samedi 8 avril 2017



April 8, 2017

Today, April 8, 2017, on the 86th year of his life, twice died Hero of the Soviet Union, Hero of Czechoslovakia, pilot-cosmonaut Georgy Mikhailovich Grechko.

Georgy GRECHKO was born on May 25, 1931 in Leningrad. In 1955 he graduated with honors from the Leningrad Mechanical Institute, he worked at OKB-1. In 1966 he entered the cosmonaut detachment. Georgy GRECHKO made 3 space flights with a total duration of 134 days 20 hours 32 minutes 58 seconds and one spacewalk for 1 hour 28 minutes.

Georgy GRECHKO. Image Credit: Wikipedia

From January 11 to February 9, 1975, together with Alexei Gubarev, made a flight on the Soyuz-17 spacecraft as a flight engineer. December 10, 1977 - March 16, 1978 together with Yuri ROMANENKO flew on the Soyuz-26 spacecraft as a flight engineer of the spacecraft and the Salyut-6 orbital station. On September 17-26, 1985, Georgy GRECHKO as a flight engineer together with commander Vladimir Vasyutin and cosmonaut-researcher Alexander VOLKOV made the third space flight on the Soyuz T-14 spacecraft and the Salyut-7 orbital station. This is the last space flight Georgy GRECHKO performed at the age of 54 years.

For more information and biography of Georgy GRECHKO - Wikipedia:

ROSCOSMOS condoles with relatives and friends of Georgy Mikhailovich GRECHKO. Everlasting memory.

ROSCOSMOS Press Release:

Image (mentioned), Video, Text, Credits: ROSCOSMOS/ Aerospace/Roland Berga.


vendredi 7 avril 2017

NASA Sees Tropical Cyclone Ernie Intensify

NASA - EOS Aqua Mission logo.

April 7, 2017

Ernie (was 15S - Southern Indian Ocean)

The storm formerly known as tropical cyclone 15S, now called Tropical Cyclone Ernie continued to strengthen as NASA's Aqua satellite captured a visible image that showed the storm developed an eye.

Image above: NASA's Aqua satellite passed over Ernie on April 7 at 0645 UTC (2:45 a.m. EST) and saw an eye had formed as the storm strengthened into a hurricane. Thick bands of powerful thunderstorms surrounded the eye. Image Credit: NASA.

NASA's Aqua satellite passed over Ernie on April 7 at 0645 UTC (2:45 a.m. EST) and the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer or MODIS instrument took a visible image of the storm. The image showed an eye had formed as the storm strengthened into a hurricane. Thick bands of powerful thunderstorms surrounded the eye.

At 0900 UTC (5 a.m. EST) on April 7, Ernie's maximum sustained winds were near 95 knots (109 mph/175 kph). It was away from land areas, about 467 nautical miles (538 miles/865.5 km) north-northwest of Learmonth, Western Australia. It was centered near 15.4 degrees south latitude and 110.3 degrees east longitude. Ernie is moving to the south at 5 knots (5.7 mph/9.2 kph).

The Joint Typhoon Warning Center expects Ernie to move in a south-southwesterly direction and weaken.

Apr. 06, 2017 - A NASA Infrared Look at the Southern Indian Ocean's 15th Tropical Cyclone

NASA's Aqua satellite passed over Tropical Cyclone 15S in the Southern Indian Ocean and obtained temperature data on the cloud tops, enabling scientists to see where the strongest part of the storm was located.

Image above: This NASA infrared image of Tropical Cyclone 15S on April 6 at 0105 UTC (April 5 at 9:05 p.m. EST) showed strongest storms with cloud top temperatures of thunderstorms as cold (purple) as -63F/-53C. Image Credits: NASA JPL, Ed Olsen.

The Atmospheric Infrared Sounder or AIRS instrument aboard NASA's Aqua satellite looked at Tropical Cyclone 15S in infrared light. Infrared light provides scientists with temperature data and that's important when trying to understand how strong storms can be. The higher the cloud tops, the colder and the stronger the storms that make up a tropical cyclone.

NASA's Aqua satellite flew over Tropical Cyclone 15S on April 6 at 0605 UTC (2:05 a.m. EST). AIRS detected strongest storms around the center of circulation with cloud top temperatures as cold as minus 63 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 53 degrees Celsius). Storms with cloud top temperatures that cold have the capability to produce heavy rainfall.  

The Joint Typhoon Warning Center or JTWC stated on April 6 at 0900 UTC (5 a.m. EST) newly formed Tropical Cyclone 15S had maximum sustained winds near 35 knots (40 mph/62 kph). 15S was centered near 13.5 degrees south latitude and 110.7 degrees east longitude, about 572 nautical miles (658 miles/1,059 km) north-northwest of Learmonth, Australia. 15S was moving to the south-southwest at 4 knots (4.6 mph/7.4 kph) away from Australia. 

 Artist's view of Aqua satellite. Image Credit: NASA

The JTWC noted "Upper level atmospheric analysis Indicates the system is in an area of strong westerly vertical wind shear. Additionally, a mid-latitude trough or elongated area of low pressure is causing subsidence along the southwestern quadrant (of the storm)." Subsidence means sinking air, and that prevents cloud formation as air has to rise in order to condense to form clouds and the thunderstorms that make up a tropical cyclone. 

Tropical Cyclone 15S is moving along the northwestern edge of an elongated area of subtropical high pressure, which is located southeast of the storm. That means that 15S expected to continue tracking south-southwestward around that high pressure area, turning more to the west as the high pressure builds.

JWTC forecasts this system will be short-lived because vertical wind shear will increase in the direction the storm is heading. It is expected to dissipate in three days by April 9. 

Aqua Satellite:

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


Crew Packing Soyuz for Monday Landing and Trio Packs for Homecoming

ISS - Expedition 50 Mission patch.

April 7, 2017

Crew Packing Soyuz for Monday Landing

International Space Station (ISS). Animation Credit: NASA

Two NASA astronauts and a European Space Agency astronaut headed into the weekend with a light day Friday. Meanwhile, the three cosmonauts from Roscosmos packed a Soyuz spacecraft for departure and worked on maintenance and science.

Commander Shane Kimbrough, who is returning to Earth early Monday, took it easy Friday aboard the International Space Station. He and Flight Engineers Peggy Whitson and Thomas Pesquet mainly performed light duty tasks and continued their daily exercise to stay healthy in space.

Cosmonauts Sergey Ryzhikov and Andrey Borisenko, who are returning home Monday with Kimbrough, continued packing the Soyuz MS-02 spacecraft that will parachute the trio to a landing in Kazakhstan after a 173 days in space.

Image above: This long exposure photograph shows the Earth, its atmospheric glow and stars from the International Space Station. Image Credit: NASA.

Ryzhikov, who is on his first mission, will command the Soyuz during its undocking and reentry into Earth’s atmosphere. Borisenko and Kimbrough are both wrapping up their second visit to space.

Whitson will become station commander for the second time in her career Sunday less than 24 hours before her crewmates undock from the Poisk module. She stays behind with fellow Expedition 50-51 crew members Pesquet and Flight Engineer Oleg Novitskiy.

Trio Packs for Homecoming

Three crew members aboard the International Space Station are packing up their gear for a homecoming on Monday. NASA also decided to extend the mission of an astronaut living aboard the station since November.

Two cosmonauts and a NASA astronaut will take a ride back to Earth early Monday inside the Soyuz MS-02 spacecraft. Commander Shane Kimbrough and Flight Engineers Sergey Ryzhikov and Andrey Borisenko will have completed a 173-day mission in space when they land Monday at 7:21 a.m. EDT in Kazakhstan. NASA TV will broadcast the departure and landing activities live on NASA website.

Image above: Expedition 50 crew members (from left) Shane Kimbrough, Sergey Ryzhikov and Andrey Borisenko will depart the station Monday April 10 ending their stay in space. Image Credit: ROSCOSMOS.

Kimbrough has accumulated six spacewalks over two missions, including the STS-126 mission aboard space shuttle Endeavour in 2008. Ryzhikov, who is on his first space mission, will be commanding the Soyuz spacecraft during its landing. Borisenko was last aboard the station in 2011 and is completing his second stint as a station crew member.

Flight Engineer Peggy Whitson has been granted a three-month extension to her already record-breaking career aboard the station. She will stay in space until September as a member of Expeditions 50, 51 and 52. NASA managers wanted to ensure the station maintained a six-person crew to maximize research while Russia temporarily reduces its crew to two cosmonauts.

Related articles:

NASA TV to Air Return of Space Station Crew Members to Earth April 10

NASA Astronaut Peggy Whitson Adds Three Months to Record-Breaking Mission

Related links: 

Expedition 50:

Expedition 51,  Expedition 52:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

Best regards,

A Sneak Peek into Saheki's Secret Layers & A New Impact Site in the Southern Middle Latitudes

NASA - Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) logo.

April 7, 2017

A Sneak Peek into Saheki's Secret Layers

This image from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter is of Saheki Crater, about 84 kilometers across, and located in the Southern highlands of Mars, to the north of Hellas Planitia. It's filled with beautiful alluvial fans that formed when water (likely melting snow) carried fine material, such as sand, silt and mud, from the interior crater rim down to the bottom of the crater.

Two smaller craters impacted into the alluvial fan surface in Saheki, excavating holes that allow us to see what the fans look like beneath the surface. Exposed along the crater's interior walls, we can see that the fan is made up of multiple individual layers (white and purple tones in the enhanced color image) that were deposited on the floor (the green and brown tones). The brown, circular shapes on the fan layers are small impact craters.

This is a stereo pair with

The map is projected here at a scale of 25 centimeters (9.8 inches) per pixel. [The original image scale is 26.2 centimeters (10.3 inches) per pixel (with 1 x 1 binning); objects on the order of 78 centimeters (30.7 inches) across are resolved.] North is up.

A New Impact Site in the Southern Middle Latitudes

Over 500 new impact events have been detected from before-and-after images from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, mostly from MRO's Context Camera, with a HiRISE followup. Those new craters that expose shallow ice are of special interest, especially at latitudes where not previously detected, to better map the ice distribution.

We hope to find ice at relatively low latitudes both for understanding recent climate change and as a resource for possible future humans on Mars. This new impact, which occurred between August and December 2016 (at 42.5 degree South latitude) would provide an important constraint if ice was detected.

Alas, the HiRISE color image does not indicate that ice is exposed. There is an elongated cluster of new craters (or just dark spots where the craters are too small to resolve), due to an oblique impact in which the bolide fragmented in the Martian atmosphere.

The map is projected here at a scale of 25 centimeters (9.8 inches) per pixel. [The original image scale is 25.1 centimeters (9.9 inches) per pixel (with 1 x 1 binning); objects on the order of 75 centimeters (29.5 inches) across are resolved.] North is up.

The University of Arizona, Tucson, operates HiRISE, which was built by Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp., Boulder, Colo. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of Caltech in Pasadena, California, manages the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Project for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington.

Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO):

Images, Text, Credits: NASA/Tony Greicius/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona.


When Jovian Light and Dark Collide

NASA - JUNO Mission logo.

April 7, 2017

This image, taken by the JunoCam imager on NASA’s Juno spacecraft, highlights a feature on Jupiter where multiple atmospheric conditions appear to collide.

This publicly selected target is called “STB Spectre.” The ghostly bluish streak across the right half of the image is a long-lived storm, one of the few structures perceptible in these whitened latitudes where the south temperate belt of Jupiter would normally be. The egg-shaped spot on the lower left is where incoming small dark spots make a hairpin turn.

The image was taken on March 27, 2017, at 2:06 a.m. PDT (5:06 a.m. EDT), as the Juno spacecraft performed a close flyby of Jupiter. When the image was taken, the spacecraft was 7,900 miles (12,700 kilometers) from the planet.

The image was processed by Roman Tkachenko, and the description is from John Rogers, the citizen scientist who identified the point of interest.

JunoCam's raw images are available for the public to peruse and process into image products at: 

More information about Juno is at: and 

Image, Text, Credits: NASA/Tony Greicius/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/ Roman Tkachenko.


Asteroid to Fly Safely Past Earth on April 19

Asteroid Watch logo.

 April 7, 2017

Artist's impression of a Near-Earth Asteroid passing by Earth. Image Credit: ESA

A relatively large near-Earth asteroid discovered nearly three years ago will fly safely past Earth on April 19 at a distance of about 1.1 million miles (1.8 million kilometers), or about 4.6 times the distance from Earth to the moon. Although there is no possibility for the asteroid to collide with our planet, this will be a very close approach for an asteroid of this size.

The asteroid, known as 2014 JO25, was discovered in May 2014 by astronomers at the Catalina Sky Survey near Tucson, Arizona -- a project of NASA's NEO Observations Program in collaboration with the University of Arizona. (An NEO is a near-Earth object). Contemporary measurements by NASA's NEOWISE mission indicate that the asteroid is roughly 2,000 feet (650 meters) in size, and that its surface is about twice as reflective as that of the moon. At this time very little else is known about the object’s physical properties, even though its trajectory is well known.

The asteroid will approach Earth from the direction of the sun and will become visible in the night sky after April 19. It is predicted to brighten to about magnitude 11, when it could be visible in small optical telescopes for one or two nights before it fades as the distance from Earth rapidly increases.

Asteroid 2014 JO25

Video above: This computer-generated image depicts the flyby of asteroid 2014 JO25. The asteroid will safely fly past Earth on April 19 at a distance of about 1.1 million miles (1.8 million kilometers), or about 4.6 times the distance between Earth and the moon. Video Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

Small asteroids pass within this distance of Earth several times each week, but this upcoming close approach is the closest by any known asteroid of this size, or larger, since asteroid Toutatis, a 3.1-mile (five-kilometer) asteroid, which approached within about four lunar distances in September 2004. The next known encounter of an asteroid of comparable size will occur in 2027 when the half-mile-wide (800-meter-wide) asteroid 1999 AN10 will fly by at one lunar distance, about 236,000 miles (380,000 kilometers).

The April 19 encounter provides an outstanding opportunity to study this asteroid, and astronomers plan to observe it with telescopes around the world to learn as much about it as possible. Radar observations are planned at NASA's Goldstone Solar System Radar in California and the National Science Foundation’s Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, and the resulting radar images could reveal surface details as small as a few meters.

The encounter on April 19 is the closest this asteroid has come to Earth for at least the last 400 years and will be its closest approach for at least the next 500 years.

Also on April 19, the comet PanSTARRS (C/2015 ER61) will make its closest approach to Earth, at a very safe distance of 109 million miles (175 million kilometers). A faint fuzzball in the sky when it was discovered in 2015 by the Pan-STARRS NEO survey team using a telescope on the summit of Haleakala, Hawaii, the comet has brightened considerably due to a recent outburst and is now visible in the dawn sky with binoculars or a small telescope.

JPL manages and operates NASA's Deep Space Network, including the Goldstone Solar System Radar, and hosts the Center for Near-Earth Object Studies for NASA's Near-Earth Object Observations Program, an element of the Planetary Defense Coordination Office within the agency's Science Mission Directorate.

More information about asteroids and near-Earth objects can be found at:

For more information about NASA's Planetary Defense Coordination Office, visit:

For asteroid and comet news and updates, follow AsteroidWatch on Twitter:

Image (mentioned), Video, Text, Credits: NASA/Tony Greicius/JPL/DC Agle.


ALMA Captures Dramatic Stellar Fireworks

ALMA - Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array logo.

7 April 2017

ALMA views a stellar explosion in Orion

Stellar explosions are most often associated with supernovae, the spectacular deaths of stars. But new ALMA observations provide insights into explosions at the other end of the stellar life cycle, star birth. Astronomers captured these dramatic images as they explored the firework-like debris from the birth of a group of massive stars, demonstrating that star formation can be a violent and explosive process too.

1350 light years away, in the constellation of Orion (the Hunter), lies a dense and active star formation factory called the Orion Molecular Cloud 1 (OMC-1), part of the same complex as the famous Orion Nebula. Stars are born when a cloud of gas hundreds of times more massive than our Sun begins to collapse under its own gravity. In the densest regions, protostars ignite and begin to drift about randomly. Over time, some stars begin to fall toward a common centre of gravity, which is usually dominated by a particularly large protostar — and if the stars have a close encounter before they can escape their stellar nursery, violent interactions can occur.

ALMA view of an explosive event in Orion

About 100 000 years ago, several protostars started to form deep within the OMC-1. Gravity began to pull them together with ever-increasing speed, until 500 years ago two of them finally clashed. Astronomers are not sure whether they merely grazed each other or collided head-on, but either way it triggered a powerful eruption that launched other nearby protostars and hundreds of colossal streamers of gas and dust out into interstellar space at over 150 kilometres per second. This cataclysmic interaction released as much energy as our Sun emits in 10 million years.

Fast forward 500 years, and a team of astronomers led by John Bally (University of Colorado, USA) has used the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) to peer into the heart of this cloud. There they found the flung-out debris from the explosive birth of this clump of massive stars, looking like a cosmic version of fireworks with giant streamers rocketing off in all directions.

ALMA and VLT views of an explosion in Orion

Such explosions are expected to be relatively short-lived, the remnants like those seen by ALMA lasting only centuries. But although they are fleeting, such protostellar explosions may be relatively common. By destroying their parent cloud, these events might also help to regulate the pace of star formation in such giant molecular clouds.

Zooming in on an explosive event in Orion

Hints of the explosive nature of the debris in OMC-1 were first revealed by the Submillimeter Array in Hawaii in 2009. Bally and his team also observed this object in the near-infrared with the Gemini South telescope in Chile, revealing the remarkable structure of the streamers, which extend nearly a light-year from end to end.

Comparison of the ALMA and VLT views of an explosive event in Orion

The new ALMA images, however, showcase the explosive nature in high resolution, unveiling important details about the distribution and high-velocity motion of the carbon monoxide (CO) gas inside the streamers. This will help astronomers understand the underlying force of the blast, and what impact such events could have on star formation across the galaxy.

More information:

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”.


ESOcast 102 Light: Dramatic Stellar Fireworks:

Research paper (Bally et al., in the Astrophysical Journal):

Photos of ALMA:

Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA):

Submillimeter Array in Hawai:

Gemini South telescope:

Images, Text, Credits: ESO/Richard Hook/University of Colorado/John Bally/ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO), J. Bally/H. Drass et al./Videos: ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO), J. Bally/H. Drass et al./N. Risinger ( Music: Johan B. Monell.

Best regards,

jeudi 6 avril 2017

NASA Invests in 22 Visionary Exploration Concepts

NASA logo.

April 6, 2017

NASA is preparing for a future that could include soft robotic spacecraft with flexible surfaces that can anchor to an asteroid, and an artificial gravity device for long-duration, deep space missions, along with other technologies that so far has been limited to the realm of science fiction.

The agency is investing in 22 early-stage technology proposals that have the potential to transform future human and robotic exploration missions, introduce new exploration capabilities, and significantly improve current approaches to building and operating aerospace systems.

The 2017 NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) portfolio of Phase I concepts cover a wide range of innovations selected for their potential to revolutionize future space exploration. Phase I awards are valued at approximately $125,000, for nine months, to support initial definition and analysis of their concepts. If these basic feasibility studies are successful, awardees can apply for Phase II awards.

Image above: Montage of innovative concepts selected for 2017 NIAC Phase I and Phase II funding. Image Credits: L to R, Joel Sercel, Jay McMahon, Siegfried Janson, Adam Arkin, Jonathan Sauder, John Lewis and background, Chris Mann.

“The NIAC program engages researchers and innovators in the scientific and engineering communities, including agency civil servants,” said Steve Jurczyk, associate administrator of NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate. “The program gives fellows the opportunity and funding to explore visionary aerospace concepts that we appraise and potentially fold into our early stage technology portfolio.”

The selected 2017 Phase I proposals are:

- A Synthetic Biology Architecture to Detoxify and Enrich Mars Soil for Agriculture, Adam Arkin, University of California, Berkeley

- A Breakthrough Propulsion Architecture for Interstellar Precursor Missions, John Brophy, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California

- Evacuated Airship for Mars Missions, John-Paul Clarke, Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta

- Mach Effects for In Space Propulsion: Interstellar Mission, Heidi Fearn, Space Studies Institute in Mojave, California

- Pluto Hop, Skip, and Jump, Benjamin Goldman, Global Aerospace Corporation in Irwindale, California

- Turbolift, Jason Gruber, Innovative Medical Solutions Group in Tampa, Florida

- Phobos L1 Operational Tether Experiment, Kevin Kempton, NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia

- Gradient Field Imploding Liner Fusion Propulsion System, Michael LaPointe, NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama

- Massively Expanded NEA Accessibility via Microwave-Sintered Aerobrakes, John Lewis, Deep
Space Industries, Inc., in Moffett Field, California

- Dismantling Rubble Pile Asteroids with Area-of-Effect Soft-bots, Jay McMahon, University of Colorado, Boulder

- Continuous Electrode Inertial Electrostatic Confinement Fusion, Raymond Sedwick, University of Maryland, College Park

- Sutter: Breakthrough Telescope Innovation for Asteroid Survey Missions to Start a Gold Rush in Space, Joel Sercel, TransAstra in Lake View Terrace, California

- Direct Multipixel Imaging and Spectroscopy of an Exoplanet with a Solar Gravity Lens Mission, Slava Turyshev, JPL

- Solar Surfing, Robert Youngquist, NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida

- A Direct Probe of Dark Energy Interactions with a Solar System Laboratory, Nan Yu, JPL

“The 2017 NIAC Phase I competition has resulted in an excellent set of studies. All of the final candidates were outstanding,” said Jason Derleth, NIAC program executive. “We look forward to seeing how each new study will expand how we explore the universe.”

Phase II studies allow awardees time to refine their designs and explore aspects of implementing the new technology. This year’s Phase II portfolio addresses a range of leading-edge concepts, including: a Venus probe using in-situ power and propulsion to study the Venusian atmosphere, and novel orbital imaging data derived from stellar echo techniques – measurement of the variation in a star’s light caused by reflections off of distant worlds -- to detect exoplanets, which are planets outside our solar system.

Awards under Phase II of the NIAC program can be worth as much as $500,000, for two-year studies, and allow proposers to further develop Phase I concepts that successfully demonstrated initial feasibility and benefit.

The selected 2017 Phase II proposals are:

- Venus Interior Probe Using In-situ Power and Propulsion, Ratnakumar Bugga, JPL

- Remote Laser Evaporative Molecular Absorption Spectroscopy Sensor System, Gary Hughes, California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo

- Brane Craft Phase II, Siegfried Janson, The Aerospace Corporation in El Segundo, California

- Stellar Echo Imaging of Exoplanets, Chris Mann, Nanohmics, Inc., Austin, Texas

- Automaton Rover for Extreme Environments, Jonathan Sauder, JPL

- Optical Mining of Asteroids, Moons, and Planets to Enable Sustainable Human Exploration and Space Industrialization, Joel Sercel, TransAstra Corp.

- Fusion-Enabled Pluto Orbiter and Lander, Stephanie Thomas, Princeton Satellite Systems, Inc., in Plainsboro, New Jersey

“Phase II studies can accomplish a great deal in their two years with NIAC. It is always wonderful to see how our Fellows plan to excel,” said Derleth. “The 2017 NIAC Phase II studies are exciting, and it is wonderful to be able to welcome these innovators back in to the program. Hopefully, they will all go on to do what NIAC does best - change the possible.”

NASA selected these projects through a peer-review process that evaluated innovativeness and technical viability. All projects are still in the early stages of development, most requiring 10 or more years of concept maturation and technology development before use on a NASA mission.

NIAC partners with forward-thinking scientists, engineers, and citizen inventors from across the nation to help maintain America’s leadership in air and space. NIAC is funded by NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate, which is responsible for developing the cross-cutting, pioneering, new technologies and capabilities needed by the agency to achieve its current and future missions.

For more information about NIAC and a complete list of the selected proposals, visit:

For more information about NASA’s investments in space technology, visit:

Image (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Gina Anderson/Katherine Brown.


Weekly Recap From the Expedition Lead Scientist, Week of March 27, 2017

ISS - Expedition 50 Mission patch.

April 6, 2017

(Highlights: Week of March 27, 2017) - Crew members on the International Space Station kept a close eye on a major storm that struck Australia in an effort to improve weather prediction models and help emergency responders and coastal residents better prepare for future storms.

NASA astronaut Shane Kimbrough set the intervalometer to gather data for the Cyclone Intensity Measurements from the International Space Station (Tropical Cyclone) investigation. Earth scientists wanted to capture images and data of Tropical Cyclone Debbie as it approached the northeast coast of Australia. The investigation uses a specialized, automated camera and other instruments to acquire data about the storms through one of the portals on the orbiting laboratory.

Image above: As the International Space Station races toward another sunrise, NASA astronauts Shane Kimbrough and Peggy Whitson successfully reconnect cables and electrical connections on Pressurized Mating Adapter-3 during a seven-hour spacewalk outside the station on March 30. Image Credit: NASA.

Scientists are demonstrating new techniques for accurate real-time measurement of the intensities of strong tropical cyclones by using passive instrumentation from low-Earth orbit. This method requires measurements of the temperature of the top of the eye wall clouds of the storm and the height of these clouds above sea level. Combined with information on sea-level surface temperatures and air pressure, scientists can more accurately predict the wind speed, strength and intensities of cyclones prior to landfall. This information would assist emergency responders and coastal residents to better prepare for oncoming storms.

Ground teams commanded operations for the Multi-User Droplet Apparatus (MDCA) in the Combustion Integration Rack (CIR) on the space station. These commands included venting the chamber and filling it with nitrogen. The MDCA is used to perform combustion tests using small droplets of various fuels to see how they burn in microgravity.

Image above: Space station crew members captured this image of Tropical Cyclone Debbie on March 28, the day before it made landfall on the coast of Australia. Image Credit: NASA.

These activities were in support of the Cool Flames Investigation. Some types of fuels initially burn very hot, then appear to go out — but they continue burning at a much lower temperature with no visible flames. These phenomena are called cool flames. Understanding cool flame combustion helps scientists develop new engines and fuels that are more efficient and less harmful to the environment. The Cool Flames Investigation provides new insight into this phenomenon, as well as new data on fire safety in space.

NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson removed the petri base from the Light Microscopy Module to prepare for another round of the Advanced Colloids Experiment-Temperature Control (ACE-T-1) study. For decades, astronauts and scientists have studied complex structures with unique properties in space. The station's microgravity environment allows for the study of microscopic structures in three dimensions without the potentially distorting properties of gravity. The ACE-T-1 investigation examines tiny suspended particles designed by scientists to connect themselves in a specific way to form organized structures in water. The investigation will help scientists understand how to control, change, and even reverse interactions between tiny particles, which helps in the development of self-assembling and replicating technologies on Earth.

Animation above: Understanding cool flame combustion helps scientists develop new engines and fuels that are more efficient and less harmful to the environment. Animation Credit: NASA.

Whitson and Kimbrough finished the week by successfully reconnecting cables and electrical connections on Pressurized Mating Adapter-3 during a seven-hour spacewalk outside the station. The adapter will provide a pressurized interface between the station and a new international docking adapter to support future dockings of U.S. commercial crew spacecraft. The activity was Whitson's eighth spacewalk, setting a new record for the most spacewalks and accumulated time spacewalking by a female astronaut.

Human research investigations conducted this week include Body Measures, Fine Motor Skills, Fluid Shifts, Lighting Effects, Habitability, Space Headaches, and Dose Tracker.

Progress was made on other investigations, outreach activities, and facilities this week, including Sally Ride EarthKAM, ISS Ham Radio, and Group Combustion.

Related links:

Tropical Cyclone:

Multi-User Droplet Apparatus (MDCA):

Combustion Integration Rack (CIR):

Cool Flames Investigation:

Advanced Colloids Experiment-Temperature Control (ACE-T-1):

Body Measures:

Fine Motor Skills:

Fluid Shifts:

Lighting Effects:


Space Headaches:

Dose Tracker:

Sally Ride EarthKAM:

ISS Ham Radio:

Group Combustion:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

Images (mentioned), Animation (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Kristine Rainey/Jorge Sotomayor, Lead Increment Scientist Expeditions 49 & 50.

Best regards,

You Say Tomato, I Say Tomatosphere: Investigation Brings Space Station Science to the Classroom

Tomatosphere™ logo.

April 6, 2017

International Space Station (ISS). Image Credit: NASA

Stewed, canned or on the vine, there are lots of ways to buy tomatoes– but have you ever seen “flown in space” on a supermarket sticker? Tomato seeds have been making trips to the International Space Station for the past 16 years, and it’s about time to ketchup with the people involved in the project.

The Tomatosphere project has given millions of children the chance to participate in real-life science in space, helping organizations like NASA, the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS), Let’s Talk Science and the First the Seed Foundation prepare for deep-space missions while also cultivating a love for science in the minds of young students.

“Inspiring the next generation of scientists and engineers is a core mission for CASIS as managers of the ISS U.S. National Laboratory,” said Patrick O’Neill, marketing and communications manager at CASIS. “Tomatosphere is a fun, interactive, classroom-based learning experience that allows students to better understand seed exposure and plant biology research in microgravity.”

Image above: European Space Agency astronaut Thomas Pesquet is seen holding two bags of tomato seeds as part of the latest Tomatosphere session. Image Credit: NASA.

The most recent batch of tomato seeds was launched on SpaceX’s ninth commercial resupply for NASA to the International Space Station last year. Seeds remained aboard the space station for 37 days, then caught a ride back to Earth on the returning SpaceX Dragon cargo spacecraft before being distributed to more than 20,000 classrooms across the United States and Canada.

Teachers receive a mixture of space-flown and Earth-based seeds to be planted and grown by students. Each plant’s growth is monitored and recorded, showcasing microgravity’s effects on seed germination. Students submit their results to the Tomatosphere database to be compared against other student’s collected data.

During this blind study, the students observe the germination rate and growth of the plant, taking note of the many possible differences between the two kinds of seeds.

Image above: Students from all across the United States and Canada have the chance to become real-life NASA lab assistants as they monitor the germination of space-flown tomatoes in order to isolate the effects microgravity may have on seed germination. This information will become increasingly important as NASA continues to plan for longer-duration spaceflights where frequent resupply missions won’t be possible. Image Credits: First the Seed Foundation.

“They’re noting the germination, when it starts to grow, the differences in sizes of the plants, how fast they grow, how big their leaves are, the color of their leaves, visual differences, basically,” said Ann Jorss, secretary and treasurer for First the Seed Foundation. “The goal has always been to give students an understanding about where their food comes from and get them excited about agriculture.”

Information gathered from the investigation not only teaches children about careers in STEM and agriculture, but aids in the development of biological life-supporting technologies aboard a spacecraft, a key factor in planning future deep-space missions.

“We don’t want to leave planet Earth without green plants,” said Mike Dixon, primary investigator for Tomatosphere-US and director of the Controlled Environment Systems Research Facility at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada. “The edible biomass plants provide will play a factor in determining how far from Earth we can go and how long we can stay.”

Image above: Students record data as the tomato plants grow, noting potential differences in size, color, texture and growth rates. After the completion of the project, the data is submitted to the Tomatosphere database, to be used by NASA researchers. Image Credits: First the Seed Foundation.

Dixon and co-founder and retired CSA astronaut Bob Thirsk were interested in more than just the scientific results, though.

“The lure of space exploration is such a powerful magnet for young minds,” said Dixon.

Tomatosphere was founded as an outreach investigation, aimed at attracting and retaining elementary students into the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) disciplines, but later expanded to include secondary and college students as well. With CASIS involvement, the future of Tomatosphere will hold even more advanced scientific curriculum.

Food for thought: Let’s talk Tomatosphere™ with astronaut Thomas Pesquet

After the completion of the project, students are encouraged to harvest their tomatoes to be eaten at home, made into a salsa or donated to local food banks.

Teachers in the United States and Canada can register online to participate in the program. Follow @ISS_Research for more information about the science happening aboard the space station.

Related links:


Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS):

Canada register online:

Canadian Space Agency (ASC-CSA):

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

Images (mentioned), Video, Text, Credits: NASA/JSC/Jenny Howard/ASC-CSA.


Ceres' Temporary Atmosphere Linked to Solar Activity

NASA - Dawn Mission patch.

April 6, 2017

Scientists have long thought that Ceres may have a very weak, transient atmosphere, but mysteries lingered about its origin and why it's not always present. Now, researchers suggest that this temporary atmosphere appears to be related to the behavior of the sun, rather than Ceres' proximity to the sun. The study was conducted by scientists from NASA's Dawn mission and others who previously identified water vapor at Ceres using other observatories.

"We think the occurrence of Ceres' transient atmosphere is the product of solar activity," said Michaela Villarreal, lead author of the new study in the Astrophysical Journal Letters and researcher at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Ceres is the largest object in the asteroid belt that lies between Mars and Jupiter. When energetic particles from the sun hit exposed ice and ice near the surface of the dwarf planet, it transfers energy to the water molecules as they collide. This frees the water molecules from the ground, allowing them to escape and create a tenuous atmosphere that may last for a week or so.

Animation above: NASA's Dawn spacecraft determined the hydrogen content of the upper yard, or meter, of Ceres' surface. Blue indicates where hydrogen content is higher, near the poles, while red indicates lower content at lower latitudes. Animation Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA/PSI.

"Our results also have implications for other airless, water-rich bodies of the solar system, including the polar regions of the moon and some asteroids," said Chris Russell, principal investigator of the Dawn mission, also at UCLA. "Atmospheric releases might be expected from their surfaces, too, when solar activity erupts."

Before Dawn arrived in orbit at Ceres in 2015, evidence for an atmosphere had been detected by some observatories at certain times, but not others, suggesting that it is a transient phenomenon. In 1991, the International Ultraviolet Explorer satellite detected hydroxyl emission from Ceres, but not in 1990. Then, in 2007, the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope searched for a hydroxide emission, but came up empty. The European Space Agency's Herschel Space Observatory detected water in the possible weak atmosphere, or "exosphere," of Ceres on three occasions, but did not on a fourth attempt.

As Dawn began its thorough study of Ceres in March 2015, scientists found ample evidence for water in the form of ice. The spacecraft’s gamma ray and neutron detector (GRaND) has found that the uppermost surface is rich in hydrogen, which is consistent with broad expanses of water ice. This ice is nearer to the surface at higher latitudes, where temperatures are lower, a 2016 study published in the journal Science found. Ice has been detected directly at the small bright crater called Oxo and in at least one of the craters that are persistently in shadow in the northern hemisphere. Other research has suggested that persistently shadowed craters are likely to harbor ice. Additionally, the shapes of craters and other features are consistent with significant water-ice content in the crust. 

Because of this evidence for abundant ice, many scientists think that Ceres' exosphere is created in a process similar to what occurs on comets, even though they are much smaller. In that model, the closer Ceres gets to the sun, the more water vapor is released because of ice sublimating near or at the surface.

But the new study suggests comet-like behavior may not explain the mix of detections and non-detections of a weak atmosphere.  

"Sublimation probably is present, but we don't think it's significant enough to produce the amount of exosphere that we're seeing," Villarreal said.

Villarreal and colleagues showed that past detections of the transient atmosphere coincided with higher concentrations of energetic protons from the sun. Non-detections coincided with lower concentrations of these particles. What's more, the best detections of Ceres' atmosphere did not occur at its closest approach to the sun. This suggests that solar activity, rather than Ceres' proximity to the sun, is a more important factor in generating an exosphere.

The research began with a 2016 Science study led by Chris Russell. The study, using GRaND data, suggested that, during a six-day period in 2015, Ceres had accelerated electrons from the solar wind to very high energies.

In its orbital path, Ceres is currently getting closer to the sun. But the sun is now in a particularly quiet period, expected to last for several more years. Since their results indicate Ceres' exosphere is related to solar activity, study authors are predicting that the dwarf planet will have little to no atmosphere for some time. However, they recommend that other observatories monitor Ceres for future emissions.

 Dawn at Ceres. Image Credit: NASA

Dawn is now in its extended mission and studying Ceres in a highly elliptical orbit. Engineers are maneuvering the spacecraft to a different orbital plane so that Ceres can be viewed in a new geometry. The primary science objective is to measure cosmic rays to help determine which chemical elements lie near the surface of Ceres. As a bonus, in late April, the sun will be directly behind Dawn, when the spacecraft is at an altitude of about 12,300 miles (20,000 kilometers). Ceres will appear brighter than before in that configuration, and perhaps reveal more secrets about its composition and history.

The Dawn mission is managed by JPL for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. 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.

Related link:

2016 Science study:

For a complete list of mission participants, visit:

More information about Dawn is available at the following sites:

Animation (mentioned), Image (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Martin Perez/JPL/Elizabeth Landau.


Hubble takes close-up portrait of Jupiter

ESA - Hubble Space Telescope logo.

6 April 2017

During April 2017 Jupiter is in opposition: it is at its closest to Earth and the hemisphere facing Earth is fully illuminated by the Sun. The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope used this special configuration to capture an image of what is by far the largest planet in the Solar System. This image adds to many others made in the past, and together they allow astronomers to study changes in the atmosphere of the gas giant.

On 7 April Jupiter will come into opposition, the point at which the planet is located directly opposite the Sun in the sky. This means that the Sun, Earth and Jupiter line up, with Earth sitting in between the Sun and the gas giant.

Opposition also marks the planet’s closest approach to Earth — about 670 million kilometres — so that Jupiter appears brighter in the night sky than at any other time in the year. This event allows astronomers using telescopes in space and on the ground to see more detail in the atmosphere of Jupiter.

Jupiter's swirling colourful clouds

On 3 April Hubble took advantage of this favourable alignment and turned its sharp eye towards Jupiter to add to the collection of images of our massive neighbour. Hubble observed Jupiter using its Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3), which allows observations in ultraviolet, visible and infrared light. The final image shows a sharp view of Jupiter and reveals a wealth of features in its dense atmosphere. As it is so close, Hubble can resolve features as small as about 130 kilometres across.

The surface of Jupiter is divided into several distinct, colourful bands, running parallel to the equator. These bands are created by differences in the opacity of the clouds which have varying quantities of frozen ammonia in them; the lighter bands have higher concentrations than the darker bands. The differing concentrations are kept separate by fast winds which can reach speeds of up to 650 kilometres per hour.

The most recognisable feature on Jupiter is the huge anticyclonic storm, called the Great Red Spot — this storm is large enough to engulf a whole Earth-sized planet at once. However, as with the last images of Jupiter taken by Hubble and telescopes on the ground, this new image confirms that the huge storm which has raged on Jupiter’s surface for at least 150 years continues to shrink. The reason for this is still unknown. So Hubble will continue to observe Jupiter in the hope that scientists will solve this stormy riddle.

Next to the famous Great Red Spot a much smaller storm can be seen at farther southern latitudes. Because of its similar appearance but much smaller size it was dubbed “Red Spot Junior”.

Hubble Space Telescope

The observations of Jupiter form part of the Outer Planet Atmospheres Legacy (OPAL) programme, which allows Hubble to dedicate time each year to observing the outer planets. This way scientists have access to a collection of maps, which helps them to understand not only the atmospheres of the giant planets in the Solar System, but also the atmospheres of our own planet and of the planets that are being discovered around other stars. The programme began in 2014 with Uranus, and has been studying Jupiter and Neptune since 2015. In 2018, it will begin viewing Saturn.

More information:

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


Images of Hubble:

Hubblesite release:

Hubble images of Jupiter:

OPAL programme:

Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3):

Image, Animation, Text,  Credits: NASA, ESA, and A. Simon (GSFC).

Best regards,

Exoplanet mission gets ticket to ride

ESA - Cheops Mission logo.

6 April 2017

A Soyuz rocket operated by Arianespace from Europe’s spaceport in Kourou will boost ESA’s upcoming exoplanet satellite into space.

Cheops will share the ride into space with another payload, with the two separating in turn into their own orbits soon after ascent. 

Arianespace has confirmed it will provide the launch services, with the contract to be signed by ESA in the coming weeks.

Soyuz launch

While the exact launch date remains to be confirmed, Cheops is expected to be ready by the end of 2018 for shipping to Kourou, with all testing completed.

Once in space, Cheops – the CHaracterising ExOPlanet Satellite – will target nearby, bright stars already known to have orbiting planets.

Through high-precision monitoring of a star’s brightness, scientists will examine the transit of a planet as it passes briefly across the star’s face. This allows the radius of the planet to be accurately measured. For those planets of known mass, the density will be revealed, providing an indication of the structure.

These key features will help us to understand the formation of planets in the Earth-to-Neptune mass range. The mission will also contribute to ideas about how planets change orbits during their formation and evolution.

Cheops will also identify targets for habitability studies using future ground- and space-based telescopes, including the international James Webb Space Telescope being launched next year.

Cheops satellite

Cheops will operate in a 700 km altitude orbit around Earth angled about 98º to the equator. As it circles the globe from pole to pole, the satellite will ride the terminator between day and night such that it will always be directly above sunrise or sunset.

This orbit offers stable temperatures and a constant solar illumination, keeping the solar array in sunlight while minimising the effects of stray light leaking into the telescope.

Cheops is an ESA mission in partnership with Switzerland and with important contributions from 10 other member states.

Related link:

Cheops in depth:

Images, Text, Credits: ESA/C.Carreau/Markus Bauer/Nicola Rando/Kate Isaak/CNES/ARIANESPACE/Optique Video Du CSG.

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Dream Chaser to use Europe’s next-generation docking system

ESA - European Space Agency patch / SNC - Dream Chaser patch.

6 April 2017

ESA and a team of European industrial contractors led by QinetiQ Space have finalised an agreement with Sierra Nevada Corporation for the use of Europe’s International Berthing Docking Mechanism on the Dream Chaser spaceplane.

Dream Chaser

The Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) Dream Chaser is being developed as a reusable, lifting-body, multimission spacecraft capable of landing at commercial airports or spaceports that can accommodate large commercial aircraft anywhere in the world.

Selected to provide cargo delivery, return and disposal services for the International Space Station under NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services 2 contract, it is a safe, affordable, flexible and reliable system, designed to provide crewed and uncrewed transportation services to low orbit destinations, such as the Space Station and future commercial space infrastructures.

The International Berthing Docking Mechanism (IBDM) is an androgynous, contact force-sensing, low-impact docking system, capable of docking and berthing large and small vehicles.

The IBDM consists of the Soft-Docking System and the Hard-Docking System. The first captures and actively dissipates the kinetic energy of the two spacecraft. The second makes the structural pressurised connection between the spacecraft.

 The International Berthing Docking Mechanism

The IBDM is fully compatible with the International Docking System Standard (IDSS) defined by the Station partner agencies and with the new docking ports being made available at the Station.

ESA developed the docking system in cooperation with NASA, with the goal of building a modern docking system for space vehicles visiting the Station after the Space Shuttle’s retirement.

The dual active control loop markedly improves on existing technology by reducing the docking forces on the space infrastructure and by enabling the capture and docking of a wide range of spacecraft mass and flight envelopes.

QinetiQ Space has been leading IBDM development since the beginning and it has set up an industrial team including SENER (Spain and Poland), responsible for the Hard-Docking System, Ruag AG (Switzerland) for the linear actuators, and Maxon (Switzerland) for the electric motors.

Signing Dream Chaser IBDM agreement

David Parker, ESA Director of Human Spaceflight and Robotic Exploration, notes, “This agreement is an additional step forward in international cooperation and it has a strategic value in view of ESA’s current involvement and future plans for international human exploration missions, as well as for potential commercial activities and servicing scenarios in low orbit. SNC has shown interest in joining forces with Europe for a mutually beneficial cooperation.”  

"We have always envisioned the Dream Chaser to be a vehicle with global reach and have actively sought international cooperation,” said Mark Sirangelo, corporate vice president of SNC’s Space Systems business area.

“This IBDM partnership is a significant example of that. SNC is very pleased to be working with ESA and its industrial partners on this technology.”

Erik Masure, Managing Director at QinetiQ Space, added, “QinetiQ, and its industrial consortium, are extremely pleased with SNC’s selection of the IBDM as docking system for the Dream Chaser.

“This first host vehicle for the IBDM is a milestone in QinetiQ’s plans to establish the IBDM as a product to serve a large community of host vehicles.

“We believe that the smart design of the IBDM will be an enabling technology towards all sorts of vehicles: cargo and crewed vehicles, heavy and very lightweight vehicles, low-orbit and beyond low-orbit vehicles.”

“The IBDM project is a first case of public–private partnership within the ESA’s space exploration programme,” underlined David Parker.

“Alongside the main financial contribution of the Member States, as in other ESA optional programmes, the industrial companies participating in the IBDM development are providing their own investment, aiming at the creation of a commercial product, which will be offered on the space market worldwide.”

Related links:

Dream Chaser Sierra Nevada Corporation:

QinetiQ Space:

About human spaceflight:

Images, Text, Credits: European Space Agency (ESA)/Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC).


Crater triplets

ESA - Mars Express Mission patch.

6 April 2017

At first glance this scene may seem nothing out of the ordinary, but the large elongated crater marks the imprint of an impacting body that may have broken into three before it hit Mars.

The images were acquired by ESA’s Mars Express on 28 January, and focus on one of the oldest regions on Mars, Terra Sirenum, in the southern highlands.

Triple crater in Terra Sirenum

The elongated trough at centre stage in this scene is 45 km long and 24 km across. Inspection of the outline suggests that two similarly sized craters and one smaller one have merged to create the footprint-like shape.

Two groups of raised material can be seen in the crater floor. These peaks are created as the initial crater cavity produced by the impact collapses under gravity. The smaller crater also has a hint of a central peak.
 Terra Sirenum in context

Craters like these are thought to have formed at the same time, but there are a number of ideas as to how it happened. For example, an object could have broken into smaller pieces after it entered the atmosphere, striking the surface in quick succession in the same place.

Alternatively, it may have shattered into two or three large pieces upon first contact with the surface, the forward motion of the new fragments leading to the second and third craters.

Another idea is that several closely bound components – like a double or triple asteroid ­– could also result in such craters.

Topography of a triple crater

In any case, the fact that the layers of debris thrown out by the event seem to be continuous and at a uniform thickness around the crater further points to the impacts having taken place at the same time.

In addition, the ejected material is unevenly distributed around the cavity, such that there are two dominant lobes of material on opposite sides, creating a so-called ‘butterfly’ ejecta pattern.

This formation suggests that surface was struck at a low angle, with the motion of the object from top right to bottom left leading to more ejecta downrange.

Perspective view across a triple crater

The ejected material has also spilled into neighbouring craters, notably those at the far right and bottom right in the main image.

The circular crater directly above the elongated crater in the main view is a different kind of triple crater. The two smaller craters – one on the rim and one on the floor – formed at different times, as determined by the laws of superposition. Their rims are well defined, showing that the larger crater had time to form and settle before the smaller ones were formed.

The deformed shape of the rim of the innermost crater may be linked to the formation of the elongated crater.

Anaglyph view of Terra Sirenum

Numerous other examples of overlapping craters can be found in this scene, testament to the old age of the region.

As well as insights into the cratering history, analysis by Mars Express and NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter have detected signatures of clay minerals in layered material seen inside craters and on the plains between them, suggesting the presence of water here over 3.7 billion years ago.

Related links:

Mars Express:

Mars Express overview:

Mars Express 10 year brochure:

Mars Express in-depth:

ESA Planetary Science archive (PSA):

Mars Webcam:

High Resolution Stereo Camera:

HRSC data viewer:

Behind the lens:

Frequently asked questions:

Images, Text, Credits: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO/NASA MGS MOLA Science Team.

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