samedi 7 avril 2018

A new era of precision for antimatter research

CERN - European Organization for Nuclear Research logo.

April 7, 2018

The ALPHA collaboration has reported the most precise direct measurement of antimatter ever made, revealing the spectral structure of the antihydrogen atom in unprecedented colour. The result, published today in Nature, is the culmination of three decades of research and development at CERN, and opens a completely new era of high-precision tests between matter and antimatter.

The humble hydrogen atom, comprising a single electron orbiting a single proton, is a giant in fundamental physics, underpinning the modern atomic picture. Its spectrum is characterised by well-known spectral lines at certain wavelengths, corresponding to the emission of photons of a certain frequency or colour when electrons jump between different orbits. Measurements of the hydrogen spectrum agree with theoretical predictions at the level of a few parts in a quadrillion (1015) — a stunning achievement that antimatter researchers have long sought to match for antihydrogen.

ALPHA experiment (Image: Maximilien Brice/CERN)

Comparing such measurements with those of antihydrogen atoms, which comprise an antiproton orbited by a positron, tests a fundamental symmetry called charge-parity-time (CPT) invariance. Finding any slight difference between the two would rock the foundations of the Standard Model of particle physics and perhaps shed light on why the universe is made up almost entirely of matter, even though equal amounts of antimatter should have been created in the Big Bang. Until now, however, it has been all but impossible to produce and trap sufficient numbers of delicate antihydrogen atoms, and to acquire the necessary optical interrogation technology, to make serious antihydrogen spectroscopy possible.

The ALPHA team makes antihydrogen atoms by taking antiprotons from CERN’s Antiproton Decelerator (AD) and binding them with positrons from a sodium-22 source. Next it confines the resulting antihydrogen atoms in a magnetic trap, which prevents them from coming into contact with matter and annihilating. Laser light is then shone onto the trapped antihydrogen atoms, their response measured and finally compared with that of hydrogen.

In 2016, the ALPHA team used this approach to measure the frequency of the electronic transition between the lowest-energy state and the first excited state (the so-called 1S to 2S transition) of antihydrogen with a precision of a couple of parts in ten billion, finding good agreement with the equivalent transition in hydrogen. The measurement involved using two laser frequencies — one matching the frequency of the 1S–2S transition in hydrogen and another “detuned” from it — and counting the number of atoms that dropped out of the trap as a result of interactions between the laser and the trapped atoms.

The latest result from ALPHA takes antihydrogen spectroscopy to the next level, using not just one but several detuned laser frequencies, with slightly lower and higher frequencies than the 1S–2S transition frequency in hydrogen. This allowed the team to measure the spectral shape, or spread in colours, of the 1S–2S antihydrogen transition and get a more precise measurement of its frequency. The shape matches that expected for hydrogen extremely well, and ALPHA was able to determine the 1S–2S antihydrogen transition frequency to a precision of a couple of parts in a trillion—a factor of 100 better than the 2016 measurement.

ALPHA: A new era of precision for antimatter research

Video above: ALPHA spokesperson Jeffrey Hangst explains the new results. (Video: Jacques Fichet/CERN).

“The precision achieved in the latest study is the ultimate accomplishment for us,” explains Jeffrey Hangst, spokesperson for the ALPHA experiment. “We have been trying to achieve this precision for 30 years and have finally done it.”

Although the precision still falls short of that for ordinary hydrogen, the rapid progress made by ALPHA suggests hydrogen-like precision in antihydrogen — and thus unprecedented tests of CPT symmetry — are now within reach. “This is real laser spectroscopy with antimatter, and the matter community will take notice,” adds Hangst. “We are realising the whole promise of CERN’s AD facility; it’s a paradigm change.”


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:


Standard Model of particle physics:

Antiproton Decelerator (AD):

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

Image (mentioned), Video (mentioned), Text, Credits: CERN/Ana Lopes.

Best regards from the CERN neighbor,

vendredi 6 avril 2018

Space Station Science Highlights: Week of April 2, 2018

ISS - Expedition 55 Mission patch.

April 6, 2018

It has been another exciting week of science aboard the International Space Station. Two days after its Monday launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, the SpaceX-14 Dragon arrived to the orbiting laboratory with 5,800 pounds of fresh science, hardware and supplies.

This week, Expedition 55 crew members were busy conducting research in the fields of biotechnology, physical science, technology development, education and more.

Animation above: Polar as it is unpacked from the Dragon capsule. Polar is a Cold Stowage managed facility that provides transport and storage of science samples at cryogenic temperatures (-80ºC) to and from the Space Station. Image Credit: NASA.

Following the arrival of SpaceX-14, crew members and ground controls began early activations and transfers of Invitrobone, Multi-use Variable-g Platform (MVP), Fruit Fly Lab-3, Mouse Stress Defense, NanoRacks-NDC-CCSJ-Beta-Amyloid Peptide and Tangolab Payload Card-6, which houses a few different investigations.

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

Crew members collect body samples to create baseline standard for station

The Microbial Observatory of Pathogenic Viruses, Bacteria, and Fungi Project (Microbial Tracking-2) investigation seeks to catalog and characterize potential disease-causing microorganisms aboard the space station. The development of an all-encompassing, integrated, comprehensive microbial database enables various strategies of screening for, and identifying, specific subsets of microorganisms. This dataset creates a capability to compare fluctuating viral and microbial communities to "baseline" standards, enables more accurate assessments of crew health associated with a given mission and future mission planning.

Image above: The SpaceX Dragon carried more than 5,800 pounds of science, hardware and supplies to the space station. Image Credit: NASA.

This week, a crew member collected saliva and body samples and inserted them into the Minus Eighty Degree Celsius Laboratory Freezer for ISS (MELFI) for storage before completing a body sample questionnaire.

ACME chamber prepared for initiation of experiment

The Advanced Combustion Microgravity Experiment (ACME) investigation is a set of five independent studies of gaseous flames to be conducted in the Combustion Integration Rack (CIR), one of which being E-Fields Flame. ACME’s goals are to improve fuel efficiency and reduce pollutant production in practical combustion on Earth and to improve spacecraft fire prevention through innovative research focused on materials flammability.

This week, crew members removed the ACME Mesh negative Power Supply and installed the ACME Mesh Positive Power Supply, replaced an ignitor tip and replaced other hardware within the chamber, all in preparation for the next series of data collection with a positive field.

Crew conducts successful trial runs for SmoothNav investigation

Many future space exploration and space-based business enterprise models, such as on-orbit satellite servicing, on-orbit assembly, and orbital debris removal, necessitate the use of fully autonomous multi-satellite systems. Smoothing-Based Relative Navigation (SmoothNav) develops an estimation algorithm aggregating relative state measurements between multiple, small, and potentially differently-instrumented spacecraft.

Image above: NASA astronaut Drew Feustel conducts a test run as a part of the SmoothNav investigation. Image Credit: NASA.

The algorithm obtains the most probable estimate of the relative positions and velocities between all spacecraft using all available sensor information, including past measurements. The algorithm remains portable between different satellite platforms with different onboard sensors, adaptable in the case that one or more satellites become inoperable, and tolerant to delayed measurements or measurements received at different frequencies.

This week, the crew completed 15 test runs without any software errors.

Crew preps JAXA investigation for initiation

Spaceflight brings an extreme environment with unique stressors. Exposure to cosmic radiation increases intracellular oxidative stresses, which can lead to DNA damage and cell death. Microgravity provokes cellular mechanical stresses and perturbs cellular signaling, leading to reduction of muscle and bone density. To overcome these space stresses, one of the promising strategies is to activate Nuclear Factor-like 2 (Nrf2), a master regulator of antioxidant pathway. Mouse Stress Defense, a JAXA investigation, tests genetically modified loss-of-Nrf2-function and gain-of-Nrf2-function in mice in the space environment and examines how Nrf2 contributes to effective prevention against the space-originated stresses.

Space to Ground: A Learning Doubleheader: 04/06/2018

This week, crew members prepped and transferred the investigation from the Dragon capsule.

Other work was done on these investigations: Crew Earth Observations, CBEF, Polar, Veg-03, STP-H5 ICE, METEOR, MSG, Food Acceptability, EarthKAM, HDEV, METEOR, HDEV, SCAN Testbed, Metabolic Tracking, HRF-2, SPHERES Tether Slosh and Lighting Effects.

Related links:

SpaceX-14 Dragon:


Multi-use Variable-g Platform (MVP):

Fruit Fly Lab-3:

NanoRacks-NDC-CCSJ-Beta-Amyloid Peptide:

Tangolab Payload Card-6:

Microbial Tracking-2:

Minus Eighty Degree Celsius Laboratory Freezer for ISS (MELFI):

Advanced Combustion Microgravity Experiment (ACME):

Combustion Integration Rack (CIR):

E-Fields Flame:

Crew Earth Observations:







Food Acceptability:



SCAN Testbed:

Metabolic Tracking:


SPHERES Tether Slosh:

Lighting Effects:

Expedition 55:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

Images (mentioned), Animation (mentioned), Video, Text, Credits: NASA/Michael Johnson/Yuri Guinart-Ramirez, Lead Increment Scientist Expeditions 55 & 56.

Best regards,

Intricate Clouds of Jupiter

NASA - JUNO Mission logo.

April 6, 2018

See intricate cloud patterns in the northern hemisphere of Jupiter in this new view taken by NASA’s Juno spacecraft.

The color-enhanced image was taken on April 1 at 2:32 a.m. PST (5:32 a.m. EST), as Juno performed its twelfth close flyby of Jupiter. At the time the image was taken, the spacecraft was about 7,659 miles (12,326 kilometers) from the tops of the clouds of the planet at a northern latitude of 50.2 degrees.

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

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

More information about Juno is at: and

Image, Text, Credits: NASA/Tony Greicius/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Kevin M. Gill.


Hubble Finds an Einstein Ring

NASA - Hubble Space Telescope patch.

April 6, 2018

This image is packed full of galaxies! A keen eye can spot exquisite elliptical galaxies and spectacular spirals, seen at various orientations: edge-on with the plane of the galaxy visible, face-on to show off magnificent spiral arms, and everything in between.

With the charming name of SDSS J0146-0929, this is a galaxy cluster — a monstrous collection of hundreds of galaxies all shackled together in the unyielding grip of gravity. The mass of this galaxy cluster is large enough to severely distort the space-time around it, creating the odd, looping curves that almost encircle the center of the cluster.

These graceful arcs are examples of a cosmic phenomenon known as an Einstein ring. The ring is created as the light from a distant objects, like galaxies, pass by an extremely large mass, like this galaxy cluster. In this image, the light from a background galaxy is diverted and distorted around the massive intervening cluster and forced to travel along many different light paths toward Earth, making it seem as though the galaxy is in several places at once.

Hubble Space Telescope (HST)

For more information about Hubble, visit:

Image, Animation Credits: ESA/Hubble & NASA; Acknowledgment: Judy Schmidt/Text: Credits: European Space Agency/NASA/Karl Hille.


Virgin Galactic - VSS Unity First Powered Flight

Virgin Galactic logo.

April 6, 2018

VSS Unity First Powered Flight

We are delighted to report on a major step forward for Virgin Galactic today, as SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity safely and successfully completed her first supersonic, rocket-powered flight. After two years of extensive ground and atmospheric testing, the passing of this milestone marks the start of the final portion of Unity’s flight test program.

The flight was also significant for Virgin Galactic’s Mojave based, sister manufacturing organization, The Spaceship Company. Unity is the first vehicle to be built from scratch for Virgin Galactic by The Spaceship Company’s talented team of aerospace engineers and technicians. They were justifiably proud today to be a part of this compelling demonstration of their capabilities in action.

VSS Unity benefits from all the data and lessons gathered from the test program of her predecessor vehicle, VSS Enterprise. Today’s flight saw an envelope expansion for the program as a whole in terms of rocket burn duration, speed and altitude achieved.

VSS Unity took off this morning into clear Mojave skies at 8:02am with Mark “Forger” Stucky and Dave Mackay in the cockpit, attached to the WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft, VMS Eve, piloted today by Mike Masucci and Nicola Pecile.

Elevating Unity - Episode 4: First Rocket-Powered Flight

The mated vehicles climbed to a launch altitude of around 46,500ft over the Sierra Nevada Mountains and while pointing back at Mojave, Eve executed a clean release of Unity. After a few seconds, Unity’s rocket motor was brought to life and the pilots aimed the spaceship upwards into an 80 degree climb, accelerating to Mach 1.87 during the 30 seconds of rocket burn. The hybrid (nitrous oxide / HTPB compound) rocket motor, which was designed, built and tested by The Spaceship Company, powered Unity today through the transonic range and into supersonic flight for the first time.

On rocket shutdown, Unity continued an upwards coast to an apogee of 84,271ft before readying for the downhill return. At this stage, the pilots raised the vehicle’s tail booms to a 60 degree angle to the fuselage, into the ‘feathered’ configuration. This unique design feature, which is key to a reliable and repeatable re-entry capability for a winged vehicle, incorporates the additional safety mechanisms adopted after the 2014 VSS Enterprise test flight accident.

At around 50,000ft,   the tail-booms were lowered again and, while jettisoning the remaining oxidizer, Unity turned towards Mojave for the glide home and a smooth runway landing.

VSS Unity First Powered Flight

The flight has generated valuable data on flight, motor and vehicle performance which our engineers will be reviewing. It also marks a key moment for the test flight program, entering now the exciting phase of powered flight and the expansion to full duration rocket burns. While we celebrate that achievement, the team remains focused on the challenging tasks which still lie ahead.

Congratulations to our teams at Virgin Galactic and The Spaceship Company for a job well done today - and in recognition of their pursuit to open space and change the world for good.

Related links:

The Spaceship Company:

Virgin Galactic:

Images, Video, Text, Credits: Virgin Galactic/ Studios.


jeudi 5 avril 2018

Mission success: Flight VA242 orbits DSN-1/Superbird-8 for SKY Perfect JSAT and HYLAS 4 for Avanti Communications

ARIANESPACE - Flight VA242 Mission poster.

April 5, 2018

Liftoff of Arianespace’s Ariane 5 with DSN-1/Superbird-8 and HYLAS 4

Arianespace has successfully launched two telecommunications satellites: DSN-1/Superbird-8 for the Japanese operator SKY Perfect JSAT; and HYLAS 4 for the British operator Avanti Communications.

Arianespace’s third launch of the year took place on Thursday, April 5, 2018 at 6:34 p.m. (local time) from the Guiana Space Center (CSG), Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana.

With this 98th launch of Ariane 5, the heavy-lift launcher has now transported more than 200 satellites since its entry in service.

Launch Successful - VA242

DSN-1/Superbird-8 is the 19th satellite launched by Arianespace for SKY Perfect JSAT. SKY Perfect JSAT is the leading satellite operator in Asia, and plays a major role in the satellite broadcasting and telecommunications markets.

Arianespace has two more SKY Perfect JSAT satellites in its order book: Horizons 3e and JCSAT-17.

Superbird-8 will provide telecom services, primarily for the Japanese market, and will replace Superbird-B2, launched by Arianespace in 2000.

DSN-1/Superbird-8 satellite

DSN-1 is an X-Band Defense Communications Satellite, in association with the Program to Upgrade and Operate X-Band Satellite Communications Function, for which the DSN Corporation, a subsidiary of SKY Perfect JSAT, has concluded a program contract with Japan’s Ministry of Defense.

With this latest successful launch, Arianespace confirms its status as a benchmark launch services provider for the country’s two leading operators, SKY Perfect JSAT and B-SAT.

Since launching JCSAT-1 in 1989, Arianespace holds nearly 75% of the Japanese geostationary satellite launch market open to competition.

Arianespace has launched the entire operational fleet of British operator Avanti Communications. HYLAS 4 is the third satellite launched for this company by Arianespace, following HYLAS 1 (in November 2010) and HYLAS 2 (August 2012). The HYLAS 3 auxiliary payload, integrated in the EDRS-C satellite, will be launched as well by Ariane 5.

HYLAS 4 satellite

At the forefront of Ka-band satellite communications in Europe, Africa and the Middle East, Avanti Communications’ HYLAS satellite fleet provides broadband Internet access via top service providers to homess, schools, Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) and governments.

Thanks to its Ka-band capacity, HYLAS 4 will provide secure and reliable satellite communications services to Internet Service Providers (ISP), Mobile Network Operators (MNO’s), governments and satellite operators throughout Europe. This High Throughput satellite will also cover regions in central and western Africa, while its steerable spotbeams will enable it to cover Europe, the Caribbean, the Middle East and South America.

Related links:

Orbital ATK:

SKY Perfect JSAT:


Images, Video, Text, Credits: Arianespace/SKY Perfect JSAT/Avanti.

Best regards,

Dragon Opens Up Offering New Space Research

ISS - Expedition 55 Mission patch.

April 5, 2018

The SpaceX Dragon space freighter is open for business today as the Expedition 55 crew begins unloading and activating new time-sensitive space experiments aboard the International Space Station.

Astronaut Scott Tingle opened Dragon’s hatch this morning and was the first to enter the spaceship. He and fellow NASA astronauts Drew Feustel and Ricky Arnold began offloading new science gear immediately afterward. Japanese astronaut Norishige Kanai tended to new mice shipped aboard Dragon and transferred them to habitats located inside Japan’s Kibo laboratory module.

Image above: Astronauts Scott Tingle (left) and Norishige Kanai watch the SpaceX Dragon cargo craft arrive moments before capturing it with the Canadarm2 robotic arm. Image Credit: NASA.

Some of the new space studies will enable research into a variety of biological organisms to understand microgravity’s long term effects on life systems. Scientists hypothesize their observations will benefit both crews in space and people on Earth. Other experiments will study physics phenomena both inside and outside the orbital lab with potential impacts on future space systems and industrial and manufacturing processes on the ground.

Robotics operators on the ground will command the Canadarm2 robotic arm to ungrip the newly-installed Dragon today. They will remotely maneuver the Canadarm2 on Friday to extract unpressurized cargo, including life support gear and external research, from Dragon’s exposed aft-end, also called its trunk. Dragon will remain attached to the Harmony module’s Earth-facing port until early May.

Related links:

SpaceX Dragon:

Expedition 55:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

Best regards,

Dead Star Circled by Light

ESO - European Southern Observatory logo.

5 April 2018

MUSE data points to isolated neutron star beyond our galaxy

An isolated neutron star in the Small Magellanic Cloud

New images from ESO’s Very Large Telescope in Chile and other telescopes reveal a rich landscape of stars and glowing clouds of gas in one of our closest neighbouring galaxies, the Small Magellanic Cloud. The pictures have allowed astronomers to identify an elusive stellar corpse buried among filaments of gas left behind by a 2000-year-old supernova explosion. The MUSE instrument was used to establish where this elusive object is hiding, and existing Chandra X-ray Observatory data confirmed its identity as an isolated neutron star.

Hubble view of the surroundings of a hidden neutron star in the Small Magellanic Cloud

Spectacular new pictures, created from images from both ground- and space-based telescopes [1], tell the story of the hunt for an elusive missing object hidden amid a complex tangle of gaseous filaments in the Small Magellanic Cloud, about 200 000 light-years from Earth.

MUSE view of the surroundings of a hidden neutron star in the Small Magellanic Cloud

New data from the MUSE instrument on ESO’s Very Large Telescope in Chile has revealed a remarkable ring of gas in a system called 1E 0102.2-7219, expanding slowly within the depths of numerous other fast-moving filaments of gas and dust left behind after a supernova explosion. This discovery allowed a team led by Frédéric Vogt, an ESO Fellow in Chile, to track down the first ever isolated neutron star with low magnetic field located beyond our own Milky Way galaxy.

X-ray view of the surroundings of a hidden neutron star in the Small Magellanic Cloud

The team noticed that the ring was centred on an X-ray source that had been noted years before and designated p1. The nature of this source had remained a mystery. In particular, it was not clear whether p1 actually lies inside the remnant or behind it. It was only when the ring of gas — which includes both neon and oxygen — was observed with MUSE that the science team noticed it perfectly circled p1. The coincidence was too great, and they realised that p1 must lie within the supernova remnant itself. Once p1’s location was known, the team used existing X-ray observations of this target from the Chandra X-ray Observatory to determine that it must be an isolated neutron star, with a low magnetic field.

The Small Magellanic Cloud

In the words of Frédéric Vogt: “If you look for a point source, it doesn’t get much better than when the Universe quite literally draws a circle around it to show you where to look.”

When massive stars explode as supernovae, they leave behind a curdled web of hot gas and dust, known as a supernova remnant. These turbulent structures are key to the redistribution of the heavier elements — which are cooked up by massive stars as they live and die — into the interstellar medium, where they eventually form new stars and planets.

Zooming in on a neutron star in the Small Magellanic Cloud

Typically barely ten kilometres across, yet weighing more than our Sun, isolated neutron stars with low magnetic fields are thought to be abundant across the Universe, but they are very hard to find because they only shine at X-ray wavelengths [2]. The fact that the confirmation of p1 as an isolated neutron star was enabled by optical observations is thus particularly exciting.

Co-author Liz Bartlett, another ESO Fellow in Chile, sums up this discovery: “This is the first object of its kind to be confirmed beyond the Milky Way, made possible using MUSE as a guidance tool. We think that this could open up new channels of discovery and study for these elusive stellar remains.”


[1] The image combines data from the MUSE instrument on ESO’s Very Large Telescope in Chile and the orbiting the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope and NASA Chandra X-Ray Observatory.

[2] Highly-magnetic spinning neutron stars are called pulsars. They emit strongly at radio and other wavelengths and are easier to find, but they are only a small fraction of all the neutron stars predicted to exist.

More information:

This research was presented in a paper entitled “Identification of the central compact object in the young supernova remnant 1E 0102.2-7219”, by Frédéric P. A. Vogt et al., in the journal Nature Astronomy.

The team is composed of Frédéric P. A. Vogt (ESO, Santiago, Chile & ESO Fellow), Elizabeth S. Bartlett (ESO, Santiago, Chile & ESO Fellow), Ivo R. Seitenzahl (University of New South Wales Canberra, Australia), Michael A. Dopita (Australian National University, Canberra, Australia), Parviz Ghavamian (Towson University, Baltimore, Maryland, USA), Ashley J. Ruiter (University of New South Wales Canberra & ARC Centre of Excellence for All-sky Astrophysics, Australia) and Jason P. Terry (University of Georgia, Athens, USA).

ESO is the foremost intergovernmental astronomy organisation in Europe and the world’s most productive ground-based astronomical observatory by far. It has 15 Member States: Austria, Belgium, 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 and with Australia as a strategic partner. 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 155 Light: Dead Star Circled by Light:

Research paper in Nature Astronomy:

Photos of the VLT:

MUSE instrument:

ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT):

NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope:

NASA Chandra X-Ray Observatory:

Images, Text, Credits: ESO/NASA, ESA and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)/F. Vogt et al./ESO/Richard Hook/Elizabeth S. Bartlett/Frédéric P. A. Vogt/Digitized Sky Survey 2. Acknowledgements: Davide De Martin/Video: ESO, NASA, ESA and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA), N. Risinger (, DSS. Music: Astral Electronic.

Best regards,

Gullies of Matara Crater

NASA - Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) logo.

April 5, 2018

Gullies on Martian sand dunes, like these in Matara Crater, have been very active, with many flows in the last ten years. The flows typically occur when seasonal frost is present.

In this image from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter we see frost in and around two gullies, which have both been active before. (View this observation to see what these gullies looked like in 2010: There are no fresh flows so far this year, but HiRISE will keep watching.

The map is projected here at a scale of 50 centimeters (19.7 inches) per pixel. [The original image scale is 50.3 centimeters (19.8 inches) per pixel (with 2 x 2 binning); objects on the order of 151 centimeters (59.4 inches) across are resolved.] North is up.

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

Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO):

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


The chemistry of lightning

ESA - Colombus patch.

5 April 2018

Every second, around 45 lightning strikes jolt our atmosphere, where powerful reactions in thunderstorm clouds alter the chemical composition of the air inside and around them. A suite of European instruments will soon be studying these powerful discharges from space and give us clues on their role in the climate.

The Atmosphere-Space Interactions Monitor arrived yesterday at the International Space Station to peek inside the physics of high-energy phenomena at the edge of space.

Lightning strikes

With no clouds to obstruct the view, the package will help scientists to understand the anatomy of lightning from 400 km above the planet.

“We will learn more about the impact of severe thunderstorms in the upper layers of the atmosphere, where the electrical discharges happen and what powers them,” explains Torsten Neubert, science team coordinator at the Technical University of Denmark.

The measurements will help us to understand how electric fields within the clouds accelerate electrons to such energies and in such numbers that, in some cases, X-rays and gamma rays can be observed from space.

Impact on climate

Lightning affects the concentration of atmospheric gases that are important for the climate.

“The role of thunderstorms in our climate is significant, but we need to get more accurate data to estimate their influence on the variability of the climate,” says Torsten.

ASIM mounted on Columbus

Chemical changes in the atmosphere are still surrounded by large uncertainties. The new package will help us to build better atmospheric models and climate predictions.

Displays of light and energy

High up in the atmosphere, the electrical discharges take many forms and exist only briefly – milliseconds at most. These ‘transient luminous events’ include colorful phenomena with fairy tale names: sprites, blue jets and elves.

Sprites are flashes caused by electrical breakdown in the mesosphere, between 50 km and 100 km above the surface. They resemble reddish jellyfish with tentacles streaming down.

The blue jet propagates upwards into the stratosphere from cloud tops. ESA astronaut Andreas Mogensen recorded a pulsating blue jet on camera for the first time during his mission to the International Space Station in 2015.

Electrical discharges in the atmosphere

The highest of all are the elves, concentric rings that often appear as a dim, expanding glow 400 km wide. Electron collisions and excited nitrogen molecules are behind it.

The latest European observatory in space will also detect bursts of gamma rays from thunderstorms accompanied by energetic electrons and their antimatter partners, positrons.

Related article:

Storm hunter launched to International Space Station

A space window to electrifying science

Related links:

Experiment archive:

International Space Station Benefits for Humanity:

European space laboratory Columbus:

Terma (DK):

ASIM website:

DTU Space:

Images, Video, Text, Credits: ESA/David Ducros/NASA/DTU Space.


mercredi 4 avril 2018

Space Station Science Highlights: Week of Mar 26, 2018

ISS - Expedition 55 Mission patch.

April 4, 2018

Just a few days after arriving to their new home aboard the International Space Station, veteran astronauts Ricky Arnold and Drew Feustel donned spacesuits to conduct the first spacewalk of their stay aboard the orbiting laboratory. Feustel and Arnold installed a communication antenna on the exterior of the Tranquility module and worked together to replace a camera system on the port truss.  This communication antenna will help support ECOTRESS, an upcoming external payload currently planned to arrive this the summer to the ISS.

Image above: Last week, NASA astronaut Scott Tingle removed and stowed the Transparent Alloys cartridge and hardware and restored the Microgravity Science Glovebox to its standard configuration. Image Credit: NASA.

Meanwhile, inside the space station, the crew worked hard on investigations in the fields of physical science, plant biology, human research, education and more.

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

Crew prepares for upcoming veggie harvest

Future long-duration missions into the solar system will require a fresh food supply to supplement crew diets, which means growing crops in space. The Veg-03 investigation expands on previous validation tests of the new Veggie hardware, which crew members will use to grow cabbage, lettuce and other fresh vegetables in space.

Last week, in addition to watering, photographing and tending to the crops, crew members conducted an audit of the hardware in preparation for next week’s harvest. These plants 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.

Animation above: Roscosmos cosmonaut and current space station commander Anton Shkaplerov replaces a bottle in the Combustion Integration Rack (CIR) as a part of the ACME E-FIELD Flames investigation. Animation Credit: NASA.

Other plant biology investigations aboard the station include Plant Gravity Perception, a recent addition to the lab, the Advanced Plant Habitat and soon to arrive on SpX-14, Veggie PONDS.

3D printed items removed from device, stowed

The Additive Manufacturing Facility (Manufacturing Device) is a manufacturing facility aboard the space station, providing hardware manufacturing services. The ability to manufacture in space enables on-demand repair and production capability, as well as essential research for manufacturing on long-term missions.

Image above: NASA astronaut Ricky Arnold with freshly harvested lettuce as a part of the Veg-03 investigation. Image Credit: NASA.

Last week, the crew removed and stowed a 3D printed item from the facility. These items will be analyzed for quality.

Blood samples collected in support of JAXA investigations

Blood carries molecular signals released from cells inside the body.  For the Cell-Free Epigenome (CFE) study, blood samples are collected from astronauts and cellular genes are analyzed.  The results provide insight into how human bodies function during spaceflight.  The Medical Proteomics investigation evaluates changes of proteins in blood serum, bone and skeletal muscles after space flight, and also supports identification of osteopenia-related proteins.

By combining research results for mice, astronauts and ground patients, proteins related to osteopenia can be identified using the latest proteome analysis technique.  It is anticipated that the use of the marker proteins related to osteopenia will be of benefit in the future for assessing the health of astronauts as well as osteoporosis patients on ground.

Space to Ground: Upgrading the Outpost: 03/30/2018

Last week, blood samples were collected today from two crewmembers in support of both investigations.

Other work was done on these investigations: Crew Earth Observations, Transparent Alloys, ACME E-FIELD Flames, MSG, Food Acceptability, DreamXCG, AstroPi, METEOR, HDEV, SCAN Testbed, and Lighting Effects.

Related links:


Plant Gravity Perception:

Advanced Plant Habitat:

Veggie PONDS:

Manufacturing Device:

Crew Earth Observations:

Transparent Alloys:



Food Acceptability:





SCAN Testbed:

Lighting Effects:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

Images (mentioned), Video (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Michael Johnson/Yuri Guinart-Ramirez, Lead Increment Scientist Expeditions 55 & 56/NASA Johnson.

Best regards,

MRO - Formations in Context (or, what is it?)

NASA - Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) patch.

April 4, 2018

This image from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter is a close-up of a trough, along with channels draining into the depression. Some HiRISE images show strange-looking formations. Sometimes it helps to look at Context Camera images to understand the circumstances of a scene -- like this cutout from CTX 033783_1509 -- which here shows an impact crater with a central peak, and a collapse depression with concentric troughs just north of that peak.

On the floor of the trough is some grooved material that we typically see in middle latitude regions where there has been glacial flow. These depressions with concentric troughs exist elsewhere on Mars, and their origins remain a matter of debate.

NB: The Context Camera is another instrument onboard MRO, and it has a larger viewing angle than HiRISE, but less resolution capability than our camera.

The map is projected here at a scale of 50 centimeters (19.7 inches) per pixel. [The original image scale is 51.3 centimeters (20.2 inches) per pixel (with 2 x 2 binning); objects on the order of 154 centimeters (60.6 inches) across are resolved.] North is up.

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

Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO):

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


Hubble Makes the First Precise Distance Measurement to an Ancient Globular Star Cluster

NASA - Hubble Space Telescope patch.

April 4, 2018

Astronomers using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope have for the first time precisely measured the distance to one of the oldest objects in the universe, a collection of stars born shortly after the big bang.

This new, refined distance yardstick provides an independent estimate for the age of the universe. The new measurement also will help astronomers improve models of stellar evolution. Star clusters are the key ingredient in stellar models because the stars in each grouping are at the same distance, have the same age, and have the same chemical composition. They therefore constitute a single stellar population to study.

Image above: This ancient stellar jewelry box, a globular cluster called NGC 6397, glitters with the light from hundreds of thousands of stars. Image Credits: NASA, ESA, and T. Brown and S. Casertano (STScI) ; Acknowledgement: NASA, ESA, and J. Anderson (STScI).

This stellar assembly, a globular star cluster called NGC 6397, is one of the closest such clusters to Earth. The new measurement sets the cluster’s distance at 7,800 light-years away, with just a 3 percent margin of error.

Until now, astronomers have estimated the distances to our galaxy’s globular clusters by comparing the luminosities and colors of stars to theoretical models, and to the luminosities and colors of similar stars in the solar neighborhood. But the accuracy of these estimates varies, with uncertainties hovering between 10 percent and 20 percent.

However, the new measurement uses straightforward trigonometry, the same method used by surveyors, and as old as classical Greek science. Using a novel observational technique to measure extraordinarily tiny angles on the sky, astronomers managed to stretch Hubble’s yardstick outside of the disk of our Milky Way galaxy.

The research team calculated NGC 6397’s age at 13.4 billion years old. “The globular clusters are so old that if their ages and distances deduced from models are off by a little bit, they seem to be older than the age of the universe,” said Tom Brown of the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore, Maryland, leader of the Hubble study.

Accurate distances to globular clusters are used as references in stellar models to study the characteristics of young and old stellar populations. “Any model that agrees with the measurements gives you more faith in applying that model to more distant stars,” Brown said. “The nearby star clusters serve as anchors for the stellar models. Until now, we only had accurate distances to the much younger open clusters inside our galaxy because they are closer to Earth.”

By contrast, about 150 globular clusters orbit outside of our galaxy’s comparatively younger starry disk. These spherical, densely packed swarms of hundreds of thousands of stars are the first homesteaders of the Milky Way.

Zoom in to Globular Star Cluster NGC 6397

Video above: This video zooms into a Hubble Space Telescope view of globular star cluster NGC 6397. Video Credits: NASA, ESA, and G. Bacon (STScI).

The Hubble astronomers used trigonometric parallax to nail down the cluster’s distance. This technique measures the tiny, apparent shift of an object’s position due to a change in an observer’s point of view. Hubble measured the apparent tiny wobble of the cluster stars due to Earth’s motion around the Sun.

To obtain the precise distance to NGC 6397, Brown’s team employed a clever method developed by astronomers Adam Riess, a Nobel laureate, and Stefano Casertano of the STScI and Johns Hopkins University, also in Baltimore, to accurately measure distances to pulsating stars called Cepheid variables. These pulsating stars serve as reliable distance markers for astronomers to calculate an accurate expansion rate of the universe.

With this technique, called “spatial scanning,” Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 gauged the parallax of 40 NGC 6397 cluster stars, making measurements every 6 months for 2 years. The researchers then combined the results to obtain the precise distance measurement. “Because we are looking at a bunch of stars, we can get a better measurement than simply looking at individual Cepheid variable stars,” team member Casertano said.

The tiny wobbles of these cluster stars were only 1/100th of a pixel on the telescope’s camera, measured to a precision of 1/3000th of a pixel. This is the equivalent to measuring the size of an automobile tire on the moon to a precision of one inch.

Hubble Space Telescope (HST). Animation Credits: NASA/ESA

The researchers say they could reach an accuracy of 1 percent if they combine the Hubble distance measurement of NGC 6397 with the upcoming results obtained from the European Space Agency’s Gaia space observatory, which is measuring the positions and distances of stars with unprecedented precision. The data release for the second batch of stars in the survey is in late April. “Getting to 1 percent accuracy will nail this distance measurement forever,” Brown said.

The team’s results appeared in the March 20, 2018, issue of The Astrophysical Journal Letters.

The research team consists of T. Brown, S. Casertano, and D. Soderblom (STScI); J. Strader (MSU); A. Riess and J. Kalirai (STScI, JHU); D. VandenBerg (UVic); and R. Salinas (Gemini).

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, in Washington, D.C.

NASA & ESA Hubble websites: and

HubbleSite link:

Image (mentioned), Animation (mentioned), Video (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Karl Hille/Space Telescope Science Institute/Donna Weaver/Ray Villard/Tom Brown.


Gaia's view of dark interstellar clouds

ESA - Gaia Mission patch.

04 April 2018

While charting the positions of more than a billion stars, ESA's Gaia mission provides all-important information even about the dark patches of the sky where fewer stars are observed. These images, based on Gaia's first data release, are an appetizer to the astronomical riches that will be unleashed with the mission's second release on 25 April.

Gaia's view of a dark nebula in Orion

Image above: Gaia's view of a dark nebula in Orion. Image Credits: ESA/Gaia/DPAC.

The constellation of Orion, the Hunter, is not only home to the bright stars that make it an iconic portion of the sky, but also to a vast star-forming complex of cosmic gas and dust: the Orion Molecular Cloud, located some 1500 light years away. This massive stellar nursery is largely hidden to the naked eye with only one bright patch visible – the Orion Nebula, or M42.

These two images show the structure of a dark cloud in the Orion A portion of this large star-forming region. They are based on the first release of Gaia's data, which were collected by the satellite during its first 14 months of operations and published in 2016.

The view on the left was compiled by mapping the total density of stars detected by Gaia in each pixel of the image. It reveals the distribution of all stars in the area, and clearly outlines the silhouette of a dark cloud of gas and dust hiding background stars from view.

Gaia spacecraft. Image Credit: ESA

Various southern hemisphere civilisations identify shapes of creatures from the animal world in the dark lanes crossing the bright background of the Milky Way. Echoing this time-honoured tradition, astronomers have spotted the shape of a cat – or that of a fox – in this cloud, depending on whether the bright spot just right of centre is viewed as a nose or an eye. In fact, the cat's nose (or fox's eye) corresponds to the Orion Nebula Cluster, a young open cluster near M42. Another open cluster – NGC 1981 – and the reflection nebula NGC 1977 lie to its upper right.

The image on the right provides a complementary view of the same region. Obtained by mapping the total amount of radiation, or flux, recorded by Gaia in each pixel of the image, it is dominated by the brightest, most massive stars. In some spots, these stars outshine their less bright, lower-mass counterparts.

Gaia's first sky map – flux version

Image above: Gaia's first sky map – flux version. Image Credits: ESA/Gaia/DPAC.

The Orion A nebula can be seen towards the right, just below the bright horizontal band of the Galactic plane, in this all-sky view of the total flux based on Gaia's first data release.

A team of astronomers using Gaia data have studied the three-dimensional distribution of stars in the Orion complex, including the area depicted in these images, revealing distinct groupings of stars with different ages.

The first data release, published in 2016, contained the position on the sky of more than one billion stars, as well as the distance and proper motion of about two million stars. Gaia's second release, planned for 25 April, will include the distance and proper motion for all catalogued stars. This will enable astronomers to explore much farther away and to investigate in great detail star-forming regions like the Orion Molecular Cloud.

Besides studying the distribution of stars, the data will also help astronomers to reconstruct the three-dimensional structure of the dusty dark clouds where stars are born.

Gaia's view of a dark nebula in Rho Ophiuchi

Image above: Gaia's view of a dark nebula in Rho Ophiuchi. Image Credits: ESA/Gaia/DPAC.

Another dark cloud in our Milky Way, part of the Rho Ophiuchi complex, is portrayed in the two images above. This large stellar nursery is located about 440 light-years from us, in the constellation Ophiuchus, the Serpent Bearer, and can be seen just above the Galactic Centre in the all-sky view.

These images are also based on data from the first 14 months of Gaia science operations, and display the total density of stars (left) and the total flux (right) measured by the satellite. Five bright stellar clusters stand out in both views: the brightest one, towards the right of the frame, is the globular cluster M4.

Not far from Rho Ophiuchi in the sky, on the opposite side of the same constellation, is another interesting dark cloud known as Barnard 68.

Gaia's view of the Barnard 68 dark cloud

Image above: Gaia's view of the Barnard 68 dark cloud. Image Credits: ESA/Gaia/DPAC.

These images are also based on the first Gaia data release and display the density of stars (left) and the flux (right).

There are no stars observed in this dense nebula, which is thought to be a stellar nursery cooking up stars. Data from Gaia's future releases might help astronomers study the three-dimensional structure of this cloud by measuring distances to the stars near its edges.

Related links:

Gaia's data published in 2016:

ESA's Gaia:

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: European Space Agency (ESA).


Dragon Bolted to Station’s Harmony Module

ISS - Expedition 55 Mission patch.

April 4, 2018

SpaceX CRS-14: Dragon capture, 4 April 2018

Two days after its launch from Florida, the SpaceX Dragon cargo spacecraft was installed on the Harmony module of the International Space Station at 9:00 a.m. EDT.

The 14th contracted commercial resupply mission from SpaceX (CRS-14) delivered about 5,800 pounds of research, crew supplies and hardware to the orbiting laboratory.

Image above: Four spaceships are docked at the space station including the SpaceX Dragon space freighter, the Progress 69 resupply ship and the Soyuz MS-07 and MS-08 crew ships. Image Credit: NASA.

Among the research arriving to the U.S. National Laboratory is a Metabolic Tracking investigation to evaluate the use of a new method to test, in microgravity, the metabolic impacts of pharmaceutical drugs. This could lead to more effective, less expensive medicines on Earth. The Multi-use Variable-g Platform (MVP) will serve as a new test bed aboard the space station, able to host 12 separate experiment modules with samples such as plants, cells, protein crystals and fruit flies. The Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS), which manages the U.S. National Laboratory, is sponsoring the investigation and the MVP.

Dragon will remain attached to the space station until May, when it will return to Earth with more than 3,500 pounds of research, hardware and crew supplies.

Related links:

Metabolic Tracking:

Multi-use Variable-g Platform (MVP):

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

Expedition 55:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

Best regards,