samedi 11 mai 2013

Station Spacewalkers Replace Pump

ISS - International Space Station patch.

May 11, 2013

Expedition 35 crew members Chris Cassidy and Tom Marshburn have removed a 260-pound pump controller box that may be the source of an ammonia leak on the International Space Station and replaced it with a spare.

Expedition 35 spacewalkers Chris Cassidy and Tom Marshburn. Credit: NASA TV.

Expedition 35 Flight Engineers Chris Cassidy and Tom Marshburn completed a spacewalk at 2:15 p.m. EDT Saturday to inspect and replace a pump controller box on the International Space Station’s far port truss (P6) leaking ammonia coolant. The pair began the spacewalk at 8:44 a.m.

Spacewalking Astros Fix ISS Ammonia Leak

A little more than 2 1/2 hours into the spacewalk, Cassidy and Marshburn removed the 260-pound pump controller box from the P6 truss and replaced it with a spare that had been stowed nearby on the port-side truss, or backbone of the station. Mission Control ran the new pump while the spacewalkers watched for any ammonia snowflakes, but so far there have been no new signs of a leak. Long-term monitoring of the pump will be required to determine whether the pump replacement has fixed the leak.

Station managers and the international partners approved plans late Friday to conduct the spacewalk after a day-long review of procedures and the crew’s preparations to support the excursion.

Image above: Flight Engineers Chris Cassidy and Tom Marshburn work on the exterior of the International Space Station during their spacewalk. Credit: NASA TV.

A leak of ammonia coolant from the area near or at the location of a Pump and Flow Control Subassembly was detected on Thursday, prompting engineers and flight controllers to begin plans to support the spacewalk. The device contains the mechanical systems that drive the cooling functions for the port truss.

The P6 truss work site. Credit: NASA TV.

The P6 truss was launched to the station as the oldest component of the station’s backbone aboard the shuttle Endeavour on the STS-97 mission in November 2000. It was relocated from its original installation position to the far left side of the station during the STS-120 mission of the shuttle Discovery in October/November 2007.

The spacewalk is the 168th in support of the assembly and maintenance of the space station and the third for both Cassidy and Marshburn, who conducted two spacewalks together during the STS-127 mission of the shuttle Endeavour to the station in July 2009.

Image above: Flight Engineers Chris Cassidy and Tom Marshburn work on the exterior of the International Space Station during their spacewalk. Credit: NASA TV.

Commander Chris Hadfield will ceremonially hand command of the station over to Expedition 36 Commander Pavel Vinogradov on Sunday. NASA TV coverage of the ceremony will begin at 3:40 p.m. EDT.

The undocking of the Soyuz TMA-07M spacecraft set for 7:08 p.m. EDT Monday will officially mark the end of Expedition 35 and the start of Expedition 36. Hadfield, Marshburn and Flight Engineer Roman Romanenko are scheduled for a 10:31 p.m. landing in southern Kazakhstan, wrapping up 146 days in space for the trio.

Read more about the station's radiators:

ATCS overview from Boeing:

Read more about Expedition 35:

Read more about Expedition 36:

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

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Spacewalk Under Way to Repair Ammonia Leak

ISS - International Space Station patch.

May 11, 2013

Expedition 35 Flight Engineers Chris Cassidy and Tom Marshburn began a spacewalk at 8:44 a.m. EDT Saturday to inspect and possibly replace a pump controller box on the International Space Station’s far port truss (P6) suspected of leaking ammonia coolant. Station managers and the international partners approved plans late Friday to conduct the spacewalk after a day-long review of procedures and the crew’s preparations to support the excursion.

Expedition 35 spacewalkers Chris Cassidy and Tom Marshburn. Credit: NASA TV

A leak of ammonia coolant from the area near or at the location of a Pump and Flow Control Subassembly was detected on Thursday, prompting engineers and flight controllers to begin plans to support the spacewalk. The device contains the mechanical systems that drive the cooling functions for the port truss.

Image above: Ammonia flakes are visible near the International Space Station's P6 truss on Thursday. Credit: NASA TV.

The P6 truss was launched to the station as the oldest component of the station’s backbone aboard the shuttle Endeavour on the STS-97 mission in November 2000. It was relocated from its original installation position to the far left side of the station during the STS-120 mission of the shuttle Discovery in October/November 2007.

The spacewalk is the 168th in support of the assembly and maintenance of the space station and the third for both Cassidy and Marshburn, who conducted two spacewalks together during the STS-127 mission of the shuttle Endeavour to the station in July 2009.

Image above: At 8:15 AM Eastern, NASA astronauts Tom Marshburn and Chris Cassidy will leave the International Space Station to inspect and possibly replace a pump suspected of leaking ammonia coolant. This picture of astronauts Suni Williams and Robert Curbeam working on a solar array in 2006 gives us a sense of where Marshburn and Cassidy will be working. Credit: NASA TV.

Cassidy is designated as Extravehicular crewmember 1 (EV 1) whose spacesuit will be distinguished by red stripes. Marshburn is designed Extravehicular crewmember 2 (EV 2), and is wearing the suit with no stripes.

ISS Active Cooling System. Credit: / Karl Tate

Expedition 35 Commander Chris Hadfield of the Canadian Space Agency is serving as the intravehicular crewmember or IV, choreographing the suit up of the spacewalkers and their tasks outside.

Image above: The astronauts have removed the suspect pump flow control subassembly and are now taking a look to see if they can find any smoking gun on the ammonia leak. Credit: NASA TV.

The spacewalk is expected to last around 6 ½ hours. A post-spacewalk briefing will be broadcast on NASA TV no earlier than 4:30 p.m. EDT.

Related links:

Watch NASA TV spacewalk live:

Read more about the station's radiators:

ATCS overview from Boeing:

Read more about Expedition 35:

Read more about Expedition 36:

Images (mentioned), Text, Credit: NASA.


NASA Curiosity Rover Team Selects Second Drilling Target on Mars

NASA - Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) patch.

May 11, 2013

This map shows the location of "Cumberland," the second rock-drilling target for NASA's Mars rover Curiosity, in relation to the rover's first drilling target, "John Klein," within the southwestern lobe of a shallow depression called "Yellowknife Bay." Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona.

The team operating NASA's Curiosity Mars rover has selected a second target rock for drilling and sampling. The rover will set course to the drilling location in coming days.

This second drilling target, called "Cumberland," lies about nine feet (2.75 meters) west of the rock where Curiosity's drill first touched Martian stone in February. Curiosity took the first rock sample ever collected on Mars from that rock, called "John Klein." The rover found evidence of an ancient environment favorable for microbial life. Both rocks are flat, with pale veins and a bumpy surface. They are embedded in a layer of rock on the floor of a shallow depression called "Yellowknife Bay."

This second drilling is intended to confirm results from the first drilling, which indicated the chemistry of the first powdered sample from John Klein was much less oxidizing than that of a soil sample the rover scooped up before it began drilling.

"We know there is some cross-contamination from the previous sample each time," said Dawn Sumner, a long-term planner for Curiosity's science team at the University of California at Davis. "For the Cumberland sample, we expect to have most of that cross-contamination come from a similar rock, rather than from very different soil."

This patch of bedrock, called "Cumberland," has been selected as the second target for drilling by NASA's Mars rover Curiosity. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS.

Although Cumberland and John Klein are very similar, Cumberland appears to have more of the erosion-resistant granules that cause the surface bumps. The bumps are concretions, or clumps of minerals, which formed when water soaked the rock long ago. Analysis of a sample containing more material from these concretions could provide information about the variability within the rock layer that includes both John Klein and Cumberland.

Mission engineers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., recently finished upgrading Curiosity's operating software following a four-week break. The rover continued monitoring the Martian atmosphere during the break, but the team did not send any new commands because Mars and the sun were positioned in such a way the sun could have blocked or corrupted commands sent from Earth.

Mars Science Laboratory "Curiosity" self portrait. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Curiosity is about nine months into a two-year prime mission since landing inside Gale Crater on Mars in August 2012. After the second rock drilling in Yellowknife Bay and a few other investigations nearby, the rover will drive toward the base of Mount Sharp, a 3-mile-tall (5-kilometers) layered mountain inside the crater.

JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, manages the Mars Science Laboratory Project, of which Curiosity is the centerpiece, for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

For more information about the mission, visit: and . To follow the mission on Facebook and Twitter visit: and

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA / Dwayne Brown / JPL / Guy Webster.


vendredi 10 mai 2013

Robotic Refueling Mission Practices New Satellite-Servicing Tasks

ISS - International Space Station patch.

May 10, 2013

With a historic robotic refueling demo ticked off its checklist, NASA's Robotic Refueling Mission (RRM) put down the hose and picked up the screwdriver and utility knife. This latest round of satellite-servicing tasks, completed in the early morning of May 10, will show how robots could access and further maintain satellites in orbit.

Five days of operations were held aboard the International Space Station, during which the Canadian-built Dextre robot with RRM tools demonstrated how tiny caps can be retrieved and stowed in space. This task, along with slicing through satellite blanket tape were performed on the RRM module affixed outside the space station.

Image above: The Robotic Refueling Mission investigation (center, on platform) uses the International Space Station's Canadarm2 and the Canadian Dextre robot (right) to demonstrate satellite-servicing tasks. (NASA).

The conclusion of the May operations wraps up the first phase of tasks for RRM, a modular activity box with tools that launched to the space station aboard the final space shuttle flight. New task boards and tools are slated for launch this summer and again in early 2014, along with another set of activities for this groundbreaking operation.

NASA developed RRM to demonstrate how remotely-operated robot mechanics could extend the lives of the hundreds of satellites residing in geosynchronous-Earth orbit (GEO). "Revolutionizing GEO satellites through servicing is my passion," says Frank Cepollina, primary investigator for RRM and the architect of five successful Hubble servicing missions.

Image above: The Robotic Refueling Mission Safety Cap Tool, developed by the Satellite Servicing Capabilities Office at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. (NASA).

Costly assets traveling about 22,000 miles above Earth, GEO spacecraft deliver such essential services as weather reports, cell phone communications, television broadcasts, government communications and air traffic management. Servicing capabilities could greatly expand the options for government and commercial fleet operators in the future. They could potentially deliver satellite owners significant savings in spacecraft replacement and launch costs.

A joint effort with the Canadian Space Agency, RRM uses the space station as a test bed for technology research and development.

Robots at Work: RRM May Operations

"Some RRM tasks may sound straightforward at first," says Benjamin Reed, deputy project manager of the Satellite Servicing Capabilities Office (SSCO) at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. According to Reed, working with robots in space demands a level of foresight, planning and practice that can never be taken for granted.

Image above: The Robotic Refueling Mission removes a small cap with a special tool adapter during May operations on the International Space Station. (NASA).

"What may seem mundane can actually be quite tricky. Having remote-controlled robots service satellites on orbit -- satellites that were never designed to be accessed, refueled or fixed in space -- is a new frontier," says Reed. He also talked about activities astronauts could perform without a second thought, like aligning the tip of a screwdriver with the head of a screw. For robot operations, such a simple task requires a careful thought process and robot scripting.

RRM gives NASA a platform to work out these problems by practicing them on orbit. "RRM demonstrations are paving the way for increased capabilities on orbit not just for GEO satellites, but for possible future NASA missions," says Reed.

The RRM team began development by focusing on an assortment of satellite-servicing tasks fundamental to satellite repair, refueling and upgrade. One of the tasks performed this May had RRM working with small screws in microgravity. "We drew a lot from our Hubble Space Telescope servicing mission experience to solve this one," says Reed.

Even for humans on gravity-bound Earth, these tiny fasteners can be difficult to handle. A servicing mission would add the extra challenges of a near zero-gravity environment, a robot mechanic and a mandate not to add space junk to orbit.

Image above: Stephen Roderick supports an autonomous rendezvous and capture test in the Satellite Servicing Center, an incubator for cutting-edge satellite-servicing technologies, at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. (NASA).

One solution the team developed was to build a special adapter for the RRM Safety Cap Tool (SCT) that turns the device into a space power screwdriver. This adapter allowed Dextre to remove screws already affixed into the RRM practice module task boards. Tool cameras gave mission operators the view needed to align Dextre, the SCT and the adapter's tool bit into the right position.

Once released, the screw was trapped within a cage fixed over holes large enough for the screwdriver bit, yet small enough to ensure the screw did not float away. The cage was inspired and adapted from capture plate technology the team developed for Hubble's fourth servicing mission. That capability allowed astronaut Mike Massimino to remove and safely stow 111 individual screws.

Another task demonstrated how the SCT and an additional adapter could remove and stow the tiny coaxial radio frequency connector caps. Such a task would be the first step to allowing a servicer to plug into a spacecraft to diagnose a system problem. This connection is similar to an automotive technician connecting a computer to communicate and diagnosis an automotive system.

The final RRM activity revolved around handling satellite blankets in space. Once a servicer rendezvous with a client, the first hurdle the robot mechanic would face would be removing protective thermal blankets. These blankets are held together over the satellite like a tightly tucked patchwork quilt.

RRM On-Orbit location

Getting through these blankets is like opening a wrapped present. However, unlike excited humans, robot servicers are under strict orders not to rip and throw jagged pieces of the blanketing into space. RRM demonstrated a technique that mimics what the most tidy of gift-openers do: save the wrapping by heading straight for the taped seam that holds the coverings together.

Ongoing Efforts

NASA continues to test capabilities for a new robotic servicing frontier. In conjunction with RRM, the SSCO team has been studying a conceptual servicing mission while building the necessary technologies, including an autonomous rendezvous and capture system, a propellant transfer system and specialized algorithms to orchestrate and synchronize satellite-servicing operations. On Jan. 15, NASA released a Request for Information to seek input on a potential public-private partnership to understand the need for satellite-servicing capabilities for client satellites located in GEO. RRM is proving the technology to achieve such a future mission.

Related links:

Robotic Refueling Mission (RRM):

International Space Station (ISS):


Images (mentioned), Text, Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center / Adrienne Alessandro.


International Space Station crew plans spacewalk to fix leak

ISS - International Space Station patch.

May 10, 2013

Following Thursday's identification of an ammonia coolant leak outside the International Space Station, the Expedition 35 crew Friday began preparing for a possible spacewalk Saturday. Mission managers are discussing the information that was gathered overnight about the leak on the far left-side of the station's truss structure, called the P6 with P standing for port. A final decision on whether to go forward with a spacewalk is not expected until late tonight.

Station Ammonia Leak Prompts Spacewalk Preps

The crew is not in danger, and the station continues to operate normally otherwise. Work is underway to reroute power channels to maintain full operation of the systems normally controlled by the solar array that is cooled by the suspect loop.

Expedition 35's Chris Cassidy and Tom Marshburn began preparing for the possible spacewalk to inspect the area it appears the leak is originating from, and potentially make repairs to the leaking ammonia cooling loop. Station managers are meeting this morning and will meet again tonight to discuss procedures and timeline work for a spacewalk, if approved.

ISS spacewalk

Working in the Quest airlock, astronauts Cassidy and Marshburn checked out the U.S. spacesuits they would wear if a spacewalk is approved, and Expedition 35 Commander Chris Hadfield began preparing to asssist as the “intravehicular” crewmember, or spacewalk choreographer.

Cassidy and Marshburn have each conducted three spacewalks, all on the STS-127 mission to the ISS in 2009. They collaborated on two of those spacewalks.

Late Thursday morning, the Expedition 35 crew reported seeing small white flakes floating away from an area of the station’s P6 truss structure. The crew used handheld cameras and Mission Control used external television cameras to gain additional imagery in an attempt to narrow down the leak’s location. The crew’s reports, along with imagery and data received by flight controllers in Mission Control in Houston, confirmed that the rate of the ammonia leaking from this section of the cooling system increased.

ISS Expedition 35 Ammonia leak repair spacewalk, work site

Ammonia is used to cool the station’s power channels that provide electricity to station systems. Each solar array has its own independent cooling loop. This ammonia loop is the same one that spacewalkers attempted to troubleshoot a leak on during a spacewalk on Nov. 1, 2012. It is not yet known whether this increased ammonia flow is from the same leak, which at the time was not visible. It is anticipated that the 2B power channel, which is one of eight power channels to supply electricity for station systems, will be depleted of ammonia coolant by late this morning and will be shut down.

Audio: Crew discusses possible spacewalk during Friday's Daily Planning Conference (mp3 audio):

Audio: Commander Hadfield reports ammonia leak to Mission Control Houston on Thursday (mp3 audio):

Read more about the station's radiators:

ACTS overview from Boeing:

Read more about Expedition 35:

Read more about Expedition 36:

Images, Video, Text, Credit: NASA.


Hubble finds dead stars "polluted" with planetary debris

ESA - Hubble Space Telescope logo.

May 10, 2013

 Artist’s impression of debris around a white dwarf star

The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has found signs of Earth-like planets in an unlikely place: the atmospheres of a pair of burnt-out stars in a nearby star cluster. The white dwarf stars are being polluted by debris from asteroid-like objects falling onto them. This discovery suggests that rocky planet assembly is common in clusters, say researchers.

The stars, known as white dwarfs — small, dim remnants of stars once like the Sun — reside 150 light-years away in the Hyades star cluster, in the constellation of Taurus (The Bull). The cluster is relatively young, at only 625 million years old.

Labelled overview of the Hyades star cluster (ground-based image)

Astronomers believe that all stars formed in clusters. However, searches for planets in these clusters have not been fruitful — of the roughly 800 exoplanets known, only four are known to orbit stars in clusters. This scarcity may be due to the nature of the cluster stars, which are young and active, producing stellar flares and other outbursts that make it difficult to study them in detail.

A new study led by Jay Farihi of the University of Cambridge, UK, instead observed “retired” cluster stars to hunt for signs of planet formation [1].

Hubble's spectroscopic observations identified silicon in the atmospheres of two white dwarfs, a major ingredient of the rocky material that forms Earth and other terrestrial planets in the Solar System. This silicon may have come from asteroids that were shredded by the white dwarfs’ gravity when they veered too close to the stars. The rocky debris likely formed a ring around the dead stars, which then funnelled the material inwards.

Overview of the Hyades star cluster (ground-based image)

The debris detected whirling around the white dwarfs suggests that terrestrial planets formed when these stars were born. After the stars collapsed to form white dwarfs, surviving gas giant planets may have gravitationally nudged members of any leftover asteroid belts into star-grazing orbits [2].

“We have identified chemical evidence for the building blocks of rocky planets,” says Farihi. “When these stars were born, they built planets, and there’s a good chance that they currently retain some of them. The signs of rocky debris we are seeing are evidence of this — it is at least as rocky as the most primitive terrestrial bodies in our Solar System.”

Besides finding silicon in the Hyades stars’ atmospheres, Hubble also detected low levels of carbon. This is another sign of the rocky nature of the debris, as astronomers know that carbon levels should be very low in rocky, Earth-like material. Finding its faint chemical signature required Hubble's powerful Cosmic Origins Spectrograph (COS), as carbon's fingerprints can be detected only in ultraviolet light, which cannot be observed from ground-based telescopes.

Ring of rocky debris around a white dwarf star (artist’s impression)

“The one thing the white dwarf pollution technique gives us that we won’t get with any other planet detection technique is the chemistry of solid planets,” Farihi says. “Based on the silicon-to-carbon ratio in our study, for example, we can actually say that this material is basically Earth-like.”

This new study suggests that asteroids less than 160 kilometres across [3] were gravitationally torn apart by the white dwarfs’ strong tidal forces, before eventually falling onto the dead stars [4].

The team plans to analyse more white dwarfs using the same technique to identify not only the rocks’ composition, but also their parent bodies. “The beauty of this technique is that whatever the Universe is doing, we’ll be able to measure it,” Farihi said. “We have been using the Solar System as a kind of map, but we don’t know what the rest of the Universe does. Hopefully with Hubble and its powerful ultraviolet-light spectrograph COS, and with the upcoming ground-based 30- and 40-metre telescopes, we’ll be able to tell more of the story.”


[1] The two “polluted” Hyades white dwarfs are part of a search of planetary debris around more than 100 white dwarfs, led by Boris Gänsicke of the University of Warwick, United Kingdom. Using computer models of white dwarf atmospheres, Detlev Koester from the University of Kiel in Germany is determining the abundances of various elements that can be traced to planets in the COS data.

[2] Seeing evidence of asteroids points to the possibility of Earth-sized planets in the same system. Asteroids are the building blocks of major planets. Planet-forming processes are inefficient, and spawn many times more small bodies than large bodies — but once rocky embryos the size of asteroids are built, planets are sure to follow.

[3] The team estimated the size of the infalling asteroids by measuring the amount of dust being gobbled up by the stars — about 10 million grams per second, equal to the flow rate of a small river. They then compared that data with measurements of material falling onto other white dwarfs.

[4] The Hyades study offers insight into what will happen in the Solar System when the Sun burns out, five billion years from now.
Notes for editors

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

[1] The international team of astronomers in this study consists of J. Farihi (University of Cambridge, UK; STFC Ernest Rutherford Fellow), B. T. Gänsicke (University of Warwick, UK), D. Koester (University of Kiel, Germany).

[2] The new study is appearing in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.
More information


Images of Hubble:

Research paper:

Images, Text, Credits:  NASA / ESA / STScI, and G. Bacon, Z. Levay (STScI) / Video: NASA / ESA / STScI, and G. Bacon (STScI).

Best regards,

jeudi 9 mai 2013

Sifting Through the Atmospheres of Far-off Worlds

JPL-Caltech - Project 1640 logo.

May 9, 2013

 Planetary Family Portrait

Image above: This image shows the HR 8799 planets with starlight optically suppressed and data processing conducted to remove residual starlight. The star is at the center of the blackened circle in the image. The four spots indicated with the letters b through e are the planets. Image courtesy of Project 1640.

 Gone are the days of being able to count the number of known planets on your fingers. Today, there are more than 800 confirmed exoplanets -- planets that orbit stars beyond our sun -- and more than 2,700 other candidates. What are these exotic planets made of? Unfortunately, you cannot stack them in a jar like marbles and take a closer look. Instead, researchers are coming up with advanced techniques for probing the planets' makeup.

One breakthrough to come in recent years is direct imaging of exoplanets. Ground-based telescopes have begun taking infrared pictures of the planets posing near their stars in family portraits. But to astronomers, a picture is worth even more than a thousand words if its light can be broken apart into a rainbow of different wavelengths.

Those wishes are coming true as researchers are beginning to install infrared cameras on ground-based telescopes equipped with spectrographs. Spectrographs are instruments that spread an object's light apart, revealing signatures of molecules. Project 1640, partly funded by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., recently accomplished this goal using the Palomar Observatory near San Diego.

"In just one hour, we were able to get precise composition information about four planets around one overwhelmingly bright star," said Gautam Vasisht of JPL, co-author of the new study appearing in the Astrophysical Journal. "The star is a hundred thousand times as bright as the planets, so we've developed ways to remove that starlight and isolate the extremely faint light of the planets."

Along with ground-based infrared imaging, other strategies for combing through the atmospheres of giant planets are being actively pursued as well. For example, NASA's Spitzer and Hubble space telescopes monitor planets as they cross in front of their stars, and then disappear behind. NASA's upcoming James Webb Space Telescope will use a comparable strategy to study the atmospheres of planets only slightly larger than Earth.

In the new study, the researchers examined HR 8799, a large star orbited by at least four known giant, red planets. Three of the planets were among the first ever directly imaged around a star, thanks to observations from the Gemini and Keck telescopes on Mauna Kea, Hawaii, in 2008. The fourth planet, the closest to the star and the hardest to see, was revealed in images taken by the Keck telescope in 2010.

Keck telescopes on Mauna Kea, Hawaii

That alone was a tremendous feat considering that all planet discoveries up until then had been made through indirect means, for example by looking for the wobble of a star induced by the tug of planets.

Those images weren't enough, however, to reveal any information about the planets' chemical composition. That's where spectrographs are needed -- to expose the "fingerprints" of molecules in a planet's atmosphere. Capturing a distant world's spectrum requires gathering even more planet light, and that means further blocking the glare of the star.

Gemini North Observatory Mauna Kea Hawaii

Project 1640 accomplished this with a collection of instruments, which the team installs on the ground-based telescopes each time they go on "observing runs." The instrument suite includes a coronagraph to mask out the starlight; an advanced adaptive optics system, which removes the blur of our moving atmosphere by making millions of tiny adjustments to two deformable telescope mirrors; an imaging spectrograph that records 30 images in a rainbow of infrared colors simultaneously; and a state-of-the-art wave front sensor that further adjusts the mirrors to compensate for scattered starlight.

"It's like taking a single picture of the Empire State Building from an airplane that reveals a bump on the sidewalk next to it that is as high as an ant," said Ben R. Oppenheimer, lead author of the new study and associate curator and chair of the Astrophysics Department at the American Museum of Natural History, N.Y., N.Y.

Their results revealed that all four planets, though nearly the same in temperature, have different compositions. Some, unexpectedly, do not have methane in them, and there may be hints of ammonia or other compounds that would also be surprising. Further theoretical modeling will help to understand the chemistry of these planets.

Meanwhile, the quest to obtain more and better spectra of exoplanets continues. Other researchers have used the Keck telescope and the Large Binocular Telescope near Tucson, Ariz., to study the emission of individual planets in the HR8799 system. In addition to the HR 8799 system, only two others have yielded images of exoplanets. The next step is to find more planets ripe for giving up their chemical secrets. Several ground-based telescopes are being prepared for the hunt, including Keck, Gemini, Palomar and Japan's Subaru Telescope on Mauna Kea, Hawaii.

Ideally, the researchers want to find young planets that still have enough heat left over from their formation, and thus more infrared light for the spectrographs to see. They also want to find planets located far from their stars, and out of the blinding starlight. NASA's infrared Spitzer and Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) missions, and its ultraviolet Galaxy Evolution Explorer, now led by the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, have helped identify candidate young stars that may host planets meeting these criteria.

"We're looking for super-Jupiter planets located faraway from their star," said Vasisht. "As our technique develops, we hope to be able to acquire molecular compositions of smaller, and slightly older, gas planets."

Still lower-mass planets, down to the size of Saturn, will be targets for imaging studies by the James Webb Space Telescope.

"Rocky Earth-like planets are too small and close to their stars for the current technology, or even for James Webb to detect. The feat of cracking the chemical compositions of true Earth analogs will come from a future space mission such as the proposed Terrestrial Planet Finder," said Charles Beichman, a co-author of the P1640 result and executive director of NASA's Exoplanet Science Institute at Caltech.

Though the larger, gas planets are not hospitable to life, the current studies are teaching astronomers how the smaller, rocky ones form.

"The outer giant planets dictate the fate of rocky ones like Earth. Giant planets can migrate in toward a star, and in the process, tug the smaller, rocky planets around or even kick them out of the system. We're looking at hot Jupiters before they migrate in, and hope to understand more about how and when they might influence the destiny of the rocky, inner planets," said Vasisht.

NASA's Exoplanet Science Institute manages time allocation on the Keck telescope for NASA. JPL manages NASA's Exoplanet Exploration program office. Caltech manages JPL for NASA.

Remote Reconnaissance of Another Solar System

Video above: A visualization from the American Museum of Natural History showing where the HR 8799 system is in relation to our solar system.

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

Images, Text, Video. Credit: NASA / JPL / Whitney Clavin / Planetary Family Portrait: image courtesy of Project 1640.


First observations of short-lived pear-shaped atomic nuclei

CERN - European Organization for Nuclear Research logo.

May 9, 2013

Image above: The shape of 224Ra deduced from the CERN measurements (Image: ISOLDE/CERN).

An international team at the ISOLDE radioactive-beam facility at CERN has shown that some atomic nuclei can assume asymmetric, "pear" shapes. The observations contradict some existing nuclear theories and will require others to be amended. The results are published in the journal Nature today.

Most nuclei have the shape of a rugby ball.  While state-of-the-art theories are able to predict this behaviour, the same theories have predicted that for some particular combinations of protons and neutrons, nuclei can also assume asymmetric shapes, like a pear.  In this case there is more mass at one end of the nucleus than the other.

Until now, it has been difficult to observe pear-shaped nuclei experimentally.  However, a technique pioneered at ISOLDE has been used successfully to study the shape of the short-lived isotopes Radon 220 and Radium 224.

Physicist Peter Butler of the University of Liverpool says:  “We have been able to show that while Radium 224 is pear-shaped, Radon 220 does not assume the fixed shape of a pear but rather vibrates about this shape.  The details of these findings are in contradiction with some nuclear theories and will help others to be refined.”

The experimental observation of nuclear pear shapes is not only important for understanding the theory of nuclear structure but also because it can help experimental searches for electric dipole moments (EDMs) in atoms. The EDM relates to the the separation of positive and negative charges within the atom.

The Standard Model predicts that the value of the EDM for the atom is so small that it will lie well below the current observational limit. However, many theories that try to refine this model predict EDMs that should be measurable, which could indicate new physics beyond the Standard Model.

To test these theories, experiments looking for the EDM will have to be improved, and one of the potential improvements is to use exotic atoms whose nucleus is pear-shaped.  Quantifying this shape will therefore lead to constraints on the feasibility of experimental programmes searching for atomic EDMs.

“Our measurements will help direct the searches for EDMs currently being carried out in North America and in Europe, where new techniques are being developed to exploit the special properties of radon and radium isotopes,” says Butler. “Our expectation is that the data from our nuclear physics experiments can be combined with the results from atomic trapping experiments measuring EDMs to make the most stringent tests of the Standard Model.”

CERN’s Director of Research and Scientific Computing, Sergio Bertolucci says: “The fact that high-quality beams of energetic, radioactive radon and radium ions can be produced of sufficient intensity to carry out these experiments is testament to unique capabilities of CERN and, in particular, the expertise of the teams developing these beams at ISOLDE.”


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

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

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

For more information about CERN, visit:

Image, Text, Credits: CERN / Cian O'Luanaigh /  Stephanie Hills.


mercredi 8 mai 2013

Completed the planned correction of the orbit of the International Space Station

ISS - International Space Station patch.


May 8, in accordance with the schedule of the International Space Station (ISS) performed surgery for the correction of its orbit.

In 10:00. 51 minutes. 00 seconds Moscow time included motors transport cargo vehicle (THC) Progress M-19M, docked to the service module of the Service Module (SM) Zvezda of the Russian segment of the station. The duration of the propulsion system was 844 seconds. As a result, ISS has gained momentum at 1.5 m / s, and the average height of its orbit increased by 2.6 km and reached 413.6 km.

The fire rockets of the cargo Progress M during the reboost of ISS in 2003. Image credit NASA

After making corrections, the following orbital station:

• minimum height above the surface of the Earth - 413.6 km;

• maximum height above the surface of the Earth - 428.1 km;

• period - 92.782 minutes;

• Mood - 51,67 °.

The purpose of correction - the formation of the working of the ISS to provide conditions for landing of manned spacecraft (WPK abbreviation in Russian) Soyuz TMA-07M 14 May 2013 and the flight of the WPK Soyuz TMA-09M, to be launched on 29 May 2013.

Original Press Release from ROSCOMOS (in Russian):

Image (mentioned), Text, Credits: Press Service of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos PAO) / ROSCOSMOS / Translation: Aerospace.


After Chelyabinsk: European experts assess asteroid options

Asteroid Watch.

8 May 2013

In February, a speeding asteroid slammed into our atmosphere and exploded high over Russia’s Ural region, injuring hundreds and causing millions of euros of damage. What should we do if we have a similar – or even bigger – strike in the future?

Of the more than 600 000 known asteroids in our Solar System, almost 10 000 are classified as near-Earth objects, or NEOs, because their orbits bring them relatively close to Earth’s path.

Asteroid trace over Chelyabinsk, Russia, on 15 February 2013

Dramatic proof that any of these can strike Earth came on 15 February, when an unknown object thought to be 17–20 m in diameter arrived at 66 000 km/h and exploded high above Chelyabinsk, Russia, with 20–30 times the energy of the Hiroshima atomic bomb.

The resulting shock wave caused widespread damage and injuries, making it the largest known natural object to have entered the atmosphere since the 1908 Tunguska event, which destroyed a remote forest area of Siberia.

ESA watching out for Earth

“It’s important that we become aware of the current and future position of NEOs, develop estimates on the likelihood of impacts and assess the possible consequences,” says Detlef Koschny, Head of NEO activities in the Agency’s Space Situational Awareness (SSA) Programme Office.

“More importantly, we must consider whether and how warning, mitigation and possible deflection actions can be taken. It’s important not only for Europe, but for the rest of the planet, too.”

One aspect of ESA’s four-year-old effort requires the development of an integrated system to scan the sky nightly for as-yet-undiscovered NEOs.

Artist's impression of asteroids passing Earth

Another important element is studying how mitigation measures can be applied in the case of smaller NEOs, and how to deflect any larger ones that may seriously threaten our home planet.

International experts meeting in Spain

This week, Deimos Space, an industrial partner working for ESA on SSA, has invited top researchers from universities, research institutes, national space agencies and industry in Europe and the USA to discuss the state of the art in NEO impact effects and threat mitigation.

The meeting is taking place in Tres Cantos, Spain, near Madrid.

“A great deal of work remains to be done, for example, in computer modelling of impact effects, how airbursts differ from ground strikes, kinetic versus explosive deflection strategies and much more,” says Gerhard Drolshagen, of the SSA Programme Office.

“The aim is to develop plans that will guide us in current and future NEO research and development.”

Ultimately, ESA aims to develop the capability to integrate European current and new assets such as automated telescopes into a coordinated and more efficient NEO system that can provide nightly sky surveys and advanced warning.

“With this, we can work with our partner agencies, scientists, industry and international bodies like the UN to offer firm options to national governments and political decision-makers,” says Nicolas Bobrinsky, Head of ESA’s SSA Programme.

“Events like the Chelyabinsk strike show that the NEO hazard is not just theoretical, and we need to invest in practical measures today to address tomorrow’s threats.”

Editor’s note: A summary of the workshop findings will be available as a downloadable PDF after 8 May.

Related links:

Workshop on NEO Impact Effects & Threat Mitigation:

ESA NEO risk list:

Asteroid Impact & Deflection Assessment (AIDA) study:


Images, Text, Credits: ESA / P.Carril / Alex Alishevskikh.

Best regards,

mardi 7 mai 2013

International effort helps users get ready for Sentinel-1

ESA - European Space Agency patch.

7 May 2013

Those who need satellite data for a wide range of applications, from mapping sea ice and tracking maritime traffic to monitoring geohazards over land, are eagerly awaiting the launch of Sentinel-1. ESA is helping users get ahead of the game by offering test data and simulated images.

To be launched later this year, Sentinel-1 is the first of five satellite missions dedicated to supplying a stream of data for Europe’s Global Monitoring for Environment and Security ‘Copernicus’ programme.

Vancouver harbour, Canada (click on the image for enlarge)

This particular satellite will provide timely high-quality radar images of our planet’s surface to support European operational services that use Earth observation data in areas such as emergency response, marine and land monitoring, civil security and climate studies.

Getting ready for using Sentinel data is a complex task. The new data format and information structure, the increased data volume, the expected data quality and sensor characteristics all mean that users have to develop or update processing facilities before the launch.

Sentinel-1 satellite

An important step forward in this respect is the availability of simulated products and documentation to users. ESA is responding to these needs in two ways.

Firstly, ESA has just released a sample of Sentinel-1 simulated user products and associated format and product definition documents to GMES users. In addition, the Agency is planning a further distribution to all potential users in the coming weeks.

This first release contains a set of simulated radar intensity ‘Level-1’ products, covering all four Sentinel-1 imaging modes and different product types. An example is shown by way of the image of the Netherlands on the right.

Simulated Sentinel-1 data (click on the image for enlarge)

Notably, these products were generated by a preliminary version of Sentinel-1’s operational Instrument Processing Facility.

Though they are not intended to reflect the final characteristics of the user products, the format and contents are representative of what the mission will offer.

This will evolve with new versions of the facility and may be slightly tuned following system qualification and inflight commissioning.

Joel Dorandeu from MyOcean said, “We very much welcome the efforts being made to help service providers such as us prepare for the new data from Sentinel-1.

“Considering the volumes of data we expect from Sentinel-1 along with its method of acquisition we have the challenge of developing new processing chains.

“We are now eager to start simulating our products."

To complement this initial release of test data, ESA is, in parallel, simulating Sentinel-1 acquisitions from space using Canada’s Radarsat-2 satellite.

Vancouver radar image (click on the image for enlarge)

This initiative is now starting to bear fruit following the first full simulation of a Sentinel-1 radar image as shown in picture at the top and here on the left.

Thanks to its owner and operator, McDonald, Dettwiler and Associates, Radarsat-2 was carefully reprogrammed to match the way Sentinel-1 will be operated. A remarkable achievement is the fact that Radarsat was able to emulate the way Sentinel-1 images Earth’s surface using a method called TOPS, thus providing a quality of image almost exactly the same as Sentinel-1.

The very first results are promising, as can be seen in the images acquired over Vancouver harbour on the west coast of Canada. The city is clearly visible, as are the ships docked in the harbour, the coastline and the nearby mountain ranges.

The acquisition of more images over specific test sites are planned to demonstrate the suitability of Sentinel-1 for classifying sea-ice, for applications using ocean winds and waves, and for detecting ships, thereby preparing users for the uptake of data.

Dedicated acquisitions of image pairs and data stacks suitable for measuring surface movements such as glacier dynamics and subsidence are also planned to take place in the coming months.

As for the current set of test data, the Radarsat-2 simulated images will also be processed and formatted using the Sentinel-1 Instrument Processing Facility and made available to users shortly.

Related missions:



Related links:

Sentinel-1 simulated products:

European Commission GMES ‘Copernicus’:


Images, Text, Credits: ESA / MDA / ATG Medialab.


Herschel finds hot gas on the menu for Milky Way’s black hole

ESA - Herschel Mission patch.

7 May 2013

ESA’s Herschel space observatory has made detailed observations of surprisingly hot molecular gas that may be orbiting or falling towards the supermassive black hole lurking at the centre of our Milky Way galaxy.

Our local black hole is located in a region known as Sagittarius A* – Sgr A* – after a nearby radio source. It has a mass about four million times that of our Sun and lies around 26 000 light-years away from the Solar System.

Galactic centre

Even at that distance, it is a few hundred times closer to us than any other galaxy with an active black hole at its centre, making it the ideal natural laboratory to study the environment around these enigmatic objects.

Vast amounts of dust lie in the plane of the Milky Way between here and its centre, obscuring our view at visible wavelengths. But at far-infrared wavelengths, it is possible to peer through the dust, affording Herschel’s scientists the chance to study the turbulent innermost region of our Galaxy in great detail.

Herschel has detected a great variety of simple molecules at the Milky Way’s heart, including carbon monoxide, water vapour and hydrogen cyanide. By analysing the signature from these molecules, astronomers have been able to probe some of the fundamental properties of the interstellar gas surrounding the black hole.

Molecules on the menu at the Milky Way’s black hole

“Herschel has resolved the far-infrared emission within just 1 light-year of the black hole, making it possible for the first time at these wavelengths to separate emission due to the central cavity from that of the surrounding dense molecular disc,” says Javier Goicoechea of the Centro de Astrobiología, Spain, and lead author of the paper reporting the results.

The biggest surprise was quite how hot the molecular gas in the innermost central region of the Galaxy gets. At least some of it is around 1000ºC, much hotter than typical interstellar clouds, which are usually only a few tens of degrees above the –273ºC of absolute zero.

While some of the heating is down to the fierce ultraviolet radiation pouring from a cluster of massive stars that live very close to the Galactic Centre, they are not enough to explain the high temperatures alone.

In addition to the stellar radiation, Dr Goicoechea’s team hypothesise that emission from strong shocks in highly-magnetised gas in the region may be a significant contributor to the high temperatures. Such shocks can be generated in collisions between gas clouds, or in material flowing at high speed from stars and protostars.

“The observations are also consistent with streamers of hot gas speeding towards Sgr A*, falling towards the very centre of the Galaxy,” says Dr Goicoechea. “Our Galaxy’s black hole may be cooking its dinner right in front of Herschel’s eyes.”

Herschel space observatory

Just before material falls into a black hole, it is heated up enormously and can cause high-energy X-ray and gamma-ray flares. While Sgr A* currently shows little sign of such activity, this could change soon.

Using near-infrared observations, other astronomers have spotted a separate, compact cloud of gas amounting to just a few Earth masses spiralling towards the black hole. Located much closer to the black hole than the reservoir of material studied by Herschel in this work, it may finally be gobbled up later this year.

Spacecraft including ESA’s XMM-Newton and Integral will be waiting to spot any high-energy burps as the black hole enjoys its feast.

“The centre of the Milky Way is a complex region, but with these Herschel observations, we have taken an important step forward in our understanding of the vicinity of a supermassive black hole, which will ultimately help improve our picture of galaxy evolution,” says Göran Pilbratt, ESA’s Herschel project scientist.

Notes for Editors

“Herschel Far-Infrared Spectroscopy of the Galactic Center. Hot Molecular Gas: Shocks versus Radiation near Sgr A∗” by J.R. Goicoechea et al., is published inAstrophysical Journal Letters,7 May 2013.

The study focuses on a spectral scan towards Sgr A∗ at wavelengths of approximately 52–671 microns taken with the PACS and SPIRE spectrometers, and is part of the PRISMAS (PRobing InterStellar Molecules with Absorption line Studies) and SPECHIS (SPIRE Spectral Line Surveys of HIFI-GT-KP Sources) Herschel Guaranteed-Time Programmes.

PACS spectra between 52 microns and 190 microns were obtained during March 2011 and March 2012. SPIRE observations between 194 microns and 671 microns were obtained during February 2011.

Herschel launched on 14 May 2009 and completed science observations on 29 April 2013.

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:

The Milky Way Project:

Herschel postcard gallery:

Images, Text, Credits: ESA / C. Carreau / Radio-wavelength image: National Radio Astronomy Observatory/Very Large Array (courtesy of C. Lang); spectrum: ESA / Herschel / PACS & SPIRE / J.R. Goicoechea et al. (2013).

Best regards,

ESA’s Vega launcher scores new success with Proba-V

Arianespace / ESA - Vega VV02 launch poster.

7 May 2013

 Second Vega launch

Second Vega launch by Arianespace a success Proba-V, VNREDSat-1 and ESTCube-1 in orbit.

On Monday, May 6, 2013 at 11:06 pm local time in French Guiana, Arianespace successfully launched the second Vega rocket from the Guiana space Center (CSG), orbiting the Proba-V, VNREDSat-1 and ESTCube-1 satellites.

Vega launch sequence replay

The three solid-propellant stages performed flawlessly and, after two burns of the liquid-propellant upper stage, Proba‑V was released into a circular orbit at an altitude of 820 km, over the western coast of Australia, some 55 minutes into flight.

The satellite is now being controlled by ESA’s centre in Redu, Belgium, where it is undergoing a health check and testing before the operational phase starts to monitor the vegetation coverage on Planet Earth.

Artist's concept of the Proba-V satellite

After releasing Proba-V, the upper stage performed a third burn and the top half of the egg-shaped Vega Secondary Payload Adapter was ejected. After a fourth burn to circularise the orbit at an altitude of 704 km, VNREDSat-1A was released 1 hour 57 minutes into flight. ESTCube‑1 was ejected from its dispenser three minutes later.

Artist's concept of the VNREDSat 1 satellite

A fifth and last burn will now place the spent upper stage on a trajectory that ensures a safe reentry that complies with new debris mitigation regulations.

Second successful Vega launch from CSG

With Ariane 5, Soyuz and now Vega all operating from the Guiana Space Center, Arianespace is the only launch services operator in the world capable of launching all types of payloads into all types of orbits, from the largest to the smallest geostationary satellites, clusters of satellites for constellations and missions to the International Space Station (ISS).

Arianespace / ESA launchers family

Vega is designed to launch payloads in the 1,500 kg class into orbit at an altitude of 700 km, which means that Europe now has a new launcher capable of handling all scientific and government missions, along with commercial launches.

Arianespace has now performed two launches from the Guiana Space Center in 2013, one with the Ariane 5 rocket and one with Vega. Starsem, the company's Euro-Russian joint venture, has also carried out a Soyuz launch in Baikonur, Kazakhstan. From now until the end of the year, Arianespace plans eight more launches from the Guiana Space Center.

For more information about Arianespace, visit:

Images, Video, Text, Credits: ESA / P. Carril / Arianespace / EADS Astrium.