vendredi 10 octobre 2014

Hubble Catches a Dusty Spiral in Virgo

ESA - Hubble Space Telescope patch.

October 10, 2014

This magnificent new image taken with the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope shows the edge-on spiral galaxy NGC 4206, located about 70 million light-years away from Earth in the constellation of Virgo.

Captured here are vast streaks of dust, some of which are obscuring the central bulge, which can just be made out in the center of the galaxy. Towards the edges of the galaxy, the scattered clumps, which appear blue in this image, mark areas where stars are being born. The bulge, on the other hand, is composed mostly of much older, redder stars, and very little star formation takes place.

Hubble orbiting Earth

NGC 4206 was imaged as part of a Hubble snapshot survey of nearby edge-on spiral galaxies to measure the effect that the material between the stars — known as the interstellar medium — has on light as it travels through it. Using its Advanced Camera for Surveys, Hubble can reveal information about the dusty material and hydrogen gas in the cold parts of the interstellar medium. Astronomers are then able to map the absorption and scattering of light by the material — an effect known as extinction — which causes objects to appear redder to us, the observers.

NGC 4206 is visible with most moderate amateur telescopes at 13th magnitude. It was discovered by Hanoverian-born British astronomer, William Herschel on April 17, 1784.


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

NASA / ESA Hubble Space Telescope websites: and

Image, Video, Text, Credits:  ESA/Hubble & NASA, Acknowledgement: Nick Rose.


jeudi 9 octobre 2014

NASA Prepares its Science Fleet for Oct. 19 Mars Comet Encounter

NASA logo.

October 9, 2014

NASA’s extensive fleet of science assets, particularly those orbiting and roving Mars, have front row seats to image and study a once-in-a-lifetime comet flyby on Sunday, Oct. 19.

Comet C/2013 A1, also known as comet Siding Spring, will pass within about 87,000 miles (139,500 kilometers) of the Red Planet -- less than half the distance between Earth and our moon and less than one-tenth the distance of any known comet flyby of Earth.

Siding Spring’s nucleus will come closest to Mars around 2:27 p.m. EDT, hurtling at about 126,000 mph (56 kilometers per second). This proximity will provide an unprecedented opportunity for researchers to gather data on both the comet and its effect on the Martian atmosphere.

“This is a cosmic science gift that could potentially keep on giving, and the agency’s diverse science missions will be in full receive mode,” said John Grunsfeld, astronaut and associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “This particular comet has never before entered the inner solar system, so it will provide a fresh source of clues to our solar system's earliest days.”

Image Credit: NASA

Siding Spring came from the Oort Cloud, a spherical region of space surrounding our sun and occupying space at a distance between 5,000 and 100,000 astronomical units.  It is a giant swarm of icy objects believed to be material left over from the formation of the solar system.

Siding Spring will be the first comet from the Oort Cloud to be studied up close by spacecraft, giving scientists an invaluable opportunity to learn more about the materials, including water and carbon compounds, that existed during the formation of the solar system 4.6 billion years ago.

Some of the best and most revealing images and science data will come from assets orbiting and roving the surface of Mars. In preparation for the comet flyby, NASA maneuvered its Mars Odyssey orbiter, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), and the newest member of the Mars fleet, Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN), in order to reduce the risk of impact with high-velocity dust particles coming off the comet.

The period of greatest risk to orbiting spacecraft will start about 90 minutes after the closest approach of the comet's nucleus and will last about 20 minutes, when Mars will come closest to the center of the widening trail of dust flying from the comet’s nucleus.

"The hazard is not an impact of the comet nucleus itself, but the trail of debris coming from it. Using constraints provided by Earth-based observations, the modeling results indicate that the hazard is not as great as first anticipated. Mars will be right at the edge of the debris cloud, so it might encounter some of the particles -- or it might not," said Rich Zurek, chief scientist for the Mars Exploration Program at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California.

The atmosphere of Mars, though much thinner that Earth's, will shield NASA Mars rovers Opportunity and Curiosity from comet dust, if any reaches the planet. Both rovers are scheduled to make observations of the comet.

NASA’s Mars orbiters will gather information before, during and after the flyby about the size, rotation and activity of the comet's nucleus, the variability and gas composition of the coma around the nucleus, and the size and distribution of dust particles in the comet's tail.

Observations of the Martian atmosphere are designed to check for possible meteor trails, changes in distribution of neutral and charged particles, and effects of the comet on air temperature and clouds. MAVEN will have a particularly good opportunity to study the comet, and how its tenuous atmosphere, or coma, interacts with Mars' upper atmosphere.

Image above: Comet 2013 A1 (Siding Spring) will make a very close approach to Mars in October 2014. Photo-montage Credits: Aerospace / NASA / Acknowledgment: Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, Dr. Carey M. Lisse (correct orientation of the comet).

Earth-based and space telescopes, including NASA’s iconic Hubble Space Telescope, also will be in position to observe the unique celestial object. The agency’s astrophysics space observatories -- Kepler, Swift, Spitzer, Chandra -- and the ground-based Infrared Telescope Facility on Mauna Kea, Hawaii -- also will be tracking the event.

NASA’s asteroid hunter, the Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (NEOWISE), has been imaging, and will continue to image, the comet as part of its operations. And the agency’s two Heliophysics spacecraft, Solar TErrestrial RElations Observatory (STEREO) and Solar and Heliophysics Observatory (SOHO), also will image the comet. The agency’s Balloon Observation Platform for Planetary Science (BOPPS), a sub-orbital balloon-carried telescope, already has provided observations of the comet in the lead-up to the close encounter with Mars.

Images and updates will be posted online before and after the comet flyby. Several pre-flyby images of Siding Spring, as well as information about the comet and NASA’s planned observations of the event, are available online at:

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA / Dwayne Brown.


Hubble Maps the Temperature and Water Vapor on an Extreme Exoplanet

NASA - Hubble Space Telescope patch.

October 9, 2014

A team of scientists using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has made the most detailed global map yet of the glow from a turbulent planet outside our solar system, revealing its secrets of air temperatures and water vapor.

Hubble observations show the exoplanet, called WASP-43b, is no place to call home. It is a world of extremes, where seething winds howl at the speed of sound from a 3,000-degree-Fahrenheit “day” side, hot enough to melt steel, to a pitch-black “night” side with plunging temperatures below 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit.

Astronomers have mapped the temperatures at different layers of the planet's atmosphere and traced the amount and distribution of water vapor. The findings have ramifications for the understanding of atmospheric dynamics and how giant planets like Jupiter are formed.

“These measurements have opened the door for a new kinds of ways to compare the properties of different types of planets,” said team leader Jacob Bean of the University of Chicago.

Image above: This is a temperature map of the "hot Jupiter" class exoplanet WASP 43b. The white-colored region on the daytime side is 2,800 degrees Fahrenheit. The nighttime side temperatures drop to under 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit. Image Credit: NASA/ESA.

First discovered in 2011, WASP-43b is located 260 light-years away. The planet is too distant to be photographed, but because its orbit is observed edge-on to Earth, astronomers detected it by observing regular dips in the light of its parent star as the planet passes in front of it.

“Our observations are the first of their kind in terms of providing a two-dimensional map on the longitude and altitude of the planet’s thermal structure that can be used to constrain atmospheric circulation and dynamical models for hot exoplanets,” said team member Kevin Stevenson of the University of Chicago.

As a hot ball of predominantly hydrogen gas, there are no surface features on the planet, such as oceans or continents that can be used to track its rotation. Only the severe temperature difference between the day and night sides can be used by a remote observer to mark the passage of a day on this world.

The planet is about the same size as Jupiter, but is nearly twice as dense. The planet is so close to its orange dwarf host star that it completes an orbit in just 19 hours. The planet also is gravitationally locked so that it keeps one hemisphere facing the star, just as our moon keeps one face toward Earth.

This was the first time astronomers were able to observe three complete rotations of any planet, which occurred during a span of four days. Scientists combined two previous methods of analyzing exoplanets in an unprecedented technique to study the atmosphere of WASP-43b. They used spectroscopy, dividing the planet’s light into its component colors, to determine the amount of water and the temperatures of the atmosphere. By observing the planet’s rotation, the astronomers also were able to precisely measure how the water is distributed at different longitudes.

Because there is no planet with these tortured conditions in our solar system, characterizing the atmosphere of such a bizarre world provides a unique laboratory for better understanding planet formation and planetary physics.

“The planet is so hot that all the water in its atmosphere is vaporized, rather than condensed into icy clouds like on Jupiter,” said team member Laura Kreidberg of the University of Chicago.

The amount of water in the giant planets of our solar system is poorly known because water that has precipitated out of the upper atmospheres of cool gas giant planets like Jupiter is locked away as ice. But so-called “hot Jupiters,” gas giants that have high surface temperatures because they orbit very close to their stars, water is in a vapor that can be readily traced.

“Water is thought to play an important role in the formation of giant planets, since comet-like bodies bombard young planets, delivering most of the water and other molecules that we can observe,” said Jonathan Fortney, a member of the team from the University of California, Santa Cruz.

In order to understand how giant planets form astronomers want to know how enriched they are in different elements. The team found that WASP-43b has about the same amount of water as we would expect for an object with the same chemical composition as our sun, shedding light on the fundamentals about how the planet formed. The team next aims to make water-abundance measurements for different planets.

Hubble orbiting Earth

The results are presented in two new papers, one published online in Science Express Thursday and the other published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters on Sept. 12.

The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between NASA and the European Space Agency. NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland manages the telescope. The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore conducts Hubble science operations. STScI is operated for NASA by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, Inc., in Washington.

For images and more information about Hubble, visit: and and

Image (mentioned, Video, Text, Credits: ESA / NASA / Felicia Chou / Space Telescope Science Institute / Ray Villard.

Best regards,

mercredi 8 octobre 2014

Two NASA Satellites Get Data on Category 5 Super Typhoon Vongfong

NASA / JAXA -  Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) patch / NASA - EOS TERRA Mission patch.

October 8, 2014

Vongfong (Western Pacific)

Two NASA satellites provided data on clouds, rainfall and the diameter of the eye of Super Typhoon Vongfong as it turned north in the Northwestern Pacific Ocean.

Typhoon Vongfong formed on October 2, 2014 southeast of Guam. Typhoon Phanfone, that recently pummeled Japan, formed near the same area in the western Pacific Ocean.

Image above: On Oct. 8 at 02:15 UTC (Oct. 7 at 10:15 p.m. EDT), NASA's Terra satellite captured this view of the wide circular eye in Super Typhoon Vongfong in the Philippine Sea. Image Credit: NASA Goddard MODIS Rapid Response Team.

Vongfong had wind speeds of about 120 knots (138 mph) when the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission or TRMM satellite flew above the intensifying typhoon's eye on October 7, 2014 at 0800 UTC (4 a.m. EDT). TRMM's Precipitation Radar (PR) showed that powerful storms in Vongfong's eye wall were producing very heavy rainfall. TRMM's Microwave Imager (TMI) show that multiple rain bands spiraling into Vongfong were also dropping rain over a large area.

On Oct. 8 at 02:15 UTC (Oct. 7 at 10:15 p.m. EDT), the MODIS instrument aboard NASA's Terra satellite captured a visible image of Super Typhoon Vongfong's wide cloud extend and the storm's wide circular eye.

On Oct. 8 at 1500 UTC (11 a.m. EDT), Vongfong had maximum sustained winds near 145 knots (167 mph/268.5 kph) making it a Category 5 Super Typhoon on the Saffir-Simpson Scale. It was centered near 18.7 north and 130.7 east. It was centered about 510 nautical miles (586 miles/944.5 kph) south-southeast of Kadena Air Base, Okinawa, Japan. Vongfong was moving to the north at 7 knots (8 mph/13 kph). It was creating extremely rough seas in the Philippine Sea, with wave heights to 50 feet (15.2 meters).

Image above: NASA's TRMM Satellite saw powerful storms in Vongfong's eye wall were producing very heavy rainfall and multiple rain bands spiraling into Vongfong were also dropping rain over a large area. Image Credit: SSAI/NASA, Hal Pierce.

According to the U.S. Kadena Airbase, on Oct. 8, a combined Japanese-U.S. Air Force rescue team recovered the body of the third Airman who had been swept out to sea on Oct. 5 from Typhoon Phanfone.

The Joint Typhoon Warning Center predicts that Vongfong is predicted to weaken slightly while moving toward the islands of southern Japan.

For more information about Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission or TRMM, visit:

For more information about NASA's Terra mission, visit:

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


Microgravity Bone Research A Half Century Later

ISS - International Space Station logo.

October 8, 2014

Once you reach your fifties, you may anticipate some health changes, such as the beginning of bone loss. You may not expect such challenges in your prime—that is, unless you suffered from osteoporosis, limited mobility or were an astronaut. Scientists have known since the early days of space flight that microgravity negatively affects bone density at an advanced rate. Examining this consequence of living in space provides researchers the opportunity for accelerated study of bone health. At this year’s American Society for Bone and Mineral Research (ASBMR) conference in Houston, NASA scientists shared what they’ve learned from a half century of related space flight research.

Bone research began at the start of human space travel, with experiments both in space and on the ground. This area of study continues today aboard the International Space Station with investigations that build on their predecessors. Crew members stand to lose about as much bone density in one month as a post-menopausal woman loses in the course of a year. Scientists can turn this negative into a positive, using the microgravity conditions to accomplish more research in less time. Their investigations in space examine the causes of bone loss and identify countermeasures, while contributing to the development of treatments for use on Earth and in space.

Image above: Nutrition, combined with exercise, is a large part of bone health in microgravity. Here, the crew of Expedition 28 unveils food from a recent supply delivery. Image Credit: NASA.

“In a six month mission, we can do research on counteracting bone loss that would take an equivalent of roughly a five-year longitudinal study on Earth,” said Scott M. Smith, Ph.D., manager for the Nutritional Biochemistry Laboratory at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. “This helps us to see changes in physiology faster than on Earth, and in a study population very different than the typical [ground] studies. This perspective contributes to overall understanding and provides a valuable addition to the general knowledge base—allowing us all to get to treatments faster.”

In a recent publication, “Fifty Years of Human Space Travel: Implications for Bone and Calcium Research,” Scott and his colleagues look back on lessons learned. He points out that in the pursuit to combat bone loss in microgravity, we gain ground on advancing bone health on Earth. For instance, model animal research using rodents in space has already contributed to clinical trials for pharmaceuticals that can mitigate bone loss. Some of these treatments already are available for people to use.

Research continues on orbit, such as with the Pro-K investigation, which will finish sample collection with the current crew. The goal of Pro-K is to develop a way to optimize nutrition by examining how diet impacts bones. Specifically, researchers are looking at how a decreased ratio of animal protein to potassium that an astronaut consumes may mitigate bone breakdown. The question is if the crew eats more fruits and vegetables with less meat, will this help improve skeletal health?

The findings may have implications for those suffering bone loss on Earth, providing possible mitigation through the right balance in an individual’s diet. “The work done for space travelers contributes uniquely to the overall knowledge base in the fields of nutrition and bone biology,” said Smith.

Building better bones is not as simple as drinking your milk, though, regardless of if you drink from a glass or a space coffee cup. While vitamin D and calcium are among the important components, it’s actually a complex quest for scientists to identify the right balance of countermeasures, which fall into three categories: physical, pharmacological and nutritional. What researchers found is that nutrition is a large part of this equation, but it works in combination with the right type and amount of exercise. These findings were published in the Journal of Bone and Mineral Research.

Image above: Micro-computed tomography bone density imaging shows ground mice (G) with highly connected, dense spongy bone structure, flight mice (F) with less connectivity and flight mice treated with a myostatin inhibitor (F+D) on STS-118 that appear to have bone structure unaffected by microgravity. Image Credit: Bioserve.

“We’ve seen in the past few years that nutrition and exercise can help protect bone mineral density in astronauts,” said Smith. “That’s the first time in more than a half century of space flight that we’ve seen this. We’re not done, but we are making progress, and that is incredibly exciting.”

Scientists had suspected that, just as on Earth, diet and exercise were a winning team to keep human bones healthy. Application of this knowledge, however, didn’t immediately translate into the space environment. Initial attempts to exercise on the Mir space station and early days on the International Space Station showed little impact to mitigating bone loss. The crew needed resistance-based exercise that provided enough “weight” to productively stress bones and muscles. Enter the Advanced Resistance Exercise Device (ARED), which launched in 2008. The addition of ARED helped researchers prove that the right kind of exercise, combined with nutrition, could maintain bone mineral density.

“What was shown,” said Smith in his publication, “is that crew members who had access to the ARED returned from flight with no loss of body mass, an increased percentage of lean mass, a decreased percentage of fat mass, and maintenance of bone mineral density in most regions and in whole body scans.”

The role of minerals and diet in bone health came into a different focus during space station habitation. In 2009, as the crew conducted water reclamation using urine—a necessity for long-duration space exploration—the system had to be shut down because of pressure concerns. It turns out that an excess of minerals, in particular calcium sulfate, was clogging the hardware. Sulfur, used in the space station toilet, had combined with calcium crew members lost as a result of the accelerated bone breakdown in space. The resulting high concentration of calcium in the astronaut’s urine pointed not only to the relationship between bone loss and calcium, but also to the need to increase crew members’ water consumption. Similarly, increased water consumption helps keep kidney stone risk low—another concern for astronauts.

Researchers continue to look at the right amount of calcium intake and other dietary factors for bone health, including vitamin D, omega-3 fatty acids, protein and potassium, sodium, iron and phosphorus. The next study planned for space station seeking the optimal balance of diet and nutrition for bone health is called Integrated Nutrition. The experiments will be a joint effort of NASA’s Space Food Systems Laboratory and the Nutritional Biochemistry Laboratory teams at Johnson.

Image above: European Space Agency astronaut Alexander Gerst, Expedition 40 flight engineer, gets a workout on the advanced Resistive Exercise Device (ARED) in the Tranquility node of the International Space Station. Image Credit: NASA.

“We’re working to optimize intake of a number of dietary factors known to have protective effects on bone in ground-based or flight research to help to protect bone during long-duration spaceflight,” said Smith. “We’re very optimistic about the prospects for this for bone and believe this is likely to have beneficial effects on many other body systems as well.”

Part of this multifaceted concern is to examine bone strength, not just as a whole, but according to which parts of the bone are building during countermeasures. Researchers hope to find out if the apparent prevention is actually just the buildup of additional bone from resistance-based exercise, rather than a halting of loss overall. The goal is to go beyond just density to understand how spaceflight impacts the strength of the bone.

“Although this mode of bone remodeling, with increases in bone resorption and formation, maintained bone mineral density, it may yield a bone with different strength characteristics than existed before flight,” Scott continued. “Studies to assess bone strength after flight are underway at NASA to better understand this phenomenon.”

And in case you wondered, based on the earlier comparison to a post-menopausal woman’s bone loss, researchers are looking at gender, too. During the course of studies on orbit, researchers have found similarities between the sexes with regard to processing bone mineral breakdown.

“In July of this year, we published data showing that the response of men and women to space flight—and to diet and exercise—was not different with regard to bone and renal stone risk,” said Smith. “The number of astronauts flown is still relatively small...but growing all the time. The space station has provided a great platform, and it has already given us many years of long-duration flights. We’re starting to be able to see differences in response as countermeasures evolve and differences among sub-groups of astronauts.”

Related links:

American Society for Bone and Mineral Research (ASBMR):

Nutritional Biochemistry Laboratory at NASA’s Johnson Space Center:

Publication: “Fifty Years of Human Space Travel: Implications for Bone and Calcium Research,”:

Journal of Bone and Mineral Research:

Advanced Resistance Exercise Device (ARED):

NASA’s Space Food Systems Laboratory:

Mir space station:

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

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA's Johnson Space Center / Jessica Nimon.

Best regards,

NASA’s NuSTAR Telescope Discovers Shockingly Bright Dead Star

NASA - NuStar Mission patch.

October 8, 2014

Image above: A rare and mighty pulsar (pink) can be seen at the center of the galaxy Messier 82 in this new multi-wavelength portrait. NASA's NuSTAR mission discovered the "pulse" of the pulsar — a type of dead star — using is high-energy X-ray vision. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

Astronomers have found a pulsating, dead star beaming with the energy of about 10 million suns. This is the brightest pulsar – a dense stellar remnant left over from a supernova explosion – ever recorded. The discovery was made with NASA's Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array, or NuSTAR.

"You might think of this pulsar as the 'Mighty Mouse' of stellar remnants," said Fiona Harrison, the NuSTAR principal investigator at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, California. "It has all the power of a black hole, but with much less mass."

 Beacons of X-ray Light

Video above: This animation shows a neutron star -- the core of a star that exploded in a massive supernova. This particular neutron star is known as a pulsar because it sends out rotating beams of X-rays that sweep past Earth like lighthouse beacons. Video Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

The discovery appears in a new report in the Thursday Oct. 9 issue of the journal Nature.

The surprising find is helping astronomers better understand mysterious sources of blinding X-rays, called ultraluminous X-ray sources (ULXs). Until now, all ULXs were thought to be black holes. The new data from NuSTAR show at least one ULX, about 12 million light-years away in the galaxy Messier 82 (M82), is actually a pulsar.

Image above: The brightest pulsar detected to date is shown in this animation that flips back and forth between images captured by NASA's Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array, or NuSTAR. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

"The pulsar appears to be eating the equivalent of a black hole diet," said Harrison. "This result will help us understand how black holes gorge and grow so quickly, which is an important event in the formation of galaxies and structures in the universe."

ULXs are generally thought to be black holes feeding off companion stars -- a process called accretion. They also are suspected to be the long-sought after "medium-size" black holes – missing links between smaller, stellar-size black holes and the gargantuan ones that dominate the hearts of most galaxies. But research into the true nature of ULXs continues toward more definitive answers.

Image above: This image shows the core of galaxy Messier 82 (M82), where two ultraluminous X-ray sources, or ULXs, reside (X-1 and X-2). ULXs are regions that shine intensely with X-rays. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SAO.

NuSTAR did not initially set out to study the two ULXs in M82. Astronomers had been observing a recent supernova in the galaxy when they serendipitously noticed pulses of bright X-rays coming from the ULX known as M82 X-2. Black holes do not pulse, but pulsars do.

Pulsars belong to a class of stars called neutron stars. Like black holes, neutron stars are the burnt-out cores of exploded stars, but puny in mass by comparison. Pulsars send out beams of radiation ranging from radio waves to ultra-high-energy gamma rays. As the star spins, these beams intercept Earth like lighthouse beacons, producing a pulsed signal.

"We took it for granted that the powerful ULXs must be massive black holes," said lead study author Matteo Bachetti, of the University of Toulouse in France. "When we first saw the pulsations in the data, we thought they must be from another source."

NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory and Swift satellite also have monitored M82 to study the same supernova, and confirmed the intense X-rays of M82 X-2 were coming from a pulsar.

Image above: This chart illustrates the relative masses of super-dense cosmic objects, ranging from white dwarfs to the supermassive black holes encased in the cores of most galaxies. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

"Having a diverse array of telescopes in space means that they can help each other out," said Paul Hertz, director of NASA's astrophysics division in Washington. "When one telescope makes a discovery, others with complementary capabilities can be called in to investigate it at different wavelengths."

The key to NuSTAR's discovery was its sensitivity to high-energy X-rays, as well as its ability to precisely measure the timing of the signals, which allowed astronomers to measure a pulse rate of 1.37 seconds. They also measured its energy output at the equivalent of 10 million suns, or 10 times more than that observed from other X-ray pulsars. This is a big punch for something about the mass of our sun and the size of Pasadena.

How is this puny, dead star radiating so fiercely? Astronomers are not sure, but they say it is likely due to a lavish feast of the cosmic kind. As is the case with black holes, the gravity of a neutron star can pull matter off companion stars. As the matter is dragged onto the neutron star, it heats up and glows with X-rays. If the pulsar is indeed feeding off surrounding matter, it is doing so at such an extreme rate to have theorists scratching their heads.

Image above: The galaxy Messier 82 (M82) is seen here in two different lights. A visible-light view from NASA's Hubble Space Telescope is at left, and an X-ray view from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory is at right. Image Credit: NASA/STScI/SAO.

Astronomers are planning follow-up observations with NASA's NuSTAR, Swift and Chandra spacecraft to find an explanation for the pulsar’s bizarre behavior. The NuSTAR team also will look at more ULXs, meaning they could turn up more pulsars. At this point, it is not clear whether M82 X-2 is an oddball or if more ULXs beat with the pulse of dead stars. NuSTAR, a relatively small telescope, has thrown a big loop into the mystery of black holes.

“In the news recently, we have seen that another source of unusually bright X-rays in the M82 galaxy seems to be a medium-sized black hole," said astronomer Jeanette Gladstone of the University of Alberta, Canada, who is not affiliated with the study. "Now, we find that the second source of bright X-rays in M82 isn’t a black hole at all. This is going to challenge theorists and pave the way for a new understanding of the diversity of these fascinating objects."

More information about NuSTAR is online at:

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


Lutetia’s dark side hosts hidden crater

ESA - Rosetta Mission patch.

8 October 2014

Grooves found on Lutetia, an asteroid encountered by ESA’s Rosetta spacecraft, point to the existence of a large impact crater on the unseen side of the rocky world.

Rosetta flew past Lutetia at a distance of 3168 km in July 2010, en route to its 2014 rendezvous with its target comet.

Tracing Lutetia’s grooves

The spacecraft took images of the 100 km-wide asteroid for about two hours during the flyby, revealing numerous impact craters and hundreds of grooves all over the surface.

Impact craters are commonly seen on  all Solar System worlds with solid surfaces, recording an intense history of collisions between bodies. However, grooves are much less prevalent. To date, they have been discovered by visiting spacecraft only on the martian moon Phobos and the asteroids Eros and Vesta.

The way in which grooves are formed on these bodies is still widely debated, but it likely involves impacts. Shock waves from the impact travel through the interior of a small, porous body and fracture the surface to form the grooves.

Lutetia in 3D

“For Lutetia, by assuming that the grooves were formed in concentric patterns around their source impact crater, we identified 200 such features falling into distinct ‘families’, correlated with three different impact craters,” describes Sebastien Besse, a research fellow at ESA’s Technical Centre, ESTEC, in the Netherlands, and lead author of the paper published inPlanetary and Space Sciencethis month.

One of the groove systems on Lutetia is associated with the Massilia crater and another with the North Pole Crater Cluster, which comprises a number of superimposed craters. Both are on the asteroid’s northern hemisphere.

But another group of grooves points to a crater not seen during Rosetta’s brief flyby, in the asteroid’s southern hemisphere.

Its implied presence has earned it the nickname ‘Suspicio’. The grooves related to Suspicio cover a large area on the asteroid, suggesting it may span several tens of kilometres . By comparison, Massilia, the largest known crater on Lutetia, is about 55 km wide, and the largest of the polar cluster is about 34 km across.

Lutetia groove relationships

“These three major impacts seriously deformed Lutetia’s surface,” adds Sebastien.

“As with grooves seen on other asteroids that may also be associated with impact events, this study provides new insights into the catastrophic history of these small bodies.”

By observing how subsequent small craters lie over the grooves on Lutetia, the scientists determined the relative ages of the three larger cratering events. Massilia is thought be the oldest of the three craters and the polar cluster the youngest, with Suspicio between.

The authors also looked at other, independent measurements of Lutetia, including ground-based observations with the Infrared Telescope Facility and space-based observations with ESA’s Herschel and NASA’s Spitzer.

Shape models derived by Herschel and Spitzer before Rosetta’s flyby had already predicted a large depression at the location of Suspicio. The Infrared Telescope Facility suggested different compositions between the northern and southern hemisphere of the asteroid.

Suspicio crater

Sebastien and his colleagues propose that a large impact, presumably the one forming Suspicio, excavated enough material of a different composition to account for the observed differences.

“Our study ties together several independent analyses of Lutetia into one coherent story that is consistent with the presence of a large impact crater on the far side of the asteroid,” says co-author Michael Küppers, from ESA’s Space Astronomy Centre in Spain.

“Four years on and we are delighted still to be learning from just two hours’ worth of data collected during the Lutetia flyby,” says Matt Taylor, ESA’s Rosetta project scientist.

“Rosetta is now in its main mission phase at its comet, where we are on the cusp of fantastic results. Rosetta is a true small bodies mission, two asteroids and one comet in single trip.”

Rosetta's fly by of asteroid 21 Lutetia, 10th July 2010

Video above: Rosetta's fly-by of asteroid 21 Lutetia, 10th July 2010. Simulated with Orbiter Space Flight Simulator 2006P1 by Martin Schweiger. Credits: Rosetta add-on by Brian J. Music by Greg Baumont (with permission) Why? - Woods. Produced & edited by Aerospace Studio.

Notes for Editors:

“Lutetia’s lineaments” is published in Planetary and Space Science, 15 October 2014:

For more information about Rosetta mission, visit:

Credits: Datas: Besse et al (2014); Images: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA. Video (mentioned), Text, Credit: ESA.


mardi 7 octobre 2014

Antarctic Sea Ice Reaches New Record Maximum

NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center logo.

October 7, 2014

Sea ice surrounding Antarctica reached a new record high extent this year, covering more of the southern oceans than it has since scientists began a long-term satellite record to map sea ice extent in the late 1970s. The upward trend in the Antarctic, however, is only about a third of the magnitude of the rapid loss of sea ice in the Arctic Ocean.

Image above: On Sept. 19, 2014, the five-day average of Antarctic sea ice extent exceeded 20 million square kilometers for the first time since 1979, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center. The red line shows the average maximum extent from 1979-2014. Image Credit: NASA's Scientific Visualization Studio/Cindy Starr.

The new Antarctic sea ice record reflects the diversity and complexity of Earth’s environments, said NASA researchers. Claire Parkinson, a senior scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, has referred to changes in sea ice coverage as a microcosm of global climate change. Just as the temperatures in some regions of the planet are colder than average, even in our warming world, Antarctic sea ice has been increasing and bucking the overall trend of ice loss.

“The planet as a whole is doing what was expected in terms of warming. Sea ice as a whole is decreasing as expected, but just like with global warming, not every location with sea ice will have a downward trend in ice extent,” Parkinson said.

Since the late 1970s, the Arctic has lost an average of 20,800 square miles (53,900 square kilometers) of ice a year; the Antarctic has gained an average of 7,300 square miles (18,900 sq km). On Sept. 19 this year, for the first time ever since 1979, Antarctic sea ice extent exceeded 7.72 million square miles (20 million square kilometers), according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center. The ice extent stayed above this benchmark extent for several days. The average maximum extent between 1981 and 2010 was 7.23 million square miles (18.72 million square kilometers).

The single-day maximum extent this year was reached on Sept. 20, according to NSIDC data, when the sea ice covered  7.78 million square miles (20.14 million square kilometers). This year's five-day average maximum was reached on Sept. 22, when sea ice covered 7.76 million square miles (20.11 million square kilometers), according to NSIDC.

The Arctic and the Antarctic Respond in Opposite Ways

Video above: This year, Antarctic sea ice reached a record maximum extent while the Arctic reached a minimum extent in the ten lowest since satellite records began. Why are these trends going in opposite directions? Image Credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center/Joy Ng.

A warming climate changes weather patterns, said Walt Meier, a research scientist at Goddard. Sometimes those weather patterns will bring cooler air to some areas. And in the Antarctic, where sea ice circles the continent and covers such a large area, it doesn’t take that much additional ice extent to set a new record.

“Part of it is just the geography and geometry. With no northern barrier around the whole perimeter of the ice, the ice can easily expand if conditions are favorable,” he said.

Researchers are investigating a number of other possible explanations as well. One clue, Parkinson said, could be found around the Antarctic Peninsula – a finger of land stretching up toward South America. There, the temperatures are warming, and in the Bellingshausen Sea just to the west of the peninsula the sea ice is shrinking. Beyond the Bellingshausen Sea and past the Amundsen Sea, lies the Ross Sea – where much of the sea ice growth is occurring.

That suggests that a low-pressure system centered in the Amundsen Sea could be intensifying or becoming more frequent in the area, she said – changing the wind patterns and circulating warm air over the peninsula, while sweeping cold air from the Antarctic continent over the Ross Sea. This, and other wind and lower atmospheric pattern changes, could be influenced by the ozone hole higher up in the atmosphere – a possibility that has received scientific attention in the past several years, Parkinson said.

Image above: A Q&A with NASA Goddard Space Flight Center’s Joey Comiso – a sea ice scientist and lead author of the cryosphere observations chapter in the Fifth Assessment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – about what’s going on with the sea ice in Antarctica. Image Credit: NASA/M. Studinger.

“The winds really play a big role,” Meier said. They whip around the continent, constantly pushing the thin ice. And if they change direction or get stronger in a more northward direction, he said, they push the ice further and grow the extent.  When researchers measure ice extent, they look for areas of ocean where at least 15 percent is covered by sea ice.

While scientists have observed some stronger-than-normal pressure systems – which increase winds – over the last month or so, that element alone is probably not the reason for this year’s record extent, Meier said. To better understand this year and the overall increase in Antarctic sea ice, scientists are looking at other possibilities as well.

Melting ice on the edges of the Antarctic continent could be leading to more fresh, just-above-freezing water, which makes refreezing into sea ice easier, Parkinson said. Or changes in water circulation patterns, bringing colder waters up to the surface around the landmass, could help grow more ice.

Snowfall could be a factor as well, Meier said. Snow landing on thin ice can actually push the thin ice below the water, which then allows cold ocean water to seep up through the ice and flood the snow – leading to a slushy mixture that freezes in the cold atmosphere and adds to the thickness of the ice. This new, thicker ice would be more resilient to melting.

“There hasn’t been one explanation yet that I’d say has become a consensus, where people say, ‘We’ve nailed it, this is why it’s happening,’” Parkinson said. “Our models are improving, but they’re far from perfect. One by one, scientists are figuring out that particular variables are more important than we thought years ago, and one by one those variables are getting incorporated into the models.”

For Antarctica, key variables include the atmospheric and oceanic conditions, as well as the effects of an icy land surface, changing atmospheric chemistry, the ozone hole, months of darkness and more.

“Its really not surprising to people in the climate field that not every location on the face of Earth is acting as expected – it would be amazing if everything did,” Parkinson said. “The Antarctic sea ice is one of those areas where things have not gone entirely as expected. So it’s natural for scientists to ask, ‘OK, this isn’t what we expected, now how can we explain it?’”

NASA's "Earth Right Now"

Five new NASA Earth science missions are launching in 2014 to expand our understanding of Earth’s changing climate and environment.
NASA's "Earth Right Now" website:

Related Link:

Q&A with NASA's Joey Comiso: What is Happening with Antarctic Sea Ice?:

Images (mentioned, Video, Text, Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center / Kate Ramsayer.


Wiseman and Gerst Complete First Spacewalk of Expedition 41

ISS - Expedition 41 Mission patch.

October 7, 2014

Astronauts Reid Wiseman of NASA and Alexander Gerst of the European Space Agency completed the first of three Expedition 41 spacewalks at 2:43 p.m. EDT Tuesday. The spacewalkers worked outside the Quest airlock of the International Space Station for 6 hours and 13 minutes.

 NASA / ESA Astronauts Conduct Spacewalk on ISS

Flight Engineer Barry Wilmore NASA operated the Canadian robotic arm, maneuvered Gerst during the course of the spacewalk and served as the spacewalk coordinator.

The first task for Wiseman and Gerst was relocating a failed cooling pump to External Stowage Platform-2 (ESP-2) just outside the Quest airlock.  It was temporarily stowed on the station’s truss by Expedition 38 spacewalkers Mike Hopkins and Rick Mastracchio on Dec. 21 after they replaced the failed pump with a spare.

Image above: Spacewalker Alexander Gerst rides the Canadarm2 to a work site on the International Space Station. Image Credit: NASA TV.

When they completed the pump module stowage work, the duo stowed adjustable grapple bars on ESP-2. Wiseman cleaned up the work area around the pump module.

Gerst went on to replace a light on an External Television Camera Group (ETVCG) outside Destiny.

The next task was the installation of a Mobile Transporter Relay Assembly (MTRA) on to the S0 truss right above the Destiny laboratory. The MTRA adds the capability to provide “keep-alive” power to the Mobile Servicing System when the Mobile Transporter is moving between worksites.

The Mobile Transporter can move supplies, gear and the Canadarm2 on rails along the Integrated Truss Structure, the station’s backbone. The Mobile Servicing System, which includes the transporter and Canadarm2, plays a key role in station maintenance tasks.

Image above: Spacewalker Reid Wiseman cleans up after stowing a failed pump module on the International Space Station. Image Credit: NASA TV.

A second U.S. spacewalk is set for Oct. 15. Wilmore will don a U.S. spacesuit and follow Wiseman outside the Quest airlock for a 6-1/2 hour excursion. Gerst will serve as the spacewalk choreographer. The goal of the excursion is to replace a failed voltage regulator component on the starboard truss of the station called a Sequential Shunt Unit that stopped operating in May, taking down one of eight power channels on the station’s electrical system. They will also move external camera equipment in advance of a major reconfiguration of station modules next year for the arrival of new docking adapters for commercial crew vehicles.

Image above: Reid Wiseman and Alexander Gerst work with two spacesuits in the Quest airlock of the International Space Station while preparing for two spacewalks. Image Credit: NASA TV.

The first Russian spacewalk of Expedition 41 is scheduled for Oct. 22. Cosmonauts Alexander Samokutyaev and Max Suraev will wear Russian Orlan spacesuits and exit the Pirs docking compartment at 9:24 a.m. They will remove and jettison an experiment and a pair of antennas as part of their spacewalking schedule.

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

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


NASA's New Winds Mission Installed, Gathers First Data

ISS - International Space Station patch.

October 7, 2014

NASA's newest Earth observing mission, the International Space Station-Rapid Scatterometer, or ISS-RapidScat, is collecting its first science data on ocean wind speeds and direction following its successful installation and activation on the exterior of the station's Columbus module.

RapidScat Installed on the International Space Station

Video above: Time-lapse footage of the RapidScat "wind watcher" instrument being installed on the International Space Station, followed by reaction by the team after its activation. Video Credit: NASA TV.

Ground controllers at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston robotically assembled the RapidScat instrument and its nadir adapter, which orients the instrument to point at Earth, on Sept. 29 to 30. On Oct. 1, the instrument was powered on, its antenna began spinning and it started transmitting and receiving its first winds data. The team then began checking out the instrument, a process expected to take about two weeks. Checkout activities to date are proceeding nominally. Following instrument checkout, the team will perform two weeks of preliminary calibration and validation of science data. RapidScat will then be ready to begin its two-year science mission.

Image above: Launched Sept. 21, 2014, to the International Space Station, NASA's newest Earth-observing mission, the International Space Station-RapidScat scatterometer to measure global ocean near-surface wind speeds and directions, has returned its first preliminary images. Image Credit: NASA-JPL/Caltech.

On Oct. 3, mission scientists processed their first winds data and produced their first uncalibrated images: a partial global map of wind speeds and a close-up image of what was then Tropical Storm Simon, brewing off the west coast of Mexico, showing its wind speeds and wind directions at approximately 7 p.m. local time. The new images are available at:

"Most satellite missions require weeks or even months to produce data of the quality that we seem to be getting from the first few days of RapidScat," said RapidScat Project Scientist Ernesto Rodriguez of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, which built and manages the mission. "We have been very lucky that within the first days of operations we have already been able to observe a developing tropical cyclone.

"The quality of these data reflect the level of testing and preparation that the team has put in prior to launch," Rodriguez said. "It also reflects the quality of the spare QuikScat hardware from which RapidScat was partially assembled."

RapidScat is the first science payload to be robotically assembled in space since the space station itself. Launched Sept. 21 from Florida's Cape Canaveral Air Force Station aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 launch vehicle, RapidScat rode to orbit in the "trunk" of SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft. The Dragon reached the station on Sept. 23, was captured by the station's robotic arm and was then berthed at the station's Node 2 Nadir, or Earth-facing, port.

Image above: Tropical Storm Simon as seen by the International Space Station-RapidScat scatterometer as the storm approached Mexico's Baja California peninsula at 0210 UTC Time Oct. 4 (7:10 p.m. PDT Oct. 3). Image Credit: NASA-JPL/Caltech.

Following inspections of RapidScat from cameras installed in the Dragon's trunk and on the station's robotic arm, ground controllers at Johnson Space Center used the DEXTRE manipulator on the station's robotic arm to pluck RapidScat's nadir adapter from the Dragon trunk on Sept. 29. An intricate set of maneuvers by the robotic arm then followed, leading to the adapter's successful mechanical and electrical connection to the Columbus module's External Payload Facility SDX site five hours later. The robotic arm was then released from the adapter.

About 15 hours later, the RapidScat team was back at work again, using the robotic arm to remove the RapidScat instrument itself from the Dragon's trunk and install it onto the nadir adapter. The installation went so well that a process expected to take five hours was completed in just two hours and 20 minutes. Following this first payload-to-payload mate in the history of the space station program, RapidScat then began drawing its power from the space station for the first time. RapidScat is an autonomous payload that requires no interaction from space station astronauts.


Animation above: A video camera on the International Space Station captured this view of the the ISS-Rapid Scatterometer, or RapidScat. Animation Credit: NASA.

RapidScat will boost global monitoring of ocean winds for improved weather and marine forecasting, including hurricane monitoring, as well as climate studies. From the unique vantage point of the space station, this space-based scatterometer instrument will use radar pulses reflected from the ocean's surface from different angles to calculate ocean surface wind speeds and directions.

The ISS-RapidScat instrument is a speedy and cost-effective replacement for NASA's former QuikScat Earth satellite, which monitored ocean winds to provide essential measurements used in weather predictions, including hurricane monitoring.

ISS-RapidScat is a partnership between JPL and the International Space Station Program Office at JSC, with support from the Earth Science Division of NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. Other mission partners include the Kennedy Space Center, Florida; NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Alabama; the European Space Agency; and SpaceX.

For more information on ISS-RapidScat, visit: and

For more information on Earth science activities aboard the space station, visit:

ISS-RapidScat is the third of five NASA Earth science missions scheduled to launch into space within 12 months, the most new Earth-observing mission launches in one year in more than a decade. NASA monitors Earth's vital signs from land, air and space with a fleet of satellites and ambitious airborne and ground-based observation campaigns. NASA 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 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 in 2014, visit:

Images (mentioned), Animation (mentioned), Video (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA / Steve Cole / JPL / Alan Buis / Whitney Clavin.


Launch Success of H-IIA Launch Vehicle No. 25 with Himawari-8 Onboard

JAXA logo.

October 7, 2014 (JST)

H-IIA Launch Vehicle (Illustration)

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Ltd. and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) launched the H-IIA Launch Vehicle No. 25 (H-IIA F25) with the Geostationary Meteorological Satellite Himawari-8 onboard at 2:16:00 p.m. on October 7, 2014 (Japan Standard Time, JST) from the Tanegashima Space Center.

 Launch of Japanese weather sat Himawari-8 on the H2A-F25 rocket

The launch vehicle flew as planned, and, at about 27 minutes and 57 seconds after liftoff, the separation of the Himawari-8 was confirmed.

We would like to express our profound appreciation for the cooperation and support of all related personnel and organizations that helped contribute to the successful launch of the H-IIA F25.

Himawari-8 satellite

At the time of the launch, the weather was fine, a wind speed was 8.5 meters/second from the northeast and the temperature was 24.6 degrees Celsius.

H-IIA Launch Vehicle No.25 Flight Sequence (Quick Estimation)

*1 Quick estimation value prior to the detailed estimation
*2 The values are updated ones based on actual measurement data such as engine performance which are unique for the H-IIA F25 engines. Therefore, they are slightly different from the values in the Launch Plan.
*3 When the combustion chamber presser becomes 10% against the largest combustion pressure.
*4 The definition of SRB-A jettison is the separation of the rear brace.

Related links:

H-IIA Launch Vehicle:

MHI Launch Services -H-IIA/H-IIB Launch Vehicle:

Images, Video, Text, Credits: Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA)/Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Ltd.


lundi 6 octobre 2014

Expedition 41 Preps for First of Three October Spacewalks

ISS - Expedition 41 Mission patch.

October 6, 2014

Astronauts Reid Wiseman of NASA and Alexander Gerst of the European Space Agency will work outside the International Space Station for about 6-1/2 hours Tuesday. The spacewalkers will relocate a failed pump module and install gear that provides back up power to external robotics equipment.

Read more about the U.S. spacewalks:

View imagery from the Oct. 3 U.S. spacewalk briefing:

The duo reviewed their timeline and prepared the Quest airlock where they will stage the spacewalk scheduled for 8:10 a.m. EDT. They also checked out their SAFER (Simplified Aid for EVA Rescue) jetpacks that would allow a spacewalker to propel back to the station in the unlikely event of a separation from the vehicle.

Image above: Astronauts Reid Wiseman and Alexander Gerst will conduct a spacewalk Tuesday. Image Credit: NASA.

Flight Engineer Barry Wilmore of NASA assisted Wiseman and Gerst during the afternoon and trained for his role as the robotic arm operator. He will be the spacewalk coordinator and operate the Canadarm2 in support of maneuvering Gerst during the course of the spacewalk.

Wilmore will join Wiseman for an Oct. 15 spacewalk. Gerst will switch roles and be the coordinator and robotic arm operator. The spacewalkers will replace a failed voltage regulator and move external camera equipment.

Meanwhile, medical work, science and maintenance are always ongoing aboard the orbital laboratory as it operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Gerst started his day in the Japanese Kibo laboratory checking the water quality in the Aquatic Habitat that is currently housing Zebrafish. They are part of an experiment that observes muscle atrophy in microgravity and why it occurs. Results from the study could lead to new treatments for weakened muscles and countermeasures to maintain astronaut health during long duration space missions.

Read more about the Zebrafish Muscle experiment:

Read more about the Aquatic Habitat:

Gerst and Wiseman then partnered up for standard health checks before a spacewalk. The duo checked each other’s ears, blood pressure and temperature. Wilmore processed blood, urine and saliva samples then stored them in a science freezer during the morning.

The station’s newest cosmonauts, Alexander Samokutyaev and Elena Serova, each had an hour for an orientation session. The pair familiarized themselves with various station systems and operations including safety procedures.

Image above: Russian cosmonaut Elena Serova and NASA astronaut Barry Wilmore are at work in the Destiny laboratory of the International Space Station. Image Credit: NASA.

At the beginning of the day, Samokutyaev joined Commander Max Suraev for a review of an upcoming Russian spacewalk. They will exit the Pirs docking compartment Oct. 22 to jettison obsolete hardware and photograph the exterior of the station’s Russian segment.

During the afternoon, Samokutyaev and Suraev were inside the Zarya cargo module installing overlay sheets on interior panels. The commander wrapped up his workday updating the inventory management system and stowing items for disposal inside the ISS Progress 56 resupply vehicle.

Serova worked on science throughout her work day. She first mixed samples in a bioreactor for the Cascade cell cultivation experiment. Next she downloaded dosimeter readings then prepared the dosimeters for Tuesday’s spacewalk.

Read more about Cascade:

Finally, she charged batteries, mounted hardware and conducted observations for the Relaxation experiment. That study observes chemical reactions due to jet exhaust and body reentries in the Earth’s upper atmosphere.

Read more about Relaxation:

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

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA.

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NASA Spots Typhoon Phanfone Affecting Japan

NASA - Aqua Mission logo.

October 6, 2014

Phanfone (Northwestern Pacific Ocean)

Over the weekend of Oct. 5 and 6, Typhoon Phanfone's center made landfall just south of Tokyo and passed over the city before exiting back into the Northwestern Pacific Ocean. NASA's Aqua satellite captured a picture of the typhoon as Tokyo braced for its large eye.

Image above: NASA's Aqua satellite captured this image of Typhoon Phanfone approaching Japan on Oct. 5 at 12:55 a.m. EDT. Image Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.

On its way to mainland Japan, Phanfone struck Kadena Air Base on the island of Okinawa. According to the website for U.S. Air Force Kadena Air Base (, "One Airman is confirmed deceased and two more are missing after they were washed out to sea from the northwest coast of Okinawa at about 3:45 p.m. Oct. 5. An Airman that was found by the Japanese Coast Guard and pulled from the sea was later pronounced dead at a local hospital. HH-60s from Kadena Air Base and Japanese Coast Guard are continuing to search for the remaining two Airmen. Rough seas are complicating rescue efforts."

Typhoon Phanfone's large eye made landfall near the city of Hamamatsu on Oct. 5 around 8 a.m. local time and then tracked north before turning eastward into the Pacific Ocean north of Tokyo.

The MODIS instrument known as the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer captures amazing pictures from its orbit aboard NASA's Aqua satellite. MODIS snapped a picture of Typhoon Phanfone approaching Japan on Oct. 5 at 12:55 a.m. EDT. At that time, the Typhoon had already passed north of Okinawa, and was just south of the large island of Kyushu. The MODIS image revealed a large eye with powerful bands of thunderstorms spiraling into the center.

Artist's view of Aqua satellite. Image Credit: NASA

On Oct. 6 by 0900 UTC (5 a.m. EDT), Phanfone had weakened from a typhoon to a tropical storm back over open waters of the Northwestern Pacific Ocean. Maximum sustained winds were near 60 knots (69.0 mph/111.1 kph). Phanfone was located near 38.0 north longitude and 145.0 east latitude. That's about 201 nautical miles (271 miles/372 km) south-southeast of Misawa Air Base, Japan. Phanfone was moving to the northeast at 40 knots (46 mph/74 kph).

Forecasters at the Joint Typhoon Warning Center (JTWC) using animated multispectral satellite imagery noted that Phanfone is being affected by strong wind shear. The wind shear has stretched the tropical storm out, and pushed the bulk of thunderstorms northeast of the center. In addition, Phanfone has transitioned into an extra-tropical storm, which means that its core transitioned from warm to cold.

JTWC called for Phanfone to continue accelerating northeastward and weaken as an extra-tropical cyclone over water.

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

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


NASA Study Finds Earth’s Ocean Abyss Has Not Warmed

NASA - GRACE Mission patch.

October 6, 2014

The cold waters of Earth’s deep ocean have not warmed measurably since 2005, according to a new NASA study, leaving unsolved the mystery of why global warming appears to have slowed in recent years.

Scientists at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, analyzed satellite and direct ocean temperature data from 2005 to 2013 and found the ocean abyss below 1.24 miles (1,995 meters) has not warmed measurably. Study coauthor Josh Willis of JPL said these findings do not throw suspicion on climate change itself.

"The sea level is still rising," Willis noted. "We're just trying to understand the nitty-gritty details."

Image above: While the upper part of the world’s oceans continue to absorb heat from global warming, ocean depths have not warmed measurably in the last decade. This image shows heat radiating from the Pacific Ocean as imaged by the NASA’s Clouds and the Earth's Radiant Energy System instrument on the Terra satellite. (Blue regions indicate thick cloud cover.) Image Credit: NASA.

In the 21st century, greenhouse gases have continued to accumulate in the atmosphere, just as they did in the 20th century, but global average surface air temperatures have stopped rising in tandem with the gases. The temperature of the top half of the world's oceans -- above the 1.24-mile mark -- is still climbing, but not fast enough to account for the stalled air temperatures.

Many processes on land, air and sea have been invoked to explain what is happening to the "missing" heat. One of the most prominent ideas is that the bottom half of the ocean is taking up the slack, but supporting evidence is slim. This latest study is the first to test the idea using satellite observations, as well as direct temperature measurements of the upper ocean. Scientists have been taking the temperature of the top half of the ocean directly since 2005, using a network of 3,000 floating temperature probes called the Argo array.

"The deep parts of the ocean are harder to measure," said JPL's William Llovel, lead author of the study published Sunday in the journal Nature Climate Change. "The combination of satellite and direct temperature data gives us a glimpse of how much sea level rise is due to deep warming. The answer is -- not much."

Image above: Deep sea creatures, like these anemones at a hydrothermal vent, are not yet feeling the heat from global climate change. Although the top half of the ocean continues to warm, the bottom half has not increased measurably in temperature in the last decade. Image Credit: NERC.

The study took advantage of the fact that water expands as it gets warmer. The sea level is rising because of this expansion and the water added by glacier and ice sheet melt.

To arrive at their conclusion, the JPL scientists did a straightforward subtraction calculation, using data for 2005-2013 from the Argo buoys, NASA's Jason-1 and Jason-2 satellites, and the agency’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellites. From the total amount of sea level rise, they subtracted the amount of rise from the expansion in the upper ocean, and the amount of rise that came from added meltwater. The remainder represented the amount of sea level rise caused by warming in the deep ocean.

The remainder was essentially zero. Deep ocean warming contributed virtually nothing to sea level rise during this period.

Coauthor Felix Landerer of JPL noted that during the same period warming in the top half of the ocean continued unabated, an unequivocal sign that our planet is heating up. Some recent studies reporting deep-ocean warming were, in fact, referring to the warming in the upper half of the ocean but below the topmost layer, which ends about 0.4 mile (700 meters) down.

Landerer also is a coauthor of another paper in the same journal issue on 1970-2005 ocean warming in the Southern Hemisphere. Before Argo floats were deployed, temperature measurements in the Southern Ocean were spotty, at best. Using satellite measurements and climate simulations of sea level changes around the world, the new study found the global ocean absorbed far more heat in those 35 years than previously thought -- a whopping 24 to 58 percent more than early estimates.

Artist's view of GRACE satellites. Image Credit: NASA

Both papers result from the work of the newly formed NASA Sea Level Change Team, an interdisciplinary group tasked with using NASA satellite data to improve the accuracy and scale of current and future estimates of sea level change. The Southern Hemisphere paper was led by three scientists at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Livermore, California.

NASA monitors Earth's vital signs from land, air and space with a fleet of satellites and ambitious airborne and ground-based observation campaigns. NASA 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 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 in 2014, visit:

For more information on ocean surface topography from space, visit:

More information on NASA’s GRACE satellites is available at:

For more information on the Argo array, visit:

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA / Steve Cole / JPL / Alan Buis.