vendredi 20 septembre 2019

Cancer Therapy, Gravity Suit Research Before Crew and Cargo Launches

ISS - Expedition 60 Mission patch.

September 20, 2019

The Expedition 60 crew is getting ready to welcome a Japanese cargo craft and new space residents next week before splitting up the following week. Meanwhile, the orbiting lab residents are starting the weekend exploring potential cancer therapies and testing a suit that counteracts the effects of microgravity.

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency has set Monday, Sept. 23 at 12:30 p.m. EDT for the launch of its H-II Transfer Vehicle-8 (HTV-8) cargo craft to resupply the space station. The HTV-8 will take a five-day trip before its capture with the Canadarm2 robotic arm and installation to the station’s Harmony module.

Image above: The six-member Expedition 60 crew from the United States, Russia and Italy gathers for a portrait inside the International Space Station’s Harmony module. At the top from left, are NASA astronaut Andrew Morgan, Roscosmos cosmonaut Alexander Skvortsov, ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Luca Parmitano, station commander Alexey Ovchinin of Roscosmos and NASA astronauts Christina Koch and Nick Hague. Image Credit: NASA.

A pair of Expedition 61 crewmembers will blast off to the International Space Station on Wednesday with the tenth spaceflight participant to visit the orbiting lab. NASA astronaut Jessica Meir, Roscosmos cosmonaut Oleg Skripochka and spaceflight participant Hazzaa Ali Almansoori from the United Arab Emirates will take a near six-hour ride aboard the Soyuz MS-15 crew ship and dock to the station’s Zvezda service module.

Almansoori will stay in space for eight days and return to Earth with station Commander Alexey Ovchinin and NASA Flight Engineer Nick Hague. The trio will undock from the Rassvet module in the Soyuz MS-12 spaceship on Oct. 3 and parachute to a landing in Kazakhstan about three and a half hours later. Their departure signifies the official start of the Expedition 61 mission.

Science to benefit humans on Earth and astronauts in space is always ongoing and today was no exception. NASA astronauts Christina Koch and Andrew Morgan were processing protein crystal samples and loading them into an incubator for the Microgravity Crystals study. The research is exploring cancer therapies targeting a protein responsible for tumor growth and survival.

International Space Station (ISS). Animation Credit: NASA

Cosmonaut Alexander Skvortsov checked out a specialized suit today that pulls body fluids, such as water and blood, towards the feet of a space resident. He monitored Ovchinin who wore the Lower Negative Body Pressure suit while testing its ability to counteract the headward fluid shifts caused by microgravity. Astronauts have reported increased head and eye pressure due to the upward flow after living for months at a time in weightlessness.

Astronaut Luca Parmitano of ESA (European Space Agency) recorded himself on a 360-degree video camera as he demonstrated rotational dynamics with a soccer ball. The experiment is investigating the general behavior of free-flying objects in microgravity. Results could inform the design of small robots in space and even improve sports equipment on Earth.

Related links:

Expedition 60:

Expedition 61:


Harmony module:

Zvezda service module:

Microgravity Crystals:

360-degree video camera:

General behavior of free-flying objects:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

Best regards,

NASA Estimates Imelda’s Extreme Rainfall

NASA & JAXA - Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) patch.

Sep. 20, 2019

Imelda – Eastern Pacific Ocean

NASA estimated extreme rainfall over eastern Texas from the remnants of Tropical Depression Imelda using a NASA satellite rainfall product that incorporates data from satellites and observations.

Image above: NASA’s IMERG estimated that by Friday morning, September 20, Tropical Storm Imelda had dropped over 24 inches of rain (dark pink) between Beaumont and Houston, Texas. Estimates of between 16 and 24 inches have fallen (light pink) between Freeport and Beaumont, and 6 inches and more (red) over a large area between southwestern Louisiana and Palacios, Texas. Large “L” symbols show Imelda’s location estimated by the National Hurricane Center. An “R” symbol on the image indicates a place where the rainfall from the remnant of Imelda caused a U.S. Geological Survey river gauge to swell to “major flood” stage. Small red circles on this image indicate the location of these tornado reports, as provided by NOAA’s Storm Prediction Center. Image Credits: NASA Goddard.

NASA’s Integrated Multi-satellitE Retrievals for GPM or IMERG, which is a NASA satellite rainfall product, estimated that by Friday morning, September 20, Tropical Storm Imelda had dropped over 24 inches of rain between Beaumont and Houston, Texas. Estimates of between 16 and 24 inches have fallen between Freeport and Beaumont, and 6 inches and more over a large area between southwestern Louisiana and Palacios, Texas. An image showing these rainfall totals was created at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

This near-real time rain estimate comes from the NASA’s IMERG, which combines observations from a fleet of satellites, in near-real time, to provide near-global estimates of precipitation every 30 minutes. By combining NASA precipitation estimates with other data sources, we can gain a greater understanding of major storms that affect our planet.

If one compares the IMERG satellite-based rain estimate to that from a National Weather Service ground radar, one sees that IMERG correctly identified the large region of heavy rainfall near Beaumont, but IMERG failed to resolve an extremely narrow band of heavy rainfall along Galveston Island. Such good detection of large rain features in real-time would be impossible if the IMERG merely reported the precipitation observed by the periodic overflights of various agencies’ satellites.

Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) satellite. Image Credits: NASA/JAXA

Instead, what the IMERG does is “morph” high-quality satellite observations along the direction of the steering winds to deliver information about rain at times and places where such satellite overflights did not occur. Information morphing is particularly important over the majority of the world’s surface that lacks ground-radar coverage. Basically, IMERG fills in the blanks between weather observation stations.

The NASA image also identified where the rainfall from the remnant of Imelda caused a U.S. Geological Survey river gauge to swell to “major flood” stage. “Major” flood generally means that nearby homes and roads were flooded.  In addition, there were several preliminary reports of Imelda-spawned tornadoes on Wednesday and Thursday, September 18 and 19.

NOAA’s National Weather Service noted on Sept. 20, “Intense tropical rainfall continues in portions of Southeast Texas and Southwest Louisiana from the remnants of Imelda. These additional rains will only compound ongoing issues with flooding. The heavy rain focus will gradually shift to the Arkansas-Louisiana-Texas region on Friday, Sept. 20.”

Hurricanes are the most powerful weather event on Earth. NASA’s expertise in space and scientific exploration contributes to essential services provided to the American people by other federal agencies, such as hurricane weather forecasting.

For more information about NASA’s IMERG, visit:

Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM):

For local forecasts, visit:

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, by Owen Kelley/Rob Gutro.


Space Station Science Highlights: Week of September 16, 2019

ISS - Expedition 60 Mission patch.

Sept. 20, 2019

Recent scientific studies conducted on the International Space Station include assessing crew body mass and energy use, examining accelerated aging and testing probiotics. The Expedition 60 crew also began preparations for arrival of members of Expedition 61. NASA astronaut Jessica Meir, Russian cosmonaut Oleg Skripochka and a ROSCOSMOS spaceflight participant from the United Arab Emirates, Hazzaa Ali Almansoori, are scheduled to launch in a Soyuz spacecraft Sept. 25. The space station provides a platform for long-duration research on how living in microgravity affects the human body and testing technologies for traveling farther into deep space, which supports Artemis, NASA’s plans to go forward to the Moon and on to Mars.

Image above: Actor Brad Pitt called the space station from NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C. on Monday, Sept 16. Pitt talked to NASA astronaut Nick Hague about the movie Ad Astra, what it is like to live in space and some of the science conducted on the space station, and Artemis, NASA’s program to return humans to the moon. Image Credit: NASA.

Here are details on some of the science conducted on the orbiting laboratory during the week of Sept. 16:

Eat This, Not That

The crew performed measurements, filled out questionnaires and took photos for Nutrition Monitoring for the International Space Station (NutrISS), a periodic assessment of body composition (body weight, fat mass and fat-free mass) during spaceflight. Long duration spaceflight changes body composition and causes loss of body mass. The investigation uses a dedicated bio-impedance analysis device to measure an individual’s long-term energy balance modification over time. The data suggest that a diet maintaining a near-neutral energy balance or increasing protein intake can limit microgravity-induced bone and muscle loss of crew members.

Image above: NASA astronaut Drew Morgan works out on the Combined Operational Load Bearing External Resistance Treadmill (COLBERT) while behind him, European Space Agency astronaut Luca Parmitano uses the Advanced Resistive Exercise Device (ARED). Crew members exercise daily to counter bone and muscle loss caused by microgravity. A number of human health investigations track the effectiveness of different lengths and intensities of exercise. Image Credit: NASA.

Better Understanding of Aging

The crew performed operations for Rodent Research-17 (RR-17), an investigation that uses younger and older mice as model organisms to evaluate the physiological, cellular and molecular effects of the spaceflight environment. Some responses to spaceflight in humans and model organisms such as mice resemble accelerated aging. This investigation provides a better understanding of aging-related immune, bone and muscle disease processes, which may lead to new therapies for use in space and on Earth.

Harnessing the Power of Beneficial Bacteria

The human immune system is weaker in space and, at the same time, some species of harmful bacteria become stronger and more virulent in microgravity. Both pose an increased risk to crew member health. The Probiotics investigation studies whether beneficial bacteria or probiotics can improve the intestinal microbiota and immune function of crew members. If so, probiotics could help protect astronaut health on long-duration space missions. Crew members collected saliva samples and completed questionnaires for the investigation.

Image above: The Expedition 60 crew gathers for a meal that includes fresh fruit and canned and pre-packaged dishes, with condiments to spice things up. Ongoing research on the space station looks at nutrition, energy intake, and the appeal and enjoyment of the menu for crew members. Image Credit: NASA.

Other investigations on which the crew performed work:

- Space Moss determines how microgravity affects the growth, development and other features of moss. Tiny plants without roots, mosses need only a small area for growth, an advantage for their potential use in space and future bases on the Moon or Mars.

- RADI-N2, a Canadian Space Agency investigation, characterizes the neutron radiation environment aboard the space station to help define the risk to the health of crew members and provide data for development of advanced protective measures for future spaceflight.

- The Micro-15 investigation examines the mechanisms behind observations that microgravity affects gene expression and stem cell differentiation and proliferation using three-dimensional cultures of mammalian stem cells.

- The Microgravity Crystals investigation crystallizes a membrane protein that is integral to tumor growth and cancer survival.

- 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.

- UAE Palm Growth examines germination of palm tree seeds in order to determine the best conditions for generating tissue samples for research and observes and documents root growth in microgravity for educational purposes.

- Standard Measures captures a consistent set of measures from crew members to characterize how their bodies adapt to living in space.

Space to Ground: Dress Rehearsals: 09/20/2019

Related links:

Expedition 60:


Rodent Research-17 (RR-17):


ISS National Lab:

Spot the Station:

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

Best regards,

Hubble Takes Closer Look at Not-So-'Dead' Neighbor

NASA - Hubble Space Telescope patch.

Sept. 20, 2019

Many of the best-loved galaxies in the cosmos are remarkably large, close, massive, bright, or beautiful, often with an unusual or intriguing structure or history. However, it takes all kinds to make a universe — as demonstrated by this Hubble image of Messier 110.

Messier 110 may not look like much, but it is a fascinating near neighbor of our home galaxy, and an unusual example of its type. It is a member of the Local Group, a gathering of galaxies comprising the Milky Way and a number of the galaxies closest to it. Specifically, Messier 110 is one of the many satellite galaxies encircling the Andromeda galaxy, the nearest major galaxy to our own, and is classified as a dwarf elliptical galaxy, meaning that it has a smooth and almost featureless structure. Elliptical galaxies lack arms and notable pockets of star formation — both characteristic features of spiral galaxies. Dwarf ellipticals are quite common in groups and clusters of galaxies, and are often satellites of larger galaxies.

Because they lack stellar nurseries and contain mostly old stars, elliptical galaxies are often considered “dead” when compared to their spiral relatives. However, astronomers have spotted signs of a population of young, blue stars at the center of Messier 110 — hinting that it may not be so “dead” after all.

Messier 110 is featured in Hubble’s Messier catalog, which includes some of the most fascinating celestial objects that can be observed from Earth’s Northern Hemisphere. See the NASA-processed image and other Messier objects at:

Hubble Space Telescope (HST)

For more information about Hubble, visit:

Image, Animation, Credits: ESA/Hubble & NASA, L. Ferrarese et al./Text Credits: ESA (European Space Agency)/NASA/Rob Garner.


jeudi 19 septembre 2019

Understanding Asthma from Space

ISS - International Space Station logo.

Sept. 19, 2019

Help may be on the way for the millions of people around the world who suffer from asthma. Pioneering research in orbit is opening new avenues to understanding what goes wrong in patients with airway inflammation. The results have contributed to the development of quick lung tests for an improved quality of life––both on Earth and in space. With each lungful of air, our bodies absorb oxygen and exhale waste products. In people with asthma, inflammation in the lung adds nitric oxide to exhaled air. Doctors measure the amount of nitric oxide exhaled by patients to help diagnose inflamed lungs and asthma.

Astronauts on the ISS have been breathing for the sake of science as part of ESA-sponsored research. Under the scientific lead of Lars Karlsson from the Karolinska Institute in Sweden, this research has been ongoing for more than 10 years, most recently within the Airway Monitoring experiments. These experiments analyze the amount of nitric oxide exhaled by astronauts under different conditions in the weightless environment of space (e.g., normal pressure, reduced pressure in an airlock, pre-/post-spacewalk etc.)

Image above: Former European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Thomas Reiter undertakes science activities for the Nitric Oxide Analyzer experiment in 2006. Image Credit: ESA.

The astronauts breathe into a specially developed instrument that measures nitric oxide levels. The purpose of taking reduced measurements in an airlock––normally used to exit a spacecraft for spacewalks, and is set at a 30% reduced pressure–– is to simulate conditions in future habitats on Mars, and is equivalent to being at 3000 m (9843 ft) altitude on Earth. The device that measures the nitric oxide is lightweight, easy to use and accurate. The same instrument is currently used in clinics and hospitals, helping asthmatics and offering a quick and cheap way to diagnose lung problems. It was developed in close collaboration between the medical technology industry and the researchers at Karolinska Institute.

Image above: Astronaut Alexander Gerst exhales into an ultra-sensitive gas analyzer for the Airway Monitoring experiment. Image Credit: NASA.

In a similar collaboration with the pharmaceutical industry, the same researchers developed a nitric oxidedonating drug (Supernitro) with a uniquely selective effect in lung circulation. The drug widens the blood vessels and counteracts life-threating increases of the local blood pressure.

On the Moon and on Mars, astronaut’s lungs may become easily irritated or inflamed by dust particles. The reduced gravity on those celestial bodies makes floating dust a real threat for humans.

Breathing for the Sake of Science

Understanding the effects of weightlessness and reduced pressure on airway health will help space explorers monitor, diagnose and treat lung inflammation during spaceflight. This information is key to ensuring the health and safety of astronauts on longer missions beyond Earth’s orbit.

Related links:

European Space Agency (ESA):

Airway Monitoring:

Space Station Research and Technology:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

Images (mentioned), Video (NASA), Text, Credits: NASA/Michael Johnson.


Today’s Space Science Seeks Therapies for Aging, Muscle Conditions

ISS - Expedition 60 Mission patch.

September 19, 2019

Three Expedition 60 crewmembers finalized four days in a row of rodent research aboard the International Space Station this week. Meanwhile, more space science is underway as the orbiting lab residents prepare to swap crews.

Astronauts living in space have shown signs of accelerated aging and scientists are looking to understand why. The crew has spent all week observing mice aboard the station since they show similar physiological changes in microgravity. Scientists are hoping results from the rodent study may provide insights and therapies for aging conditions and muscle diseases to promote healthier humans on Earth and in space.

Image above: The six-member Expedition 60 crew from the United States, Russia and Italy gathers for a portrait. In the front row from left are, NASA astronauts Andrew Morgan and Nick Hague and Roscosmos cosmonaut Alexander Skvortsov. In the back are, ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Luca Parmitano, Roscosmos cosmonaut and station commander Alexey Ovchinin and NASA astronaut Christina Koch. Image Credit: NASA.

NASA astronauts Christina Koch and Andrew Morgan conducted the rodent research this week with assistance from ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Luca Parmitano. The trio performed the biological research using the Life Sciences Glovebox installed inside Japan’s Kibo laboratory module.

Flight Engineer Nick Hague of NASA set up fluid research hardware inside the U.S. Destiny laboratory module throughout Thursday. The new science gear will support the Ring Sheared Drop experiment to understand how fluids flow in the human body and other materials. Observations may lead to a deeper understanding of diseases such as Alzheimer’s and improved production of advanced materials.

International Space Station (ISS). Animation Credit: NASA

Commander Alexey Ovchinin is still gathering items he will pack inside the Soyuz MS-12 spacecraft for his return home in a couple of weeks. He and Hague will soar back to Earth inside the Soyuz crew ship and parachute to a landing in Kazakhstan on Oct. 3.

Spaceflight participant Hazzaa Ali Almansoori will hitch a ride back to Earth with Hague and Ovchinin after he launches to the station next week. He will join Expedition 61 crewmembers Jessica Meir of NASA and Oleg Skripochka of Roscosmos aboard the Soyuz MS-15 spacecraft when it launches on Wednesday at 9:57 a.m. EDT. The trio will dock to the aft end of the Zvezda service module at 3:45 p.m. the same day.

Related links:

Expedition 60:

Expedition 61:

Rodent study:

Life Sciences Glovebox:

Kibo laboratory module:

U.S. Destiny laboratory module:

Ring Sheared Drop:

Zvezda service module:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

Best regards,

Layers in Mars' Danielson Crater

NASA - Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). logo.

Sept. 19, 2019

This image taken by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft shows sedimentary rock and sand within Danielson Crater, an impact crater about 42 miles or 67 kilometers in diameter, located in the southwest Arabia Terra region of Mars.

The rock was formed millions or billions of years ago when loose sediments settled into the crater, one layer at a time, and were later cemented in place. Cyclical variations in the sediment properties made some layers more resistant to erosion than others. After eons, these tougher layers protrude outward like stair steps. Across these steps, the winds have scattered sand (typically appearing darker and less red, i.e. "bluer" in contrast-enhanced color), giving rise to the zebra stripe-like patterns visible here:

This image completes a stereo pair over this location, which will allow measurement of the thicknesses of these sedimentary layers. The layer thicknesses and how they vary through time can provide some insight into the processes, possibly linked to ancient climate, that deposited the layers so long ago.

Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO)

The map is projected here at a scale of 50 centimeters (19.7 inches) per pixel. (The original image scale is 57.2 centimeters [22.5 inches] per pixel [with 2 x 2 binning]; objects on the order of 172 centimeters [67.7 inches] across are resolved.) North is up.

Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO):

Image, Text, Credits: NASA/Yvette Smith/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona.

Best regards,

Driving diamond into asteroid dust helps model planetary defence test

ESA - Hera Mission logo.

19 September 2019

A trio of dust grains retrieved from an asteroid by Japan’s Hayabusa mission have helped model a grand-scale planetary defence experiment that could one day save Earth.

NASA's DART impacting asteroid

Diamond-tipped nanoindenter

A paper published in the Astronomy & Astrophysics scientific journal this week reports on ‘nanoindenter’ testing of a trio of asteroid grains returned by Hayabusa from the dusty face of the Itokawa asteroid as well as samples from the Chelyabinsk meteor that exploded over Russia in 2013.

The nanoindenter, – a precision pressing tool with a pyramid-shaped diamond tip measuring just a few millionths of a millimetre – was driven into the otherworldly samples, then retracted, to measure their comparative hardness and elasticity. This testing provides a fuller picture of asteroids’ physical properties – and how one might react to the titanic impact taking place in approximately three years’ time.

Nanoindenter tip

NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirect Test is due to launch in summer 2021, to impact the smaller of the Didymos asteroid pair, in orbit between Earth and Mars, in autumn 2022. Then, in 2024, ESA’s proposed Hera mission would travel to the asteroid to perform a detailed post-impact survey. The two mission teams are working together within the Asteroid Impact Deflection Assessment collaboration, or AIDA for short.

Analysing meteorites to model asteroids

One problem for the two missions is that they are aiming at a largely obscure target: hundreds of millions of kilometres away in space, the asteroid pair appears from the ground as no more than a single bright point – thousands of times fainter than the faintest stars visible to the naked eye. Details of their mass and orbital motion can be derived, but little of their surface conditions and make-up.

DART impact

Instead, asteroid researchers do what they can with the resources they have, including fallen meteorites.

“The success of AIDA and comparable asteroid deflection efforts depends on good knowledge of the physical properties of the object to be deflected,” explains study co-author Josep M. Trigo-Rodriguez of Spain's National Research Council at the Institute of Space Sciences (CSIC-IEEC). “We had previously performed nanoindentation testing of Chelyabinsk samples, with the idea of extrapolating our results to the DART impact.

Chelyabinsk airburst

“Then came the welcome opportunity to perform comparable testing on samples of the fine surface grains known as ‘regolith’ returned by Japan’s Hayabusa sample return mission,” explains Safoura Tanbakouei, Ph.D. student at CSIC-IEEC and lead author. “This is unique unmodified material taken directly from the surface of an asteroid and brought back to Earth.”

Grains from space

Hayabusa was the world’s first mission to retrieve asteroid material. Beset by radiation damage and other technical problems, at one point the stricken spacecraft even crash-landed on the rubble pile Itokawa asteroid. But Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) controllers nursed the valiant spacecraft back to Earth.

In 2010, after a six billion kilometre trip, Hayabusa burnt up in the atmosphere, but its heat-shielded sample container parachuted down to the Australian outback. Until scientists retrieved it, they had no idea if it actually had any asteroid samples aboard; the container seemed to be empty.

Hayabusa at Itokawa

But scraping the container’s interior followed by detailed scanning with an electron microscope revealed around 1 500 tiny particles of extraterrestrial origin. Extremely precious, these Itokawa grains have become the focus of intense scientific study around the world.

Tiny testing

“Their small size presented potential challenges,” adds Prof. Jordi Sort of the Catalan Institution for Research and Advanced Studies at the Autonomous University of Barcelona (UAB). “The three grains we received are only about a thousandth of a millimetre each. By comparison our Chelyabinsk samples were a hundred times larger in scale.

Trio of asteroid dust grains

“However we still managed to test successfully, using a pyramidal indenter with a tip radius of about 50 nanometres – millionths of a millimetre – across.”

The Itokawa grains provided by JAXA had been placed in resin, then polished using diamond paste before the nanoindentation process was carried out at UAB.

Josep adds: “Our results reveal similar hardness for both sets of samples, but the Itokawa regolith grains possess enhanced elasticity – which has significant implications.

Dust grain after testing

“There is fine-grained regolith covering the surface of many asteroids, theoretically produced by the ongoing process of impacts on asteroid surfaces as well as flaking of rock due to temperature extremes. The summary of our findings is that these surface regolith particles are more compacted than the material beneath them – a natural consequence of their having survived long exposure times on an asteroid’s surface – indicating in turn an enhanced ability to absorb elastic energy during an impact.”

Driving up dust

These results offer insight into how surface regolith will respond to impacts – including DART’s impact. To quote Isaac Newton, “for every action is an equal and opposite reaction”: the more mass that is released in the opposite direction from the impact is directly proportional to the deflection that is achieved.

Aftermath of collision

“Accordingly, striking a region of higher dust should boost the efficiency of DART’s momentum transfer, compared to simply excavating subsurface material,” notes Hera’s lead scientist Patrick Michel, CNRS Director of Research of France’s Côte d'Azur Observatory, also a co-author of the study.

Infrared imaging of the impact crater

“DART’s impact will let us test our modelling of crater excavation and plume formation for real. Obviously the dimensions of the actual crater will need to be measured, which can only be achieved by a close-up look from another spacecraft – the objective of ESA’s Hera mission.”

Hera: ESA’s planetary defence mission

The Hera mission will be presented to ESA’s Space19+ meeting this November as part of the Agency's Space Safety programme, where Europe’s space ministers will take a final decision on flying the mission.

Related links:

ESA’s Space19+ meeting:

Space Safety:

Astronomy & Astrophysics:


DART website:



OCA - Observatoire de la Côte d’Azur:

Institute for Geophysics and Extraterrestrial Physics, Technical University of Braunschweig:

Department of Earth Science, Tohoku University:

School of Physics and Astronomy, Queen Mary, University of London:

Animation, Images, Video, Text, Credits: ESA/Bruker/NASA/Johns Hopkins APL/M. Ahmetvaleev/AXA/ISAS/ICE-CSIC, UAB/Science Office.


From clouds to craters

ESA - Mars Express Mission patch.

19 September 2019

This beautiful view from ESA’s Mars Express stretches from the bright, cloud-covered north pole of Mars to the contrasting hues of the northern hemisphere and the cratered terrain in the south.

Mars Express has been orbiting Mars since 2003. The spacecraft has sent back myriad breathtaking images of our planetary neighbour in the past decade and a half, captured by the probe’s on-board High Resolution Stereo Camera – and this image is no different.

The spacecraft imaged this slice across the planet’s surface in June 2019, when the camera took several global views. Visible at the top of the frame is Mars’ ethereal north pole: this is permanently covered by a cap of frozen water and carbon dioxide, which thickens in the northern martian winter and thins in the summer.

Slice across Mars

The northern polar cap is seen here encircled by bright, eye-catching clouds, tendrils of which snake downwards from the polar region to obscure some of the planet’s northern hemisphere. As this image shows, this patch of Mars is a mix of different tones and colours – a reflection of the different chemical and physical characteristics of the material that makes up the surface. Mars’ two hemispheres are very different in a number of ways.

Most notably, the northern hemisphere sits several kilometres lower than the southern, and the two are separated by a distinctive, rugged boundary formed of canyons, cliffs and scarps, fractures, valleys, flat-topped mounds known as mesas, and many other features. The northern hemisphere is also characterised by low-lying plains that are largely unmarked by impact craters and thus thought to be relatively young, while the southern hemisphere is ancient, showing signs of intense cratering.

Mars Express

This separation can be seen here, and is shown especially clearly in the accompanying topographic context map.

The dark and dusty young plains of the northern hemisphere sit just below the white northern cap; these meet and merge with a prominent escarpment that slices across the planet, creating a dark scar on the tan-coloured surface. Below this, in tones ranging from rusty orange to pale butterscotch, are the southern highlands, featuring more craters than it is possible to count.

Topographic context

Two main regions are shown here: Arabia Terra (towards the upper left) and Terra Sabaea (to the middle and lower right, forming the main bulk of the highlands visible in this slice).

The light region stretching out of frame to the bottom right is Hellas Planitia, a plain that is home to the Hellas basin: one of the largest basins identified on Mars – and, in fact, in the Solar System – at 2300 km across.

The split between Mars’ two hemispheres is known as the martian dichotomy, and remains one of the greatest mysteries about the planet.

Was it formed due to geological processes within Mars’ mantle? Did the planet’s crust once comprise various moving tectonic plates, as we see on Earth, that pushed against one another to form the dichotomy? Could it have been created by one or more colossal past impacts – or by another process entirely? 

Terra Sabaea and Arabia Terra in context

Observations of the boundary zone between the two hemispheres show that this region has been altered over time by wind and water, including by glaciers. Mars is thought to have seen various bursts of glacial activity over the years, where deposits of ice – sometimes hidden beneath layers of soil or dust – form viscous flows that slowly move across the surface, altering it as they go.

Mars Express was recently joined at Mars by the ESA-Roscosmos ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO), which arrived in 2016 and has since been analysing the martian atmosphere and mapping the planet’s surface. Mars Express and the TGO will soon welcome the ExoMars Rosalind Franklin rover and its accompanying surface science platform, which are scheduled for launch in July of 2020.

This growing fleet will continue ESA’s long-standing presence at Mars, and further our understanding of the planet and its many remaining scientific mysteries – including the martian dichotomy.

Related links:

High Resolution Stereo Camera (HRSC):

ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO):

ExoMars Rosalind Franklin rover:

Surface science platform:

Mars Express:

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


mercredi 18 septembre 2019

LS2 Report: CMS set to glitter with installation of new GEMs

CERN - European Organization for Nuclear Research logo.

18 September, 2019

The CMS muon system is being upgraded to help track muons with ever-higher precision 

Image above: The GEMs being installed in CMS (Image: Maximilien Brice/CERN).

Muons – heavy, weakly interacting particles – zip past the inner layers of the Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS), after being produced in collisions by the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). They are observed using special detectors placed on the periphery of the cylindrical device, where they are the particles most likely to register a signal. Although CMS, as the name suggests, was designed with the ability to observe with high precision nearly every muon produced within it, it will become more challenging to do so in a few years’ time. The High-Luminosity LHC (HL-LHC) will begin operations in 2026, providing on average over five times more simultaneous proton–proton collisions than before. Various components of CMS, including the muon system, are being upgraded during the ongoing second long shutdown (LS2) of CERN’s accelerator complex, in order to cope with the HL-LHC’s higher data rates.

Muon detectors contain different mixtures of gases that get ionised when high-energy muons fly through them, providing information about where the muon was at a given instant. The CMS muon system has so far used three different types of detectors: Drift Tubes (DT), Cathode Strip Chambers (CSC) and Resistive Plate Chambers (RPC). Around a decade ago, at about the time that CMS began collecting LHC collision data, it was decided to build a completely new type of detector called Gas Electron Multipliers, or GEM, to improve the muon-detection abilities of CMS in the HL-LHC era. After extensive R&D, the first GEMs were assembled and tested at CERN’s Prévessin site in a dedicated fabrication facility. In July, two of 72 so-called “superchambers” of GEMs were transported carefully to Point 5 and installed within CMS. Each superchamber had a bottle of gas strapped on top of it on the trolley so the detector could keep “breathing” the inert air. The remaining 70 superchambers will be installed later in LS2.

“The GEMs are new technology for CMS and Run 3 of the LHC will give us the opportunity to evaluate their performance,” says Archana Sharma, who has led the CMS-GEM team since 2009. “Of course,” she continues, “it’s not only there to be tested. The first GEMs will work with the existing CSCs to provide valuable triggering information to select the most interesting collision events.” Two more GEM stations with 288 and 216 modules respectively will be definitively installed in the coming years, in time for the HL-LHC.

The muon-system team have been busy upgrading the electronics of the 180 CSCs located closest to the beam line to prepare for the HL-LHC. “We have already removed, refurbished and reinstalled 54 CSCs this year,” notes Anna Colaleo, CMS muon-system manager. “Work on replacing the electronics for another batch of CSCs is in progress and we plan on completing this endeavour by the summer of 2020.”

CMS CSC chamber's trip for new electronics

Video above: A timelapse showing the extraction of CSCs from the CMS endcap and their transport to the refurbishment area on the surface (Video: CMS/CERN).

CMS is also performing critical maintenance on the rest of the muon detectors during LS2. As expected, over the course of several years of operation, some components of these detectors have deteriorated slightly. The RPCs have been made more airtight to reduce gas leaks, while both DTs and RPCs have had some broken components replaced. In addition, neutron shielding is being added to the top of the DTs located in the central barrel to protect CMS from the neutron background caused by the particle beam interacting with the beam pipe.

With nearly a year and a half of LS2 left, the CMS experiment site at LHC Point 5 continues to be a hub of activity as the collaboration prepares for the LHC’s Run 3 and beyond.

More photos of the GEMs installation on CDS:


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

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

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:

Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS):

Large Hadron Collider (LHC):

High-Luminosity LHC (HL-LHC):

Second long shutdown (LS2):

The GEMs are new technology for CMS:

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

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


Crews Preparing to Trade Places During Biomedical Science on Station

ISS - Expedition 60 Mission patch.

September 18, 2019

Two Expedition 60 crewmembers are moving ahead with departure preparations as the rest of their crewmates focused diligently on space biology research today. Back on Earth, three upcoming International Space Station residents are making final preparations before their launch next week.

Station Commander Alexey Ovchinin is collecting personal items and station cargo that he and Flight Engineer Nick Hague will take home inside their Soyuz MS-12 spacecraft. The duo have been in space since March and are counting down to an Oct. 3 landing in Kazakhstan after 203 days in space. They will parachute to Earth with Spaceflight Participant Hazzaa Ali Almansoori who will arrive at the orbiting lab next week for an eight-day stay.

Image above: (From left) Spaceflight participant Hazzaa Ali Almansoori and Expedition 61 crewmembers Oleg Skripochka and Jessica Meir review their flight plan with training instructors. Image Credits: NASA/Victor Zelentsov.

New Expedition 61 crewmates Jessica Meir of NASA and Oleg Skripochka of Roscosmos will liftoff Sept. 25 with Almansoori aboard the Soyuz MS-15 spacecraft. They will dock their Soyuz crew ship to the Zvezda service module’s rear port after a near six-hour, four-orbit ride in space.

The trio stepped outside the Cosmonaut Hotel today at Kazakhstan’s Baikonur Cosmodrome for traditional tree-planting ceremonies and media activities. Meir and Skripochka will stay in space until April of 2020 and return to Earth with NASA Flight Engineer Andrew Morgan.

International Space Station (ISS). Animation Credit: NASA

Vital biomedical research to support astronauts in space and improve health on Earth is keeping the crew busy all week aboard the orbiting lab. Once again, Morgan and fellow astronauts Christina Koch and Luca Parmitano are exploring how microgravity causes cellular and molecular changes in mice. Experimental results may provide doctors with therapeutic insights into aging and muscle ailments in humans.

Alexander Skvortsov of Roscosmos inspected the Zarya module for microbes today. The veteran cosmonaut photographed and swabbed several spots in the Russian segment today and stowed the samples for analysis.

Related links:

Expedition 60:

Zvezda service module:

Aging and muscle ailments:

Zarya module:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

Best regards,

Cosmonauts armed to protect themselves from the beasts


September 18, 2019

Russian cosmonauts will have a weapon in their kit to protect themselves from wild animals during the landing.

Image above: Dmitry Rogozin, head of the Russian Space Agency. (Photo: AFP / Yuri Kochetkov).

Russia will arm its cosmonauts with a special pistol designed to protect them from wild animals if they land in a remote and sparsely populated area, Russian Space Agency (Roskosmos) chief Dmitry Rogozin said on Wednesday.

"This weapon is already being tested," Rogozine was quoted by the official TASS news agency as saying.

"I think in a year and a half, it's very, very likely" that she's part of the cosmonauts kit.

According to Rogozine, this is a modern version of the three-gun pistol developed during the Soviet era.

A kit with a weapon

This weapon could be incorporated into the cosmonaut rescue kit once the manned flights are made from the new Russian cosmodrome, in a remote area of ?? The Far East.

"Landings could take place in this sparsely populated, forested, forest-steppe area, and cosmonauts say it would be nice to have something like that in the kit," Rogozine said.

The latter specified that such a weapon could be used to carry out signaling shots in case of landing in a remote area, as well as to defend himself.

The animals prepare the defense! Image Credits: RT/Vladimir Kremlev

Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kononenkov, the crew chief of the ISS who recently returned to Earth, expressed this need during a press conference on Tuesday: "It is possible that (the place of landing) a wilderness area and we need a special knife to build a shelter and a weapon for wild animals. "

The three-barrel TP-82 pistol, which was part of the cosmonaut rescue kit since the 1980s, was removed in 2007.


Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: AFP/ Aerospace/Roland Berga.

Best regards,

Comet’s collapsing cliffs and bouncing boulders

ESA - Rosetta Mission patch.

18 September 2019

Scientists analysing the treasure trove of images taken by ESA’s Rosetta mission have turned up more evidence for curious bouncing boulders and dramatic cliff collapses.

Bouncing boulder on Comet 67P/C-G

Rosetta operated at Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko between August 2014 and September 2016, collecting data on the comet’s dust, gas and plasma environment, its surface characteristics and its interior structure.

As part of the analysis of some 76 000 high-resolution images captured with its OSIRIS camera, scientists have been looking for surface changes. In particular, they are interested in comparing the period of the comet’s closest approach to the Sun – known as perihelion – with that after this most active phase, to better understand the processes that drive surface evolution.

Evolution of a bouncing boulder

Loose debris is seen all over the comet, but sometimes boulders have been caught in the act of being ejected into space, or rolling across the surface. A new example of a bouncing boulder was recently identified in the smooth neck region that connects the comet’s two lobes, an area that underwent a lot of noticeable large-scale surface changes over the course of the mission. There, a boulder about 10 m-wide has apparently fallen from the nearby cliff, and bounced several times across the surface without breaking, leaving ‘footprints’ in the loosely consolidated surface material.

“We think it fell from the nearby 50 m-high cliff, and is the largest fragment in this landslide, with a mass of about 230 tonnes,” said Jean-Baptiste Vincent of the DLR Institute for Planetary Research, who presented the results at the EPSC-DPS conference in Geneva today.

“So much happened on this comet between May and December 2015 when it was most active, but unfortunately because of this activity we had to keep Rosetta at a safe distance. As such we don’t have a close enough view to see illuminated surfaces with enough resolution to exactly pinpoint the ‘before’ location of the boulder.”

Comet outburst 12 September 2015

Studying boulder movements like these in different parts of the comet helps determine the mechanical properties of both the falling material, and the surface terrain on which it lands. The comet’s material is in general very weak compared with the ice and rocks we are familiar with on Earth: boulders on Comet 67P/C-G are around one hundred times weaker than freshly packed snow.

Another type of change has also been witnessed in several locations around the comet: the collapse of cliff faces along lines of weakness, such as the dramatic capture of the fall of a 70 m-wide segment of the Aswan cliff observed in July 2015. But Ramy El-Maarry and Graham Driver of Birkbeck, University of London, may have found an even larger collapse event, linked to a bright outburst seen on 12 September 2015 along the northern-southern hemisphere divide.

“This seems to be one of the largest cliff collapses we’ve seen on the comet during Rosetta’s lifetime, with an area of about 2000 square metres collapsing,” said Ramy, also speaking at EPSC-DPS today.

Cliff collapse before and after

During perihelion passage, the southern hemisphere of the comet was subjected to high solar input, resulting in increased levels of activity and more intensive erosion than elsewhere on the comet.

“Inspection of before and after images allow us to ascertain that the scarp was intact up until at least May 2015, for when we still have high enough resolution images in that region to see it,” says Graham, an undergraduate student working with Ramy to investigate Rosetta’s vast image archive.

“The location in this particularly active region increases the likelihood that the collapsing event is linked to the outburst that occurred in September 2015.”

Looking in detail at the debris around the collapsed region suggests that other large erosion events have happened here in the past. Ramy and Graham found that the debris includes blocks of variable size ranging up to tens of metres, substantially larger than the boulder population following the Aswan cliff collapse, which is mainly comprised of boulders a few metres diameter.

Rosetta orbiting Comet 67P/C-G

“This variability in the size distribution of the fallen debris suggests either differences in the strength of the comet’s layered materials, and/or varying mechanisms of cliff collapse,” adds Ramy.

Studying comet changes like these not only gives insight into the dynamic nature of these small bodies on short timescales, but the larger scale cliff collapses provide unique views into the internal structure of the comet, helping to piece together the comet’s evolution over longer timescales.

“Rosetta’s datasets continue to surprise us, and it’s wonderful the next generation of students are already making exciting discoveries,” adds Matt Taylor, ESA’s Rosetta project scientist.

Notes for editors:

EPSC-DPS is the joint meeting of the European Planetary Science Congress and the Division of Planetary Sciences, and this year is held in Geneva, Switzerland.

Cliff collapses on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko following outbursts as observed by the Rosetta mission, by M. R. El-Maarry and G. Driver and Bouncing boulders on Comet 67P by J-B. Vincent et al were presented in the Comets, asteroid-comet continuum, and our knowledge after Rosetta session at EPSC-DPS on Wednesday 18 September.

Browse Rosetta’s images here:

All Rosetta mission data is available in the planetary science archive, here:



Images, Animation, Text, Credits: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA (CC BY-SA 4.0); Analysis: J-B. Vincent et al (2019)/ESA/Matt Taylor/DLR Institute for Planetary Research/J-B. Vincent/Birkbeck, University of London/M. R. El-Maarry.