jeudi 20 juin 2013

Hubble spots galaxies in close encounter

ESA - Hubble Space logo.

20 June 2013

 Hubble image of Arp 142

The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has produced this vivid image of a pair of interacting galaxies known as Arp 142. When two galaxies stray too close to each other they begin to interact, causing spectacular changes in both objects. In some cases the two can merge — but in others, they are ripped apart.

Just below the centre of this image is the blue, twisted form of galaxy NGC 2936, one of the two interacting galaxies that form Arp 142 in the constellation of Hydra. Nicknamed "the Penguin" or "the Porpoise" by amateur astronomers, NGC 2936 used to be a standard spiral galaxy before being torn apart by the gravity of its cosmic companion.

The area around merging galaxy duo Arp 142 (ground-based image)

The remnants of its spiral structure can still be seen — the former galactic bulge now forms the "eye" of the penguin, around which it is still possible to see where the galaxy's pinwheeling arms once were. These disrupted arms now shape the cosmic bird's "body" as bright streaks of blue and red across the image. These streaks arch down towards NGC 2936's nearby companion, the elliptical galaxy NGC 2937, visible here as a bright white oval. The pair show an uncanny resemblance to a penguin safeguarding its egg.

The effects of gravitational interaction between galaxies can be devastating. The Arp 142 pair are close enough together to interact violently, exchanging matter and causing havoc.

3D visualisation of Arp 142

In the upper part of the image are two bright stars, both of which lie in the foreground of the Arp 142 pair. One of these is surrounded by a trail of sparkling blue material, which is actually another galaxy. This galaxy is thought to be too far away to play a role in the interaction — the same is true of the galaxies peppered around the body of NGC 2936. In the background are the blue and red elongated shapes of many other galaxies, which lie at vast distances from us — but which can all be seen by the sharp eye of Hubble.

Zooming in on Arp 142

This pair of galaxies is named after the American astronomer Halton Arp, the creator of the Atlas of Peculiar Galaxies, a catalogue of weirdly-shaped galaxies that was originally published in 1966. Arp compiled the catalogue in a bid to understand how galaxies evolved and changed shape over time, something he felt to be poorly understood. He chose his targets based on their strange appearances, but astronomers later realised that many of the objects in Arp's catalogue were in fact interacting and merging galaxies [1].

Zoom and 3D visualisation of Arp 142

This image is a combination of visible and infrared light, created from data gathered by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope Wide Field Planetary Camera 3 (WFC3).

Looking through the eye of Hubble


[1] The birth and evolution of various sets of merging galaxies was the subject of the book Cosmic Collisions – The Hubble Atlas of Merging Galaxies, produced by Springer and the European Southern Observatory. The book is illustrated with a range of stunning Hubble Space Telescope images.

More information:

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


Hubblecast 67: Of galaxies and penguins — Arp 142:

Images of Hubble:

Cosmic Collisions – The Hubble Atlas of Merging Galaxies:

Hubble Heritage site:

NASA press release:

Images, Text, Credits: NASA, ESA and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)/Digitized Sky Survey 2/Videos: NASA, ESA, and G. Bacon, L. Frattare, Z. Levay, and F. Summers (Viz 3D Team, STScI)/Digitized Sky Survey 2//Hubble and M. Kornmesser.

Best regards,

Dusty Surprise Around Giant Black Hole

ESO - European Southern Observatory logo.

20 June 2013

 Artist's impression of the surroundings of the supermassive black hole in NGC 3783

ESO’s Very Large Telescope Interferometer has gathered the most detailed observations ever of the dust around the huge black hole at the centre of an active galaxy. Rather than finding all of the glowing dust in a doughnut-shaped torus around the black hole, as expected, the astronomers find that much of it is located above and below the torus. These observations show that dust is being pushed away from the black hole as a cool wind — a surprising finding that challenges current theories and tells us how supermassive black holes evolve and interact with their surroundings.

Over the last twenty years, astronomers have found that almost all galaxies have a huge black hole at their centre. Some of these black holes are growing by drawing in matter from their surroundings, creating in the process the most energetic objects in the Universe: active galactic nuclei (AGN). The central regions of these brilliant powerhouses are ringed by doughnuts of cosmic dust [1] dragged from the surrounding space, similar to how water forms a small whirlpool around the plughole of a sink. It was thought that most of the strong infrared radiation coming from AGN originated in these doughnuts.

Wide-field view of the region around galaxy NGC 3783

But new observations of a nearby active galaxy called NGC 3783, harnessing the power of the Very Large Telescope Interferometer (VLTI) at ESO’s Paranal Observatory in Chile [2], have given a team of astronomers a surprise. Although the hot dust — at some 700 to 1000 degrees Celsius — is indeed in a torus as expected, they found huge amounts of cooler dust above and below this main torus [3].

As Sebastian Hönig (University of California Santa Barbara, USA and Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel, Germany), lead author of the paper presenting the new results, explains, “This is the first time we’ve been able to combine detailed mid-infrared observations of the cool, room-temperature dust around an AGN with similarly detailed observations of the very hot dust. This also represents the largest set of infrared interferometry for an AGN published yet.”

The active galaxy NGC 3783 in the constellation of Centaurus

The newly-discovered dust forms a cool wind streaming outwards from the black hole. This wind must play an important role in the complex relationship between the black hole and its environment. The black hole feeds its insatiable appetite from the surrounding material, but the intense radiation this produces also seems to be blowing the material away. It is still unclear how these two processes work together and allow supermassive black holes to grow and evolve within galaxies, but the presence of a dusty wind adds a new piece to this picture.

In order to investigate the central regions of NGC 3783, the astronomers needed to use the combined power of the Unit Telescopes of ESO’s Very Large Telescope. Using these units together forms an interferometer that can obtain a resolution equivalent to that of a 130-metre telescope.

Another team member, Gerd Weigelt (Max-Planck-Institut für Radioastronomie, Bonn, Germany), explains, “By combining the world-class sensitivity of the large mirrors of the VLT with interferometry we are able to collect enough light to observe faint objects. This lets us study a region as small as the distance from our Sun to its closest neighbouring star, in a galaxy tens of millions of light-years away. No other optical or infrared system in the world is currently capable of this.”

Outflow from active galaxy NGC 3783 (artist’s impression)

These new observations may lead to a paradigm shift in the understanding of AGN. They are direct evidence that dust is being pushed out by the intense radiation. Models of how the dust is distributed and how supermassive black holes grow and evolve must now take into account this newly-discovered effect.

Hönig concludes, “I am now really looking forward to MATISSE, which will allow us to combine all four VLT Unit Telescopes at once and observe simultaneously in the near- and mid-infrared — giving us much more detailed data.” MATISSE, a second generation instrument for the VLTI, is currently under construction.


[1] Cosmic dust consist of silicate and graphite grains — minerals also abundant on Earth. The soot from a candle is very similar to cosmic graphite dust, although the size of the grains in the soot are ten or more times bigger than typical grain sizes of cosmic graphite grains.

[2] The VLTI is formed from a combination of the four 8.2-metre VLT Unit Telescopes, or the four moveable 1.8-metre VLT Auxiliary Telescopes. It makes use of a technique known as interferometry, in which sophisticated instrumentation combines the light from several telescopes into one observation. Although it usually does not produce actual images, this technique dramatically increases the level of detail that can be measured in the resulting observations, comparable to what a space telescope with a diameter of over 100 metres would measure.

[3] The hotter dust was mapped using the AMBER VLTI instrument at near-infrared wavelengths and the newer observations reported here used the MIDI instrument at wavelengths between 8 and 13 microns in the mid-infrared.

More information:

This research was presented in a paper entitled “Dust in the Polar Region as a Major Contributor to the Infrared Emission of Active Galactic Nuclei”, by S. Hönig et al., to appear in the Astrophysical Journal on 20 June 2013.

The team is composed of S. F. Hönig (University of California in Santa Barbara, USA [UCSB]; Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel, Germany), M. Kishimoto (Max-Planck-Institut für Radioastronomie, Bonn, Germany [MPIfR]), K. R. W. Tristram (MPIfR), M. A. Prieto (Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias, Tenerife, Spain), P. Gandhi (Institute of Space and Astronautical Science, Kanawaga, Japan; University of Durham, United Kingdom), D. Asmus (MPIfR), R. Antonucci (UCSB), L. Burtscher (Max-Planck-Institut für extraterrestrische Physik, Garching, Germany), W. J. Duschl (Institut für Theoretische Physik und Astrophysik, Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel, Germany) and G. Weigelt (MPIfR).

ESO is the foremost intergovernmental astronomy organisation in Europe and the world’s most productive ground-based astronomical observatory by far. It is supported by 15 countries: Austria, Belgium, Brazil, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Finland, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. ESO carries out an ambitious programme focused on the design, construction and operation of powerful ground-based observing facilities enabling astronomers to make important scientific discoveries. ESO also plays a leading role in promoting and organising cooperation in astronomical research. ESO operates three unique world-class observing sites in Chile: La Silla, Paranal and Chajnantor. At Paranal, ESO operates the Very Large Telescope, the world’s most advanced visible-light astronomical observatory and two survey telescopes. VISTA works in the infrared and is the world’s largest survey telescope and the VLT Survey Telescope is the largest telescope designed to exclusively survey the skies in visible light. ESO is the European partner of a revolutionary astronomical telescope ALMA, the largest astronomical project in existence. ESO is currently planning the 39-metre European Extremely Large optical/near-infrared Telescope, the E-ELT, which will become “the world’s biggest eye on the sky”.


Research paper:

Photos of the VLT:

Information on the Very Large Telescope Interferometer (VLTI):

Images, Text, Credits: ESO/M. Kornmesser/Digitized Sky Survey 2. Acknowledgement: Davide De Martin/IAU and Sky & Telescope/Video: ESO/M. Kornmesser.


mercredi 19 juin 2013

Adjustment of the orbit of the International Space Station

ISS - International Space Station patch.

June 19, 2013

In accordance with the program of ballistic support the International Space Station on June 19 held its operational orbit correction of flying cargo vehicle (THC), "Progress M-20M", scheduled for launch in July.

According to the ballistic Service Mission Control Center TsNIIMash maneuver to raise the orbit of the ISS passed normally.

International Space Station (ISS)

The parameters of the ISS orbit after maneuvers:

     - Minimum height above the surface of the Earth - 412.155 km;
     - Maximum height above the surface of the Earth - 439.300 km;
     - Period - 92.824 minutes;
     - The inclination - 51.668 degrees.

ISS orbit correction was performed using the main engines of the European cargo spacecraft ATV-4 "Albert Einstein", whose engines were included in 17 hours 05 minutes Moscow time and worked for 407.5 seconds. As a result, ISS has received an additional boost of 1 meter per second, and the average height of its orbit was 415.752 kilometers.

ROSCOSMOS Press Release:

Image, Text, Credits: Press Service of the Russian Federal Space Agency / ROSCOSMOS / NASA / Translation: Aerospace.


Progress M-19M completed flight

ROSCOSMOS - Russian Vehicles patch.

June 19, 2013

June 19 at 17:40 MSK (Moscow time) in a predetermined area of the South Pacific produced flooding combustible residues cargo vehicle (THC) Progress M-19M. At 16:52 MSK, in accordance with the program laid down in the ship's onboard computer specialists Mission Control Center (MCC) FSUE TsNIIMash, to "space truck" was included on the inhibition of the propulsion system, then began a controlled reduction of the THC from orbit.

Progress-M cargo spacecraft

Progress M-19M was launched to the International Space Station from the Baikonur cosmodrome April 24, 2013, after delivering cargo of food, fuel, water and equipment.

ROSCOSMOS Press Release:

Image, Text, Credit: Press Service of the Russian Federal Space Agency / ROSCOSMOS / NASA / Translation: Aerospace.


Billion-Pixel View of Mars Comes From Curiosity Rover

NASA - Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) patch.

June 19, 2013

 Billion-Pixel View From Curiosity at Rocknest, Raw Color

This is a reduced version of panorama from NASA's Mars rover Curiosity with 1.3 billion pixels in the full-resolution version. It shows Curiosity at the "Rocknest" site where the rover scooped up samples of windblown dust and sand. Curiosity used three cameras to take the component images on several different days between Oct. 5 and Nov. 16, 2012. Viewers can explore this image with pan and zoom controls at Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS.

A billion-pixel view from the surface of Mars, from NASA's Mars rover Curiosity, offers armchair explorers a way to examine one part of the Red Planet in great detail.

The first NASA-produced view from the surface of Mars larger than one billion pixels stitches together nearly 900 exposures taken by cameras onboard Curiosity and shows details of the landscape along the rover's route.

The 1.3-billion-pixel image is available for perusal with pan and zoom tools at: .

The full-circle scene surrounds the site where Curiosity collected its first scoops of dusty sand at a windblown patch called "Rocknest," and extends to Mount Sharp on the horizon.

"It gives a sense of place and really shows off the cameras' capabilities," said Bob Deen of the Multi-Mission Image Processing Laboratory at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. "You can see the context and also zoom in to see very fine details."

Deen assembled the product using 850 frames from the telephoto camera of Curiosity's Mast Camera instrument, supplemented with 21 frames from the Mastcam's wider-angle camera and 25 black-and-white frames -- mostly of the rover itself -- from the Navigation Camera. The images were taken on several different Mars days between Oct. 5 and Nov. 16, 2012. Raw single-frame images received from Curiosity are promptly posted on a public website at: . Mars fans worldwide have used those images to assemble mosaic views, including at least one gigapixel scene.

Mars Science Laboratory (MSL)"Curiosity". Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The new mosaic from NASA shows illumination effects from variations in the time of day for pieces of the mosaic. It also shows variations in the clarity of the atmosphere due to variable dustiness during the month while the images were acquired.

NASA's Mars Science Laboratory project is using Curiosity and the rover's 10 science instruments to investigate the environmental history within Gale Crater, a location where the project has found that conditions were long ago favorable for microbial life.

Malin Space Science Systems, San Diego, built and operates Curiosity's Mastcam. JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the project for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington and built the Navigation Camera and the rover.

More information about the mission is online at: and .

You can follow the mission on Facebook and Twitter at: and .

For more information about the Multi-Mission Image Processing Laboratory, see:

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

Best regards,

Cassini Probe to Take Photo of Earth From Deep Space

NASA / ESA - Cassini Mission to Saturn patch.

June 19, 2013

NASA's Cassini spacecraft, now exploring Saturn, will take a picture of our home planet from a distance of hundreds of millions of miles on July 19. NASA is inviting the public to help acknowledge the historic interplanetary portrait as it is being taken.

Earth will appear as a small, pale blue dot between the rings of Saturn in the image, which will be part of a mosaic, or multi-image portrait, of the Saturn system Cassini is composing.

"While Earth will be only about a pixel in size from Cassini's vantage point 898 million (1.44 billion kilometers) away, the team is looking forward to giving the world a chance to see what their home looks like from Saturn," said Linda Spilker, Cassini project scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif. "We hope you'll join us in waving at Saturn from Earth, so we can commemorate this special opportunity."

Image above: This simulated view from NASA's Cassini spacecraft shows the expected positions of Saturn and Earth on July 19, 2013, around the time Cassini will take Earth's picture. Cassini will be about 898 million miles (1.44 billion kilometers) away from Earth at the time. That distance is nearly 10 times the distance from the sun to Earth. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

Cassini will start obtaining the Earth part of the mosaic at 5:27 p.m. EDT (2:27 p.m. PDT or 21:27 UTC) and end about 15 minutes later, all while Saturn is eclipsing the sun from Cassini's point of view. The spacecraft's unique vantage point in Saturn's shadow will provide a special scientific opportunity to look at the planet's rings. At the time of the photo, North America and part of the Atlantic Ocean will be in sunlight.

Unlike two previous Cassini eclipse mosaics of the Saturn system in 2006, which captured Earth, and another in 2012, the July 19 image will be the first to capture the Saturn system with Earth in natural color, as human eyes would see it. It also will be the first to capture Earth and its moon with Cassini's highest-resolution camera. The probe's position will allow it to turn its cameras in the direction of the sun, where Earth will be, without damaging the spacecraft's sensitive detectors.

"Ever since we caught sight of the Earth among the rings of Saturn in September 2006 in a mosaic that has become one of Cassini's most beloved images, I have wanted to do it all over again, only better," said Carolyn Porco, Cassini imaging team lead at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colo. "This time, I wanted to turn the entire event into an opportunity for everyone around the globe to savor the uniqueness of our planet and the preciousness of the life on it."

Porco and her imaging team associates examined Cassini's planned flight path for the remainder of its Saturn mission in search of a time when Earth would not be obstructed by Saturn or its rings. Working with other Cassini team members, they found the July 19 opportunity would permit the spacecraft to spend time in Saturn's shadow to duplicate the views from earlier in the mission to collect both visible and infrared imagery of the planet and its ring system.

Image above: North America and part of the Atlantic Ocean are expected to be illuminated when NASA's Cassini spacecraft takes a snapshot of Earth on July 19, 2013. This view is a close-up simulation. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

"Looking back towards the sun through the rings highlights the tiniest of ring particles, whose width is comparable to the thickness of hair and which are difficult to see from ground-based telescopes," said Matt Hedman, a Cassini science team member based at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., and a member of the rings working group. "We're particularly interested in seeing the structures within Saturn's dusty E ring, which is sculpted by the activity of the geysers on the moon Enceladus, Saturn's magnetic field and even solar radiation pressure."

This latest image will continue a NASA legacy of space-based images of our fragile home, including the 1968 "Earthrise" image taken by the Apollo 8 moon mission from about 240,000 miles (380,000 kilometers) away and the 1990 "Pale Blue Dot" image taken by Voyager 1 from about 4 billion miles (6 billion kilometers) away.

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. JPL manages the Cassini-Huygens mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington, and designed, developed and assembled the Cassini orbiter and its two onboard cameras. The imaging team consists of scientists from the United States, the United Kingdom, France and Germany. The imaging operations center is based at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colo.

To learn more about the public outreach activities associated with the taking of the image,visit:

For more information about Cassini, visit: and

Images (mentioned), Text, Credit: NASA.


mardi 18 juin 2013

CERN - EuCARD-2 kicks off

CERN - European Organization for Nuclear Research logo.

June 18, 2013

Last week CERN hosted a number of events that focused on research and development for particle accelerators.

On Monday speakers presented the results of the EuCARD project – a common research-and-development venture of 39 partners involved in accelerator sciences and technologies in Europe. In a 2-day workshop experts discussed the future of accelerators, predicting their technical needs for the next 50 years. Then on Thursday and Friday, EuCARD-2 – an R&D project for the next generation of accelerators – was officially launched.

Image above: EuCARD-2 aims to foster new ideas for next-generation particle accelerators (Image: Anna Pantelia/CERN).

The project, coordinated by Maurizio Vretenar from CERN, will last four years, managing a budget of €23.4 million of which one third is from the European Commission. “This project builds on the success of EuCARD in joining large laboratories with the intellectual potential of small institutes and universities,” says Vretenar. “EuCARD-2 aims to become an important actor in fostering new ideas and technologies for the future of accelerators and in enhancing their impact on the society."

EuCARD-2 will focus on two objectives: research and development for the next generation of accelerators for research; and multidisciplinary collaborations to bring this technology to other fields of application such as health, energy and environment. The project involves a total of 40 laboratories and universities in 14 countries in Europe as well as CERN.


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.

CERN - To discover the secrets of matter. (Image: CERN)

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.

Related links:

EuCARD project:


Workshop experts, the future of accelerators:

European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN):

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: CERN /  Marina Giampietro.

Best regards,

NASA Announces Asteroid Grand Challenge

Asteroid Watch.

June 18, 2013

NASA announced Tuesday a Grand Challenge focused on finding all asteroid threats to human populations and knowing what to do about them.

The challenge is a large-scale effort that will use multi-disciplinary collaborations and a variety of partnerships with other government agencies, international partners, industry, academia, and citizen scientists. It complements NASA's recently announced mission to redirect an asteroid and send humans to study it.

"NASA already is working to find asteroids that might be a threat to our planet, and while we have found 95 percent of the large asteroids near the Earth’s orbit, we need to find all those that might be a threat to Earth," said NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver. "This Grand Challenge is focused on detecting and characterizing asteroids and learning how to deal with potential threats. We will also harness public engagement, open innovation and citizen science to help solve this global problem."

Image above: A sequence of radar images of 1998 QE2, a 1.7-mile wide asteroid, was obtained on the evening of May 29, 2013, by NASA scientists using the Deep Space Network antenna at Goldstone, Calif., when it was about 3.75 million miles (6 million kilometers) from Earth. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/GSSR.

Grand Challenges are ambitious goals on a national or global scale that capture the imagination and demand advances in innovation and breakthroughs in science and technology. They are an important element of President Obama's Strategy for American Innovation.

"I applaud NASA for issuing this Grand Challenge because finding asteroid threats, and having a plan for dealing with them, needs to be an all-hands-on-deck effort," said Tom Kalil, deputy director for technology and innovation at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. "The efforts of private-sector partners and our citizen scientists will augment the work NASA already is doing to improve near-Earth object detection capabilities."

NASA also released a request for information (RFI) that invites industry and potential partners to offer ideas on accomplishing NASA's goal to locate, redirect, and explore an asteroid, as well as find and plan for asteroid threats. The RFI is open for 30 days, and responses will be used to help develop public engagement opportunities and a September industry workshop.

To watch the archived video of today's event, visit

For more information about NASA's asteroid initiative, visit

Image (mentioned), Text, Credit: NASA.


The fast winds of Venus are getting faster

ESA - Venus Express Mission patch.

June 18, 2013

The most detailed record of cloud motion in the atmosphere of Venus chronicled by ESA’s Venus Express has revealed that the planet’s winds have steadily been getting faster over the last six years.

Venus is well known for its curious super-rotating atmosphere, which whips around the planet once every four Earth days. This is in stark contrast to the rotation of the planet itself – the length of the day – which takes a comparatively laborious 243 Earth days.

Tracking clouds on Venus

By tracking the movements of distinct cloud features in the cloud tops some 70 km above the planet’s surface over a period of 10 venusian years (6 Earth years), scientists have been able to monitor patterns in the long-term global wind speeds.

When Venus Express arrived at the planet in 2006, average cloud-top wind speeds between latitudes 50º on either side of the equator were clocked at roughly 300 km/h. The results of two separate studies have revealed that these already remarkably rapid winds are becoming even faster, increasing to 400 km/h over the course of the mission.

“This is an enormous increase in the already high wind speeds known in the atmosphere. Such a large variation has never before been observed on Venus, and we do not yet understand why this occurred,” says Igor Khatuntsev from the Space Research Institute in Moscow and lead author of the Russian-led paper to be published in the journal Icarus.

Increasing wind speeds on Venus

Dr Khatuntsev’s team determined the wind speeds by measuring how cloud features in images moved between frames: over 45 000 features were painstakingly tracked by hand and more than 350 000 further features were tracked automatically using a computer programme.

In a complementary study, a Japanese-led team used their own automated cloud tracking method to derive the cloud motions: their results are to be published in the Journal of Geophysical Research.

On top of this long-term increase in the average wind speed, however, both studies have also revealed regular variations linked to the local time of day and the altitude of the Sun above the horizon, and to the rotation period of Venus.

ESA's Venus Express spacecraft

One regular oscillation occurs roughly every 4.8 days near the equator and is thought to be connected to atmospheric waves at lower altitudes.

But the research also unveiled some harder-to-explain curiosities.

“Our analysis of cloud motions at low latitudes in the southern hemisphere showed that over the six years of study the velocity of the winds changed by up 70 km/h over a time scale of 255 Earth days – slightly longer than a year on Venus,” says Toru Kouyama from the Information Technology Research Institute in Ibaraki, Japan.

Related links:

Looking at Venus:

Venus Express Press Kit:

Venus Express brochure (pdf):

Venus Express in-depth:

Images, Text, Credits: ESA / Khatuntsev et al, Cloud level winds from the Venus Express Monitoring Camera imaging, Icarus (2013); doi: 10.1016/j.icarus.2013.05.018 / background image: ESA.


lundi 17 juin 2013

EPFL presents a modular aircraft at Le Bourget

Clip-Air Project patch.

June 17, 2013

The Clip-Air project envisions an airplane consisting of a single flying wing onto which capsules carrying passengers or freight can be attached. More than a new type of flying device, its innovative concept could revolutionize the airports of the future.

Clip-Air modular plane

Go to the train station to take the plane. Board on a capsule to reach the airport by rail, and then - without leaving your seat - fly to another city. The Clip-Air project, being developed at EPFL since 2009, envisions a modular aircraft consisting of a flying wing onto which it is possible to attach one, two or three capsules as required. Its concept allows us to take a glimpse at the air transportation of tomorrow, which is meant to be more flexible, closer to our needs, more efficient and less energy-consuming. For the first time, a model of the Clip-Air plane will be presented at the Paris Air Show from 17 to 19 June 2013.

Despite its being a very futuristic project, the scientists behind it work under rigorous constraints to maintain its technical feasibility. "We still have to break down several barriers but we do believe that it is worth to work in such a concept, at odds with current aircraft technology and which can have a huge impact on society," said Claudio Leonardi, in charge of the Clip-Air project.

Clip-Air modular plane

The Clip-Air project’s main contribution would be to provide rail transport’s flexibility to air transport. On the one hand, the Clip-Air plane includes a support structure made up by the wing, engines, cockpit, fuel and landing gear. On the other hand, there is the load to be carried: passengers and/or freight. Hence, the capsule would be equivalent to a real airplane’s fuselage, but without its usual attributes. The flying wing can accommodate up to three capsules with a capacity of 150 passengers each.

New generation fuel

Theoretical studies show Clip-Air’s potential in terms of transportation capacity thanks to a more efficient and flexible fleet management, a more efficient loading rate, increased flexibility of supply and the possibility of no more empty flights. Further advantages would come from savings in maintenance, storage and management.

Clip-Air also aims to address current environmental concerns as wells as the objectives set by the ACARE (Advisory Council for Aeronautics Research in Europe) to reduce by 50% CO2 emissions by the year 2020. Clip-Air aircrafts’ conventional fuel consumption would be reduced since they can carry as many passengers as three A320 with half the engines. In other words, flying with three modules under the same wing in a 4000 km flight would be cheaper - in terms of fuel consumption - than three aircrafts of the same capacity flying independently and with equal speed and altitude.

Clip-Air modular plane

Then again, Clip-Air’s ambition also envisages other types of fuels, less polluting than the ones currently consumed. Several possibilities (liquid hydrogen, biofuels and conventional fuel) have been studied and have demonstrated the relevance of modular structures in terms of overall consumption.

A revolution in mobility

A Clip-Air aircraft could fit in an airport as it is conceived today. With its autonomous capsule, the size of a railroad car - about 30 meters long and 30 tons heavy - its design is compatible with rail tracks. Therefore, it could eventually revolutionize airport configuration and multimodal mobility. The boarding of either cargo or passengers in the capsule could be done not only at airports but also directly in rail stations or production sites.

Clip-Air modular plane - Passengers capsule in rail station

In technical terms, initial studies have shown that the project is feasible, even though there are still many challenges ahead. “The development of the concept requires performing more advanced aerodynamic simulations and testing a 6 meters long flying model powered by mini-reactors in order to continue to explore the concept’s flight performance and to demonstrate its overall feasibility”, added Claudio Leonardi.

For now, a 1.20 meters long model of the Clip-Air plane will be presented at the Normandy Aerospace stand at the Paris Air Show, from 17 to 19 June 2013. At the moment the project involves researchers from three EPFL laboratories (TRANSP-OR, LIV and ICOM). It is coordinated by EPFL’s Transportation Center.

For more information about École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), visit:

EPFL Modular Aircraft Clip-Air website:

Images, Video, Text, Credits: EPFL / Anne-Muriel Brouet / Mediacom.

Best regards,

Titanic Sea

ESA / NASA - Cassini Mission logo.

17 June 2013

 Ligeia Mare

Ligeia Mare, shown here in a false-color image from the international Cassini mission, is the second largest known body of liquid on Saturn's moon Titan.

It measures roughly 420 km x 350 km and its shorelines extend for over 3,000 km. It is filled with liquid hydrocarbons, such as ethane and methane, and is one of the many seas and lakes that bejewel Titan's north polar region.

Many rivers can be seen draining into the sea. Cassini has yet to observe waves on Ligeia Mare but they may appear later, as Titan’s north polar region approaches summer solstice in 2017 and the winds gets stronger. While estimates of wind speeds on Titan vary, most scientists agree that winds are currently too calm to make waves at Ligeia’s latitude. Data for precise measurements of Ligeia Mare’s surface roughness were collected during the spacecraft’s recent flyby of Titan on 23 May 2013 and will provide more clues.

The mosaic shown here is composed from synthetic aperture radar images from flybys obtained between February 2006 and April 2007.

This imaging technique works by collecting the echoes from radar pulses sent to the surface of Titan by Cassini. By breaking the echoes up by time and frequency, an image of the surface can be constructed using a technique known as Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR). The overall intensity of the return echo is dependent on the roughness, structure, and composition of the surface. In the case of SAR imaging, smooth surfaces appear dark since most of the transmitted energy is reflected away from the spacecraft. In this image, smooth areas such as Ligeia Mare reflect little radar and are coloured black. By contrast, rough areas scatter more energy back toward the radar and are depicted here in yellow to white in the false color representation. Because the radar operates at a single frequency, radar images actually do not contain “color” (or frequency-dependent) information.

Radar provides a way to ‘see’ through the thick atmosphere that blurs Titan’s surface in visible and infrared images.

Cassini Titan flyby (Artist's view)

Several alternate versions of this image are available here:

The Cassini–Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, ESA and ASI, the Italian space agency. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington. The Cassini orbiter was designed, developed and assembled at JPL. The radar instrument was built by JPL and ASI, working with team members from the US and several European countries.

Related links:

At Saturn and Titan:

Cassini-Huygens overview:

Cassini-Huygens in depth:

Images, Text, Credits: ESA / NASA / JPL-Caltech / ASI/Cornell.


dimanche 16 juin 2013

Solar Impulse Across America 2013: From Cincinnati to Washington

Solar Impulse Across America 2013 patch.

June 16, 2013

Humor makes it happen

Image above: Across America 2013: 4th leg from Cincinnati to Washington DC. A. Borschberg waiting the landing on the runway. Solar Impulse / Revillard /

Bertrand gracefully touched down on runway 19L at Dulles International Airport at 00:15 AM EDT (UTC-4), Sunday June 16th. Bertrand had a chance to get some incredible shots above the Appalachians and the solar airplane was in great shape despite the quasi-shower it experienced this morning before take-off. The fog that lingered over Cincinnati Municipal Lunken Airport caused condensation to form on the wings which the Ground Crew had to meticulously wipe off with cloths and pipettes. But at least Solar Impulse is now shiny and clean, ready to show off to the public!

Image above: Across America 2013: 4th leg from Cincinnati to Washington DC. A. Borschberg and B. Piccard just after the landing. Solar Impulse / Revillard /

Leg 4: Cincinnati KLUK – Washington KIAD

- Pilot: Bertrand Piccard, Initiator and Chairman

- Take off : June 15th 10:11 AM EDT (UTC-4)

- Landing: June 16th 00: 15 AM EDT (UTC-4)

- Flight duration: 14h04min

- Average ground speed: 50 km/h (27 kt/h)

- Highest altitude reached: 3048 m (10 000 ft)

- Flight Distance: 702 km (~379 NM)

Bertrand and André are thrilled to be in Washington D.C., the nation’s capital but also the first stop on the East Coast before going to New York City. It was also an emotional flight on a more personal level: it was Bertrand’s last mission flight in the cockpit of HB-SIA. What a wonderful way to say goodbye to the prototype that has exceeded all expectations! André will be taking the controls for the final leg of the Across America adventure, connecting Washington D.C. to New York City.

Across America 2013: 4th leg from Cincinnati to Washington DC. B. Piccard receiving some sweetness from Washington, exactly what he needs after such a long flight! Solar Impulse |Revillard|

The entire Solar Impulse team worked really hard to make this mission a success as well as to turn it into an unforgettable and symbolic final adventure of the solar airplane, HB-SIA, that’s so dear to all of us. The adrenaline and excitement are palpable as the mission is slowly coming to end and none of this would have been possible without the team. In fact, the key to success is a four letter word: T-E-A-M. From the Engineers, to the Meteorologists; from the Marketing and Communications team to the Logistics team; from the Press to Multimedia to the Ground Crew; from the ATC to the Analysts; it was all made possible thanks to professionalism, passion and especially humor! Between the intense moments of concentration, there is always room for fooling around and cracking a joke, an essential ingredient to keep us all going.

Solar Impulse Landing in Washington

Today, Sunday 16th an Open House will be organized from 1PM to 5PM. Everybody is welcome as the entrance is free while parking is $15 before 4PM. Just go to the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center; for directions click here:

For more information about Solar Impulse, Visit:

Images (mentioned), Video, Text, Credit: Solar Impulse.

Best regards,

First Woman in Space: Valentina

CCCP - Valentina Tereshkova Mission patch.

June 16, 2013

Valentina Tereshkova was born in Maslennikovo, near Yaroslavl, in Russia on 6 March 1937. Her father was a tractor driver and her mother worked in a textile factory. Interested in parachuting from a young age, Tereshkova began skydiving at a local flying club, making her first jump at the age of 22 in May 1959. At the time of her selection as a cosmonaut, she was working as a textile worker in a local factory.

After the first human spaceflight by Yuri Gagarin, the selection of female cosmonaut trainees was authorised by the Soviet government, with the aim of ensuring the first woman in space was a Soviet citizen.

Valentina Tereshkova

On 16 February 1962, out of more than 400 applicants, five women were selected to join the cosmonaut corps: Tatyana Kuznetsova, Irina Solovyova, Zhanna Yorkina, Valentina Ponomaryova and Valentina Tereshkova. The group spent several months in training, which included weightless flights, isolation tests, centrifuge tests, 120 parachute jumps and pilot training in jet aircraft.

Four candidates passed the final examinations in November 1962, after which they were commissioned as lieutenants in the Soviet air force (meaning Tereshkova also became the first civilian to fly in space, since technically these were only honorary ranks).

Valentina Tereshkova First Woman in Space

Originally a joint mission was planned that would see two women launched on solo Vostok flights on consecutive days in March or April 1963. Tereshkova, Solovyova and Ponomaryova were the leading candidates. It was intended that Tereshkova would be launched first in Vostok 5, with Ponomaryova following her in Vostok 6.

HHowever, this plan was changed in March 1963: Vostok 5 would carry a male cosmonaut, Valeri Bykovsky, flying the mission with a woman in Vostok 6 in June. The Russian space authorities nominated Tereshkova to make the joint flight.

Flight of the "Seagull"

After watching the launch of Vostok 5 at Baikonur Cosmodrome on 14 June, Tereshkova completed preparations for her own flight. On the morning of 16 June, Tereshkova and her backup Solovyova both dressed in spacesuits and were taken to the launch pad by bus. After completing checks of communication and life support systems, she was sealed inside her spacecraft.

After a two-hour countdown, Vostok 6 lifted off without fault and, within hours, she was in communication with Bykovsky in Vostok 5, marking the second time that two manned spacecraft were in space at the same time. With the radio call sign ‘Chaika’ (‘seagull’), Tereshkova had become the first woman in space. She was 26.

Valentina Tereshkova

Tereshkova’s televised image was broadcast throughout the Soviet Union and she spoke to Khrushchev by radio. She maintained a flight log and performed various tests to collect data on her body’s reaction to spaceflight. Her photographs of Earth and the horizon were later used to identify aerosol layers within the atmosphere.

Her mission lasted just under three days (two days, 23 hours, and 12 minutes). With a single flight, she had logged more flight time than the all the US Mercury astronauts who had flown to that date combined. Both Tereshkova and Bykovsky were record-holders. Bykovsky had spent nearly five days in orbit and even today he retains the record for having spent the longest period of time in space alone.

Images: ROSCOSMOS / Video made by Catherine Laplace-Builhe / Text, Credit: ESA.


Europe's largest Spaceship Reaches its Port

ESA - ATV-4 "Albert Einstein" Mission patch.

June 16, 2013

 ESA's ATV-4 cargo vessel made contact with the ISS at 16:07 CEST yesterday. Credits: NASA/ESA

ESA’s fourth Automated Transfer Vehicle, Albert Einstein, completed a flawless rendezvous with the International Space Station on 15 June when it docked smoothly with orbital outpost at 14:07 GMT (16:07 CEST).

The Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) is now connected to the Space Station.

ATV-4 docking sequence

“Bravo Europe, bravo ESA, bravo ATV. Thank you Member States, thank you industry, thank you CNES, thank you Russian partner,” commented Jean-Jacques Dordain, Director General of ESA.

“With the fourth ATV now ready to support and supply the Space Station with essential supplies and scientific experiments, ESA again proves itself to be a reliable partner in the international station upon which the future can be developed.”

Gentle contact, amazing achievement

The 20-tonne ferry, the heaviest spacecraft ever launched by Europe, flew autonomously and docked with the 420-tonne complex with a precision of a few cm as both circled Earth at 28 000 km/h.

“Such a gentle contact between a spacecraft the size of a double-decker bus and a Station 20 times larger is an amazing achievement, highlighting the impressive level of control achieved by this European space system developed by our industry under ESA’s direction,” said Thomas Reiter, ESA’s Director of Human Spaceflight and Operations.

ATV-4 approach

“These impressive technological capabilities will live on in the service module of NASA’s upcoming Orion crew vehicle.”

Autonomous docking at 28 000 km/h

The rendezvous and docking were performed autonomously by ATV’s own computers, closely monitored by flight controllers from ESA and France’s CNES space agency at the ATV Control Centre in Toulouse, France, and by Luca Parmitano and his crewmates on the Station.

Like its predecessors, ATV-4 is much more than a simple supply vessel: it is a space tug, a tanker, a freighter and a temporary habitation module.

To compensate for the natural decay in altitude of the Station’s orbit caused by atmospheric drag, it is loaded with 2580 kg of propellant to perform regular reboosts. It can even move the entire space complex out of the path of hazardous space debris. ATV also provides attitude control when other spacecraft are approaching the Station.

ATV Control Centre

In its tanks, it carries 860 kg of propellant, 100 kg of oxygen and air, and 570 kg of drinking water, all to be pumped into the Station’s tanks.

In its pressurised cargo module, it carries more than 1400 items packed into 141 bags, including 2480 kg of dry cargo such as scientific equipment, spare parts, food and clothes for the astronauts.

 Luca monitored docking from Station

During its four months attached to the Station, ATV will provide 45 cubic metres of extra crew quarters. On previous missions, the addition was welcomed by the astronauts as “the quietest place in the Station” and was often the preferred area for working.

At the end of its mission, scheduled for 28 October, ATV-4 will separate from the Station, packed with waste bags. The following day, it will be directed to burn up safely in the atmosphere during reentry over the South Pacific Ocean. 

Related links:

Automated Transfer Vehicle:

ATV Control Centre:

ATV blog:

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