samedi 16 mars 2019

United Launch Alliance Successfully Launches WGS-10 Mission

ULA -  Delta IV / WGS-10 Mission poster.

March 16, 2019

Delta IV WGS-10 launch

A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta IV rocket carrying the tenth Wideband Global SATCOM (WGS) satellite for the U.S. Air Force lifted off from Space Launch Complex-37 on March 15 at 8:26 p.m. EDT. ULA has been the exclusive launch provider for all ten WGS satellites.

"We are very proud to deliver this critical asset to orbit in support of the U.S. and Allied warfighters deployed around the world defending our national security," said Gary Wentz, ULA vice president of Government and Commercial Programs. “Thank you to the entire ULA team and mission partners for their outstanding teamwork and dedication to mission success.”

Delta IV launches WGS-10

The WGS-10 satellite, built by the Boeing Company, is an important element of the new high-capacity satellite communications system. Each WGS satellite provides more wideband communications capacity than the entire Defense Satellite Communications System.

WGS satellite

This mission launched aboard a Delta IV Medium+ (5,4) configuration vehicle, built in Decatur, Alabama, including a 5-meter Payload Fairing and standing at 218 feet. The common booster core for Delta IV was powered by the RS-68A engine, and the Delta Cryogenic Second Stage was powered by the RL10B-2 engine, both supplied by Aerojet Rocketdyne. Northrop Grumman provided the four solid rocket motors. At liftoff, the main engine and four solid rocket motors comined to produce approximately 1.7 million pounds of thrust.

To date ULA has a track record of 100 percent mission success with 133 successful launches.

United Launch Alliance (ULA):

Images, Video, Text, Credits: ULA/Günter Space Page/SciNews.


vendredi 15 mars 2019

Storm Rages in Cosmic Teacup

NASA - Chandra X-ray Observatory patch.

March 15, 2019

Fancy a cup of cosmic tea? This one isn't as calming as the ones on Earth. In a galaxy hosting a structure nicknamed the "Teacup," a galactic storm is raging.

The source of the cosmic squall is a supermassive black hole buried at the center of the galaxy, officially known as SDSS 1430+1339. As matter in the central regions of the galaxy is pulled toward the black hole, it is energized by the strong gravity and magnetic fields near the black hole. The infalling material produces more radiation than all the stars in the host galaxy. This kind of actively growing black hole is known as a quasar.

Located about 1.1 billion light years from Earth, the Teacup's host galaxy was originally discovered in visible light images by citizen scientists in 2007 as part of the Galaxy Zoo project, using data from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey. Since then, professional astronomers using space-based telescopes have gathered clues about the history of this galaxy with an eye toward forecasting how stormy it will be in the future. This new composite image contains X-ray data from Chandra (blue) along with an optical view from NASA's Hubble Space Telescope (red and green).

The "handle" of the Teacup is a ring of optical and X-ray light surrounding a giant bubble. This handle-shaped feature, which is located about 30,000 light-years from the supermassive black hole, was likely formed by one or more eruptions powered by the black hole. Radio emission — shown in a separate composite image with the optical data — also outlines this bubble, and a bubble about the same size on the other side of the black hole.

Previously, optical telescope observations showed that atoms in the handle of the Teacup were ionized, that is, these particles became charged when some of their electrons were stripped off, presumably by the quasar's strong radiation in the past. The amount of radiation required to ionize the atoms was compared with that inferred from optical observations of the quasar. This comparison suggested that the quasar's radiation production had diminished by a factor of somewhere between 50 and 600 over the last 40,000 to 100,000 years. This inferred sharp decline led researchers to conclude that the quasar in the Teacup was fading or dying.

New data from Chandra and ESA's XMM-Newton mission are giving astronomers an improved understanding of the history of this galactic storm. The X-ray spectra (that is, the amount of X-rays over a range of energies) show that the quasar is heavily obscured by gas. This implies that the quasar is producing much more ionizing radiation than indicated by the estimates based on the optical data alone, and that rumors of the quasar's death may have been exaggerated. Instead the quasar has dimmed by only a factor of 25 or less over the past 100,000 years.

The Chandra data also show evidence for hotter gas within the bubble, which may imply that a wind of material is blowing away from the black hole. Such a wind, which was driven by radiation from the quasar, may have created the bubbles found in the Teacup.

Astronomers have previously observed bubbles of various sizes in elliptical galaxies, galaxy groups and galaxy clusters that were generated by narrow jets containing particles traveling near the speed of light, that shoot away from the supermassive black holes. The energy of the jets dominates the power output of these black holes, rather than radiation.

In these jet-driven systems, astronomers have found that the power required to generate the bubbles is proportional to their X-ray brightness. Surprisingly, the radiation-driven Teacup quasar follows this pattern. This suggests radiation-dominated quasar systems and their jet-dominated cousins can have similar effects on their galactic surroundings.

Chandra X-ray Observatory

A study describing these results was published in the March 20, 2018 issue of The Astrophysical Journal Letters and is available online. The authors are George Lansbury from the University of Cambridge in Cambridge, UK; Miranda E. Jarvis from the Max-Planck Institut für Astrophysik in Garching, Germany; Chris M. Harrison from the European Southern Observatory in Garching, Germany; David M. Alexander from Durham University in Durham, UK; Agnese Del Moro from the Max-Planck-Institut für Extraterrestrische Physik in Garching, Germany; Alastair Edge from Durham University in Durham, UK; James R. Mullaney from The University of Sheffield in Sheffield, UK and Alasdair Thomson from the University of Manchester, Manchester, UK.

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.

Astrophysical Journal Letters:

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Image, Animation, Credits: NASA/CXC/Univ. of Cambridge/G. Lansbury et al; Optical: NASA/STScI/W. Keel et al./Text, Credits: NASA/Jennifer Harbaugh.

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A Region of Bennu’s Northern Hemisphere Close Up

NASA - OSIRIS-REx Mission patch.

March 15, 2019

This trio of images acquired by NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft shows a wide shot and two close-ups of a region in asteroid Bennu’s northern hemisphere. The wide-angle image (left), obtained by the spacecraft’s MapCam camera, shows a 590-foot (180-meter) wide area with many rocks, including some large boulders, and a “pond” of regolith that is mostly devoid of large rocks. The two closer images, obtained by the high-resolution PolyCam camera, show details of areas in the MapCam image, specifically a 50-foot (15 meter) boulder (top) and the regolith pond (bottom). The PolyCam frames are 101 feet (31 meters) across and the boulder depicted is approximately the same size as a humpback whale.

OSIRIS-REx flyby Bennu asteroid

The images were taken on February 25 while the spacecraft was in orbit around Bennu, approximately 1.1 miles (1.8 km) from the asteroid’s surface. The observation plan for this day provided for one MapCam and two PolyCam images every 10 minutes, allowing for this combination of context and detail of Bennu’s surface.

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

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


Cooking up Alien Atmospheres on Earth

Astrobiology & Exobilogy logo.

March 15, 2019

Researchers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, are cooking up an alien atmosphere right here on Earth. In a new study, JPL scientists used a high-temperature "oven" to heat a mixture of hydrogen and carbon monoxide to more than 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit (1,100 Celsius), about the temperature of molten lava. The aim was to simulate conditions that might be found in the atmospheres of a special class of exoplanets (planets outside our solar system) called "hot Jupiters."

Image above: This artist's concept shows planet KELT-9b, an example of a "hot Jupiter," or a gas giant planet orbiting very close to its parent star. KELT-9b is an extreme example of a hot Jupiter, with dayside temperatures reaching 7,800 degrees Fahrenheit (4,300 Celcius). Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

Hot Jupiters are gas giants that orbit very close to their parent star, unlike any of the planets in our solar system. While Earth takes 365 days to orbit the Sun, hot Jupiters orbit their stars in less than 10 days. Their close proximity to a star means their temperatures can range from 1,000 to 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit (530 to 2,800 degrees Celsius) or even hotter. By comparison, a hot day on the surface of Mercury (which takes 88 days to orbit the Sun) reaches about 800 degrees Fahrenheit (430 degrees Celsius).

"Though it is impossible to exactly simulate in the laboratory these harsh exoplanet environments, we can come very close," said JPL principal scientist Murthy Gudipati, who leads the group that conducted the new study, published last month in the Astrophysical Journal.

The team started with a simple chemical mixture of mostly hydrogen gas and 0.3 percent carbon monoxide gas. These molecules are extremely common in the universe and in early solar systems, and they could reasonably compose the atmosphere of a hot Jupiter. Then the team heated the mixture to between 620 and 2,240 degrees Fahrenheit (330 and 1,230 Celsius).

Image above: JPL scientists used the "oven" (center) to heat a mixture of hydrogen and carbon monoxide and subject it to UV radiation, generated by a hydrogen gas discharge lamp. The lamp radiates both visible light (the pink glow) and UV light, which enters the gas container inside the oven via a window on the right side. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

The team also exposed the laboratory brew to a high dose of ultraviolet radiation - similar to what a hot Jupiter would experience orbiting so close to its parent star. The UV light proved to be a potent ingredient. It was largely responsible for some of the study's more surprising results about the chemistry that might be taking place in these toasty atmospheres.

Hot Jupiters are large by planet standards, and they radiate more light than cooler planets. Such factors have allowed astronomers to gather more information about their atmospheres than most other types of exoplanets. Those observations reveal that many hot Jupiter atmospheres are opaque at high altitudes. Although clouds might explain the opacity, they become less and less sustainable as the pressure decreases, and the opacity has been observed where the atmospheric pressure is very low.

Scientists have been looking for potential explanations other than clouds, and aerosols - solid particles suspended in the atmosphere - could be one. However, according to the JPL researchers, scientists were previously unaware of how aerosols might develop in hot Jupiter atmospheres. In the new experiment, adding UV light to the hot chemical mix did the trick.

Image above: The small sapphire disk on the right shows organic aerosols formed inside a high-temperature oven. The disk to the left has not been used. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

"This result changes the way we interpret those hazy hot Jupiter atmospheres," said Benjamin Fleury, a JPL research scientist and lead author of the study. "Going forward, we want to study the properties of these aerosols. We want to better understand how they form, how they absorb light and how they respond to changes in the environment. All that information can help astronomers understand what they're seeing when they observe these planets."

The study yielded another surprise: The chemical reactions produced significant amounts of carbon dioxide and water. While water vapor has been found in hot Jupiter atmospheres, scientists for the most part expect this precious molecule to form only when there is more oxygen than carbon. The new study shows that water can form when carbon and oxygen are present in equal amounts. (Carbon monoxide contains one carbon atom and one oxygen atom.) And while some carbon dioxide (one carbon and two oxygen atoms) formed without the addition of UV radiation, the reactions accelerated with the addition of simulated starlight.

"These new results are immediately useful for interpreting what we see in hot Jupiter atmospheres," said JPL exoplanet scientist Mark Swain, a study coauthor. "We've assumed that temperature dominates the chemistry in these atmospheres, but this shows we need to look at how radiation plays a role."

With next-generation tools like NASA's James Webb Space Telescope, set to launch in 2021, scientists might produce the first detailed chemical profiles of exoplanet atmospheres, and it's possible that some of those first subjects will be hot Jupiters. These studies will help scientists learn how other solar systems form and how similar or different they are to our own.

For the JPL researchers, the work has just begun. Unlike a typical oven, theirs seals the gas in tightly to prevent leaks or contamination, and it allows the researchers to control the pressure of the gas as the temperature rises. With this hardware, they can now simulate exoplanet atmospheres at even higher temperatures: close to 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit (1,600 degrees Celsius).

"It's been an ongoing challenge figuring out how to design and operate this system successfully, since most standard components such as glass or aluminum melt at these temperatures," said JPL research scientist Bryana Henderson, a coauthor of the study. "We're still learning how to push these boundaries while safely handling these chemical processes in the lab. But at the end of the day, the exciting results that come out of these experiments is worth all the extra effort."

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


Expedition 59 Welcomes Three New Crew Members

ISS - Expedition 59 Mission patch.

March 15, 2019

NASA astronauts Nick Hague and Christina Koch, and cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin of Roscosmos joined NASA astronaut Anne McClain, Expedition 59 commander Oleg Kononenko of Roscosmos, and David Saint-Jacques of the Canadian Space Agency aboard the International Space Station when the hatches between the Soyuz spacecraft and the orbiting laboratory officially opened at 11:07 p.m. EDT.

The trio’s arrival returns the orbiting laboratory’s population to six, including three NASA astronauts. McClain, Saint-Jacques and Kononenko are scheduled to remain aboard the station until June, while Hague, Koch and Ovchinin are set to return to Earth early this fall.

Image above: Expedition 59 crew members Anne McClain, Oleg Konoenko, and David Saint-Jacques welcome their new crew members, Nick Hague, Christina Koch, and Alexey Ovchinin, who arrived to the International Space Station on March 14, 2019. Image Credit: NASA TV.

McClain, Saint-Jacques, Hague and Koch also are all scheduled for the first spacewalks of their careers to continue upgrades to the orbital laboratory. McClain and Hague are scheduled to begin work to upgrade the power system March 22, and McClain and Koch will complete the upgrades to two station power channels during a March 29 spacewalk. This will be the first-ever spacewalk with all-female spacewalkers. Hague and Saint-Jacques will install hardware for a future science platform during an April 8 spacewalk.

Three resupply spacecraft – a Russian Progress, Northrop Grumman Cygnus and SpaceX Dragon – are scheduled to arrive with additional supplies for the crew and various science investigations. The crew also is scheduled to be onboard during test flights of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, which will return human spaceflight launches for space station missions to U.S. soil.

Soyuz MS-12 hatch opening

For more than 18 years, humans have lived and worked continuously aboard the station, advancing scientific knowledge and demonstrating new technologies, making research breakthroughs not possible on Earth that will enable long-duration human and robotic exploration into deep space, including the Moon and Mars. A global endeavor, 236 people from 18 countries have visited the unique microgravity laboratory that has hosted more than 2,500 investigations from researchers in 106 countries. Investigations conducted on the International Space Station impact the daily lives of people on Earth and prepare the way for humans to venture farther into space.

Related articles:

Soyuz Docked to Space Station

Crew Safely in Orbit After Successful Launch

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jeudi 14 mars 2019

Soyuz Docked to Space Station

ROSCOSMOS - Soyuz MS-12 Mission patch.

March 14, 2019

The Soyuz spacecraft carrying NASA astronauts Nick Hague and Christina Koch, and cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin of Roscosmos docked to the International Space Station at 9:01 p.m. EDT while both spacecraft were flying about 250 miles over the Pacific Ocean just west of Peru. Expedition 59 officially began at the time of docking.

Aboard the space station, NASA astronaut Anne McClain, Expedition 59 Commander Oleg Kononenko of Roscosmos, and David Saint-Jacques of the Canadian Space Agency will welcome the new crew members when the hatches between the two spacecraft are opened following standard pressurization and leak checks.

Image above: Soyuz MS-12 arrived at the International Space Station at 9:01 p.m. ET, 255 miles just west off the coast of Peru. Image Credit: NASA TV.

The crew members will spend more than six months conducting about 250 science investigations in fields such as biology, Earth science, human research, physical sciences, and technology development. Seventy-five of the investigations are new and have never been performed in space. Some of the investigations are sponsored by the U.S. National Laboratory on the space station, which Congress designated in 2005 to maximize its use for improving quality of life on Earth.

Soyuz MS-12 docking

Highlights of upcoming investigations the crew will support include devices that mimic the structure and function of human organs, free-flying robots, and an instrument to measure Earth’s distribution of carbon dioxide.

Watch the hatch opening and welcome ceremony to follow live on NASA TV and the agency’s website beginning at 10:30 p.m.:

Related article:

Crew Safely in Orbit After Successful Launch

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Crew Safely in Orbit After Successful Launch

ROSCOSMOS - Soyuz MS-12 Mission patch.

March 14, 2019

The Soyuz MS-12 launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan to the International Space Station at 3:14 p.m. EDT (12:14 a.m. March 15 Kazakhstan time) and has safely reached orbit.  At the time of launch, the station was flying about 250 miles over southern Russia, across the northeast border with Kazakhstan; more than 1,100 statute miles ahead of the Soyuz as it leaves the launch pad.

NASA astronauts Nick Hague and Christina Koch, and cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin of Roscosmoshave begun their six-hour trip to the orbital laboratory where they will live and work for more than six months. The new crew members will dock to the Rassvet module at 9:07 p.m. Expedition 59 will begin officially at the time of docking.

Image above: The Soyuz MS-12 spacecraft is launched with Expedition 59 crewmembers Nick Hague and Christina Koch of NASA, along with Alexey Ovchinin of Roscosmos, Friday March 15, 2019, Kazakh time (March 14 Eastern time) at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Hague, Koch, and Ovchinin will spend six-and-a-half months living and working aboard the International Space Station. Photo Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls.

About two hours later, hatches between the Soyuz and the station will open and the new residents will be greeted by NASA astronaut Anne McClain, station commander Oleg Kononenko of Roscosmos, and David Saint-Jacques of the Canadian Space Agency. The current three-person crew just welcomed the first American commercial crew vehicle as it docked to the station on March 3, amidst a busy schedule of scientific research and operations since arriving in December.

Soyuz MS-12 launch

Coverage of the Soyuz docking to the International Space Station will begin on NASA TV’s media channel and the agency’s website beginning at 8:45 p.m. with the spacecraft docking expected at 9:07 p.m.

Coverage of the hatch opening between the Soyuz and the space station will begin at 10:30 p.m.

Related articles:

Housekeeping and Maintenance Punctuate Last Full Day of Expedition 58

Before Launch and Spacewalks, Science Reigns Supreme Aboard Orbiting Lab

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A Cosmic Bat in Flight

ESO - European Southern Observatory logo.

14 March 2019

ESO’s Cosmic Gems Programme captures the Cosmic Bat’s dusty clouds

A Cosmic Bat in Flight

Hidden in one of the darkest corners of the Orion constellation, this Cosmic Bat is spreading its hazy wings through interstellar space two thousand light-years away. It is illuminated by the young stars nestled in its core — despite being shrouded by opaque clouds of dust, their bright rays still illuminate the nebula. Too dim to be discerned by the naked eye, NGC 1788 reveals its soft colours to ESO's Very Large Telescope in this image — the most detailed to date.

ESO's Very Large Telescope (VLT) has caught a glimpse of an ethereal nebula hidden away in the darkest corners of the constellation of Orion (The Hunter) — NGC 1788, nicknamed the Cosmic Bat. This bat-shaped reflection nebula doesn’t emit light — instead it is illuminated by a cluster of young stars in its core, only dimly visible through the clouds of dust. Scientific instruments have come a long way since NGC 1788 was first described, and this image taken by the VLT is the most detailed portrait of this nebula ever taken.

Around NGC 1788

Even though this ghostly nebula in Orion appears to be isolated from other cosmic objects, astronomers believe that it was shaped by powerful stellar winds from the massive stars beyond it. These streams of scorching plasma are thrown from a star’s upper atmosphere at incredible speeds, shaping the clouds secluding the Cosmic Bat’s nascent stars.

NGC 1788 was first described by the German–British astronomer William Herschel, who included it in a catalogue that later served as the basis for one of the most significant collections of deep-sky objects, the New General Catalogue (NGC) [1]. A nice image of this small and dim nebula had already been captured by the MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope at ESO's La Silla Observatory, but this newly observed scene leaves it in the proverbial dust. Frozen in flight, the minute details of this Cosmic Bat's dusty wings were imaged for the twentieth anniversary of one of ESO's most versatile instruments, the FOcal Reducer and low dispersion Spectrograph 2 (FORS2).

The Cosmic Bat in the Constellation Orion

FORS2 is an instrument mounted on Antu, one of the VLT's 8.2-metre Unit Telescopes at the Paranal Observatory, and its ability to image large areas of the sky in exceptional detail has made it a coveted member of ESO's fleet of cutting-edge scientific instruments. Since its first light 20 years ago, FORS2 has become known as “the Swiss army knife of instruments”. This moniker originates from its uniquely broad set of functions [2]. FORS2’s versatility extends beyond purely scientific uses — its ability to capture beautiful high-quality images like this makes it a particularly useful tool for public outreach.

Zooming into the Cosmic Bat

This image was taken as part of ESO’s Cosmic Gems programme, an outreach initiative that uses ESO telescopes to produce images of interesting, intriguing or visually attractive objects for the purposes of education and public outreach. The programme makes use of telescope time that cannot be used for science observations, and — with the help of FORS2 — produces breathtaking images of some of the most striking objects in the night sky, such as this intricate reflection nebula. In case the data collected could be useful for future scientific purposes, these observations are saved and made available to astronomers through the ESO Science Archive.

Panning across the Cosmic Bat


[1] In 1864 John Herschel published the General Catalogue of Nebulae and Clusters, which built on extensive catalogues and contained entries for more than five thousand intriguing deep-sky objects. Twenty-four years later, this catalogue was expanded by John Louis Emil Dreyer and published as the New General Catalogue of Nebulae and Clusters of Stars (NGC), a comprehensive collection of stunning deep-sky objects.

[2] In addition to being able to image large areas of the sky with precision, FORS2 can also measure the spectra of multiple objects in the night sky and analyse the polarisation of their light. Data from FORS2 are the basis of over 100 scientific studies published every year.

More information:

ESO is the foremost intergovernmental astronomy organisation in Europe and the world’s most productive ground-based astronomical observatory by far. It has 16 Member States: Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, along with the host state of Chile and with Australia as a Strategic Partner. ESO carries out an ambitious programme focused on the design, construction and operation of powerful ground-based observing facilities enabling astronomers to make important scientific discoveries. ESO also plays a leading role in promoting and organising cooperation in astronomical research. ESO operates three unique world-class observing sites in Chile: La Silla, Paranal and Chajnantor. At Paranal, ESO operates the Very Large Telescope and its world-leading Very Large Telescope Interferometer as well as two survey telescopes, VISTA working in the infrared and the visible-light VLT Survey Telescope. Also at Paranal ESO will host and operate the Cherenkov Telescope Array South, the world’s largest and most sensitive gamma-ray observatory. ESO is also a major partner in two facilities on Chajnantor, APEX and ALMA, the largest astronomical project in existence. And on Cerro Armazones, close to Paranal, ESO is building the 39-metre Extremely Large Telescope, the ELT, which will become “the world’s biggest eye on the sky”.


ESOcast 195 Light: A Cosmic Bat in Flight:

ESOcast 196 Light: 20 Years of exploring the Universe:

NGC 1788 observed by the MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope:

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Images, Text, Credits: ESO/Calum Turner/Digitized Sky Survey 2.  Acknowledgement: Davide de Martin/IAU and Sky & Telescope/Videos: ESO/Digitized Sky Survey 2/N. Risinger ( Music: XXX/Music: Mat Javis — The Shape of Things to Come.

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Sentinels monitor converging ice cracks

ESA - Sentinel-1 Mission logo / ESA - Sentinel-2 Mission logo.

14 March 2019

The Copernicus Sentinel-1 radar mission shows how cracks cutting across Antarctica’s Brunt ice shelf are on course to truncate the shelf and release an iceberg about the size of Greater London – it’s just a matter of time.

The Brunt ice shelf is an area of floating ice bordering the Coats Land coast in the Weddell Sea sector of Antarctica.

 Converging fractures in the ice

Using radar images from the Copernicus Sentinel-1 mission the animation shows two lengthening fractures: a large chasm running northwards and a split, dubbed Halloween Crack, that has been extending eastwards since October 2016. They are now only separated by a few kilometres.

Halloween Crack runs from an area known as McDonald Ice Rumples, which is where the underside of the otherwise floating ice sheet is grounded on the shallow seabed. This pinning point slows the flow of ice and crumples the ice surface into waves.

Brunt ice shelf is at its maximum extent during the satellite era and compared to images collected by Argon declassified intelligence satellite photographs in 1963 and maps made by Frank Worsley during the Endurance expedition into the Weddell Sea in 1915.

History shows that the last event was in 1971 when a portion of ice calved north of the Ice Rumples and in what appears to have been a previous iteration of today’s Halloween Crack which is separating along lines of weakness.

Mark Drinkwater, Head of ESA’s Earth and Mission Science Division, says, “Importantly, tracking the entire ice shelf movement reveals a lot going on north of the Halloween Crack, where the shelf flows in a more northerly direction. Meanwhile, this divergence is splitting the northern and southern parts of the shelf along the Halloween Crack.

Changing location of Brunt calving

“Interestingly, the animation also reveals a widening split right across the Ice Rumples, which may also put the structural integrity of this northern outer segment into question.

“We have been observing the Brunt ice shelf for decades and it is constantly changing. Early maps made in the 1970s indicate that the ice shelf was more like a mass of small icebergs welded together by sea ice.”

As the ice flows down the steep coastal area and across the grounding line into the floating ice shelf, it fractures into a series of regular blocks. The structural integrity of the shelf relies on the fractures being filled over decades by marine ice and snow. Since Copernicus Sentinel-1 radar penetrates through the surface snow, this pattern of fractures is revealed to give Brunt its skeletal-like appearance.

When the chasm and cracks around McDonald ice rumples finally intersect, it is likely that the northern end of the calved iceberg remains pinned by its grounding point, leaving the southern end of the berg to swing out into the ocean.

Although it may be the biggest berg observed to break off Brunt, compared to the recent Larsen ice shelf iceberg A68, for example, it won’t be a particularly large. However, the concern is that this calving could allow the ice left behind to flow more freely towards the ocean.

“We are now poised for this eventual calving, which could have consequences for the ice shelf as a whole. After the 1971 calving, ice shelf velocities are reported to have doubled from 1 to 2 metres a day. So we will be carefully monitoring the ice shelf with the combination of both Copernicus Sentinel-1 and Copernicus Sentinel-2, which carries an optical instrument, to see how the dynamics influence the integrity of the remaining ice sheet,” continues Dr Drinkwater.

Brunt ice shelf cracked

With the ice shelf currently deemed unsafe, the British Antarctic Survey has closed up their Halley VI research station, which was repositioned south of Halloween Crack and east of the chasm in 2017.

The station used to be operational all year round, but this is the third winter running that it has had to close because of potential danger.

There has been a permanent research station on Brunt since the late 1950s, but in 2016–17 the base was dragged 23 km to its current, more secure location. If it had not been moved, it would now be on the seaward side of the chasm.


Routine monitoring by satellites with different observing capabilities offer unprecedented views of events happening in remote regions like Antarctica, and how ice shelves manage to retain their structural integrity in response to changes in ice dynamics, air and ocean temperatures.


The Copernicus Sentinel-1 mission carries radar, which can return images regardless of day or night and this allows us year-round viewing, which is especially important through the long, dark, austral winter months. A recent image from the Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission provides complementary information.

Related links:



Sentinel data access:


Images, Video, Text, Credits: ESA/Contains modified Copernicus Sentinel-2 data (2019), courtesy Stef l'Hermitte TU Delft/Processed by ESA, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO.


ESA greenlight for UK's air-breathing rocket engine

ESA - European Space Agency patch.

14 March 2019

Vehicle Two Stage to Orbit

The development programme of the world’s first air-breathing rocket engine has taken an additional significant step forward, which will lead to major testing milestones being undertaken within the next 18 months.

SABRE engine core

ESA, together with the UK Space Agency (UKSA) recently reviewed the preliminary design of the demonstrator engine core of the Synergetic Air-Breathing Rocket Engine (SABRE), which Reaction Engines will use to undertake ground-based testing at test facility at Westcott, Buckinghamshire, which is currently under construction.

“The positive conclusion of our preliminary design review marks a major milestone in SABRE development,” comments Mark Ford, heading ESA’s Propulsion Engineering section. “It confirms the test version of this revolutionary new class of engine is ready for implementation.”

SABRE engine

SABRE is uniquely designed to scoop up atmospheric air during the initial part of its ascent to space at up to five times the speed of sound. At about 25 km it would then switch to pure rocket mode for its final climb to orbit.

In future SABRE could serve as the basis of a reusable launch vehicle that operates like an aircraft. Because it would carry much less bulky onboard oxygen supplies, such a vehicle could deliver the same payload to orbit of a half the vehicle mass of current launchers, as well as potentially offering a large reduction in cost and higher launch rate.

Engine airflow

ESA, via the UK Space Agency has invested €10 million in SABRE development, together with £50 million from UKSA. ESA also performs a technical oversight role on behalf of UKSA.

ESA’s involvement began in 2010 with an independent review of SABRE’s viability, opening the way to UK government investment. Then, in 2012, ESA collaborated with Reaction Engines on testing of an essential element of SABRE – the pre-cooler that cools the hot airstream entering the engine at hypersonic speed, the performance of which was fully validated under ambient air temperatures.

Precooler testing for SABRE engine

Reaction Engines launched a significant new element of its development programme in October 2016 to design, build and demonstrate a SABRE engine core. The test item consists of an engine core, which is a key module of the complete SABRE engine, but without the pre-cooler and rocket nozzle in place. Following completion of this core design and development activity major elements of the world’s first air-breathing engine capable of accelerating from zero to Mach 5 will have been demonstrated.

The complete air-breathing core demonstrator will be fully representative of the SABRE thermodynamic core cycle, fuelled by liquid hydrogen, and will contain heat exchangers plus combustion and turbomachinery modules.

Westcott rocket engine site

Testing of the core demonstrator will be undertaken at a dedicated test facility currently being built at Westcott Venture Park in Buckinghamshire, a historic site for British rocketry where engines for the Blue Streak and Black Arrow rockets were tested.

Chris Castelli, Director of Programmes at the UK Space Agency, said: “As the home of the jet engine, the UK has a rich aerospace heritage and world-renowned skills and expertise. This is an exciting landmark for Reaction Engines in the development of its SABRE engine, which could revolutionise both access to space and international travel by powering aircraft to five times the speed of sound.

TF1 time lapse - August 2018

“The government’s modern industrial strategy is putting the UK at the forefront of pioneering aerospace technologies and ensuring we thrive in the new commercial space age. Our £60m investment in SABRE is a great example of how we are backing the businesses of tomorrow.”

Shaun Driscoll, Programmes Director atReaction Engines, said:“Reaction Engines has had a hugely supportive relationship with ESA and we are delighted with this further endorsement of the SABRE engine design. This step opens the door to some exciting testing milestones which we will be undertaking in the next 18 months and moves us closer to the demonstration of the first SABRE engine, a unique class of scalable aerospace engines, which will revolutionise the way we travel around the globe, and get into orbit.” 

Sabre Animation 2017

“One of the great advantages of the SABRE propulsion concept is that it is totally modular from both design and operational perspectives” explains Richard Varvill, Chief Technology Officer of Reaction Engines. “Therefore it is possible to subject each of the key components of the engine to rigorous ground testing, which fully mimic the operational conditions the engine will face up to Mach 5 flight at 25km altitude.”  

Related links:

Space Engineering & Technology:

Reaction Engines Limited:

UK Space Agency:

Images, Videos, Text, Credits: ESA/Reaction Engines Ltd.


InSight lander among latest ExoMars image bounty

ESA & ROSCOSMOS - ExoMars Mission patch.

14 March 2019

Curious surface features, water-formed minerals, 3D stereo views, and even a sighting of the InSight lander showcase the impressive range of imaging capabilities of the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter.

Dust devil frenzy

The ESA-Roscosmos Trace Gas Orbiter, or TGO, launched three years ago today, on 14 March 2016. It arrived at Mars on 19 October that year, and spent over a year demonstrating the aerobraking technique needed to reach its science orbit, starting its prime mission at the end of April 2018.

Hello, InSight

Amongst a new showcase of images from the spacecraft’s Colour and Stereo Surface Imaging System, CaSSIS, is an image of NASA’s InSight lander – the first time a European instrument has identified a lander on the Red Planet.

Insight arrived on Mars on 26 November 2018 to study the interior of the planet. Images of the lander have already been returned by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter; these are the first images from TGO.

ExoMars images InSight

The panchromatic image presented here was captured by CaSSIS on 2 March 2019, and covers an area of about 2.25 x 2.25 km. At that time, InSight was hammering a probe into the surface in order to measure heat coming from inside the planet.

The CaSSIS view shows InSight as a slightly brighter dot in the centre of the dark patch produced when the lander fired its retro rockets, just before touchdown in the Elysium Planitia region of Mars, and disturbed the surface dust. The heat shield released just before landing can also be seen on the edge of a crater, and the backshell used to protect the lander during descent is also identified.

“The ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter is being used to relay data from InSight to Earth,” says Nicolas Thomas, CaSSIS Principal Investigator, from the University of Bern in Switzerland. “Because of this function, to avoid uncertainties in communications, we had not been able to point the camera towards the landing site so far – we had to wait until the landing site passed directly under the spacecraft to get this image.”

Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO)

CaSSIS is expected to provide additional support to the InSight team by observing the surface of Mars in the area surrounding the lander. If the seismometer picks up a signal, the source might be a meteorite impact. One of CaSSIS’s tasks will be to help search for the impact site, which will allow the InSight team to better constrain the internal properties of Mars near the landing site.

The image of InSight also demonstrates that CaSSIS will be able to take pictures of the future ExoMars mission. The mission comprises a rover – named Rosalind Franklin – together with a surface science platform, and is due to be launched in July 2020, arriving at Mars in March 2021. TGO will also act as the data relay for the rover.

Salty sulphates

Science showcase

Also released today is a selection of images capturing the impressive science capabilities of CaSSIS, ranging from high-resolution views of intriguing surface features and images that highlight the diversity of minerals on the surface, to 3D stereo views and digital terrain models.

The images selected include detailed views of layered deposits in the polar regions, the dynamic nature of Mars dunes, and the surface effects of converging dust devils. The stereo images bring the scenes alive by providing an extra insight into elevation differences, which is essential for deciphering the history in which different layers and deposits were laid down.

Colour-composite images are processed to better highlight the contrast of surface features. Combined with data from other instruments, this allows scientists to trace out regions that have been influenced by water, for example. These images can also be used to help guide surface exploration missions and provide broader regional context for landers and rovers.

Ascraeus Mons – digital terrain model

“The InSight landing site image is just one of many really high quality images that we have been receiving,” adds Nicolas. “All of the images we’re sharing today represent some of the best from the last few months. We’re also really pleased with the digital terrain models.”

Draped dunes – 3D

“This stunning image showcase really demonstrates the scientific potential we have with TGO’s imaging system,” says Håkan Svedhem, ESA’s TGO project scientist. “Over the course of the mission we’ll be able to investigate dynamic surface processes, including those that might also help to constrain the atmospheric gas inventory that TGO’s spectrometers have been analysing, as well as characterise future landing sites.” 

South polar layered terrains

Notes for editors

The images have been produced by teams from the University of Bern, Switzerland; the University of Arizona, USA; and INAF-Padova, Italy.

Read the University of Bern press release here:

Related links:



NASA’s InSight:

Images, Text, Credits: ESA/Markus Bauer/Håkan Svedhem/Center for Space and Habitability (CSH)
University of Bern, Nicolas Thomas/Roscosmos/CaSSIS, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO.

Best regards,

mercredi 13 mars 2019

LS2 Report: Rejuvenation for the Antiproton Decelerator

CERN - European Organization for Nuclear Research logo.

13 March, 2019

The Antiproton Decelerator will see refurbishment work that will help its experiments to trap more antimatter than before 

The AD target area during LS2 (Image: Maximilien Brice/CERN)

The Antiproton Decelerator (AD), sometimes known as the Antimatter Factory, is the world’s largest source of antimatter and has been operational since 2000. Here, antiprotons are slowed down and sent into the experiments, where they are combined with antielectrons to produce the most basic antiatom: that of antihydrogen. Over the course of the second long shutdown of CERN’s accelerator complex (LS2), the AD will receive several enhancements as well as repairs and refurbishments.

The recently installed ELENA ring, which was commissioned over 2017 and 2018, is designed to slow down even further the antiprotons decelerated by AD to ensure that the experiments can trap up to 100 times more antiprotons than they could without it. At the moment, ELENA is only connected to one of the experiments within the AD hall, the new GBAR experiment. The main work being done on the AD during the next two years is to extend the beam line from ELENA to all of the existing experiments and get ELENA fully operational. The lines that took the particles from the AD to the experiments have now been fully dismantled to prepare for the new injection lines from ELENA.

Other planned and ongoing activities involve the AD’s 84 magnets, which focus and steer the whizzing antiprotons along their racetrack. Most of these magnets were recycled from previous accelerator facilities and are much older than the AD itself. They are in need of repairs and refurbishment, which started during the previous long shutdown (LS1) and was pursued during subsequent year-end technical stops (YETS). So far, nine of the magnets have been treated, and 20 of them are scheduled for treatment during LS2. The remaining magnets will either be treated in situ or will undergo refurbishment during the next YETS and the third long shutdown (LS3).

Removing the magnets to take them to the treatment facility is no easy task. The AD ring is encased in a large shielding tunnel made of concrete blocks. Therefore, the blocks making up the ceiling near the magnet in question have to first be removed and stored, allowing a crane to descend though the opening and extract the magnet (which weighs up to 26 tonnes), sometimes with a margin of only 1 cm. Related work is being done to consolidate other elements of the AD, such as the kicker magnets, the septa magnets and the radiofrequency cavities.

One of the main tasks of LS2 that has already been achieved was the installation of a new cooling pump for the AD. Previously, a single set of pumps were operated, connected to both the AD itself and to its experiments. This meant that the pumping system was operational year round next to the AD ring, producing a constant noise at over 100 decibels in some places. The new dedicated pump allows the main pumping group to be turned off without affecting the experiments’ cooling systems, saving money and improving working conditions for those who need to be in close proximity to the AD over the shutdown period. It also provides much-needed redundancy to the cooling circuits.

By the end of LS2, the AD hall will look very different from what it does today, but the changes are not merely superficial. They will ensure that CERN’s antimatter factory continues to operate with high efficiency and help explore the mysteries surrounding elusive antimatter.


CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, is one of the world’s largest and most respected centres for scientific research. Its business is fundamental physics, finding out what the Universe is made of and how it works. At CERN, the world’s largest and most complex scientific instruments are used to study the basic constituents of matter — the fundamental particles. By studying what happens when these particles collide, physicists learn about the laws of Nature.

The instruments used at CERN are particle accelerators and detectors. Accelerators boost beams of particles to high energies before they are made to collide with each other or with stationary targets. Detectors observe and record the results of these collisions.

Founded in 1954, the CERN Laboratory sits astride the Franco–Swiss border near Geneva. It was one of Europe’s first joint ventures and now has 22 Member States.

Related links:

Antiproton Decelerator (AD):

ELENA ring:

Previous long shutdown (LS1):

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

Image (mentioned), Text, Credits: CERN/Achintya Rao.

Best regards,

Housekeeping and Maintenance Punctuate Last Full Day of Expedition 58

ISS - Expedition 58 Mission patch.

March 13, 2019

International Space Station (ISS). Animation Credit: NASA

The last full day of Expedition 58—before the launch, docking and consolidation of crews to become Expedition 59—was mostly spent on housekeeping items for the continued, successful operation of the International Space Station.

NASA astronaut Anne McClain floated through the Tranquility and Zvezda service modules, deploying acoustic monitors. She paused in the U.S. lab at an EXPRESS rack to install communications gear and perform additional maintenance. David Saint-Jacques of the Canadian Space Agency also worked with EXPRESS today, moving Space Automated Bioproduct Labs from rack-1 to rack-2. This miniature laboratory within the larger orbiting laboratory supports life science research, hosting microorganisms (bacteria, yeast, algae, fungi, viruses, etc.), small organisms, animal cells, tissue cultures and small plants for evaluation in space.

Image above: From left, Expedition 59 crew members Christina Koch, Alexey Ovchinin and Nick Hague show solidarity before their upcoming launch from Baikonur, Kazakhstan. Image Credit: NASA.

Expedition Commander Oleg Kononenko of Roscosmos replaced fuel bottles on the Combustion Integrated Rack, which allows the crew members to conduct fluids and combustion studies in microgravity.

Today in Baikonur, Kazakhstan, NASA astronauts Nick Hague and Christina Koch, and cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin of Roscosmos, were certified for flight by the Russian state commission and held their final news conference.

Image above: Expedition 59 crew members Christina Koch of NASA, Alexey Ovchinin of Roscosmos and Nick Hague of NASA during pre-launch training for launch March 14, U.S. time, on the Soyuz MS-12 spacecraft from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan for a six-and-a-half month mission on the International Space Station. Image Credit: NASA.

Tomorrow, the soon-to-be station residents will hitch a ride aboard a Soyuz MS-12 for blastoff at 3:14 p.m. EDT on, coincidentally, 3/14. After a relatively speedy six-hour flight, the Soyuz is expected to dock to station’s Rassvet module at 9:07 p.m. Expedition 59 will begin officially at the time of docking.

The events will unfold live on NASA TV, with launch coverage beginning at 2 p.m. and docking coverage at 8:15 p.m., respectively. After a brief break, tune in at 10:30 p.m. for the hatch opening and welcome, which will return the orbiting laboratory’s population to six—including three NASA astronauts. And, just in time for Women’s History Month, this launch marks the fourth Expedition crew with two female astronauts. 

Related links:

NASA Coverage for Next Space Station Crew Launch, Docking:

Expedition 58:

Expedition 59:

Tranquility module:

Zvezda module:


Space Automated Bioproduct Labs:

Combustion Integrated Rack:


Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

Animation (mentioned), Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Catherine Williams.

Best regards,