vendredi 27 juin 2014

Puffing Sun Gives Birth To Reluctant Eruption

NASA / ESA - SOHO Mission patch / NASA - Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) patch.

June 27, 2014

A suite of NASA's sun-gazing spacecraft have spotted an unusual series of eruptions in which a series of fast puffs forced the slow ejection of a massive burst of solar material from the sun's atmosphere. The eruptions took place over a period of three days, starting on Jan. 17, 2013. Nathalia Alzate, a solar scientist at the University of Aberystwyth in Wales, presented findings on what caused the puffs at the 2014 Royal Astronomical Society's National Astronomy Meeting in Portsmouth, England.

Animation above: This animation from the ESA/NASA Solar and Heliospheric Observatory shows puffs emanating from the base of the sun's atmosphere, exploding outward into interplanetary space. These drive a later, larger eruption. The bright light of the sun itself is hidden behind the black circle at the center. Animation Credit: ESA/NASA/SOHO/Alzate.

The sun's outermost atmosphere, the corona, is made of magnetized solar material, called plasma, that has a temperature of millions of degrees and extends millions of miles into space. On Jan. 17, the joint European Space Agency and NASA's Solar and Heliospheric Observatory, or SOHO, spacecraft observed puffs emanating from the base of the corona and rapidly exploding outwards into interplanetary space. The puffs occurred roughly once every three hours. After about 12 hours, a much larger eruption of material began, apparently eased out by the smaller-scale explosions.

By looking at high-resolution images taken by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory, or SDO, and NASA's Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory, or STEREO, over the same time period and in different wavelengths, Alzate and her colleagues could focus on the cause of the puffs and the interaction between the small and large-scale eruptions.

Image above: This combination of three wavelengths of light from NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory shows one of the multiple jets that led to a series of slow coronal puffs on Jan. 17, 2013. The light has been colorized in red, green and blue. Image Credit: Alzate/SDO.

"Looking at the corona in extreme ultraviolet light we see the source of the puffs is a series of energetic jets and related flares," said Alzate. "The jets are localized, catastrophic releases of energy that spew material out from the sun into space. These rapid changes in the magnetic field cause flares, which release a huge amount of energy in a very short time in the form of super-heated plasma, high-energy radiation and radio bursts. The big, slow structure is reluctant to erupt, and does not begin to smoothly propagate outwards until several jets have occurred."

Because the events were observed by multiple spacecraft, each viewing the sun from a different perspective, Alzate and her colleagues were able to resolve the three-dimensional configuration of the eruptions. This allowed them to estimate the forces acting on the slow eruption and discuss possible mechanisms for the interaction between the slow and fast phenomena.

"We still need to understand whether there are shock waves, formed by the jets, passing through and driving the slow eruption," said Alzate. "Or whether magnetic reconfiguration is driving the jets allowing the larger, slow structure to slowly erupt. Thanks to recent advances in observation and in image processing techniques we can throw light on the way jets can lead to small and fast, or large and slow, eruptions from the sun."

Related links:

More about SDO:

More about STEREO:

More about SOHO:

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA / Royal Academy of Sciences.

Best regards,

Closing the recycling circle

ISS - International Space Station patch.

27 June 2014

The International Space Station welcomes up to eight supply vessels a year bringing oxygen, water and food for the six astronauts continuously circling our planet. Building, launching, docking and unloading these spacecraft is costly and time-consuming – is there a better way?


Many mission designers dream of crewed spacecraft that require no resupplies. A vehicle that indefinitely recycles astronaut waste such as exhaled carbon dioxide and urine and turns it into fresh oxygen and water like a miniature Earth would be ideal.

Even a half-closed ecosystem would save a great deal of planning and weight, freeing up space for more experiments and travel.

Our ecosystem

ESA’s Melissa project has been working on this goal for over 25 years by looking at how to fit bacteria, algae, plants, chemicals and physical processes together into a self-sustaining circuit that turns astronaut waste into fresh supplies. 

Spirulina bioreactors

The ‘Melissa loop’ is about to take off. All around the world – and soon above it – key pieces of the puzzle are being tested to see how they fit into the whole.


First up is a photo-bioreactor that uses light to power organisms for turning unwanted carbon dioxide into something we can use.

Bioreactors cultivate organisms in closed containers but getting a species to thrive is no easy task. As the occupants grow they need space and different lighting. And continuously drawing the good stuff out of the reactor ready for human consumption cannot be allowed to disturb the mini-ecosystem.

Spirulina astronaut food

The Melissa team has made great progress in this domain and is ready to test their system in space. In the next 12 months they will send Spirulina algae to the International Space Station to see how well it grows in microgravity.

Spirulina has been harvested for food in South America and Africa for centuries. It turns carbon dioxide into oxygen, multiplies rapidly and can also be eaten as a delicious protein-rich astronaut meal.

The first experiment will simply assess how Spirulina adapts to weightlessness so researchers can fine-tune the unit.


The next step is a hands-on test: an experiment that mimics astronauts’ breathing will be connected to the bioreactor so the Spirulina can grow on a steady stream of carbon dioxide, delivering oxygen in return.

If these early tests in space go well, the team will be a long way towards the ultimate goal of recycling carbon dioxide, water and organic waste into food, water and oxygen.

Related links:

About research in space:

How it began:

MELiSSA’s future in space:

Images, Text, Credits: ESA / NASA / SCK / CEN.


First Image Data Acquisition by DAICHI-2 (ALOS-2)

JAXA - ALOS-2 (DAICHI-2) Mission logo.

June 27, 2014 (JST)

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) acquired images from the Phased Array Type L-band Aperture Rader-2 (PALSAR-2)* aboard the Advanced Land Observing Satellite-2 “DAICHI-2” (ALOS-2) as shown in the following attachment. The DAICHI-2 was launched on May 24, 2014, and it is currently under initial functional verification. The images were captured during the verification stage.

The DAICHI-2's observation data is expected to contribute to understanding damages from a disaster, monitoring deforestation, and sea ice observation in the Sea of Okhotsk and Arctic area.

JAXA is continuing the initial functional verification to confirm that the DAICHI-2 satisfies its designated performances. After the confirmation, observation data will be calibrated from mid August. We plan to start offering images to the general public in late November.


The PALSAR-2 is the only satellite onboard synthetic aperture radar using the L-band frequency, which is suitable for observing diastrophism and the Earth's environment. It can perform observations on the Earth's surface regardless of weather conditions and the time of day.

The following are images acquired by the PALSAR-2 aboard the DAICHI-2 (ALOS-2) during its test observation between June 19 through 21 (Japan Standard Time).

Image 1: Observation image of Kanto Region by PALSAR-2

Image 1 shows the observation image by PALSAR-2 with its strip map mode (resolution of about three meters) at around 11:43 a.m. on June 19 (Japan Standard Time) and an attached map indicates the observed area. The resolution of three meters is the world’s best for the L-band synthetic aperture radar aboard an Earth observation satellite. With this high resolution, the DAICHI-2 is expected to understand the situation at a disaster-hit area more precisely.

Image 2: Comparison of images taken by PALSAR-2 and other previous satellites (Urayasu City, Tokyo Disney Land Area).

Image 2 is an enlarged version of the image around Urayasu city area in Image 1 (right), and, for comparison, the images of the same area taken by two other L-band synthetic aperture radars are also displayed. One is shot by the ALOS, which was launched in 2006 and acquired the image in the same year, and the other is the Japanese Earth Recourse Satellite -1 (JERS-1 or FUYO-1), which was launched 1992 and observed the area in the same year. You can see the resolution of the DAICHi-2 is higher compared to the past satellites.

Image 3: Observation image of Izuoshima Island by PALSAR-2

The left image of the Image 3 is an enlarged version of the image of Izuoshima area in Image 1. The right image is a bird’s eye view image compiled by using altitude data acquired by the PRISM aboard the DAICHI. We can still see the scar of a large scale landslide by the typhoon 26 in October 2013, even almost eight months have passed (the dark area circled by red.) The vegetation has not recovered there yet. Image 3 was colored* spuriously using polarization data acquired through the observation in order to understand the land cover classification more precisely. Roughly speaking, green indicates vegetation, light purple and yellow-green are urban areas, and dark purple is barren areas.

*Red, green and blue are assigned to HH, HV, and HH/HV polarization waves respectively to compile a polarization wave colored image.

Image 4: Nishinoshima Island observed by PALSAR-2 (right) and the same island taken by the synthetic aperture radar aboard airplane (left).

Image 4 shows two images of Nishinoshima Island. The right one was acquired by the PALSAR-2 with the strip map mode (about 3-meter resolution) at 10:53 p.m. on June 20, 2014. The left one is taken by the L-band synthetic aperture radar (Pi-SAR-L2) aboard an airplane on February 4, 2014. When you compare the two, the island grew bigger by an eruption in about four months. (The incremented area is estimated to be 0.67 km2 from the images.) The observation of the island was conducted during the night, and, it also proves that the synthetic aperture radar can penetrate through smoke from the eruption, thus the PALSAR-2 can monitor such an eruption activity continuously.

Image 5: Observation image around Mt. Fuji by PALSAR-2

Image 5 (A) is an image acquired by the PALSAR-2 with strip map mode (about 3-meter resolution) at 10:55 p.m. on June 20, 2014. The image was colored* spuriously using polarization data acquired through the observation in order to understand the land cover classification more precisely. Roughly speaking, green indicates vegetation, light purple and yellowish green are urban areas, and dark purple is barren areas. (B) is an enlarged image around the tip of Mt. Fuji. (C) is a comparison with the image taken by the PALSAR aboard the DAICHI (ALOS.) When you compare them, you can see that visibility is significantly increased, thus roads to the top of Mt. Fuji and its crater are clearly observed.

*Red, green and blue are assigned to HH, HV, and HH/HV polarization waves respectively to compile a polarization wave colored image.

Image 6: Deforestation in Amazon captured by PALSAR-2

Image 6 (A) shows the deforestation in the east region of Roraima in Brazil in comparison to the same region taken in 2009. The image (A) was compiled by combining the one (B) acquired by the PALSAR-2 on June 21, 2014, and the other (C) shot by PALSAR (aboard the DAICHI) in 2009 and adding colors. (Sky-blue indicates non-forest areas, gray is forests, red is deforested areas in five years.) The total deforested space reaches 25.0 km2 within the area shown in this image. Observation by the PALSAR-2, which is suitable for measuring forestry with the L-band radio waves, will enable to perform the global scale forest monitoring. Therefore, the DAICHI-2 is expected to significantly contribute to the estimation of biomass of forests, which is deeply related to climate change and forestry control.

Related links:

PALSAR-2 movies [YouTube]:

Interactive images [DAICHI-2 Topics]:

High resolution images [JAXA Digital Archives]:

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


jeudi 26 juin 2014

Astronaut health check with single drop of blood

ISS - International Space Station logo.

26 June 2014

ESA is building a prototype tester for crews on the International Space Station to provide diagnoses within a few minutes from a pinprick of blood. The ultimate device will offer rapid health checks and results for scientific research.

The droplet is placed on a portable device built around a disc like a mini-DVD. The disc is set spinning to separate the sample into plasma and serum for a whole range of simultaneous tests.

On the ground, there are already numerous applications – the automated laboratory unit covers illnesses such as heart disease, prostate cancer, diabetes and liver disease.

Astronaut blood sampling

The space device is being developed by Irish company Radisens Diagnostic, which began working with ESA in 2011.

Radisens Chief Executive Officer Jerry O’Brien watched the tester spin in his office one evening when he realised “you don’t need gravity for this to work – spinning it in space should work just as well.

"Our subsequent approach has been to leverage our commercial developments for use in space as well. Potentially the technology could be ready for use in orbit within this decade."

  Diagnostic device

The first phase of the partnership with ESA assessed its suitability for space, with this new phase intending to design practical prototypes for use on the Station and other future manned space missions.

Weightless living aboard the confined quarters of the orbital outpost can lead to various negative consequences, but the day-by-day oversight by medical experts on the ground is limited.

“What Radisens will develop is of the utmost interest,” comments ESA’s Francois Gaubert. “Being able to perform rapid analysis of astronauts’ blood samples and monitor their physiological parameters aboard the Station, without having to transport the samples down to labs on the ground, would prove extremely useful.”

Diagnostic mini-disc at device's heart

The approach is also intended for use on Earth, freeing up specialist hospital labs by shifting some routine testing to local doctors’ surgeries.

“Space is proving to be a very fertile ground for Irish companies in developing innovative technologies and proving their performance in extreme environments,” noted Seán Sherlock, Ireland’s Minister for Research & Innovation.

“The Radisens example also clearly shows how technologies developed for space can have a major societal impact here on Earth in improving human healthcare.”

The company is being helped through ESA’s General Support Technology Programme, which turns promising prototypes into space-ready hardware.

This contract is part of a dedicated scheme that targets the development of market-oriented technologies, funded equally by ESA and the partner company.

Companies within participating ESA Member States are free to submit proposals at any time.

Related links:

Radisens Diagnostics:

About GSTP:

Images, Text, Credits: ESA / Radisens Diagnostics / Grace Labanyi, Enterprise Ireland.


mercredi 25 juin 2014

A New View: NASA/NOAA Water Vapor Animations Over Oceans

NASA / NOAA - Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites (GOES) logo.

June 25, 2014

Knowing where water vapor is in the atmosphere is one of many factors forecasters use to identify weather features. The NASA/NOAA GOES Project has now created two new types of animations based on satellite data that indicate where water vapor is moving over the Atlantic and Eastern Pacific oceans.

Observations from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites (GOES) measure the local air temperature in kelvins (degrees Kelvin) at different layers of the atmosphere. "The different temperature ranges are color coded in the animations so that the magenta color indicates areas where clear, dry air penetrates lower in the atmosphere,” said Dennis Chesters, the flight project scientist for the NASA/NOAA GOES Program at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. "These animations track mid-level dry-air winds that are otherwise unknown to weather forecasters."

The animations also provide wind data in cloudless regions that can be beneficial to pilots and improve long-range weather forecasts. There is one image every three hours from the full-disk scans for the previous five days.

Animation above: The movement of upper-air water vapor over the Eastern Pacific is shown using GOES satellite air temperature data. High, cold clouds are white. High, cold, clear air (around -28 F) is blue. Lower, warmer, dry air (around -10 F) is magenta (where clear, dry air penetrates lower in the atmosphere). Image Credit: NASA/NOAA GOES Project Dennis Chesters.

Meteorologists use water vapor imagery to analyze location and movement of water vapor moisture in the upper and middle levels of the atmosphere. Satellite instruments such as those on GOES can detect water vapor in the infrared spectrum between the 6.7 to 7.3 micrometer wavelength ranges. Water vapor seen at these infrared wavelengths is in the upper and middle levels of the troposphere, where the winds are ruled by large-scale air masses. 

Chesters created the animations using data from each of the two GOES satellites to create water vapor movies of the Atlantic and Eastern Pacific oceans. The movies are created with data from GOES infrared 6.7 micron band. Chesters noted that at 6.7 microns, we see down only halfway into the atmosphere, roughly to the altitude that jet airlines cruise.

Animation above: This GOES animation indicates the movement of upper-air water vapor over the Atlantic Ocean. The infrared glow from the top layer of water vapor corresponds to the air temperature: high cold clouds (white), high cold clear air (blue) (around -28 F), for lower, warm, dry air (magenta) around -10 F. Image Credit: NASA/NOAA GOES Project Dennis Chesters.

NOAA's GOES-East (or GOES-13) and GOES-West (or GOES-15) sit 60 degrees apart in a fixed orbit over Earth and provide forecasters with a look at the movement of weather systems in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. The GOES satellites collect full disk images (showing one side of Earth) of the eastern and western sides of the Americas every three hours, providing eight views per day of the clouds over the entire Western Hemisphere. Overlaid on maps, the time-series of GOES cloud images provide a review of the large-scale weather. Where there are no clouds, the water vapor channel tracks the winds in the upper atmosphere.

In regions where the air is dry, the colors appear warmer and brighter because we can see deeper into the atmosphere. The edges of these dry slots often contain jet streams and turbulence between the air masses. Identification of jet streams is important for air travel. Jet streams can be helpful and detrimental to pilots, so the airline industry uses these water vapor images to adjust flight routes. A jet stream is a fast-moving horizontal or tubular current of air that primarily flows west to east. For example, airplanes can fly in the same direction as a jet stream and get a push. Conversely, to fly into a jet stream would require more fuel, take longer to travel and may be turbulent.

Another benefit of the animations is that they are also useful wind-tracers of the middle atmosphere over the open oceans, where there are no weather balloons. "Consequently, global 'water vapor winds' are estimated from the movement of these features and used in numerical weather models to improve long-range forecasts," Chesters said. "For instance, the dry slot between Hawaii and Southern California sometimes spins up into a whirlwind that moves ashore and would surprise the southwestern U.S. if NOAA's GOES-West satellite had not detected it."

To see the GOES satellite animations, visit the NASA GOES Project webpage and click on "Upper-air water vapor movie." The movies are downloadable from the site and updated every hour.

NOAA manages the GOES program, establishes requirements, provides all funding and distributes environmental satellite data for the United States. NASA Goddard procures and manages the design, development and launch of the satellites for NOAA on a cost reimbursable basis.

Related links:

View dual-ocean animations from NASA's GOES Project website:

More information on GOES from NOAA:

Animations (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center / Rob Gutro.


Cassini Celebrates 10 Years Exploring Saturn

Cassini 10 Years at Saturn logo.

June 25, 2014

Cassini Saturn Arrival

Video above: A look back at Cassini's arrival at Saturn. Video Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

It has been a decade since a robotic traveler from Earth first soared over rings of ice and fired its engine to fall forever into the embrace of Saturn. On June 30, the Cassini mission will celebrate 10 years of exploring the planet, its rings and moons.

The Cassini spacecraft, carrying the European Space Agency's Huygens probe, arrived in the Saturn system on June 30, 2004, for a four-year primary mission. Since 2008, NASA has granted the mission three extensions, allowing scientists an unprecedented opportunity to observe seasonal changes as the planet and its retinue completed one-third of their nearly 30-year-long trek around the sun.

Image above: Cassini completed its four-year primary mission in 2008 and went on to perform dozens more flybys of Titan, Enceladus and Saturn's other icy moons through its 10th anniversary in 2014. The mission may continue through 2017. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

"Having a healthy, long-lived spacecraft at Saturn has afforded us a precious opportunity," said Linda Spilker, Cassini project scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. "By having a decade there with Cassini, we have been privileged to witness never-before-seen events that are changing our understanding of how planetary systems form and what conditions might lead to habitats for life."

After 10 years at Saturn, the stalwart spacecraft has beamed back to Earth hundreds of gigabytes of scientific data, enabling the publication of more than 3,000 scientific reports. Representing just a sampling, 10 of Cassini’s top accomplishments and discoveries are:

-- The Huygens probe makes first landing on a moon in the outer solar system (Titan)

-- Discovery of active, icy plumes on the Saturnian moon Enceladus

-- Saturn’s rings revealed as active and dynamic -- a laboratory for how planets form

-- Titan revealed as an Earth-like world with rain, rivers, lakes and seas

-- Studies of Saturn's great northern storm of 2010-2011

-- Studies reveal radio-wave patterns are not tied to Saturn’s interior rotation, as previously thought

-- Vertical structures in the rings imaged for the first time

-- Study of prebiotic chemistry on Titan

-- Mystery of the dual, bright-dark surface of the moon Iapetus solved

-- First complete view of the north polar hexagon and discovery of giant hurricanes at both of Saturn's poles

"It’s incredibly difficult to sum up 10 extraordinary years of discovery in a short list, but it’s an interesting exercise to think about what the mission will be best remembered for many years in the future," Spilker said.

Further details about each of these top-10 discoveries are available at:

In celebration of the 10th anniversary, members of the Cassini team selected some of their favorite images for a gallery, describing in their own words what makes the images special to them. The gallery is available at:

While Cassini was originally approved for a four-year study of the Saturn system, the project's engineers and scientists had high hopes that the mission might carry on longer, and designed the system for endurance. The spacecraft has been remarkably trouble-free, and from an engineering standpoint, the main limiting factor for Cassini's lifetime now is how much propellant is left in its tanks. The mission owes a great deal of its longevity to skillful and efficient piloting by the mission's navigation and operations teams.

Cassini spacecraft around Saturn. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

"Our team has done a fantastic job optimizing trajectories to save propellant, and we've learned to operate the spacecraft to get the most out of it that we possibly can," said Earl Maize, Cassini project manager at JPL. "We're proud to celebrate a decade of exploring Saturn, and we look forward to many discoveries still to come."

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, manages the mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

More information about Cassini is available at the following sites: and and

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

Best regards,

Curiosity Self-Portrait at 'Windjana' Drilling Site

NASA - Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) patch.

June 25, 2014

Curiosity Self-Portrait at 'Windjana' Drilling Site

NASA's Curiosity Mars rover used the camera at the end of its arm in April and May 2014 to take dozens of component images combined into this self-portrait where the rover drilled into a sandstone target called "Windjana." The camera is the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI), which previously recorded portraits of Curiosity at two other important sites during the mission:  "Rock Nest" ( and "John Klein" (

Winjana is within a science waypoint site called "The Kimberley," where sandstone layers with different degrees of resistance to wind erosion are exposed close together.

The view does not include the rover's arm.  It does include the hole in Windjana produced by the hammering drill on Curiosity's arm collecting a sample of rock powder from the interior of the rock.  The hole is surrounded by grayish cuttings on top of the rock ledge to the left of the rover.  The Mast Camera (Mastcam) atop the rover's remote sensing mast is pointed at the drill hole.  A Mastcam image of the drill hole from that perspective is at  The hole is 0.63 inch (1.6 centimeters) in diameter.  The rover's wheels are 20 inches (0.5 meter) in diameter.

Most of the component frames of this mosaic view were taken during the 613th Martian day, or sol, of Curiosity's work on Mars (April 27, 2014).  Frames showing Windjana after completion of the drilling were taken on Sol 627 (May 12, 2014).  The hole was drilled on Sol 621 (May 5, 2014).

MAHLI was built by Malin Space Science Systems, San Diego.  NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the Mars Science Laboratory Project for the NASA Science Mission Directorate, Washington. JPL designed and built the project's Curiosity rover.

JPL manages NASA's Mars Science Laboratory Project for NASA's Science Mission Directorate at the agency’s headquarters in Washington, and built the project's Curiosity rover.

NASA’s Mars Curiosity Rover Marks First Martian Year with Mission Successes:

For more information about Curiosity, visit: and

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

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS.

Increased height of the ISS orbit

ISS - International Space Station patch.


June 25 underwent elective correction orbit of the International Space Station.

According to calculations by the ballistic and navigation support Mission Control Center FSUE TsNIIMash today in 14 hours 41 minutes Moscow time included engines service module Zvezda, who worked 63.9 seconds. As a result, ISS received increment speed of 1 m/sec. The average height of the station's orbit increased by 1.8 km and reached 415.7 km.

International Space Station (ISS)

Orbit correction station flight was performed in order to create optimal conditions for docking with the ISS cargo spacecraft Progress M-24M, the launch of which is scheduled for July 24, 2014 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome.

ROSCOSMOS Press Release:

Image, Text, Credits: Roscosmos press service / ROSCOSMOS / NASA / Translation: Aerospace.


mardi 24 juin 2014

CERN announces LHC restart schedule

CERN - European Organization for Nuclear Research logo.

24 June 2014

The Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the largest and most powerful particle accelerator in the world, has started to get ready for its second three-year run. Cool down of the vast machine has already begun in preparation for research to resume early in 2015 following a long technical stop to prepare the machine for running at almost double the energy of run 1. The last LHC magnet interconnection was closed on 18 June 2014 and one sector of 1/8 of the machine has already been cooled to operating temperature. The accelerator chain that supplies the LHC’s particle beams is currently starting up, with beam in the Proton Synchrotron accelerator last Wednesday for the first time since 2012.

"There is a new buzz about the laboratory and a real sense of anticipation," says CERN Director General Rolf Heuer, speaking at a press conference at the EuroScience Open Forum
External Links icon
 (ESOF) meeting in Copenhagen. "Much work has been carried out on the LHC over the last 18 months or so, and it’s effectively a new machine, poised to set us on the path to new discoveries."

Over the last 16 months, the LHC has been through a major programme of maintenance and upgrading, along with the rest of CERN’s accelerator complex, some elements of which have been in operation since 1959. Some 10,000 superconducting magnet interconnections of were consolidated in order to prepare the LHC machine for running at its design energy.

"The machine is coming out of a long sleep after undergoing an important surgical operation," says Frédérick Bordry, CERN’s Director for Accelerators and Technology. "We are now going to wake it up very carefully and go through many tests before colliding beams again early next year. The objective for 2015 is to run the physics programme at 13 TeV."

Image above: The Large Hadron Collider is being prepared for its second three-year run (Image: CERN).

The LHC experiments also took advantage of this long pause to upgrade their particle detectors. "The discovery of a Higgs boson was just the beginning of the LHC’s journey," said senior CERN physicist Fabiola Gianotti at the same press conference. "The increase in energy opens the door to a whole new discovery potential."

The Higgs boson, first mentioned in a 1964 paper by Peter Higgs, is linked to the mechanism, proposed the same year by Higgs and independently by Robert Brout and François Englert, that gives mass to fundamental particles. During its first three years, the LHC ran at a collision energy of 7 to 8 TeV delivering particle collisions to four major experiments: ATLAS, CMS, ALICE and LHCb. With the large amount of data provided by the LHC during this first period, the ATLAS and CMS experiments were able to announce the discovery of the long-sought Higgs boson on 4 July 2012, paving the way for the award of the 2013 Nobel Prize in physics to theorists François Englert and Peter Higgs.

By providing collisions at energies never reached in a particle accelerator before, the LHC will open a new window for potential discovery, allowing further studies on the Higgs boson and potentially addressing unsolved mysteries such as dark matter. The ordinary matter of which we, and everything visible in the universe is composed, makes up just 5% of what the universe is made of. The remainder is dark matter and energy, so the stakes for LHC run 2 are high.

CERN’s accelerator complex: Restart schedule:

- 2 June 2014     Restart of the Proton Synchrotron Booster

- 18 June 2014     Restart of the Proton Synchrotron (PS)

- Early July     Powering tests at the Super Proton Synchrotron (SPS)

- Mid-July     Physics programme to restart at the ISOLDE facility and at the PS

- Mid-August     Antimatter Physics programme to restart at the Antiproton Decelerator

- Mid-October     Physics programme to restart at the SPS

- Early 2015     Beam back into the Large Hadron Collider (LHC)

- Spring 2015     Physics programme to restart at the LHC experiments


CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, is one of the world’s largest and most respected centres for scientific research. Its business is fundamental physics, finding out what the Universe is made of and how it works. At CERN, the world’s largest and most complex scientific instruments are used to study the basic constituents of matter — the fundamental particles. By studying what happens when these particles collide, physicists learn about the laws of Nature.

The instruments used at CERN are particle accelerators and detectors. Accelerators boost beams of particles to high energies before they are made to collide with each other or with stationary targets. Detectors observe and record the results of these collisions.

Founded in 1954, the CERN Laboratory sits astride the Franco–Swiss border near Geneva. It was one of Europe’s first joint ventures and now has 20 Member States.

Related links:

Large Hadron Collider (LHC):

EuroScience Open Forum (ESOF):





Image (mentioned), Text, Credits: CERN / Cian O'Luanaigh.


CERN experiments report new Higgs boson measurements

CERN - European Organization for Nuclear Research logo.

24 June 2014

In a paper published in the journal Nature Physics today, the CMS experiment at CERN reports new results on an important property of the Higgs particle, whose discovery was announced by the ATLAS and CMS experiments on 4 July 2012. The CMS result follows preliminary results from both experiments, which both reported strong evidence for the fermionic decay late in 2013.

The Higgs boson is associated with a mechanism first put forward in 1964 by Robert Brout, François Englert and Peter Higgs to account for the different ranges of two fundamental forces of nature. Now referred to as BEH, this mechanism is postulated to give rise to the masses of all the fundamental particles. In order to test that idea fully, it is necessary to measure the direct decay of the Higgs boson into all kinds of particles.

When the Higgs boson discovery was announced in 2012, it was based on measurements of the decay of the Higgs to other bosons, the carriers of nature’s forces. The results reported by ATLAS and CMS discuss the decay of Higgs bosons directly to fermions, the particles that make up matter.

The measurements from both have given substantial evidence that the Higgs boson decays directly to fermions at a rate consistent with that predicted by the Standard Model of particle physics, the theory that accounts for the fundamental particles of visible matter and the interactions that work between them, giving structure to matter.

Image above: An artist’s approximation of a collision of two protons that produce a Higgs boson. Image Credit: CERN.

"With our on-going analyses, we are really starting to understand the BEH mechanism in depth," says CMS spokesperson Tiziano Camporesi. "So far, it is behaving exactly as predicted by theory."

"These results show the power of the detectors in allowing us to do precision Higgs physics," says ATLAS spokesperson Dave Charlton. "We’re coming close to achieving all we can on the Higgs analysis with run 1 data, and are all looking forward to new data when the LHC restarts in 2015."

The Large Hadron Collider, CERN’s flagship research facility, has been off-line for maintenance and upgrading in last 18 months. Preparations are now underway for it to restart early in 2015.

More information will be available as results are announced at the International Conference on High Energy Physics, ICHEP, which starts in Valencia, Spain, on 2 July.

Links to relevant ATLAS and CMS papers/notes:

CMS Collaboration, "Evidence for the direct decay of the 125 GeV Higgs boson to fermions” - Nature Physics (2014):

CMS Collaboration, “Search for the standard model Higgs boson produced in association with a W or a Z boson and decaying to bottom quarks”:

CMS Collaboration, “Evidence for the 125 GeV Higgs boson decaying to a pair of tau leptons”:

ATLAS Collaboration, “Evidence for Higgs Boson Decays to the tau+tau- Final State with the ATLAS Detector” - 28 November 2013:

ATLAS Collaboration, “Updated coupling measurements of the Higgs boson with the ATLAS detector using up to 25/fb of proton-proton collision data” - 20 March 2014:


CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, is one of the world’s largest and most respected centres for scientific research. Its business is fundamental physics, finding out what the Universe is made of and how it works. At CERN, the world’s largest and most complex scientific instruments are used to study the basic constituents of matter — the fundamental particles. By studying what happens when these particles collide, physicists learn about the laws of Nature.

The instruments used at CERN are particle accelerators and detectors. Accelerators boost beams of particles to high energies before they are made to collide with each other or with stationary targets. Detectors observe and record the results of these collisions.

Founded in 1954, the CERN Laboratory sits astride the Franco–Swiss border near Geneva. It was one of Europe’s first joint ventures and now has 20 Member States.

Related links:

Higgs particle:

CMS experiment:


Large Hadron Collider (LHC):

International Conference on High Energy Physics:

Image (mentioned), Text, Credits: CERN / Cian O'Luanaigh.


Roscosmos continues cooperation with the International Charter "Space and Major Disasters"



Due to the emergency situation in the state of Paraná (Brazil) as a result of floods, 16.06.2014, the International Charter has been activated. Roscosmos, as a member of the Charter since 2013, has carried out survey of the affected area using a spacecraft Canopus-V.

(Click on the image for enlarge)

Image above: Fragment of space images from the spacecraft "Canopus-V" for the city 22/6/2014.

The obtained data were processed at the Research Center for Earth Operative Monitoring (NTs OMZ) JSC "Russian Space Systems" and promptly provided in the Charter to monitor the situation in the affected area.

Canopus-V spacecraft

ROSCOSMOS Press Release:

Images, Text, Credits: Roscosmos press service / ROSCOSMOS / Translation: Aerospace.


Puzzling X-rays point to dark matter

ESA - XMM-Newton Mission patch / NASA - Chandra X-ray Observatory patch.

24 June 2014

Astronomers using ESA and NASA high-energy observatories have discovered a tantalising clue that hints at an elusive ingredient of our Universe: dark matter.

Image above: Perseus galaxy cluster. Credit: Chandra: NASA/CXC/SAO/E.Bulbul, et al.; XMM-Newton: ESA.

Although thought to be invisible, neither emitting nor absorbing light, dark matter can be detected through its gravitational influence on the movements and appearance of other objects in the Universe, such as stars or galaxies.

Based on this indirect evidence, astronomers believe that dark matter is the dominant type of matter in the Universe – yet it remains obscure.

Now a hint may have been found by studying galaxy clusters, the largest cosmic assemblies of matter bound together by gravity.

Galaxy clusters not only contain hundreds of galaxies, but also a huge amount of hot gas filling the space between them.

However, measuring the gravitational influence of such clusters shows that the galaxies and gas make up only about a fifth of the total mass – the rest is thought to be dark matter.

The gas is mainly hydrogen and, at over 10 million degrees celsius, is hot enough to emit X-rays. Traces of other elements contribute additional X-ray 'lines' at specific wavelengths.

Examining observations by ESA's XMM-Newton and NASA's Chandra spaceborne telescopes of these characteristic lines in 73 galaxy clusters, astronomers stumbled on an intriguing faint line at a wavelength where none had been seen before.

Image above: Mysterious signal in the Perseus galaxy cluster. Credit: NASA/CXC/SAO/E.Bulbul, et al.

"If this strange signal had been caused by a known element present in the gas, it should have left other signals in the X-ray light at other well-known wavelengths, but none of these were recorded," says Dr Esra Bulbul from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA, lead author of the paper discussing the results.

"So we had to look for an explanation beyond the realm of known, ordinary matter."

The astronomers suggest that the emission may be created by the decay of an exotic type of subatomic particle known as a 'sterile neutrino', which is predicted but not yet detected.

Ordinary neutrinos are very low-mass particles that interact only rarely with matter via the so-called weak nuclear force as well as via gravity. Sterile neutrinos are thought to interact with ordinary matter through gravity alone, making them a possible candidate as dark matter.

"If the interpretation of our new observations is correct, at least part of the dark matter in galaxy clusters could consist of sterile neutrinos," says Dr Bulbul.

The surveyed galaxy clusters lie at a wide range of distances, from more than a hundred million light-years to a few billion light-years away. The mysterious, faint signal was found by combining multiple observations of the clusters, as well as in an individual image of the Perseus cluster, a massive structure in our cosmic neighbourhood.

The implications of this discovery may be far-reaching, but the researchers are being cautious. Further observations with XMM-Newton, Chandra and other high-energy telescopes of more clusters are needed before the connection to dark matter can be confirmed.

"The discovery of these curious X-rays was possible thanks to the large XMM-Newton archive, and to the observatory's ability to collect lots of X-rays at different wavelengths, leading to this previously undiscovered line," comments Norbert Schartel, ESA's XMM-Newton Project Scientist.

"It would be extremely exciting to confirm that XMM-Newton helped us find the first direct sign of dark matter.

"We aren't quite there yet, but we're certainly going to learn a lot about the content of our bizarre Universe while getting there."
More information

"Detection of an unidentified emission line in the stacked X-ray spectrum of galaxy clusters," by E. Bulbul et al. is published in the 1 July 2014 issue of the Astrophysical Journal:

For more information about NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory, visit:

For more information about ESA's XMM-Newton:

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: ESA / Markus Bauer / XMM-Newton Project Scientist, Norbert Schartel / Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, Esra Bulbul.

Best regards,

Whale of a target: harpooning space debris

ESA - Clean Space program logo.

24 June 2014

Faced with the challenge of capturing tumbling satellites to clear key orbits, ESA is considering turning to an ancient terrestrial technology: the harpoon.

Used since the Stone Age, first to spear fish and later to catch whales, the humble harpoon is being looked at for snagging derelict space hardware.

Decades of launches have left Earth surrounded by a halo of space junk: more than 17 000 trackable objects larger than a coffee cup, threatening working missions with catastrophic collision. Even a 1 cm nut could slam into a valuable satellite with the force of a hand grenade.

Harpooning in space

The only way to control the debris cloud across crucial lower orbits – like those that allow observation satellites to go on monitoring our planet at the same local time of day – is to remove large items such as derelict satellites and rocket upper stages.

These uncontrolled multitonne objects are time bombs: sooner or later they will be involved in a collision. That is, if they don’t explode earlier due to leftover fuel or partially charged batteries heated up by sunlight.

Harpoon system

The resulting debris clouds would make these vital orbits much more hazardous and expensive to use, and follow-on collisions may eventually trigger a chain reaction of break-ups.

To avoid this outcome, ESA’s Clean Space initiative is working on the e.DeOrbit mission for flight in 2021. Its sophisticated sensors and autonomous control will identify and home in on a target – potentially of several tonnes and tumbling uncontrollably.

Space debris around Earth

Then comes the challenge of capturing and securing it. Several different solutions have been considered, including a throw-net, clamping mechanisms, robotic arms – and a tethered harpoon.

The harpoon concept has already undergone initial investigations by Airbus Defence and Space in Stevenage, UK.

Harpoons rely on three physical actions to ensure safe and clean grasping: a high-energy impact into the target, piercing the structure and then reeling it in.

Harpoon used to capture a satellite

A prototype harpoon was shot into representative satellite material to assess its penetration, its strength as the target is pulled close and the generation of additional fragments that might threaten the e.DeOrbit satellite.

As a next step, ESA plans to build and test a prototype ‘breadboard’ version in the hope of adopting the harpoon and its ejection mechanism for the mission.

Harpoon for whaling

The project will investigate all three stages of harpooning through computer models, analysis and experiments, leading to a full hardware demonstration.

Bidders are welcome on the study contract. For more information, check the invitation package, accessible throuugh ESA's tendering system:

Related links:


How to catch a satellite:

Technologies for space debris remediation:

Images, Text, Credits: ESA/P. Carril/Airbus Defence and Space/Wikimedia Commons.


lundi 23 juin 2014

Titan's Building Blocks Might Pre-date Saturn

NASA / ESA - Cassini-Huygens Mission to Saturn & Titan patch.

June 23, 2014

Image above: New research on the nitrogen in Titan's atmosphere indicates that the moon's raw materials might have been locked up in ices that condensed before Saturn began its formation. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute.

A combined NASA and European Space Agency (ESA)-funded study has found firm evidence that nitrogen in the atmosphere of Saturn's moon Titan originated in conditions similar to the cold birthplace of the most ancient comets from the Oort cloud. The finding rules out the possibility that Titan's building blocks formed within the warm disk of material thought to have surrounded the infant planet Saturn during its formation. 

The main implication of this new research is that Titan's building blocks formed early in the solar system's history, in the cold disk of gas and dust that formed the sun. This was also the birthplace of many comets, which retain a primitive, or largely unchanged, composition today.

The research, led by Kathleen Mandt of Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, and including an international team of researchers, was published this week in the Astrophysical Journal Letters.

Nitrogen is the main ingredient in the atmosphere of Earth, as well as on Titan. The planet-sized moon of Saturn is frequently compared to an early version of Earth, locked in a deep freeze.

The paper suggests that information about Titan's original building blocks is still present in the icy moon's atmosphere, allowing researchers to test different ideas about how the moon might have formed. Mandt and colleagues demonstrate that a particular chemical hint as to the origin of Titan's nitrogen should be essentially the same today as when this moon formed, up to 4.6 billion years ago. That hint is the ratio of one isotope, or form, of nitrogen, called nitrogen-14, to another isotope, called nitrogen-15.

The team finds that our solar system is not old enough for this nitrogen isotope ratio to have changed significantly. This is contrary to what scientists commonly have assumed.

"When we looked closely at how this ratio could evolve with time, we found that it was impossible for it to change significantly. Titan's atmosphere contains so much nitrogen that no process can significantly modify this tracer even given more than four billion years of solar system history," Mandt said.

The small amount of change in this isotope ratio over long time periods makes it possible for researchers to compare Titan's original building blocks to other solar system objects in search of connections between them.

As planetary scientists investigate the mystery of how the solar system formed, isotope ratios are one of the most valuable types of clues they are able to collect. In planetary atmospheres and surface materials, the specific amount of one form of an element, like nitrogen, relative to another form of that same element can be a powerful diagnostic tool because it is closely tied to the conditions under which materials form.

Image above: The building blocks of comets, and apparently Saturn's largest moon, Titan, formed under similar conditions in the disk of gas and dust that formed the sun. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

The study also has implications for Earth. It supports the emerging view that ammonia ice from comets is not likely to be the primary source of Earth's nitrogen. In the past, researchers assumed a connection between comets, Titan and Earth, and supposed the nitrogen isotope ratio in Titan's original atmosphere was the same as that ratio is on Earth today. Measurements of the nitrogen isotope ratio at Titan by several instruments of the NASA and ESA Cassini-Huygens mission showed that this is not the case -- meaning this ratio is different on Titan and Earth -- while measurements of the ratio in comets have borne out their connection to Titan. This means the sources of Earth’s and Titan’s nitrogen must have been different.

Other researchers previously had shown that Earth’s nitrogen isotope ratio likely has not changed significantly since our planet formed.

"Some have suggested that meteorites brought nitrogen to Earth, or that nitrogen was captured directly from the disk of gas that formed the sun. This is an interesting puzzle for future investigations," Mandt said.

Mandt and colleagues are eager to see whether their findings are supported by data from ESA's Rosetta mission, when it studies comet 67P/ Churyumov-Gerasimenko beginning later this year. If their analysis is correct, the comet should have a lower ratio of two isotopes -- in this case of hydrogen in methane ice -- than the ratio on Titan. In essence, they believe this chemical ratio on Titan is more similar to Oort cloud comets than comets born in the Kuiper Belt, which begins near the orbit of Neptune (67P/ Churyumov-Gerasimenko is a Kuiper Belt comet).

“This exciting result is a key example of Cassini science informing our knowledge of the history of solar system and how the Earth formed,” said Scott Edgington, Cassini deputy project scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California.

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, ESA and the Italian Space Agency. JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, manages the mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

Rosetta is an ESA mission with contributions from its member states and NASA. JPL manages the U.S. contribution of the Rosetta mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

More information about Cassini is available at the following sites:

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory/Preston Dyches/Whitney Clavin.