samedi 2 avril 2016

Russian Cargo Ship Arrives, SpaceX Dragon Due Next Sunday

ROSCOSMOS - Russian Vehicles patch.

April 2, 2016

Russian Supply Spacecraft Arrives Safely to the ISS

The Progress 63 cargo spacecraft docked successfully to the rear port of the Zvezda Service Module on the International Space Station at 1:58 p.m. EDT. The Kurs automated docking system enabled a smooth rendezvous as the cargo resupply craft and the International Space Station flew about 250 miles above Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan.

Archive image: Progress 62P Cargo Craft Approaching the Station. Image Credit: NASA.

Progress 63 arrived with more than three tons of food, fuel and supplies for the space station crew, after its launch Thursday from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

Image above: Saturday’s arrival of the Progress 63 spacecraft marks five spacecraft parked at the International Space Station. Image Credit: NASA TV.

The docking of the Progress 63 vehicle marked the second cargo ship in as many weeks to arrive at the station. Up next is the scheduled launch of the SpaceX Dragon cargo resupply vehicle on April 8 from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. The Dragon’s arrival at the complex on April 10 will be the third resupply vehicle for the station in three weeks, resulting in some 12 tons of cargo for the station’s residents from Progress, Dragon and the Orbital ATK Cygnus ship, which arrived at the station on March 26.

For more information about the space station, visit:

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

Best regards,

Rosetta - Comet Watch 27 March

ESA - Rosetta Mission patch.

April 2, 2016

This week's CometWatch is an image taken on the outward leg of the excursion, on 27 March, when the spacecraft was 329 km from the nucleus.

Image above: Enhanced NAVCAM image of Comet 67P/C-G taken on 27 March 2016, 329 km from the comet nucleus. The scale is 28 m/pixel and the image measures 28.7 km across. Image Credits: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM – CC BY-SA IGO 3.0.

In February and March, Rosetta spent several weeks at very close distances from the comet nucleus, which overfilled the field of view of the NAVCAM, providing us with striking views of the surface. During the current excursion, instead, we can enjoy again a view of the full nucleus and the environment around it.

In this CometWatch image, the small comet lobe is on the left and the large one on the right. The image was taken at a very large phase angle of about 159 degrees, meaning that the comet lies between the spacecraft and the Sun, and that all three are very close to being on the same line.

In this configuration, the nucleus appears backlit, with only a few portions of the illuminated surface visible from this view – in the upper and upper right part of the nucleus.

Thanks to the combination of a long, four-second exposure, no attenuation filter and a low-gain setting on the analogue signal processor of NAVCAM (a setting that is used to image bright targets), the image reveals the bright environment of the comet, displaying beautiful outflows of activity streaming away from the nucleus in various directions.

Image above: The original NAVCAM image. Image Credits: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM – CC BY-SA IGO 3.0.

It is interesting to note hints of the shadow cast by the nucleus on the coma below it, as well as a number of background stars sprinkled across the image.

Today, Rosetta is moving back below 600 km from the nucleus, having been at 1000 km on 30 March. The spacecraft will come back to about 200 km early next week and carry out a zero phase flyby on 9 April at around 30 km altitude.

Meanwhile, 984 new NAVCAM images were released yesterday, covering the weeks between 16 December 2015 and 9 February 2016. You can browse through them via the NAVCAM Image Browser tool:

Related links:

Where is Rosetta?:

For more information about Rosetta mission, visit:

Rosetta overview:

Rosetta in depth:

Rosetta at Astrium:

Rosetta at DLR:

Ground-based comet observation campaign:

Rosetta factsheet:

Frequently asked questions:

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: ESA/Rosetta Blog, Caudia.


vendredi 1 avril 2016

CERN - In Theory: Why are theoreticians filled with wanderlust?

CERN - European Organization for Nuclear Research logo.

April 1, 2016

Image above: Nanie Perrin (pictured) and her colleagues in the Theory Secretariat are the first port of call for those embarking on a stay in the Theory department. (Image: Sophia Bennett/ CERN).

A large tin holding dozens of keys sits in the office of the Theory Secretariat. Each one unlocks a stay on a Theory corridor. Nanie Perrin hands them out, and collects them back, in a constant game of musical chairs - or rather, musical offices. On the Secretariat's board (the only whiteboard in the corridor), departures are listed in red, arrivals in green.

One theoretician going away for a fortnight leaves his office to another, and so on. Several dozen new brains pass through the Secretariat's door each month, arriving for visits that last a day, a month or several years. They come to attend seminars and workshops, to begin contracts as post-doctoral students, fellows and staff members (although this is rarer), or simply to hold discussions with their colleagues.

The Secretariat is their haven, a place for information, lost property and lost theoreticians. The assistants, Nanie Perrin, Michelle Connor and Jeanne Rostant, help them to organise their meetings and seminars. Behind the scenes, Elena Gianolio provides IT support. Everything is arranged so that the theoreticians can focus exclusively on thinking, problem-solving, calculations, and writing.

"We have around 800 visitors a year," explains Nanie Perrin. "There are more during the summer, because many theoreticians have teaching jobs at universities and come to work at CERN during their holidays."

Travel is an integral part of a theoretician's life, racking up kilometres and time differences. 'I make about two intercontinental trips a year, plus six or so within Europe,' explains Wolfgang Lerche, a theoretician at CERN. 'Last year, I spent 300 hours on aeroplanes and travelled around 200,000 kilometres,' says his colleague Michelangelo Mangano.

Image above: The Secretariat have the keys, the information and the computers needed to ensure that the theoreticians can focus exclusively – well, almost - on their work. (Image: sophia Bennett/ CERN).

Experienced theoreticians travel primarily to give lessons and presentations, to attend conferences and to sit on thesis juries and boards.

In an age when MOOCs, Skype and video-conferences are everywhere, travelling to speak to students may seem as old-fashioned as writing on a blackboard in chalk. However, all theoreticians agree that actually meeting people is indispensable for their work.

"Skype is used more and more for collaborative work. But nothing can beat a meeting in person. If you meet a collaborator, you can talk for 10 hours in a row or more. There is no way you can do this electronically," says Michelangelo Mangano.

"It's human interaction that produces the spark. Exchanging ideas is essential in a discipline like ours, which is constantly evolving. Projects are often born out of impromptu discussions. We attend conferences not only to present our own work but also to develop new projects. Conferences are project incubators!" explains Christophe Grojean, a theoretician at the DESY laboratory and a former resident of CERN's Theory corridor.

"You have to be in the same room for ideas to sparkle," says Slava Rychkov, a theoretician at CERN. "The Simons Foundation, which funds a collaborative programme in mathematical and physical sciences, requires 25% of its budget to be spent on organising face-to-face meetings and conferences."

Image above: Michelangelo Mangano takes a break in his office. Behind him, a wall covered in his 'ultra-trailer' race numbers. Three or four times a year, he takes part in these extreme mountain races of 100 kilometres or more, sometimes with drops and climbs of 10,000 metres. It is the long plane journeys and the determination to master interminable calculations that have prepared him for these races, he explains. 'Running for hours with only myself for company doesn't bother me. I trained for it during all those flights when I was younger, spending as many as nine hours completely idle, with nothing to look at but the seat in front of me. We didn't have laptops or films to watch then.' (Image: Maximillien Brice/ CERN).

Gian Giudice, the head of CERN's Theory department, has established a daily meeting in the Theory corridor's small meeting room. During the afternoon coffee break, discussions thrive. It's a way of encouraging the scientists to tear themselves away from their solitary calculations and spend time with their colleagues. Working in theory is something of a paradox, at once solitary and collaborative, fostering both solidarity and competition.

While experimental physics brings scientists together around great instruments, such as the LHC and its experiments, theoretical physics requires only blackboards, chalk, computers and, of course, brains. And since scientific talent is rare but evenly distributed around the world, this small community is scattered and its members are obliged to travel constantly.

The geographical dispersion of the community is also a great asset. Firstly, it means that institutes develop their own specialities. For example, thanks to its closeness to the experiments, CERN is the kingdom of phenomenology. Phenomenology forms a bridge between the theoretical models and experimental physics. Phenomenologists will propose quantities that are measurable by the experiments, starting from the theoretical models, or, the other way round, reveal theoretical models starting from observations.

Image above: The Theory corridor welcomes hundreds of visitors each year, all of whom must be provided with offices. The strips of white paper stuck to this door act as name plates. There's no need to reprint them each time: when someone moves into the office, their name is slipped into the space provided, and when they leave, it is removed and stuck back on the door. (Image: Sophia Bennett/CERN).

Furthermore, different cultures inspire different ways of thinking. "We often underestimate how great an effect culture has on scientific thought," says Christophe Grojean. "Equations may be universal, but the way we understand them and combine them with other results is very personal."

While experienced physicists travel to spread their knowledge, young ones go from country to country to take up post-doctoral and temporary contracts. It takes them several years to get a permanent job. Their CVs make for dizzying reading.

"It's impossible to get a permanent job without working at several different institutes first," says Camille Bonvin, a fellow in CERN's Theory department. "I've worked at four institutes so far, and I'm going to another one in June. The job I’ll be taking up isn't permanent, so it's highly likely that I'll move again afterwards."

This lack of job security discourages many young graduates, who often end up leaving the field. Some go on to work in computing or finance, where their analytical abilities are highly valued.

"One famous, if atypical, example is Yuri Milner, who left particle physics for the financial world. He is now a billionaire and a science philanthropist. As he himself quipped: 'That I quit was a net gain for physics'" – Slava Rychov.

The instability of the first years is, however, seen as an essential part of the training. "In my opinion, it's very beneficial. Working at different institutes enables you to explore different environments and widen your fields of research and your interests," adds Camille Bonvin.

"All theoreticians have to go through it," says Gian Giudice. "It's essential, because moving is an enriching experience. You can’t spend all of your life in the same place and expect to make breakthroughs."

Image above: Camille Bonvin (back right), a fellow in CERN's Theory department, in her office, surrounded by other young theoreticians. Young theoreticians travel around from contract to contract before finding a permanent job. (Image: Sophia Bennett/ CERN).

"It's hard to judge young people right after their PhD. They have to get out from under the wing of their advisor, show independence and produce important results, then they are ready for a tenured job," explains Slava Rychkov.

The constant movement enables young physicists to build up a network of colleagues and, sometimes, to find a new direction for their research.

A life spent travelling from country to country may sound exhilarating, but combining it with a family life is difficult. Yet, it is precisely between the ages of 25 and 35 that theoreticians are busy proving themselves, constantly travelling from one institute to another.

"A certain talent is needed to juggle both science and personal life," says Slava Rychkov.

But many theoreticians manage to do just that. Their children grow up in several countries. "It's complicated sometimes, but it's beneficial for the whole family," explains Christophe Grojean, who has three children with another theoretician. Camille Bonvin, a young mother, hopes to succeed in this herself: "My thesis supervisor has a wonderful career and three fantastic children. She's a great example that proves that it’s possible."

The next article in the In Theory series will look at the differences between experimentalists and theorists, how they compete and how they collaborate . Read the previous articles here:

CERN - In Theory: Are theoreticians just football fanatics?

CERN - In theory: Welcome to the Theory corridor:

CERN - In Theory: why bother with theoretical physics?:


CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, is one of the world’s largest and most respected centres for scientific research. Its business is fundamental physics, finding out what the Universe is made of and how it works. At CERN, the world’s largest and most complex scientific instruments are used to study the basic constituents of matter — the fundamental particles. By studying what happens when these particles collide, physicists learn about the laws of Nature.

The instruments used at CERN are particle accelerators and detectors. Accelerators boost beams of particles to high energies before they are made to collide with each other or with stationary targets. Detectors observe and record the results of these collisions.

Founded in 1954, the CERN Laboratory sits astride the Franco–Swiss border near Geneva. It was one of Europe’s first joint ventures and now has 22 Member States.

Large Hadron Collider (LHC):

CERN's "Group of Theoretical Studies":

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

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

Best regards,

Crew Ready for Pair of Space Shipments from Russia and U.S.

ISS - Expedition 47 Mission patch.

April 1, 2016

The Expedition 47 crew will receive a space delivery from Russia this weekend. SpaceX is counting down to the launch of another space shipment on its Dragon space freighter scheduled for April 8 from Florida.

Onboard the International Space Station, the crew checked out U.S. spacesuits and advanced science hardware. The station residents also explored life science and human research to benefit life on Earth and crews in space.

Image above: The Cygnus cargo spacecraft is seen after it arrived at the space station and was captured by the Canadarm2 robotic arm March 28. Image Credit: NASA.

Commander Tim Kopra scrubbed cooling loops in U.S. spacesuits and installed new gear inside the Combustion Integrated Rack research facility. NASA astronaut Jeff Williams set up equipment for an experiment that is researching new exercise techniques for living in space. British astronaut Tim Peake swapped hard drives in a laptop computer that is recording data collected for a dark matter detection experiment.

Russia’s newest cargo craft, the Progress 63, is on its way to the station carrying over three tons of food, fuel and supplies for the crew and will dock Saturday at 2 p.m. EDT/6 p.m. UTC. The following week, another delivery from the United States will liftoff aboard the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, carrying more science and gear inside the Dragon cargo craft. Both missions will be covered live on NASA TV:

Related links:

Combustion Integrated Rack:

Dark matter detection experiment:


For more information about the space station, visit:

Image (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Mark Garcia.


Sonified Higgs data show a surprising result

CERN - European Organization for Nuclear Research logo.

April 1, 2016

Image above: By analyzing data from collisions in the LHC experiments then using music to translate what they see, scientists have been able to make out faint patterns that sound like well-known tunes. (Image: Daniel Dominguez/ CERN).

Scientists at CERN have been using new techniques to try and learn more about the tiniest particles in our universe. One unusual method they’ve utilised is to turn data from the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) into sounds – using music as a language to translate what they find.

Physics data and music share many similar connections, from resonances and vibrations, to patterns and frequency. By sonifying the data, comparing it to a musical score and then applying what we know about music theory it can give researchers a different perspective on the data, and throw up unusual insights.

This is exactly what happened this week when physicists at CERN sonified the Higgs boson data. They were shocked when, after listening to random notes as the data played its random tune, a bump in the graph translated into a well-known pattern of recognisable notes.

“It’s surprising that such an awful piece of music would be found in such important data,” said Wilhelm Richard Wagner, a CERN physicist who works on the Valkyries theory. “I’d have expected the universe to sound even more dramatic, more like a film score…’

The team are now working on sonifying as much data as possible to see if further musical patterns can be recognised. The next step is to see if other physics theories, not just the Standard Model, have music in their background noise.

You can listen to the sonified Higgs boson in the video below:

Sonified Higgs data show a surprising result

Video above: Scientists were surprised by what they found in the Higgs boson data when they listened to it for the first time. (Vidéo : CERN).

Happy April 1st from the CERN!


CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, is one of the world’s largest and most respected centres for scientific research. Its business is fundamental physics, finding out what the Universe is made of and how it works. At CERN, the world’s largest and most complex scientific instruments are used to study the basic constituents of matter — the fundamental particles. By studying what happens when these particles collide, physicists learn about the laws of Nature.

The instruments used at CERN are particle accelerators and detectors. Accelerators boost beams of particles to high energies before they are made to collide with each other or with stationary targets. Detectors observe and record the results of these collisions.

Founded in 1954, the CERN Laboratory sits astride the Franco–Swiss border near Geneva. It was one of Europe’s first joint ventures and now has 22 Member States.

Related links:

Standard Model:

Higgs boson:

Large Hadron Collider (LHC):

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

Image (mentioned), Video (mentioned), Text, Credits: CERN/Harriet Kim Jarlett.

Happy April 1st! Best regards,

Hubble Peers at a Distinctly Disorganized Dwarf Galaxy

NASA - Hubble Space Telescope patch.

April 1, 2016

Despite being less famous than their elliptical and spiral galactic cousins, irregular dwarf galaxies, such as the one captured in this NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image, are actually one of the most common types of galaxy in the universe. Known as UGC 4459, this dwarf galaxy is located approximately 11 million light-years away in the constellation of Ursa Major (The Great Bear), a constellation that is also home to the Pinwheel Galaxy (M101), the Owl Nebula (M97), Messier 81, Messier 82 and several other galaxies all part of the M81 group.

UGC 4459’s diffused and disorganized appearance is characteristic of an irregular dwarf galaxy. Lacking a distinctive structure or shape, irregular dwarf galaxies are often chaotic in appearance, with neither a nuclear bulge — a huge, tightly packed central group of stars — nor any trace of spiral arms — regions of stars extending from the center of the galaxy. Astronomers suspect that some irregular dwarf galaxies were once spiral or elliptical galaxies, but were later deformed by the gravitational pull of nearby objects.

Rich with young blue stars and older red stars, UGC 4459 has a stellar population of several billion. Though seemingly impressive, this is small when compared to the 200 to 400 billion stars in the Milky Way!

Observations with Hubble have shown that because of their low masses of dwarf galaxies like UGC 4459, star formation is very low compared to larger galaxies. Only very little of their original gas has been turned into stars. Thus, these small galaxies are interesting to study to better understand primordial environments and the star formation process.

Hubble orbiting Earth

For images and more information about the Milky Way Nuclear Star Cluster and Hubble, visit:

Text, Video, Credit: European Space Agency (ESA)/Image, Credits: ESA/Hubble and NASA; Acknowledgement: Judy Schmidt/Ashley Morrow.


ALMA’s Most Detailed Image of a Protoplanetary Disc

ALMA - Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array logo.

April 1, 2016

Evidence for planet formation in Earth-like orbit around young star

ALMA image of the disc around the young star TW Hydrae

This new image from the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) shows the finest detail ever seen in the planet-forming disc around the nearby Sun-like star TW Hydrae. It reveals a tantalising gap at the same distance from the star as the Earth is from the Sun, which may mean that an infant version of our home planet, or possibly a more massive super-Earth, is beginning to form there.

The star TW Hydrae is a popular target of study for astronomers because of its proximity to Earth (only about 175 light-years away) and its status as an infant star (about 10 million years old). It also has a face-on orientation as seen from Earth. This gives astronomers a rare, undistorted view of the complete protoplanetary disc around the star.

ALMA image of the planet-forming disc around the young, Sun-like star TW Hydrae

"Previous studies with optical and radio telescopes confirm that TW Hydrae hosts a prominent disc with features that strongly suggest planets are beginning to coalesce," said Sean Andrews with the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA and lead author on a paper published today in the Astrophysical Journal Letters. "The new ALMA images show the disc in unprecedented detail, revealing a series of concentric dusty bright rings and dark gaps, including intriguing features that may indicate that a planet with an Earth-like orbit is forming there."

Other pronounced gaps that show up in the new images are located three billion and six billion kilometres from the central star, similar to the average distances from the Sun to Uranus and Pluto in the Solar System. They too are likely to be the results of particles that came together to form planets, which then swept their orbits clear of dust and gas and shepherded the remaining material into well-defined bands.

Inner region of the TW Hydrae protoplanetary disc as imaged by ALMA

For the new TW Hydrae observations, astronomers imaged the faint radio emission from millimetre-sized dust grains in the disc, revealing details on the order of the distance between the Earth and the Sun (about 150 million kilometres). These detailed observations were made possible with ALMA’s high-resolution, long-baseline configuration. When ALMA's dishes are at their maximum separation, up to 15 kilometres apart, the telescope is able to resolve finer details. "This is the highest spatial resolution image ever of a protoplanetary disc from ALMA, and that won't be easily beaten in the future!" said Andrews [1].

"TW Hydrae is quite special. It is the nearest known protoplanetary disc to Earth and it may closely resemble the Solar System when it was only 10 million years old," adds co-author David Wilner, also with the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

ALMA image of the disc around the young star TW Hydrae

Earlier ALMA observations of another system, HL Tauri, show that even younger protoplanetary discs — a mere 1 million years old — can display similar signatures of planet formation. By studying the older TW Hydrae disc, astronomers hope to better understand the evolution of our own planet and the prospects for similar systems throughout the Milky Way.

The astronomers now want to find out how common these kinds of features are in discs around other young stars and how they might change with time or environment.


[1] The angular resolution of the images of HL Tauri was similar to these new observations, but as TW Hydrae is much closer to Earth, finer details can be seen.

More information:

This research was presented in a paper "Ringed Substructure and a Gap at 1 AU in the Nearest Protoplanetary Disk", by S.M. Andrews et al., appearing in the Astrophysical Journal Letters.

The team is composed of Sean M. Andrews (Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA), David J. Wilner (Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA) , Zhaohuan Zhu (Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey, USA), Tilman Birnstiel (Max-Planck-Institut für Astronomie, Heidelberg, Germany), John M. Carpenter (Joint ALMA Observatory, Santiago, Chile), Laura M. Peréz (Max-Planck-Institut für Radioastronomie, Bonn, Germany), Xue-Ning Bai (Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA), Karin I. Öberg (Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA), A. Meredith Hughes (Wesleyan University, Van Vleck Observatory, Middletown, USA), Andrea Isella (Rice University, Houston, Texas, USA) and Luca Ricci (Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA).

The Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), an international astronomy facility, is a partnership of ESO, the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institutes of Natural Sciences (NINS) of Japan in cooperation with the Republic of Chile. ALMA is funded by ESO on behalf of its Member States, by NSF in cooperation with the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) and the National Science Council of Taiwan (NSC) and by NINS in cooperation with the Academia Sinica (AS) in Taiwan and the Korea Astronomy and Space Science Institute (KASI).

ALMA construction and operations are led by ESO on behalf of its Member States; by the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO), managed by Associated Universities, Inc. (AUI), on behalf of North America; and by the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan (NAOJ) on behalf of East Asia. The Joint ALMA Observatory (JAO) provides the unified leadership and management of the construction, commissioning and operation of ALMA.

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”.

Related links:

Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics:

Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA):


Research paper:

Photos of ALMA:

Other press releases featuring ALMA:

Images, Text, Credits:S. Andrews (Harvard-Smithsonian CfA); B. Saxton (NRAO/AUI/NSF); ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO)/Video: S. Andrews (Harvard-Smithsonian CfA); B. Saxton (NRAO/AUI/NSF); ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO). Music: Johan B. Monell.

Best regards,

Found: Andromeda's First Spinning Neutron Star

ESA - XMM-Newton Mission patch.

April 1, 2016

Decades of searching in the Milky Way’s nearby ‘twin’ galaxy Andromeda have finally paid off, with the discovery of an elusive breed of stellar corpse, a neutron star, by ESA’s XMM-Newton space telescope.

Andromeda, or M31, is a popular target among astronomers. Under clear, dark skies it is even visible to the naked eye. Its proximity and similarity in structure to our own spiral galaxy, the Milky Way, make it an important natural laboratory for astronomers. It has been extensively studied for decades by telescopes covering the whole electromagnetic spectrum.

Despite being extremely well studied, one particular class of object had never been detected: spinning neutron stars.

Neutron stars are the small and extraordinarily dense remains of a once-massive star that exploded as a powerful supernova at the end of its natural life. They often spin very rapidly and can sweep regular pulses of radiation towards Earth, like a lighthouse beacon appearing to flash on and off as it rotates.

These ‘pulsars’ can be found in stellar couples, with the neutron star cannibalising its neighbour. This can lead to the neutron star spinning faster, and to pulses of high-energy X-rays from hot gas being funnelled down magnetic fields on to the neutron star.

Binary systems hosting a neutron star like this are quite common in our own Galaxy, but regular signals from such a pairing had never before been seen in Andromeda.

Now, astronomers systematically searching through the archives of data from XMM-Newton X-ray telescope have uncovered the signal of an unusual source fitting the bill of a fast-spinning neutron star.

Image above: Andromeda’s spinning neutron star. Image Credits: ESA/Herschel/PACS/SPIRE/J. Fritz, U. Gent/XMM-Newton/EPIC/W. Pietsch, MPE; data: P. Esposito et al (2016).

It spins every 1.2 seconds, and appears to be feeding on a neighbouring star that orbits it every 1.3 days.

“We were expecting to detect periodic signals among the brightest X-ray objects in Andromeda, in line with what we already found during the 1960s and 1970s in our own Galaxy,” says Gian Luca Israel, from INAF-Osservatorio Astronomica di Roma, Italy, one of the authors of the paper describing the results, “But persistent, bright X-ray pulsars like this are still somewhat peculiar, so it was not completely a sure thing we would find one in Andromeda.

“We looked through archival data of Andromeda spanning 2000–13, but it wasn’t until 2015 that we were finally able to identify this object in the galaxy’s outer spiral in just two of the 35 measurements.”

While the precise nature of the system remains unclear, the data imply that it is unusual and exotic.

“It could be what we call a ‘peculiar low-mass X-ray binary pulsar’ – in which the companion star is less massive than our Sun – or alternatively an intermediate-mass binary system, with a companion of about two solar masses,” says Paolo Esposito of INAF-Istituto di Astrofisica Spaziale e Fisica Cosmica, Milan, Italy.

“We need to acquire more observations of the pulsar and its companion to help determine which scenario is more likely.”

“The well-known Andromeda galaxy has long been a source of exciting discoveries, and now an intriguing periodic signal has been detected by our flagship X-ray mission,” adds Norbert Schartel, ESA’s XMM-Newton project scientist.

ESA’s XMM-Newton space telescope

“We’re in a better position now to uncover more objects like this in Andromeda, both with XMM-Newton and with future missions such as ESA’s next-generation high-energy observatory, Athena.”

Notes for Editors:

“EXTraS discovery of an 1.2-s X-ray pulsar in M31” by P. Esposito et al, is published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, Volume 457, pp L5-L9, Issue 1 March 21, 2016.

EXTraS, Exploring the X-ray Transient and variable Sky, is a European Commission FP7-funded project to systematically explore the content of XMM-Newton data in the time domain that is released to the astronomical community.

The source detected in the EXTraS data is identified as 3XMM J004301.4+413017.

Related links:

XMM-Newton X-ray Observatory:

Exploring the X-ray Transient and variable Sky (EXTraS):

Images, Text, Credits: ESA XMM-Newton project scientist/Norbert Schartel/INAF-Istituto di Astrofisica Spaziale e Fisica Cosmica/Paolo Esposito/Gian Luca Israel/Andrea De Luca.

Best regards,

jeudi 31 mars 2016

Food, Fuel and Supplies Shipped on Two-Day Space Delivery

ROSCOSMOS - Russian Vehicle patch.

March 31, 2016

Image above: The Progress 63 spacecraft launches on a two-day trip to the International Space Station. Image Credits: NASA TV/Screen capture by Catherine Laplace-Builhe.

Carrying more than three tons of food, fuel, and supplies for the International Space Station crew, the unpiloted ISS Progress 63 cargo craft launched at 12:23 p.m. EDT (10:23 p.m. local time in Baikonur) from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

At the time of launch, the International Space Station was flying about 251 miles up over northeast Iraq.

Russian Supply Spacecraft Launches to the ISS

Less than 9 minutes after launch, the resupply ship reached preliminary orbit and deployed its solar arrays and navigational antennas as planned. The Russian cargo craft will make 34 orbits of Earth during the next two days before docking to the orbiting laboratory at 2 p.m. Saturday, April 2.

Beginning at 1:15 p.m. on Saturday, NASA Television will provide live coverage of Progress 63’s arrival to the space station’s aft port of the Zvezda Service Module.

Watch live on NASA TV and online at:

For more information about the space station, visit:

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


Solar Impulse 2, soon to go again

SolarImpulse - Around The World patch.

March 31, 2016

Grounded since July 2015, the solar plane should fly to Hawaii on April 15th.

Image Above: July 15, 2015, we learn that the Solar Impulse will not takeoff from Hawaii due to damage on the batteries. It should be nailed to the ground until April, 2016.

"The first possible from Hawaii to reach the West Coast of the United States is 15 April," the source said, adding that the first stop in the country was not yet determined.

Solar Impulse 2 Around the World , a revolutionary experimental aircraft Solar Battery, suffered a setback in July, halfway through his journey of 35,000 kilometers.

The device was immobilized for several months, the time to repair damaged batteries at its final stage over the Pacific, a record journey of 5 days and 5 nights between Nagoya, Japan and the American archipelago of Hawaii. Solar Impulse 2 passed its first test flight in late February.

There are three options for the time given for the resumption of his journey: Riverside near Los Angeles, Mountain View near San Francisco (California), and Phoenix (Arizona).

"The destinations on the mainland of the United States have not yet been confirmed and will depend on weather conditions," said the spokesman. "We know from experience that cross the United States represents a climate policy challenge."

Sloar Impulse 2 in flight

Direction JFK

The goal, she said, is to reach New York JFK Airport "to position SI2 for the Atlantic crossing."

Departed from Abu Dhabi March 9, 2015, Solar Impulse 2 has accomplished so far nearly 18,000 kilometers.

Its wings are covered with over 17,000 photovoltaic cells, which charge the batteries the day. The pilot André Borschberg and Bertrand Piccard will take turns at each step to take orders.

Nicknamed the "paper plane", it has a wingspan of 72 meters, larger than that of a Boeing 747, and a weight of 2.3 tonnes, that of a van. In the tiny cockpit, the pilot flew up to 8634 meters, using oxygen tanks to breathe. It must also withstand high temperature fluctuations.

For more information about SolarImpulse Around The World, visit:

Images, Text, Credits: AFP/SolarImpulse/ Aerospace/Roland Berga.


Size Matters: NASA Measures Raindrop Sizes From Space to Understand Storms

NASA / JAXA - Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) logo.

March 31, 2016

Not all raindrops are created equal. The size of falling raindrops depends on several factors, including where the cloud producing the drops is located on the globe and where the drops originate in the cloud. For the first time, scientists have three-dimensional snapshots of raindrops and snowflakes around the world from space, thanks to the joint NASA and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) mission. With the new global data on raindrop and snowflake sizes this mission provides, scientists can improve rainfall estimates from satellite data and in numerical weather forecast models, helping us better understand and prepare for extreme weather events.

Why Do Raindrop Size Matter In Storm?

"The drop size distribution is one of many factors that determines how big a storm will grow, how long it will last and how much rain it will ultimately produce,” said Joe Munchak, research meteorologist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “We’ve never been able to see how water droplet sizes vary globally until now."

Storm clouds contain a wide variety of drop sizes that ultimately fall as rain or snow. In general, in the cores of clouds the drops tend to be bigger because they collide with each other and aggregate as they fall towards the Earth's surface, while smaller droplets occur at the edges and higher altitudes. Drops tend to be small when they miss colliding into others or break apart. Scientists refer to the number of drops and snowflakes of different sizes at various locations within a cloud as the "particle size distribution."

In order to accurately know how much precipitation is falling in a storm, scientists need to understand the ratio of large drops to smaller or medium sized drops. Previously, researchers had to make assumptions of the ratio because earlier studies were conducted in isolated locations and global data were limited, said Munchak.

“Without knowing the relationship or the ratio of those large drops to the smaller or medium sized drops, we can have a big error in how much rain we know fell and that can have some big implications for knowing long term accumulations which can help with flash flood predictions,” said Munchak.

Animation above: This is a conceptual image showing how the size and distribution of raindrops varies within a storm. Blues and greens represent small raindrops that are 0.5-3mm in size. Yellows, oranges, and reds represent larger raindrops that are 4-6mm in size. A storm with a higher ratio of yellows, oranges, and reds will contain more water than a storm with a higher ratio of blues and greens. Image Credits: NASA/Goddard.

With GPM’s three-dimensional snapshots of drop size distribution, scientists can also gain insight into the structure of a storm and how it will behave. Drop size distribution influences storm growth by changing the rate of evaporation of rain as it falls through dry air, said Munchak. Smaller drops, for instance, will tend to evaporate faster and subsequently cool the air more. This leads to stronger flow of downward moving air that can cause damaging winds when they reach the ground. However, these same downdrafts can interfere with the upward flowing air that fuels the storm and cause the storm to weaken or dissipate.

Global Precipitation Measurement Core satellite. Image Credits: NASA/JAXA

"GPM measurements will really help predict these complex interactions that depend in part of the drop size distribution," said Munchak.

GPM was launched in 2014 and carries the first Dual-frequency Precipitation Radar (DPR) to fly in space, as well as a multi-channel GPM Microwave Imager (GMI). The DPR makes detailed 3D measurements of rainfall, while the GMI uses a set of 13 optimized frequencies to retrieve heavy, moderate, and light precipitation measurements at the Earth’s surface. As GPM improves our understanding of precipitation from space, that information will be vital in improving weather models and forecasts.

For more information on GPM, visit: and

Animation (mentioned), Video (mentioned), Text, Credits:  NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/Rani GranVideo Credits: NASA/Goddard.


Rover Takes on Steepest Slope Ever Tried on Mars

NASA - Mars Exploration Rover B (MER-B) patch.

March 31, 2016

Image above: A shadow and tracks of NASA's Mars rover Opportunity appear in this March 22, 2016, image, which has been rotated 13.5 degrees to adjust for the tilt of the rover. The hillside descends to the left into "Marathon Valley." The floor of Endeavour Crater is seen beneath the underside of a solar panel. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

NASA's long-lived Mars rover Opportunity is driving to an alternative hillside target after a climb on the steepest slope ever tackled by any Mars rover. Opportunity could not quite get within reach of a target researchers hoped the rover could touch earlier this month.

A new image shows the view overlooking the valley below and catches the rover's own shadow and wheel tracks as Opportunity heads toward its next target.

The rover's tilt hit 32 degrees on March 10 while Opportunity was making its closest approach to an intended target near the crest of "Knudsen Ridge."

Engineers anticipated that Opportunity's six aluminum wheels would slip quite a bit during the uphill push, so they commanded many more wheel rotations than would usually be needed to travel the intended distance. Results from the drive were received in the next relayed radio report from the rover: The wheels did turn enough to have carried the rover about 66 feet (20 meters) if there had been no slippage, but slippage was so great the vehicle progressed only about 3.5 inches (9 centimeters). This was the third attempt to reach the target and came up a few inches short.

Image above: This March 21, 2016, image from the navigation camera on NASA's Mars rover Opportunity shows streaks of dust or sand on the vehicle's rear solar panel after a series of drives during which the rover was pointed steeply uphill. The tilt and jostling of the drives affected material on the rover deck. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

The rover team reached a tough decision to skip that target and move on.

Both the intended target near the top of the ridge and the current target area farther west are on the hillside forming the southern edge of "Marathon Valley," which slices east-west across the raised western rim of Endeavour Crater. Both targets are in areas where mineral-mapping observations by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter have identified clay minerals, which form in the presence of water.

The March 10 drive surpassed Opportunity's own previous record for the steepest slope ever driven by any Mars rover. That record was accomplished while Opportunity was approaching "Burns Cliff" about nine months after the mission's January 2004 landing on Mars.

In eight drives between the steepest-ever drive and March 31, Opportunity first backed downhill, northward, for about 27 feet (8.2 meters), then drove about 200 feet (about 60 meters) generally southwestward and uphill, toward the next target area.

For more information about Opportunity, visit:

Mars Exploration Rovers (Spirit and Opportunity):

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


Pluto’s Bladed Terrain in 3-D

NASA - New Horizons Mission logo.

March 31, 2016

One of the strangest landforms spotted by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft when it flew past Pluto last July was the “bladed” terrain just east of Tombaugh Regio, the informal name given to Pluto’s large heart-shaped surface feature.

No geology degree is necessary to see why the terrain is so interesting – just a pair of 3-D glasses will do. The blades are the dominant feature of a broad area informally named Tartarus Dorsa. They align from north to south, reach hundreds of feet high and are typically spaced a few miles apart. This remarkable landform, unlike any other seen in our solar system, is perched on a much broader set of rounded ridges that are separated by flat valley floors.

On the global image below, the bladed terrain extends far to the east. New Horizons scientists have speculated about (but not yet agreed on) the terrain’s origins. Current theories include erosion from evaporating ices or deposition of methane ices; New Horizons researcher Orkan Umurhan takes an in-depth look at the terrain – and proposes another origin idea – in this recent NASA Web blog:

The amazing stereo view combines two images from the Ralph/Multispectral Visible Imaging Camera (MVIC) taken about 14 minutes apart on July 14, 2015. The first was taken when New Horizons was 16,000 miles (25,000 kilometers) away from Pluto, the second when the spacecraft was 10,000 miles (about 17,000 kilometers) away. Best resolution is approximately 1,000 feet (310 meters).

Image above: Close view of Pluto Tombaugh Regio in 3D. Credits: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI.

Global View:

This global view of Pluto combines a Ralph/Multispectral Visible Imaging Camera (MVIC) color scan and an image from the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI), both obtained on July 13, 2015 – the day before New Horizons’ closest approach. The MVIC scan was taken from a range of 1 million miles (1.6 million kilometers), at a resolution of 20 miles (32 kilometers) per pixel. The corresponding LORRI image was obtained from roughly the same range, but has a higher spatial resolution of 5 miles (8 kilometers) per pixel. The red outline marks the large area of mysterious, bladed terrain extending from the eastern section of the large feature informally named Tombaugh Regio.

Image above: global view of Pluto red outline marks the large area of mysterious, bladed terrain extending from the eastern section of Tombaugh Regio. Image Credits: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI.

For more information about New Horizons, visit:

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


Hubble’s Journey to the Center of our Galaxy

ESA - Hubble Space Telescope logo.

March 31, 2016

Image above: Hubble's infrared vision pierced the dusty heart of our Milky Way galaxy to reveal more than half a million stars at its core. At the very hub of our galaxy, this star cluster surrounds the Milky Way's central supermassive black hole, which is about 4 million times the mass of our sun. Image Credits: NASA, ESA, and Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA, Acknowledgment: T. Do, A.Ghez (UCLA), V. Bajaj (STScI).

Peering deep into the heart of our Milky Way galaxy, NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope reveals a rich tapestry of more than half a million stars. Except for a few blue foreground stars, the stars are part of the Milky Way’s nuclear star cluster, the most massive and densest star cluster in our galaxy. So packed with stars, it is equivalent to having a million suns crammed between us and our closest stellar neighbor, Alpha Centauri. At the very hub of our galaxy, this star cluster surrounds the Milky Way’s central supermassive black hole, which is about 4 million times the mass of our sun.

Astronomers used Hubble’s infrared vision to pierce through the dust in the disk of our galaxy that obscures the star cluster. In this image, scientists translated the infrared light, which is invisible to human eyes, into colors our eyes can see. The red stars are either embedded or shrouded by intervening dust. Extremely dense clouds of gas and dust are seen in silhouette, appearing dark against the bright background stars. These clouds are so thick that even Hubble’s infrared capability could not penetrate them.

Images above: This annotated, infrared image from the Hubble Space Telescope shows the scale of the galactic core. The galaxy's nucleus (marked) is home to a central, supermassive black hole called Sagittarius A-star. Images Credits: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA) Acknowledgment: T. Do, A.Ghez (UCLA),V. Bajaj (STScI).

Hubble’s sharp vision allowed astronomers to measure the movements of the stars over four years. Using this information, scientists were able to infer important properties such as the mass and structure of the nuclear star cluster. The motion of the stars may also offer a glimpse into how the star cluster was formed — whether it was built up over time by globular star clusters that happen to fall into the galaxy’s center, or from gas spiraling in from the Milky Way’s disk to form stars at the core.

Zoom in to the galactic centre

This picture, spanning 50 light-years across, is a mosaic stitched from nine separate images from Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3. The center of the Milky Way is located 27,000 light-years away. The “snowstorm” of stars in the image is just the tip of the iceberg: Astronomers estimate that about 10 million stars in this cluster are too faint to be captured in this image.

Panning across the galactic centre

The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between NASA and the European Space Agency. NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, manages the telescope. The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore, Maryland, conducts Hubble science operations. STScI is operated for NASA by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy in Washington, D.C.

For images and more information about the Milky Way Nuclear Star Cluster and Hubble, visit:

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)/Acknowledgment: NASA, ESA, T. Do and A. Ghez (UCLA), and V. Bajaj (STScI)/Videos Credits: Risinger/Guisard/ ESO/Hubble, Music: Johan B. Monell.

Best regards,

Russian Cargo Craft Departs Before New Supplies Arrive

ROSCOSMOS - Russian Vehicles patch.

March 30, 2016

The Russian ISS Progress 61 cargo spacecraft undocked from the aft port of the International Space Station’s Zvezda Service Module at 10:15 a.m. EDT, clearing the port for the arrival of a new Russian resupply vehicle this weekend.

The Progress 61 vehicle arrived at the International Space Station on October 1 with three tons of food, fuel, and supplies for the station crew, and now loaded with trash, was undocked to move a safe distance away from the station for a series of engineering tests by Russian flight controllers. The craft will be deorbited on April 8 to harmlessly burn up over the Pacific Ocean.

Russian Supply Spacecraft departure from ISS

The departure of the Progress 61 vehicle sets the stage for tomorrow’s launch of the new ISS Progress 63 cargo ship from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 12:23 p.m. EDT. NASA Television coverage of the launch will begin at 12 p.m., and can be see online at:

Image above: The March 30, 2016, departure of the Progress 61 cargo craft leaves four spacecraft attached to the International Space Station. Image Credit: NASA.

Launch of the Progress 63 vehicle will mark the second cargo ship in as many weeks scheduled to arrive at the station. The Progress is scheduled to dock automatically to Zvezda Saturday at 2 p.m. EDT. Next up after that — the scheduled launch of the SpaceX Dragon vehicle on April 8 from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. Its arrival at the complex on April 10 as the third resupply vehicle for the station in three weeks will result in some 12 tons of cargo for the station’s residents from Progress, Dragon and the Orbital ATK Cygnus ship that arrived at the station on March 26.

For more information about the space station, visit:

Images, Video, Text, Credits: NASA/ROSCOSMOS TV/NASA TV/Mark Garcia.

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Help keep heat on Mars Express through data mining

ESA - Advanced Concepts Team logo.

31 March 2016

Mars Express has been orbiting the Red Planet for 12 years. While its controllers know the spacecraft inside out, additional valuable insights may well be hidden within the mounds of telemetry the mission generates – inspiring the first of ESA’s new data mining competitions, open to all.

Mars Express

“The goal of this Mars Express Power Challenge is to predict Mars Express’s thermal power consumption during the martian year ahead, based on its past telemetry,” explains Joerg Mueller, a Young Graduate Trainee in ESA’s Advanced Concepts Team.

“Our intended audience for the competition is the international data mining and machine learning community – whether students, research groups or companies”.

Data mining involves taking large amounts of data and applying sophisticated computer programs to search out previously hidden patterns, associations or anomalies. 

The results can be used for machine learning – teaching computers to gain understanding of such patterns – and forecasting the data-generating system’s future performance.

Such an apparently abstract discipline often produces extremely useful results in practical terms, across a wide variety of fields: sifting through astronomical observations for signs of dark matter, smarter text prediction, pinpointing adverse drug combinations within medical data or performing regional flood risk assessment.


“Competitors gain data to hone their techniques on challenging and useful space problems,” comments Dario Izzo, ACT’s scientific coordinator.

“This is the first of a number of planned competitions, in an attempt to demonstrate the usefulness of the approach and to establish a community of participants.

“We’ve established a host website called Kelvins, named after the temperature unit of measurement, with the idea that data mining should aim to reach the lowest possible error in each case – down to absolute zero.”

This first Kelvins competition was developed in close cooperation with the Advanced Mission Concepts and Technologies Office in ESA’s ESOC control centre, which applies new data analysis and computing techniques to help run space missions.

Mars Express spacecraft

“For the challenge, teams will receive three full martian years of Mars Express telemetry,” adds research fellow Redouane Boumghar. “This will be gigabytes of data – the numerous sensors on the spacecraft can generate new data points every 30 seconds or so.

“Mars Express takes electrical power from its solar array to not only run its platform units and instruments but also to supply actively controlled heaters to maintain an optimal working temperature for the spacecraft.

“As spacecraft systems age, it takes more power to accomplish such tasks, and less power is freely available.

View of Mars

“One of our hopes from the Mars Express Power Challenge is that the mission team can use the resulting predictions to improve power consumption so that Mars Express can end up running longer.”

“Participants don’t need to be space specialists to take part,” adds Dario. “What is termed ‘domain knowledge’ can indeed be useful, but the datasets themselves serve as the starting point.”

The Mars Express Power Challenge takes place between April and August 2016. Check the detailed timeline here:

Related links:

ESA’s Advanced Concepts Team:

Advanced Mission Concepts and Technologies Office:

Kelvins competitions website:

Mars Express website:

Images, Text, Credits: ESA/Alex Lutkus/J. Mai - CC BY-SA IGO 3.0/DLR/FU Berlin, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO.

Best regards,