeing 747SP carries a high-tech 100-inch infrared telescope. (NASA / Carla Thomas).

The observations of G35 were made in 2011 with a special camera aboard SOFIA, a modified Boeing 747SP aircraft that can carry a telescope with an effective diameter of 100 inches (2.5 meters) to altitudes as high as 45,000 feet (13,700 meters).

G35 was an ideal target for investigations because it is in an early stage of development. But infrared light coming from G35 is so strong it prevented infrared space telescopes from making detailed images. Also, the protostar is embedded so deeply in its natal cloud that it cannot be detected by optical telescopes observing from the ground at visible wavelengths.

Flying high above the light-blocking water vapor in Earth's atmosphere, the airplane-mounted Faint Object Infrared Camera for the SOFIA Telescope (FORCAST) enabled astronomers to see G35 where it hides -- inside a dark, dense, interstellar dust cloud -- by collecting infrared light escaping the cloud. Uniquely suited for this work, FORCAST detected faint details next to bright structures at wavelengths inaccessible to any other telescope on the ground or in space.

"Massive stars, although rare, are important because there is evidence they foster the formation of smaller stars like our sun, and because at the ends of their lives they create and distribute chemical elements that are the basic building blocks of Earth-like planets," said co-author James De Buizer, a SOFIA staff scientist with the Universities Space Research Association (USRA) at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif.

Images of G35 may be viewed on NASA's SOFIA site:

Figures 2a (left) and 2b (right) present G35 protostar images obtained by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope and the Gemini-North telescope at Mauna Kea, Hawaii. (Zhang et al. 2013, Astrophysical Journal).

Figures 1a and 1b show FORCAST images of G35 at wavelengths of 31 and 37 microns. Figures 2a and 2b respectively present G35 images obtained by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope and the Gemini-North telescope at Mauna Kea, Hawaii, also used in this study. Figure 3 shows computer model images intended to match characteristics of the central regions of the images in figures 1a and 1b.

The model images show greatly simplified versions of what is revealed especially in the SOFIA images: a luminous protostar heating a dense interstellar cloud from the inside while simultaneously expelling cone-shaped jets of gas toward the tops and bottoms of the frames. The top outflow cone appears brighter because it is directed toward us and there is less obscuring material along the line of sight.

The high resolution of the images showcases the capability of modern infrared detector arrays when used on an airborne platform and gives scientists hope that data gathered in this way substantially will advance their understanding of the Milky Way galaxy.

Figure 3 shows computer model images intended to match characteristics of the central regions of the images of the G35 protostar in figures 1a and 1b. The model images show greatly simplified versions of what is revealed in the images taken by the FORCAST instrument on the SOFIA observatory's infrared telescope: a luminous protostar heating a dense interstellar cloud from the inside while simultaneously expelling cone-shaped jets of gas toward the tops and bottoms of the frames. The top outflow cone appears brighter because it is directed toward us and there is less obscuring material along the line of sight. (Zhang et al. 2013, Astrophysical Journal).

FORCAST was built by a team led by Terry Herter of Cornell University in Ithica, N.Y. Co-authors of the Astrophysics Journal paper include scientists from the University of Florida in Gainesville; University of Wisconsin in Madison; University of California at Berkeley; Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge; the Arcetri Observatory in Florence, Italy; and the USRA SOFIA science staff at Ames.

SOFIA is a joint project of NASA and the German Aerospace Center. SOFIA is based and managed at NASA's Dryden Aircraft Operations Facility in Palmdale, Calif. NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., manages the SOFIA science and mission operations in cooperation with the USRA headquartered in Columbia, Md., and the German SOFIA Institute at the University of Stuttgart.

For links to USRA and the German SOFIA Institute, visit:

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA / J.D. Harrington / SOFIA Science Center / Nicholas A. Veronico.

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