vendredi 22 février 2019

Dramatic Jupiter

NASA - JUNO Mission logo.

Feb. 22, 2019

Dramatic atmospheric features in Jupiter’s northern hemisphere are captured in this view from NASA’s Juno spacecraft. The new perspective shows swirling clouds that surround a circular feature within a jet stream region called "Jet N6."

This color-enhanced image was taken at 9:20 a.m. PST on Feb. 12, 2019 (12:20 p.m. EST), as the spacecraft performed its 18th close flyby of the gas giant planet. At the time, Juno was about 8,000 miles (13,000 kilometers) from the planet's cloud tops, above a latitude of approximately 55 degrees north.

Citizen scientist Kevin M. Gill created this image using data from the spacecraft’s JunoCam imager. The image has been rotated approximately 100 degrees to the right.

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

Juno spacecraft orbiting Jupiter

More information about Juno is at and

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


Hubble Peers into the Vast Distance

NASA - Hubble Space Telescope patch.

Feb. 22, 2019

This picture showcases a gravitational lensing system called SDSS J0928+2031. Astronomers are using NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope observations of this type of lensing to research how stars form and evolve in distant galaxies.

Gravitational lensing can help astronomers study objects that would otherwise be too faint or appear too small for us to view. When a large object — such as a massive cluster of galaxies, as seen here — distorts space with its immense gravitational field, it causes light from more distant galaxies to travel along altered and warped paths. It also amplifies the light, making it possible for us to observe and study its source.

We see two dominant elliptical galaxies near the center of the image. The gravity from the galaxy cluster where these galaxies reside is acting as the aforementioned gravitational lens, allowing us to view the more distant galaxies sitting behind them. We see the effects of this lensing as narrow, curved streaks of light surrounding both of the large galaxies.

Hubble Space Telescope (HST)

This image was observed by Hubble as part of the Sloan Giant Arcs Survey program.

For more information about Hubble, visit:

Image, Animation, Credits: ESA/Hubble & NASA, M. Gladders et al; Acknowledgment: Judy Schmidt
Text Credits: European Space Agency (ESA)/NASA/Karl Hille.

Best regards,

New Horizons Spacecraft Returns Its Sharpest Views of Ultima Thule

NASA - New Horizons Mission patch.

Feb. 22, 2019

The mission team called it a "stretch goal" – just before closest approach, precisely pointing the cameras on NASA's New Horizons spacecraft to snap the sharpest possible pictures of the Kuiper Belt object nicknamed Ultima Thule, its New Year's flyby target and the farthest object ever explored.

Now that New Horizons has sent those stored flyby images back to Earth, the team can enthusiastically confirm that its ambitious goal was met.

Image above: The most detailed images of Ultima Thule -- obtained just minutes before the spacecraft's closest approach at 12:33 a.m. EST on Jan. 1 -- have a resolution of about 110 feet (33 meters) per pixel. Their combination of higher spatial resolution and a favorable viewing geometry offer an unprecedented opportunity to investigate the surface of Ultima Thule, believed to be the most primitive object ever encountered by a spacecraft. This processed, composite picture combines nine individual images taken with the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI), each with an exposure time of 0.025 seconds, just 6 ½ minutes before the spacecraft’s closest approach to Ultima Thule (officially named 2014 MU69). The image was taken at 5:26 UT (12:26 a.m. EST) on Jan. 1, 2019, when the spacecraft was 4,109 miles (6,628 kilometers) from Ultima Thule and 4.1 billion miles (6.6 billion kilometers) from Earth. The angle between the spacecraft, Ultima Thule and the Sun – known as the “phase angle” – was 33 degrees. Image Credits: NASA/Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute, National Optical Astronomy Observatory.

These new images of Ultima Thule – obtained by the telephoto Long-Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) just six-and-a-half minutes before New Horizons’ closest approach to the object (officially named 2014 MU69) at 12:33 a.m. EST on Jan. 1, 2019 – offer a resolution of about 110 feet (33 meters) per pixel. Their combination of high spatial resolution and a favorable viewing angle gives the team an unprecedented opportunity to investigate the surface, as well as the origin and evolution, of Ultima Thule, which is thought to be the most primitive object ever encountered by a spacecraft.

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.

"Bullseye!” said New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern, of the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI). “Getting these images required us to know precisely where both tiny Ultima and New Horizons were — moment by moment – as they passed one another at over 32,000 miles per hour in the dim light of the Kuiper Belt, a billion miles beyond Pluto. This was a much tougher observation than anything we had attempted in our 2015 Pluto flyby.

“These 'stretch goal' observations were risky, because there was a real chance we'd only get part or even none of Ultima in the camera's narrow field of view,” Stern continued. “But the science, operations and navigation teams nailed it, and the result is a field day for our science team! Some of the details we now see on Ultima Thule’s surface are unlike any object ever explored before.”

The higher resolution brings out a many surface features that weren’t readily apparent in earlier images. Among them are several bright, enigmatic, roughly circular patches of terrain. In addition, many small, dark pits near the terminator (the boundary between the sunlit and dark sides of the body) are better resolved. “Whether these features are craters produced by impactors, sublimation pits, collapse pits, or something entirely different, is being debated in our science team,” said John Spencer, deputy project scientist from SwRI.

Flying by Ultima

Video above: New Horizons scientists created this movie from 14 different images taken by the New Horizons Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) shortly before the spacecraft flew past the Kuiper Belt object nicknamed Ultima Thule (officially named 2014 MU69) on Jan. 1, 2019. The central frame of this sequence was taken on Jan. 1 at 5:26:54 UT (12:26 a.m. EST), when New Horizons was 4,117 miles (6,640 kilometers) from Ultima Thule, some 4.1 billion miles (6.6 billion kilometers) from Earth. Ultima Thule nearly completely fills the LORRI image and is perfectly captured in the frames, an astounding technical feat given the uncertain location of Ultima Thule and the New Horizons spacecraft flying past it at over 32,000 miles per hour. Video Credits: NASA/Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute.

Project Scientist Hal Weaver, of the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, noted that the latest images have the highest spatial resolution of any New Horizons has taken – or may ever take – during its entire mission. Swooping within just 2,200 miles (3,500 kilometers), New Horizons flew approximately three times closer to Ultima than it zipped past its primary mission target, Pluto, in July 2015.

Ultima is a smaller object than Pluto, but the Ultima flyby was done with the highest navigation precision ever achieved by any spacecraft before. This unprecedented precision was achieved thanks to the ground-based occultation campaigns from 2017 and 2018 conducted in Argentina, Senegal, South Africa and Colombia, as well as the European Space Agency’s Gaia mission, which provided the locations of the stars that were used during the occultation campaigns.

Look for these and other LORRI images on the New Horizons LORRI website this week. Raw images from the camera are posted to the site each Friday.

Mission operations manager Alice Bowman, of APL, reports that the spacecraft continues to operate flawlessly. New Horizons is nearly 4.13 billion miles (6.64 billion kilometers) from Earth; at that distance, radio signals, traveling at light speed, reach the large antennas of NASA’s Deep Space Network six hours and nine minutes after New Horizons sends them. Follow New Horizons on its trek through the Kuiper Belt.

Image above: This processed, composite picture combines seven individual images taken with the New Horizons Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI), each with an exposure time of 0.025 seconds, just 19 minutes before the spacecraft’s closest approach to Ultima Thule (officially named 2014 MU69). The image was taken at 5:14 UT (12:14 a.m. EST) on Jan. 1, 2019, when the spacecraft was 10,350 miles (16,694 kilometers) from Ultima Thule and 4.1 billion miles (6.6 billion kilometers) from Earth. The angle between the spacecraft, Ultima Thule and the Sun – known as the “phase angle” – was 16 degrees. Image Credits: NASA/Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute, National Optical Astronomy Observatory.

New Horizons:

Images (mentioned), Video (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Tricia Talbert.


Copernicus Sentinel-1 reveals shared plumbing led to Agung awakening

ESA - Sentinel-1 Mission logo.

22 February 2019

When Mount Agung in Indonesia erupted in 2017, the search was on to find out why it had stirred. Thanks to information on ground deformation from the Copernicus Sentinel-1 mission, scientists now have more insight into the volcano’s hidden secrets that caused it to reawaken.

After lying dormant for more than 50 years, Mount Agung on the Indonesian holiday island of Bali rumbled back to life in November 2017, with smoke and ash causing airport closures and stranding thousands of visitors.

Volcanic uplift

Fortunately, it was preceded by a wave of small earthquakes, signalling the imminent eruption and giving the authorities time to evacuate around 100 000 people to safety.

The prior event in 1963, however, claimed almost 2000 lives and was one of the deadliest volcanic eruptions of the 20th century. Knowing Agung’s potential for devastation, scientists have gone to great lengths to understand this volcano’s reawakening.

And, Agung has remained active, slowly erupting on and off since 2017.

Bali is home to two active stratovolcanoes, Agung and Batur, but relatively little is known of their underlying magma plumbing systems. A clue came from the fact that Agung’s 1963 eruption was followed by a small eruption at its neighbouring volcano, Batur, 16 km away.


A paper published recently in Nature Communications describes how a team of scientists, led by the University of Bristol in the UK, used radar data from the Copernicus Sentinel-1 mission to monitor the ground deformation around Agung.

Their findings may have important implications for forecasting future eruptions in the area, and indeed further afield.

They used the remote sensing technique of interferometric synthetic aperture radar, or InSAR, where two or more radar images over the same area are combined to detect slight surface changes.

Tiny changes on the ground cause differences in the radar signal and lead to rainbow-coloured interference patterns in the combined image, known as a SAR interferogram. These interferograms can show how land is uplifting or subsiding.

Juliet Biggs from Bristol University’s School of Earth Sciences, said, “Using radar data from the Copernicus Sentinel-1 radar mission and the technique of InSAR, we are able to map any ground motion, which may indicate that fresh magma is moving beneath the volcano.”

In study, which was carried out in collaboration with the Center for Volcanology and Geological Hazard Mitigation in Indonesia, the team detected uplift of about 8–10 cm on Agung’s northern flank during the period of intense earthquake activity prior to the eruption.

Radar vision

Fabien Albino, also from Bristol's School of Earth Sciences and who led the research, added, “Surprisingly, we noticed that both the earthquake activity and the ground deformation signal were five kilometres away from the summit, which means that magma must be moving sideways as well as vertically upwards.

“Our study provides the first geophysical evidence that Agung and Batur volcanoes may have a connected plumbing system.

“This has important implications for eruption forecasting and could explain the occurrence of simultaneous eruptions such as in 1963.”

Part of European Union’s fleet of Copernicus missions, Sentinel-1 is a two-satellite constellation that can provide interferometric information every six days – important for monitoring rapid change.

Each satellite carries an advanced radar instrument that can image Earth’s surface through cloud and rain and regardless of whether it is day or night.

ESA’s Copernicus Sentinel-1 mission manager, Pierre Potin, noted, “We see the mission is being used for a multitude of practical applications, from mapping floods to charting changes in ice.

Agung from Copernicus Sentinel-2

“Understanding processes that are going on below the ground’s surface – as demonstrated by this new research – is clearly important, especially when these natural processes can put people’s lives and property at risk.”

There are four Copernicus Sentinel missions in orbit so far, each carries state-of-the-art technology to deliver a stream of complementary imagery and data to monitor and manage the environment. Importantly, the data are free and open to users worldwide.

The image on the right, for example, is from the Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission, offering a ‘camera-like’ view of the Agung and Batur volcanoes.

While the European Union is at the helm of Copernicus, ESA develops, builds and launches the dedicated Sentinel satellites. It also operates some of the missions and ensures the availability of data from third party missions contributing to the Copernicus programme.

Related links:

Nature Communications: Dyke intrusion between neighbouring arc volcanoes responsible for 2017 pre-eruptive seismic swarm at Agung:

University of Bristol–School of Earth Sciences:

Centre for Observation and Modelling of Earthquakes, Volcanoes and Tectonics:

Centre for Volcanology and Geological Hazard Mitigation in Indonesia:

Images, Video, Text, Credits: ESA/contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2017), processed by University of Bristol/COMET.


Hayabusa2 Latest Status, the Successful First Touchdown

JAXA - Hayabusa2 Mission patch.

February 22, 2019

Artist's impression of Hayabusa2 asteroid Ryugu touchdown

National Research and Development Agency Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) executed the asteroid explorer Hayabusa2 operation to touch down the surface of the target asteroid Ryugu for sample retrieval.

Asteroid Ryugu

Data analysis from Hayabusa2 confirms that the sequence of operation proceeded, including shooting a projectile into the asteroid to collect its sample material. The Hayabusa2 spacecraft is in nominal state. This marks the Hayabusa2 successful touchdown on Ryugu.

Related links:

Hayabusa2 Asteroid Probe (ISAS):

Asteroid Explorer "Hayabusa2":

Images, Text, Credits: Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA)/National Research and Development Agency/Hayabusa2.


jeudi 21 février 2019

Chang’e-4’s landing site named Statio Tianhe & Yutu-2 seen by NASA’s LRO

CLEP - China Lunar Exploration Program logo / NASA - Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) patch.

21 February, 2019

Chang’e-4’s landing site named Statio Tianhe

The International Astronomical Union has approved official names for five sites on the far side of the Moon. Chang’e-4’s landing site was named Statio Tianhe from Statio – Latin for outpost, station, and Tianhe – Chinese name for the Milky Way. Zhinyu, Hegu and Tianjin correspond to characters in the folk tale “The Cowherd and the Weaver Girl”, which references Tianhe as the sky river that separated Niulang and Zhinyu. Video Credits: China Central Television (CCTV)/China National Space Administration (CNSA)/SciNews.

Image above: Chang'e 4 lander-rover relayed back by Queqiao lunar satellite (Magpie Bridge).Image Credits: CASC/CNSA.

Chang'e 4 Lander: A Closer Look

Just after midnight (UTC) on February 1, 2019, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) passed nearly overhead the Chang'e 4 landing site. From an altitude of 82 kilometers the LROC Narrow Angle Camera pixel scale was 0.85 meters (33 inches), allowing a sharper view of the lander and Yutu-2 rover. At the time the rover was 29 meters northwest of the lander, but the rover has likely moved since the image was acquired. This view has close to the smallest pixel size possible in the current LRO orbit. In the future however, LROC will continue to image the site as the lighting changes and the rover roves!

Image above: Looking down on the Chang'e 4 landing site; lander is just beyond tip of large arrow, rover at tip of small arrow. Image is 850 meters (2789 feet) across, LROC M1303619844LR. Image Credits: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University.

Chang’e-4 and Yutu-2 seen by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter

NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter captured images of the Chang’e-4 lander and Yutu-2 rover in the Von Kármán crater. Chang’e-4’s landing site was named Statio Tianhe by the International Astronomical Union. Video Credits: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University/CNSA/CPEL/SciNews.

Chang'e 4, the second Chinese lunar lander, set down on a relatively small farside mare basalt deposit that is extensively mixed with highland ejecta from the nearby and relatively young Finsen crater (73 kilometer or 45 mile diameter). Scientists have long wanted to know the composition of farside basalts; are they significantly different from the nearside basalts? According to the China National Space Administration, Chang'e 4 instrumentation includes the visible near infrared spectrometer (VNIS) which takes measurements that can be used to address this question. This new information from the surface will provide important ground truth, while the combination of on-surface and orbital measurements provides synergy that will advance knowledge of the farside.

Image above: Chang'e 3 (left, M147290066LR) and Chang'e 4 (right, M1303619844LR) are very similar in size and instrumentation. The Chang'e 3 image looks a bit fuzzier because the landing site is at 44° north latitude where the LRO orbit is about twice as far from the Moon relative to the Chang'e 4 site at 45° south latitude (1.6 meter pixels enlarged to 0.85 meter pixels; 5.2 feet vs. 2.8 feet). Each panel is 463 meters (1520 feet) wide, large arrows indicate landers and small arrows indicate rovers. Image Credits: NASA/Goddard/Arizona State University.

Image above: Illustration of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. Image Credits: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.

Related links:

Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO):

For more information about China National Space Administration (CNSA), visit:

Videos (mentioned), Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Karl Hille/Goddard Space Flight Center/Nancy Neal Jones/Arizona State University/Mark Robinson/SciNews/ Aerospace.


SpaceX - NUSANTARA SATU Mission Success

SpaceX - NUSANTARA SATU Mission patch.

Feb. 21, 2019

SpaceX Falcon 9 carrying NUSANTARA SATU and Beresheet launch

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launched the Nusantara Satu satellite, the Beresheet lunar spacecraft and Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) S5 spacecraft from Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, on 22 February 2019, at 01:45 UTC (21 February, 20:45 EST).

Falcon 9 launches Nusantara Satu mission and Falcon 9 first stage landing

Following stage separation, Falcon 9’s first stage (Block 5 B1048) landed on the “Of Course I Still Love You” droneship, stationed in the Atlantic Ocean. Falcon 9’s first stage previously supported the Iridium-7 mission in July 2018 and the SAOCOM 1A mission in October 2018.

Beresheet lunar spacecraft deployment

The Beresheet lunar spacecraft was successfully deployed approximately 34 minutes after being launched by a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, on 22 February 2019, at 01:45 UTC (21 February, 20:45 EST).

 SpaceIL Lunar Lander

SpaceIL’s lunar spacecraft Beresheet (Hebrew for “in the beginning”) will travel for two months to the Moon using its own power. Once it arrives, Beresheet will be the smallest spacecraft to ever land on the Moon, at 600 kgs, Israel’s first spacecraft and the world’s first privately-funded spacecraft to reach the Moon.

Nusantara Satu satellite deployment

The Nusantara Satu satellite was successfully deployed approximately 45 minutes after being launched by a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, on 22 February 2019, at 01:45 UTC (21 February, 20:45 EST).

 Nusantara Satu satellite

Nusantara Satu is Indonesia’s first high-throughput satellite that will serve to improve internet connectivity in the region.

Related articles:

NASA is Aboard First Private Moon Landing Attempt

Israel wants to land on the Moon

Related links:


Israel Space Agency (ISA):

Images, Videos, Text, Credits: SpaceX/SciNews/Günter Space Page/SpaceIL/ Aerospace.


Wheels in motion: what’s planned for ATLAS in the next two years?

CERN - ATLAS Experiment logo.

21 February, 2019

Enhancing ATLAS’s detection capabilities in preparation for the LHC restart 

Image above: One of the existing small wheels was brought to the surface (Image: Jacques Herve Fichet/Maximilien Brice/CERN).

How is the ATLAS detector preparing for the future? When the CERN accelerator complex switched off in December 2018, ATLAS scientists and technicians promptly got to work opening the shaft leading from ground level to the underground ATLAS cavern, as well as opening up the detector itself. They will be maintaining and upgrading the detector over the next two years, the time CERN has allocated for a technical break called Long Shutdown 2 (LS2). Some of the improvements are part of the upgrade of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the High-Luminosity LHC (HL-LHC), set to run from 2026. The upgrade will greatly increase the rate of particle collisions, bring higher readout rates and create more opportunities for physics discoveries.

Wheels in motion what’s planned for ATLAS in the next two years

Video above: Time-lapse of the ATLAS cavern opening (Video: Emma Ward/ATLAS/CERN).

Image above: This diagram of the ATLAS detector shows some of the maintenance and upgrade work in store in the coming two years. Image Credit: CERN.

ATLAS is the largest LHC experiment. Installed between 2003 and 2008, it aims, like CMS, to understand the properties of the Higgs boson and search for new physics.

New not-so-small wheels

A major improvement to the experiment will be the installation of two new wheel-shaped detectors to track particles called muons. Muons can be thought of as heavier cousins of electrons and pass through the inner parts of the detector with little disturbance. If you imagine the detector as an onion, the muon spectrometer is the outer skin. Muons that speed away at angles smaller than 40 degrees from the beam direction are measured by a series of three layers of subdetectors, the innermost of which is known as the small wheel – because it is “only” 9.3 metres in diameter.

Image above: One of ATLAS’s new small wheels, measuring almost 10 metres in diameter. (Image: Julien Marius Ordan/CERN).

The new wheels will improve ATLAS’s triggering capabilities and will be able to cope with the higher muon rates expected from the HL-LHC. Each wheel consists of 16 wedges, or sectors, covered with layers of detector chambers known as micromegas (MM) and small-strip thin-gap chambers (sTGC). Both MMs and sTGCs have excellent precision tracking capabilities, at the level of 100  micrometres, and the very good response time needed to uniquely identify the collision time.

Assembly is currently taking place on the surface and the wheels will then be transported to ATLAS and lowered through the shaft to the detector. One of the existing small wheels was brought to the surface last week and the first new wheel is scheduled to enter the ATLAS cavern in spring 2020.

Remodelling ATLAS inside and out

Linked to the upgrades of the muon detection system is the addition of 16 new stations to improve ATLAS’s capability to detect muons in the region between the barrel and the endcaps. The stations contain gas-filled small monitored drift tubes (sMDT) and resistive plate chambers (RPCs). Physicists can track muons using the trail of electrically charged particles caused by the muons passing through the gas. The reconstruction of the muons’ paths will be improved thanks to sMDTs with a smaller diameter and new-generation RPCs with reduced electrode thickness.

Another major task happening during LS2 is the replacement of some components of the Liquid Argon Calorimeter’s (LAr) front-end electronics. This will improve ATLAS’s ability to preserve important signals coming from electrons and photons. On top of that, the upgrade of the trigger and data-acquisition systems will prepare the experiment for the HL-LHC.

In parallel to work on the detector, construction work is also continuing apace around ATLAS on the surface and underground, in preparation for the HL-LHC. A 62-metre-deep shaft has just been completed and civil engineers are now busy digging a service cavern and galleries for new equipment.

While many of ATLAS’s upgrades and installations will take place during Long Shutdown 3 (LS3), which is scheduled to begin in 2024, the activities taking place over the next two years will make it a better performing detector, ready to take data when the LHC restarts in 2021.

More photos from ATLAS are available on CDS:


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 article:

Upgrading ALICE: What’s in store for the next two years?

Related links:

ATLAS upgrades in LS2:


Long Shutdown 2 (LS2):

Large Hadron Collider (LHC):

High-Luminosity LHC (HL-LHC):

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

Images (mentioned), Video (mentioned), Text, Credits: CERN/Letizia Diamante.

Best regards,

NASA is Aboard First Private Moon Landing Attempt

SpaceIL - Google Lunar Xprize patch.

Feb. 21, 2019

The last screw is tightened and a private Moon lander is packed in the fairing atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. It took eight years to get there, plus significant dedication by a small group of scientists and engineers building Israel’s first machine to leave Earth’s orbit. Now, the highly anticipated moment is here: a shot at the first private Moon landing, and NASA is contributing to the experiment.

Image above: A false coloGoogle Lunar Xprizer view of the Moon's southern latitudes. The large blue area at the bottom of the frame is the South Pole-Aitken Basin, an enormous and very old impact feature on the far side of the Moon. Image Credits: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio.

An Israeli spacecraft from SpaceIL is scheduled to launch Thursday, Feb. 21 and is aiming to touch down on Mare Serenitatis two months later. NASA installed a small laser retroreflector aboard the lander to test its potential as a navigation tool. The agency also provided images of the Moon’s surface to help the engineers identify a landing site for the mission. NASA will also use its deep space telecommunications network to transmit images and science data home to SpaceIL and its partners. Administrator Bridenstine signed an agreement with the Israel Space Agency (ISA) in July 2018 in order to collaborate with SpaceIL on the mission. SpaceIL will provide NASA scientific data from the spacecraft’s magnetometer as part of the collaboration.

“This is the type of collaboration that will become more frequent as NASA looks to expand opportunities with a greater variety of partners to continue the exploration of the Moon and Mars,” said Steve Clarke, NASA’s Deputy Associate Administrator for Exploration. “NASA is proud to work with the Israel Space Agency (ISA) and SpaceIL and we look forward to the landing and the science data that will be gained from this important mission.”

It takes a village

SpaceIL was established in 2010 to tackle the Lunar X Prize, a competition sponsored by Google that challenged private companies to land a spacecraft on the Moon. Though no company was able to meet the competition deadline, prompting Google to end it with no winner in March 2018, the Israeli team pressed on.

But no company can make it in space alone. SpaceIL will rely on the Swedish Space Corporation’s network of antennas to communicate navigation commands to the spacecraft and to track its trajectory. Once the spacecraft lands, NASA’s Deep Space Network (DSN) will ferry data between it and Earth. DSN is a system of global antennas managed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, that scientists use to communicate with spacecraft in deep space.

The SpaceIL mission advances a partnership between NASA and ISA as both agencies will share the resulting discoveries with the global scientific community.

“The team’s tension level is high, but we’re also very, very excited” said Eran Shmidt, deputy manager and head of the ground control team at SpaceIL, the Israeli nonprofit that built the Moon lander, called Beresheet, or “genesis” in Hebrew, in partnership with Israeli-government-owned defense contractor Israel Aerospace Industries.

Image above: A graphic showing Beresheet's path to the Moon. Dates correspond with Israel Standard Time. Image Credits: SpaceIL.

Beresheet — about 5 feet (1 meter) tall by 7.5 feet (2.3 meters) wide with its landing gear and legs deployed — is one of two payloads that will hitch a ride aboard the Falcon 9 today. The other payload is an Earth telecommunications satellite. The lander will separate first from the rocket, taking the long route to the Moon to save fuel by employing gravitational forces to propel itself. Thus, Beresheet will stay in Earth’s orbit for about a month, slowly widening its ellipse until it reaches apogee, or its farthest point from here, at nearly 250,000 miles (400,000 kilometers) away. The SpaceIL team will need to time Beresheet’s apogee precisely to meet up with the Moon in its orbit about Earth. At this point, the navigators can slow the spacecraft to allow it to be captured by the Moon’s gravity and thereby pulled into its orbit.

“Once we are captured by the Moon,” said Shmidt, “we will orbit around it, perform a few maneuvers for about a week, and then start a 20- to 30-minute autonomous descent.”

A few moments of precious science

Beresheet is due to touch down between April 11 and 12 in a dark patch of an ancient volcanic field visible from Earth, known as the Sea of Serenity (Mare Serenitatis in Latin). NASA’s Apollo 17 astronauts landed near this region on Dec. 11, 1972.

Beresheet landed on the Moon. Image Credit: ISA

Now, Beresheet will have an opportunity to mark a new first in space exploration with its landing. Though the primary goal of its mission is to land safely, the spacecraft will attempt to do science in orbit, during landing, and on the ground. The window of opportunity for research is small, though: just three Earth days maximum after landing that the spacecraft can withstand the crushing heat — 212 degrees Fahrenheit (100 degrees Celsius) at local noon — of the lunar day (14 Earth days). But every second counts to scientists back on Earth.

NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), one of the agency’s three spacecraft circling and studying the Moon, will analyze the gases released by Beresheet’s decent engine as the lander approaches the surface.

“What we’re trying to learn is how volatile compounds, such as water or other gases, are transported around the Moon,” said John W. Keller, an LRO project scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “If we can predict where these compounds will go and where they’ll settle, we’ll know in what regions of the Moon to look for water and other valuable resources.”

Image above: Illustration of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. Image Credits: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.

Meanwhile, scientists from the University of California in Los Angeles, Israel’s Weizmann Institute of Science, and from other global organizations will rely on data from Beresheet’s magnetometer to study whether Moon rocks contain a history of the magnetic field there.

An old, new instrument

Another experiment on Beresheet will involve a tiny but robust instrument called a Laser Retroreflector Array. Smaller than a computer mouse, this device features eight mirrors made of quartz cube corners that are set into a dome-shaped aluminum frame. This configuration allows the device to reflect light coming in from any direction back to its source. LRO’s laser altimeter, an instrument that measures altitude, will try to shoot laser pulses at Beresheet’s retroreflector and then measure how long it takes the light to bounce back. By using this technique, engineers expect to be able to pinpoint Beresheet’s location within 4 inches (10 centimeters).

One day, this simple technology, requiring neither power nor maintenance, may make it easier to navigate to locations on the Moon, asteroids, and other bodies. It could also be dropped from a spacecraft onto the surface of a celestial body where the reflector could help scientists track the object’s spin rate or position in space.

“It’s a fixed marker you may return to it any time,” said David E. Smith, principal investigator of the Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter, or LOLA, on the LRO.

Laser retroreflectors have already been instrumental to space exploration. Apollo- astronauts left three large reflector panels at various Moon locations 50 years ago. They’re still reflecting light today, with their 100 mirrors each, though they’re reflecting light all the way back to Earth instead of a close-by orbiter. Using these mirrors, scientists have learned many things about the Moon, particularly that it is moving away from Earth at a rate of 1.5 inches (3.8 centimeters) per year.

Image above: A laser retroreflector. Image Credits: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.

These days, smaller laser reflectors are commonly used to track Earth-orbiting satellites from the ground and have been included on several recent space missions. NASA installed an Italian Space Agency-provided retroreflector on the deck of the InSight lander, which arrived on Mars in November 2018. Though there’s no orbiter with a laser instrument at Mars today to shoot light to InSight’s reflector, scientists expect that there will be one in the future.

In Beresheet’s case, too, the reflector will live on forever, even though Beresheet is expected to stop working within a few days of landing. It may be a simple dome of mirrors, yet Beresheet’s reflector may be one of the first flickers of light future explorers undertaking NASA’s Moon to Mars exploration will see as they descend to the Moon in the coming decade.

Related article:

Israel wants to land on the Moon

Related links:

NASA’s Deep Space Network (DSN):

LRO (Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter):

Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter (LOLA):

Israel Space Agency (ISA):

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Svetlana Shekhtman/Goddard Space Flight Center, by Lonnie Shekhtman.

Best regards,

Virtual Reality Filming, Spacesuit Work Highlight Day on Station

ISS - Expedition 58 Mission patch.

February 21, 2019

Virtual Reality Film, Spacesuit Work Highlight Day on Station

Virtual reality filming and spacesuit cleaning highlighted the day aboard the International Space Station. The Expedition 58 crew also configured a diverse array of life science and physics hardware.

NASA astronaut Anne McClain set up a virtual reality camera inside the Tranquility module after lunch today. She has been filming hours of footage this month depicting a first-person’s view of life throughout the station. The final film will be an immersive, cinematic experience to educate audiences on Earth about life in space.

Image above: A pair of U.S. spacesuits are pictured during servicing work inside the Quest airlock where U.S. spacewalks are staged. Image Credit: NASA.

McClain started the day installing mouse habitat gear inside the Cell Biology Experiment Facility. The research device, located in Japan’s Kibo lab module, will house mice for an upcoming accelerated aging and disease study.

Flight Engineer David Saint-Jacques was back on spacesuit duty today scrubbing cooling loops and checking the conductivity of water samples. The astronaut from the Canadian Space Agency also tested cables inside the Materials Science Research Rack. The refrigerator-sized rack explores chemical and thermal properties of materials such as metals, alloys and polymers to create new and improved elements and applications.

International Space Station (ISS). Image Credits: NASA/STS-130

In the Russian segment of the orbital lab, Commander Oleg Kononenko worked on ventilation systems and collected air samples from the Zarya and Zvezda service modules. The veteran cosmonaut also photographed hardware for a blood pressure study and tested Earth observation techniques using a camera equipped with small ultrasound emitters.

Back on Earth in Star City, Russia, three Expedition 59 crew members have wrapped up two days of classes and tests qualifying for their March 14 launch to the orbital lab. Commander Alexey Ovchinin and Flight Engineers Nick Hague and Christina Koch will end their stay at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center on Feb. 26 and fly to the Baikonur Cosmodrome launch site in Kazakhstan. The trio will lift off inside the Soyuz MS-12 crew ship and take a six-hour ride to their new home in space.

Related links:

Expedition 58:

virtual reality camera:

Tranquility module:

Cell Biology Experiment Facility:

Kibo lab module:

Accelerated aging and disease:

Materials Science Research Rack:

Blood pressure study:

Earth observation techniques:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

Best regards,

In Colliding Galaxies, a Pipsqueak Shines Bright

NASA - NuSTAR Mission patch.

February 21, 2019

Image above: Bright green sources of high-energy X-ray light captured by NASA's NuSTAR mission are overlaid on an optical-light image of the Whirlpool galaxy (in the center of the image) and its companion galaxy, M51b (the bright greenish-white spot above the Whirlpool), taken by the Sloan Digital Sky Survey.Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech, IPAC.

In the nearby Whirlpool galaxy and its companion galaxy, M51b, two supermassive black holes heat up and devour surrounding material. These two monsters should be the most luminous X-ray sources in sight, but a new study using observations from NASA's NuSTAR (Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array) mission shows that a much smaller object is competing with the two behemoths.

The most stunning features of the Whirlpool galaxy - officially known as M51a - are the two long, star-filled "arms" curling around the galactic center like ribbons. The much smaller M51b clings like a barnacle to the edge of the Whirlpool. Collectively known as M51, the two galaxies are merging.

At the center of each galaxy is a supermassive black hole millions of times more massive than the Sun. The galactic merger should push huge amounts of gas and dust into those black holes and into orbit around them. In turn, the intense gravity of the black holes should cause that orbiting material to heat up and radiate, forming bright disks around each that can outshine all the stars in their galaxies.

But neither black hole is radiating as brightly in the X-ray range as scientists would expect during a merger. Based on earlier observations from satellites that detect low-energy X-rays, such as NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory, scientists believed that layers of gas and dust around the black hole in the larger galaxy were blocking extra emission. But the new study, published in the Astrophysical Journal, used NuSTAR's high-energy X-ray vision to peer below those layers and found that the black hole is still dimmer than expected.

"I'm still surprised by this finding," said study lead author Murray Brightman, a researcher at Caltech in Pasadena, California. "Galactic mergers are supposed to generate black hole growth, and the evidence of that would be strong emission of high-energy X-rays. But we're not seeing that here."

Brightman thinks the most likely explanation is that black holes "flicker" during galactic mergers rather than radiate with a more or less constant brightness throughout the process.

"The flickering hypothesis is a new idea in the field," said Daniel Stern, a research scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena and the project scientist for NuSTAR. "We used to think that the black hole variability occurred on timescales of millions of years, but now we're thinking those timescales could be much shorter. Figuring out how short is an area of active study."

Small but Brilliant

Along with the two black holes radiating less than scientists anticipated in M51a and M51b, the former also hosts an object that is millions of times smaller than either black hole yet is shining with equal intensity. The two phenomena are not connected, but they do create a surprising X-ray landscape in M51.

The small X-ray source is a neutron star, an incredibly dense nugget of material left over after a massive star explodes at the end of its life. A typical neutron star is hundreds of thousands of times smaller in diameter than the Sun - only as wide as a large city - yet has one to two times the mass. A teaspoon of neutron star material would weigh more than 1 billion tons.

Despite their size, neutron stars often make themselves known through intense light emissions. The neutron star found in M51 is even brighter than average and belongs to a newly discovered class known as ultraluminous neutron stars. Brightman said some scientists have proposed that strong magnetic fields generated by the neutron star could be responsible for the luminous emission; a previous paper by Brightman and colleagues about this neutron star supports that hypothesis. Some of the other bright, high-energy X-ray sources seen in these two galaxies could also be neutron stars.

Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array or NuSTAR. Image Credits: NASA/JPL

NuSTAR is a Small Explorer mission led by Caltech and managed by JPL for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. NuSTAR was developed in partnership with the Danish Technical University and the Italian Space Agency (ASI). The spacecraft was built by Orbital Sciences Corporation in Dulles, Virginia (now part of Northrop Grumman). NuSTAR's mission operations center is at UC Berkeley, and the official data archive is at NASA's High Energy Astrophysics Science Archive Research Center. ASI provides the mission's ground station and a mirror archive. Caltech manages JPL for NASA

For more information about NuSTAR, visit:

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/JPL/Calla Cofield.


Space Station Science Highlights: Week of February 11, 2019

ISS - Expedition 58 Mission patch.

Feb. 21, 2019

The three crew members living and working aboard the International Space Station were busy last week as they studied how the body responds to microgravity, the use of free-flying robots within the station and how heat, bubbles, and liquid flow work in space.

Image above: An external view of the forward portion of the space station featuring the U.S. Destiny Laboratory, the Harmony Module, JAXA’s Kibo Laboratory, and ESA’s Columbus Laboratory. Image Credit: NASA.

Here are some details about the science conducted last week:

Three crew to be joined by three robots

The station’s three crew members will soon be joined by Astrobee: three free-flying, cube-shaped robots designed to help scientists and engineers develop and test technologies for use in microgravity. These robots will use vision-based navigation to assist the crew with routine chores and give ground controllers additional eyes and ears on the station. The autonomous robots, powered by fans, perform crew monitoring, sampling, logistics management, and may accommodate up to three investigations.

Image above: The crew installed the Astrobee docking station, seen above, in preparation for the robots’ arrival to the orbiting laboratory. Image Credit: NASA.

In preparation for the Astrobee robots, the crew participated in a conference with the developer to discuss details about installing the docking station, a task completed on Friday of this week.

Crew tracks ability to switch between tasks

Crew members are often required to switch their attention from one task to another while working within the orbiting laboratory; however, if they struggle with this shift, performance on the original task and/or the subsequent task can be affected. Team Task Switching studies whether or not crew members have difficulty in switching tasks and determines the impacts of these switches in order to both reduce any negative consequences and improve individual and team motivation and effectiveness.

The crew filled out a Team Task Switching survey in order to track their experiences.

Preparations begin for heat transfer investigation

Boiling normally removes heat by turning liquid into vapor at the heated surface, and that vapor returns to a liquid by way of a condenser, which continues to cycle and make a cooling system. In microgravity, the heat transfer rate used to design cooling systems must be changed because liquid and bubble behavior is drastically different than on Earth. JAXA’s Two Phase Flow investigates the heat transfer characteristics of flow boiling in a microgravity environment and seeks to build a database on the heat transfer efficiency of liquids in space, information that could be used in the design of high-performance thermal management systems for future space platforms.

Animation above: NASA astronaut Anne McClain relocates the hardware for Two Phase Flow, an investigation that examines heat transfer characteristics of flow boiling in a microgravity environment. Image Credit: NASA.

In preparation for Two Phase Flow operations, the crew located the necessary power cables and connection spots and relocated the Multi-Purpose Small Payload Rack (MSPR) laptop to the MSPR.

Other work was performed on these investigations:

- The Actiwatch Spectrum is a waterproof, nonintrusive, sleep-wake monitor worn on a crewmember’s wrist to analyze circadian rhythms, sleep-wake patterns and activity:

- The Fluid Shifts investigation measures how much fluid shifts from the lower body to the upper body, in or out of cells and blood vessels, and determines the impact these shifts have on fluid pressure in the head, changes in vision and eye structures:

- Students from Alberta, Canada made contact with the space station using the station’s ham radio. ISS Ham Radio (ARISS) engages with and educates students, teachers, parents and other members of the community about science, technology, engineering, and math by providing a means for direct communication between astronauts and ground Ham radio units:

- MARROW looks at the effect of microgravity on bone marrow:

- LMM Biophysics 5 tests whether solution convection – movement of molecules through the fluid – enhances or suppresses formation of the dense liquid clusters from which crystals form:

- Food Acceptability examines changes in how food appeals to crew members during their time aboard the station. Acceptability of food – whether crew members like and actually eat something – may directly affect crew caloric intake and associated nutritional benefits:

- Kubik is a small controlled-temperature incubator or cooler with removable inserts designed for self-contained, automatic microgravity experiments such as those using seeds, cells, and small animals:

Space to Ground: Busy as Astrobees: 02/15/2019

Related links:

Expedition 58:


Team Task Switching:

Two Phase Flow:

Multi-Purpose Small Payload Rack (MSPR):

Spot the Station:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

Images (mentioned), Animation (mentioned), Video (NASA), Text, Credits: NASA/Michael Johnson/Vic Cooley, Lead Increment Scientist Expeditions 57/58.

Best regards,

Roscosmos - Launches of the satellite Egyptsat-A


21 February 2019

Soyuz-2 carrying Egyptsat-A lift off

Today, February 21, 2019, from the Baikonur cosmodrome at 19:47 Moscow time, the launch vehicle Soyuz-2 with the Fregat accelerating unit (RB) and the satellite Egyptsat-A, created in the interests of the Arab Republic of Egypt, was launched.

After the separation of the head unit from the third stage of the carrier rocket RB "Frigate" continued the removal of the spacecraft. The separation of the satellite from the upper stage took place normally after two inclusions of the marching propulsion system in strict accordance with the flight sequence chart.

Egyptsat-A satellite

The Egyptsat-A spacecraft is designed to capture the earth's surface with high spatial resolution. After the flight test program has been completed, the satellite will be transferred to the Egyptian side.

EgyptSat-A was built by RSC Energia for Egypt’s National Authority for Remote Sensing and Space Sciences.

Roscosmos Press Release:

Images, Text, Credits: Roscosmos/Günter Space Page/ Aerospace/Roland Berga.