samedi 21 février 2015

Astronauts Complete Successful Spacewalk

ISS - Expedition 42 Mission patch.

February 21, 2015

Spacewalkers Attaching Cables for Future Commercial Crew Vehicles

Image above: Spacewalkers Barry Wilmore and Terry Virts attach power and data cables to the port and starboard sides of Pressurized Mating Adapter-2. Image Credit: NASA TV.

Approximately 2 hours and 30 minutes into today’s spacewalk, astronauts Barry Wilmore and Terry Virts have finished attaching several new cables on the port side of Pressurized Mating Adapter-2. The duo will reinstall a debris shield before moving to attach another new cable on the starboard side and route additional cables during their remaining time outside the International Space Station.

The crew is routing more than 300 feet of cable during today’s spacewalk and a second one planned for Wednesday as part of a reconfiguration of the station to enable U.S. commercial crew vehicles under development to dock to the space station in the coming years.

Video above: U.S. Space Station Crew Members Begin Spacewalk Trilogy To Prepare For Commercial Crew Vehicles. Video Credit: NASA TV.

First of Three Spacewalks Complete

NASA astronauts Barry Wilmore and Terry Virts ended their spacewalk at 2:26 p.m. EST with the repressurization of the Quest airlock. Wilmore and Virts completed all the scheduled tasks for today and one get ahead task. They rigged a series of power and data cables at the forward end of the Harmony module and Pressurized Mating Adapter-2 and routed 340 of 360 feet of cable. The cable routing work is part of a reconfiguration of station systems and modules to accommodate the delivery of new docking adapters that commercial crew vehicles will use later this decade to deliver astronauts to the orbital laboratory.

Image above: Spacewalkers Barry Wilmore and Terry Virts worked to set up 340 feet of cable on Pressurized Mating Adapter-2 readying it for an International Docking Adapter to accommodate future commercial crew vehicles. Image Credit: NASA TV.

The 6-hour, 41-minute spacewalk was the first for Virts. Wilmore now has spent 13 hours and 15 minutes in the void of space during two spacewalks. The spacewalk began this morning at 7:45 a.m. Astronauts have now spent a total of 1,159 hours and 8 minutes conducting space station assembly and maintenance during 185 spacewalks.

The duo will venture outside the space station again on Wednesday, Feb. 25, to deploy two more cables and lubricate the end of the space station’s robotic arm. NASA TV coverage will begin at 6 a.m. Wednesday ahead of a planned 7:10 a.m. start time for the spacewalk.

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

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


vendredi 20 février 2015

Upcoming Spacewalks to Prepare Space Station for U.S. Commercial Crew Arrivals

ISS - Expedition 42 Mission patch.

February 20, 2015

Change is on the horizon for the International Space Station as three upcoming spacewalks prepare the orbiting laboratory for future arrivals by U.S. commercial crew spacecraft.

The spacewalks are designed to lay cables along the forward end of the U.S. segment to bring power and communication to two International Docking Adapters slated to arrive later this year. The new docking ports will welcome U.S. commercial spacecraft launching from Florida beginning in 2017, permitting the standard station crew size to grow from six to seven and potentially double the amount of crew time devoted to research.

Image above: Spacewalkers Barry Wilmore and Terry Virts. Image Credit: NASA TV.

The third of the three space walks will see the installation of two new communication antennas on opposite ends of the station’s truss to assist in the commercial crew vehicles approach for docking. The spacewalks are planned for Saturday, Feb. 21; Wednesday, Feb. 25; and Sunday, March 1, with Expedition 42 Commander Barry Wilmore and Flight Engineer Terry Virts participating in all three.

“The challenge for the ISS is going to be continuing maturity over multiple decades of the station and what it will do for crew on the path to commercialization,” said Kenny Todd, International Space Station Operations Integration manager. “It’s fun, it’s exciting and we’re looking forward to transforming the station.”

The goal of these spacewalks is to prepare two berthing ports on the U.S. for the docking for commercial crew transport ships. The station has eight ports for cargo and crew total, including the U.S. and international segments.

All three EVAs will be performed in U.S. spacesuits, and will last around six and a half hours each.

Boeing and SpaceX were recently awarded Commercial Crew Transportation Capability contracts with NASA to develop solutions for U.S. astronaut transportation to and from the space station. After NASA crews begin fly with these contractors, it is expected to double the amount of time devoted to science in space from 40 hours to 80 hours per week. U.S. commercial crew capabilities also could provide a faster turnaround to bring completed experiments from the orbiting laboratory back to Earth.

SpaceX’s sixth commercial resupply mission is scheduled to launch to the station no earlier than April and will bring with supplies and equipment to support more than 200 research investigations. The two new docking adapters will be launched to the station on a pair of SpaceX Dragon cargo spacecraft later this year. SpaceX is targeting its new Crew Dragon spacecraft to make an uncrewed flight test in late 2016 and a crewed flight test in early 2017.

Image above: International Docking Adapter Locations. Image Credit: NASA TV.

Boeing is working with NASA on its CST-100 spacecraft, which will launch on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket. Boeing recently announced future projects including a pad abort test in February 2017, an orbital flight test in April 2017, and a crewed flight test with one Boeing test pilot and one NASA astronaut in July 2017.

The International Space Station is a convergence of science, technology and human innovation that demonstrates new technologies and makes research breakthroughs not possible on Earth. The space station has been occupied continuously since November 2000. In that time, more than 200 people and a variety of international and commercial spacecraft have visited the orbiting laboratory. The space station remains the springboard to NASA's next great leap in exploration, including future missions to an asteroid and Mars.

The first spacewalk is now set to begin Saturday at 7:10 a.m. EST with NASA TV live coverage starting at 6 a.m. The second and third spacewalks are planned for Feb. 25 and March 1, both beginning at 7:10 a.m.

Related links:

NASA TV live coverage:

First of Three Spacewalks Now Set for Saturday:

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

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Anna Seils.


NASA Snaps Picture of Eastern U.S. in a Record-Breaking "Freezer"

NASA - EOS TERRA Mission patch.

February 20, 2015

NASA's Terra satellite captured an image of the snow-covered eastern U.S. that looks like the states have been sitting in a freezer. In addition to the snow cover, Arctic and Siberian air masses have settled in over the Eastern U.S. triggering many record low temperatures in many states.

On Feb. 19 at 16:40 UTC (11:40 a.m. EST), the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) instrument that flies aboard NASA's Terra satellite captured a picture of the snowy landscape. The snow cover combined with the frosty air mass made the eastern U.S. feel like the inside of freezer. The MODIS image was created at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

On the morning of Feb. 20, NOAA's Weather Prediction Center (WPC) noted, "There were widespread subzero overnight lows Thursday night (Feb. 19) extending from Illinois to western Virginia, and numerous record lows were set. Bitterly-cold arctic air is setting numerous temperature records across the eastern U.S. and will keep temperatures well below normal on Friday (Feb. 20)."

Image above: NASA's Terra satellite captured this picture of snow across the eastern United States on Feb. 19 at 16:20 UTC (11:20 a.m. EST). Image Credit: NASA Goddard MODIS Rapid Response Team.

In Baltimore, Maryland, a low temperature of 1F broke the record low for coldest morning recorded at the Thurgood Marshall Baltimore Washington-International Airport.

In Louisville, Kentucky, temperatures dropped to -6F, breaking the old record low of 0F, according to meteorologist Brian Goode of WAVE-TV.  Meanwhile, Richmond Kentucky bottomed out at a frigid -32F.

In North Carolina, a record low temperature was set at Charlotte where the overnight temperature bottomed out at 7F breaking the old record of 13F in 1896. In Asheville, temperatures dropped to just 4F breaking the old record of 10F in 1979. Temperature records for Asheville extend back to 1876.  

Several records were also broken in Georgia, according to Matt Daniel, a meteorologist at WMAZ-TV, Macon Georgia, who cited data from the National Weather Service. Daniel said that Macon set a new record low when the temperature dropped to 18F, beating the previous record of 21F set in 1958. Athens broke a new record low, too dropping to 14F and beating the old record of 18F set in 1958/1928.

 NASA Terra satellite. Image Credit: NASA

NOAA's NPC noted that "Highs on Friday (Feb. 20) will struggle to get out of the teens from the Ohio Valley to the Mid-Atlantic region.  After Friday, temperatures are forecast to moderate and get closer to February averages as a storm system approaches from the west."

For more information about Terra satellite mission, visit:

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


ATV’s internal camera delivered data, but not images

ESA / NASA - ATV-5 Re-Entry Observation Campaign logo.

20 February 2015

A prototype ‘blackbox for spacecraft’ running inside ESA’s cargo ferry as it burned up in the atmosphere managed to return data to the ground but, sadly, the images it took were lost in transit.

ESA’s fifth and final Automated Transfer Vehicle broke up as planned over an uninhabited region of the South Pacific at about 18:04 GMT on Sunday 15 February, having separated from the International Space Station the day before.

Final view of camera system

Aboard it was the Break-Up Camera, designed to record ATV’s death throes in the infrared and transfer the results to the SatCom heatshield-protected sphere.

Surviving the break-up, SatCom then broadcasts its stored data to Iridium telecom satellites as it plummets back to Earth.

How did it turn out in practice? The good news is that the team did indeed receive a message from the SatCom on Sunday evening at 18:08 GMT, four minutes after ATV broke up.

Neil Murray, overseeing the project for ESA, explains: “The message we received contained information on the number of pictures taken – nearly 6000 – as well as accelerometer and magnetometer readings, details of the sphere rotation and a temperature reading.

ATV-5 reentry seen from Space Station

“Receipt of this message demonstrates that all systems worked correctly: the trigger logic guiding its operation was correctly implemented, the infrared camera worked and acquired images and then buffered thousands of them to SatCom.

“In turn, SatCom survived break-up, and then – after the closing of the four inhibits against early transmission – switched on its modem  and contacted the telecom satellite constellation to send at least one message.

“We also know from the message the internal temperature of the sphere remained moderate and there were no signs of any thermal issues.

“To retrieve all the data, more messages would have been required, but – frustratingly – these have nor arrived. Our team is currently investigating why further data packets didn’t make it through. This investigation may result in improvements, such as a backup data relay for future missions.”

ATV-5 departs the Station

By returning data, the prototype contributed to the development and qualification of the design, this blackbox system being part of the Agency’s continuing research into reentry dynamics.

The camera and capsule were built by Ruag in Switzerland, with thermal protection contributed by the DLR German Aerospace Center, software from Switzerland’s ETH Zurich and the antenna and electronics from Switzerland’s Viasat, with Denmark’s GomSpace delivering batteries.

Related links:

ATV 5 Georges Lemaître:

ATV-5 ESA/NASA reentry observation campaign:

About Propulsion and Aerothermodynamics:

NASA Re-entry Break-up Recorder:

JAXA i-Ball images of HTV break-up:

RUAG Space Switzerland:


ETH Zurich:

ViaSat Antenna Systems:


Images, Text, Credits: ESA/NASA.

Best regards,

jeudi 19 février 2015

First of Three Spacewalks Now Set for Saturday

ISS - Expedition 42 Mission patch.

February 19, 2015

NASA astronauts Barry Wilmore and Terry Virts are preparing to ready the International Space Station for a pair of international docking adapters (IDAs) that will allow future commercial crew vehicles to dock. The duo is almost set to start a series of three spacewalks routing cables and preparing the Canadarm2 for the installation of the IDAs to be delivered later this year.

Image above: (From left) Expedition 42 cosmonauts Elena Serova, Anton Shkaplerov and Alexander Samokutyaev work inside Japan’s Kibo laboratory module. Credit: NASA TV.

The first spacewalk is now set to begin Saturday at 7:10 a.m. EST with NASA TV live coverage starting at 6 a.m. The second and third spacewalks are planned for Feb. 25 and March 1, both beginning at 7:10 a.m.

Image above: Expedition 42 spacewalkers Barry Wilmore and Terry Virts are scheduled to conduct three spacewalks with the first to begin Friday. Image Credit: NASA.

Amidst the spacewalk preparations, the Expedition 42 crew members continued ongoing advanced microgravity science benefiting life on Earth and current and future crew members. The crew looked at stem growth for the Aniso Tubule botany experiment, cell cultures grown on orbit and a crew member’s cardiac activity during long-duration missions.

Read more about Aniso Tubule:

Read more about the Kaskad cell culture study:

Video above: NASA Holds Expedition 42 Space Walk Briefing from Johnson Space Center in Houston. Video Credit: NASA TV.

Related link:

Astronauts Preparing for Friday Spacewalk:

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

Images (mentioned), Video (mentioned), Text, Credit: NASA.


NASA, ESA Telescopes Give Shape to Furious Black Hole Winds

NASA - NuStar Mission patch / ESA - XMM-Newton Mission patch.

February 19, 2015

Image above: Supermassive black holes at the cores of galaxies blast out radiation and ultra-fast winds, as illustrated in this artist's conception. NASA's NuSTAR and ESA's XMM-Newton telescopes show that these winds, containing highly ionized atoms, blow in a nearly spherical fashion. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

NASA's Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) and ESA’s (European Space Agency) XMM-Newton telescope are showing that  fierce winds from a supermassive black hole blow outward in all directions -- a phenomenon that had been suspected, but difficult to prove until now.

This discovery has given astronomers their first opportunity to measure the strength of these ultra-fast winds and prove they are powerful enough to inhibit the host galaxy’s ability to make new stars.

"We know black holes in the centers of galaxies can feed on matter, and this process can produce winds. This is thought to regulate the growth of the galaxies," said Fiona Harrison of the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in Pasadena, California. Harrison is the principal investigator of NuSTAR and a co-author on a new paper about these results appearing in the journal Science. "Knowing the speed, shape and size of the winds, we can now figure out how powerful they are."

Supermassive black holes blast matter into their host galaxies, with X-ray-emitting winds traveling at up to one-third the speed of light. In the new study, astronomers determined PDS 456, an extremely bright black hole known as a quasar more than 2 billion light-years away, sustains winds that carry more energy every second than is emitted by more than a trillion suns.

Image above: NASA's NuSTAR telescope, launched in June 2012, observed the high-energy portion of the X-ray light spectrum emitted by the supermassive blackhole dubbed PDS 456. Image Credit: NASA.

"Now we know quasar winds significantly contribute to mass loss in a galaxy, driving out its supply of gas, which is fuel for star formation," said the study’s lead author Emanuele Nardini of Keele University in England.

NuSTAR and XMM-Newton simultaneously observed PDS 456 on five separate occasions in 2013 and 2014. The space telescopes complement each other by observing different parts of the X-ray light spectrum: XMM-Newton views low-energy and NuSTAR views high-energy.

Previous XMM-Newton observations had identified black hole winds blowing toward us, but could not determine whether the winds also blew in all directions. XMM-Newton had detected iron atoms, which are carried by the winds along with other matter, only directly in front of the black hole, where they block X-rays. Combining higher-energy X-ray data from NuSTAR with observations from XMM-Newton, scientists were able to find signatures of iron scattered from the sides, proving the winds emanate from the black hole not in a beam, but in a nearly spherical fashion.

“This is a great example of the synergy between XMM-Newton and NuSTAR,” said Norbert Schartel, XMM-Newton project scientist at ESA. “The complementarity of these two X-ray observatories is enabling us to unveil previously hidden details about the powerful side of the universe.”

With the shape and extent of the winds known, the researchers could then determine the strength of the winds and the degree to which they can inhibit the formation of new stars.

Image above: ESA's XMM-Newton Telescope observed the low-energy portion of the X-ray light spectrum. Image Credit: ESA.

Astronomers think supermassive black holes and their home galaxies evolve together and regulate each other's growth. Evidence for this comes in part from observations of the central bulges of galaxies -- the more massive the central bulge, the larger the supermassive black hole.

This latest report demonstrates a supermassive black hole and its high-speed winds greatly affect the host galaxy. As the black hole bulks up in size, its winds push vast amounts of matter outward through the galaxy, which ultimately stops new stars from forming.

 Iron Blowing in Quasar Winds. Image Credits: NASA/ESA

Because PDS 456 is relatively close, by cosmic standards, it is bright and can be studied in detail. This black hole gives astronomers a unique look into a distant era of our universe, around 10 billion years ago, when supermassive black holes and their raging winds were more common and possibly shaped galaxies as we see them today.

"For an astronomer, studying PDS 456 is like a paleontologist being given a living dinosaur to study," said study co-author Daniel Stern of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena. "We are able to investigate the physics of these important systems with a level of detail not possible for those found at more typical distances, during the 'Age of Quasars.'"

NuSTAR is a Small Explorer mission led by Caltech and managed by JPL for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

For more information, visit: and and

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


NASA’s MAVEN Spacecraft Completes First Deep Dip Campaign

NASA - MAVEN Mission logo.

February 19, 2015

NASA’S Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution has completed the first of five deep-dip maneuvers designed to gather measurements closer to the lower end of the Martian upper atmosphere.

“During normal science mapping, we make measurements between an altitude of about 150 km and 6,200 km (93 miles and 3,853 miles) above the surface,” said Bruce Jakosky, MAVEN principal investigator at the University of Colorado's Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics in Boulder. “During the deep-dip campaigns, we lower the lowest altitude in the orbit, known as periapsis, to about 125 km (78 miles) which allows us to take measurements throughout the entire upper atmosphere.”

The 25 km (16 miles) altitude difference may not seem like much, but it allows scientists to make measurements down to the top of the lower atmosphere. At these lower altitudes, the atmospheric densities are more than ten times what they are at 150 km (93 miles).

Image above: This image shows an artist concept of NASA's Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) mission. Image Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.

“We are interested in the connections that run from the lower atmosphere to the upper atmosphere and then to escape to space,” said Jakosky. “We are measuring all of the relevant regions and the connections between them.”

The first deep dip campaign ran from Feb. 10 to 18. The first three days of this campaign were used to lower the periapsis. Each of the five campaigns lasts for five days allowing the spacecraft to observe for roughly 20 orbits.  Since the planet rotates under the spacecraft, the 20 orbits allow sampling of different longitudes spaced around the planet, providing close to global coverage.

This month’s deep dip maneuvers began when team engineers fired the rocket motors in three separate burns to lower the periapsis. The engineers did not want to do one big burn, to ensure that they didn’t end up too deep in the atmosphere.  So, they “walked” the spacecraft down gently in several smaller steps.

“Although we changed the altitude of the spacecraft, we actually aimed at a certain atmospheric density,” said Jakosky. “We wanted to go as deep as we can without putting the spacecraft or instruments at risk.”

Even though the atmosphere at these altitudes is very tenuous, it is thick enough to cause a noticeable drag on the spacecraft.  Going to too high an atmospheric density could cause too much drag and heating due to friction that could damage spacecraft and instruments.

At the end of the campaign, two maneuvers were conducted to return MAVEN to normal science operation altitudes. Science data returned from the deep dip will be analyzed over the coming weeks. The science team will combine the results with what the spacecraft has seen during its regular mapping to get a better picture of the entire atmosphere and of the processes affecting it.

One of the major goals of the MAVEN mission is to understand how gas from the atmosphere escapes to space, and how this has affected the planet's climate history through time. In being lost to space, gas is removed from the top of the upper atmosphere. But it is the thicker lower atmosphere that controls the climate.  MAVEN is studying the entire region from the top of the upper atmosphere all the way down to the lower atmosphere so that the connections between these regions can be understood.

MAVEN is the first mission dedicated to studying the upper atmosphere of Mars. The spacecraft launched Nov. 18, 2013, from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. MAVEN successfully entered Mars’ orbit on Sept. 21, 2014.

MAVEN's principal investigator is based at the University of Colorado's Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics. The university provided two science instruments and leads science operations, as well as education and public outreach, for the mission. NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, manages the MAVEN project and provided two science instruments for the mission. Lockheed Martin built the spacecraft and is responsible for mission operations. The University of California at Berkeley's Space Sciences Laboratory also provided four science instruments for the mission. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, provides navigation and Deep Space Network support, as well as the Electra telecommunications relay hardware and operations.

Related Link:

NASA's MAVEN website:

Image (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/Nancy Neal Jones.


Mars hills hide icy past

ESA - Mars Express Mission patch.

19 February 2015

Phlegra Montes southern tip

A complex network of isolated hills, ridges and small basins spanning 1400 km on Mars is thought to hide large quantities of water-ice.

Phlegra Montes stretches from the Elysium volcanic region at about 30ºN and deep into the northern lowlands at about 50°N, and is a product of ancient tectonic forces. Its age is estimated to be 3.65–3.91 billion years.

ESA’s Mars Express imaged the portion of Phlegra Montes seen here on 8 October 2014. It captures the southernmost tip of the range centred on 31ºN / 160ºE.

Phlegra Montes in context

Based on radar data from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter combined with studies of the region’s geology from other orbiters, scientists believe that extensive glaciers covered this region several hundred million years ago.

And it is thought that ice is still there today, perhaps only 20 m below the surface.

The tilt of the planet’s polar axis is believed to have varied considerably over time, leading to significantly changing climatic conditions. This allowed the development of glaciers at what are today the mid-latitudes of Mars.

Phlegra Montes southern tip topography

Features visible in the Phlegra Montes mountain range providing strong evidence for glacial activity include aprons of rocky debris surrounding many of the hills. Similar features are seen in glacial regions on Earth, where material has gradually slumped downhill through the presence of subsurface ice.

Additional features in the region include small valleys cutting through the hills and appearing to flow into regions of lower elevation, in particular towards the centre of the image.

Perspective view of Phlegra Montes

The hummocky terrain provides a distinct contrast to the smooth plains that dominate the upper portion of this image. The material here is thought to be volcanic in origin, perhaps originating from the Hecates Tholus volcano in Elysium some 450 km to the west, some time after the formation of Phlegra Montes.

Upon closer inspection, ‘wrinkle ridges’ can be seen in the lava plain. These features arise from the cooling and contraction of lava owing to compressive tectonic forces following its eruption onto the surface.

Phlegra Montes southern tip in 3D

This region of Phlegra Montes and its local surrounds illustrate some of the key geological processes that have worked to shape the Red Planet over time, from ancient tectonic forces, to glaciation and volcanic activity.

More about...:

Looking at Mars:

Mars Express overview:

Mars Express 10 year brochure:

Related links:

High Resolution Stereo Camera:

Behind the lens...:

Frequently asked questions:

ESA Planetary Science archive (PSA):

NASA Planetary Data System:

HRSC data viewer:

In depth:

Mars Express in depth:

Mars Express top 10 discoveries:

Mars Express blog:

Mars Webcam:

Images, Text, Credits: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO/NASA MGS MOLA Science Team.

Best regards,

mercredi 18 février 2015

85 Years after Pluto’s Discovery, NASA’s New Horizons Spots Small Moons Orbiting Pluto

NASA - New Horizons mission logo.

February 18, 2015

Exactly 85 years after Clyde Tombaugh’s historic discovery of Pluto, the NASA spacecraft set to encounter the icy dwarf planet this summer is providing its first views of the small moons orbiting Pluto.

The moons Nix and Hydra are visible in a series of images taken by the New Horizons spacecraft from Jan. 27-Feb. 8, at distances ranging from about 125 million to 115 million miles (201 million to 186 million kilometers). The long-exposure images offer New Horizons’ best view yet of these two small moons circling Pluto which Tombaugh discovered at Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona, on Feb. 18, 1930.

“Professor Tombaugh’s discovery of Pluto was far ahead its time, heralding the discovery of the Kuiper Belt and a new class of planet,” says Alan Stern, New Horizons principal investigator from Southwest Research Institute, Boulder, Colorado. “The New Horizons team salutes his historic accomplishment.”

Images above: The moons Nix and Hydra are visible in a series of images taken by the New Horizons spacecraft. Image Credits: NASA/Johns Hopkins APL/Southwest Research Institute.

Assembled into a seven-frame movie, the new images provide the spacecraft’s first extended look at Hydra (identified by a yellow diamond ) and its first-ever view of Nix (orange diamond). The right-hand image set has been specially processed to make the small moons easier to see. “It’s thrilling to watch the details of the Pluto system emerge as we close the distance to the spacecraft’s July 14 encounter,” says New Horizons science team member John Spencer, also from Southwest Research Institute. “This first good view of Nix and Hydra marks another major milestone, and a perfect way to celebrate the anniversary of Pluto’s discovery.”

These are the first of a series of long-exposure images that will continue through early March, with the purpose of refining the team’s knowledge of the moons’ orbits. Each frame is a combination of five 10-second images, taken with New Horizons’ Long-Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) using a special mode that combines pixels to increase sensitivity at the expense of resolution. At left, Nix and Hydra are just visible against the glare of Pluto and its large moon Charon, and the dense field of background stars. The bright and dark streak extending to the right of Pluto is an artifact of the camera electronics, resulting from the overexposure of Pluto and Charon. As can be seen in the movie, the spacecraft and camera were rotated in some of the images to change the direction of this streak, in order to prevent it from obscuring the two moons.

Animations above: Assembled into a seven-frame movie, the new images provide the spacecraft’s first extended look at Hydra (identified by a yellow diamond ) and its first-ever view of Nix (orange diamond). Animations Credits: NASA/Johns Hopkins APL/Southwest Research Institute.

The right-hand images have been processed to remove most of Pluto and Charon’s glare, and most of the background stars. The processing leaves blotchy and streaky artifacts in the images, and also leaves a few other residual bright spots that are not real features, but makes Nix and Hydra much easier to see. Celestial north is inclined 28 degrees clockwise from the “up” direction in these images.

Nix and Hydra were discovered by New Horizons team members in Hubble Space Telescope images taken in 2005. Hydra, Pluto’s outermost known moon, orbits Pluto every 38 days at a distance of approximately 40,200 miles (64,700 km), while Nix orbits every 25 days at a distance of 30,260 miles (48,700 km). Each moon is probably between 25-95 miles (approximately 40- 150 kilometers) in diameter, but scientists won’t know their sizes more precisely until New Horizons obtains close-up pictures of both of them in July. Pluto’s two other small moons, Styx and Kerberos, are still smaller and too faint to be seen by New Horizons at its current range to Pluto; they will become visible in the months to come.

The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory manages the New Horizons mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. Alan Stern, of the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), headquartered in San Antonio, is the principal investigator and leads the mission. SwRI leads the science team, payload operations, and encounter science planning. New Horizons is part of the New Frontiers Program managed by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. APL designed, built and operates the spacecraft.

For more information about New Horizons mission, visit:

Images & Animations (mentioned), Text, Credit: NASA.


Astronauts Preparing for Friday Spacewalk

ISS - Expedition 42 Mission patch.

February 18, 2015

NASA astronauts Barry Wilmore and Terry Virts are counting down to the first of three assembly spacewalks set to begin Friday at 7:10 a.m. EST. The duo checked out their rescue jet packs they would use in the unlikely event they became untethered from the International Space Station. The spacewalks will prepare the station for new commercial crew vehicle docking ports.

Image above: Expedition 42 spacewalkers Barry Wilmore and Terry Virts are scheduled to conduct three spacewalks with the first to begin Friday. Image Credit: NASA.

Read more about the upcoming spacewalks:

The latest supply ship to dock to the orbital lab, Progress 58, had its hatches opened Wednesday morning, following its Tuesday arrival. The Expedition 42 crew members will now begin unloading several tons of food and supplies that will replenish the station residents for the next few months.

Meanwhile, the six-member crew continued the International Partners’ mission of conducting advanced microgravity science. Ultrasound eye scans and blood pressure checks were conducted with remote guidance from doctors on the ground today. The crew also studied cell cultures grown on orbit and explored techniques to improve Earth observation photography.

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

Image (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA.


CERN accelerators boost argon into action

CERN - European Organization for Nuclear Research logo.

February 18, 2015

CERN’s accelerators supply a raft of experiments with all sorts of different particles. Now the accelerator complex is performing a new trick: supplying argon ions to an experimental programme for the first time. The argon ions are produced at a special source and made to circulate around four accelerators before being sent to a target.

Preparations for this beam of argon ions have been in progress at the CERN accelerator chain for two years. Controlling these particles, which have a much greater mass than protons and are sent at six different energies, is no mean feat. The machine operators had to adapt the acceleration system of the Super Proton Synchrotron (SPS), a 7-kilometre-circumference accelerator that represents the last loop on the ions’ journey before they are ejected.

The SPS is the last accelerator in the chain before the 27-kilometre-circumference Large Hadron Collider (LHC). To allow eight weeks of physics with argon ions while also sending protons to the LHC experiments, the accelerators will alternate between these two types of particles. In each cycle of 21.6 seconds, the SPS will deliver two beams of protons and one beam of argon ions.

Image above: Argon ions collide with scandium in the NA61/SHINE experiment at CERN (Image: NA61).

The argon ions are destined for the NA61/Shine experiment, which is studying the phenomenon of quark-gluon plasma, a state that is thought to have existed at the very beginning of the universe and in which quarks moved around freely, unconfined by the strong force in protons and neutrons. More specifically, the experiment is studying the transitions between the phase in which quarks are confined and the phase in which they are free. Last Thursday, the NA61/SHINE team recorded first collisions with argon: the argon ions, travelling with a momentum of 150 GeV/c per nucleon, collided with scandium nuclei.

CERN’s accelerators accelerate protons most of the time, but occasionally juggle with other particles. Aside from lead ions and now argon ions, the complex has also accelerated electrons, positrons, antiprotons, deuterons and alpha particles, as well as oxygen, sulphur and indium ions. These particles are either collided with each other or sent to targets to create beams of secondary particles, such as neutrinos. The accelerator complex supplies around twenty experiments studying a wide range of physics phenomena, such as antimatter, exotic nuclei, neutrinos, cosmic rays, the strong interaction and the Higgs boson. Some are looking for signs of physics beyond the current theories or for as yet unknown particles that might help to account for dark matter. They include the four main LHC experiments ALICE, ATLAS, CMS and LHCb, which are the best known and which will be back in action as of the spring. In addition, several dozen experiments are carried out each year at the ISOLDE and n_TOF nuclear physics facilities.

Read more: "Argon in action" – CERN Bulletin:


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 22 Member States.

Related links:

Super Proton Synchrotron (SPS):

Large Hadron Collider (LHC):

NA61/Shine experiment:

For more information about the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), visit:

Image (mentioned), Text, Credits: CERN/Corinne Pralavorio.

Best regards,

CERN's two-year shutdown drawing to a close

CERN - European Organization for Nuclear Research logo.

February 18, 2015

Image above: A welder at work consolidating interconnections between dipole magnets on the Large Hadron Collider (Image: CERN).

It's almost two years to the day since the team in the CERN Control Centre switched off the beams in the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at 7.24am on 14 February 2013, marking the end of the accelerator's first three-year run. Hundreds of engineers and technicians have been repairing and strengthening the laboratory's accelerators and experiments in preparation for running the LHC at the higher energy. So what has the work achieved?

Image above: A welder uses a custom-made orbital welding tool to seal an interconnection between dipole magnets on the LHC (Image: Maximilien Brice/CERN).

When the LHC restarts this year, the energy of particle collisions will be 13 TeV (or 6.5 TeV per beam) compared to 8 TeV (4 TeV per beam) in 2012. This higher energy will allow physicists to extend their searches for new particles and to check previously untestable theories.

To prepare the machine for this new energy frontier, 18 of the LHC’s 1232 superconducting dipole magnets, which steer particle beams around the accelerator, were replaced due to wear and tear. More than 10,000 electrical interconnections between dipole magnets were fitted with shunts – pieces of metal that act as an alternative path for the 11,000 amp current, saving the interconnection if there is a fault. The machine will operate at a higher voltage to run the higher energy beams, and has been fitted with new sets of radiation-resistant electronics. The vacuum system that keeps the beam pipe clear of stray molecules has been upgraded, and the cryogenics system for the LHC's superconducting dipole magnets has been refurbished.

Image above: A 3D artist has dissected the LHC in this composite image, showing a cut-out section of a superconducting dipole magnet. The beam pipes are represented as clear tubes, with counter-rotating proton beams shown in red and blue (Image: Daniel Dominguez/CERN).

Bunches of protons in the accelerator will be separated in time by 25 nanoseconds compared to 50 nanoseconds. The LHC will thus deliver more particles per unit time, as well as more collisions, to the experiments. To prepare for the challenges of more collisions, the LHC experiments, including ALICE, ATLAS, CMS and LHCb, underwent full consolidation and maintenance programmes, including upgrades to their subdetectors and data-acquisition systems.

The CERN IT department purchased and installed almost 60,000 new cores and over 100 petabytes of additional disk storage to cope with the increased amount of data that is expected from the experiments during run 2. Significant upgrades have also been made to the networking infrastructure, including the installation of new uninterruptible power supplies.

When the LHC starts up again this spring, CERN's accelerators and experiments will be ready.

For more about the LHC and its restart at higher energy, check out these infographics:

- "LHC Season 2: A stronger machine":

- "LHC Season 2: New frontiers in physics":


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 22 Member States.

Related link:

Large Hadron Collider (LHC):

For more information about the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), visit:

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


The Strange Case of the Missing Dwarf

ESO - European Southern Observatory logo.

18 February 2015

New SPHERE instrument shows its power

The SPHERE instrument attached to the VLT

The new SPHERE instrument on ESO’s Very Large Telescope has been used to search for a brown dwarf expected to be orbiting the unusual double star V471 Tauri. SPHERE has given astronomers the best look so far at the surroundings of this intriguing object and they found — nothing. The surprising absence of this confidently predicted brown dwarf means that the conventional explanation for the odd behaviour of V471 Tauri is wrong. This unexpected result is described in the first science paper based on observations from SPHERE.

Some pairs of stars consist of two normal stars with slightly different masses. When the star of slightly higher mass ages and expands to become a red giant, material is transferred to other star and ends up surrounding both stars in a huge gaseous envelope. When this cloud disperses the two move closer together and form a very tight pair with one white dwarf, and one more normal star [1].

The unusual binary star V471 Tauri in the constellation of Taurus

One such stellar pair is called V471 Tauri [2]. It is a member of the Hyades star cluster in the constellation of Taurus and is estimated to be around 600 million years old and about 163 light-years from Earth. The two stars are very close and orbit each other every 12 hours. Twice per orbit one star passes in front of the other — which leads to regular changes in the brightness of the pair observed from Earth as they eclipse each other.

A team of astronomers led by Adam Hardy (Universidad Valparaíso, Valparaíso, Chile) first used the ULTRACAM system on ESO’s New Technology Telescope to measure these brightness changes very precisely. The times of the eclipses were measured with an accuracy of better than two seconds — a big improvement on earlier measurements.

Wide-field view of the sky around the unusual binary star V471 Tauri

The eclipse timings were not regular, but could be explained well by assuming that there was a brown dwarf orbiting both stars whose gravitational pull was disturbing the orbits of the stars. They also found hints that there might be a second small companion object.

Up to now however, it has been impossible to actually image a faint brown dwarf so close to much brighter stars. But the power of the newly installed SPHERE instrument on ESO’s Very Large Telescope allowed the team to look for the first time exactly where the brown dwarf companion was expected to be. But they saw nothing, even though the very high quality images from SPHERE should have easily revealed it [3].

“There are many papers suggesting the existence of such circumbinary objects, but the results here provide damaging evidence against this hypothesis,” remarks Adam Hardy.

Zooming in on the unusual binary star V471 Tauri

If there is no orbiting object then what is causing the odd changes to the orbit of the binary? Several theories have been proposed, and, while some of these have already been ruled out, it is possible that the effects are caused by magnetic field variations in the larger of the two stars [4], somewhat similar to the smaller changes seen in the Sun.

“A study such as this has been necessary for many years, but has only become possible with the advent of powerful new instruments such as SPHERE. This is how science works: observations with new technology can either confirm, or as in this case disprove, earlier ideas. This is an excellent way to start the observational life of this amazing instrument,” concludes Adam Hardy.


[1] Such pairs are known as post-common-envelope binaries.

[2] This name means that the object is the 471st variable star (or as closer analysis shows, pair of stars) to be identified in the constellation of Taurus.

[3] The SPHERE images are so accurate that they would have been able to reveal a companion such as a brown dwarf that is 70 000 times fainter than the central star, and only 0.26 arcseconds away from it. The expected brown dwarf companion in this case was predicted to be much brighter.

[4] This effect is called the Applegate mechanism and results in regular changes in the shape of the star, which can lead to changes in the apparent brightness of the double star seen from Earth.

More information:

This research was presented in a paper entitled “The First Science Results from SPHERE: Disproving the Predicted Brown Dwarf around V471 Tau” by A. Hardy et al., to appear in the Astrophysical Journal Letters on 18 February 2015.

The team is composed of A. Hardy (Universidad Valparaíso, Valparaíso, Chile; Millennium Nucleus "Protoplanetary Disks in ALMA Early Science", part of the Millennium Science Initiative Program, Universidad Valparaíso), M.R. Schreiber (Universidad Valparaíso), S.G. Parsons (Universidad Valparaíso), C. Caceres (Universidad Valparaíso), G. Retamales (Universidad Valparaíso), Z. Wahhaj (ESO, Santiago, Chile), D. Mawet (ESO, Santiago, Chile), H. Canovas (Universidad Valparaíso), L. Cieza (Universidad Diego Portales, Santiago, Chile; Universidad Valparaíso), T.R. Marsh (University of Warwick, Coventry, United Kingdom), M.C.P. Bours (University of Warwick), V.S. Dhillon (University of Sheffield, Sheffield, United Kingdom) and A. Bayo (Universidad Valparaíso).

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 16 countries: Austria, Belgium, Brazil, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Finland, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, along with the host state of Chile. 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 a major partner in ALMA, the largest astronomical project in existence. And on Cerro Armazones, close to Paranal, ESO is building the 39-metre European Extremely Large Telescope, the E-ELT, which will become “the world’s biggest eye on the sky”.


Research paper:

Photos of the VLT:

Related links:

SPHERE instrument:

ESO’s Very Large Telescope:

Images, Text, Credits: ESO/J. Girard/IAU and Sky & Telescope/Digitized Sky Survey 2/Video: Credit: ESO/Digitized Sky Survey 2/N. Risinger ( Music: movetwo.


Space Station 3-D Printed Items, Seedlings Return in the Belly of a Dragon

ISS - Expedition 42 Mission patch.

February 18, 2015

Image above: The SpaceX Dragon pictured just prior to being released by the International Space Station's Canadarm2 robotic arm. SpaceX Dragon's fifth contracted resupply mission to the station ended Feb. 10. Image Credit: NASA.

Newly 3-D printed wrenches, data to improve cooling systems, protein crystals and seedling samples returned Feb. 10 aboard SpaceX’s fifth contracted resupply mission to the International Space Station. Researchers will use samples and data returned to improve scientific studies on Earth and build on research that will enable space exploration.

Printed parts and hardware returned from the first phase of operations for the 3-D Printing In Zero-G technology demonstration aboard the station. A study team from Made in Space and NASA demonstrated the first ever 3-D printer in space using relatively low-temperature plastic feedstock on the space station. To conclude the test phase, a ratchet wrench was printed using a design file transmitted from the ground to the printer.

"For the printer's final test in this phase of operations, NASA wanted to validate the process for printing on demand, which will be critical on longer journeys to Mars," explained Niki Werkheiser, the space station 3-D printer program manager at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. Insight from demonstrations in microgravity also may help improve 3-D printing technology on Earth.

Image above:  International Space Station Expedition 42 Commander Barry "Butch" Wilmore shows off a ratchet wrench made with a 3-D printer on the International Space Station. Image Credit: NASA.

Many physical science investigations take place aboard the space station. Hardware and data from the recent Device for the study of Critical Liquids and Crystallization Alice Like Insert (DECLIC-ALI) returned aboard Dragon. On the orbital laboratory, researchers examined liquids at the verge of boiling to understand how the flow of heat in liquids behaves in microgravity. This is important to the development of cooling systems for space exploration with additional applications to waste disposal and recycling processes on Earth.

Samples, hardware and data from several biology and biotechnology studies returned with completion of this SpaceX contracted resupply mission. The Advancing Membrane Protein Crystallization by Using Microgravity (CASIS PCG HDPCG-2) investigation targeted producing high-quality crystals of the cystic fibrosis protein and other closely related proteins. Since many medically relevant proteins are difficult to crystalize on Earth, researchers attempt to grow them in space to help determine their shape and structure for drug development. Scientists hope to improve drug therapies for cystic fibrosis, a genetic disorder that causes severe damage to the lungs and digestive system.

The model plant Arabidopsis thaliana, or thale cress, seedlings feature heavily in these next three studies of which samples returned with the SpaceX Dragon. Growing model organisms like these to study plant biology in space may enable future space exploration by serving as a source of food and helping to create breathable air for astronauts.

Image above: Arabidopsis thaliana, or thale cress, seedlings like these from a previous microgravity investigation returned this month from the International Space Station. Image Credit: John Kiss.

Samples from the Advanced Plant Experiments 03-1 (APEX-03-1) were returned to help scientists better understand the effects of microgravity on the development of roots and cells on plant seedlings. Researchers will conduct a detailed analysis on the returned plant samples to scrutinize the molecular and genetic mechanisms that control plant development. With this knowledge, scientists may be able to improve agricultural and bioenergy research on Earth, leading to crops that use resources more efficiently.

Biological Research in Canisters (BRIC) hardware has supported a variety of plant growth investigations aboard the space station. Researchers will focus on what proteins are present in study samples from BRIC-20 grown in microgravity and compare them to ground control samples. With better understanding of how plant proteins enable plant survival in microgravity, scientists hope to improve process in agricultural production and generating biological energy on Earth.

And finally, samples from Seedling Growth-2 will help scientists determine the effects of microgravity and light on plant growth, development and cell production. The plants are grown in different wavelengths of light (red and blue), and both the plant growth and the expression of selected genes are compared to control plants on Earth.

"In the long term, these studies will aid in growing plants on space missions as well as on developing better crop species on Earth,” said John Z. Kiss, Ph.D., principal investigator for Seedling Growth-2.

The scientific research delivered and returned by Dragon enables advances in every aspect of the diverse space station science portfolio, including biology and biotechnology, physical sciences and technology development and demonstration.

Related links:

Study of Critical Liquids and Crystallization Alice Like Insert (DECLIC-ALI):

The Advancing Membrane Protein Crystallization by Using Microgravity (CASIS PCG HDPCG-2) investigation:

Advanced Plant Experiments 03-1 (APEX-03-1):

Biological Research in Canisters (BRIC) hardware:

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

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA’s Johnson Space Center/International Space Station Program Science Office and Public Affairs Office/Laura Niles.

Best regards,

mardi 17 février 2015

Progress M-26M has successfully docked with the ISS

ROSCOSMOS - Russian Vehicle patch.


Feb 17 at 07:57 p.m. Moscow time the cargo spacecraft Progress M-26M has successfully docked with the ISS through the Functional Cargo Block Zarya.

The docking operation was produced in the automatic mode under control of the Russian crew members of ISS and specialist from the Mission Control Center.

Progress-M space cargo

The space cargo (SC) has delivered on aloft more than 2,6 tones of different supplies, like scientific equipment, propellant components, meals and personal effects.

ROSCOSMOS Press Release:

Image, Text, Credits: Press-service of Roscosmos/ROSCOSMOS/NASA.