samedi 18 juillet 2015

Flight record with an unmanned solar plane

AtlantikSolar logo.

July 18, 2015

AtlantikSolar in flight

An unmanned solar plane developed by the ETH Zurich flew continuously for 81.5 hours, breaking the world record. The model developed by the researchers is called "AtlantikSolar" and weighs only 7 kilos.

The craft landed Friday night after 19h to Rafz (ZH) and exploding the record for unmanned aircraft in the category under 50 kilograms. "AtlantikSolar" has exceeded some 33 hours precise ats to the project leader, Philipp Oettershagen.

Image above: AtlantikSolar safely landed at 3:35 p.m on Wednesday, July 16., thereby setting a new World record for endurance unmanned solar-powered fligh.

Scientists have also managed another performance. So far, only four other aircraft - manned and unmanned - remained as long in the air.

The aircraft has a span of 5.6 meters and moves at an average speed of 35 to 40 kilometers per hour. A statement from the ETH Zurich, the machine combines solar technology with lithium-ion batteries.

AtlantikSolar recovery by a student

AtlantikSolar is conducted by autonomous control system (UAV), developed by the ETH Zurich. It is designed for rescue operations on a large scope and actions of research in crisis regions. The vehicle is part of the project of the European Union ICARUS.

In summer 2016 the team of scientists wants to meet with his solar plane's journey of the American flight pioneer Charles Lindbergh over the Atlantic. Scientists hope the machine can withstand crossing 4,500 kilometers, about five days, to connect Boston (USA) to Lisbon (Portugal).

Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Zurich (EPFZ) or Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich (ETHZ):

Images, Text, Credits: ETHZ/ATS/ Aerospace.


vendredi 17 juillet 2015

Crew Back to Work After Orbital Debris Precautions

ISS - Expedition 44 Mission patch.

July 17, 2015

The Expedition 44 crew is back at work after taking precautions as a piece of orbital debris safely passed the International Space Station this morning. Meanwhile, three new crew members are conducting final preparations before next week’s launch to the orbital laboratory.

Image above: One-Year crew members Mikhail Kornienko (left) and Scott Kelly talk to journalists on Earth Thursday morning about their year-long mission and the Pluto flyby. Watch the interview video: Image Credit: NASA TV.

Mission Control in Houston tracked a fragment of an old weather satellite and predicted a possible conjunction with the station at 8:01 a.m. EDT. Flight Director Ed Van Cise then ordered Commander Gennady Padalka and One-Year crew members Scott Kelly and Mikhail Kornienko to take shelter in their docked Soyuz TMA-16M spacecraft as a precaution. After a safe pass, the crew then went back to work resuming normal station operations.

A new trio of space station crew members arrived at the Baikonur Cosmodrome on Friday to complete mission preparations. In space, the orbital residents began a series of Cubesat deployments.

Image above: Expedition 44 crew members Kjell Lindgren , Oleg Kononenko and Kimiya Yui pose with their Sokol launch and entry suits July 11 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Image Credits: Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center.

On board the International Space Station, One-Year crew member Scott Kelly set up the Japanese Kibo airlock for Cubesat deployments this week. Kelly also explored fluid physics for the Capillary Beverage study. Cosmonauts Gennady Padalka and Mikhail Kornienko studied liquid crystals and observed chemical reactions in the Earth’s upper atmosphere.

International Space Station (ISS). Image Credit: NASA

Back on Earth, three new Expedition 44 crew members from the U.S., Russia and Japan are counting down to their July 22 launch aboard the Soyuz TMA-17M spacecraft. The trio consisting of Soyuz Commander Oleg Kononenko and Flight Engineers Kjell Lindgren and Kimiya Yui are at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan for final prelaunch activities while engineers inspect their Soyuz vehicle before next week’s roll out to the launch pad.

Related links:


Capillary Beverage study:

Liquid crystals study:

Expedition 44:

One-Year Crew:

International Space Station (ISS):

Images (mentioned), Text, Credit: NASA.


New Horizons Discovers Frozen Plains, Extended Atmosphere of Pluto’s ‘Heart’

NASA - New Horizons Mission logo.

July 17, 2015

Image above: In the center left of Pluto’s vast heart-shaped feature – informally named “Tombaugh Regio” - lies a vast, craterless plain that appears to be no more than 100 million years old, and is possibly still being shaped by geologic processes. This frozen region is north of Pluto’s icy mountains and has been informally named Sputnik Planum (Sputnik Plain), after Earth’s first artificial satellite. The surface appears to be divided into irregularly-shaped segments that are ringed by narrow troughs. Features that appear to be groups of mounds and fields of small pits are also visible. This image was acquired by the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) on July 14 from a distance of 48,000 miles (77,000 kilometers). Features as small as one-half mile (1 kilometer) across are visible. The blocky appearance of some features is due to compression of the image. Image Credits: NASA/JHUAPL/SWRI.

In the latest data from NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft, a new close-up image of Pluto reveals a vast, craterless plain that appears to be no more than 100 million years old, and is possibly still being shaped by geologic processes. This frozen region is north of Pluto’s icy mountains, in the center-left of the heart feature, informally named “Tombaugh Regio” (Tombaugh Region) after Clyde Tombaugh, who discovered Pluto in 1930.

“This terrain is not easy to explain,” said Jeff Moore, leader of the New Horizons Geology, Geophysics and Imaging Team (GGI) at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California. “The discovery of vast, craterless, very young plains on Pluto exceeds all pre-flyby expectations.”

This fascinating icy plains region -- resembling frozen mud cracks on Earth -- has been informally named “Sputnik Planum” (Sputnik Plain) after the Earth’s first artificial satellite. It has a broken surface of irregularly-shaped segments, roughly 12 miles (20 kilometers) across, bordered by what appear to be shallow troughs. Some of these troughs have darker material within them, while others are traced by clumps of hills that appear to rise above the surrounding terrain. Elsewhere, the surface appears to be etched by fields of small pits that may have formed by a process called sublimation, in which ice turns directly from solid to gas, just as dry ice does on Earth.

Scientists have two working theories as to how these segments were formed. The irregular shapes may be the result of the contraction of surface materials, similar to what happens when mud dries. Alternatively, they may be a product of convection, similar to wax rising in a lava lamp. On Pluto, convection would occur within a surface layer of frozen carbon monoxide, methane and nitrogen, driven by the scant warmth of Pluto’s interior.

Pluto’s icy plains also display dark streaks that are a few miles long. These streaks appear to be aligned in the same direction and may have been produced by winds blowing across the frozen surface.

Artist's view of New Horizons passing over Pluto. Image Credit: NASA

The Tuesday “heart of the heart” image was taken when New Horizons was 48,000 miles (77,000 kilometers) from Pluto, and shows features as small as one-half mile (1 kilometer) across. Mission scientists will learn more about these mysterious terrains from higher-resolution and stereo images that New Horizons will pull from its digital recorders and send back to Earth during the next year.                                                               

The New Horizons Atmospheres team observed Pluto’s atmosphere as far as 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometers) above the surface, demonstrating that Pluto’s nitrogen-rich atmosphere is quite extended. This is the first observation of Pluto’s atmosphere at altitudes higher than 170 miles above the surface (270 kilometers).

The New Horizons Particles and Plasma team has discovered a region of cold, dense ionized gas tens of thousands of miles beyond Pluto -- the planet’s atmosphere being stripped away by the solar wind and lost to space.

“This is just a first tantalizing look at Pluto’s plasma environment,” said New Horizons co-investigator Fran Bagenal, University of Colorado, Boulder.

"With the flyby in the rearview mirror, a decade-long journey to Pluto is over --but, the science payoff is only beginning,” said Jim Green, director of Planetary Science at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "Data from New Horizons will continue to fuel discovery for years to come.”  

Alan Stern, New Horizons principal investigator from the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), Boulder, Colorado, added, “We’ve only scratched the surface of our Pluto exploration, but it already seems clear to me that in the initial reconnaissance of the solar system, the best was saved for last."

Image above: Frozen Carbon Monoxide in Pluto’s 'Heart'. Peering closely at the “heart of Pluto,” in the western half of what mission scientists have informally named Tombaugh Regio  (Tombaugh Region), New Horizons’ Ralph instrument revealed evidence of carbon monoxide ice.  The contours indicate that the concentration of frozen carbon monoxide increases towards the center of the “bull’s eye.” These data were acquired by the spacecraft on July 14 and transmitted to Earth on July 16. Image Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SWRI.

New Horizons Reveals Pluto’s Extended Atmosphere

Scientists working with NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft have observed Pluto’s atmosphere as far as 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometers) above the surface of the planet, demonstrating that Pluto’s nitrogen-rich atmosphere is quite extended. This is the first observation of Pluto’s atmosphere at altitudes higher than 170 miles above the planet’s surface (270 kilometers).

The new information was gathered by New Horizon’s Alice imaging spectrograph during a carefully designed alignment of the sun, Pluto, and the spacecraft starting about an hour after the craft’s closest approach to the planet on July 14. During the event known as a solar occultation, New Horizons passed through Pluto’s shadow while the sun backlit Pluto’s atmosphere.

“This is only the beginning for Pluto atmospheric science” says New Horizons scientist Andrew Steffl of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado. “Next month, the full Alice occultation dataset will be sent to Earth for analysis. Even so, the data we have now show that Pluto’s atmosphere rises higher above its surface, in relative terms, than does the Earth’s.” 

Alice Occultation - Gladstone

Video above: This animation shows how the count rate observed by New Horizons’ Alice instrument decreases as Pluto’s atmosphere passes in front of the sun. The decreasing count rate is due to the ultraviolet sunlight having to pass through progressively larger amounts of the atmosphere as the spacecraft line of sight gets closer to Pluto. The observed count rates are compared with predictions based on two plausible models of Pluto’s atmosphere: a “turbulent” case, where the expected count rate is relatively large, due to small amounts of sunlight-absorbing hydrocarbons in the lower atmosphere, and a “stagnant” case, where much larger hydrocarbon abundances are predicted. The preliminary count rate data from Alice are matched by neither model, but are closer to the stagnant case. Video Credits: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI.

Image above: This figure shows how the Alice instrument count rate changed over time during the sunset and sunrise observations. The count rate is largest when the line of sight to the sun is outside of the atmosphere at the start and end times. Molecular nitrogen (N2) starts absorbing sunlight in the upper reaches of Pluto’s atmosphere, decreasing as the spacecraft approaches the planet’s shadow. As the occultation progresses, atmospheric methane and hydrocarbons can also absorb the sunlight and further decrease the count rate. When the spacecraft is totally in Pluto’s shadow the count rate goes to zero. As the spacecraft emerges from Pluto’s shadow into sunrise, the process is reversed. By plotting the observed count rate in the reverse time direction, it is seen that the atmospheres on opposite sides of Pluto are nearly identical. Image Credits: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI.

Image above: This figure shows the locations of the sunset and sunrise solar occultations observed by the Alice instrument on the New Horizons spacecraft. The sunset occultation occurred just south of the “heart” region of Pluto, from a range of 30,120 miles (48,200 km), while the sunrise occurred just north of the "whale tail", from a range of 35,650 miles (57,000 km). Image Credits: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI.

Pluto Wags its Tail: New Horizons Discovers a Cold, Dense Region of Atmospheric Ions Behind Pluto

Image above: Artist’s concept of the interaction of the solar wind (the supersonic outflow of electrically charged particles from the Sun) with Pluto’s predominantly nitrogen atmosphere. Some of the molecules that form the atmosphere have enough energy to overcome Pluto’s weak gravity and escape into space, where they are ionized by solar ultraviolet radiation. As the solar wind encounters the obstacle formed by the ions, it is slowed and diverted (depicted in the red region), possibly forming a shock wave upstream of Pluto. The ions are “picked up” by the solar wind and carried in its flow past the dwarf planet to form an ion or plasma tail (blue region). The Solar Wind around Pluto (SWAP) instrument on the New Horizons spacecraft made the first measurements of this region of low-energy atmospheric ions shortly after closest approach on July 14. Such measurements will enable the SWAP team to determine the rate at which Pluto loses its atmosphere and, in turn, will yield insight into the evolution of the Pluto’s atmosphere and surface. Also illustrated are the orbits of Pluto’s five moons and the trajectory of the spacecraft. Image Credits: NASA/APL/SwRI.

New Horizons has discovered a region of cold, dense ionized gas tens of thousands of miles beyond Pluto -- the planet’s atmosphere being stripped away by the solar wind and lost to space. Beginning an hour and half after closest approach, the Solar Wind Around Pluto (SWAP) instrument observed a cavity in the solar wind -- the outflow of electrically charged particles from the Sun -- between 48,000 miles (77,000 km) and 68,000 miles (109,000 km) downstream of Pluto. SWAP data revealed this cavity to be populated with nitrogen ions forming a “plasma tail” of undetermined structure and length extending behind the planet.

Similar plasma tails are observed at planets like Venus and Mars. In the case of Pluto’s predominantly nitrogen atmosphere, escaping molecules are ionized by solar ultraviolet light, “picked up” by the solar wind, and carried past Pluto to form the plasma tail discovered by New Horizons. Prior to closest approach, nitrogen ions were detected far upstream of Pluto by the Pluto Energetic Particle Spectrometer Science Investigation (PEPSSI) instrument, providing a foretaste of Pluto’s escaping atmosphere.

Plasma tail formation is but one fundamental aspect of Pluto’s solar wind interaction, the nature of which is determined by several yet poorly constrained factors. Of these, perhaps the most important is the atmospheric loss rate. “This is just a first tantalizing look at Pluto’s plasma environment,” says co-investigator Fran Bagenal, University of Colorado, Boulder, who leads the New Horizons Particles and Plasma team. “We’ll be getting more data in August, which we can combine with the Alice and Rex atmospheric measurements to pin down the rate at which Pluto is losing its atmosphere. Once we know that, we’ll be able to answer outstanding questions about the evolution of Pluto’s atmosphere and surface and determine to what extent Pluto’s solar wind interaction is like that of Mars.”

New Horizons is part of NASA’s New Frontiers Program, managed by the agency’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. 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. SwRI leads the mission, science team, payload operations and encounter science planning.

Follow the New Horizons mission on Twitter and use the hashtag #PlutoFlyby to join the conversation. Live updates are also available on the mission Facebook page. and

For more information on the New Horizons mission, including fact sheets, schedules, video and new images, visit: and

Images (mentioned), Video (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Dwayne Brown/Laurie Cantillo/Gina Anderson/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Mike Buckley/Southwest Research Institute/Maria Stothoff.

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jeudi 16 juillet 2015

STEREO-A Spacecraft Returns Data From the Far Side of the Sun

STEREO - Solar TErrestrial RElations Observatory logo.

July 16, 2015

This image of the sun was taken on July 15, 2015, with the Extreme Ultraviolet Imager onboard NASA's Solar TErrestrial RElations Observatory Ahead (STEREO-A) spacecraft, which collects images in several wavelengths of light that are invisible to the human eye. This image shows the sun in wavelengths of 171 angstroms, which are typically colorized in blue. STEREO-A has been on the far side of the sun since March 24, where it had to operate in safe mode, collecting and saving data from its radio instrument. The first images in over three months were received from STEREO-A on July 11.

The three-month safe mode period was necessary because of the geometry between Earth, the sun, and STEREO-A. STEREO-A orbits the sun as Earth does, but in a slightly smaller and faster orbit.  The orbit ensured that over the course of years, Earth and the spacecraft got out of sync, with STEREO-A ending up on the other side of the sun from Earth, where it could show us views of our star that we couldn’t see from home. Though the sun only physically blocked STEREO-A from Earth’s line of sight for a few days, STEREO-A was close enough to the sun—from our perspective -- that from March 24 until July 8, the sun interfered with STEREO-A’s data transmission signal, making it impossible to interpret.

As STEREO-A kept orbiting, it eventually made its way far enough from the sun to come out of this transmission dark zone. In late June, the STEREO-A team began receiving status updates from the spacecraft, confirming that it had made it through its long safe-mode journey unharmed.

STEREO is the third mission in NASA's Solar Terrestrial Probes program (STP). The mission, launched in October 2006, has provided a unique and revolutionary view of the sun-Earth system. The two nearly identical observatories - one ahead of Earth in its orbit, the other trailing behind - have traced the flow of energy and matter from the sun to Earth.

For more information about STEREO:

Image, Text, Credits: NASA/STEREO/Sarah Loff.


Getting to know Rosetta’s comet: boundary conditions

ESA - Rosetta Mission patch.

July 16, 2015

In January the first maps of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko were published, identifying 19 geomorphologically distinct regions on its surface. Six months on and much more work has been done on refining the boundaries between these regions. This blog post showcases some of the OSIRIS images acquired from close orbit and presented in a new paper that have enabled an in-depth study of the different regions and their boundaries. This post was prepared with inputs from lead author M. Ramy El-Maarry from the University of Bern, who introduces this post with an inside story on how some of the regional names were chosen:

Images above: OSIRIS images showing Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko in different orientations. Rotation axes have been added; in the middle two panels the rotation axis is almost toward the viewer, that is, providing a north polar view. Right: the same images with regional boundaries and nomenclature added. Images Credits: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA.

“Early on in the mapping phase, we decided on naming the regions of the comet using names of ancient Egyptian deities. We wanted to adhere to the ancient Egyptian theme of the mission and have a large inventory of names if needed. Luckily, ancient Egyptians had so many deities in their long history that made this an easy decision. Moreover, many of the names were catchy, easy to remember, and more importantly, easy to pronounce. I remember we initially tried using names of ancient cities and we were coming across a lot of names that were very difficult to wrap your tongue around, even for an Egyptian like me! So we decided to use the following naming convention: gods for the ‘body’ lobe and goddesses for the ‘head’. We picked Hapi for the neck since Hapi is the Nile god, and we figured that he should separate the lobes in the same way that the Nile splits Egypt into an eastern and western side. Of course, there were obvious names to discard (such as Osiris!) so we decided to skip on all 'world-famous' gods such as R’a and Amun, partly because they have been used before in other missions, but also to introduce people to lesser-known names.

In another story, we decided on using Imhotep for one of the most notable regions on the comet. Imhotep was one of the most brilliant figures of the ancient world as a scientist, engineer, and a physician. Luckily for us, there were no Nobel prizes in ancient Egypt, so when Imhotep died, he was deified by ancient Egyptians to credit his accomplishments, which meant we could actually use his name as a nice tribute from our side!”

Around Aten, Aker, Babi and Khepry

This set of images focuses on a number of boundaries on the comet’s large lobe, in particular on the smaller regions Aten, Aker, Babi and Khepry, their relationship to each other and to the larger and perhaps more familiar Seth and Ash regions nearby. The transition into the smooth Hapi neck region is also indicated in the context image. The insets show interesting contrasts in surface textures at the boundaries of Aten and Babi (left) and Khepry, Babi and Aker (right).

Aten is dominated by a large elongate depression surrounded by the brittle and dusty material of Ash and Babi. El-Maarry et al suggest that its sharp sides and irregular shape could point to a rapid and perhaps violent burst of activity. The close-ups show rubble and boulders inside the depression, the largest of which reach up to 30m in diameter. The rubble suggests rock fall events, most likely from the rim of the depression.

The smooth deposits on the surrounds make a striking contrast and mark the boundary with Babi. In the middle inset (left) this dusty covering can be seen overlying regions of significant layering, which could be parts of Seth extending below the dusty deposits of Ash and into Babi. Indeed, Babi hosts one quasi-circular structure reminiscent of Seth that rises 60-80m over Khepry, marking the boundary in this area (see insets at top and middle right). Well-defined ridges also separate the lower-lying Babi from Aker and Seth.

Khepry and Aker both have a rough, consolidated appearance, exhibit linear markings but very few boulders. Aker has a slightly smoother surface texture than Khepry but they both contain very smooth patches 50–100m across that are located in topographical lows. The inset at bottom right shows a close-up view of one of these smooth deposits close to the Khepry-Aker border.

From Anubis and Atum to Hapi and Anuket

This image set highlights the boundaries between Anubis, Atum and Seth on the large lobe, and the transition between the neck and Anuket on the small lobe.

Atum is a rather complex, rough-textured region with linear features that are similar to some of the structures observed in Imhotep and interpreted as terraces resulting from erosion of an underlying layered terrain. Atum borders the smooth-textured Anubis region and almost encloses it, with a well-defined ridge separating it from Seth.

A notable feature between the boundary of Anubis with Atum is a set of parallel curved lineaments. This feature could indicate possible folding of the surface, or the surface expression of buried terraces.

Nearby, Atum shares a boundary with the Anuket region on the head lobe, the latter of which appears to traverse the neck region in an area devoid of the smooth deposits that define the transitional Hapi region.

Anuket has a rough surface with numerous boulders but appears to smooth out away from the neck and toward the boundary with dust-covered Ma’at. The smoother regions seen in Anuket are patches of dust, suggesting that material similar to that of Anuket’s surface may extend underneath the dust-covered Ma’at region.

On the head: Ma’at, Maftet, Nut and Serqet

The Nut depression and Serqet are two of the smallest regions on the surface of the comet in terms of surface area, but yet show significant morphological diversity. The Serqet region is defined by a ridge of consolidated material with an adjacent flat and smooth, dusty plain, which forms the rim of Nut. Nut is classified as a depression and is extensively infilled with boulders, perhaps from the erosion of Serqet and an influx of dust similar to that seen in Ma’at.

Ma’at’s dust-covered texture resembles Ash on the comet’s body. It also exhibits sharp outcrops of materials emerging from the dust, which show similarities to the more consolidated material in Anuket. Ma’at grades into Maftet where the dust gradually thins out into rough, terraced and fractured terrain pockmarked with irregularly shaped shallow depressions. Patches of the fading dusty material along this boundary show a pitted texture, which El-Maarry et al suggest is an ice-rich material that may be undergoing desiccation through sublimation. The dust covered regions both on the head and on the body of the comet are likely linked to ‘airfall’ deposition from more active regions.

Explore the comet in 3D

Further details of the comet’s boundaries are provided in stunning anaglyph images that are possible when two images of similar spatial resolution and illumination are taken of the same region and can be appropriately co-registered. The following anaglyphs were used to identify and assess topographical boundaries between adjacent regions and changes in relief in the latest study. To best enjoy the 3D effect, please use red-blue/green “3D” glasses.

Image above: OSIRIS narrow-angle camera image showing the smooth nature of the dust covering the Ash region and highlighting the contrast with the more brittle material exposed underneath in Seth. Image Credits: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA.

Image above: OSIRIS narrow-angle camera mosaic of two images showing an oblique view of the Atum region and its contact with Apis, the flat region in the foreground. This region is rough and pitted, with very few boulders. Image Credits: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA.

Image above: OSIRIS narrow-angle camera image highlighting an alcove structure at the Hathor-Anuket boundary on the comet’s small lobe. The layering seen in the alcove could be indicative of the internal structure of the comet. Image Credits: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA.

Non-anaglyph versions of these images, along with individual images of the insets seen in the context images in this post, are available via the ESA web portal gallery:

"Regional surface morphology of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko from Rosetta/OSIRIS images" by M. R. El-Maarry et al is accepted for publication in Astronomy & Astrophysics:

For more information about Rosetta mission, visit:

Rosetta blog:

About Rosetta:

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

For more information about Rosetta mission, visit:

Where is Rosetta?:

Rosetta overview:

Rosetta in depth:

Rosetta factsheet:

Frequently asked questions:

Images, Text, Credits: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA.


Jupiter Twin Discovered Around Solar Twin

ESO - European Southern Observatory logo.

16 July 2015

Brazilian-led team leading the search for a Solar System 2.0

Artist’s Impression of a Jupiter twin orbiting HIP 11915

An international group of astronomers has used the ESO 3.6-metre telescope to identify a planet just like Jupiter orbiting at the same distance from a Sun-like star, HIP 11915. According to current theories, the formation of Jupiter-mass planets plays an important role in shaping the architecture of planetary systems. The existence of a Jupiter-mass planet in a Jupiter-like orbit around a Sun-like star opens the possibility that the system of planets around this star may be similar to our own Solar System. HIP 11915 is about the same age as the Sun and, furthermore, its Sun-like composition suggests that there may also be rocky planets orbiting closer to the star.

So far, exoplanet surveys have been most sensitive to planetary systems that are populated in their inner regions by massive planets, down to a few times the mass of the Earth [1]. This contrasts with our Solar System, where there are small rocky planets in the inner regions and gas giants like Jupiter farther out.

According to the most recent theories, the arrangement of our Solar System, so conducive to life, was made possible by the presence of Jupiter and the gravitational influence this gas giant exerted on the Solar System during its formative years. It would seem, therefore, that finding a Jupiter twin is an important milestone on the road to finding a planetary system that mirrors our own.

The star HIP 11915 in the constellation of Cetus

A Brazilian-led team has been targeting Sun-like stars in a bid to find planetary systems similar to our Solar System. The team has now uncovered a planet with a very similar mass to Jupiter [2], orbiting a Sun-like star, HIP 11915, at almost exactly the same distance as Jupiter. The new discovery was made using HARPS, one of the world’s most precise planet-hunting instruments, mounted on the ESO 3.6-metre telescope at the La Silla Observatory in Chile.

Although many planets similar to Jupiter have been found [3] at a variety of distances from Sun-like stars, this newly discovered planet, in terms of both mass and distance from its host star, and in terms of the similarity between the host star and our Sun, is the most accurate analogue yet found for the Sun and Jupiter.

The planet’s host, the solar twin HIP 11915, is not only similar in mass to the Sun, but is also about the same age. To further strengthen the similarities, the composition of the star is similar to the Sun’s. The chemical signature of our Sun may be partly marked by the presence of rocky planets in the Solar System, hinting at the possibility of rocky planets also around HIP 11915.

According to Jorge Melendez, of the Universidade de São Paulo, Brazil, the leader of the team and co-author of the paper, “the quest for an Earth 2.0, and for a complete Solar System 2.0, is one of the most exciting endeavors in astronomy. We are thrilled to be part of this cutting-edge research, made possible by the observational facilities provided by ESO.” [4]

Artist’s Impression of a Jupiter twin orbiting HIP 11915

Megan Bedell, from the University of Chicago and lead author of the paper, concludes: “After two decades of hunting for exoplanets, we are finally beginning to see long-period gas giant planets similar to those in our own Solar System thanks to the long-term stability of planet hunting instruments like HARPS. This discovery is, in every respect, an exciting sign that other solar systems may be out there waiting to be discovered.”

Follow-up observations are needed to confirm and constrain the finding, but HIP 11915 is one of the most promising candidates so far to host a planetary system similar to our own.


[1] The current detection techniques are more sensitive to large or massive planets close to their host stars. Small and low-mass planets are mostly beyond our current capabilities. Giant planets that orbit far from their host star are also more difficult to detect. Consequently, many of the exoplanets we currently know are large and/or massive, and close to their stars.

[2] The planet was discovered by measuring the slight wobble it imposes on its host star while orbiting around it. As the inclination of the planet’s orbit is not known, only a lower limit to its mass can be estimated. Note that the activity of the star, which is linked to the variations of its magnetic field, could possibly mimic the signal that is interpreted as the signature of the planet. The astronomers have performed all the known tests to investigate this possibility, but it is currently impossible to completely rule it out.

[3] An example of another Jupiter Twin is the one around HD 154345, described here:

[4] Since the signature of the Brazilian accession agreement in December 2010, Brazilian astronomer have had full access to the ESO observing facilities.

More information:

This research was presented in a paper entitled “The Solar Twin Planet Search II. A Jupiter twin around a solar twin”, by M. Bedell et al., to appear in the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics.

The team is composed of M. Bedell (Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics, University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois, USA; Visiting Researcher at the Departamento de Astronomia do IAG/USP, Universidade de São Paulo, São Paulo, Brazil), J. Meléndez (Universidade de São Paulo, São Paulo, Brazil), J. L. Bean (Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics, University of Chicago), I. Ramírez (McDonald Observatory and Department of Astronomy, University of Texas, Austin, Texas, USA), M. Asplund (Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics, The Australian National University, Weston, Australia), A. Alves-Brito (Instituto de Fisica, Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul, Porto Alegre, Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil), L. Casagrande (Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics, Australia), S. Dreizler (Institut für Astrophysik, University of Göttingen, Germany), T. Monroe (Universidade de São Paulo, Brazil), L. Spina (Universidade de São Paulo, Brazil) and M. Tucci Maia (Universidade de São Paulo, Brazil).

ESO is the foremost intergovernmental astronomy organisation in Europe and the world’s most productive ground-based astronomical observatory by far. It is supported by 16 countries: Austria, Belgium, Brazil, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Finland, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, along with the host state of Chile. ESO carries out an ambitious programme focused on the design, construction and operation of powerful ground-based observing facilities enabling astronomers to make important scientific discoveries. ESO also plays a leading role in promoting and organising cooperation in astronomical research. ESO operates three unique world-class observing sites in Chile: La Silla, Paranal and Chajnantor. At Paranal, ESO operates the Very Large Telescope, the world’s most advanced visible-light astronomical observatory and two survey telescopes. VISTA works in the infrared and is the world’s largest survey telescope and the VLT Survey Telescope is the largest telescope designed to exclusively survey the skies in visible light. ESO is a major partner in ALMA, the largest astronomical project in existence. And on Cerro Armazones, close to Paranal, ESO is building the 39-metre European Extremely Large Telescope, the E-ELT, which will become “the world’s biggest eye on the sky”.


Research paper:

Photos of the ESO 3.6-metre telescope:

Related links:

ESO 3.6-metre telescope:

La Silla Observatory:


Images, Video, Text, Credits: ESO/L. Benassi/IAU and Sky & Telescope/M. Kornmesser.


mercredi 15 juillet 2015

Discovery of a new class of particles at the LHC

CERN - European Organization for Nuclear Research logo.

July 15, 2015

Image above: Possible layout of the quarks in a pentaquark particle. The five quarks might be tightly bound (left). They might also be assembled into a meson (one quark and one antiquark) and a baryon (three quarks), weakly bound together (Image: Daniel Dominguez).

The LHCb experiment at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider has reported the discovery of a class of particles known as pentaquarks. The collaboration has submitted today a paper reporting these findings (link is external) to the journal Physical Review Letters:

“The pentaquark is not just any new particle,” said LHCb spokesperson Guy Wilkinson. “It represents a way to aggregate quarks, namely the fundamental constituents of ordinary protons and neutrons, in a pattern that has never been observed before in over 50 years of experimental searches. Studying its properties may allow us to understand better how ordinary matter, the protons and neutrons from which we’re all made, is constituted.”

Our understanding of the structure of matter was revolutionized in 1964 when American physicist Murray Gell-Mann  proposed that a category of particles known as baryons, which includes protons and neutrons, are comprised of three fractionally charged objects called quarks, and that another category, mesons, are formed of quark-antiquark pairs. Antiquarks are quarks of antimatter. Gell-Mann was awarded the Nobel Prize in physics for this work in 1969. This quark model also allows the existence of other quark composite states, such as pentaquarks composed of four quarks and an antiquark.

Large Hadron Collider (LHC). Image Credit: CERN

Earlier experiments that have searched for pentaquarks have proved inconclusive. Where the LHCb experiment differs is that it has been able to look for pentaquarks from many perspectives, with all pointing to the same conclusion. It’s as if the previous searches were looking for silhouettes in the dark, whereas LHCb conducted the search with the lights on, and from all angles. The next step in the analysis will be to study how the quarks are bound together within the pentaquarks.


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.

Read the full Press Release:

Read the LHCb article:

Related links:

Large Hadron Collider (LHC):

LHCb experiment:


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

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


Ariane 5 orbits Star One C4 and MSG-4

Arianespace - Ariane Flight VA224 Mission poster.

July 15, 2015

Keeping up the pace: Ariane 5 orbits Star One C4 and MSG-4 on Arianespace’s sixth flight in 2015

Arianespace was back in action today with its Ariane 5 successfully launching the Meteosat Second Generation-4 (MSG-4) and Star One C4 satellites. Launch from the European Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana was on schedule at the start of a 37 minute launch window that opened at 9:42pm UTC.

Image above: Ariane 5 lifts off from the Spaceport in French Guiana to begin its successful Flight VA224 with Star One C4 and MSG-4, which were the 511th and 512th spacecraft launched by Arianespace.

Arianespace’s marked the halfway point in its fast-paced 2015 operational schedule today with the 66th consecutive successful Ariane 5 launch, which deployed two satellites into geostationary transfer orbits for very diverse roles.

Liftoff of Ariane 5 with Star One C4 and MSG-4

Ariane 5 Flight VA224 lifted off at the beginning of its launch window from the Spaceport’s ELA-3 launch complex in French Guiana with a mixed-mission satellite payload composed of the Star One C4 telecommunications relay platform for Embratel Star One and Eumetsat’s MSG-4 for meteorological monitoring.

Tonight’s flight was Arianespace’s sixth from French Guiana this year with its complete launcher family – underscoring the company’s ability to meet an increased mission pace, while it carries out its dual mission: to be a leader in commercial space transportation and guarantee Europe’s independent access to space.

In addition, the 40-minute flight marked another mission accomplished for Arianespace’s reliable heavy-lift Ariane 5, which carried a total payload of nearly 8,590 kg. on its 80th launch from the Spaceport in French Guiana.

Extended telecommunications services for Embratel Star One

Riding in the upper position, Embratel Star One’s Star One C4 was deployed first in the flight sequence at more than 28 minutes after liftoff. This telecommunications satellite – which was designed and built by SSL (Space Systems/Loral) – will reinforce direct-to-home services in Brazil, while expanding access to other Latin American countries, and the mainland United States for Embratel Star One, which is the largest satellite operator in South America.

Star One C4 satellite

The deployment of Star One C4 continues Embratel Star One’s 30-year collaboration with Arianespace, during which the launch service provider has lofted 10 satellites for this Brazilian operator.

Another step in Arianespace’s partnership with Eumetsat

Europe’s Eumetsat weather, climate and environmental monitoring organization is another long-time partner of Arianespace, with MSG-4’s successful separation some 40 minutes after liftoff marking the latest step in a relationship that extends back to Arianespace’s beginnings.

Produced by Thales Alenia Space, MSG-4 is the 12th satellite Eumetsat has entrusted to Arianespace, along with the fourth and final satellite in the Meteosat Second Generation (MSG) series of spacecraft, which play an important role in supporting the detection and forecasting of high-impact weather.

MSG-4 satellite

MSG-4 is being stored in orbit following its launch and commissioning. Once operational, it will be renamed Meteosat-11, and bridge the gap between Meteosat-10 (launched by Ariane 5 in 2012) and the first Meteosat Third Generation (MTG) satellites, which are planned for launch in 2019 and 2021.

Six launches… and counting

Flight VA224 was Arianespace’s third heavy-lift mission so far this year, following Flight VA223 on May 27 and Flight VA222 on April 26. Arianespace has also performed two light-lift Vega missions (Flight VV04 on February 11 and June 22’s Flight VV05), along with one flight of its medium-weight Soyuz vehicle: Flight VS11 on March 27.

For more information, see the VA224 launch kit:

For more information about Arianespace, visit:

Images, Video, Text, Credits: Arianespace/Thales Alenia Space/Eumetsat/ Aerospace.


From Mountains to Moons: Multiple Discoveries from NASA’s New Horizons Pluto Mission

NASA - New Horizons Mission logo.

July 15, 2015

Image above: New close-up images of a region near Pluto’s equator reveal a giant surprise -- a range of youthful mountains rising as high as 11,000 feet (3,500 meters) above the surface of the icy body. Image Credits: NASA/JHU APL/SwRI.

Icy mountains on Pluto and a new, crisp view of its largest moon, Charon, are among the several discoveries announced Wednesday by the NASA's New Horizons team, just one day after the spacecraft’s first ever Pluto flyby.

 Mountains on Pluto

"Pluto New Horizons is a true mission of exploration showing us why basic scientific research is so important," said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. "The mission has had nine years to build expectations about what we would see during closest approach to Pluto and Charon. Today, we get the first sampling of the scientific treasure collected during those critical moments, and I can tell you it dramatically surpasses those high expectations."

“Home run!” said Alan Stern, principal investigator for New Horizons at the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in Boulder, Colorado. “New Horizons is returning amazing results already. The data look absolutely gorgeous, and Pluto and Charon are just mind blowing."

A new close-up image of an equatorial region near the base of Pluto’s bright heart-shaped feature shows a mountain range with peaks jutting as high as 11,000 feet (3,500 meters) above the surface of the icy body.

Artist's view of New Horizons passing over Pluto. Image Credit: NASA

The mountains on Pluto likely formed no more than 100 million years ago -- mere youngsters in a 4.56-billion-year-old solar system. This suggests the close-up region, which covers about one percent of Pluto’s surface, may still be geologically active today.

“This is one of the youngest surfaces we’ve ever seen in the solar system,” said Jeff Moore of the New Horizons Geology, Geophysics and Imaging Team (GGI) at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California. 

Unlike the icy moons of giant planets, Pluto cannot be heated by gravitational interactions with a much larger planetary body. Some other process must be generating the mountainous landscape.

“This may cause us to rethink what powers geological activity on many other icy worlds,” says GGI deputy team leader John Spencer at SwRI.

The new view of Charon reveals a youthful and varied terrain. Scientists are surprised by the apparent lack of craters. A swath of cliffs and troughs stretching about 600 miles (1,000 kilometers) suggests widespread fracturing of Charon’s crust, likely the result of internal geological processes. The image also shows a canyon estimated to be 4 to 6 miles (7 to 9 kilometers) deep. In Charon’s north polar region, the dark surface markings have a diffuse boundary, suggesting a thin deposit or stain on the surface.

Image above: Charon’s Surprising, Youthful and Varied Terrain. Image Credit: NASA-JHUAPL-SwRI.

New Horizons also observed the smaller members of the Pluto system, which includes four other moons: Nix, Hydra, Styx and Kerberos. A new sneak-peak image of Hydra is the first to reveal its apparent irregular shape and its size, estimated to be about 27 by 20 miles (43 by 33 kilometers).

The observations also indicate Hydra's surface is probably coated with water ice. Future images will reveal more clues about the formation of this and the other moon billions of years ago. Spectroscopic data from New Horizons’ Ralph instruments reveal an abundance of methane ice, but with striking differences among regions across the frozen surface of Pluto.

Image above: Pluto: The Ice Plot Thickens. Image Credit: NASA-JHUAPL-SwRI.

The latest spectra from New Horizons Ralph instrument reveal an abundance of methane ice, but with striking differences from place to place across the frozen surface of Pluto.

“We just learned that in the north polar cap, methane ice is diluted in a thick, transparent slab of nitrogen ice resulting in strong absorption of infrared light,” said New Horizons co-investigator Will Grundy, Lowell Observatory, Flagstaff, Arizona.  In one of the visually dark equatorial patches, the methane ice has shallower infrared absorptions indicative of a very different texture.  “The spectrum appears as if the ice is less diluted in nitrogen,” Grundy speculated “or that it has a different texture in that area.”

An Earthly example of different textures of a frozen substance:  a fluffy bank of clean snow is bright white, but compacted polar ice looks blue.  New Horizons’ surface composition team, led by Grundy, has begun the intricate process of analyzing Ralph data to determine the detailed compositions of the distinct regions on Pluto.

This is the first detailed image of Pluto from the Linear Etalon Imaging Spectral Array, part of the Ralph instrument on New Horizons.  The observations were made at three wavelengths of infrared light, which are invisible to the human eye. In this picture, blue corresponds to light of wavelengths 1.62 to 1.70 micrometers, a channel covering a medium-strong absorption band of methane ice, green (1.97 to 2.05 micrometers) represents a channel where methane ice does not absorb light, and red (2.30 to 2.33 micrometers) is a channel where the light is very heavily absorbed by methane ice.  The two areas outlined on Pluto show where Ralph observations obtained the spectral traces at the right.  Note that the methane absorptions (notable dips) in the spectrum from the northern region are much deeper than the dips in the spectrum from the dark patch.  The Ralph data were obtained by New Horizons on July 12, 2015.

Image above: Hydra Emerges from the Shadows. Image Credit: NASA-JHUAPL-SwRI.

Since its discovery in 2005, Pluto's moon Hydra has been known only as a fuzzy dot of uncertain shape, size, and reflectivity. Imaging obtained during New Horizons' historic transit of the Pluto-Charon system and transmitted to Earth early this morning has definitively resolved these fundamental properties of Pluto's outermost moon. Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) observations revealed an irregularly shaped body characterized by significant brightness variations over the surface. With a resolution of 2 miles (3 kilometers) per pixel, the LORRI image shows the tiny potato-shaped moon measures 27 miles (43 kilometers) by 20 miles (33 kilometers).

Like that of Charon, Hydra's surface is probably covered with water ice, the most abundant ice in the universe. Observed within Hydra's bright regions is a darker circular structure with a diameter of approximately 6 miles (10 kilometers). Hydra's reflectivity (the percentage of incident light reflected from the surface) is intermediate between that of Pluto and Charon. "New Horizons has finally nailed the basic physical properties of Hydra," says Hal Weaver, New Horizons Project Scientist and LORRI science operations lead. "We're going to see Hydra even better in the images yet to come."

Hydra was approximately 400,000 miles away from New Horizons when the image was acquired.

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. SwRI leads the mission, science team, payload operations and encounter science planning. New Horizons is part of NASA’s New Frontiers Program, managed by the agency’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

Follow the New Horizons mission on Twitter and use the hashtag #PlutoFlyby to join the conversation. Live updates also will be available on the mission Facebook page:

For more information on the New Horizons mission, including fact sheets, schedules, video and all the new images, visit: and

Images (mentioned), Video, Text, Credits: NASA/Dwayne Brown/Laurie Cantillo/Karen Northon/Tricia Talbert/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Mike Buckley/Southwest Research Institute/Maria Stothoff.

Best regards,

Solar Impulse grounded several months in Hawaii

SolarImpulse - Around The World patch.

July 15, 2015

The batteries of the solar aircraft suffered "irreversible" damage during flight between Nagoya (Japan) and Hawaii, said Wednesday the operation's press service.

Solar Impulse 2 landing in Hawaii

Solar Impulse must remain in Hawaii (USA) through early spring 2016. The batteries of the solar aircraft suffered "irreversible" damage during flight between Nagoya (Japan) and Hawaii, said Wednesday press service of the operation.

Solar Impulse must remain in Hawaii (USA) through early spring 2016. The damage to some parts of the batteries need repairs that will last "several months." Meanwhile, the Solar Impulse team will study various alternatives for better cooling or heating devices for very long flights, the statement said.

During the first ascent of the first day of the flight between Nagoya and Hawaii, the battery temperature has risen because of the high degree of slope and excess insulation. Despite efforts by the Solar Impulse team, it was not possible to reduce the temperature thereafter.


The damage to the batteries are not "technical failure or technological weakness but rather a poor assessment of the mission profile and the battery cooling system. The battery temperature during ascents and descents in a tropical climate had not been planned properly, "writes Solar Impulse.

Solar Impulse 2 landed in Hawaii, exposed on the hangar of the airport

Solar Impulse has however not give up because of this problem. The solar airplane of Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg will try to complete his world tour in 2016. This delay will do nothing to change the goals of this pioneering company, the statement said.

Party Abu Dhabi on March 9, Solar Impulse 2 has accomplished so far almost 18,000 kilometers. It landed on July 3 on the island of Oahu after a Pacific crossing from Japan 8200 km.

Related article:

A battery problem grounded in Hawaii Solar Impulse 2:

For more information about SolarImpulse Around The World, visit:

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


NASA's New Horizons ‘Phones Home’ Safe after Pluto Flyby

NASA - New Horizons Mission patch.

July 15, 2015

Image above: New Horizons Flight Controllers celebrate after they received confirmation from the spacecraft that it had successfully completed the flyby of Pluto, Tuesday, July 14, 2015 in the Mission Operations Center (MOC) of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL), Laurel, Maryland. Image Credits: NASA/Bill Ingalls.

The call everyone was waiting for is in. NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft phoned home just before 9 p.m. EDT Tuesday to tell the mission team and the world it had accomplished the historic first-ever flyby of Pluto.

“I know today we’ve inspired a whole new generation of explorers with this great success, and we look forward to the discoveries yet to come,” NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said. “This is a historic win for science and for exploration. We’ve truly, once again raised the bar of human potential.”

Artist's view of New Horizons passing over Pluto. Image Credit: NASA

The preprogrammed “phone call” -- a 15-minute series of status messages beamed back to mission operations at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Maryland through NASA’s Deep Space Network -- ended a very suspenseful 21-hour waiting period. New Horizons had been instructed to spend the day gathering the maximum amount of data, and not communicating with Earth until it was beyond the Pluto system. 

“With the successful flyby of Pluto we are celebrating the capstone event in a golden age of planetary exploration,” said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “While this historic event is still unfolding --with the most exciting Pluto science still ahead of us -- a new era of solar system exploration is just beginning.  NASA missions will unravel the mysteries of Mars, Jupiter, Europa and worlds around other suns in the coming years."

Views of Pluto From New Horizons' Approach

Video above: A series of images shows New Horizons' view of Pluto during the final week of its almost 10-year, three-billion-mile journey.

Pluto is the first Kuiper Belt object visited by a mission from Earth. New Horizons will continue on its adventure deeper into the Kuiper Belt, where thousands of objects hold frozen clues as to how the solar system formed.

“Following in the footsteps of planetary exploration missions such as Mariner, Pioneer and Voyager, New Horizons has triumphed at Pluto,” says New Horizons principal investigator Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado. “The New Horizons flyby completes the first era of planetary reconnaissance, a half century long endeavor that will forever be a legacy of our time."

Image above: Pluto nearly fills the frame in this image from the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) aboard NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft, taken on July 13, 2015 when the spacecraft was 476,000 miles (768,000 kilometers) from the surface. This is the last and most detailed image sent to Earth before the spacecraft’s closest approach to Pluto on July 14. The color image has been combined with lower-resolution color information from the Ralph instrument that was acquired earlier on July 13. This view is dominated by the large, bright feature informally named the “heart,” which measures approximately 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometers) across. The heart borders darker equatorial terrains, and the mottled terrain to its east (right) are complex. However, even at this resolution, much of the heart’s interior appears remarkably featureless—possibly a sign of ongoing geologic processes. Image Credits: NASA/APL/SwRI.

New Horizons is collecting so much data it will take 16 months to send it all back to Earth.

“On behalf of everyone at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, I want to congratulate the New Horizons team for the dedication, skill, creativity, and determination they demonstrated to reach this historic milestone,” said APL Director Ralph Semmel. “We are proud to be a part of a truly amazing team of scientists, engineers, and mission operations experts from across our nation who worked tirelessly to ensure the success of this mission.”

Image above: Pluto nearly fills the frame in this black and white image from the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) aboard NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft, taken on July 13, 2015 when the spacecraft was 476,000 miles (768,000 kilometers) from the surface. This is the last and most detailed image sent to Earth before the spacecraft’s closest approach to Pluto on July 14. Image Credits: NASA/APL/SwRI.

Charon’s Newly-Discovered System of Chasms

Images above: Charon’s newly-discovered system of chasms, larger than the Grand Canyon on Earth, rotates out of view in New Horizons’ sharpest image yet of the Texas-sized moon. It’s trailed by a large equatorial impact crater that is ringed by bright rays of ejected material. In this latest image, the dark north polar region is displaying new and intriguing patterns. This image was taken on July 12 from a distance of 1.6 million miles (2.5 million kilometers). Image credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SWRI.

APL designed, built and operates the New Horizons spacecraft and manages the mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. SwRI leads the mission, science team, payload operations and encounter science planning. New Horizons is part of NASA’s New Frontiers Program, managed by the agency’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

Follow the New Horizons mission on Twitter and use the hashtag #PlutoFlyby to join the conversation. Live updates also will be available on the mission Facebook page:

For more information on the New Horizons mission, including fact sheets, schedules, video and images, visit: and

Images (mentioned), Video, Text, Credits: NASA/Dwayne Brown/Laurie Cantillo/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Mike Buckley/Southwest Research Institute/Maria Stothoff/Sarah Ramsey.