vendredi 7 juillet 2017

New Crew in Final Training Before Late July Launch

ISS - Expedition 52 Mission patch.

July 7, 2017

Three new Expedition 52 crew members are in Star City, Russia, this week completing final exams ahead of their July 28 launch to the International Space Station. After launch, they’ll take a six-hour ride inside the Soyuz MS-05 spacecraft before docking to the station’s Rassvet module. The trio from Italy, Russia and the United States are in final training for the 4-1/2 month-long mission orbiting Earth.

A pair of NASA astronauts living in space right now conducted a variety of activities today in support of life science research. Flight Engineers Peggy Whitson and Jack Fischer collected their blood, urine and saliva samples for stowage in a science freezer and later analysis. The samples will be studied back on Earth as part of the Fluid Shifts experiment to understand the impacts of microgravity on the human body, in particular the eyes.

Image above: Expedition 52 flight engineers (from left) Paolo Nespoli of ESA, Sergey Ryazanskiy of Roscosmos, and Randy Bresnik of NASA are training in Star City, Russia, ahead of their July 28 launch to the space station. Image Credit: NASA.

Commander Fyodor Yurchikhin of Roscosmos continued his life support maintenance activities on the Russian side of the orbital complex. The experienced, four-time station cosmonaut and one-time shuttle crew member spent the majority of his day replacing pumps and hoses and repressurizing the station’s atmosphere.

An international set of CubeSats also was deployed outside of the Kibo lab module early Friday. The CubeSats belong to Japan, Ghana, Mongolia, Bangladesh and Nigeria and will be monitored and operated by engineering students in Japan.

Related links:

Expedition 52:

Fluid Shifts:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

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Hubble’s Hidden Galaxy

NASA - Hubble Space Telescope patch.

July 7, 2017

IC 342 is a challenging cosmic target. Although it is bright, the galaxy sits near the equator of the Milky Way’s galactic disk, where the sky is thick with glowing cosmic gas, bright stars, and dark, obscuring dust. In order for astronomers to see the intricate spiral structure of IC 342, they must gaze through a large amount of material contained within our own galaxy — no easy feat! As a result IC 342 is relatively difficult to spot and image, giving rise to its intriguing nickname: the “Hidden Galaxy.”

Located very close (in astronomical terms) to the Milky Way, this sweeping spiral galaxy would be among the brightest in the sky were it not for its dust-obscured location. The galaxy is very active, as indicated by the range of colors visible in this NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image, depicting the very central region of the galaxy. A beautiful mixture of hot, blue star-forming regions, redder, cooler regions of gas, and dark lanes of opaque dust can be seen, all swirling together around a bright core. In 2003, astronomers confirmed this core to be a specific type of central region known as an HII nucleus — a name that indicates the presence of ionized hydrogen — that is likely to be creating many hot new stars.

For images and more information about Hubble, visit:

Image Credits: ESA/Hubble & NASA/Text Credits: European Space Agency/NASA/Karl Hille.


Counting calories in space

ISS - International Space Station logo.

7 July 2017

Rockets and spacecraft may get us to Mars, but food must nourish us on the journey. Now researchers are using the International Space Station to look at how much food will be needed on a spacecraft heading to the Moon, Mars or beyond. By tracking the energy used by astronauts, we can count the number of calories humans will need for long flights.   

Serving size: one Mars crew

Calculating total energy expenditure involves making many measurements over a period of 10 days. ESA astronaut Paolo Nespoli will be the last of the required 10 subjects, following his launch late this month. 

How much food will future crews need?

First thing in their morning, Paolo will wear a breathing mask to measure the levels of carbon dioxide he produces and the amount of oxygen consumes. This allows researchers to calculate how much energy the body uses to maintain basic functions in a resting state.

Before breakfast, he will drink a dose of water labelled with trace elements. By tracking how much is eliminated over time in collected urine, total energy use will be calculated.

Paolo will eat a standardised breakfast and use the breathing mask for four hours. This reveals how much energy the body is consuming to digest, process and store the meal.

The last step is to calculate how much energy is used in physical activity. Throughout the 10 days, Paolo will sport a tracker on his arm to record the time and intensity of different activities. 

Paolo Nespoli at Star City

Analysing these different measurements allows the researchers to calculate total energy use such that meals can be tailored to the astronauts’ energy levels, ensuring they get no less than they need. 

Comparison with measurements made before and after the flight will also provide insights into how weightlessness affects body weight. It is well known that astronauts on longer missions in low orbit lose weight, but the reasons are unclear.

Thomas during Energy experiment

Understanding metabolism as it relates to physical activity in weightlessness can shed light on what is happening and how best to nourish humans on missions into deep space.

But counting calories in space will also go a long way to helping us back on Earth: understanding energy balance in relation to diet and activity will improve the care of bed-ridden patients. 

Related links:

International Space Station science reports:

International Space Station Benefits for Humanity:

Images, Text, Credits: ESA/Stephane Corvaja/NASA.

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jeudi 6 juillet 2017

LHCb announces a charming new particle

CERN - European Organization for Nuclear Research logo.

6 Jul 2017

Image representing the new particle observed by LHCb, containing two charm quarks and one up quark. (Image: Daniel Dominguez/CERN).

Today at the EPS Conference on High Energy Physics in Venice, the LHCb experiment at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider has reported the observation of Ξcc++ (Xicc++) a new particle containing two charm quarks and one up quark. The existence of this particle from the baryon family was expected by current theories, but physicists have been looking for such baryons with two heavy quarks for many years. The mass of the newly identified particle is about 3621 MeV, which is almost four times heavier than the most familiar baryon, the proton, a property that arises from its doubly charmed quark content. It is the first time that such a particle has been unambiguously detected.

Nearly all the matter that we see around us is made of baryons, which are common particles composed of three quarks, the best-known being protons and neutrons. But there are six types of existing quarks, and theoretically many different potential combinations could form other kinds of baryons. Baryons so far observed are all made of, at most, one heavy quark.

“Finding a doubly heavy-quark baryon is of great interest as it will provide a unique tool to further probe quantum chromodynamics, the theory that describes the strong interaction, one of the four fundamental forces,” said Giovanni Passaleva, new Spokesperson of the LHCb collaboration. “Such particles will thus help us improve the predictive power of our theories.”

“In contrast to other baryons, in which the three quarks perform an elaborate dance around each other, a doubly heavy baryon is expected to act like a planetary system, where the two heavy quarks play the role of heavy stars orbiting one around the other, with the lighter quark orbiting around this binary system,” added Guy Wilkinson, former Spokesperson of the collaboration.

Measuring the properties of the Ξcc++ will help to establish how a system of two heavy quarks and a light quark behaves. Important insights can be obtained by precisely measuring production and decay mechanisms, and the lifetime of this new particle.

The observation of this new baryon proved to be challenging and has been made possible owing to the high production rate of heavy quarks at the LHC and to the unique capabilities of the LHCb experiment, which can identify the decay products with excellent efficiency. The Ξcc++ baryon was identified via its decay into a Λc+ baryon and three lighter mesons K-, π+ and π+.

The observation of the Ξcc++ in LHCb raises the expectations to detect other representatives of the family of doubly-heavy baryons. They will now be searched for at the LHC.

This result is based on 13 TeV data recorded during run 2 at the Large Hadron Collider, and confirmed using 8 TeV data from run 1. The collaboration has submitted a paper reporting these findings to the journal Physical Review Letters.


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:

LHCb experiment:

Large Hadron Collider (LHC):

Physical Review Letters:

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

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

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Crew Studies Space Impacts on Humans and Tech

ISS - Expedition 52 Mission patch.

July 6, 2017

Expedition 52 continued exploring today how microgravity impacts humans and technology to improve future spaceflight and benefit life on Earth. The trio also conducted an array of maintenance activities including space plumbing.

NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson took a look today at how living in space affects her ability to work on interactive tasks. The Fine Motor Skills study, which has been taking place for over two years, is researching the skills necessary for astronauts to interact with next-generation space technologies. Observations may impact the design of future spacecraft, spacesuits and habitats.

Image above: Astronaut Peggy Whitson was pictured June 28 conducting a live video interview with reporters on Earth. Image Credit: NASA.

Jack Fischer, a first time space flyer from NASA, wrapped up operations with the Group Combustion Module experiment today. The combustion study was exploring how flames spread as the composition of fuel changes in space. Results could benefit the development of advanced rocket engines and improve cleaner, more efficient engines on Earth.

Whitson and Fischer also worked on a variety of plumbing tasks including collecting water samples and swapping and filling recycle tanks on the Urine Processing Assembly. Commander Fyodor Yurchikhin connected power and network cables before moving on to activating an antenna and more plumbing work.

Related links:

Expedition 52:

Fine Motor Skills:

Group Combustion Module:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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


CERN Data Centre passes the 200-petabyte milestone

CERN - European Organization for Nuclear Research logo.

6 Jul 2017

Image above: CERN’s Data Centre (Robert Hradil, Monika Majer/

Where do these data come from? Particles collide in the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) detectors approximately 1 billion times per second, generating about one petabyte of collision data per second. However, such quantities of data are impossible for current computing systems to record and they are hence filtered by the experiments, keeping only the most “interesting” ones. The filtered LHC data are then aggregated in the CERN Data Centre (DC), where initial data reconstruction is performed, and where a copy is archived to long-term tape storage. Even after the drastic data reduction performed by the experiments, the CERN DC processes on average one petabyte of data per day, and passed the milestone of 200 petabytes of data permanently archived in its tape libraries on 29 June 2017.

The four big LHC experiments have produced unprecedented volumes of data in the two last years. This is due in large part to the outstanding performance and availability of the LHC itself. Indeed, in 2016, expectations were initially for around 5 million seconds of data taking, while the final total was around 7.5 million seconds, a very welcome 50% increase. 2017 is following a similar trend.

Further, as luminosity is higher than in 2016, many collisions overlap and the events are more complex, requiring increasingly sophisticated reconstruction and analysis. This has a strong impact on computing requirements. Consequently, records are being broken in many aspects of data acquisition, data rates and data volumes, with exceptional levels of use for computing and storage resources.

Image above: This map shows the routes for the three 100 Gbit/s fibre links between CERN and the Wigner RCP. The routes have been chosen carefully to ensure we maintain connectivity in the case of any incidents. (Image: Google).

To face these challenges, the computing infrastructure at large, and notably the storage systems, went through major upgrades and consolidation during the two years of Long Shutdown 1. These upgrades enabled the data centre to cope with the 73 petabytes of data received in 2016 (49 of which were LHC data) and with the flow of data delivered so far in 2017. These upgrades also allowed the CERN Advanced STORage system (CASTOR) to pass the challenging milestone of 200 petabytes of permanently archived data. These permanently archived data represent an important fraction of the total amount of data received in the CERN data centre, the rest being temporary data which are periodically cleaned up.

Another consequence of the greater data volumes is an increased demand for data transfer  and thus a need for a higher network capacity. Since early February, a third 100Gb/s (gigabit per second) fibre optic circuit links the CERN DC to its remote extension hosted at the Wigner Research Centre for Physics (RCP) in Hungary, 1800km away. The additional bandwidth and redundancy provided by this third link help CERN benefit reliably from the computing power and storage at the remote extension. A must-have in the context of computing increasing needs!


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:


Major upgrades and consolidation:

Long Shutdown 1:

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

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


Hubble Pushed Beyond Limits to Spot Clumps of New Stars in Distant Galaxy

NASA - Hubble Space Telescope patch.

July 6, 2017

When it comes to the distant universe, even the keen vision of NASA's Hubble Space Telescope can only go so far. Teasing out finer details requires clever thinking and a little help from a cosmic alignment with a gravitational lens.

By applying a new computational analysis to a galaxy magnified by a gravitational lens, astronomers have obtained images 10 times sharper than what Hubble could achieve on its own. The results show an edge-on disk galaxy studded with brilliant patches of newly formed stars.

Image above: In this Hubble photograph of a distant galaxy cluster, a spotty blue arc stands out against a background of red galaxies. That arc is actually three separate images of the same background galaxy. The background galaxy has been gravitationally lensed, its light magnified and distorted by the intervening galaxy cluster. On the right: How the galaxy would look to Hubble without distortions. Image Credits: NASA, ESA, and T. Johnson (University of Michigan).

"When we saw the reconstructed image we said, 'Wow, it looks like fireworks are going off everywhere,'" said astronomer Jane Rigby of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

The galaxy in question is so far away that we see it as it appeared 11 billion years ago, only 2.7 billion years after the big bang. It is one of more than 70 strongly lensed galaxies studied by the Hubble Space Telescope, following up targets selected by the Sloan Giant Arcs Survey, which discovered hundreds of strongly lensed galaxies by searching Sloan Digital Sky Survey imaging data covering one-fourth of the sky.

Image above: The galaxy cluster SDSS J1110+6459 is located about 6 billion light-years from Earth and contains hundreds of galaxies. At left, a distinctive blue arc is actually composed of three separate images of a more distant background galaxy called SGAS J111020.0+645950.8. The background galaxy has been magnified, distorted, and multiply imaged by the gravity of the galaxy cluster in a process known as gravitational lensing. Image Credits: NASA, ESA, and T. Johnson (University of Michigan).

The gravity of a giant cluster of galaxies between the target galaxy and Earth distorts the more distant galaxy's light, stretching it into an arc and also magnifying it almost 30 times. The team had to develop special computer code to remove the distortions caused by the gravitational lens, and reveal the disk galaxy as it would normally appear.

The resulting reconstructed image revealed two dozen clumps of newborn stars, each spanning about 200 to 300 light-years. This contradicted theories suggesting that star-forming regions in the distant, early universe were much larger, 3,000 light-years or more in size.

"There are star-forming knots as far down in size as we can see," said doctoral student Traci Johnson of the University of Michigan, lead author of two of the three papers describing the research.

Without the magnification boost of the gravitational lens, Johnson added, the disk galaxy would appear perfectly smooth and unremarkable to Hubble. This would give astronomers a very different picture of where stars are forming.

Image above: Banner image: This artist's illustration portrays what the gravitationally lensed galaxy SDSS J1110+6459 might look like up close. A sea of young, blue stars is streaked with dark dust lanes and studded with bright pink patches that mark sites of star formation. The patches' signature glow comes from ionized hydrogen, like we see in the Orion Nebula in our own galaxy. Image Credits: NASA, ESA, and Z. Levay (STScI).

While Hubble highlighted new stars within the lensed galaxy, NASA's James Webb Space Telescope will uncover older, redder stars that formed even earlier in the galaxy's history. It will also peer through any obscuring dust within the galaxy.

"With the Webb Telescope, we'll be able to tell you what happened in this galaxy in the past, and what we missed with Hubble because of dust," said Rigby.

These findings appear in a paper published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters and two additional papers published in The Astrophysical Journal.

Hubble Space Telescope. Animation Credit: NASA

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 Hubble, visit:

Images (mentioned), Animation (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Karl Hille/Space Telescope Science Institute/Christine Pulliam/Ray Villard/Goddard Space Flight Center/Dr. Jane Rigby/University of Michigan/Traci Johnson.

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See our seasons change from space

ESA - Sentinel-3 Mission logo.

6 July 2017

With the Copernicus Sentinel-3A satellite fully fledged and its data freely available, the task of monitoring and understanding our changing planet has been made that much easier. Seeing the effect spring has on our plant life is just one of its many uses.

Launched in February 2016 and carrying a suite of instruments, Sentinel-3 is the most complex of all the Sentinel missions.

 Sentinel-3A sees the effects of spring

As the workhorse mission for Europe’s environmental monitoring Copernicus programme, it measures Earth’s oceans, land, ice and atmosphere systematically so that large-scale global changes can be monitored and understood. While Sentinel-3 offers this ‘big picture’, it can also be used to monitor smaller-scale environmental issues such as urban heat islands.

Sentinel-3 is well on the way to being at the heart of operational oceanography, but it also provides unique and timely information about changing land cover and vegetation health.

For instance, the animation above uses information from the satellite’s ocean and land colour instrument to measure changing amounts of chlorophyll in plants. Here we clearly see the progress of spring greening in the northern hemisphere, for example.

Feeling the heat

Since its initial commissioning, when the satellite and instruments were meticulously fine-tuned, Sentinel-3A has been in a ‘ramp up’ phase.

This means that over the last year, while the satellite was being prepared for its life as a fully operational mission, only ‘direct instrument’ data were available. Another step in the processing chain is needed to translate them into more tangible information for users worldwide.

This milestone has now been passed so that the best quality data possible are now freely available from the satellite’s ocean and land colour instrument and from the sea and land surface temperature sensor, which measures energy radiating from Earth’s surface.

This level of data from its other instrument – a radar altimeter, which measures the height of the sea surface, rivers, lakes and land – have been available since last December.

ESA’s Sentinel-3 mission manager, Susanne Mecklenburg, explained, “Sentinel-3 is an extremely complex mission, and I’m very proud to say that it’s delivering on its promise.

“We have been working closely with our colleagues at Eumetsat to make sure it is ready to deliver top-quality data. This is important because while Eumetsat operates the satellite, both organisations manage the mission together.

Sentinel-3A senses Earth’s heat

“ESA is responsible for the land data products and Eumetsat for the marine products – all of which are made available for the Copernicus services and other users.

“Measurements made by the satellite’s colour instrument over land now offer users key information to monitor the health of our vegetation, which is essential for agricultural practices, and to help plan resources.

“This also complements other missions such as the Copernicus Sentinel-2 and Proba-V. Together, they will be a powerful tool to map our changing lands.”

Sentinel-3 shows how Earth’s surface temperature changes, which is also important for weather forecasting and for monitoring climate change. Over land, measurements can be used for urban planning, for example.

Later in the year, data products will also be available for monitoring fires.

More information is available at the Sentinel online website. There are a number of entry points to access data such as the Copernicus Open Access Hub.

Related links:

Sentinel online:

Copernicus Open Access Hub:


Sentinel data access & technical information:

Animations, Image, Text, Credits: ESA/ATG medialab/contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2017), processed by University of Southampton–J. Dash/Brockman Consult (S3-MPC)/Processed by UK National Centre for Earth Observation/University of Leicester.

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mercredi 5 juillet 2017

SpaceX - Intelsat 35e Mission success

SpaceX - Falcon 9 / Intelsat 35e Mission patch.

July 5, 2017

Falcon 9 rocket carrying Intelsat 35e launch

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket successfully delivered Intelsat 35e, a commercial communications satellite, to a Geostationary Transfer Orbit (GTO). Falcon 9 lifted off from Launch Complex 39A (LC-39A) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Wednesday, July 5, at 7:38 p.m. EDT.

Intelsat 35e Launch Webcast

The satellite was deployed approximately 32 minutes after launch and the customer has confirmed signal acquisition.

Intelsat 35e satellite

The high-throughput Intelsat 35e satellite is part of Intelsat’s “Epic” fleet, providing broadband, video and mobile communications services over eastern North America, the Caribbean, South America, Europe and Africa.

For more information about SpaceX, visit:

Images, Video, Text, Credits: SpaceX/ Aerospace/Intelsat.

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Full Day of Bone Loss Therapy and Life Support Work for Crew

ISS - Expedition 52 Mission patch.

July 5, 2017

International Space Station (ISS). Animation Credit: NASA

A pair of Expedition 52 astronauts from NASA aboard the International Space Station today explored how microgravity causes bone loss in space. The commander from Roscosmos also worked on life support maintenance tasks throughout Wednesday.

NASA astronauts Peggy Whitson and Jack Fischer studied a new drug therapy to determine its potential to prevent bone loss. The duo worked inside the Destiny lab module and used a bone densitometer to measure bone minerals in mice living in the Rodent Research habitat. The new drug may slow or reverse bone loss in astronauts during spaceflight and possibly help patients on Earth suffering bone loss syndromes.

Image above: Expeditin 52 crew members Fyodor Yurchikhin (left) and Jack Fischer are seen working inside the Zvezda service module. Image Credit: NASA.

Commander Fyodor Yurchikhin was on the opposite side of the station today doing plumbing work and transferring water from the new Progress 67 cargo craft into the Zvezda service module. The veteran cosmonaut also replaced water hoses and worked on air purification gear.

Related links:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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


Zoom-in on Epimetheus

NASA - Cassini International logo.

July 5, 2017

This zoomed-in view of Epimetheus, one of the highest resolution ever taken, shows a surface covered in craters, vivid reminders of the hazards of space.

Epimetheus (70 miles or 113 kilometers across) is too small for its gravity to hold onto an atmosphere.  It is also too small to be geologically active.  There is therefore no way to erase the scars from meteor impacts, except for the generation of new impact craters on top of old ones.

This view looks toward anti-Saturn side of Epimetheus. North on Epimetheus is up and rotated 32 degrees to the right. The image was taken with the Cassini spacecraft narrow-angle camera on Feb. 21, 2017 using a spectral filter which preferentially admits wavelengths of near-infrared light centered at 939 nanometers.

The view was acquired at a distance of approximately 9,300 miles (15,000 kilometers) from Epimetheus and at a Sun-Epimetheus-spacecraft, or phase, angle of 71 degrees. Image scale is 290 feet (89 meters) per pixel.

The Cassini mission is a cooperative project of NASA, ESA (the European Space Agency) and the Italian Space Agency. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. The Cassini orbiter and its two onboard cameras were designed, developed and assembled at JPL. The imaging operations center is based at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colorado.

For more information about the Cassini-Huygens mission visit and The Cassini imaging team homepage is at and

Image, Text, Credits: NASA/Martin Perez/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute.


Dazzling Spiral with an Active Heart

ESO - European Southern Observatory logo.

5 July 2017

Dazzling galaxy Messier 77

ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) has captured a magnificent face-on view of the barred spiral galaxy Messier 77. The image does justice to the galaxy’s beauty, showcasing its glittering arms criss-crossed with dust lanes — but it fails to betray Messier 77’s turbulent nature.

This picturesque spiral galaxy appears to be tranquil, but there is more to it than meets the eye. Messier 77 (also known as NGC 1068) is one of the closest active galaxies, which are some of the most energetic and spectacular objects in the Universe. Their nuclei are often bright enough to outshine the whole of the rest of the galaxy. Active galaxies are among the brightest objects in the Universe and emit light at most, if not all, wavelengths, from gamma rays and X-rays all the way to microwaves and radiowaves. Messier 77 is further classified as a Type II Seyfert galaxy, characterised by being particularly bright at infrared wavelengths.

The active galaxy Messier 77 in the constellation of Cetus

This impressive luminosity is caused by intense radiation blasting out from a central engine — the accretion disc surrounding a supermassive black hole. Material that falls towards the black hole is compressed and heated up to incredible temperatures, causing it to radiate a tremendous amount of energy. This accretion disc is thought to be enshrouded by thick doughnut-shaped structure of gas and dust, called a “torus”. Observations of Messier 77 back in 2003 were the first to resolve such a structure using the powerful VLT Interferometer (eso0319).

This image of Messier 77 was taken in four different wavelength bands represented by blue, red, violet and pink (hydrogen-alpha) colours. Each wavelength brings out a different quality: for example, the pinkish hydrogen-alpha highlights the hotter and younger stars forming in the spiral arms, while in red are the fine, thread-like filamentary structures in the gas surrounding Messier 77 [1]. A foreground Milky Way star is also seen beside the galaxy centre, displaying tell-tale diffraction spikes. Additionally, many more distant galaxies are visible; sitting at the outskirts of the spiral arms, they appear tiny and delicate compared to the colossal active galaxy.

Wide-field image of the sky around Messier 77

Located 47 million light-years away in the constellation of Cetus (The Sea Monster), Messier 77 is one of the most remote galaxies of the Messier catalogue. Initially, Messier believed that the highly luminous object he saw through his telescope was a cluster of stars, but as technology progressed its true status as a galaxy was realised. At approximately 100 000 light-years across, Messier 77 is also one of largest galaxies in the Messier catalogue — so massive that its gravity causes other nearby galaxies to twist and become warped (eso1707) [2].

Zooming in on Messier 77

This image was obtained using the FOcal Reducer and low dispersion Spectrograph 2 (FORS2) instrument mounted on Unit Telescope 1 (Antu) of the VLT, located at ESO’s Paranal Observatory in Chile. It hails from ESO’s Cosmic Gems programme, an outreach initiative that produces images of interesting, intriguing or visually attractive objects using ESO telescopes for the purposes of education and outreach.

Panning across a new image of Messier 77


[1] Similar red filaments are also found in NGC 1275. They are cool, despite being surrounded by a very hot gas at around 50 million degrees Celsius. The filaments are suspended in a magnetic field which maintains their structure and demonstrates how energy from the central black hole is transferred to the surrounding gas.

[2] NGC 1055 is located about 60 million light-years away. It is an edge-on galaxy, in contrast to Messier 77. This Astronomy Picture of the Day portrays both of them together, in a field of view about the size of the Moon (APOD).

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 and its world-leading Very Large Telescope Interferometer as well as two survey telescopes, VISTA working in the infrared and the visible-light VLT Survey Telescope. ESO is also a major partner in two facilities on Chajnantor, APEX and ALMA, the largest astronomical project in existence. And on Cerro Armazones, close to Paranal, ESO is building the 39-metre Extremely Large Telescope, the ELT, which will become “the world’s biggest eye on the sky”.




ESOcast 115 Light: Meet one of the most energetic objects in the Universe:

Photos of the VLT:

Other images taken with FORS:

FOcal Reducer and low dispersion Spectrograph 2 (FORS2):

ESO’s Paranal Observatory:

ESO’s Cosmic Gems programme:

Images, Videos, Text, Credits: ESO/Richard Hook/IAU and Sky & Telescope/NASA/ESA, Digitized Sky Survey 2.

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Giant iceberg in the making

ESA - CRYOSAT Mission logo.

5 July 2017

All eyes are on Antarctica’s Larsen C ice shelf as a deep crack continues to cut across the ice, leaving a huge chunk clinging on. When it eventually gives way, one of the largest icebergs on record will be set adrift. Even before the inevitable happens, ESA’s CryoSat mission can reveal some of the future berg’s vital statistics.

CryoSat reveals iceberg

Monitored by the Copernicus Sentinel-1 radar pair, the crack in the ice is now around 200 km long, leaving just 5 km between the end of the fissure and the ocean.

While we wait for Sentinel-1 to tell us when this 6600 sq km iceberg is spawned, CryoSat can reveal what the berg’s measurements will be.

This Earth Explorer satellite carries a radar altimeter to measure the height of the ice surface. In general, this information is used to work out how the thickness of sea ice and land ice is changing and, consequently, how the volume of Earth’s ice is being affected by the climate.

Noel Gourmelen from the University of Edinburgh said, “Using information from CryoSat, we have mapped the elevation of the ice above the ocean and worked out that the eventual iceberg will be about 190 m thick and contain about 1155 cubic kilometres of ice.

“We have also estimated that the depth below sea level could be as much as 210 m.”

ESA's ice mission

Icebergs calve from Antarctica all the time, but because this one is particularly large its path across the ocean needs to be monitored as it could pose a hazard to maritime traffic.

Again, Sentinel-1 and CryoSat will play an important role in tracking the berg and keeping an eye on how it changes.

Dr Gourmelen added, “We will continue to use CryoSat to monitor how the berg changes as it drifts away from the ice shelf.”

A berg, similar in size, drifted around the Brunt ice shelf in December 2015, causing alarm for those stationed at the Halley research base, which sits on the floating section of the shelf.

Icebergs near Brunt

Anna Hogg from the University of Leeds said, “Measurements from CryoSat showed that the Brunt berg was around 390 m, so too thick to come close to ‘shore’ since the sea is shallow here.

“As for this new Larsen C berg, we are not sure what will happen. It could, in fact, even calve in pieces or break up shortly after. Whole or in pieces, ocean currents could drag it north, even as far as the Falkland Islands. If so it could pose a hazard for ships in Drake Passage.

“What is certain, though, is that we shall continue to use CryoSat to keep a check on its progress.”

ESA’s Mark Drinkwater added, “Our historical effort to track large icebergs shows that those from the western Weddell Sea find their way out into the Antarctic Circumpolar Current or into the South Atlantic.

Historical iceberg tracks

“It seems that only bergs from the Ross ice shelf stay in the westward coastal current and come close to Brunt ice shelf.”

The main purpose of CryoSat is to give us information to understand how ice is changing to improve our understanding of Earth. The value of having satellites built to deliver for science and missions like Sentinel-1, which are built to deliver for everyday applications, is enormous.

In this case, the Copernicus Sentinel-1 mission and the ESA Earth Explorer CryoSat mission complement each other, giving us a powerful tool to monitor changing ice sheets.

Related links:

Larsen C ice crack:


Access CryoSat data:


University of Edinburgh–School of Geosciences:

Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling:

Antarctic Iceberg Tracking Database:

Support to Science Element:

Images , Animation, Video, Text, Credits: ESA/AOES Medialab/University of Edinburgh/N. Gourmelen/Scatterometer Climate Record Pathfinder.

Best regards,

mardi 4 juillet 2017

Happy 5th anniversary, Higgs boson!

CERN - European Organization for Nuclear Research logo.

July 4, 2017

Image above: On 4 July 2012, the ATLAS and CMS spokespersons announced during a seminar at CERN that their experiments had found a particle consistent with the long sought-after Higgs boson. (Image: Maximilien Brice, Laurent Egli/CERN).

Where were you on 4 July 2012, the day in which the Higgs boson discovery was announced? Many people will be able to answer without referring to their diary. Perhaps you were among the few who had managed to secure a seat in CERN’s main auditorium, or who joined colleagues in universities and laboratories around the world at odd times of the day to watch the webcast.

“I think we have it, no?” was the question posed by the then CERN Director General Rolf Heuer on 4 July in the CERN auditorium. The answer was as obvious as the emotion on faces in the crowd. The then ATLAS and CMS spokespersons, Fabiola Gianotti and Joe Incandela, had just presented the latest Higgs search results based on roughly two years of LHC operations. Given the hints for the Higgs presented a few months earlier in December 2011, the frenzy of rumours on blogs and intense media interest during the preceding weeks, and a title for the CERN seminar that left little to the imagination, the outcome was anticipated. This did not temper excitement.

Happy 5th anniversary, Higgs boson!

The Higgs boson is the final and most interesting particle of the Standard Model (SM). The Higgs’ connections to many of the deepest current mysteries in physics mean the Higgs will remain a focus of activities for experimentalists and theorists for the foreseeable future.

Since then, we have learned much about the properties of this new particle, yet we are still at the beginning of our understanding. In the early days it was not even clear what the mass of the Higgs boson would be: the SM cannot predict it, it just needed to be measured. Indeed, in 1975, in the first published paper describing its possible experimental signatures, the allowed Higgs mass range at that time spanned four orders of magnitude, from 18 MeV to over 100 GeV.

By 4 July 2012 the picture was radically different. The Higgs no-show at previous colliders, including LEP at CERN and the Tevatron at Fermilab, had cornered its mass to be greater than 114 GeV, while theoretical limits required it to be below around 800 GeV. Once CERN’s LHC switched on, there was very little room left to hide for the Higgs boson: if the Higgs boson had a mass with a value in that energy range, the LHC would surely have been able to produced it.

With the accelerator running it remained to observe the thing. This would push ingenuity to its limits. Physicists on the ATLAS and CMS detectors would need to work night and day to filter through the particle detritus from innumerable proton-proton collisions to select datasets of interest.  The search set tremendous challenges for the energy-resolution and particle-identification capabilities of the detectors, not to mention dealing with enormous volumes of data. In the end, the result of this labour reduced to a couple of plots. The discovery was clear for each collaboration: a significance pushing the five sigma “discovery” threshold.

Global media erupted in a science-fueled frenzy. It turns out that everyone gets excited when a fundamental building block of nature is discovered.

This article is a condensed excerpt from a feature article by Matthew McCullough, published in the CERN Courier July/August 2017 issue, which you can read in full here:

Read the stories of how people experienced the event:


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:

latest Higgs search results:



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

Image (mentioned), Video, Text, Credits: CERN/Stefania Pandolfi.

Best regards,

lundi 3 juillet 2017

Weekly Recap From the Expedition Lead Scientist, week of June 26, 2017

ISS - Expedition 52 Mission patch.

July 3, 2017

(Highlights: Week of June 26, 2017) - Crew members on the International Space Station are preparing a series of investigations -- including samples taken from their own bodies -- for return to Earth on a SpaceX Dragon capsule.

NASA astronaut Jack Fischer collected breath and blood samples on flight day 60 of his mission on the station for the Canadian Space Agency's (CSA) Bone Marrow Adipose Reaction: Red Or White (MARROW) investigation into the effect of microgravity on human bone marrow. Fat cells and blood-producing cells share the same space in bone marrow. During prolonged bed rest on Earth, the fat cells grow at the expense of blood-producing cells. Scientists want to learn if changes in bone marrow fat in space can help explain abnormalities detected in blood cells in microgravity.

Image above: This MiniION hardware is part of the system used to sequence DNA on the International Space Station, which means some samples will not need to be returned to Earth for genetic analysis. Image Credit: NASA.

MARROW measures fat changes in the bone marrow before and after exposure to microgravity. This research is producing the first data on bone marrow fat changes in microgravity. Bone marrow is a vital organ responsible for the production of all red and white blood cells. The investigation also measures specific changes of red and white blood cell functions. Bone marrow fat is measured using magnetic resonance, while red blood cell function is measured with a breath sample analyzed with a gas chromatograph, and white blood cell function is studied through the cells' genetic expression. Data from this study may lead to treatments that would enable safer human space exploration and better recovery from prolonged bed rest on Earth.

In another investigation, NASA is exploring how changes to the space station's lighting may provide a more productive environment for the crew.

Crew members used light meter hardware for the Testing Solid State Lighting Countermeasures to Improve Circadian Adaptation, Sleep, and Performance During High Fidelity Analog and Flight Studies for the International Space Station (Lighting Effects) investigation. This investigation tests a new lighting design using light-emitting diodes to replace the fragile fluorescent lights currently used on the space station. Measurements of various light settings were taken to ensure the LEDs provide enough light to be able to complete science experiments while improving cognitive performance.

Image above: NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson conducted a test session of the Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Reorient, Experimental Satellites (SPHERES) Halo investigation in the Kibo module. The SPHERES Halo investigation studies the possibility of launching several separate components and then attaching them once they are in space. Image Credit: NASA.

Light-emitting diodes (LED) are adjustable for intensity and color -- the blue, white or yellow sections of the light spectrum. Scientists and doctors want to determine if the new lights can improve crew sleep cycles and alertness during the day. Besides the potential health benefits, these lights also require less energy to run and are lower in mass, making them a prime candidate for use on future spacecraft. Using these same types of lights on Earth, and subtly adjusting their color temperature during the day may help people be more productive, especially those who work a night shift.

The Seedling Growth-3 experiment is third part of a European Space Agency (ESA) series using the plant Arabidopsis thaliana -- a small flowering plant considered a model organism -- to determine the effects of gravity and different light sources on cell growth and proliferation. The proposed research is relevant to understanding plant requirements in space. Arabidopsis thaliana is an excellent model plant for spaceflight experiments because of its small size and simple growth requirements.

Space to Ground: Solar Array Away! : 06/30/2017

Video above: NASA's Space to Ground is a weekly update on what is happening on the International Space Station. Social media users can post with #spacetoground to ask questions or make a comment. Video Credit: NASA

Improved knowledge of these basic biomechanical processes is vital to use consumable plants in life support systems for long-duration space missions. This project deals with light and gravity sensing, which are both key parameters for the growth and development of plants. Understanding these factors will help develop strategies to optimize light sensing, and, in turn, better modify plant species by using different light sources and other biotechnological approaches to improve crops. This research also could potentially improve agricultural biotechnology on Earth to increase agricultural production.

Other investigations showing progress this week included Biochemical Profile, Repository, Microbial Tracking, TREK, NanoRacks Module 9, 54, and 56, Stem Cells, METEOR, Light Microscopy Module and Rodent Research-5.

Related links:


Lighting Effects:

Seedling Growth-3:

Biochemical Profile:


Microbial Tracking:


Stem Cells:


Light Microscopy Module:

Rodent Research-5:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

Canadian Space Agency (CSA):

European Space Agency (ESA):

Images (mentioned), Video (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Kristine Rainey/Jorge Sotomayor, Lead Increment Scientist Expeditions 51 & 52.

Best regards,

Dragon Cargo Craft Flies Away From Station

SpaceX - Dragon CRS-11 Mission patch.

July 3, 2017

U.S. Commercial Cargo Ship Departs Space Station for Earth

Expedition 52 astronauts Jack Fischer and Peggy Whitson of NASA released the SpaceX Dragon cargo spacecraft from the International Space Station’s robotic arm at 2:41 a.m. EDT.

Dragon’s thrusters will be fired to move the spacecraft a safe distance from the station before SpaceX flight controllers in Hawthorne, California, command its deorbit burn. The capsule will splash down at about 8:41 a.m. in the Pacific Ocean, where recovery forces will retrieve the capsule and its more than 4,100 pounds of cargo. This cargo will include science from human and animal research, biotechnology studies, physical science investigations and education activities.

Splashdown will not be broadcast on NASA TV:

Image above: The SpaceX Dragon cargo craft is seen departing the space station after its release from the space station’s Canadarm2. Image Credit: NASA TV.

NASA and the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS), the non-profit organization that manages research aboard the U.S. national laboratory portion of the space station, will receive time-sensitive samples and begin working with researchers to process and distribute them within 48 hours of splashdown.

Dragon, the only space station resupply spacecraft able to return to Earth intact, launched June 3 on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from historic Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, and arrived at the station June 5 for the company’s eleventh NASA-contracted commercial resupply mission carrying almost 6,000 pounds of cargo and research supplies.

Get breaking news, images, videos and features from the station on social media at:

Related links:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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


dimanche 2 juillet 2017

CASC Long March 5 suffers failure during Shijian-18 launch

CASC - China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation logo.

July 2, 2017

Image above: China’s second Long March 5 rocket lifted off at 11:23 GMT (7:23 a.m. EDT; 7:23 p.m. Beijing time) Sunday. Image Credit: Xinhua.

China launched its second Long March-5 (Chang Zhen-5) rocket on Sunday carrying a super-heavy experimental communications satellite. The launch took place at 11:23 UTC from the Wenchang Space Launch Centre’s LC101 dedicated Launch Complex. However, with the Long March-5, carrying the Shijian-18 satellite, suffered an unspecified failure during what was only its second flight.

China launches Long March-5 Y2 heavy-launcher rocket (Full broadcasting replay)

An update posted on the website of the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp., the prime contractor for most of China’s space projects, said the launch was unsuccessful and investigators were looking into the cause of the failure.

The new Shijian-18 experimental communications satellite is based on the new DFH-5 satellite platform, developed by CAST (China Academy of Space Technology) of China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC).

Shijian-18 satellite

The two-stage heavy-lift launcher’s next mission was slated to dispatch the Chang’e 5 mission to collect soil and rock specimens from the lunar surface in November. The probe will launch a return capsule from the moon to bring the samples back to to Earth.

Sunday’s doomed flight was the second time China has launched a Long March 5 rocket. The heavy-lifter’s maiden mission in November 2016 was successful.

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

Images, Video, Text, Credits: CASC/Xinhua/New China TV/ Aerospace.