samedi 9 février 2019

360 Video: Curiosity Rover Departs Vera Rubin Ridge

NASA - Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) logo.

February 9, 2019

Image above: This panorama from the Mast Camera (Mastcam) on NASA's Curiosity Mars rover was taken on Dec. 19 (Sol 2265). The rover's last drill location on Vera Rubin Ridge is visible, as well as the clay region it will spend the next year exploring. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS.

After exploring Mars' Vera Rubin Ridge for more than a year, NASA's Curiosity rover recently moved on. But a new 360-video lets the public visit Curiosity's final drill site on the ridge, an area nicknamed "Rock Hall." The video was created from a panorama taken by the rover on Dec. 19. It includes images of its next destination - an area the team has been calling the "clay-bearing unit" and recently named "Glen Torridon" - and the floor of Gale Crater, home to Mount Sharp, the geological feature the rover has been climbing since 2014.

NASA's Curiosity Mars Rover Departs Vera Rubin Ridge (360 View)

Even though the rover has left the ridge, Curiosity's team is still piecing together the story of its formation. While there have been a number of clues so far, none fully explains why the ridge has resisted erosion compared with the bedrock around it. But the rover's investigation did find that the rocks of the ridge formed as sediment settled in an ancient lake, similar to rock layers below the ridge.

"We've had our fair share of surprises," said Curiosity science team member Abigail Fraeman of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. "We're leaving with a different perspective of the ridge than what we had before."

A NASA orbiter studying the ridge had previously identified a strong signal from hematite, an iron-rich mineral that often forms in water. Curiosity confirmed the presence of hematite, along with other signs of ancient water, like crystals. These signs appeared in patches, leading the team to suspect that over time groundwater affected certain parts of the ridge differently than others. Another discovery was that the hematite signatures Curiosity mapped didn't always match the view from space.

"The whole traverse is helping us understand all the factors that influence how our orbiters see Mars," Fraeman said. "Looking up close with a rover allowed us to find a lot more of these hematite signatures. It shows how orbiter and rover science complement one another."

The ridge has also served as the backdrop to a roller-coaster year: Curiosity's drill returned to action, only to be stymied by surprisingly hard rocks. Nevertheless, the team managed to get samples from the three major rock types of the ridge. To get around a memory issue, engineers also swapped the rover's computers (the spacecraft was designed with two so that it can continue operations if one experiences a glitch). While the issue is still being diagnosed, operations have continued with little impact on the mission.

Image above: A selfie taken by NASA's Curiosity Mars rover on Sol 2291 (January 15) at the "Rock Hall" drill site, located on Vera Rubin Ridge. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS.

The rover's new home, Glen Torridon, is in a trough between Vera Rubin Ridge and the rest of the mountain. This region had been called the clay-bearing unit because orbiter data show that the rocks there contain phyllosilicates - clay minerals that form in water and that could tell scientists more about the ancient lakes that were present in Gale Crater off and on throughout its early history.

"In addition to indicating a previously wet environment, clay minerals are known to trap and preserve organic molecules," said Curiosity Project Scientist Ashwin Vasavada of JPL. "That makes this area especially promising, and the team is already surveying the area for its next drill site."

Curiosity has found both clay minerals and organic molecules in many of the rocks it has drilled since landing in 2012. Organic molecules are the chemical building blocks of life. If both water and organic molecules were present when the rocks formed, the clay-bearing unit may be another example of a habitable environment on ancient Mars - a place capable of supporting life, if it ever existed.

For more about NASA's Curiosity Mars rover mission, visit:

Image (mentioned), Video, Text, Credits: NASA/JPL/Andrew Good.

Best regards,

Swarm helps pinpoint new magnetic north for smartphones

ESA - SWARM Mission logo.

9 February 2019

Since it was first measured in 1831, we have known that the magnetic north is constantly on the move. However, its tendency to slowly roam has stepped up a pace recently – so much so that the World Magnetic Model has had to be updated urgently with the pole’s new location, vital for navigation on smartphones, for example. ESA’s magnetic field Swarm mission has been key for this update.

Magnetic north on the move

The World Magnetic Model, the basis for many navigation systems used by ships, Google maps and smartphones, relies on the accurate knowledge of Earth’s magnetic field. Since magnetic north never stands still, the model has to be revised periodically – but a surge in pace has meant that an update was needed ahead of schedule.

Driven largely by the churning of fluid in Earth’s core, which generates the magnetic field, the magnetic north pole has always drifted, and geological evidence shows that every few hundred thousand years or so it even flips, so that north becomes south.

Around 50 years ago, the pole was ambling along at around 15 km a year, but now it is sprinting ahead at around 55 km a year. In 2017, it crossed the international date line, leaving the Canadian Arctic and heading towards Siberia.

The World Magnetic Model is used to keep track of changes in the magnetic field and is updated every five years by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the British Geological Survey.

The next update was due at the end of this year.

However, thanks in part to ESA’s Swarm mission, researchers found that the pole is drifting in a way that wasn’t expected. This meant that model was simply too inaccurate for it to remain until the next planned revision. So, an ‘out-of-cycle’ update has just been issued.

Space compasses

Since the mission was launched in 2013, ESA’s Swarm constellation has been tracking variations in Earth’s magnetic field, and also the position of the magnetic north pole.

While measurements from Swarm are used to advance our scientific understanding of Earth’s magnetic field, they also have clear practical uses as demonstrated by their contribution to this urgent update of the World Magnetic Model, which is used every day by billions of people in their smartphones, even if they are unaware of it.

Nils Olsen from DTU Space said, “Your smartphone contains a magnetometer that measures Earth’s magnetic field.


“In order to make sense of this information, Android and iOS operating systems use the magnetic model to correct the measurements to true geographic north.

“So, in this model update, the latest Swarm data have been used to provide up-to-date information for users of numerous navigation systems.”

Related article:

Magnetic North rushes from Canada to Siberia

Related links:

National Centres for Environmental Information:

British Geological Survey:

National Geospatial Intelligence Agency:

World Magnetic Model:

DTU Space:

Images, Text, Credits: ESA/DTU Space/ATG Medialab/AOES Medialab.


vendredi 8 février 2019

Astronauts Release U.S. Spacecraft from Station

ISS - Expedition 58 Mission patch / Northrop Grumman - Cygnus NG-10 Mission patch.

February 8, 2019

Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus spacecraft was released from the Canadarm2 at 11:16 a.m. EST and has departed the International Space Station. After an extended mission to deploy several CubeSats in multiple orbits, Cygnus is scheduled to be deorbited on Feb. 25 to enter the Earth’s atmosphere and burn up harmlessly over the Pacific Ocean.

Expedition 58 Flight Engineers Anne McClain of NASA and David Saint-Jacques of the Canadian Space Agency used the station’s robotic arm to release the craft, dubbed the “SS John Young”, after ground controllers unbolted the cargo vehicle from the Earth-facing port of the Unity module earlier this morning.

Image above: The Cygnus is pictured moments after its release from the Canadarm2 robotic arm. Image Credit: NASA TV.

This Commercial Resupply Services contract mission delivered dozens of new and existing investigations as Expedition 58 contributes to some hundreds of science and research studies. Highlights from the new experiments include a demonstration of 3D printing and recycling technology and simulating the creation of celestial bodies from stardust.

The Refabricator is the first-ever 3D printer and recycler integrated into one user-friendly machine. Once it’s installed in the space station, it will demonstrate recycling of waste plastic and previously 3D printed parts already on-board into high-quality filament, or 3D printer “ink.” This recycled filament will be fed into the printer as stock to make new tools and parts on-demand in space. This technology could enable closed-loop, sustainable fabrication, repair and recycling on long-duration space missions, and greatly reduce the need to continually launch large supplies of new material and parts for repairs and maintenance. The demonstration, which NASA’s Space Technology Mission and Human Exploration and Operations Directorates co-sponsored, is considered a key enabling technology for in-space manufacturing. NASA awarded a Small Business Innovation Research contract valued to Tethers Unlimited Inc. to build the recycling system.

NG CRS-10: SS John Young Cygnus departure

The Experimental Chondrule Formation at the International Space Station (EXCISS) investigation will explore how planets, moons and other objects in space formed by simulating the high-energy, low-gravity conditions that were present during formation of the early solar system. Scientists plan to zap a specially formulated dust with an electrical current, and then study the shape and texture of the resulting pellets.

The Crystallization of LRRK2 Under Microgravity Conditions-2 (PCG-16) investigation grows large crystals of an important protein, leucine-rich repeat kinase 2 (LRRK2), in microgravity for analysis back on Earth. This protein is implicated in development of Parkinson’s disease, and improving our knowledge of its structure may help scientists better understand the pathology of the disease and develop therapies to treat it. LRRK2 crystals grown in gravity are too small and too compact to study, making microgravity an essential part of this research.  This investigation is sponsored by the International Space Station U.S. National Laboratory, which Congress designated in 2005 to maximize its use for improving quality of life on Earth.

Cygnus launched Nov. 17, 2018, on an Antares 230 rocket from Virginia Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport’s Pad 0A at Wallops, and arrived at the station Nov. 19 for the company’s 10th NASA-contracted commercial resupply mission to the station.

This was the seventh flight of an enhanced Cygnus spacecraft, and the fourth using Northrop Grumman’s upgraded Antares 230 launch vehicle featuring new RD-181 engines that provide increased performance and flexibility.

Related links:

Expedition 58:


Unity module:


Small Business Innovation Research:

Tethers Unlimited Inc.:

Experimental Chondrule Formation at the International Space Station (EXCISS):

Crystallization of LRRK2 Under Microgravity Conditions-2 (PCG-16):

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

Best regards,

SOFIA Finds Dust Survives Obliteration in Supernova 1987A

NASA & DLR - SOFIA Mission patch.

Feb. 8, 2019

Dust particles form as dying red giant stars throw off material and become part of interstellar clouds of various sizes, densities and temperatures. This cosmic dust is then destroyed by supernova blast waves, which propagate through space at more than 6,000 miles per second (10,000 km/sec)!

Supernova explosions are among the most powerful events in the universe, with a peak brightness equivalent to the light from billions of individual stars. The explosion also produces a blast wave that destroys almost everything in its path, including dust in the surrounding interstellar medium, the space between the stars. Current theories predict when a supernova blast sweeps through a region of space, much of the dust would be destroyed, so there should be little dust left.

Animation above: Artist's concept illustrating Supernova 1987A as the powerful blast wave passes through its outer ring and destroys most of its dust, before the dust re-forms or grows rapidly. SOFIA observations reveal that dust — a block of stars and planets — can re-form or grow immediately after the catastrophic damage caused by the supernova's blast wave. Animation Credits: NASA/SOFIA/Symbolic Pictures/The Casadonte Group.

Observations with SOFIA, however, tell a different, mysterious story — revealing more than 10 times the dust expected. This suggests that dust is much more abundant in the wake of a blast wave than theories estimate.

The new study is based on observations of a nearby supernova explosion, called Supernova 1987A. When it was discovered in 1987, it was one of the brightest supernovae seen in 400 years! Due to its close proximity, astronomers have been able to monitor its impact on the surrounding environment continuously for the past 30 years.

SOFIA’s observations of the iconic supernova suggest dust may actually be forming in the wake of the powerful blast wave. These results are helping astronomers solve the mystery surrounding the abundance of dust in our galaxy.

“We already knew about the slow-moving dust in the heart of 1987A,” said Mikako Matsuura, a senior lecturer at Cardiff University, in the United Kingdom, and the lead author on the paper. “It formed from the heavy elements created in the core of the dead star. But the SOFIA observations tell us something new about a completely unexpected dust population.”

The observations were published in a recent issue of Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

Supernova 1987A has a distinctive set of rings that are part of a cavity created in an earlier, pre-explosion phase of the star’s evolution. The fast-expanding blast wave has passed through these ring structures. Astronomers thought that any dust particles in these rings would have been destroyed, but recent observations from SOFIA show emission consistent with a growing population of dust in the rings. The results indicate that dust particles can re-form or grow rapidly, even after the catastrophic damage caused during the passage of the blast wave, suggesting that although this might be the end of a chapter in the life cycle of dust, it does not appear to be the end of the story.

NASA Boeing 747SP SOFIA in flight. Image Credit: NASA

The dust detected by SOFIA could result from either significant growth of the existing dust particles or the formation of a new dust population. These new observations compel astronomers to consider the possibility that the post-blast environment might be ready to form or re-form dust immediately after the blast wave passes — a new clue that may be pivotal in resolving the discrepancy between dust destruction models and observations. 

From ground-based telescopes on Earth, observing cosmic dust particles in the infrared is difficult — or impossible — due to strong absorption, primarily from water and carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere. By flying above most of the obscuring molecules, the airborne observatory SOFIA provides access to portions of the infrared spectrum not available from the ground. In particular, SOFIA’s Faint Object infraRed CAmera for the SOFIA Telescope (FORCAST) is a powerful instrument for understanding warm dust in particular.

“FORCAST is the only instrument that can observe at these critical wavelengths and detect this newly-forming population of warm dust,” said James De Buizer, the USRA manager for science operations at the SOFIA Science Center and co-author on the study. “We plan to continue monitoring with FORCAST to gain more insight into dust creation and evolution in supernova remnants.”

Dust Survives Obliteration in Supernova 1987A - Animation

Video above: Artist's concept illustrating Supernova 1987A as the powerful blast wave passes through its outer ring and destroys most of its dust, before the dust re-forms or grows rapidly. SOFIA observations reveal that this dust — which make up the building blocks of stars and planets — can re-form or grow immediately after the catastrophic damage caused by the supernova’s blast wave. Video Credits: NASA/SOFIA/Symbolic Pictures/The Casadonte Group.

In the future, NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope will examine this dust in further detail, looking for clues about its origins and composition.

SOFIA is a Boeing 747SP jetliner modified to carry a 106-inch diameter telescope. It is a joint project of NASA and the German Aerospace Center, DLR. NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley manages the SOFIA program, science and mission operations in cooperation with the Universities Space Research Association, or USRA, headquartered in Columbia, Maryland, and the German SOFIA Institute (DSI) at the University of Stuttgart. The aircraft is maintained and operated from NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center Hangar 703, in Palmdale, California.

Related links:


NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (JWST):

Image (mentioned), Animation (mentioned), Video (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Kassandra Bell.


SlingShot Tests Small Satellite Deployment and Payload Hosting Capabilities

ISS - International Space Station logo.

Feb. 8, 2019

SlingShot on Cygnus Spacecraft. Image Credit: NASA

Launching satellites is a growing business. A new platform that could bolster satellite deployment opportunities in space seeks to service this burgeoning economy. SlingShot, by the company SEOPS, is designed to deploy CubeSats at altitudes above the station using the infrastructure offered by the International Space Station in partnership with the U.S. National Laboratory and Northrop Grumman.

SlingShot arrived at the orbiting laboratory aboard the SpaceX CRS-16 mission in early December. During this flight, the company is testing every aspect of the technology’s potential uses while also deploying satellites for SEOPS’ clients.

Animation above: The Cygnus Spacecraft leaves the ISS with SlingShot payloads in preparation for deployment activities. Animation Credit: NASA.

SlingShot was designed to launch on any cargo vehicle. For this mission it was transferred from the SpaceX vehicle to the Cygnus vehicle attached to the station and then loaded with satellites for deployment when Cygnus departs from the station.

After Cygnus leaves the station, the cargo craft will navigate to approximately 310 miles (500 kilometers) above the Earth, approximately 62 miles higher than the space station’s orbit. There, Slingshot deploys two satellites, expected to stay in orbit at least two years. In addition, a mounted payload will test SlingShot’s capability to host fixed payloads for an extended period, where the payload uses Cygnus’ power, attitude control and communication capabilities.

SlingShot’s approach to satellite deployment builds on previous efforts made by other companies and international partners. Most previous deployments from the space station were at lower altitude orbits that degrade within months, limiting the useful life of the satellites.

Animation above: ISS Crew members David Saint-Jacques and Anne Mcclain installed two Slingshot deployables, SEOPS-Quantum Radar -1 and -2s, onto the outer hatch of the Cygnus Spacecraft. Also installed in a deployable slot is the UbiquityLink-1 orbit to ground communications hardware. The two passive optical reflector satellites will be released after Cygnus moves away from the ISS. Animation Credit: NASA.

“That is a great orbit for test demos,” said Chad Brinkley, principal investigator for the facility, “but if you look at the market for where rockets are trying to go, 500 km is ideal for closing a business case for companies that are considering flying CubeSats to give them revenue from a satellite for two plus years.”

The satellites SlingShot accommodates are modular small satellites called CubeSats that come in different configurations. Brinkley noted, “Our system is so flexible, we can accommodate the different CubeSat formats – all of them!”

One surprise to the development team has been the level of interest in the payload hosting capability. Fixed mounted payloads do not require adding avionics and a bus, so the development cost is significantly lower than developing a satellite. Additionally, the payload “can use Cygnus’ power and data as well as point the payload,” said Brinkley.

Animation above: NASA Astronaut Anne Mcclain installs a data cable and controller to prepare SlingShot for operations. Modular in design, SlingShot can hold up to nine deployers that can launch CubeSats of multiple sizes or can host fixed payloads that remain rigidly attached to Cygnus to gather and transmit data while the vehicle is in orbit. Animation Credit: NASA.

SEOPS worked closely with NASA to develop and get approval for SlingShot in less than a year. The company contracted directly with Northrop Grumman for the non-recurring engineering to integrate SlingShot with Cygnus and worked with the U.S. National Laboratory to receive their allocation, securing space for transportation as well as crew time for installation of the hardware. “For a commercial company, this is to me a great model for how you can do business with NASA and other commercial companies,” said Brinkley.

“We’re excited about having an opportunity to do this,” Brinkley said, “I feel like we’re executing the vision for commercialization of space.”

Related links:


U.S. National Laboratory:

Northrop Grumman:

SpaceX CRS-16:


Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

Image (mentioned), Animations (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Michael Johnson/JSC/International Space Station Program Science Office/Carrie Gilder.

Best regards,

New Horizons' Evocative Farewell Glance at Ultima Thule

NASA - New Horizons Mission patch.

February 8, 2019

Images Confirm the Kuiper Belt Object's Highly Unusual, Flatter Shape

Video above: The Truly Odd Shape of Ultima Thule. Video Credits: NASA/Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute/National Optical Astronomy Observatory.

An evocative new image sequence from NASA's New Horizons spacecraft offers a departing view of the Kuiper Belt object (KBO) nicknamed Ultima Thule – the target of its New Year's 2019 flyby and the most distant world ever explored.

These aren't the last Ultima Thule images New Horizons will send back to Earth – in fact, many more are to come -- but they are the final views New Horizons captured of the KBO (officially named 2014 MU69) as it raced away at over 31,000 miles per hour (50,000 kilometers per hour) on Jan. 1. The images were taken nearly 10 minutes after New Horizons crossed its closest approach point.

"This really is an incredible image sequence, taken by a spacecraft exploring a small world four billion miles away from Earth," said mission Principal Investigator Alan Stern, of Southwest Research Institute. "Nothing quite like this has ever been captured in imagery."

Image above: The Crescent View. Image Credits: NASA/Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute/National Optical Astronomy Observatory.

The newly released images also contain important scientific information about the shape of Ultima Thule, which is turning out to be one of the major discoveries from the flyby.

The first close-up images of Ultima Thule – with its two distinct and, apparently, spherical segments – had observers calling it a "snowman." However, more analysis of approach images and these new departure images have changed that view, in part by revealing an outline of the portion of the KBO that was not illuminated by the Sun, but could be "traced out" as it blocked the view to background stars.

Stringing 14 of these images into a short departure movie, New Horizons scientists can confirm that the two sections (or "lobes") of Ultima Thule are not spherical. The larger lobe, nicknamed "Ultima," more closely resembles a giant pancake and the smaller lobe, nicknamed "Thule," is shaped like a dented walnut.

Image above: New Data, New View. Image Credits: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute.

"We had an impression of Ultima Thule based on the limited number of images returned in the days around the flyby, but seeing more data has significantly changed our view," Stern said. "It would be closer to reality to say Ultima Thule's shape is flatter, like a pancake. But more importantly, the new images are creating scientific puzzles about how such an object could even be formed. We've never seen something like this orbiting the Sun."

The departure images were taken from a different angle than the approach photos and reveal complementary information on Ultima Thule's shape. The central frame of the sequence was taken on Jan. 1 at 05:42:42 UT (12:42 a.m. EST), when New Horizons was 5,494 miles (8,862 kilometers) beyond Ultima Thule, and 4.1 billion miles (6.6 billion kilometers) from Earth. The object's illuminated crescent is blurred in the individual frames because a relatively long exposure time was used during this rapid scan to boost the camera's signal level – but the science team combined and processed the images to remove the blurring and sharpen the thin crescent.

Video above: New Data, New View (Animation). Video Credits: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute.

Many background stars are also seen in the individual images; watching which stars "blinked out" as the object passed in front them allowed scientists to outline the shape of both lobes, which could then be compared to a model assembled from analyzing pre-flyby images and ground-based telescope observations. "The shape model we have derived from all of the existing Ultima Thule imagery is remarkably consistent with what we have learned from the new crescent images," says Simon Porter, a New Horizons co-investigator from the Southwest Research Institute, who leads the shape-modeling effort.

"While the very nature of a fast flyby in some ways limits how well we can determine the true shape of Ultima Thule, the new results clearly show that Ultima and Thule are much flatter than originally believed, and much flatter than expected," added Hal Weaver, New Horizons project scientist from the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory. "This will undoubtedly motivate new theories of planetesimal formation in the early solar system."

Image above: Illustration of NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft encountering 2014 MU69 – nicknamed “Ultima Thule” – a Kuiper Belt object that orbits one billion miles beyond Pluto. New Horizons’ exploration of Ultima is the farthest space probe flyby in history. Image Credits: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI.

The images in this sequence will be available on the New Horizons LORRI website this week. Raw images from the camera are posted to the site each Friday (link bellow).

Related links:

New Horizons LORRI website:

For more information on the New Horizons mission, visit:

Images (mentioned), Videos (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute.


Gaia clocks new speeds for Milky Way-Andromeda collision

ESA - Gaia Mission patch.

8 February 2019

ESA’s Gaia satellite has looked beyond our Galaxy and explored two nearby galaxies to reveal the stellar motions within them and how they will one day interact and collide with the Milky Way – with surprising results.

Future galaxy trajectories

Our Milky Way belongs to a large gathering of galaxies known as the Local Group and, along with the Andromeda and Triangulum galaxies – also referred to as M31 and M33, respectively – makes up the majority of the group’s mass.

Astronomers have long suspected that Andromeda will one day collide with the Milky Way, completely reshaping our cosmic neighbourhood. However, the three-dimensional movements of the Local Group galaxies remained unclear, painting an uncertain picture of the Milky Way’s future.

“We needed to explore the galaxies’ motions in 3D to uncover how they have grown and evolved, and what creates and influences their features and behaviour,” says lead author Roeland van der Marel of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, USA.

“We were able to do this using the second package of high-quality data released by Gaia.”

Gaia is currently building the most precise 3D map of the stars in the nearby Universe, and is releasing its data in stages. The data from the second release, made in April 2018, was used in this research.

Gaia second data release

Previous studies of the Local Group have combined observations from telescopes including the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope and the ground-based Very Long Baseline Array to figure out how the orbits of Andromeda and Triangulum have changed over time. The two disc-shaped spiral galaxies are located between 2.5 and 3 million light-years from us, and are close enough to one another that they may be interacting.

Two possibilities emerged: either Triangulum is on an incredibly long six-billion-year orbit around Andromeda but has already fallen into it in the past, or it is currently on its very first infall. Each scenario reflects a different orbital path, and thus a different formation history and future for each galaxy.

While Hubble has obtained the sharpest view ever of both Andromeda and Triangulum, Gaia measures the individual position and motion of many of their stars with unprecedented accuracy.

“We combed through the Gaia data to identify thousands of individual stars in both galaxies, and studied how these stars moved within their galactic homes,” adds co-author Mark Fardal, also of Space Telescope Science Institute.

Hubble view of Triangulum

“While Gaia primarily aims to study the Milky Way, it’s powerful enough to spot especially massive and bright stars within nearby star-forming regions – even in galaxies beyond our own.”

The stellar motions measured by Gaia not only reveal how each of the galaxies moves through space, but also how each rotates around its own spin axis.

A century ago, when astronomers were first trying to understand the nature of galaxies, these spin measurements were much sought-after, but could not be successfully completed with the telescopes available at the time.

“It took an observatory as advanced as Gaia to finally do so,” says Roeland.


“For the first time, we’ve measured how M31 and M33 rotate on the sky. Astronomers used to see galaxies as clustered worlds that couldn’t possibly be separate ‘islands’, but we now know otherwise.

“It has taken 100 years and Gaia to finally measure the true, tiny, rotation rate of our nearest large galactic neighbour, M31. This will help us to understand more about the nature of galaxies.”

By combining existing observations with the new data release from Gaia, the researchers determined how Andromeda and Triangulum are each moving across the sky, and calculated the orbital path for each galaxy both backwards and forwards in time for billions of years.

Stellar motions in Andromeda

“The velocities we found show that M33 cannot be on a long orbit around M31,” says co-author Ekta Patel of the University of Arizona, USA. “Our models unanimously imply that M33 must be on its first infall into M31.”

While the Milky Way and Andromeda are still destined to collide and merge, both the timing and destructiveness of the interaction are also likely to be different than expected.

As Andromeda’s motion differs somewhat from previous estimates, the galaxy is likely to deliver more of a glancing blow to the Milky Way than a head-on collision. This will take place not in 3.9 billion years’ time, but in 4.5 billion – some 600 million years later than anticipated.

“This finding is crucial to our understanding of how galaxies evolve and interact,” says Timo Prusti, ESA Gaia Project Scientist.

Hubble view of Andromeda

“We see unusual features in both M31 and M33, such as warped streams and tails of gas and stars. If the galaxies haven’t come together before, these can’t have been created by the forces felt during a merger. Perhaps they formed via interactions with other galaxies, or by gas dynamics within the galaxies themselves.

“Gaia was designed primarily for mapping stars within the Milky Way — but this new study shows that the satellite is exceeding expectations, and can provide unique insights into the structure and dynamics of galaxies beyond the realm of our own. The longer Gaia watches the tiny movements of these galaxies across the sky, the more precise our measurements will become.”

Notes for editors:

“First Gaia Dynamics of the Andromeda System: DR2 Proper Motions, Orbits, and Rotation of M31 and M33” by R. P. van der Marel et al. is published in Astrophysical Journal.

ESA’s Gaia satellite was launched in 2013 to create the most precise three-dimensional map of one billion of the stars within the Milky Way. The mission has released two lots of data so far: Gaia Data Release 1 on 14 September 2016, and Gaia Data Release 2 on 25 April 2018 (the latter of which was used in this study). More releases will follow in coming years.

Related links:

Astrophysical Journal:

Gaia Data Release 1:

Gaia Data Release 2:

ESA's Gaia:

Text, Credits: ESA/Markus Bauer/Timo Prusti/Steward Observatory/University of Arizona/Ekta Patel/Space Telescope Science Institute/Mark Fardal/Roeland P. van der Marel/Images Credits: Orbits: E. Patel, G. Besla (University of Arizona), R. van der Marel (STScI); Images: Orbits: E. Patel, G. Besla (University of Arizona), R. van der Marel (STScI); Images: ESA (Milky Way); ESA/Gaia/DPAC (M31, M33)/Gaia/DPAC, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO/NASA, ESA, and M. Durbin, J. Dalcanton, and B. F. Williams (University of Washington); CC BY 4.0/ESA/Gaia (star motions); NASA/Galex (background image); R. van der Marel, M. Fardal, J. Sahlmann (STScI)/NASA, ESA, J. Dalcanton (University of Washington, USA), B. F. Williams (University of Washington, USA), L. C. Johnson (University of Washington, USA), the PHAT team, and R. Gendler./Animation Credit: ESA.

Best regards,

jeudi 7 février 2019

A long-sighted laser beam

CERN - European Organization for Nuclear Research logo.

7 February, 2019

Image above: Image 1: Example of a transverse cross-section of a beam produced by the structured laser beam. The central axis, which is very dense, is surrounded by several halos of light. The darkness between the halos is absolute, creating a strong contrast. This contrast makes it possible to measure the position of the halos of light with great precision, and thus to validate the measurements using the principle of redundancy. (Image: CERN/IPP).

Sometimes, opportunities fall into our laps when we’re least expecting them. A team of CERN surveyors, in collaboration with the Institute of Plasma Physics in Prague (IPP), has developed a pioneering laser beam while working on a particularly challenging alignment system. “While developing the alignment system for the HIE-ISOLDE accelerator, we discovered that the system generating a structured laser beam had astonishing optical properties”, explain Jean-Christophe Gayde (CERN, EN-SMM-ESA) and Miroslav Šulc (IPP), the system’s inventors. “We didn’t initially plan to develop a generator for this kind of laser beam, but the results of our research were very encouraging.”

Continuing with the “unplanned” project, the two teams developed the “structured laser beam”, which is extremely innovative in that it produces beams that are almost non-diffractive. The central axis of the beams diverges very little, even over a distance of several hundred metres: 200 metres from the system, the central axis of the laser measures only a few millimetres in diameter, hardly more than when it left the generator (see image 2)! The systems available on the market produce such beams over a distance of only a few metres.

Image above: Image 2: Comparison of the central divergence of a non-structured laser beam (left) and a structured laser beam (right), at distances of 0 to 3 metres from the generator. (Image: CERN/IPP).

Its exceptional properties give the structured laser beam potential in many fields, including communication, medicine, physics and, above all, metrology. “At CERN, this laser would be a valuable tool for aligning magnets, thanks to its low central divergence”, says Jean-Christophe Gayde. “And it has one particularly remarkable characteristic: in certain conditions, the beam reconstructs itself after meeting an obstacle. In other words, its halo can reconstruct the central beam after it has passed the obstacle, in a similar way to a Bessel beam.”

The structured laser beam can be produced from source laser beams in a wide range of wavelengths and its geometry can be easily adapted (diameter of the central divergence, number of circles in the halo, etc.). The generator itself can be very compact (the size of a matchbox) and adjustable, while still being fairly inexpensive. “We filed a patent application in May 2018 and since then we’ve been in talks with several potential clients in Europe to establish collaborations”, says Amy Bilton, the knowledge transfer officer (KTO) responsible for the project within CERN’s Knowledge Transfer group. “Studies are ongoing and more tests are needed, but the structured laser beam could considerably improve some applications that use light beams, in particular laser beams.”


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.

Related links:

ISOLDE accelerator:

Plasma Physics in Prague (IPP):

Bessel beam:

The project within CERN’s Knowledge Transfer group:

Large Hadron Collider (LHC):

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

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: CERN/Anaïs Schaeffer.


Cygnus Ready for Friday Departure and CubeSat Deployments

ISS - Expedition 58 Mission patch.

February 7, 2019

Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus space freighter is just a day away from completing its tenth mission to the International Space Station. The Expedition 58 crew is training today for Cygnus’ robotic release on Friday and preparing it for one more mission afterward.

Cygnus is in the grips of the Canadarm2 robotic arm today still attached to the Unity module. Robotics controllers will uninstall Cygnus from Unity early Friday and remotely maneuver the space freighter to its release position.

Image above: The Cygnus space freighter is maneuvered by the Canadarm2 robotic arm shortly after its arrival and capture at the International Space Station on Nov. 19, 2018. Image Credit: NASA.

NASA astronaut Anne McClain will take over the robotics controls as David Saint-Jacques from the Canadian Space Agency backs her up inside the cupola. She will command the Canadarm2 to release Cygnus back into space at 11:10 a.m. EST Friday. NASA TV will begin its live coverage of Cygnus’ release starting at 10:45 a.m.

The two astronauts practiced the release of Cygnus today and finished the installation of the Slingshot small satellite deployer inside the spacecraft. Slingshot will eject a set of CubeSats from Cygnus once the cargo vessel reaches a safe distance from the station about eight hours after its release.

International Space Station (ISS). Animation Credit: NASA

Friday’s Cygnus departure will leave a pair of Russian spacecraft docked to the station including the Progress 71 cargo craft and the Soyuz MS-11 crew ship. Two more spaceships are due to visit in March including a demonstration version of SpaceX’s first crew Dragon and the Soyuz MS-12 spacecraft with three new Expedition 59-60 crew members.

Related links:

Expedition 58:

Canadarm2 robotic arm:

Unity module:


Live coverage of Cygnus’ release:


Progress 71 cargo craft:

Soyuz MS-11 crew ship:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

Best regards,

Kepler’s Final Image Shows A Galaxy Full Of Possibilities

NASA - Kepler Space Telescope patch.

Feb. 7, 2019

NASA’s Kepler space telescope may be retired, but the discoveries continue to rack up for this historic planet-hunting mission. Kepler rang in the new year with several new planet discoveries, including a previously overlooked planet of an unusual size, as well as a super Earth and a Saturn-sized world orbiting a Sun-like star.

In the meantime, the Kepler mission has released its final record of the spacecraft’s full field of view before the depletion of fuel permanently ended its work. NASA retired the spacecraft on Oct. 30, 2018, to a safe orbit.

Animation above: This is Kepler’s view of the TRAPPIST-1 system, an ultra-cool red dwarf star with seven rocky planets, at least three of them believed to be temperate worlds. Animation Credits: NASA/Ames Research Center.

The “last light” image taken on Sept. 25 represents the final page of the final chapter ofKepler’s remarkable journey of data collection. It bookends the moment of intense excitement nine and a half years earlier when the spacecraft first opened its eye to the skies and captured its “first light” image. Kepler went on to discover more than 2,600 worlds beyond our solar system and statistically proved that our galaxy has even more planets than stars.

The blackened gaps in the center and along the top of the image are the result of earlier random part failures in the camera. Due to the modular design, the losses did not impact the rest of the instrument.

Animation above: This Kepler’s view of GJ 9827, a star around which Kepler previously detected three orbiting planets. Because the system is relatively close at 97 light-years away, it is considered an excellent target for studying exoplanet atmospheres. Animation Credits: NASA/Ames Research Center.

For this final field of view, Kepler’s last observation campaign in its extended mission, the telescope was pointed in the direction of the constellation Aquarius. It caught a glimpse of the renowned TRAPPIST-1 system with its seven rocky planets, at least three of them believed to be temperate worlds. Another target was the GJ 9827 system, a nearby bright star that hosts a planet that is considered an excellent opportunity for follow up observations with other telescopes to study an atmosphere of a faraway world.

Fortuitously, Kepler’s field of view also slightly overlapped with NASA’s new planet-hunter, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, or TESS, affording astronomers the chance to compare and improve their understanding of the data received from the two spacecraft. Although Kepler’s transmitters have been turned off and it is no longer collecting science, its data will be mined for many years to come.

Animation above: This is Kepler’s view of K2-138 with its six planets sized between Earth and Neptune. It was the first multi-planet system entirely discovered by citizen scientists. Animation Credits: NASA/Ames Research Center.

Here are videos of some of Kepler’s last targets as these stars brighten and dim. In addition to the static snapshots Kepler routinely took of its full field of view, the telescope’s camera also recorded selected targets at 30-minute increments. These continued for another several hours after the “last light” image before data collection ceased. The target data is obtained to measure the change in brightness of the stars, essential for discovering planets as they transit the faces of their stars and for understanding other aspects of stellar behavior. The motion of the stars in the videos are due to decreasing thruster performance caused by near fuel exhaustion.

Kepler Space Telescope or K2 (retired). Image Credit: NASA

NASA's Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley manages the Kepler and K2 missions for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, managed Kepler mission development. Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corporation operated the flight system with support from the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado in Boulder.

Kepler and K2:

NASA retired the spacecraft:

Related article:

Kepler Space Telescope Bid ‘Goodnight’ With Final Set of Commands

Animations (mentioned), Images, Text, Credits: NASA/Rick Chen/Ames Research Center/Alison Hawkes.

Best regards,

2018 Fourth Warmest Year in Continued Warming Trend, According to NASA, NOAA

NASA logo.

Feb. 7, 2019

Earth's global surface temperatures in 2018 were the fourth warmest since 1880, according to independent analyses by NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Global temperatures in 2018 were 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit (0.83 degrees Celsius) warmer than the 1951 to 1980 mean, according to scientists at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) in New York. Globally, 2018's temperatures rank behind those of 2016, 2017 and 2015. The past five years are, collectively, the warmest years in the modern record.

“2018 is yet again an extremely warm year on top of a long-term global warming trend,” said GISS Director Gavin Schmidt.

Since the 1880s, the average global surface temperature has risen about 2 degrees Fahrenheit (1 degree Celsius). This warming has been driven in large part by increased emissions into the atmosphere of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases caused by human activities, according to Schmidt.

2018 Was the Fourth Hottest Year on Record

Video above: Earth’s long-term warming trend can be seen in this visualization of NASA’s global temperature record, which shows how the planet’s temperatures are changing over time, compared to a baseline average from 1951 to 1980. The record is shown as a running five-year average. Video Credits: NASA’s Scientific Visualization Studio/Kathryn Mersmann.

Weather dynamics often affect regional temperatures, so not every region on Earth experienced similar amounts of warming. NOAA found the 2018 annual mean temperature for the contiguous 48 United States was the 14th warmest on record.

Warming trends are strongest in the Arctic region, where 2018 saw the continued loss of sea ice. In addition, mass loss from the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets continued to contribute to sea level rise. Increasing temperatures can also contribute to longer fire seasons and some extreme weather events, according to Schmidt.

“The impacts of long-term global warming are already being felt — in coastal flooding, heat waves, intense precipitation and ecosystem change,” said Schmidt.

NASA’s temperature analyses incorporate surface temperature measurements from 6,300 weather stations, ship- and buoy-based observations of sea surface temperatures, and temperature measurements from Antarctic research stations.

Animation above: This line plot shows yearly temperature anomalies from 1880 to 2018, with respect to the 1951-1980 mean, as recorded by NASA, NOAA, the Japan Meteorological Agency, the Berkeley Earth research group, and the Met Office Hadley Centre (UK). Though there are minor variations from year to year, all five temperature records show peaks and valleys in sync with each other. All show rapid warming in the past few decades, and all show the past decade has been the warmest. Animation Credits: NASA’s Earth Observatory.

These raw measurements are analyzed using an algorithm that considers the varied spacing of temperature stations around the globe and urban heat island effects that could skew the conclusions. These calculations produce the global average temperature deviations from the baseline period of 1951 to 1980.

Because weather station locations and measurement practices change over time, the interpretation of specific year-to-year global mean temperature differences has some uncertainties. Taking this into account, NASA estimates that 2018’s global mean change is accurate to within 0.1 degree Fahrenheit, with a 95 percent certainty level.

Image above: Earth’s long-term warming trend can be seen in this visualization of NASA’s global temperature record. NASA’s Scientific Visualization Studio/Kathryn Mersmann.

NOAA scientists used much of the same raw temperature data, but with a different baseline period and different interpolation into the Earth’s polar and other data poor regions. NOAA’s analysis found 2018 global temperatures were 1.42 degrees Fahrenheit (0.79 degrees Celsius) above the 20th century average.

NASA’s full 2018 surface temperature data set — and the complete methodology used to make the temperature calculation — are available at:

GISS is a laboratory within the Earth Sciences Division of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. The laboratory is affiliated with Columbia University’s Earth Institute and School of Engineering and Applied Science in New York.

NASA uses the unique vantage point of space to better understand Earth as an interconnected system. The agency also uses airborne and ground-based monitoring, and develops new ways to observe and study Earth with long-term data records and computer analysis tools to better see how our planet is changing. NASA shares this knowledge with the global community and works with institutions in the United States and around the world that contribute to understanding and protecting our home planet.

For more information about NASA’s Earth science missions, visit:

The slides for the Feb. 6 news conference are available at:

NOAA’s Global Report is available at:


Animation (mentioned), Image (mentioned), Video (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Sean Potter/Steve Cole.


Bubbles of Brand New Stars

ESO - European Southern Observatory logo.

7 February 2019

Bubbles of Brand New Stars

This dazzling region of newly-forming stars in the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC) was captured by the Multi Unit Spectroscopic Explorer instrument (MUSE) on ESO’s Very Large Telescope. The relatively small amount of dust in the LMC and MUSE’s acute vision allowed intricate details of the region to be picked out in visible light.

Jumbo Jets

This region of the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC) glows in striking colours in this image captured by the Multi Unit Spectroscopic Explorer (MUSE) instrument on ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT). The region, known as LHA 120-N 180B — N180 B for short — is a type of nebula known as an H II region (pronounced “H two”), and is a fertile source of new stars.

Digitized Sky Survey image around the HII region LHA 120-N 180B

The LMC is a satellite galaxy of the Milky Way, visible mainly from the Southern Hemisphere. At only around 160 000 light-years away from the Earth, it is practically on our doorstep. As well as being close to home, the LMC’s single spiral arm appears nearly face-on, allowing us to inspect regions such as N180 B with ease.

H II regions are interstellar clouds of ionised hydrogen — the bare nuclei of hydrogen atoms. These regions are stellar nurseries — and the newly formed massive stars are responsible for the ionisation of the surrounding gas, which makes for a spectacular sight. N180 B’s distinctive shape is made up of a gargantuan bubble of ionised hydrogen surrounded by four smaller bubbles.

The HII region LHA 120-N 180B in the constellation Mensa

Deep within this glowing cloud, MUSE has spotted a jet emitted by a fledgling star — a massive young stellar object with a mass 12 times greater than our Sun. The jet — named Herbig–Haro 1177, or HH 1177 for short — is shown in detail in this accompanying image. This is the first time such a jet has been observed in visible light outside the Milky Way, as they are usually obscured by their dusty surroundings. However, the relatively dust-free environment of the LMC allows HH 1177 to be observed at visible wavelengths. At nearly 33 light-years in length, it is one of the longest such jets ever observed.

Jet Infographic

HH 1177 tells us about the early lives of stars. The beam is highly collimated; it barely spreads out as it travels. Jets like this are associated with the accretion discs of their star, and can shed light on how fledgling stars gather matter. Astronomers have found that both high- and low-mass stars launch collimated jets like HH 1177 via similar mechanisms — hinting that massive stars can form in the same way as their low-mass counterparts.

Zooming in on the HII Region LHA 120-N 180B

MUSE has recently been vastly improved by the addition of the Adaptive Optics Facility , the Wide Field Mode of which saw first light in 2017. Adaptive optics is the process by which ESO’s telescopes compensate for the blurring effects of the atmosphere — turning twinkling stars into sharp, high-resolution images. Since obtaining these data, the addition of the Narrow Field Mode, has given MUSE vision nearly as sharp as that of the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope — giving it the potential to explore the Universe in greater detail than ever before.

Panning across N180

More information

This research was presented in a paper entitled “An optical parsec-scale jet from a massive young star in the Large Magellanic Cloud” which appeared in the journal Nature.

The research team was composed of A. F. McLeod (who conducted this research while at the University of Canterbury, New Zealand and is now affiliated with the Department of Astronomy, University of California, Berkeley, and the Department of Physics and Astronomy, Texas Tech University, USA), M. Reiter (Department of Astronomy, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, USA), R. Kuiper (Institute of Astronomy and Astrophysics, University of Tübingen, Germany), P. D. Klaassen (UK Astronomy Technology Centre, Royal Observatory Edinburgh, UK) and C. J, Evans (UK Astronomy Technology Centre, Royal Observatory Edinburgh, UK).

ESO is the foremost intergovernmental astronomy organisation in Europe and the world’s most productive ground-based astronomical observatory by far. It has 16 Member States: Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Finland, Germany, Ireland, 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 193 Light: Bubbles of Brand New Stars:

Link to the research paper:

More information on MUSE:

More information on the VLT:

Adaptive Optics Facility:

NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope (HST):

Images, Text, Credits: ESO/Calum Turner/Texas Tech University & University of California Berkeley/A McLeod et al./Digitized Sky Survey 2. Acknowledgment: Davide De Martin/IAU and Sky & Telescope/Videos: ESO/Digitized Sky Survey 2/N. Risinger ( Music: Astral Electronic.