samedi 17 février 2018

Space Station Science Highlights: Week of Feb 12, 2018

ISS - Expedition 54 Mission patch.

Feb. 17, 2018

The crew members aboard the International Space Station spent the week conducting science, unloading a newly-arrived cargo delivery and preparing for a Friday morning spacewalk with NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei and JAXA astronaut Norishige Kanai.

Animation above: The Transparent Alloys was reinstalled within the Microgravity Science Glovebox this week, as seen above. Animation Credit: NASA.

Take a more detailed look at some of the science that happened last week aboard your orbiting laboratory:

Double grow-out continues within Veg-03 investigation

The Veg-03 investigation within the Vegetable Production Facility (Veggie) expands on previous validation tests of the Veggie hardware, which crew members use to grow cabbage, lettuce and other fresh vegetables in space. This marks the first time that two grow-outs have been initiated using two Veggie facilities in parallel aboard the space station. These plants will provide the crew the opportunity to consume fresh vegetables every few days, while some of the products from this run will be returned to Earth for testing. This week, the crew members, or space gardeners, worked to maintain the plants growing within the plant pillows by thinning the plants and priming the pillows.

International Space Station (ISS). Image Credit: NASA

JAXA astronaut demonstrates microgravity’s impact on everyday tasks

In addition to spacewalk preparations, Kanai also spent time teaching children and adults how microgravity impacts everyday tasks. Try Zero-G for Asia gives the public, including children and adults, the opportunity to vote for and suggest tasks for JAXA crew members, demonstrating the difference between Earth’s gravity and the microgravity environment of the space station. This week, Kanai demonstrated the use of a variety of objects including a paper boomerang, a paper airplane, a gyroscope, a slinky and liquids.

Investigation tests new method of storm intensity measurement

Image above: A view of Typhoon Gita, near the South Pacific island nation of tonga, taken as a part of the Tropical Cyclone investigation. Image Credit: NASA.

The Cyclone Intensity Measurements from the ISS (Tropical Cyclone) investigation captures images of tropical cyclones and hurricanes that are rated at Category 3 or greater on the Saffir-Simpson scale. A pseudo-stereoscopic method is used to determine the altitudes of the cloud tops near the eye of a cyclone by precisely tracking the positions of cloud features with respect to the Earth and how those positions change over time as an observer, the space station in this case, passes over the storm. The images demonstrate that pseudo-spectroscopy can be used to measure the cloud altitudes to sufficient precision so that, when combined with other remote-sensing data, an accurate determination of the intensity of hurricane or cyclone can be made. This week, the crew configured the camera settings in the Cupola to take untended images of the Category 3 Typhoon Gita, near the South Pacific island nation of Tonga.

Other work was done on these investigations: Personal CO2 Monitor, Crew Earth Observations, CLD FLAME, Microbial Tracking-2, Neuromapping, Space Headaches, Lighting Effects, Transparent Alloys, DOSIS-3D, AstroPi, EIISS, Manufacturing Device, VESSEL ID, Plant Gravity Perception, CBEF, Rodent Research-6, BioLab, and DreamXCG.

Space to Ground: Light Storm: 02/16/2018

Related links:

Vegetable Production Facility (Veggie):


Try Zero-G for Asia:

Personal CO2 Monitor:

Crew Earth Observations:


Microbial Tracking-2:


Space Headaches:

Lighting Effects:

Transparent Alloys:



Manufacturing Device:


Plant Gravity Perception:


Rodent Research-6:



Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

Images (mentioned), Animation (mentioned), Video, Text, Credits: NASA/Michael Johnson/John Love, Lead Increment Scientist Expeditions 53 & 54.

Best regards,

vendredi 16 février 2018

Hubble's Window into the Cosmic Past

NASA - Hubble Space Telescope patch.

Feb. 16, 2018

This image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope shows the galaxy cluster PLCK G004.5-19.5. It was discovered by the ESA Planck satellite through the Sunyaev-Zel’dovich effect — the distortion of the cosmic microwave background radiation in the direction of the galaxy cluster by high-energy electrons in the intracluster gas. The large galaxy at the center is the brightest galaxy in the cluster, and above it a thin, curved gravitational lens arc is visible. This arc is caused by the gravitational forces of the cluster bending the path of light from stars and galaxies behind it, in a similar way to how a glass lens bends light.

Several stars are visible in front of the cluster — recognizable by their diffraction spikes — but aside from these, all other visible objects are distant galaxies. Their light has become redshifted by the expansion of space, making them appear redder than they actually are. By measuring the amount of redshift, we know that it took more than 5 billion years for the light from this galaxy cluster to reach us. The light of the galaxies in the background had to travel even longer than that, making this image an extremely old window into the far reaches of the universe.

This image was taken by Hubble’s Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS) and Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3) as part of an observing program called RELICS (Reionization Lensing Cluster Survey). RELICS imaged 41 massive galaxy clusters with the aim of finding the brightest distant galaxies for the forthcoming NASA James Webb Space Telescope to study.

Hubble Space Telescope (HST)

For more information about Hubble, visit:

Image, Animation, Credits: ESA/Hubble & NASA, RELICS; Acknowledgement: D. Coe et al./Text: European Space Agency/NASA/Karl Hille.

Best regards,

Jupiter’s Swirling Cloud Formations

NASA - JUNO Mission logo.

Feb. 16, 2018

See swirling cloud formations in the northern area of Jupiter's north temperate belt in this new view taken by NASA’s Juno spacecraft.

The color-enhanced image was taken on Feb. 7 at 5:42 a.m. PST (8:42 a.m. EST), as Juno performed its eleventh close flyby of Jupiter. At the time the image was taken, the spacecraft was about 5,086 miles (8,186 kilometers) from the tops of the clouds of the planet at a latitude of 39.9 degrees.

Citizen scientist Kevin M. Gill processed this image using data from the JunoCam imager.

Juno spacecraft orbiting Jupiter

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/Tony Greicius/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Kevin M. Gill.


Spacewalkers Wrap Up Robotic Hand Transfers

ISS - Expedition 54 Mission patch / EVA - Extra Vehicular Activities patch.

February 16, 2018

Expedition 54 Flight Engineers Mark Vande Hei of NASA and Norishige Kanai of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency have completed a spacewalk lasting 5 hours and 57 minutes.

Image above: Spacewalkers Mark Vande Hei (foreground) and Norishige Kanai transfer a spare robotic hand to a long-term stowage area on the International Space Station. Image Credit: NASA TV.

The two astronauts concluded their spacewalk at 12:57 p.m. EST with the repressurization of the Quest airlock.

The spacewalkers moved two Latching End Effector (LEE), or hands, for the Canadian-built robotic arm, Canadarm2. They moved one to a long-term storage location for future use as a spare part and brought the other inside the space station to be returned to Earth. It will be refurbished and later relaunched to the orbiting laboratory as a spare.

Image above: Spacewalkers Mark Vande Hei (attached to the Canadarm2 robotic arm) and Norishige Kanai are working ahead of today’s spacewalk timeline. Image Credit: NASA TV.

Running well ahead of the timeline, the two spacewalkers also conducted a number of get ahead tasks, including the lubrication of the inside of the LEE installed on the International Space Station’s robotic arm during the Jan. 23 spacewalk. They also positioned an interface tool for the Canadian Space Agency’s robotic handyman Dextre, installed a grounding strap on a component of the LEE positioned on one end of the robotic arm, and adjusted a strut on a component on one of the station’s spare parts platforms. That component is a flex hose rotary coupler that transfers liquid ammonia across a connecting point on the station’s backbone to provide cooling for its systems.

It was the 208th spacewalk in support of International Space Station assembly and maintenance, the fourth in Vande Hei’s career, and the first for Kanai, who became the fourth Japanese astronaut to walk in space.

Related links:



Expedition 54:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

Best regards,

Long-Lived Mars Rover Opportunity Keeps Finding Surprises

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

February 16, 2018

NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity keeps providing surprises about the Red Planet, most recently with observations of possible "rock stripes."

Rock Stripes Pattern in Mars' 'Perseverance Valley'

Image above: Textured rows on the ground in this portion of "Perseverance Valley" are under investigation by NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity, which used its Navigation Camera to take the component images of this downhill-looking scene. The rover reaches its 5,000th Martian day, or sol, on Feb. 16, 2018. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

The ground texture seen in recent images from the rover resembles a smudged version of very distinctive stone stripes on some mountain slopes on Earth that result from repeated cycles of freezing and thawing of wet soil. But it might also be due to wind, downhill transport, other processes or a combination.

Opportunity landed on Mars in January 2004. As it reaches the 5,000th Martian day, or sol, of what was planned as a 90-sol mission, it is investigating a channel called "Perseverance Valley," which descends the inboard slope of the western rim of Endeavour Crater.

"... we're seeing surfaces that look like stone stripes. It's mysterious. It's exciting." - Opportunity Deputy Principal Investigator Ray Arvidson, Washington University in St. Louis.

"Perseverance Valley is a special place, like having a new mission again after all these years," said Opportunity Deputy Principal Investigator Ray Arvidson of Washington University in St. Louis. "We already knew it was unlike any place any Mars rover has seen before, even if we don't yet know how it formed, and now we're seeing surfaces that look like stone stripes. It's mysterious. It's exciting. I think the set of observations we'll get will enable us to understand it."

Opportunity Rover Views Ground Texture 'Perseverance Valley'

Image above: This late-afternoon view from the front Hazard Avoidance Camera on NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity shows a pattern of rock stripes on the ground, a surprise to scientists on the rover team. It was taken in January 2018, as the rover neared Sol 5000 of what was planned as a 90-sol mission. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

On some slopes within the valley, the soil and gravel particles appear to have become organized into narrow rows or corrugations, parallel to the slope, alternating between rows with more gravel and rows with less.

The origin of the whole valley is uncertain. Rover-team scientists are analyzing various clues that suggest actions of water, wind or ice. They are also considering a range of possible explanations for the stripes, and remain uncertain about whether this texture results from processes of relatively modern Mars or a much older Mars.

Other lines of evidence have convinced Mars experts that, on a scale of hundreds of thousands of years, Mars goes through cycles when the tilt or obliquity of its axis increases so much that some of the water now frozen at the poles vaporizes into the atmosphere and then becomes snow or frost accumulating nearer the equator.

"One possible explanation of these stripes is that they are relics from a time of greater obliquity when snow packs on the rim seasonally melted enough to moisten the soil, and then freeze-thaw cycles organized the small rocks into stripes," Arvidson said. "Gravitational downhill movement may be diffusing them so they don't look as crisp as when they were fresh."

Rock Stripe Pattern on Hawaii's Mauna Kea

Image above: This image shows stone stripes on the side of a volcanic cone on Mauna Kea, Hawaii. The stripes are made of small rock fragments and they are aligned downhill as freeze-thaw cycles have lifted them up and out of the finer-grained regolith, and moved them to the sides, forming stone stripes. Image Credits: Washington University in St. Louis/NASA.

Bernard Hallet of the University of Washington, Seattle, agrees the alignments seen in images of Perseverance Valley are not as distinctive as the stone stripes he has studied on Earth. Field measurements on Earth, near the summit of Hawaii's Mauna Kea where the soil freezes every night but is often dry, have documented how those form when temperature and ground conditions are right: Soils with a mix of silt, sand and gravel expand more where the finer-grain material is most prevalent and retains more water. Freezing expands the soil, pushing larger particles up. If they move to the side, as well as down the general slope, due to gravity or wind, they tend to move away from the finer-grain concentrations and stretch out downslope. Where larger particles become more concentrated, the ground expands less. The process repeats hundreds or thousands of times, and the pattern self-organizes into alternating stripes.

Perseverance Valley holds rocks carved by sand blowing uphill from the crater floor, and wind might also be the key in sorting larger particles into rows parallel to the slope.

Mars Exploration Rover. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

"Debris from relatively fresh impact craters is scattered over the surface of the area, complicating assessment of effects of wind," said Opportunity science-team member Robert Sullivan of Cornell University, Ithaca, New York. "I don't know what these stripes are, and I don't think anyone else knows for sure what they are, so we're entertaining multiple hypotheses and gathering more data to figure it out."

Related article:

5,000 Days on Mars; Solar-Powered Rover Approaching 5,000th Martian Dawn

Every sol Opportunity keeps working may add information to help solve some puzzles and find new ones. For more information about Opportunity, visit:

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

Best regards,

5,000 Days on Mars; Solar-Powered Rover Approaching 5,000th Martian Dawn

NASA / JPL - Mars Exploration Rover (MER) patch.

February 16, 2018

Martian 'Perseverance Valley' in Perspective (Vertical Exaggeration)

Image above: The channel descending a Martian slope in this perspective view is "Perseverance Valley," the study area of NASA's Mars rover Opportunity as the rover passes its 5,000th Martian day. The view overlays a HiRISE image onto a topographic model with five-fold vertical exaggeration, to show shapes. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona/WUSTL.

The Sun will rise on NASA's solar-powered Mars rover Opportunity for the 5,000th time on Saturday, sending rays of energy to a golf-cart-size robotic field geologist that continues to provide revelations about the Red Planet.

"Five thousand sols after the start of our 90-sol mission, this amazing rover is still showing us surprises on Mars," said Opportunity Project Manager John Callas, of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California.

A Martian "sol" lasts about 40 minutes longer than an Earth day, and a Martian year lasts nearly two Earth years. Opportunity's Sol 1 was landing day, Jan. 25, 2004 (that's in Universal Time; it was Jan. 24 in California). The prime mission was planned to last 90 sols. NASA did not expect the rover to survive through a Martian winter. Sol 5,000 will begin early Friday, Universal Time, with the 4,999th dawn a few hours later. Opportunity has worked actively right through the lowest-energy months of its eighth Martian winter.

Opportunity Rover (MER-B). Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

From the rover's perspective on the inside slope of the western rim of Endeavour Crater, the milestone sunrise will appear over the basin's eastern rim, about 14 miles (22 kilometers) away. Opportunity has driven over 28 miles (45 kilometers) from its landing site to its current location about one-third of the way down "Perseverance Valley," a shallow channel incised from the rim's crest of the crater's floor. The rover has returned about 225,000 images, all promptly made public online:

"We've reached lots of milestones, and this is one more," Callas said, "but more important than the numbers are the exploration and the scientific discoveries."

The mission made headlines during its first months with the evidence about groundwater and surface water environments on ancient Mars. Opportunity trekked to increasingly larger craters to look deeper into Mars and father back into Martian history, reaching Endeavour Crater in 2011. Researchers are now using the rover to investigate the processes that shaped Perseverance Valley.

For more about Opportunity's adventures and discoveries, see:

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


jeudi 15 février 2018

Last NASA Communications Satellite of its Kind Joins Fleet

NASA - TDRS Mission logo.

Feb. 15, 2018

NASA has begun operating the last satellite of its kind in the network that provides communications and tracking services to more than 40 NASA missions, including critical, real-time communication with the International Space Station. Following its August launch and a five-month period of in-orbit testing, the third-generation Tracking and Data Relay Satellite (TDRS), referred to as TDRS-M until this important milestone, was renamed TDRS-13, becoming the tenth operational satellite in the geosynchronous, space-based fleet.

“With TDRS-13’s successful acceptance into the network, the fleet is fully replenished and set to continue carrying out its important mission through the mid-2020s,” said Badri Younes, NASA’s deputy associate administrator for Space Communications and Navigation at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “Now, we have begun focusing on the next generation of near-Earth communications relay capabilities.”

Image above: An artist concept of TDRS-M, now named TDRS-13. Image Credits: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.

The 10 TDRS spacecraft comprise the space-based portion of the Space Network, relaying signals from low-Earth-orbiting missions with nearly 100 percent coverage.

“The acceptance of this final third-generation TDRS into the Space Network is the result of many years of dedication and hard work by the TDRS team,” said Dave Littmann, the TDRS project manager at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “As a result, critical space communication and tracking services that enable NASA human spaceflight and scientific discovery will continue well into the next decade.”

​TDRS-13 launched on Aug. 18, 2017, aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Built by Boeing in El Segundo, California, TDRS-13 and its nearly identical third-generation sister spacecraft are performing well. TDRS-K and -L launched in 2013 and 2014, respectively.

NASA established the TDRS project in 1973, and the first satellite launched 10 years later, providing NASA an exponential increase in data rates and contact time communicating with the space shuttle and other orbiting spacecraft, such as the Hubble Space Telescope.  Since then, NASA has continued to expand the TDRS constellation and advance the spacecraft capabilities.

Image above: TDRS-M, now named TDRS-13, launched on Aug. 18, 2017, from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Following a period of in-orbit testing, the spacecraft has been accepted into NASA’s Space Network. Image Credits: NASA Kennedy/Tony Gray and Sandra Joseph.

“NASA looks forward to the future, developing even better ways to meet missions’ communications needs,” said Younes. “We will leverage NASA’s success in optical communications and other innovative technologies, as well as significantly increase our partnership with industry, as we envision a shift to increased reliance on commercial networks for most, if not all, of our communications needs in the near-Earth environment.”

Goddard is home to the TDRS project, which is responsible for the development and launch of these communication satellites. Boeing, headquartered in Chicago, Illinois, is the private contractor for the third-generation TDRS spacecraft. TDRS is the space element of NASA’s Space Network, providing the critical communication and navigation lifeline for NASA missions. NASA’s Space Communications and Navigation (SCaN) program, part of the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate at the agency’s Headquarters in Washington, is responsible for NASA’s Space Network.

For more information about NASA’s TDRS satellites, visit:

For more information about SCaN, visit:

Space Network:

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Rob Garner/Goddard Space Flight Center, by Ashley Hume.


Station Prepping for Spacewalk After New Cargo Ship Arrives

ISS - Expedition 54 Mission patch.

February 15, 2018

International Space Station (ISS). Animation Credit: NASA

The Expedition 54 crew is getting ready for a spacewalk Friday morning and beginning the work to unload a newly-arrived cargo delivery.

Astronauts Mark Vande Hei and Norishige Kanai are completing their spacewalk reviews and readying their spacesuits and tools ahead of Friday morning’s excursion. The duo is scheduled to turn their spacesuits batteries on to internal power at 7:10 a.m. EST signifying the start of a planned six and a half hour spacewalk.

The spacewalkers will complete the transfer of a pair of older robotic hands, or Latching End Effectors (LEEs), that were once attached to the Canadarm2 robotic arm. One LEE will be transferred inside the Quest airlock while the other will be attached to the mobile base system. NASA TV will start its live coverage of the spacewalk activities beginning at 5:30 a.m.

Image above: NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei is pictured during a spacewalk that took place Jan. 23, 2018, to begin maintenance work on the Canadarm2 robotic arm. Image Credit: NASA.

Cosmonauts Alexander Misurkin and Anton Shkaplerov opened the hatch to a new Progress cargo craft that arrived today at 5:38 a.m. The duo will start the work to offload a little over three tons of food, fuel and supplies from the resupply ship that will stay docked to the Zvezda service module until March.

Related links:


Expedition 54:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

Best regards,

Hubble Sees Neptune's Mysterious Shrinking Storm

NASA - Hubble Space Telescope patch.

Feb. 15, 2018

Three billion miles away on the farthest known major planet in our solar system, an ominous, dark storm – once big enough to stretch across the Atlantic Ocean from Boston to Portugal – is shrinking out of existence as seen in pictures of Neptune taken by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope.

Immense dark storms on Neptune were first discovered in the late 1980s by NASA’s Voyager 2 spacecraft. Since then, only Hubble has had the sharpness in blue light to track these elusive features that have played a game of peek-a-boo over the years. Hubble found two dark storms that appeared in the mid-1990s and then vanished. This latest storm was first seen in 2015, but is now shrinking.

Hubble Watches Neptune's Dark Storm Die

Video above: For the first time, NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has captured time-lapse images of a large, dark storm on Neptune shrinking out of existence.
Credits: NASA Goddard's Scientific Visualization Studio.

Like Jupiter’s Great Red Spot (GRS), the storm swirls in an anti-cyclonic direction and is dredging up material from deep inside the ice giant planet’s atmosphere. The elusive feature gives astronomers a unique opportunity to study Neptune’s deep winds, which can’t be directly measured.

The dark spot material may be hydrogen sulfide, with the pungent smell of rotten eggs. Joshua Tollefson from the University of California at Berkeley explained, “The particles themselves are still highly reflective; they are just slightly darker than the particles in the surrounding atmosphere.”

Unlike Jupiter’s GRS, which has been visible for at least 200 years, Neptune’s dark vortices only last a few years. This is the first one that actually has been photographed as it is dying.

“We have no evidence of how these vortices are formed or how fast they rotate,” said Agustín Sánchez-Lavega from the University of the Basque Country in Spain. “It is most likely that they arise from an instability in the sheared eastward and westward winds.”

Image above: This series of Hubble Space Telescope images taken over 2 years tracks the demise of a giant dark vortex on the planet Neptune. The oval-shaped spot has shrunk from 3,100 miles across its long axis to 2,300 miles across, over the Hubble observation period. Image Credits: NASA, ESA, and M.H. Wong and A.I. Hsu (UC Berkeley).

The dark vortex is behaving differently from what planet-watchers predicted. “It looks like we’re capturing the demise of this dark vortex, and it’s different from what well-known studies led us to expect,” said Michael H. Wong of the University of California at Berkeley, referring to work by Ray LeBeau (now at St. Louis University) and Tim Dowling’s team at the University of Louisville. “Their dynamical simulations said that anticyclones under Neptune’s wind shear would probably drift toward the equator. We thought that once the vortex got too close to the equator, it would break up and perhaps create a spectacular outburst of cloud activity.”

But the dark spot, which was first seen at mid-southern latitudes, has apparently faded away rather than going out with a bang. That may be related to the surprising direction of its measured drift: toward the south pole, instead of northward toward the equator. Unlike Jupiter’s GRS, the Neptune spot is not as tightly constrained by numerous alternating wind jets (seen as bands in Jupiter’s atmosphere). Neptune seems to only have three broad jets: a westward one at the equator, and eastward ones around the north and south poles. The vortex should be free to change traffic lanes and cruise anywhere in between the jets.

“No facilities other than Hubble and Voyager have observed these vortices. For now, only Hubble can provide the data we need to understand how common or rare these fascinating neptunian weather systems may be,” said Wong.

The first images of the dark vortex are from the Outer Planet Atmospheres Legacy (OPAL) program, a long-term Hubble project that annually captures global maps of our solar system’s four outer planets. Only Hubble has the unique capability to probe these worlds in ultraviolet light, which yields important information not available to other present-day telescopes. Additional data, from a Hubble program targeting the dark vortex, are from an international team including Wong, Tollefson, Sánchez-Lavega, Andrew Hsu, Imke de Pater, Amy Simon, Ricardo Hueso, Lawrence Sromovsky, Patrick Fry, Statia Luszcz-Cook, Heidi Hammel, Marc Delcroix, Katherine de Kleer, Glenn Orton, and Christoph Baranec.

Wong’s paper appears online in the Astronomical Journal on Feb. 15, 2018.

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 conducts Hubble science operations. STScI is operated for NASA by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, Inc., in Washington, D.C.

For additional imagery, visit:

For NASA’s Hubble web page, visit:

Image (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Karl Hille/Space Telescope Science Institute/Ray Villard.

Best regards,

Supermassive Black Holes Are Outgrowing Their Galaxies

NASA - Chandra X-ray Observatory patch.

Feb. 15, 2018

The biggest black holes in the Universe are growing faster than the rate of stars being formed in their galaxies, according to two new studies using data from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and other telescopes.

Over many years, astronomers have gathered data on the formation of stars in galaxies and the growth of supermassive black holes (that is, those with millions or billions the mass of the Sun) in their centers. These data suggested that the black holes and the stars in their host galaxies grow in tandem with each other.

Now, findings from two independent groups of researchers indicate that the black holes in massive galaxies have grown much faster than in the less massive ones.

“We are trying to reconstruct a race that started billions of years ago,” said Guang Yang of Penn State who led one of the two studies. “We are using extraordinary data taken from different telescopes to figure out how this cosmic competition unfolded.”

Image above: In this graphic an image from the Chandra Deep Field-South is shown. The Chandra image (blue) is the deepest ever obtained in X-rays. It has been combined with an optical and infrared image from the Hubble Space Telescope (HST), colored red, green, and blue. Each Chandra source is produced by hot gas falling towards a supermassive black hole in the center of the host galaxy, as depicted in the artist’s illustration. Image Credits: NASA/CXC/Penn. State/G. Yang et al and NASA/CXC/ICE/M. Mezcua et al.; Optical: NASA/STScI; Illustration: NASA/CXC/A. Jubett.

Using large amounts of data from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory, the Hubble Space Telescope and other observatories, Yang and his colleagues studied the growth rate of black holes in galaxies at distances of 4.3 to 12.2 billion light years from Earth. The X-ray data included the Chandra Deep Field-South & North and the COSMOS-Legacy surveys.

The scientists calculated the ratio between a supermassive black hole's growth rate and the growth rate of stars in its host galaxy. A common idea is that this ratio is approximately constant for all galaxies.

Instead, Yang and colleagues found that this ratio is much higher for more massive galaxies. For galaxies containing about 100 billion solar masses worth of stars, the ratio is about ten times higher than it is for galaxies containing about 10 billion solar masses worth of stars.

“An obvious question is why?” said co-author Niel Brandt, also of Penn State. “Maybe massive galaxies are more effective at feeding cold gas to their central supermassive black holes than less massive ones.”

Another group of scientists independently found evidence that the most massive black holes’ growth has outstripped that of stars in their host galaxies. Mar Mezcua, of the Institut of Space Sciences in Spain, and her colleagues studied black holes in some of the brightest and most massive galaxies in the Universe. They studied 72 galaxies located at the center of galaxy clusters at distances ranging up to about 3.5 billion light years from Earth. The study used X-ray data from Chandra and radio data from the Australia Telescope Compact Array, the Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array and Very Long Baseline Array.

Chandra X-ray Observatory. Image Credits: NASA/CXC

Mezcua and her colleagues estimated the masses of black holes in these galaxy clusters by using a well-known relationship that connects the mass of a black hole to the X-ray and radio emission associated with the black hole. The black hole masses were found to be about ten times larger than masses estimated by another method using the assumption that the black holes and galaxies grew in tandem.

“We found black holes that are far bigger than we expected,” said Mezcua. “Maybe they got a head start in this race to grow, or maybe they’ve had an edge in speed of growth that’s lasted billions of years.”

The researchers found that almost half of the black holes in their sample had masses estimated to be at least 10 billion times the mass of the Sun. This places them in an extreme weight category that some astronomers call “ultramassive” black holes.

"We know that black holes are extreme objects,” said co-author J. Hlavacek-Larrondo of the University of Montreal, “so it may not come as a surprise that the most extreme examples of them would break the rules we thought they should follow."

The work by Mezcua et al. was published in the February 2018 issue of Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society (MNRAS) and is available online ( The paper by Yang et al. has been accepted and will appear in the April 2018 issue of the MNRAS (available online:

NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, manages the Chandra program for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, Massachusetts, controls Chandra's science and flight operations.

Read More from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory:

For more Chandra images, multimedia and related materials, visit:

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Lee Mohon/Chandra X-ray Center/Megan Watzke/Marshall Space Flight Center/Molly Porter.


Swarm details energetic coupling

ESA - SWARM Mission logo.

15 February 2018

The Sun bathes our planet in the light and heat it needs to sustain life, but it also bombards us with dangerous charged particles in solar wind. Our magnetic field largely shields from this onslaught, but like many a relationship, it’s somewhat complicated. Thanks to ESA’s Swarm mission the nature of this Earth–Sun coupling has been revealed in more detail than ever before.

Earth's protective shield

Earth’s magnetic field is like a huge bubble, protecting us from cosmic radiation and charged particles carried by powerful winds that escape the Sun’s gravitational pull and sweep across the Solar System.

The trio of Swarm satellites were launched in 2013 to improve our understanding of how the field is generated and how it protects us from this barrage of charged particles.

Since our magnetic field is generated mainly by an ocean of liquid iron that makes up the planet’s outer core, it resembles a bar magnet with field lines emerging from near the poles.

The field is highly conductive and carries charged particles that flow along these field lines, giving rise to field-aligned currents.

Aurora borealis

Carrying up to 1 TW of electrical power – about six times the amount of energy produced every year by wind turbines in Europe – these currents are the dominant form of energy transfer between the magnetosphere and ionosphere.

The shimmering green and purple light displays of the auroras in the skies above the polar regions are a visible manifestation of energy and particles travelling along magnetic field lines.

The theory about the exchange and momentum between solar wind and our magnetic field actually goes back more than 100 years, and more recently the Active Magnetosphere and Planetary Electrodynamics Response Experiment satellite network has allowed scientists to study large-scale field-aligned currents.

However, the Swarm mission is leading to exciting new wave of discoveries. A new paper explores the dynamics of this energetic coupling across different spatial scales – and finds that it’s all in the detail.

Ryan McGranaghan from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory said, “We have a good understanding of how these currents exchange energy between the ionosphere and the magnetosphere at large scales so we assumed that smaller-scale currents behaved in the same way, but carried proportionally less energy.”

“Swarm has allowed us to effectively zoom in on these smaller currents and we see that, under certain conditions, this is not the case.

“Our findings show that these smaller currents carry significant energy and that their relationship with the larger currents is very complex. Moreover, large and small currents affect the magnetosphere–ionosphere differently.”

Our star’s turbulent surface

Colin Forsyth from University College London noted, “Since electric currents around Earth can interfere with navigation and telecommunication systems, this is an important discovery.

“It also gives us a greater understanding of how the Sun and Earth are linked and how this coupling can ultimately add energy to our atmosphere.

“This new knowledge can be used to improve models so that we can better understand, and therefore, ultimately, prepare for the potential consequences of solar storms.”

ESA’s Swarm mission manager, Rune Floberghagen, added, “Since the beginning of the mission we have carried out projects to address the energy exchange between the magnetosphere, ionosphere and the thermosphere.

Swarm constellation

"But what we are witnessing now is nothing short of a complete overhaul of the understanding of how Earth responds to and interacts with output from the Sun.

“In fact, this scientific investigation is becoming a fundamental pillar for the extended Swarm mission, precisely because it is breaking new ground and at the same time has strong societal relevance. We now wish to explore this potential of Swarm to the fullest.” 

Related links:

Active Magnetosphere and Planetary Electrodynamics Response Experiment:

Journal of Geophysical Research:

A comprehensive Analysis of Multiscale Field-Aligned Currents:

ESA's Swarm:

Images, Text, Credits: ESA/ATG medialab/Sherwin Calaluan/DTU Space/ROB.


A Lonely Beauty

ESA - Hubble Space Telescope logo.

15 February 2018

Multi-filter image of NGC 3344

Beauty, grace, mystery — this magnificent spiral galaxy has all the qualities of a perfect galactic Valentine. Captured by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, the galaxy NGC 3344 presents itself face-on, allowing astronomers a detailed look at its intricate and elegant structure. And Hubble’s ability to observe objects over a wide range of different wavelengths reveals features that would otherwise remain invisible.

Spiral galaxies are some of the most spectacular sights in the sky, but to an observer they do not all look the same. Some are seen edge-on, giving astronomers an excellent idea of the galaxy’s vertical structure; others are seen at an angle, providing a hint of the size and structure of the spiral arms; while others are seen face-on, showcasing their arms and bright core in all their beauty.

Wide-field image of NGC 3344 (ground-based image)

Approximately 20 million light-years away in the constellation of Leo Minor (the Lion Cub), NGC 3344 is seen from a breathtaking face-on perspective. Half the size of the Milky Way, it is classified as a weakly barred spiral galaxy. The central bar is just visible in this image, taken with Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3: an elongated lane of stars, trailing through the nucleus of the galaxy. Astronomers estimate that two-thirds of all spiral galaxies are barred, including our own Milky Way.

Hubble’s capacity to observe celestial objects in different wavelengths allows us to see more than just the spiral arms sweeping out loosely around the centre in a gorgeous whorl. This image is a composite of images taken through different filters, ranging from the near ultraviolet, to the optical and the near-infrared. Together they show a more complete picture of the galaxy than the human eye alone could possibly see.

Zoom-in on NGC 3344

The swirling spiral arms are the birthplace of new stars, whose high temperatures make them shine blue, resulting in them being easily identifiable in this image. Clouds of dust and gas distributed through the spiral arms — glowing red in this image — are reservoirs of material for even more stars. The bright jewel-like stars on the left of the picture, however, are much closer to Earth — they belong to our own galaxy and just happened to photobomb this Hubble image.

The different colours of NGC 3344

While its face-on orientation reveals much about NGC 3344’s detailed structure, this galaxy is still enigmatic; astronomers have noticed that some of its outer stars are moving in a strange way. Often, the high concentration of stars in the centre of a galaxy can affect the movements of the outer stars, but this does not seem to be the case in NGC 3344. Astronomers suspect that these weirdly behaving outer stars may actually have been stolen from another galaxy, after a close encounter that took place long ago.

Pan on NGC 3344

The location of NGC 3344 is also intriguing. Our galaxy is part of the Local Group, which is made up of approximately 40 other galaxies, with the Andromeda Galaxy being the largest member. But NGC 3344 is not part of a local galactic neighbourhood like we are. It is actually part of a small spur that leads off the larger Virgo Supercluster — a gargantuan collection of several thousand galaxies.

But it stands out from these thousands of galaxies because of its beauty, which highlights to us the elegance of the Universe.

Hubble Space Telescope. Animation Credits: NASA/ESA

More information:

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


Hubblecast 107: Decoding the colours of NGC 3344:

Images of Hubble:

NGC 3344 observed in 2012:

Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3:

Images, Videos, Text,  Credits: NASA, ESA.

Best regards,

Russian Resupply Ship Delivers Three Tons of Cargo

ROSCOSMOS - Russian Vehicles patch.

February 15, 2018

Image above: The Progress 69 resupply ship is pictured just moments from docking to the space station. Image Credit: NASA TV.

Traveling about 250 miles over the east of the Philippines, the Progress 69 Russian cargo spacecraft docked to the aft end of the service module of the International Space Station at 5:38 a.m. EST.

Progress MS-08 docking to the ISS

The Progress MS-08 spacecraft automatically docked to the aft port of the Zvezda service module of the International Space Station on on 15 February 2018, at 10:38 UTC. ISS Progress 69 mission was launched by a Soyuz-2.1a launch vehicle on 13 February 2018, at 08:13 UTC (14:13 local time) and will remain at the orbiting laboratory until late August.

For more information about the space station and its crew, visit:

Related links:

Progress 69 (69P):

Expedition 54:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

Best regards,

mercredi 14 février 2018

Crew Waits for Russian Delivery Day Before U.S. Spacewalk

ISS - Expedition 54 Mission patch.

February 14, 2018

Image above: Sunrise above South Indian Ocean seen by EarthCam on ISS, speed: 27'577 Km/h, altitude: 416,31 Km, image captured by Roland Berga (on Earth in Switzerland) from International Space Station (ISS) using ISS-HD Live application with EarthCam's from ISS on February 14, 2018 at 22:36 UTC.

A Russian cargo craft is on its way to the International Space Station early Thursday as two astronauts get ready for a spacewalk on Friday.

The Progress 69 (69P) cargo craft is orbiting Earth today carrying three tons of food, fuel and supplies for the Expedition 54 crew. The 69P is due to complete its delivery when it docks Thursday at 5:43 a.m. EST to the Zvezda service module’s rear port. NASA TV will broadcast the rendezvous and docking live starting at 5 a.m.

Commander Alexander Misurkin and Flight Engineer Anton Shkaplerov will be inside Zvezda monitoring tomorrow morning’s automated docking of the 69P. The cosmonauts are brushing up on their robotics skills today in the unlikely event they would need to use the station’s telerobotically operated rendezvous unit to manually dock the resupply ship.

Image above: Russia’s Soyuz MS-07 crew ship (foreground) and Progress 68 cargo craft are seen docked to the Earth-facing ports of the International Space Station’s Russian segment. The Soyuz is docked to the Rassvet module and the Progress is attached to the Pirs docking compartment. Image Credit: NASA.

Astronauts Mark Vande Hei and Norishige Kanai are checking their tools and procedures they will use Friday morning during a planned six-and-a-half hour spacewalk. The spacewalkers will complete the transfer of a pair of older robotic hands, or Latching End Effectors (LEEs), that were once attached to the Canadarm2 robotic arm. One LEE will be transferred inside the Quest airlock while the other will be attached to the mobile base system.

Vande Hei and Kanai are scheduled to set their spacesuit batteries to internal power at 7:10 a.m. signifying the official start of the U.S. spacewalk. NASA TV will start its live coverage of the spacewalk activities beginning at 5:30 a.m.

Related links:


Progress 69 (69P):

Expedition 54:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Mark Garcia/ Aerospace/Roland Berga.

Best regards,

NASA’s OSIRIS-REx Captures New Earth-Moon Image

NASA - OSIRIS-REx Mission patch.

Feb. 14, 2018

As part of an engineering test, NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft captured this image of the Earth and Moon using its NavCam1 imager on January 17 from a distance of 39.5 million miles (63.6 million km). When the camera acquired the image, the spacecraft was moving away from home at a speed of 19,000 miles per hour (8.5 kilometers per second).

Earth is the largest, brightest spot in the center of the image, with the smaller, dimmer Moon appearing to the right. Several constellations are also visible in the surrounding space. The bright cluster of stars in the upper left corner is the Pleiades in the Taurus constellation. Hamal, the brightest star in Aries, is located in the upper right corner of the image. The Earth-Moon system is centered in the middle of five stars comprising the head of Cetus the Whale.

NavCam1, a grayscale imager, is part of the TAGCAMS (Touch-And-Go Camera System) navigation camera suite.  Malin Space Science Systems designed, built, and tested TAGCAMS; Lockheed Martin integrated TAGCAMS to the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft and operates TAGCAMS.

OSIRIS-REx (Origins Spectral Interpretation Resource Identification Security Regolith Explorer):

Image, Text, Credits: NASA/Karl Hille/Goddard/University of Arizona/Lockheed Martin.