vendredi 7 novembre 2014

Virgin Galactic hopes to resume flights in six months

Virgin Galactic logo.

November 7, 2014

Image above: SpaceShipTwo wreck crashed to the ground in the Californian desert. Image Credits: Reuters / David McNew.

The company of British billionaire Richard Branson hopes to return within six months of test flights, a week after the fatal crash of SpaceShipTwo in the desert.

"It is possible that test flights for the next spacecraft begin within six months before the survey (on accident) does not lead," the company said in an e-mail to AFP. Virgin Galactic is referring here to the investigation by the US Federal Bureau of Investigation on transport accidents (NTSB) after the accident northeast of Los Angeles last week.

Image Above: The NTSB investigators, the US federal agency responsible for investigating accidents in transport, believe that there was a problem with the release of fins on the tail of the shuttle. Image Credits: Keystone / AP.

The SpaceShipTwo spacecraft crashed during a test flight after being separated from its launch aircraft WhiteKnightTwo. The accident resulted in the death of the co-pilot, Michael Alsbury, and seriously injured his pilot, Pete Siebold, while causing questions on the space tourism industry. "The NTSB has informed us that we were free to continue our operations during the investigation. We are thinking about it," says Virgin Galactics.

"Horrible setback"

The new flight test mentioned by the company could be undertaken with a new ship SpaceShipTwo, the company said Tuesday that it was built to "65%". While recognizing that the accident was a "terrible setback" Richard Branson has made it clear he wanted to continue his plan to create the first commercial space transportation line.

Image above: Richard Branson on Tuesday announced the continuation of mounting a second vessel despite the accident that resulted in the destruction of the First Friday and the death of a pilot in the California desert. Image Credits: AFP / Josh Edelson.

The company already has more than 600 customers for future voyages to the edge of space, with a ticket price of 250,000 dollars per person, including celebrities such as actor Leonardo DiCaprio. Virgin Galactic, however, that a "small percentage" of customers had backtracked.

"This small percentage (clients) who requested a refund are great supporters of the project" and their decision is "personal reasons," says the company.

For more information about Virgin Galactic, visit:

Images (Mentioned), Text, Credits: AFP / Translation: Aerospace.


Mars Spacecraft Reveal Comet Flyby Effects on Martian Atmosphere

NASA - MAVEN Mission patch / ESA - Mars Express Mission patch / NASA - Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) patch.

November 7, 2014

Image above: Artist’s concept of Comet Siding Spring approaching Mars, shown with NASA’s orbiters preparing to make science observations of this unique encounter. Image Credit: NASA/JPL.

Two NASA and one European spacecraft that obtained the first up-close observations of a comet flyby of Mars on Oct. 19, have gathered new information about the basic properties of the comet’s nucleus and directly detected the effects on the Martian atmosphere.

Data from observations carried out by NASA's Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) mission, NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), and a radar instrument on the European Space Agency's (ESA’s) Mars Express spacecraft have revealed that debris from the comet added a temporary and very strong layer of ions to the ionosphere, the electrically charged layer high above Mars. In these observations, scientists were able to make a direct connection from the input of debris from a specific meteor shower to the formation of this kind of transient layer in response; that is a first on any planet, including Earth.

Mars Orbiter Observes Comet Siding Spring

Video above: This movie begins with an animation (artist's rendering) of NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft above Mars. The scene zooms into an "X-ray" view of the spacecraft, revealing the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera.

Comet C/2013 A1 Siding Spring traveled from the most distant region of our solar system, called the Oort Cloud, and made a close approach around 2:27 p.m. EDT within about 87,000 miles (139,500 kilometers) of the Red Planet. This is less than half the distance between Earth and our moon and less than one-tenth the distance of any known comet flyby of Earth.

Dust from the comet impacted Mars and was vaporized high in the atmosphere, producing what was likely an impressive meteor shower. This debris resulted in significant temporary changes to the planet’s upper atmosphere and possible longer-term perturbations. Earth-based and a host of space telescopes also observed the unique celestial object.

“This historic event allowed us to observe the details of this fast-moving Oort Cloud comet in a way never before possible using our existing Mars missions,” said Jim Green, director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division at the agency’s Headquarters in Washington. “Observing the effects on Mars of the comet's dust slamming into the upper atmosphere makes me very happy that we decided to put our spacecraft on the other side of Mars at the peak of the dust tail passage and out of harm's way.”

Images above: Five images of comet Siding Spring taken within a 35-minute period as it passed near Mars on Oct. 19, 2014, provide information about the size of the comet's nucleus. The images were acquired by the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona.

The MAVEN spacecraft, recently arrived at Mars, detected the comet encounter in two ways. The remote-sensing Imaging Ultraviolet Spectrograph observed intense ultraviolet emission from magnesium and iron ions high in the atmosphere in the aftermath of the meteor shower. Not even the most intense meteor storms on Earth have produced as strong a response as this one. The emission dominated Mars' ultraviolet spectrum for several hours after the encounter and then dissipated over the next two days.

MAVEN also was able to directly sample and determine the composition of some of the comet dust in Mars’ atmosphere. Analysis of these samples by the spacecraft’s Neutral Gas and Ion Mass Spectrometer detected eight different types of metal ions, including sodium, magnesium and iron. These are the first direct measurements of the composition of dust from an Oort Cloud comet. The Oort Cloud, well beyond the outer-most planets that surround our sun, is a spherical region of icy objects believed to be material left over from the formation of the solar system.

Elsewhere above Mars, a joint U.S. and Italian instrument on Mars Express observed a huge increase in the density of electrons following the comet's close approach. This instrument, the Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionospheric Sounding (MARSIS), saw a huge jump in the electron density in the ionosphere a few hours after the comet rendezvous. This spike occurred at a substantially lower altitude than the normal density peak in the Martian ionosphere. The increased ionization, like the effects observed by MAVEN, appears to be the result of fine particles from the comet burning up in the atmosphere.

Image above: These spectrograms from the MARSIS instrument on the European Space Agency's Mars Express orbiter show the intensity of radar echo in Mars' far-northern ionosphere at three times on Oct. 19 and 20, 2014. The middle plot reveals effects attributed to dust from a comet that passed near Mars that day. Image Credit: ASI/NASA/ESA/JPL/Univ. of Rome/Univ. of Iowa.

MRO’s Shallow Subsurface Radar (SHARAD) also detected the enhanced ionosphere. Images from the instrument were smeared by the passage of the radar signals through the temporary ion layer created by the comet's dust. SHARAD scientists used this smearing to determine that the electron density of the ionosphere on the planet's night side, where the observations were made, was five to 10 times higher than usual.

Studies of the comet itself, made with MRO's High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera, revealed the nucleus is smaller than the expected 1.2 miles (2 kilometers). The HiRISE images also indicate a rotation period for the nucleus of eight hours, which is consistent with recent preliminary observations by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope.

MRO’s Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars (CRISM) also observed the comet to see whether signs of any particular chemical constituents stood out in its spectrum. Team members said the spectrum appears to show a dusty comet with no strong emission lines at their instrument’s sensitivity.

In addition to these immediate effects, MAVEN and the other missions will continue to look for long-term perturbations to Mars’ atmosphere.

MAVEN's principal investigator is based at the University of Colorado's Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics in Boulder, and NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, manages the mission. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of Caltech in Pasadena, manages the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Mars Express is a project of the European Space Agency; NASA and the Italian Space Agency jointly funded the MARSIS instrument.

For more information about NASA's Mars missions, visit:

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

For more information about NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), visit:

For more information about ESA's Mars Express mission, visit:

Media teleconference visuals:

Images (mentioned), Video, Text, Credits: NASA/Dwayne Brown/JPL/Guy Webster/Goddard Space Flight Center/Nancy Neal Jones/Elizabeth Zubritsky.

Best regards,

jeudi 6 novembre 2014

Rosetta Races Toward Comet Touchdown

ESA - Rosetta Mission patch.

November 6, 2014

Images above: This image of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, from Rosetta's OSIRIS scientific imaging system, shows two saturation levels. In the left image darkness hides the right half; the right image shows some surface structures. Image was taken 10/30/14 from about 18.6 miles (30 kilometers) away. Image Credit: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team.

- Landing scheduled for Nov. 12
- Landing site gets a name
- Camera gets sneak peek of the comet's "dark side"

After sailing through space for more than 10 years, the European Space Agency's Rosetta spacecraft is now less than a week shy of landing a robotic probe on a comet.

The mission's Philae (fee-LAY) lander is scheduled to touch down on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko on Wednesday, Nov. 12 at 7:35 a.m PST/10:35 a.m. EST.  A signal confirming the landing is expected about 8:02 a.m. PST/11:02 a.m. EST. If all goes as planned with this complex engineering feat, it will be the first-ever soft landing of a spacecraft on a comet.

The landing site, formerly known simply as Site J, now has an official name: Agilkia. The name, chosen after an ESA public essay competition, is in keeping with the mission's Egyptian theme. It refers to an island on the Nile where ancient buildings were relocated after the island Philae flooded. One hundred fifty people nominated Agilkia, including the overall winner, Alexandre Brouste from France. He has been invited to watch the landing activities at Rosetta's mission control in Darmstadt, Germany.

Image above: This image of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko was obtained on October 30, 2014 by the OSIRIS scientific imaging system on the Rosetta spacecraft. The right half is obscured by darkness. The image was taken from a distance of approximately 18.6 miles (30 kilometers). Image Credit: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team.

After touchdown on Nov. 12, the Philae lander will obtain the first images ever taken from a comet's surface. It will also drill into the surface to study the composition, and witness close up how a comet changes as its exposure to the sun varies. Philae can remain active on the surface for about two-and-a-half days. Its mothership, the Rosetta spacecraft, will remain in orbit around the comet through 2015. The orbiter will continue detailed studies of the comet as it approaches the sun and then moves away.

In addition to their well-deserved reputation as beautiful cosmic objects, comets hold vital clues about our solar system's history. They are considered primitive building blocks of the solar system that are literally frozen in time, and they may have played a part in "seeding" Earth with water and, possibly, the basic ingredients for life.

NASA provided three of the 16 instruments on board the Rosetta orbiter. The NASA instruments are:

- The Microwave Instrument for Rosetta Orbiter (MIRO) studies the process by which gas and dust leave the surface of the comet nucleus to form the tail and the coma. MIRO is capable of observing water, carbon monoxide, ammonia and methanol.

- Alice, an ultraviolet spectrometer, analyzes gases in the comet's coma and tail; measures how fast the comet produces water, carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide (clues to the surface composition of the nucleus); and measures argon levels. These measurements help determine the temperature of the solar system when the nucleus formed more than 4.6 billion years ago.

- Ion and Electron Sensor (IES) is part of a suite of five instruments to analyze the comet's plasma environment and measure charged particles in the sun's outer atmosphere as they interact with gas flowing from the comet during Rosetta's approach to the sun.

Rosetta launched in March 2004 and spent 957 days in "hibernation" as it zoomed through the darkness of space.  It was "brought back to life" in January 2014 to prepare for its August arrival in orbit around comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Since August, Rosetta has been capturing sneak peeks of what lies ahead. Images have revealed stunning structures on the areas of the comet that are visible and illuminated. These features include steep ravines, sharp cliffs and numerous boulders.

Image above: This is a rare glance at the dark side of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Light backscattered from dust particles in the comet’s coma reveals a hint of surface structures. This image was taken by OSIRIS, Rosetta’s scientific imaging system, on Sept. 29, 2014. Image Credit: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team.

New images from the spacecraft's scientific imaging system, OSIRIS, give us a first glimpse of the dark, southern side of the comet. This side has faced away from the sun for a while, hiding its shape and surface features. The new images take advantage of slight illumination from light scattered by dust particles in the comet's coma.

Rosetta is a European Space Agency mission with contributions from its member states and NASA. Rosetta's Philae lander is provided by a consortium led by the German Aerospace Center, Cologne; Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, Gottingen; National Center of Space Studies of France (CNES), Paris; and the Italian Space Agency, Rome. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, a division of the California Institute of Technology, manages the U.S. participation in the Rosetta mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

For more information on the U.S. instruments aboard Rosetta, visit:

More information about Rosetta is available at:

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Dwayne Brown/JPL/DC Agle/Guy Webster/Jane Platt/ESA/Markus Bauer.

Best regards,

NASA Rocket Experiment Finds the Universe Brighter Than We Thought

NASA - Wallops Flight Facility patch.

November 6, 2014

Image above: This is a time-lapse photograph of the Cosmic Infrared Background Experiment (CIBER) rocket launch, taken from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia in 2013. The image is from the last of four launches. Image Credit: T. Arai/University of Tokyo.

A NASA sounding rocket experiment has detected a surprising surplus of infrared light in the dark space between galaxies, a diffuse cosmic glow as bright as all known galaxies combined. The glow is thought to be from orphaned stars flung out of galaxies.

The findings redefine what scientists think of as galaxies. Galaxies may not have a set boundary of stars, but instead stretch out to great distances, forming a vast, interconnected sea of stars.

Observations from the Cosmic Infrared Background Experiment, or CIBER, are helping settle a debate on whether this background infrared light in the universe, previously detected by NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope, comes from these streams of stripped stars too distant to be seen individually, or alternatively from the first galaxies to form in the universe.

Image above: Observations from CIBER have shown a surprising surplus of infrared light filling the spaces between galaxies. To understand how scientists measured the amount of this mysterious light, imagine using the tips of icebergs to estimate their total volume of ice. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

"We think stars are being scattered out into space during galaxy collisions," said Michael Zemcov, lead author of a new paper describing the results from the rocket project and an astronomer at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) and NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California. "While we have previously observed cases where stars are flung from galaxies in a tidal stream, our new measurement implies this process is widespread."

Using suborbital sounding rockets, which are smaller than those that carry satellites to space and are ideal for short experiments, CIBER captured wide-field pictures of the cosmic infrared background at two infrared wavelengths shorter than those seen by Spitzer. Because our atmosphere itself glows brightly at these particular wavelengths of light, the measurements can only be done from space.

Image above: This graphic illustrates how CIBER team measures a diffuse glow of infrared light filling the spaces between galaxies. Image Credits: NASA/CIBER.

"It is wonderfully exciting for such a small NASA rocket to make such a huge discovery," said Mike Garcia, program scientist from NASA Headquarters. “Sounding rockets are an important element in our balanced toolbox of missions from small to large.”

During the CIBER flights, the cameras launch into space, then snap pictures for about seven minutes before transmitting the data back to Earth. Scientists masked out bright stars and galaxies from the pictures and carefully ruled out any light coming from more local sources, such as our own Milky Way galaxy. What's left is a map showing fluctuations in the remaining infrared background light, with splotches that are much bigger than individual galaxies. The brightness of these fluctuations allows scientists to measure the total amount of background light.

Image above: These images from CIBER show large patches of the sky at two different infrared wavelengths (1.1 microns and 1.6 microns) after all known galaxies have been subtracted out. Image Credits: NASA/CIBER.

To the surprise of the CIBER team, the maps revealed a dramatic excess of light beyond what comes from the galaxies.  The data showed that this infrared background light has a blue spectrum, which means it increases in brightness at shorter wavelengths. This is evidence the light comes from a previously undetected population of stars between galaxies. Light from the first galaxies would give a spectrum of colors that is redder than what was seen.

"The light looks too bright and too blue to be coming from the first generation of galaxies," said James Bock, principal investigator of the CIBER project from Caltech and JPL. "The simplest explanation, which best explains the measurements, is that many stars have been ripped from their galactic birthplace, and that the stripped stars emit on average about as much light as the galaxies themselves."

Image above: This plot shows data from CIBER rockets launched in 2010 and 2012. Image Credits: NASA/CIBER.

Future experiments can test whether stray stars are indeed the source of the infrared cosmic glow. If the stars were tossed out from their parent galaxies, they should still be located in the same vicinity. The CIBER team is working on better measurements using more infrared colors to learn how stripping of stars happened over cosmic history.

Results from two of four CIBER flights, both of which launched from White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico in 2010 and 2012, appear Friday, Nov. 7 in the journal Science.

Caltech manages JPL for NASA. The work was supported by NASA, with initial support provided by JPL's Director's Research and Development Fund. Japanese participation in CIBER was supported by the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science and the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology. Korean participation in CIBER was supported by the Korean Astronomy and Space Science Institute."

For more information on NASA’s sounding rocket experiments, visit:

For more information about CIBER, visit:

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Felicia Chou.


NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory Captures Intense Space Weather

NASA - Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) patch.

November 6, 2014

An active region on the sun emitted a mid-level solar flare, peaking at 4:47 a.m. EST on Nov. 5, 2014. This is the second mid-level flare from the same active region, labeled AR 12205, which rotated over the left limb of the sun on Nov. 3. The image was captured by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) in extreme ultraviolet light that was colorized in red and gold.

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.

This flare is classified as an M7.9-class flare. M-class flares are a tenth the size of the most intense flares, the X-class 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.

Five X-class Flares

This movie shows 8 days – from Oct. 19-27, 2014 — in the life of the largest active region seen on the sun since 1990, including five X-class flares that erupted during that time. Video Credits: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.

More information on NASA's SDO Mission:

Image, Video (mentioned), Text,  Credits: NASA/SDO.


Revolutionary ALMA & Hubble Image Reveals Planetary Genesis

ALMA - Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array logo / ESA - Hubble Space Telescope logo.

6 November 2014

ALMA image of the protoplanetary disc around HL Tauri

This new image from ALMA, the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array, reveals extraordinarily fine detail that has never been seen before in the planet-forming disc around a young star. These are the first observations that have used ALMA in its near-final configuration and the sharpest pictures ever made at submillimetre wavelengths. The new results are an enormous step forward in the observation of how protoplanetary discs develop and how planets form.

ALMA/Hubble composite image of the region around the young star HL Tauri

For ALMA’s first observations in its new and most powerful mode, researchers pointed the antennas at HL Tauri — a young star, about 450 light-years away, which is surrounded by a dusty disc [1]. The resulting image exceeds all expectations and reveals unexpectedly fine detail in the disc of material left over from star birth. It shows a series of concentric bright rings, separated by gaps [2].

ALMA image of the young star HL Tauri (annotated)

"These features are almost certainly the result of young planet-like bodies that are being formed in the disc. This is surprising since such young stars are not expected to have large planetary bodies capable of producing the structures we see in this image," said Stuartt Corder, ALMA Deputy Director.

Hubble image of the surroundings of the young star HL Tauri

“When we first saw this image we were astounded at the spectacular level of detail. HL Tauri is no more than a million years old, yet already its disc appears to be full of forming planets. This one image alone will revolutionise theories of planet formation,” explained Catherine Vlahakis, ALMA Deputy Program Scientist and Lead Program Scientist for the ALMA Long Baseline Campaign.

Comparison of HL Tauri with the Solar System

HL Tauri’s disc appears much more developed than would be expected from the age of the system. Thus, the ALMA image also suggests that the planet-formation process may be faster than previously thought.

Artist’s impression of a young star surrounded by a protoplanetary disc

Such high resolution can only be achieved with the long baseline capabilities of ALMA and provides astronomers with new information that is impossible to collect with any other facility, even the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope. “The logistics and infrastructure required to place antennas at such distant locations required an unprecedented coordinated effort by an expert international team of engineers and scientists,” said ALMA Director, Pierre Cox. “These long baselines fulfill one of ALMA’s major objectives and mark an impressive technological, scientific and engineering milestone.”

Wide-field view of the sky around the young star HL Tauri

Young stars like HL Tauri are born in clouds of gas and fine dust, in regions which have collapsed under the effects of gravitation, forming dense hot cores that eventually ignite to become young stars. These young stars are initially cocooned in the remaining gas and dust, which eventually settles into a disc, known as a protoplanetary disc.

HL Tauri in the constellation of Taurus

Through many collisions the dust particles will stick together, growing into clumps the size of sand grains and pebbles. Ultimately, asteroids, comets and even planets can form in the disc. Young planets will disrupt the disc and create rings, gaps and holes such as those seen in the structures now observed by ALMA [3].

Zooming in on the location of HL Tauri

The investigation of these protoplanetary discs is essential to our understanding of how Earth formed in the Solar System. Observing the first stages of planet formation around HL Tauri may show us how our own planetary system may have looked more than four billion years ago, when it formed.

Artist's impression of the disc around a young star

“Most of what we know about planet formation today is based on theory. Images with this level of detail have up to now been relegated to computer simulations or artist’s impressions. This high resolution image of HL Tauri demonstrates what ALMA can achieve when it operates in its largest configuration and starts a new era in our exploration of the formation of stars and planets,” says Tim de Zeeuw, Director General of ESO.

Artist's 3d impression of the disc around the young star HL Tauri

[1] Since September 2014 ALMA has been observing the Universe using its longest ever baselines, with antennas separated by up to 15 kilometres. This Long Baseline Campaign will continue until 1 December 2014. The baseline is the distance between two of the antennas in the array. As a comparison, other facilities operating at millimetre wavelengths provide antennas separated by no more than two kilometres. The maximum possible ALMA baseline is 16 kilometres. Future observations at shorter wavelengths will achieve even higher image sharpness.

[2] The structures are seen with a resolution of just five times the distance from the Sun to the Earth. This corresponds to an angular resolution of about 35 milliarcseconds — better than what is routinely achieved with the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope.

[3] In visible light, HL Tauri is hidden behind a massive envelope of dust and gas. ALMA observes at much longer wavelengths, which allows it to study the processes right at the core of this cloud.

More information:

The Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), an international astronomy facility, is a partnership of Europe, North America and East Asia in cooperation with the Republic of Chile. ALMA is funded in Europe by the European Southern Observatory (ESO), in North America by the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) in cooperation with the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) and the National Science Council of Taiwan (NSC) and in East Asia by the National Institutes of Natural Sciences (NINS) of Japan in cooperation with the Academia Sinica (AS) in Taiwan. ALMA construction and operations are led on behalf of Europe by ESO, on behalf of North America by the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO), which is managed by Associated Universities, Inc. (AUI) and on behalf of East Asia by the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan (NAOJ). The Joint ALMA Observatory (JAO) provides the unified leadership and management of the construction, commissioning and operation of ALMA.

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”.

ESOcast 69: Revolutionary ALMA Image Reveals Planetary Genesis:


More about ALMA:

Photos of ALMA:

Videos of ALMA:

ALMA brochure:

The movie ALMA — In Search of our Cosmic Origins:

The ALMA Photo Book In Search of our Cosmic Origins – The Construction of the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array:

More press releases based on ALMA data:

Catalog of Circumstellar Discs:

ESA's Hubble website related article release:

Jets, bubbles, and bursts of light in Taurus:

For more information about Hubble Space Telescope, visit:

Images, Text, Credits: ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO), ESA/Hubble and NASA/Acknowledgement: Judy Schmidt/L. Calçada/Digitized Sky Survey 2/IAU and Sky & Telescope/Videos: ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO)/NASA/ESA/N. Risinger ( Music: movetwo/ESO/L. Calçada/M. Kornmesser.

Best regards,

mercredi 5 novembre 2014

Medical and Life Science Work as Station Crew Swap Approaches

ISS - Expedition 41 Mission patch.

November 5, 2014

Image above: In the grasp of the Japanese robotic arm, the CubeSat deployer is about to release a pair of NanoRacks CubeSat miniature satellites. The Planet Labs Dove satellites that were carried to the International Space Station aboard the Orbital Sciences Cygnus commercial cargo craft are being deployed between Aug. 19 and Aug. 25. The station’s Kibo laboratory is at top right. A blue and white part of Earth and the blackness of space provide the backdrop for the scene. Image Credit: NASA TV.

NASA astronaut Barry Wilmore worked throughout Tuesday inside Japan’s Kibo laboratory to remove a Cubesat deployer from the laboratory’s airlock. The deployer experienced problems in August, when some of the mini satellites did not deploy as expected and later deployed spontaneously. Wilmore’s Expedition 41/42 crewmates Elena Serova and Alexander Samokutyaev worked throughout the day on maintenance and a variety of Russian physical and medical science experiments.

Read more about the NanoRacks CubeSat Deployer:

The homebound Expedition 40/41 trio, consisting of Soyuz Commander Max Suraev and Flight Engineers Alexander Gerst and Reid Wiseman, is counting down to its Nov. 9 departure inside the Soyuz TMA-13M spacecraft. They are packing gear to be returned home while they continue science and maintenance on the U.S. side of the International Space Station.

Image above: European Space Agency astronaut Alexander Gerst talks with members of the German Parliament and German space officials gathered in Berlin. Image Credit: NASA TV.

Back on Earth, the new Expedition 42/43 crew is getting ready for its launch to the space station from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Nov. 23. Soyuz Commander Anton Shkaplerov will be joined by NASA astronaut Terry Virts and European Space Agency astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti aboard a Soyuz TMA-15M spacecraft to begin a 5-1/2 month mission aboard the orbital laboratory.

Read more about Expedition 41:

Read more about Expedition 42:

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

Images (mentioned), Text, Credit: NASA.


Antares rocket explosion: engine in question

Orbital - Antares & CRS Cygnus Orb-3 Mission patch.

November 5, 2014

More is known about the reasons for the explosion of the rocket that exploded on October 28 in the United States.

Image Above: 10/28/2014. The Antares rocket of US company Orbital Sciences carrying the unmanned Cygnus capsule to the International Space Station (ISS) has exploded.

The derivative of a Russian technology Antares rocket motor is involved in the explosion of the launcher there are eight days from the east coast of the United States, the company said Wednesday Orbital Sciences, citing preliminary results of the investigation.

Both engines of the first two floors of Antares are derived from Russian engines from the 60's that have been upgraded by the US Aerojet Rocketdyne engine.

"Preliminary indications and analyzes conducted to date suggest a probable failure of the turbo-pump (oxidizer) in one of two AJ-26 engines on the first floor," said Orbital in a statement.

"As a result we probably use more of the engines Antares" says the firm, stating that it would accelerate "the modernization of the main propulsion system of the Antares launcher."

 On the left, Antares AJ-26 rocket engines

Orbital Sciences also assured to be able to honor any remaining supply of the International Space Station (ISS) for NASA, with whom she entered into a $ 1.9 billion mission.

"All cargo will be delivered to the ISS by the end of 2016 without additional cost to NASA with only minor adjustments" in the launch schedule.

Explosion shortly after launch

Antares rocket exploded on October 28 seconds after launch with on board the Cygnus capsule carrying 2.2 tons of supplies and equipment for scientific experiments to the International Space Station.

This is the first accident since NASA depends on two private companies, SpaceX and Orbital Sciences, to deliver cargo to the ISS. In total, these companies have already made ​​eight flights, including six missions of supply.

Antares rocket carrying a Cygnus cargo spacecraft explosion on the ground

Orbital Sciences had said after the accident that the apparent failure of the first stage engine Antares led the charge of the security perimeter shooter deliberately trigger the destruction of the rocket.

Antares The explosion caused a loss of more than $ 200 million to Orbital, not to mention damage to the launch pad at Wallops on the coast of Virginia.

Related article:

Antares Rocket Explodes after Liftoff, Orb-3 mission failed:

For more information about Orbital Science Corporation, visit:

Images, Text, Credits: AFP / Orbital / NASA TV / Translation: Aerospace.


mardi 4 novembre 2014

NASA's Curiosity Mars Rover Finds Mineral Match

NASA - Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) patch.

November 4, 2014

Image above: This image shows the first holes drilled by NASA's Mars rover Curiosity at Mount Sharp. The loose material near the drill holes is drill tailings and an accumulation of dust that slid down the rock during drilling. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS.

Reddish rock powder from the first hole drilled into a Martian mountain by NASA's Curiosity rover has yielded the mission's first confirmation of a mineral mapped from orbit.

"This connects us with the mineral identifications from orbit, which can now help guide our investigations as we climb the slope and test hypotheses derived from the orbital mapping," said Curiosity Project Scientist John Grotzinger, of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.

Curiosity collected the powder by drilling into a rock outcrop at the base of Mount Sharp in late September. The robotic arm delivered a pinch of the sample to the Chemistry and Mineralogy (CheMin) instrument inside the rover. This sample, from a target called "Confidence Hills" within the "Pahrump Hills" outcrop, contained much more hematite than any rock or soil sample previously analyzed by CheMin during the two-year-old mission. Hematite is an iron-oxide mineral that gives clues about ancient environmental conditions from when it formed.

Image above: This image from NASA's Curiosity rover shows a sample of powdered rock extracted by the rover's drill from the "Confidence Hills" target -- the first rock drilled after Curiosity reached the base of Mount Sharp in September 2014. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS.

In observations reported in 2010, before selection of Curiosity's landing site, a mineral-mapping instrument on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter provided evidence of hematite in the geological unit that includes the Pahrump Hills outcrop. The landing site is inside Gale Crater, an impact basin about 96 miles (154 kilometers) in diameter with the layered Mount Sharp rising about three miles (five kilometers) high in the center.

"We've reached the part of the crater where we have the mineralogical information that was important in selection of Gale Crater as the landing site," said Ralph Milliken of Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island. He is a member of Curiosity's science team and was lead author of that 2010 report in Geophysical Research Letters identifying minerals based on observations of lower Mount Sharp by the orbiter's Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars (CRISM). "We're now on a path where the orbital data can help us predict what minerals we'll find and make good choices about where to drill. Analyses like these will help us place rover-scale observations into the broader geologic history of Gale that we see from orbital data."

Much of Curiosity's first year on Mars was spent investigating outcrops in a low area of Gale Crater called "Yellowknife Bay," near the spot where the rover landed. The rover found an ancient lakebed. Rocks there held evidence of wet environmental conditions billions of years ago that offered ingredients and an energy source favorable for microbial life, if Mars ever had microbes. Clay minerals of interest in those rocks at Yellowknife Bay had not been detected from orbit, possibly due to dust coatings that interfere with CRISM's view of them.

Image above: This side-by-side comparison shows the X-ray diffraction patterns of two different samples collected from rocks on Mars by NASA's Curiosity rover. The images present data obtained by Curiosity's Chemistry and Mineralogy instrument (CheMin). Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

The rover spent much of the mission's second year driving from Yellowknife Bay to the base of Mount Sharp. The hematite found in the first sample from the mountain tells about environmental conditions different from the conditions recorded in the rocks of Yellowknife Bay. The rock material interacted with water and atmosphere to become more oxidized.

The rocks analyzed earlier also contain iron-oxide minerals, mostly magnetite. One way to form hematite is to put magnetite in oxidizing conditions. The latest sample has about eight percent hematite and four percent magnetite. The drilled rocks at Yellowknife Bay and on the way to Mount Sharp contain at most about one percent hematite and much higher amounts of magnetite.

"There's more oxidation involved in the new sample," said CheMin Deputy Principal Investigator David Vaniman of the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson, Arizona.

The sample is only partially oxidized, and preservation of magnetite and olivine indicates a gradient of oxidation levels. That gradient could have provided a chemical energy source for microbes.

Image above: This view shows the path and some key places in a survey of the "Pahrump Hills" outcrop by NASA's Curiosity Mars rover in autumn of 2014. The outcrop is at the base of Mount Sharp within Gale Crater. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS.

The Pahrump HIlls outcrop includes multiple layers uphill from its lowest layer, where the Confidence Hills sample was drilled. The layers vary in texture and may also vary in concentrations of hematite and other minerals. The rover team is now using Curiosity to survey the outcrop and assess possible targets for close inspection and drilling.

The mission may spend weeks to months at Pahrump Hills before proceeding farther up the stack of geological layers forming Mount Sharp. Those higher layers include an erosion-resistant band of rock higher on Mount Sharp with such a strong orbital signature of hematite, it is called "Hematite Ridge." The target drilled at Pahrump Hills is much softer and more deeply eroded than Hematite Ridge.

Another NASA Mars rover, Opportunity, made a key discovery of hematite-rich spherules on a different part of Mars in 2004. That finding was important as evidence of a water-soaked history that produced those mineral concretions. The form of hematite at Pahrump Hills is different and is most important as a clue about oxidation conditions. Plenty of other evidence in Gale Crater has testified to the ancient presence of water.

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of Caltech in Pasadena, manages the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and Mars Science Laboratory projects for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington, and built the Curiosity rover. NASA's Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, California, developed CheMin and manages instrument operations. The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, Laurel, Maryland, developed and operates CRISM. For more information about Curiosity, visit:

You can follow the mission on Facebook and Twitter at:

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Dwayne Brown/JPL/Preston Dyches/Guy Webster/Ames Research Center/Jessica Culler/Brown University/Kevin Stacey.


MAVEN Continues Mars Exploration Begun 50 Years Ago by Mariner 4

NASA - MAVEN Mission logo / NASA - Mariner 4 Mission patch.

November 4, 2014

Image Credit: NASA

When the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution, or MAVEN, spacecraft arrived at the Red Planet on Sept. 21, it marked the continuation of exploration of one of Earth’s nearest celestial neighbors that began 50 years ago. In 1964, the Mariner 4 probe became the first to successfully fly by Mars, opening the way for future human exploration.

MAVEN was launched from the Kennedy Space Center atop an Atlas V rocket on Nov. 18, 2013. Following a roughly 10-month trip of over 442 million miles, the spacecraft was inserted into an elliptical orbit on Sept. 21.

Image above: Inside the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility at NASA's Kennedy Space Center, engineers and technicians test deploy the twin solar arrays on the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution, or MAVEN, spacecraft. Positioned in an orbit above the Red Planet, MAVEN will study the upper atmosphere of Mars in unprecedented detail. Image Credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett.

MAVEN will study the Martian upper atmosphere while orbiting the planet. Mission goals include determining how the Martian atmosphere and water, presumed to have once been substantial, were lost over time. Spacecraft previously visiting Mars returned data indicating that liquid water once flowed on the Mars surface. However, water now cannot exist extensively on the Martian surface due to the low atmospheric pressure and surface temperatures. MAVEN will observe the upper atmosphere, and drivers of variability from the Sun, in order to estimate the loss of the Martian atmosphere and water over time.

The primary mission includes five “deep-dip” campaigns in which MAVEN’s lowest orbital altitude will be from 93 miles to about 77 miles. These measurements will provide information at the point where the upper and lower atmospheres meet, giving scientists a full profile of the upper tier.

Image above: This artist’s concept shows NASA's Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution, or MAVEN, spacecraft in orbit around the Red Planet. Image Credit: NASA.

“NASA has a long history of scientific discovery at Mars and the safe arrival of MAVEN opens another chapter,” said John Grunsfeld, astronaut and associate administrator of the NASA Science Mission Directorate at the agency’s Headquarters in Washington. “MAVEN will complement NASA’s other Martian robotic explorers -- and those of our partners around the globe -- to answer some fundamental questions about Mars and life beyond Earth.”

The exploration of Mars began a half-century ago with the Nov. 28, 1964, launch of Mariner 4, the first successful mission to the Red Planet. It was one of the great early successes for NASA, returning the first photographs of another planet from deep space.

Image above: The Mariner 4 spacecraft was assembled by engineers and technicians at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. It is seen here being prepared for a weight test on Nov. 1, 1963. Image Credit: NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Approximately 40 minutes prior to closest approach on July 15, 1965, at a range of 6,118 miles, the television camera began taking the first of 21 photographs.

A report by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory-California Institute of Technology team that managed the flight stated that the surface was pock-marked much like the moon.

“There were more than 70 clearly distinguishable craters ranging in diameter from 4 to 120 km (2.5 to 74.5 miles),” the report said. “It seems likely that smaller craters exist; there also may be still larger craters, since Mariner 4 photographed, in all, about one percent of the Martian surface.”

Image above: NASA’s Mariner 4 spacecraft lifts off Launch Pad 12 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station atop an Atlas Agena rocket on Nov. 28, 1964. One of the great successes of the early American space program, Mariner 4 took the first photos of another planet from space. Image Credit: NASA.

A little more than an hour after the encounter, Mariner 4 dipped behind Mars, as viewed from Earth, in order to refract its radio signals through the Martian atmosphere. Data indicated that the atmospheric pressure on the surface was quite low.

The probe detected daytime surface temperatures of about minus 148 degrees Fahrenheit. A very weak radiation belt, about 0.1 percent that of the Earth's, was also discovered by Mariner 4.

Image above: On July 15, 1965, Mariner 4 transmitted this image of the Martian surface from 7,829 miles away. The photograph shows a 94-mile diameter crater. Image Credit: NASA.

In addition to unlocking key information about how to safely deliver future missions to the Martian surface, the spacecraft far outlasted its planned eight-month mission. Mariner 4 remained in solar orbit, continuing long-term studies of the solar wind and making coordinated measurements with the Mariner 5 mission to Venus. Contact was finally lost on Dec. 21, 1967.

Since Mariner 4, the lure of the Red Planet remains, with numerous spacecraft being launched to further explore Mars by the United States, the Soviet Union/Russia, Japan, Great Britain, the European Space Agency, India and the People’s Republic of China. MAVEN makes the 16th successful American probe dispatched to Mars.

On Nov. 13, 1971, Mariner 9 became the first spacecraft to be placed in orbit around another planet. After enduring months of dust storms, Mariner 9 sent back clear pictures of the Martian surface.

Vikings 1 and 2 were the first spacecraft to soft land on Mars and to successfully perform a mission returning data and photographs of the landscape. Viking 1 once held the record for the longest Mars surface mission of 2,307 days or 2,245 sols (Martian days). The record was broken by the Opportunity Rover on May 19, 2010. The term “sol” refers to the duration of a solar day on Mars, equal to 24 hours and 39 minutes on Earth.

NASA’s Mars Pathfinder landed a base station with a roving probe on Mars on July 4, 1997. The 23-pound wheeled robotic Mars rover, named Sojourner, made measurements of the elements found in the rocks and the Martian soil.

Image above: On July 21, 1997, the Mars Pathfinder’s Sojourner rover takes its Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer measurement on a rock near the landing site. Image Credit: NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Among the most successful robotic explorers have been the twin Mars Exploration Rovers, known as Spirit and Opportunity. The rovers were designed to search for and characterize a wide range of rocks and soils that hold clues to past water activity on Mars.

Mission planners initially hoped the two rovers would operate for 90 sols. After that time, both Spirit and Opportunity still had plenty of life, and multiple mission extensions kept Spirit functioning until March 22, 2010. Opportunity continues to operate, having traveled almost 25 miles across the Martian surface.

Launched by NASA to Mars on Nov. 26, 2011, the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) landed the Curiosity rover on Aug. 6, 2012. The compact car-sized rover is about twice as long and five times as heavy as Spirit and Opportunity and carries over ten times the mass of scientific instruments.

Image above: NASA's Curiosity rover used the Mars Hand Lens Imager to capture this selfie. Taken on Oct. 31, 2012, it shows the rover at the site where the mission's first scoop sampling took place. Image Credit: NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory-Caltech.

MSL carried out a more accurate landing than previous spacecraft to Mars, aiming for a small target landing ellipse of only 4.3 by 12.4 miles, in the 96-mile-diameter Gale Crater. Curiosity now is investigating Mars' habitability, studying its climate and geology and collecting data in advance of a human expedition to the Red Planet.

The MSL Curiosity rover measured radiation on the way to Mars and is sending back data that will help in planning how to protect astronauts who travel to Mars.

Since Mariner 4’s arrival in 1965, a fleet of robotic spacecraft and rovers has landed on and orbited Mars. Collectively, they have dramatically increased the knowledge-base about the Red Planet, helping pave the way for future human explorers.

For many years, science fiction writers told fanciful stories about encounters with Martians. However, the first detailed study of the engineering challenges of an actual trip to the Red Planet was published by Wernher von Braun in his 1952 book, The Mars Project.

Von Braun began writing the manuscript in 1947 while working for the U.S. Army at Fort Bliss, in El Paso, Texas. At the time, he was helping launch rockets to the edge of space at the nearby White Sands Proving Ground in New Mexico.

In his book, von Braun suggested that a mission to Mars would require a fleet of spacecraft, noting that when Christopher Columbus sailed from Spain in 1492, it was with three ships.

“So it is with interplanetary exploration,” he wrote, “it must be done on a grand scale.”

Image above: In 1954, Walt Disney, left, visited Dr. Wernher von Braun, then chief of the Guided Missile Development Operation Division for the Army Ballistic Missile Agency at Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama. Soon after, they collaborated on a series of three educational films about space exploration for the Disneyland television series. Image Credit: NACA.

American television audiences gained their first view of the possibility of human space travel in a series of episodes of Walt Disney’s popular show, Disneyland. Between 1955 and 1957, Disney presented what he called “science factual” episodes, including one entitled "Mars and Beyond."

“Together, von Braun (the engineer) and Disney (the artist) used the new medium of television to illustrate how high man might fly on the strength of technology and the spirit of human imagination,” wrote Mike Wright, the Marshall Space Flight Center’s historian, in an article on the Disney and von Braun’s collaboration.

NASA’s Orion spacecraft and Space Launch System (SLS) rocket are designed to achieve that goal to expand human presence in deep space and enable exploration of new destinations in the solar system.

Orion is intended to meet the evolving needs of our nation's space program for decades to come. It will take crews of up to four astronauts farther than they’ve ever gone before, enabling missions to asteroids and, eventually, to Mars.

Scheduled for December, the upcoming Exploration Flight Test 1, or EFT-1, will be the first test flight for Orion.

NASA's SLS, a heavy-lift launch vehicle that will help provide that new capability for human exploration, will boost Orion off the planet in the first integrated flight test, Exploration Mission 1. SLS is designed to be flexible, launching spacecraft for both human and cargo missions.

One of the first steps to develop the “grand scale” technology needed for such an expedition will come from NASA’s initiative to use advanced solar electric propulsion to robotically capture an asteroid and redirect it to a stable orbit in the Earth-moon system. Astronauts then would launch aboard an Orion spacecraft atop an SLS rocket to collect samples of and explore the relocated asteroid.

Image above: This artist concept depicts NASA’s Space Launch System, which will be the most powerful rocket ever built. It is designed to boost the agency’s Orion spacecraft on deep space missions, including to an asteroid and, ultimately, to Mars. Image Credit: NASA/Marshall Space Flight Center.

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden believes that the latest spacecraft to arrive at Mars, along with those that preceded it, are the stepping stones needed to reach the ultimate goal of human exploration.

“As the first orbiter dedicated to studying Mars’ upper atmosphere, MAVEN will greatly improve our understanding of the history of the Martian atmosphere, how the climate has changed over time, and how that has influenced the evolution of the surface and the potential habitability of the planet,” Bolden said. “It also will better inform a future mission to send humans to the Red Planet in the 2030s.”

For more information about MAVEN mission, visit:

For more information about Mariner 4 mission, visit:

Mars Exploration Program:

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA's Kennedy Space Center/Bob Granath.