samedi 10 août 2019

Hubble Catches 2 Galaxies at Play

NASA - Hubble Space Telescope patch.

Aug. 10, 2019

The pair of strange, luminescent creatures at play in this image are actually galaxies — realms of millions upon millions of stars.

This galactic duo is known as UGC 2369. The galaxies are interacting, meaning that their mutual gravitational attraction is pulling them closer and closer together and distorting their shapes in the process. A tenuous bridge of gas, dust and stars can be seen connecting the two galaxies, created when they pulled material out into space across the diminishing divide between them.

Interaction with others is a common event in the history of most galaxies. For larger galaxies like the Milky Way, the majority of these interactions involve significantly smaller so-called dwarf galaxies. But every few billion years, a more momentous event can occur. For our home galaxy, the next big event will take place in about four billion years, when it will collide with its bigger neighbor, the Andromeda galaxy. Over time, the two galaxies will likely merge into one — already nicknamed Milkomeda.

Hubble Space Telescope (HST)

For more information about Hubble, visit:

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


vendredi 9 août 2019

Satellite Software Contest on Station as Crew Tests Organ Printing

ISS - Expedition 60 Mission patch.

August 9, 2019

The International Space Station is the setting today for a student competition to control tiny, free-floating satellites aboard the orbiting lab. Meanwhile, the Expedition 60 crewmembers conducted a variety of research operations and continued configuring a pair of spacesuits.

Middle school students are competing to design algorithms that autonomously control basketball-sized SPHERES satellites aboard the station. The student-written software tests rendezvous and docking maneuvers that simulate scenarios such as retrieving an inoperable satellite. Flight Engineers Andrew Morgan and Alexander Skvortsov were on hand monitoring the SPHERES contest inside the Kibo laboratory module.

Image above: The Milky Way lights up an orbital night pass as the International Space Station orbited 257 miles above the Coral Sea in between Australia and Papua New Guinea. The atmospheric glow highlights Earth’s limb. Image Credit: NASA.

NASA astronaut Christina Koch is helping scientists learn how to print and grow human organs in space. She printed tissue samples using the BioFabrication Facility in the Columbus lab module. The samples are housed for several weeks inside a specialized incubator to promote cellular growth. Earth’s gravity inhibits 3-D bioprinters and incubators from recreating and growing complex organic structures.

Flight Engineers Nick Hague and Luca Parmitano continued working on U.S. spacesuits and spacewalking tools during the afternoon. Hague started the day configuring a fluorescence microscope that can observe cellular changes in microgravity. Parmitano serviced Europe’s Fluid Science Laboratory to continue researching the physics of fluids in microgravity.

International Space Station (ISS). Animation Credit: NASA

Commander Alexey Ovchinin worked in the Russian segment of the space lab today readying obsolete gear for return to Earth aboard a Soyuz spacecraft. The veteran cosmonaut spent the rest of the afternoon servicing life support gear and inspecting biology research hardware.

Related links:

Expedition 60:


Kibo laboratory module:

BioFabrication Facility:

Columbus lab module:

Specialized incubator:

Fluorescence microscope:

Fluid Science Laboratory:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

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NASA’s MMS Finds First Interplanetary Shock

NASA - Magnetospheric Multiscale Mission (MMS) patch.

Aug. 9, 2019

The Magnetospheric Multiscale mission — MMS — has spent the past four years using high-resolution instruments to see what no other spacecraft can. Recently, MMS made the first high-resolution measurements of an interplanetary shock.

Magnetospheric Multiscale Mission or MMS. Image Credit: NASA

These shocks, made of particles and electromagnetic waves, are launched by the Sun. They provide ideal test beds for learning about larger universal phenomena, but measuring interplanetary shocks requires being at the right place at the right time. Here is how the MMS spacecraft were able to do just that.

What’s in a Shock?

Interplanetary shocks are a type of collisionless shock — ones where particles transfer energy through electromagnetic fields instead of directly bouncing into one another. These collisionless shocks are a phenomenon found throughout the universe, including in supernovae, black holes and distant stars. MMS studies collisionless shocks around Earth to gain a greater understanding of shocks across the universe.

Interplanetary shocks start at the Sun, which continually releases streams of charged particles called the solar wind.

Animation of Solar Wind

Video above: Animation of the solar wind. Video Credits: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/Conceptual Image Lab.

The solar wind typically comes in two types — slow and fast. When a fast stream of solar wind overtakes a slower stream, it creates a shock wave, just like a boat moving through a river creates a wave. The wave then spreads out across the solar system. On Jan. 8, 2018, MMS was in just the right spot to see one interplanetary shock as it rolled by. 

Catching the Shock

MMS was able to measure the shock thanks to its unprecedentedly fast and high-resolution instruments. One of the instruments aboard MMS is the Fast Plasma Investigation. This suite of instruments can measure ions and electrons around the spacecraft at up to 6 times per second. Since the speeding shock waves can pass the spacecraft in just half a second, this high-speed sampling is essential to catching the shock.

Looking at the data from Jan. 8, the scientists noticed a clump of ions from the solar wind. Shortly after, they saw a second clump of ions, created by ions already in the area that had bounced off the shock as it passed by. Analyzing this second population, the scientists found evidence to support a theory of energy transfer first posed in the 1980s.

MMS consists of four identical spacecraft, which fly in a tight formation that allows for the 3D mapping of space. Since the four MMS spacecraft were separated by only 12 miles at the time of the shock (not hundreds of kilometers as previous spacecraft had been), the scientists could also see small-scale irregular patterns in the shock. The event and results were recently published in the Journal of Geophysical Research.

Animation above: Data from the Fast Plasma Investigation aboard MMS shows the shock and reflected ions as they washed over MMS. The colors represent the amount of ions seen with warmer colors indicating higher numbers of ions. The reflected ions (yellow band that appears just above the middle of the figure) show up midway through the animation, and can be seen increasing in intensity (warmer colors) as they pass MMS, shown as a white dot. Animation Credits: Ian Cohen.

Going Back for More

Due to timing of the orbit and instruments, MMS is only in place to see interplanetary shocks about once a week, but the scientists are confident that they’ll find more. Particularly now, after seeing a strong interplanetary shock, MMS scientists are hoping to be able to spot weaker ones that are much rarer and less well understood. Finding a weaker event could help open up a new regime of shock physics.

Related Link:

Learn more about NASA’s MMS Mission:

Image (mentioned), Video (mentioned),  Animation (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Rob Garner/Goddard Space Flight Center, by Mara Johnson-Groh.


Space Station Science Highlights: Week of August 5, 2019

ISS - Expedition 60 Mission patch.

Aug. 9, 2019

Astronauts aboard the International Space Station conducted new and ongoing scientific experiments this week, including studies of time perception and microgravity’s effects on brain proteins associated with neurodegenerative diseases and testing a 3D biological printer. The only laboratory that allows scientists to manipulate every variable including gravity, the space station also provides a platform for commercial research and investigations that support Artemis, NASA’s program to return humans to the Moon as a stepping stone to Mars.

Here are details on some of the science conducted on the orbiting laboratory during the week of August 5:

Does anybody really know what time it is?

Image above: NASA astronaut Christina Koch photographs Earth landmarks from the U.S. Destiny laboratory module's Window Observation Research Facility (WORF). Koch is wearing specialized goggles to protect her eyes from the Sun's rays. Image Credit: NASA.

The accurate perception of objects in the environment is critical for a person’s spatial orientation and reliable performance of motor tasks. Time perception in microgravity also is fundamental to motion perception, sound localization, speech, and fine motor coordination. The Time Perception experiment uses a laptop program that induces visual and audio stimuli and measures a subject's response to spatial and time perception. The goal is to quantify subjective changes in time perception that people experience during and after long-duration exposure to microgravity. Crew members performed experiment sessions using a head-mounted Oculus Rift display and headphones and a finger trackball.

Making printing a pancreas a possibility

Image above: NASA astronaut Andrew Morgan works on setting up the BioFabrication Facility to test-print tissues as part of an investigation into whether human organs can be 3D printed in the weightless environment of space. Image Credit: NASA.

The crew performed cassette installations, swaps and removals to test the new BioFabrication Facility (BFF) and encountered some difficulties with several of the smart pumps. To address these issues, the crew manually adjusted, inspected and cleaned the pumps and the ground team reported the activity appears to have been successful. Science and medicine envision using 3D biological printers to produce usable human organs, but printing complex structures inside organs, such as capillary structures, has proven difficult in Earth’s gravity. The BFF is designed to print organ-like tissues in microgravity as a step toward manufacturing human organs in space using refined biological 3D printing techniques.

A bank for something better than money

The crew collected samples for the NASA Repository investigation. A storage bank that maintains biological specimens over extended periods of time and under well-controlled conditions, Repository supports scientific discovery of fundamental knowledge about human physiological changes in and adaptation to microgravity. The samples provide unique opportunities for longitudinal studies of changes in human physiology spanning many missions and are a resource for future space flight-related research. Samples collected from crew members, including blood and urine, are processed and archived before, during and after flight.

The brain on microgravity

Animation above: NASA astronauts Nick Hague and Christina Koch work in the Life Sciences Glovebox on the Cell Science-02 investigation, which examines how microgravity affects healing, tissue regeneration and agents that induce healing. Animation Credit: NASA.

The Amyloid Aggregation investigation assesses whether microgravity affects formation of amyloid fibrils, which could represent a possible risk to astronauts on long flights. Amyloid fibrils are self-assembled fibrous protein aggregates that are associated with a number of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Better understanding of the mechanism underlying amyloid aggregation could protect astronauts on long missions and contribute to design of treatments for these diseases on Earth. The crew activated samples for the investigation and returned them to cold stowage.

Other investigations on which the crew performed work:

- ACME Flame Design, which studies the production and control of soot to optimize oxygen-enriched combustion and the design of robust, soot-free flames, is part of a series of independent ACME experiments using the orbiting laboratory’s Combustion Integrated Rack (CIR):

- The European Space Agency’s GRIP experiment tests the ability of astronauts to manipulate items and control their arm motions in space:

- Lighting Effects studies the effects that replacing fluorescent light bulbs on the space station with solid-state light-emitting diodes (LEDs) has on crew member circadian rhythms, sleep, and cognitive performance:

- The ISS Experience creates short virtual reality videos from footage taken during the yearlong investigation covering different aspects of crew life, execution of science and the international partnerships involved on the space station:

- The Cell Science-02 investigation examines how microgravity affects healing, tissue regeneration and agents that induce healing:

- The Actiwatch is a wristwatch-like monitor containing an accelerometer to measure motion and color sensitive photodetectors for monitoring ambient lighting to help analyze the crew’s circadian rhythms, sleep-wake patterns and activity:

- 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:

- Rodent Research-17 (RR-17) uses young and old mice to evaluate the physiological, cellular and molecular effects of microgravity and spaceflight:

Space to Ground: A New Mission: 08/09/2019

Related links:

Expedition 60:


Time Perception:

BioFabrication Facility (BFF):


Amyloid Aggregation:

Spot the Station:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

Images (mentioned), Animation (mentioned), Video (NASA), Text, Credits: NASA/Michael Johnson/Vic Cooley, Lead Increment Scientist Expedition 60.

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jeudi 8 août 2019

Meet the Promising New Researchers Making Waves on the Space Station

ISS - International Space Station logo.

Aug. 8, 2019

Each year, the president of the United States selects an elite group of scientists and engineers at the beginning of their independent research careers to receive the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers. This is the highest honor given by the U.S. government to outstanding science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) professionals at this point in their professions.

This year’s selection of 314 scientists includes 18 NASA researchers. Although these scientists are, as the award’s name indicates, early in their career, they have already built up impressive resumes. The list of accomplishments for three of them includes important contributions to research aboard the International Space Station.

International Space Station (ISS). Animation Credit: NASA

“The work of these three scientists is helping NASA enable human spaceflight exploration while making scientific discoveries. We benefit greatly from their research,” said Craig Kundrot, director of the Space Life and Physical Sciences Research and Applications division at NASA Headquarters. “Congratulations to Dr. Massa, Dr. Smith, and Dr. Barrila, and we look forward to them advancing the frontiers of knowledge in space biology.”

We sat down to chat with these three awardees, Jennifer Barrila, Ph.D., Gioia Massa, Ph.D. and David J. Smith, Ph.D., to learn more about how the orbiting laboratory has shaped their work.

Image above: Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers recipient and International Space Station researcher Jennifer Barrila. Photo courtesy of Jennifer Barrila.

Jennifer Barrila grew up in the 80s during the Space Shuttle Program. Her admiration for the people she saw flying to space inspired Barrila to pursue a career goal that most kids only dream of: becoming an astronaut. Many who share this daunting ambition focus on becoming aerospace engineers or pilots. But Barrila’s fascination for biology led her to a different path. “As I was finishing high school, the space station was being constructed,” says Barrila. “I knew when it was complete they would need scientists to perform experiments, so I decided to follow my passion and train in the biological sciences.”

While Barrila, who now works at Arizona State University, hasn’t yet gone to space, her research has made the trip. She has played integral roles in several experiments aboard the space station and a shuttle mission that studied how microgravity may alter infectious disease risks. Barrila co-led the first study to profile how human cells respond to Salmonella infection in space, served as a co-investigator on the first full-duration virulence study performed in space and is working on two experiments that could launch to the orbiting laboratory later this year.

She also was also part of a study that examined the impact of microgravity on Salmonella’s ability to infect a 3D cell culture model of the human colon. Barrila is now working to advance these models by incorporating fecal microbes collected from astronauts before, during and after spaceflight. “We're looking to see whether changes that occurred to the astronaut microbiome could possibly change their susceptibility to infection with Salmonella,” Barrila says. “I'm pretty excited about this study because we just don't know what we will see.”

While Barrila would still love to go to space, it is no longer her primary goal. “I went into this field wanting to become an astronaut, but doing the research has been so incredibly rewarding,” says Barrila. “Even if I never get to go into space, it’s been exciting to have the opportunity to contribute to the human spaceflight program.”

Image above: Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers recipient and International Space Station researcher Gioia Massa. Photo courtesy of Gioia Massa.

Gioia Massa grew up in Florida about an hour away from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral. After her middle school agriculture teacher was invited to Kennedy to learn about plant production for astronauts, he shared what he learned with Massa. “He brought back hours and hours of video. I was just completely captivated,” says Massa. “I think I watched all of it.”

From that springboard she chose to learn about hydroponics in high school, interned at Kennedy Space Center in the space life sciences training program and eventually earned her Ph.D. in Plant Biology from Penn State University. When a role for a NASA scientist opened up in 2013, Massa jumped at the opportunity.

Her work at NASA has built on her middle school passion of growing plants in space, looking at numerous aspects of agriculture in microgravity, specifically on the space station.

Image above: View of VEG-04 plant check, watering and weighing of harvested leaves in the Columbus Module. Image Credit: NASA.

She is studying the perfect conditions for plant growth in space and what species grow most effectively there. She is even getting feedback from the astronauts currently on board the station on which crops taste best. “Plants are very adaptable. They can really respond to the environment,” says Massa. “But getting that environment right is truly our hardest challenge. The biology is not as challenging as the physics to overcome.”

Right now, Massa and her team are focused on perfecting the cultivation of lettuce plants and a few other basic crops that they have learned to grow effectively. They hope to continue with their experiments on the space station and build on this knowledge to learn to grow more fruiting crops such as tomatoes and peppers. “To have an orbiting laboratory up there with astronauts continuously available to do science gives you a lot of power that you would otherwise not have. If you just do things one time, it leaves so many open questions,” says Massa. “Being able to do repeated evolutionary work on a platform like the space station is really the only way to advance these exploration systems.”

Image above: Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers recipient and International Space Station researcher David J. Smith. Photo courtesy of David J. Smith.

David J. Smith got a surprise call while in graduate school. On the other end was Crystal Jaing Ph.D., a researcher from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. “I couldn't believe my luck,” says Smith. “It was hard to believe, after having read all of her team’s literature, that she wanted to collaborate on something. She put together the dream team in microbiology.”

Jaing was recruiting a team for a new investigation of microbiology on the space station called Microbial Tracking-2. “Our goal is to identify any correlations of the microbiome community between what is in the space station versus what's on the astronauts to see if there is any microbial transfer and the potential impacts to crew health,” says Jaing.

While Smith’s previous research was based within our atmosphere, he shared an interest with Jaing in detecting microorganisms in challenging environments. “My work in graduate school was finding microbial signals in the upper atmosphere,” says Smith. “When Crystal put together this proposal, we knew that some of those microbes would also be floating around in spacecraft air. We thought we would bring some of the methodology from the open atmosphere here on Earth to the station.”

The year after finishing graduate school, Smith got a job working at Kennedy Space Center and helped finalize the proposal for Microbial Tracking-2.

Image above: Microbial Tracking-2 hardware aboard the International Space Station, where it collects samples of the microbes and viruses floating in the air. Image Credit: NASA.

The Microbial Tracking team now has almost completed the sample collection period. Crew samples taken before, during and after flight, as well as environmental samples from station surfaces and air, make up the data. Smith and the research team will use this information to identify microbes and viruses on the orbital outpost and crew, and assess their disease-causing potential.

Smith sees this research in low-Earth orbit as a crucial step towards more than just preventing disease in space. He says it is needed to produce safe water, air and food systems on longer space missions to destinations like the Moon or Mars. “It’s going to be a whole different ball game when we go to deep space,” says Smith. “And it’s not going to be just macrosystems we have to be mindful of. It’s the invisible little passengers we bring along with us.”

The Space Life and Physical Sciences Research and Applications Division (SLPSRA) of NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington funds the research of these three outstanding scientists.

Relate links:

How human cells respond to Salmonella infection in space:

First full-duration virulence study performed in space:

Plant growth in space:

Microbial Tracking-2:

Previous research:

Space Life and Physical Sciences Research and Applications Division (SLPSRA):

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

Images (mentioned), Animation (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Michael Johnson/JSC/International Space Station Program Science Office/Erin Winick.

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Cloaked Black Hole Discovered in Early Universe Using NASA’s Chandra

NASA - Chandra X-ray Observatory patch.

Aug. 8, 2019

Astronomers have discovered evidence for the farthest "cloaked" black hole found to date, using NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory. At only about 6% of the current age of the universe, this is the first indication of a black hole hidden by gas at such an early time in the history of the cosmos.

Image above: Data from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory have revealed what may be the most distant shrouded black hole. Image Credits: X-ray: NASA/CXO/Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Chile/F. Vito; Radio: ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO); optical: Pan-STARRS.

Supermassive black holes, which are millions to billions of times more massive than our Sun, typically grow by pulling in material from a disk of surrounding matter. Rapid growth generates large amounts of radiation in a very small region around the black hole. Scientists call this extremely bright, compact source a "quasar."

According to current theories, a dense cloud of gas feeds material into the disk surrounding a supermassive black hole during its period of early growth, which "cloaks" or hides much of the quasar's bright light from our view. As the black hole consumes material and becomes more massive, the gas in the cloud is depleted, until the black hole and its bright disk are uncovered.

“It’s extraordinarily challenging to find quasars in this cloaked phase because so much of their radiation is absorbed and cannot be detected by current instruments,” said Fabio Vito CAS-CONICYT Fellow at the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, in Santiago, Chile, who led the study. “Thanks to Chandra and the ability of X-rays to pierce through the obscuring cloud, we think we’ve finally succeeded.”

The new finding came from observations of a quasar called PSO167-13, which was first discovered by Pan-STARRS, an optical-light telescope in Hawaii. Optical observations from these and other surveys have detected about 200 quasars already shining brightly when the universe was less than a billion years old, or about 7 percent of its present age. These surveys were only considered effective at finding unobscured black holes, because the radiation they detect is suppressed by even thin clouds of gas and dust. Since PSO167-13 was part of those observations, this quasar was expected to be unobscured, too.

Vito’s team tested this idea by using Chandra to observe PSO167-13 and nine other quasars discovered with optical surveys. After 16 hours of observation, only three X-ray light photons were detected from PSO167-13, all with relatively high energies. Since low-energy X-rays are more easily absorbed than higher energy ones, the likely explanation is that the quasar is highly obscured by gas, allowing only high-energy X-rays to be detected.

“This was a complete surprise”, said co-author Niel Brandt of Penn State University in University Park, Pennsylvania. “It was like we were expecting a moth but saw a cocoon instead. None of the other nine quasars we observed were cloaked, which is what we anticipated.”

An interesting twist for PSO167-13 is that the galaxy hosting the quasar has a close companion galaxy, visible in data previously obtained with the Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA) of radio dishes in Chile and NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope. Because of their close separation and the faintness of the X-ray source, the team was unable to determine whether the newly-discovered X-ray emission is associated with the quasar PSO167-13 or with the companion galaxy.

If the X-rays come from the known quasar, then astronomers need to develop an explanation for why the quasar appeared highly obscured in X-rays but not in optical light. One possibility is that there has been a large and rapid increase in cloaking of the quasar during the three years between when the optical and the X-ray observations were made.

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

On the other hand, if instead the X-rays arise from the companion galaxy, then it represents the detection of a new quasar in close proximity to PSO167-13. This quasar pair would be the most distant yet detected.

In either of these two cases, the quasar detected by Chandra would be the most distant cloaked one yet seen, at 850 million years after the Big Bang. The previous record holder was observed 1.3 billion years after the Big Bang.

The authors plan to follow up with more observations to learn more.

“With a longer Chandra observation we'll be able to get a better estimate of how obscured this black hole is,” said co-author Franz Bauer, also from the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile and associate member of the Millenium Institute of Astrophysics, “and make a confident identification of the X-ray source with either the known quasar or the companion galaxy.”

The authors also plan to search for more examples of highly obscured black holes.

“We suspect that the majority of supermassive black holes in the early universe are cloaked: it’s then crucial to detect and study them to understand how they could grow to masses of a billion suns so quickly,” said co-author Roberto Gilli of INAF in Bologna, Italy.

A paper describing these results is accepted for publication in Astronomy and Astrophysics and is available online. NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center manages the Chandra program. The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory’s Chandra X-ray Center controls science and flight operations from Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Astronomy and Astrophysics:

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

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

Image (mentioned), Animation (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Lee Mohon/Chandra X-ray Center/Megan Watzke/Marshall Space Flight Center/Molly Porter.


Crew Gears Up for Spacewalk, Scans Eyes and Practices Medical Emergency

ISS - Expeition 60 Mission patch.

August 8, 2019

The Expedition 60 crew is gearing up for an upcoming spacewalk to prepare the International Space Station for more commercial crew missions. Biomedical science also took up a portion of the astronauts’ day as they help researchers understand what happens to the human body in microgravity.

NASA astronauts Nick Hague and Andrew Morgan are reviewing their tasks planned for Aug. 21 when they conduct the fifth spacewalk of the year at the orbiting lab. The duo will take about six-and-a-half hours to install the International Docking Adapter-3 (IDA-3) on top of the Harmony module. The IDA-3, delivered inside the Dragon cargo craft’s trunk, will be the second port at the station designed to receive the new Boeing and SpaceX crew ships.

Image above: NASA astronaut Nick Hague, in his white U.S. spacesuit, is contrasted by the blackness of space during a six-hour, 39-minute spacewalk that took place in March 2019. Image Creddit: NASA.

Flight Engineers Christina Koch and Luca Parmitano are helping the spacewalkers get ready for the upcoming excursion. They are configuring spacesuit components today and will continue assisting the pair before, during and after the next spacewalk.

Morgan first joined Koch and Parmitano during the morning for ultrasound eye exams. Koch took charge of the eye scans in the Columbus lab module with real-time inputs from doctors on the ground. She observed her crewmates’ retina, cornea, lens and optic nerve to maintain eye health in space.

International Space Station (ISS). Animation Creit: NASA

Koch and Parmitano later split up feeding the station’s mice and cleaning their habitats in the Destiny laboratory module. Observing the rodents, which are genetically similar to humans, in the weightless environment of microgravity gives scientists critical therapeutic insights that can benefit Earthlings and astronauts.

The most recent trio to arrive at the station gathered at the end of the day to train for a medical emergency. Morgan, Parmitano and cosmonaut Alexander Skvortsov practiced cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), checked out medical gear and reviewed emergency communications.

Related links:

Expedition 60:


International Docking Adapter-3 (IDA-3):

Harmony module:


Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

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Hubble Showcases New Portrait of Jupiter

ESA - Hubble Space Telescope logo.

8 August 2019

Jupiter’s Colourful Palette

The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope reveals the intricate, detailed beauty of Jupiter’s clouds in this new image taken on 27 June 2019[1]. It features the planet’s trademark Great Red Spot and a more intense colour palette in the clouds swirling in the planet’s turbulent atmosphere than seen in previous years.

Among the most striking features in the image are the rich colours of the clouds moving toward the Great Red Spot. This huge anticyclonic storm is roughly the diameter of Earth and is rolling counterclockwise between two bands of clouds that are moving in opposite directions toward it.

A Close-Up Look at Jupiter’s Dynamic Atmosphere

As with previous images of Jupiter taken by Hubble, and other observations from telescopes on the ground, the new image confirms that the huge storm which has raged on Jupiter’s surface for at least 150 years continues to shrink. The reason for this is still unknown so Hubble will continue to observe Jupiter in the hope that scientists will be able to solve this stormy riddle. Much smaller storms appear on Jupiter as white or brown ovals that can last as little as a few hours or stretch on for centuries.

The worm-shaped feature located south of the Great Red Spot is a cyclone, a vortex spinning in the opposite direction to that in which the Great Red Spot spins. Researchers have observed cyclones with a wide variety of different appearances across the planet. The two white oval features are anticyclones, similar to small versions of the Great Red Spot.

Zooming Into the Great Red Spot of Jupiter

The Hubble image also highlights Jupiter’s distinct parallel cloud bands. These bands consist of air flowing in opposite directions at various latitudes. They are created by differences in the thickness and height of the ammonia ice clouds; the lighter bands rise higher and have thicker clouds than the darker bands. The different concentrations are kept separate by fast winds which can reach speeds of up to 650 kilometres per hour.

Global Model of Jupiter

These observations of Jupiter form part of the Outer Planet Atmospheres Legacy (OPAL) programme, which began in 2014. This initiative allows Hubble to dedicate time each year to observing the outer planets and provides scientists with access to a collection of maps, which helps them to understand not only the atmospheres of the giant planets in the Solar System, but also the atmosphere of our own planet and of the planets in other planetary systems.

Hubble Space Telescope. Animation Credits: NASA/ESA


[1] This image was captured by Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3, when the planet was 644 million kilometres from Earth.

More information:

The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between ESA and NASA.

- Hubblecast Light : Jupiter’s Great Red Spot:

- ESA's Hubblesite:

- Images of Hubble:

- Hubblesite release:

- Article on SpaceScoop:

- Hubble Images of Jupiter:

- OPAL programme:

Images, Animation (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA, ESA, Bethany Downer, A. Simon (Goddard Space Flight Center), and M.H. Wong (University of California, Berkeley)/Vieos: NASA, ESA, A. Simon (Goddard Space Flight Center), and M.H. Wong (University of California, Berkeley)/Music: Konstantino Polizois.

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NASA's Spitzer Spies a Perfectly Sideways Galaxy

NASA - Spitzer Space Telescope patch.

August 8, 2019

Image above: Galaxy NGC 5866 lies 44 million light-years from Earth and has a diameter of roughly 60,000 light-years - a little more than half the diameter of our own Milky Way galaxy. From our viewpoint, NGC 5866 is oriented almost exactly edge-on, yielding most of its structural features invisible. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

This image from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope might look like a lightsaber floating in space, but it's actually an entire galaxy viewed on its side.

The long red beam in the center of the image is a galaxy called NGC 5866. It lies 44 million light-years from Earth and has a diameter of roughly 60,000 light-years - a little more than half the diameter of our own Milky Way galaxy. When we think of galaxies, we often imagine massive spiral arms or thick disks of dust. But not all galaxies are oriented face-on as viewed from Earth. From our viewpoint, we see only the edge of NGC 5866, so most of its structural features are invisible.

Spitzer detects infrared light, and the red color here corresponds to an infrared wavelength typically emitted by dust. With a consistency similar to soot or thick smoke, the dust absorbs light from stars, then reemits light at longer wavelengths, including in infrared. (Materials used to make blacklight posters work via this same mechanism, by absorbing ultraviolet light and reemitting visible light.) The clean edges of the dust emission from NGC 5866 indicate that there is a very flat ring or disk of dust circling the outer region of the galaxy. Dust rings and disks sometimes form in the wake of galaxies merging, but this galaxy lacks any sign of twists or distortions in the ring that often appear as the result of a merger.

Trying to learn about the history and shape of NGC 5866 is challenging due to its orientation. Our view of this galaxy is somewhat like our view of the Milky Way galaxy: Because Earth lies inside the Milky Way, we can see it only edge-on rather than face-on. But our proximity to the rest of the Milky Way has allowed astronomers to reconstruct what our galaxy would look like viewed face-on. Even the Sombrero galaxy, which is nearly edge-on as viewed from Earth, is tilted just enough to reveal a symmetric ring of dust around the galaxy's center. If seen perfectly edge-on, the Sombrero might look a lot like NGC 5866.

Spitzer Space Telescope. Animation Credits: NASA/JPL

Spitzer took this image during its "cold" mission, which ended in 2009. The colors represent three infrared wavelengths captured by the Infrared Array Camera instrument. Blue light corresponds to Spitzer's observations at a wavelength of 3.6 microns, produced mainly by stars; green corresponds to 4.5 microns; and red corresponds to 8 microns. In this image, the blue haze is produced by stars that make up most of the mass of the galaxy.

More information about Spitzer is available at the following site:

A visible light image of NGC 5866 from NASA's Hubble Space Telescope at the following site:

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


Bubbles in space

ISS - International Space Station logo.

8 August 2019

Bubbles are soon to be made in space as part of an experiment that combines scientific insight with an objectively cool process on International Space Station.  

The Reference mUltiscale Boiling Investigation experiment, known affectionately as Rubi, aims to expand our knowledge of the boiling process.

Bubbles in altered states of gravity

Understanding how boiling behaves in weightlessness is imperative because gravity plays an important role in this process.

Without gravity, boiling takes place in slow motion and produces larger bubbles. This will allow scientists to observe and measure effects that are too fast and too small on Earth. With this insight and more accurate calculations of the boiling process, products such as laptops can be improved and made more compact.  

Plug and boil

A lot of science will take place in a container the size of a large shoebox. Built by Airbus for ESA and housed in the Fluid Science Laboratory in the Columbus module, Rubi will generate bubbles under controlled conditions using a special heater.

A high-speed camera will record how the bubbles behave, while an infrared camera measures the temperature of the heated region.

It sounds simple enough, but what makes Rubi complex is that scientists are eager to observe and quantify the effect of external forces.

Rubi payload

With no gravity to disperse the bubbles, the science teams installed an electrode to observe the effect of an electric field on the bubbles. 

The experiment container also contains a small pump that, when activated, will get the liquid moving to evaluate the effect on the boiling process. 

Why space bubbles

"Making sure equipment and computer chips stay at the right temperature is of vital importance, otherwise their lifetime, as well as their performance, could decrease abruptly," says ESA project scientist Daniele Mangini.

“Boiling is an extremely efficient way of getting rid of excess heat. It could therefore be used to keep components of future spacecraft at their optimal temperature,” continues Daniele.

Back on Earth, better heat transfer technology means a lower impact on nature, as products such as laptops can cool down more efficiently.

ESA astronaut Luca Parmitano will install Rubi on 9 August and the experiment will run for five months on the International Space Station, during which time more than 600 test runs are planned.

Follow the Rubi experiment on social media for the latest #SpaceBubbles news and developments.

Multiscale Boiling experiment science team

Institutions of the Multiscale Boiling Science Team:

- Technische Universität Darmstadt, Institute of Technical Thermodynamics

- Aix Marseille Université

- University of Pisa

- Institut de Mécanique des Fluides de Toulouse

- Institute of Thermal-Fluid Dynamics, ENEA

- Transfers Interfaces and Processes, Université Libre de Bruxelles

- LAboratoire PLAsma et Conversion d’Energie Université Paul Sabatier

- Università degli Studi di Padova

- University of Thessaloniki

- University of Ljubljana

- Institute of Thermophysics, Novosibirsk, Russia

- Kobe University

- Hyogo University

- University of Maryland

Relate links:

European space laboratory Columbus:

International Space Station Benefits for Humanity:

Experiment archive:

International Space Station (ISS):

Animation, Images, Text, Credits: ESA/Technical University Darmstadt/Airbus.

Best regards,

Dark meets light on Mars

ESA - Mars Express Mission patch.

8 August 2019

Mars Express

ESA’s Mars Express has captured the cosmic contrast of Terra Cimmeria, a region in the southern highlands of Mars marked by impact craters, water-carved valleys, and sand and dust in numerous chocolate and caramel hues.

Mars is often referred to as the Red Planet, due to the characteristic hue of its orb in the sky. Up close, however, the planet is actually covered in all manner of colours – from bright whites and dark blacks to yellows, reds, greens, and the cappuccino tones seen here.

Plan view of Terra Cimmeria

These differences in colour are visible from telescopes on Earth. They are undeniably visually striking, but also reveal a significant amount about the composition and properties of the surface material itself.

These views based on Mars Express data are a great example of the diversity found on the martian surface: the darker regions towards the right (north) in the image at the top of this page are rich in minerals of volcanic origin, the most common of which found on Mars is basalt. The lighter patches to the left (south) are instead largely covered in fine silicate dust. 

Perspective view of Terra Cimmeria

Mars is thought to have once seen significant volcanic activity. The planet hosts some of the largest volcanoes in the Solar System, including the very biggest, Olympus Mons, and has several notable volcanic provinces (two of which are Tharsis and Elysium). The volcanoes within these regions once released ash and dust that covered and coated the surface of Mars, forming dark basaltic sands that were swept around and covered up by other material over time.

The largest crater in the image measures 25 km across and is 300 m deep – this relatively shallow depth is likely due to the crater being filled up with other material since its formation. Surrounding this crater are various plains, valleys, and ‘mesas’ – steep-sided mounds rising up from the martian surface.

Some of these features are the remnants of a former water-filled valley system, seen most clearly to the upper right of the frame. These valleys spread across Terra Cimmeria, once moving water and material throughout the area.

Perspective view of Terra Cimmeria

This water was locked up within surface ice and snow, but recent research points towards several episodes of melting that unlocked the water from glaciers and sent it flowing across Mars in liquid form.

To the left of the frame, thin dark trails can be seen snaking and sweeping across Terra Cimmeria – a tell-tale sign that ‘dust devils’ were once present here. Dust devils form as eddies of wind that displace the top layer of dust from the martian surface, sending it swirling up into the air. This in turn reveals a deeper layer of material that is different in colour, creating a sharp visible contrast. 

Terra Cimmeria in context

Another group of dark, but larger, wind-formed features known as ‘wind streaks’ can be seen near the centre-left of the image at the top of the page – shown below also as an anaglyph. These form in a similar way to dust devil tracks, except that they are caused not by eddies, but by local winds being forced over topographic features such as craters or cliffs.

Because of this, streaks can appear to emanate from these features. Wind streaks are useful indicators in atmospheric studies; for instance, the wind that formed the streaks in this image was blowing in a roughly south-easterly direction (given that north is to the right).

Whether altered by water, wind, impact or other means, the surface of Mars is a dynamic environment – and ESA’s Mars Express, in orbit around Mars since 2003, has managed to capture all manner of phenomena on the Red Planet in the past 16 years. 

Terra Cimmeria in 3D

Using instruments including its High Resolution Stereo Camera, responsible for these new images, the spacecraft has watched as giant dust storms kicked up material into the airto obscure wide regions of the surface from view; spotted signs of ancient sub-surface water systems that hint at the planet’s wetter past; and probed the martian atmosphere for signs of molecules we know to be linked to life on Earth.

It has found signs of tectonic activity at far more recent timescales than previously thought; watched strange clouds form and dissipate with the seasons; explored the patches of ice found at Mars’ northern and southern poles; and characterised the planet’s two small, mysterious moons, Phobos and Deimos.

Topographic view of Terra Cimmeria

ESA’s fleet at Mars grew with the arrival of the ESA-Roscosmos ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter in 2016, which has been making a detailed analysis of the planet’s atmosphere and mapping its surface. Next year, the ExoMars Rosalind Franklin rover and its accompanying surface science platform will be launched to further our understanding of Mars from the planet’s intriguing surface.

Relate links:

High Resolution Stereo Camera:

Mars Express:

ESA-Roscosmos ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter:

ExoMars Rosalind Franklin rover:

ESA Planetary Science archive (PSA):

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


mercredi 7 août 2019

Spacewalk Set for Aug. 21, Crew Researching Organ Printing and Alzheimer’s

ISS - Expedition 60 Mission patch.

August 7, 2019

International Space Station managers have set Aug. 21 for the next spacewalk at the orbiting lab. NASA astronauts Nick Hague and Andrew Morgan will work outside in the vacuum of space to install a new commercial crew docking port, the International Docking Adapter-3 (IDA-3).

Robotics controllers will remove the IDA-3, delivered in the trunk of the SpaceX Dragon, two days before the spacewalk and ready it for the six-and-a-half hour installation job. Hague and Morgan will install and configure the new docking adapter to the top of the Harmony module. Once connected, the IDA-3 will be ready to receive new Boeing and SpaceX crew ships.

Meanwhile, the six Expedition 60 crewmembers kept the station humming on Wednesday performing new microgravity research and maintaining life support systems. Biology and physics research in space reveals new phenomena potentially benefiting humans both on Earth and in space.

Image above: Expedition 60 Flight Engineer Christina Koch of NASA works inside the Quest joint airlock cleaning U.S. spacesuit cooling loops and replacing spacesuit components. Image Credit: NASA.

NASA astronaut Christina Koch serviced the new BioFabrication Facility today to help scientists take advantage of the properties of weightlessness to successfully print and grow human organs. Earth’s gravity can inhibit 3-D bioprinters and incubators from recreating and growing complex organic structures.

Luca Parmitano of the European Space Agency (ESA) researched possible causes for neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease. The crew is examining protein samples for amyloid formation that differs from samples observed on Earth. Results may inform preventative therapies for Earthlings and astronauts on long-term missions.

International Space Station (ISS). Animation Credit NASA

Students on Earth are learning how to maneuver tiny satellites inside the station today. Morgan set up a pair of basketball-sized SPHERES satellites controlled by student-written algorithms. The middle school kids are practicing rendezvous and docking techniques in the Kibo laboratory module.

Hague is setting up material samples for robotic installation outside Kibo. The Japanese robotic arm, smaller cousin to the Canadarm2, will remove the scientific samples from the module’s airlock and install them on an external platform. Researchers observe the exposed materials to understand the effects of microgravity and space radiation.

Related links:

Expedition 60:

International Docking Adapter-3 (IDA-3):

SpaceX Dragon:

BioFabrication Facility:

Amyloid formation:


Kibo laboratory module:


Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

Best regards,

How NASA Will Protect Astronauts From Space Radiation at the Moon

Artemis Program logo.

Aug. 7, 2019

August 1972, as NASA scientist Ian Richardson remembers it, was hot. In Surrey, England, where he grew up, the fields were brown and dry, and people tried to stay indoors — out of the Sun, televisions on. But for several days that month, his TV picture kept breaking up. “Do not adjust your set,” he recalls the BBC announcing. “Heat isn’t causing the interference. It’s sunspots.”

Animation above: Apollo 14 astronauts Alan Shepard and Edgar Mitchell prepare to plant the American flag on the Moon's surface. Animation Credit: NASA.

The same sunspots that disrupted the television signals led to enormous solar flares — powerful bursts of energy from the Sun — Aug. 4-7 that year. Between the Apollo 16 and 17 missions, the solar eruptions were a near miss for lunar explorers. Had they been in orbit or on the Moon’s surface, they could have experienced high levels of radiation sparked by the eruptions. Today, the Apollo-era flares serve as a reminder of the threat of radiation exposure to technology and astronauts in space. Understanding and predicting solar eruptions is crucial for safe space exploration.

Almost 50 years since those 1972 storms, the data, technology and resources available to NASA have improved, enabling advancements towards space weather forecasts and astronaut protection — key to NASA’s Artemis program to return astronauts to the Moon.

How NASA Will Protect Astronauts From Space Radiation

Video above: Space radiation is a key factor for astronaut safety as they venture to the Moon. NASA is exploring a variety of techniques and technology to mitigate different types of radiation during space travel. Video Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/Joy Ng.

Space isn’t empty

Today, Richardson is a scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. He studies high-energy particles that burst from the Sun in the wake of giant solar eruptions.

In addition to flares, huge clouds — called coronal mass ejections — containing a billion tons of solar material occasionally blast from the solar surface. Increasingly, scientists think coronal mass ejections play a dominant role in driving the Sun’s most powerful radiation: solar energetic particles, or SEPs.

SEPs are almost all protons, flung at such high speeds that some reach Earth, 93 million miles away, in less than an hour. “When a high-speed boat goes through water, you can see the wave ahead of it,” Richardson said. “The shock waves ahead of fast coronal mass ejections accelerate particles before them.”

Image above: Earth’s magnetic bubble, called the magnetosphere, is illustrated in blue. The magnetosphere provides natural protection against space radiation, deflecting most charged solar particles from Earth. Image Credits: Andøya Space Center/Trond Abrahamsen.

Radiation is energy packaged in electromagnetic waves or carried by particles. The energy is handed off when the wave or particle runs into something else, like an astronaut or spacecraft component. SEPs are dangerous because they pass right through skin, shedding energy and fragmenting cells or DNA on their way. This damage can increase risk for cancer later in life, or in extreme cases, cause acute radiation sickness in the short-term.

On Earth, humans are safe from this harm. Earth’s protective magnetic bubble, called the magnetosphere, deflects most solar particles. The atmosphere also quells any particles that do make it through. The International Space Station cruises through low-Earth orbit, within Earth’s protection, and the station’s hull helps shield crew members from radiation too.

But beyond Earth’s magnetic reach, human explorers can face the harsh radiation of space.

“The danger of radiation is always present, whether you’re in orbit, in transit, or on a planetary surface,” said Ruthan Lewis, a Goddard architect and engineer for NASA’s human spaceflight program. “From mitigation techniques to protection and enclosures, we’re considering this in every environment astronauts will be in.”

Space lifeguards

In a room filled with expansive computer screens and blinking lights at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, scientists work daily shifts to monitor space weather conditions for astronauts on the space station. Known as space environment officers, they’re the lifeguards of space: Instead of tidal waves and rip currents, they keep watch for the ebb and flow of space radiation.

Each day, the scientists — who are part of Johnson’s Space Radiation Analysis Group — check the space weather forecast from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Space Weather Prediction Center. They alert mission control of potential solar activity. If solar energetic particles are ramping up and the space station happens to be passing outside Earth’s magnetic protection, they might recommend postponing activities that require leaving the safety of the station. Anywhere astronauts go, the group will keep watch over their space environment.

During a future Artemis mission, if a solar radiation squall were to occur while astronauts are beyond Earth’s magnetic bubble, they might tell the crew to build a temporary shelter. “Our strategy in space is to make use of whatever mass is available,” Johnson scientist Kerry Lee said. “We’re redistributing mass to fill in areas that are thinly shielded and getting crew members closer to the heavily shielded areas.”

Image above: Jessica Vos (foreground), deputy health and medical technical authority for Orion, and astronaut Anne McClain (background) demonstrate the radiation protection plan in a representative Orion spacecraft. During an SEP event, the crew will use stowage bags on board Orion to create a dense shelter from radiation. Image Credit: NASA.

The more mass between the crew and radiation, the more likely that dangerous particles will deposit their energy before reaching the crew. On the Moon, astronauts could pile lunar soil, or regolith, over their shelters, taking advantage of their environment’s natural shielding materials. But where spacecraft design is concerned, relying on sheer bulk for protection soon grows expensive, since more mass requires more fuel to launch.

The Johnson team works on developing shielding methods without adding more material. “It’s unlikely that we’re going to be able to fly dedicated radiation-shielding mass,” Lee said. “Every item you fly will have to be multi-purpose.”

For the Orion spacecraft, they’ve designed a plan for astronauts to build a temporary shelter with existing materials on hand, including storage units already on board or food and water supplies. If the Sun erupted with another storm as strong as the Apollo era’s, the Orion crew would be safe and sound.

Other teams across NASA are meeting the radiation challenge with creative solutions, developing technology such as wearable vests and devices that add mass, and electrically charged surfaces that deflect radiation.

Here come the Sun’s energetic particles

Protecting astronauts from solar energetic particle storms requires knowing when such a storm will occur. But the particle flurries are fickle and difficult to predict. The nature of the Sun’s turbulent eruptions is not yet perfectly understood.

“Ideally, you could look at an active region on the Sun, see how it’s evolving, and try to predict when it’s going to erupt,” Richardson said. “The problem is, even if you could forecast flares and coronal mass ejections, only a small fraction actually spawn the particles that are hazardous to astronauts.”

Animation above: The Aug. 7, 1972, solar flare was captured by the Big Bear Solar Observatory in California. This particular flare — known as the seahorse flare for the shape of the bright regions — sparked a strong SEP event that could have been harmful to astronauts if an Apollo mission had been in progress at the time. Animation Credit: NASA.

And, if SEPs do come, it’s hard to predict where they will go. Magnetic field lines are a highway for the charged particles, but as the Sun rotates, the roadways spiral. Some particles are knocked off-road by kinks in the field lines. As a result, they may spread far and wide through the solar system, in a vast, nebulous cloud.      

“We still have a long way to go to get to the same position as weather forecasting on Earth,” said Yari Collado-Vega, a scientist at the Community Coordinated Modeling Center, or CCMC, which is housed at Goddard. The CCMC is a multi-partnership agency dedicated to space weather modeling and research. “This has to do with the fact that we just don’t have as many data sets on the Sun.”

Models to predict when SEPs will arrive are in the early stages of development. One uses the arrival of lighter and faster electrons to forecast the torrent of heavier protons that follow, which are more dangerous.

Scientists depend on NASA’s heliophysics missions to advance their space weather forecasting models. It helps to have spacecraft at different vantage points between the Sun and Earth. Launched in 2018, NASA’s Parker Solar Probe is flying closer to the Sun than any spacecraft before it. The spacecraft will track SEPs near their origins — key to solving how solar eruptions accelerate particles.

Timing is a factor too. The Sun swings through 11-year cycles of high and low activity. During solar maximum, the Sun is freckled with sunspots, regions of high magnetic tension that are ripe for eruption. During solar minimum, when there are little to no sunspots, eruptions are rare.

While scientists continue to improve their models, NASA’s heliophysics spacecraft do currently provide the observations that NASA needs to give astronauts an “all-clear” — the okay to conduct mission activity. If there are no active sunspots on the Sun, they can reliably say there won’t be a solar squall.

Radiation from next-door galaxies

A second kind of space radiation travels even farther than solar energetic particles. Galactic cosmic rays — particles from long-gone, exploded stars elsewhere in the Milky Way — constantly bombard the solar system at near-light speeds. If solar energetic particles are a sudden downpour, galactic cosmic rays are more like a steady drizzle. But a drizzle can be a nuisance too.

Cosmic rays tend to be more powerful than even the most energetic solar particles. The same spacecraft that would shield a crew from solar energetic particles would not be able to keep cosmic rays at bay, so cosmic rays are a serious concern, especially for long-duration missions like the journey to Mars, which will take six to 10 months each way.

While SEPs are tricky to predict, galactic cosmic rays come at a steady rate. In one second, some 90 cosmic rays strike a pocket of space the size of a golf ball. (Meanwhile, during an SEP shower, there could be 1,000 more particles ripping through that golf-ball-sized space.) This rate helps determine radiation limits and mission durations — NASA’s leading strategy to limiting cosmic ray exposure. NASA tracks astronauts’ individual doses to ensure they don’t breach lifetime limits.

CILab Cosmic Rays and the Heliopause

Video above: This animated image shows the solar system and the Sun’s magnetic bubble, called the heliosphere, that extends far beyond it. Bright streaks represent cosmic rays. During solar maximum, as the heliosphere strengthens, it blocks more cosmic rays. Video Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/Conceptual Image Lab.

Cosmic rays are comprised of heavy elements like helium, oxygen or iron. The hefty particles knock apart atoms when they collide with something, whether an astronaut or the thick metal walls of a spacecraft. The impact sets off a shower of more particles called secondary radiation — adding to the health concern of cosmic rays.

Cosmic ray exposure is also related to the solar cycle. In the relative calm of solar minimum, cosmic rays easily infiltrate the Sun’s magnetic field. But during solar maximum, the Sun’s magnetic bubble strengthens with increased solar activity, turning away some of the galactic visitors who come knocking.

Destination: Moon, then Mars

Going to the Moon will help NASA collect crucial data and develop the necessary tools and strategies to one day safely send human explorers to Mars. The journey to Mars will take much longer than a trip to the Moon, and crew members will face much more radiation exposure. And, unlike Earth, Mars has no magnetic field to divert radiation.

“One of the reasons we’re going to the Moon is in preparation for Mars,” Lewis said. Sustained lunar exploration will help determine whether we have the technology needed to protect astronauts on longer-term space travel. “We’ve done a lot of simulations. Now we’re going to start cutting metal.”


How NASA Prepares Spacecraft for the Harsh Radiation of Space:

NASA Mission Reveals Origins of Moon’s ‘Sunburn’:

Related links:


Apollo 16:

Apollo 17:

Humans in Space:

Moon to Mars:

Artemis program:

Space Travel:

Living in Space:

International Space Station (ISS):

Space Weather:

Parker Solar Probe:

Images (mentioned), Animations (mentioned), Video (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Lina Tran.