samedi 2 novembre 2013

Moon mission beams laser data to ESA station

ESA - European Space Agency patch / NASA - LADEE Mission patch.

2 November 2013

ESA’s ground station on the island of Tenerife has received laser signals over a distance of 400 000 km from NASA’s latest Moon orbiter. The data were delivered many times faster than possible with traditional radio waves, marking a significant breakthrough in space communications.

The Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer, or LADEE, was launched on 7 September and arrived in orbit around the Moon in October. In addition to probing the Moon’s environment, it’s also carrying a new laser terminal.

Focal spot: laser light seen by infrared camera

This new approach promises data speeds far superior to traditional radio waves used today by satellites and ground stations, including the Agency’s Estrack network.

ESA’s Optical Ground Station in Spain’s Canary Islands was upgraded with an advanced laser terminal developed in Switzerland and Denmark that can communicate with LADEE using highly focused beams.

“We acquired the first signals from LADEE on 26 October, and since then, we’ve had a series of optical uplinks and downlinks providing extremely fast laser communications,” says Zoran Sodnik, ESA’s project manager for the laser effort.

“We’ve already received data at up to 40 Mbit/s – several times faster than a typical home broadband connection.”

Tenerife station

The contact with Tenerife came just days after LADEE made history on 18 October in the first-ever laser transmission from lunar orbit, picked up by a NASA station at White Sands, New Mexico, USA. The craft is also transmitting to a third station, at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California.

Laser communications at near-infrared wavelengths may be the way of the future when it comes to downloading massive amounts of data from spacecraft orbiting Earth, Mars or even more distant planets.

Laser communication units are lighter and smaller than today’s onboard radio systems, promising to cut mission costs and provide opportunities for new science payloads.

 “The participation of the ESA ground terminal at Tenerife in NASA’s project is an important milestone in this new capability,” said Badri Younes, deputy associate administrator for space communications and navigation at NASA’s Headquarters in Washington DC.

“Together, we have demonstrated at the very beginning of the optical communication era the value of interoperable communication between our space agencies.”

With the first two communication passes with LADEE on 26 October and six more to 29 October, the ESA team on Tenerife are tweaking the station hardware – especially for the uplink – and improving procedures.

LADEE transmits laser signal

“Some initial difficulties with the extremely accurate pointing necessary for laser communication are being investigated, but this is quite normal at this stage,” says ESA’s Klaus-Juergen Schulz, responsible for ground station systems at the European Space Operations Centre, Darmstadt, Germany.

“We are already confident that the test campaign will confirm the practicality of high-data-rate optical links for future missions.”

During the coming weeks, ESA engineers will test uplink communications at 20 Mbit/s and obtain accurate ‘time-of-travel’ measurements to be used for calculating the spacecraft’s orbit.

Using special equipment from the DLR German Aerospace Center’s Institute for Communication and Navigation, the team will monitor atmospheric conditions during transmission and learn how to improve performance even further.

More information on the laser communication project:

Related links:

Laser communication project:

NASA Laser Communication System Sets Record:

General Support Technology Programme (GSTP):

ESOC - European Space Operations Centre:

Optical Communication:

NASA Ladee mission:

Images, Text, Credits: ESA / NASA.

Best regards,

A fiery end to a perfect mission: ATV Albert Einstein

ESA - ATV-4 Albert Einstein Mission patch.

2 November 2013

 ATV-4 over Earth

ESA’s fourth Automated Transfer Vehicle cargo ferry, Albert Einstein, completed its five-month mission to the International Space Station by reentering the atmosphere today and burning up safely over an uninhabited area of the southern Pacific Ocean.

Automated Transfer Vehicles (ATVs) are the most complex space vehicles ever developed in Europe and are the largest and most capable resupply ships to dock with the Space Station.

ATV-4 launch

At 20 tonnes, ATV-4 set the record for the heaviest Ariane 5 launch when its mission started from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana on 5 June, docking with the Station 10 days later. The record cargo of 2480 kg included more than 1400 individual items.

Albert Einstein delivered important cargo to keep the Station operating and to allow the six astronauts on the orbital outpost to perform out-of-this-world experiments.

ESA astronaut Luca Parmitano oversaw the automated docking and was responsible for unloading and storing all the scientific equipment, spare parts, supplies, clothes and food.

Unloading ATV-4

A small selection of ATV-4’s cargo includes experiments on emulsions that will help industry to create foods and pharmaceuticals with longer shelf-lives, a replacement water pump for Europe’s Columbus laboratory, a new water recycler for NASA, a GPS antenna for Japan’s Kibo laboratory and 3D-printed space toolboxes.

While docked, ATV-4 performed six reboosts to keep the Space Station in orbit, counteracting the effects of atmospheric drag. Without reboosts by ATV and Russia’s smaller Progress vehicles, the Station would eventually fall back to Earth.

Before its departure, astronauts loaded its pressurised module with waste material, freeing up space on the Station. After setting records going up, ATV-4 also set records on its descent: it had the most waste material loaded for the series. 

ATV-4 undocking

The European ferry undocked on 28 October at 08:55 GMT (09:55 CET) and manoeuvred itself into a safe reentry trajectory about 100 km below the Station.

Albert Einstein performed a series of delicate manoeuvres to reenter below the Station in order for the astronauts to observe the spacecraft’s fragmentation in the upper atmosphere, providing unique information on reentry physics.

ATV-4 and its waste burnt up harmlessly in the upper atmosphere on 2 November at 12:04 GMT (13:04 CET).

ATV-4 free flight

ATV's perform all their manoeuvres, including their autonomous dockings, under close surveillance by their control centre in Toulouse, France, run jointly by ESA and France’s CNES space agency.

“The mission went perfectly, which for me and the ATV team or any space mission is a great thing,” says Alberto Novelli, ATV-4 mission manager.

“The smooth running of this fourth mission shows the maturity of the ATV programme and puts ESA’s successful track record on the map for future projects.”

ATV Control Centre

The next spacecraft in the series, ATV Georges Lemaître, has already arrived by boat at the European spaceport in French Guiana. Loading cargo into the pressurised module will start in March next year. ATV-5’s modules will then be combined and placed on its Ariane launcher for launch at the end of June.

With the series of five ATV space vehicles, ESA will have paid its dues for using the Station through to the end of 2017.

ATV-4 docked to Zvezda

ESA is contributing a significant share of the maintenance of the Station to cover the costs related operating its own elements – the Columbus laboratory and its set of experiments and related science equipment – as well as to the regular flights of its astronauts.

Related links:

Automated Transfer Vehicle:

ATV Control Centre:

Ariane 5:

Images, Text, Credits: ESA / S. Corvaja / J. Harrod / NASA.


vendredi 1 novembre 2013

Comet Ison Roars Through Leo

Asteroid and comet watch.

Nov. 1, 2013

In the early morning of Oct. 25 (6:45 a.m. EDT), NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., used a 14" telescope to capture this image of Comet C/2012 S1 (ISON), which is brightening as it approaches the sun. The comet shines with a faint green color just to the left of center. The diagonal streak right of center was caused by the Italian SkyMed-2 satellite passing though the field of view. At magnitude 8.5, the comet is still too faint for the unaided eye or small binoculars, but it's an easy target in a small telescope.

At this time of this image, ISON was located in the constellation of Leo the Lion, some 132 million miles from Earth and heading in toward the sun at 87,900 miles per hour.

For images and more information about comet ISON, visit:

Image, Text, Credit: NASA / MSFC / Aaron Kingery.


Hubble's New Shot of Proxima Centauri, our Nearest Neighbor

NASA - Hubble Space Telescope patch.

Nov. 1, 2013

Shining brightly in this Hubble image is our closest stellar neighbor: Proxima Centauri.

Proxima Centauri lies in the constellation of Centaurus (The Centaur), just over four light-years from Earth. Although it looks bright through the eye of Hubble, as you might expect from the nearest star to the Solar System, Proxima Centauri is not visible to the naked eye. Its average luminosity is very low, and it is quite small compared to other stars, at only about an eighth of the mass of the sun.

However, on occasion, its brightness increases. Proxima is what is known as a flare star," meaning that convection processes within the star’s body make it prone to random and dramatic changes in brightness. The convection processes not only trigger brilliant bursts of starlight but, combined with other factors, mean that Proxima Centauri is in for a very long life. Astronomers predict that this star will remain middle-aged — or a "main sequence" star in astronomical terms — for another four trillion years, some 300 times the age of the current Universe.

These observations were taken using Hubble’s Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2 (WFPC2). Proxima Centauri is actually part of a triple star system — its two companions, Alpha Centauri A and B, lie out of frame.

Although by cosmic standards it is a close neighbor, Proxima Centauri remains a point-like object even using Hubble’s eagle-eyed vision, hinting at the vast scale of the Universe around us.


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

For more information about Hubble Space Telescope, visit: and

Images, Text, Credit: ESA / Hubble & NASA.


Soyuz Move Sets Stage for Arrival of New Crew

ISS - International Space Station patch.

Nov. 1, 2013

Three International Space Station crew members took their Soyuz for a spin around the block Friday as they prepare for the extremely busy final week of Expedition 37.

Image above: The Soyuz TMA-09M under the command of Expedition 37 Commander Fyodor Yurchikhin backs away from the International Space Station's Rassvet module for a flyaround to the aft port of the Zvezda service module. Image Credit: NASA TV.

Commander Fyodor Yurchikhin and Flight Engineers Karen Nyberg and Luca Parmitano undocked their Soyuz TMA-09M spacecraft from the Rassvet module on the Earth-facing side of the station at 4:33 a.m. EDT Friday. After backing the vehicle a safe distance away, Soyuz Commander Yurchikhin rotated the Soyuz and began the flyaround to the rear of the station. Carefully aligning the spacecraft with the docking port on the aft end of the Zvezda service module, which was vacated by the European Space Agency’s fourth Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) on Monday, Yurchikhin guided the spacecraft in for its docking at 4:54 a.m.

Russian Soyuz Vehicle Relocates at the International Space Station

Video above: The Russian Soyuz TMA-09M spacecraft, with Commander Fyodor Yurchikhin and Flight Engineers Karen Nyberg and Luca Parmitano aboard, changes parking spaces at the International Space Station Nov. 1.

Coincidentally, Yurchikhin was at the helm for the last Soyuz relocation at the station in June 2010 when he piloted the Expedition 24 crew’s Soyuz TMA-19 vehicle from Zvezda to the then newly installed Rassvet module.

Friday’s Soyuz move sets the stage for the launch and arrival of a trio of new station crew members -- NASA astronaut Rick Mastracchio, Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Koichi Wakata and Soyuz Commander Mikhail Tyurin of the Russian Federal Space Agency – who will dock their Soyuz TMA-11M spacecraft to Rassvet on Nov. 7 about six hours after their launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

The arrival of Mastracchio, Wakata and Tyurin will mark the first time since October 2009 that nine people have served together aboard the station without the presence of a space shuttle.

Also arriving to the station aboard the Soyuz TMA-11M will be the Olympic torch, which is making the longest leg of its relay leading up to the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russian. Flight Engineers Oleg Kotov and Sergey Ryazanskiy will take the Olympic torch outside the station during a symbolic spacewalk.

While their crewmates relocated the Soyuz spacecraft Friday, Kotov and Ryazanskiy consolidated their tool caddies for the upcoming spacewalk. Their excursion, which is slated to begin on Nov. 9 at 9:30 a.m. EST, will air live on NASA TV.

The torch will return to Earth along with Yurchikhin, Nyberg and Parmitano on Nov. 10 when they board their Soyuz for the journey home after more than five months in space.

The final departure of Yurchikhin, Nyberg and Parmitano will free the Zvezda port for the docking of a new Progress resupply vehicle in late November. Program managers prefer to have a Progress or ATV cargo ship docked at Zvezda so it can help reboost the station and adjust its attitude.

Image above: NASA astronaut Michael Hopkins, Expedition 37 flight engineer, enters data in a computer in the Harmony node of the International Space Station. Image Credit: NASA.

Flight Engineer Mike Hopkins meanwhile spent much of his Friday morning setting up the Advanced Biological Research System (ABRS).  The NASA astronaut assembled a reference grid, flushed the system’s cooling loop, installed two new memory cards and powered up the system for a ground-based checkout of telemetry. The ABRS contains two temperature-controlled chambers that can be used to grow plants, microorganisms and small arthropods, such as insects or spiders.

Read more about ABRS:

Hopkins also recharged batteries for an upcoming session with a set of soccer-ball-sized, free-flying satellites known as Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Reorient, Experimental Satellites, or SPHERES. Surrounding each SPHERES mini-satellite for this next test will be ring-shaped hardware known as the Resonant Inductive Near-field Generation System, or RINGS, which will be used to demonstrate how power can be transferred between satellites without physical contact.

SPHERES mini-satellites

Read more about SPHERES-RINGS:

Over the weekend, all six station residents will get a chance to recharge their own batteries as they enjoy some free time, take care of housekeeping tasks throughout the station and get ready for the final week of Expedition 37.

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

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

Best regards,

jeudi 31 octobre 2013

Galaxy Growth Examined Like Rings of a Tree

NASA - WISE Mission patch / NASA - GALEX Mission patch.

Oct. 31, 2013

Galaxies Grow from Inside Out

Image above: New evidence from NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) and Galaxy Evolution Explorer (GALEX) missions provide support for the "inside-out" theory of galaxy evolution, which holds that star formation starts at the core of the galaxy and spreads outward. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

New evidence from NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) and Galaxy Evolution Explorer (GALEX) missions provide support for the "inside-out" theory of galaxy evolution, which holds that star formation starts at the core of the galaxy and spreads outward.

In this image of a galaxy called NGC 3377, infrared light from WISE is colored red, and ultraviolet light from GALEX is green and blue. The center of the galaxy appears white, where all three wavelengths of light are present and add up. The outside of the galaxy is mostly ultraviolet light, and thus contains more blue and green. The dots in the picture are stars located in the foreground.

NGC 3377. Image credit: NASA / ESA Hubble

NGC 3377 is located 31 million light-years away in the constellation Leo. It is an older galaxy, having already exhausted its stellar fuel supply. The outer regions, while containing more young stars than the core, are bright in ultraviolet light due to a small population of older, extremely hot stars.

WISE and GALEX are both no longer operating, but scientists continue to access their bounties of data through public archives.

Story Highlights:

- Like tree rings, inner and outer portions of a galaxy’s disk are a historical record;

- Two NASA missions find evidence that star formation bursts started in galaxy centers and spread outward;

- Unexplained ultraviolet light might come from a late phase in the lives of older stars;

Watching a tree grow might be more frustrating than waiting for a pot to boil, but luckily for biologists, there are tree rings. Beginning at a tree trunk's dense core and moving out to the soft bark, the passage of time is marked by concentric rings, revealing chapters of the tree's history.

Galaxies outlive trees by billions of years, making their growth impossible to see. But like biologists, astronomers can read the rings in a galaxy's disk to unravel its past. Using data from NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) and Galaxy Evolution Explorer (GALEX), scientists have acquired more evidence for the "inside-out" theory of galaxy growth, showing that bursts of star formation in central regions were followed one to two billion years later by star birth in the outer fringes.

NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE). Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

"Initially, a rapid star-forming period formed the mass at the center of these galaxies, followed later by a star-forming phase in the outer regions. Eventually, the galaxies stop making stars and become quiescent," said Sara Petty of Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, Va., lead author of a paper appearing in the October 2013 issue of the Astronomical Journal. "This later star-forming phase could have been caused by minor mergers with gas-rich neighbors, which provide the fuel for new stars."

The discovery may also solve a mystery of elderly galaxies. The galaxies in the study, known as "red and dead" for their red color and lack of new star births, have a surprising amount of ultraviolet light emanating from the outer regions. Often, ultraviolet light is generated by hot, young stars, but these galaxies were considered too old to host such a young population.

Galaxy Evolution Explorer (GALEX). Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The solution to the puzzle is likely hot, old stars. Petty and colleagues used a new multi-wavelength approach to show that the unexplained ultraviolet light appears to be coming from a late phase in the lives of older stars, when they blow off their outer layers and heat up.

GALEX and WISE turned out to be the ideal duo for the study. GALEX was sensitive to the ultraviolet light, whereas WISE sees the infrared light coming from older stars. GALEX is no longer operating, but WISE was recently reactivated to hunt asteroids, a project called NEOWISE (see ). Both telescopes have large fields of view, allowing them to easily capture images of entire galaxies.

"The synergy between GALEX and WISE produces a very sensitive measurement of where the hot, older stars reside in these red-and-dead galaxies," said Don Neill, co-author of the paper from the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena. "This allows us to map the progress of star formation within each galaxy."

Ned Wright of UCLA, a co-author of the study and the principal investigator of WISE before it was reactivated, compares the multi-wavelength range of the two telescopes to musical notes, "WISE itself covers the equivalent of a three-octave range, while WISE and GALEX together cover a seven-octave range."

The technical paper for this study is online at .

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., manages and operates the recently activated NEOWISE mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate. The WISE mission was selected competitively under NASA's Explorers Program managed by the agency's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. The science instrument was built by the Space Dynamics Laboratory in Logan, Utah. The spacecraft was built by Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. in Boulder, Colo. Science operations and data processing take place at the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center at Caltech. Caltech manages JPL for NASA. More information is online at and and

Caltech led the Galaxy Evolution Explorer mission and was responsible for science operations and data analysis. JPL managed the mission and built the science instrument. The mission was developed under NASA's Explorers Program managed by the Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md. Researchers sponsored by Yonsei University in South Korea and the Centre National d'Etudes Spatiales (CNES) in France collaborated on this mission. Graphics and additional information about the Galaxy Evolution Explorer are online at and

Images (mentioned), Text, Credit: NASA.


Cosmos Seeded with Heavy Elements During Violent Youth

JAXA - SUZAKU Astro-EII Mission logo.

October 31, 2013 (JST)

Traces of iron spread smoothly throughout a massive galaxy cluster tell the 10 billion-year-old story of exploding supernovae and fierce outbursts from supermassive black holes sowing heavy elements throughout the early cosmos.

New evidence of heavy elements spread evenly between the galaxies of the giant Perseus cluster supports the theory that the universe underwent a turbulent and violent youth more than 10 billion years ago. That explosive period was responsible for seeding the cosmos with the heavy elements central to life itself.

[Fig.1] Ten to twelve billion years ago, the universe was undergoing a turbulent youth. Stars formed at very high rates, but many of the newborn stars died quickly in huge supernova explosions. These explosions produced the chemical elements - the building blocks of other stars, planets, and life.In the same period, black holes in the centers of galaxies were devouring large amounts of the surrounding gas, producing strong jets and outflows. The combined energy of supernovae and black hole activity created powerful galactic winds that blew the iron out of the galaxies, into intergalactic space. Image Credit: Akihiro Ikeshita.

This discovery, reported today in the journal Nature by a team of researchers from the Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology (KIPAC) and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), was made possible by almost two weeks of observations of the nearby Perseus cluster of galaxies with the Suzaku satellite. The Suzaku Key Project observations were used to map the spectroscopic signature of iron in the hot, 10 million degree gas that fills the space between galaxies in clusters.

"We saw that iron is spread out between the galaxies remarkably smoothly,"
said Norbert Werner, lead author of the paper. "That means it had to be present in the intergalactic gas before the Perseus cluster formed."

Most of the elements that we are made of were produced inside stars and released by stellar explosions called supernovae. Whether the elements formed by stars stay within the galaxies they are born in, or are spread out into intergalactic space, had long been an open question. If the elements stay within their original host galaxies then we would expect to see an uneven distribution of iron within galaxy clusters, roughly following the distribution of galaxies. But what Werner and his colleagues saw is a remarkably even distribution of iron all the way out to the edge of the Perseus cluster. According to the authors, this can only be explained if the iron had been spread out into the intergalactic medium before the cluster formed, roughly 10 billion years ago, during a time of intense star formation.

[Fig.2] Suzaku observed the Perseus Cluster along 8 directions for two weeks. Image Credit: NASA/ISAS/DSS/O.Urban al., MNRAS.

At that time, billions of exploding stars created vast quantities of heavy elements in the alchemical furnaces of their own destruction. This was also the epoch when black holes in the hearts of galaxies were at their most energetic.

"The combined energy of these cosmic phenomena must have been strong enough to expel most of the metals from the galaxies at early times, and to enrich and mix the intergalactic gas." said co-author and KIPAC graduate student Ondrej Urban.

"The results suggest that the Perseus cluster is probably not unique, and that iron - along with other heavy elements - is evenly spread throughout all massive galaxy clusters", said Steven Allen, a KIPAC professor and head of the research team.

[Fig.3] Young stars, exploding supernovae, and voraciously feeding black holes produced powerful winds 10-12 billion years ago. These winds were the spoon that lifted the iron from the galaxies and mixed it with the intergalactic gas. Image Credit: Akihiro Ikeshita/JAXA.

"You are older than you think - or at least, some of the iron in your blood is older, formed in galaxies millions of lights years away and billions of years ago," concluded co-author Aurora Simionescu, an International Top Young Fellow at the Japanese Space Agency.

The researchers are now looking for iron in other clusters and eagerly awaiting a mission capable of measuring the concentration of chemical elements in the hot gas with a much higher accuracy.

"With measurements like these, the Suzaku satellite is having a profound impact on our understanding of how the largest structures in our universe grow," Allen said. "We're really looking forward to to what further data from Suzaku and the new ASTRO-H satellite will tell us."

Mission website:

X-ray Astronomy Satellite "Suzaku" (ASTRO-EII):

Images, Text, Credits: Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).

Best regards,

'Witch Head' Brews Baby Stars

NASA - WISE Mission logo.

Oct. 31, 2013

A witch appears to be screaming out into space in this new image from NASA's Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE. The infrared portrait shows the Witch Head nebula, named after its resemblance to the profile of a wicked witch. Astronomers say the billowy clouds of the nebula, where baby stars are brewing, are being lit up by massive stars. Dust in the cloud is being hit with starlight, causing it to glow with infrared light, which was picked up by WISE's detectors.

The Witch Head nebula is estimated to be hundreds of light-years away in the Orion constellation, just off the famous hunter's knee.

WISE was recently "awakened" to hunt for asteroids in a program called NEOWISE. The reactivation came after the spacecraft was put into hibernation in 2011, when it completed two full scans of the sky, as planned.

For more information about WISE Mission, Visit:

Image, Text, Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech.


mercredi 30 octobre 2013

Scientists Discover the First Earth-Sized Rocky Planet

NASA - Kepler Mission patch.

Oct. 30, 2013

Image above: This illustration compares Earth with the newly confirmed scorched world of Kepler-78b. Kepler-78b is about 20 percent larger than Earth and is 70% more massive. Kepler-78b whizzes around its host star every 8.5 hours, making it a blazing inferno. Credit: David A. Aguilar (CfA).

Astronomers have discovered the first Earth-sized planet outside the solar system that has a rocky composition like that of Earth. Kepler-78b whizzes around its host star every 8.5 hours, making it a blazing inferno and not suitable for life as we know it. The results are published in two papers in the journal Nature.

"The news arrived in grand style with the message: 'Kepler-10b has a baby brother,'" said Natalie Batalha, Kepler mission scientist at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif.  Batalha led the team that discovered Kepler-10b, a larger but also rocky planet identified by the Kepler spacecraft. 

"The message expresses the joy of knowing that Kepler's family of exoplanets is growing," Batalha reflects. "It also speaks of progress. The Doppler teams are attaining higher precision, measuring masses of smaller planets at each turn.  This bodes well for the broader goal of one day finding evidence of life beyond Earth."

Kepler-78b was discovered using data from NASA’s Kepler space telescope, which for four years simultaneously and continuously monitored more than 150,000 stars looking for telltale dips in their brightness caused by crossing, or transiting, planets.

Image above: An artist's conception of Kepler-78b orbiting its parent star once every 8.5 hours. Credit: David A. Aguilar (CfA).

Two independent research teams then used ground-based telescopes to confirm and characterize Kepler-78b. To determine the planet's mass, the teams employed the radial velocity method to measure how much the gravitation tug of an orbiting planet causes its star to wobble. Kepler, on the other hand, determines the size or radius of a planet by the amount of starlight blocked when it passes in front of its host star.

A handful of planets the size or mass of Earth have been discovered. Kepler-78b is the first to have both a measured mass and size. With both quantities known, scientists can calculate a density and determine what the planet is made of.

Kepler-78b is 1.2 times the size of Earth and 1.7 times more massive, resulting in a density that is the same as Earth's. This suggests that Kepler-78b is also made primarily of rock and iron. Its star is slightly smaller and less massive than the sun and is located about 400 light-years from Earth in the constellation Cygnus.

NASA's Kepler Space Telescope. Credit: NASA

One team led by Andrew Howard from the University of Hawaii in Honolulu, made follow-up observations using the W. M. Keck Observatory atop Mauna Kea in Hawaii. More information on their research can be found here:

The other team led by Francesco Pepe from the University of Geneva, Switzerland, did their ground-base work at the Roque de los Muchachos Observatory on La Palma in the Canary Islands. More information on their research can be found here:

This result will be one of many discussed next week at the second Kepler science conference Nov. 4-8 at Ames. More than 400 astrophysicists from Australia, China, Europe, Latin America and the US will convene to present their latest results using publicly accessible data from Kepler. To learn more about the conference, please visit the website:

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA / Ames Research Center / Michele Johnson.

Best regards,

Sun Emits Fourth X-class Flare in a Week

NASA - Solar Dynamics Observatory patch.

Oct. 30, 2013

Image above: The sun emitted a significant solar flare – its fourth X-class flare since Oct. 23, 2013 -- peaking at 5:54 p.m. on Oct. 29, 2013. NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory captured the flare in this image, which shows light in wavelengths of both 304 and193 Angstroms. Image Credit: NASA/SDO.

The sun emitted a significant solar flare – its fourth X-class flare since Oct. 23, 2013 -- peaking at 5:54 p.m. on Oct. 29, 2013. Solar flares are powerful bursts of radiation. Harmful radiation from a flare cannot pass through Earth's atmosphere to physically affect humans on the ground, however -- when intense enough -- they can disturb the atmosphere in the layer where GPS and communications signals travel. This disrupts the radio signals for as long as the flare is ongoing, anywhere from minutes to hours.

Image above: X2.3 flare from 22:00 UT October 29. Blended SDO AIA 304 and 193 wavelengths. Image Credit:  NASA / SDO.

To see how this event may impact Earth, please visit NOAA's Space Weather Prediction Center at, the U.S. government's official source for space weather forecasts, alerts, watches and warnings.

This flare is classified as an X2.3 class flare. "X-class" denotes the most intense flares, while the number provides more information about its strength. An X2 is twice as intense as an X1, an X3 is three times as intense, etc.

 Five Days of Flares and CMEs

Increased numbers of flares are quite common at the moment, since the sun's normal 11-year activity cycle is ramping up toward solar maximum conditions. Humans have tracked this solar cycle continuously since it was discovered in 1843, and it is normal for there to be many flares a day during the sun's peak activity.

Updates will be provided as needed.

Related Links:

Frequently Asked Questions Regarding Space Weather:

View Other Past Solar Activity:

Images (mentioned), Video, Text, Credits: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center  / Karen C. Fox.


NASA's Curiosity Mars Rover Approaches 'Cooperstown'

NASA - Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) patch,

Oct. 30, 2013

 Curiosity's View of "Cooperstown" Outcrop on Route to Mount Sharp

Image above: The low ridge that appears as a dark band below the horizon in the center of this scene is a Martian outcrop called "Cooperstown," a possible site for contact inspection with tools on the robotic arm of NASA's Mars rover Curiosity. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

NASA's Mars rover Curiosity completed its first two-day autonomous drive Monday, bringing the mobile laboratory to a good vantage point for pictures useful in selecting the next target the rover will reach out and touch.

When it drives autonomously, the rover chooses a safe route to designated waypoints by using its onboard computer to analyze stereo images that it takes during pauses in the drive. Prior to Monday, each day’s autonomous drive came after a segment earlier that day that was exactly charted by rover team members using images sent to Earth. The Sunday-Monday drive was the first time Curiosity ended an autonomous driving segment, then continued autonomously from that same point the next day.

The drives brought Curiosity to about 262 feet (about 80 meters) from "Cooperstown," an outcrop bearing candidate targets for examination with instruments on the rover's arm. The moniker, appropriate for baseball season, comes from a named rock deposit in New York. Curiosity has not used its arm-mounted instruments to examine a target since departing an outcrop called "Darwin" on Sept. 22. Researchers used the arm's camera and spectrometer for four days at Darwin; they plan to use them on just one day at Cooperstown.

Starting to use two-day autonomous driving and the shorter duration planned for examining Cooperstown serve to accelerate Curiosity's progress toward the mission's main destination: Mount Sharp.

In July, Curiosity began a trek of about 5.3 miles (8.6 kilometers), starting from the area where it worked for the first half of 2013, headed to an entry point to Mount Sharp. Cooperstown is about one-third of the way along the route. The team used images from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter to plot the route and choose a few points of potential special interest along the way, including Darwin and Cooperstown.

"What interests us about this site is an intriguing outcrop of layered material visible in the orbital images," said Kevin Lewis of Princeton University, Princeton, N.J., a participating scientist for the mission who has been a leader in planning the Cooperstown activities. "We want to see how the local layered outcrop at Cooperstown may help us relate the geology of Yellowknife Bay to the geology of Mount Sharp."

Artist's view of the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) "Curiosity". Image credit: NASA / JPL

The team is using images taken from the vantage point reached on Monday to decide what part of the Cooperstown outcrop to investigate with the arm-mounted instruments.

The first day of the two-day drive began Sunday with about 180 feet (55 meters) on a southwestward path that rover drivers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., evaluated ahead of time as safe. The autonomous-driving portion began where that left off, with Curiosity evaluating the best way to reach designated waypoints ahead. The vehicle drove about 125 feet (38 meters) autonomously on Sunday.

"We needed to store some key variables in the rover's non-volatile memory for the next day," said JPL rover driver John Wright. Curiosity's volatile memory is cleared when the rover goes into energy-conserving sleep mode overnight.

The stored variables included what direction the rover was driving when it ended the first day's drive, and whether it had classified the next 10 feet (3 meters) in that direction as safe for driving. When it began its second day of driving, Curiosity resumed evaluating the terrain ahead for safe driving and drove 105 feet (32 meters), all autonomously.

This new capability enables driving extra days during multi-day activity plans that the rover team develops on Fridays and before holidays.

A key activity planned for the week of Nov. 4 is uploading a new version of onboard software -- the third such upgrade since landing.  These upgrades allow continued advances in the rover's capabilities. The version prepared for upload next week includes, for example, improvements in what information the rover can store overnight to resume autonomous driving the next day. It also expands capabilities for using the robotic arm while parked on slopes. The team expects that to be crucial for investigations on Mount Sharp.

JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the Mars Science Laboratory Project for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. JPL designed and built the project's Curiosity rover.

More information about Curiosity is online at and . You can follow the mission on Facebook at and on Twitter at

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

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mardi 29 octobre 2013

A Ghostly Trio from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope

NASA - SPITZER Space Telescope logo.

Oct. 29, 2013

Image above: This trio of ghostly images from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope shows the disembodied remains of dying stars called planetary nebulas. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Harvard-Smithsonian CfA.

In the spirit of Halloween, scientists are releasing a trio of stellar ghosts caught in infrared light by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope. All three spooky structures, called planetary nebulas, are in fact material ejected from dying stars. As death beckoned, the stars' wispy bits and pieces were blown into outer space.

"Some might call the images haunting," said Joseph Hora of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, Cambridge, Mass., principal investigator of the Spitzer observing program. "We look to the pictures for a sense of the history of the stars’ mass loss, and to learn how they evolved over time."

SPITZER Space Telescope

All stars about the mass of our sun will die similarly ethereal deaths. As sun-like stars grow old, billions of years after their inception, they run out of fuel in their cores and puff up into red, giant stars, aptly named "red giants." The stars eventually cast off their outer layers, which expand away from the star. When ultraviolet light from the core of a dying star energizes the ejected layers, the billowy material glows, bringing their beautiful shapes to light.

These objects in their final death throes, the planetary nebulas, were named erroneously after their resemblance to planets by William Herschel in 1785. They come in an array of shapes, as illustrated by the three highlighted here in infrared images from Spitzer. The ghostly material will linger for only a few thousand years before ultimately fading into the dark night.

Exposed Cranium Nebula

The brain-like orb called PMR 1 has been nicknamed the "Exposed Cranium" nebula by Spitzer scientists. This planetary nebula, located roughly 5,000 light-years away in the Vela constellation, is host to a hot, massive dying star that is rapidly disintegrating, losing its mass. The nebula's insides, which appear mushy and red in this view, are made up primarily of ionized gas, while the outer green shell is cooler, consisting of glowing hydrogen molecules.

Ghost of Jupiter Nebula

The Ghost of Jupiter, also known as NGC 3242, is located roughly 1,400 light-years away in the constellation Hydra. Spitzer's infrared view shows off the cooler outer halo of the dying star, colored here in red. Also evident are concentric rings around the object, the result of material being tossed out periodically during the star's fitful death.

Little Dumbbell Nebula

This planetary nebula, known as NGC 650, or the Little Dumbbell, is about 2,500 light-years from Earth in the Perseus constellation. Unlike the other spherical nebulas, it has a bipolar or butterfly shape due to a "waist," or disk, of thick material, running from lower left to upper right. Fast winds blow material away from the star, above and below this dusty disk. The ghoulish green and red clouds are from glowing hydrogen molecules. The green area is hotter than the red.

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., manages the Spitzer Space Telescope mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. Science operations are conducted at the Spitzer Science Center at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. Spacecraft operations are based at Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company, Littleton, Colorado. Data are archived at the Infrared Science Archive housed at the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center at Caltech. Caltech manages JPL for NASA. For more information about Spitzer, visit and

Images, Text, Credits: NASA / JPL-Caltech / Whitney Clavin / Harvard-Smithsonian CfA.


lundi 28 octobre 2013

Sunlit Side of the Planet Mercury

NASA - Messenger Mission patch.

Oct. 28, 2013

Another day, another beautiful view of Mercury's horizon. In this scene, which was acquired looking from the shadows toward the sunlit side of the planet, a 120-km (75 mi.) impact crater stands out near the center. Emanating from this unnamed crater are striking chains of secondary craters, which gouged linear tracks radially away from the crater. While this crater is not especially fresh (its rays have faded into the background), it does appear to have more prominent secondary crater chains than many of its peers.

This image was acquired on Oct. 2, 2013 by the Wide Angle Camera (WAC) of the Mercury Dual Imaging System (MDIS) aboard NASA's MESSENGER spacecraft, as part of the MDIS's  limb imaging campaign. Once per week, MDIS captures images of Mercury's limb, with an emphasis on imaging the southern hemisphere limb. These limb images provide information about Mercury's shape and complement measurements of topography made by the Mercury Laser Altimeter (MLA) of Mercury's northern hemisphere.

The MESSENGER spacecraft is the first ever to orbit the planet Mercury, and the spacecraft's seven scientific instruments and radio science investigation are unraveling the history and evolution of the solar system's innermost planet. During the first two years of orbital operations, MESSENGER acquired over 150,000 images and extensive other data sets. MESSENGER is capable of continuing orbital operations until early 2015.

For more information about Messenger Mission to Mercury, visit:

Image Credit: NASA / Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory / Carnegie Institution of Washington.