vendredi 3 juillet 2015

Pluto: The 'Other' Red Planet

NASA - New Horizons Mission logo.

July 3, 2015

Pluto Globes (Long Animation)

Video above: New Horizons scientists combined the latest black and white map of Pluto’s surface features (left) with a map of the planet’s colors (right) to produce a detailed color portrait of the planet’s northern hemisphere (center). Video Credits: NASA/JHUAPL/SWRI.

What color is Pluto? The answer, revealed in the first maps made from New Horizons data, turns out to be shades of reddish brown. Although this is reminiscent of Mars, the cause is almost certainly very different. On Mars the coloring agent is iron oxide, commonly known as rust. On the dwarf planet Pluto, the reddish color is likely caused by hydrocarbon molecules that are formed when cosmic rays and solar ultraviolet light interact with methane in Pluto’s atmosphere and on its surface.

Animation Credits: NASA/JHUAPL/SWRI

“Pluto’s reddish color has been known for decades, but New Horizons is now allowing us to correlate the color of different places on the surface with their geology and soon, with their compositions,” said New Horizons principal investigator Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute, Boulder, Colorado. “This will make it possible to build sophisticated computer models to understand how Pluto has evolved to its current appearance."

Experts have long thought that reddish substances are generated as a particular color of ultraviolet light from the sun, called Lyman-alpha, strikes molecules of the gas methane (CH4) in Pluto’s atmosphere, powering chemical reactions that create complex compounds called tholins. The tholins drop to the ground to form a reddish “gunk.” Recent measurements with New Horizons’ Alice instrument reveal that a diffuse Lyman-alpha glow falling on Pluto from all directions in interplanetary space is strong enough to produce almost as much tholin as the direct rays of the sun. “This means Pluto’s reddening process occurs even on the night side where there’s no sunlight, and in the depths of winter when the sun remains below the horizon for decades at a time,” said New Horizons co-investigator Michael Summers, George Mason University, Fairfax, Virginia.

Tholins have been found on other bodies in the outer solar system, including Titan and Triton, the largest moons of Saturn and Neptune, respectively, and made in laboratory experiments that simulate the atmospheres of those bodies.

The mission’s first map of Pluto is in approximate true color—that is, the color you would see if you were riding on New Horizons. At left, a map of Pluto’s northern hemisphere composed using high-resolution black-and-white images from New Horizons LORRI instrument. At right is a map of Pluto’s colors created using data from the Ralph instrument. In the center is the combined map, produced by merging the LORRI and Ralph data.

Pluto Globes (Short Animation)

Video above: New Horizons scientists combined the latest black and white map of Pluto’s surface features (left) with a map of the planet’s colors (right) to produce a detailed color portrait of the planet’s northern hemisphere (center). Video Credits: NASA/JHUAPL/SWRI.

“Now the unique colors and characteristics of its varied terrains are coming into view," said Simon Porter, a member of the New Horizons Geology and Geophysics team. Added Alex Parker, a member of the New Horizons Composition team, "Pluto's largest dark spot is clearly more red than the majority of the surface, while the brightest area appears closer to neutral gray."

Scientists hope to learn more about the cause of Pluto’s reddish tint as New Horizons closes in for its July 14 flyby.

Pluto: A Remarkable World

Even though New Horizons is still millions of miles from Pluto, its highest resolution imager is revealing a remarkably complex surface.

Image above: Scientists at Johns Hopkins University’s Hörst Laboratory have produced complex chemical compounds called tholins, which may give Pluto its reddish hue. Image Credits: Chao He, Xinting Yu, Sydney Riemer, and Sarah Hörst, Johns Hopkins University.

This image of Pluto and its largest moon Charon, taken by the LORRI instrument on July 1, 2015 from a distance of 10 million miles (16 million kilometers), shows features as small as 100 miles (160 kilometers) across.

This view shows the side of Pluto that will be viewed in highest resolution by New Horizons when it flies past the planet on July 14. Near the equator, sharp edged dark regions are surrounded by brighter terrain. Farther north, shadings are more subtle, with suggestions of a more varied, mottled surface.

Image above: Pluto and its largest moon Charon seen from New Horizons on July 1, 2015. The inset shows Pluto enlarged; features as small as 100 miles (160 kilometers) across are visible. Image Credits: NASA/JHUAPL/SWRI.

“Even at this resolution, Pluto looks like no other world in our solar system,” said mission scientist Marc Buie of the Southwest Research Institute, Boulder. “We’re already seeing a remarkable amount of detail, and the complexity continues to increase as the images get better.”

For more information about New Horizons mission, visit:

Images (mentioned), Videos (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Lillian Gipson.

Best regards,

Solar Impulse 2 landed safely in Hawaii

SolarImpulse - Around The World patch.

July 3, 2015

Solar plane landed on the tarmac of an airport in Hawaii after nearly 120 hours flying over the Pacific Ocean.

Artist's view of Solar Impulse 2 over Hawaii

Solar Impulse 2 landed Friday around 17:55 hours near Swiss Honolulu, on the island of Oahu, Hawaii. Solar aircraft flown by André Borschberg has completed a Pacific crossing from Japan of almost 8200 km and nearly 120 hours in the air, is a world record for solo flight. "The dream has come true," said André Borschberg shortly after landing. Once there, he remained nearly an hour sitting in the plane for that he be made a leg massage. It is then lowered alongside Bertrand Piccard and said felt "great joy" after so many years of work.

This stage was the longest of the world tour of 35,000 kilometers of Solar Impulse 2. The experimental aircraft landed at Kalaeloa airport on the main island of Oahu, about 30 kilometers west of Honolulu. He was gone from the Nagoya Airport in Japan.


"He did it," the organization issued while the aircraft powered only by solar energy touched the ground, when the sun rose over the American archipelago. A necklace of exotic flowers around the neck, businessman and Swiss pilot André Borschberg was cheerful and clean shaven on the live images on the site dedicated to this venture.

Solar Impulse 2 landing in Hawaii

"Hard to believe what I see: # Si2 in Hawaii! But I never doubted thatandreborschberg could do that, "quickly said Bertrand Piccard, the second pilot of the unit.

The tired voice, Mr. Borschberg had entrusted the checkpoint at 14:30 have "made small breaks (...) but I'm awake now." He still had a little over 180 km to go, or flight of 3:30. He naps 20 minutes in order to keep control of the device.

Steve Fossett broke record

With nearly 120 flight hours, André Borschberg has largely broke the previous world solo flight record set in 2006 by Steve Fossett, who had flown for 76 hours and 45 minutes (a little more than three days).

"It's really an incredible time. We saw André there five minutes. You can imagine where it happens? Japan! "Said Bertrand Piccard had two hours before arrival. "Five days and five nights in the air," he noted, very moved. "It is there, a few hundred meters above the sea. It's absolutely fantastic," he continued. "He stole that long without absolutely no fuel. (...) It is something historical. "

Next step

Live camera images posted on the website of the expedition allowed the monitoring worldwide the last hours of approach on Hawaii. It is doing at night, only the headlights of the aircraft drew his long silhouette until the first rays of the sun.

Solar plane landed on the tarmac airport in Hawaii

Mr Piccard will take orders for the next port that would connect the islands of Hawaii to Phoenix, Arizona in southwest of the United States in the coming days. But the destination is not definitively stopped, said an organizer.

The plane, which had also had to wait before a month in China, was away on March 9 in Abu Dhabi for a world tour, the first aircraft powered by solar energy for 35,000 kilometers promote the use of renewable energy.

The plane, whose wings are covered with photovoltaic cells, charging its batteries the day and walk at night to the accumulated electrical energy.


During the crossing of the Pacific, Mr. Borschberg was alone in the unpressurized cabin of 3.8 cubic meters. Flying at altitudes up to 9000 meters, he used oxygen tanks to breathe, and suffered great variations in temperature during one day.

The experimental aircraft landed at Kalaeloa airport on the main island of Oahu

The pilot had meticulously prepared for this test of endurance, as well as Bertrand Piccard who flies alternately on the Solar Impulse 2. Swiss psychiatrist, who comes from a family of explorers, has already completed the first round of world balloon flight.

"The goal is to feel comfortable to be able to accept mentally, and even love, to be in the cockpit during a long period," he told André Borschberg. "I use the techniques of yoga and meditation, self-hypnosis and my partner to relax," he had said.

For more information about SolarImpulse Around The World, visit:

Images, Video, Text, Credits: SolarImpulse/ATS/ Aerospace.


Counting stars with Gaia

ESA - Gaia Mission patch.

3 July 2015

Artist's impression of Gaia spacecraft

This image, based on housekeeping data from ESA’s Gaia satellite, is no ordinary depiction of the heavens. While the image portrays the outline of our Galaxy, the Milky Way, and of its neighbouring Magellanic Clouds, it was obtained in a rather unusual way.

As Gaia scans the sky to measure positions and velocities of a billion stars with unprecedented accuracy, for some stars it also determines their speed across the camera’s sensor. This information is used in real time by the attitude and orbit control system to ensure the satellite’s orientation is maintained with the desired precision.

These speed statistics are routinely sent to Earth, along with the science data, in the form of housekeeping data. They include the total number of stars, used in the attitude-control loop, that is detected every second in each of Gaia’s fields of view.

It is the latter – which is basically an indication of the density of stars across the sky – that was used to produce this uncommon visualisation of the celestial sphere. Brighter regions indicate higher concentrations of stars, while darker regions correspond to patches of the sky where fewer stars are observed.

Stellar density map

The plane of the Milky Way, where most of the Galaxy’s stars reside, is evidently the brightest portion of this image, running horizontally and especially bright at the centre. Darker regions across this broad strip of stars, known as the Galactic Plane, correspond to dense, interstellar clouds of gas and dust that absorb starlight along the line of sight.

The Galactic Plane is the projection on the sky of the Galactic disc, a flattened structure with a diameter of about 100 000 light-years and a vertical height of only 1000 light-years.

Beyond the plane, only a few objects are visible, most notably the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds, two dwarf galaxies orbiting the Milky Way, which stand out in the lower right part of the image.

A few globular clusters – large assemblies up to millions of stars held together by their mutual gravity – are also sprinkled around the Galactic Plane. Globular clusters, the oldest population of stars in the Galaxy, sit mainly in a spherical halo extending up to 100 000 light-years from the centre of the Milky Way.

Annotated map

The globular cluster NGC 104 is easily visible in the image, to the immediate left of the Small Magellanic Cloud. Other globular clusters are highlighted in an annotated version of this image.

Interestingly, the majority of bright stars that are visible to the naked eye and that form the familiar constellations of the sky are not accounted for in this image because they are too bright to be used by Gaia’s control system. Similarly, the Andromeda galaxy – the largest galactic neighbour of the Milky Way – also does not stand out here.

Counterintuitively, while Gaia carries a billion-pixel camera, it is not a mission aimed at imaging the sky: it is making the largest, most precise 3D map of our Galaxy, providing a crucial tool for studying the formation and evolution of the Milky Way. 

About Gaia:

Gaia is an ESA mission to survey one billion stars in our Galaxy and local galactic neighbourhood in order to build the most precise 3D map of the Milky Way and answer questions about its origin and evolution.

Gaia’s scientific operations begun on 25 July 2014 with the special scanning through a narrow region in the sky, while the normal scanning procedure was switched on a month later, on 25 August.

The mission’s primary scientific product will be a catalogue with the position, motion, brightness and colour of the surveyed stars. An intermediate version of the catalogue will be released in 2016. In the meantime, Gaia's observing strategy, with repeated scans of the entire sky, will allow the discovery and measurement of transient events across the sky.

Acknowledgement: this image was prepared by Edmund Serpell, a Gaia Operations Engineer working in the Mission Operations Centre at ESA’s European Space Operations Centre in Darmstadt, Germany.

Related articles:

How many stars are there in the Universe?:

The billion-pixel camera:

Related links:

Gaia mission:

More about...

Gaia overview:

Gaia factsheet:

Frequently asked questions:

Gaia brochure:

Images, Text, Credits: ESA/D. Ducros/Gaia/CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO.


Progress Reaches Orbit for Two Day trip to Station

ROSCOSMOS - Russian Vehicles patch.

July 3, 2015

Image above: The ISS Progress 60 resupply ship launches on time from the Baikonur Cosmodrome. Image Credits: NASA TV/ Aerospace.

Carrying more than 6,100 pounds of food, fuel, and supplies for the International Space Station crew, the unpiloted ISS Progress 60 cargo craft launched at 12:55 a.m. EDT (10:55 p.m. local time in Baikonur) from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

Russian Supply Ship Heads to ISS

At the time of launch, the International Space Station was flying about 249 miles over northwestern Sudan, near the border with Egypt and Libya.

Less than 10 minutes after launch, the resupply ship reached preliminary orbit and deployed its solar arrays and navigational antennas as planned. The Russian cargo craft will make 34 orbits of Earth during the next two days before docking to the orbiting laboratory at 3:13 a.m. Sunday, July 5.

Image above: A camera from the Progress spacecraft shows the Earth below as it begins its two day trip to the space station. Image Credits: NASA TV/ Aerospace.

Beginning at 2:30 a.m. Sunday, July 5, NASA Television will provide live coverage of Progress 60’s arrival to the space station’s Pirs Docking Compartment. Watch live on NASA TV and online at

Related links:

ROSCOSMOS Press Release:

Expedition 44:

One-Year Crew:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

Best regards,

jeudi 2 juillet 2015

Astronomers Predict Fireworks from Rare Stellar Encounter in 2018

NASA - Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope logo.

July 2, 2015

Astronomers are gearing up for high-energy fireworks coming in early 2018, when a stellar remnant the size of a city meets one of the brightest stars in our galaxy. The cosmic light show will occur when a pulsar discovered by NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope swings by its companion star. Scientists plan a global campaign to watch the event from radio wavelengths to the highest-energy gamma rays detectable.

Coming Soon: Closest Approach

Video above: Coming attraction: Astronomers are expecting high-energy explosions when pulsar J2032 swings around its massive companion star in early 2018. The pulsar will plunge through a disk of gas and dust surrounding the star, triggering cosmic fireworks. Scientists are planning a global campaign to watch the event across the spectrum, from radio waves to gamma rays. Video Credits: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.

The pulsar, known as J2032+4127 (J2032 for short), is the crushed core of a massive star that exploded as a supernova. It is a magnetized ball about 12 miles across, or about the size of Washington, weighing almost twice the sun's mass and spinning seven times a second. J2032's rapid spin and strong magnetic field together produce a lighthouse-like beam detectable when it sweeps our way. Astronomers find most pulsars through radio emissions, but Fermi's Large Area Telescope (LAT) finds them through pulses of gamma rays, the most energetic form of light. 

Cosmic fireworks, binary pulsars explosion. Image Credit: NASA

J2032 was found in 2009 through a so-called blind search of LAT data. Using this technique, astronomers can find pulsars whose radio beams may not be pointed precisely in our direction and are therefore much harder to detect.

"Two dozen pulsars were discovered this way in the first year of LAT data alone, including J2032," said David Thompson, a Fermi deputy project scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. "Nearly all of them would not have been found without Fermi."

Once they knew exactly where to look, radio astronomers also were able to detect J2032. A team at the Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics at the University of Manchester in the U.K. kept tabs on the object from 2010 through 2014. And they noticed something odd.

"We detected strange variations in the rotation and the rate at which the rotation slows down, behavior we have not seen in any other isolated pulsar," said Andrew Lyne, professor of physics at the University of Manchester. "Ultimately, we realized these peculiarities were caused by motion around another star, making this the longest-period binary system containing a radio pulsar."

The massive star tugging on the pulsar is named MT91 213. Classified as a Be star, the companion is 15 times the mass of the sun and shines 10,000 times brighter. Be stars drive strong outflows, called stellar winds, and are embedded in large disks of gas and dust.

"When we discovered this pulsar in 2009, we noticed that it was in the same direction as this massive star in the constellation Cygnus, but our initial measurements did not give any evidence that either star was a member of a binary system," explained Paul Ray, an astrophysicist at the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington. "The only way to escape that conclusion was if the binary system had a very long orbital period, much longer than the longest known pulsar-massive star binary at the time, which seemed unlikely."

Following an elongated orbit lasting about 25 years, the pulsar passes closest to its partner once each circuit. Whipping around its companion in early 2018, the pulsar will plunge through the surrounding disk and trigger astrophysical fireworks. It will serve as a probe to help astronomers measure the massive star's gravity, magnetic field, stellar wind and disk properties.

Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope. Image Credit: NASA 

Several features combine to make this an exceptional binary. Out of six similar systems where the massive star uses hydrogen as its central energy source, J2032's has the greatest combined mass, the longest orbital period, and, at a distance of about 5,000 light-years, is closest to Earth.

"This forewarning of the energetic fireworks expected at closest approach in three years' time allows us to prepare to study the system across the entire electromagnetic spectrum with the largest telescopes," added Ben Stappers, a professor of astrophysics at the University of Manchester.

Astronomers think the supernova explosion that created the pulsar also kicked it into its eccentric orbit, nearly tearing the binary apart in the process. A study of the system led by Lyne and including Ray and Stappers was published June 16 in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

Related Links:

Paper: The binary nature of PSR J2032+4127:

'Odd Couple' Binary Makes Dual Gamma-ray Flares:

For more information about Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope, visit:

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


New Horizons Color Images Reveal Two Distinct Faces of Pluto, Series of Spots that Fascinate

NASA - New Horizons Mission logo.

July 2, 2015

New color images from NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft show two very different faces of the mysterious dwarf planet, one with a series of intriguing spots along the equator that are evenly spaced. Each of the spots is about 300 miles (480 kilometers) in diameter, with a surface area that’s roughly the size of the state of Missouri.

Image above: the two very different faces of Pluto. Images Credits: NASA/Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute.

Scientists have yet to see anything quite like the dark spots; their presence has piqued the interest of the New Horizons science team, due to the remarkable consistency in their spacing and size. While the origin of the spots is a mystery for now, the answer may be revealed as the spacecraft continues its approach to the mysterious dwarf planet. “It’s a real puzzle—we don’t know what the spots are, and we can’t wait to find out,” said New Horizons principal investigator Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute, Boulder. “Also puzzling is the longstanding and dramatic difference in the colors and appearance of Pluto compared to its darker and grayer moon Charon.”

New Horizons team members combined black-and-white images of Pluto and Charon from the spacecraft’s Long-Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) with lower-resolution color data from the Ralph instrument to produce these views. We see the planet and its largest moon in approximately true color, that is, the way they would appear if you were riding on the New Horizons spacecraft. About half of Pluto is imaged, which means features shown near the bottom of the dwarf planet are at approximately at the equatorial line.

Images above: New color images from NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft show two very different faces of the mysterious dwarf planet, one with a series of intriguing spots along the equator that are evenly spaced. Images Credits: NASA/Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute.

More New Horizons News for Wednesday, July 1:
Instruments Prepare to Search for Clouds in Pluto’s Atmosphere

If Pluto has clouds, New Horizons can detect them. Both the high-resolution LORRI imager and the Ralph color imager will be used to look for clouds across the face of Pluto during its approach and departure from the planet. “We’re looking for clouds in our images using a number of techniques,” said science team postdoc Kelsi Singer of the Southwest Research Institute, “If we find clouds, their presence will allow us to track the speeds and directions of Pluto’s winds.”

Image above: An artist’s conception of clouds in Pluto’s atmosphere. Image Credit: JHUAPL.

New Horizons Team Says “Bravo!” To Earth-Based Pluto Observers

For more than two decades, planetary scientists have raced to get a spacecraft to Pluto against predictions that its atmosphere would disappear—literally freezing onto the surface—before it could be explored. This week, planetary scientists using ground-based telescopes and NASA’s SOFIA airborne observatory confirmed that “Pluto’s atmosphere is alive and well, and has not frozen out on the surface,” according to New Horizons deputy project scientist Leslie Young, Southwest Research Institute, Boulder. Added Young, “We’re delighted!”

“The SOFIA observations will also be essential for linking ground-based studies to the results from the New Horizons Pluto encounter for decades to come”, said Cathy Olkin, Southwest Research Institute, Boulder, co-investigator on NASA’s New Horizons mission.

Image above: SOFIA airborne observatory. Image Credits: NASA/Jim Ross.

PEPSSI Instrument Tastes Pluto’s Atmosphere

The Pluto Energetic Particle Spectrometer Science Investigation (PEPSSI) instrument aboard New Horizons is sending back data daily, sampling the space environment near Pluto. PEPSSI is designed to detect ions (atoms that have lost or gained one or more electrons) that have escaped from Pluto’s atmosphere. As they depart, these atoms become caught up in the solar wind, the stream of subatomic particles that emanates from the Sun. PEPSSI’s job is to tell scientists about the composition of Pluto’s escaping atmosphere and how quickly the atmosphere is escaping.

Image above: The location of New Horizons’ Pluto Energetic Particle Spectrometer Science Investigation (PEPSSI) instrument is shown. Image credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute.

New Horizons is now less than 9.5 million miles (15 million kilometers) from the Pluto system. The spacecraft is healthy and all systems are operating normally.

The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, designed, built, and operates the New Horizons spacecraft, and manages the mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. The Southwest Research Institute, based in San Antonio, 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.

To view images from New Horizons and learn more about the mission visit: and

Follow the New Horizons mission on social media, and use the hashtag #PlutoFlyby to join the conversation. The mission’s official NASA Twitter account is @NASANewHorizons. Live updates are available on Facebook at:

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Lillian Gipson.


Stellar Sparklers That Last

NASA - Chandra X-ray Observatory patch / NASA - Spitzer Space Telescope logo.

July 2, 2015

NGC 1333

While fireworks only last a short time here on Earth, a bundle of cosmic sparklers in a nearby cluster of stars will be going off for a very long time. NGC 1333 is a star cluster populated with many young stars that are less than 2 million years old, a blink of an eye in astronomical terms for stars like the Sun expected to burn for billions of years.

This new composite image combines X-rays from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory (pink) with infrared data from the Spitzer Space Telescope (red) as well as optical data from the Digitized Sky Survey and the National Optical Astronomical Observatories’ Mayall 4-meter telescope on Kitt Peak (red, green, blue). The Chandra data reveal 95 young stars glowing in X-ray light, 41 of which had not been identified previously using infrared observations with Spitzer because they lacked infrared emission from a surrounding disk.

Chandra X-ray Observatory

To make a detailed study of the X-ray properties of young stars, a team of astronomers, led by Elaine Winston from the University of Exeter, analyzed both the Chandra X-ray data of NGC 1333, located about 780 light years from Earth, and of the Serpens cloud, a similar cluster of young stars about 1100 light years away. They then compared the two datasets with observations of the young stars in the Orion Nebula Cluster, perhaps the most-studied young star cluster in the Galaxy.

The researchers found that the X-ray brightness of the stars in NGC 1333 and the Serpens cloud depends on the total brightness of the stars across the electromagnetic spectrum, as found in previous studies of other clusters. They also found that the X-ray brightness mainly depends on the size of the star. In other words, the bigger the stellar sparkler, the brighter it will glow in X-rays.

Spitzer Space Telescope

These results were published in the July 2010 issue of the Astronomical Journal and are available online. NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, manages the Chandra program for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, Massachusetts, controls Chandra's science and flight operations.

JPL manages the Spitzer Space Telescope mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. Science operations are conducted at the Spitzer Science Center at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. Spacecraft operations are based at Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company, Littleton, Colorado.

Read More from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory:

For more Chandra images, multimedia and related materials, visit:

For more information about Spitzer Space Telescope mission, visit:

Image Credits: X-ray: NASA/CXC/SAO/S.Wolk et al; Optical: DSS & NOAO/AURA/NSF; Infrared: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Text, Credits: NASA/Marshall Space Flight Center/Janet Anderson/Chandra X-ray Center/Megan Watzke/Lee Mohon.


SMOS sings the song of ice and fire

ESA - SMOS Mission logo.

2 July 2015

While ESA’s water mission continues to deliver key information on soil moisture and ocean salinity to advance our understanding of Earth, it is becoming increasingly important for ‘real world’ applications, further demonstrating the societal benefit of Earth observation.

During the 2nd SMOS Science Conference held in May at ESA’s European Space Astronomy Centre near Madrid, Spain, operational agencies such as Mercator Ocean, the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF), and the Deputacío de Barcelona emphasised the potential for applications that benefit everyday life.


Peter Bauer from ECMWF said, “Continuity of L-band observations is of fundamental importance for operational agencies and numerical weather prediction.

“SMOS data have already shown their value for weather forecasting as soil moisture information is crucial for predictive skill beyond the medium range. SMOS data also have the potential to provide additional capabilities for re-analyses and the Copernicus Climate Change service in future.

“Longer time series are needed for such research to provide consolidated input.”

The Diputació de Barcelona has been using SMOS information in their summer forest fire prevention campaigns since 2012. Together with land-surface temperatures, SMOS’s daily soil moisture data provide a valuable all-weather tool to detect dry areas susceptible to wildfires.

Predicting fires

“By using SMOS data, our ability to assess the risk of fire is now significant, with the overall fire detection rate now being at 87%,”said Ramon Riera from Diputació de Barcelona.

“Areas of more than 3000 hectares that are at risk of fire can now be detected, and even smaller areas of 500 hectares under threat are predicted correctly 60% of the time.”

Carrying an L-band radiometer, SMOS uses an innovative technique of capturing images of ‘brightness temperature’. These images correspond to radiation emitted from Earth’s surface to produce maps of soil moisture and ocean salinity – two key variables in the water cycle.

2010–14 fires

Over the Arctic, SMOS data have been used to derive the thickness of sea ice. The navigability in ice-infested waters critically depends on the ice thickness. Prof L. Kaleschke from the University of Hamburg has integrated these observations in computer models, improving the accuracy of sea-ice forecasts.

A prototype navigation system predicted the fastest and most economic routes through the ice-covered Barents Sea when tested back in March 2014.

In the future, such a system could support travel along the Northwest Passage and Northern Sea Route, as the shortest link between Europe and East Asia, and also the extraction and transportation of raw materials from the Arctic.

SMOS operations were recently extended until 2017 based on the excellent scientific results achieved so far. The extension will open the door to look at new ways of using SMOS data in research and applications, and offer further synergistic opportunities with other missions.

Navigating icy waters with SMOS

The data are already being used with those from the US Aquarius mission. Pierre-Yves Le Traon, from Mercator Ocean and Ifremer, said, “We are already systematically comparing data from SMOS and from the Aquarius mission with our Mercator Ocean global data assimilation system, and we are working on assimilating SMOS salinity data into our ocean models.

“SMOS data have great potential for ocean and climate research, for example tracing interannual climate variability through salinity distributions, which allows us to spot phenomena such as La Niña.

“Such observations are a significant step forward in ocean research and should be continued beyond the present suite of satellites providing them.”

After more than five years in orbit, results are clearly showing the great potential SMOS data have for operational applications as well as climate research. SMOS could also complement new missions, such as NASA’s SMAP, launched in January.

In addition, using SMOS data with those from the Copernicus Sentinel missions – in particular, Sentinel-1 and Sentinel-3 – will provide interesting synergistic datasets over oceans.

For more information about Soil Moisture and Ocean Salinity (SMOS), visit:

Related links:

Mercator Ocean:


Diputació de Barcelona:

University of Hamburg:

SMOS Barcelona Expert Centre:


Images, Text, Credits: ESA/AOES Medialab/Diputació de Barcelona/SMOS Barcelona Expert Centre/L. Kaleschke, University of Hamburg.


mercredi 1 juillet 2015

Solar Impulse midway between Japan and Hawaii

SolarImpulse - Around The World patch.

July 1, 2015

Solar plane midway between Japan and Hawaii, spent the first delicate cold front.

The Solar Impulse aircraft was on Wednesday July 1, midway between Hawaii and Japan after the passage of a first delicate cold front. The pilot André Borschberg has already achieved an unprecedented feat after two days and nights of non-stop trans-Pacific flight.

Solar Impulse 2 in flight over Pacific Ocean

However, it still has yet almost 60 hours holding in his cramped cockpit. "This is the first time that we begin a third day of flight without interruption, with a new charging cycle of the batteries by the sun", welcomed Bertrand Piccard, pilot alternately the solar aircraft.

A major obstacle, however, had to be crossed with the transition to midday of the first cold front, according to organizers, thrilled to see this "wall" behind the camera rather than in front. "A major hurdle has been crossed", they assured on the Internet (SolarImpulse website and Twitter).

"I'm in great shape"

The pilot André Borschberg

It is true that this front will roughly Taiwan to Alaska for days was considered so dense and impenetrable that Solar Impulse had to postpone several times its departure from Japan, where he had landed on June 1 waiting for good weather.

The passage of the front "is a very emotional moment," exclaimed Bertrand Piccard on Twitter. But shortly before this passage, he was enthusiastic: "It's a fascinating moment which shows that a plane can fly continuously producing its own energy."

Satellite weather image and actual position of the solar plane

"I am in excellent shape. The night was difficult, but beautiful. I'm completely in the mission "had for its part assured André Borschberg. "I wanted to make myself a squeegee in this aircraft," he even had time to joke.

"Jumping into the unknown"

At 16: 30 pm in Tokyo (9 am 30 in Switzerland), the aircraft had traveled more than 4320 km above the ocean, or 55% of the course, since leaving Nagoya (Central Japan) at night from Sunday to Monday.

Solar Impulse 2 plane seen from rear camera

"Many critical moments take place before the arrival in Hawaii," warned one of the leaders of the Solar Impulse communication in a video. "It is a leap into the unknown that makes André. Until this flight, in case of problems, we could decide to land at the nearest airport, but there, the plane is in the middle of nowhere, over the ocean, with no place to land "insisted Bertrand Piccard.

"We must ensure that the batteries will not charge too quickly because they become hot, the outside temperature is relatively high at this time of year," said a technician from the mission.

A month stopped

Solar Impulse 2, whose wings are covered with photovoltaic cells, had been blocked for nearly a month in Japan by bad weather. He eventually found a favorable time window to take off Monday before dawn and launch an assault in the Pacific.

The flight departed on March 9 Abu Dhabi to a world tour from 35 000 km to promote the use of renewable energy, particularly solar energy.

For more information about Solar Impulse Around The World, visit:

Images, Text, Credits: SolarImpulse/ATS/Newsnet/ Aerospace.


Russian Resupply Ship Rolls Out, Crew Preps for Japanese Cargo Craft

ISS - Expedition 44 Mission patch.

July 1, 2015

Image above: The ISS Progress 60 cargo craft is at its launch pad at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Image Credit: Roscosmos.

The next Russian resupply ship to launch to the International Space Station rolled out to its launch pad today. The crew is also preparing for Japan’s next cargo mission due in August.

The ISS Progress 60 (60P) cargo craft is at the Baikonur Cosmodrome launch pad preparing for a 12:55 a.m. EDT launch Friday from Kazakhstan. The 60P is delivering more than 3 tons of food, fuel and supplies to the crew and will dock to the Pirs docking compartment.

Image above: From left are NASA Astronaut Scott Kelly, left, and Russian Cosmonauts Gennady Padalka, center, and Mikhail Kornienko. Photo Credit: (NASA/Victor Zelentsov).

NASA astronaut and One-Year crew member Scott Kelly worked Wednesday to also get the station ready for another cargo craft, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s Kounotori HTV-5, due for launch Aug. 16. It will lift off from the Tanegashima Space Center in Japan for a four day trip to the station where it will grappled and berthed to the Earth-facing side of the Harmony node.

International Space Station (ISS). Image Credit: NASA

The two cosmonauts, Commander Gennady Padalka and One-Year crew member Mikhail Kornienko, were on the Russian side of the orbital lab conducting science and maintenance. The duo explored the dynamic forces the station experiences caused by mission events such as vehicle dockings and spacewalks including internal activities like physical exercise.

Related links:

Expedition 44:

One-Year Crew:

Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA):

Kounotori HTV-5:

Progress cargo:


International Space Station (ISS):

Images (mentioned), Text, Credit: NASA.


Curiosity Mars Rover Studies Rock-Layer Contact Zone

NASA - Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) logo.

July 1, 2015

NASA's Curiosity Mars rover is examining a valley where at least two types of bedrock meet, for clues about changes in ancient environmental conditions recorded by the rock.

Image above: This May 25, 2015, view from the Curiosity rover's Mastcam shows a site where two different types of bedrock meet near "Marias Pass" on Mount Sharp. Pale mudstone in the foreground is like bedrock the rover studied at "Pahrump Hills." The darker sandstone above it is called the Stimson unit. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS.

In addition to two rock types for which this site was chosen, the rover has found a sandstone with grains of differing shapes and color.

Curiosity's international team has resumed full operations of the car-size mobile laboratory after a period of limited activity during most of June. The operations moratorium for Curiosity and other spacecraft at Mars happens about every 26 months, when Mars passes nearly behind the sun from Earth's perspective, and the sun interferes with radio communication between the two planets.

Image above: This May 29, 2015, view of a Martian sandstone target called "Big Arm" covers an area about 1.3 inches wide in detail that shows differing shapes and colors of sand grains in the stone. It is from the MAHLI camera on NASA's Curiosity rover. The site is near "Marias Pass" on Mount Sharp. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

At the rover's current location near "Marias Pass" on Mount Sharp, Curiosity has found a zone where different types of bedrock neighbor each other. One is pale mudstone, like bedrock the mission examined previously at "Pahump Hills." Another is darker, finely bedded sandstone above the Pahrump-like mudstone. The rover team calls this sandstone the Stimson unit.

On Mars as on Earth, each layer of a sedimentary rock tells a story about the environment in which it was formed and modified. Contacts between adjacent layers hold particular interest as sites where changes in environmental conditions may be studied. Some contacts show smooth transitions; others are abrupt.

Image above: This stereo view from the Curiosity Mars rover's Navcam shows a 360-degree panorama around the site where the rover spent its 1,000th Martian day, or sol, on Mars. The image appears three-dimensional when viewed through red-blue glasses with the red lens on the left. The site is near "Marias Pass." Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

Curiosity climbed an incline of up to 21 degrees in late May to reach Marias Pass, guided by images from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter showing Pahrump-like and Stimson outcrops close together.

"This site has exactly what we were looking for, and perhaps something extra," said Curiosity Project Scientist Ashwin Vasavada, of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California. "Right at the contact between the Pahrump-like mudstone and the Stimson sandstone, there appears to be a thin band of coarser-grained rock that's different from either of them."

The in-between material is a sandstone that includes some larger grains, of mixed shapes and colors, compared to the overlying dark sandstone.

Image above: This 360-degree panorama from the Navigation Camera (Navcam) on NASA's Curiosity Mars rover shows the surroundings of a site on lower Mount Sharp where the rover spent its 1,000th Martian day, or sol, on Mars, in May 2015. The site is near "Marias Pass." Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

"The roundedness of some of the grains suggests they traveled long distances, but others are angular, perhaps meaning that they came from close by," Vasavada said. "Some grains are dark, others much lighter, which indicates that their composition varies. The grains are more diverse than in other sandstone we've examined with Curiosity."

The science team has identified rock targets for further close-up inspection of the textures and composition of the mudstone and sandstone exposed near Marias Pass. The team ancipates keeping Curiosity busy at this site for several weeks before driving higher on Mount Sharp.

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

Curiosity has been exploring on Mars since 2012. It reached the base of Mount Sharp last year after fruitfully investigating outcrops closer to its landing site and then trekking to the mountain. The main mission objective now is to examine successively higher layers of Mount Sharp.

JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, built the rover and manages the project for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. For more information about Curiosity, visit: and

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

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