vendredi 11 décembre 2015

Zenit Rocket successfully launches Electro-L №2 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome



December 11, 2015 at 16:45 MSK (Moscow Time) from Launch Complex 45 area Baikonur Cosmodrome, successful launch vehicle (LV) "Zenit-2SB" with the upper stage (RB) "Fregat-SB" and meteorological spacecraft (SC) "Electro-L" №2. The successful launch carried out from specialists and enterprises of Roscosmos space industry of Russia.

After liftoff of the launcher "Zenith", the separation of the upper stage passed normally.

Liftoff (LV) Zenit-2SB with (SC) Electro-L number 2

The spacecraft "Electro-L" №2 is a meteorological remote sensing device that will provide multispectral imaging the entire disk of the Earth in visible and infrared light.

MCC began to administer the hydro-meteorological satellite "Electro-L" №2

Mission Control Center (MCC) began to administer the spacecraft "Electro-L" №2. The launch took place on December 11, 2015 at 16:45 MSK from the Baikonur Cosmodrome using a launch vehicle "Zenit-2SB" with the upper stage "Fregat-SB".

Propulsion launcher worked in normal mode, and the spacecraft "Electro-L" №2 launched into Earth orbit reference. Satellite flight control personnel carried Lead Operational Control Team, consisting of specialists from the PMU and representatives of developers of the spacecraft.

"Electro-L" №2, which developer is FSUE NPO. SA Lavochkin, - the second in a series of weather satellites and heliogeophysical destination. It is designed for use in geostationary hydrometeorological space system (GGKS) "Electro".

"Electro-L" №2 satellite

Appointment GGKS - ensuring operational information relevant services for analysis and forecast weather on a global scale; study the state of the seas and oceans, the conditions for the flight aviation heliogeophysical situation in near-Earth space, the state of the ionosphere and the Earth's magnetic field, as well as - for the monitoring of climate and global change, monitoring of emergencies and environmental monitoring.

Currently, MCC manages the spacecraft scientific and socio-economic purpose. Including satellites opto-electronic monitoring "Resurs-DK1", "Resource-P" №1 and №2, hydrometeorological spacecraft "Electro-L" №1 and №2, "Canopus-B" №1, as well as satellites Space systems relay information "Luch-5A", "Luch-5B" and "Luch-5B".

ROSCOSMOS Press Releases:

Images, Video, Text, Credits: ROSCOSMOS/Translation: Aerospace/Roland Berga.

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Saving NASA's STEREO-B: The 189-million-mile Road to Recovery

NASA - STEREO Mission logo.

Dec. 11, 2015

On Oct. 1, 2014, NASA mission operations lost communication with one of the two spacecraft of the Solar and Terrestrial Relations Observatory, or STEREO, mission, just as the spacecraft was about to orbit around the other side of the sun. Though they haven’t heard from the Behind spacecraft, also known as STEREO-B, in over a year, the spacecraft has finally emerged into a region where it can once again receive radio signals. Scientists have a plan to get it back—and their chances only get better with time.

The two STEREO spacecraft, launched in October 2006, were originally designed to complete a two-year mission, ending in 2008. But—like many NASA spacecraft—they lasted much longer. The long lives of the two STEREO spacecraft, now nine years old, have been a boon for scientists studying the sun and its influence throughout the solar system. The two STEREOs slowly drifted away from Earth as they orbited the sun, one ahead and one behind our home planet, giving scientists constantly-improving views of the sun’s far side, allowing us for the first time to see the whole sun at once. 

However, there are always challenges associated with operating a spacecraft for more than four times its original lifespan. In STEREO’s case, its orbit was the biggest hurdle. The same slow drift that lets the two STEREO spacecraft give us widely varying views of the sun means that each spacecraft eventually lay on the other side of the sun from Earth, leading to a three-month period where communication was impossible due to the sun’s interference.

Image above: The lines of communication to both STEREO spacecraft—Ahead in red and Behind in blue—are now far enough from the sun that mission operators can send signals to both spacecraft. STEREO-A is in communication and operating normally, and mission operators have resumed attempts to contact STEREO-B following an October 2014 loss of communications. Image Credits: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio.

“The sun emits strongly in nearly every wavelength, making it the biggest source of noise in the sky,” said Dan Ossing, mission operations manager for the STEREO mission at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland. “Most deep space missions only have to deal with sun interference for a day or so, but for each of the STEREO spacecraft, this period lasted nearly four months.”

When the team realized that the STEREO spacecraft would operate long enough to enter this interference zone, they began planning.

“We had to take a spacecraft that was meant to talk to Earth every day and get it ready for over three months of radio silence,” said Ossing.

The STEREO spacecraft were designed with a command loss timer, an automatic reset button that restarts the spacecraft after 72 hours without contact. This reset is intended to correct any issues that could be preventing communication. The command loss timer can’t be changed—meaning that during its phase on the other side of the sun the two STEREO spacecraft would be rebooting every three days for over three months straight.

Regardless, mission operators planned to make it work. They were in the middle of testing the reset by intentionally withholding communications from STEREO-B for three days—a test that had already been completed with great success on STEREO-A—when communications were lost.

The hard reset happened as expected, 72 hours and 20 minutes after operators stopped communications with the spacecraft. After the reset, STEREO-B was supposed to power itself back on, identify certain stars so it could point its antenna at Earth, and send down a status report.

At first, everything went well. Seconds after the reset, the STEREO team received a signal from STEREO-B—but it was much weaker than they expected, and it quickly faded away. That was the last time we heard from STEREO-B.

The signal received was so weak and so brief that the team was able to extract only a few packets of data to form a partial status report. From that small amount of information, the STEREO team was able to extrapolate the most likely case for where the Behind spacecraft is and what it’s doing.

Animation above: STEREO-B captured this view of an erupting coronal mass ejection on July 23, 2012. The unique vantage points of the two STEREO spacecraft gave us unprecedented simultaneous views of the entire sun. Animation Credits: NASA/STEREO.

“The telemetry showed that the Inertial Measurement Unit, or IMU—which tells the spacecraft if and how fast it’s rotating—failed in a way we didn’t expect,” said Ossing. “Rather than cutting out altogether, it was feeding incorrect information into the guidance and control computer.”

The STEREO team thinks this bad information led the guidance and control computer down a path that eventually sent the spacecraft spinning, leaving its solar panels dark most of the time and its battery only intermittently charged.

If STEREO-B had stayed in contact, this is the kind of problem the STEREO team could fix. Though not easy, it’s a matter of instructing STEREO-B’s computer to ignore the information from that particular IMU. However, contact with STEREO-B cut out before the team could correct the error, meaning that the spacecraft is drifting in space with incorrect information about how it’s moving—a big problem for a spacecraft that needs to keep itself pointed at the sun to stay powered on.

“The bad IMU told STEREO-B that it was spinning, even though it was stationary,” said Ossing. “The spacecraft would have automatically taken steps to correct the supposed spin.”

The problem? STEREO-B’s methods for stopping a spin—including spinning internal reaction wheels and firing its thrusters—would cause a stationary spacecraft to start spinning. And based on the STEREO team’s simulation of what the spacecraft would have done, it’s likely now spinning in a way that means its solar panels are getting sunlight only part of the time, leaving it without power for long periods.

“When STEREO-B’s gets enough power to start booting up, there are several systems that come on automatically,” said Bill Thompson, chief observer for the STEREO mission at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “But those systems are probably draining all the power and preventing the battery from charging up. We need the battery to have a decent charge before the transmitter can be turned on and send us a signal.”

As of Nov. 30, 2015, spacecraft operators have had three three-hour blocks of time on the Deep Space Network each week to try and contact STEREO-B. The first two blocks are dedicated to building up the charge in the spacecraft’s battery by telling it turn off the flight systems that boot up automatically. If STEREO-B can reduce the amount of power it consumes during those brief periods when its battery is charging, the spacecraft could remain on long enough to talk to—and receive commands from—Earth. The third block in each sequence is spent sending commands to turn on the spacecraft’s transmitter.

“If it’s not transmitting, we have no way of knowing if our efforts are working,” said Ossing.

The transmitter requires a command to turn on after a charge-up because of its enormous power. If the transmitter were automatic, it could have turned on while the spacecraft was still being built and tested here on Earth or during launch, posing a danger to people on the ground.

Artist's view of the STEREO spacecraft. Image Credit: NASA

Though spacecraft operators have an initial plan to make contact with STEREO-B, the path to recovery isn’t clear or easy. Part of the problem is how little information we have about what caused the loss of communications with STEREO-B.

“The only concrete information we have is that the IMU was feeding bad information to the guidance and control system,” said Ossing. “From there, we made educated guesses about what the spacecraft would do.”

Part of the problem is uncertainty about STEREO-B’s position—since it has been drifting out of contact for over a year, mission operators don’t know exactly where it is. Further complicating this is the likelihood that STEREO-B would have used its thrusters as part of its effort to correct the nonexistent spin, possibly pushing it even further off course. This means that the STEREO team will have to sweep their signal over a significant portion of sky to make sure they reach STEREO-B.

NASA has recovered spacecraft from similar situations before—notably, ESA/NASA’s Solar and Heliospheric Observatory, or SOHO, was out of contact for six weeks in 1998 before it was recovered. But the distance to SOHO was much smaller, only about a million miles, compared to the 189-million-mile gap between Earth and STEREO-B.

As with all spacecraft, we don’t know exactly what frequency STEREO-B will be listening for. Typically, operators will sweep through the range of frequencies that the spacecraft’s receiver can pick up until the spacecraft locks on to one, a process that usually takes a minute or two. But this is impractical for STEREO-B, given the huge distance, which yields a round-trip communications delay of over half an hour.

“The Deep Space Network was able to create an acquisition technique that can sweep through a frequency segment in about ten seconds,” said Ossing. “We’ve tested it on the Ahead spacecraft, and it worked even better than expected.”

Furthermore, the distance means that any signal that has a hope of reaching STEREO-B must be much, much stronger than the signals we send to near-Earth missions. Engineers have a plan to increase the power of the signal we send to STEREO-B through something called constructive interference. By combining the signals from multiple stations in the Deep Space Network with specific timing and configurations, the waves that form the radio signals collide perfectly to create an even stronger signal.

“Constructive interference creates a new signal that’s more powerful than the sum of its parts,” said Thompson. “We’re combining signals from three 34-meter antennas, which will give us a signal more than twice as powerful as a 70-meter antenna.” 

Because STEREO-B is so far from Earth, any signal it sends back to us will likely be too weak for the Deep Space Network to interpret. So, several of the largest radio telescopes in the world—including the Green Bank Radio Telescope, Arecibo Observatory, and the Allen Telescope Array—will be listening for STEREO-B’s transmission.

The STEREO-B recovery will be fraught with challenges—but it will only get easier over time. Because the spacecraft is on an orbit similar to Earth’s, but lagging behind, Earth will lap STEREO-B in 2023, meaning that the spacecraft gets closer to us every day that passes until then.

“In 2019, the spacecraft will be far enough from the sun that we could image it directly with Hubble and figure out the rate of spin,” said Ossing. “We’re very hopeful that we’ll recover STEREO-B, but it’s just going to take time.”

STEREO is the third mission in NASA's Solar Terrestrial Probes program, which is managed by NASA Goddard for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, in Washington, D.C.

Related Links:

- STEREO-A Resumes Normal Operations:

- NASA's STEREO mission website:

Images (mentioned), Animation (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/Sarah Frazier/Rob Garner.


Ride along with Rosetta through the eyes of OSIRIS

ESA - Rosetta Mission patch.

11 December 2015

Rosetta’s OSIRIS camera team has launched a new website to showcase their recent images of Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko.

The high-resolution images, taken either with the narrow- or wide-angle scientific imaging camera, will show the comet as recently as the day before.

They will be posted to a dedicated website but followers can also subscribe to a mailing list to receive the images directly via email.

The cadence of the images released will depend on the scientific operations of the spacecraft and in particular on the as-run OSIRIS observations on any given day, along with the availability of images downloaded from the spacecraft.

A minimum of an image per week should be expected, up to an image a day if they are taken daily.

Comet on 10 December 2015 from OSIRIS narrow-angle camera

“Following perihelion and a far excursion, we are now back at closer distances – about 100 km – to the comet, providing a view similar to that when we first arrived on 6 August 2014,” says Holger Sierks, principal investigator for the camera at the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Göttingen, Germany.

“We’d like to share this view with the community and the general public, in near-real time, as we re-approach and eventually descend to the surface of the comet.”

The images will be released by a robotic system in JPG format, raw or calibrated as available, following a brief pre-selection by OSIRIS scientists. Basic ‘metadata’ stating the date, time, distance to the comet and the Sun, and the resolution of the image will be included with each.

There will not be a detailed scientific description of the images because the goal is to provide up-to-date ‘postcards’ of the comet. Traditional image releases with scientific interpretation will still be made, separately, in the usual way.

The images will also be added to our ESA galleries and shared on our Rosetta social media channels. In addition, we plan to showcase them in a weekly blog post alongside our regular navigation camera (NavCam) CometWatch feature.

“This new initiative is a welcome addition to our long-established NavCam CometWatch releases, and gives us another way to enjoy riding along with Rosetta as it follows the comet through the Solar System,” notes Patrick Martin, ESA’s Rosetta mission manager.

“Now that we’re closer to the comet again we’re looking forward to seeing its surface in more detail. We’re also looking forward to sharing a fantastic view as Rosetta descends to the surface of the comet next September,” says Matt Taylor, ESA’s Rosetta project scientist.

Subscribe to the mailing list by emailing your request to:

Visit the website at:

Notes for Editors:

The OSIRIS dataset from both the wide- and narrow-angle cameras covering the period 20 June 2014 – 16 September 2014 are currently in processing and are foreseen for release via the Archive Image Browser and the Planetary Science Archive early next week.

For more information about Rosetta mission, visit:

Rosetta overview:

Rosetta in depth:

Rosetta factsheet:

Frequently asked questions:

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

Best regards,

Expedition 45 Crew Members Return Home

ROSCOSMOS - Soyuz TMA-17M Mission patch.

Dec. 11, 2015

The Crew before embarking aboard the Soyuz TMA-17M spacecraft. Image Credit: NASA

Expedition 45 Flight Engineer Kjell Lindgren of NASA is among three crew members who returned to Earth Friday after a 141-day mission aboard the International Space Station, landing in Kazakhstan at approximately 8:12 a.m. EST (7:12 p.m. Kazakhstan time).

Welcome Back to Earth

Also returning were Flight Engineers Oleg Kononenko of Roscosmos (Russian Federal Space Agency) and Kimiya Yui of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). The crew touched down northeast of the remote town of Dzhezkazgan in Kazakhstan, marking the first crew landing to occur after sunset and only the sixth nighttime Soyuz spacecraft return from the space station.

With the end of this mission, Kononenko now has spent 533 days in space, and Lindgren and Yui, both on their first flight, have spent 141 days in space.

While on station, the crew members participated in Earth observations and conducted research in the areas of physical, biological and molecular science to advance knowledge and demonstrate new technologies. Such investigations enable research breakthroughs and drive technology innovations that provide benefits on Earth, and will enable long-duration human and robotic exploration missions into deep space.

Image above: Expedition 45 crew members Kjell Lindgren of NASA, Oleg Kononenko of the Russian Federal Space Agency and Kimiya Yui of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency settle into the Soyuz TMA-17M spacecraft that carried them safely back to Earth on Dec. 11, 2015 after their 141-day mission aboard the International Space Station. Image Credit: NASA.

The space station is a test bed to demonstrate new technologies, and Lindgren and Yui took part in the Veggie plant growth experiment that yielded fresh lettuce for crew consumption in August. NASA is maturing Veggie technology aboard the space station to provide future pioneers with a sustainable food supplement -- a critical part of NASA’s journey to Mars.

As NASA moves toward long-duration exploration missions farther into the solar system, Veggie will be a resource for crew food growth and consumption. The system also could be used by astronauts for recreational gardening activities during deep space missions and may have implications for improving growth and biomass production on Earth, benefiting the average citizen.

Image above: Expedition 46 Commander Scott Kelly of NASA captured this image, from aboard the International Space Station, of the Dec. 11 undocking and departure of the Soyuz TMA-17M carrying home Expedition 45 crew members Kjell Lindgren of NASA, Oleg Kononenko of the Russian Federal Space Agency and Kimiya Yui of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency after their 141-day mission on the orbital laboratory. Image Credits: NASA/Scott Kelly.

Another key research area during Expedition 45 is the continued one-year mission with NASA astronaut Scott Kelly and Roscosmos’ Mikhail Kornienko that is providing insight into human health management for long-duration space travel

The crew members also welcomed three cargo spacecraft during their mission. The fifth Japanese HTV cargo craft brought several tons of supplies to the station in August, and in October, a Russian ISS Progress cargo craft docked to the station, also bringing tons of supplies. On Dec. 9, Lindgren led the grapple of Orbital ATK’s Cygnus spacecraft to the station, the U.S. company's fourth commercial resupply mission for NASA.

Image above: NASA astronaut Kjell Lindgren makes his first call home after landing in a Soyuz TMA-17M in Kazakhstan Dec. 11, 2015 after his 141-day mission aboard the International Space Station. Image Credit: NASA TV.

During his time on the orbiting complex, Lindgren ventured outside the confines of the space station for two planned spacewalks. The first included a variety of station upgrade and maintenance tasks, including routing cables to prepare for new docking ports for U.S. commercial crew spacecraft. The second spacewalk resulted in the successful reconfiguration of a space station ammonia cooling system.

Expedition 46 continues operating the station, with Kelly in command. Along with Kornienko and Sergey Volkov of Roscosmos, the three-person crew will operate the station for four days until the arrival of three new crew members. NASA astronaut Tim Kopra, Russian cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko and Tim Peake of ESA (European Space Agency) are scheduled to launch from Baikonur, Kazakhstan, on Dec. 15.

Related article:

Veggie plant growth experiment:

Related links:

NASA’s journey to Mars:

One-year mission:

For more information about the space station, including media resources, visit:

For breaking news and features, follow the station on Twitter: 

Images (mentioned), Video, Text, Credits: NASA/Stephanie Schierholz/NASA TV/Johnson Space Center/Dan Huot/Karen Northon.

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NASA Mars Rover Curiosity Reaches Sand Dunes

NASA - Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) patch.

December 11, 2015

Fast Facts:

- Curiosity is using its wheels, as well as its science payload, to investigate sand that forms active dunes on Mars.

- Plans call for the rover to scoop up and sieve sand for onboard laboratory analysis.

NASA's Curiosity Mars rover has begun an up-close investigation of dark sand dunes up to two stories tall. The dunes are on the rover's trek up the lower portion of a layered Martian mountain.

A view of the rippled surface of what's been informally named "High Dune"

Image above: The rippled surface of the first Martian sand dune ever studied up close fills this Nov. 27, 2015, view of "High Dune" from the Mast Camera on NASA's Curiosity rover. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS.

A wheel track exposing material beneath the surface of a sand sheet nearby

Image above: A wheel track left by NASA's Curiosity Mars rover exposes underlying material in a shallow sand sheet in this Dec. 2, 2015, view from Curiosity's Mast Camera (Mastcam). Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS.

The dunes close to Curiosity's current location are part of "Bagnold Dunes," a band along the northwestern flank of Mount Sharp inside Gale Crater. Observations of this dune field from orbit show that edges of individual dunes move as much as 3 feet (1 meter) per Earth year.

Image above: This view shows grains of sand where NASA's Curiosity Mars rover was driven into a shallow sand sheet near a large dune. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS.

The rover's planned investigations include scooping a sample of the dune material for analysis with laboratory instruments inside Curiosity.

Image above: This Dec. 5, 2015, view of the undisturbed surface of a Martian sand dune called "High Dune" shows coarse grains remaining on the surface after wind removal of smaller particles. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS.

Curiosity has been working on Mars since early August 2012. It reached the base of Mount Sharp in 2014 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.

For more information about Curiosity, visit:

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Dwayne Brown/Laurie Cantillo/JPL/Guy Webster.


jeudi 10 décembre 2015

Pluto’s Close-up, Now in Color & Zooming in on Pluto’s Pattern of Pits

NASA - New Horizons Mission logo.

Dec. 10, 2015

Pluto’s Close-up, Now in Color. Image Credits: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

This enhanced color mosaic combines some of the sharpest views of Pluto that NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft obtained during its July 14 flyby. The pictures are part of a sequence taken near New Horizons’ closest approach to Pluto, with resolutions of about 250-280 feet (77-85 meters) per pixel – revealing features smaller than half a city block on Pluto’s surface. Lower resolution color data (at about 2,066 feet, or 630 meters, per pixel) were added to create this new image.

The images form a strip 50 miles (80 kilometers) wide, trending (top to bottom) from the edge of “badlands” northwest of the informally named Sputnik Planum, across the al-Idrisi mountains, onto the shoreline of Pluto’s “heart” feature, and just into its icy plains. They combine pictures from the telescopic Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) taken approximately 15 minutes before New Horizons’ closest approach to Pluto, with  – from a range of only 10,000 miles (17,000 kilometers) – with color data (in near-infrared, red and blue) gathered by the Ralph/Multispectral Visible Imaging Camera (MVIC) 25 minutes before the LORRI pictures.

The wide variety of cratered, mountainous and glacial terrains seen here gives scientists and the public alike a breathtaking, super-high-resolution color window into Pluto’s geology.

Zooming in on Pluto’s Pattern of Pits. Image Credits: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

On July 14 the telescopic camera on NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft took the highest resolution images ever obtained of the intricate pattern of “pits” across a section of Pluto’s prominent heart-shaped region, informally named Tombaugh Regio. Mission scientists believe these mysterious indentations may form through a combination of ice fracturing and evaporation. The scarcity of overlying impact craters in this area also leads scientists to conclude that these pits – typically hundreds of yards across and tens of yards deep – formed relatively recently. Their alignment provides clues about the ice flow and the exchange of nitrogen and other volatile materials between the surface and the atmosphere.

Image above: On July 14 the telescopic camera on NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft took the highest resolution images ever obtained of the intricate pattern of “pits” across a section of Pluto’s prominent heart-shaped region, informally named Tombaugh Regio. The image is part of a sequence taken by New Horizons’ Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) as the spacecraft passed within 9,550 miles (15,400 kilometers) of Pluto’s surface, just 13 minutes before the time of closest approach. Image Credits: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI.

The image is part of a sequence taken by New Horizons’ Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) as the spacecraft passed within 9,550 miles (15,400 kilometers) of Pluto’s surface, just 13 minutes before the time of closest approach. The small box on the global view shows the section of the region imaged in the southeast corner of the giant ice sheet informally named Sputnik Planum. The magnified view is 50-by-50 miles (80-by-80 kilometers) across. The large ring-like structure near the bottom right of the magnified view -- and the smaller one near the bottom left -- may be remnant craters. The upper-left quadrant of the image shows the border between the relatively smooth Sputnik Planum ice sheet and the pitted area, with a series of hills forming slightly inside this unusual “shoreline.”

For more information about New Horizons mission, visit:

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Bill Keeter.


Space Station Crew Set to Return Tomorrow

ISS - Expedition 45 Mission patch.

Dec. 10, 2015

Three International Space Station crew members are preparing to return to Earth early Friday after 141 days in space. Expedition 45 Flight Engineers Kjell Lindgren of NASA, Oleg Kononenko of Roscosmos (Russian Federal Space Agency) and Kimiya Yui of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) will land in their Soyuz spacecraft at 8:12 a.m. EST, northeast of Dzhezkazgan, Kazakhstan.

NASA Television coverage begins at 1 a.m. Friday as they bid the station farewell, enter the Soyuz, and close the hatches. So far, the crew’s return is on track, and the space station is in good shape.

Expedition 46 Commander Scott Kelly of NASA, along with crewmates Mikhail Kornienko and Sergey Volkov of Roscosmos, will operate the station for four days until the arrival of three new crew members.

Image above: Russian spacecraft are seen docked to the International Space Station as it orbits over the Earth during the day. Image Credit: NASA TV.

NASA astronaut Tim Kopra, Russian cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko and Tim Peake of ESA (European Space Agency) are scheduled to launch from Baikonur, Kazakhstan, on Dec. 15 and arrive at the station about 6 hours later.

Kelly and Kornienko are on the first joint U.S.-Russian one-year mission, an important stepping stone on NASA’s journey to Mars. These activities also will stream online at:

For more information about the International Space Station, visit:

Image (mentioned), Text, Credit: NASA.


NASA Telescopes Detect Jupiter-Like Storm on Small Star

NASA - Spitzer Space Telescope logo / NASA - Kepler Mission logo.

Dec. 10, 2015

Astronomers have discovered what appears to be a tiny star with a giant, cloudy storm, using data from NASA's Spitzer and Kepler space telescopes. The dark storm is akin to Jupiter's Great Red Spot: a persistent, raging storm larger than Earth.

"The star is the size of Jupiter, and its storm is the size of Jupiter's Great Red Spot," said John Gizis of the University of Delaware, Newark. "We know this newfound storm has lasted at least two years, and probably longer." Gizis is the lead author of a new study appearing in The Astrophysical Journal.

Animation above: This illustration shows a cool star, called W1906+40, marked by a raging storm near one of its poles. The storm is thought to be similar to the Great Red Spot on Jupiter. Scientists discovered it using NASA's Kepler and Spitzer space telescopes. Animation Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

While planets have been known to have cloudy storms, this is the best evidence yet for a star that has one. The star, referred to as W1906+40, belongs to a thermally cool class of objects called L-dwarfs. Some L-dwarfs are considered stars because they fuse atoms and generate light, as our sun does, while others, called brown dwarfs, are known as "failed stars" for their lack of atomic fusion.

The L-dwarf in the study, W1906+40, is thought to be a star based on estimates of its age (the older the L-dwarf, the more likely it is a star). Its temperature is about 3,500 degrees Fahrenheit (2,200 Kelvin). That may sound scorching hot, but as far as stars go, it is relatively cool. Cool enough, in fact, for clouds to form in its atmosphere.

"The L-dwarf's clouds are made of tiny minerals," said Gizis.

Spitzer has observed other cloudy brown dwarfs before, finding evidence for short-lived storms lasting hours and perhaps days.

In the new study, the astronomers were able to study changes in the atmosphere of W1906+40 for two years. The L-dwarf had initially been discovered by NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer in 2011. Later, Gizis and his team realized that this object happened to be located in the same area of the sky where NASA's Kepler mission had been staring at stars for years to hunt for planets.

Kepler Space Telescope. Image Credit: NASA

Kepler identifies planets by looking for dips in starlight as planets pass in front of their stars. In this case, astronomers knew observed dips in starlight weren't coming from planets, but they thought they might be looking at a star spot -- which, like our sun's "sunspots," are a result of concentrated magnetic fields. Star spots would also cause dips in starlight as they rotate around the star.

Follow-up observations with Spitzer, which detects infrared light, revealed that the dark patch was not a magnetic star spot but a colossal, cloudy storm with a diameter that could hold three Earths. The storm rotates around the star about every 9 hours. Spitzer's infrared measurements at two infrared wavelengths probed different layers of the atmosphere and, together with the Kepler visible-light data, helped reveal the presence of the storm.

Spitzer Space Telescope. Image Credit: NASA

While this storm looks different when viewed at various wavelengths, astronomers say that if we could somehow travel there in a starship, it would look like a dark mark near the polar top of the star.

The researchers plan to look for other stormy stars and brown dwarfs using Spitzer and Kepler in the future.

"We don't know if this kind of star storm is unique or common, and we don't why it persists for so long," said Gizis.

Other authors of the study are: Adam Burgasser--University of California, San Diego; Kelle Cruz, Sara Camnasio and Munazza Alam--Hunter College, New York City, New York; Stanimir Metchev--University of Western Ontario, Canada; Edo Berger and Peter Williams--Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, Cambridge, Massachusetts; Kyle Dettman--University of Delaware, Newark; and Joseph Filippazzo--College of Staten Island, New York.

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

JPL manages the Spitzer Space Telescope mission for NASA. Science operations are conducted at the Spitzer Science Center at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. Spacecraft operations are based at Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company, Littleton, Colorado. Data are archived at the Infrared Science Archive housed at the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center at Caltech.

Related article:

Stormy Stars? NASA's Spitzer Probes Weather on Brown Dwarfs:

Caltech manages JPL for NASA.

For more information about Kepler and Spitzer visit:

Images (mentioned), Animation (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/JPL/Whitney Clavin/Ames Research Center/Michele Johnson/Tony Greicius.


What Spawned the Jellyfish Nebula?

NASA - Chandra X-ray Observatory patch.

Dec. 10, 2015

The Jellyfish Nebula, also known by its official name IC 443, is the remnant of a supernova lying 5,000 light years from Earth. New Chandra observations show that the explosion that created the Jellyfish Nebula may have also formed a peculiar object located on the southern edge of the remnant, called CXOU J061705.3+222127, or J0617 for short. The object is likely a rapidly spinning neutron star, or pulsar.

When a massive star runs out of thermonuclear fuel, it implodes, forming a dense stellar core called a neutron star. The outer layers of the star collapse toward the neutron star then bounce outward in a supernova explosion. A spinning neutron star that produces a beam of radiation is called a pulsar. The radiation sweeps by like a beacon of light from a lighthouse and can be detected as pulses of radio waves and other types of radiation.

This new composite image includes a wide-field view from an astrophotographer that shows the spectacular filamentary structure of IC 443. Within the inset box, another optical image from the Digitized Sky Survey (red, green, orange, and cyan) has been combined with X-ray data from Chandra (blue). The inset shows a close-up view of the region around J0617.

The Chandra image reveals a small, circular structure (or ring) surrounding the pulsar and a jet-like feature pointing roughly in an up-down direction that passes through the pulsar. It is unclear if the long, pink wisp of optical emission is related to the pulsar, as similar wisps found in IC 443 are unrelated to X-ray features from the pulsar.  The ring may show a region where a high speed wind of particles flowing away from the pulsar, is slowing down abruptly. Alternately, the ring may represent a shock wave, similar to a sonic boom, ahead of the pulsar wind. The jet could be particles that are being fired away from the pulsar in a narrow beam at high speed.

The X-ray brightness of J0617 and its X-ray spectrum, or the amount of X-rays at different wavelengths, are consistent with the profiles from known pulsars. The spectrum and shape of the diffuse, or spread out, X-ray emission surrounding J0617 and extending well beyond the ring also match with expectations for a wind flowing from a pulsar.

The comet-like shape of the diffuse X-ray emission suggests motion towards the lower right of the image. As pointed out in previous studies, this orientation is about 50 degrees away from the direction expected if the pulsar was moving away from the center of the supernova remnant in a straight line. This misalignment has cast some doubt on the association of the pulsar with the supernova remnant. However, this misalignment could also be explained by movement towards the left of material in the supernova remnant pushing J0617’s cometary tail aside.

Chandra X-ray Observatory

This latest research points to an estimate for the age of the supernova remnant to be tens of thousands of years. This agrees with previous work that pegged IC 443’s age to be about 30,000 years. However, other scientists have inferred much younger ages of about 3,000 years for this supernova remnant, so its true age remains in question.

These findings are available in a paper published in The Astrophysical Journal and is available online ( The authors are Douglas Swartz (Marshall Space Flight Center), George Pavlov (Penn State University), Tracy Clarke (Naval Research Laboratory), Gabriela Castelletti (IAEF, Argentina), Vyacheslav Zavlin (MSFC), Niccolo Bucciantini (INAF, Italy), Margarita Karovska (Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory), Alexander van der Horst (George Washington University), Mihoko Yukita (Goddard Space Flight Center), and Martin Weisskopf (MSFC).

NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, manages the Chandra program for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, Massachusetts, controls Chandra's science and flight operations.

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

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Images, Text, Credits: NASA/Lee Mohon/Wide Field Optical: Focal Pointe Observatory/B.Franke, Inset X-ray: NASA/CXC/MSFC/D.Swartz et al, Inset Optical: DSS, SARA.

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mercredi 9 décembre 2015

Satellite Animation Shows Series of Storms Pummel Pacific Northwest

NOAA / NASA - GOES Mission logo.

Dec. 9, 2015

An animation of satellite imagery over the course of 10 days shows a series of low pressure areas pummeling the Pacific Northwest. The video, created by the NASA/NOAA GOES Project at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland combined visible and infrared imagery from NOAA's GOES-West satellite.

GOES-15 Video of Storms Buffeting the Pacific Northwest

Video above: This animation of imagery from NOAA's GOES-15 shows a series of storms buffeting the Pacific Northwestern U.S. from Nov. 29 to early Dec. 9. Video Credits: NASA/NOAA GOES Project.

The animation shows a series of storms buffeting the Pacific Northwestern U.S. from Nov. 29 to Dec. 9, 2015.

The National Weather Service Weather Prediction Center (NWS NPC) in College Park, Maryland called it "a classic atmospheric river event" that was on-going across the pacific northwest with subtropical moisture streaming Into the region combined with a series of upper level disturbances.

On Dec. 9, National Weather Service doppler radars and surface observations showed moderate to heavy rain falling in western Washington and northwestern Oregon. Light to moderate rain, along with snow in higher elevations was also falling across portions of the northern inter-mountain west and northern Rockies.

Image above: This image from NOAA's GOES-15 on Dec. 9 at 1545 UTC (10:45 a.m. EST) shows the latest in a series of storms that have been affecting the Pacific Northwestern U.S. Image Credits: NASA/NOAA GOES Project.

On Dec. 9, there were a lot of watches and warnings in the region. Flood watches, warnings and flood advisories were in effect for portions of the Pacific Northwest as well as parts of northern California and northern Idaho. Winter storm watches and warnings were in effect for the Sierra Nevada Range in California and parts of the intermountain west. High wind watches, warnings and wind advisories were in effect for portions of the northwest U.S., especially in the higher terrain.

NWS Portland said that the active weather pattern will likely continue through Tuesday, Dec. 15, as a series of systems push across the Pacific Northwest. Models continue to bring more rain and cascade snow to the region this weekend.

Related links:

GOES (Geostationary Environmental Operational Satellites):

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Image (mentioned), Video (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/Rob Gutro/Lynn Jenner.


New Clues to Ceres' Bright Spots and Origins

NASA - Dawn Mission patch.

Dec. 9, 2015

Ceres Rotation and Occator Crater

Video above: Dwarf planet Ceres is shown in these false-color renderings, which highlight differences in surface materials. Images from NASA’s Dawn spacecraft were used to create a movie of Ceres rotating, followed by a flyover view of Occator Crater, home of Ceres’ brightest area. Video Credits: NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Ceres reveals some of its well-kept secrets in two new studies in the journal Nature, thanks to data from NASA's Dawn spacecraft. They include highly anticipated insights about mysterious bright features found all over the dwarf planet's surface.

In one study, scientists identify this bright material as a kind of salt. The second study suggests the detection of ammonia-rich clays, raising questions about how Ceres formed. 

About the Bright Spots

Ceres has more than 130 bright areas, and most of them are associated with impact craters. Study authors, led by Andreas Nathues at Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, Göttingen, Germany, write that the bright material is consistent with a type of magnesium sulfate called hexahydrite. A different type of magnesium sulfate is familiar on Earth as Epsom salt.

Image above: This representation of Ceres' Occator Crater in false colors shows differences in the surface composition. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA.

Nathues and colleagues, using images from Dawn's framing camera, suggest that these salt-rich areas were left behind when water-ice sublimated in the past. Impacts from asteroids would have unearthed the mixture of ice and salt, they say.

"The global nature of Ceres' bright spots suggests that this world has a subsurface layer that contains briny water-ice," Nathues said.

A New Look at Occator

The surface of Ceres, whose average diameter is 584 miles (940 kilometers), is generally dark -- similar in brightness to fresh asphalt -- study authors wrote. The bright patches that pepper the surface represent a large range of brightness, with the brightest areas reflecting about 50 percent of sunlight shining on the area. But there has not been unambiguous detection of water ice on Ceres; higher-resolution data are needed to settle this question.

Image above: An image of Occator Crater draped over a digital terrain model provides a 3-D-like perspective view of the impact structure. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA.

The inner portion of a crater called Occator contains the brightest material on Ceres. Occator itself is 60 miles (90 kilometers) in diameter, and its central pit, covered by this bright material, measures about 6 miles (10 kilometers) wide and 0.3 miles (0.5 kilometers) deep. Dark streaks, possibly fractures, traverse the pit. Remnants of a central peak, which was up to 0.3 miles (0.5 kilometers) high, can also be seen.

With its sharp rim and walls, and abundant terraces and landslide deposits, Occator appears to be among the youngest features on Ceres. Dawn mission scientists estimate its age to be about 78 million years old.

Study authors write that some views of Occator appear to show a diffuse haze near the surface that fills the floor of the crater. This may be associated with observations of water vapor at Ceres by the Herschel space observatory that were reported in 2014. The haze seems to be present in views during noon, local time, and absent at dawn and dusk, study authors write. This suggests that the phenomenon resembles the activity at the surface of a comet, with water vapor lifting tiny particles of dust and residual ice. Future data and analysis may test this hypothesis and reveal clues about the process causing this activity.

Image above: A group of scientists from NASA's Dawn mission suggests that when sunlight reaches Ceres' Occator Crater, a kind of thin haze of dust and evaporating water forms there. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA.

"The Dawn science team is still discussing these results and analyzing data to better understand what is happening at Occator," said Chris Russell, principal investigator of the Dawn mission, based at the University of California, Los Angeles.

The Importance of Ammonia

In the second Nature study, members of the Dawn science team examined the composition of Ceres and found evidence for ammonia-rich clays. They used data from the visible and infrared mapping spectrometer, a device that looks at how various wavelengths of light are reflected by the surface, allowing minerals to be identified.

Ammonia ice by itself would evaporate on Ceres today, because the dwarf planet is too warm. However, ammonia molecules could be stable if present in combination with (i.e. chemically bonded to) other minerals.

The presence of ammoniated compounds raises the possibility that Ceres did not originate in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, where it currently resides, but instead might have formed in the outer solar system. Another idea is that Ceres formed close to its present position, incorporating materials that drifted in from the outer solar system – near the orbit of Neptune, where nitrogen ices are thermally stable.

"The presence of ammonia-bearing species suggests that Ceres is composed of material accreted in an environment where ammonia and nitrogen were abundant. Consequently, we think that this material originated in the outer cold solar system,” said Maria Cristina De Sanctis, lead author of the study, based at the National Institute of Astrophysics, Rome.

Image above: Oxo Crater, which is about 6 miles (9 kilometers) in diameter, is the second-brightest feature on Ceres. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA.

In comparing the spectrum of reflected light from Ceres to meteorites, scientists found some similarities. Specifically, they focused on the spectra, or chemical fingerprints, of carbonaceous chondrites, a type of carbon-rich meteorite thought to be relevant analogues for the dwarf planet. But these are not good matches for all wavelengths that the instrument sampled, the team found. In particular, there were distinctive absorption bands, matching mixtures containing ammoniated minerals, associated with wavelengths that can't be observed from Earth-based telescopes.

The scientists note another difference is that these carbonaceous chondrites have bulk water contents of 15 to 20 percent, while Ceres' content is as much as 30 percent.

"Ceres may have retained more volatiles than these meteorites, or it could have accreted the water from volatile-rich material," De Sanctis said.

The study also shows that daytime surface temperatures on Ceres span from minus 136 degrees to minus 28 degrees Fahrenheit (180 to 240 Kelvin). The maximum temperatures were measured in the equatorial region. The temperatures at and near the equator are generally too high to support ice at the surface for a long time, study authors say, but data from Dawn's next orbit will reveal more details. 

As of this week, Dawn has reached its final orbital altitude at Ceres, about 240 miles (385 kilometers) from the surface of the dwarf planet. In mid-December, Dawn will begin taking observations from this orbit, including images at a resolution of 120 feet (35 meters) per pixel, infrared, gamma ray and neutron spectra, and high-resolution gravity data.

Dawn's mission is managed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory for NASA. Dawn is a project of the directorate's Discovery Program, managed by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. UCLA is responsible for overall Dawn mission science. Orbital ATK Inc., in Dulles, Virginia, designed and built the spacecraft. The German Aerospace Center, Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, Italian Space Agency and Italian National Astrophysical Institute are international partners on the mission team.

For a complete list of mission participants, visit:

More information about Dawn is available at the following sites:

Images (mentioned), Video (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory/Elizabeth Landau/Tony Greicius.


Long March 3B launches Chinasat 1C

CASC - China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation logo.

December 9, 2015

Image above: (Illustration) a Long March 3B carrier rocket carrying the ChinaSat-2C satellite blasts off from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center on Nov. 3, 2015. Image Credit: Xinhua/Zhao.

China launched the second of a new generation of tactical communications satellites. Zhongxing-1C – or Chinasat-1C – was launched at 16:46 UTC on December 9, 2015 – from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center. A Long March-3B/G2 rocket was used to loft the spacecraft uphill.

Zhongxing-1C is possibly the second satellite of the second generation Fenghuo geostationary tactical military communication satellites based on the DFH-4 satellite platform.

Chinasat 1C (ZX 1C) communications satellite

China uses two types of satellites for secure military communications: the Fenghuo and the Shentong. The Fenghuo series is used for tactical military communications, providing secured digital data and voice communication to Chinese military forces.

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

Images, Text, Credits: CASC/Günter Space Page/ Aerospace.


VLT Revisits a Curious Cosmic Collision

ESO - European Southern Observatory logo.

December 9, 2015

The surroundings of the interacting galaxy NGC 5291

The spectacular aftermath of a 360 million year old cosmic collision is revealed in great detail in new images from ESO’s Very Large Telescope at the Paranal Observatory. Among the debris is a rare and mysterious young dwarf galaxy. This galaxy is providing astronomers with an excellent opportunity to learn more about similar galaxies that are expected to be common in the early Universe, but are normally too faint and distant to be observed by current telescopes.

NGC 5291, the hazy, golden oval dominating the centre of this image, is an elliptical galaxy located nearly 200 million light-years away in the constellation of Centaurus (The Centaur). Over 360 million years ago, NGC 5291 was involved in a dramatic and violent collision as another galaxy travelling at immense speeds barrelled into its core. The cosmic crash ejected huge streams of gas into nearby space, which later coalesced into a ring formation around NGC 5291 [1].

The interacting galaxy NGC 5291 in the constellation of Centaurus

Over time, material in this ring gathered and collapsed into dozens of star-forming regions and several dwarf galaxies, revealed as pale blue and white regions scattered around NGC 5291 in this new image from the FORS instrument, mounted on the VLT. The most massive and luminous clump of material, to the right of NGC 5291, is one of these dwarf galaxies and is known as NGC 5291N.

The Milky Way, like all large galaxies, is believed to have formed through the build-up of smaller dwarf galaxies in the early years of the Universe. These small galaxies, if they have survived on their own up to the present day, now normally contain many extremely old stars.

Wide-field view of the sky around the interacting galaxy NGC 5291

Yet NGC 5291N appears to contain no old stars. Detailed observations with the MUSE spectrograph [2] also found that the outer parts of the galaxy had properties typically associated with the formation of new stars, but what was observed is not predicted by current theoretical models. Astronomers suspect that these unusual aspects may be the result of massive collisions of gas in the region.

NGC 5291N doesn’t look like a typical dwarf galaxy, but instead it shares a striking number of similarities with the clumpy structures present within many of the star-forming galaxies in the distant Universe. This makes it a unique system in our local Universe and an important laboratory for the study of early gas-rich galaxies, which are normally much too distant to be observed in detail by current telescopes.

The surroundings of the interacting galaxy NGC 5291 (annotated)

This unusual system has previously been observed by a wide range of ground-based facilities, including ESO’s 3.6-metre telescope at the La Silla Observatory [3]. However, the capabilities of MUSE, FORS and the Very Large Telescope have only now allowed some of the history and properties of NGC 5291N to be determined.

Zooming in on the interacting galaxy system NGC 5291

Future observations, including those by ESO’s European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT), may allow astronomers to further unravel this dwarf galaxy’s remaining mysteries.

Close-up view of the surroundings of the interacting galaxy NGC 5291


[1] NGC 5291 is currently also interacting more gently with MCG-05-33-005 — or the Seashell Galaxy — the unusual comma-shaped galaxy appearing to leech off NGC 5291’s luminous core.

[2] NGC 5291N was observed using integral field spectrography during MUSE’s first Science Verification run. Integral field spectrography collects a spectrum at every point on the sky, providing a powerful three-dimensional view of the target. The MUSE observations revealed unexpected oxygen and hydrogen emission lines in the outskirts of NGC 5291N.

[3] NGC 5291 was studied by astronomers using ESO’s 3.6-metre telescope at the La Silla Observatory back in 1978. These observations revealed large amounts of material in the intergalactic space around the galaxy, which we now know to be the star-forming regions and several dwarf galaxies created from the collapse of the galaxy’s gaseous ring.

More information:

This research was presented in a paper entitled “Ionization processes in a local analogue of distant clumpy galaxies: VLT MUSE IFU spectroscopy and FORS deep images of the TDG NGC 5291N”, by J. Fensch et al., to appear in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics.

The team is composed of J. Fensch (Laboratoire AIM Paris-Saclay, CEA/IRFU/SAp, Universite Paris Diderot, Gif-sur-Yvette, France [CEA]), P.-A. Duc (CEA) , P. M. Weilbacher (Leibniz-Institut für Astrophysik, Potsdam, Germany), M. Boquien (University of Cambridge, United Kingdom; Universidad de Antofagasta, Antofagasta, Chile) and E. Zackrisson (Uppsala University, Uppsala, Sweden).

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:

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Images, Text, Credits: ESO/IAU and Sky & Telescope/Digitized Sky Survey 2. Acknowledgement: Davide De Martin/Videos: ESO/Digitized Sky Survey 2/N. Risinger (


Cygnus Attached to Station Ready for Business

Orbital ATK / NASA - ISS CRS-4 Launch patch.

December 9, 2015

Image above: This rendering from a real-time computer animation shows the Cygnus spacecraft at the time of its capture with the Canadarm2 robotic arm. Credit: NASA TV.

Using the International Space Station’s robotic arm, Canadarm2, NASA Flight Engineer Kjell Lindgren successfully captured Orbital ATK’s Cygnus cargo vehicle at 6:19 a.m. EST. The space station crew and the robotics officer in mission control in Houston will position Cygnus for installation to the orbiting laboratory’s Earth-facing port of the Unity module.

The Orbital ATK Cygnus cargo ship was bolted into place on the International Space Station’s Earth-facing port of the Unity module at 9:26 a.m. EST. Cygnus will be the first cargo ship to be berthed to the Earth-facing port on the Unity module.

Image above: Dec. 9, 2015: International Space Station Configuration. (Clockwise from top) The Soyuz TMA-18M spacecraft is docked to the Poisk mini-research module. The ISS Progress 61 spacecraft is docked to the Zvezda service module. The ISS Progress 60 spacecraft is docked to the Pirs docking compartment. The Soyuz TMA-17M spacecraft is docked to the Rassvet mini-research module. The Cygnus-4 cargo craft is berthed to the Unity module.

The spacecraft’s arrival will support the crew members’ research off the Earth to benefit the Earth. The Cygnus is delivering more than 7,000 pounds of science and research, crew supplies and vehicle hardware to the orbital laboratory to support dozens of approximately 250 science and research investigations that will occur during Expeditions 45 and 46. Science payloads aboard Cygnus will offer a new life science facility that will support studies on cell cultures, bacteria and other microorganisms; a microsatellite deployer and the first microsatellite that will be deployed from the space station; and experiments that will study the behavior of gases and liquids, clarify the thermo-physical properties of molten steel, and evaluate flame-resistant textiles.

U.S. Cargo Craft Arrives at Space Station

Cygnus also will deliver replacement cargo items including a set of Microsoft HoloLens devices for use in NASA’s Sidekick project, a safety jet pack astronauts wear during spacewalks known as SAFER, and high pressure nitrogen and oxygen tanks to plug into the station’s air supply network.

The spacecraft will spend more than a month attached to the space station before its destructive re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere in January 2016, disposing of about 3,000 pounds of trash.

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