samedi 9 novembre 2013

Olympic Torch Highlights Station Spacewalk

ISS - Expedition 37 Mission patch.

Nov. 9, 2013

Two Russian cosmonauts clad in Orlan spacesuits conducted an out-of-this-world handoff of the Olympic torch at the start of Saturday’s planned 6-hour spacewalk to perform maintenance on the International Space Station.

Spacewalkers Hand Off Olympic Torch

Expedition 37 Flight Engineers Oleg Kotov and Sergey Ryazanskiy opened the hatch to the Pirs docking compartment at 9:34 a.m. EST and floated outside to begin a photo opportunity with the unlit torch.

Image above: The view from Flight Engineer Sergey Ryazanskiy's helmet camera as Flight Engineer Oleg Kotov waves the Olympic torch outside the International Space Station during Saturday's spacewalk. Image Credit: NASA TV.

An icon of international cooperation through sports competition, the Olympic torch arrived at the space station Thursday aboard a Soyuz spacecraft carrying three new crew members – Expedition 38 Flight Engineers Mikhail Tyurin, Rick Mastracchio and Koichi Wakata. On Sunday, the torch will return to Earth aboard another Soyuz spacecraft vehicle along with Expedition 37 Commander Fyodor Yurchikhin and Flight Engineers Karen Nyberg and Luca Parmitano.

The spacewalk is a high-flying extension of a relay that will culminate with the torch being used to light the Olympic flame at the Feb. 7 opening ceremonies of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia.

Image above: Flight Engineer Oleg Kotov waves the Olympic torch as Flight Engineer Sergey Ryazanskiy looks on during a spacewalk outside the International Space Station. Image Credit: NASA TV.

After Kotov and Ryazanskiy completed their photo and video session with the torch outside the station, they stowed it back inside the airlock and proceeded with the remainder of their chores 260 miles above the Earth.

The two spacewalkers translated out to the hull of the Zvezda service module to continue the set up of a combination extravehicular activity workstation and biaxial pointing platform that was installed during an Expedition 36 spacewalk on Aug. 22. Kotov and Ryazanskiy will begin by moving a foot restraint from the exterior of Zvezda and attaching it to the mounting seat of the workstation. While there, they will also install some handrails on the workstation.

Image above: This graphic shows the location of the EVA workstation and biaxial pointing platform on the exterior of the International Space Station's Zvezda service module. Image Credit: NASA TV.

Next they will loosen a trio of bolts and remove a launch bracket from the pointing platform. A high resolution camera system will be installed on the platform during a spacewalk targeted for December.

For their final planned task, Kotov and Ryazanskiy will deactivate an experiment package on Zvezda. After securing the experiment's cable and restraining its antenna in a folded-down position, the spacewalkers will head back to the airlock to wrap up the excursion.

Image above: This graphic shows the locations of the nine International Space Station crew members during Saturday's spacewalk. Image Credit: NASA TV.

During the spacewalk, Yurchikhin, Parmitano and Nyberg will be isolated to their Soyuz TMA-09M spacecraft and Zvezda, while Flight Engineer Mike Hopkins is restricted to the Poisk module and his Soyuz TMA-10M craft. The remaining three crew members -- Mastracchio, Wakata and Tyurin – have access to much of the remaining area of the station, including the Zarya module, their Soyuz TMA-11M vehicle and the Rassvet module to which it is docked, as well as the entirety of the U.S. segment of the station.

Saturday’s spacewalk is the 174th in support of space station assembly and maintenance, the fourth in Kotov's career and the first for Ryazanskiy. Kotov, who is designated EV1 for the spacewalk is wearing the suit with red stripes. Ryazanskiy, EV2, is wearing the suit marked with blue stripes.

This is the eighth spacewalk conducted at the station this year. In December, Tyurin will accompany Kotov on his fifth spacewalk.

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

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


vendredi 8 novembre 2013

ExoMars lander module named Schiaparelli

ESA / ROSCOSMOS - ExoMars Mission logo.

8 November 2013

The entry, descent and landing demonstrator module that will fly on the 2016 ExoMars mission has been named ‘Schiaparelli’ in honour of the Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli, who famously mapped the Red Planet’s surface features in the 19th century.

ExoMars is a joint endeavour between ESA and Russia’s Roscosmos space agency, and comprises two missions that will be launched to Mars in 2016 and 2018.

ExoMars 2016 mission

The Trace Gas Orbiter and Schiaparelli make up the 2016 mission, while the ExoMars rover, with its carrier and surface platform, will be launched in 2018. Working together, the orbiter and rover will search the planet for signs of life, past and present.

Schiaparelli will prove key technologies for Europe with a controlled landing on Mars. It will enter the atmosphere at 21 000 km/h and use parachutes and thrusters to brake to less than 15 km/h before landing less than eight minutes later.

The module will collect data on the atmosphere during the entry and descent, and its instruments will perform local environment measurements at the landing site, which is in a region of plains known as Meridiani Planum.

The 2016 mission will arrive at Mars during the period when seasonal global dust storms are most likely. Thus the measurements obtained during landing will provide important information for improving models of the atmosphere and the mechanisms that trigger dust storms “Considering the importance of Giovanni Schiaparelli’s pioneering observations of Mars, it was an easy decision to give his name to the ExoMars module that is paving the way to the further exploration of the Red Planet,” says Alvaro Giménez, ESA’s Director of Science and Robotic Exploration.

ExoMars Entry, Descent and Landing Demonstrator Module Structural Model

The name was suggested by a group of Italian scientists to the president of the Italian space agency, who then proposed it to ESA. Italy is the largest European contributor to the ExoMars programme.

Giovanni Virginio Schiaparelli (1835–1910) was an accomplished scientist who dedicated much of his career to cataloguing and naming the surface features of Mars. During the ‘Great Opposition’ of 1877, when Mars was relatively close to Earth, he surveyed the planet by eye through a telescope and sketched a network of linear features that he saw running across the surface. He assumed that these were natural water-filled channels and used the equivalent Italian word, ‘canali’.

Giovanni Virginio Schiaparelli (1835–1910)

This term was often translated into English as ‘canals’, leading to considerable speculation about whether a network of artificial watercourses had been excavated by an intelligent civilisation on Mars, perhaps for irrigation purposes.

However, many of the linear features seen and drawn by Schiaparelli and others, most notably Percival Lowell, were argued to be optical illusions resulting from observations by eye. Later photographic images of Mars did not show them and the arrival of the first space probes at the planet in the 1960s confirmed it to be the cold, dry place we know today.

ExoMars EDM set for shaker test

Nevertheless, as a result of further space exploration, including ESA’s Mars Express, we also now know that, deep in the Red Planet’s past, water did flow freely in naturally-formed rivers and valleys, in some way vindicating Schiaparelli’s original hypothesis. He also set a precedent for documenting features on planets, and many of the names he proposed for the major landscapes of Mars are still in use today.

Schiaparelli is also well known for working out that regular annual meteor showers emanating from specific regions of the sky are due to Earth’s orbit intercepting trails of debris left by comets as they make their way through the Solar System. He also made accurate measurements of the rotation periods of Venus and Mercury and was a strong believer in the importance of science popularisation: he wrote books on astronomy and often gave public lectures.

“Schiaparelli’s dedication to planetary science and to the communication of science was recognised worldwide and, as such, we want to celebrate his achievements by naming a key part of the ExoMars mission after him,” says Rolf de Groot, Head of the Coordination Office for the Robotic Exploration Programme at ESA.

He adds: “The Schiaparelli module will not only provide Europe with the technology for landing on Mars, but will also give us a taste of the atmosphere and insight into the local environment at a new location on the planet’s surface – exploration that Giovanni Schiaparelli could only have dreamed of over 135 years ago when he first started sketching the Red Planet.”

Related links:

Robotic exploration of Mars:

Looking at Mars:

Images, Text, Credits: ESA / B. Bethge / A. Le Floc’h / AOES Medialab.

Best regards,

Time to come home, Luca

ESA - Luca Parmitano Volare Mission patch.

8 November 2013

ESA astronaut Luca Parmitano has run over 30 experiments on the International Space Station, helped to dock three spaceships, kept his cool during two spacewalks and entertained us with his blogs and pictures of Earth from above – and now it is time for him to come home.


After almost six months on the orbital complex, Luca will return home in a Soyuz spacecraft together with NASA astronaut Karen Nyberg and cosmonaut commander Fyodor Yurchikhin during the night of Sunday–Monday.

Looking back on Volare

The return trip through our atmosphere after leaving the Station will be short but bumpy, ending on the steppe of Kazakhstan.

Undocking from the Station on Sunday evening, the crew will reduce their cruising speed of 28 800 km/h in orbit to zero over the course of three hours.

Luca’s Soyuz

Along the way, their Soyuz will separate into three parts, leaving the orbital and propulsion modules to burn up as they fall to Earth. The descent module with Luca, Karen and Fyodor will encounter temperatures of up to 1600°C as friction from the atmosphere heats the protective shield.

At 9 km above sea level a parachute is deployed automatically, slowing the astronauts down from 864 km/h to 324 km/h. The base heatshield is then jettisoned to expose the four solid-propellant motors that fire moments before impact to softed the landing.

Previous Soyuz landing

The astronauts have sprung seats to lessen the impact even more but even so the experience was likened to “surviving a small car crash” by ESA astronaut André Kuipers when he took the same trip back last year.

The last part of Luca’s journey home will be by helicopter and aircraft to Houston, USA with Karen. The Volare mission might be over but the astronaut’s work is not finished. All astronauts return from space weakened and exhausted as their bodies readjust to Earthly gravity.

For the scientists involved in the Volare experiments, their analysis has only just begun. Many experiments require data from the astronauts as soon as they land. Luca can expect questionnaires, muscle biopsies and more medical tests – all in the name of science and human exploration.

Home (cloud-covered Italy)

Follow the undocking and return to Earth with updates from ESA mission control at the Columbus Control Centre on Luca’s blog and via Twitter.

Luca’s Volare mission is provided through an agreement with Italy’s ASI space agency.

Related links:

Missione Volare:

Volare blog:

Agenzia Spaziale Italiana (ASI):

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


jeudi 7 novembre 2013

NASA's GRAIL Mission Puts a New Face on the Moon

NASA - GRAIL Mission patch.

Nov. 7, 2013

Scientists using data from the lunar-orbiting twins of NASA's Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) mission are gaining new insight into how the face of the moon received its rugged good looks. A report on the asymmetric distribution of lunar impact basins is published in this week's edition of the journal Science.

"Since time immemorial, humanity has looked up and wondered what made the man in the moon," said Maria Zuber, GRAIL principal investigator from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. "We know the dark splotches are large, lava-filled, impact basins that were created by asteroid impacts about four billion years ago. GRAIL data indicate that both the near side and the far side of the moon were bombarded by similarly large impactors, but they reacted to them much differently.”

Image above: Using a precision formation-flying technique, the twin GRAIL spacecraft mapped the moon's gravity field, as depicted in this artist's rendering. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

Understanding lunar impact basins has been hampered by the simple fact that there is a lack of consensus on their size. Most of the largest impact basins on the near side of the moon (the moon's face) have been filled with lava flows, which hide important clues about the shape of the land that could be used for determining their dimensions. The GRAIL mission measured the internal structure of the moon in unprecedented detail for nine months in 2012. With the data, GRAIL scientists have redefined the sizes of massive impact basins on the moon.

Maps of crustal thickness generated by GRAIL revealed more large impact basins on the near-side hemisphere of the moon than on the far side. How could this be if both hemispheres were, as widely believed, on the receiving end of the same number of impacts?

Scientists have long known that the temperatures of the near-side hemisphere of the moon were higher than those on the far side: the abundances of the heat producing elements uranium and thorium are higher on the near side than the far side, and as a consequence, the vast majority of volcanic eruptions occurred on the moon's near-side hemisphere.

Image above: This graphic depicting the crustal thickness of the moon was generated using gravity data from NASA's GRAIL mission and topography data from NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ IPGP.

“Impact simulations indicate that impacts into a hot, thin crust representative of the early moon’s near-side hemisphere would have produced basins with as much as twice the diameter as similar impacts into cooler crust, which is indicative of early conditions on the moon’s far-side hemisphere,” notes lead author Katarina Miljkovic of the Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris.

The new GRAIL research is also helping redefine the concept of the late heavy bombardment, a proposed spike in the rate of crater creation by impacts about 4 billion years ago. The late heavy bombardment is based largely on the ages of large near-side impact basins that are either within, or adjacent to the dark, lava-filled basins, or lunar maria, named Oceanus Procellarum and Mare Imbrium. However, the special composition of the material on and below the surface of the near side implies that the temperatures beneath this region were not representative of the moon as a whole at the time of the late heavy bombardment. The difference in the temperature profiles would have caused scientists to overestimate the magnitude of the basin-forming impact bombardment. Work by GRAIL scientists supports the hypothesis that the size distribution of impact basins on the far-side hemisphere of the moon is a more accurate indicator of the impact history of the inner solar system than those on the near side.

Launched as GRAIL A and GRAIL B in September 2011, the probes, renamed Ebb and Flow by schoolchildren in Montana, operated in a nearly circular orbit near the poles of the moon at an altitude of about 34 miles (55 kilometers) until their mission ended in December 2012. The distance between the twin probes changed slightly as they flew over areas of greater and lesser gravity caused by visible features, such as mountains and craters, and by masses hidden beneath the lunar surface.

JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, Calif. managed GRAIL for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The mission was part of the Discovery Program managed at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, in Greenbelt, Md., manages the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. Operations of the spacecraft's laser altimeter, which provided supporting data used in this investigation, is led by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Denver built GRAIL.

For more information about GRAIL, visit and

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA / Dwayne Brown / JPL / DC Agle / Massachusetts Institute of Technology / Sarah McDonnell.


Asteroid or comet?

ESA - Hubble Space Telescope logo.

7 November 2013

Hubble astronomers observe bizarre six-tailed asteroid

Hubble views extraordinary multi-tailed asteroid P/2013 P5

Astronomers using the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope have observed a unique and baffling object in the asteroid belt that looks like a rotating lawn sprinkler or badminton shuttlecock. While this object is on an asteroid-like orbit, it looks like a comet, and is sending out tails of dust into space.

Normal asteroids appear as tiny points of light. But this asteroid, designated P/2013 P5, has six comet-like tails of dust radiating from it like the spokes on a wheel. It was first spotted in August of this year as an unusually fuzzy-looking object by astronomers using the Pan-STARRS 1 telescope in Hawaii [1].

Because nothing like this has ever been seen before, astronomers are scratching their heads to find an adequate explanation for its mysterious appearance.

Labelled view of extraordinary multi-tailed asteroid P/2013 P5

The multiple tails were discovered in Hubble images taken on 10 September 2013. When Hubble returned to the asteroid on 23 September, its appearance had totally changed. It looked as if the entire structure had swung around.

"We were literally dumbfounded when we saw it," said lead investigator David Jewitt of the University of California at Los Angeles, USA. "Even more amazingly, its tail structures change dramatically in just 13 days as it belches out dust. That also caught us by surprise. It's hard to believe we're looking at an asteroid."

One explanation for the odd appearance is that the asteroid's rotation rate increased to the point where its surface started flying apart, ejecting dust in episodic eruptions that started last spring. The team rules out an asteroid impact because a lot of dust would have been blasted into space all at once, whereas P5 has ejected dust intermittently over a period of at least five months [2].

Careful modelling by team member Jessica Agarwal of the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Lindau, Germany, showed that the tails could have been formed by a series of impulsive dust-ejection events [3]. Radiation pressure from the Sun smears out the dust into streamers. "Given our observations and modelling, we infer that P/2013 P5 might be losing dust as it rotates at high speed," says Agarwal. "The Sun then drags this dust into the distinct tails we're seeing."

Schematic of active asteroid P/2013 P5

The asteroid could possibly have been spun up to a high speed as pressure from the Sun's light exerted a torque on the body. If the asteroid's spin rate became fast enough, Jewitt said, the asteroid's weak gravity would no longer be able to hold it together. Dust might avalanche down towards the equator, and maybe shatter and fall off, eventually drifting into space to make a tail. So far, only a small fraction of the main mass, perhaps 100 to 1000 tonnes of dust, has been lost. The asteroid is thousands of times more massive, with a radius of up to 240 metres.

Follow-up observations may show whether the dust leaves the asteroid in the equatorial plane, which would be quite strong evidence for a rotational breakup. Astronomers will also try to measure the asteroid's true spin rate.

Jewitt's interpretation implies that rotational breakup may be a common phenomenon in the asteroid belt; it may even be the main way in which small asteroids "die" [4]. "In astronomy, where you find one, you eventually find a whole bunch more," Jewitt said. "This is just an amazing object to us, and almost certainly the first of many more to come."

The paper from Jewitt's team appears online in the 7 November issue of The Astrophysical Journal Letters.


[1] The comet was discovered by Micheli et al. on 27 August 2013. It was spotted in observations from 18 August 2013. The discovery was announced in a Minor Planet Electronic Circular.

[2] Agarwal calculated that the first ejection event occurred on 15 April, and the last one on 4 September 2013. Other eruptions occurred on 18 July, 24 July, 8 August, and 26 August 2013.

[3] A less likely option is that this emission is a result of water ice sublimating. Water ice can survive within the asteroid belt, although only at the outskirts or if buried deep enough within a large enough asteroid to be shielded. However, P5 is likely made of metamorphic rocks, making it incapable of holding ice in the same way that comets do. This, coupled with P5's orbit and its very small size, makes it very unlikely that its mass loss would be due to ice sublimation.

[4] This is not the first time that Hubble has observed a strange asteroid. In 2010, Hubble spotted a strange X-shaped asteroid (heic1016). However, unlike P/2013 P5, this was thought to have been formed by a collision. Later that year astronomers observed asteroid (596) Scheila, an object with a tail that was surrounded by a C-shaped cloud of dust (opo1113a). Again, this asteroid was thought to be the result of a collision between Scheila and a much smaller body — only the second time that such an event has been spotted.

Notes for editors:

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

The international team of astronomers in the Hubble study consists of D. Jewitt (UCLA, USA), J. Agarwal (Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, Germany), H. Weaver (The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, USA), M. Mutchler (STScI, USA), and S. Larson (University of Arizona, USA). The paper, entitled “The Extraordinary Multi-Tailed Main-Belt Comet P/2013 P5”, is published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters.


Science paper:

NASA press release:

Images of Hubble:

Images, Text, Credits: NASA, ESA, D. Jewitt (University of California, Los Angeles), J. Agarwal (Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research), H. Weaver (Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory), M. Mutchler, A. Feild (STScI) and S. Larson (University of Arizona).


New Crew Arrives at Space Station, Station Home to Nine Residents

ROSCOSMOS - Soyuz TMA-11M Mission patch.

Nov. 7, 2013

A new trio of Expedition 38 flight engineers docked to the Rassvet docking compartment at 5:27 a.m. Thursday. They lifted off about six hours earlier from the Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan, at 11:14 p.m. EST Tuesday aboard a Soyuz TMA-11M spacecraft.

Image above: The Soyuz TMA-11 spacecraft with Earth in the background is just moments away from docking to the Rassvet module. Image Credit: NASA TV.

They will open the Soyuz and station hatches in a couple of hours to be greeted by six station crew members. New station crew members Mikhail Tyurin, Koichi Wakata and Rick Mastracchio will join Expedition 37 Commander Fyodor Yurchikhin and Flight Engineers Karen Nyberg, Luca Parmitano, Oleg Kotov, Mike Hopkins and Sergey Ryazanskiy.

This will be the first time since October 2009 that nine people have resided on the station without the presence of a space shuttle. However, just four days later the station residents will say goodbye to Yurchikhin, Nyberg and Parmitano, all Expedition 37 crew members, when they undock in the Soyuz TMA-09M spacecraft and land in Kazakhstan about 3-1/2 hours later.

Soyuz hooks up to the station

When the Expedition 37 trio returns home this Sunday they will have completed a 5-1/2 month stay in space. The station's newest Expedition 38 trio will live and work in space until May 2014.

New Crew Arrives at Space Station

Expedition 38 officially begins when the home-bound trio undocks. Kotov will become station commander for the second time since Expedition 23 in 2010. Staying behind are veteran station residents Mikhail Tyurin and Koichi Wakata; Rick Mastracchio, a veteran of three shuttle missions; and Mike Hopkins and Sergey Ryazanskiy, who are both on their first missions.

International Space Station (ISS). Image Credit:  NASA

All nine crew members will participate in a joint crew news conference Friday Nov. 8 at 8:50 a.m. during their very busy four days together. The crew will talk about the upcoming 15th anniversary of the space station's construction (the station has been continuously occupied for 13 years).

Read about the joint crew news conference:

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

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


mercredi 6 novembre 2013

Expedition 38 Launches to Join Six-Member Station Crew

ROSCOSMOS - Soyuz TMA-11M Mission patch.

Nov. 7, 2013

Image above: The Soyuz TMA-11M spacecraft heads to space seconds after launching on time from the Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan. Image Credit: NASA TV.

A new trio of Expedition 38 flight engineers lifted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan, at 11:14 p.m. EST Wednesday aboard a Soyuz TMA-11M spacecraft. They are on a trip to the International Space Station that will take just over six hours.

Expedition 38 Launches to Join Six-Member Station Crew

View the Programming Guide for Expedition 38 activities:

Image above: Expedition 38 crew members Koichi Wakata, Mikhail Tyurin and Rick Mastracchio pose for a crew portrait attired in Russian Sokol launch and entry suits. Image Credit: Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center.

After four orbits they will dock to the Rassvet docking compartment at 5:31 a.m. Wednesday. The Soyuz and station hatches will open about two hours later when they will be greeted by six station crew members. New station crew members Mikhail Tyurin, Koichi Wakata and Rick Mastracchio will join Expedition 37 Commander Fyodor Yurchikhin and Flight Engineers Karen Nyberg, Luca Parmitano, Oleg Kotov, Mike Hopkins and Sergey Ryazanskiy.

 There will be nine crew members on board ISS. Image Credit: NASA TV

Read more about the nine-member crew activities:

Expedition 38 Lifts Off. Image Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

This will be the first time since October 2009 that nine people have resided on the station without the presence of a space shuttle. However, just four days later the station residents will say goodbye to Yurchikhin, Nyberg and Parmitano, all Expedition 37 crew members, when they undock in the Soyuz TMA-09M spacecraft and land in Kazakhstan about 3-1/2 hours later.

When the Expedition 37 trio returns home this Sunday they will have completed a 5-1/2 month stay in space. The station's newest Expedition 38 trio will live and work in space until May 2014.

Expedition 38 officially begins when the home-bound trio undocks. Kotov will become station commander for the second time since Expedition 23 in 2010. Staying behind are veteran station residents Mikhail Tyurin and Koichi Wakata; Rick Mastracchio, a veteran of three shuttle missions; and Mike Hopkins and Sergey Ryazanskiy, who are both on their first missions.

All nine crew members will participate in a joint crew news conference Friday Nov. 8 at 8:50 a.m. during their very busy four days together. The crew will talk about the upcoming 15th anniversary of the space station's construction (the station has been continuously occupied for 13 years).

Read about the joint crew news conference:

They will also discuss the spacewalk that takes place the very next day when Kotov and Ryazanskiy carry the Olympic torch outside the station. The torch, delivered by Expedition 38 and returning home with Expedition 37, will light the flame at the opening of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia.

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

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

Best regards,

It's Complicated: Dawn Spurs Rewrite of Vesta's Story

NASA - Dawn Mission patch.

Nov. 7, 2013

 Two Craters with Olivine

Image above: This image shows infrared views of two craters at the giant asteroid Vesta that NASA's Dawn mission has found to sport the mineral olivine. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/ASI/INAF.

Just when scientists thought they had a tidy theory for how the giant asteroid Vesta formed, a new paper from NASA's Dawn mission suggests the history is more complicated.

If Vesta's formation had followed the script for the formation of rocky planets like our own, heat from the interior would have created distinct, separated layers of rock (generally, a core, mantle and crust). In that story, the mineral olivine should concentrate in the mantle.

Map of Rock Properties at Giant Asteroid Vesta

Image above: This colorized map from NASA's Dawn mission shows the types of rocks and minerals distributed around the surface of the giant asteroid Vesta. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/ASI/INAF.

However, as described in a paper in this week's issue of the journal Nature, that's not what Dawn's visible and infrared mapping spectrometer (VIR) instrument found. The observations of the huge craters in Vesta's southern hemisphere that exposed the lower crust and should have excavated the mantle did not find evidence of olivine there. Scientists instead found clear signatures of olivine in the surface material in the northern hemisphere.

“The lack of pure olivine in the deeply excavated basins in Vesta’s southern hemisphere and its unexpected discovery in the northern hemisphere indicate a more complex evolutionary history than inferred from models of Vesta before Dawn arrived,” said Maria Cristina De Sanctis, Dawn co-investigator and VIR leader at the National Institute for Astrophysics in Rome, Italy.

Bellicia Crater, in Visible Light

Image above: This image from NASA's Dawn mission shows a crater in the northern hemisphere of the giant asteroid Vesta called Bellicia. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA.

Perhaps Vesta only underwent partial melting, which would create pockets of olivine rather than a global layer. Perhaps the exposed mantle in Vesta's southern hemisphere was later covered by a layer of other material, which prevented Dawn from seeing the olivine below it. 

"These latest findings from Dawn stimulate us to test some different ideas about Vesta’s origin,” said Carol Raymond, Dawn’s deputy principal investigator at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. “They also show us what additional information we can learn by going into orbit around places like Vesta to complement the bits that come to us as meteorites or observations from long distances.”

Contrast-Enhanced Image of Bellicia Crater

Image above: In this contrast-enhanced infrared image of Bellicia Crater on the giant asteroid Vesta, scientists from NASA's Dawn mission can see signs of the mineral olivine. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/ASI/INAF.

Dawn is currently cruising toward its second destination, the dwarf planet Ceres, which is the biggest member of the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. It will arrive at Ceres in early 2015.

The Dawn mission to Vesta and Ceres is managed by JPL for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington, D.C. It is a project of the Discovery Program managed by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala. UCLA is responsible for overall Dawn mission science. Orbital Sciences Corporation of Dulles, Va., designed and built the Dawn spacecraft. The visible and infrared mapping spectrometer was provided by the Italian Space Agency and is managed by Italy’s National Institute for Astrophysics, Rome, in collaboration with Selex Galileo, where it was built.

For more information about NASA's Dawn Mission, visit: and

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA / JPL / Jia-Rui Cook.


NASA and International Researchers Obtain Crucial Data from Meteoroid Impact

Asteroid and comet watch.

Nov. 6, 2013

Image above: 2013, February 15, Snapshot of the Chelyabinsk firball in a photo by Evgeny Andreev. Photo: Eveny Andreev.

A team of NASA and international scientists for the first time have gathered a detailed understanding of the effects on Earth from a small asteroid impact.

The unprecedented data obtained as the result of the airburst of a meteoroid over the Russian city of Chelyabinsk on Feb. 15, has revolutionized scientists' understanding of this natural phenomenon.

The Chelyabinsk incident was well observed by citizen cameras and other assets. This factor provided a unique opportunity for researchers to calibrate the event, with implications for the study of near-Earth objects (NEOs) and the development of hazard mitigation strategies for planetary defense. Scientists from nine countries now have established a new benchmark for future asteroid impact modeling.

Image above: Map of glass damage in Chelyabinsk Oblast. Fireball moved from right to left. Dots are villages and towns in the area, marked red or orange when glass damage occurred. Yellow dots are the locations where meteorites were recovered. Gray area shows predictions of overpressure from asteroid impact models. From: Popova et al. (2013).

"Our goal was to understand all circumstances that resulted in the shock wave," said meteor expert Peter Jenniskens, co-lead author of a report published in the journal Science.

Jenniskens, a meteor astronomer at NASA’s Ames Research Center and the SETI Institute, participated in a field study led by Olga Popova of the Institute for Dynamics of Geospheres of the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow in the weeks following the event.

“It was important that we followed up with the many citizens who had firsthand accounts of the event and recorded incredible video while the experience was still fresh in their minds," said Popova.

By calibrating the video images from the position of the stars in the night sky, Jenniskens and Popova calculated the impact speed of the meteor at 42,500 mph (19 kilometers per second). As the meteor penetrated through the atmosphere, it fragmented into pieces, peaking at 19 miles (30 kilometers) above the surface. At that point the superheated meteor appeared brighter than the sun, even for people 62 miles (100 kilometers) away.

Because of the extreme heat, many pieces of the meteor vaporized before reaching Earth. Scientists believe that between 9,000 to 13,000 pounds (4,000 to 6,000 kilograms) of meteorites fell to the ground. This amount included one fragment weighing approximately 1,400 pounds (650 kilograms). This fragment wasrecovered from Lake Chebarkul on Oct. 16 by professional divers guided by Ural Federal University researchers in Yekaterinburg, Russia.

Chelyabinsk Meteor Fragment X-Ray Reveals Composition

NASA researchers participating in the 59 member consortium study suspect the abundance of shock fractures in the rock contributed its breakup in the upper atmosphere. Meteorites made available by Chelyabinsk State University researchers were analyzed to learn about the origin of the shock veins and their physical properties. Shock veins are caused by asteroid collisions. When asteroid collide with each other, heat generated by the impact causes iron and nickel components of the objects to melt. These melts cool into thin masses, forming metal veins – shock veins – in the objects.

"One of these meteorites broke along one of these shock veins when we pressed on it during our analysis," said Derek Sears, a meteoriticist at Ames.

Mike Zolensky, a cosmochemist at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, may have found why these shock veins (or shock fractures), were so frail. They contained layers of small iron grains just inside the vein, which had precipitated out of the glassy material when it cooled.

"There are cases where impact melt increases a meteorite's mechanical strength, but Chelyabinsk was weakened by it," said Zolensky.

Image above: Point of main disruption of the Chelyabinks fireball at 27 km altitude. Photo: M. Ahmetvaleev.

The impact that created the shock veins may have occurred as long ago as 4.4 billion years. This would have been 115 million years after the formation of the solar system, according to the research team, who found the meteorites had experienced a significant impact event at that time.

“Events that long ago affected how the Chelyabinsk meteoroid broke up in the atmosphere, influencing the damaging shockwave,” said Jenniskens.

NASA’s Near-Earth Object Program sponsors research to better understand the origin and nature of NEOs. These essential studies are needed to inform our approach to preparing for the potential discovery and deflection of an object on a collision course with the Earth.

NASA's recently announced asteroid initiative includes the first mission to capture and relocate an asteroid, as well as a grand challenge to find and characterize all asteroid threats to human population. It represents an unprecedented technological feat that will lead to new scientific discoveries and technological capabilities that will help protect our home planet.

Aside from representing a potential threat, the study of asteroids and comets represent a valuable opportunity to learn more about the origins of our solar system, the source of water on the Earth, and even the origin of organic molecules that lead to the development of life.

For more information about the Chelyabinsk field study visit:

For more information on asteroids and comets, visit:

For more information about NASA, visit:

Images (mentioned), Video, Text, Credits: NASA / Dwayne Brown / Ames Research Center / Rachel Hoover / SETI Institute / Karen Randall.

Sun Sends Out a Significant Solar Flare

NASA - Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) patch.

Nov. 6, 2013

Image above: NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observer captured this image of an X3.3-class solar flare that peaked at 5:12 p.m. EST on Nov. 5, 2013. This image shows light blended from the 131 and 193 wavelengths. Image Credit: NASA/SDO.

The sun emitted a significant solar flare, peaking at 5:12 p.m. EST on Nov. 5, 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.

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 X3.3 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.

Increased numbers of flares are quite common at the moment as the sun's normal 11-year activity cycle is ramping up toward solar maximum conditions.

Updates will be provided as needed.

Related Links:

Frequently Asked Questions Regarding Space Weather:

View Other Past Solar Activity:

Image (mentioned), Text, Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center / Karen C. Fox.


mardi 5 novembre 2013

India's orbiter begins long voyage to Mars

ISRO - Indian Space Research Organization logo.

Nov. 5, 2013

Image above: The PSLV- C25 with India's Mars Orbiter on board lifting off majestically at 2.38 p.m on Tuesday from the First Launch Pad at the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota. Photo: K. Pichumani.

India’s Mars orbiter spacecraft separates from Polar rocket, successfully put into Earth’s orbit.

India’s prestigious mission to send a spacecraft to Mars got off to a flying start on Tuesday when the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV C-25) lifted off at 2.38 p.m. from the spaceport at Sriharikota and put the Mars Orbiter into a precise elliptical orbit around the earth.

Launch Mangalyaan To Mars (PSLV-XL) Mars Orbiter Mission

The precision achieved was such that the spacecraft went into an orbit with the perigee of 246.9 km and an apogee of 23,560 km against the predicted perigee of 250 km and an apogee of 23,500 km.

This signalled the long voyage of the Mars Orbiter for the next 300 days before the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) would attempt to put the spacecraft into mars orbit on September 24, 2014.

K. Radhakrishnan, ISRO chairman, said the PSLV in its 25th launch, has precisely put the Mars Orbiter into an elliptical orbit around the earth. He called it a new and complex mission, which has been so far successfully achieved.

Mars Orbiter Spacecraft mounted on top of PSLV-C25 Fourth stage

PTI adds

Dr. Radhakrishnan said: “I am extremely happy to announce PSLV-C25 placed Mars orbiter space craft very precisely in elliptical orbit around earth.

“This is 25th PSLV flight. Now it will be a complex mission to take the Mars orbiter from earth’s orbit to Mars orbit.

“I salute the ISRO team.”

India on Tuesday embarked on its maiden Mars odyssey with its polar rocket carrying Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) successfully lifting off from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre here in its first-ever inter-planetary expedition in a bid to join a select band of nations.

The textbook lift-off of ISRO’s workhorse launch vehicle PSLV C25 was witnessed among others by Minister of State in PMO, V. Narayanasamy, U.S. Ambassador to India Nancy Powell, Mr. Radhakrishnan and a host of other officials.

The XL version of PSLV C 25 had carried Chandrayaan 1, the country’s maiden moon mission, in 2008.

Mission description

After going around Earth for 20-25 days in an elliptical orbit (perigee of 250 km and apogee of 23,500 km), the Rs. 450-crore orbiter would begin a nine-month long voyage to Mars around 12.42 am on December 1.

It is expected to reach the red planet’s orbit by September 24, 2014 and go around in an elliptical orbit (periapsis of 366 km and apo-apsis of 80,000 km).

The Mars mission of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) is aimed at establishing the country’s capability to reach the red planet and focus on looking for the presence of methane, an indicator of life in Mars.

India Mars Orbiter spacecraft

The Mars Orbiter has five scientific instruments — Lyman Alpha Photometer (LAP), Methane Sensor for Mars (MSM), Mars Exospheric Neutral Composition Analyser (MENCA), Mars Colour Camera (MCC) and Thermal Infrared Imaging Spectrometer (TIS).

European Space Agency (ESA) of the European consortium, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) of the US and Roscosmos of Russia are the three agencies which have successfully sent their missions to the Red Planet.

For more information about India Mars Mission, visit:

Images, Video, Text, Credits: ISRO / The Hindu.


lundi 4 novembre 2013

NASA Kepler Results Usher in a New Era of Astronomy

SETI Institute logo / NASA - Kepler Mission patch.

Nov. 4, 2013

Image above: From the first three years of Kepler data, more than 3,500 potential worlds have emerged. Since the last update in January, the number of planet candidates identified by Kepler increased by 29 percent and now totals 3,538, analysis led by Jason Rowe, a SETI research scientist. Image Credit: SETI.

Scientists from around the world are gathered this week at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., for the second Kepler Science Conference, where they will discuss the latest findings resulting from the analysis of Kepler Space Telescope data.

Included in these findings is the discovery of 833 new candidate planets, which will be announced today by the Kepler team. Ten of these candidates are less than twice the size of Earth and orbit in their sun's habitable zone, which is defined as the range of distance from a star where the surface temperature of an orbiting planet may be suitable for liquid water.

At this conference two years ago, the Kepler team announced its first confirmed habitable zone planet, Kepler-22b. Since then, four more habitable zone candidates have been confirmed, including two in a single system.

New Kepler data analysis and research also show that most stars in our galaxy have at least one planet. This suggests that the majority of stars in the night sky may be home to planetary systems, perhaps some like our solar system.

"The impact of the Kepler mission results on exoplanet research and stellar astrophysics is illustrated by the attendance of nearly 400 scientists from 30 different countries at the Kepler Science Conference," said William Borucki, Kepler science principal investigator at Ames. "We gather to celebrate and expand our collective success at the opening of a new era of astronomy."

From the first three years of Kepler data, more than 3,500 potential worlds have emerged. Since the last update in January, the number of planet candidates identified by Kepler increased by 29 percent and now totals 3,538. Analysis led by Jason Rowe, research scientist at the SETI Institute in Mountain View, Calif., determined that the largest increase of 78 percent was found in the category of Earth-sized planets, based on observations conducted from May 2009 to March 2012. Rowe's findings support the observed trend that smaller planets are more common.

An independent statistical analysis of nearly all four years of Kepler data suggests that one in five stars like the sun is home to a planet up to twice the size of Earth, orbiting in a temperate environment. A research team led by Erik Petigura, doctoral candidate at University of California, Berkeley, used publicly accessible data from Kepler to derive this result.

Kepler data also fueled another field of astronomy dubbed asteroseismology -- the study of the interior of stars. Scientists examine sound waves generated by the boiling motion beneath the surface of the star. They probe the interior structure of a star just as geologists use seismic waves generated by earthquakes to probe the interior structure of Earth.

"Stars are the building blocks of the galaxy, driving its evolution and providing safe harbors for planets. To study the stars, one truly explores the galaxy and our place within it," said William Chaplin, professor for astrophysics at the University of Birmingham in the United Kingdom. "Kepler has revolutionized asteroseismology by giving us observations of unprecedented quality, duration and continuity for thousands of stars. These are data we could only have dreamt of a few years ago."

Kepler's mission is to determine what percentage of stars like the sun harbor small planets the approximate size and temperature of Earth. For four years, the space telescope simultaneously and continuously monitors the brightness of more than 150,000 stars, recording a measurement every 30 minutes. More than a year of the collected data remains to be fully reviewed and analyzed.

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

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

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

For more information about the second Kepler Science Conference, visit:

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

Associated resources:

Download .mp3 of Nov. 4, 2013 media briefing [12 MB]:

Download .PDF of slides from Jason Rowe [8 MB]:

Image, Text, Credits: NASA / Ames Research Center / Michele Johnson.


It’s Like a Party in the Atmosphere!

ISS - International Space Station patch.

Nov. 4, 2013

Ever attend a wild party with flashing lights and loud music that snowballs into a dazzling moment worth remembering? That’s something like how scientists describe the chain reactions in our atmosphere that lead to lightning. In September, researchers began using the International Space Station as a platform to study the mysterious cosmic catalyst and consequence of lightning, which may actually have origins more explosive than you might guess.

The Space Test Program-Houston 4-FireStation (STP-H4-FireStation) investigation, also simply known as FireStation, will orbit the Earth for a year attached to the outside of the space station. FireStation is sponsored by NASA and the National Science Foundation in partnership with the U.S. Department of Defense and its Space Test Program. This instrument collects data as it flies over thunderstorms, taking aim at the exciting energy exhibit to help scientists answer burning questions involving the relationship between lightning and gamma rays.

Image above: This International Space Station Crew Earth image of storm clouds over California shows lighting as a white glow to the right of center. The yellow lit areas, beneath the clouds are the night lights from the highly populated areas of Los Angeles and San Diego. Image Credit: NASA.

“Somewhere in the atmosphere momentarily there’s just an incredible amount of energy release and what happens in that region is something of a witch’s brew,” said Doug Rowland, principal investigator for FireStation at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. “You get antimatter created in the Earth’s atmosphere during this interaction, you get energetic neutrons that basically you never see in the quiet atmosphere, that you only associate with nuclear reactions, that are happening in our atmosphere whenever these things go off. That’s one of the first fundamental science reasons [to study this phenomenon]—it’s part of our planet; we don’t understand it; we want to understand it.”

During the “atmospheric party” of a thunderstorm, clouds charge as ice crystals rub together. This dance separates them by electrical charge and weight, leading to a sudden and dramatic release of lightning. While we know this is the source of the dazzling display, scientists still don’t fully understand what initiates the process. A prevailing theory is a chain reaction called a seeded avalanche breakdown, which is where an outside energy source sets off a few energetic-free electrons within the Earth’s electron field. “The idea is that you get a cosmic ray coming in that has a million electron volts of energy and it can serve to trigger another breakdown mechanism that generates gamma rays,” said Rowland.

Image above: FireStation principal investigator Doug Rowland of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center poses with the engineering unit of FireStation’s interface board. Image Credit: NASA/Debora McCallum.

Seen as terrestrial gamma ray flashes (TGFs), these events are short—on the line of milliseconds, like a lightning flash—bursts of gamma rays (ionizing radiation) from the Earth’s atmosphere. With a typical energy level of 1/40th of an electron volt, it is not intuitive to think of the planet as the origin of these quick flashes that have as much as 100 million electron volts. “I always thought this was a really weird idea,” said Rowland, “that your local weather, that your lightning depends on a cosmic ray that’s traveled for 150 thousand light years or a million light years from some exploding star that just set off your lightning stroke over your head.”

FireStation is capable of measuring these lightning and gamma ray flash events simultaneously to determine if TGFs are indeed generated by the electric fields during thunderstorms. The goal is to better understand the fundamental connection between the two natural phenomena. Researchers want to know what kinds of lighting produce gamma ray flashes and delve into the mechanisms of how this process takes place.

Putting FireStation on the space station allows for simultaneous readings and higher data collection than possible with the related CubeSat mission, called Firefly. Hitching a ride aboard station enables ground telemetry communications of 500 kilobits per second—faster than most mobile phones connect to the Internet—vs. the 300 bits per second possible with Firefly, which is a constraint similar to a slow modem from the 1980s. This means FireStation will be able to collect and transmit complete datasets for analysis. “On FireStation we get every single event, every single gamma ray that hits our detector, and we can sort them out on the ground using ground-based computers, so that’s a huge help,” said Rowland.

International Space Station (ISS). Image Credit: NASA

Without the specific instrument and the platform of the space station, this could have been a “chicken or the egg” type scenario. “We are measuring lightning flashes—which has been done before—and we are measuring gamma ray flashes—which has been done before—but we are doing it on the same platform, so that we can see for the same event the lighting and the gamma rays it produces,” said Rowland. “You can imagine a case where if you don’t know exactly where the events and the signals were traveling at different speeds, you might reverse the cause and effect. So having it in the same platform is new and very helpful.”

As the space station orbits the Earth and encounters a thunderstorm, FireStation collects data. This starts with the radio signals from a distance as the station approaches a storm that is still thousands of miles away. As the instrument gets closer to the storm, a gamma ray detector will capture evidence of TGFs. “We’ll start to pick up individual lightning flashes,” said Rowland, “and then maybe once in awhile we’ll see one of these TGF events lined up with a radio emission and an optical emission all close together within milliseconds of each other. We’ll say that’s a gamma ray flash event and study those.”

The FireStation instrument is made up of three components: a set of two radio wave antennas, a collection of nine photo detectors and a gamma ray detector. The two antennas—a rabbit ear antenna and a magnetic loop antenna—measure lightning by picking up the specific audio frequencies produced by the electromagnetic fields vibrating. This can sound something like bacon frying or similar to a whistle, depending on the type of lightning, which falls within a few kilohertz range. The gamma ray detector uses a special transparent crystal that illuminates when in contact with gamma rays. The photo detectors pick up the generated light signals as evidence of possible TGFs for researchers.

“We really want to be able to say that lightning happens 60 times a second all over the world and yet the gamma ray flashes are observed at a space of something like a few times an hour, if you globally integrate the known measurements and extrapolate the known measurement,” said Rowland. “So what is it about those lightning flashes that is unusual or special?”

With a bass system of thunder and a radiant show of lightning, an atmospheric party is the ultimate “see and be seen” event to study. While FireStation is a fundamental science mission, lightning research as a whole stands to help people on the ground in more ways than one. “There’s lots of interest in lightning research in general,” said Rowland. “If you can predict under what conditions lightning is more common or more frequent or more hazardous, you can better design your lighting protection systems and you can better design your power grid to handle lighting.”

More information:

International Space Station:

Space Test Program-Houston 4-FireStation (STP-H4-FireStation):

CubeSat mission:

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA's Johnson Space Center/International Space Station Program Science Office/Jessica Nimon.