vendredi 21 novembre 2014

Freon leak occurs at Russian segment of ISS, crew not in danger

ISS - International Space Station patch.

November 21, 2014

NASA’s office at Russian Mission Control near Moscow said it had no details of the situation at the moment.

International Space Station (ISS)

According to NASA’s official blog a leak of the khladon gas (Freon-218), used in the air conditioning system has occurred at the Zvezda service module of the Russian segment of the International Space Station (ISS).

“Cosmonauts Samokutyaev and Serova performed steps to release pressure in the Russian segment’s air conditioner system by venting khladon gas (Freon 218) overboard. However, several of the quick disconnects that were actuated during the procedure exhibited leaks. As a result, the Khladon was vented into the cabin instead.

Russian segment of ISS

The quantity released was approximately 100 g, which results in a density of 117 mg/m3 over the volume of ISS, which was below the stated ISS zero risk flight rule limit of 150 mg/m3. As part of nominal air scrubbing process, the Russian Air Purification System and the USOS Trace Contaminant Control System (TCCS) will remove residual Khladon from the atmosphere,” the NASA blog said.

NASA’s office at Russian Mission Control near Moscow said it had no details of the situation at the moment. Russian specialists were holding a conference to discuss the incident. Mission Control has offered no comment so far.

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

Images, Text, Credits: ENERGIA/NASA/TASS.


Magnetospheric Multiscale to Launch Four Spacecraft

NASA - Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS) patch.

November 21, 2014

In March of 2015, an unprecedented NASA mission will launch to study a process so mysterious that no one has ever directly measured in space. To create the first-ever 3-dimensional maps of this process, a process called magnetic reconnection, which occurs all over the universe, the Magnetospheric Multiscale, or MMS, mission uses four separate spacecraft equipped with ultra high speed instruments.

Launching four satellites into space simultaneously is a complicated process. In addition, each spacecraft has several booms that will unfold and extend in space once on orbit. A launch and deployment with so many moving parts is meticulously planned.

NASA Releases Narrated Animation of MMS Launch and Deploy 

How Will the 4 MMS Spacecraft Launch and Deploy?

Video above: A narrated animation of how NASA's Magnetospheric Multiscale, or MMS, mission – which consists of four separate spacecraft -- will launch into space. Video Credit: NASA/Goddard.

Watch the video to get a sneak preview of how MMS will make this journey: The four spacecraft are housed in a single rocket on their trip into space. One by one, each ejects out, before moving into a giant pyramid-shaped configuration. Next each spacecraft deploys its booms.

Once in orbit, MMS will fly through regions near Earth where this little-understood process of magnetic reconnection occurs. Magnetic reconnection happens in thin layers just miles thick, but can tap into enough power at times to create gigantic explosions many times the size of Earth.

Artist's view of NASA's Magnetospheric Multiscale spacecraft constellation

Reconnection happens when magnetic field lines explosively realign and release massive bursts of energy, while hurling particles out at nearly the speed of light in all directions. Magnetic reconnection powers eruptions on the sun and – closer to home – it triggers the flow of material and energy from interplanetary space into near-Earth space. The MMS orbit will carry the four spacecraft through reconnection regions near Earth, using this nearby natural laboratory to better understand how reconnection occurs everywhere in space.

For more information about MMS, visit:

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


Hubble Sees a Spiral in a Furnace

NASA - Hubble Space Telescope patch.

November 21, 2014

This Hubble image is a snapshot of NGC 986 — a barred spiral galaxy discovered in 1828 by James Dunlop. This close-up view of the galaxy was captured by Hubble’s Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2 (WFPC2).

NGC 986 is found in the constellation of Fornax (The Furnace), located in the southern sky. NGC 986 is a bright, 11th-magnitude galaxy sitting around 56 million light-years away, and its golden center and barred swirling arms are clearly visible in this image.

Barred spiral galaxies are spiral galaxies with a central bar-shaped structure composed of stars. NGC 986 has the characteristic S-shaped structure of this type of galactic morphology. Young blue stars can be seen dotted amongst the galaxy’s arms and the core of the galaxy is also aglow with star formation.

Hubble orbiting Earth

To the top right of this image the stars appear a little fuzzy. This is because a gap in the Hubble data was filled in with data from ground-based telescopes. Although the view we see in this filled in patch is accurate, the resolution of the stars is no match for Hubble’s clear depiction of the spiral galaxy.

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

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


Researchers Advance 'Quantum Teleportation'

NASA patch.

November 21, 2014

The world at the quantum level, at the scale of particles too small for the eye to see, is very strange. It's possible, for instance, to have two particles that are "entangled" -- that is, they function as if they were connected, even if they are many miles away from each other.

New research co-authored by Francesco Marsili, microdevices engineer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, makes use of this phenomenon in a technological advancement published in the journal Nature Photonics. Researchers succeeded in teleporting information about the quantum state of a photon, a particle of light, over 15.5 miles (25 kilometers) of optical fiber to a crystal "memory bank," setting a new record of distance traveled in this manner. The previous record in optical fiber was 3.7 miles (6 kilometers). This complex phenomenon is called "quantum teleportation."

Cartoon above: Quantum mechanics can be confusing. This cartoon helps explain recent research by NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, University of Geneva and NIST. Credits: NASA/JPL.

The research could have implications for cryptography, which involves transmitting information securely, including communications between Earth and spacecraft.

"We can imprint the state of a system on another system, even when the two are far apart," Marsili said. "Using this effect in communications could help in building an intrinsically secure space communication network -- i.e., communication channels that cannot be hacked."

Marsili and colleagues at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), Boulder, Colorado, developed devices that can detect single particles of light, called photons.

"It's hard to detect a single photon, so you need to make a sensitive detector," he said. "Here at JPL, in collaboration with NIST, we developed the most sensitive detector in the world."

How quantum teleportation works is complicated, but an analogy for the principle behind it may help: Let's say there are two people, Alice and Bob. Alice wants Bob to have a photon that's in the same "state" as her photon, which we'll call photon P. For the sake of this analogy, we'll pretend that the "state" is a color, and photon P is yellow. A third person named Charlie sends out two entangled photons, photon A to Alice and photon B to Bob, which behave as if they are part of the same whole. Both of these photons start out as blue.

"In an entangled system, each part is connected to one another in a fundamental way, such that any action performed on a part of the entangled system has an effect on the whole entangled system," Marsili said.

Alice's two photons, P, which is yellow, and A, which is blue, "collide." Alice measures the photons as they annihilate one another. Although P and A are destroyed in the crash, P's yellow color is preserved. Because photon A and photon B are entangled, the yellow color is "teleported" to B. But in order to get photon B to become yellow, as photon P originally was, Alice needs to send Bob two bits of information to B the "classical" way -- for example, by sending pulses of light over an optical fiber.

Image above: This image shows crystals used for storing entangled photons, which behave as though they are part of the same whole. Scientists used these crystals in their process of teleporting the state of a photon across more than 15 miles (25 kilometers) of optical fiber. Credit: Félix Bussières/University of Geneva.

"When Alice measures the state of her photon, Bob's photon changes state as well, as if flipping a switch," Marsili said. "But Bob cannot know how the switch flipped unless Alice sends him the bits of information classically." Bob does not know that his photon has changed to yellow without that additional information.

Quantum teleportation doesn't mean someone can pop from New York to San Francisco instantaneously, but it seems like science fiction in the sense that the state of a particle (photon P) is destroyed at one location but imprinted on another remote system (photon B) without the two particles ever interacting.

Another crucial piece of this story is that Bob has a specific crystal, which serves as a memory bank, for storing his entangled photon and serving as the recipient of the quantum state.

The researchers reached the record distance of 15.5 miles (25 kilometers) between "Alice" and "Bob" thanks to the ultrasensitive detectors developed at JPL-NIST.

"Reaching this distance could not have been possible without the JPL NIST detectors," said Félix Bussières at the University of Geneva, Switzerland, who is the lead author of the study.

Quantum teleportation can be used to make systems, such as bank accounts, more secure over longer distances. This is also important to preventing attacks on communication channels in space.

"If you're communicating with your astronauts on Mars, you don't want to have hackers break the encrypted channel and give them false information," Marsili said.

The California Institute of Technology manages JPL for NASA.

FAQs About Quantum Teleportation:

You might have some questions regarding the sci-fi aspect of the recent quantum teleportation research. Francesco Marsili of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory's responds:

Q: Has NASA developed Star Trek's 'transporter?'

A: "Unfortunately not. Our experiment is fundamentally different than Star Trek's transporter. The transporter teleports matter by converting matter into a signal for transport, and then converting the signal back to matter at some other location.

We teleported properties of light, so our experiment cannot lead to the transporter in the future. It is not inconceivable that one might teleport the quantum state of macroscopic material objects, but this would require that a clump of matter in the right shape would be waiting to receive the quantum state. Also, the experiment was carried out at the University of Geneva. NASA, in collaboration with the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Colorado, developed an essential part of the experiment: the detectors."

Q: Can NASA transport people through space and time?

A: "Space, but unfortunately not time. Our experiment has no implications for travel through spacetime, which would require creating Einstein-Rosen bridges (aka wormholes)."

Q: What's next?

A: "There are a number of technologies that still need to be developed to implement world-wide quantum networks. For example, next is the implementation of a quantum repeater. Quantum repeaters use entanglement, teleportation and quantum memories to transmit information over long distances. In the future, quantum cryptography may become a widespread technology. Quantum mechanics can make the communication between two users intrinsically secure."

For more information about JPL NIST detectors, visit:

For more information about NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, visit:

For more information about the University of Geneva (Switzerland), visit:

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/JPL/Elizabeth Landau.


jeudi 20 novembre 2014

Stratospheric flight with a solar plane

Mission SolarStratos - To the Edge of Space logo.

November 20, 2014

Mission SolarStratos - To the Edge of Space

Neuchâtel (Switzerland), who was the first to sail around the world with a solar-powered boat, got funding for a flight over 24'000m altitude with a small solar plane.

Mission SolarStratos - To the Edge of Space - Launch 2014

Video above: Mission SolarStratos - to the Edge of Space. SolarStratos, Raphael Domjan - Go Further With Solar Energy. 3D / X-Plane modeling: Alexis Domjan/Cameraman and editor: Yannick Barthe.

Raphaël Domjan is the initiator of the SolarStratos mission, which is to bring in 2017 to more than 80,000 feet (over 24,000 meters) on a tandem solar plane. He announced in a statement that raised funds for the construction of its solar plane with several partners.

Raphael Domjan and SolarStratos plane model

At the Mission SolarStratos, Raphael Domjan hopes to reach altitudes above 24 km, where temperatures of about -70 ° C prevail. His plane, unpressurized be 7.9 m long, with a wingspan of 24.4 meters and weighs 400 kg. 22 m2 of photovoltaic cells will provide autonomy to tandem over 24 hours, which should achieve this "eco-adventure".

He will take about 5 hours to achieve the feat of climbing to the target altitude and contemplate the stars before returning to earth.

SolarStratos simulation model

Beyond this adventure, Raphaël Domjan and his team say they plan to open a door on a solar electric and near the commercial aviation space in order to create unique travel with private passengers or scientific .

After PlanetSolar

In 2012, he was teammates with curly to Monaco in the first round of the world only by solar energy. Its giant catamaran PlanetSolar, he had imagined and built, had joined its starting point in 584 days, 23 hours and 31 minutes of navigation.

PlanetSolar around the World

Swiss research and industry are at the forefront in the field of solar energy and photocells. Two other Swiss Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg will launch next year from Abu Dhabi into a world tour with a plane with only four electric motors powered by solar energy, Solar Impulse 2. Their first prototype Solar Impulse 1 allowed them to make several long flights in Europe, Morocco, and across the United States with more stops, making them the first to accomplish such a feat.

For more information about SolarStratos, visit:

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


Swift Gamma-Ray Burst Mission Marks Ten Years of Discovery

NASA - SWIFT Mission patch.

November 20, 2014

On Nov. 20, 2004, NASA's Swift spacecraft lifted off aboard a Boeing Delta II rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., beginning its mission to study gamma-ray bursts and identify their origins. Gamma-ray bursts are the most luminous explosions in the cosmos. Most are thought to be triggered when the core of a massive star runs out of nuclear fuel, collapses under its own weight, and forms a black hole. The black hole then drives jets of particles that drill all the way through the collapsing star and erupt into space at nearly the speed of light.

Astronomers at NASA and Pennsylvania State University used Swift to create the most detailed ultraviolet light surveys ever of the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds, the two closest major galaxies. Nearly a million ultraviolet sources appear in this mosaic of the Large Magellanic Cloud, which was assembled from 2,200 images taken by Swift's Ultraviolet/Optical Telescope (UVOT) and released on June 3, 2013. The 160-megapixel image required a cumulative exposure of 5.4 days. The image includes light from 1,600 to 3,300 angstroms -- UV wavelengths largely blocked by Earth's atmosphere -- and has an angular resolution of 2.5 arcseconds at full size. The Large Magellanic Cloud is about 14,000 light-years across.

Swift Gamma-Ray Burst spacecraft. Image Credit: NASA

Viewing in the ultraviolet allows astronomers to suppress the light of normal stars like the sun, which are not very bright at such higher energies, and provides a clearer picture of the hottest stars and star-formation regions. No telescope other than UVOT can produce such high-resolution wide-field multicolor surveys in the ultraviolet.

Pennsylvania State University manages the Swift Mission Operations Center, which controls Swift's science and flight operations. Goddard manages Swift, which was launched in November 2004. The satellite is operated in collaboration with Penn State, the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico and Orbital Sciences Corp. in Dulles, Va. International collaborators are in the United Kingdom and Italy, and the mission includes contributions from Germany and Japan.

For more information about SWIFT mission, visit: and

Images, Text, Credits: NASA/Swift/S. Immler (Goddard) and M. Siegel (Penn State).


Hubble observations cast further doubt on how globular clusters formed

ESA - Hubble Space Telescope logo.

20 November 2014

The riddle of the missing stars

 Four globular clusters in Fornax

Thanks to the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, some of the most mysterious cosmic residents have just become even more puzzling. New observations of globular clusters in a small galaxy show they are very similar to those found in the Milky Way, and so must have formed in a similar way. One of the leading theories on how these clusters form predicts that globular clusters should only be found nestled in among large quantities of old stars. But these old stars, though rife in the Milky Way, are not present in this small galaxy, and so, the mystery deepens.

Four globular clusters in Fornax — annotated

Globular clusters — large balls of stars that orbit the centres of galaxies, but can lie very far from them — remain one of the biggest cosmic mysteries. They were once thought to consist of a single population of stars that all formed together. However, research has since shown that many of the Milky Way's globular clusters had far more complex formation histories and are made up of at least two distinct populations of stars.

Globular cluster Fornax 1

Of these populations, around half the stars are a single generation of normal stars that were thought to form first, and the other half form a second generation of stars, which are polluted with different chemical elements. In particular, the polluted stars contain up to 50-100 times more nitrogen than the first generation of stars.

Globular cluster Fornax 2

The proportion of polluted stars found in the Milky Way's globular clusters is much higher than astronomers expected, suggesting that a large chunk of the first generation star population is missing. A leading explanation for this is that the clusters once contained many more stars but a large fraction of the first generation stars were ejected from the cluster at some time in its past.

Globular cluster Fornax 3

This explanation makes sense for globular clusters in the Milky Way, where the ejected stars could easily hide among the many similar, old stars in the vast halo, but the new observations, which look at this type of cluster in a much smaller galaxy, call this theory into question.

Globular cluster Fornax 5

Astronomers used Hubble's Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3) to observe four globular clusters in a small nearby galaxy known as the Fornax Dwarf Spheroidal galaxy [1].

Fornax galaxy with four globular clusters marked

"We knew that the Milky Way's clusters were more complex than was originally thought, and there are theories to explain why. But to really test our theories about how these clusters form we needed to know what happened in other environments," says Søren Larsen of Radboud University in Nijmegen, the Netherlands, lead author of the new paper. "Before now we didn’t know whether globular clusters in smaller galaxies had multiple generations or not, but our observations show clearly that they do!"

Fornax dwarf galaxy

The astronomers' detailed observations of the four Fornax clusters show that they also contain a second polluted population of stars [2] and indicate that not only did they form in a similar way to one another, their formation process is also similar to clusters in the Milky Way. Specifically, the astronomers used the Hubble observations to measure the amount of nitrogen in the cluster stars, and found that about half of the stars in each cluster are polluted at the same level that is seen in Milky Way's globular clusters.

Hubble and the sunrise over Earth

This high proportion of polluted second generation stars means that the Fornax globular clusters' formation should be covered by the same theory as those in the Milky Way.

Based on the number of polluted stars in these clusters they would have to have been up to ten times more massive in the past, before kicking out huge numbers of their first generation stars and reducing to their current size. But, unlike the Milky Way, the galaxy that hosts these clusters doesn't have enough old stars to account for the huge number that were supposedly banished from the clusters.

Globular cluster in 3D

"If these kicked-out stars were there, we would see them — but we don't!" explains Frank Grundahl of Aarhus University in Denmark, co-author on the paper. "Our leading formation theory just can't be right. There's nowhere that Fornax could have hidden these ejected stars, so it appears that the clusters couldn't have been so much larger in the past."

Structure of a globular cluster

This finding means that a leading theory on how these mixed generation globular clusters formed cannot be correct and astronomers will have to think once more about how these mysterious objects, in the Milky Way and further afield, came to exist.

The new work is detailed in a paper published today, 20 November 2014, in The Astrophysical Journal.


[1] The Milky Way’s gravity keeps Fornax orbiting around us as a satellite galaxy.

[2] The clusters studied were named Fornax 1, 2, 3, and 5. Fornax 1, 3, and 5 are made up of approximately 40% first generation stars to 60% polluted second generation ones, while Fornax 2 contains around 60% first generation and 40% second generation.
Notes for editors

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

The international team of astronomers in this study consists of S. Larsen (Radboud University, the Netherlands), J. P Brodie (University of California, USA), F. Grundahl (Aarhus University, Denmark), and J. Strader (Michigan State University, USA).


Images of Hubble:

Link to science paper:

Images, Text, Credits: NASA, ESA, S. Larsen (Radboud University, the Netherlands)/ESO/Digitized Sky Survey 2/Videos: ESA/Hubble/M. Kornmesser.

Best regards,

Transport cargo ship Progress M-24M has completed its mission

ROSCOSMOS -Russian Vehicles patch.


November 20, 2014 at 2:46 Moscow time in a predetermined area of the Pacific Ocean made of non-combustible residues flooding cargo vehicle (THC) Progress M-24M. In accordance with the program laid down in the ship's onboard computer experts Mission Control Center (MCC) FSUE TsNIIMash, at 2:00 MSK on "space truck" was included on the inhibition of the propulsion system, and then began a controlled reduction of THC from orbit.

Image above: Progress Spacecraft 42P reentry plasma trail viewed from the International Space Station. Image Credit: NASA.

Carrier rocket Soyuz-U with TGC Progress M-24M was launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome July 24, 2014 at 01:44 Moscow time. July 24, 2014 at 07:31 MSK was carried out docking cargo spacecraft Progress M-24M with the International Space Station. Docked to the docking bay Pierce (CO1) of the Russian segment of the ISS was carried out in an automatic mode.
Cargo spacecraft delivered to ISS about 2.3 tons of cargo, including fuel, oxygen, food, equipment for scientific experiments and parcels for the crew.

Image above: The Progress resupply vehicle is an automated, unpiloted version of the Soyuz spacecraft that is used to bring supplies and fuel to the ISS. Image Credit: NASA.

Undocking from the ISS TGC held in October 27, 2014 at 8 o'clock 38 minutes Moscow time. After her Progress was in free flight, during which the space experiment was conducted "Reflection". During this time, experts studied the possibility of transmission of optical signals to study the modifications of the earth's atmosphere.

ROSCOSMOS Press Release:

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: Press Service of the Russian Federal Space Agency/ROSCOSMOS/Translation: Aerospace.


Rosetta continues into its full science phase

ESA - Rosetta Mission patch.

20 November 2014

With the Philae lander’s mission complete, Rosetta will now continue its own extraordinary exploration, orbiting Comet 67P/Churymov–Gerasimenko during the coming year as the enigmatic body arcs ever closer to our Sun.

Last week, ESA’s Rosetta spacecraft delivered its Philae lander to the surface of the comet for a dramatic touchdown.

The lander’s planned mission ended after about 64 hours when its batteries ran out, but not before it delivered a full set of results that are now being analysed by scientists across Europe.

Rosetta spacecraft

Rosetta’s own mission is far from over and the spacecraft remains in excellent condition, with all of its systems and instruments performing as expected.

“With lander delivery complete, Rosetta will resume routine science observations and we will transition to the ‘comet escort phase’,” says Flight Director Andrea Accomazzo.

“This science-gathering phase will take us into next year as we go with the comet towards the Sun, passing perihelion, or closest approach, on 13 August, at 186 million kilometres from our star.”

On 16 November, the flight control team moved from the large Main Control Room at ESA’s Space Operations Centre in Darmstadt, Germany, where critical operations during landing were performed, to a smaller Dedicated Control Room, from where the team normally flies the craft.

Rosetta control room

Since then, Rosetta has performed a series of manoeuvres, using its thrusters to begin optimising its orbit around the comet for the 11 scientific instruments.

“Additional burns planned for today, 22 and 26 November will further adjust the orbit to bring it up to about 30 km above the comet,” says Sylvain Lodiot, Spacecraft Operations Manager.

From next week, Rosetta’s orbit will be selected and planned based on the needs of the scientific sensors. After arrival on 6 August, the orbit was designed to meet the lander’s needs.

Getting as close as feasible

On 3 December, the craft will move down to height of 20 km for about 10 days, after which it will return to 30 km.

With the landing performed, all future trajectories are designed purely with science as the driver, explained Laurence O’Rourke and Michael Küppers at the Rosetta Science Operations Centre near Madrid, Spain.

“The desire is to place the spacecraft as close as feasible to the comet before the activity becomes too high to maintain closed orbits,” says Laurence.

Rosetta path after 12 November

“This 20 km orbit will be used by the science teams to map large parts of the nucleus at high resolution and to collect gas, dust and plasma at increasing activity.”

Planning the science orbits involves two different trajectories: ‘preferred’ and ‘high-activity’. While the intention is always to fly the preferred path, Rosetta will move to the high-activity trajectory in the event the comet becomes too active as it heats up.

“This will allow science operations to continue besides the initial impact on science planning that such a move would entail,” adds Michael.

Science takes a front seat

“Science will now take front seat in this great mission. It’s why we are there in the first place!” says Matt Taylor, Rosetta Project Scientist.

“The science teams have been working intensively over the last number of years with the science operations centre to prepare the dual planning for this phase.”

When solar heat activates the frozen gases on and below the surface, outflowing gas and dust particles will create an atmosphere around the nucleus, known as the coma.

First spacecraft to track a comet toward the Sun

Rosetta will become the first spacecraft to witness at close quarters the development of a comet’s coma and the subsequent tail streaming for millions of kilometres into space. Rosetta will then have to stay further from the comet to avoid the coma affecting its orbit.

In addition, as the comet nears the Sun, illumination on its surface is expected to increase. This may provide sufficient sunlight for the DLR-operated Philae lander, now in hibernation, to reactivate, although this is far from certain.

Early next year, Rosetta will be switched into a mode that allows it to listen periodically for beacon signals from the surface.

Rosetta orbiting the comet

More about Rosetta

Rosetta is an ESA mission with contributions from its Member States and NASA. Rosetta’s Philae lander is provided by a consortium led by DLR, MPS, CNES and ASI.

Regular updates on Rosetta’s continuing mission and its scientific explorations will be posted in the mission blog, via

For more information about Rosetta mission, visit:

Related links:

Rosetta overview:

Rosetta factsheet:

Frequently asked questions:

Rosetta  Operations:

Images, video, Text, Credits: ESA / J. Huart.

Best regards,

mercredi 19 novembre 2014

NASA's Swift Mission Probes an Exotic Object: ‘Kicked’ Black Hole or Mega Star?

NASA - SWIFT Mission patch.

November 19, 2014

An international team of researchers analyzing decades of observations from many facilities, including NASA's Swift satellite, has discovered an unusual source of light in a galaxy some 90 million light-years away.

The object's curious properties make it a good match for a supermassive black hole ejected from its home galaxy after merging with another giant black hole. But astronomers can't yet rule out an alternative possibility. The source, called SDSS1133, may be the remnant of a massive star that erupted for a record period of time before destroying itself in a supernova explosion.

Swift Probes Exotic Object: 'Kicked' Black Hole or Mega Star?

Video above: Zoom into Markarian 177 and SDSS1133 and see how they compare with a simulated galaxy collision. When the central black holes in these galaxies combine, a "kick" launches the merged black hole on a wide orbit taking it far from the galaxy's core. Video Credit: NASA Goddard's Scientific Visualization Studio.

"With the data we have in hand, we can't yet distinguish between these two scenarios," said lead researcher Michael Koss, an astronomer at ETH Zurich, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology. "One exciting discovery made with NASA's Swift is that the brightness of SDSS1133 has changed little in optical or ultraviolet light for a decade, which is not something typically seen in a young supernova remnant."

In a study published in the Nov. 21 edition of Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, Koss and his colleagues report that the source has brightened significantly in visible light during the past six months, a trend that, if maintained, would bolster the black hole interpretation. To analyze the object in greater detail, the team is planning ultraviolet observations with the Cosmic Origins Spectrograph aboard the Hubble Space Telescope in October 2015.

Image above: The dwarf galaxy Markarian 177 (center) and its unusual source SDSS1133 (blue) lie 90 million light-years away. The galaxies are located in the bowl of the Big Dipper, a well-known star pattern in the constellation Ursa Major. Image Credit: Sloan Digital Sky Survey.

Whatever SDSS1133 is, it's persistent. The team was able to detect it in astronomical surveys dating back more than 60 years.

The mystery object is part of the dwarf galaxy Markarian 177, located in the bowl of the Big Dipper, a well-known star pattern within the constellation Ursa Major. Although supermassive black holes usually occupy galactic centers, SDSS1133 is located at least 2,600 light-years from its host galaxy's core.

In June 2013, the researchers obtained high-resolution near-infrared images of the object using the 10-meter Keck II telescope at the W. M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii. They reveal the emitting region of SDSS1133 is less than 40 light-years across and that the center of Markarian 177 shows evidence of intense star formation and other features indicating a recent disturbance. 

"We suspect we're seeing the aftermath of a merger of two small galaxies and their central black holes," said co-author Laura Blecha, an Einstein Fellow in the University of Maryland's Department of Astronomy and a leading theorist in simulating recoils, or "kicks," in merging black holes. "Astronomers searching for recoiling black holes have been unable to confirm a detection, so finding even one of these sources would be a major discovery."

Image above: Using the Keck II telescope in Hawaii, researchers obtained high-resolution images of Markarian 177 and SDSS1133 using a near-infrared filter. Twin bright spots in the galaxy's center are consistent with recent star formation, a disturbance that hints this galaxy may have merged with another. Image Credit: Credit: W. M. Keck Observatory/M. Koss (ETH Zurich) et al.

The collision and merger of two galaxies disrupts their shapes and results in new episodes of star formation. If each galaxy possesses a central supermassive black hole, they will form a bound binary pair at the center of the merged galaxy before ultimately coalescing themselves.

Merging black holes release a large amount of energy in the form of gravitational radiation, a consequence of Einstein's theory of gravity. Waves in the fabric of space-time ripple outward in all directions from accelerating masses. If both black holes have equal masses and spins, their merger emits gravitational waves uniformly in all directions. More likely, the black hole masses and spins will be different, leading to lopsided gravitational wave emission that launches the black hole in the opposite direction.

The kick may be strong enough to hurl the black hole entirely out of its home galaxy, fating it to forever drift through intergalactic space. More typically, a kick will send the object into an elongated orbit. Despite its relocation, the ejected black hole will retain any hot gas trapped around it and continue to shine as it moves along its new path until all of the gas is consumed.

Animation above: SDSS1133 (bright spot, lower left) has been a persistent source for more than 60 years. This sequence of archival astronomical imagery, taken through different instruments and filters, shows that the source is detectable in 1950 and brightest in 2001. Image Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/M. Koss (ETH Zurich).

If SDSS1133 isn't a black hole, then it might have been a very unusual type of star known as a Luminous Blue Variable (LBV). These massive stars undergo episodic eruptions that cast large amounts of mass into space long before they explode. Interpreted in this way, SDSS1133 would represent the longest period of LBV eruptions ever observed, followed by a terminal supernova explosion whose light reached Earth in 2001.

The nearest comparison in our galaxy is the massive binary system Eta Carinae, which includes an LBV containing about 90 times the sun's mass. Between 1838 and 1845, the system underwent an outburst that ejected at least 10 solar masses and made it the second-brightest star in the sky. It then followed up with a smaller eruption in the 1890s.

In this alternative scenario, SDSS1133 must have been in nearly continual eruption from at least 1950 to 2001, when it reached peak brightness and went supernova. The spatial resolution and sensitivity of telescopes prior to 1950 were insufficient to detect the source. But if this was an LBV eruption, the current record shows it to be the longest and most persistent one ever observed. An interaction between the ejected gas and the explosion's blast wave could explain the object's steady brightness in the ultraviolet.

Whether it's a rogue supermassive black hole or the closing act of a rare star, it seems astronomers have never seen the likes of SDSS1133 before.

Related Links:

Download HD video and print-resolution images from NASA Goddard's Scientific Visualization Studio:

Paper: "SDSS1133: an unusually persistent transient in a nearby dwarf galaxy":

Simulations Uncover 'Flashy' Secrets of Merging Black Holes (09.27.12):

Giant Black Hole Kicked Out of Home Galaxy (06.04.2012):

For more information about SWIFT mission, visit: and

Images (mentioned), Video (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/Francis Reddy.

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LHCb observes two new baryon particles

CERN - European Organization for Nuclear Research logo.

November 19, 2014

Today the collaboration for the LHCb experiment at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider announced the discovery of two new particles in the baryon family. The particles, known as the Xi_b'- and Xi_b*-, were predicted to exist by the quark model but had never been seen before. A related particle, the Xi_b*0, was found by the CMS experiment at CERN in 2012. The LHCb collaboration submitted a paper reporting the finding to Physical Review Letters.

Like the well-known protons that the LHC accelerates, the new particles are baryons made from three quarks bound together by the strong force. The types of quarks are different, though: the new X_ib particles both contain one beauty (b), one strange (s), and one down (d) quark. Thanks to the heavyweight b quarks, they are more than six times as massive as the proton. But the particles are more than just the sum of their parts: their mass also depends on how they are configured. Each of the quarks has an attribute called "spin". In the Xi_b'- state, the spins of the two lighter quarks point in opposite directions, whereas in the Xi_b*- state they are aligned. This difference makes the Xi_b*- a little heavier.

“Nature was kind and gave us two particles for the price of one," said Matthew Charles of the CNRS's LPNHE laboratory at Paris VI University. "The Xi_b'- is very close in mass to the sum of its decay products: if it had been just a little lighter, we wouldn't have seen it at all using the decay signature that we were looking for.”

"This is a very exciting result. Thanks to LHCb's excellent hadron identification, which is unique among the LHC experiments, we were able to separate a very clean and strong signal from the background," said Steven Blusk from Syracuse University in New York. “It demonstrates once again the sensitivity and how precise the LHCb detector is.”

CERN’s Large Hadron Collider (LHC)

As well as the masses of these particles, the research team studied their relative production rates, their widths – a measure of how unstable they are – and other details of their decays. The results match up with predictions based on the theory of Quantum Chromodynamics (QCD).

QCD is part of the Standard Model of particle physics, the theory that describes the fundamental particles of matter, how they interact and the forces between them. Testing QCD at high precision is a key to refine our understanding of quark dynamics, models of which are tremendously difficult to calculate.

“If we want to find new physics beyond the Standard Model, we need first to have a sharp picture,” said LHCb’s physics coordinator Patrick Koppenburg from Nikhef Institute in Amsterdam. “Such high precision studies will help us to differentiate between Standard Model effects and anything new or unexpected in the future.”

The measurements were made with the data taken at the LHC during 2011-2012. The LHC is currently being prepared – after its first long shutdown – to operate at higher energies and with more intense beams. It is scheduled to restart by spring 2015.


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

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

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

Further information:

Read the paper on Arxiv (link is external):

LHCb collaboration website:

CMS collaboration website:

Related links:

LHCb experiment:

LHC - Large Hadron Collider:

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


Second Time Through, Mars Rover Examines Chosen Rocks

NASA - Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) logo.

November 19, 2014

Image above: This small ridge, about 3 feet (1 meter) long, appears to resist wind erosion more than the flatter plates around it. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS.

NASA's Curiosity Mars rover has completed a reconnaissance "walkabout" of the first outcrop it reached at the base of the mission's destination mountain and has begun a second pass examining selected rocks in the outcrop in more detail.

Exposed layers on the lower portion of Mount Sharp are expected to hold evidence about dramatic changes in the environmental evolution of Mars. That was a major reason NASA chose this area of Mars for this mission. The lowermost of these slices of time ascending the mountain includes a pale outcrop called "Pahrump Hills." It bears layers of diverse textures that the mission has been studying since Curiosity acquired a drilled sample from the outcrop in September.

In its first pass up this outcrop, Curiosity drove about 360 feet (110 meters), and scouted sites ranging about 30 feet (9 meters) in elevation. It evaluated potential study targets from a distance with mast-mounted cameras and a laser-firing spectrometer.

Image above: This patch of Martian bedrock, about 2 feet (70 centimeters) across, is finely layered rock with some pea-size inclusions. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS.

"We see a diversity of textures in this outcrop -- some parts finely layered and fine-grained, others more blocky with erosion-resistant ledges," said Curiosity Deputy Project Scientist Ashwin Vasavada of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California. "Overlaid on that structure are compositional variations. Some of those variations were detected with our spectrometer. Others show themselves as apparent differences in cementation or as mineral veins. There's a lot to study here."

During a second pass up the outrcrop, the mission is using a close-up camera and spectrometer on the rover's arm to examine selected targets in more detail. The second-pass findings will feed into decisions about whether to drill into some target rocks during a third pass, to collect sample material for onboard laboratory analysis.

"The variations we've seen so far tell us that the environment was changing over time, both as the sediments were laid down and also after they hardened into bedrock," Vasavada said. "We have selected targets that we think give us the best chance of answering questions about how the sediments were deposited -- in standing water? flowing water? sand blowing in the wind? -- and about the composition during deposition and later changes."

Image above: A wheel track cuts through a windblown ripple of dusty sand in this Nov. 7, 2014, image from the Mastcam on NASA's Curiosity rover. The view spans about four feet across. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS.

The first target in the second pass is called "Pelona," a fine-grained, finely layered rock close to the September drilling target at the base of Pahrump Hills outcrop. The second is a more erosion-resistant ledge called "Pink Cliffs."

Before examining Pelona, researchers used Curiosity's wheels as a tool to expose a cross section of a nearby windblown ripple of dust and sand. One motive for this experiment was to learn why some ripples that Curiosity drove into earlier this year were more difficult to cross than anticipated.

While using the rover to investigate targets in Pahrump Hills, the rover team is also developing a work-around for possible loss of use of a device used for focusing the telescope on Curiosity's Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) instrument, the laser-firing spectrometer.

Diagnostic data from ChemCam suggest weakening of the instrument's smaller laser. This is a continuous wave laser used for focusing the telescope before the more powerful laser is fired. The main laser induces a spark on the target it hits; light from the spark is received though the telescope and analyzed with spectrometers to identify chemical elements in the target. If the smaller laser has become too weak to continue using, the ChemCam team plans to test an alternative method: firing a few shots from the main laser while focusing the telescope, before performing the analysis. This would take advantage of more than 2,000 autofocus sequences ChemCam has completed on Mars, providing calibration points for the new procedure.

Image above: This northeast-facing view from the lower edge of the pale "Pahrump Hills" outcrop at the base of Mount Sharp includes wind-sculpted ripples of sand and dust in the middle ground. It was taken by Curiosity's Navcam on Nov. 13, 2014. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS.

Curiosity landed on Mars in August 2012, but before beginning the drive toward Mount Sharp, the rover spent much of the mission's first year productively studying an area much closer to the landing site, but in the opposite direction. The mission accomplished its science goals in that Yellowknife Bay area. Analysis of drilled rocks there disclosed an ancient lakebed environment that, more than three billion years ago, offered ingredients and a chemical energy gradient favorable for microbes, if any existed there.

Curiosity spent its second year driving more than 5 miles (8 kilometers) from Yellowknife Bay to the base of Mount Sharp, with pauses at a few science waypoints.

NASA's Mars Science Laboratory Project is using Curiosity to assess ancient habitable environments and major changes in Martian environmental conditions. JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, built the rover and manages the project for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

For more information about Curiosity, visit: and

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

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


Spooky Alignment of Quasars Across Billions of Light-years

ESO - European Southern Observatory logo.

19 November 2014

VLT reveals alignments between supermassive black hole axes and large-scale structure

Artist’s impression of mysterious alignment of quasar rotation axes

New observations with ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Chile have revealed alignments over the largest structures ever discovered in the Universe. A European research team has found that the rotation axes of the central supermassive black holes in a sample of quasars are parallel to each other over distances of billions of light-years. The team has also found that the rotation axes of these quasars tend to be aligned with the vast structures in the cosmic web in which they reside.

Quasars are galaxies with very active supermassive black holes at their centres. These black holes are surrounded by spinning discs of extremely hot material that is often spewed out in long jets along their axes of rotation. Quasars can shine more brightly than all the stars in the rest of their host galaxies put together.

A team led by Damien Hutsemékers from the University of Liège in Belgium used the FORS instrument on the VLT to study 93 quasars that were known to form huge groupings spread over billions of light-years, seen at a time when the Universe was about one third of its current age.

Simulation of large scale structure

“The first odd thing we noticed was that some of the quasars’ rotation axes were aligned with each other — despite the fact that these quasars are separated by billions of light-years,” said Hutsemékers.

The team then went further and looked to see if the rotation axes were linked, not just to each other, but also to the structure of the Universe on large scales at that time.

When astronomers look at the distribution of galaxies on scales of billions of light-years they find that they are not evenly distributed. They form a cosmic web of filaments and clumps around huge voids where galaxies are scarce. This intriguing and beautiful arrangement of material is known as large-scale structure.

The new VLT results indicate that the rotation axes of the quasars tend to be parallel to the large-scale structures in which they find themselves. So, if the quasars are in a long filament then the spins of the central black holes will point along the filament. The researchers estimate that the probability that these alignments are simply the result of chance is less than 1%.

Artist's impression of mysterious alignment of quasar rotation axes

“A correlation between the orientation of quasars and the structure they belong to is an important prediction of numerical models of evolution of our Universe. Our data provide the first observational confirmation of this effect, on scales much larger that what had been observed to date for normal galaxies,” adds Dominique Sluse of the Argelander-Institut für Astronomie in Bonn, Germany and University of Liège.

The team could not see the rotation axes or the jets of the quasars directly. Instead they measured the polarisation of the light from each quasar and, for 19 of them, found a significantly polarised signal. The direction of this polarisation, combined with other information, could be used to deduce the angle of the accretion disc and hence the direction of the spin axis of the quasar.

“The alignments in the new data, on scales even bigger than current predictions from simulations, may be a hint that there is a missing ingredient in our current models of the cosmos,” concludes Dominique Sluse.

More information:
This research was presented in a paper entitled “Alignment of quasar polarizations with large-scale structures“, by D. Hutsemékers et al., to appear in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics on 19 November 2014.

The team is composed of D. Hutsemékers (Institut d’Astrophysique et de Géophysique, Université de Liège, Liège, Belgium), L. Braibant (Liège), V. Pelgrims (Liège) and D. Sluse (Argelander-Institut für Astronomie, Bonn, Germany; Liège).

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:

Photos of the VLT:

Images, Text, Credits: ESO/M. Kornmesser/Illustris Collaboration/Video: ESO/M. Kornmesser.


mardi 18 novembre 2014

Satellite View of the U.S. Wrapped in a Frozen Blanket

NOAA logo.

November 18, 2014

Image above: In this NOAA's GOES satellite infrared image taken on Nov. 18 at 7:30 a.m. EST, the cold air over the central and eastern U.S. appears to look like a blanket of white, but it's not all snow. Image Credit: NASA/NOAA GOES Project, Dennis Chesters.

As icy cold Canadian air settled over the eastern two-thirds of the U.S. bringing snow and bitter cold, NOAA's GOES-East satellite captured this infrared view of what looks like a frozen blanket over the region.

NOAA's GOES-East satellite provides visible and infrared images over the eastern U.S. and the Atlantic Ocean from its fixed orbit in space. In an infrared image taken on Nov. 18 at 12:30 UTC (7:30 a.m. EST), the cold air over the eastern and central U.S. appears to look like a blanket of white, but it's not all snow. Infrared data shows temperature, so although the eastern two-thirds of the U.S. appears to appear is if snow covers the ground, the blanket is in fact cold clouds. However, snow does lie under that blanket in the Upper Midwest, Ohio Valley, and Canada, where it will continue in those areas through Thursday, Nov. 20.

"Dozens of lakes behind dams in the Southeast USA stand out as dark spots in a grey landscape," said Dennis Chesters of NASA/NOAA's GOES Project at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. "That is because we invert the display of infrared emission to make cold cloud tops appear white, frozen land grey, and warm water dark."

NOAA's National Weather Service Weather Prediction Center said that the deep low pressure system pushing that polar air over the Eastern U.S. is centered over southeastern Canada.  On Tuesday, Nov. 18, freeze and frost warnings stretch from the upper Great Lakes to Florida. Some areas in the Upper Great Lakes are forecast to receive over two feet of snow. Well below average temperatures are forecast to reach the Gulf Coast, with most of the Mid-Atlantic States barely getting above freezing Tuesday and Wednesday. In the Midwest, periods of lake effect snow are forecast to continue south and east of the Great Lakes through Wednesday.

Artist's view of the GOES-East satellite. Image Credit: NOAA

This Arctic blast will bring temperatures as much as 20 degrees below average from the Gulf Coast and northward into the Northeast and continue Wednesday and start rising on Thursday.

In Nov. 17 and 18 a storm system brought snow to the Midwest and Great Lakes Region, where it fell in several feet. The forecast for the lee side of the Great Lakes calls for the continuation of snow with totals approaching two feet downwind of the two lakes. 

The infrared image from NOAA's GOES-East or GOES-13 satellite on Nov. 18 at 1200 UTC (7 a.m. EST) was made by NASA/NOAA's GOES Project.

To create the image, NASA/NOAA's GOES Project takes the cloud data from NOAA's GOES-East satellite and overlays it on a true-color image of land and ocean created by data from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer, or MODIS, instrument that flies aboard NASA's Aqua and Terra satellites. Together, those data created the entire picture of the storm and show its movement. After the storm system passes, the snow on the ground becomes visible.

GOES satellites provide the kind of continuous monitoring necessary for intensive data analysis. Geostationary describes an orbit in which a satellite is always in the same position with respect to the rotating Earth. This allows GOES to hover continuously over one position on Earth's surface, appearing stationary. As a result, GOES provide a constant vigil for the atmospheric "triggers" for severe weather conditions such as tornadoes, flash floods, hail storms and hurricanes.

For updated information about the storm system, visit NOAA's NWS website:

For more information about GOES satellites, visit: or

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