vendredi 31 mai 2019

A Prehistoric Puzzle in the Kuiper Belt

NASA - New Horizons Mission patch.

May 31, 2019

NASA’s New Horizons Team Unravels the Many Mysteries of Ultima Thule 
A Prehistoric Puzzle in the Kuiper Belt

The farthest object ever explored is slowly revealing its secrets, as scientists piece together the puzzles of Ultima Thule – the Kuiper Belt object NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft flew past on New Year’s Day, four billion miles from Earth.

Analyzing the data New Horizons has been sending home since the flyby of Ultima Thule (officially named 2014 MU69), mission scientists are learning more about the formation, geology and composition of this ancient relic of solar system formation. The team discussed those findings today at the 50th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in The Woodlands, Texas.

Ultima Thule is the first unquestionably primordial contact binary ever explored. Approach pictures of Ultima Thule hinted at a strange, snowman-like shape for the binary, but further analysis of images, taken near closest approach – New Horizons came to within just 2,200 miles (3,500 kilometers) – have uncovered just how unusual the KBO’s shape really is. At 22 miles (35 kilometers) long, Ultima Thule consists of a large, flat lobe (nicknamed “Ultima”) connected to a smaller, rounder lobe (nicknamed “Thule”).

This strange shape is the biggest surprise, so far, of the flyby. “We’ve never seen anything like this anywhere in the solar system,” said New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern, of the Southwest Research Institute, Boulder, Colorado. “It is sending the planetary science community back to the drawing board to understand how planetesimals – the building blocks of the planets – form.”

Because it is so well preserved, Ultima Thule is offering our clearest look back to the era of planetesimal accretion and the earliest stages of planetary formation. Apparently Ultima Thule’s two lobes once orbited each other, like many so-called binary worlds in the Kuiper Belt, until something brought them together in a “gentle” merger.

“This fits with general ideas of the beginning of our solar system,” said William McKinnon, a New Horizons co-investigator from Washington University in St. Louis. “Much of the orbital momentum of the Ultima Thule binary must have been drained away for them to come together like this. But we don’t know yet what processes were most important in making that happen.”

That meeting may have left its mark on the surface. The “neck” connecting Ultima and Thule is bent, and could indicate shearing as the lobes combined, said Kirby Runyon, a New Horizons science team member from the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland.

Image Credits: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute/National Optical Astronomy Observatory.

Runyon and fellow team geologists are describing and trying to understand Ultima Thule’s many surface features, from bright spots and patches, to hills and troughs, to craters and pits. The craters, while at first glance look like impact craters, could have other origins. Some may be pit craters, where material drains into underground cracks, or a result of sublimation, where ice went directly from solid to gas and left pits in its place. The largest depression is a 5-mile-wide (8 kilometer) feature the team has nicknamed Maryland crater. It could be an impact crater, or it could have formed in one of the other above-mentioned ways.

“We have our work cut out to understand Ultima Thule’s geology, that is for sure,” Runyon said.

In color and composition, New Horizons data revealed that Ultima Thule resembles many other objects found in its region of the Kuiper Belt. Consistent with pre-flyby observations from the Hubble Telescope, Ultima Thule is very red – redder even than Pluto, which New Horizons flew past on the inner edge of the Kuiper Belt in 2015 – and about the same color as many other so-called “cold classical” KBOs. (“Cold” referring not to temperature but to the circular, uninclined orbits of these objects; “classical” in that their orbits have changed little since forming, and represent a primordial sample of the primordial Kuiper Belt.)

“This is the first time one of these ‘ultra red’ objects has been explored, and our observations open all kinds of new questions,” said Carly Howett, a New Horizons science team member from SwRI. “The color imaging even reveals subtle differences in coloration across the surface, and we really want to know why.”

New Horizons scientists have also seen evidence for methanol, water ice and organic molecules on the surface. “The spectrum of Ultima Thule is similar to some of the most extreme objects we’ve seen in the outer solar system,” said Silvia Protopapa, a New Horizons co-investigator from SwRI. “So New Horizons is giving us an incredible opportunity to study one of these bodies up close.”

New Horizons Ultima Thule flyby. Image Credits: NASA/JHUAPL

The Ultima Thule data transmission continues, though all of the data from the flyby won’t be on the ground until late summer 2020. In the meantime, New Horizons continues to carry out distant observations of additional Kuiper Belt objects and mapping the charged-particle radiation and dust environment in the Kuiper Belt.

The New Horizons spacecraft is 4.1 billion miles (6.6 billion kilometers) from Earth, operating normally and speeding deeper into the Kuiper Belt at nearly 33,000 miles (53,000 kilometers) per hour.

Related article:

NASA’s New Horizons Team Publishes First Kuiper Belt Flyby Science Results

New Horizons:

Video, Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Bill Keeter.

Best regards,

Science Results Packed for Return to Earth Aboard Dragon Monday

ISS - Expedition 59 Mission patch.

May 31, 2019

The Expedition 59 crew is starting the weekend preparing the SpaceX Dragon cargo craft for its departure from the International Space Station on Monday. The space residents are also juggling a variety of research work and lab maintenance tasks today.

NASA TV is broadcasting the robotic release of Dragon from the station live on NASA TV beginning Monday at 11:45 a.m. EDT.  Robotics controllers will command the Canadarm2 robotic arm to release the space freighter around 12:09 p.m. while astronaut David Saint-Jacques monitors from the cupola. Dragon will splashdown in the Pacific about 5:48 p.m. and will not be seen on NASA TV.

Image above: The SpaceX Dragon cargo craft approaches the International Space Station on May 6, 2019, to deliver than 5,500 pounds of research, equipment, cargo and supplies to the Expedition 59 crew. Image Credit: NASA.

Several critical experiments have wrapped up aboard the orbiting lab with the completed results and hardware being packed inside the Dragon this weekend. After the space freighter splashes down Monday, it will be towed to shore where the finalized research will be distributed to labs around the world for analysis.

Astronauts Anne McClain and David Saint-Jacques are cleaning up and inspecting the Life Sciences Glovebox (LSG) today. This comes after the crew completed a month-long study of the immune system’s response to weightlessness inside the LSG. Samples from that study will also return to Earth aboard Dragon Monday.

International Space Station (ISS). Animation Credit:  NASA

The pair first joined Flight Engineer Nick Hague during the morning checking out space biology hardware and transferring more frozen research samples into Dragon’s science freezers. Hague and McClain then participated in regularly scheduled eye exams in the afternoon.

Christina Koch of NASA is helping cosmonauts Oleg Kononenko and Alexey Ovchinin clean up after the duo’s spacewalk on Wednesday. She stowed the U.S. tools they used back in the Quest airlock while the cosmonauts serviced their Russian Orlan spacesuits in the Pirs airlock.

Related article:

Two Cosmonauts Wrap Up the Fourth Spacewalk at the Station This Year

Related links:

Expedition 59:


Canadarm2 robotic arm:

Life Sciences Glovebox (LSG):

Immune system’s response to weightlessness:

Quest airlock:

Pirs airlock:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

Best regards,

NASA Selects First Commercial Moon Landing Services for Artemis Program

NASA logo.

May 31, 2019

Image above: Commercial landers will carry NASA-provided science and technology payloads to the lunar surface, paving the way for NASA astronauts to land on the Moon by 2024. Image Credit: NASA.

NASA has selected three commercial Moon landing service providers that will deliver science and technology payloads under Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) as part of the Artemis program. Each commercial lander will carry NASA-provided payloads that will conduct science investigations and demonstrate advanced technologies on the lunar surface, paving the way for NASA astronauts to land on the lunar surface by 2024.

“Our selection of these U.S. commercial landing service providers represents America’s return to the Moon’s surface for the first time in decades, and it’s a huge step forward for our Artemis lunar exploration plans,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. ”Next year, our initial science and technology research will be on the lunar surface, which will help support sending the first woman and the next man to the Moon in five years. Investing in these commercial landing services also is another strong step to build a commercial space economy beyond low-Earth orbit.”

Image above: Astrobotic of Pittsburgh has proposed to fly as many as 14 payloads to a large crater on the near side of the Moon. Image Credit: Astrobotic.

As part of their submissions, each partner proposed flying specific NASA instruments to the lunar surface. By the end of the summer, NASA will determine which payloads will fly on each flight. The potential payloads include instruments that will conduct new lunar science, pinpoint lander position, measure the lunar radiation environment, assess how lander and astronaut activity affects the Moon, and assist with navigation precision, among other capabilities.

The selections are:

- Astrobotic of Pittsburgh has been awarded $79.5 million and has proposed to fly as many as 14 payloads to Lacus Mortis, a large crater on the near side of the Moon, by July 2021.

- Intuitive Machines of Houston has been awarded $77 million. The company has proposed to fly as many as five payloads to Oceanus Procellarum, a scientifically intriguing dark spot on the Moon, by July 2021.

- Orbit Beyond of Edison, New Jersey, has been awarded $97 million and has proposed to fly as many as four payloads to Mare Imbrium, a lava plain in one of the Moon’s craters, by September 2020.

“These landers are just the beginning of exciting commercial partnerships that will bring us closer to solving the many scientific mysteries of our Moon, our solar system, and beyond,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “What we learn will not only change our view of the universe, but also prepare our human missions to the Moon and eventually Mars.”

Image above: Intuitive Machines of Houston has proposed to fly as many as five payloads to a scientifically intriguing dark spot on the Moon. Image Credit: Intuitive Machines.

Each partner is providing end-to-end commercial payload delivery services to NASA, including payload integration and operations, launch from Earth and landing on the surface of the Moon. These early missions will enable important technology demonstrations that will inform the development of future landers and other exploration systems needed for humans to return to the lunar surface. They also will help prepare the agency to send astronauts to explore Mars.

Image above: Orbit Beyond of Edison, New Jersey, has proposed to fly as many as four payloads to a lava plain in one of the Moon’s craters. Image Credit: Orbit Beyond.

“This announcement starts a significant step in NASA's collaboration with our commercial partners,” said Chris Culbert, CLPS program manager at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. “NASA is committed to working with industry to enable the next round of lunar exploration. The companies we have selected represent a diverse community of exciting small American companies, each with their own unique, innovative approach to getting to the Moon. We look forward to working with them to have our payloads delivered and opening the door for returning humans to the Moon.”

As additional science, technology demonstration, and human exploration requirements for payloads develop, a request for task order bids will go to all current CLPS contractors. All nine companies initially selected in November 2018 for CLPS will be eligible to bid on subsequent task orders.

Our Next Lunar Landings

Video above: Introducing the first American companies who will deliver the science, technology and research that will set the stage for humanity’s return to the Moon by 2024. Video Credit: NASA.

Charged with returning astronauts to the Moon within five years, NASA’s Artemis lunar exploration plans are based on a two-phase approach: the first is focused on speed – landing astronauts on the Moon by 2024 – while the second will establish a sustained human presence on and around the Moon by 2028. We will use what we learn on the Moon to prepare to send astronauts to Mars.

Related article:

Sending American Astronauts to Moon in 2024: NASA Accepts Challenge

Related link:

Commercial Space:

For more information about NASA’s Moon to Mars exploration plans, visit:

Images (mentioned), Video (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Sean Potter/Felicia Chou/JSC/Rachel Kraft.


Hubble Sees a Galaxy Bucking the Trend

NASA - Hubble Space Telescope patch.

May 31, 2019

This luminous orb is the galaxy NGC 4621, better known as Messier 59. As this latter moniker indicates, the galaxy is listed in the famous catalog of deep-sky objects compiled by French comet-hunter Charles Messier in the 18th century. However, German astronomer Johann Gottfried Koehler is credited with discovering the galaxy just days before Messier added it to his collection in 1779.  

Modern observations show that Messier 59 is an elliptical galaxy, one of the three main kinds of galaxies along with spirals and irregulars. Ellipticals tend to be the most evolved of the trio, full of old, red stars and exhibiting little or no new star formation. Messier 59, however, bucks this trend somewhat; the galaxy does show signs of star formation, with some newborn stars residing within a disk near the core.

Located in the 2,000-strong Virgo cluster of galaxies within the constellation of Virgo (the Virgin), Messier 59 lies approximately 50 million light-years away from us. This image was taken by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope’s Advanced Camera for Surveys.

Hubble Space Telescope (HST)

Messier 59 is featured in Hubble’s Messier catalog, which includes some of the most fascinating objects that can be observed from Earth’s Northern Hemisphere. See the NASA-processed image and other Messier objects at:

For more information about Hubble, visit:

Text Credits: ESA (European Space Agency)/NASA/Rob Garner/Image, Animation, Credits: ESA/Hubble & NASA, P. Cote.

Best regards,

Mars on Earth – what next?

ESA & ROSCOSMOS - ExoMars Mission patch.

31 May 2019

A Mars Sample Return campaign would bring samples of the Red Planet back to Earth for examination in the best terrestrial laboratories – but choosing the samples and storing them on Mars for later return is only one part of the extensive campaign being planned by the mission designers and scientists.

Mars Sample Return overview infographic

A series of missions currently being planned will set a new bar for humankind’s technological achievements as NASA and ESA aim to bring back samples from the Martian surface.

The campaign foresees three launches from Earth and one from Mars, two martian rovers and an autonomous rendezvous and docking in Mars orbit – over 50 million km away from ground control.

Jezero Crater neighbourhood – 3D

The Mars Sample Return campaign is aiming to bring martian material back from Jezero crater that once held a lake and contains an ancient preserved river delta. The rocks in the area will have preserved information about Mars’ long and diverse geologic history.

Sampling Mars will allow humankind to dramatically expand our knowledge of our neighbouring planet, its geology and climate history.

With engineers in Europe and the USA up for the challenge, scientists are eager to receive the first samples from another planet and have already started investigating and preparing how they will analyse the precious, rocks, dust and gas once the samples are returned to Earth.

Containment and contamination control

An important question is how to analyse the samples while both protecting them from contamination by Earth’s chemical signatures, and also keeping them inside a secure contained environment.

On arrival the samples will go into quarantine much like the lunar rocks that returned to Earth on the Apollo and Luna Moon missions. International planetary protection guidelines are being revised in preparation for martian samples, and getting an update to incorporate more modern technology.

Mars sample container

Quarantine will be inside a Sample Receiving Facility, where the samples will already offer a treasure trove of information for scientists even before they are opened. Any martian dust that might cover the outside of the sample tubes can be analysed and non-invasive techniques such as x-ray investigations can be run, even on unopened tubes.

After the samples tubes are opened, a pre-determined set of initial measurements will generate a detailed catalogue of information, which will allow specialised science investigations to target specific parts of the samples.

Messages in bottles

“The sample tubes will contain martian rocks, dust and atmosphere,” says Elliot Sefton-Nash, the MSR Study Scientist from ESA’s Science Support Office, “Even though the plan is to open the tubes in a contained and inert environment, for a few measurements the clock will be ticking: for example, trapped gases in the sample material might start to mix with their surroundings, which could modify the martian chemical signatures that we want to measure.”

Earth Return Orbiter over Mars

Choosing the order to process the multitude of measurements that scientists want to do is a headache of interplanetary proportions. The samples will need to be eventually sterilised according to the planetary protection protocol, which could require heat, radiation or chemical processes. But the sterilisation procedure itself could change some samples from their original state, meaning that some ‘sterilisation sensitive’ investigations need to be done inside containment, before sterilisation happens.

The good news is that a recent publication from the Mars Sample Return Science Planning Group reports that roughly three quarters of all the measurements can be achieved after sterilisation.

The ordering of subsequent investigations is important, as some measurements will influence others. Some must destroy sample material to get results, and not all measurements can be done on all samples. The laboratory itself can be a decisive factor – measuring carbon precisely will require strict controls on how much carbon can be used in the laboratory, so an all-metal laboratory might be needed to get valid results. On the other hand, a metal laboratory would contaminate samples for other measurements, so a careful balance is needed. How to ensure the best science gets done on the samples in the best laboratories in the world – and in what order – is another puzzle.

Earth Return Orbiter and Mars sample container

After ESA’s Space19+ council, where the future and scope of ESA’s involvement in the Mars Sample Return Campaign will be decided, the participating agencies (currently NASA and ESA) in concert with the science and technology communities, will continue solving the challenge of how to best make discoveries with samples returned from Mars.

“Mars Sample Return would be a huge advancement for Mars science and the exploration of the Solar System”, concludes Sanjay Vijendran, ESA’s Mars Sample Return Campaign Coordinator. “The samples will fundamentally advance our understanding of Mars, the history of our Solar System, and will help us plan for future exploration missions.”

ESA has demonstrated expertise in studying Mars from orbit, now we are looking to secure a safe landing, to rove across the surface and to drill underground to search for evidence of life. Our orbiters are already in place to provide data relay services for surface missions. The next logical step is to bring samples back to Earth, to provide access to Mars for scientists globally, and to better prepare for future human exploration of the Red Planet. This week we’re highlighting ESA’s contribution to Mars exploration as we ramp up to the launch of our second ExoMars mission, and look beyond to completing a Mars Sample Return mission. Join the conversation online with the hashtag #ExploreFarther.

Related links:

Robotic exploration of Mars:


ExoMars at IKI:

ExoMars TGO at NASA:


Images, Video, Text, Credits: ESA/Anneke Le Floc'h/Roscosmos/CaSSIS, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO/ATG Medialab.


The radiation showstopper for Mars exploration

ESA - European Space Agency patch.

31 May 2019

An astronaut on a mission to Mars could receive radiation doses up to 700 times higher than on our planet – a major showstopper for the safe exploration of our Solar System. A team of European experts is working with ESA to protect the health of future crews on their way to the Moon and beyond.

Earth's protective shield

Earth’s magnetic field and atmosphere protect us from the constant bombardment of galactic cosmic rays – energetic particles that travel at close to the speed of light and penetrate the human body.

Cosmic radiation could increase cancer risks during long duration missions. Damage to the human body extends to the brain, heart and the central nervous system and sets the stage for degenerative diseases. A higher percentage of early-onset cataracts have been reported in astronauts.

“One day in space is equivalent to the radiation received on Earth for a whole year,” explains physicist Marco Durante, who studies cosmic radiation on Earth.

Space risks – Radiation

Marco points out that most of the changes in the astronauts’ gene expression are believed to be a result of radiation exposure, according to the recent NASA’s Twins study. This research showed DNA damage in astronaut Scott Kelly compared to his identical twin and fellow astronaut Mark Kelly, who remained on Earth.

A second source of space radiation comes from unpredictable solar particle events that deliver high doses of radiation in a short period of time, leading to ‘radiation sickness’ unless protective measures are taken.

Europe's radiation fight club

“The real problem is the large uncertainty surrounding the risks. We don’t understand space radiation very well and the long-lasting effects are unknown,” explains Marco who is also part of an ESA team formed to investigate radiation.

Since 2015, this forum of experts provides advice from areas such as space science, biology, epidemiology, medicine and physics to improve protection from space radiation.

“Space radiation research is an area that crosses the entire life and physical sciences area with important applications on Earth. Research in this area will remain of high priority for ESA,” says Jennifer Ngo-Anh, ESA’s team leader human research, biology and physical sciences.

While astronauts are not considered radiation workers in all countries, they are exposed to 200 times more radiation on the International Space Station than an airline pilot or a radiology nurse.

Radiation is in the Space Station’s spotlight every day. A console at NASA’s mission control in Houston, Texas, is constantly showing space weather information.

Space risks – Fighting radiation

If a burst of space radiation is detected, teams on Earth can abort a spacewalk, instruct astronauts to move to more shielded areas and even change the altitude of the Station to minimise impact.

One of the main recommendations of the topical team is to develop a risk model with the radiation dose limits for crews travelling beyond the International Space Station.

ESA’s flight surgeon and radiologist Ulrich Straube believes that the model should “provide information on the risks that could cause cancer and non-cancer health issues for astronauts going to the Moon and Mars in agreement with all space agencies.”

Recent data from ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter showed that on a six-month journey to the Red Planet an astronaut could be exposed to at least 60% of the total radiation dose limit recommended for their entire career.

“As it stands today, we can’t go to Mars due to radiation. It would be impossible to meet acceptable dose limits,” reminds Marco.

Measure to protect

ESA has teamed up with five particle accelerators in Europe that can recreate cosmic radiation by ‘shooting’ atomic particles to speeds approaching the speed of light. Researchers have been bombarding biological cells and materials with radiation to understand how to best protect astronauts.

“The research is paying off. Lithium is standing out as a promising material for shielding in planetary missions,” says Marco.

ESA has been measuring the radiation dose on the International Space Station for seven years with passive radiation detectors in the DOSIS 3D experiment. ESA astronauts Andreas Mogensen and Thomas Pesquet wore a new mobile dosimeter during their missions that gave them a real-time snapshot of their exposure.

A new particle accelerator will help make spaceflight safer

The same European team behind this research will provide radiation detectors to monitor the skin and organ doses of the two phantoms traveling to the Moon onboard NASA’s Orion spacecraft.

ESA has demonstrated expertise in studying Mars from orbit, now we are looking to secure a safe landing, to rove across the surface and to drill underground to search for evidence of life. Our orbiters are already in place to provide data relay services for surface missions. The next logical step is to bring samples back to Earth, to provide access to Mars for scientists globally, and to better prepare for future human exploration of the Red Planet. This week we’re highlighting ESA’s contribution to Mars exploration as we ramp up to the launch of our second ExoMars mission, and look beyond to completing a Mars Sample Return mission. Join the conversation online with the hashtag #ExploreFarther.

Related links:

NASA’s Twins study:

DOSIS 3D experiment:

Mobile dosimeter:

Participating particle accelerators:

CIMAP – Centre de Recherche sur les Ions, les Matériaux et la Photonique:

AGOR – Accélérateur Groningen-ORsay:

GANIL – Grand Accélérateur National d’Ions Lourds:

HIT – Heidelberg Ion-Beam Therapy Center:

PTC – Protonen Therapie Dresden:

TIFPA - Trento Institute for Fundamental Physics and Applications:

Images, Text, Credits: ESA/ATG medialab.

Best regards,

NASA's Spitzer Captures Stellar Family Portrait

NASA - Spitzer Space Telescope patch.

May 31, 2019

Image above: A mosaic by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope of the Cepheus C and Cepheus B regions. This image combines data from Spitzer's IRAC and MIPS instruments. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

In this large celestial mosaic taken by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope, there's a lot to see, including multiple clusters of stars born from the same dense clumps of gas and dust. Some of these clusters are older than others and more evolved, making this a generational stellar portrait.

The grand green-and-orange delta filling most of the image is a faraway nebula, or a cloud of gas and dust in space. Though the cloud may appear to flow from the bright white spot at its tip, it is actually what remains of a much larger cloud that has been carved away by radiation from stars. The bright region is illuminated by massive stars, belonging to a cluster that extends above the white spot. The white color is the combination of four colors (blue, green, orange and red), each representing a different wavelength of infrared light, which is invisible to human eyes. Dust that has been heated by the stars' radiation creates the surrounding red glow.

Image above: An annotated mosaic by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope of the Cepheus C and Cepheus B regions. This image combines data from Spitzer's IRAC and MIPS instruments. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

On the left side of this image, a dark filament runs horizontally through the green cloud. A smattering of baby stars (the red and yellow dots) appear inside it. Known as Cepheus C, the area is a particularly dense concentration of gas and dust where infant stars form. The dark vein of material will eventually be dispersed by strong winds produced as the stars get older, as well as when they eventually explode and die. This will create an illuminated puffed-up region that will look similar to the bright red-and-white region on the large nebula's upper-right side. The region is called Cepheus C because it lies in the constellation Cepheus, which can be found near the constellation Cassiopeia. Cepheus C is about 6 light-years long and lies about 40 light-years from the bright spot at the tip of the nebula.

A second large nebula can be seen on the right side of the image, with a star cluster located just above it. Known as Cepheus B, the cluster sits within a few thousand light-years of our Sun. A study of this region using Spitzer data found that the dramatic collection is about 4 million to 5 million years old - slightly older than those in Cepheus C.

In that way, the mosaic is a veritable family portrait, featuring infants, parents and grandparents of star-forming regions: Stars form in dense clouds of material, like the dark vein that makes up Cepheus C. As the stars grow, they produce winds that blow the gas and dust outward, to form beautiful, illuminated nebulas like the bright white spot at the top of the larger nebula. Finally, the dust and gas disperse, and the star clusters stand alone in space, as with Cepheus B.

Stars of Cepheus as Seen by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope

Other Sights to See

The amazing features in this image don't end there.

Look closely for the small, red hourglass shape just below Cepheus C. This is V374 Ceph. Astronomers studying this massive star have speculated that it might be surrounded by a nearly edge-on disk of dark, dusty material. The dark cones extending to the right and left of the star are a shadow of that disk.

The smaller nebula on the right side of the image includes two particularly interesting objects. In the upper-left portion of the nebula, try to find a blue star crowned by a small, red arc of light. This "runaway star" is plowing through the gas and dust at a rapid clip, creating a shock wave, or "bow shock," in front of itself.

Also hidden within this second nebula, a small cluster of newborn stars illuminates the dense cloud of gas and dust where they formed. This region is more obvious in the image below, which uses data from just one of Spitzer's instruments. (The top image includes data from two instruments.) In the image below, this feature appears as a bright teal splash.

Images above: An annotated and unannotated image of the Cepheus B and Cepheus C regions by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope, using data from the IRAC instrument. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

More About the Images

The two-instrument image was compiled using data from the Infrared Array Camera (IRAC) and the Multiband Imaging Photometer (MIPS) during Spitzer's "cold" mission, before the spacecraft's liquid helium coolant ran out in 2009. The colors correspond with IRAC wavelengths of 3.6 microns (blue), 4.5 microns (cyan), 8 microns (green) and MIPS at 24 microns (red).

The one-instrument image shows data from IRAC only, with colors corresponding to wavelengths of 3.6, 4.5, 5.8 and 8.0 ?m (shown as blue, green, orange and red).

In 2017 and 2016, high school students and teachers contributed to our understanding of the Cepheus C star-forming region. As part of NITARP (NASA/IPAC Teacher Archive Research Program), the students and teachers combed through Spitzer data to identify the presence of young stellar objects. Over two years and with the guidance of astronomer Luisa Rebull of IPAC at Caltech, the students and teachers identified more than 100 such objects that hadn't been identified in previous studies. Educators interested in participating in NITARP should visit the program website:

The Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, manages the Spitzer Space Telescope mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. Science operations are conducted at the Spitzer Science Center at Caltech in Pasadena. Space operations are based at Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Littleton, Colorado. Data are archived at the Infrared Science Archive housed at IPAC at Caltech. Caltech manages JPL for NASA.

For more information on Spitzer, visit: and

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


jeudi 30 mai 2019

Light Science Duties as Crew Sleeps in After Spacewalk

ISS - Expedition 59 Mission patch.

May 30, 2019

The six-member Expedition 59 crew had a chance to sleep in the day after wrapping up a successful spacewalk on the Russian side of the International Space Station. The cosmonauts are cleaning up this afternoon from yesterday’s excursion while the rest of the orbiting crew focuses on exercise research and other light science duties.

NASA astronauts Nick Hague and Christina Koch woke up after lunch today and strapped themselves into an exercise bike inside the U.S. Destiny laboratory module. The duo took turns working out on the specialized bicycle attached to sensors for the experiment measuring oxygen uptake and aerobic capacity.

Image above: Cosmonauts Alexey Ovchinin (foreground) and Oleg Kononenko work on a pair of Russian Orlan spacesuits inside the Pirs docking compartment’s airlock. Image Credit: NASA.

Flight Engineers Anne McClain and David Saint-Jacques checked on a couple of life science experiments during their relaxed afternoon. McClain updated software for the Photobioreactor study exploring how microalgae can create a hybrid life support system for astronauts and Earthlings. Saint-Jacques turned off and stowed the Canadian Bio-Monitor device that can quickly analyze human biological samples in space.

International Space Station (ISS). Image Credit: NASA

Commander Oleg Kononenko and Flight Engineer Alexey Ovchinin are reconfiguring the Pirs airlock, cleaning spacesuits and stowing tools following Wednesday’s six hour and one minute spacewalk. The cosmonauts also debriefed spacewalk experts on the ground discussing their hardware removal and experiment jettisoning tasks.

Related links:
Expedition 59:

Exercise bike:

U.S. Destiny laboratory module:

Oxygen uptake and aerobic capacity:



Pirs airlock:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

Best regards,

Proton-M launches Yamal-601 on the way to GEO


May 30, 2019

Proton rocket and Breeze M upper stage launches the Yamal 601

A Proton-M launch vehicle, with a Briz-M upper stage, launched Yamal-601, a geostationary communications satellite, from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, on 30 May 2019, at 17:42 UTC (23:42 local time).

Proton-M launches Yamal-601

A Russian government Proton rocket and Breeze M upper stage launches the Yamal 601 communications satellite for Gazprom Space Systems. Built by ISS Reshetnev with a communications payload from Thales Alenia Space, Yamal 601 will provide video, data and broadband services across Russia, Europe, the Middle East and Southeast Asia.

Artistic rendition of the Yamal-601 satellite

Yamal 601 is Russia’s most powerful telecommunications satellite. It will be operated by Gazprom Space Systems, a subsidiary of the Russian oil and gas conglomerate as part of its fleet of Yamal satellites. These spacecraft are used in part to support Gazprom’s own operations; however they are also heavily used for broadcasting. The Yamal 601 satellite falls under the Department of Television and Radio Broadcasting’s Federal Target Program.


Images, Video, Text, Credits: ROSCOSMOS/SciNews/Günter Space Page/ Aerospace/Roland Berga.

Best regards,

Spectrum-R: mission is over, data processing continues

ROSCOSMOS - Spektr-R Mission logo.

May 30, 2019

On May 30, 2019, a meeting of the State Commission for reviewing the course of flight tests of the spacecraft (SP) Spektr-R was held. The State Commission, having heard the reports of representatives of the rocket and space industry and the scientific community, decided to complete the Spectr-R project.

Spektr-R or Radioastron

In early January, the Spectr-R satellite stopped communicating with the Mission Control Center. Attempts experts NPO them. S.A. Lavochkina to ensure that the connection with the spacecraft in the framework of the program of the chief designer was not successful.

The Spektr-R spacecraft (Radioastron) worked in the interests of the scientific community 2.5 times longer than the planned period and exceeded all the basic functions assigned to it as a source of valuable scientific data about our Universe. During his work, the scientific community of the Earth has received a significant amount of data on the device of the Universe, the processing of which is incomplete and is actively continuing by the scientists of the planet.

RadioAstron Russian Space Observatory

At the end of June 2019, the Spectr-RG unit will be launched, which will create a map of the Universe, where all large clusters of galaxies will be marked. With it, scientists around the world will be able to answer the question - how was the evolution of galaxies. Also, work continues on other scientific devices of this series - "Spectrum-UV" and "Spectrum-M".

Related article:

Russia lost control of its space radio telescope Spekt-R

Roscosmos Press Release:

Images, Text, Credits: ROSCOSMOS/RIANOVOSTI/ Aerospace/Roland Berga.


NICER’s Night Moves Trace the X-ray Sky

ISS - NICER - SEXTANT Mission patch.

May 30, 2019

Image above: This image of the whole sky shows 22 months of X-ray data recorded by NASA's Neutron star Interior Composition Explorer (NICER) payload aboard the International Space Station during its nighttime slews between targets. Image Credits: NASA/NICER.

In this image, numerous sweeping arcs seem to congregate at various bright regions. You may wonder: What is being shown? Air traffic routes? Information moving around the global internet? Magnetic fields looping across active areas on the Sun?

In fact, this is a map of the entire sky in X-rays recorded by NASA’s Neutron star Interior Composition Explorer (NICER), a payload on the International Space Station. NICER’s primary science goals require that it target and track cosmic sources as the station orbits Earth every 93 minutes. But when the Sun sets and night falls on the orbital outpost, the NICER team keeps its detectors active while the payload slews from one target to another, which can occur up to eight times each orbit.

The map includes data from the first 22 months of NICER’s science operations. Each arc traces X-rays, as well as occasional strikes from energetic particles, captured during NICER’s night moves. The brightness of each point in the image is a result of these contributions as well as the time NICER has spent looking in that direction. A diffuse glow permeates the X-ray sky even far from bright sources.

Image above: This image of the whole sky shows 22 months of X-ray data recorded by NASA's Neutron star Interior Composition Explorer (NICER) payload aboard the International Space Station during its nighttime slews between targets. Identified prominent sources. NICER frequently observes targets best suited to its core mission (“mass-radius” pulsars) and those whose regular pulses are ideal for the Station Explorer for X-ray Timing and Navigation Technology (SEXTANT) experiment. One day they could form the basis of a GPS-like system for navigating the solar system. Image Credits: NASA/NICER.

The prominent arcs form because NICER often follows the same paths between targets. The arcs converge on bright spots representing NICER’s most popular destinations — the locations of important X-ray sources the mission regularly monitors.

“Even with minimal processing, this image reveals the Cygnus Loop, a supernova remnant about 90 light-years across and thought to be 5,000 to 8,000 years old,” said Keith Gendreau, the mission’s principal investigator at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “We’re gradually building up a new X-ray image of the whole sky, and it’s possible NICER’s nighttime sweeps will uncover previously unknown sources.”

Neutron star Interior Composition Explorer (NICER). Animation Credit: NASA

NICER’s primary mission is to determine the size of dense remains of dead stars called neutron stars — some of which we see as pulsars — to a precision of 5%. These measurements will finally allow physicists to solve the mystery of what form of matter exists in their incredibly compressed cores. Pulsars, rapidly spinning neutron stars that appear to “pulse” bright light, are ideally suited to this “mass-radius” research and are some of NICER’s regular targets.

Other frequently visited pulsars are studied as part of NICER's Station Explorer for X-ray Timing and Navigation Technology (SEXTANT) experiment, which uses the precise timing of pulsar X-ray pulses to autonomously determine NICER’s position and speed in space. It’s essentially a galactic GPS system. When mature, this technology will enable spacecraft to navigate themselves throughout the solar system — and beyond.

Related links:

Neutron star Interior Composition Explorer (NICER):

Station Explorer for X-ray Timing and Navigation Technology (SEXTANT):

International Space Station (ISS):

NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center:

Images (mentioned), Animation (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Rob Garner/Goddard Space Flight Center, by Francis Reddy.


ExoMars orbiter prepares for Rosalind Franklin

ESA & ROSCOSMOS - ExoMars Mission patch.

30 May 2019

On 15 June, the ESA-Roscosmos ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) will follow a different path. An ‘Inclination Change Manoeuvre’ will put the spacecraft in an altered orbit, enabling it to pick up crucial status signals from the ExoMars rover, Rosalind Franklin, due to land on the Red Planet in 2021.

ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter

After completing a complex series of manoeuvres during 2017, ExoMars TGO is now orbiting the Red Planet every two hours, collecting scientific data from NASA’s surface-bound rover and lander, and relaying it back to Earth. At the same time, the orbiter is gathering its own data on the planet’s atmosphere, water abundance and alien surface.

More than a year before Rosalind even lifts off from Earth’s surface, flight dynamics experts at ESA’s ESOC mission control centre have formulated a long-term plan to ensure ExoMars TGO can communicate with the new ESA rover and surface platform, contained in the entry, descent and landing module.

ExoMars rover

Slight changes to a spacecraft’s orbit have a large effect over time, so while the upcoming manoeuvres will only slightly alter TGO’s speed, it will be in the right position to communicate with the then-incoming rover by 2021.

TGO's natural motion

Mars’ uneven gravity field means that TGO’s orbit ‘wanders’, so it gradually rotates around Mars over time. As illustrated in this image, the spacecraft first follows the black path, then the green, then the red – continuing until it completes an entire rotation around the planet every four and a half months.

Mars' uneven gravity field means that TGO’s orbit ‘wanders’

To keep in touch with the descent module as it enters the Martian atmosphere, descends, and lands upon its surface, TGO’s orientation needs to change.

Three manoeuvres in the month of June will alter TGO’s speed, twice by 30.9 metres per second and one final small change of 1.5 metres per second, bringing it slightly closer to the Martian poles.

Inclined to fly

Thanks to these manoeuvres, TGO’s path will look more like the second graphic shown here, illustrating ‘snapshots in time’ during the 2021 descent of the new rover.

The green line represents Rosalind Franklin’s landing approach path.

ExoMars TGO's adjusted orbit

The black line shows the TGO orbit with its optimised orientation, two years after the upcoming manoeuvres.

The red path shows TGO’s original orbit.

In-phase with Rosalind Franklin

Once TGO is set to orbit with its new, optimised orientation around Mars, teams on the ground must also ensure it will be on the correct side of the planet when the rover arrives – ‘in phase’ with Rosalind Franklin.

In February 2021, a small manoeuvre will be performed to ensure TGO is in the right place at the right time for the lander's arrival.

 ExoMars TGO monitors the entry, descent and landing of ESA's new rover

The result of all these manoeuvres combined can be seen in the third graphic.

The black line represents TGO’s orbit around Mars at the time Rosalind Franklin begins descending, shown by the green line.

Blue dots along the orbits of both spacecraft are connected by horizontal lines, illustrating their relative positions at different time intervals, and how they are able to ‘see’ each other at every moment, thus ensuring that radio contact can be maintained.


If teams at mission control were to leave ExoMars TGO in its current orbit, without performing any manoeuvres, Mars itself would later get between the orbiting spacecraft and the new Mars explorer.

In this final graphic, the red line illustrates TGO’s un-phased orbit, and again the green line shows Rosalind Franklin’s entry path and Blue dots represent moments in time for each spacecraft.

Lines between the dots reveal how in this scenario, Mars would block their view of each other.

ExoMars TGO, un-phased

Without phasing the orbiter with the Mars rover, the two craft will remain invisible to each other at the crucial moment when the rover descends to the surface.

Not only does the foresight and long-term planning of mission experts ensure communication is maintained between two of ESA’s most important Mars missions, it saves fuel – a huge amount of which would be needed to get TGO in the right position in the weeks or even months before the ExoMars rover's arrival.

Follow the progress of ESA’s ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter on Twitter, here:, and Rosalind Franklin rover, here:

ESA has demonstrated expertise in studying Mars from orbit, now we are looking to secure a safe landing, to rove across the surface and to drill underground to search for evidence of life. Our orbiters are already in place to provide data relay services for surface missions. The next logical step is to bring samples back to Earth, to provide access to Mars for scientists globally, and to better prepare for future human exploration of the Red Planet. This week we’re highlighting ESA’s contribution to Mars exploration as we ramp up to the launch of our second ExoMars mission, and look beyond to completing a Mars Sample Return mission. Join the conversation online with the hashtag #ExploreFarther

Related links:


Rosalind Franklin:

Robotic exploration of Mars:


ExoMars at IKI:

ExoMars TGO at NASA:

Images, Text, Credits: ESA/D. Ducros/ATG medialab.


mercredi 29 mai 2019

Two Cosmonauts Wrap Up the Fourth Spacewalk at the Station This Year

ISS - Expedition 59 Mission patch /  Russian Cosmonaut patch.

May 29, 2019

Expedition 59 Commander Oleg Kononenko and Flight Engineer Alexey Ovchinin of the Russian space agency Roscosmos have completed a spacewalk lasting 6 hours and 1 minute.

The two cosmonauts opened the hatch to the Pirs docking compartment to begin the spacewalk at 11:42 a.m. EDT. They re-entered the airlock and closed the hatch at 5:43 p.m.

Image above: Spacewalkers Oleg Kononenko and Alexey Ovchinin work outside the Pirs docking compartment during the fourth spacewalk of the year at the International Space Station. Image Credit: NASA TV.

During the spacewalk, the duo completed the planned tasks, including installing a handrail on the Russian segment of the complex, retrieving science experiments from the Poisk module’s hull; removing and jettisoning the plasma wave experiment hardware; and conducting maintenance work on the orbiting laboratory, such as cleaning the window of the Poisk hatch.

The spacewalk was the 217th in support of station assembly, maintenance and upgrades and the fourth outside the station this year.

Image above: Cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko is pictured during a spacewalk in 2012 as an Expedition 30 crewmember with fellow spacewalker Anton Shkaplerov. Image Credit: NASA TV.

This was the fifth spacewalk in Kononenko’s career and the first for Ovchinin, who will become station commander next month. Kononenko is scheduled to return to Earth June 24, with crewmates Anne McClain of NASA and David Saint-Jacques of the Canadian Space Agency, wrapping up a six-and-a-half-month mission living and working in space.

Related article:

Russian Spacewalkers Wish Happy Birthday to First Spacewalker Alexei Leonov

Related links:

Expedition 59:

Pirs docking compartment:

Poisk module:


Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

Best regards,