vendredi 28 juin 2019

Station Deploying Microsatellites as New Crew Prepares for July 20 Launch

ISS - Expedition 60 Mission patch.

June 28, 2019

A satellite deployer ejected a CubeSat into Earth orbit last night from outside the International Space Station’s Kibo laboratory module. Today, the three Expedition 60 crewmembers explored microgravity’s effect on humans and plants to support longer spaceflight missions.

The RED-EYE microsatellite is orbiting Earth today to demonstrate satellite communications and attitude control technologies. NASA Flight Engineer Nick Hague installed the satellite inside Kibo’s airlock last week for a safe deployment outside the orbiting lab. The SpaceX Dragon resupply ship delivered the CubeSat to the station May 6.

Image above: The next crew to launch to the space station is in Russia training for a July 20 launch to their new home in space. From left are, Expedition 60-61 crewmembers Andrew Morgan, Alexander Skvortsov and Luca Parmitano. Image Credits: ROSCOSMOS/NASA.

Hague is readying more CubeSats today for deployment later next week outside Kibo. They will orbit Earth demonstrating space tasks such as weather observations, satellite maneuvers and Earth photography. Students and engineers from around the world designed the series of seven microsatellites.

NASA astronaut Christina Koch watered plants growing inside Europe’s Columbus laboratory module for the Veg-04 space gardening study. Afterward, she replaced fuel bottles to support flame and fuel research in the U.S. Destiny laboratory module’s Combustion Integrated Rack.

CubeSats deployment. Animation Credit: NASA

Commander Alexey Ovchinin spent Friday morning exploring tools and techniques future cosmonauts could use when controlling a spacecraft or a robot on a planetary surface. The two-time station resident then spent the afternoon working on life support systems and plumbing tasks in the station’s Russian segment.

Back on Earth, two veteran station crewmembers and a first-time space-flyer are wrapping up tests in Russia to certify for their July 20 launch to the orbiting lab. NASA astronaut Andrew Morgan is in final mission training with experienced space residents Luca Parmitano of the European Agency and Alexander Skvortsov of Roscosmos. The trio will liftoff aboard the Soyuz MS-13 crew ship from Kazakhstan 50 years to the day when Neil Armstrong first stepped on the Moon.

Related links:

Expedition 60:

Kibo laboratory module:



Columbus laboratory module:


Destiny laboratory module:

Combustion Integrated Rack:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

Best regards,

Hubble Catches a Bounty of Stars and Cosmic Dust

NASA - Hubble Space Telescope patch.

June 28, 2019

This Hubble Space Telescope image shows the spiral galaxy Messier 98, which is located about 45 million light-years away in the constellation of Coma Berenices (Berenice's Hair). The galaxy was discovered in 1781 by the French astronomer Pierre Méchain, a colleague of Charles Messier, and is one of the faintest objects in Messier’s astronomical catalog.

Messier 98 is estimated to contain about a trillion stars, and is full of cosmic dust — visible here as a web of red-brown stretching across the frame — and hydrogen gas. This abundance of star-forming material means that Messier 98 is producing stellar newborns at a high rate; the galaxy shows the characteristic signs of stars springing to life throughout its bright center and whirling arms.

This image of Messier 98 was taken in 1995 with the Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2, an instrument that was installed on Hubble from 1993 until 2009. These observations were taken in infrared and visible light as part of a study of galaxy cores within the Virgo Cluster, and feature a portion of the galaxy near the center.

Hubble Space Telescope (HST)

Messier 98 is included in Hubble’s Messier catalog, which highlights 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, V. Rubin et al.


Space Station Science Highlights: Week of June 24, 2019

ISS - Expedition 59 Mission patch.

June 28, 2019

Crew members aboard the International Space Station conducted scientific investigations last week that studied DNA repair, protein crystallization, plant growth in space and more. The orbiting lab provides a platform for research and technology demonstrations in every field of science and increasingly supports commercial research and development. The station also contributes to Artemis, NASA’s program to return to the Moon.

Image above: From the International Space Station’s orbit 269 miles above the Indian Ocean southwest of Australia, this nighttime photograph captures the aurora australis, or "southern lights." Russia's Soyuz MS-12 crew ship is in the foreground and Progress 72 resupply ship in the background. Image Credit: NASA.

On June 25, NASA astronaut Anne McClain, Oleg Kononenko of the Russian space agency Roscosmos, and David Saint-Jacques of the Canadian Space Agency departed the station and returned to Earth after 204 days in space. Here are details on some of the science conducted by the remaining members of Expedition 59 during the week of June 24:

Evaluating DNA damage and repair in space

Image above: NASA astronaut Christina Koch working on the Genes In Space-6 experiment. It sequences DNA samples using the Biomolecule Sequencer to help scientists understand how space radiation mutates DNA and assess the molecular level repair process. Image Credit: NASA.

The crew initiated part five of the Genes in Space-6 CRISPR biomolecule sequence run. Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) damage caused by the increased exposure to radiation in space can affect the long-term health of astronauts. Genes in Space-6 determines the optimal DNA repair mechanisms that cells use in the spaceflight environment. The investigation evaluates the entire process in space for the first time by inducing DNA damage in cells and assessing mutation and repair at the molecular level using the miniPCR and the Biomolecule Sequencer tools aboard the space station.

Visit the Space Station in Virtual Reality

International Space Station (ISS). Image Credit: NASA

The ISS Experience creates a virtual reality film to educate a variety of audiences about life in the orbiting lab and science conducted there. Eight to 10 minute videos created from footage taken during the yearlong investigation cover different aspects of crew life, execution of science, and the international partnerships involved. It uses a Z-CAM V1 Pro Cinematic Virtual Reality (VR) 360-degree camera with nine 190° fisheye lenses. Last week marked a busy week for the project; the crew recorded the space station change of command ceremony, a crew dinner, a group workout with McClain and NASA astronaut Christina Koch, a movie night, and the departure from the space station of McClain, Kononenko and Saint-Jacques.

Protein crystals headed for analysis

The crew retrieved two JAXA PCG samples from the Freezer-Refrigerator of STirling cycle 2 (FROST2) facility last week for return to Earth. The investigation grew high quality protein crystals in microgravity for detailed structure analysis on the ground. This use of the orbiting lab to create high quality crystals advances use of the microgravity environment for production purposes. The detailed information on protein structures the investigation provides also supports design of new drugs to treat diseases and the study of unknown enzyme reactions.

Stocking Space-based Salad Bars

Image above: Canadian Space Agency astronaut David Saint-Jacques checks the Veg-04A plants. This experiment focuses on the impact of light quality and fertilizer on growth of a leafy crop as well as microbial food safety, nutritional value, taste acceptability by the crew, and the overall behavioral health benefits of having plants and fresh food in space. Image Credit: NASA.

To provide a healthy, nutritious diet on long-duration exploration missions, astronauts need to produce fresh foods during flight to supplement their standard pre-packaged food supply. The Veg-04A investigation, a project to develop the ability to produce fresh food in space, focuses on how light quality and fertilizer affect growth of Mizuna mustard, a leafy green crop. It also looks at microbial food safety, nutritional value, taste acceptability by the crew, and the overall behavioral health benefits of having plants and fresh food in space. Last week, the crew performed a water check and measured harvested leaves using the Mass Measurement Device.

Other investigations on which the crew performed work:

- The Photobioreactor investigation demonstrates whether the biological processes of microalgae can serve as part of a hybrid life support system. This approach would help future long-duration exploration missions reduce the amount of supplies that must be brought from Earth:

- STaARS BioScience-11 manufactures nanoparticle drug delivery systems for chronic conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). This investigation is sponsored by the ISS National Lab, which is managed by the Center for the Advancement for Science in Space (CASIS):

Image above: Flight Engineer Nick Hague works on the Capillary Structures experiment, which demonstrates the flow of fluid and gas mixtures using surface tension and fluid dynamics. The fluid physics study is helping NASA evaluate technologies for a lightweight, advanced life support system that can recover water and remove carbon dioxide in space. Image Credit: NASA.

- The Capillary Structures investigation studies using structures of specific shapes to manage fluid and gas mixtures:

- Probiotics examines the effects of beneficial bacteria or probiotics on the intestinal microbiota and immune function of crew members on long-duration space missions:

- Vascular Echo examines changes in blood vessels and the heart in space and recovery following return to Earth. Results could provide insight into developing countermeasures to help maintain crew member health on long voyages such as to the Moon or Mars:

- Standard Measures captures a consistent and simple set of measures from crew members throughout the ISS Program in order to characterize adaptive responses to and risks of living in space:
- Food Acceptability examines changes in the appeal of food aboard the space station during long-duration missions. “Menu fatigue” from repeatedly consuming a limited choice of foods may contribute to the loss of body mass often experienced by crew members, potentially affecting astronaut health, especially as mission length increases:

Space to Ground: Back on Terra Firma: 06/28/2019

Related links:

Expedition 59:


Genes in Space-6:

The ISS Experience:



Spot the Station:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

Images (mentioned), Video, Text, Credits: NASA/Michael Johnson/Jorge Sotomayor, Lead Increment Scientist Expeditions 59/60.

Best regards,

jeudi 27 juin 2019

Expedition 60 Science Ramps Up as Next Crew Trains for Mission

ISS - Expedition 60 Mission patch.

June 27, 2019

Virtual reality filming, space gardening and biomedical research were on the timeline for two NASA astronauts aboard the International Space Station today, while a cosmonaut took care of computer hardware and life support maintenance.

Flight Engineer Christina Koch tended to plants today growing inside Europe’s Columbus laboratory module for the Veg-04 botany study. She later relocated a pair of tiny research facilities in the EXPRESS-6 science rack. The two devices, TangoLab-2 and STaARS-1, enable advanced investigations into a variety of biological processes, such as cell cultures and tissue engineering.

Image above: The atmospheric glow and a wispy aurora australis, also known as the “southern lights,” frame a cloud-covered Earth. Image Credit: NASA.

Astronaut Nick Hague took a turn today recording himself with a 360-degree camera for a virtual reality experience targeted to audiences on Earth. In the afternoon, he collected and stowed his urine samples in a science freezer for later analysis.

Expedition 60 Commander Alexey Ovchinin worked on Russian computer hardware in the Zvezda service module. In the evening, he picked up a high-powered camera for a photographic survey of catastrophes on Earth and their natural consequences.

International Space Station (ISS). Image Credit: NASA

The next crew to launch to the space station is in Star City, Russia for final qualification exams to certify to fly aboard the Soyuz MS-13 spaceship. Cosmonaut Alexander Skvortsov will lead NASA astronaut Andrew Morgan and European Space Agency astronaut Luca Parmitano in the Soyuz when they blast off June 20 for a six-hour ride to their new home in space. This will be Morgan’s first space mission, Parmitano’s second and Skvortsov’s third visit to the station.

Related links:

Expedition 59 Crewmates Return from Space Station Mission

Columbus laboratory module:





360-degree camera:

Zvezda service module:

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

Best regards,

NASA’s TESS Mission Finds Its Smallest Planet Yet

NASA - TESS Mission logo.

June 27, 2019

NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) has discovered a world between the sizes of Mars and Earth orbiting a bright, cool, nearby star. The planet, called L 98-59b, marks the tiniest discovered by TESS to date.

Two other worlds orbit the same star. While all three planets’ sizes are known, further study with other telescopes will be needed to determine if they have atmospheres and, if so, which gases are present. The L 98-59 worlds nearly double the number of small exoplanets — that is, planets beyond our solar system — that have the best potential for this kind of follow-up.

Image above: The three planets discovered in the L98-59 system by NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) are compared to Mars and Earth in order of increasing size in this illustration. Image Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.

“The discovery is a great engineering and scientific accomplishment for TESS,” said Veselin Kostov, an astrophysicist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California. “For atmospheric studies of small planets, you need short orbits around bright stars, but such planets are difficult to detect. This system has the potential for fascinating future studies.”

A paper on the findings, led by Kostov, was published in the June 27 issue of The Astronomical Journal and is now available online:

TESS Discovers Its Tiniest World To Date

Video above: NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite has confirmed the tiniest planet in its catalog so far — one of three discovered around a bright, nearby star called L 98-59. As shown in the illustrations in this video, all could occupy the “Venus zone,” the range of distances from the star where a Venus-like atmosphere is possible. The outermost planet also has the potential for a Neptune-like atmosphere. Video Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.

L 98-59b is around 80% Earth’s size and about 10% smaller than the previous record holder discovered by TESS. Its host star, L 98-59, is an M dwarf about one-third the mass of the Sun and lies about 35 light-years away in the southern constellation Volans. While L 98-59b is a record for TESS, even smaller planets have been discovered in data collected by NASA’s Kepler satellite, including Kepler-37b, which is only 20% larger than the Moon.

The two other worlds in the system, L 98-59c and L 98-59d, are respectively around 1.4 and 1.6 times Earth’s size. All three were discovered by TESS using transits, periodic dips in the star’s brightness caused when each planet passes in front of it.

TESS monitors one 24-by-96-degree region of the sky, called a sector, for 27 days at a time. When the satellite finishes its first year of observations in July, the L 98-59 system will have appeared in seven of the 13 sectors that make up the southern sky. Kostov’s team hopes this will allow scientists to refine what’s known about the three confirmed planets and search for additional worlds.

“If you have more than one planet orbiting in a system, they can gravitationally interact with each other,” said Jonathan Brande, a co-author and astrophysicist at Goddard and the University of Maryland, College Park. “TESS will observe L 98-59 in enough sectors that it may be able to detect planets with orbits around 100 days. But if we get really lucky, we might see the gravitational effects of undiscovered planets on the ones we currently know.”

How NASA’s Newest Planet Hunter Scans the Sky

Video above: NASA’s newest planet hunter, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), stares for a month at a time at sectors of the sky, watching for dips in the light from stars as planets pass in front of them, called transits. TESS will map 13 sectors each in the southern and northern sky. Video Credits: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.

M dwarfs like L 98-59 account for three-quarters of our Milky Way galaxy’s stellar population. But they are no larger than about half the Sun’s mass and are much cooler, with surface temperatures less than 70% of the Sun’s. Other examples include TRAPPIST-1, which hosts a system of seven Earth-size planets, and Proxima Centauri, our nearest stellar neighbor, which has one confirmed planet. Because these small, cool stars are so common, scientists want to learn more about the planetary systems that form around them.

L 98-59b, the innermost world, orbits every 2.25 days, staying so close to the star it receives as much as 22 times the amount of energy Earth receives from the Sun. The middle planet, L 98-59c, orbits every 3.7 days and experiences about 11 times as much radiation as Earth. L 98-59d, the farthest planet identified in the system so far, orbits every 7.5 days and is blasted with around four times the radiant energy as Earth.

None of the planets lie within the star’s “habitable zone,” the range of distances from the star where liquid water could exist on their surfaces. However, all of them occupy what scientists call the Venus zone, a range of stellar distances where a planet with an initial Earth-like atmosphere could experience a runaway greenhouse effect that transforms it into a Venus-like atmosphere. Based on its size, the third planet could be either a Venus-like rocky world or one more like Neptune, with a small, rocky core cocooned beneath a deep atmosphere.

Image above: Illustration of NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite. Image Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.

One of TESS’s goals is to build a catalog of small, rocky planets on short orbits around very bright, nearby stars for atmospheric study by NASA's upcoming James Webb Space Telescope. Four of the TRAPPIST-1 worlds are prime candidates, and Kostov’s team suggests the L 98-59 planets are as well.

The TESS mission feeds our desire to understand where we came from and whether we’re alone in the universe.

"If we viewed the Sun from L 98-59, transits by Earth and Venus would lead us to think the planets are almost identical, but we know they’re not,” said Joshua Schlieder, a co-author and an astrophysicist at Goddard. “We still have many questions about why Earth became habitable and Venus did not. If we can find and study similar examples around other stars, like L 98-59, we can potentially unlock some of those secrets.”

TESS is a NASA Astrophysics Explorer mission led and operated by MIT in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and managed by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. Additional partners include Northrop Grumman, based in Falls Church, Virginia; NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley; the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts; MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory; and the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore. More than a dozen universities, research institutes and observatories worldwide are participants in the mission.

Related links:


James Webb Space Telescope (JWST):

TESS (Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite):

Images (mentioned), Videos (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Rob Garner/Goddard Space Flight Center, by Jeanette Kazmierczak.


NASA's Dragonfly Will Fly Around Titan Looking for Origins, Signs of Life

NASA logo.

June 27, 2019

NASA has announced that our next destination in the solar system is the unique, richly organic world Titan. Advancing our search for the building blocks of life, the Dragonfly mission will fly multiple sorties to sample and examine sites around Saturn’s icy moon.

Dragonfly will launch in 2026 and arrive in 2034. The rotorcraft will fly to dozens of promising locations on Titan looking for prebiotic chemical processes common on both Titan and Earth. Dragonfly marks the first time NASA will fly a multi-rotor vehicle for science on another planet; it has eight rotors and flies like a large drone. It will take advantage of Titan’s dense atmosphere – four times denser than Earth’s – to become the first vehicle ever to fly its entire science payload to new places for repeatable and targeted access to surface materials.

Image above: This illustration shows NASA’s Dragonfly rotorcraft-lander approaching a site on Saturn’s exotic moon, Titan. Taking advantage of Titan’s dense atmosphere and low gravity, Dragonfly will explore dozens of locations across the icy world, sampling and measuring the compositions of Titan's organic surface materials to characterize the habitability of Titan’s environment and investigate the progression of prebiotic chemistry. Image Credits: NASA/JHU-APL.

Titan is an analog to the very early Earth, and can provide clues to how life may have arisen on our planet. During its 2.7-year baseline mission, Dragonfly will explore diverse environments from organic dunes to the floor of an impact crater where liquid water and complex organic materials key to life once existed together for possibly tens of thousands of years. Its instruments will study how far prebiotic chemistry may have progressed. They also will investigate the moon’s atmospheric and surface properties and its subsurface ocean and liquid reservoirs. Additionally, instruments will search for chemical evidence of past or extant life.

“With the Dragonfly mission, NASA will once again do what no one else can do,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “Visiting this mysterious ocean world could revolutionize what we know about life in the universe. This cutting-edge mission would have been unthinkable even just a few years ago, but we’re now ready for Dragonfly’s amazing flight.”

New Dragonfly Mission Flying Landing Sequence Animation

Dragonfly took advantage of 13 years’ worth of Cassini data to choose a calm weather period to land, along with a safe initial landing site and scientifically interesting targets. It will first land at the equatorial “Shangri-La” dune fields, which are terrestrially similar to the linear dunes in Namibia in southern Africa and offer a diverse sampling location. Dragonfly will explore this region in short flights, building up to a series of longer “leapfrog” flights of up to 5 miles (8 kilometers), stopping along the way to take samples from compelling areas with diverse geography. It will finally reach the Selk impact crater, where there is evidence of past liquid water, organics – the complex molecules that contain carbon, combined with hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen – and energy, which together make up the recipe for life. The lander will eventually fly more than 108 miles (175 kilometers) – nearly double the distance traveled to date by all the Mars rovers combined.

“Titan is unlike any other place in the solar system, and Dragonfly is like no other mission,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA’s associate administrator for Science at the agency’s Headquarters in Washington. “It’s remarkable to think of this rotorcraft flying miles and miles across the organic sand dunes of Saturn’s largest moon, exploring the processes that shape this extraordinary environment. Dragonfly will visit a world filled with a wide variety of organic compounds, which are the building blocks of life and could teach us about the origin of life itself.”

Titan has a nitrogen-based atmosphere like Earth. Unlike Earth, Titan has clouds and rain of methane. Other organics are formed in the atmosphere and fall like light snow. The moon’s weather and surface processes have combined complex organics, energy, and water similar to those that may have sparked life on our planet.

 New Dragonfly Mission Flying Landing Sequence

Titan is larger than the planet Mercury and is the second largest moon in our solar system. As it orbits Saturn, it is about 886 million miles (1.4 billion kilometers) away from the Sun, about 10 times farther than Earth. Because it is so far from the Sun, its surface temperature is around -290 degrees Fahrenheit (-179 degrees Celsius). Its surface pressure is also 50 percent higher than Earth’s.

Dragonfly was selected as part of the agency’s New Frontiers program, which includes the New Horizons mission to Pluto and the Kuiper Belt, Juno to Jupiter, and OSIRIS-REx to the asteroid Bennu. Dragonfly is led by Principal Investigator Elizabeth Turtle, who is based at Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland. New Frontiers supports missions that have been identified as top solar system exploration priorities by the planetary community. The program is managed by the Planetary Missions Program Office at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, for the agency’s Planetary Science Division in Washington.

“The New Frontiers program has transformed our understanding of the solar system, uncovering the inner structure and composition of Jupiter’s turbulent atmosphere, discovering the icy secrets of Pluto’s landscape, revealing mysterious objects in the Kuiper belt, and exploring a near-Earth asteroid for the building blocks of life,” said Lori Glaze, director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division. “Now we can add Titan to the list of enigmatic worlds NASA will explore.”

Related links:

New Horizons:



For more information about Titan, visit:

Read more about NASA’s New Frontiers Program and missions at:

Image (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Karen Northon/Grey Hautaluoma/Alana Johnson.


A Whirlpool 'Warhol' from NASA's Spitzer Telescope

NASA - Spitzer Space Telescope patch.

June 27, 2019

Image above: This multipanel image show how different wavelengths of light can reveal different features of a cosmic object. On the left is a visible light image of the Whirlpool galaxy. The next image combines visible and infrared light, while the two on the right show different wavelengths of infrared light. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

Unlike Andy Warhol's famous silkscreen grids of repeating images rendered in different colors, the varying hues of this galaxy represent how its appearance changes in different wavelengths of light - from visible light to the infrared light seen by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope.

The Whirlpool galaxy, also known as Messier 51 and NGC 5194/5195, is actually a pair of galaxies that are tugging and distorting each other through their mutual gravitational attraction. Located approximately 23 million light-years away, it resides in the constellation Canes Venatici.

The leftmost panel (a) shows the Whirlpool in visible light, much as our eye might see it through a powerful telescope. In fact, this image comes from the Kitt Peak National Observatory 2.1-meter (6.8-foot) telescope. The spiraling arms are laced with dark threads of dust that radiate little visible light and obscure stars positioned within or behind them.

The second panel from the left (b) includes two visible-light wavelengths (in blue and green) from Kitt Peak but adds Spitzer's infrared data in red. This emphasizes how the dark dust veins that block our view in visible light begin to light up at these longer, infrared wavelengths.

Spitzer's full infrared view can be seen in the right two panels, which cover slightly different ranges of infrared light.

In the middle-right panel (c), we see three wavelengths of infrared light: 3.6 microns (shown in blue), 4.5 microns (green) and 8 microns (red). The blended light from the billions of stars in the Whirlpool is brightest at the shorter infrared wavelengths and is seen here as a blue haze. The individual blue dots across the image are mostly nearby stars and a few distant galaxies. Red features show us dust composed mostly of carbon that is lit up by the stars in the galaxy.

This glowing dust helps astronomers see where the densest areas of gas pile up in the spaces between the stars. Dense gas clouds are difficult to see in visible or infrared light, but they will always be present where there is dust.

The far-right panel (d) expands our infrared view to include light at a wavelength of 24 microns (in red), which is particularly good for highlighting areas where the dust is especially hot. The bright reddish-white spots trace regions where new stars are forming and, in the process, heating their surroundings.

The infrared views of the Whirlpool galaxy also show how dramatically different its two component parts are: The smaller companion galaxy at the top of the image has been stripped nearly clean of dust features that stand out so brilliantly in the lower spiral galaxy. The faint bluish haze seen around the upper galaxy is likely the blended light from stars thrown out of the galaxies as these two objects pull at each other during their close approach.

Animation Credit: NASA

The Kitt Peak visible-light image (a) shows light at 0.4 and 0.7 microns (blue and red). The rightmost two images (c and d) are from Spitzer with red, green and blue corresponding to wavelengths of 3.6, 4.5 and 8.0 microns (middle right) and 3.6, 8.0 and 24 microns (far right). The middle-left (b) image blends visible wavelengths (blue/green) and infrared (yellow/red). All of the data shown here were released as part of the Spitzer Infrared Nearby Galaxies Survey (SINGS) project, captured during Spitzer's cryogenic and warm missions:

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

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


A chaos found only on Mars

ESA - Mars Express Mission patch.

27 June 2019

Plan view of Aurorae Chaos

The cracked, uneven, jumbled landscape seen in this image from ESA’s Mars Express forms an intriguing type of terrain that cannot be found on Earth: chaotic terrain.

The feature visible here, Aurorae Chaos, is located in the ancient and equatorial Margaritifer Terra region of Mars. The terrain here is heavily cratered, and shows signs of myriad fascinating features – many of which are thought to be linked to past water activity.

These images show the southern part of Aurorae Chaos in detail, highlighting various swathes of fractured rock, mismatched peaks, flat-topped mounds (mesas), scarps, jumbled cliffs, and eroded craters.

Aurorae Chaos in context

These characteristic features sweep across the surface, and connect to a number of small outflow channels that spread into this image from beyond the top of the frame in the main colour image. These channels form the eastern end of one of Mars’ most famous features – a giant valley system called Valles Marineris, which cuts deep into the surface and spans thousands of kilometres.

This canyon is colossal: about 10 times as long, 20 times as wide, and 4.5 times as deep as Arizona’s Grand Canyon here on Earth. The Grand Canyon was carved out by running water, and is thus an excellent example of fluvial erosion – although this kind of erosion is different to that which formed Aurorae Chaos. At its eastern end, the martian canyon runs into a large network of steep-sided depressions that sit roughly four kilometres below the surrounding plains and host numerous chaotic terrains.

Topographic view of Aurorae Chaos

These differences in height are well illustrated in the accompanying topographic, perspective, and 3D views of this region, while the position of Aurorae Chaos with respect to surrounding valleys and chaotic terrain can be seen in the contextual view.

The division between the chaotic terrain and plains can also be seen clearly in these images. The left (south) side of the image is notably smoother and more featureless than the jumbled right (north) side, and the two regions are split by a prominent line carving diagonally across the frame. The transition area around this scarp is especially broken and fractured; this is thought to be caused as the martian crust stretched and moved. 

Perspective view of Aurorae Chaos

The ancient chaotic terrain we see on Mars holds information about how water once permeated and interacted with the planetary surface, including how it was transported, stored, and released.

Chaotic terrain is thought to have formed as chunks of the martian surface collapsed in dramatic events triggered by the heating of material containing ice or water-bearing minerals – possibly due to climatic or volcanic heat sources, or an impact from an asteroid or comet. This released large amounts of water, causing the terrain above to subside. The water then drained away quickly, leaving behind the messy, broken patterns seen in regions such as Aurorae Chaos, which is thought to have formed some 3.5 billion years ago.

Aurorae Chaos in 3D

However, it is not just visual evidence that suggests that water had a large role to play here. The wider region of Margaritifer Terra has been found to contain various sulphates and ancient clay deposits, indicating the past presence of evaporative processes and water-related outflows; some clays are even thought to require standing water in order to form, suggesting that large pools of liquid water may once have existed in this region.

Mars Express in orbit around Mars

Over the past 15 years Mars Express has imaged various chaos terrains on Mars, including Iani Chaos and Ariadnes Colles, using its High Resolution Stereo Camera, and continues to study the martian surface from orbit today. Our ability to explore Mars will be aided by the arrival of the ESA-Roscosmos ExoMars rover, named Rosalind Franklin, and an accompanying surface science platform in 2021. Together with the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter, which entered Mars orbit in 2016, they will continue our quest to explore the secrets of the Red Planet from orbit and from the ground.

Related links:

Mars Express:

ESA-Roscosmos ExoMars rover:

Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO):


HRSC data viewer:

Frequently asked questions:

Images, Text, Credits: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO/NASA MGS MOLA Science Team.

Best regards,

Will DART make its target asteroid go wobbly? Hera will see

ESA - Hera Mission logo.

27 June 2019

There are models and simulations, but nobody knows exactly what is going to happen after NASA’s DART impactor crashes into the smaller of the two Didymos asteroids at 6.6 km/s – humankind’s first full-scale deflection test for planetary defence.

DART impacting asteroid

It will take detailed telescope and radar observations from Earth to find out, complemented by a close-up survey to be performed by ESA’s Hera mission.

The collision itself takes place in late 2022. Meanwhile, PhD student Harrison Agrusa from the University of Maryland – as part of a larger team studying the dynamics of the Didymos system – is among the most qualified people to make an educated guess.

DART mission profile

Harrison has been simulating the interaction between the fridge-sized DART spacecraft and smaller 160-m diameter Didymos asteroid hundreds of times, run on his university’s powerful computing cluster.

His simulations recreate the 780-m diameter main Didymos asteroid and its orbiting ‘Didymoon’ as a collection of small spheres – like the rubble piles that researchers believe these bodies to resemble – then apply the equivalent force of the DART impact.

“The interesting thing, depending on where DART hits and how hard, is that we can see a pronounced wobble triggered as a result,” explains Harrison.

Simulating Didymos asteroids

“We’ve compared four different simulation codes to study this post-impact swinging back and forth and seen the same effect recur in all of them, even with conservative estimates of DART’s momentum transfer.”

In asteroid researcher terms this effect is known as ‘libration’ – the same term used for the wobble of the Moon as seen from Earth, which means that different parts of the lunar surface can be observed over time.

Modelling Didymoon’s post-impact libration

Like the Moon, the smaller ‘Didymoon’ is expected to be tidally locked to its parent at the present time, although it has not yet been confirmed with ground-based observations. Long-range measurements of distant lightcurves – gradual patterns of light shifting over time – or radar imagery do not give enough detail.

In the same way, any wobble imparted to the asteroid by DART’s collision will not be visible from Earth. It will take close-up observations after Hera’s arrival to be sure.

Harrison has shown that this induced libration is closely related to the momentum transfer efficiency – in other words, Hera’s measuring of the libration can be used to constrain the asteroid’s deflection. Such a measurement is crucial to developing a usable, repeatable planetary defence technique.

Harrison Agrusa

In addition, Harrison notes that the ability to measure any libration in the post-impact asteroid will also open up a valuable scientific opportunity: “The fundamental frequency of the libration will depend on the mass of the secondary, and how that mass is distributed throughout its interior – in the same way that the frequency of a pendulum's swing depends on its mass.

“So measuring this effect will give researchers an important insight into the nature of Didymoon’s interior, constraining our models. However, it is essential to have a spacecraft on location to make such a measurement.”

Harrison is part of the DART Dynamics Working Group, led by his PhD adviser Prof. Derek Richardson, tasked with performing dynamic modelling of the Didymos system before and after DART’s impact.

Hera surveying Didymos

“As an undergraduate I interned at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in northern California, where I encountered some researchers working on planetary defence,” explains Harrison. “I never even knew this was a field until then, but after that I decided I wanted to get involved.”

This summer Harrison returns to LLNL, where he will take advantage of their supercomputer facilities to perform full-scale impact simulations, modelling the ejecta material thrown off of the asteroid by the DART impact.

Hera: ESA’s planetary defence mission

“Overall, it’s great timing for me,” says Harrison. “When the DART mission ends with its impact in 2022, then my PhD does too. We’ll get a first glimpse of the actual shape of Didymoon from DART and the LICIA CubeSat – provided by ASI, the Italian Space Agency – it will deploy before colliding. Then, within a few years Hera will be providing its data, so we can rigorously compare our models to reality.”

The Hera mission will be presented to ESA’s Space19+ meeting this November, where Europe’s space ministers will take a final decision on flying the mission.

Related links:


University of Maryland:

Harrison Agrusa homepage:


Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory:


University of Maryland Astronomy Department:

World’s best telescopes target asteroids for ESA’s Hera mission:

Images, Animation, Videos, Text, Credits: ESA/Science Office/NASA/University of Maryland/H. Agrusa/


mercredi 26 juin 2019

CERN - LS2 Report: 2000 kilometres of cable

CERN - European Organization for Nuclear Research logo.

26 June, 2019

Image above: During LS2, 20 000 optical fibres contained within 220 cables lie at the heart of the ALICE experiment (Image: CERN).

Some 40 000 cables will be installed or removed at CERN during LS2. Laid end to end, they would stretch for 2000 kilometres!

The work involves two types of cable: copper cables, which transmit signals to the accelerator systems and supply the magnets, and fibre-optic cables, which transmit data in the form of light signals. The latter weave through all of CERN’s installations, from Meyrin to Prévessin, including the accelerator tunnels, experiments and technical halls, like an enormous spider’s web.

“Optical fibres and copper cables transmit all the information collected or sent by the detectors, beam instrumentation, sensors, control panels, computing infrastructure, and so on,” explains Daniel Ricci, the leader of the section in charge of cabling (EN-EL-FC) within the EN department. “Our work covers all of CERN’s service networks: optical fibres and copper cables are everywhere.”

Image above: Water-cooled cables in the LHC tunnel. These cables carry the current (up to 13 000 amperes) from the power converters to the power supplies (Image: CERN).

They are indeed, and in impressive quantities: for example, some 20 000 optical fibres contained within 220 cables lie at the heart of the ALICE experiment, and 1200 copper signal cables are being installed in the SPS in the framework of the Fire Safety project. The EN-EL-FC section is also contributing to other major CERN projects during LS2, including the LIU (LHC Injectors Upgrade), the renovation of the East Area, the renovation of the SPS access system, the commissioning of the ELENA extraction lines and the HL-LHC.

“CERN is probably the only place in the world where several thousand kilometres of radiation-resistant optical fibre are needed,” says Daniel Ricci. “We maintain very close ties with industry, where our expertise is used to adapt and improve this type of fibre.”

Of the 40 000 cables to be dealt with during LS2, 15 000 are obsolete copper cables that need to be removed. But first, they need to be identified. Since CERN was founded 65 years ago, some 450 000 cables have been installed, and many of them are still snaking through the nooks and crannies of the Laboratory. “Since LS1, we have been methodically going through all of CERN’s old paper cable databases, identifying each cable and listing it in our digital database,” explains Daniel Ricci. “Of the 95 000 cables to be retained, 50 000 have already been digitised.”

Image above: Many cables that are still needed for operations were pulled out of their cable trays in order to facilitate the removal of obsolete ones (here, in the SPS) (Image: CERN).

CERN’s biggest ever cable removal campaign has been under way since 2016. During the most recent year-end technical stops (YETS and EYETS), the Booster and middle ring of the PS were relieved of their old, obsolete cables. Cable removal is currently under way at points 3 and 5 of the SPS.

To complete this gargantuan task, the EN-EL-FC section, which usually comprises 20 people, has recruited some outside help. Sixteen extra people – fellows, project associates and members of other groups – are lending a hand during LS2. The contractors’ teams, which comprise several dozen technicians working on site, have also been reinforced in order to keep up with the breakneck pace of work during the long shutdown. “Coordination, planning and teamwork are indispensable if we are to successfully complete the 120 cabling and cable removal projects scheduled for LS2,” says Daniel Ricci. “We’re lucky to have a very versatile team who are able to advise clients on different types of cable, carry out technical studies, organise logistics and coordination between the various parties and supervise the worksites.”

No fewer than 140 members of the CERN personnel and contractors’ personnel are working on the various LS2 cabling and cable removal projects, collaborating with the end users to ensure that quality control is as efficient as possible. “We would like to thank all the teams and users for their professionalism and their commitment. They are working to an extremely high standard while scrupulously respecting both deadlines and safety,” says Daniel Ricci.


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 23 Member States.

Related links:

Long Shutdown 2 (LS2):

Fire Safety project:

LHC Injectors Upgrade (LIU):

SPS access system:



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

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

Best regards,

Station Trio Awaits New Crew 50 Years After Apollo 11 Moon Landing

ISS - Expedition 60 Mission patch.

June 26, 2019

Three humans are orbiting Earth today as the new Expedition 60 trio and are back on duty aboard the International Space Station. The Expedition 59 trio returned to Earth Monday and is re-adjusting to Earth gravity while another crew prepares for its launch at the end of July.

NASA astronauts Christina Koch and Nick Hague are back to work today, following a day off after sleep shifting to oversee the departure of three crewmates Monday. Cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin is in his second mission aboard the orbiting lab and took the mantle as station commander Sunday. The three orbital residents have been in space since March 14.

Image above: The full moon is pictured as the International Space Station orbited 254 miles above the Pacific Ocean northeast of Guam. Image Credit: NASA.

Koch split her day between filming herself in virtual reality with a 360-degree camera and working on U.S. spacesuit gear. Hague replaced life support hardware in Japan’s Kibo laboratory module. Ovchinin worked on science and plumbing activities in the station’s Russian segment.

Anne McClain of NASA flew back to Houston Tuesday night just one day after landing in Kazakhstan and completing a 204-day mission. Her Expedition 59 crewmates David Saint-Jacques and Oleg Kononenko have returned to their home space agencies in Canada and Russia. The crew will spend the next few weeks participating in a variety of tests and observations.

 International Space Station (ISS). Animation Credit: NASA

The next crew to launch to the station is due to blast off July 20, exactly 50 years after Neil Armstrong first stepped foot on the moon. NASA astronaut Andrew Morgan will join experienced space-flyers Luca Parmitano and Alexander Skvortsov on the six-hour ride aboard the Soyuz MS-13 crew ship to their new orbiting home.

Related article:

Expedition 59 Crewmates Return from Space Station Mission

Related links:

Expedition 59:

Expedition 60:

360-degree camera:

Kibo laboratory module:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

Best regards,

NASA Technology Missions Launched on SpaceX Falcon Heavy

NASA - Goddard Space Flight Center logo.

June 26, 2019

NASA technology demonstrations, which one day could help the agency get astronauts to Mars, and science missions, which will look at the space environment around Earth and how it affects us, have launched into space on a Falcon Heavy rocket.

The NASA missions - including the Deep Space Atomic Clock and two instruments from NASA'S Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California - lifted off at 11:30 p.m. PDT (2:30 a.m. EDT) Tuesday from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, as part of the Department of Defense's Space Test Program-2 (STP-2) launch.

Image above: A SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket carrying 24 satellites as part of the Department of Defense's Space Test Program-2 (STP-2) mission launches from Launch Complex 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida Tuesday, June 25, 2019. The satellites include four NASA technology and science payloads that will study non-toxic spacecraft fuel, deep space navigation, "bubbles" in the electrically-charged layers of Earth's upper atmosphere, and radiation protection for satellites. Image Credits: NASA/Joel Kowsky.

"This launch was a true partnership across government and industry, and it marked an incredible first for the U.S. Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center," said Jim Reuter, associate administrator for NASA's Space Technology Mission Directorate. "The NASA missions aboard the Falcon Heavy also benefited from strong collaborations with industry, academia and other government organizations."

The missions, each with a unique set of objectives, will aid in smarter spacecraft design and benefit the agency's Moon to Mars exploration plans by providing greater insight into the effects of radiation in space and testing an atomic clock that could change how spacecraft navigate.

With launch and deployments complete, the missions will start to power on, communicate with Earth and collect data. They each will operate for about a year, providing enough time to mature the technologies and collect valuable science data. Below is more information about each mission, including notional timelines for key milestones.

Enhanced Tandem Beacon Experiment

Two NASA CubeSats making up the Enhanced Tandem Beacon Experiment (E-TBEx) deployed at 12:08 and 12:13 a.m. PDT (3:08 and 3:13 a.m. EDT). Working in tandem with NOAA's COSMIC-2 mission - six satellites that each carry a radio occultation (GPS) receiver developed at JPL - E-TBEx will explore bubbles in the electrically-charged layers of Earth's upper atmosphere, which can disrupt communications and GPS signals that we rely on every day. The CubeSats will send signals in several frequencies down to receiving stations on Earth. Scientists will measure any disruptions in these signals to determine how they're being affected by the upper atmosphere.

- One to three weeks after launch: E-TBEx operators "check out" the CubeSats to make sure power, navigation/guidance and data systems are working in space as expected.

- Approximately three weeks after launch: Science beacons that send signals to antennas on Earth power up and begin transmitting to ground stations.

- About one year after launch: The E-TBEx mission ends.

Deep Space Atomic Clock

NASA's Deep Space Atomic Clock is a toaster oven-size instrument traveling aboard a commercial satellite that was released into low-Earth orbit at 12: 54 a.m. PDT (3:54 a.m. EDT). The unique atomic clock will test a new way for spacecraft to navigate in deep space. The technology could make GPS-like navigation possible at the Moon and Mars.

- Two to four weeks after launch: The ultra-stable oscillator, part of the Deep Space Atomic Clock that keeps precise time, powers on to warm up in space.

- Four to seven weeks after launch: The full Deep Space Atomic Clock powers on.

- Three to four months after launch: Preliminary clock performance results are expected.

- One year after full power on: The Deep Space Atomic Clock mission ends, final data analysis begins.

Green Propellant Infusion Mission

The Green Propellant Infusion Mission (GPIM) deployed at 12:57 a.m. PDT (3:57 a.m. EDT) and immediately began to power on. GPIM will test a new propulsion system that runs on a high-performance and non-toxic spacecraft fuel. This technology could help propel constellations of small satellites in and beyond low-Earth orbit.

- Within a day of launch: Mission operators check out the small spacecraft.

- One to three weeks after launch: Mission operators ensure the propulsion system heaters and thrusters are operating as expected.

- During the first three months after launch: To demonstrate the performance of the spacecraft's thrusters, GPIM performs three lowering burns that place it in an elliptical orbit; each time GPIM gets closer to Earth at one particular point in its orbit.

- Throughout the mission: Secondary instruments aboard GPIM measure space weather and test a system that continuously reports the spacecraft's position and velocity.

- About 12 months after launch: Mission operators command a final thruster burn to deplete the fuel tank, a technical requirement for the end of mission.

- About 13 months after launch: The GPIM mission ends.

Space Environment Testbeds

The U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory's Demonstration and Science Experiments (DSX) was the last spacecraft to be released from STP-2 at 3:04 a.m. PDT (6:04 a.m. EDT) Onboard is an instrument designed by JPL to measure spacecraft vibrations, and four NASA experiments that make up the Space Environment Testbeds (SET). SET will study how to better protect satellites from space radiation by analyzing the harsh environment of space near Earth and testing various strategies to mitigate the impacts. This information can be used to improve spacecraft design, engineering and operations in order to protect spacecraft from harmful radiation driven by the Sun.

- Three weeks after launch: SET turns on for check out and testing of all four experiments.

- Eight weeks after launch: Anticipated start of science data collection.

- About 12 months after check-out: The SET mission ends.

In all, STP-2 delivered about two dozen satellites into three separate orbits around Earth. Kennedy Space Center engineers mentored Florida high school students who developed and built a CubeSat that also launched on STP-2.

"It was gratifying to see 24 satellites launch as one," said Nicola Fox, director of the Heliophysics Division in NASA's Science Mission Directorate. "The space weather instruments and science CubeSats will teach us how to better protect our valuable hardware and astronauts in space, insights useful for the upcoming Artemis program and more."

GPIM and the Deep Space Atomic Clock are both part of the Technology Demonstration Missions program within NASA's Space Technology Mission Directorate. The Space Communications and Navigation program within NASA's Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate also provided funding for the atomic clock. SET and E-TBEx were both funded by NASA's Science Mission Directorate.

Related article:

SpaceX - STP-2 Mission Success

Related links:

Enhanced Tandem Beacon Experiment (E-TBEx):

NOAA's COSMIC-2 mission:

Deep Space Atomic Clock:

Green Propellant Infusion Mission (GPIM):

Space Environment Testbeds (SET):



Learn more about NASA technology:

Find out how NASA is sending astronaut back to the Moon and on to Mars at:

Image (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Clare Skelly/GSFC/Karen Fox/JPL/Arielle Samuelson.