samedi 25 juillet 2015

Chinese Long March 3B launches dual Beidou satellites

BeiDou Navigation Satellite System logo.

July 25, 2015

Long March 3B launches dual Beidou satellites

China launched a new pair of navigation satellites in the move to advance the completion of the Phase III of its Beidou program. The launch took place at 12:29 UTC from the LC launch comple of the Xichang Satellite Launch Center, using for the first time the combination of the Long March-3B rocket with the new Expedition-1 (Yuanzheng-1) upper stage.

Beidou navigation satellite

The Beidou Phase III system includes the migration of its civil Beidou 1 or B1 signal from 1561.098 MHz to a frequency centered at 1575.42 MHz, the same as the GPS L1 and Galileo E1 civil signals.

Its transformation from a quadrature phase shift keying (QPSK) modulation to a multiplexed binary offset carrier (MBOC) modulation is similar to the future GPS L1C and Galileo’s E1.

Image above: Compass/Beidou constellation will consist of five geosynchronous (GEO) satellites, 27 in medium-Earth orbit (MEO), and three in highly-inclined geosynchronous orbits.

The long-term goal is to develop a global navigation satellite network similar to the GPS and GLONASS by 2020, eventually consisting a constellation of 35 vehicles, including 27 MEO (21,500 km orbits) satellites, three IGSO satellites (inclined at 55 degrees) and five GSO satellites.

For more information about China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC), visit:

Images, Text, Credits: CASAC/News.CN/Wikimedia/ Aerospace.


vendredi 24 juillet 2015

Hubble Looks in on a Galactic Nursery

NASA - Hubble Space Telescope patch.

July 24, 2015

This dramatic image shows the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope’s view of dwarf galaxy known as NGC 1140, which lies 60 million light-years away in the constellation of Eridanus. As can be seen in this image NGC 1140 has an irregular form, much like the Large Magellanic Cloud — a small galaxy that orbits the Milky Way.

This small galaxy is undergoing what is known as a starburst. Despite being almost ten times smaller than the Milky Way it is creating stars at about the same rate, with the equivalent of one star the size of our sun being created per year. This is clearly visible in the image, which shows the galaxy illuminated by bright, blue-white, young stars.

Galaxies like NGC 1140 — small, starbursting and containing large amounts of primordial gas with far fewer elements heavier than hydrogen and helium than are present in our sun — are of particular interest to astronomers. Their composition makes them similar to the intensely star-forming galaxies in the early Universe. And these early Universe galaxies were the building blocks of present-day large galaxies like our galaxy, the Milky Way. But, as they are so far away these early Universe galaxies are harder to study so these closer starbursting galaxies are a good substitute for learning more about galaxy evolution.

The vigorous star formation will have a very destructive effect on this small dwarf galaxy in its future. When the larger stars in the galaxy die, and explode as supernovae, gas is blown into space and may easily escape the gravitational pull of the galaxy. The ejection of gas from the galaxy means it is throwing out its potential for future stars as this gas is one of the building blocks of star formation. NGC 1140’s starburst cannot last for long.

Hubble orbiting Earth

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

For more information about Hubble Space Telescope, visit:

Hubble Space Telescope:

Hubble websites: and

Image, Credits: ESA/Hubble & NASA, Video (ESA), Text, Credit: European Space Agency (ESA)/Ashley Morrow.


Celestia Aerospace, ready to design, build and launch nano-satellites from Spain

Celestia Aerospace logo.

July 24, 2015

In recent years, artificial nano-satellites based on miniature standard Cubesat have become very interesting for institutions and companies who want to place experiments in space at a relatively affordable cost alternative.

But his biggest problem is just to get them into space.

Three CubeSat make their flight from the ISS. Image Credit: NASA

Typically leverage excess capacity in other pitches to load coupled to, or take advantage of capsules shipments of cargo to the International Space Station, from where you can also pitch.

What happens is that this conditional releases to the main burdens of these are ready, which can lead to delays of years.

Celestia Aerospace, a Spanish company, has been raised to create an alternative to this and offer pitches in a maximum of two weeks.

For this they use a Mig-29UB fighter demilitarized who have dubbed Archer 1 from a height of 20 kilometers nano-satellites (Cubesat) using demilitarized launch missiles baptized here as Space Arrow.

Space Arrow CM and Space Arrow SM Capacity. Image Credit: Celestia Aerospace

In each flight Archer 1 may launch up to four Space Arrow SM in a configuration in which each can carry up to four Cubesat's or a single Space Arrow CM capable of carrying 16 Cubesat's within.

The set of Archer and Space Arrow they have been dubbed Sagittarius Airborne Launch System and will be able to place nano-satellites (Cubesat) launched into orbits between 400 and 600 km altitude, which may not sound like much, but it is already above altitude of the orbit of the International Space Station.

Image above: Nano-satellites (Cubesat) launched into orbits between 400 and 600 km altitude. Image Credit: Celestia Aerospace.

Celestia intends to start shooting in 2016 from a Spanish airport, although they are also in talks with the Spanish Air Force Eurofighter to use as a launching pad, which perhaps could allow them to start before the pitches.

In addition to the launch Celestia another area of ??business, which is the design, construction and maintenance and operation of nano-satellite (Cubesat) to third parties also arises.

It will be based on Cubesat standard in terms of dimensions and weight, but want to patent defined functional sub-standards for specific business sectors.

Archer 1 / MiG-29 U. Image Credit: Celestia Aerospace

Launches using SALS will be open, of course, Celestia Aerospace both designed by Cubesat releases for their customers and launches them bring Cubesat already mounted.

Coming soon: New website (in construction):

Aerospace Celaestia in Facebook:

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: Celestia Aerospace/ Aerospace.

Best regards,

New Horizons Team Finds Haze, Flowing Ice on Pluto

NASA - New Horizons Mission logo.

July 24, 2015

Flowing ice and a surprising extended haze are among the newest discoveries from NASA’s New Horizons mission, which reveal distant Pluto to be an icy world of wonders.

Image above: Backlit by the sun, Pluto’s atmosphere rings its silhouette like a luminous halo in this image taken by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft around midnight EDT on July 15. This global portrait of the atmosphere was captured when the spacecraft was about 1.25 million miles (2 million kilometers) from Pluto and shows structures as small as 12 miles across. The image, delivered to Earth on July 23, is displayed with north at the top of the frame. Image Credits: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI.

“We knew that a mission to Pluto would bring some surprises, and now -- 10 days after closest approach -- we can say that our expectation has been more than surpassed,” said John Grunsfeld, NASA’s associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate. “With flowing ices, exotic surface chemistry, mountain ranges, and vast haze, Pluto is showing a diversity of planetary geology that is truly thrilling."

Just seven hours after closest approach, New Horizons aimed its Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) back at Pluto, capturing sunlight streaming through the atmosphere and revealing hazes as high as 80 miles (130 kilometers) above Pluto’s surface. A preliminary analysis of the image shows two distinct layers of haze -- one about 50 miles (80 kilometers) above the surface and the other at an altitude of about 30 miles (50 kilometers).

“My jaw was on the ground when I saw this first image of an alien atmosphere in the Kuiper Belt,” said Alan Stern, principal investigator for New Horizons at the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in Boulder, Colorado. “It reminds us that exploration brings us more than just incredible discoveries -- it brings incredible beauty.”

Studying Pluto’s atmosphere provides clues as to what’s happening below.

“The hazes detected in this image are a key element in creating the complex hydrocarbon compounds that give Pluto’s surface its reddish hue,” said Michael Summers, New Horizons co-investigator at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia.

Models suggest the hazes form when ultraviolet sunlight breaks up methane gas particles -- a simple hydrocarbon in Pluto’s atmosphere. The breakdown of methane triggers the buildup of more complex hydrocarbon gases, such as ethylene and acetylene, which also were discovered in Pluto’s atmosphere by New Horizons. As these hydrocarbons fall to the lower, colder parts of the atmosphere, they condense into ice particles that create the hazes. Ultraviolent sunlight chemically converts hazes into tholins, the dark hydrocarbons that color Pluto’s surface.

Scientists previously had calculated temperatures would be too warm for hazes to form at altitudes higher than 20 miles (30 kilometers) above Pluto’s surface.

“We’re going to need some new ideas to figure out what’s going on,” said Summers.

The New Horizons mission also found in LORRI images evidence of exotic ices flowing across Pluto’s surface and revealing signs of recent geologic activity, something scientists hoped to find but didn’t expect.  

The new images show fascinating details within the Texas-sized plain, informally named Sputnik Planum, which lies within the western half of Pluto’s heart-shaped feature, known as Tombaugh Regio. There, a sheet of ice clearly appears to have flowed -- and may still be flowing -- in a manner similar to glaciers on Earth.

“We’ve only seen surfaces like this on active worlds like Earth and Mars,” said mission co-investigator John Spencer of SwRI. “I'm really smiling.”

Additionally, new compositional data from New Horizons’ Ralph instrument indicate the center of Sputnik Planum is rich in nitrogen, carbon monoxide, and methane ices.

“At Pluto’s temperatures of minus-390 degrees Fahrenheit, these ices can flow like a glacier,” said Bill McKinnon, deputy leader of the New Horizons Geology, Geophysics and Imaging team at Washington University in St. Louis. “In the southernmost region of the heart, adjacent to the dark equatorial region, it appears that ancient, heavily-cratered terrain has been invaded by much newer icy deposits.”

Pluto Dazzles in False Color

Image above: New Horizons scientists use enhanced color images to detect differences in the composition and texture of Pluto’s surface. When close-up images are combined with color data from the Ralph instrument, it paints a new and surprising portrait of the dwarf planet. The “heart of the heart,” Sputnik Planum, is suggestive of a source region of ices. The two bluish-white “lobes” that extend to the southwest and northeast of the “heart” may represent exotic ices being transported away from Sputnik Planum. Image Credits: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI.

Four images from New Horizons’ Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) were combined with color data from the Ralph instrument to create this enhanced color global view. The images, taken when the spacecraft was 280,000 miles (450,000 kilometers) away, show features as small as 1.4 miles (2.2 kilometers).

View a simulated flyover using New Horizons’ close-approach images of Sputnik Planum and Pluto’s newly-discovered mountain range, informally named Hillary Montes, in the video below:

Flying over Pluto’s icy plains and Hillary Mountains

The New Horizons mission will continue to send data stored in its onboard recorders back to Earth through late 2016. The spacecraft currently is 7.6 million miles (12.2 million kilometers) beyond Pluto, healthy and flying deeper into the Kuiper Belt.

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, 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.

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

Images (mentioned), Video, Text, Credits: NASA/Dwayne Brown/Laurie Cantillo/Tricia Talbert.

Best regards,

NASA's Curiosity Rover Inspects Unusual Bedrock

NASA - Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) logo.

July 24, 2015

Fast Facts:

- Rover examines geological contact zone near 'Marias Pass'

- Silica-rich rocks identified nearby with laser-firing instrument

- Test of rover's drill prepares for next use on Mars rock

Approaching the third anniversary of its landing on Mars, NASA's Curiosity Mars rover has found a target unlike anything it has studied before -- bedrock with surprisingly high levels of silica. Silica is a rock-forming compound containing silicon and oxygen, commonly found on Earth as quartz.

This area lies just downhill from a geological contact zone the rover has been studying near "Marias Pass" on lower Mount Sharp.

Contact Zone: 'Missoula'

Image above: NASA's Curiosity Rover Inspects Unusual Bedrock. A rock outcrop dubbed "Missoula," near Marias Pass on Mars, is seen in this image mosaic taken by the Mars Hand Lens Imager on NASA's Curiosity rover. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS.

In fact, the Curiosity team decided to back up the rover 46 meters (151 feet) from the geological contact zone to investigate the high-silica target dubbed "Elk." The decision was made after they analyzed data from two instruments, the laser-firing Chemistry & Camera (ChemCam) and Dynamic Albedo of Neutrons (DAN), which show elevated amounts of silicon and hydrogen, respectively. High levels of silica in the rock could indicate ideal conditions for preserving ancient organic material, if present, so the science team wants to take a closer look.

"One never knows what to expect on Mars, but the Elk target was interesting enough to go back and investigate," said Roger Wiens, the principal investigator of the ChemCam instrument from the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. ChemCam is coming up on its 1,000th target, having already fired its laser more than 260,000 times since Curiosity landed on Mars Aug. 6, 2012, Universal Time (evening of Aug. 5, Pacific Time).

In other news, an engineering test on the rover's sample-collecting drill on July 18 is aiding analysis of intermittent short circuits in the drill's percussion mechanism, in preparation for using the drill in the area where the rover has been working for the past two months. The latest test did not result in any short circuits, so the team plans to continue with more tests, performed on the science targets themselves.

Before Curiosity began further investigating the high-silica area, it was busy scrutinizing the geological contact zone near Marias Pass, where a pale mudstone meets darker sandstone.

High-Silica 'Lamoose' Rock

Image above: A rock fragment dubbed "Lamoose" is shown in this picture taken by the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) on NASA's Curiosity rover. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS.

"We found an outcrop named Missoula where the two rock types came together, but it was quite small and close to the ground. We used the robotic arm to capture a dog's-eye view with the MAHLI camera, getting our nose right in there," said Ashwin Vasavada, the mission's project scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. MAHLI is short for Mars Hand Lens Imager.

The rover had reached this area after a steep climb up a 20-foot (6-meter) hill. Near the top of the climb, the ChemCam instrument fired its laser at the target Elk, and took a spectral reading of its composition.

"ChemCam acts like eyes and ears of the rover for nearby objects," said Wiens.

The rover had moved on before the Elk data were analyzed, so a U-turn was required to obtain more data. Upon its return, the rover was able to study a similar target, "Lamoose," up close with the MAHLI camera and the arm-mounted Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer (APXS).

Mars Curiosity Rover. Image Credits; NASA/JPL-Caltech

Curiosity has been working on Mars since early August 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.

The U.S. Department of Energy's Los Alamos National Laboratory developed ChemCam in partnership with scientists and engineers funded by the French national space agency. Russia's space agency provided Curiosity's DAN instrument. JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, built the rover and manages the project for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. For more information about Curiosity, visit: and

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

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Dwayne Brown/JPL/Whitney Clavin.


jeudi 23 juillet 2015

NASA's Space Launch System Design 'Right on Track' for Journey to Mars

NASA - Space Launch System (SLS) logo.

July 23, 2015

You know the feeling of pride and achievement when you've worked really hard on a term paper, and finally turn it in? That's how the critical design review team for NASA's Space Launch System is feeling this week as the program completed its review.

The in-depth review – the first in almost 40 years for a NASA exploration class vehicle -- provides a final look at the design and development of the integrated rocket before full-scale fabrication begins. Throughout the course of 11 weeks, 13 teams – including representatives from several NASA field centers – reviewed more than 1,000 files of data as part of the comprehensive assessment process.

SLS will be the most powerful rocket ever built for a new era of exploration to destinations beyond Earth’s orbit. It will launch astronauts in the agency’s Orion spacecraft on missions to an asteroid placed in lunar orbit, and eventually to Mars.

Image above: NASA's Space Launch System Program Manager Todd May and others on the critical design review team pore over hundreds of design and development documents on the SLS Block 1 configuration. The critical design review provides a final look at the design and development of the integrated rocket ahead of full-scale fabrication. SLS will be the most powerful rocket ever built for deep space missions, including to an asteroid and ultimately Mars. Image Credits: NASA/MSFC.

"Now that we've completed our review, we will brief NASA leadership, along with the independent review team, about the results and readiness to proceed to the next phase. After that step is complete, we'll move on to design certification," said Todd May, SLS program manager at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. "Critical design review represents a major commitment by the agency to human exploration, and through these reviews, we ensure the SLS design is on track to being a safe, sustainable and evolvable launch vehicle that will meet the agency's goals and missions.

"It's an exciting time for NASA and our nation," May continued, "as we prepare to go to places in deep space that we've never been before."

The critical design review is for the first of three configurations planned for SLS, referred to as SLS Block 1. It will stand 322 feet tall, provide 8.4 million pounds of thrust at liftoff, weigh 5.5 million pounds and carry 70 metric tons or 154,000 pounds of payload, equivalent to approximately 77 one-ton pickup trucks’ worth of cargo. Its first mission -- Exploration Mission-1 -- will launch an uncrewed Orion spacecraft to demonstrate the integrated system performance of the SLS rocket and Orion spacecraft before a crewed flight.

Image above: The critical design review team, including members of the Standing Review Board, listen to presentations during the SLS critical design review. This week, the SLS Program completed its critical design review -- a first in almost 40 years for a NASA exploration class vehicle. SLS Program managers will present the results from the critical design review board and Standing Review Board to Marshall’s Center Management Council. After receiving the council’s concurrence, the results then will be briefed to the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters. Image Credits: NASA/MSFC.

Block 1 requires many critical parts to get it off the ground and safely into space, including twin solid rocket boosters, powerful engines, flight computers, avionics and the core stage. The core stage, towering more than 200 feet tall with a diameter of 27.6 feet, will carry cryogenic liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen that will feed the vehicle’s four RS-25 engines.

The team turned in its work to a Standing Review Board composed of seasoned experts from NASA and industry who are independent of the program. The board will review and assess the program’s readiness and confirm it remains on target to meet the established schedule and cost goals.

"Much of the benefit of this review is what we do to prepare for it because that's where we really bring things out," said Jim Reuter, head of the Standing Review Board. "And you can tell it in the spirit of the people here. They are excited about what they're doing. They can see that this is the review that's going to make it real."

SLS Program managers will present the results from the critical design review board and Standing Review Board to Marshall’s Center Management Council. After receiving the council’s concurrence, the results then will be briefed to the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters.

Image above: Artist concept of the SLS Block 1 configuration. Image Credits: NASA/MSFC.

Element-level critical design reviews for the SLS core stage, boosters and engines have been completed successfully. The integrated spacecraft and payloads are nearing completion on their critical design review.

The Engineering Directorate at Marshall, where the SLS program is managed, provided the majority of the initial phase CDR documents, including drawings and data.

"A thorough review requires a wide range of engineering skills and experts to assess everything from avionics and software that fly the vehicle to ground transportation and integrated systems testing designs and plans," said Preston Jones, deputy director of Marshall's Engineering Directorate. "We have gone through every design interface and rechecked analysis to ensure we are meeting all SLS mission performance and crew safety requirements."

The Orion Program at Johnson Space Center in Houston and the Ground Systems Development Office at Kennedy Space Center in Florida also will undergo similar reviews this year. After those reviews are done, NASA will set a date for Exploration Mission-1.

"We've nailed our review schedules," said Garry Lyles, chief engineer for the SLS Program Office at the Marshall Center. "The team is performing at a really high level. And I’m unbelievably positive in the structural robustness of this vehicle; it has tremendous performance. We’ve picked the right vehicle for the journey to Mars."

Related articles:

Space Launch System Program Moving Forward with Critical Design Review:

NASA's Space Launch System Passes Major Agency Review, Moves to Preliminary Design:

NASA Completes Key Review of World’s Most Powerful Rocket in Support of Journey to Mars:

Related links:

Exploration Mission-1:

Journey to Mars:

SLS Block 1:

For more information about Space Launch System (SLS), visit:

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Jennifer Harbaugh.

Best regards,

NASA Researchers Find "Frozen" Recipe for Extraterrestrial Vitamin

Exobilogy & Astrobiology logo.

July 23, 2015

Vitamin B3 could have been made on icy dust grains in space, and later delivered to Earth by meteorites and comets, according to new laboratory experiments by a team of NASA-funded researchers. Vitamin B3, also known as niacin or nicotinic acid, is used to build NAD (nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide), which is essential to metabolism and probably ancient in origin. The result supports a theory that the origin of life may have been assisted by a supply of biologically important molecules produced in space and brought to Earth by comet and meteor impacts.

The new work builds on earlier research by the team in which they analyzed carbon-rich meteorites and discovered that vitamin B3 was present at concentrations ranging from about 30 to 600 parts-per-billion. In that work, the team performed preliminary laboratory experiments that showed vitamin B3 could be made from a simpler building-block organic molecule called pyridine in carbon dioxide ice under conditions that simulated the environment in space.

The new experiments made the simulation more realistic by adding water ice to the mixture and using amounts closer to what is expected for interstellar ices and comets. The team found that even with the addition of water, the vitamin could be made under a wide variety of scenarios where the water ice abundance varied by up to ten times.

Image above: This is an artist's concept of a protoplanetry disk surrounding a forming star that is ejecting jets of material (yellow beams). Such disks contain countless tiny dust grains, many of which become incorporated into asteroids, comets, and planets. Image Credits: NASA Goddard.

"We found that the types of organic compounds in our laboratory-produced ices match very well to what is found in meteorites," said Karen Smith of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. "This result suggests that these important organic compounds in meteorites may have originated from simple molecular ices in space. This type of chemistry may also be relevant for comets, which contain large amounts of water and carbon dioxide ices. These experiments show that vitamin B3 and other complex organic compounds could be made in space and it is plausible that meteorite and comet impacts could have added an extraterrestrial component to the supply of vitamin B3 on ancient Earth."

Smith, who is lead author of a paper on this research published online June 17, 2015 in Chemical Communications, performed the work with her team at NASA Goddard, including her postdoctoral research advisor, Perry Gerakines of NASA Goddard. "This work is part of a broad research program in the field of Astrobiology at NASA Goddard," Gerakines said. "We are working to understand the origins of biologically important molecules and how they came to exist throughout the Solar System and on Earth. The experiments performed in our laboratory demonstrate an important possible connection between the complex organic molecules formed in cold interstellar space and those we find in meteorites."

Exploding stars (supernovae) and the winds from red giant stars near the end of their lives produce vast clouds of gas and dust. Solar systems are born when shock waves from stellar winds and other nearby supernovae compress and concentrate a cloud of ejected stellar material until dense clumps of that cloud begin to collapse under their own gravity, forming a new generation of stars and planets.

Image above: This is an artist's concept of a nebula containing gas, dust, and asteroids that will later form stars and planets. Image Credits: NASA Goddard.

These clouds contain countless dust grains. Just as frost forms on car windows during cold, humid nights, carbon dioxide, water, and other gases form a layer of frost on the surface of these grains. Radiation in space powers chemical reactions in this frost layer to produce complex organic molecules, possibly including vitamin B3. The icy grains become incorporated into comets and asteroids, some of which impact young planets like ancient Earth, delivering the organic molecules contained within them.

The researchers tested this theory by simulating the space environment in the Cosmic Ice Laboratory at NASA Goddard. An aluminum plate cooled to around minus 423 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 253 Celsius) was used to represent the frigid surface of an interstellar dust grain. The plate was chilled in a vacuum chamber to replicate space conditions, and gases containing water, carbon dioxide, and pyridine were released into the chamber, where they froze onto the plate. The plate was then bombarded with protons at about 1 million volts from a particle accelerator to simulate space radiation.

Image above: A picture of the aluminum plate with a chemical deposit on it. Image Credits: Karen Smith/NASA Goddard.

The team performed an initial analysis of the contents of the frozen layer by shining infrared light on it to identify absorption patterns – certain molecules absorb infrared light at specific colors, or frequencies. The plate was then heated to room temperature so the ice residue could be analyzed in greater detail at Goddard's Astrobiology Analytical Laboratory. The team found that this experiment produced a variety of complex organic molecules, including vitamin B3.

Observations from the European Space Agency's Rosetta mission, now in orbit around Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, might add more support to the theory that comets brought organic matter to Earth. "Rosetta could help validate these experiments if it finds some of the same complex organic molecules in the gases released by the comet or in the comet’s nucleus," said Smith.

This work was supported by a NASA Postdoctoral Program Fellowship administered by Oak Ridge Associated Universities through a contract with NASA, the NASA Astrobiology Institute (NAI) via the Goddard Center for Astrobiology (GCA), and the NASA Cosmochemistry Program. NASA's Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California, administers the NAI.

Related links:

Vitamin B3 Might Have Been Made in Space, Delivered to Earth by Meteorites:

NASA Astrobiology Institute (NAI):

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: ​NASA Goddard Space Flight Center/Bill Steigerwald.


NASA’s Kepler Mission Discovers Bigger, Older Cousin to Earth

NASA - Kepler Space Telescope patch.

July 23, 2015

 NASA’s Kepler Mission Discovers Bigger, Older Cousin to Earth

NASA's Kepler mission has confirmed the first near-Earth-size planet in the “habitable zone” around a sun-like star. This discovery and the introduction of 11 other new small habitable zone candidate planets mark another milestone in the journey to finding another “Earth.”

The newly discovered Kepler-452b is the smallest planet to date discovered orbiting in the habitable zone -- the area around a star where liquid water could pool on the surface of an orbiting planet -- of a G2-type star, like our sun. The confirmation of Kepler-452b brings the total number of confirmed planets to 1,030.

Image above: This artist's concept compares Earth (left) to the new planet, called Kepler-452b, which is about 60 percent larger in diameter. Images Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/T. Pyle.

"On the 20th anniversary year of the discovery that proved other suns host planets, the Kepler exoplanet explorer has discovered a planet and star which most closely resemble the Earth and our Sun," said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate at the agency’s headquarters in Washington. “This exciting result brings us one step closer to finding an Earth 2.0."

Kepler-452b is 60 percent larger in diameter than Earth and is considered a super-Earth-size planet. While its mass and composition are not yet determined, previous research suggests that planets the size of Kepler-452b have a good chance of being rocky.

Image above: This size and scale of the Kepler-452 system compared alongside the Kepler-186 system and the solar system. Kepler-186 is a miniature solar system that would fit entirely inside the orbit of Mercury. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-CalTech/R. Hurt.

While Kepler-452b is larger than Earth, its 385-day orbit is only 5 percent longer. The planet is 5 percent farther from its parent star Kepler-452 than Earth is from the Sun. Kepler-452 is 6 billion years old, 1.5 billion years older than our sun, has the same temperature, and is 20 percent brighter and has a diameter 10 percent larger.

“We can think of Kepler-452b as an older, bigger cousin to Earth, providing an opportunity to understand and reflect upon Earth’s evolving environment," said Jon Jenkins, Kepler data analysis lead at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California, who led the team that discovered Kepler-452b. "It’s awe-inspiring to consider that this planet has spent 6 billion years in the habitable zone of its star; longer than Earth. That’s substantial opportunity for life to arise, should all the necessary ingredients and conditions for life exist on this planet.”

Image above: There are 4,696 planet candidates now known with the release of the seventh Kepler planet candidate catalog - an increase of 521 since the release of the previous catalog in January 2015. Image Credits: NASA/W. Stenzel.

To help confirm the finding and better determine the properties of the Kepler-452 system, the team conducted ground-based observations at the University of Texas at Austin's McDonald Observatory, the Fred Lawrence Whipple Observatory on Mt. Hopkins, Arizona, and the W. M. Keck Observatory atop Mauna Kea in Hawaii. These measurements were key for the researchers to confirm the planetary nature of Kepler-452b, to refine the size and brightness of its host star and to better pin down the size of the planet and its orbit.

The Kepler-452 system is located 1,400 light-years away in the constellation Cygnus. The research paper reporting this finding has been accepted for publication in The Astronomical Journal.

Image above: Since Kepler launched in 2009, twelve planets less than twice the size of Earth have been discovered in the habitable zones of their stars. Image Credits: NASA/N. Batalha and W. Stenzel.

In addition to confirming Kepler-452b, the Kepler team has increased the number of new exoplanet candidates by 521 from their analysis of observations conducted from May 2009 to May 2013, raising the number of planet candidates detected by the Kepler mission to 4,696. Candidates require follow-up observations and analysis to verify they are actual planets.

Twelve of the new planet candidates have diameters between one to two times that of Earth, and orbit in their star's habitable zone. Of these, nine orbit stars that are similar to our sun in size and temperature.

“We've been able to fully automate our process of identifying planet candidates, which means we can finally assess every transit signal in the entire Kepler dataset quickly and uniformly,” said Jeff Coughlin, Kepler scientist at the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California, who led the analysis of a new candidate catalog. “This gives astronomers a statistically sound population of planet candidates to accurately determine the number of small, possibly rocky planets like Earth in our Milky Way galaxy.”

Image above: This artist's concept depicts one possible appearance of the planet Kepler-452b, the first near-Earth-size world to be found in the habitable zone of star that is similar to our sun. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/T. Pyle.

These findings, presented in the seventh Kepler Candidate Catalog, will be submitted for publication in the Astrophysical Journal. These findings are derived from data publicly available on the NASA Exoplanet Archive.

Scientists now are producing the last catalog based on the original Kepler mission’s four-year data set. The final analysis will be conducted using sophisticated software that is increasingly sensitive to the tiny telltale signatures of Earth-size planets.

Ames manages the Kepler and K2 missions for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, managed Kepler mission development. Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corporation operates the flight system with support from the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado in Boulder.

For more information about the Kepler mission, visit:

A related feature story about other potentially habitable planets is online at:

NASA Exoplanet Archive:

Images (mentioned), Video, Text, Credits: NASA/Felicia Chou/Ames Research Center/Michele Johnson.

Best regards,

New Horizons Captures Two of Pluto's Smaller Moons and Close-Up of Charon Mountains

NASA - New Horizons Mission logo.

July 23, 2015

Image above: Pluto’s moon Nix (left), shown here in enhanced color as imaged by the New Horizons Ralph instrument, has a reddish spot that has attracted the interest of mission scientists.  The data were obtained on the morning of July 14, 2015, and received on the ground on July 18.  At the time the observations were taken New Horizons was about 102,000 miles (165,000 km) from Nix. The image shows features as small as approximately 2 miles (3 kilometers) across on Nix, which is estimated to be 26 miles (42 kilometers) long and 22 miles (36 kilometers) wide. Image Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SWRI.

Pluto’s small, irregularly shaped moon Hydra (right) is revealed in this black and white image taken from New Horizons’ LORRI instrument on July 14, 2015, from a distance of about 143,000 miles (231,000 kilometers). Features as small as 0.7 miles (1.2 kilometers) are visible on Hydra, which measures 34 miles (55 kilometers) in length.

While Pluto’s largest moon Charon has grabbed most of the lunar spotlight so far, these two smaller and lesser-known satellites are now getting some attention.  Nix and Hydra – the second and third moons to be discovered – are approximately the same size, but their similarity ends there.

New Horizons’ first color image of Pluto’s moon Nix, in which colors have been enhanced, reveals an intriguing  region on the jelly bean-shaped satellite, which is estimated to be 26 miles (42 kilometers) long and 22 miles (36 kilometers) wide.

Although the overall surface color of Nix is neutral grey in the image, the newfound region has a distinct red tint.  Hints of a bull’s-eye pattern lead scientists to speculate that the reddish region is a crater. “Additional compositional data has already been taken of Nix, but is not yet downlinked. It will tell us why this region is redder than its surroundings,” said mission scientist Carly Howett, Southwest Research Institute, Boulder, Colorado. She added, “This observation is so tantalizing, I’m finding it hard to be patient for more Nix data to be downlinked.” 

Image above: Artist's view of New Horizons spacecraft, continue is trip on space after Pluto and Charon encounter. Image Credit: NASA.

Meanwhile, the sharpest image yet received from New Horizons of Pluto’s satellite Hydra shows that its irregular shape resembles the state of Michigan. The new image was made by the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) on July 14, 2015 from a distance of 143,000 miles (231,000 kilometers), and shows features as small as 0.7 miles (1.2 kilometers) across. There appear to be at least two large craters, one of which is mostly in shadow. The upper portion looks darker than the rest of Hydra, suggesting a possible difference in surface composition. From this image, mission scientists have estimated that Hydra is 34 miles (55 kilometers) long and 25 miles (40 kilometers) wide. Commented mission science collaborator Ted Stryk of Roane State Community College in Tennessee, “Before last week, Hydra was just a faint point of light, so it's a surreal experience to see it become an actual place, as we see its shape and spot recognizable features on its surface for the first time.”

Images of Pluto’s most recently discovered moons, Styx and Kerberos, are expected to be transmitted to Earth no later than mid-October.

Nix and Hydra were both discovered in 2005 using Hubble Space Telescope data by a research team led by New Horizons project scientist Hal Weaver, Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, Laurel, Maryland. New Horizons’ findings on the surface characteristics and other properties of Nix and Hydra will help scientists understand the origins and subsequent history of Pluto and its moons.

New Horizons Close-Up of Charon’s ‘Mountain in a Moat’ 

This new image of an area on Pluto's largest moon Charon has a captivating feature—a depression with a peak in the middle, shown here in the upper left corner of the inset. Image Credit: NASA-JHUAPL-SwRI.

The image shows an area approximately 240 miles (390 kilometers) from top to bottom, including few visible craters. “The most intriguing feature is a large mountain sitting in a moat,” said Jeff Moore with NASA’s Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, California, who leads New Horizons’ Geology, Geophysics and Imaging team. “This is a feature that has geologists stunned and stumped.”

This image gives a preview of what the surface of this large moon will look like in future close-ups from NASA's New Horizons spacecraft. This image is heavily compressed; sharper versions are anticipated when the full-fidelity data from New Horizons' Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) are returned to Earth.

The rectangle superimposed on the global view of Charon shows the approximate location of this close-up view.

The image was taken at approximately 6:30 a.m. EDT (10:30 UTC) on July 14, 2015, about 1.5 hours before closest approach to Pluto, from a range of 49,000 miles (79,000 kilometers).

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.

For more information about New Horizons mission, visit: and

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Tricia Talbert.


New Crew Arrives at Station After Short Soyuz Trip

ROSCOSMOS - Soyuz TMA.17M Mission patch.

Image above: The Soyuz spacecraft port solar array did not deploy after reaching space. Docking is still set for 10:46 p.m. EDT. Image Credit: NASA TV.

The Soyuz TMA-17M vehicle docked to the International Space Station at 10:45 p.m. EDT, over the ocean near Ecuador.

Expedition 44 Crew Docks To The International Space Station

Aboard the space station, Expedition 44 Commander Gennady Padalka of Roscosmos, as well as Flight Engineers Scott Kelly of NASA and Mikhail Kornienko of Roscosmos will welcome Soyuz crew members Kjell Lindgren of NASA, Oleg Kononenko of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) and Kimiya Yui of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) when the hatches between the two spacecraft are opened.

Image above: The International Space Station configuration with the new Soyuz TMA-17M spacecraft docked to the Rassvet module. Credit: NASA.

NASA astronaut Kjell Lindgren, Oleg Kononenko of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) and Kimiya Yui of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) joined their Expedition 44 crewmates when the hatches between the Soyuz TMA-17M spacecraft and the International Space Station officially opened at 12:56 a.m. EDT. Expedition 44 Commander Gennady Padalka of Roscosmos, as well as Flight Engineers Scott Kelly of NASA and Mikhail Kornienko of Roscosmos welcomed the new crew members aboard their orbital home.

The crew will support several hundred experiments in biology, biotechnology, physical science and Earth science — research that impacts life on Earth.

Image above: All six Expedition 44 crew members gathered inside the Zvezda service module for a crew greeting ceremony with new crewmates (front row from left) Kimiya Yui, Oleg Kononenko and Kjell Lindgren. In the back from left are Mikhail Kornienko, Gennady Padalka and Scott Kelly. Credit: NASA TV.

Kjell Lindgren and Kimiya Yiu are now the 217th and 218th people to board the International Space Station. This is the first visit for both Lindgren and Yiu, and the third for Kononenko.

Expedition 44 Crew Opens Hatch And Enters The International Space Station

Lindgren, Kononenko and Yui will remain aboard the station until late December. Kelly and Kornienko, who have been aboard since March 27, will return to Earth in March 2016 at the end of their one-year mission. Padalka, who also has been aboard since March 27, will return to Earth in September, leaving Kelly in command of Expedition 45. Kelly and Kornienko will return to Earth in March 2016 with Expedition 46 after 342 days in space.
To join the online conversation about the International Space Station on Twitter, follow the hashtag #ISS. To learn more about all the ways to connect and collaborate with NASA, visit:

Related links:

Expedition 44:

One-Year Crew:

International Space Station (ISS):

Images (mentioned), Videos, Text, Credit: NASA/NASA TV.


mercredi 22 juillet 2015

Soyuz Rocket Launches Expedition 44 Trio to Space

ROSCOSMOS - Soyuz TMA-17M Mission patch.

July 22, 2015

Expedition 44 Launches to the Space Station

The Soyuz TMA-17M launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan to the International Space Station at 5:02 p.m. EDT (3:02 a.m. on July 23 Baikonur time).  Kjell Lindgren of NASA, Oleg Kononenko of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) and Kimiya Yui of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) now are safely in orbit.

Image above: The Soyuz TMA-17M rocket launches on time from Baikonur Cosmodrome. Image Credits: NASATV/ Aeropsace.

Lindgren, Kononenko and Yui will dock with the station’s Rassvet module at 10:46 p.m. NASA Television coverage of the docking will begin at 10 p.m. Welcoming them aboard will be the current station residents, Expedition 44 Commander Gennady Padalka of Roscosmos, as well as Flight Engineers Scott Kelly of NASA and Mikhail Kornienko of Roscosmos. NASA TV coverage of the hatch opening and welcome ceremony begins at 11:45 p.m.

NASA TV coverage continues at

Padalka, Kelly and Kornienko arrived at the space station in March aboard their Soyuz TMA-16M spacecraft.

Image above: Astronaut Kjell Lindgren waves from inside the Soyuz rocket during ascent. An R2D2 doll is seen hanging from inside the spacecraft. Credit: NASA TV/ Aerospace.

Some of the cargo flown aboard the Soyuz will be used in research investigations that are either ongoing or planned aboard the International Space Station. Items such as questionnaires will be delivered to obtain data about crew member characteristics, such as day-to-day changes in health or incidence of pain or pressure in microgravity. One such investigation is Space Headaches which uses questionnaires to collect information about the prevalence and characteristics of crew members’ headaches in microgravity. This information is used to develop future countermeasures for headaches often caused by intracranial pressure change.

Image above: Astronaut Kimiya Yui from inside the Soyuz rocket during ascent. An R2D2 doll is seen hanging from inside the spacecraft. Image Credit: NASA TV/ Aerospace.

Researchers will also use biological sample kits delivered by the Soyuz spacecraft to obtain samples of blood, saliva or urine. The ongoing collection of biological samples from crew members help scientists determine if immune system impairment caused by spaceflight increases the possibility for infection or poses a significant health risk during life aboard the space station.

In addition to these studies, seven categories of human health research are ongoing during the One-Year mission of Scott Kelly and Mikhail Kornienko. Researchers expect these investigations to yield beneficial knowledge on the medical, psychological and biomedical challenges faced by astronauts during long-duration spaceflight.

Related links:

Space Headaches:

Read more about all of the One-Year Mission human health studies:

Expedition 44:

One-Year Crew:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

Best regards,

NASA's RapidScat and Aqua satellite Identifies Typhoon Halola's Strongest Side

NASA - ISS-RapidScat logo / NASA - Aqua EOS Mission logo.

July 22, 2015

Halola (was 01C - Central Pacific)

Image above: On July 21, the RapidScat instrument observed Halola's strongest winds were on the northern side of the storm near 30 meters per second (108 kph/67 mph). Image Credits: NASA JPL, Doug Tyler.

Typhoon Halola's strongest typhoon-force winds were located on the northern half of the storm, as identified from the RapidScat instrument that flies aboard the International Space Station.

Animation above: A video camera on the International Space Station captured this view of the the ISS-RapidScat instrument in action. Animation Credit: NASA.

RapidScat gathered surface wind data on the Typhoon Halola on July 21at 2 p.m. GMT (10 a.m. EDT). RapidScat data showed that the strongest sustained winds stretched from northwest to northeast of the center at speeds up to 30 meters per second (108 kph/67 mph). Strong winds wrapped around the center of circulation from northwest to east to the southern quadrant, while the weakest winds were on the storm's western side.

Artist's rendering of NASA's ISS-RapidScat instrument. Image Credit: NASA

On July 14 at 1500 UTC (11 a.m. EDT), Halola had sustained winds near 75 knots (86 mph/138.9 kph). Halola was located near 24.0 North latitude and 137.1 East longitude, about 554 nautical miles (638 miles/1,027 km) east-southeast of Kadena Air Force Base, Okinawa, Japan. Halola was moving to the north at 9 knots (10.3 mph/16.6 kph).

For updated forecasts and local warnings and watches, visit the Japan Meteorological Agency website:

Halola continues to intensify and the Joint Typhoon Warning Center forecast calls for the storm to peak at 95 knots on July 24. After July 24, Halola is expected to begin weakening as the storm approaches Kyushu.

July 21, 2015 - NASA Sees Halola Become a Typhoon Again

The tropical cyclone that developed in the North Central Pacific Ocean and tracked into the Western Pacific Ocean is now on its second go-round as a typhoon. NASA's Aqua satellite flew over Typhoon Halola in the northwestern Pacific Ocean and saw that the storm had again developed an eye.

Halola was at typhoon status on July 14 when Aqua had passed over the storm before. Now, on July 21, Halola regained typhoon status as Aqua again flew overhead.

Image above: When NASA's Aqua satellite passed over Halola on July 21, 2015, at 03:55 UTC, the storm had developed an eye and regained typhoon status.
Image Credits: NASA Goddard's MODIS Rapid Response Team.

When NASA's Aqua satellite passed over Halola on July 21 at 03:55 UTC (11:55 p.m. EDT/July 20) the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer or MODIS instrument gathered visible-light data on the storm. The MODIS image showed the Halola had again developed a 5 nautical mile (5.7 miles/9.2 km) wide eye. 

At 1500 UTC (11 a.m. EDT), Halola's maximum sustained winds had increased to 75 knots (86 mph/138.9 kph).  It was centered near 23.1 North latitude and 141.2 East longitude, about 116 nautical miles south of Iwo To island, Japan. Halola has tracked west-northwestward at 11 knots (12.6 mph/20.3 kph).

 Aqua satellite. Image Credit: NASA

The Joint Typhoon Warning Center (JTWC) expects Halola to peak at 90 knots in the next two days and then begin weakening as it approaches Japan. For the latest watches and warnings from the Japan Meteorological Agency, visit:

By July 24, the JTWC expects Halola to pass the islands of Maimi Diato Jima and Anami Oshima on its way to landfall in southern Japan.

For more information about ISS-RapidScat, visit:

For more information about Aqua satellite mission, visit:

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