vendredi 3 avril 2015

Team Returning Mars Orbiter to Duty After Computer Swap

NASA - Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) logo.

April 3, 2015

Mission Status Report

NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, at Mars since 2006, made an unplanned switch on Wednesday from one main computer to a redundant one onboard, triggering a hiatus in planned activities.

Sensing the computer swap, the orbiter put itself into a precautionary safe standby mode. It remained healthy, in communication and fully powered. The mission's operations team expects the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter to resume full duty within a few days, including communication relays and science observations.

The orbiter has experienced this type of unplanned computer swap six times previously, starting in 2007 and including two occasions in 2014.

Image above: Artist's concept of the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

"We never quite know when it's going to happen, but we know what to do when it does," said Reid Thomas, mission manager for Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California.

Shifts between the spacecraft's redundant "Side A" and "Side B" main computers leave a clear signature that enables the team to quickly diagnose what happened and send commands beginning the process of restoring the orbiter to full operations. The latest swap put the spacecraft onto the Side B computer.

NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter entered orbit around the Red Planet on March 10, 2006. Since then, it has returned more data than all other past and current interplanetary missions combined, with a current tally of 249 terabits.

The mission met all its science goals in a two-year primary science phase. Four extensions, the latest beginning in 2014, have added to the science returns. The longevity of the mission has given researchers tools to study seasonal and longer-term changes on the Mars. Among other current activities, the orbiter is examining possible landing sites for future missions to Mars and relaying communications to Earth from NASA's two active Mars rovers.

JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, manages the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver, built the orbiter and collaborates with JPL to operate it. For more information about the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, visit: and

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


Happy birthday, Sentinel-1A

ESA - Sentinel-1 Mission logo.

3 April 2015

Having orbited Earth more than 5300 times while providing radar vision for Europe’s Copernicus programme, the Sentinel-1A satellite has completed a successful first year.

The satellite carries an advanced radar to provide an all-weather, day-and-night supply of images of Earth’s surface.


Just weeks after its launch from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana, its imagery was already being used to assist in emergency responses. Some of its first images were crucial in helping authorities in Namibia and the Balkans decide how to respond to a serious floods – both while the satellite was still in its early commissioning phase.

Sentinel-1A’s began supplying data operationally in October. Within days, experts began using the data to monitor the marine environment. This included the production of ice charts, showing the details of ice conditions in a variety of regions, including the warnings of icebergs drifting in shipping routes to alert vessels.

Over the year, Sentinel-1A has also been used to monitor ice loss from ice caps and ice sheets, such as the Austfonna ice cap in Norway’s Svalbard archipelago. The first dedicated campaign observing the Greenland ice sheet was completed in March 2015.

Napa Valley earthquake

Additionally, its data have been used to map ground movements related to earthquakes in the US’s Napa Valley, as well as movements from the Fogo and Villarrica volcanoes.

The plethora of results that make Sentinel-1A’s first year such a success wouldn’t be possible without the rapid data dissemination and the Copernicus open access policy.

To date, more than 6000 users have registered to access the 83 000 online data products. Since the data became available in October, over half a million downloads have been made so far – the equivalent of about 680 terabytes of data.

Sentinel 'selfie'

To assist with data processing, product reading and analysis, the Sentinel-1 Toolbox is being used by over 1000 users in 70 countries.

“During this first year in orbit, Sentinel-1A has already achieved a lot for end users and demonstrated its strong assets for various application domains,” said Pierre Potin, the Sentinel-1 Mission Manager.

“This is just the start. The expectations from Copernicus services, scientific and commercial user communities are very high.”

Related links:

Gallery: A year of radar vision:

Sentinel data access & technical information:

Sentinel toolboxes:

Images, Video, Text, Credits: ESA/ATG medialab/DLR (animation data: Copernicus data 2014/ESA Insarap study/NORUT/COMET/University of Leeds).

Best regards,

Hubble finds ghosts of quasars past

ESA - Hubble Space Telescope logo.

April 3, 2015

Hubble spies eight green filaments lit up by past quasar blasts

The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has imaged a set of enigmatic quasar ghosts — ethereal green objects which mark the graves of these objects that flickered to life and then faded. The eight unusual looped structures orbit their host galaxies and glow in a bright and eerie goblin-green hue. They offer new insights into the turbulent pasts of these galaxies.

Hubble view of green filament in Teacup galaxy

The ethereal wisps in these images were illuminated, perhaps briefly, by a blast of radiation from a quasar — a very luminous and compact region that surrounds a supermassive black hole at the centre of a galaxy. Galactic material falls inwards towards the central black hole, growing hotter and hotter, forming a bright and brilliant quasar with powerful jets of particles and energy beaming above and below the disc of infalling matter.

Hubble view of green filament in galaxy NGC 5972

In each of these eight images a quasar beam has caused once-invisible filaments in deep space to glow through a process called photoionisation. Oxygen, helium, nitrogen, sulphur and neon in the filaments absorb light from the quasar and slowly re-emit it over many thousands of years. Their unmistakable emerald hue is caused by ionised oxygen, which glows green.

Hubble view of green filament in galaxy 2MASX J15100402+0740370

These ghostly structures are so far from the galaxy’s heart that it would have taken light from the quasar tens of thousands of years to reach them and light them up. So, although the quasars themselves have turned off, the green clouds will continue to glow for much longer before they too fade.

Hubble view of green filament in galaxy UGC 7342

Not only are the green filaments far from the centres of their host galaxies, they are also immense in size, spanning tens of thousands of light-years. They are thought to be long tails of gas formed during a violent past merger between galaxies — this event would have caused strong gravitational forces that would rip apart the galactic participants.

Hubble view of green filament in galaxy NGC 5252

Despite their turbulent past, these ghostly filaments are now leisurely orbiting within or around their new host galaxies. These Hubble images show bright, braided and knotted streams of gas, in some cases connected to twisted lanes of dark dust.

Hubble view of green filament in galaxy Mrk 1498

Galactic mergers do not just alter the forms of the previously serene galaxies involved; they also trigger extreme cosmic phenomena. Such a merger could also have caused the birth of a quasar, by pouring material into the galaxies’ supermassive black holes.

Hubble view of green filament in galaxy UGC 11185

The first object of this type was found in 2007 by Dutch schoolteacher Hanny van Arkel (heic1102). She discovered the ghostly structure in the online Galaxy Zoo project, a project enlisting the help of the public to classify more than a million galaxies catalogued in the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS). The bizarre feature was dubbed Hanny’s Voorwerp (Dutch for Hanny’s object).

Hubble view of green filament in galaxy 2MASX J22014163+1151237

These objects were found in a spin-off of the Galaxy Zoo project, in which about 200 volunteers examined over 16 000 galaxy images in the SDSS to identify the best candidates for clouds similar to Hanny's Voorwerp. A team of researchers analysed these and found a total of twenty galaxies that had gas ionised by quasars. Their results appear in a paper in the Astronomical Journal.

Hubble snaps image of space oddity

Those featured here are (from left to right on top row) the Teacup (more formally known as 2MASX J14302986+1339117), NGC 5972, 2MASX J15100402+0740370 and UGC 7342, and (from left to right on bottom row) NGC 5252, Mrk 1498, UGC 11185 and 2MASX J22014163+1151237.

Fade between photoionised galaxies

Notes for editors:

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

Related links:

Images of Hubble:

Link to hubblesite release:

Related research paper:

Images, Video, Text, Credits: NASA, ESA, Galaxy Zoo team & W. Keel (University of Alabama, USA) and Z. Tsevtanov (Jet Propulsion Laboratory, USA).


jeudi 2 avril 2015

Plants Use Sixth Sense for Growth Aboard the Space Station

ISS - International Space Station patch.

April 2, 2015

Although it is arguable as to whether plants have all five human senses – sight, scent, hearing, taste and touch – they do have a unique sense of gravity, which is being tested in space. Researchers with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency will conduct a second run of the Plant Gravity Sensing study after new supplies are delivered by the sixth SpaceX commercial resupply mission to the International Space Station. The research team seeks to determine how plants sense their growth direction without gravity. The study results may have implications for higher crop yield in farming and for cultivating plants for long-duration space missions.

The investigation examines the cellular process of formation in thale cress, or Arabidopsis thaliana, a small flowering plant related to cabbage. The genetic makeup of thale cress is simple and well-understood by the plant biology community. This knowledge allows scientists to easily recognize changes that occur as a result of microgravity adaptation.

Image above: These culture dishes hold seedlings and the growing medium for the Plant Gravity Sensing investigation, which were used during astronaut training at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s Tsukuba Space Center in March 2014. Image Credit: European Space Agency/S. Corvaja.

Understanding the cellular processes in plant development may translate to better knowledge of cellular processes in the human body. Since thale cress is considered a model organism for biological research, there are genetic similarities that may reveal insights into our health. Specifically, this could impact medical science since research teams may gain a better understanding of mechanisms of diseases affected by gravity, such as osteoporosis and muscle loss.

In the Plant Gravity Sensing study, scientists examine whether the mechanisms of the plant that determine its growth direction – the gravity sensor – form in the absence of gravity. Specifically, the research team analyzes how concentrations of calcium behave in the cells of plants originally grown in microgravity when later exposed to a 1g environment, or gravity similar to that on Earth. Plant calcium concentrations have been shown to change in response to temperature and touch and adapt to the direction of gravity on Earth.

“Plants cultivated in space are not experienced with gravity or the direction of gravity and may not be able to form gravity sensors that respond to the specific direction of gravity changes,” said Hitoshi Tatsumi, Ph.D., principal investigator of the Plant Gravity Sensing investigation and associate professor at Nagoya University in Nagoya (present address: Kanazawa Institute of Technology), Japan.

Image A is a culture dish of Arabidopsis seedlings for the Plant Gravity Sensing investigation. Image B illustrates photon emission from the plants when plants are rotated and calcium ion concentrations increase. Image C illustrates the apparatus for rotating plants and detecting photon emissions.
Image Credit: JAXA/Hitoshi Tatsumi.

Researchers use a centrifuge in the Cell Biology Experiment Facility in Kibo, the Japanese Experiment Module, to monitor the plants’ response to changes between microgravity and a simulated 1g condition. The research team does this to determine if the plants sense changes in gravitational acceleration and adapt the levels of calcium in their cells.

Image above: European Space Agency astronaut Alexander Gerst trains for the Plant Gravity Sensing investigation at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s Tsukuba Space Center in March 2014. Image Credit: European Space Agency/S. Corvaja.

Scientists hypothesize that the process in which amyloplast – particles within the plant cell that store and synthesize starch for energy – distributes and assembles occurs in the direction of gravitational pull. Once the amyloplast settles, it activates mechanisms within the plant’s cells, including an increase in calcium concentrations. These mechanisms form the molecular structure in the cell that stimulates gravity sensing for growth. The unknown here is whether or not the gravity sensing components actually assemble in microgravity to determine direction of plant growth.

If the study hypothesis is proven true, it may be possible to modify plant gravity sensing mechanisms on Earth or to cultivate healthy plants for consumption on future deep space missions or conceivably on other planets. The plant’s gravity sensor may be regulated for growth in either a low or high magnitude of gravitational acceleration.

Image above: NASA Astronaut Karen Nyberg harvests plants from a Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency investigation of Arabidopsis thaliana during Expedition 37. Image Credit: NASA.

“We may design plants that respond to gravity vector changes more efficiently than wild ones,” said Tatsumi. “These plants will recover from collapse by winds or flood more rapidly than wild ones. Thus, the agricultural output of the designed plants will be greatly increased, which may solve, in part, the shortage of crops in the near future.”

It makes “sense” why researchers are interested in thale cress and what it may reveal off the Earth for the Earth. Research aboard the space station may illuminate the mystery of a plant’s “sixth sense,” literally turning plant gravity sensing research on its head.

Related links:

Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA):

European Space Agency (ESA):

SpaceX commercial resupply mission:

International Space Station (ISS):

Plant Gravity Sensing study:

Cell Biology Experiment Facility in Kibo, the Japanese Experiment Module:

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA’s Johnson Space Center/Laura Niles.

Best regards,

The Rain Parade: Join NASA on a Worldwide Tour of Global Precipitation

NASA / JAXA - GPM Mission logo.

April 2, 2015

Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) satellite. Image Credits: NASA/JAXA

Rain, snow, hail, ice, and every mix in between make up the precipitation that touches everyone on our planet. But precipitation doesn't fall equally in all places around the world, as seen in NASA's new animation that captures every shower, snowstorm and tropical cyclone over a six-day period in August 2014. The time lapse was created from data captured by the Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) satellite mission, now just over a year old, which scientists are using to better understand freshwater resources, natural disasters, crop health and more.

A Week in the Life of Rain

Video Credits: Image Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/R. Fitzgibbons.

While local television forecasts include satellite data or radar images taken from a ground station, GPM orbits in space to observe precipitation around the world. A snapshot of the precipitation is taken every 30 minutes, then processed and made available to users 18 hours later. New rain maps are routinely created by programs that merge the data from the GPM Core Observatory, a joint mission of NASA and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), and a dozen other weather satellites. These maps, called Integrated Multi-satellite Retrievals for GPM (IMERG), are false-colored with rain in greens and reds, and snowfall depicted in blues and purples.

“For the first time, this global map allows us to track light rain and snow consistently over high latitudes and across oceans,” said Gail Skofronick-Jackson, GPM project scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

These views allow scientists and weather-watchers to get the big picture of a week in August. Near the equator the rain systems move westward in a steady stream. At higher latitudes, storm fronts that stretch for hundreds of miles travel eastward across North America and Europe in the Northern Hemisphere, and across the Southern Ocean that surrounds Antarctica. It’s quiet between those bands. Zooming in on the IMERG data visualizations can also provide glimpses of the range of precipitation at a given time on Earth.

Southern Ocean

The IMERG visualization shows large storm fronts moving around the Southern Ocean. The Southern Ocean runs south of Africa, South America, and Australia. Without land to interfere, huge storm fronts that curl across hundreds of miles continually circulate around Antarctica, producing some of the world's roughest seas.

"The Southern Ocean is really one of the great-unknown areas in meteorology," said George Huffman, GPM deputy project scientist at NASA Goddard. It is remote, hard to reach and has few islands on which to place rain gauges. Prior to GPM, scientists only had rough estimates of rainfall, and the more elusive snowfall, which can now be seen in IMERG data in blue.

Southern Ocean Precipitation (IMERG)

Video Credits: Image Credit: NASA Goddard's Scientific Visualization Studio.

"We've seen in cloud pictures the swirls of the storms but there's always been some question of what's going on under the clouds. For the first time here we're seeing the details of what the precipitation is doing," Huffman said. "It is every bit as extreme as we expected."

Tropical Cyclones in the Pacific

For the first time, IMERG can see the entire life cycle of tropical cyclones as they travel beyond the tropics and subtropics observed by previous satellites. GPM can view much more of the globe than its predecessor, the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM), and caught a number of tropical cyclones developing during the Aug. 6 to Aug. 14 visualization. Tropical cyclones are known as hurricanes in the eastern and central Pacific Ocean, typhoons in the western Pacific and cyclones in the southern hemisphere.

Knowing where these storms are is key, Skofronick-Jackson said, so that as they get closer to land, managers can make decisions as to whether to evacuate people.

On Aug. 7, 2014, GPM witnessed Tropical Storm Iselle in the Central Pacific Ocean as it affected Hawaii. The storm brought heavy rain, seen in red, to the Big Island.

Precipitation of 3 Storms that Threatened Hawaii (IMERG)

Video Credits: Image Credit: NASA Goddard's Scientific Visualization Studio.

During the same week in the Western Pacific Ocean, GPM observed Super Typhoon Halong as it moved across Japan. The storm then intensified as it interacted with a cold front and became an extra-tropical storm while traveling north. GPM covered the entire lifecycle for Halong, using the first space-based radar capable of tracking a tropical cyclone and its evolution to high latitudes.

Cyclone Halong (IMERG)

Video Credits: Image Credit: NASA Goddard's Scientific Visualization Studio.

The GPM Core Observatory provides views of extra-tropical systems like Super Typhoon Halong over northern oceans, providing important insights into how these storms move and intensify. The views provide cloud height information that reveal "hot towers," or towering thunderstorms that NASA research has shown usually indicate a storm will intensify within six hours. The data is also color-coded and allows scientists to see where the most intense rainfall is occurring. While TRMM only provided data for views of storms over tropical areas, GPM expands the latitude where this is possible.

Western India Monsoon Rains

On Aug. 9, 2014, the IMERG product showed a cluster of rainstorms over India, associated with the seasonal monsoons. These storms affected the Western Ghat Mountains on India's west coast.

Precipitation Across India's Ghats Mountains (IMERG)

Video Credits: Image Credit: NASA Goddard's Scientific Visualization Studio.

Using GPM data, disaster and risk managers can now obtain information on monsoon and other precipitation events 18 hours after they occur, noted Dalia Kirschbaum, GPM applications scientist at NASA Goddard. Scientists are working to reduce that time down to four hours. This data aids emergency response teams in developing rescue and recovery plans after the storms pass.

"That near-real time capability is critical for managers, understanding where we’re getting flooding and landslides around the world," Kirschbaum said, adding that the IMERG visualization showed a heavy rainfall event that led to fatalities.

Hurricane Bertha

The GPM constellation of satellites captured the entire life cycle of Hurricane Bertha. TRMM captured images of Tropical Storm Bertha dropping heavy rain over the Caribbean on Aug. 1, and other satellites tracked its path. On Aug. 4, it was upgraded to a hurricane as its winds increased to about 80 mph (130 kph), but was back to a tropical storm the morning of the next day, according to NASA’s website on the storm:

Tracking Storm Bertha from the US to the UK (IMERG)

Video Credits: Image Credit: NASA Goddard's Scientific Visualization Studio.

The storm traveled across the Atlantic Ocean, bringing heavy rains to the U.K. Earlier satellites would have missed Bertha’s death on Aug. 16, since it was at a high latitude, but GPM captures precipitation up to the Arctic and Antarctic Circles.

"By being able to observe tropical cyclones in their infancy in the tropics, and see how they move all the way to the high latitudes, it gives us really important clues to how storms develop and intensify," Kirschbaum said.

Daily Storms Over Africa and the Amazon

The IMERG visualization also highlights thunderstorms popping up over equatorial Africa and South America, as they develop and fade daily with daytime heating. As the sun heats up the land during the day, moisture that evaporates from trees and other vegetation rises and condenses into clouds, becoming thunderstorms. They’re quick to form and quick to fade, they travel west on the winds and dissipate at night.

Amazon Precipitation (IMERG)

Video Credits: Image Credit: NASA Goddard's Scientific Visualization Studio.

Sometimes the thunderstorms in the Amazon form into lines of storms, known as squall lines, Huffman said. These can be traced across the entire basin over the course of two days, as seen on the visualization. The convection (rising air) dies out when the squall line hits the steep topography of the Andes Mountains, which run north to south for 4,500 miles along the western coast of the continent. 

In Eastern Africa, squall lines start in the Ethiopian highlands, Huffman pointed out, noting the pulsation apparent on the IMERG visualization.

"When they come off the coast, they’re known as easterly waves," he said. "These are the precursors for some of the hurricanes that we see in the United States."

For more information about the GPM Observatory, visit:

Additional GPM and IMERG video can be downloaded in HD formats at:

Image (mentioned), Videos (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/Rani Gran.


NASA's Curiosity Eyes Prominent Mineral Veins on Mars

NASA - Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) patch.

April 2, 2015

Fast Facts:

- Exposed mineral veins at "Garden City" tell of a wet environment after lake-bed deposits became rock

- Drilled sample from "Telegraph Peak" contains cristobalite, a silica mineral

Two-tone mineral veins at a site NASA's Curiosity rover has reached by climbing a layered Martian mountain offer clues about multiple episodes of fluid movement. These episodes occurred later than the wet environmental conditions that formed lake-bed deposits the rover examined at the mountain's base.

Curiosity has analyzed rock samples drilled from three targets lower on the mountain in the past seven months. It found a different mineral composition at each, including a silica mineral named cristobalite in the most recent sample. These differences, together with the prominent veins seen in images taken a little farther uphill, illustrate how the layers of Mount Sharp provide a record of different stages in the evolution of the area's ancient environment.

The two-tone veins are at the site called "Garden City." They appear as a network of ridges left standing above the now eroded-away bedrock in which they formed. Individual ridges range up to about 2.5 inches (6 centimeters) high and half that in width, and they bear both bright and dark material

 Prominent Veins at 'Garden City' on Mount Sharp, Mars

Image above: This March 18, 2015, view from the Mast Camera on NASA's Curiosity Mars rover shows a network of two-tone mineral veins at an area called "Garden City" on lower Mount Sharp. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS.

"Some of them look like ice-cream sandwiches: dark on both edges and white in the middle," said Linda Kah, a Curiosity science-team member at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. "These materials tell us about secondary fluids that were transported through the region after the host rock formed."

Veins such as these form where fluids move through cracked rock and deposit minerals in the fractures, often affecting the chemistry of the rock surrounding the fractures. Curiosity has found bright veins composed of calcium sulfate at several previous locations. The dark material preserved here presents an opportunity to learn more. Kah said, "At least two secondary fluids have left evidence here. We want to understand the chemistry of the different fluids that were here and the sequence of events. How have later fluids affected the host rock?"

Some of the sequence is understood: Mud that formed lake-bed mudstones Curiosity examined near its 2012 landing site and after reaching Mount Sharp must have dried and hardened before the fractures formed. The dark material that lines the fracture walls reflects an earlier episode of fluid flow than the white, calcium-sulfate-rich veins do, although both flows occurred after the cracks formed.

Garden City is about 39 feet (12 meters) higher than the bottom edge of the "Pahrump Hills" outcrop of the bedrock forming the basal layer of Mount Sharp, at the center of Mars' Gale Crater. The Curiosity mission spent about six months examining the first 33 feet (10 meters) of elevation at Pahrump Hills, climbing from the lower edge to higher sections three times to vertically profile the rock structures and chemistry, and to select the best targets for drilling.

Night Close-up of Mineral Veins at 'Garden City,' Mars

Image above: This view from the Mars Hand Lens Imager on the arm of NASA's Curiosity Mars rover is a close-up of a two-tone mineral vein at a site called "Garden City" on lower Mount Sharp. It was taken during night, illuminated by LEDs, on March 25, 2015. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS.

"We investigated Pahrump Hills the way a field geologist would, looking over the whole outcrop first to choose the best samples to collect, and it paid off," said David Blake of NASA's Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, California, principal investigator for the Chemistry and Mineralogy (CheMin) analytical laboratory instrument inside the rover.

Analysis is still preliminary, but the three drilled samples from Pahrump Hills have clear differences in mineral ingredients. The first, "Confidence Hills," had the most clay minerals and hematite, both of which commonly form under wet conditions. The second, "Mojave," had the most jarosite, an oxidized mineral containing iron and sulfur that forms in acidic conditions. The third is "Telegraph Peak." Examination of Garden City has not included drilling a sample.

Blake said, "Telegraph Peak has almost no evidence of clay minerals, the hematite is nearly gone and jarosite abundance is down. The big thing about this sample is the huge amount of cristobalite, at about 10 percent or more of the crystalline material." Cristobalite is a mineral form of silica. The sample also contains a small amount of quartz, another form of silica. Among the possibilities are that some process removed other ingredients, leaving an enrichment of silica behind; or that dissolved silica was delivered by fluid transport; or that the cristobalite formed elsewhere and was deposited with the original sediment.

NASA's Mars Science Laboratory Project is using Curiosity to examine environments that offered favorable conditions for microbial life on ancient Mars, if the planet ever has hosted microbes, and the changes from those environments to drier conditions that have prevailed on Mars for more than three billion years.

Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) or Curiosity rover. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

After investigations in the Telegraph Peak area, the rover team plans to drive Curiosity through a valley called "Artist's Drive" to reach higher layers. Engineers are meanwhile developing guidelines for best use of the rover's drill, following detection of a transient short circuit last month while using the tool's percussion action to shake rock powder into a sample-processing device. Drilling can use both rotary and percussion actions.

"We expect to use percussion as part of drilling in the future while we monitor whether shorts become more frequent," said Steve Lee of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California. Lee became deputy project manager for the Mars Science Laboratory Project this month. He previously led the project's Guidance, Navigation and Control Team from design through landing.

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/Dwayne Brown/JPL/Guy Webster.


Proba-2 looks typhoon Maysak in the eye

ESA - PROBA-2 Mission logo.

2 April 2015

Proba-2 view of Typhoon Maysak

Typhoon Maysak churning across the Pacific Ocean, as snapped from space by an experimental ESA camera smaller than an espresso cup.

When this image was taken yesterday, Maysak was building to peak intensity, reaching Category 5 hurricane status on the Saffir-Simpson Wind Scale. Winds of 210 km/h had been reported swirling around its eye.

The Typhoon has already devastated islands in Micronesia, but is expected to weaken into a tropical storm by the time it next makes landfall on the Philippines on Sunday.

The black and white image comes from a test camera aboard ESA’s Proba-2. It gives a wider perspective than a standard Earth observation instrument, more like an astronaut’s-eye view, but was taken at around double the altitude that human crews currently fly, at more than 700 km up.


Less than a cubic metre in size, Proba-2 focuses on observing solar activity and space weather. But it also keeps a small eye on its home world.

One of the 17 experimental technologies hosted on the minisatellite is the compact Exploration Camera, X-Cam. Housed on the underside of the satellite, the monochrome X-Cam observes in the visible and near-infrared with a 100° field of view.

X-Cam comes with embedded intelligence to let it judge automatically the best exposures for optimised image quality.

Proba-2's small X-Cam

Similar compact imagers could in future keep watch on satellite surfaces to look out for damage or environmental effects.

Swiss manufacturer Micro-Cameras & Space Exploration has provided a number of other imaging instruments for ESA missions, including Rosetta’s Philae lander.

Related links:

Italy in an espresso cup:

About Proba-2:

X-Cam on Proba-2:

Micro-Cameras and Space Exploration:

Images, Text, Credits: ESA/Pierre Carril/Micro-Cameras & Space Exploration.


mercredi 1 avril 2015

New International Space Station Information System

ISS - International Space Station logo.

April 1, 2015

A new NASA-designed information system will drive discoveries as scientists and researchers devise future investigations to be conducted aboard the International Space Station.

Specialists at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, gathered critical information on the agency’s physical science research to create Physical Science Informatics, a knowledge base that will give investigators access to information on previous space station research to boost future research.

Image above: Dendrite formations as shown here affect the process of metals casting. This is an example of a physical science investigation conducted on the International Space Station. Image Credit: Peter Voorhees/Northwestern University.

The space station is an orbiting laboratory providing an ideal facility to conduct long-duration investigations in a microgravity environment. The platform allows continuous and interactive research similar to Earth-based laboratories, including key hardware for conducting investigations.

Burning and Suppression of Solids

Image above: An image sequence of the Burning and Suppression of Solids investigation on the International Space Station. After two minutes of burning, the vaporization from the fuel overpowers the air flow, leading to highly irregular shapes. This is one of the research areas in Physical Science Informatics.Image Credit: NASA.

“The space station enables scientists to pursue innovations and discoveries not currently achievable by other means,” said Julie Robinson, chief scientist for the International Space Station. “We want to make this coordinated scientific data available so scientists from any field can use it to propose new investigations and make advances to benefit the entire world."

Funded by the International Space Station Program, the Physical Science Informatics puts information on past, current and future space station physical science investigations in one digital repository making it easy for investigators to find out what’s been done so far in research areas and devise where to go next.

NASA astronaut Reid Wiseman

Astronaut Reid Wiseman conducts a session with the Binary Colloidal Alloy Test-C1 experiment during his mission on the Space Station in 2014. Results from this investigation of colloids will help materials scientists to develop new consumer products with unique properties and longer shelf lives.
Image Credit: NASA.

“This comprehensive data will allow researchers to easily see what kinds of physical sciences experiments have been done and use that information to design new experiments for the International Space Station,” said Teresa Miller, who leads the effort for Marshall’s Materials and Process Laboratory.

All results are sortable and cover a variety of subjects that comprise physical science including combustion science, complex fluids, fundamental physics, materials science and biophysics.

"The informatics system provides open access of the space station physical sciences data to the global community," said Fran Chiaramonte, program scientist for physical sciences at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "The goals are to increase the number of scientists participating in space station research, allow new areas of research and discovery to occur more quickly, and accelerate the research-to-product timeline through rapid and open sharing of data."

ISS - International Space Station, the space laboratory. Image Credit: NASA

Collecting this data in a single location not only provides scientists with scientific data from NASA research, but also helps identify fields where more study is needed. Investigators will find it easy to locate information about materials properties and other physical influences of the microgravity environment.

"Informatics will help us identify gaps in our knowledge base," said Marshall Porterfield, NASA's director of Space Life and Physical Sciences at NASA Headquarters. "Too often there are lengthy delays in publishing results of experiments. The lack of access to information should not be a roadblock to discovery.”

Researchers interested in obtaining access, should visit the Physical Science Informatics website at:

To learn more about the International Space Station, visit:

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Marshall Space Flight Center/Tracy McMahan.


Rosetta - 14 km flyby

ESA - Rosetta Mission patch.

April 1, 2015

As part of the recent series of trajectories around Comet 67P/C-G, Rosetta passed within about 14 km of the comet’s surface on Saturday. Despite operational difficulties encountered during the flyby, Rosetta’s NAVCAM was able to acquire images on the way in to and shortly after closest approach.
Comet on 28 March 2015 – NavCam mosaic

Image above: This stunning scene was created from two NAVCAM frames acquired at 19.9 km from the comet centre on 28 March. The scale is about 1.7 m/pixel and the image measures 3.1 x 1.7 km. The image has been adjusted for intensity and contrast, and the vignetting has been fixed. Credits: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM – CC BY-SA IGO 3.0.

The approach images were acquired between 09:33 and 09:51 UT, and show an oblique view across the Imhotep region. This provides the focus for the two-image mosaic presented above, which has been cropped and rotated to highlight the impressive scenery.

Focusing on the 2x2 montage in its original orientation (below), the scene captures the boundary between Imhotep and Ash to the left. The cliffs of Hathor on the small lobe are visible in the background at the far left. Note that the top-right frame also includes the region that was imaged during the 14 February flyby at 6 km.

Comet on 28 March 2015 – NavCam montage (a)

Images above: Four image montage of images taken by Rosetta’s NAVCAM from an average distance of 20.2 km from the comet centre. The scale at this distance is 1.7 m/pixel and the size of each 1024 x 1024 pixel frame is 1.8 km. Credits: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM – CC BY-SA IGO 3.0.

The second set of images, presented below, was acquired between 14:35 and 14:53 UT, not long after the closest approach at 13:04 UT.

Comet on 28 March 2015 – NavCam montage (b)

Images above: Four image montage of images taken by Rosetta’s NAVCAM from an average distance of 16.6 km from the comet centre. The scale at this distance is 1.4 m/pixel and the size of each 1024 x 1024 pixel frame is 1.4 km. Credit: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM – CC BY-SA IGO 3.0.

In this orientation the large lobe is to the left and the small lobe to the right. The top right frame offers a particularly stunning view onto Hapi, the comet’s ‘neck’ region that is littered with boulders. This view also provides a good look at the many interesting, curved markings visible on the smooth surface.

In the same frame, further details in the cliffs of Hathor can be seen, leading up to the ‘head’ of the comet’s small lobe. The smooth region towards the right of this frame shows the transition between this smooth, presumably dust-covered portion, and the layered, exposed cliffs below.

More about Rosetta:

Rosetta is an ESA mission with contributions from its Member States and NASA. Rosetta’s Philae lander was provided by a consortium led by DLR, MPS, CNES and ASI. Rosetta is the first mission in history to rendezvous with a comet. It is escorting the comet as they orbit the Sun together. Philae landed on the comet on 12 November 2014. Comets are time capsules containing primitive material left over from the epoch when the Sun and its planets formed. By studying the gas, dust and structure of the nucleus and organic materials associated with the comet, via both remote and in situ observations, the Rosetta mission should become the key to unlocking the history and evolution of our Solar System.

For more information about Rosetta mission, visit:

Images (mentioned), Text, Credit: European Space Agency (ESA).

Best regards,

Curiosity Sniffs Out History of Martian Atmosphere

NASA - Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) logo.

April 1, 2015

NASA's Curiosity rover is using a new experiment to better understand the history of the Martian atmosphere by analyzing xenon.

While NASA's Curiosity rover concluded its detailed examination of the rock layers of the "Pahrump Hills" in Gale Crater on Mars this winter, some members of the rover team were busy analyzing the Martian atmosphere for xenon, a heavy noble gas.

Curiosity's Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) experiment analyzed xenon in the planet’s atmosphere. Since noble gases are chemically inert and do not react with other substances in the air or on the ground, they are excellent tracers of the history of the atmosphere. Xenon is present in the Martian atmosphere at a challengingly low quantity and can be directly measured only with on-site experiments such as SAM.

Image above: A Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) team member at NASA Goddard prepares the SAM testbed for an experiment. This test copy of the SAM suite of instruments is inside a chamber that, when closed, can model the pressure and temperature environment that SAM sees inside Curiosity on Mars. Image Credit: NASA.

"Xenon is a fundamental measurement to make on a planet such as Mars or Venus, since it provides essential information to understand the early history of these planets and why they turned out so differently from Earth,” said Melissa Trainer, one of the scientists analyzing the SAM data.

A planetary atmosphere is made up of different gases, which are in turn made up of variants of the same chemical element called isotopes. When a planet loses its atmosphere, that process can affect the ratios of remaining isotopes.

Measuring xenon tells us more about the history of the loss of the Martian atmosphere. The special characteristics of xenon – it exists naturally in nine different isotopes, ranging in atomic mass from 124 (with 70 neutrons per atom) to 136 (with 82 neutrons per atom) – allows us to learn more about the process by which the layers of atmosphere were stripped off of Mars than using measurements of other gases.

A process removing gas from the top of the atmosphere removes lighter isotopes more readily than heavier ones leaving a ratio higher in heavier isotopes than it was originally.

The SAM measurement of the ratios of the nine xenon isotopes traces a very early period in the history of Mars when a vigorous atmospheric escape process was pulling away even the heavy xenon gas. The lighter isotopes were escaping just a bit faster than the heavy isotopes.

Those escapes affected the ratio of isotopes in the atmosphere left behind, and the ratios today are a signature retained in the atmosphere for billions of years. This signature was first inferred several decades ago from isotope measurements on small amounts of Martian atmospheric gas trapped in rocks from Mars that made their way to Earth as meteorites.

Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) or Curiosity rover. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

"We are seeing a remarkably close match of the in-situ data to that from bits of atmosphere captured in some of the Martian meteorites," said SAM Deputy Principal Investigator Pan Conrad.

SAM previously measured the ratio of two isotopes of a different noble gas, argon. The results pointed to continuous loss over time of much of the original atmosphere of Mars.

The xenon experiment required months of careful testing at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, using a close copy of the SAM instrument enclosed in a chamber that simulates the Mars environment. This testing was led by Goddard's Charles Malespin, who developed and optimized the sequence of instructions for SAM to carry out on Mars.

"I'm gratified that we were able to successfully execute this run on Mars and demonstrate this new capability for Curiosity," said Malespin.

NASA's Mars Science Laboratory Project is using Curiosity to determine if life was possible on Mars and study major changes in Martian environmental conditions. NASA studies Mars to learn more about our own planet, and in preparation for future human missions to Mars. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, a division of Caltech, manages the project for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

For more information about SAM, visit:

SAM experiment data are archived in the Planetary Data System, online at:

For more information about Curiosity, visit:

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

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Dwayne Brown/Goddard Space Flight Center/Nancy Neal Jones.


CERN - LHC restart back on track

CERN - European Organization for Nuclear Research logo.

April 1, 2015

Yesterday, the teams working on the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) resolved the problem that had been delaying the restart of the accelerator. A few days ago, a short circuit to ground occurred in one of the connections between a magnet and its diode. These diodes are part of the protection system for the LHC’s superconducting magnets: they divert the current into a parallel circuit in the event of a quench, i.e. when the magnet changes from a superconducting to a conducting state.

Image above: Various tests were carried out last week to identify the cause of the fault detected between a magnet and its diode. (Image: Maximilien Brice/CERN).

During the training of the magnets for a beam energy of 6.5 TeV, a metal fragment became stuck in the connection, creating a short circuit to ground and preventing the diode from operating correctly. After having located the fault and carried out precise measurements, the accelerator teams decided to melt the metal fragment, in a similar way to blowing a fuse. Yesterday they injected a current of almost 400 amps into the diode circuit for just a few milliseconds, in order to make the fragment disintegrate. And it worked! Measurements made today showed that the short circuit had disappeared.

Now the LHC teams must requalify the sector in which the fault occurred, i.e. carry out current tests on all of the circuits, particularly the dipole magnet circuit which carries currents of up to 11,000 amps. Once these tests have been completed, the teams will begin the last steps for commissioning the whole machine. The largest collider in the world should be ready for beam in a few days’ time. Watch this space!


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:

CERN - In pictures: X-rays probe LHC for cause of short circuit:

CERN - LHC injector tests to begin:

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

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

Best regards,

Work begins on ESA's part of planetary defence test

Asteroid Watch logo.

April 1, 2015

If an asteroid were spotted headed towards Earth, what could humanity do about it? ESA’s latest mission is part of a larger international effort to find out.

This month marked the start of preliminary design work on ESA’s Asteroid Impact Mission, or AIM. Intended to demonstrate technologies for future deep-space missions, AIM will also be the Agency’s very first investigation of planetary defence techniques.

Asteroid collision

Launched in October 2020, AIM will travel to a binary asteroid system – the paired Didymos asteroids, which will come a comparatively close 11 million km to Earth in 2022. The 800 m-diameter main body is orbited by a 170 m moon, informally called ‘Didymoon’.

This smaller body is AIM’s focus: the spacecraft will perform high-resolution visual, thermal and radar mapping of the moon to build detailed maps of its surface and interior structure.

AIM will also put down a lander – ESA’s first touchdown on a small body since Rosetta’s Philae landed on a comet last November.

Laser link

Two or more CubeSats will also be dispatched from the mothership to gather other scientific data in the vicinity of the moon. AIM’s findings will be returned by high-capacity laser link to ESA’s Optical Ground Station on Tenerife in the Canary Islands.

AIM should gather a rich scientific bounty – gaining valuable insights into the formation of our Solar System – but these activities will also set the stage for a historic event to come.

For AIM is also Europe’s contribution to the larger Asteroid Impact & Deflection Assessment mission: AIDA. In late 2022, the NASA-led part of AIDA will arrive: the Double Asteroid Redirection Test, or DART, probe will approach the binary system – then crash straight into the asteroid moon at about 6 km/s.

Target: Didymoon

“AIM will be watching closely as DART hits Didymoon,” explains Ian Carnelli, managing the mission for ESA. “In the aftermath, it will perform detailed before-and-after comparisons on the structure of the body itself, as well as its orbit, to characterise DART’s kinetic impact and its consequences.

“The results will allow laboratory impact models to be calibrated on a large-scale basis, to fully understand how an asteroid would react to this kind of energy. This will shed light on the role the ejecta plume will play – a fundamental part in the energy transfer and under scientific debate for over two decades.

AIM and Didymos binary system

“In addition, DART’s shifting of Didymoon’s orbit will mark the first time humanity has altered the dynamics of the Solar System in a measurable way.

“It will also give us a baseline for planning any future planetary defence strategies. We will gain insight into the kind of force needed to shift the orbit of any incoming asteroid, and better understand how the technique could be applied if a real threat were to occur.”

A similar collision was achieved back in 2005, when NASA’s Deep Impact spacecraft shot a copper impactor into asteroid Tempel 1. But the Didymos moon is several tens of times smaller than Tempel 1, so much greater precision will be required to strike it – and the possibility of altering its orbit should be correspondingly higher.

Impact crater

The Didymos moon is nearly three times larger than the body thought to have caused the 1908 Tunguska impact in Siberia, the largest impact in recorded history. An equivalent asteroid striking Earth would be well into the ‘city-killer’ class, leaving a crater of at least 2.5 km across and causing serious regional and climate damage.

The 2013 Chelyabinsk airburst, whose shockwave struck six cities across Russia, is thought to have been caused by an asteroid just 20 m in diameter.


AIM and AIDA will be discussed at this month’s International Academy of Astronautics Planetary Defense Conference, hosted at ESA’s ESRIN Earth observation centre in Frascati, Italy, which will be devoted to assessing the risk of impacts from asteroid and comets and envisaging possible responses.

This year’s event features a simulated asteroid threat exercise, to which representatives of global space agencies and disaster response organisations will coordinate their reactions.

Related links:

Planetary Defense Conference:


Asteroid Impact Mission (AIM):


AIDA Mission Rationale Interim Release:


John Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory:

Images, Text, Credits: ESA/Science Office.