samedi 29 juillet 2017

Hatches Open, Station Crew Expands to Six

ISS - Expedition 52 Mission patch / ROSCOSMOS - Soyuz MS-05 Mission patch.

July 29, 2017

Image above: The Expedition 52 crew expanded to six today. In the front row from left are the newest crew members Paolo Nespoli, Sergey Ryazanskiy and Randy Bresnik. In the back row are Peggy Whitson, Fyodor Yurchikhin and Jack Fischer. Image Credit: NASA TV.

Three new crew members have arrived to the International Space Station. The hatches on the space station and Soyuz MS-05 opened at 7:57 p.m. EDT, marking the arrival to the orbiting laboratory for NASA astronaut Randy Bresnik, Sergey Ryazanskiy of Roscosmos and Paolo Nespoli of ESA (European Space Agency).

Expedition 52 Commander Fyodor Yurchikhin of Roscosmos and Flight Engineers Peggy Whitson and Jack Fischer of NASA welcomed the new crew members aboard their orbital home.

Expedition 52-53 Crew Welcomed Aboard the Space Station

Momentarily, the crew will speak to their family and friends from Baikonur in a welcoming ceremony that will air live on NASA TV.

The crew will support  more than 250 experiments in biology, biotechnology, physical science and Earth science — research that impacts life on Earth.

The Expedition 52/53 crew will spend more than four months together aboard the orbital complex before returning to Earth in December.

Related links:

Expedition 52:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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


vendredi 28 juillet 2017

New Crew Docks to Station

ROSCOSMOS - Soyuz MS-05 Mission patch.

July 28, 2017

Image above: The Soyuz MS-05 spacecraft docked to the International Space Station at 5:54 p.m. EDT while both spacecraft were flying over Germany. Image Credit: NASA TV.

Aboard the space station, Expedition 52 Commander Fyodor Yurchikhin of Roscosmos and Flight Engineers Peggy Whitson and Jack Fischer of NASA will welcome Soyuz crew members NASA astronaut Randy Bresnik, Sergey Ryazanskiy of Roscosmos and Paolo Nespoli of ESA (European Space Agency) when the hatches between the two spacecraft are opened following standard pressurization and leak checks.

Expedition 52-53 Crew Docks to the Space Station

Watch the hatch opening targeted for 7:40 p.m. and welcome ceremony live on NASA TV beginning at 7 p.m.:

For live coverage and more information about the mission, visit: Get breaking news, images and features from the station on Instagram at: and on Twitter and

Related links:

Expedition 52:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

Best regards,

NextSTEP Partners Develop Ground Prototypes to Expand our Knowledge of Deep Space Habitats

NASA - NextSTEP logo.

July 28, 2017

Image above: Concept image of Bigelow Aerospace's XBASE docked to the International Space Station. Image Credit: Bigelow Aerospace.

Through exploration, NASA is broadening horizons, enhancing knowledge, and improving our way of life. Our efforts to explore and discover the universe are increasing in both scope and duration. The Space Launch System (SLS), the most powerful rocket in the world, soon will launch the Orion spacecraft and its crew deeper into space than ever before. Expanding humanity’s presence farther into the solar system also requires advancements in the development of habitats and the systems to keep astronauts safe as they live and work in deep space for long periods of time.

Image above: Concept image of Boeing's prototype habitation module. Image Credit: Boeing.

In August 2016, NASA selected six U.S. companies to help expand knowledge, commercial capabilities and opportunities in space by developing full-sized ground prototypes and concepts for deep space habitats under the second Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships (NextSTEP) Broad Agency Announcement, or NextSTEP-2. NextSTEP establishes unique public-private partnerships that seek to advance commercial development of space while advancing deep space exploration capabilities to support more extensive human space flight missions in the area of space near the moon that will be the proving ground for Mars.

Image above: Concept image of Lockheed Martin's refurbished multi-purpose logistics module prototype. Image Credit: Lockheed Martin.

“The NextSTEP partnerships are a large contribution to the dual objectives of advancing deep space habitation development and stimulating commercial activities in low-Earth orbit,” said Jason Crusan, director of Advanced Exploration Systems at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

Image above: Concept image of Orbital ATK's cislunar habitat based, based on the design of the Cygnus spacecraft. Image Credit: Orbital ATK.

An effective habitat comprises a pressurized volume plus an integrated array of complex systems and components that include a docking capability, environmental control and life support systems (ECLSS), logistics management, radiation mitigation and monitoring, fire safety technologies, and crew health capabilities. The ground prototypes will allow NASA and the partners to evaluate configurations of the habitat, how the various systems interact together and with other capabilities like propulsion modules and airlocks, and will provide platforms to test and ensure the standards and common interfaces being considered are well thought out.

The six selected partners are:

- Bigelow Aerospace LLC of North Las Vegas, will develop and test a prototype of XBASE (Expandable Bigelow Advanced Station Enhancement), a 330-cubic-meter expandable habitat and test platform for deep space hardware. The testing conducted on this platform will advance approaches for deep space missions and serve as a basis for commercialization in low-Earth orbit. XBASE is based on the B-330 expandable spacecraft for the mission-specific purpose of attaching to the International Space Station as a visiting vehicle. XBASE leverages the lessons learned from the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM), a 16-cubic-meter expandable spacecraft, which was deployed on the space station in June 2016.

- Boeing of Houston is developing a modular habitat system that leverages experience in designing, developing, assembling on-orbit and safely operating the International Space Station for more than 15 years. This includes the production of a full-scale habitat that will provide design analysis and high-fidelity demonstration and test capability to simulate how humans can safely live and work in deep space for extended periods of time. This ground demonstrator will test and validate interface standards, systems functionality and critical exploration technologies.  

- Lockheed Martin of Denver will refurbish a multi-purpose logistics module, like those that were used to carry equipment and supplies to and from the station aboard the space shuttle, into a full-scale habitat prototype that will include integrated avionics and ECLSS. The high-fidelity ECLSS prototype will provide risk reduction and form and fit testing. The avionics prototype will prove data communication between the habitat and Orion and demonstrate crew interfaces between a deep space habitat and Orion.  Lockheed Martin will also use virtual prototyping to validate the habitat module’s form, fit and function.

- Orbital ATK of Dulles, Virginia will mature the mission architecture and design of their initial cislunar habitat concept, based on the Cygnus spacecraft that currently services the space station. Orbital ATK will create their prototype to support testing of critical interfaces with Orion and other modules. They will mature the Cygnus-derived habitat design for long-term operation in deep space and establish a proposed roadmap that leads to Mars exploration.

- Sierra Nevada Corporation’s Space Systems of Louisville, Colorado, will study and refine a flexible architecture and concept of operations for a deep space habitat that leverages three to four commercial launches to construct a modular long-duration habitat. Their prototype will be based on the Dream Chaser cargo module as a foundation for the SNC NextSTEP-2 proposal and will allow SNC to assess their ability to meet the criteria for each operation phase and identify risks. After launch from the Dream Chaser spacecraft, the SNC NextSTEP-2 module will be combined with a large inflatable fabric environment module, ECLSS system, and propulsion system. The design and prototype will confirm the proof-of-concept and ensure critical subsystems seamlessly integrate together.

- NanoRacks of Webster, Texas, in conjunction with its partners, Space Systems Loral and the United Launch Alliance, referred to collectively as the Ixion Team, will conduct a comprehensive feasibility study regarding the conversion of an existing launch vehicle’s upper stage, or propellant segment, into a pressurized habitable volume in space. The feasibility study will provide insight into this innovative and low-cost approach that can be used for any rocket system, including SLS.

Image above: Concept image of Sierra Nevada Corporation's habitation prototype, based on its Dream Chaser cargo module. Image Credit: Sierra Nevada Corporation.

The activities of these NextSTEP awards will inform the acquisition and deployment approach for the next phase of flight systems for deep space including important aspects such as standards and interfaces, module configurations, and options for deployment utilizing SLS and Orion and commercial vehicles.  In addition to U.S. Industry, NASA is in discussions on collaborative opportunities with our international partners to enable a robust fully operational deep space habitation capability.

Image above: Concept image representing the feasibility study that NanoRacks will conduct related to converting a launch vehicle's upper stage into a habitable volume. Image Credit: NanoRacks.

NextSTEP is managed by the Advanced Exploration Systems Division (AES) in NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate. AES is pioneering innovative approaches and public-private partnerships to rapidly develop prototype systems, advance key capabilities, and validate operational concepts for future human missions beyond Earth orbit.

Related links:

Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships (NextSTEP):

Advanced Exploration Systems:

Advanced Exploration Systems Division (AES):

Journey to Mars:

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/ Erin Mahoney.

Best regards,

Asteroid Flyby Will Benefit NASA Detection and Tracking Network

Asteroid Watch logo.

July 28, 2017

Animation above: This animation depicts the safe flyby of asteroid 2012 TC4 as it passes under Earth on Oct. 12, 2017. While scientists cannot yet predict exactly how close it will approach, they are certain it will come no closer than 4,200 miles (6,800 kilometers) from Earth's surface. Animation Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

NASA scientists are excited about the upcoming close flyby of a small asteroid and plan to use its upcoming October close approach to Earth as an opportunity not only for science, but to test NASA’s network of observatories and scientists who work with planetary defense.

The target of all this attention is asteroid 2012 TC4 -- a small asteroid estimated to be between 30 and 100 feet (10 and 30 meters) in size. On Oct. 12, TC4 will safely fly past Earth. Even though scientists cannot yet predict exactly how close it will approach, they are certain it will come no closer than 4,200 miles (6,800 kilometers) from the surface of Earth. The asteroid has been out of range of telescopes since 2012.

“Scientists have always appreciated knowing when an asteroid will make a close approach to and safely pass the Earth because they can make preparations to collect data to characterize and learn as much as possible about it,” said Michael Kelley, program scientist and NASA Headquarters lead for the TC4 observation campaign. “This time we are adding in another layer of effort, using this asteroid flyby to test the worldwide asteroid detection and tracking network, assessing our capability to work together in response to finding a potential real asteroid threat.”

Image above: On Oct. 12, 2017, asteroid 2012 TC4 will safely fly past Earth. Even though scientists cannot yet predict exactly how close it will approach, they are certain it will come no closer to Earth than 4,200 miles (6,800 kilometers). Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

Professor Vishnu Reddy of the University of Arizona's Lunar and Planetary Laboratory in Tucson leads the campaign to reacquire 2012 TC4 and sees it as an opportunity for the collaborative observation campaign to utilize the international aspect of the network.  “This is a team effort that involves more than a dozen observatories, universities and labs across the globe so we can collectively learn the strengths and limitations of our near-Earth object observation capabilities,” said Reddy. The goal of the TC4 campaign is to recover, track and characterize 2012 TC4. “This effort will exercise the entire system, to include the initial and follow-up observations, precise orbit determination, and international communications.”

Scientists from NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, have determined that while at closest approach, asteroid 2012 TC4 will pass no closer than 4,200 miles from Earth -- it will more likely pass much farther away, as far as 170,000 miles (270,000 kilometers), or two-thirds of the distance from Earth to the moon. These calculations are based on only seven days of tracking 2012 TC4 after it was discovered on Oct. 5, 2012, by the Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System (Pan-STARRS) from Haleakala on the island of Maui, Hawaii. Further observations are needed to more precisely determine the asteroid’s orbit.

Artist's view of Asteroid 2012 TC4. Image Credit: NASA

Asteroid 2012 TC4 may be slightly larger than the space rock that hit Earth’s atmosphere near Chelyabinsk, Russia, in February 2013. TC4 has not been seen since its 2012 discovery, when it sped past Earth at about one-fourth the distance from Earth to the moon. It has been too distant and too faint to be detected over the last five years. As it starts to approach Earth this summer, large telescopes will be used to detect it and re-establish the asteroid’s precise trajectory. The new observations are expected to help refine knowledge about its orbit, narrowing the uncertainty about how far it will be from Earth at its closest approach in October.

"This is the perfect target for such an exercise because while we know the orbit of 2012 TC4 well enough to be absolutely certain it will not impact Earth, we haven’t established its exact path just yet,” said Paul Chodas, manager of the CNEOS at JPL. “It will be incumbent upon the observatories to get a fix on the asteroid as it approaches, and work together to obtain follow-up observations than make more refined asteroid orbit determinations possible."

NASA's Planetary Defense Coordination Office is responsible for finding, tracking and characterizing potentially hazardous asteroids and comets coming near Earth, issuing warnings about possible impacts, and assisting coordination of U.S. government response planning, should there be an actual impact threat.

For more information visit:

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

Animation (mentioned), Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Laurie Cantillo/Dwayne Brown/Tony Greicius/JPL/DC Agle.


New Crew Blasts Off to Station

ROSCOSMOS - Soyuz MS-05 Mission patch.

July 28, 2017

Image above: The Soyuz MS-05 spacecraft with three Expedition 52-53 crew members blasts off on time from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Image Credit: NASA.

The Soyuz MS-05 launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan to the International Space Station at 11:41 a.m. EDT Friday, July 28 (9:41 p.m. in Baikonur). About four minutes prior to launch, the space station flew over the launch site and was flying about 250 miles above south central Russia, just over the northeast border of Kazakhstan, at the time of launch. NASA astronaut Randy Bresnik, Sergey Ryazanskiy of Roscosmos and Paolo Nespoli of ESA (European Space Agency) are now safely in orbit.

Image above: Expedition 52 flight engineer Randy Bresnik of NASA, top, flight engineer Paolo Nespoli of ESA (European Space Agency), middle, and flight engineer Sergei Ryazanskiy of Roscosmos, bottom, wave farewell prior to boarding the Soyuz MS-05 rocket for launch, Friday, July 28, 2017 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.  Ryazanskiy, Bresnik, and Nespoli will spend the next four and a half months living and working aboard the International Space Station. Photo Credits: NASA/Joel Kowsky.

Crew Launches to International Space Station

The crew will orbit Earth four times en route to the spacecraft’s arrival and docking to the space station’s Rassvet module, at 6 p.m. Tune in at 5:15 p.m. to NASA Television or the agency’s website to watch the docking live:

Below is the docking timeline in EDT:

5:15 p.m.         NASA TV: Docking coverage begins

6:00 p.m.         Scheduled time for docking to the Rassvet module

7:00 p.m.         NASA TV: Hatch opening coverage begins

7:40 p.m.         Hatches scheduled to open

The Expedition 52 crew will conduct new science investigations arriving on SpaceX’s 12th NASA-contracted commercial resupply mission targeted to launch in August. Investigations the crew will work on include a study developed by the Michael J. Fox Foundation of the pathology of Parkinson’s disease to aid in the development of therapies for patients on Earth. The crew will use the special nature of microgravity in a new lung tissue study to advance understanding of how stem cells work and pave the way for further use of the microgravity environment in stem cell research. Expedition astronauts also will assemble and deploy a microsatellite investigation seeking to validate the concept of using microsatellites in low-Earth orbit to support critical operations, such as providing lower-cost Earth imagery in time-sensitive situations such as tracking severe weather and detecting natural disasters.

Soyuz MS-01 manned spacecraft. Image Credit: NASA

For live coverage and more information about the mission, visit: Get breaking news, images and features from the station on Instagram at: and on Twitter and

Related links:

Michael J. Fox Foundation study:

New lung tissue study:

Microsatellite investigation:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

Best regards,

Hubble's Cosmic Atlas

NASA - Hubble Space Telescope patch.

July 28, 2017

This beautiful clump of glowing gas, dark dust and glittering stars is the spiral galaxy NGC 4248, located about 24 million light-years away in the constellation of Canes Venatici (The Hunting Dogs).

This image was produced by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope as it embarked upon compiling the first Hubble ultraviolet “atlas,” for which the telescope targeted 50 nearby star-forming galaxies. The collection spans all kinds of different morphologies, masses, and structures. Studying this sample can help us to piece together the star-formation history of the Universe.

By exploring how massive stars form and evolve within such galaxies, astronomers can learn more about how, when, and where star formation occurs, how star clusters change over time, and how the process of forming new stars is related to the properties of both the host galaxy and the surrounding interstellar medium (the gas and dust that fills the space between individual stars).

This galaxy was imaged with observations from Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3.

For images and more information about Hubble, visit:

Image Credits: ESA/Hubble & NASA/Text Credits: European Space Agency/NASA/Sara Blumberg.


jeudi 27 juillet 2017

Trio Ready to Begin Space Mission Lasting till Mid-December

ISS - Expedition 52 Mission patch.

July 27, 2017

International Space Station (ISS). Animation Credit: NASA

It is less than one day before three new International Space Station crew members start a 4-1/2 month mission in space. The trio from Russia, United States and Italy will launch aboard the Soyuz MS-05 spacecraft Friday at 11:41 a.m. EDT from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

Cosmonaut Sergey Ryazanskiy and astronauts Randy Bresnik and Paolo Nespoli will dock to the Rassvet module having left Earth just six hours and 19 minutes earlier. After pressure checks the hatches will open and the crew will fly into their new home. They will join their Expedition 52 crewmates Commander Fyodor Yurchikhin and Flight Engineers Peggy Whitson and Jack Fischer.

Image above: The Soyuz MS-05 rocket stands at its launch pad at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Image Credits: NASA/Joel Kowsky.

Meanwhile, space research continues apace as scientists on the ground and the crew observe microgravity’s effects on humans, plants and animals. Research on the station also runs the gamut of physics, technology, earth observations and more, benefitting life on Earth and future crews in space.

All three crew members orbiting Earth today once again explored a lower body suit that has the potential to reverse the headward flow of body fluids in space. Whitson then studied new methods to manage liquid and gas mixtures on spacecraft life support systems. Fischer began setting up gear for an upcoming Japanese plant experiment.

Related links:

Expedition 52:

Body fluids in space:

Liquid and gas mixtures:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

Best regards,

Jupiter’s Great Red Spot in True Color

NASA - JUNO Mission logo.

July 27, 2017

This image of Jupiter’s iconic Great Red Spot was created by citizen scientist Björn Jónsson using data from the JunoCam imager on NASA’s Juno spacecraft.

This true-color image offers a natural color rendition of what the Great Red Spot and surrounding areas would look like to human eyes from Juno’s position. The tumultuous atmospheric zones in and around the Great Red Spot are clearly visible.

The image was taken on July 10, 2017 at 07:10 p.m. PDT (10:10 p.m. EDT), as the Juno spacecraft performed its seventh close flyby of Jupiter. At the time the image was taken, the spacecraft was about 8,648 miles (13,917 kilometers) from the tops of the clouds of the planet at a latitude of -32.6 degrees.

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/Björn Jónsson


Galactic David and Goliath

ESA - Hubble Space Telescope logo.

27 July 2017

NGC 1512 and NGC 1510

The gravitational dance between two galaxies in our local neighbourhood has led to intriguing visual features in both as witnessed in this new NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image. The tiny NGC 1510 and its colossal neighbour NGC 1512 are at the beginning of a lengthy merger, a crucial process in galaxy evolution. Despite its diminutive size, NGC 1510 has had a significant effect on NGC 1512’s structure and amount of star formation.

Galaxies come in a range of shapes and sizes, and astronomers use this fact to classify them based on their appearance. NGC 1512, the large galaxy to the left in this image, is classified as a barred spiral, named after the bar composed of stars, gas and dust slicing through its centre. The tiny NGC 1510 to the right, on the other hand, is a dwarf galaxy. Despite their very different sizes, each galaxy affects the other through gravity, causing slow changes in their appearances.

Wide-field view of NGC 1510 and NGC 1512 (ground-based view)

The bar in NGC 1512 acts as a cosmic funnel, channelling the raw materials required for star formation from the outer ring into the heart of the galaxy. This pipeline of gas and dust in NGC 1512 fuels intense star birth in the bright, blue, shimmering inner disc known as a circumnuclear starburst ring, which spans 2400 light-years.

Both the bar and the starburst ring are thought to be at least in part the result of the cosmic scuffle between the two galaxies — a merger that has been going on for 400 million years.

NGC 1512, which has been observed by Hubble in the past, is also home to a second, more serene, star-forming region in its outer ring. This ring is dotted with dozens of HII regions, where large swathes of hydrogen gas are subject to intense radiation from nearby, newly formed stars. This radiation causes the gas to glow and creates the bright knots of light seen throughout the ring.

Zooming onto the galaxies NGC 1512 and NGC 1510

Remarkably, NGC 1512 extends even further than we can see in this image — beyond the outer ring — displaying malformed, tendril-like spiral arms enveloping NGC 1510. These huge arms are thought to be warped by strong gravitational interactions with NGC 1510 and the accretion of material from it. But these interactions are not just affecting NGC 1512; they have also taken their toll on the smaller of the pair.

The constant tidal tugging from its neighbour has swirled up the gas and dust in NGC 1510 and kick-started star formation that is even more intense than in NGC 1512. This causes the galaxy to glow with the blue hue that is indicative of hot new stars.

Pan across NGC 1512 and NGC 1510

NGC 1510 is not the only galaxy to have experienced the massive gravitational tidal forces of NGC 1512. Observations made in 2015 showed that the outer regions of the spiral arms of NGC 1512 were indeed once part of a separate, older galaxy. This galaxy was ripped apart and absorbed by NGC 1512, just as it is doing now to NGC 1510.

Hubble Space Telescope (HST)

Together, the pair demonstrate how interactions between galaxies, even if they are of very different sizes, can have a significant influence on their structures, changing the dynamics of their constituent gas and dust and even triggering starbursts. Such interactions between galaxies, and galaxy mergers in particular, play a key role in galactic evolution.

More information:

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


Images of Hubble:

Press release on NGC 1512 (2001):

Image, Animation, Text,  Credits: ESA & NASA/Digitized Sky Survey 2/Acknowledgement: Davide De Martin/Videos: ESA/Hubble, Digitized Sky Survey, Nick Risinger ( Johan B Monell.

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A Tale of Three Stellar Cities

ESO - European Southern Observatory logo.

27 July 2017

The Orion Nebula and cluster from the VLT Survey Telescope

Using new observations from ESO’s VLT Survey Telescope, astronomers have discovered three different populations of young stars within the Orion Nebula Cluster. This unexpected discovery adds very valuable new insights for the understanding of how such clusters form. It suggests that star formation might proceed in bursts, where each burst occurs on a much faster time-scale than previously thought.

OmegaCAM — the wide-field optical camera on ESO’s VLT Survey Telescope (VST) — has captured the spectacular Orion Nebula and its associated cluster of young stars in great detail, producing a beautiful new image. This object is one of the closest stellar nurseries for both low and high-mass stars, at a distance of about 1350 light-years [1].

The jewel in Orion’s sword

But this is more than just a pretty picture. A team led by ESO astronomer Giacomo Beccari has used these data of unparallelled quality to precisely measure the brightness and colours of all the stars in the Orion Nebula Cluster. These measurements allowed the astronomers to determine the mass and ages of the stars. To their surprise, the data revealed three different sequences of potentially different ages.

“Looking at the data for the first time was one of those ‘Wow!’ moments that happen only once or twice in an astronomer's lifetime,” says Beccari, lead ­author of the paper presenting the results. “The incredible quality of the OmegaCAM images revealed without any doubt that we were seeing three distinct populations of stars in the central parts of Orion.”

The Orion Nebula showing three populations of young stars

Monika Petr-Gotzens, co-author and also based at ESO Garching, continues, “This is an important result. What we are witnessing is that the stars of a cluster at the beginning of their lives didn’t form altogether simultaneously. This may mean that our understanding of how stars form in clusters needs to be modified.”

The astronomers looked carefully at the possibility that instead of indicating different ages, the different brightnesses and colours of some of the stars were due to hidden companion stars, which would make the stars appear brighter and redder than they really were. But this idea would imply quite unusual properties of the pairs, which have never before been observed. Other measurements of the stars, such as their rotation speeds and spectra, also indicated that they must have different ages [2].

Zooming in on the Orion Nebula

“Although we cannot yet formally disprove the possibility that these stars are binaries, it seems much more natural to accept that what we see are three generations of stars that formed in succession, within less than three million years,” concludes Beccari.

The new results strongly suggest that star formation in the Orion Nebula Cluster is proceeding in bursts, and more quickly than had been previously thought.

Panning across the Orion Nebula


[1] The Orion Nebula has been studied by many of ESO’s telescopes, including images in visible light from the MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope (eso1103) and infrared images from VISTA (eso1701) and the HAWK-I instrument on the Very Large Telescope (eso1625).


[2] The group also found that each of the three different generations rotate at different speeds — the youngest stars rotate the fastest, and the oldest stars rotate the slowest. In this scenario, the stars would have formed in quick succession, within a time frame of three million years.

More information:

This research was presented in a paper entitled “A Tale of Three Cities: OmegaCAM discovers multiple sequences in the color­ magnitude diagram of the Orion Nebula Cluster,” by G. Beccari and colleagues, to appear in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics.

The team is composed of G. Beccari, M.G. Petr-Gotzens and H.M.J. Boffin (ESO, Garching bei München, Germany), M. Romaniello (ESO; Excellence Cluster Universe, Garching bei München, Germany), D. Fedele (INAF-Osservatorio Astrofisico di Arcetri, Firenze, Italy), G. Carraro (Dipartimento di Fisica e Astronomia Galileo Galilei, Padova, Italy), G. De Marchi (Science Support Office, European Space Research and Technology Centre (ESA/ESTEC), The Netherlands), W.J. de Wit (ESO, Santiago, Chile), J.E. Drew (School of Physics, University of Hertfordshire, UK), V.M. Kalari (Departamento de Astronomía, Universidad de Chile, Santiago, Chile), C.F. Manara (ESA/ESTEC), E.L. Martin (Centro de Astrobiologia (CSIC-INTA), Madrid, Spain), S. Mieske (ESO, Chile), N. Panagia (Space Telescope Science Institute, USA); L. Testi (ESO, Garching); J.S. Vink (Armagh Observatory, UK); J.R. Walsh (ESO, Garching); and N.J. Wright (School of Physics, University of Hertfordshire; Astrophysics Group, Keele University, UK).

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”.


Research paper:

Photos of the VLT Survey Telescope:

ESOcast 118 Light: A Tale of Three Stellar Cities (4K UHD):

ESO's Very Large Telescope (VLT):

Images, Text, Credits: ESO/Richard Hook/Giacomo Beccari/IAU and Sky & Telescope/Videos: ESO, N. Risinger (, Digitized Sky Survey 2. Music: Johan B. Monell (

Best regards,

mercredi 26 juillet 2017

Two Days and Counting After Crew Rocket Rolls Out to Pad

ISS - Expedition 52 Mission patch / ROSCOSMOS - Soyuz MS-05 Mission patch.

July 26, 2017

International Space Station (ISS). Animation Credits: NASA

The Soyuz MS-05 spacecraft that will launch three new crew members to the International Space Station has rolled out to its launch pad in Kazakhstan. The rocket was carted slowly by train from its processing facility to the pad and vertically raised to its launch position at the Baikonur Cosmodrome.

Image above: The Soyuz MS-05 rocket is vertically raised into launch position two days before its scheduled launch from Kazakhstan to the International Space Station. Image Credits: NASA/Joel Kowsky.

Cosmonaut Sergey Ryazanskiy will command the Soyuz when it launches Friday at 11:41 a.m. EDT. He will be flanked by flight engineers Randy Bresnik from NASA and Paolo Nespoli from the European Space Agency. The trio will take a six-hour, 19-minute ride from Earth to the station’s Rassvet module. NASA TV will broadcast the launch and docking activities live beginning at 10:45 a.m.

Image above: The Soyuz MS-05 spacecraft is seen as it is raised into a vertical position on the launch pad at the Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan, Wednesday, July 26, 2017. Expedition 52 flight engineer Sergei Ryazanskiy of Roscosmos, flight engineer Randy Bresnik of NASA, and flight engineer Paolo Nespoli of ESA (European Space Agency), are scheduled to launch to the International Space Station aboard the Soyuz spacecraft from the Baikonur Cosmodrome on Friday, July 28, at 11:41 a.m. EDT (9:41 p.m. Baikonur time. Photo Credit: (NASA/Joel Kowsky.

The three Expedition 52 crew members living on the space station now are moving right along with ongoing human research. Veteran astronaut Peggy Whitson continued exploring therapies that target only cancer cells. Flight Engineer Jack Fischer swabbed his mouth and body for a study tracking microbes in space. Station Commander Fyodor Yurchikhin worked life support maintenance and sampled the station’s air for a quality check.

Expedition 52 Soyuz Rollout (Soyuz MS-05). Video Credit: Roscosmos

Related links:

Cancer cells:

Microbes in space:

NASA TV coverage:

Soyuz MS-05 spacecraft pictures:

Expedition 52:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

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The Dark Side of the Crater: How Light Looks Different on the Moon and What NASA Is Doing About It

NASA logo.

July 26, 2017

Things look different on the Moon. Literally.

Image above: Scientists Build Sandbox to Simulate Lighting Conditions on the Moon. Image Credits: NASA/Ames Research Center.

Because the Moon isn't big enough to hold a significant atmosphere, there is no air and there are no particles in the air to reflect and scatter sunlight. On Earth, shadows in otherwise bright environments are dimly lit with indirect light from these tiny reflections. That lighting provides enough detail that we get an idea of shapes, holes and other features that could be obstacles to someone – or some robot – trying to maneuver in shadow.

"What you get on the Moon are dark shadows and very bright regions that are directly illuminated by the Sun – the Italian painters in the Baroque period called it chiaroscuro – alternating light and dark," said Uland Wong, a computer scientist at NASA's Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley. "It's very difficult to be able to perceive anything for a robot or even a human that needs to analyze these visuals, because cameras don't have the sensitivity to be able to see the details that you need to detect a rock or a crater."

In addition, the dust itself covering the Moon is otherworldly. The way light reflects on the jagged shape of individual grains, along with the uniformity of color, means it looks different if it's lit from different directions. It loses texture at different lighting angles.

Some of these visual challenges are evident in Apollo mission surface images, but the early lunar missions mostly waited until lunar “afternoon” so astronauts could safely explore the surface in well-lit conditions.

Future lunar rovers may target unexplored polar regions of the Moon to drill for water ice and other volatiles that are essential, but heavy, to take on human exploration missions. At the Moon’s poles, the Sun is always near the horizon and long shadows hide many potential dangers in terrain like rocks and craters. Pure darkness is a challenge for robots that need to use visual sensors to safely explore the surface.

Wong and his team in Ames' Intelligent Robotics Group are tackling this by gathering real data from simulated lunar soil and lighting. 

"We're building these analog environments here and lighting them like they would look on the Moon with solar simulators, in order to create these sorts of appearance conditions," said Wong. "We use a lot of 3-dimensional imaging techniques, and use sensors to create algorithms, which will both help the robot safeguard itself in these environments, and let us train people to interpret it correctly and command a robot where to go."

Image above: Above is a set from over 2,500 pairs of stereo camera images taken from at least 12 scenarios of recreated craters and rock formations that Wong and his team collected to accurately simulate the lighting conditions at the Moon's poles. The goal is to improve the stereo viewing capabilities of robotic systems to effectively navigate unknown terrain and avoid hazards at the Moon poles. Image Credits: NASA/Uland Wong.

The team uses a 'Lunar Lab' testbed at Ames – a 12-foot-square sandbox containing eight tons of JSC-1A, a human-made lunar soil simulant. Craters, surface ripples and obstacles are shaped with hand tools, and rocks are added to the terrain in order to simulate boulder fields or specific obstacles. Then they dust the terrain and rocks with an added layer of simulant to produce the “fluffy” top layer of lunar soil, erasing shovel and brush marks, and spreading a thin layer on the faces of rocks. Each terrain design in the testbed is generated by statistics based on common features observed from spacecraft around the Moon.

Solar simulator lights are set up around the terrain to create Moon-accurate low-angle, high-contrast illumination. Two cameras, called a stereo imaging pair, mimic how human eyes are set apart to help us perceive depth. The team captured photographs of multiple testbed setups and lighting angles to create a dataset to inform future rover navigation.

"But you can only shovel so much dirt; we are also using physics-based rendering, and are trying to photo-realistically recreate the illumination in these environments," said Wong. "This allows us to use a supercomputer to render a bunch of images using models that we have decent confidence in, and this gets us a lot more information than we would taking pictures in a lab with three people, for example."

The result, a Polar Optical Lunar Analog Reconstruction or POLAR dataset, provides standard information for rover designers and programmers to develop algorithms and set up sensors to safely navigate. The POLAR dataset is applicable not only to our Moon, but to many types of planetary surfaces on airless bodies, including Mercury, asteroids, and regolith-covered moons like Mars' Phobos.

So far, early results show that stereo imaging is promising for use on rovers that will explore the lunar poles.

"One of the mission concepts that's in development right now, Resource Prospector, that I have the privilege of working on, might be the first mission to land a robot and navigate in the polar regions of the Moon," said Wong. "And in order to do that, we have to figure out how to navigate where nobody's ever been."

This research is funded by the agency’s Advanced Exploration Systems and Game Changing Development programs. NASA’s Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute provides the laboratory facilities and operational support.

Scientists Build Sandbox to Simulate Lighting Conditions on the Moon

Related link:

Resource Prospector:

For more information about NASA technology for future exploration missions, visit:

Images (mentioned), Video, Text, Credits: NASA/Kimberly Williams/Ames Research Center/Kimberly Minafra.


Galileo arrives on the Space Station

ESA - Galileo Programme logo / ISS - International Space Station patch.

26 July 2017

If one’s good, two are better, and this is especially true when it comes to developing new applications for navsat systems like Galileo and GPS. That’s why an experiment on the International Space Station will start receiving signals from both simultaneously.

Satellites of America’s GPS provide signals for navigation and timing services in an enormous variety of applications worldwide – on smartphones, in automobile navigation systems and in economically vital services like aviation, maritime traffic and banking.

SCaN Testbed on Station

Today, GPS is synonymous with satnav, but after years of development and regular launches, Europe’s Galileo navigation system has come of age: its 18 satellites – soon to be 24 plus in-orbit spares – are now transmitting the highly accurate signals necessary to deliver navigation services across a wide range of activities.

“This means both European Galileo and American GPS signals can be received simultaneously, allowing us to investigate how the two sets of signals could be used together in a single device or application to provide mutually enhanced navigation,” says Werner Enderle, Head of ESA’s Navigation Support Office.

ISS - International Space Station

To achieve this two-for-one reception, a cutting-edge experiment conducted by ESA and NASA on the International Space Station will use special techniques to receive signals from both GPS and Galileo satellites.

“The aim is to generate data that can be used to demonstrate the value of a dual receiver compared to one that receives just GPS or Galileo alone,” says Werner.

“In future, this could open the door to a large range of new applications featuring the space-based use of multiple navigation satellite system signals.”

March 20, 2012 Space Station Briefing: SCAN Testbed Installation

SCaNing for accuracy

The experiment got underway with initial testing last year using NASA’s Space Communications and Navigation (SCaN) Testbed, an experimental software-configurable radio receiver that was installed on the Station in 2012.

The device’s capability to receive both GPS and Galileo signals had already been proven in 2014, opening the door for the use of Galileo, which uses the same frequencies and is interoperable with GPS.

Now the in-orbit experiments will make it among the world’s first space-validated, dual GPS-Galileo receivers.

This year, both agencies will continue developing the ground systems needed to support the experiment, and the main test phase is set to run from mid-2017 to the end of 2018.

Galileo satellite

“Dual Galileo–GPS signal reception in space allows us to study ways to enhance interoperability, while using the signals to achieve more precise and robust orbital predictions,” says David Chelmins, SCaN Testbed project manager at NASA’s Glenn Research Center, Cleveland, USA.

“This could lead to improved applications such as autonomous spacecraft operations and scientific measurements, and perhaps new scientific or commercial space applications no one’s even thought of yet.”

ESA teams take part

The Navigation Support Office, at ESA’s mission control centre in Darmstadt, Germany, will provide processing and analysis expertise eventually to perform a precise orbit determination to pin down the trajectory of the SCaN Testbed receiver on the Station to within tens of centimetres.

The development of the software needed to track GPS and Galileo signals simultaneously for the SCaN Testbed has been led by experts on the Radio Navigation Systems and Technology team at the Agency’s technical centre in the Netherlands.

Navigation Support Facility

This specialised software, developed in collaboration with Italian company Qascom, will convert the received Galileo and GPS signals into ‘observables’, numbers with a physical meaning from which the receiver position can be precisely calculated in space and on ground.

It is also planned that the software will generate realtime position solutions, demonstrating the ability of the Station to track its own orbit accurately and paving the way for new operational techniques.

Supporting navigation

ESA experts are well used to conducting the type of ultraprecise analysis that the SCaN experiment will require.

The Navigation Support Office routinely provides highly accurate navigation and satellite geodesy services to customers worldwide. It receives data from a wide variety of sources and then calculates and predicts highly accurate orbits, timing corrections and related products for satellites that are part of global navigation systems, like GPS, Galileo, Glonass and BeiDou.

These are used to improve global navigation satellite position accuracy, enabling even more sophisticated applications supporting scientific studies, large-scale climate monitoring, and tracking of long-term changes in Earth’s geology.

Related links:

Galileo navigation system:

EC Galileo website:

European GNSS Agency:

NASA’s Space Communications and Navigation (SCaN):

Navigation Support Office:

Radio Navigation Systems and Technology:




ESA/Pierre Carril/J. Mai/NASA.


Has Cassini found a universal driver for prebiotic chemistry at Titan?

ESA - Cassini Mission to Saturn logo.

26 July 2017

The international Cassini-Huygens mission has made a surprising detection of a molecule that is instrumental in the production of complex organics within the hazy atmosphere of Saturn’s moon Titan.

Titan boasts a thick nitrogen and methane atmosphere with some of the most complex chemistry seen in the Solar System. It is even thought to mimic the atmosphere of early Earth, before the build-up of oxygen. As such, Titan can be seen as a planet-scale laboratory that can be studied to understand the chemical reactions that may have led to life on Earth, and that could be occurring on planets around other stars.

Titan's complex atmosphere

In Titan’s upper atmosphere, nitrogen and methane are exposed to energy from sunlight and energetic particles in Saturn’s magnetosphere. These energy sources drive reactions involving nitrogen, hydrogen and carbon, which lead to more complicated prebiotic compounds.

These large molecules drift down towards the lower atmosphere, forming a thick haze of organic aerosols, and are thought to eventually reach the surface. But the process by which simple molecules in the upper atmosphere are transformed into the complex organic haze at lower altitudes is complicated and difficult to determine.

One surprising outcome of the Cassini mission was the discovery of a particular type of negatively charged molecule at Titan. Negatively charged species – or ‘anions’ – were not something scientists expected to find, because they are highly reactive and should not last long in Titan’s atmosphere before combining with other materials. Their detection is completely reshaping current understanding of the hazy moon’s atmosphere.

In a new study published in Astrophysical Journal Letters, scientists identified some of the negatively charged species as what are known as ‘carbon chain anions’. These linear molecules are understood to be building blocks towards more complex molecules, and may have acted as the basis for the earliest forms of life on Earth.

Chemistry in Titan’s atmosphere

The detections were made using Cassini’s plasma spectrometer, called CAPS, as Cassini flew through Titan’s upper atmosphere, 950–1300 km above the surface. Interestingly, the data showed that the carbon chains became depleted closer to the moon, while precursors to larger aerosol molecules underwent rapid growth, suggesting a close relationship between the two, with the chains ‘seeding’ the larger molecules.

“We have made the first unambiguous identification of carbon chain anions in a planet-like atmosphere, which we believe are a vital stepping-stone in the production line of growing bigger, and more complex organic molecules, such as the moon’s large haze particles,” says Ravi Desai of University College London and lead author of the study.

Image above: This Cassini image from 2012 shows Titan and its host planet Saturn. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI.

“This is a known process in the interstellar medium, but now we’ve seen it in a completely different environment, meaning it could represent a universal process for producing complex organic molecules.

“The question is, could it also be happening within other nitrogen-methane atmospheres like at Pluto or Triton, or at exoplanets with similar properties?”

“The prospect of a universal pathway towards the ingredients for life has implications for what we should look for in the search for life in the Universe,” says co-author Andrew Coates, also from UCL, and co-investigator of CAPS.

“Titan presents a local example of exciting and exotic chemistry, from which we have much to learn.”

Cassini Grand Finale

Cassini’s 13-year odyssey in the Saturnian system will soon draw to a close, but future missions, such as the international James Webb Space Telescope and ESA’s Plato exoplanet mission are being equipped to look for this process not only in our own Solar System but elsewhere. Advanced ground-based facilities such as ALMA could also enable follow-up observations of this process at work in Titan’s atmosphere, from Earth.

“These inspiring results from Cassini show the importance of tracing the journey from small to large chemical species in order to understand how complex organic molecules are produced in an early Earth-like atmosphere,” adds Nicolas Altobelli, ESA’s Cassini–Huygens project scientist.

 A Titan Discovery

 Video above: NASA scientists have definitively detected the chemical acrylonitrile, also known as vinyl cyanide, in the atmosphere of Saturn's moon Titan, a place that has long intrigued scientists investigating the chemical precursors of life. Video Credits: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.

“While we haven’t detected life itself, finding complex organics not just at Titan, but also in comets and throughout the interstellar medium, we are certainly coming close to finding its precursors.”

Notes for Editors:

“Carbon chain anions and the growth of complex organic molecules in Titan’s ionosphere,” by R. T. Desai et al is published in Astrophysical Journal Letters:

Cassini–Huygens is a cooperative project of NASA, ESA and ASI, the Italian space agency.

Related links:

At Saturn and Titan:

Cassini-Huygens in depth:

ESA’s Plato:

James Webb Space Telescope (JWST):


Images, Animation, Video (mentioned), Text, Credits ESA/Markus Bauer/Nicolas Altobelli/Mullard Space Science Laboratory/Andrew Coates/Ravi Desai.

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