samedi 1 mars 2014

Private Mars Flyby Mission in 2021 Needs NASA's Help

Inspiration Mars Foundation - Inspiration Mars Mission logo.

March 1, 2014

Image above: An artist's conception shows the Inspiration Mars spacecraft making its way around Mars. The stack includes, from left, an Orion-derived re-entry pod, a Cygnus-derived habitat module and a service module for avionics, control and communications. Circular solar arrays provide primary power for vehicle systems.

A private manned Mars flyby mission in 2021 could be an inspiring precursor to landing astronauts on the Red Planet's surface in the not-too-distant future, but much work needs to be accomplished before that goal can become a reality, experts told Congress Thursday (Feb. 27).

Inspiration Mars Mission spacecraft concept

The Inspiration Mars Foundation, led by the world's first space tourist Dennis Tito, aims to launch a pair of adventurous space explorers on a flyby of Mars in just seven years. That 2021 launch target takes advantage of a rare alignment that would allow the astronauts to fly by both Venus and Mars in a single trip (582-days). But to meet that window, Inspiration Mars needs NASA's help. You can watch a video of Congress' Mars flyby 2021 here:

Inspiration Mars Mission concept

The private organization hopes the space agency will provide one of its giant Space Launch System rockets as well as an Orion deep-space capsule — which are both still in development — to fly the mission. The U.S. House of Representatives' Committee on Science, Space and Technology held the hearing Thursday to discuss how feasible such a Mars flyby in 2021 actually is.

Related links:

Inspiration Mars Foundation:

For more information about Inspiration Mars Mission, read the excellent blog post on

Images, Text, Credits: / Inspiration Mars Foundation.


NEOWISE Spies Its First Comet

NASA - NEO WISE Mission logo.

March 1, 2014

An Infrared portrait of Comet NEOWISE (C/2014 C3)

Image above: Comet NEOWISE was first observed by NASA's Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (NEOWISE) spacecraft on Valentine's Day, 2014.

NASA's Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (NEOWISE) spacecraft has spotted a never-before-seen comet -- its first such discovery since coming out of hibernation late last year.

"We are so pleased to have discovered this frozen visitor from the outermost reaches of our solar system," said Amy Mainzer, the mission's principal investigator from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. "This comet is a weirdo - it is in a retrograde orbit, meaning that it orbits the sun in the opposite sense from Earth and the other planets."

Officially named "C/2014 C3 (NEOWISE)", the first comet discovery of the renewed mission came on Feb. 14 when the comet was about 143 million miles (230 million kilometers) from Earth. Although the comet's orbit is still a bit uncertain, it appears to have arrived from its most distant point in the region of the outer planets. The mission's sophisticated software picked out the moving object against a background of stationary stars. As NEOWISE circled Earth, scanning the sky, it observed the comet six times over half a day before the object moved out of its view. The discovery was confirmed by the Minor Planet Center, Cambridge, Mass., when follow-up observations were received three days later from the Near Earth Object Observation project Spacewatch, Tucson, Ariz. Other follow-up observations were then quickly received. While this is the first comet NEOWISE has discovered since coming out of hibernation, the spacecraft is credited with the discovery of 21 other comets during its primary mission.

Artist's view of the NEOWISE spacecraft

Originally called the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE), the spacecraft was shut down in 2011 after its primary mission was completed. In September 2013, it was reactivated, renamed NEOWISE and assigned a new mission to assist NASA's efforts to identify the population of potentially hazardous near-Earth objects. NEOWISE will also characterize previously known asteroids and comets to better understand their sizes and compositions.

JPL manages the NEOWISE mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The Space Dynamics Laboratory in Logan, Utah, built the science instrument. Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. of Boulder, Colo., built the spacecraft. Science operations and data processing take place at the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. Caltech manages JPL for NASA.

More information on NEOWISE is online at:

Images, Text, Credits: NASA / JPL / DC Agle.


vendredi 28 février 2014

CubeSats and Robotics on Station Thursday

ISS - International Space Station patch.

February 28, 2014

The deployment of miniature satellites from the International Space Station continued Thursday, while the onboard Expedition 38 crew prepared for the arrival of a U.S. commercial cargo craft and the departure of three crew members.

Image above: A set of NanoRacks CubeSats is photographed by an Expedition 38 crew member after the deployment by the NanoRacks Launcher attached to the end of the Japanese robotic arm. Image Credit: NASA.

Two sets of Nanoracks CubeSats were deployed late Wednesday and early Thursday from a deployer mechanism on the Multi-Purpose Experiment Platform attached to the Kibo robotic arm, leaving just two more launches to go of the 33 CubeSats that were delivered to the station in January by Orbital Sciences’ Cygnus cargo ship. The latest CubeSats were sent on their way at 8:50 p.m. EST Wednesday and 2:40 a.m. Thursday. CubeSats are a class of research spacecraft called nanosatellites and have small, standardized sizes to reduce costs. Two final batches of CubeSats are set for deployment at 11:20 p.m. Thursday and 2:30 a.m. Friday, but more are scheduled to be delivered to the station on the second Orbital commercial resupply mission in May.

Learn more about CubeSats delivered by Cygnus:

Flight Engineers Rick Mastracchio and Koichi Wakata spent part of Thursday training for the robotic grapple and berthing of the SpaceX Dragon cargo craft, which is scheduled to launch from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on March 16 and rendezvous with the station March 18. The crew will use the 57-foot Canadarm2 robotic arm to capture Dragon for its installation on the Earth-facing port of the Harmony node. Dragon will spend about a month berthed to the station during SpaceX’s third commercial resupply services mission before departing for splashdown and recovery in the Pacific Ocean.

Learn more about SpaceX Dragon:

Wakata and Mastracchio also spent some time preparing for an experiment they will conduct Friday with a set of bowling-ball-sized, free-flying robots known as Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Reorient, Experimental Satellites, or SPHERES. Mastracchio charged up the batteries for the SPHERES, and Wakata reviewed experiment procedures. For Friday’s SPHERES-Slosh test session, two SPHERES robots will be attached to opposite ends of a metal frame holding a clear plastic tank partially filled with green-colored water. By studying how liquids slosh around inside containers in microgravity, researchers will learn more about how rocket fuels move around inside their tanks in response to motor thrusts used to push a rocket through space, which in turn can lead to improved fuel efficiency and lower costs for satellite launches.

Read more about SPHERES-Slosh:

Flight Engineer Mike Hopkins collected water samples for testing from the Internal Thermal Control System inside the Kibo laboratory, as well as from the Oxygen Generation System of the station’s regenerative Control and Life Support System.

Later Hopkins joined up with Mastracchio and Wakata to talk with students at Temple University in Philadelphia. The three astronauts answered a variety of questions regarding the scientific research being conducted aboard the orbiting complex and the challenges of living and working in space.

International Space Station Crew Discusses Life in Space with Temple University

Video above: Flight Engineers Mike Hopkins, Rick Mastracchio and Koichi Wakata discuss life and research aboard the orbital outpost with students at Temple University in Philadelphia during an in-flight educational event Feb. 27. Video Credit: NASA TV.

Mastracchio rounded out his day inspecting the hardware for a combustion experiment known as the Burning and Suppression of Solids, or BASS. Materials burn quite differently in the absence of gravity, with some materials actually becoming more flammable than on Earth. BASS takes a look at how a variety of materials burn and extinguish in microgravity, which will lead to lead to improvements in spacecraft materials selection and strategies for putting out accidental fires aboard spacecraft. The research also provides scientists with improved computational models that will aid in the design of fire detection and suppression systems here on Earth.

Wakata meanwhile donned sensors for a 36-hour data collection period of the Circadian Rhythms study. The knowledge gleaned from this experiment not only will provide important insights into the adaptations of the human autonomic nervous system in space over time, but also has significant practical implications by helping to improve physical exercise, rest- and work shifts as well as fostering adequate workplace illumination.

On the Russian side of the complex, Commander Oleg Kotov focused his efforts on replacing hardware associated with the Elektron oxygen-generating system. Flight Engineer Sergey Ryazanskiy collected surface samples throughout the Zarya module, and Flight Engineer Mikhail Tyurin performed routine maintenance on the life-support system in the Zvezda service module.

Image above: Expedition 38 crew members pose for an in-flight crew portrait in the Kibo laboratory of the International Space Station. Image Credit: NASA.

As they near the end of their five-and-a-half-month stay aboard the orbiting laboratory, Kotov and Ryazanskiy also had some time set aside to prepare for their return to Earth. The two cosmonauts and Hopkins, who have been aboard the station since late September, will undock from the station aboard their Soyuz TMA-10M spacecraft on March 10 for a landing in Kazakhstan. Their departure will mark the end of Expedition 38 and the beginning of Expedition 39 under the leadership of Wakata, the first Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut to command the station.

Meanwhile the three flight engineers who will complete the six-person Expedition 39 crew are in their final month of preparations for launch. NASA astronaut Steve Swanson and Russian cosmonauts Alexander Skvortsov and Oleg Artemyev reviewed Russian segment systems Thursday at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center in Star City, Russia. The trio will launch aboard the Soyuz TMA-12M spacecraft from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on March 25 to begin a six-hour express flight to the station.

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

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


NASA Scientists Find Evidence of Water in Meteorite, Reviving Debate Over Life on Mars

Exobiology & Search of extraterrestrial life logo.

February 28, 2014

A team of scientists at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., has found evidence of past water movement throughout a Martian meteorite, reviving debate in the scientific community over life on Mars.

In 1996, a group of scientists at Johnson led by David McKay, Everett Gibson and Kathie Thomas-Keprta published an article in Science announcing the discovery of biogenic evidence in the Allan Hills 84001(ALH84001) meteorite. In this new study, Gibson and his colleagues focused on structures deep within a 30-pound (13.7-kilogram) Martian meteorite known as Yamato 000593 (Y000593). The team reports that newly discovered different structures and compositional features within the larger Yamato meteorite suggest biological processes might have been at work on Mars hundreds of millions of years ago.

The team's findings have been published in the February issue of the journal Astrobiology. The lead author, Lauren White, is based at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Co-authors are Gibson, Thomas-Keprta, Simon Clemett and McKay, all based at Johnson. McKay, who led the team that studied the ALH84001 meteorite, died a year ago.

Microtunnels in Yamato Meteorite From Mars

Image above: This scanning electron microscope image of a polished thin section of a meteorite from Mars shows tunnels and curved microtunnels. Image Credit: NASA.

"While robotic missions to Mars continue to shed light on the planet's history, the only samples from Mars available for study on Earth are Martian meteorites," said White. "On Earth, we can utilize multiple analytical techniques to take a more in-depth look into meteorites and shed light on the history of Mars. These samples offer clues to the past habitability of this planet. As more Martian meteorites are discovered, continued research focusing on these samples collectively will offer deeper insight into attributes which are indigenous to ancient Mars. Furthermore, as these meteorite studies are compared to present day robotic observations on Mars, the mysteries of the planet's seemingly wetter past will be revealed."

Analyses found that the rock was formed about 1.3 billion years ago from a lava flow on Mars. Around 12 million years ago, an impact occurred on Mars which ejected the meteorite from the surface of Mars. The meteorite traveled through space until it fell in Antarctica about 50,000 years ago.

The rock was found on the Yamato Glacier in Antarctica by the Japanese Antarctic Research Expedition in 2000. The meteorite was classified as a nakhlite, a subgroup of Martian meteorites. Martian meteoritic material is distinguished from other meteorites and materials from Earth and the moon by the composition of the oxygen atoms within the silicate minerals and trapped Martian atmospheric gases.

The team found two distinctive sets of features associated with Martian-derived clay. They found tunnel and micro-tunnel structures that thread their way throughout Yamato 000593. The observed micro-tunnels display curved, undulating shapes consistent with bio-alteration textures observed in terrestrial basaltic glasses, previously reported by researchers who study interactions of bacteria with basaltic materials on Earth.

The second set of features consists of nanometer- to-micrometer-sized spherules that are sandwiched between layers within the rock and are distinct from carbonate and the underlying silicate layer. Similar spherical features have been previously seen in the Martian meteorite Nakhla that fell in 1911 in Egypt. Composition measurements of the Y000593 spherules show that they are significantly enriched in carbon compared to the nearby surrounding iddingsite layers.

A striking observation is that these two sets of features in Y000593, recovered from Antarctica after about 50,000 years residence time, are similar to features found in Nakhla, an observed fall collected shortly after landing.

Spheroidal Features in Yamato Meteorite From Mars

Image above: This scanning electron microscope image shows spheroidal features embedded in a layer of iddingsite, a mineral formed by action of water, in a meteorite that came from Mars. Image Credit: NASA.

The authors note that they cannot exclude the possibility that the carbon-rich regions in both sets of features may be the product of abiotic mechanisms: however, textural and compositional similarities to features in terrestrial samples, which have been interpreted as biogenic, imply the intriguing possibility that the Martian features were formed by biotic activity.

"The unique features displayed within the Martian meteorite Yamato 000593 are evidence of aqueous alterations as seen in the clay minerals and the presence of carbonaceous matter associated with the clay phases which show that Mars has been a very active body in its past," said Gibson. "The planet is revealing the presence of an active water reservoir that may also have a significant carbon component.

"The nature and distribution of Martian carbon is one of the major goals of the Mars Exploration Program. Since we have found indigenous carbon in several Mars meteorites, we cannot overstate the importance of having Martian samples available to study in earth-based laboratories. Furthermore, the small sizes of the carbonaceous features within the Yamato 000593 meteorite present major challenges to any analyses attempted by remote techniques on Mars," Gibson added.

"This is no smoking gun," said JPL's White. "We can never eliminate the possibility of contamination in any meteorite. But these features are nonetheless interesting and show that further studies of these meteorites should continue."

More information:

NASA's Johnson Space Center:

Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL):

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

Best regards,

jeudi 27 février 2014

NASA and JAXA Launch New Satellite to Measure Global Rain and Snow

NASA / JAXA - Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) patch.

February 27, 2014

Image above: A Japanese H-IIA rocket with the NASA-Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) Core Observatory onboard, is seen launching from the Tanegashima Space Center in Tanegashima, Japan. Image Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls.

The Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) Core Observatory, a joint Earth-observing mission between NASA and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), thundered into space at 1:37 p.m. EST Thursday, Feb. 27 (3:37 a.m. JST Friday, Feb. 28) from Japan.

GPM Rocket Launch

The four-ton spacecraft launched aboard a Japanese H-IIA rocket from Tanegashima Space Center on Tanegashima Island in southern Japan. The GPM spacecraft separated from the rocket 16 minutes after launch, at an altitude of 247 miles (398 kilometers). The solar arrays deployed 10 minutes after spacecraft separation, to power the spacecraft.

"With this launch, we have taken another giant leap in providing the world with an unprecedented picture of our planet's rain and snow," said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. "GPM will help us better understand our ever-changing climate, improve forecasts of extreme weather events like floods, and assist decision makers around the world to better manage water resources."

The GPM Core Observatory will take a major step in improving upon the capabilities of the Tropical Rainfall Measurement Mission (TRMM), a joint NASA-JAXA mission launched in 1997 and still in operation. While TRMM measured precipitation in the tropics, the GPM Core Observatory expands the coverage area from the Arctic Circle to the Antarctic Circle. GPM will also be able to detect light rain and snowfall, a major source of available fresh water in some regions.

Image above: GPM lifts off to begin its Earth-observing mission. Image Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls.

To better understand Earth's weather and climate cycles, the GPM Core Observatory will collect information that unifies and improves data from an international constellation of existing and future satellites by mapping global precipitation every three hours.

"It is incredibly exciting to see this spacecraft launch," said GPM Project Manager Art Azarbarzin of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. "This is the moment that the GPM Team has been working toward since 2006. The GPM Core Observatory is the product of a dedicated team at Goddard, JAXA and others worldwide. Soon, as GPM begins to collect precipitation observations, we'll see these instruments at work providing real-time information for the scientists about the intensification of storms, rainfall in remote areas and so much more."

The GPM Core Observatory was assembled at Goddard and is the largest spacecraft ever built at the center. It carries two instruments to measure rain and snowfall. The GPM Microwave Imager, provided by NASA, will estimate precipitation intensities from heavy to light rain, and snowfall by carefully measuring the minute amounts of energy naturally emitted by precipitation. The Dual-frequency Precipitation Radar (DPR), developed by JAXA with the National Institute of Information and Communication Technology, Tokyo, will use emitted radar pulses to make detailed measurements of three-dimensional rainfall structure and intensity, allowing scientists to improve estimates of how much water the precipitation holds. Mission operations and data processing will be managed from Goddard.

Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM). Image Credits: NASA/JAXA

"We still have a lot to learn about how rain and snow systems behave in the bigger Earth system," said GPM Project Scientist Gail Skofronick-Jackson of Goddard. "With the advanced instruments on the GPM Core Observatory, we will have for the first time frequent unified global observations of all types of precipitation, everything from the rain in your backyard to storms forming over the oceans to the falling snow contributing to water resources."

"We have spent more than a decade developing DPR using Japanese technology, the first radar of its kind in space," said Masahiro Kojima, JAXA GPM/DPR project manager. "I expect GPM to produce important new results for our society by improving weather forecasts and prediction of extreme events such as typhoons and flooding."

The GPM Core Observatory is the first of NASA's five Earth science missions launching this year. With a fleet of satellites and ambitious airborne and ground-based observation campaigns, NASA monitors Earth's vital signs from land, air and space. NASA also develops new ways to observe and study Earth's interconnected natural systems with long-term data records and computer analysis tools to better see how our planet is changing. The agency freely shares this unique knowledge with the global community and works with institutions in the United States and around the world that contribute to understanding and protecting our home planet.

For more information about NASA's Earth science activities this year, visit:

For more information about GPM, visit: and

Images (mentioned), Video, Text, Credits: NASA / Steve Cole / Goddard Space Flight Center / Rani Gran / Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) / Takao Akutsu.


mercredi 26 février 2014

NASA's Kepler Mission Announces a Planet Bonanza, 715 New Worlds

NASA - Kepler Mission patch.

February 26, 2014

NASA's Kepler mission announced Wednesday the discovery of 715 new planets. These newly-verified worlds orbit 305 stars, revealing multiple-planet systems much like our own solar system.

Nearly 95 percent of these planets are smaller than Neptune, which is almost four times the size of Earth. This discovery marks a significant increase in the number of known small-sized planets more akin to Earth than previously identified exoplanets, which are planets outside our solar system.

Image above: The artist concept depicts multiple-transiting planet systems, which are stars with more than one planet. The planets eclipse or transit their host star from the vantage point of the observer. This angle is called edge-on. Image Credit: NASA.

"The Kepler team continues to amaze and excite us with their planet hunting results," said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. "That these new planets and solar systems look somewhat like our own, portends a great future when we have the James Webb Space Telescope in space to characterize the new worlds.”

Since the discovery of the first planets outside our solar system roughly two decades ago, verification has been a laborious planet-by-planet process. Now, scientists have a statistical technique that can be applied to many planets at once when they are found in systems that harbor more than one planet around the same star.

To verify this bounty of planets, a research team co-led by Jack Lissauer, planetary scientist at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., analyzed stars with more than one potential planet, all of which were detected in the first two years of Kepler's observations -- May 2009 to March 2011.

The research team used a technique called verification by multiplicity, which relies in part on the logic of probability. Kepler observes 150,000 stars, and has found a few thousand of those to have planet candidates. If the candidates were randomly distributed among Kepler's stars, only a handful would have more than one planet candidate. However, Kepler observed hundreds of stars that have multiple planet candidates. Through a careful study of this sample, these 715 new planets were verified.

Kepler Space Telescope. Image Credit: NASA

This method can be likened to the behavior we know of lions and lionesses. In our imaginary savannah, the lions are the Kepler stars and the lionesses are the planet candidates. The lionesses would sometimes be observed grouped together whereas lions tend to roam on their own. If you see two lions it could be a lion and a lioness or it could be two lions. But if more than two large felines are gathered, then it is very likely to be a lion and his pride. Thus, through multiplicity the lioness can be reliably identified in much the same way multiple planet candidates can be found around the same star.

"Four years ago, Kepler began a string of announcements of first hundreds, then thousands, of planet candidates --but they were only candidate worlds," said Lissauer. "We've now developed a process to verify multiple planet candidates in bulk to deliver planets wholesale, and have used it to unveil a veritable bonanza of new worlds."

These multiple-planet systems are fertile grounds for studying individual planets and the configuration of planetary neighborhoods. This provides clues to planet formation.

Four of these new planets are less than 2.5 times the size of Earth and orbit in their sun's habitable zone, defined as the range of distance from a star where the surface temperature of an orbiting planet may be suitable for life-giving liquid water.

One of these new habitable zone planets, called Kepler-296f, orbits a star half the size and 5 percent as bright as our sun. Kepler-296f is twice the size of Earth, but scientists do not know whether the planet is a gaseous world, with a thick hydrogen-helium envelope, or it is a water world surrounded by a deep ocean.

"From this study we learn planets in these multi-systems are small and their orbits are flat and circular -- resembling pancakes -- not your classical view of an atom," said Jason Rowe, research scientist at the SETI Institute in Mountain View, Calif., and co-leader of the research. "The more we explore the more we find familiar traces of ourselves amongst the stars that remind us of home."

This latest discovery brings the confirmed count of planets outside our solar system to nearly 1,700. As we continue to reach toward the stars, each discovery brings us one step closer to a more accurate understanding of our place in the galaxy.

A Sudden Multiplication of Planets

Video above: Today, NASA announced a breakthrough addition to the catalog of new planets. Researchers using Kepler have confirmed 715 new worlds, almost quadrupling the number of planets previously confirmed by the planet-hunting spacecraft. Some of the new worlds are similar in size to Earth and orbit in the habitable zone of their parent stars.

Launched in March 2009, Kepler is the first NASA mission to find potentially habitable Earth-size planets. Discoveries include more than 3,600 planet candidates, of which 961 have been verified as bona-fide worlds.

The findings papers will be published March 10 in The Astrophysical Journal and are available for download at:

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 Kepler space telescope, visit:

Images (mentioned), Video, Text, Credits: NASA / J.D. Harrington / mes Research Center / Michele Johnson.

Best regards,

Spitzer Stares into the Heart of New Supernova in M82

NASA - Spitzer Space Telescope patch.

February 26, 2014

Image above: The closest supernova of its kind to be observed in the last few decades has sparked a global observing campaign involving legions of instruments on the ground and in space, including NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Carnegie Institution for Science.

The closest supernova of its kind to be observed in the last few decades has sparked a global observing campaign involving legions of instruments on the ground and in space, including NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope. With its dust-piercing infrared vision, Spitzer brings an important perspective to this effort by peering directly into the heart of the aftermath of the stellar explosion.

Dust in the supernova's host galaxy M82, also called the "Cigar galaxy," partially obscures observations in optical and high-energy forms of light. Spitzer can, therefore, complement all the other observatories taking part in painting a complete portrait of a once-in-a-generation supernova, which was first spotted in M82 on Jan. 21, 2014. A supernova is a tremendous explosion that marks the end of life for some stars.

"At this point in the supernova's evolution, observations in infrared let us look the deepest into the event," said Mansi Kasliwal, Hubble Fellow and Carnegie-Princeton Fellow at the Observatories of the Carnegie Institution for Science and the principal investigator for the Spitzer observations. "Spitzer is really good for bypassing the dust and nailing down what's going on in and around the star system that spawned this supernova."

Image above: A mosaic image taken by the Hubble Telescope of Messier 82. Image Credit: NASA/ESA.

Supernovas are among the most powerful events in the universe, releasing so much energy that a single outburst can outshine an entire galaxy. The new supernova, dubbed SN 2014J, is of a particular kind known as a Type Ia. This type of supernova results in the complete destruction of a white dwarf star—the small, dense, aged remnant of a typical star like our sun. Two scenarios are theorized to give rise to Type Ia supernovas. First, in a binary star system, a white dwarf gravitationally pulls in matter from its companion star, accruing mass until the white dwarf crosses a critical threshold and blows up. In the second, two white dwarfs in a binary system spiral inward toward each other and eventually collide explosively.

Type Ia supernovas serve a critically important role in gauging the expansion of the universe because they explode with almost exactly the same amount of energy, shining with a near-uniform peak brightness. The fainter a Type Ia supernova looks from our vantage point, the farther away it must be. Accordingly, Type Ia supernovas are referred to as "standard candles," which allow astronomers to pin down the distances to nearby galaxies. Studying SN 2014J will help with understanding the processes behind Type Ia detonations to further refine theoretical models.

Fortuitously, Spitzer had already been scheduled to observe M82 on January 28, a week after students and staff from University College London first spotted SN 2014J on Jan. 21. Subsequent observations, also part of Kasliwal's SPIRITS (SPitzer InfraRed Intensive Transients Survey) program, took place on Feb. 7, 12, 19 and 24 and are slated for March 3.

The supernova is glowing very brightly in the infrared light that Spitzer sees. The telescope was able to observe the supernova before and after it reached its peak brightness. Such early observations with an infrared telescope have only been obtained for a few Type Ia supernovas in the past. Researchers are currently using the data to learn more about how these explosions occur.

Spitzer Space Telescope. Image Credit: NASA

Among the other major space-based observatories used in the M82 viewing campaign are NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, Chandra X-ray Observatory, Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR), Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope, and Swift Gamma Ray Burst Explorer. In addition to Spitzer, key infrared observations are being collected by the airplane-borne Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA).

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, Colo. 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 Space Telescope, visit: and

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


Ice on the Great Lakes in False Color Infrared

NASA - Aqua Mission logo.

Feb. 26, 2014

On February 19, 2014 the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) aboard NASA’s Aqua satellite flew over the Great Lakes and captured this striking false-colored image of the heavily frozen Great Lakes – one of the hardest freeze-ups in four decades.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory (GLERL), ice cover on North America’s Great Lakes peaked at 88.42% on February 12-13 – a percentage not recorded since 1994. The ice extent has surpassed 80% just five times in four decades. The average maximum ice extent since 1973 is just over 50%.

Unusually cold temperatures in the first two months of the year, especially in January, are responsible for the high ice coverage. Very cold air blowing over the surface of the water removes heat from the water at the surface. When the surface temperature drops to freezing, a thin layer of surface ice begins to form. Once ice formation begins, persistently cold temperatures, with or without wind, is the major factor in thickening ice.

The extreme freezing of the lakes is an unusual sight for residents, and has brought tourists flocking to certain locations, such as the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, where Lake Superior’s thick ice has thousands trekking about 1 mile across the lake to visit spectacular frozen ice caves. Frozen lakes also means an end to lake-effect snow – snow that forms when cold, dry air passes over a lake, gaining moisture, then is dumped on the far side. However, ice interferes with marine commerce, pleasure boating and fishing, all of which depend on navigable waterways. It also closes the lakes to migratory birds which flock here in the winter time. Some species, such as White-winged Scoter and Red-necked Grebe, have shifted away, and are being seen in great numbers as far away as Maryland.

In this false-color image, which uses a combination of shortwave infrared, near infrared and red (MODIS bands 7,2,1) to help distinguish ice from snow, water and clouds. Open, unfrozen water appears inky blue-black. Ice is pale blue, with thicker ice appearing brighter and thin, melting ice appearing a darker true-blue. Snow appears blue-green. Clouds are white to blue-green, with the colder or icy clouds appearing blue-green to blue.

NASA’s Aqua satellite

On the day this image was captured, according to NOAA GLERL, the ice concentration covering the great lakes were as follows: Superior, 91.76%; Michigan, 60.35%, Huron 94.63%, Erie, 92.79%, Ontario 20.78% and Lake Saint Claire, 98.78%, making for a total ice concentration of 80.29%. This is less than peak, suggesting that the warmer temperatures in mid-February have allowed some thawing. Temperatures are once again expected to plummet, however, thanks to another “polar vortex” bringing arctic air to the region. NOAA predicts that Friday, February 28 will be the peak of the next arctic outbreak, with lows dropping below 0°F across Michigan.

For more information about NASA’s Aqua satellite mission, visit:

Images, Text,  Credit: NASA/Jeff Schmaltz, MODIS Land Rapid Response Team, NASA GSFC.


mardi 25 février 2014

Radar Images of near-Earth Asteroid 2006 DP14

Asteroid & Comet Watch / NASA - Deep Space Network 40th Anniversary logo.

February 25, 2014

Radar Movie Highlights Asteroid 2006 DP14 - YouTube

Video above: Radar data of asteroid 2006 DP14 were obtained on Feb. 11, 2014. The asteroid is about 1,300 feet (400 meters) long, 660 feet (200 meters) wide. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/GSSR.

A collage of radar images of near-Earth asteroid 2006 DP14 was generated by NASA scientists using the 230-foot (70-meter) Deep Space Network antenna at Goldstone, Calif., on the night of Feb. 11, 2014.

Delay-Doppler radar imaging revealed that the asteroid is about 1,300 feet (400 meters) long, 660 feet (200 meters) wide, and shaped somewhat like a big peanut. The asteroid's period of rotation is about six hours. The asteroid is of a type known as a "contact binary" because it has two large lobes on either end that appear to be in contact. Previous radar data from Goldstone and the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico has shown that at least 10 percent of near-Earth asteroids larger than about 650 feet (200 meters) have contact binary shapes like that of 2006 DP14. The data were obtained over an interval of 2.5 hours as the asteroid completed about half a revolution. The resolution is about 60 feet (19 meters) per pixel.

Goldstone Radar Images of 2006 DP14. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/GSSR

The data were obtained on Feb. 11 between 9:03 a.m. and 11:27 p.m. PST (12:03 a.m. to 2:27 a.m. EST on Feb. 12). At the time of the observations, the asteroid's distance was about 2.6 million miles (4.2 million kilometers) from Earth. That is about 11 times the average distance between Earth and its moon. The asteroid's closest approach to Earth occurred on Feb. 10, at a distance of about 1.5 million miles (2.4 million kilometers).

Radar is a powerful technique for studying an asteroid's size, shape, rotation state, surface features and surface roughness, and for improving the calculation of asteroid orbits. Radar measurements of asteroid distances and velocities often enable computation of asteroid orbits much further into the future than if radar observations weren't available.

NASA places a high priority on tracking asteroids and protecting our home planet from them. In fact, the United States has the most robust and productive survey and detection program for discovering near-Earth objects. To date, U.S. assets have discovered more than 98 percent of the known near-Earth objects.

Goldstone GSSR Solar System RADAR. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/GSSR

In addition to the resources NASA puts into understanding asteroids, it also partners with other U.S. government agencies, university-based astronomers, and space science institutes across the country that are working to track and understand these objects better, often with grants, interagency transfers and other contracts from NASA.

NASA's Near-Earth Object Program at NASA Headquarters, Washington, manages and funds the search, study and monitoring of asteroids and comets whose orbits periodically bring them close to Earth. JPL manages the Near-Earth Object Program Office for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. JPL is a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.

More information about asteroids and near-Earth objects is available at: , and via Twitter at

More information about asteroid radar research is at:

More information about the Deep Space Network is at:

Images (mentioned), Video (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA / JPL / DC Agle.


Bullying black holes force galaxies to stay red and dead

ESA - Herschel Exploring the Cold Universe patch.

25 February 2014

Herschel has discovered massive elliptical galaxies in the nearby Universe containing plenty of cold gas, even though the galaxies fail to produce new stars. Comparison with other data suggests that, while hot gas cools down in these galaxies, stars do not form because jets from the central supermassive black hole heat or stir up the gas and prevent it from turning into stars.

Giant elliptical galaxies are the most puzzling type of galaxy in the Universe. Since they mysteriously shut down their star-forming activity and remain home only to the longest-lived of their stars – which are low-mass ones and appear red – astronomers often call these galaxies 'red and dead'.

Up until now, it was thought that red-and-dead galaxies were poor in cold gas – the vital raw material from which stars are born. While cold gas is abundant in spiral galaxies with lively star formation, the lack of it in giant ellipticals seemed to explain the absence of new stars.

Multi-wavelength view of the elliptical galaxy NGC 5044

Image above: Multi-wavelength view of the elliptical galaxy NGC 5044. Credit: Digitised Sky Survey/NASA Chandra/Southern Observatory for Astrophysical Research/Very Large Array (Robert Dunn et al. 2010).

Astronomers have long been debating the physical processes leading to the end of their star formation. They speculated that these galaxies somehow expelled the cold gas, or that they had simply used it all to form stars in the past. Although the reason was uncertain, one thing seemed to have been established: these galaxies are red and dead because they no longer possess the means to sustain the production of stars.

This view is being challenged by a new study based on data from ESA's Herschel Space Observatory. The results are published in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

"We looked at eight giant elliptical galaxies that nobody had looked at with Herschel before and we were delighted to find that, contrary to previous belief, six out of eight abound with cold gas", explains Norbert Werner from Stanford University in California, USA, who led the study.

This is the first time that astronomers have seen large amounts of cold gas in red-and-dead galaxies that are not located at the centre of a massive galaxy cluster.

The cold gas manifested itself through far-infrared emissions from carbon ions and oxygen atoms. Herschel's sensitivity at these wavelengths was instrumental to the discovery.

"While we see cold gas, there is no sign of ongoing star formation," says co-author Raymond Oonk from ASTRON, the Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy.

"This is bizarre: with plenty of cold gas at their disposal, why aren't these galaxies forming stars?"

The astronomers proceeded to investigate their sample of galaxies across the electromagnetic spectrum, since gas at different temperatures shines brightly at different wavelengths. They used optical images to probe the warm gas – at slightly higher temperatures than the cold one detected with Herschel, and X-ray data from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory to trace the hot gas, up to tens of millions of K.

"In the six galaxies that are rich in cold gas, the X-ray data show tell-tale signs that the hot gas is cooling," says Werner.

This is consistent with theoretical expectations: once cooled, the hot gas would become the warm and cold gas that are observed at longer wavelengths. However, in these galaxies the cooling process somehow stopped, and the cold gas failed to condense and form stars.

Multi-wavelength view of the elliptical galaxy NGC 1399

Image above: Multi-wavelength view of the elliptical galaxy NGC 1399 and its powerful jets. Credit: Digitised Sky Survey/NASA Chandra/Very Large Array (Robert Dunn et al. 2010).

In the other two galaxies of the sample – the ones without cold gas – the hot gas does not appear to be cooling at all.

"The contrasting behaviour of these galaxies may have a common explanation: the central supermassive black hole," adds Oonk.

In some theoretical models, the level of a black hole's activity could explain why gas in a galaxy is able – or not able – to cool and form stars. And this seems to apply for the galaxies studied by Werner and his colleagues, too.

While the six galaxies with plenty of cold gas harbour moderately active black holes at their centres, the other two show a marked difference. In the two galaxies without cold gas, the central black holes are accreting matter at frenzied pace, as confirmed by radio observations showing powerful jets of highly energetic particles that stem from their cores.

Herschel spectrum of the elliptical galaxy NGC 5044

Graphic above: Herschel spectrum of the elliptical galaxy NGC 5044. A strong emission line from ionised carbon (red fitted line) reveals the galaxy contains large amounts of cold gas. Credit: ESA/Herschel/PACS. Acknowledgments: Norbert Werner, Stanford University, CA, USA.

The jets could be an effect of the hot gas cooling down, and flowing towards the centre of the galaxies. This inflow of cold gas can boost the black hole's accretion rate, launching the jets that are observed at radio wavelengths.

The jets, in turn, have the potential to reheat the galaxy's reservoir of cold gas – or even to push it beyond the galaxy's reach. This scenario can explain the absence of star formation in all the galaxies observed in this study and, at the same time, the lack of cold gas in those with powerful jets.

Herschel spectrum of the elliptical galaxy NGC 1399

Graphic above: Herschel spectrum of the elliptical galaxy NGC 1399. The absence of the emission line from ionised carbon suggests this galaxy lacks in cold gas. Credit: ESA/Herschel/PACS. Acknowledgments: Norbert Werner, Stanford University, CA, USA.

"These galaxies are red, but with the giant black holes pumping in their hearts, they are definitely not dead," comments Werner.

"Once again, Herschel has detected something that was never seen before: significant amounts of cold gas in nearby red-and-dead galaxies," notes Göran Pilbratt, Herschel Project Scientist at ESA, "nevertheless, these galaxies do not form stars, and the culprit seems to be the black hole."

Background information

The study presented here is based on observations performed with the Photodetector Array Camera and Spectrometer (PACS) on board ESA's Herschel Space Observatory.

In addition, the astronomers also used optical observations from the Southern Observatory for Astrophysical Research (SOAR) telescope in Chile and archival X-ray data from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory.

Herschel is an ESA space observatory with science instruments provided by European-led Principal Investigator consortia and with important participation from NASA.

The PACS instrument contains an imaging photometer (camera) and an imaging spectrometer. The camera operates in three bands centred on 70, 100, and 160 μm, respectively, and the spectrometer covers the wavelength range between 51 and 220 μm. PACS has been developed by a consortium of institutes led by MPE (Germany) and including UVIE (Austria); KU Leuven, CSL, IMEC (Belgium); CEA, LAM (France); MPIA (Germany); INAF-IFSI/OAA/OAP/OAT, LENS, SISSA (Italy); IAC (Spain). This development has been supported by the funding agencies BMVIT (Austria), ESA-PRODEX (Belgium), CEA/CNES (France), DLR (Germany), ASI/INAF (Italy), and CICYT/MCYT (Spain).

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

Related publication:

N. Werner, et al., "The origin of cold gas in giant elliptical galaxies and its role in fuelling radio-mode AGN feedback", 2014, Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, doi: 10.1093/mnras/stu006.

For more information about Herschel Mission, visit:

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: ESA / Herschel Project Scientist, Göran Pilbratt / ASTRON, Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy Dwingeloo, J. B. Raymond Oonk / Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology and Department of Physics, Stanford University, Norbert Werner.

Best regards,

ESA debris radar detects first space objects

ESA - Space Situational Awareness logo.

25 February 2014

A prototype radar that will help Europe to develop capabilities in space-debris surveillance is performing above expectations, and is showing its capability to detect objects in low orbits.

The radar, installed in the Madrid region of Spain, was handed over to ESA by industry in November after extensive testing.

This novel sensor contains key technologies for detecting space debris in low orbits and is an important step towards operational radars. Building collision warning capabilities would boost the safety of Europe’s satellites in low and medium orbits.

Test radar in Spain

The testbed is already spotting objects of around a metre in size, depending on their altitude and other factors. While this is less than the performance needed for a fully operational system – where around 10 cm is required – it is already sufficient to test and refine new technologies and techniques, and is an important first step.

The radar is in a fully secure area, and all the test and validation activities are performed according to an agreed ESA data policy – the Space Situational Awareness (SSA) Programme Security Instructions – put in place especially for this installation.

During future testing, the radar data will be declassified – filtered against a ‘white list’ of authorised space objects – before being sent to ESA’s SSA system for further processing and cataloguing.

Radar has excellent performance

“During the acceptance tests we realised that the radar was showing excellent performance,” says Gian Maria Pinna, Ground Segment Manager in the SSA programme office.

“Even without a full calibration of the system, which will take several months, we could detect smaller objects and at a longer range than expected.

Landsat 5 followed by radar

“A good example is Landsat-5, which presents a radar diameter of just 3.6 m at the relatively high altitude of 537 km.”

In January, while test tracking the International Space Station – obviously a large target – engineers were puzzled when they detected two objects.

“Then we realised that we had observed the undocking of the much, much smaller Cygnus cargo service craft from the Station.”

Cygnus craft attached to the ISS's robotic arm

The radar has also detected ESA’s GOCE  and Swarm satellites, debris from spent launch stages, and other objects of around a metre.

Orbital debris pose risks

It is estimated that more than 700 000 hazardous debris objects – many just 1–2 cm in size – are in orbit and have the potential to damage or destroy operational satellites.

ISS and Cygnus followed by radar

Any shutdown or loss of services from satellites would seriously affect a wide range of commercial and civil activities, including commercial land, air and sea travel, maritime navigation, telecommunications, information technology and networks, broadcasting, climate monitoring and weather forecasting, to name but a few.

Top European technology

ESA’s SSA programme office and Spain’s Indra Espacio signed a €4.7 million contract to build the radar in 2010. Indra Espacio leads a consortium comprising Indra and Germany’s Fraunhofer Institute for High Frequency Physics and Radar Techniques (FHR).

The test radar has a ‘monostatic’ design, in which the transmitter and receiver are collocated within just a few hundred metres.

It will be complemented by a second test radar using a ‘bistatic’ design – with a geographically separated transmitter and receiver – being developed by a consortium under France’s ONERA, as well as a set of optical and laser-based telescopes for the surveillance and tracking of higher orbits.

ESA's SSA programme illustration

Image above: The Space Situational Awareness program is enabling Europe to detect hazards to critical space infrastructure. This artist's impression illustrates how radars, telescopes and networks on the ground can work in unison to detect space hazards including debris in orbit, harmful space weather and near-Earth objects.

“The acceptance of the first element of such a complex network of sensors marks a significant milestone in ESA’s SSA programme,” says Nicolas Bobrinsky, programme head.

“The technologies being developed within the programme are fundamental for the creation of future operational systems that Europe might deploy to safeguard its satellites against the threats posed by space debris.”

More information:

Indra Espacio:

FHR - Fraunhofer Institute for High Frequency Physics and Radar Techniques:

France’s ONERA:

Space Situational Awareness:

SSA Programme overview:

Image, Text, Credit: ESA / NASA / Orbital Sciences Corp Aerospace.

Best regards,

First Moments of a Solar Flare in Different Wavelengths of Light

NASA - Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) patch.

25 February 2014

On Feb. 24, 2014, the sun emitted a significant solar flare, peaking at 7:49 p.m. EST. NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO), which keeps a constant watch on the sun, captured images of the event. These SDO images from 7:25 p.m. EST on Feb. 24 show the first moments of this X-class flare in different wavelengths of light -- seen as the bright spot that appears on the left limb of the sun. Hot solar material can be seen hovering above the active region in the sun's atmosphere, the corona.

Solar flares are powerful bursts of radiation, appearing as giant flashes of light in the SDO images. 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.

Channel Eruption

Video above: When a solar filament above the Sun's surface (the darker, slanted line seen before the eruption)) became unstable and erupted, it briefly left an empty channel that was almost immediately followed by a series magnetic loops reconnecting (Feb. 18, 2014) over the channel. The action was caught in this combination of two wavelengths of extreme ultraviolet light (AIA 171 and AIA 304). This kind of channel eruption is not rare, but not usually observed so clearly. Still image was taken at 2:17 UT. Credit: Solar Dynamics Observatory/NASA.

For more information about Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO), visit: and

Image, Video, Text, Credits: NASA / SDO.


lundi 24 février 2014

NASA Seeks U.S. Industry Feedback on Options for Future Space Station Cargo Services

NASA logo.

February 24, 2014

International Space Station in orbit. Image Credit: NASA

Over the past two years, NASA and its American industry partners have returned International Space Station resupply launches to U.S. soil, established new national space transportation capabilities and helped create jobs right here on Earth. More than 250 miles overhead, hundreds of science experiments not possible on Earth are being conducted by an international team of astronauts, enabled by these new cargo delivery and return services.

In January, the Obama Administration announced plans to extend the life of the space station through at least 2024 – marking another decade of discoveries to come that will benefit Earth while increasing the knowledge NASA needs to send astronauts to an asteroid and Mars.

NASA has issued a Request for Information (RFI) seeking industry feedback on options to meet the future needs of the International Space Station for cargo delivery of a variety of new science experiments, space station hardware and crew supplies.

View the Request For Information:

The International Space Station is a convergence of science, technology and human innovation that demonstrates new technologies and makes research breakthroughs not possible on Earth. The space station has had crew members continuous on board since November 2000. In that time, it has been visited by more than 200 people and a variety of international and commercial spacecraft. The space station remains the springboard to NASA's next great leap in exploration, including future missions to an asteroid and Mars.

Obama Administration announce plans to extend the life of the space station through at least 2024:

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

Image (mentioned), Text, Credit: NASA.