samedi 25 octobre 2014

Dragon leave the International Space Station

SpaceX - Falcon 9 - Dragon CRS-4 Mission patch.

October 25, 2015

Images above: This series of images, captured by cameras on the International Space Station (ISS) show the departure from the station of SpaceX’s Dragon cargo spacecraft. Image Credits: NASA TV.

The SpaceX Dragon cargo spacecraft was released from the International Space Station’s robotic arm at 9:57 a.m. EDT. The capsule will begin a series of departure burns and maneuvers to move beyond the 656-foot (200-meter) “keep out sphere” around the station and begin its return trip to Earth. The capsule is currently scheduled to splashdown in the Pacific Ocean at 3:39 p.m., about 265 miles west of the Baja peninsula.

Dragon Departs the ISS

SpaceX’s Dragon cargo craft splashed down in the Pacific Ocean at 3:39 p.m. EDT a few hundred miles west of Baja California, Mexico, marking the end of the company’s fourth contracted cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station.

Dragon Returns After Supplying Space Station. Animation Credit: NASA

The spacecraft is returning 3,276 pounds of NASA cargo and science samples from the International Space Station. A boat will take the Dragon spacecraft to a port near Los Angeles, where some cargo will be removed and returned to NASA within 48 hours. Dragon will be prepared for a return journey to SpaceX’s test facility in McGregor, Texas, for processing.

Dragon parachute-guided splashdown west of Baja California. Image Credit: NASA

The mission was the fourth of 12 cargo resupply trips SpaceX will make to the space station through 2016 under NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services contract.

For more information from SpaceX, visit:

Image (mentioned), Animation (mentioned), Text, Credit: NASA.


One Giant Sunspot, 5 Substantial Flares

NASA - Solar Dynimacs Observatory (SDO) patch.

October 25, 2014

On Oct. 25, 2014, the sun emitted its fifth substantial flare since Oct.19. This flare was classified as an X1-class flare and it peaked at 1:08 p.m. EDT.

Image above: An X-class flare erupted from the sun on Oct. 25, 2014, as seen as a bright flash of light in this image from NASA's SDO. The image shows extreme ultraviolet light in the 131-angstrom wavelength, which highlights the intensely hot material in a flare and which is typically colorized in teal. Image Credit: NASA/SDO.

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

What is a solar flare?

For answers to this and other space weather questions, please visit the Spaceweather Frequently Asked Questions page:

Related Links

What does it take to be X-class?:

View Past Solar Activity:

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

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


Hinode Captures Images of Partial Solar Eclipse

NASA / JAXA - Hinode X-ray Telescope logo.

October 25, 2014

A partial solar eclipse was visible from much of North America before sundown on Thursday, Oct.23. A partial eclipse occurs when the moon blocks a portion of the sun from view.

The Hinode spacecraft captured images of yesterday’s eclipse as it passed over North America using its X-ray Telescope.  During the eclipse, the new moon eased across the sun from right to left with the Sun shining brilliantly in the background.  And as a stroke of good luck, this solar cycle’s largest active region, which has been the source of several large flares over the past week, was centered on the sun’s disk as the moon transited!

Hinode is in the eighth year of its mission to observe the sun. Previously, Hinode has observed numerous eclipses due to its high-altitude, sun-synchronous orbit.  As viewed from Hinode’s vantage point in space, this eclipse was annular instead of partial, which means that the entire moon moved in front of the sun but did not cover it completely.  In this situation, a ring of the sun encircles the dark disk of the moon.

Hinode X-ray Telescope spacecraft

Led by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), the Hinode mission is a collaboration between the space agencies of Japan, the United States, the United Kingdom and Europe. NASA helped in the development, funding and assembly of the spacecraft's three science instruments.

Hinode is part of the Solar Terrestrial Probes (STP) Program within the Heliophysics Division of NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., manages the Hinode science operations. The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory is the lead U.S. investigator for the X-ray telescope.

For more information about Hinode mission, visit:

Images, Text, Credits: NASA/JAXA/SAO.


Felix Baumgartner's record beaten by Alan Eustace

Google balloon logo.

October 25, 2014

A senior Google beat Friday balloon altitude record held by Austrian since 2012, narrowly missing the speed in free fall.

Image above: Alan Eustace reached 41'419 meters, 2374 meters higher than Felix Baumgartner October 14, 2012. Image Credit: Courtesy of Paragon Space Development Corporation.

Protected by a pressurized suit specially designed for this experiment, the CEO of the Internet giant, Alan Eustace, rose at dawn in the sky of New Mexico, United States, attached to a balloon to helium from the runway of an airfield abandoned. After a little more than two hours of climbing, he reached 41'419 meters, 2374 meters higher than Felix Baumgartner.

Image above: Protected by a pressurized suit specially designed for this experiment. Image Credit: Courtesy of Paragon Space Development Corporation.

He then won the balloon with a small explosive mechanism to plunge to Earth, reaching a maximum of 1322.9 km / hour, or 1.24 times the speed of sound, triggering a small sonic boom, before opening his parachute. Felix Baumgartner reached a speed of 1357.6 km / h, speed record that still stands free fall.

Alan Eustace Record-Breaking Jump Stratex

Video Above: In the early hours of October 24, 2014, Alan Eustace, Google's VP of Search, made ​​a record-breaking skydive from 135.890 feet. Video Credit: Courtesy of Paragon Space Development Corporation.

The descent Alan Eustace took a total of fifteen minutes. "It was amazing, beautiful; I could see the blackness of space and the layers of the atmosphere that I had never seen before, "he has told the" New York Times ".

Fifteen minutes of fall

After about four and a half minutes of descent, he opened his main parachute and landed ten minutes after a hundred kilometers from the place where he had gone.

"Breaking a record in aviation is significant; it involves a lot of risk, "said Mark Kelly, a former NASA astronaut who witnessed the ascension of Alan Eustace.

Image Above: Protected in a pressurized suit specially designed for this experiment, Alan Eustace rose at dawn in the sky of New Mexico attached to a balloon filled with helium from the runway of an airfield abandoned . Image Credit: Courtesy of Paragon Space Development Corporation.

Unlike Felix Baumgartner, was not housed in a high-tech capsule to climb, but had his suit.

Alan Eustace, 57 years, prepared his feat in the biggest secret for nearly three years with a small group of engineers who designed and manufactured the suit and pressurization system and the parachute and balloon.

Images (mentioned), Video (mentioned), Text, Credits: ATS / Translation: Aerospace.


vendredi 24 octobre 2014

Scientists: Comet farting a real stinker!

ESA - Rosetta Mission patch.

October 24, 2014

Rotten egg smell, stable, smell of alcohol ... The comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko really do not feel good, if you believe the "nose" of the European probe Rosetta.

Among its instruments, Rosetta has indeed a spectrometer, "Rosina". This instrument, developed at the University of Bern, is able to study the composition of the comet's coma, consisting of gas ejected from the nucleus under the influence of solar radiation dust.

Image above: Two jets shoot vaporized ice and dust from the nucleus of the comet. The bright nucleus had to be overexposed to capture the much fainter jets. Image Credits: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA.

Although the comet is still more than 400 million kilometers from the Sun, the instrument has been able to recognize a range of molecules. First, it detects water, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, ammonia, methane and methanol.

She then found formaldehyde, hydrogen sulfide, hydrogen cyanide, sulfur dioxide and carbon disulfide, announced the European Space Agency (ESA) and the University of Bern.

Graphic above: High resolution mass spectrum from ROSINA's Double Focusing Mass Spectrometer (DFMS), taken on 10 October at a distance of 10 km from the comet centre. The plot shows the detection of hydrogen sulphide and the heavier isotope of sulphur, 34S, which is a fragment of all sulphur bearing species. The plot shows intensity vs. the mass-to-charge ratio*.  Image courtesy K. Altwegg, University of Bern.

"Extremely interesting" mix

"The scent of the comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko is rather strong, with an odor of rotten eggs (hydrogen sulfide), stable (ammonia) and the pungent smell of formaldehyde suffocating" describes Kathrin Altwegg, main responsible for instrument Rosina. "All this mixed with the aroma of bitter almonds hydrogen cyanide."

"Add a whiff of alcohol (methanol) to this mixture associated with vinegary aroma of sulfur dioxide, and a hint of sweet and aromatic scent of carbon disulfide, and you get to 'perfume' your comet" Kathrin Altwegg says.

Image above: A composite photo of comet 67P/C-G showing gases escaping from the 'neck'. Image Credit: Emily Lakdawalla/ESA.

Beyond the anecdotal, "all this is a very interesting mix of a scientific point of view to study the origin of the materials in our solar system, the formation of the Earth and the origin of life" she says.

Rosetta must accompany the comet at least until it passes closest to the Sun in August 2015 On 12 November, ESA will attempt to land on a comet nucleus robot lab, Philae, a first in the history of space exploration.

For more information about Rosetta missio, visit:

Images & Graphic (mentioned), Text, Credits: ESA / ATS / Translation: Aerospace.

Best regards,

NASA Identifies Ice Cloud Above Cruising Altitude on Titan

NASA / JPL / ESA - Cassini International logo.

October 24, 2014

NASA scientists have identified an unexpected high-altitude methane ice cloud on Saturn's moon Titan that is similar to exotic clouds found far above Earth's poles.

This lofty cloud, imaged by NASA's Cassini spacecraft, was part of the winter cap of condensation over Titan's north pole. Now, eight years after spotting this mysterious bit of atmospheric fluff, researchers have determined that it contains methane ice, which produces a much denser cloud than the ethane ice previously identified there.

"The idea that methane clouds could form this high on Titan is completely new," said Carrie Anderson, a Cassini participating scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and lead author of the study. "Nobody considered that possible before."

Images above: This cloud in the stratosphere over Titan’s north pole (left) is similar to Earth’s polar stratospheric clouds (right). NASA scientists found that Titan’s cloud contains methane ice, which was not previously thought to form in that part of the atmosphere. Cassini first spotted the cloud in 2006. Image Credit: L. NASA/JPL/U. of Ariz./LPGNantes; R. NASA/GSFC/M. Schoeberl.

Methane clouds were already known to exist in Titan's troposphere, the lowest layer of the atmosphere. Like rain and snow clouds on Earth, those clouds form through a cycle of evaporation and condensation, with vapor rising from the surface, encountering cooler and cooler temperatures and falling back down as precipitation. On Titan, however, the vapor at work is methane instead of water.

The newly identified cloud instead developed in the stratosphere, the layer above the troposphere. Earth has its own polar stratospheric clouds, which typically form above the North Pole and South Pole between 49,000 and 82,000 feet (15 to 25 kilometers) -- well above cruising altitude for airplanes. These rare clouds don't form until the temperature drops to minus 108 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 78 degrees Celsius).

Other stratospheric clouds had been identified on Titan already, including a very thin, diffuse cloud of ethane, a chemical formed after methane breaks down. Delicate clouds made from cyanoacetylene and hydrogen cyanide, which form from reactions of methane byproducts with nitrogen molecules, also have been found there.

But methane clouds were thought unlikely in Titan's stratosphere. Because the troposphere traps most of the moisture, stratospheric clouds require extreme cold. Even the stratosphere temperature of minus 333 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 203 degrees Celsius), observed by Cassini just south of the equator, was not frigid enough to allow the scant methane in this region of the atmosphere to condense into ice.

What Anderson and her Goddard co-author, Robert Samuelson, noted is that temperatures in Titan's lower stratosphere are not the same at all latitudes. Data from Cassini's Composite Infrared Spectrometer and the spacecraft's radio science instrument showed that the high-altitude temperature near the north pole was much colder than that just south of the equator.

It turns out that this temperature difference -- as much as 11 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 12 degrees Celsius) -- is more than enough to yield methane ice.

Other factors support the methane identification. Initial observations of the cloud system were consistent with small particles composed of ethane ice. Later observations revealed some regions to be clumpier and denser, suggesting that more than one ice could be present. The team confirmed that the larger particles are the right size for methane ice and that the expected amount of methane -- one-and-a-half percent, which is enough to form ice particles -- is present in the lower polar stratosphere.

The mechanism for forming these high-altitude clouds appears to be different from what happens in the troposphere. Titan has a global circulation pattern in which warm air in the summer hemisphere wells up from the surface and enters the stratosphere, slowly making its way to the winter pole. There, the air mass sinks back down, cooling as it descends, which allows the stratospheric methane clouds to form.

Cassini analyzing Titan atmosphere. Image Credit: NASA / ESA

"Cassini has been steadily gathering evidence of this global circulation pattern, and the identification of this new methane cloud is another strong indicator that the process works the way we think it does," said Michael Flasar, Goddard scientist and principal investigator for Cassini's Composite Infrared Spectrometer (CIRS).

Like Earth's stratospheric clouds, this methane cloud was located near the winter pole, above 65 degrees north latitude. Anderson and Samuelson estimate that this type of cloud system -- which they call subsidence-induced methane clouds, or SIMCs for short -- could develop between 98,000 to 164,000 feet (30 to 50 kilometers) in altitude above Titan's surface.

"Titan continues to amaze with natural processes similar to those on the Earth, yet involving materials different from our familiar water," said Scott Edgington, Cassini deputy project scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California. "As we approach southern winter solstice on Titan, we will further explore how these cloud formation processes might vary with season."

The results of this study are available online in the journal Icarus:

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. The CIRS team is based at Goddard. The radio science team is based at JPL.

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

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/Elizabeth Zubritsky/JPL/Preston Dyches.


jeudi 23 octobre 2014

China Launches Lunar Sample Return Precursor Mission

CASC - Chinese Lunar Exploration Program (CLEP) logo.

October 23, 2014

Long March-3C rocket launch

China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation or CASC have launched the third phase of its lunar exploration program on Thursday. Launch of the Chang’e-5-T1 mission took place at 17:59 UTC, utilizing a Long March-3C/G2 launch vehicle from the LC2 launch complex of the Xichang Satellite Launch Center, Sichuan Province. The mission is aimed at testing the technologies that are vital for the success of the future Chang’e-5 sample return probe.

The spacecraft, launched today aboard a Long March 3C rocket, will circle the moon and then re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere in a test of its navigation system and heat shield. It is a precursor for the Chang’e-5 sample return mission set to launch around 2017.

CE-5-T1 capsule (Chang'e 5 precursor mission)

The mission is a lunar flyby of a spacecraft that is attached to the last stage of the Long March 3C/G2 rocket on its Vehicle Equipment Bay. The project is conducted by LuxSpace, Grand Duchy of Luxembourg and is a quick, low cost mission aiming at global cooperation.

Secondary payloads

A German space technology company, OHB System, will fly a private payload called the 4M mission (Manfred Memorial Moon Mission) in honor of OHB founder, Manfred Fuchs, who died in 2014. Technical management of the mission will be performed by LuxSpace. The probe weighs 14 kilograms and contains two scientific instruments.

The first instrument is a radio beacon to test a new approach for locating spacecraft. Radio amateurs will be encouraged via prize incentives to receive the transmissions and send results back to LuxSpace.

The second instrument, a dosimeter provided by the Spanish company iC-Málaga, will continuously measure radiation levels throughout the satellite's circumlunar path.

4M payload (Image Credit: LuxSpace)

The payload of this mission is designated 4M-LXS, a 14 kg payload that was developed at LuxSpace.

The 4M-LXS amateur radio payload will transmit on 145.980 MHz ± 2.9kHz (-40°C to +125°C), Doppler max: -2200Hz, +1000Hz. The continuous transmissions will start 4670s (77.8 minutes) after launch (-0, +600s).

4M can help in the sizing of the appropriate radiation shielding for the next Moon mission as well as being the first basic trial for spacecraft navigation of the next Moon mission.

CLEP, the Chinese Lunar Exploration Program

Return a sample of the lunar surface by future China probe Chang’e-5

The CLEP was established in three different phases. The first phase aimed at orbiting the Moon, with the second phase having the objective of making a soft landing, while the third phase has the objective of return a sample of the lunar surface to Earth.

For more information about China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC), visit:

Images, Text, Credits: CASC / / Wikipedia / Aerospace.

Best regards,

Close Encounters: Comet Siding Spring Seen Next to Mars

NASA - Hubble Space Telescope patch.

October 23, 2014

Image above: This composite Hubble Space Telescope Image captures the positions of comet Siding Spring and Mars in a never-before-seen close passage of a comet by the Red Planet, which happened at 2:28 p.m. EDT October 19, 2014. Image Credit: NASA, ESA, PSI, JHU/APL, STScI/AURA.

This composite Hubble Space Telescope Image captures the positions of comet Siding Spring and Mars in a never-before-seen close passage of a comet by the Red Planet, which happened at 2:28 p.m. EDT October 19, 2014. The comet passed by Mars at approximately 87,000 miles (about one-third of the distance between Earth and the Moon). At that time, the comet and Mars were approximately 149 million miles from Earth.

The comet image shown here is a composite of Hubble exposures taken between Oct. 18, 8:06 a.m. EDT to Oct. 19, 11:17 p.m. EDT. Hubble took a separate photograph of Mars at 10:37 p.m. EDT on Oct. 18.

The Mars and comet images have been added together to create a single picture to illustrate the angular separation, or distance, between the comet and Mars at closest approach. The separation is approximately 1.5 arc minutes, or one-twentieth of the angular diameter of the full Moon. The background starfield in this composite image is synthesized from ground-based telescope data provided by the Palomar Digital Sky Survey, which has been reprocessed to approximate Hubble’s resolution. The solid icy comet nucleus is too small to be resolved in the Hubble picture. The comet’s bright coma, a diffuse cloud of dust enshrouding the nucleus, and a dusty tail, are clearly visible.

Hubble Space Telescope orbiting Earth

This is a composite image because a single exposure of the stellar background, comet Siding Spring, and Mars would be problematic. Mars is actually 10,000 times brighter than the comet, and so could not be properly exposed to show detail in the Red Planet. The comet and Mars were also moving with respect to each other and so could not be imaged simultaneously in one exposure without one of the objects being motion blurred. Hubble had to be programmed to track on the comet and Mars separately in two different observations.

The images were taken with Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3.

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: NASA / Felicia Chou / ESA.


mercredi 22 octobre 2014

Galactic Wheel of Life Shines in Infrared

NASA - Spitzer Space Telescope patch.

October 22, 2014

Image above: A new image from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope, taken in infrared light, shows where the action is taking place in galaxy NGC 1291. The outer ring, colored red in this view, is filled with new stars that are igniting and heating up dust that glows with infrared light. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

It might look like a spoked wheel or even a "Chakram" weapon wielded by warriors like "Xena," from the fictional TV show, but this ringed galaxy is actually a vast place of stellar life. A newly released image from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope shows the galaxy NGC 1291. Though the galaxy is quite old, roughly 12 billion years, it is marked by an unusual ring where newborn stars are igniting.

"The rest of the galaxy is done maturing," said Kartik Sheth of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory of Charlottesville, Virginia. "But the outer ring is just now starting to light up with stars."

NGC 1291 is located about 33 million light-years away in the constellation Eridanus. It is what's known as a barred galaxy, because its central region is dominated by a long bar of stars (in the new image, the bar is within the blue circle and looks like the letter "S").

The bar formed early in the history of the galaxy. It churns material around, forcing stars and gas from their original circular orbits into large, non-circular, radial orbits. This creates resonances -- areas where gas is compressed and triggered to form new stars. Our own Milky Way galaxy has a bar, though not as prominent as the one in NGC 1291.

Sheth and his colleagues are busy trying to better understand how bars of stars like these shape the destinies of galaxies. In a program called Spitzer Survey of Stellar Structure in Galaxies, or S4G, Sheth and his team of scientists are analyzing the structures of more than 3,000 galaxies in our local neighborhood. The farthest galaxy of the bunch lies about 120 million light-years away -- practically a stone’s throw in comparison to the vastness of space.

The astronomers are documenting structural features, including bars. They want to know how many of the local galaxies have bars, as well as the environmental conditions in a galaxy that might influence the formation and structure of bars.

"Now, with Spitzer we can measure the precise shape and distribution of matter within the bar structures," said Sheth. "The bars are a natural product of cosmic evolution, and they are part of the galaxies' endoskeleton. Examining this endoskeleton for the fossilized clues to their past gives us a unique view of their evolution."

Spitzer Space Telescope. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

In the Spitzer image, shorter-wavelength infrared light has been assigned the color blue, and longer-wavelength light, red. The stars that appear blue in the central, bulge region of the galaxy are older; most of the gas, or star-making fuel, there was previously used up by earlier generations of stars. When galaxies are young and gas-rich, stellar bars drive gas toward the center, feeding star formation

Over time, as the fuel runs out, the central regions become quiescent and star-formation activity shifts to the outskirts of a galaxy. There, spiral density waves and resonances induced by the central bar help convert gas to stars. The outer ring, seen here in red, is one such resonance area, where gas has been trapped and ignited into star-forming frenzy.

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

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


NASA-led Study Sees Titan Glowing at Dusk and Dawn

NASA patch / ALMA logo.

October 22, 2014

Image above: High in the atmosphere of Titan, large patches of two trace gases glow near the north pole, on the dusk side of the moon, and near the south pole, on the dawn side. Brighter colors indicate stronger signals from the two gases, HNC (left) and HC3N (right); red hues indicate less pronounced signals. Image Credit: NRAO/AUI/NSF.

New maps of Saturn’s moon Titan reveal large patches of trace gases shining brightly near the north and south poles. These regions are curiously shifted off the poles, to the east or west, so that dawn is breaking over the southern region while dusk is falling over the northern one.

The pair of patches was spotted by a NASA-led international team of researchers investigating the chemical make-up of Titan’s atmosphere.

“This is an unexpected and potentially groundbreaking discovery,” said Martin Cordiner, an astrochemist working at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and the lead author of the study. “These kinds of east-to-west variations have never been seen before in Titan’s atmospheric gases. Explaining their origin presents us with a fascinating new problem.”

The mapping comes from observations made by the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), a network of high-precision antennas in Chile. At the wavelengths used by these antennas, the gas-rich areas in Titan’s atmosphere glowed brightly. And because of ALMA’s sensitivity, the researchers were able to obtain spatial maps of chemicals in Titan’s atmosphere from a “snapshot” observation that lasted less than three minutes.

Titan’s atmosphere has long been of interest because it acts as a chemical factory, using energy from the sun and Saturn’s magnetic field to produce a wide range of organic, or carbon-based, molecules. Studying this complex chemistry may provide insights into the properties of Earth’s very early atmosphere, which may have shared many chemical characteristics with present-day Titan.

In this study, the researchers focused on two organic molecules, hydrogen isocyanide (HNC) and cyanoacetylene (HC3N), that are formed in Titan’s atmosphere. At lower altitudes, the HC3N appears concentrated above Titan’s north and south poles. These findings are consistent with observations made by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft, which has found a cloud cap and high concentrations of some gases over whichever pole is experiencing winter on Titan.

The surprise came when the researchers compared the gas concentrations at different levels in the atmosphere. At the highest altitudes, the gas pockets appeared to be shifted away from the poles. These off-pole locations are unexpected because the fast-moving winds in Titan’s middle atmosphere move in an east–west direction, forming zones similar to Jupiter’s bands, though much less pronounced. Within each zone, the atmospheric gases should, for the most part, be thoroughly mixed.

The researchers do not have an obvious explanation for these findings yet.

“It seems incredible that chemical mechanisms could be operating on rapid enough timescales to cause enhanced 'pockets' in the observed molecules,” said Conor Nixon, a planetary scientist at Goddard and a coauthor of the paper, published online today in the Astrophysical Journal Letters. “We would expect the molecules to be quickly mixed around the globe by Titan’s winds.”

 Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA)

At the moment, the scientists are considering a number of potential explanations, including thermal effects, previously unknown patterns of atmospheric circulation, or the influence of Saturn’s powerful magnetic field, which extends far enough to engulf Titan.

Further observations are expected to improve the understanding of the atmosphere and ongoing processes on Titan and other objects throughout the solar system. 

NASA’s Astrobiology Program supported this work through a grant to the Goddard Center for Astrobiology, a part of the NASA Astrobiology Institute. Additional funding came from NASA’s Planetary Atmospheres and Planetary Astronomy programs. ALMA, an international astronomy facility, is funded in Europe by the European Southern Observatory, in North America by the U.S. National Science Foundation in cooperation with the National Research Council of Canada and the National Science Council of Taiwan, and in East Asia by the National Institutes of Natural Sciences of Japan in cooperation with the Academia Sinica in Taiwan.

Related links:

Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA):

NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center:

NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/Nancy Neal-Jones / Elizabeth Zubritsky/ALMA.


Cosmonauts Complete Third October Spacewalk

ISS - Expedition 41 Mission patch / ROSCOSMOS - Russian Cosmonaut patch.

October 22, 2014

Russian spacewalkers Max Suraev and Alexander Samokutyaev closed the Pirs docking compartment hatch at 1:06 p.m. EDT ending the third spacewalk for Expedition 41. The cosmonauts were outside the International Space Station for three hours and 38 minutes. Two U.S. spacewalks took place Oct. 7 and 15.

Image above: Russian spacewalkers Max Suraev and Alexander Samokutyaev work outside the Pirs docking compartment during an Oct. 22 spacewalk. Image Credit: NASA TV.

Read about the Oct. 7 U.S. & ESA spacewalk:

Read about the Oct. 15 U.S. spacewalk:

The duo’s first task was to remove the Radiometriya experiment that was installed on the Zvezda service module in 2011 and which is no longer required for data collection. They  jettisoned it for a later reentry into the atmosphere where it will burn up. The experiment gathered data to help scientists predict seismic events and earthquakes.

Russian Space Station Spacewalk

The veteran cosmonauts moved on to another external experiment and removed its protective cover. They photographed the Expose-R experiment before taking a break during the orbital night period.

After orbital sunrise, they took more photographs of the work area, translated back to Pirs and placed the protective cover inside. The European Space Agency study exposes organic and biological samples to the harsh environment of space and observes how they are affected by cosmic radiation, vacuum and night and day cycles.

Read more about Expose-R:

Suraev and Samokutyaev then removed hardware from Pirs and collected samples of particulate matter on the outside of the docking compartment. Dubbed the TEST experiment, the samples will be analyzed on the ground for chemical and toxicological contaminants including microbes.

Image above: Spacewalker Maxim Suraev works outside the Poisk mini-research module in January 2010. Image Credit: NASA TV.

The Russian spacewalkers then translated over to the Poisk mini-research module on the space-facing side of the Russian segment. Once there, they reached a pair of rendezvous antennas no longer needed that were blocking translation paths for future spacewalks. They removed both antennas and jettisoned them from the orbital laboratory.

Finally, the cosmonauts conducted a detailed photographic survey of the exterior surface of the Russian modules.

Image above: Russian spacewalkers Max Suraev and Alexander Samokutyaev. Image Credit: NASA TV.

This was Suraev’s second spacewalk of his career. His first was in January of 2010 during Expedition 22 when he spent five hours, 44 minutes outside the station setting up Poisk for future vehicle dockings. Suraev's two spacewalks total 9 hours, 22 minutes.

This was also Samokutyaev’s second spacewalk. He worked outside the station in August 2011 for six hours, 23 minutes installing science and communications gear and relocating a cargo boom during Expedition 28. Samokutyaev's two spacewalks total 10 hours, 1 minute.

Wednesday’s spacewalk was the 184th in support of station assembly and maintenance.

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

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

Best regards,

Two Families of Comets Found Around Nearby Star

ESO - European Southern Observatory logo.

22 October 2014

Biggest census ever of exocomets around Beta Pictoris

Artist’s impression of exocomets around Beta Pictoris

The HARPS instrument at ESO’s La Silla Observatory in Chile has been used to make the most complete census of comets around another star ever created. A French team of astronomers has studied nearly 500 individual comets orbiting the star Beta Pictoris and has discovered that they belong to two distinct families of exocomets: old exocomets that have made multiple passages near the star, and younger exocomets that probably came from the recent breakup of one or more larger objects. The new results will appear in the journal Nature on 23 October 2014.

Beta Pictoris is a young star located about 63 light-years from the Sun. It is only about 20 million years old and is surrounded by a huge disc of material — a very active young planetary system where gas and dust are produced by the evaporation of comets and the collisions of asteroids.

Beta Pictoris as Seen in Infrared Light

Flavien Kiefer (IAP/CNRS/UPMC), lead author of the new study sets the scene: “Beta Pictoris is a very exciting target! The detailed observations of its exocomets give us clues to help understand what processes occur in this kind of young planetary system.”

For almost 30 years astronomers have seen subtle changes in the light from Beta Pictoris that were thought to be caused by the passage of comets in front of the star itself. Comets are small bodies of a few kilometres in size, but they are rich in ices, which evaporate when they approach their star, producing gigantic tails of gas and dust that can absorb some of the light passing through them. The dim light from the exocomets is swamped by the light of the brilliant star so they cannot be imaged directly from Earth.

Exoplanet caught on the move

To study the Beta Pictoris exocomets, the team analysed more than 1000 observations obtained between 2003 and 2011 with the HARPS instrument on the ESO 3.6-metre telescope at the La Silla Observatory in Chile.

The researchers selected a sample of 493 different exocomets. Some exocomets were observed several times and for a few hours. Careful analysis provided measurements of the speed and the size of the gas clouds. Some of the orbital properties of each of these exocomets, such as the shape and the orientation of the orbit and the distance to the star, could also be deduced.

Around Beta Pictoris

This analysis of several hundreds of exocomets in a single exo-planetary system is unique. It revealed the presence of two distinct families of exocomets: one family of old exocomets whose orbits are controlled by a massive planet [1], and another family, probably arising from the recent breakdown of one or a few bigger objects. Different families of comets also exist in the Solar System.

The exocomets of the first family have a variety of orbits and show a rather weak activity with low production rates of gas and dust. This suggests that these comets have exhausted their supplies of ices during their multiple passages close to Beta Pictoris [2].

Artist’s impression of exocomets around Beta Pictoris

The exocomets of the second family are much more active and are also on nearly identical orbits [3]. This suggests that the members of the second family all arise from the same origin: probably the breakdown of a larger object whose fragments are on an orbit grazing the star Beta Pictoris.

Flavien Kiefer concludes: “For the first time a statistical study has determined the physics and orbits for a large number of exocomets. This work provides a remarkable look at the mechanisms that were at work in the Solar System just after its formation 4.5 billion years ago.”


[1] A giant planet, Beta Pictoris b, has also been discovered in orbit at about a billion kilometres from the star and studied using high resolution images obtained with adaptive optics.

[2] Moreover, the orbits of these comets (eccentricity and orientation) are exactly as predicted for comets trapped in orbital resonance with a massive planet. The properties of the comets of the first family show that this planet in resonance must be at about 700 million kilometres from the star  — close to where the planet Beta Pictoris b was discovered.

[3] This makes them similar to the comets of the Kreutz family in the Solar System, or the fragments of Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9, which impacted Jupiter in July 1994.

More information:

This research was presented in a paper entitled "Two families of exocomets in the Beta Pictoris system" which will be published in the journal Nature on 23 October 2014.

The team is composed of F. Kiefer (Institut d’astrophysique de Paris [IAP], CNRS, Université Pierre & Marie Curie-Paris 6, Paris, France), A. Lecavelier des Etangs (IAP), J. Boissier (Institut de radioastronomie millimétrique, Saint Martin d’Hères, France), A. Vidal-Madjar (IAP), H. Beust (Institut de planétologie et d'astrophysique de Grenoble [IPAG], CNRS, Université Joseph Fourier-Grenoble 1, Grenoble, France), A.-M. Lagrange (IPAG), G. Hébrard (IAP) and R. Ferlet (IAP).

ESO is the foremost intergovernmental astronomy organisation in Europe and the world’s most productive ground-based astronomical observatory by far. It is supported by 15 countries: Austria, Belgium, Brazil, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Finland, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. ESO carries out an ambitious programme focused on the design, construction and operation of powerful ground-based observing facilities enabling astronomers to make important scientific discoveries. ESO also plays a leading role in promoting and organising cooperation in astronomical research. ESO operates three unique world-class observing sites in Chile: La Silla, Paranal and Chajnantor. At Paranal, ESO operates the Very Large Telescope, the world’s most advanced visible-light astronomical observatory and two survey telescopes. VISTA works in the infrared and is the world’s largest survey telescope and the VLT Survey Telescope is the largest telescope designed to exclusively survey the skies in visible light. ESO is the European partner of a revolutionary astronomical telescope ALMA, the largest astronomical project in existence. ESO is currently planning the 39-metre European Extremely Large optical/near-infrared Telescope, the E-ELT, which will become “the world’s biggest eye on the sky”.


Research paper in Nature:

Photos of La Silla:

Photos of HARPS:

Images, Text, Credits: ESO/L. Calçada/A.-M. Lagrange et al./Digitized Sky Survey 2/Video: ESO/L. Calçada/N. Risinger (


Second Substantial Flare in Two Days

NASA - Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) patch.

October 22, 2014

The sun emitted a mid-level solar flare, peaking at 9:59 p.m. EDT on Oct. 21, 2014. NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory, which is always observing the sun, captured an image of the event. The same active region previously emitted an X1.1 solar flare on Oct. 19. Solar flares are powerful bursts of radiation. Harmful radiation from a flare cannot pass through Earth's atmosphere to physically affect humans on the ground, however -- when intense enough -- they can disturb the atmosphere in the layer where GPS and communications signals travel.

Image above: An active region on the sun erupted with a mid-level flare on Oct. 21, 2014, as seen in the bright light of this image captured by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory. This image shows extreme ultraviolet light that highlights the hot solar material in the sun's atmosphere. Image Credit: NASA/SDO.

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

Image above: An active region on the sun erupted with a mid-level flare on Oct. 21, 2014, as seen in the bright light of this image captured by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory. This image shows extreme ultraviolet light that highlights the hot solar material in the sun's atmosphere. Image Credit: NASA/GSFC/SDO.

Image above: An active region on the sun erupted with a mid-level flare on Oct. 21, 2014, as seen in the bright light of this image captured by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory. This image shows extreme ultraviolet light that highlights the hot solar material in the sun's atmosphere. Image Credit: NASA/GSFC/SDO.

This flare is classified as an M 8.7-class flare.

M-class denotes flares that are a tenth as strong as X-class flares, which are the most intense flares. The number provides more information about its strength. An M2 is twice as intense as an M1, an M3 is three times as intense, etc.

Coronal Loops, Anyone?

Video above: SDO captured a splendid example of expanding coronal loops seen in profile at the edge of the Sun (Oct. 14-15, 2014). The bright loops began to form and grow after a long-lasting M-class flare erupted. The arcs of the loops we see in extreme ultraviolet light are actually particles spiraling along magnetic field lines arcing above the active region that was the source of the flare. They are reorganizing the magnetic field after its disruption. To give a sense of scale, these huge loops are reaching out more than 15 times the size of Earth. Video Credit: Solar Dynamics Observatory/NASA.

Updates will be provided as needed.

What is a solar flare?

For answers to this and other space weather questions, please visit the Spaceweather Frequently Asked Questions page:

Related Links:

X1.1 solar flare on Oct. 19:

Related multimedia from NASA Goddard's Scientific Visualization Studio:

What does it take to be X-class?:

View Past Solar Activity:

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

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


Copernicus Sentinel-1: making our seas safer

ESA - Sentinel-1 Mission logo / Copernicus logo.

22 October 2014

Sentinel-1A satellite

Within the first days of its operational life, the Sentinel-1A satellite has provided data for marine services in the Arctic.

During the first week of the satellite’s operational data supply, experts from the Technical University of Denmark and the Danish Meteorological Institute working under the Horizon 2020 MyOcean Follow-On project used the data to alert vessels on marine ice conditions.

Monitoring ice drift

The series of MyOcean projects is the pre-operational precursor of the Copernicus Marine Environment Monitoring Service, to be implemented by the European Commission. Its primary objective is to provide forecasts of the global marine environment and the near-realtime observation data necessary for forecast models.

Since Sentinel-1A data started to become free and accessible earlier this month with the satellite entering into its operational phase, the Danish Meteorological Institute began to use the information to improve observations of the polar regions and forecast maritime conditions.

Monitoring icebergs

The data are being used to produce ice charts, showing the details of ice conditions in a variety of regions, including the warnings of icebergs drifting in shipping routes.

The first ice chart from Sentinel-1A was produced in demonstration mode in April just weeks after launch, demonstrating the satellite’s capabilities for ice mapping at an early stage. Now that the satellite is operational, the mission will gradually become the backbone to the regular ice charting of Greenland waters.

The radar on Sentinel-1 can see through clouds and in the dark, making it the perfect tool for monitoring polar regions that are prone to bad weather and long periods of darkness.

October ice chart

The radar can distinguish between the thinner, more navigable first-year ice and the hazardous, much thicker multiyear ice to help assure safe year-round navigation in ice-covered Arctic and subarctic zones.

The mission also provides continuous sampling of the open ocean, offering information on wind and waves. This is useful for understanding interactions between waves and currents, forecast iceberg drift and improve efficiency for shipping. In addition, these observations can be used to track the paths of oil slicks and other pollution.

“There are a lot of expectations for Sentinel-1,” said Leif Toudal Pedersen, from the Danish Meteorological Institute.

Ice mapping at an early stage

“This mission will be the backbone of future ice charting and ice service provision, as well as sea ice science development.”

User-friendly, near-realtime access to Sentinel-1 data for marine users in polar regions is provided by PolarView and the DMI Centre for Ocean and Ice.

For more information on Sentinel-1A data access:

The current MyOcean-Follow On H2020 project comprises 58 European public and private partners from 28 countries, and is led by Mercator Ocean.

Related links:



DMI Centre for Ocean and Ice:

European Commission Copernicus site:

Mercator Ocean:


Danish Meteorological Institute:

Technical University of Denmark:

Images, Text, Credits: ESA/Contains Copernicus data (2014)/MyOcean/PolarView/DMI.