vendredi 15 février 2019

Astronaut night photography set for Earth

ESA - VITA Mission patch.

15 February 2019

When astronauts take photographs of our planet while orbiting 400 km above our heads, they are doing much more than just taking pretty pictures. They are looking after the health of our planet and, ultimately, us too.

VITA mission “Timelapse a Day” edition – From Spain to Russia

Techniques used by astrophotographers looking at the stars and space exploration come together to measure the environmental impact of artificial lights at night.

The only night images of Earth in colour that are freely available to the public are pictures taken by the astronauts from the International Space Station, and a few colour composites made by ESA’s Rosetta satellite. NASA has a public database with over 1.3 million colour photographs taken by astronauts since 2003.

Mapping the night

Now researchers are looking at these nocturnal images in a different light. A team of scientists came up with a method to classify outdoor lighting using colour diagrams and calibration techniques. The resulting spectral information, such as colour temperature, is a useful tool to assess the environmental impact of artificial light.

“We hope to take photography from the Space Station to a new level,” says Alejandro Sánchez de Miguel, a research fellow at the UK’s University of Exeter and lead investigator of the Cities at night project that raises awareness of light pollution.

City lights are disruptive not only for the lives of nocturnal animals, who suffer from disorientation and behavioural and physiological changes, but also for people. An excess of artificial light before bedtime reduces melatonin production, a hormone linked to sleep. This suppression can lead to negative effects on our health, including breast and prostate cancer.

In addition, streetlights account for a large chunk of a country’s energy consumption.  

Alexander Gerst taking picutres

“This is not only about being able to see the stars,” says Alejandro. “All living creatures on our planet, including us humans, suffer from artificial nighttime lighting. And only the humans living off planet Earth can help us.”

Scientists use synthetic photometry to analyse the images, a mathematical technique that can help identify light sources under different light conditions and camera settings. The results give precise information about how colour and brightness of street lamps can suppress melatonin production or obstruct the vision of the stars.

Citizen science

Milan is a perfect case study for this research. This Italian city replaced its orange sodium lamps with white LED lamps. The study proves that the whiter light sources are worse for the local environment.

Milan, before and after

“We provide a basis for creating risk maps of artificial lightning. Governments could use this information to reduce light pollution,” says Alejandro.

The next step is to open the door to citizen science. A future paper will show how to use any camera to capture light at home and analyse whether the light bulb is conducive to optimal sleep patterns.

Related links:

Cities at night project:

Where is the International Space Station?:

Human and Robotic Exploration:

Images, Video, Text, Credits: ESA/NASA/A.Sánchez de Miguel et al. 2019.

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Hubble Captures Smoking Gun of a Newborn Star

NASA - Hubble Space Telescope patch.

Feb. 15, 2019

In this image, the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has captured the smoking gun of a newborn star, the Herbig–Haro objects numbered 7 to 11 (HH 7–11). These five objects, visible in blue in the top center of the image, lie within NGC 1333, a reflection nebula full of gas and dust found about a thousand light-years away from Earth.

Bright patches of nebulosity near newborn stars, Herbig-Haro objects like HH 7–11 are transient phenomena. Traveling away from the star that created them at a speed of up to about 150,000 miles per hour, they disappear into nothingness within a few tens of thousands of years. The young star that is the source of HH 7–11 is called SVS 13, and all five objects are moving away from SVS 13 toward the upper left. The current distance between HH 7 and SVS 13 is about 20,000 times the distance between Earth and the Sun.

Herbig–Haro objects are formed when jets of ionized gas ejected by a young star collide with nearby clouds of gas and dust at high speeds. The Herbig-Haro objects visible in this image are no exception to this and were formed when the jets from the newborn star SVS 13 collided with the surrounding clouds. These collisions created the five brilliant clumps of light within the reflection nebula.

For more information about Hubble, visit:

Image Credits: ESA/Hubble & NASA, K. Stapelfeldt Text Credits: European Space Agency (ESA)/NASA/Karl Hille.


Time Perception Studies, Free-Flying Robotics on Station Schedule

ISS - Expedition 58 Mission patch.

February 15, 2019

The Expedition 58 crew is helping scientists today understand how astronauts perceive time and orient themselves when living in space. The orbital residents are also working on CubeSat and free-flying robotics hardware aboard the International Space Station.

Astronauts Anne McClain and David Saint-Jacques wore virtual reality gear for the Time Perception experiment sponsored by the European Space Agency. The study takes place in the Columbus lab module and is researching the hypothesis that time and depth perception are altered in microgravity.

Image above: The forward end of the International Space Station is pictured showing portions of five modules. Image Credit: NASA.

McClain of NASA started the day inside the Kibo lab module, opened the airlock and removed the CubeSat deployer. She disassembled and stowed the hardware in Kibo’s logistics module after it ejected a series of CubeSats into Earth orbit in January.

Astrobee is a new experimental program that uses three small free-flying assistants and is due to begin operations soon. Saint-Jacques installed the Astrobee docking station in the Unity module where the cube-shaped robotic helpers will be able to attach themselves in the future. The autonomous free-flyers may be able to help astronauts with simple duties and enhance monitoring abilities on the orbital lab.

Image above: Flying over Senegal, seen by EarthCam on ISS, speed: 27'599 Km/h, altitude: 409,65 Km, image captured by Roland Berga (on Earth in Switzerland) from International Space Station (ISS) using ISS-HD Live application with EarthCam's from ISS on February 14, 2019 at 18:55 UTC. Image Credits: Aerospace/Roland Berga.

Commander Oleg Kononenko spent Friday morning exploring how crew activities and the Earth’s magnetic field impact the structure of the space station. The experienced cosmonaut moved into the afternoon replacing dust filters before researching space navigation techniques.

Related links:

Expedition 58:

Time Perception:

Columbus lab module:

Kibo lab module:


Unity module:

Crew activities and the Earth’s magnetic:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

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Where is the Universe Hiding its Missing Mass?

NASA - Chandra X-ray Observatory patch.

Feb. 15, 2019

Astronomers have spent decades looking for something that sounds like it would be hard to miss: about a third of the "normal" matter in the Universe. New results from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory may have helped them locate this elusive expanse of missing matter.

Image above: Image Credits: Illustration: Springel et al. (2005); Spectrum: NASA/CXC/CfA/Kovács et al.

From independent, well-established observations, scientists have confidently calculated how much normal matter — meaning hydrogen, helium and other elements — existed just after the Big Bang. In the time between the first few minutes and the first billion years or so, much of the normal matter made its way into cosmic dust, gas and objects such as stars and planets that telescopes can see in the present-day Universe.

The problem is that when astronomers add up the mass of all the normal matter in the present-day Universe about a third of it can't be found. (This missing matter is distinct from the still-mysterious dark matter.)

One idea is that the missing mass gathered into gigantic strands or filaments of warm (temperature less than 100,000 Kelvin) and hot (temperature greater than 100,000 Kelvin) gas in intergalactic space. These filaments are known by astronomers as the "warm-hot intergalactic medium" or WHIM. They are invisible to optical light telescopes, but some of the warm gas in filaments has been detected in ultraviolet light.

Using a new technique, researchers have found new and strong evidence for the hot component of the WHIM based on data from Chandra and other telescopes.

"If we find this missing mass, we can solve one of the biggest conundrums in astrophysics," said Orsolya Kovacs of the Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian (CfA) in Cambridge, Massachusetts. "Where did the universe stash so much of its matter that makes up stuff like stars and planets and us?"

Astronomers used Chandra to look for and study filaments of warm gas lying along the path to a quasar, a bright source of X-rays powered by a rapidly growing supermassive black hole. This quasar is located about 3.5 billion light years from Earth. If the WHIM's hot gas component is associated with these filaments, some of the X-rays from the quasar would be absorbed by that hot gas. Therefore, they looked for a signature of hot gas imprinted in the quasar's X-ray light detected by Chandra.

One of the challenges of this method is that the signal of absorption by the WHIM is weak compared to the total amount of X-rays coming from the quasar. When searching the entire spectrum of X-rays at different wavelengths, it is difficult to distinguish such weak absorption features — actual signals of the WHIM — from random fluctuations.

Kovacs and her team overcame this problem by focusing their search only on certain parts of the X-ray light spectrum, reducing the likelihood of false positives. They did this by first identifying galaxies near the line of sight to the quasar that are located at the same distance from Earth as regions of warm gas detected from ultraviolet data. With this technique they identified 17 possible filaments between the quasar and us, and obtained their distances.

Because of the expansion of the universe, which stretches out light as it travels, any absorption of X-rays by matter in these filaments will be shifted to redder wavelengths. The amounts of the shifts depend on the known distances to the filament, so the team knew where to search in the spectrum for absorption from the WHIM.

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

"Our technique is similar in principle to how you might conduct an efficient search for animals in the vast plains of Africa," said Akos Bogdan, a co-author also from CfA. "We know that animals need to drink, so it makes sense to search around watering holes first."

While narrowing their search helped, the researchers also had to overcome the problem of the faintness of the X-ray absorption. So, they boosted the signal by adding spectra together from 17 filaments, turning a 5.5-day-long observation into the equivalent of almost 100 days' worth of data. With this technique they detected oxygen with characteristics suggesting it was in a gas with a temperature of about one million degrees Kelvin.

By extrapolating from these observations of oxygen to the full set of elements, and from the observed region to the local universe, the researchers report they can account for the complete amount of missing matter. At least in this particular case, the missing matter had been hiding in the WHIM after all.

"We were thrilled that we were able to track down some of this missing matter" said co-author Randall Smith, also of CfA. "In the future we can apply this same method to other quasar data to confirm that this long-standing mystery has at last been cracked."

A paper describing these results was published in The Astrophysical Journal on February 13, 2019, and is available online:

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

Other materials about the findings are available at:

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

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

Image (mentioned), Animation (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Lee Mohon/MSFC/Molly Porter/CXC/Megan Watzke.


Project Pextex: materials for lunar spacesuits

ESA - European Space Agency logo.

15 February 2019

On 17 January 2019 ESA signed a study contract with Comex and its partners DITF and OeWF. Pextex is a two-year project to identify materials and textiles that could be used for future lunar mission space suits.

 Moon dust on Apollo astronaut Eugene Cernan

The project aims to develop solutions that could be based on existing space suit materials, but also identify novel types of textiles with self-healing functions or repulsing lunar dust and smart textiles for example.

The identification and test of such materials could serve the development of future European space suits for spacewalks on the Moon and is in line with ESA’s exploration strategy to return to the Moon in the coming decades, including proposed missions such as Heracles.

Future missions will aim to establish a permanent presence on the Moon and new space suits need to be made that can be used for longer and more frequently than in previous mission to the Moon.

Destination: Moon

A new era of human space exploration is about to begin: 50 years after the first landing of astronauts on the Moon, ESA and its international partners are working on a return of humans to the Moon with the development of the next space station Gateway in a lunar orbit. This station will serve as base camp for robotic and human missions to the surface.

The materials that will be identified in the frame of the Pextex project will be tested in test facilities with the partner organizations in France, Germany and Austria.

The project starts with a workshop in May for partners to discuss potential materials.

Future Moon base

Harsh requirements for lunar spacesuits

The screened materials for a lunar suit need to meet at least the following preliminary requirements:

- Withstand lunar temperature range (+120 °C in sunlight, –170 °C in darkness) and lunar vacuum  for at least 2500 hours.

- Provide thermal insulation (targeted maximum temperature inside the suit is 25° C inside with a minimum temperature of 17°C).

- Resist lunar radiation (annual exposure of around 380 mSv at solar minimum and 110 mSv at solar maximum).

- Resistance to wear by abrasive lunar soil; should last for at least 2500 hours of use.

- Compatible with vacuum and pressure cycles (maximum pressure up to 420 hPa over 312 pressurisation cycles).

- Electrical discharge and electromagnetic protection (targeted for at least 8 hours).

- Material must be non-toxic and non-flammable (targeted compliance with standards ECSS-Q-ST-70-29C and ECSS-Q-ST-70-21C).

- Impermeable to water and fluids.

- Must be able to bend 180°.

Contact the project coordinator at Comex if you are interested in proposing materials that could be of interest for this study.

Related links:





European vision for space exploration:

Exploration of the Moon:

Lunar exploration interactive guide:

Images, Video, Text, Credits: ESA/NASA/RegoLight, visualisation: Liquifer Systems Group, 2018.

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jeudi 14 février 2019

Airbus announces the end of production of the A380

Airbus logo.

February 14, 2019

Lacking sufficient orders, Airbus will stop producing its flagship aircraft, the A380, whose deliveries will cease in 2021.

Airbus A380-800

Airbus announced Thursday the end of production of the A380, its flagship whose deliveries will cease in 2021, after the company Emirates decided to reduce orders for 39 A380s.

"The consequence of this decision is that our backlog is no longer sufficient to allow us to maintain production of the A380," said Executive Chairman Tom Enders in a statement. "This will put an end to A380 deliveries in 2021".

Emirates replaces this order with another for 40 A330neo and 30 A350. Airbus does not communicate the amount of this order. But in a separate statement, Emirates said the value of this order is $ 21.4 billion at list price. It states that it will receive an additional 14 A380s between 2019 and 2020, bringing its total orders for the aircraft to 123, up from 178 previously ordered, taking all options into account, making it first customer company of the "Super Jumbo", of which more than a hundred has already been delivered.

The aircraft manufacturer says it will "engage in discussions with its social partners in the coming weeks regarding the 3,000 to 3,500 positions likely to be affected by this decision in the next three years".

Decision expected

But according to the manufacturer, "the current ramp-up (production) of the A320 and the new Emirates large-capacity order will offer many opportunities for internal mobility."

This decision was expected: the fate of the A380 was linked to last year's decision by the Gulf Company to acquire 36 additional A380s, giving Airbus "visibility for at least the next ten years", Tom Enders had assured at the time.

But Airbus did not hide that in the absence of this command, the program was doomed to stop. "Frankly, if we do not reach an agreement with Emirates, there will be no choice but to stop the program," said former Airbus sales director John Leahy.

In total, the A380 has been ordered 321 copies, and 232 are in use now, according to the Airbus website.

The decision to stop production of the A380 affected Airbus' financial results for 2018, which were also published on Thursday, with a negative impact of 463 million euros on operating profit.

Last year, Airbus nonetheless saw its net profit increase by 29% to 3 billion euros, and its consolidated sales in 2018 rose 8% to 63.7 billion euros. It plans to deliver between 880 and 890 commercial aircraft in 2019, compared to 800 in 2018.

"Even though 2018 was a challenging year, we met our commitments with record profitability thanks to excellent operational performance, especially in the fourth quarter," said Tom Enders, Executive Chairman.

Airbus A400M

Airbus will also spend a new provision of 436 million euros on the A400M military transport aircraft program. It had spent a charge of 1.3 billion euros in 2017 and 2.2 billion in 2016 on this program.

Despite this, "Airbus is on a solid growth trajectory," said Tom Enders, who will hand over to Guillaume Faury, who heads Airbus' commercial aviation business, in April on the occasion of the group's general meeting.

Related articles:

Cracks in the wing: all the Airbus A380 will be examined

10 years in the skies: the A380’s numbers add up


Images, Text, Credits: AFP/Airbus/Armée de l'Air (France)/ Aerospace/Roland Berga.


Hubble Reveals Dynamic Atmospheres of Uranus, Neptune

NASA - Hubble Space Telescope patch.

February 14, 2019

During its routine yearly monitoring of the weather on our solar system's outer planets, NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has uncovered a new mysterious dark storm on Neptune (right) and provided a fresh look at a long-lived storm circling around the north polar region on Uranus (left).

Image above: Credits: NASA, ESA, A. Simon (NASA Goddard Space Flight Center), and M.H. Wong and A. Hsu (University of California, Berkeley).

Like Earth, Uranus and Neptune have seasons, which likely drive some of the features in their atmospheres. But their seasons are much longer than on Earth, spanning decades rather than months.

The new Hubble view of Neptune shows the dark storm, seen at top center. Appearing during the planet's southern summer, the feature is the fourth and latest mysterious dark vortex captured by Hubble since 1993. Two other dark storms were discovered by the Voyager 2 spacecraft in 1989 as it flew by the remote planet. Since then, only Hubble has had the sensitivity in blue light to track these elusive features, which have appeared and faded quickly. A study led by University of California, Berkeley, undergraduate student Andrew Hsu estimated that the dark spots appear every four to six years at different latitudes and disappear after about two years.

Hubble uncovered the latest storm in September 2018 in Neptune's northern hemisphere. The feature is roughly 6,800 miles across.

Image above: This Hubble Space Telescope Wide Field Camera 3 image of Neptune, taken in September and November 2018, shows a new dark storm (top center). Image Credits: NASA, ESA, A. Simon (NASA Goddard Space Flight Center), and M.H. Wong and A. Hsu (University of California, Berkeley).

To the right of the dark feature are bright white "companion clouds." Hubble has observed similar clouds accompanying previous vortices. The bright clouds form when the flow of ambient air is perturbed and diverted upward over the dark vortex, causing gases to freeze into methane ice crystals. These clouds are similar to clouds that appear as pancake-shaped features when air is pushed over mountains on Earth (though Neptune has no solid surface). The long, thin cloud to the left of the dark spot is a transient feature that is not part of the storm system.

It's unclear how these storms form. But like Jupiter's Great Red Spot, the dark vortices swirl in an anti-cyclonic direction and seem to dredge up material from deeper levels in the ice giant's atmosphere.

The Hubble observations show that as early as 2016, increased cloud activity in the region preceded the vortex's appearance. The images indicate that the vortices probably develop deeper in Neptune's atmosphere, becoming visible only when the top of the storm reaches higher altitudes.

The snapshot of Uranus, like the image of Neptune, reveals a dominant feature: a vast bright stormy cloud cap across the north pole.

Scientists believe this new feature is a result of Uranus' unique rotation. Unlike every other planet in the solar system, Uranus is tipped over almost onto its side. Because of this extreme tilt, during the planet's summer the Sun shines almost directly onto the north pole and never sets. Uranus is now approaching the middle of its summer season, and the polar-cap region is becoming more prominent. This polar hood may have formed by seasonal changes in atmospheric flow.

Image above: This Hubble Space Telescope Wide Field Camera 3 image of Uranus, taken in November 2018, reveals a vast, bright stormy cloud cap across the planet's north pole. Image Credits: NASA, ESA, A. Simon (NASA Goddard Space Flight Center), and M.H. Wong and A. Hsu (University of California, Berkeley).

Near the edge of the polar storm is a large, compact methane-ice cloud, which is sometimes bright enough to be photographed by amateur astronomers. A narrow cloud band encircles the planet north of the equator. It is a mystery how bands like these are confined to such narrow widths, because Uranus and Neptune have very broad westward-blowing wind jets.

Both planets are classified as ice giant planets. They have no solid surface but rather mantles of hydrogen and helium surrounding a water-rich interior, itself perhaps wrapped around a rocky core. Atmospheric methane absorbs red light but allows blue-green light to be scattered back into space, giving each planet a cyan hue.

The new Neptune and Uranus images are from the Outer Planet Atmospheres Legacy (OPAL) program, a long-term Hubble project, led by Amy Simon of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, that annually captures global maps of our solar system's outer planets when they are closest to Earth in their orbits. OPAL's key goals are to study long-term seasonal changes, as well as capture comparatively transitory events, such as the appearance of Neptune's dark spot. These dark storms may be so fleeting that in the past some of them may have appeared and faded during multi-year gaps in Hubble's observations of Neptune. The OPAL program ensures that astronomers won't miss another one.

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

These images are part of a scrapbook of Hubble snapshots of Neptune and Uranus that track the weather patterns over time on these distant, cold planets. Just as meteorologists cannot predict the weather on Earth by studying a few snapshots, astronomers cannot track atmospheric trends on solar system planets without regularly repeated observations. Astronomers hope that Hubble's long-term monitoring of the outer planets will help them unravel the mysteries that still persist about these faraway worlds.

Analyzing the weather on these worlds also will help scientists better understand the diversity and similarities of the atmospheres of solar-system planets, including Earth.

Hubble Space Telescope (HST):

Images (mentioned), Animation (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Rob Garner/GSFC/Claire Saravia/Space Telescope Science Institute/Ray Villard.

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Research into How Space Impacts Humans and Physics Continues

ISS - Expedition 58 Mission patch.

February 14, 2019

The three residents onboard the International Space Station today worked with a diverse array of science hardware. The trio continues to explore what living in space is doing to their bodies and helped scientists promote healthier humans in space and on Earth.

Astronauts have reported increased head and eye pressure during long-duration space missions. The Expedition 58 crew is researching that phenomenon today to help doctors reverse the upward fluid shifts that affect space residents.

Image above: NASA astronaut Anne McClain works inside the Kibo laboratory module designed and built by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. Image Credits: NASA.

One solution being studied is a special suit that draws fluids such as blood and water toward the lower body to prevent swelling in the face and elevated head and eye pressure. Astronaut Anne McClain tried that suit on today and Flight Engineer David Saint-Jacques used an ultrasound device to scan the activity. Commander Oleg Kononenko assisted the duo inside Russia’s Zvezda service module.

Afterward, McClain glided to the opposite end of the station in Japan’s Kibo lab module to work on the Two-Phase Flow fluid physics experiment. She set up and installed the research hardware inside Kibo’s Multi-purpose Small Research Rack. The experiment may enable engineers to design advanced thermal management systems for use on Earth and in space.

Image above: Flying over St. Pierre-et-Miquelon (Canada), seen by EarthCam on ISS, speed: 27'615 Km/h, altitude: 411,81 Km, image captured by Roland Berga (on Earth in Switzerland) from International Space Station (ISS) using ISS-HD Live application with EarthCam's from ISS on February 14, 2019 at 17:58 UTC. Image Credits: Aerospace/Roland Berga.

Saint-Jacques returned to biomedical studies today collecting and stowing more breath, blood and urine samples for later analysis. The ongoing research is helping scientists understand the long-term space impacts to bone marrow, red blood cells and the overall human physiology.

Saint-Jacques finally reviewed instructions to install a docking station on Friday for new cube-shaped, free-flying robots that will arrive at the station later this year. The Astrobee autonomous assistants may free up more science time for astronauts and allow mission controllers better monitoring capabilities.

Related links:

Expedition 58:

Fluid shifts:

Special suit:

Zvezda service module:

Kibo lab module:

Multi-purpose Small Research Rack:

Two-Phase Flow:

Multi-purpose Small Research Rack:

Bone marrow:

Red blood cells:

Human physiology:


Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

NASA/Mark Garcia/ Aerospace/Roland Berga.

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NASA's InSight Prepares to Take Mars' Temperature

NASA - InSight Mission patch.

Feb. 14, 2019

Image above: NASA's InSight lander set its heat probe, called the Heat and Physical Properties Package (HP3), on the Martian surface on Feb. 12. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/DLR.

NASA's InSight lander has placed its second instrument on the Martian surface. New images confirm that the Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package, or HP3, was successfully deployed on Feb. 12 about 3 feet (1 meter) from InSight's seismometer, which the lander recently covered with a protective shield. HP3 measures heat moving through Mars' subsurface and can help scientists figure out how much energy it takes to build a rocky world.

Equipped with a self-hammering spike, mole, the instrument will burrow up to 16 feet (5 meters) below the surface, deeper than any previous mission to the Red Planet. For comparison, NASA's Viking 1 lander scooped 8.6 inches (22 centimeters) down. The agency's Phoenix lander, a cousin of InSight, scooped 7 inches (18 centimeters) down.

"We're looking forward to breaking some records on Mars," said HP3 Principal Investigator Tilman Spohn of the German Aerospace Center (DLR), which provided the heat probe for the InSight mission. "Within a few days, we'll finally break ground using a part of our instrument we call the mole."

HP3 looks a bit like an automobile jack but with a vertical metal tube up front to hold the 16-inch-long (40-centimeter-long) mole. A tether connects HP3's support structure to the lander, while a tether attached to the top of the mole features heat sensors to measure the temperature of the Martian subsurface. Meanwhile, heat sensors in the mole itself will measure the soil's thermal conductivity — how easily heat moves through the subsurface.

Image above: nSight's heat probe, called the Heat and Physical Properties Package (HP3). Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/DLR.

"Our probe is designed to measure heat coming from the inside of Mars," said InSight Deputy Principal Investigator Sue Smrekar of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. "That's why we want to get it belowground. Temperature changes on the surface, both from the seasons and the day-night cycle, could add 'noise' to our data."

The mole will stop every 19 inches (50 centimeters) to take a thermal conductivity measurement of the soil. Because hammering creates friction and releases heat, the mole is first allowed to cool down for a good two days. Then it will be heated up by about 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10 degrees Celsius) over 24 hours. Temperature sensors within the mole measure how rapidly this happens, which tells scientists the conductivity of the soil.

If the mole encounters a large rock before reaching at least 10 feet (3 meters) down, the team will need a full Martian year (two Earth years) to filter noise out of their data. This is one reason the team carefully selected a landing site with few rocks and why it spent weeks choosing where to place the instrument.

Image above: An artist's concept of InSight's heat probe, called the Heat and Physical Properties Package (HP3), annotates various parts inside of the instrument. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/DLR.

"We picked the ideal landing site, with almost no rocks at the surface," said JPL's Troy Hudson, a scientist and engineer who helped design HP3. "That gives us reason to believe there aren't many large rocks in the subsurface. But we have to wait and see what we'll encounter underground."

However deep it gets, there's no debating that the mole is a feat of engineering.

"That thing weighs less than a pair of shoes, uses less power than a Wi-Fi router and has to dig at least 10 feet [3 meters] on another planet," Hudson said. "It took so much work to get a version that could make tens of thousands of hammer strokes without tearing itself apart; some early versions failed before making it to 16 feet [5 meters], but the version we sent to Mars has proven its robustness time and again."

About InSight

JPL manages InSight for NASA's Science Mission Directorate. InSight is part of NASA's Discovery Program, managed by the agency's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. Lockheed Martin Space in Denver built the InSight spacecraft, including its cruise stage and lander, and supports spacecraft operations for the mission.

A number of European partners, including France's Centre National d'Études Spatiales (CNES) and the German Aerospace Center (DLR), are supporting the InSight mission. CNES and the Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris (IPGP) provided the Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS) instrument, with significant contributions from the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research (MPS) in Germany; the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH Zurich) in Zurich, Switzerland; Imperial College London and Oxford University in the United Kingdom; and JPL. DLR provided the Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package instrument, with significant contributions from the Space Research Center (CBK) of the Polish Academy of Sciences and Astronika in Poland. Spain’s Centro de Astrobiología (CAB) supplied the wind sensors.

For more information about InSight, visit:

Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS):

Heat Flow and Physical Properties Probe (HP3):

InSight Mars Lander:

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Tony Greicius/JPL/Andrew Good.


mercredi 13 février 2019

NASA Selects New Mission to Explore Origins of Universe

NASA logo.

Feb. 13, 2019

NASA has selected a new space mission that will help astronomers understand both how our universe evolved and how common are the ingredients for life in our galaxy’s planetary systems.

Image above: NASA's Spectro-Photometer for the History of the Universe, Epoch of Reionization and Ices Explorer (SPHEREx) mission is targeted to launch in 2023. SPHEREx will help astronomers understand both how our universe evolved and how common are the ingredients for life in our galaxy’s planetary systems. Image Credits: Caltech.

The Spectro-Photometer for the History of the Universe, Epoch of Reionization and Ices Explorer (SPHEREx) mission is a planned two-year mission funded at $242 million (not including launch costs) and targeted to launch in 2023.

“I’m really excited about this new mission,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “Not only does it expand the United States’ powerful fleet of space-based missions dedicated to uncovering the mysteries of the universe, it is a critical part of a balanced science program that includes missions of various sizes.”

SPHEREx will survey the sky in optical as well as near-infrared light which, though not visible to the human eye, serves as a powerful tool for answering cosmic questions. Astronomers will use the mission to gather data on more than 300 million galaxies, as well as more than 100 million stars in our own Milky Way.

"This amazing mission will be a treasure trove of unique data for astronomers,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. “It will deliver an unprecedented galactic map containing ‘fingerprints’ from the first moments in the universe’s history. And we’ll have new clues to one of the greatest mysteries in science: What made the universe expand so quickly less than a nanosecond after the big bang?”

SPHEREx will survey hundreds of millions of galaxies near and far, some so distant their light has taken 10 billion years to reach Earth. In the Milky Way, the mission will search for water and organic molecules – essentials for life, as we know it – in stellar nurseries, regions where stars are born from gas and dust, as well as disks around stars where new planets could be forming.

Every six months, SPHEREx will survey the entire sky using technologies adapted from Earth satellites and Mars spacecraft. The mission will create a map of the entire sky in 96 different color bands, far exceeding the color resolution of previous all-sky maps. It also will identify targets for more detailed study by future missions, such as NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope and Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope.

NASA's Astrophysics Explorers Program requested proposals for new missions in September 2016. Nine proposals were submitted, and two mission concepts were selected for further study in August 2017. After a detailed review by a panel of NASA and external scientists and engineers, NASA determined that the SPHEREx concept study offered the best science potential and most feasible development plan.

The mission’s principal investigator is James Bock of the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in Pasadena, California. Caltech will work with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) to develop the mission payload. JPL will also manage the mission.

Ball Aerospace in Broomfield, Colorado, will provide the SPHEREx spacecraft and mission integration. The Korea Astronomy & Space Science Institute in Daejeon, Republic of Korea, will contribute test equipment and science analysis.

NASA's Explorer program, managed by the agency’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, is the agency's oldest continuous program, designed to provide frequent, low-cost access to space using principal investigator-led space science investigations relevant to the Astrophysics and Heliophysics programs in NASA’s Science Mission Directorate.

The program has launched more than 90 missions, beginning in 1958 with Explorer 1, which discovered the Earth’s radiation belts. Another Explorer mission, the Cosmic Background Explorer, which launched in 1989, led to a Nobel Prize.

More information about the Explorer program is available online at:

Image (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Steve Cole/Karen Northon.


18 in 2018: Space Station Science Scrapbook

ISS - International Space Station logo.

Feb. 13, 2019

During 2018, crew members of Expeditions 54-58 supported more than 100 new U.S. science investigations aboard the International Space Station. Research sponsored by the U.S. National Laboratory in this unique orbiting laboratory advances future missions to the Moon and Mars and improves life on Earth. In February, astronauts set a new record-setting week of research that surpassed 100 hours.

Here's a look back at just some of the science highlights from this year.


Targeted cancer therapies explored

NASA astronaut Serena Auñón-Chancellor conducted research operations for the AngieX Cancer Therapy study inside the Microgravity Science Glovebox (MSG). This research examines whether endothelial cells cultured in microgravity can serve as a valid model to test a safer, more effective treatment that targets tumor cells and blood vessels.


The ups and downs of spaceflight

Alexander Gerst of the European Space Agency (ESA) strapped in for the GRASP investigation. It uses virtual reality to examine how the central nervous system integrates information from the brain and body to coordinate hand movements within the visual environment. The absence of traditional “up” and “down” in microgravity requires the brain to adapt during spaceflight, and researchers want to better understand whether and how gravity acts as a reference when a person reaches out to grasp an object. This investigation also may shed light on the physiology of eye-hand coordination and more effective treatments for loss of vestibular function or balance on Earth.


Station cameras capture storm below

Cameras on the outside of the space station captured the impressive breadth of Hurricane Florence on Sept. 12 as it churned across the Atlantic, heading west-northwest and packing winds of 130 miles an hour. Florence made landfall near Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina at 7:15 a.m. EDT September 14, as a Category 1 storm. The space station offers a unique vantage for observing Earth using both hands-on and automated equipment.


Microbes identified on space station

After swabbing designated surfaces of the space station to collect microbe samples, NASA astronaut Ricky Arnold used the Miniature Polymerase Chain Reaction (miniPCR) to extract RNA from the samples, and sequenced the RNA with the Biomolecule Sequencer for the BEST investigation. In addition to demonstrating for the first time that it is possible to sequence RNA isolated directly from an organism in space, BEST tested the use of sequencing to identify microbial organisms on the space station. The investigation also helps scientists better understand how humans, plants and microbes adapt to life in space.


Space gardeners work to enable self-sufficiency on future flights

The space station’s Veggie Facility, tended here by NASA astronaut Scott Tingle, had growth in two of its units for the first time during the VEG-03 plant growth investigation. Veg-03 cultivated Extra Dwarf Pak Choi, Red Russian Kale, Wasabi mustard, and Red Lettuce and harvested on-orbit samples for testing back on Earth. On future long-duration space missions, crew members need to grow their own food, and understanding how plants respond to microgravity is an important step toward that goal.


Free-flying robots test automated strategies

JAXA astronaut Norishige Kanai conducted a test run of the SPHERES Tether Slosh experiment in the Kibo Japanese Experiment Pressurized Module (JEM). In space, liquid in spacecraft can slosh around in unpredictable ways and complicate space maneuvers. This investigation used fluid dynamics equipment and robotic capabilities aboard the space station to test automated strategies for steering spacecraft containing passive fluid cargo.


Satellite uses camera to track orbital debris

The NanoRacks Remove Debris Satellite, the largest satellite deployed from the Japanese Experiment Module Airlock (JEMAL), floats free from the space station. Collisions with space debris or “space junk” can have serious consequences. Research has shown that removing the largest debris significantly reduces the chance of such collisions. Remove Debris tested technologies to use a 3D camera to map the location and speed of debris and a net to capture and de-orbit simulated debris.


Investigation studies the gut in space

For the Rodent Research-7 (RR-7) experiment, NASA astronaut Drew Feustel took measurements from mice inside the MSG using the Mass Measurement Device, which can quickly measure the mass of objects in the range of 1 to 100 grams in microgravity. RR-7 examines how the space environment affects the community of microorganisms in the gastrointestinal tract of mice, known as the gut microbiota. It also looks at microgravity’s effects on physiological systems known to be affected by the microbiota, including the gastrointestinal, immune, metabolic, circadian, and sleep systems.


Hot science tests may improve fuels for use in space and on Earth

Arnold prepped the Combustion Integrated Rack (CIR), which supports ongoing microgravity combustion research operations, including Cool Flames, FLEX, FLEX-2 and FLEX-2J. Understanding how fuels burn in microgravity supports development of more efficient fuel for interplanetary missions, reducing cost and weight and improving safety. This knowledge also could lead to improved fuels for vehicles and aircraft on Earth, including efficient, environmentally friendly mixtures of chemicals that burn well and produce less soot.


NICER studies pulsars as future navigation tool

This image, taken by the ground-controlled External High Definition Camera 1 (EHDC1), shows the Neutron Star Interior Composition ExploreR (NICER) payload attached outside the space station. Neutron stars, remnants of supernovas, are the densest objects in the universe and contain exotic states of matter impossible to replicate in any lab. They are known as pulsars because they appear to pulse like lighthouse beacons. NICER studies the extraordinary physics of these stars, providing new insights into their nature and behavior and paving the way for future spacecraft navigation anywhere in the solar system using pulsars as natural beacons.


Crew member sleeping habits tested

The sensor taped to Kanai’s forehead collects data for the Circadian Rhythms investigation, which looks at how an individual’s synchronized daily rhythms, or “biological clock,” changes during the non-24-hour cycle of light and dark that crew members experience in space. The investigation also addresses how other conditions experienced in spaceflight affect the biological clock in an effort to improve crew performance and health on future exploration missions.


Investigation studies effects of reduced mobility

Auñón-Chancellor prepared air sample collection hardware for the MARROW experiment. This research looks at the effect of microgravity on bone marrow. The potential negative effect of microgravity on bone marrow and the blood cells that are produced in it has implications for future space travel. On Earth, these effects are similar to those found in people who spend prolonged time in bed, have reduced mobility, or who are aging. A better understanding of the relationship between fat cells and blood-producing cells in the bone marrow also could help improve the health of people on Earth.


Kibo laboratory enables science crossing multiple disciplines

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) Kibo laboratory module photographed as the space station orbited over the southern Pacific Ocean east of New Zealand. Visible are its pressurized module and exposed facility, logistics module, remote manipulator system, and inter-orbit communication system unit. Among the multiple investigations these facilities support is Monitor of All-sky X-ray Image (MAXI), which conducted a systemic survey of the entire sky for galactic transient phenomena. Its discoveries include new black hole candidates, more than 20 binary X-ray pulsar outbursts, X-ray flares from 12 stars, and the first observation of the instant that a massive black hole swallowed a star. Since its activation, half of all new black hole candidates have been discovered by MAXI. The investigation released a catalog for high Galactic-latitude sky sources and revealed the existence of a hypernova remnant estimated to be 3 million years old, perhaps the first in our galaxy.


Self-assembling particles tested in fluid medium

Gerst conducted operations for the ACE-T-7 experiment. ACE-T-7 involves the design and assembly of complex three-dimensional structures, known as self-assembled colloidal structures, from small particles suspended within a fluid medium. Microgravity provides insight into the relationship between particle shape and interactions with other particles on this assembly. These fundamental condensed matter concepts are vital to the design of advanced optical materials and active devices.


New methods for growing plants in space

Arabidopsis plants grow in the Plant Habitat-01 experiment growth chamber behind Russian cosmonaut and flight engineer Sergey Prokopev. PH-01 compares differences in genetics, metabolism, photosynthesis, and gravity sensing between plants grown in space and on Earth, and could provide key insights on major changes that occur in plants exposed to microgravity. Understanding how plants respond will help crews on future missions grow plants for food and to generate oxygen.


Improved solidification techniques for life on other planets

Scientists have conducted a number of studies of the potential to make and use concrete on extraterrestrial bodies, such as Mars or the Moon, but understanding how cement solidifies in microgravity is essential to such use. Auñón-Chancellor and fellow NASA astronaut Anne McClain inserted samples into a centrifuge for the MVP-05 investigation, which examines the microstructure of concrete solidified on the space station. This information could also improve processing for the use of concrete on Earth.


Students, teachers and families connect to space station using ham radio

An important part of the space station’s mission is engaging with and inspiring students through educational activities. NASA astronaut Joe Acaba conducted a ham radio session, one of hundreds that have been held as part of the ARISS project. Students selected for the program learn about the space station, radio waves, and other topics and then schedule a ham radio call to ask questions directly to a crew member orbiting 250 miles above them. Hundreds of other students, teachers and families listen in from classrooms or auditoriums.


California wildfires captured by station cameras

An image taken from the space station in August shows wildfires to the north of the San Francisco Bay Area in northern California’s Mendocino National Forest. Images from Crew Earth Observations have contributed to scientific research on urban vegetation, coral reefs, algal blooms, night-time remote sensing, impervious surfaces detection, and breaking Antarctic ice shelves. Scientists have also used them to inventory river sediments and capture sprites, or Transient Luminous Events (TLEs), triggered by large lightning storms. Anyone can use these publicly available images for educational, entertainment, or scientific purposes.

Related links:

U.S. National Laboratory:


Microgravity Science Glovebox (MSG):


Observing Earth:

Biomolecule Sequencer:



SPHERES Tether Slos:

Remove Debris:

Rodent Research-7 (RR-7):

Combustion Integrated Rack (CIR):

Cool Flames:




Neutron Star Interior Composition ExploreR (NICER):

Circadian Rhythms:




Self-assembled colloidal structures:

Plant Habitat-01:



Crew Earth Observations:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

Images, Text, Credits: NASA/Michael Johnson/JSC/International Space Station Program Science Office/Melissa Gaskill.

Best regards,