samedi 7 septembre 2013

LADEE Launches, Heads for the Moon

NASA - Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) logo.

Sept. 7, 2013

Image above: Photograph of LADEE's launch aboard a Minotaur V on Sept. 6, 2013. Image credit: NASA Wallops/Chris Perry.

NASA has confirmed its Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) has separated from its ride into space, powered up and is communicating with ground controllers following a successful launch at 11:27 p.m. EDT Friday, Sept. 6, from the agency's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. LADEE is on its way to arrive at the moon in 30 days, then enter lunar orbit.

According to the LADEE mission operations team at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., during technical checkouts the LADEE spacecraft commanded itself to shut down the reaction wheels used to position and stabilize the spacecraft.

LADEE Launches!

"The LADEE spacecraft is working as it was designed to under these conditions – there's no indication of anything wrong with the reaction wheels or spacecraft," said S. Pete Worden, Ames center director. "The LADEE spacecraft is communicating and is very robust. The mission team has ample time to resolve this issue before the spacecraft reaches lunar orbit. We don't have to do anything in a rush."

LADEE team members are currently analyzing the situation. Normal checkout takes a couple of days, and this anomaly may add a couple more days to the process.

"This is not an unusual event in spacecraft," Worden said. "We plan in the next few days to complete spacecraft checkout."

NASA's Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE), managed by NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., launched at 11:27 p.m. EDT on Sept. 6 from Pad 0B at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport, at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility, Wallops Island, Va.

NASA's Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE)

NASA's Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE, pronounced like "laddie") is a robotic mission that will orbit the moon to gather detailed information about the lunar atmosphere, conditions near the surface and environmental influences on lunar dust. A thorough understanding of these characteristics will address long-standing unknowns, and help scientists understand other planetary bodies as well.

What is LADEE?
NASA's Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) is a robotic mission that will orbit the moon to gather detailed information about the lunar atmosphere, conditions near the surface and environmental influences on lunar dust. A thorough understanding of these characteristics will address long-standing unknowns, and help scientists understand other planetary bodies as well.

NASA’s Lunar Mission: Testing a Multi-Use Spacecraft Design

The LADEE spacecraft's modular common spacecraft bus, or body, is an innovative way of transitioning away from custom designs and toward multi-use designs and assembly-line production, which could drastically reduce the cost of spacecraft development, just as the Ford Model T did for automobiles. NASA's Ames Research Center designed, developed, built and tested the spacecraft.

LADEE press kit now available [24 MB PDF]:

For more information about NASA's Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE), visit:

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

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Catching Black Holes on the Fly

NASA - Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuStar) patch.

Sept 7, 2013

Image above: An optical color image of galaxies is seen here overlaid with X-ray data (magenta) from NASA's Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR). Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

NASA's black-hole-hunter spacecraft, the Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array, or NuSTAR, has "bagged" its first 10 supermassive black holes. The mission, which has a mast the length of a school bus, is the first telescope capable of focusing the highest-energy X-ray light into detailed pictures.

The new black-hole finds are the first of hundreds expected from the mission over the next two years. These gargantuan structures -- black holes surrounded by thick disks of gas -- lie at the hearts of distant galaxies between 0.3 and 11.4 billion light-years from Earth.

"We found the black holes serendipitously," explained David Alexander, a NuSTAR team member based in the Department of Physics at Durham University in England and lead author of a new study appearing Aug. 20 in the Astrophysical Journal. "We were looking at known targets and spotted the black holes in the background of the images."

Additional serendipitous finds such as these are expected for the mission. Along with the mission's more targeted surveys of selected patches of sky, the NuSTAR team plans to comb through hundreds of images taken by the telescope with the goal of finding black holes caught in the background.

Once the 10 black holes were identified, the researchers went through previous data taken by NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory and the European Space Agency's XMM-Newton satellite, two complementary space telescopes that see lower-energy X-ray light. The scientists found that the objects had been detected before. It wasn't until the NuSTAR observations, however, that they stood out as exceptional, warranting closer inspection.

By combining observations taken across the range of the X-ray spectrum, the astronomers hope to crack unsolved mysteries of black holes. For example, how many of them populate the universe?

"We are getting closer to solving a mystery that began in 1962," said Alexander. "Back then, astronomers had noted a diffuse X-ray glow in the background of our sky but were unsure of its origin. Now, we know that distant supermassive black holes are sources of this light, but we need NuSTAR to help further detect and understand the black hole populations."

This X-ray glow, called the cosmic X-ray background, peaks at the high-energy frequencies that NuSTAR is designed to see, so the mission is key to identifying what's producing the light.  NuSTAR can also find the most hidden supermassive black holes, buried by thick walls of gas.

"The highest-energy X-rays can pass right through even significant amounts of dust and gas surrounding the active supermassive black holes," said Fiona Harrison, a study co-author and the mission's principal investigator at the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena.

Data from NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE, and Spitzer missions also provide missing pieces in the puzzle of black holes by weighing the mass of their host galaxies.

"Our early results show that the more distant supermassive black holes are encased in bigger galaxies," said Daniel Stern, a co-author of the study and the project scientist for NuSTAR at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. "This is to be expected. Back when the universe was younger, there was a lot more action with bigger galaxies colliding, merging and growing."

Future observations will reveal more about the beastly happenings of black holes, near and far. In addition to hunting remote black holes, NuSTAR is also searching for other exotic objects within our Milky Way galaxy.

Artist's Concept of NuSTAR. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NuSTAR is a Small Explorer mission led by the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena and managed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, also in Pasadena, for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The spacecraft was built by Orbital Sciences Corporation, Dulles, Va. Its instrument was built by a consortium including Caltech; JPL; the University of California, Berkeley; Columbia University, New York; NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.; the Danish Technical University in Denmark; Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Livermore, Calif.; ATK Aerospace Systems, Goleta, Calif., and with support from the Italian Space Agency (ASI) Science Data Center.

NuSTAR's mission operations center is at UC Berkeley, with the ASI providing its equatorial ground station located at Malindi, Kenya. The mission's outreach program is based at Sonoma State University, Rohnert Park, Calif. NASA's Explorer Program is managed by Goddard. JPL is managed by Caltech for NASA.

For more information, visit and .

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA / JPL / Whitney Clavin.


jeudi 5 septembre 2013

A radiating beauty on Mars

ESA - Mars Express Mission patch.

5 September 2013

Exceptional structures deposited and shaped by water and winds adorn these interlocking craters and sculpt radiating patterns in the sands of Mars.

Becquerel Crater

This mosaic, which focuses on Becquerel crater in Arabia Terra, is composed of four images taken by the high-resolution stereo camera on ESA’s Mars Express. Arabia Terra is in the transition zone between the southern highlands and the northern lowlands of Mars.

Becquerel crater is named for the 19th-century French physicist Antoine Henri Becquerel (1852–1908), winner of the Nobel Prize in physics in 1903 along with Marie and Pierre Curie for the discovery of radioactivity.

Becquerel crater in context

It is the largest crater in this scene, with a diameter of 167 km, and drops to a depth of about 3.5 km below the surrounding terrain. A second large crater lies within Becquerel, punching even deeper into the surface, as seen in the Mars Express topography and 3D images.

The perspective view below reveals an intriguing, large mound within Becquerel’s crater walls, reminiscent of Mount Sharp in Gale crater, currently being explored by NASA’s Curiosity rover.

Becquerel crater topography

The mound rises about 1 km above the crater floor and comprises hundreds of layers of light-toned sediments, each just a few metres thick, made of sulphate-bearing rocks. On Earth, sulphates are most often formed via the evaporation of water, so the presence of these minerals in Becquerel crater suggests that water may once have pooled here in a vast crater lake, before evaporating away.

It is likely that the entire crater floor was once covered with such sediments, but over billions of years much of it has been eroded away by wind, leaving just a polished, rounded mound behind.

Layered mound inside Becquerel crater

Similar light-toned sulphate-bearing deposits are seen all over Arabia Terra, including in the crater walls in this scene, pointing to a large-scale process that affected the entire region.

One popular theory is that large changes in the tilt of the rotational axis of Mars leads to significant changes in its climate, reflected in the thickness and repeating patterns found in the layers of sediment. A change in the environmental conditions would affect the way in which the sediments were initially deposited, as well as their subsequent resistance to erosion.

The deposits were laid down 3.8–3.5 billion years ago, at a time when Mars was evolving from a warm, wet world into the cold and dry planet we see today. 

Wind-blown sediments around Becquerel crater

Although water may no longer flow on the Red Planet, wind still plays a key role in shaping the environment. Dark dunes and wind-blown sediments streak through this scene, in vivid contrast to the bright mound.

Rather than having originated locally, the dark material inside Becquerel crater likely blew in from elsewhere – perhaps even from volcanic eruptions.

A dark streak seems to drag the material out from the craters in a wide swath towards the upper left of the main colour image (bottom right of the perspective view above). A number of tiny craters with tail-like structures lie along this track: their raised rims influence the flow of wind over them such that the material immediately downwind of the crater remains undisturbed in comparison to the surrounding, exposed plains.

Becquerel crater in 3D

Another streak of dust follows a radial path out of Becquerel crater; it likely traces out a gentle topographic depression, beyond the eroded rim of the neighbouring old crater.

Meanwhile, dark sediments inside the small crater towards the far left of the main image appear to have been blown out in a similar direction by the powerful prevailing wind.

These blowing sands continue to change the martian landscape even today, exposing ancient rock formations in some locations, while eradicating or covering younger features in others. Detailed studies of these wind-blown patterns can often yield interesting insights into the history of the Red Planet.

More about:

Looking at Mars:

Mars Express overview:

High Resolution Stereo Camera:

Behind the lens:

Frequently asked questions:

ESA Planetary Science archive (PSA):

NASA Planetary Data System:

Mars Express in depth:

Mars Express top 10 discoveries:

Images, Text, Credits: ESA / DLR / FU Berlin (G. Neukum) / NASA MGS MOLA Science Team.

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mercredi 4 septembre 2013

HTV-4 Readies for Departure as Station Prepares for Crew Exchange

JAXA - H-II Transfer Vehicle HTV-4 patch / ISS - International Space Station patch.

Sept 4, 2013

The Expedition 36 crew will release Japan’s H-II Transfer Vehicle-4 (HTV-4) cargo craft Wednesday at 12:20 p.m. EDT ending its one-month stay at the International Space Station. The automated resupply craft will be grappled by the Canadarm2, removed from the Harmony module and released for a destructive reentry into the Earth’s atmosphere.

Flight Engineers Luca Parmitano and Karen Nyberg closed the HTV-4 cargo craft’s hatches Tuesday. They also installed controller panel assemblies so Mission Control can prepare the Harmony’s Common Berthing Mechanism for the HTV-4’s demating while the crew is asleep.

Image above: Japan's H-II Transfer Vehicle is attached to the International Space Station's Harmony node. Image Credit: NASA.

Another spacecraft, the Soyuz TMA-08, is being readied for its return to Earth on Sept. 10 bringing home crew members Pavel Vinogradov, Chris Cassidy and Alexander Misurkin. The home-bound spacefarers are packing their Soyuz while their replacements on the ground, Expedition 37/38 crew members Oleg Kotov, Mike Hopkins and Sergei Ryazanskiy, are preparing for their launch aboard a Soyuz TMA-10M spacecraft on Sept. 25.

Read more about Expedition 37:

The station raised its orbit Saturday to prepare for the departing and arriving crews in their Soyuz vehicles. Europe’s Automated Transfer Vehicle, docked to the Zvezda service module, fired its engines for 3.5 minutes placing the station in the correct altitude for the upcoming crew replacement activities.

Image above: Luca Parmitano works in the vestibule between the Harmony node and Japan's H-II Transfer Vehicle. Image Credit: NASA.

Over the weekend, Nyberg joined Flight Engineer Chris Cassidy troubleshooting Parmitano’s spacesuit which ended a July 16 spacewalk early because of water in his helmet. With assistance from Mission Control, they checked and replaced spacesuit gear in an attempt to narrow down the cause and location of the water leak.

Station Crew Recreates Spacesuit Leak

The crew started its morning after the Labor Day weekend with body mass measurements. Afterwards, the six crew members splintered off throughout the station for maintenance work, science experiments and, of course, docked vehicle preparations and a crew exchange. The astronauts and cosmonauts also continued their daily exercise regimen to counteract the effects of long-duration weightlessness.

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

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


Bizarre alignment of planetary nebulae

ESA - Hubble Space Telescope logo.

4 September 2013

 Bipolar planetary nebula PN Hb 12

Astronomers have used the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope and ESO's New Technology Telescope to explore more than 100 planetary nebulae in the central bulge of our galaxy. They have found that butterfly-shaped members of this cosmic family tend to be mysteriously aligned — a surprising result given their different histories and varied properties.

The final stages of life for a star like our Sun result in the star puffing its outer layers out into the surrounding space, forming objects known as planetary nebulae in a wide range of beautiful and striking shapes. One type of such nebulae, known as bipolar planetary nebulae, create ghostly hourglass or butterfly shapes around their parent stars.

All these nebulae formed in different places and have different characteristics. Neither the individual nebulae, nor the stars that formed them, interact with other planetary nebulae. However, a new study by astronomers from the University of Manchester, UK, now shows surprising similarities between some of these nebulae: many of them line up in the sky in the same way [1].

A selection of Hubble’s planetary nebulae

"This really is a surprising find and, if it holds true, a very important one," explains Bryan Rees of the University of Manchester, one of the paper's two authors. "Many of these ghostly butterflies appear to have their long axes aligned along the plane of our galaxy. By using images from both Hubble and the NTT we could get a really good view of these objects, so we could study them in great detail."

The astronomers looked at 130 planetary nebulae in the Milky Way's central bulge. They identified three different types, and peered closely at their characteristics and appearance [2].

"While two of these populations were completely randomly aligned in the sky, as expected, we found that the third — the bipolar nebulae — showed a surprising preference for a particular alignment," says the paper's second author Albert Zijlstra, also of the University of Manchester. "While any alignment at all is a surprise, to have it in the crowded central region of the galaxy is even more unexpected."

Planetary nebulae are thought to be sculpted by the rotation of the star system from which they form. This is dependent on the properties of this system — for example, whether it is a binary [3], or has a number of planets orbiting it, both of which may greatly influence the form of the blown bubble. The shapes of bipolar nebulae are some of the most extreme, and are thought to be caused by jets blowing mass outwards from the star system perpendicular to its orbit.

"The alignment we're seeing for these bipolar nebulae indicates something bizarre about star systems within the central bulge," explains Rees. "For them to line up in the way we see, the star systems that formed these nebulae would have to be rotating perpendicular to the interstellar clouds from which they formed, which is very strange."

Bipolar planetary nebula NGC 6537

While the properties of their progenitor stars do shape these nebulae, this new finding hints at another more mysterious factor. Along with these complex stellar characteristics are those of our Milky Way; the whole central bulge rotates around the galactic centre. This bulge may have a greater influence than previously thought over our entire galaxy — via its magnetic fields. The astronomers suggest that the orderly behaviour of the planetary nebulae could have been caused by the presence of strong magnetic fields as the bulge formed.

As such nebulae closer to home do not line up in the same orderly way, these fields would have to have been many times stronger than they are in our present-day neighbourhood [4].

"We can learn a lot from studying these objects," concludes Zijlstra. "If they really behave in this unexpected way, it has consequences for not just the past of individual stars, but for the past of our whole galaxy."


[1] The "long axis" of a bipolar planetary nebula slices though the wings of the butterfly, whilst the "short axis" slices through the body.

[2] The shapes of the planetary nebula images were classified into three types, following conventions: elliptical, either with or without an aligned internal structure, and bipolar.

[3] A binary system consists of two stars rotating around their common centre of gravity.

[4] Very little is known about the origin and characteristics of the magnetic fields that were present in our galaxy when it was young, so it is unclear how they have changed over time.

Notes for editors:
The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between ESA and NASA.

The research is presented in a paper entitled "Alignment of the Angular Momentum Vectors of Planetary Nebulae in the Galactic Bulge", to appear in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

The team of astronomers in this study consists of B. Rees (University of Manchester, UK) and A. A. Zijlstra (University of Manchester, UK). Bryan Rees came late to research astronomy — he decided to do a PhD after his early retirement and this work formed part of his thesis.


Research paper:

ESO release:

Clip from ESA movie "15 Years of Discovery": Flight through butterfly shaped nebulae:

Images of Hubble:

Images, Text, Credits:  ESA/Hubble & NASA
NGC 6302: NASA, ESA and the Hubble SM4 ERO Team
NGC 6881: ESA/Hubble & NASA
NGC 5189: NASA, ESA and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)
M2-9: Bruce Balick (University of Washington), Vincent Icke (Leiden University, The Netherlands), Garrelt Mellema (Stockholm University), and NASA/ESA
Hen 3-1475: ESA/Hubble & NASA
Hubble 5: Bruce Balick (University of Washington), Vincent Icke (Leiden University, The Netherlands), Garrelt Mellema (Stockholm University), and NASA/ESA/A. Zijlstra
Acknowledgement: Josh Barrington/ESO.

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lundi 2 septembre 2013

From the Baikonur Cosmodrome liftoff of the rocket Zenit-2SB with the spacecraft Amos-4



September 1 at 00 h 05 min. Moscow time from the launch complex area 45 cosmodrome Baikonur launch vehicle (ILV), "Zenit-2SB" with the upper stage (RB) "DM-SLB" and the Israeli spacecraft (SC), "Amos-4", designed to provide services communication, TV broadcasting and other communication services.

Liftoff of the rocket Zenit-2SB with the spacecraft Amos-4

At the estimated time of separation was the head unit in the Republic of Belarus "DM-SLB" and the satellite "Amos-4" from the launch vehicle. Further removal of the spacecraft to the target orbit by means of propulsion RB "DM-SLB."

Amos-4 satellite

In accordance with cyclogram flight spacecraft (SC) "Amos-4" (Israel) at the estimated time separated from the upper stage "DM-SLB" and referred to the management of the customer.

Roscosmos Press Release: and

Image, Video, Text, Credits: Press Service of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos PAO) / Roscosmos TV / Gunter's Space / Translation: Aerospace.

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