vendredi 4 octobre 2019

A Cosmic Pretzel

ALMA - Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array logo.

4 October 2019

Twin baby stars grow amongst a twisting network of gas and dust

A Cosmic Pretzel

Astronomers using ALMA have obtained an extremely high-resolution image showing two disks in which young stars are growing, fed by a complex pretzel-shaped network of filaments of gas and dust. Observing this remarkable phenomenon sheds new light on the earliest phases of the lives of stars and helps astronomers determine the conditions in which binary stars are born.

The two baby stars were found in the [BHB2007] 11 system – the youngest member of a small stellar cluster in the Barnard 59 dark nebula, which is part of the clouds of interstellar dust called the Pipe nebula. Previous observations of this binary system showed the outer structure. Now, thanks to the high resolution of the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) and an international team of astronomers led by scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics (MPE) in Germany, we can see the inner structure of this object.

The mouthpiece of the Pipe Nebula

“We see two compact sources that we interpret as circumstellar disks around the two young stars,” explains Felipe Alves from MPE who led the study.  A circumstellar disk is the ring of dust and gas that surrounds a young star. The star accrete matter from the ring to grow bigger. “The size of each of these disks is similar to the asteroid belt in our Solar System and the separation between them is 28 times the distance between the Sun and the Earth,” notes Alves.

The two circumstellar disks are surrounded by a bigger disk with a total mass of about 80 Jupiter masses, which displays a complex network of dust structures distributed in spiral shapes –  the pretzel loops. “This is a really important result,” stresses Paola Caselli, managing director at MPE, head of the Centre of Astrochemical Studies and co-author of the study. “We have finally imaged the complex structure of young binary stars with their feeding filaments connecting them to the disk in which they were born. This provides important constraints for current models of star formation.”

Barnard 59, a dark nebula in the constellation of Ophiuchus

The baby stars accrete mass from the bigger disk in two stages. The first stage is when mass is transferred to the individual circumstellar disks in beautiful twirling loops, which is what the new ALMA image showed. The data analysis also revealed that the less-massive but brighter circumstellar disk — the one in the lower part of the image — accretes more material. In the second stage, the stars accrete mass from their circumstellar disks. “We expect this two-level accretion process to drive the dynamics of the binary system during its mass accretion phase,” adds Alves. “While the good agreement of these observations with theory is already very promising, we will need to study more young binary systems in detail to better understand how multiple stars form.”

Animation of two circumstellar disk orbiting and accreting gas and dust

More information:

This research was presented in a paper published on 3 October 2019 in the journal Science.

The team is composed of F. O. Alves (Center for Astrochemical Studies, Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics, Garching, Germany), P. Caselli (Center for Astrochemical Studies, Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics, Germany), J. M. Girart (Institut de Ciències de l’Espai, Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, Spain and Institut d’Estudis Espacials de Catalunya, Spain), D. Segura-Cox (Center for Astrochemical Studies, Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics, Garching, Germany), G. A. P. Franco (Departamento de Física, Instituto de Ciências Exatas, Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais, Brazil), A. Schmiedeke (Center for Astrochemical Studies, Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics, Garching, Germany) and B. Zhao (Center for Astrochemical Studies, Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics, Garching, Germany).

The Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), an international astronomy facility, is a partnership of ESO, the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institutes of Natural Sciences (NINS) of Japan in cooperation with the Republic of Chile. ALMA is funded by ESO on behalf of its Member States, by NSF in cooperation with the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) and the National Science Council of Taiwan (NSC) and by NINS in cooperation with the Academia Sinica (AS) in Taiwan and the Korea Astronomy and Space Science Institute (KASI). ALMA construction and operations are led by ESO on behalf of its Member States; by the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO), managed by Associated Universities, Inc. (AUI), on behalf of North America; and by the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan (NAOJ) on behalf of East Asia. The Joint ALMA Observatory (JAO) provides the unified leadership and management of the construction, commissioning and operation of ALMA.

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


ESOcast 208 Light: A Cosmic Pretzel:

Research paper:

Photos of ALMA:

Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA):

Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics (MPE):

Images, Text, Credits: ESO/Mariya Lyubenova/Center for Astrochemical Studies — Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics/Felipe Alves/ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO), Alves et al./IAU and Sky & Telescope/Video: ESO/L. Calçada.

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Hubble Finds Medusa in the Sky

NASA - Hubble Space Telescope patch.

Oct. 4, 2019

The galaxy pictured in this Hubble image has an especially evocative name: the Medusa merger.

Often referred to by its somewhat drier New General Catalogue designation of NGC 4194, this was not always one entity, but two. An early galaxy consumed a smaller gas-rich system, throwing out streams of stars and dust into space. These streams, seen rising from the top of the merged galaxy, resemble the writhing snakes that Medusa, a monster in ancient Greek mythology, famously had on her head in place of hair, lending the object its intriguing name.

The legend of Medusa also held that anyone who saw her face would transform into stone. In this case, you can feast your eyes without fear on the center of the merged galaxy, a region known as Medusa's eye. All the cool gas pooling here has triggered a burst of star formation, causing it to stand out brightly against the dark cosmic backdrop.

The Medusa merger is located about 130 million light-years away in the constellation of Ursa Major (the Great Bear).

For more information about Hubble, visit:

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


NASA, CERN Timepix Technology Advances Miniaturized Radiation Detection

NASA logo / CERN - European Organization for Nuclear Research logo.

Oct. 4, 2019

As we prepare to send the first woman and next man to the Moon and on to Mars, NASA, with support from the University of Houston, has been working to develop advanced radiation detectors to better protect astronauts and vital spacecraft systems during solar storms. The detectors are based on technology that was originally developed by the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) to detect particle collisions in high-energy physics experiments. Storms emanating from our Sun release invisible, high energy particles, also called ionizing radiation, into space at relativistic speeds that can damage spacecraft electronics and systems, and impact the health of astronauts.

Image above: Photo documentation of International Space Station Hybrid Electronic Radiation Assessor (ISS HERA) taken during Expedition 58. The instrument (purple) is deployed in the space station’s Harmony module near the International Space Station Radiation Assessment Detector (ISS-RAD) instrument (gold). ISS HERA was co-located with ISS-RAD to allow comparisons between the two instruments. Image Credit: NASA.

As part of NASA’s fundamental research mission, NASA previously adopted Timepix detectors to visualize the radiation environment on the International Space Station  and in deep space aboard the Orion Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1) in 2014. Timepix, developed through the Medipix2 collaboration hosted at CERN, is part of the Medipix family of miniaturized particle imaging and detection chips. The detector is derived from the same technology used to track particle trajectories in CERN’s Large Hadron Collider, the world's largest and most powerful particle accelerator.

“Medipix technology and the human expertise associated with it translate into a positive impact on society in many different fields, including aerospace applications,” said Aurélie Pezous, CERN’s Knowledge Transfer Officer. “We are particularly proud that Timepix helped space agencies such as NASA better understand the radiation environment in the International Space Station.”

Smaller and lighter compared to previous NASA hardware, Timepix-based systems are ideal for space exploration missions and enable NASA to gather both the radiation dose and physical location of the radiation as it passes through the detector. Using advanced particle identification algorithms, NASA scientists can study the radiation spectrum inside exploration spacecraft and better understand how to protect crew during deep space missions.

New Research Possibilities

While working with the NASA Space Radiation Analysis Group at the agency’s Johnson Space Center in 2009, Nicholas Stoffle, a University of Houston doctoral student at the time, became aware of the CERN radiation detection technology. During his doctoral work, Stoffle demonstrated that a Timepix detector could accurately measure quantities needed for NASA radiation protection. He also designed algorithms to improve identification of individual particle tracks in space-based data. He then used data both from particle accelerator facilities and from the space station to complete his dissertation on identifying heavy ions with Timepix.

Image above: Close-up view of Radiation Environment Monitor 2 (REM2) on the International Space Station. Image Credit: NASA.

“Timepix provides much more information than our previous instruments were capable of generating, and does so in a smaller and lighter package,” Stoffle notes. “We have an amazing team that continues to advance the state of the art in space radiation analysis with this technology, and the space station hardware has only scratched the surface in terms of the details we can extract from the data Timepix gathers in the space radiation environment.”

Initial testing of the Timepix system derived from CERN technology began in 2012 on the space station using Timepix USB Lite Interface devices from the Czech Republic’s Institute of Experimental and Applied Physics. The hardware has been collecting a continuous stream of data that is downlinked daily through the Mission Control Center at Johnson.

Radiation Environment Monitor 2 (REM2) Animation

Video above: This animation depicts data from a Radiation Environment Monitor 2 (REM2) in the Destiny Laboratory of the International Space Station. The map on the left side shows the distribution of dose rates over approximately two months from this unit. Overlayed on top of the dose rate map is the space station location corresponding to the data frame on the right. The animation updates approximately every minute along the space station trajectory showing high latitudes, South Atlantic Anomaly (SAA) and equatorial areas in the low-Earth orbit radiation environment. The SAA is an area where the Earth's inner Van Allen radiation belt comes closest to the Earth's surface, dipping down to an altitude of 200 kilometers (120 mi). Video Credit: NASA.

Application to Other Missions

The on-orbit success of the Timepix enabled NASA to utilize this advanced radiation detection technology in subsequent missions. After six years of onboard testing and data collection, NASA recently updated the space station with new Timepix hardware that will continue the use of the Timepix-based devices to study the onboard charged-particle radiation environment.

Image above: This nighttime Earth observation photo was taken by the Expedition 59 crew aboard the International Space Station orbiting 269 miles above the Indian Ocean southwest of Australia. Visible are the aurora australis, or "southern lights” which appear when high energy particles from the sun collide with atoms and molecules in the atmosphere. These light emissions are a visual demonstration of the radiation environment surrounding Earth. Russia's Soyuz MS-12 crew ship (foreground) and Progress 72 resupply ship are also seen in this view. Image Credit: NASA.

Additionally, a battery-powered version was flown aboard EFT-1 in 2014 and provided the first radiation belt data from beyond low-Earth orbit within a human-rated space vehicle since the Apollo missions. The lessons learned during the Timepix-based hardware development and data analysis from the space station and EFT-1 missions have been incorporated into a new Hybrid Electronic Radiation Assessor (HERA) system that will support future NASA exploration missions.

Currently, a HERA flight unit built for the first spaceflight of the Space Launch System and Orion crew module, Artemis 1, is deployed aboard the space station to verify system operation and gain operational experience before the mission in 2020.

The Timepix-based hardware development is supported by the RadWorks project, which is part of the Advanced Exploration Systems division in NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate.

Related links:


Advanced Exploration Systems:

Humans in Space:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Shanessa Jackson.

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jeudi 3 octobre 2019

SpaceX has unveiled the rocket it hopes will one day carry humans to Mars

SpaceX logo.

Oct. 3, 2019

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk gave a presentation on the development of the company’s rocket Starship, which is intended to fly passengers to the moon and Mars, on Saturday night. His talk took place at SpaceX’s facility in Boca Chica, Texas, in front of a huge prototype of the rocket (pictured). The timing of the event was no coincidence: it was the 11th anniversary of the company’s sending the first private liquid-fueled rocket into orbit.

SpaceX Starship presentation

About Starship:

It’s a beast. It’s over 165 feet (50 meters) tall, with three of SpaceX’s reusable Raptor engines attached to its base. It weighs about 1,400 tons when loaded with fuel. Combined with the company’s Super Heavy booster, it will be the largest and most powerful rocket ever made, producing about double the thrust of the Saturn V that carried Apollo astronauts to the moon back in 1969. SpaceX is assembling two identical Starship rockets, one in Texas and the other at its facility in Cape Canaveral, Florida, where it does most of its launches.

SpaceX Starship in a minute

A bold promise:

Elon Musk claims the rocket will be tested in “one to two months” and carry its first passengers at some point next year. The first test will see Starship fly up to 12 miles (19 kilometers) before returning to Earth, he said. His long-standing ambition is to take humans to Mars.


Not everyone seemed so delighted at the big reveal. NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine responded with an arch tweet taking aim at a lack of focus on NASA’s Commercial Crew program:

“I am looking forward to the SpaceX announcement tomorrow. In the meantime, Commercial Crew is years behind schedule. NASA expects to see the same level of enthusiasm focused on the investments of the American taxpayer. It’s time to deliver.”

SpaceX is one of the two main contractors on the program, alongside Boeing, and it is developing its Crew Dragon module for NASA astronauts to travel to the International Space Station and beyond.


Image, Video, Text, Credits: MIT Technology Review/Charlotte Jee/Getty Images/SpaceX/ SciNews.

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NASA's InSight 'Hears' Peculiar Sounds on Mars

NASA - InSight Mission patch.

Oct. 3, 2019

Put an ear to the ground on Mars and you'll be rewarded with a symphony of sounds. Granted, you'll need superhuman hearing, but NASA's InSight lander comes equipped with a very special "ear."

The spacecraft's exquisitely sensitive seismometer, called the Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS), can pick up vibrations as subtle as a breeze. The instrument was provided by the French space agency, Centre National d'Études Spatiales (CNES), and its partners.

Animation above: Clouds drift over the dome-covered seismometer, known as SEIS, belonging to NASA's InSight lander, on Mars. Animation Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

SEIS was designed to listen for marsquakes. Scientists want to study how the seismic waves of these quakes move through the planet's interior, revealing the deep inner structure of Mars for the first time.

But after the seismometer was set down by InSight's robotic arm, Mars seemed shy. It didn't produce its first rumbling until this past April, and this first quake turned out to be an odd duck. It had a surprisingly high-frequency seismic signal compared to what the science team has heard since then. Out of more than 100 events detected to date, about 21 are strongly considered to be quakes. The remainder could be quakes as well, but the science team hasn't ruled out other causes.


Put on headphones to listen to two of the more representative quakes SEIS has detected. These occurred on May 22, 2019 (the 173rd Martian day, or sol, of the mission) and July 25, 2019 (Sol 235). Far below the human range of hearing, these sonifications from SEIS had to be speeded up and slightly processed to be audible through headphones. Both were recorded by the "very broad band sensors" on SEIS, which are more sensitive at lower frequencies than its short period sensors.

The Sol 173 quake is about a magnitude 3.7; the Sol 235 quake is about a magnitude 3.3.

Each quake is a subtle rumble. The Sol 235 quake becomes particularly bass-heavy toward the end of the event. Both suggest that the Martian crust is like a mix of the Earth's crust and the Moon's. Cracks in Earth's crust seal over time as water fills them with new minerals. This enables sound waves to continue uninterrupted as they pass through old fractures. Drier crusts like the Moon's remain fractured after impacts, scattering sound waves for tens of minutes rather than allowing them to travel in a straight line. Mars, with its cratered surface, is slightly more Moon-like, with seismic waves ringing for a minute or so, whereas quakes on Earth can come and go in seconds.

Mechanical Sounds and Wind Gusts
SEIS has no trouble identifying quiet quakes, but its sensitive ear means scientists have lots of other noises to filter out. Over time, the team has learned to recognize the different sounds. And while some are trickier than others to spot, they all have made InSight's presence on Mars feel more real to those working with the spacecraft.

"It's been exciting, especially in the beginning, hearing the first vibrations from the lander," said Constantinos Charalambous, an InSight science team member at Imperial College London who works with the SP sensors. "You're imagining what's really happening on Mars as InSight sits on the open landscape."

Charalambous and Nobuaki Fuji of Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris provided the audio samples for this story, including the one below, which is also best heard with headphones and captures the array of sounds they're hearing.  

Listen to NASA's InSight at Work on Mars

On March 6, 2019, a camera on InSight's robotic arm was scanning the surface in front of the lander. Each movement of the arm produces what to SEIS is a piercing noise.

Wind gusts can also create noise. The team is always on the hunt for quakes, but they've found the twilight hours are one of the best times to do so. During the day, sunlight warms the air and creates more wind interference than at night.

Evening is also when peculiar sounds that the InSight team has nicknamed "dinks and donks" become more prevalent. The team knows they're coming from delicate parts within the seismometer expanding and contracting against one another and thinks heat loss may be the factor, similar to how a car engine "ticks" after it's turned off and begins cooling.

You can hear a number of these dinks and donks in this next set of sounds, recorded just after sundown on July 16, 2019 (Sol 226). Listen carefully and you can also pick out an eerie whistling that the team thinks may be caused by interference in the seismometer's electronics.

What does it sound like to you? A hall full of grandfather clocks? A Martian jazz ensemble? Share your thoughts with us on Twitter:

About InSight

JPL manages InSight for NASA's Science Mission Directorate. InSight is part of NASA's Discovery Program, managed by the agency's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. Lockheed Martin Space in Denver built the InSight spacecraft, including its cruise stage and lander, and supports spacecraft operations for the mission.

InSight. Image Credits: NASA/JPL

A number of European partners, including France's Centre National d'Études Spatiales (CNES) and the German Aerospace Center (DLR), are supporting the InSight mission. CNES provided the Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS) instrument to NASA, with the principal investigator at IPGP (Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris). Significant contributions for SEIS came from IPGP; the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research (MPS) in Germany; the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH Zurich) in Switzerland; Imperial College London and Oxford University in the United Kingdom; and JPL. DLR provided the Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package (HP3) instrument, with significant contributions from the Space Research Center (CBK) of the Polish Academy of Sciences and Astronika in Poland. Spain's Centro de Astrobiología (CAB) supplied the temperature and wind sensors.

Related links:

InSight Mars Lander:

Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS):

Animation (mentioned), Image (mentioned), Video (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Tony Greicius/Alana Johnson/JPL/Andrew Good.


New Organic Compounds Found in Enceladus Ice Grains

NASA - Cassini Mission International logo.

October 3, 2019

New kinds of organic compounds, the ingredients of amino acids, have been detected in the plumes bursting from Saturn's moon Enceladus. The findings are the result of the ongoing deep dive into data from NASA's Cassini mission.

Powerful hydrothermal vents eject material from Enceladus' core, which mixes with water from the moon's massive subsurface ocean before it is released into space as water vapor and ice grains. The newly discovered molecules, condensed onto the ice grains, were determined to be nitrogen- and oxygen-bearing compounds.

Image above: In this image captured by NASA's Cassini spacecraft in 2007, the plumes of Enceladus are clearly visible. The moon is nearly in front of the Sun from Cassini's viewpoint. Image Credits: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute.

On Earth, similar compounds are part of chemical reactions that produce amino acids, the building blocks of life. Hydrothermal vents on the ocean floor provide the energy that fuels the reactions. Scientists believe Enceladus' hydrothermal vents may operate in the same way, supplying energy that leads to the production of amino acids.

"If the conditions are right, these molecules coming from the deep ocean of Enceladus could be on the same reaction pathway as we see here on Earth. We don't yet know if amino acids are needed for life beyond Earth, but finding the molecules that form amino acids is an important piece of the puzzle," said Nozair Khawaja, who led the research team of the Free University of Berlin. His findings were published Oct. 2 in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

Although the Cassini mission ended in September 2017, the data it provided will be mined for decades. Khawaja's team used data from the spacecraft's Cosmic Dust Analyzer, or CDA, which detected ice grains emitted from Enceladus into Saturn's E ring.

The scientists used the CDA's mass spectrometer measurements to determine the composition of organic material in the grains.

The identified organics first dissolved in the ocean of Enceladus, then evaporated from the water surface before condensing and freezing onto ice grains inside the fractures in the moon's crust, scientists found. Blown into space with the rising plume emitted through those fractures, the ice grains were then analyzed by Cassini's CDA.

Image above: This illustration shows the process of organic compounds making their way onto ice grains emitted in plumes from Saturn's moon Enceladus, where they were detected by NASA's Cassini spacecraft. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

The new findings complement the team's discovery last year of large, insoluble complex organic molecules believed to float on the surface of Enceladus' ocean. The team went deeper with this recent work to find the ingredients, dissolved in the ocean, that are needed for the hydrothermal processes that would spur amino acid formation.

"Here we are finding smaller and soluble organic building blocks - potential precursors for amino acids and other ingredients required for life on Earth," said co-author Jon Hillier.

"This work shows that Enceladus' ocean has reactive building blocks in abundance, and it's another green light in the investigation of the habitability of Enceladus," added co-author Frank Postberg.

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Italian Space Agency. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of Caltech in Pasadena, California, manages the mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. JPL designed, developed and assembled the Cassini orbiter. The radar instrument was built by JPL and the Italian Space Agency, working with team members from the U.S. and several European countries.

More information about Cassini can be found here:

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Alana Johnson/JPL/Gretchen McCartney.


NASA Takes Delivery of First All-Electric Experimental Aircraft

NASA - X-57 Maxwell patch.

Oct. 3, 2019

The first all-electric configuration of NASA’s X-57 Maxwell now is at the agency’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in Edwards, California.

The X-57, NASA’s first all-electric experimental aircraft, or X-plane – and the first crewed X-plane in two decades – was delivered by Empirical Systems Aerospace (ESAero) of San Luis Obispo, California on Wednesday, Oct. 2, in the first of three configurations as an all-electric aircraft, known as Modification II, or Mod II.

The X-57’s Mod II vehicle features the replacement of traditional combustion engines on a baseline Tecnam P2006T aircraft, with electric cruise motors. The delivery is a major milestone for the project, allowing NASA engineers to begin putting the aircraft through ground tests, to be followed by taxi tests and eventually, flight tests.

Image above: NASA’s X-57 Maxwell, the agency’s first all-electric X-plane and first crewed X-planed in two decades, is delivered to NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in Edwards, California, in its Mod II configuration. The first of three primary modifications for the project, Mod II involves testing of the aircraft’s cruise electric propulsion system. Delivery to NASA from prime contractor Empirical Systems Aerospace of San Luis Obispo, California, marks a major milestone for the project, at which point the vehicle is reintegrated for ground tests, to be followed by taxi tests, and eventually, flight tests. X-57’s goal is to further advance the design and airworthiness process for distributed electric propulsion technology for general aviation aircraft, which can provide multiple benefits to efficiency, emissions, and noise. Image Credit: NASA.

"The X-57 Mod II aircraft delivery to NASA is a significant event, marking the beginning of a new phase in this exciting electric X-plane project,” said X-57 Project Manager Tom Rigney. “With the aircraft in our possession, the X-57 team will soon conduct extensive ground testing of the integrated electric propulsion system to ensure the aircraft is airworthy. We plan to rapidly share valuable lessons learned along the way as we progress toward flight testing, helping to inform the growing electric aircraft market.”

While X-57’s Mod II vehicle begins systems validation testing on the ground, efforts in preparation for the project’s following phases, Mods III and IV, are already well underway, with the recent successful completion of loads testing on a new, high-aspect ratio wing at NASA Armstrong’s Flight Loads Laboratory. Following completion of tests, the wing, which will be featured on Mods III and IV configurations, will undergo fit checks on a fuselage at ESAero, ensuring timely transition from the project’s Mod II phase to Mod III.

“ESAero is thrilled to be delivering the MOD II X-57 Maxwell to NASA AFRC,” said ESAero President and CEO Andrew Gibson. “In this revolutionary time, the experience and lessons learned, from early requirements to current standards development, has the X-57 paving the way. This milestone, along with receiving the successfully load-tested MOD III wing back, will enable NASA, ESAero and the small business team to accelerate and lead electric air vehicle distributed propulsion development on the MOD III and MOD IV configurations with integration at our facilities in San Luis Obispo.”

A goal of the X-57 project is to help develop certification standards for emerging electric aircraft markets, including urban air mobility vehicles, which also rely on complex distributed electric propulsion systems. NASA will share the aircraft’s electric-propulsion-focused design and airworthiness process with regulators and industry, which will advance certification approaches for aircraft utilizing distributed electric propulsion.

The X-57 team is using a “design driver” as a technical challenge, to drive lessons learned and best practices. This design driver includes a 500% increase in high-speed cruise efficiency, zero in-flight carbon emissions, and flight that is much quieter for communities on the ground.

The X-57 project operates under the Integrated Aviation Systems Program’s Flight Demonstrations and Capabilities project, within NASA’s Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate.

For more about NASA's X-57 Maxwell, visit:

For more about NASA's Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate, visit:

Image (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Sean Potter/J.D. Harrington/Armstrong Flight Research Center/Matt Kamlet.


Astronaut Nick Hague, Crewmates Return Safely from International Space Station

ROSCOSMOS - Soyuz MS-12 Mission patch.

Oct. 3, 2019

Image above: NASA astronaut Nick Hague, Russian cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin and visiting astronaut from United Arab Emirates (UAE) Hazzaa Ali Almansoori returned to Earth from the International Space Station at 6:59 am in Kazakhstan. Image Credit: NASA.

NASA astronaut Nick Hague returned to Earth from the International Space Station on Thursday, alongside Soyuz commander Alexey Ovchinin of the Russian space agency Roscosmos and visiting astronaut Hazzaa Ali Almansoori from the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The crew landed safely at 6:59 a.m. EDT in Kazakhstan.

Hague and Ovchinin launched March 14, along with fellow NASA astronaut Christina Koch. Six hours later, they began their 203-day mission on the station, orbiting Earth 3,248 times and traveling 86.1 million miles.

Touchdown! Three Multinational Crewmates Return to Earth

Koch remains aboard the orbiting laboratory for an extended mission that will provide researchers the opportunity to observe effects of long-duration spaceflight on a woman, in preparation for human missions to the Moon and Mars. She is expected to return to Earth in February 2020, almost a year after her launch.

For Almansoori, this landing completed an eight-day stay on the station that covered 128 orbits of Earth and a journey of 3.1 million miles since launching Sept. 25 with NASA astronaut Jessica Meir and Oleg Skripochka of Roscosmos. Almansoori made history as he became the first person from the UAE to fly in space.

After postlanding medical checks, Hague will return to Houston, and Ovchinin and Almansoori will return to Star City, Russia.

The Expedition 60 crew contributed to hundreds of experiments in biology, biotechnology, physical science and Earth science, including investigations into devices that mimic the structure and function of human organs, free-flying robots, and an instrument to measure Earth’s distribution of carbon dioxide.

Image above: The Soyuz MS-12 crew ship with three multinational crewmembers inside is pictured before undocking from the station’s Rassvet module. Image Credit: NASA TV.

Hague conducted three spacewalks during his mission, totaling 19 hours and 56 minutes. Ovchinin conducted one spacewalk lasting 6 hours and 1 minute.

Hague’s first two spacewalks in March continued the overall upgrade of the station’s power system with newer, more powerful lithium-ion batteries on one pair of the station’s solar arrays. During his third spacewalk, he and NASA astronaut Andrew Morgan successfully installed the second of two international docking adapters that Boeing CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX Crew Dragon commercial crew spacecraft will use to connect to the space station.

Hague completes his second flight in space totaling 203 days, while Ovchinin has now spent 375 days during three flights. Hague and Ovchinin flew together on an abbreviated mission in October 2018, cut short by a technical problem that triggered an ascent abort minutes after launch and a safe landing back on Earth.

Image above: The homecoming crew waves farewell before boarding their Soyuz MS-12 crew ship. From left are, NASA astronaut Nick Hague, Roscosmos cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin and visiting astronaut Hazzaa Ali Almansoori of the United Arab Emriates. Image Credit: NASA.

When the Soyuz MS-12 spacecraft with Hague, Ovchinin and Almansoori undocked at 3:37 a.m. Oct. 3, Expedition 61 officially began aboard the station, with NASA astronauts Koch, Meir and Morgan, cosmonauts Alexander Skvortsov and Oleg Skripochka of Roscosmos as flight engineers, and ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Luca Parmitano as the station’s commander.

Related links:

Expedition 60:

Earth’s distribution of carbon dioxide:

Human organs:

Free-flying robots:

Commercial crew:

International Space Station (ISS):

Images (mentioned), Video, Text, Credits: NASA/Katherine Brown/Stephanie Schierholz/JSC/Courtney Beasley/NASA TV.

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NASA's Push to Save the Mars InSight Lander's Heat Probe

NASA - InSight Mission patch.

Oct. 3, 2019

Animation above: NASA InSight's robotic arm will use its scoop to pin the spacecraft's heat probe, or "mole," against the wall of its hole. Animation Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

NASA's InSight lander, which is on a mission to explore the deep interior of Mars, positioned its robotic arm this past weekend to assist the spacecraft's self-hammering heat probe. Known as "the mole," the probe has been unable to dig more than about 14 inches (35 centimeters) since it began burying itself into the ground on Feb. 28, 2019.

The maneuver is in preparation for a tactic, to be tried over several weeks, called "pinning."

NASA InSight's Robotic Arm Helps Out its Mole on Mars

Video above: NASA’s InSight lander on Mars is trying to use its robotic arm to get the mission’s heat flow probe, or mole, digging again. InSight team engineer Ashitey Trebbi-Ollennu, based at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, explains what has been attempted and the game plan for the coming weeks. The next tactic they'll try will be "pinning" the mole against the hole it's in. Video Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

"We're going to try pressing the side of the scoop against the mole, pinning it to the wall of its hole," said InSight Deputy Principal Investigator Sue Smrekar of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. "This might increase friction enough to keep it moving forward when mole hammering resumes."

Whether the extra pressure on the mole will compensate for the unique soil remains an unknown.

Designed to burrow as much as 16 feet (5 meters) underground to record the amount of heat escaping from the planet's interior, the mole needs friction from surrounding soil in order to dig: Without it, recoil from the self-hammering action causes it to simply bounce in place, which is what the mission team suspects is happening now.

While JPL manages the InSight mission for NASA, the German Aerospace Center (DLR) provided the heat probe, which is part of an instrument called the Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package (HP3). Back in June, the team devised a plan to help the heat probe. The mole wasn't designed to be picked up and relocated once it begins digging. Instead, the robotic arm removed a support structure intended to hold the mole steady as it digs into the Martian surface.

Removing the structure allowed the InSight team to get a better look at the hole that formed around the mole as it hammered. It's possible that the mole has hit a rock, but testing by DLR suggested the issue was soil that clumps together rather than falling around the mole as it hammers. Sure enough, the arm's camera discovered that below the surface appears to be 2 to 4 inches (5 to 10 centimeters) of duricrust, a kind of cemented soil thicker than anything encountered on other Mars missions and different from the soil the mole was designed for.

Image above: NASA's InSight Mars lander acquired this image using its robotic arm-mounted, Instrument Deployment Camera (IDC). Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

"All we know about the soil is what we can see in images InSight sends us," said Tilman Spohn, HP3s principal investigator at DLR. "Since we can't bring the soil to the mole, maybe we can bring the mole to the soil by pinning it in the hole."

Using a scoop on the robotic arm, the team poked and pushed the soil seven times over the summer in an effort to collapse the hole. No such luck. It shouldn’t take much force to collapse the hole, but the arm isn't pushing at full strength. The team placed HP3 as far from the lander as possible so that the spacecraft's shadow wouldn't influence the heat probe's temperature readings. As a result, the arm, which wasn't intended to be used this way, has to stretch out and press at an angle, exerting much less force than if the mole were closer.

"We're asking the arm to punch above its weight," said Ashitey Trebi-Ollennu, the lead arm engineer at JPL. "The arm can't push the soil the way a person can. This would be easier if it could, but that's just not the arm we have."

Interplanetary rescue operations aren't new to NASA. The Mars Exploration Rover team helped save Spirit and Opportunity on more than one occasion. Coming up with workable solutions requires an extraordinary amount of patience and planning. JPL has a working replica of InSight to practice arm movements, and it has a working model of the heat probe as well.

Besides pinning, the team is also testing a technique to use the scoop in the way it was originally intended to work: scraping soil into the hole rather than trying to compress it. Both techniques might be visible to the public in raw images that come down from InSight in the near future.

About InSight

JPL manages InSight for NASA's Science Mission Directorate. InSight is part of NASA's Discovery Program, managed by the agency's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. Lockheed Martin Space in Denver built the InSight spacecraft, including its cruise stage and lander, and supports spacecraft operations for the mission.

A number of European partners, including France's Centre National d'Études Spatiales (CNES) and the German Aerospace Center (DLR), are supporting the InSight mission. CNES provided the Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS) instrument to NASA, with the principal investigator at IPGP (Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris). Significant contributions for SEIS came from IPGP; the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research (MPS) in Germany; the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH Zurich) in Switzerland; Imperial College London and Oxford University in the United Kingdom; and JPL. DLR provided the Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package (HP3) instrument, with significant contributions from the Space Research Center (CBK) of the Polish Academy of Sciences and Astronika in Poland. Spain's Centro de Astrobiología (CAB) supplied the temperature and wind sensors.

More about InSight:

Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package (HP3):

Animation (mentioned), Image (mentioned), Video (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Tony Greicius/Alana Johnson/JPL/Andrew Good.


lundi 30 septembre 2019

Crew Departure Preps, Biochemistry Research Start Workweek

ISS - Expedition 60 Mission patch.

September 30, 2019

The nine-member crew aboard the International Space Station will split up Thursday and see three humans return to Earth. Meanwhile, there is still a multitude of space research to conduct as well as a new Japanese space freighter to unload.

Expedition 60 Commander Alexey Ovchinin and NASA Flight Engineer Nick Hague are in their final week aboard the orbiting lab. The homebound residents are packing up their Soyuz MS-12 crew ship and handing over their duties to the crewmates staying in space.

They will undock Thursday from the Rassvet module at 3:36 a.m. EDT along with spaceflight participant Hazzaa Ali Almansoori. The trio will parachute to a landing in Kazakhstan at 7 a.m. (5 p.m. Kazakhstan time). All three returning crewmates reviewed their undocking and landing procedures today.

Image above: Four Expedition 60 crewmembers and a spaceflight participant gather inside the Unity module for a meal. Pictured from left are, astronauts Luca Parmitano of ESA (European Space Agency) and Christina Koch of NASA, spaceflight participant and United Arab Emirates astronaut Hazzaa Ali Almansoori and NASA astronauts Andrew Morgan and Nick Hague. Image Credit: NASA.

Astronauts Luca Parmitano and Andrew Morgan took turns today exploring how astronauts grip and manipulate objects in microgravity. Observations may inform the design of intelligent, haptic interfaces for future crews on deep space missions.

Morgan then explored increasing the purity of protein crystals in space to improve pharmaceutical and biochemistry research. Veteran cosmonaut Alexander Skvortsov conducted his own biochemistry research in the Russian segment of the space lab studying how the microgravity environment impacts enzymes in the human body.

Image above: NASA astronaut Christina Koch participates in her first spacewalk on March 29, 2019. International Space Station astronauts are gearing up to perform 10 spacewalks in coming weeks to upgrade solar array batteries and make repairs to the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer. Image Credit: NASA.

New Expedition 61 crewmates Jessica Meir of NASA and Oleg Skripochka of Roscosmos continue settling in for their 189-day mission inside the orbiting lab. Meir reviewed Canadarm2 robotics procedures today to support upcoming spacewalks. She wrapped up the day observing protein crystals to support cancer research. Skripochka tested a specialized suit that counteracts the headward flow of fluids in astronauts due to microgravity. He finally checked out the Magnetic 3D Printer that explores the benefits of printing organic tissue in space.

Japan’s eighth station resupply ship, also known as the Kounotori, is open for business and Parmitano and NASA astronaut Christina Koch are unloading its cargo and new science hardware today. Kounotori is due for a month-long stay attached to the Harmony module for internal and external cargo operations. Ground controllers will be commanding the Canadarm2 to remove new lithium-ion batteries delivered on Kounotori’s external pallets. The robotics work will be setting up a series of power upgrade spacewalks planned for October.

NASA Television to Air 10 Upcoming Spacewalks, Preview Briefing

Related links:

Expedition 60:

Expedition 61:

Rassvet module:


Cancer research:

Magnetic 3D Printer:

Harmony module:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

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Space Station Science Highlights: Week of September 23, 2019

ISS - Expedition 60 Mission patch.

Sept. 30, 2019

Scientific studies recently conducted aboard the International Space Station included testing algorithms to control free-flying satellites, evaluating the flow of amyloids in microgravity and more. On Sept. 25, the Expedition 60 crew welcomed members of Expedition 61 including NASA astronaut Jessica Meir and Russian cosmonaut Oleg Skripochka, along with a ROSCOSMOS spaceflight participant from the United Arab Emirates, Hazzaa Ali Almansoori. In addition, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) H-IIB rocket launched Sept. 24 for a four-day trip to bring supplies and science investigations to the station.

International Space Station (ISS). Animation Credit: NASA

The space station provides a platform for long-duration research on the human body in microgravity and for testing technologies for traveling farther into deep space, which supports Artemis, NASA’s plans to go forward to the Moon and on to Mars.

Here are details on some of the science conducted on the orbiting laboratory during the week of Sept. 23:

Analyzing Amyloids

Image above: NASA astronaut Nick Hague works on the Ring Sheared Drop investigation in the Microgravity Sciences Glovebox as NASA astronaut Christina Koch observes. Ring Sheared Drop examines the formation and flow of amyloids in microgravity. Image Credit: NASA.

The crew set up the first sample run for Ring Sheared Drop. In microgravity, fluids float, which allows examination of the formation of amyloid fibrils where surface tension and not a container holds liquids together. Amyloids, abnormal fibrous deposits found in organs and tissues, are associated with neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s. Results could contribute to better understanding of and treatments for these diseases. Data on the flow of liquids without the complications associated with solid walls also could contribute to development of advanced materials.

Calling the Space Station

ISS Ham Radio provides students, teachers, parents and other members of the community an opportunity to communicate directly with astronauts using Ham radio units. Crew members conducted several ISS Ham passes including one with the Children’s Inn at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, MD, an independent nonprofit for families of children with rare or critical illnesses, and another with Northridge Elementary School, a STEM-focused school in Longmont, CO. Some of the questions asked from the ground included how space affects body tissues, how astronauts return safely to Earth and the effects of gravity on solids and liquids. The experience sparks student interest in mathematics and science and inspires the next generation of explorers.

Steering Swarms of Satellites

Crew members performed the final science session for SPHERES hardware, SPHERES-ReSwarm, which evaluates algorithms for controlling swarms of small spacecraft. These algorithms scale easily with formation size and remain applicable to multiple mission scenarios. The next-generation satellite system known as Astrobee now takes over the free-flier role from SPHERES. Swarms of small spacecraft could become feasible in the near future and create new capabilities for Earth and space observation missions.

Other investigations on which the crew performed work:

- 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.

Image above: The Microgravity Crystals investigation crystallizes a membrane protein that is integral to tumor growth and cancer survival, potentially advancing development of cancer treatments with fewer side effects. NASA astronaut Andrew Morgan sets up the protein crystal samples for observing and photographing inside a microscope. Image Credit: NASA.

- 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.

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

- Actiwatch is a nonintrusive, wearable monitor that analyzes a crew member’s circadian rhythms, sleep-wake patterns, and activity.

Animation above: European Space Agency astronaut Luca Parmitano conducts operations for MVP Cell-02, an investigation into how organisms adapt to the space environment, an important component of future space exploration. Animation Credit: NASA.

- MVP Cell-02 seeks to understand how organisms adapt to the space environment, an important component of future space exploration, using the bacterium Bacillus subtilis as a model organism.

- Rodent Research-17 (RR-17) uses younger and older mice as model organisms to evaluate the physiological, cellular and molecular effects of the spaceflight environment.

- Functional Immune analyzes blood and saliva samples to determine the changes taking place in the immune systems of crew members during flight.

- The ISS Experience creates virtual reality videos from footage covering different aspects of crew life, execution of science and the international partnerships involved on the space station.

Space to Ground: New Arrivals: 09/27/2019

Related links:

Expedition 60:

Expedition 61:

Ring Sheared Drop:

ISS Ham Radio:





Spot the Station:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

Best regards,

Spitzer Spots a Starry Region Bursting With Bubbles

NASA - Spitzer Space Telescope patch.

Sept. 30, 2019

Image above: This cloud of gas and dust in space is full of bubbles inflated by wind and radiation from massive young stars. Each bubble is about 10 to 30 light-years across and filled with hundreds to thousands of stars. The region lies in the Milky Way galaxy, in the constellation Aquila (aka the Eagle). Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

This infrared image from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope shows a cloud of gas and dust full of bubbles, which are inflated by wind and radiation from young, massive stars. Each bubble is filled with hundreds to thousands of stars, which form from dense clouds of gas and dust.

The bubbles are estimated to be 10 to 30 light-years across, based on what astronomers know about them and other cosmic bubbles. However, determining the exact sizes of individual bubbles can be difficult, because their distance from Earth is challenging to measure and objects appear smaller the farther away they are.

Flows of particles emitted by the stars, called stellar winds, as well as the pressure of the light the stars produce, can push the surrounding material outward, sometimes creating a distinct perimeter.

In the annotated image below, the yellow circles and ovals outline more than 30 bubbles.

Animation above: This cloud of gas and dust is full of bubbles, which are inflated by wind and radiation from massive young stars. Yellow circles and ovals show the locations of more than 30 bubbles. Squares indicate bow shocks, red arcs of warm dust formed as winds from fast-moving stars push aside dust grains. Animation Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

This active region of star formation is located within the Milky Way galaxy, in the constellation Aquila (also known as the Eagle). Black veins running throughout the cloud are regions of especially dense cold dust and gas where even more new stars are likely to form.

Spitzer sees infrared light, which isn't visible to the human eye. Many interstellar nebulas (clouds of gas and dust in space) like this one are best observed in infrared light because infrared wavelengths can pass through intervening layers of dust in the Milky Way galaxy. Visible light, however, tends to be blocked more by dust.

The colors in this image represent different wavelengths of infrared light. Blue represents a wavelength of light primarily emitted by stars; dust and organic molecules called hydrocarbons appear green, and warm dust that's been heated by stars appears red.

Also visible are four bow shocks — red arcs of warm dust formed as winds from fast-moving stars push aside dust grains scattered sparsely through most of the nebula. The locations of the bow shocks are indicated by squares in the annotated image above and shown close up in the images below.

Image above: These four images show bow shocks, or arcs of warm dust formed as winds from fast-moving stars push aside dust grains scattered sparsely through most of the nebula. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

The bubbles and bow shocks in these images were identified as part of The Milky Way Project, a citizen science initiative on that seeks to map star formation throughout the galaxy. Participating citizen scientists looked through images from Spitzer's public data archive and identified as many bubbles as they could. More than 78,000 unique user accounts contributed. Astronomers running this program recently published a catalog of the bubble candidates that multiple citizen scientists had identified. The full Milky Way Project catalogs, which list a total of 2,600 bubbles and 599 bow shocks, are described in a paper published recently in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society:

Animation Credit: NASA

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

For more information on Spitzer, visit:

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