vendredi 4 août 2017

Weekly Recap From the Expedition Lead Scientist, week of July 31, 2017

ISS - Expedition 52 Mission patch.

Aug. 4, 2017

Image above: International Space Station crew members captured this image of Typhoon Noru as it approached the Pacific Asian coast on Aug. 1. Image Credit: NASA.

(Highlights: Week of July 31, 2017) - Three new crew members arrived at the International Space Station and immediately began work on investigations into how the human body reacts to microgravity.

Veteran ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Paolo Nespoli collected blood samples during his first full week on the space station for the Canadian Space Agency's (CSA) Bone Marrow Adipose Reaction: Red Or White (MARROW) investigation. MARROW measures fat changes in bone marrow before and after exposure to microgravity. Bone marrow is a vital organ responsible for the production of all red and white blood cells. Fat cells share the same space with blood-producing cells in bone marrow and, during prolonged bed rest on Earth, can grow at the expense of blood-producing cells. Scientists want to learn whether changes in bone marrow fat in space can help explain abnormalities detected in blood cells in microgravity, specifically, the changes of red and white blood cell functions.

Image above: European Space Agency astronaut Paoli Nespoli performs an investigation into muscle atrophy in space using the Muscle Atrophy Research & Exercise System on the International Space Station. Image Credit: NASA.

In space, the bone marrow fat is measured using magnetic resonance, while red blood cell function is measured by analyzing a breath sample 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.

Nespoli joined NASA astronaut Randy Bresnik and Russian cosmonaut Sergey Ryazanskiy for research into muscle atrophy in space for the Myotendinous and Neuromuscular Adaptation to Long-term Spaceflight (Sarcolab-3) study involving the Muscle Atrophy Research & Exercise System (MARES). This investigation studies the adaptation and deterioration of the soleus, or calf muscle, where it joins the Achilles tendon, which links it to the heel and carries loads from the entire body. Muscle fiber samples are taken from crew members before and after flight and analyzed for changes in structural or chemical properties. MRI and ultrasound tests and electrode stimulation are conducted to help assess muscle and tendon changes caused by microgravity exposure.

Image above: NASA astronauts Peggy Whitson, left, and Jack Fischer work in JAXA's (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) Kibo laboratory on the International Space Station. Image Credit: NASA.

By understanding the mechanisms behind loss of muscle mass in space, scientists can develop countermeasures that are more effective for the crews -- pharmacological, dietary or exercise-based – and maintain or improve the health and performance of astronauts in orbit. Scientists also can gain insight into certain muscular conditions on Earth. Solutions developed for astronauts could be used for rehabilitation of patients with a variety of muscular conditions.

NASA astronaut Jack Fischer worked on a study monitoring solar radiation called the Dose Distribution Inside the International Space Station-3D (DOSIS-3D) investigation. DOSIS-3D uses several active and passive detectors to determine the radiation doses. The goal of the ESA investigation is to create a 3-D radiation map covering all sections of the orbiting laboratory, documenting the nature and distribution of the radiation field inside the orbiting laboratory. On Earth, flight crews and nuclear power plant workers are exposed to greater-than-average radiation. DOSIS-3D also provides insight into combining different devices for dosage monitoring and lessons in how to monitor real-time data. This could improve radiation monitoring for commercial and military airline crews, as well as other workers exposed to radiation on Earth.

Space to Ground: A Stunning Launch: 08/04/2017

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.

Progress was made on other investigations this week, including: Fine Motor Skills, Rodent Research-5, Microbial Tracking, MELFI, DELIC, ISS Ham, Food Acceptability, NanoRacks Platform-2, Meteor, MagVector, Space Headaches, SABL, Cool Flames, and Dose Tracker.

Related links:

Bone Marrow Adipose Reaction: Red Or White (MARROW):

Myotendinous and Neuromuscular Adaptation to Long-term Spaceflight (Sarcolab-3):

Muscle Atrophy Research & Exercise System (MARES):

Dose Distribution Inside the International Space Station-3D (DOSIS-3D):

Fine Motor Skills:

Rodent Research-5:

Microbial Tracking:

ISS Ham:

Food Acceptability:



Space Headaches:

Cool Flames:

Dose Tracker:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

Best regards,

New Horizons' Next Target Just Got a Lot More Interesting

NASA - New Horizons Mission logo.

Aug. 4, 2017

Could the next flyby target for NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft actually be two targets?

New Horizons scientists look to answer that question as they sort through new data gathered on the distant Kuiper Belt object (KBO) 2014 MU69, which the spacecraft will fly past on Jan. 1, 2019. That flyby will be the most distant in the history of space exploration, a billion miles beyond Pluto.

Image above: One artist’s concept of Kuiper Belt object 2014 MU69, the next flyby target for NASA’s New Horizons mission. This binary concept is based on telescope observations made at Patagonia, Argentina on July 17, 2017 when MU69 passed in front of a star. New Horizons theorize that it could be a single body with a large chunk taken out of it, or two bodies that are close together or even touching. Image Credits: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI/Alex Parker.

The ancient KBO, which is more than four billion miles (6.5 billion kilometers) from Earth, passed in front of a star on July 17, 2017. A handful of telescopes deployed by the New Horizons team in a remote part of Patagonia, Argentina were in the right place at the right time to catch its fleeting shadow — an event known as an occultation – and were able to capture important data to help mission flyby planners better determine the spacecraft trajectory and understand the size, shape, orbit and environment around MU69. 

Based on these new occultation observations, team members say MU69 may not be not a lone spherical object, but suspect it could be an “extreme prolate spheroid” – think of a skinny football – or even a binary pair. The odd shape has scientists thinking two bodies may be orbiting very close together or even touching – what’s known as a close or contact binary – or perhaps they’re observing a single body with a large chunk taken out of it. The size of MU69 or its components also can be determined from these data. It appears to be no more than 20 miles (30 kilometers) long, or, if a binary, each about 9-12 miles (15-20 kilometers) in diameter.

Image above: Second artist’s concept of Kuiper Belt object 2014 MU69, which is the next flyby target for NASA’s New Horizons mission. Scientists speculate that the Kuiper Belt object could be a single body (above) with a large chunk taken out of it, or two bodies (main image) that are close together or even touching. Image Credits: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI/Alex Parker.

“This new finding is simply spectacular. The shape of MU69 is truly provocative, and could mean another first for New Horizons going to a binary object in the Kuiper Belt,” said Alan Stern, mission principal investigator from the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in Boulder, Colorado. “I could not be happier with the occultation results, which promise a scientific bonanza for the flyby.” 

The July 17 stellar occultation event that gathered these data was the third of a historic set of three ambitious occultation observations for New Horizons. The team used data from the Hubble Space Telescope and European Space Agency’s Gaia satellite to calculate and pinpoint where MU69 would cast a shadow on Earth's surface. “Both of these space satellites were crucial to the success of the entire occultation campaign,” added Stern.

New Horizons Pluto & Charon flyby. Animation Credit: NASA

Said Marc Buie, the New Horizons co-investigator who led the observation campaign, "These exciting and puzzling results have already been key for our mission planning, but also add to the mysteries surrounding this target leading into the New Horizons encounter with MU69, now less than 17 months away.”

Follow the mission and observation campaign at the NASA New Horizons website and the mission's KBO Chasers page.

Related links:

KBO Chasers page:

NASA New Horizons:

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


New Clues to Universe's Structure Revealed

Dark Energy Survey logo.

August 4, 2017

Image above: Map of dark matter made from gravitational lensing measurements of 26 million galaxies in the Dark Energy Survey. The map covers about 1/30th of the entire sky and spans several billion light years in extent. Red regions have more dark matter than average, blue regions less dark matter. Image credits: Chihway Chang/Kavli Institute for Cosmological Physics at the University of Chicago/DES Collaboration.

What is our universe made of, and has its composition changed over time? Scientists have new insights about these fundamental questions, thanks to an international collaboration of more than 400 scientists called the Dark Energy Survey (DES). Three scientists from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, are part of this group that is helping to further our understanding of the structure of the universe.

The advances in astrophysics from DES are crucial to preparations for two upcoming space missions that will probe similar questions about the nature of the universe: ESA's Euclid mission (which has significant NASA participation) and NASA's Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope mission, both expected to launch in the 2020s.

"With this study, we are showcasing what's going to be possible with these much more complex observatories," said Andres Plazas Malagon, a postdoctoral researcher at JPL, who helped characterize DES's Dark Energy Camera detectors and who is also involved in detector studies for WFIRST.

 Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST). Animation Credit: NASA

Leading models of the universe suggest it is mostly composed of entities we cannot see: dark matter and dark energy. Dark matter acts like invisible glue, holding galaxies and galaxy clusters together gravitationally, while dark energy is thought to be responsible for the accelerated expansion of the universe. Some of our best predictions for how much dark matter and dark energy are in the universe come from the European Space Agency's Planck satellite, which looks at the light from about 400,000 years after the Big Bang.

Now, the Dark Energy Survey has examined the composition of the recent universe. Remarkably, the new results are close to forecasts made from Planck measurements of the distant past, allowing scientists to understand more about how the universe has evolved over approximately 14 billion years. The findings were revealed in a presentation at the American Physical Society Division of Particles and Fields meeting at the U.S. Department of Energy's Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia, Illinois.

"The Planck results have been the landmark constraints in cosmology. It is truly amazing that you have a model that describes the universe at 400,000 years old, and now we have a similarly precise measurement of the universe at 13 billion years [old] that agrees with the model," said JPL's Tim Eifler, who led the Dark Energy Survey analysis team to develop the science software for the interpretation of the results.

Scientists find that about 70 percent of the energy in the universe is contained in dark energy. About 25 percent is composed of the mysterious dark matter, with normal matter making up the remainder. All of this agrees with precise measurements made to date. So far, DES has found no evidence that the amount of dark energy has changed over time -- a finding that is consistent with Albert Einstein's idea of a "cosmological constant."

The results are especially important to the scientific community because they mark the first time that observations from the more recent universe -- the "adult" universe -- by a technique called gravitational lensing and galaxy clustering, have yielded results as precise as those from the cosmic microwave background radiation -- light from the "infant" universe.

"This is the crossover point where gravitational lensing and galaxy clustering measurements and surveys will be the primary driver of what we know about dark energy in the universe," said Eric Huff, a JPL researcher who invented a new method of extracting the weak lensing signal, enhancing the precision of the DES galaxy shape catalogs.

The results come from the first-year data set of the Dark Energy Survey, which uses a 570-megapixel camera mounted on the 4-meter Blanco telescope at the National Optical Astronomy Observatory's Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile. Its data are processed at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

To measure dark matter, scientists first created maps of galaxy positions. Then, they precisely measured the shapes of 26 million galaxies to directly map patterns of dark matter over billions of light years, using gravitational lensing and galaxy clustering.

The DES team developed new ways to detect the tiny lensing distortions of galaxy images. In the process, they created the largest guide to spotting dark matter in the cosmos ever drawn. The new dark matter map is 10 times the size of the one DES released in 2015 and continues to grow.

The DES collaboration will publish on a data set five times larger over the next two years.

"There is a feeling of true discovery in the collaboration. For the first time, we have the data and tools in hand to see whether Einstein's cosmological constant prevails. We are all excited to explore the physical nature of dark energy," Eifler said. "In particular we want to see if there are hints in the data that suggest modifying the laws of gravity on the largest scales in the universe."

Read more at:

Related link:

Dark Energy Survey (DES):

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


The ALPHA experiment explores the secrets of antimatter

CERN - European Organization for Nuclear Research logo.

Aug. 4, 2017

Image above: Alpha Experiment (Image: Maximilien Brice/CERN).

In a paper published yesterday in Nature, the ALPHA experiment at CERN’s Antiproton Decelerator reports the first observation of the hyperfine structure of antihydrogen, the antimatter counterpart of hydrogen. These findings point the way to ever more detailed analyses of the structure of antihydrogen and could help understand any differences between matter and antimatter.

The researchers conducted spectroscopy measurements on homemade antihydrogen atoms, which drive transitions between different energy states of the anti-atoms. They could in this way improve previous measurements by identifying and measuring two spectral lines of antihydrogen. Spectroscopy is a way to probe the internal structure of atoms by studying their interaction with electromagnetic radiation.

In 2012, the ALPHA experiment demonstrated for the first time the technical ability to measure the internal structure of atoms of antimatter. In 2016, the team reported the first observation of an optical transition of antihydrogen. By exposing antihydrogen atoms to microwaves at a precise frequency, they have now induced hyperfine transitions and refined their measurements. The team were able to measure two spectral lines for antihydrogen, and observe no difference compared to the equivalent spectral lines for hydrogen, within experimental limits.

“Spectroscopy is a very important tool in all areas of physics. We are now entering a new era as we extend spectroscopy to antimatter,” said Jeffrey Hangst, Spokesperson for the ALPHA experiment. “With our unique techniques, we are now able to observe the detailed structure of antimatter atoms in hours rather than weeks, something we could not even imagine a few years ago.”

With their trapping techniques, ALPHA are now able to trap a significant number of antiatoms – up to 74 at a time – thereby facilitating precision measurements.  With this new result, the ALPHA collaboration has clearly demonstrated the maturity of its techniques for probing the properties of antimatter atoms.

The rapid progress of CERN’s experiments at the unique Antiproton Decelerator facility is very promising for ever more precise measurements to be carried out in the near future.

Image above: The ALPHA experiment is a successor of an earlier antimatter experiment, ATHENA. Set up in late 2005 with similar overall research goals as its predecessor, ALPHA makes, captures and studies atoms of antihydrogen and compares these with hydrogen atoms. Image: CERN.

Creating antihydrogen depends on bringing together the two component antiparticles, antiprotons and positrons, in a trapping device for charged particles. Since antihydrogen atoms have no electric charge, once they form they can't be confined in such a device. In the ATHENA experiment the antiatoms would drift naturally to the walls of the trap. Because these walls were made of ordinary matter, the contact caused the antiatoms to annihilate a few microseconds after they were created.

ALPHA is picking up from where ATHENA left off. ALPHA uses a different trapping method to hold the antihydrogen atoms, and will keep them for a longer period before they annihilate with ordinary atoms.

In June 2011, ALPHA reported that it had succeeded in trapping antimatter atoms for over 16 minutes: long enough to begin to study their properties in detail. This should give the physicists time to take measurements and to find more answers to the antimatter mystery.


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:

Nature paper:

ALPHA experiment:

Large Hadron Collider (LHC):

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

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

Best regards,

jeudi 3 août 2017

Astronauts Work Muscle Scans and Science Gear Upgrades

ISS - Expedition 52 Mission patch.

August 3, 2017

From leg muscle scans to observing materials burning at high temperatures, the Expedition 52 crew continued researching what happens when you live in space. The space residents also upgraded electronics gear and installed new science racks.

Image above: Astronauts Peggy Whitson and Jack Fischer work on station systems inside Japan’s Kibo laboratory module. Image Credit: NASA.

Astronauts Randy Bresnik and Paolo Nespoli are barely a week into their 4-1/2 month long mission and are already exploring what space is doing to their bodies. The astronauts took ultrasound scans of their legs today to assess the changes their leg muscles and tendons are undergoing. The data will later be compared to the condition of their muscles before and after their spaceflight mission.

Jack Fischer of NASA installed new electronics gear in a science rack to speed up the communications rate at which data is uploaded and downloaded from the research facility. Station veteran Peggy Whitson swapped out samples exposed to high temperatures inside a specialized furnace. She later installed a pair of NanoRacks research platforms in the Kibo laboratory module. The commercial science devices will support upcoming experiments being delivered on the next SpaceX Dragon mission.

Image above: A Look Inside the Space Station's Experimental BEAM Module. Image Credit: NASA.

NASA astronaut Randy Bresnik looks through the hatch of the International Space Station's Bigelow Expandable Aerospace Module (BEAM) on July 31, 2017. He shared this photo on social media on August 2, commenting, "Ever wonder how you look when you enter a new part of a spacecraft? Well, this is it.  First time inside the expandable BEAM module."

The BEAM is an experimental expandable module launched to the station aboard SpaceX's eighth commercial resupply mission on April 8, 2016, and fully expanded and pressurized on May 28.  Expandable modules weigh less and take up less room on a rocket than a traditional module, while allowing additional space for living and working. They provide protection from solar and cosmic radiation, space debris, and other contaminants. Crews traveling to the moon, Mars, asteroids, or other destinations may be able to use them as habitable structures.

BEAM berthed to ISS. Image Credits: NASA/Bigelow Aerospace

The BEAM is just over halfway into its planned two-year demonstration on the space station. NASA and Bigelow are currently focusing on measuring radiation dosage inside the BEAM. Using two active Radiation Environment Monitors (REM) inside the module, researchers at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston are able to take real-time measurements of radiation levels.

Related article:

Dragon to be Packed with New Experiments for International Space Station

Related links:

Expedition 52:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

Best regards,

Dragon to be Packed with New Experiments for International Space Station

SpaceX - CRS-12 Mission logo.

Aug. 3, 2017

Dragon catch by the robotic Canadarm on ISS. Image Credit: NASA

The International Space Station is a unique scientific platform enabling researchers from around the world to develop experiments that could not be performed on Earth. A line of unpiloted resupply spacecraft keeps this work going, supporting efforts to enable future human and robotic exploration of destinations well beyond low-Earth orbit.

The next mission to the space station will be the 12th commercial resupply services flight for SpaceX. Liftoff is targeted for Aug. 13 at approximately 12:56 p.m., from Launch Complex 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. This underscores the center's role as a premier, multi-user spaceport as this will be the ninth SpaceX rocket to take off from the launch pad, all this year. Pad 39A's history includes 11 Apollo flights, the launch of the Skylab space station in 1973, and 82 space shuttle missions.

Image above: When the Dragon arrives at the International Space Station, NASA astronaut Jack Fischer and European Space Agency astronaut Paolo Nespoli will grapple the spacecraft using the station's robotic arm and install it on the station’s Harmony module. Dragon will deliver almost 6,000 pounds of supplies and payloads, including materials to support more than 250 science and research investigations during Expeditions 52 and 53. Image Credit: NASA.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket will boost a Dragon spacecraft filled with almost 6,000 pounds of supplies. The payloads include crucial materials to directly support dozens of the more than 250 science and research investigations that will occur during Expeditions 52 and 53.

About 10 minutes after launch, Dragon will reach its preliminary orbit and deploy its solar arrays. A carefully choreographed series of thruster firings are scheduled to allow the spacecraft to rendezvous with the space station. NASA astronaut Jack Fischer and European Space Agency astronaut Paolo Nespoli will grapple Dragon using the space station’s robotic arm and install it on the station’s Harmony module.

The station crew will unpack the Dragon and begin working with the experiments that include plant pillows containing seeds for NASA’s Veggie plant growth system experiment. The plant pillows were prepared in Kennedy's Space Station Processing Facility.

Image above: Inside the Veggie flight laboratory in the Space Station Processing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, the agency's Veggie project lead, Dr. Gioia Massa, prepares plant pillow experiments. Image Credits: NASA/Ben Smegelsky.

Veggie, like most of the research taking place on the space station, is demonstrating how the research benefits life on Earth as it advances NASA’s plans to send humans to Mars.

The Dragon spacecraft will spend approximately one month attached to the space station. It will remain until mid-September when the spacecraft will return to Earth with results of earlier experiments, splashing down in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Baja California.

Related links:

Commercial resupply services:



Veggie plant growth system:

International Space Station (ISS):

Kennedy Space Center:

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA's Kennedy Space Center, by Bob Granath.

Best regards,

Jupiter Storm of the High North

NASA - JUNO Mission logo.

Aug. 3, 2017

A dynamic storm at the southern edge of Jupiter’s northern polar region dominates this Jovian cloudscape, courtesy of NASA’s Juno spacecraft.

This storm is a long-lived anticyclonic oval named North North Temperate Little Red Spot 1 (NN-LRS-1); it has been tracked at least since 1993, and may be older still. An anticyclone is a weather phenomenon where winds around the storm flow in the direction opposite to that of the flow around a region of low pressure. It is the third largest anticyclonic oval on the planet, typically around 3,700 miles (6,000 kilometers) long. The color varies between red and off-white (as it is now), but this JunoCam image shows that it still has a pale reddish core within the radius of maximum wind speeds.

Citizen scientists Gerald Eichstädt and Seán Doran processed this image using data from the JunoCam imager. The image has been rotated so that the top of the image is actually the equatorial regions while the bottom of the image is of the northern polar regions of the planet.

JUNO spacecraft orbiting Jupiter

The image was taken on July 10, 2017 at 6:42 p.m. PDT (9:42 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 7,111 miles (11,444 kilometers) from the tops of the clouds of the planet at a latitude of 44.5 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, Animation, Text,  Credits: NASA/Martin Perez/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Gerald Eichstädt/Seán Doran.


Does loss lead to instability?

ESA - Sentinel-1 Mission logo.

3 August 2017


Thanks to the satellite era, we recently witnessed the birth of one of the biggest icebergs on record. While the breakup of Antarctica’s Larsen C ice shelf hit the headlines around the world, this dramatic event also presents scientists with a unique opportunity to learn more about ice-sheet stability.

On 12 July, Europe’s Copernicus Sentinel-1 mission returned radar images showing that a lump of ice more than twice the size of Luxembourg had broken off the Antarctic Peninsula.

Widening gap

Since then, this large tabular iceberg – known as A68 – has drifted about 5 km from the ice shelf. Images from Sentinel-1 also show that a cluster of more than 11 smaller icebergs has now also formed, the largest of which is over 13 km long.

These ‘bergy bits’ have broken off both the giant iceberg and the remaining ice shelf.

Anna Hogg from the University of Leeds, UK, commented, “Our ability to routinely monitor rapidly unfolding events such as this has been revolutionised in the last few years by European investment in the Copernicus satellites.”

Since Antarctica is in the dark winter months, radar images are indispensable because, apart from the region being remote, radar continues to deliver images regardless of the dark and bad weather.

“The year-round all-weather imaging capability of Sentinel-1, combined with its frequent revisits, has been an invaluable resource,” said Dr Hogg.

While it is certainly interesting to now postulate about the future path and eventual demise of A68, it is arguably more important to understand how the ice shelf will respond to being 10% smaller.

Larsen C rift from the air

Reporting this week in Nature Climate Change, Dr Hilmar Gudmundsson from the British Antarctic Survey and Dr Hogg examine the lead up to the calving and discuss these events affect the stability of Antarctic ice shelves.

“The satellite images reveal a lot of continuing action on Larsen C ice shelf.  We can see that the remaining cracks continue to grow towards a feature called Bawden Ice Rise, which provides important structural support for the remaining ice shelf,” continued Dr Hogg.

“If an ice shelf loses contact with the ice rise, either through sustained thinning or a large iceberg calving event, it can prompt a significant acceleration in ice speed, and possibly further destabilisation. It looks like the Larsen C story might not be over yet.”

Dr Gudmundsson explained, “Although floating ice shelves have only a modest impact on of sea-level rise, ice from Antarctica’s interior can discharge into the ocean when they collapse.

Ice-shelf stability

Consequently, we will see increase in the ice-sheet contribution to global sea-level rise.

“With this large calving event, and the availability of satellite technology, we have a fantastic opportunity to watch this natural experiment unfold before our eyes.

“We can expect to learn a lot about how ice shelves break up, and how the loss of a section of an ice shelf affects the flow of the remaining parts.”

The A68 story

Ice-shelf retreat on the Antarctic Peninsula has been observed throughout the satellite era – about 50 years. Large sections of the Larsen A and B ice shelves and the Wilkins ice shelf collapsed in a matter of days in 1995, 2002 and 2008, respectively.

With today’s Copernicus monitoring system we are now far better placed not only to observe events in remote places like Antarctica but also, importantly, to turn theoretical understanding of complex processes into hard science.

Related links:

Nature Climate Change - Impacts of the Larsen-C ice shelf calving event:


Sentinel data access & technical information:

Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling:

UK Natural Environment Research Council:

British Antarctic Survey:

Images, Video, Text, Credits: ESA/contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2017), processed by BAS–A. Fleming/BAS/Hogg & Gudmundsson (Nature Climate Change, 7, 540–542, (2017) doi:10.1038/nclimate3359.


mercredi 2 août 2017

CERN know-how helps weigh the proton

CERN - European Organization for Nuclear Research logo.

2 Aug 2017

A team in Heidelberg, Germany has made the most precise measurement to date of the mass of a single proton, the particle that – together with the neutron and the electron – makes up all the ordinary matter in the universe, and therefore also us. They found that the proton is about 30 billionths of a percent lighter than previously thought. The result improves by a factor of three on the precision of the accepted value of the Committee on Data for Science and Technology (CODATA) – which regularly collects and publishes the recommended values of fundamental physical constants – and it also disagrees with its central value at a level of 3.3 standard deviations, which means that the new value is significantly different from the previous result.

Proton mass is a fundamental parameter in atomic and particle physics, influencing atomic spectra and allowing tests of ultra-precise calculations within Quantum Electrodynamics (QED), the theory that describes how light and matter interact. In particular, a detailed comparison between the masses of the proton and the antiproton offers a stringent test of the fundamental symmetry of the Standard Model, the so-called charge, parity and time (CPT) invariance. This proton lightness could also potentially shed light on other mysteries, such as the well-known discrepancies in the measured mass of the heaviest hydrogen isotope, tritium.

The team at the Max Planck Institute for Nuclear Physics (MPIK) in Heidelberg and their collaborators from RIKEN in Japan used a device known as Penning trap, in which a combination of strong electric and magnetic fields, cooled to 4 degrees Kelvin (- 269.15 °C) is able to store individual protons and highly charged carbon ions. In this trap, the magnetic field forces the particles to move in circle and by measuring the characteristic frequencies of the trapped particles when they spin around, the mass of the proton follows directly.

Image above: The MPKI Penning-trap setup for precision mass measurements of single particles. A combination of strong electric and magnetic fields is able to store individual protons and highly charged carbon ions. (Image: Max Planck Institute for Nuclear Physics).

The sensitive single-particle detectors were partly developed by the RIKEN group, drawing on experience gained with similar traps for antimatter research at CERN’s Antiproton Decelerator (AD). “The group around Sven Sturm and Klaus Blaum from MPIK Heidelberg that did the measurement has great expertise with carbon, whereas the BASE group contributed proton expertise based on 12 years dealing with protons and antiprotons,” explains RIKEN group leader and spokesperson of the AD’s BASE experiment, Stefan Ulmer. “We shared knowledge such as know-how on ultra-sensitive proton detectors and the ‘fast shuttling’ method developed by BASE to perform the proton/antiproton charge-to-mass ratio measurement.”

Although carefully conducted cross-check measurements confirmed a series of published values of the proton mass and showed that no unexpected systematic effects were imposed by the new method, such a striking departure from the accepted value will likely challenge other teams to revisit the proton mass. The discrepancy has already inspired the MPIK-RIKEN team to further improve the precision of their measurement, for instance by storing a third ion in the trap and measuring it simultaneously to eliminate uncertainties originating from magnetic field fluctuations, which are the main source of systematic errors when using the new technique.

“It is also planned to tune the magnetic field to even higher homogeneity, which will reduce additional sources of systematic error,” explains BASE member Andreas Mooser. “The methods that will be pioneered in the next step of this experiment will have immediate positive feedback to future BASE measurements, for example in improving the precision in the antiproton-to-proton charge-to-mass ratio.”

The research was published on 18 July 2017 in 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:

Antiproton Decelerator (AD):


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

Image (mentioned), Text, Credits: CERN/Matthew Chalmers.

Best regards,

Five Years Ago and 154 Million Miles Away: Touchdown!

NASA - Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) logo.

Aug. 2, 2017

Curiosity’s First Five Years of Science on Mars

Video above: Five years of Curiosity's Martian discoveries after landing day's seven minute of terror. Video Credit: NASA/JPL.

NASA's Curiosity Mars rover, which landed near Mount Sharp five years ago this week, is examining clues on that mountain about long-ago lakes on Mars.

On Aug. 5, 2012, the mission team at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, exalted at radio confirmation and first images from Curiosity after the rover's touchdown using a new "sky crane" landing method. Transmissions at the speed of light took nearly 14 minutes to travel from Mars to Earth, which that day were about 154 million miles (248 million kilometers) apart.

Rover POV: Five Years of Curiosity Driving on Mars

Video above: A rover's-eye view of five years in Gale Crater on Mars. Video Credit: NASA/JPL.

Those first images included a view of Mount Sharp. The mission accomplished its main goal in less than a year, before reaching the mountain. It determined that an ancient lake environment on this part of Mars offered the conditions needed for life -- fresh water, other key chemical ingredients and an energy source.

A Guide to Gale Crater

Video above: An animated guide to Gale Crater's surprising history. Video Credits: NASA/JPL.

On Mount Sharp since 2014, Curiosity has examined environments where both water and wind have left their marks. Having studied more than 600 vertical feet of rock with signs of lakes and later groundwater, Curiosity's international science team concluded that habitable conditions lasted for at least millions of years.

Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) or Curiosity rover. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

With higher destinations ahead, Curiosity will continue exploring how this habitable world changed through time. For more about the mission, visit:

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


Astronauts Look at Ways to Prevent Space Headaches and Bone Loss

ISS - Expedition 52 Mission patch.

Aug. 2, 2017

The crew today researched ways to alleviate headaches and reverse bone loss in space to improve mission performance. Meanwhile, the station’s three newest residents also checked out station emergency gear and systems.

Common ailments that afflict people on Earth such as headaches also affect astronauts in space impacting their mission activities. Astronauts Paolo Nespoli and Randy Bresnik are jotting down their experiences this week to help doctors understand space headaches. Observations may reduce their effects and improve performance during spaceflight and on Earth.

Image above: Astronaut Paolo Nespoli checks out a science freezer inside Japan’s Kibo laboratory module. Image Credit: NASA.

NASA astronauts Jack Fischer and Peggy Whitson are studying a new drug for its potential to slow or reverse bone loss in space. They looked at bones in mice today to help determine the efficacy of the new drug.  The lack of gravity causes osteoporosis-like symptoms weakening bones in space possibly impacting crews returning to Earth and experiencing gravity for the first time in months.

Cosmonaut Sergey Ryazanskiy joined his crewmates Nespoli and Bresnik this afternoon familiarizing themselves with the station’s emergency equipment. The new trio explored their new home in space taking note of safety gear locations and escape paths.

Related links:

Space headaches:

Bones in mice:

Expedition 52:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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


Hubble Detects Exoplanet with Glowing Water Atmosphere

NASA - Hubble Space Telescope patch.

Aug. 2, 2017

Image above: This artist's concept shows hot Jupiter WASP-121b, which presents the best evidence yet of a stratosphere on an exoplanet. Image Credits: Engine House VFX, At-Bristol Science Centre, University of Exeter.

Scientists have discovered the strongest evidence to date for a stratosphere on a planet outside our solar system, or exoplanet. A stratosphere is a layer of atmosphere in which temperature increases with higher altitudes.

"This result is exciting because it shows that a common trait of most of the atmospheres in our solar system -- a warm stratosphere -- also can be found in exoplanet atmospheres," said Mark Marley, study co-author based at NASA's Ames Research Center in California's Silicon Valley. "We can now compare processes in exoplanet atmospheres with the same processes that happen under different sets of conditions in our own solar system."

Reporting in the journal Nature, scientists used data from NASA's Hubble Space Telescope to study WASP-121b, a type of exoplanet called a "hot Jupiter." Its mass is 1.2 times that of Jupiter, and its radius is about 1.9 times Jupiter's -- making it puffier. But while Jupiter revolves around our sun once every 12 years, WASP-121b has an orbital period of just 1.3 days. This exoplanet is so close to its star that if it got any closer, the star's gravity would start ripping it apart. It also means that the top of the planet's atmosphere is heated to a blazing 4,600 degrees Fahrenheit (2,500 Celsius), hot enough to boil some metals. The WASP-121 system is estimated to be about 900 light years from Earth – a long way, but close by galactic standards.

Image above: The top of the planet's atmosphere is heated to a blazing 4,600 degrees Fahrenheit (2,500 Celsius), hot enough to boil some metals. Image Credits: NASA, ESA, and G. Bacon (STSci).

Previous research found possible signs of a stratosphere on the exoplanet WASP-33b as well as some other hot Jupiters. The new study presents the best evidence yet because of the signature of hot water molecules that researchers observed for the first time.

“Theoretical models have suggested stratospheres may define a distinct class of ultra-hot planets, with important implications for their atmospheric physics and chemistry,” said Tom Evans, lead author and research fellow at the University of Exeter, United Kingdom. “Our observations support this picture.”

WASP-121b: The Planet With an Atmosphere of Glowing Water

Video above: This 360° animation depicts planet WASP-121b; an exoplanet with an atmosphere of glowing water. With an atmosphere hot enough to boil iron, WASP-121b is a type of exoplanet known as a 'hot Jupiter'. The planet orbits closely to it's host star, located in the constellation of 'Puppis', about 900 light years away from Earth. Video Credit: NASA.

To study the stratosphere of WASP-121b, scientists analyzed how different molecules in the atmosphere react to particular wavelengths of light, using Hubble's capabilities for spectroscopy.  Water vapor in the planet's atmosphere, for example, behaves in predictable ways in response to certain wavelengths of light, depending on the temperature of the water.

Starlight is able to penetrate deep into a planet's atmosphere, where it raises the temperature of the gas there. This gas then radiates its heat into space as infrared light. However, if there is cooler water vapor at the top of the atmosphere, the water molecules will prevent certain wavelengths of this light from escaping to space. But if the water molecules at the top of the atmosphere have a higher temperature, they will glow at the same wavelengths.

"The emission of light from water means the temperature is increasing with height," said Tiffany Kataria, study co-author based at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California. "We're excited to explore at what longitudes this behavior persists with upcoming Hubble observations." 

Hubble Space Telescope. Animation Credits: NASA/ESA

The phenomenon is similar to what happens with fireworks, which get their colors from chemicals emitting light. When metallic substances are heated and vaporized, their electrons move into higher energy states. Depending on the material, these electrons will emit light at specific wavelengths as they lose energy: sodium produces orange-yellow and strontium produces red in this process, for example. The water molecules in the atmosphere of WASP-121b similarly give off radiation as they lose energy, but in the form of infrared light, which the human eye is unable to detect.

In Earth's stratosphere, ozone gas traps ultraviolet radiation from the sun, which raises the temperature of this layer of atmosphere. Other solar system bodies have stratospheres, too; methane is responsible for heating in the stratospheres of Jupiter and Saturn's moon Titan, for example.

In solar system planets, the change in temperature within a stratosphere is typically around 100 degrees Fahrenheit (about 56 degrees Celsius). On WASP-121b, the temperature in the stratosphere rises by 1,000 degrees (560 degrees Celsius). Scientists do not yet know what chemicals are causing the temperature increase in WASP-121b's atmosphere. Vanadium oxide and titanium oxide are candidates, as they are commonly seen in brown dwarfs, "failed stars" that have some commonalities with exoplanets. Such compounds are expected to be present only on the hottest of hot Jupiters, as high temperatures are needed to keep them in a gaseous state.

"This super-hot exoplanet is going to be a benchmark for our atmospheric models, and it will be a great observational target moving into the Webb era," said Hannah Wakeford, study co-author who worked on this research while at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland.

The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between NASA and ESA (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, Inc., in Washington. Caltech manages JPL for NASA.

For images and more information about Hubble, visit:

For more information about exoplanets, visit:

Images (mentioned), Animation (mentioned), Video (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Tony Greicius/JPL/Elizabeth Landau/Space Telescope Science Institute/Ray Villard.

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Cutting-edge Adaptive Optics Facility Sees First Light

ESO - European Southern Observatory logo.

2 August 2017

Spectacular improvement in the sharpness of MUSE images

The planetary nebula IC 4406 seen with MUSE and the AOF

The Unit Telescope 4 (Yepun) of ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) has now been transformed into a fully adaptive telescope. After more than a decade of planning, construction and testing, the new Adaptive Optics Facility (AOF) has seen first light with the instrument MUSE, capturing amazingly sharp views of planetary nebulae and galaxies. The coupling of the AOF and MUSE forms one of the most advanced and powerful technological systems ever built for ground-based astronomy.

NGC 6369 before and after the AOF

The Adaptive Optics Facility (AOF) is a long-term project on ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) to provide an adaptive optics system for the instruments on Unit Telescope 4 (UT4), the first of which is MUSE (the Multi Unit Spectroscopic Explorer) [1]. Adaptive optics works to compensate for the blurring effect of the Earth’s atmosphere, enabling MUSE to obtain much sharper images and resulting in twice the contrast previously achievable. MUSE can now study even fainter objects in the Universe.

The planetary nebula NGC 6563 observed with the AOF

“Now, even when the weather conditions are not perfect, astronomers can still get superb image quality thanks to the AOF,” explains Harald Kuntschner, AOF Project Scientist at ESO.

The AOF + MUSE at work

Following a battery of tests on the new system, the team of astronomers and engineers were rewarded with a series of spectacular images. Astronomers were able to observe the planetary nebulae IC 4406, located in the constellation Lupus (The Wolf), and NGC 6369, located in the constellation Ophiuchus (The Serpent Bearer). The MUSE observations using the AOF showed dramatic improvements in the sharpness of the images, revealing never before seen shell structures in IC 4406 [2].

The AOF + MUSE at work

The AOF, which made these observations possible, is composed of many parts working together. They include the Four Laser Guide Star Facility (4LGSF) and the very thin deformable secondary mirror of UT4 [3] [4]. The 4LGSF shines four 22-watt laser beams into the sky to make sodium atoms in the upper atmosphere glow, producing spots of light on the sky that mimic stars. Sensors in the adaptive optics module GALACSI (Ground Atmospheric Layer Adaptive Corrector for Spectroscopic Imaging) use these artificial guide stars to determine the atmospheric conditions.

UT4 and the AOF at work

One thousand times per second, the AOF system calculates the correction that must be applied to change the shape of the telescope’s deformable secondary mirror to compensate for atmospheric disturbances. In particular, GALACSI corrects for the turbulence in the layer of atmosphere up to one kilometre above the telescope. Depending on the conditions, atmospheric turbulence can vary with altitude, but studies have shown that the majority of atmospheric disturbance occurs in this “ground layer” of the atmosphere.

The powerful lasers of the AOF

“The AOF system is essentially equivalent to raising the VLT about 900 metres higher in the air, above the most turbulent layer of atmosphere,” explains Robin Arsenault, AOF Project Manager. “In the past, if we wanted sharper images, we would have had to find a better site or use a space telescope — but now with the AOF, we can create much better conditions right where we are, for a fraction of the cost!”

NGC 6369

The corrections applied by the AOF rapidly and continuously improve the image quality by concentrating the light to form sharper images, allowing MUSE to resolve finer details and detect fainter stars than previously possible. GALACSI currently provides a correction over a wide field of view, but this is only the first step in bringing adaptive optics to MUSE. A second mode of GALACSI is in preparation and is expected to see first light early 2018. This narrow-field mode will correct for turbulence at any altitude, allowing observations of smaller fields of view to be made with even higher resolution.

ESO 338-4

“Sixteen years ago, when we proposed building the revolutionary MUSE instrument, our vision was to couple it with another very advanced system, the AOF,” says Roland Bacon, project lead for MUSE. “The discovery potential of MUSE, already large, is now enhanced still further. Our dream is becoming true.”

The planetary nebula NGC 6563 observed with MUSE and the AOF

One of the main science goals of the system is to observe faint objects in the distant Universe with the best possible image quality, which will require exposures of many hours. Joël Vernet, ESO MUSE and GALACSI Project Scientist, comments: “In particular, we are interested in observing the smallest, faintest galaxies at the largest distances. These are galaxies in the making — still in their infancy — and are key to understanding how galaxies form.”

NGC 6369 AO on/off crossfade

Furthermore, MUSE is not the only instrument that will benefit from the AOF. In the near future, another adaptive optics system called GRAAL will come online with the existing infrared instrument HAWK-I, sharpening its view of the Universe. That will be followed later by the powerful new instrument ERIS.

“ESO is driving the development of these adaptive optics systems, and the AOF is also a pathfinder for ESO’s Extremely Large Telescope,” adds Arsenault. “Working on the AOF has equipped us — scientists, engineers and industry alike — with invaluable experience and expertise that we will now use to overcome the challenges of building the ELT.”


[1] MUSE is an integral-field spectrograph, a powerful instrument that produces a 3D data set of a target object, where each pixel of the image corresponds to a spectrum of the light from the object. This essentially means that the instrument creates thousands of images of the object at the same time, each at a different wavelength of light, capturing a wealth of information.

[2] IC 4406 has previously been observed with the VLT (eso9827a).

[3] At just over one metre in diameter, this is the largest adaptive optics mirror ever produced and demanded cutting-edge technology. It was mounted on UT4 in 2016 (ann16078) to replace the telescope’s original conventional secondary mirror.

[4] Other tools to optimise the operation of the AOF have been developed and are now operational. These include an extension of the Astronomical Site Monitor software that monitors the atmosphere to determine the altitude at which the turbulence is occurring, and the Laser Traffic Control System (LTCS) that prevents other telescopes looking into the laser beams or at the artificial stars themselves and potentially affecting their observations.

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 119: AOF First Light :



Photos of the VLT:

ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT):

Multi Unit Spectroscopic Explorer (MUSE):

Four Laser Guide Star Facility (4LGSF):

Ground Atmospheric Layer Adaptive Corrector for Spectroscopic Imaging (GALACS):

Images, Video, Text, Credits: ESO/Richard Hook/Joël Vernet/Harald Kuntschner//J. Richard (CRAL)/P. Weilbacher (AIP)/Roland Bacon.

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