samedi 9 novembre 2019

Jovian Vortex View

NASA - JUNO Mission logo.

Nov. 9, 2019

NASA’s Juno spacecraft captured this stunningly detailed look at a cyclonic storm in Jupiter’s atmosphere during its 23rd close flyby of the planet (also referred to as “perijove 23”).

Juno observed this vortex in a region of Jupiter called the “north north north north temperate belt,” or NNNNTB, one of the gas giant planet’s many persistent cloud bands. These bands are formed by the prevailing winds at different latitudes. The vortex seen here is roughly 1,200 miles (2,000 kilometers) wide.

Jupiter is composed mostly of hydrogen and helium, but some of the color in its clouds may come from plumes of sulfur and phosphorus-containing gases rising from the planet's warmer interior.

Citizen scientist Kevin M. Gill created this image using data from the spacecraft's JunoCam imager. It was taken on Nov. 3, 2019, at 2:08 p.m. PST (5:08 p.m. EST). At the time, the spacecraft was about 5,300 miles (8,500 kilometers) from Jupiter’s cloud tops above a latitude of about 49 degrees. ​

Juno spacecraft orbiting Jupiter

JunoCam's raw images are available for the public to peruse and process into image products at   

More information about Juno is at and

Image credit: Image data: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Image processing by Kevin M. Gill, © CC BY/Animation Credit: NASA/Text Credits: NASA/Tony Greicius.


vendredi 8 novembre 2019

NASA's NICER Catches Record-setting X-ray Burst

ISS - NICER - SEXTANT Mission patch.

Nov. 8, 2019

NASA’s Neutron star Interior Composition Explorer (NICER) telescope on the International Space Station detected a sudden spike of X-rays at about 10:04 p.m. EDT on Aug. 20. The burst was caused by a massive thermonuclear flash on the surface of a pulsar, the crushed remains of a star that long ago exploded as a supernova.

Image above: Illustration depicting a Type I X-ray burst. The explosion first blows off the hydrogen layer, which expands and ultimately dissipates. Then rising radiation builds to the point where it blows off the helium layer, which overtakes the expanding hydrogen. Some of the X-rays emitted in the blast scatter off of the accretion disk. The fireball then quickly cools, and the helium settles back onto the surface. Image Credits: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/Chris Smith (USRA).

The X-ray burst, the brightest seen by NICER so far, came from an object named SAX J1808.4-3658, or J1808 for short. The observations reveal many phenomena that have never been seen together in a single burst. In addition, the subsiding fireball briefly brightened again for reasons astronomers cannot yet explain.

“This burst was outstanding,” said lead researcher Peter Bult, an astrophysicist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and the University of Maryland, College Park. “We see a two-step change in brightness, which we think is caused by the ejection of separate layers from the pulsar surface, and other features that will help us decode the physics of these powerful events.”

The explosion, which astronomers classify as a Type I X-ray burst, released as much energy in 20 seconds as the Sun does in nearly 10 days. The detail NICER captured on this record-setting eruption will help astronomers fine-tune their understanding of the physical processes driving the thermonuclear flare-ups of it and other bursting pulsars.

NICER Catches Milestone X-ray Burst

Video above: A thermonuclear blast on a pulsar called J1808 resulted in the brightest burst of X-rays seen to date by NASA’s Neutron star Interior Composition Explorer (NICER) telescope. The explosion occurred on Aug. 20, 2019, and released as much energy in 20 seconds as our Sun does in almost 10 days. Watch to see how scientists think this incredible explosion occurred. Video Credits: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.

A pulsar is a kind of neutron star, the compact core left behind when a massive star runs out of fuel, collapses under its own weight, and explodes. Pulsars can spin rapidly and host X-ray-emitting hot spots at their magnetic poles. As the object spins, it sweeps the hot spots across our line of sight, producing regular pulses of high-energy radiation.

J1808 is located about 11,000 light-years away in the constellation Sagittarius. It spins at a dizzying 401 rotations each second, and is one member of a binary system. Its companion is a brown dwarf, an object larger than a giant planet yet too small to be a star. A steady stream of hydrogen gas flows from the companion toward the neutron star, and it accumulates in a vast storage structure called an accretion disk.

Gas in accretion disks doesn’t move inward easily. But every few years, the disks around pulsars like J1808 become so dense that a large amount of the gas becomes ionized, or stripped of its electrons. This makes it more difficult for light to move through the disk. The trapped energy starts a runaway process of heating and ionization that traps yet more energy. The gas becomes more resistant to flow and starts spiraling inward, ultimately falling onto the pulsar.

Hydrogen raining onto the surface forms a hot, ever-deepening global “sea.” At the base of this layer, temperatures and pressures increase until hydrogen nuclei fuse to form helium nuclei, which produces energy — a process at work in the core of our Sun.    

“The helium settles out and builds up a layer of its own,” said Goddard’s Zaven Arzoumanian, the deputy principal investigator for NICER and a co-author of the paper. “Once the helium layer is a few meters deep, the conditions allow helium nuclei to fuse into carbon. Then the helium erupts explosively and unleashes a thermonuclear fireball across the entire pulsar surface.”

Astronomers employ a concept called the Eddington limit — named for English astrophysicist Sir Arthur Eddington — to describe the maximum radiation intensity a star can have before that radiation causes the star to expand. This point depends strongly on the composition of the material lying above the emission source. 

Neutron star Interior Composition Explorer or NICER on ISS

“Our study exploits this longstanding concept in a new way,” said co-author Deepto Chakrabarty, a professor of physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. “We are apparently seeing the Eddington limit for two different compositions in the same X-ray burst. This is a very powerful and direct way of following the nuclear burning reactions that underlie the event.”

As the burst started, NICER data show that its X-ray brightness leveled off for almost a second before increasing again at a slower pace. The researchers interpret this “stall” as the moment when the energy of the blast built up enough to blow the pulsar’s hydrogen layer into space.

The fireball continued to build for another two seconds and then reached its peak, blowing off the more massive helium layer. The helium expanded faster, overtook the hydrogen layer before it could dissipate, and then slowed, stopped and settled back down onto the pulsar’s surface. Following this phase, the pulsar briefly brightened again by roughly 20 percent for reasons the team does not yet understand.

During J1808’s recent round of activity, NICER detected another, much fainter X-ray burst that displayed none of the key features observed in the Aug. 20 event.

In addition to detecting the expansion of different layers, NICER observations of the blast reveal X-rays reflecting off of the accretion disk and record the flickering of “burst oscillations” — X-ray signals that rise and fall at the pulsar’s spin frequency but that occur at different surface locations than the hot spots responsible for its normal X-ray pulses.

A paper describing the findings has been published by The Astrophysical Journal Letters and is available online:

NICER is an Astrophysics Mission of Opportunity within NASA's Explorer program, which provides frequent flight opportunities for world-class scientific investigations from space utilizing innovative, streamlined, and efficient management approaches within the heliophysics and astrophysics science areas. NASA's Space Technology Mission Directorate supports the SEXTANT component of the mission, demonstrating pulsar-based spacecraft navigation.

Related links:

NASA’s Neutron star Interior Composition Explorer (NICER):

International Space Station (ISS):

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

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Hubble Touts a Team of Stars

NASA - Hubble Space Telescope patch.

Nov. 8, 2019

Within a galaxy hosting around 300 billion stars, here the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has captured a mere handful or two — just about enough to form a single football team. These stellar “teammates” play under the banner of NGC 1333, the cloud of gas and dust that formed them and that they continue to call home.

NGC 1333 is located about 1,000 light-years away in the constellation of Perseus (the Hero). The cool gas and dust concentrated in this region is generating new stars whose light is then reflecting off the surrounding material, lighting it up and making this object’s lingering presence known to us. NGC 1333 is accordingly classified as a reflection nebula.

This image shows just a single region of NGC 1333. Hubble has imaged NGC 1333 more widely before, revealing that the smattering of stars seen here has ample company. Seen in a broader context, this team of stars is but one gathering among many in NGC 1333’s celestial “Champions League.”

Hubble Space Telescope (HST)

For more information about Hubble, visit:

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


Watch Mercury Travel Across the Face of the Sun Monday


November 8, 2019

A Transit of Mercury Happens Nov. 11

Artist's view of Mercury transit

The sky will put on a show Nov. 11 when Mercury journeys across the Sun. The event, known as a transit, occurs when Mercury passes directly between Earth and the Sun. From our perspective on Earth, Mercury will look like a tiny black dot gliding across the Sun’s face. This only happens about 13 times a century, so it’s a rare event that skywatchers won’t want to miss! Mercury’s last transit was in 2016.  The next won’t happen again until 2032!

“Viewing transits and eclipses provide opportunities to engage the public, to encourage one and all to experience the wonders of the universe and to appreciate how precisely science and mathematics can predict celestial events,” said Mitzi Adams, a solar scientist in the Heliophysics and Planetary Science Branch at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. “Of course, safely viewing the Sun is one of my favorite things to do.”

Mercury transit

This year’s transit will be widely visible from most of Earth, including the Americas, the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, New Zealand, Europe, Africa, and western Asia. It starts at about 6:35 a.m. CST, but viewers in some areas, such as the West Coast, will have to wait until the Sun rises at their location to see the transit already in progress. Thankfully, this transit will last almost six hours, so there will be plenty of time to catch the show. At about 9:20 a.m. CST, Mercury’s center will be as close as it is going to get to the Sun’s.

Mercury transit

Mercury’s tiny disk, jet black and perfectly round, covers a tiny fraction of the Sun’s blinding surface — only 1/283 of the Sun’s apparent diameter. So you’ll need the magnification of a telescope (minimum of 50x) with a solar filter to view the transit. Never look at the Sun directly or through a telescope without proper protection. It can lead to serious and permanent vision damage. Always use a safe Sun filter to protect your eyes!

Scientists have been using transits for hundreds of years to study the way planets and stars move in space. Edmund Halley used a transit of Venus in 1761 and 1769 to determine the absolute distance to the Sun. Another use of transits is the dimming of Sun or star light as a planet crosses in front of it. This technique is one way planets circling other stars can be found. Scientists can measure brightness dips from these other stars (or from the Sun) to calculate sizes of planets, how far away the planets are from their stars, and even get hints of what they’re made of.

Related links:

Eye Safety for Solar Eclipses and Transits:



Image, Animation, Video, Text, Credits: NASA/Marshall Space Flight Center.


Crew Focuses on Cosmic Repair Spacewalks, Practices Medical Emergency

ISS - Expedition 61 Mission patch.

November 8, 2019

The Expedition 61 crew is focusing on a complex series of spacewalks set to start soon to repair a cosmic particle detector. The orbital residents also conducted an emergency drill aboard the International Space Station today.

Astronauts Luca Parmitano and Andrew Morgan are familiarizing themselves with new spacewalking gear delivered aboard the Cygnus space freighter. The duo will use the new tools and hardware on a series of spacewalks to repair the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer’s (AMS) thermal control system.

Image above: Expedition 61 crewmates Christina Koch, Luca Parmitano and Alexander Skvortsov practice emergency response skills aboard the space station. Image Credit: NASA.

The spacewalks will highlight advanced repair techniques, including cutting and reconnecting fluid lines, never performed during a spacewalk. Parmitano and Morgan are set to venture outside the station on Friday Nov. 15 to begin the first of at least four spacewalks to upgrade the AMS, a device that searches for dark matter and antimatter.

NASA astronauts Jessica Meir and Christina Koch joined the upcoming spacewalkers today and reviewed tools and procedures for the excursions. The quartet then called Mission Control for a conference with experts on the ground about their spacewalking duties.

International Space Station (ISS). Animation Credit: NASA

At the end of the workday, all six crew members, including cosmonauts Alexander Skvortsov and Oleg Skripochka, practiced responding to an emergency simulation. The crew reviewed safety and medical gear, translated evacuation paths, practiced chest compressions (CPR) and coordinated communications.

The space station raised its orbit during the crew’s sleep period Thursday night when Russia’s Progress 73 resupply ship fired its thrusters for six minutes and 45 seconds. Now orbiting a mile higher at its perigee, the orbital complex is at the correct altitude for Russia’s next resupply ship, Progress 74, to dock on Dec. 3 after it launches Dec. 1.

Related article:
Luca to lead most challenging spacewalks since Hubble repairs

Related links:

Expedition 61:

Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer’s (AMS):

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

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NASA Instrument to Probe Planet Clouds on European Mission

NASA & ESA - ARIEL Mission logo.

Nov. 8, 2019

NASA will contribute an instrument to a European space mission that will explore the atmospheres of hundreds of planets orbiting stars beyond our Sun, or exoplanets, for the first time.

The instrument, called the Contribution to ARIEL Spectroscopy of Exoplanets, or CASE, adds scientific capabilities to ESA's (the European Space Agency's) Atmospheric Remote-sensing Infrared Exoplanet Large-survey, or ARIEL, mission.

The ARIEL spacecraft with CASE on board is expected to launch in 2028. CASE will be managed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, with JPL astrophysicist Mark Swain as the principal investigator.

"I am thrilled that NASA will partner with ESA in this historic mission to push the envelope in our understanding of what the atmospheres of exoplanets are made of, and how these planets form and evolve," said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. "The more information we have about exoplanets, the closer we get to understanding the origins of our solar system, and advancing our search for Earth-like planets elsewhere."

Image above: This artist's concept shows the European Space Agency's ARIEL spacecraft on its way to Lagrange Point 2 (L2) — a gravitationally stable, Sun-centric orbit — where it will be shielded from the Sun and have a clear view of the sky. NASA's JPL will manage the mission's CASE instrument. Image Credits: ESA/STFC RAL Space/UCL/Europlanet-Science Office.

So far, scientists have found more than 4,000 confirmed exoplanets in the Milky Way. NASA's retired Kepler space telescope and active Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) are two observatories that have contributed to this count. These telescopes have discovered planets by observing brightness of a star's light dimming as a planet crosses its face, an event called a "transit." ARIEL, carrying CASE, will take planet-hunting through transits one step further, by delving deeper into planets already known to exist.

ARIEL will be able to see the chemical fingerprints, or "spectra," of a planet's atmosphere in the light of its star. To do this, the spacecraft will observe starlight streaming through the atmospheres of planets as they pass in front their stars, as well as light emitted by the planets' atmospheres just before and after they disappear behind their stars. These fingerprints will allow scientists to study the compositions, temperatures, and chemical processes in the atmospheres of the planets ARIEL observes.

These chemical fingerprints of exoplanet atmospheres are extremely faint. Identifying them is a huge challenge for astronomers, and requires a telescope to stare at individual stars for a long time. But many space observatories are multi-purpose, and must split up their time among different kinds of scientific investigations. ARIEL will be the first spacecraft fully devoted to observing hundreds of exoplanet atmospheres, looking to identify their contents, temperatures and chemical processes. The addition of CASE, which will observe clouds and hazes, will provide a more comprehensive picture of the exoplanet atmospheres ARIEL observes.

So far, telescopes have only been able to carefully probe the atmospheres of a handful of exoplanets to determine their chemistries. ARIEL's much larger, more diverse sample will enable scientists to look at these worlds not just as individual exotic objects, but as a population, and discover new trends in their commonalities and differences.

The CASE instrument will be sensitive to light at near-infrared wavelengths, which is invisible to human eyes, as well as visible light. This complements ARIEL's other instrument, called an infrared spectrometer, which operates at longer wavelengths. CASE will specifically look at exoplanets' clouds and hazes — determining how common they are, as well how they influence the compositions and other properties of planetary atmospheres. CASE will also allow measurements of each planet's albedo, the amount of light the planet reflects.

The spacecraft will focus on exceptionally hot planets in our galaxy, with temperatures greater than 600 degrees Fahrenheit (320 degrees Celsius). Such planets are more likely to transit their star than planets orbiting farther out, and their short orbital periods provide more opportunities to observe transits in a given period of time. More transits give astronomers more data, allowing them to reveal the weak chemical fingerprint of a planet's atmosphere.

ARIEL's hot planet population will include gas giants like Jupiter, as well as smaller gaseous planets called mini-Neptunes and rocky worlds bigger than our planet called super-Earths. While these planets are too hot to host life as we know it, they will tell us a lot about how planets and planetary systems form and evolve. Additionally the techniques and insights learned in studying exoplanets with ARIEL and CASE will be useful when scientists use future telescopes to look toward smaller, colder, rockier worlds with conditions that more closely resemble Earth's.

ARIEL, exoplanet atmosphere detector. Image Credit: ESA

The CASE instrument consists of two detectors and associated electronics that contribute to ARIEL's guidance system. CASE takes advantage of the same detectors and electronics that NASA is contributing to ESA's Euclid mission, which will probe deep questions about the structure of the universe and its two biggest mystery components: dark matter and dark energy.

The ARIEL spacecraft with CASE on board will be in the same orbit as NASA's James Webb Space Telescope, which is expected to launch in 2021. Both will travel some 1 million miles (1.5 million kilometers) from Earth to a special point of gravitational stability called Lagrange Point 2. This location allows the spacecraft to circle the Sun along with the Earth, while using little fuel to maintain its orbit.

While Webb will also be capable of studying exoplanet atmospheres, and its instruments cover a similar range of light as ARIEL, Webb will target a smaller sample of exoplanets to study in greater detail. Because Webb's time will be divided, shared with investigations into other aspects of the universe, it will deliver detailed knowledge about particular exoplanets rather than surveying hundreds. ARIEL will launch several years after Webb, so it will be able to capitalize on lessons learned from Webb in terms of planning observations and selecting which planets to study.

"This is an exciting time for exoplanet science as we look toward the next generation of space telescopes and instruments," said Paul Hertz, director of the astrophysics division at NASA Headquarters, Washington. "CASE adds to an exceptional set of technologies that will help us better understand our place in the galaxy."

CASE is an Astrophysics Explorers Mission of Opportunity, managed by JPL. The Astrophysics Explorers Program is managed by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington, DC.


ARIEL Space Mission:


Related link:

Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS):

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Tony Greicius/Felicia Chou/Written by Elizabeth Landau/JPL/Calla Cofield.


Luca to lead most challenging spacewalks since Hubble repairs

ESA - Beyond Mission patch / EVA - Extra Vehicular Activities patch.

Nov. 8, 2019

ESA astronaut Luca Parmitano

The date is set for ESA astronaut Luca Parmitano’s first spacewalk of his Beyond mission. Friday 15 November marks the start of a series of complex spacewalks to service the cosmic-particle-hunting Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS-02).

It is the first time a European astronaut will take a leading role and the full spacewalk will be streamed live via ESA Web TV.

Location of AMS-02 on the International Space Station

Luca and his spacewalking partner NASA astronaut Andrew Morgan will exit the International Space Station airlock at around 13:05 CET (12:05 GMT). The spacewalking series is expected to be the most challenging since work to repair the Hubble Space Telescope.

As the lead spacewalker, known as ‘EV1’, Luca will wear a white spacesuit with red stripes while Andrew wears the white spacesuit with no stripes.

The pair will be supported by NASA astronauts Christina Koch and Jessica Meir who will operate the Canadarm2 robotic arm from inside the Station. This will help position the astronauts around their hard-to-reach work site, located on top of the Station’s S3 Truss structure between a pair of solar arrays and radiators.

The entire spacewalk is expected to take around six hours and it will set the scene for at least three more.

The hardware

AMS-02 records the number and characteristics of cosmic ray particles that pass through all of its detectors – over 140 billion particles to date. By tracking down the sources of these particles, scientists aim to gain a better understanding of dark matter and the origins of the Universe.

Spacewalks for AMS

Installed in 2011 AMS was only ever intended to run for three years and was never designed to be maintained in orbit. It has been so successful that its mission has been extended.

Researchers, astronauts and operations teams have had to develop new procedures and more than 20 custom tools to extend the instrument’s life.

The task

Luca and Andrew’s core task will be to replace the AMS-02 cooling system and fix a coolant leak.

Astronauts Luca Parmitano and Andrew Morgan in Columbus

The pair trained extensively for this intricate operation on the ground. It will involve cutting and splicing eight cooling tubes connect them  to the new system and reconnecting a myriad of power and data cables. It is the first time astronauts will cut and reconnect cooling lines in orbit.

Tune in

The first two hours of the spacewalk will be streamed live on ESA Web TV and ESA’s Facebook page, featuring commentary from astronaut and operation experts at ESA’s astronaut centre in Cologne, Germany, as well as a live cross with scientists at the CERN European Laboratory for Particle Physics.

AMS-02 on Space Station

Viewers are encouraged to tweet their spacewalk questions to @esaspaceflight or @cern using the hashtag #SpacewalkForAMS. Experts will answer on the day.

In the meantime, you can find out more about what it takes to prepare for a spacewalk in the latest episode of the Beyond mission podcast ESA Explores and stay tuned for a special audio message from Luca on the Space Station early next week.

Related links:


CERN European Laboratory for Particle Physics:



ESA Explores:

Human and Robotic Exploration:

Images, Video, Text, Credit: ESA - European Space Agency.


jeudi 7 novembre 2019

Expedition 61 Crew Servicing Spacesuits and Science Hardware Today

ISS - Expedition 61 Mission patch.

November 7, 2019

The Expedition 61 crew serviced a variety of science and life support hardware today aboard the International Space Station. U.S. spacesuits are also being readied for a series upcoming cosmic repair spacewalks.

NASA astronaut Andrew Morgan and Commander Luca Parmitano of ESA (European Space Agency) will enter the vacuum of space on Nov. 15 to repair the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS). Christina Koch of NASA is preparing the U.S. spacesuits and cleaning the components ahead of at least four planned AMS repair spacewalks. The spacewalking duo will perform the complex repairs necessary to upgrade the dark matter and antimatter detector’s thermal control system.

Image above: Astronaut Christina Koch works on orbital plumbing tasks as she replaces components inside the International Space Station’s bathroom. Image Credit: NASA.

In the meantime, Morgan focused on science hardware and set up experiment gear containing materials for exposure in the harsh environment of space. He installed three experiment carriers inside the Kibo laboratory module’s airlock before depressurizing it. Japan’s robotic arm will grapple the carriers and deploy them outside Kibo. The research is testing how cosmic radiation, extreme temperatures and other space phenomena affect a variety of samples.

Science freezers that preserve critical research samples for analysis had their systems checked today by NASA Flight Engineer Jessica Meir. She also replaced components on a 3-D bioprinter, also called the BioFabrication Facility. The device is testing the manufacturing of complex human organ tissue shapes in space.

ISS EarthCam external views. Animation Credit: NASA

Cosmonaut Alexander Skvortsov is packing trash and obsolete gear inside the Progress 73 (73P) resupply ship. The 73P will undock from the Pirs docking compartment on Nov. 29 for a fiery but safe disposal over the southern Pacific.

Related links:

Expedition 61:

Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS):

Materials for exposure:

Kibo laboratory module:

BioFabrication Facility:

Pirs docking compartment:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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


Hubble Captures a Dozen Galaxy Doppelgangers

NASA - Hubble Space Telescope patch.

Nov. 7, 2019

This NASA Hubble Space Telescope photo reveals a cosmic kaleidoscope of a remote galaxy, which has been split into multiple images by an effect called gravitational lensing.

Gravitational lensing means that the foreground galaxy cluster is so massive that its gravity distorts the fabric of space-time, bending and magnifying the light from the more distant galaxy behind it. This “funhouse mirror” effect not only stretches the background galaxy image, but also creates multiple images of the same galaxy.

Image above: This recent picture from Hubble shows a galaxy nicknamed the Sunburst Arc that has been split into a kaleidoscope illusion of no fewer than 12 images formed by a massive foreground cluster of galaxies 4.6 billion light-years away. Image Credits: NASA, ESA and E. Rivera-Thorsen (Institute of Theoretical Astrophysics Oslo, Norway).

The lensing phenomenon produces at least 12 images of the background galaxy, distributed over four major arcs. Three of these arcs are visible in the top right of the image, while one counter arc is visible in the lower left — partially obscured by a bright foreground star within the Milky Way.

The galaxy, nicknamed the Sunburst Arc (officially designated PSZ1 G311.65-18.48), is almost 11 billion light-years from Earth and has been lensed into multiple images by a massive foreground cluster of galaxies 4.6 billion light-years away.

Hubble uses these cosmic magnifying glasses to study objects that would otherwise be too faint and too small for even its extraordinarily sensitive instruments. The Sunburst Arc is no exception, despite being one of the brightest gravitationally lensed galaxies known.

The lens makes images of the Sunburst Arc that are between 10 and 30 times brighter than the background galaxy would normally look. The magnification allows Hubble to view structures as small as 520 light-years across that would be too small to see without the turboboost from the lensing effect. The structures resemble star-forming regions in nearby galaxies in the local universe, allowing astronomers to make a detailed study of the remote galaxy and its environment.

Hubble Space Telescope (HST). Animation Credits: NASA/ESA

Hubble’s observations show that the Sunburst Arc is similar to galaxies that existed at a much earlier time in the history of the universe, perhaps only 150 million years after the big bang.

Hubble Space Telescope (HST):

Image (mentioned), Animation (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Rob Garner/GSFC/Claire Andreoli/Institute of Theoretical Astrophysics, Oslo, Norway/Emil Rivera-Thorsen/Håkon Dahle/Space Telescope Science Institute/Ray Villard.

Best regards,

mercredi 6 novembre 2019

CASC - Long March-3B launches BeiDou-3 IGSO-3

BeiDou Navigation Satellite System logo.

November 6, 2019

Long March 3B launches latest Beidou-3M satellites

A Long March-3B rocket launched the third BeiDou-3 navigation satellite in an Inclined Geosynchronous Orbit (BDS-3 IGSO-3), from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center, Sichuan Province, southwest China, on 4 November 2019, at 17:43 UTC (5 November, at 01:43 local time).

Long March-3B launches BeiDou-3 IGSO-3

BDS-3 IGSO-3 is the 49th satellite of the BDS satellite family, the 24th satellite of the BDS-3 system and the third BeiDou-3 navigation satellite to be positioned in an Inclined Geosynchronous Orbit.

The MEO satellites are the Medium Earth Orbit component of the third phase of the Chinese Beidou (Compass) satellite navigation system. The satellites are part of a fleet that will expand the system into global navigation coverage.

Render of a BeiDou-3 satellite by J. Huart.

The satellites are using a bus that features a phased array antenna for navigation signals and a laser retroreflector, with a launch mass 1,014 kg. Spacecraft dimensions are noted to be 2.25 by 1.0 by 1.22 meters. Usually, the satellites reside in a 21,500 – 21,400 km nominal orbit at 55.5 degrees.

BeiDou Navigation Satellites Constellation

Navigation satellite systems are public resources shared by the whole globe, and multi-system compatibility and interoperability have become a trend. China applies the principle that “BDS is developed by China, and dedicated to the world”, serving the development of the Silk Road Economic Belt, and actively pushing forward international cooperation related to BDS. As BDS joins hands with other navigation satellite systems, China will work with all other countries, regions and international organizations to promote global satellite navigation development and make BDS further serve the world and benefit mankind.

For more information about Beidou navigation system:

For more information about China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC):

Images, Video, Text, Credits: Credits: CASC/BeiDou/China Central Television (CCTV)/SciNews.


Blood Pressure, DNA Studies as Astronauts Prep for Complex Spacewalk Repairs

ISS - Expedition 61 Mission patch.

November 6, 2019

The Expedition 61 crew explored how microgravity is affecting a variety of biological processes in humans and microbes today. Two astronauts are also gearing up for tentatively planned spacewalks to repair a cosmic particle detector.

Aging on Earth and living in space impacts an individual’s blood pressure with some astronauts experiencing stiffened arteries after returning to the ground. NASA Flight Engineer Jessica Meir investigated the phenomena today attaching electrodes to her leg and scanning her veins with an ultrasound device. Doctors on Earth will review the downloaded data with results informing potential therapies for Earth-bound and space-caused ailments.

Image above: Astronauts (from left) Christina Koch and Jessica Meir practice the Canadarm2 robotics techniques they would use to capture the Cygnus space freighter when it arrived Nov. 4. Image Credit: NASA.

Microbes live everywhere including inside the International Space Station. NASA astronaut Christina Koch is sequencing DNA collected from microbial samples swabbed from inside the orbiting lab. Observations may provide insights into the genetic adaptations taking place to survive in weightlessness.

Commander Luca Parmitano and Flight Engineer Andrew Morgan are studying the complex spacewalk procedures required to repair the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS). At least four spacewalks are scheduled, the first of which will be on Friday, Nov. 15. The dates for the other spacewalks are under review and will be scheduled in the near future.

International Space Station (ISS). Animation Credit: NASA

The duo have begun unpacking the AMS tools and hardware delivered aboard the Cygnus resupply ship on Monday. The eight-and-a-half year-old device, which searches for signs of dark matter and antimatter, will have its thermal control system upgraded over a series of soon-to-be scheduled spacewalks.

Cosmonauts Alexander Skvortsov and Oleg Skripochka explored their set of human research in the station’s Russian segment today. The duo researched the space-caused loss of bone mass and the interactions between international crews and mission controllers during long-duration missions.

Related links:

Expedition 61:

Astronauts experiencing stiffened arteries:

Sequencing DNA:

Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS):

AMS tools and hardware:

Space-caused loss of bone mass:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

Best regards,

NASA Opens Previously Unopened Apollo Sample Ahead of Artemis Missions

NASA - Apollo 17 Mission patch.

Nov. 6, 2019

NASA scientists opened an untouched rock and soil sample from the Moon returned to Earth on Apollo 17, marking the first time in more than 40 years a pristine sample of rock and regolith from the Apollo era has been opened. It sets the stage for scientists to practice techniques to study future samples collected on Artemis missions.

Apollo 17 crew collecting Moon samples. Animation Credit: NASA

The sample, opened Nov. 5, in the Lunar Curation Laboratory at the agency’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, was collected on the Moon by Apollo 17 astronauts Gene Cernan and Jack Schmitt, who drove a 4-centimeter-wide tube into the surface of the Moon to collect it and another sample scheduled to be opened in January. The sample was opened as part of NASA’s Apollo Next-Generation Sample Analysis (ANGSA) initiative, which is leveraging advanced technologies to study Apollo samples using new tools that were not available when the samples were originally returned to Earth.

“We are able to make measurements today that were just not possible during the years of the Apollo program,” said Dr. Sarah Noble, ANGSA program scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “The analysis of these samples will maximize the science return from Apollo, as well as enable a new generation of scientists and curators to refine their techniques and help prepare future explorers for lunar missions anticipated in the 2020s and beyond.”

Image above: Pictured from left: Apollo sample processors Andrea Mosie, Charis Krysher and Juliane Gross open lunar sample 73002 at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston. The Moon rocks inside this tube have remained untouched since they were collected on the surface and brought to Earth by Apollo astronauts nearly 50 years ago. Image Credits: NASA/James Blair.

Since the Apollo era, all samples that were returned to Earth have been carefully stored in the laboratory to preserve them for future generations. Most samples have been well studied, and many are the subject of ongoing research. However, NASA also made the decision to keep some samples completely untouched as an investment in the future, allowing them to be analyzed with more advanced technologies as they are developed. These include samples that remained sealed in their original containers, as well as some stored under special conditions, all intended to be opened and analyzed with more advanced analytical technologies than were available during Apollo.

The unopened Apollo samples were collected on Apollo 15, 16 and 17 missions. Two of those samples, 73002 and 73001, both collected on Apollo 17, will be studied as part of ANGSA. Advances in techniques such as non-destructive 3D imaging, mass spectrometry and ultra-high resolution microtomy will allow for a coordinated study of these samples at an unprecedented scale.

Samples 73002 and 73001 are part of a two-foot long “drive tube” of regolith (rock and soil) that collected from a landslide deposit near Lara Crater at the Apollo 17 site. The samples preserve the vertical layering within the lunar soil, information about landslides on airless bodies like the Moon, and a record of the volatiles trapped within lunar regolith, perhaps even those escaping from the Moon along the Lee-Lincoln Scarp, a fault at the Apollo 17 site.

 Apollo 17 astronaut Gene Cernan preparing to collect samples 73001 and 73002.

“Opening these samples now will enable new scientific discoveries about the Moon and will allow a new generation of scientists to refine their techniques to better study future samples returned by Artemis astronauts,” said Francis McCubbin, NASA’s astromaterials curator at Johnson. “Our scientific technologies have vastly improved in the past 50 years and scientists have an opportunity to analyze these samples in ways not previously possible.”

Two Samples, Two Processes

Sample 73002, which has remained unopened but not sealed under vacuum since being brought to Earth, was the first sample to be extruded from its container Nov. 5. Sample processors at Johnson will spend the next several months processing the sample and distributing parts of it to the ANGSA science teams for analysis.

To aid in opening the sample, researchers have used X-ray Computer Tomography (XCT) done at the University of Texas Austin to record a high-resolution 3D image of the regolith within the tube. The imaging aids the processors as they develop strategies to remove the sample for dissection and distribution to research teams, as well as helping scientists understand the sample’s structure before opening the container. It will also protect fragile soil components from damage during opening and processing, and provides detailed images of individual grains and smaller samples known as rocklets.

After X-ray scanning, the samples are removed from their tube using specialized tools inside a glovebox filled with ultrapure dry Nitrogen, and are then subdivided into one-quarter inch segments to allow scientists to understand the variation observed along the length of the core. This is the first time NASA has processed a drive tube like this in over 25 years, and curation scientists have been hard at work over the past few months rehearsing the process.

Image above: The bottom scan of sample 73002 was taken using radiograph technology in 1974 by NASA. The X-Ray Computed Microtomography scan above was taken in 2019 at the University of Texas at Austin. This is one example of the technological developments that are enabling a new generation to conduct new science on Apollo samples.

“I grew up on the stories of Apollo, they inspired me to pursue a career in space and now I have an opportunity to contribute to the studies that are enabling the next missions to the Moon,” said Charis Krysher, the lunar sample processor who will be opening sample 73002. “To be the one to open a sample that hasn’t been opened since it was collected on the moon is such an honor and heavy responsibility, we’re touching history.”

Sample 73001, which will be opened in early 2020, was sealed on the Moon in a special core sample vacuum container and then placed within another vacuum container and sealed on Earth. That sample will be opened once scientists have fine-tuned plans for capturing the gases from the Moon collected in the container along with the sample itself. Once removed, it will be processed in a glovebox and shared with scientific teams selected for the ANGSA research.

Artemis Generation

Exploration of the Moon by astronauts in the Artemis program will be enabled by using the resources of the Moon, including water ice that can be used to make rocket fuel or oxygen to breathe. Studying these unopened samples may allow scientists to gain insight into the origin of the lunar polar ice deposits, as well as other potential resources for future exploration. They will also gain a better understanding of how well Apollo tools worked, which will help with tool designs for future lunar missions.

“The findings from these samples will provide NASA new insights into the Moon, including the history of impacts on the lunar surface, how landslides occur on the lunar surface, and how the Moon’s crust has evolved over time,” said Charles Shearer, science co-lead for ANGSA. “This research will help NASA better understand how volatile reservoirs develop, evolve and interact on the Moon and other planetary bodies.”

Image above: NASA opened a pristine Apollo lunar sample Nov. 5, 2019, at its Johnson Space Center in Houston. A team of scientists extracted the core from its tube and will soon send samples to other teams across the country to study. This sample was the first set of two scheduled to be opened in the coming months. Studying the rocks now will help a new generation of scientists better understand the Moon through the Artemis program. Image Credits: NASA/James Blair.

During the preliminary examination of these unopened Apollo samples, multiple generations of scientists, engineers, and curators will work together to study the samples. Team members who have long NASA experience, some of whom were part of the original teams to first study Apollo samples, will work with younger team members in a true collaboration between past and present generations of lunar explorers. Schmitt, the lone geologist among the Apollo astronauts and lunar module pilot of Apollo 17, which collected sample 73002, is also actively involved in the science team.

“This provides an essential link between the first generation lunar explorers from Apollo and future generations who will explore the Moon and beyond starting with Artemis,” said Shearer.

Opening Untouched Apollo Lunar Samples

Video above: NASA scientists opened lunar samples that have remained untouched since they were collected by Apollo astronauts nearly 50 years ago. The samples opened on Tuesday, Nov. 5, will shed new light on what we know about the Moon and help rekindle human exploration on the lunar surface under the Artemis program. Video Credits: Dave Edey and Romy Hanna. UTCT, Jackson School of Geosciences, UT Austin.

Since these samples were collected, NASA has continued to study Earth’s nearest neighbor through missions like the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and now has an incredible amount of data about the lunar surface, environment and composition. Under Artemis, the agency will send a suite of new science instruments and technology demonstrations to study the Moon ahead of landing astronauts on the lunar surface by 2024, and establishing a sustained presence by 2028. The agency will build on its past to leverage its Artemis experience to prepare for the next giant leap – sending astronauts to Mars.

Related links:

University of Texas Austin:

Apollo Next-Generation Sample Analysis (ANGSA):


Apollo 17:


Animation (mentioned), Images (mentioned), Video (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/JSC/Noah Michelsohn.

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mardi 5 novembre 2019

NASA Counts Down to Twenty Years of Continuous Human Presence on International Space Station

ISS 20th Logo patch.

Nov. 5, 2019

On Oct. 31, 2000, veteran NASA astronaut William “Shep” Shepherd left Earth on a journey to the International Space Station with the distinction of becoming its first commander, beginning almost two decades of continuous human presence in low-Earth orbit.

The Expedition One crew members aboard the International Space Station

At the time, the space station was a small orbiting complex of just three modules, not the sprawling research complex that today is as large as a five-bedroom home with a gym, two bathrooms and a 360-degree bay window looking at Earth below.

Before Shepherd, who lifted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome on the Soyuz TM-31 spacecraft, and cosmonauts Yuri Gidzenko and Sergei Krikalev of Roscosmos opened the hatches to their new home two days later, only six visiting crewmembers had been inside after connecting the first two modules, one a U.S.-funded, Russian built and launched power and control module called Zarya, and the other the first U.S. connecting node named Unity.

The STS-88 crew members pose for the traditional inflight crew portrait

For Shepherd and the two cosmonauts who made up Expedition 1, entrance into the early station marked the beginning of an unprecedented era of peaceful cooperation in space, paving the way for hundreds of residents and visitors from countries around the world who conduct science in the name ofbenefitting humankind and  furthering space exploration for NASA's Artemis program to land the first woman and next man on the Moon in preparation to go on to Mars.

Highlights of space station statistics include:

- The primary pieces of the space station were delivered on 42 assembly flights: 37 on the U.S. space shuttles and five on Russian Proton/Soyuz rockets. Elements were constructed independent of one another around the globe and assembled for the first time in space.

- The space station took 11 years to fully construct. Its current configuration measures 357 feet end to end with a mass of nearly 1 million pounds. Elements of space station are continually added and reconfigured.

- There have been 221 spacewalks for space station assembly, maintenance and upgrades.

- It took a collaborative effort by 15 nations to construct the space station in orbit, and that collaboration continues today. The principal space agencies are the United States’ NASA, Russia’s Roscomos, ESA (European Space Agency), Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA).

- 239 individuals from 19 countries have visited or enjoyed extended stays on the space station.

- Peggy Whitson holds the record for cumulative days in space by a NASA astronaut at 665 days. She also holds the record for longest duration by a woman astronaut at 289 days.

- Christina Koch is set to break that record December, 2019.
- Scott Kelly holds the record for longest single spaceflight by a NASA astronaut at 342 days where he participated in the One-Year Mission with Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko.

- More than 2,700 investigations have been conducted on the space station from 108 different countries.

Astronaut Scott Tingle is pictured during a robotics maintenance spacewalk

Around 250 scientific investigations are conducted on the station at any given time, and an expedition astronaut’s usual stay aboard the orbiting laboratory is six-months. The space station serves as a test bed for innovative technologies like recycling waste plastic and carbon dioxide filtration that are critical for long-duration missions on the lunar surface in the Artemis program.

Crew member safety also is important for lunar missions, so data collected from bone scans and eye exams helps inform what happens to the human body in space.

State-of-the-art facilities on board station help NASA increase understanding of what it will take to expand human exploration beyond low-Earth orbit, and microgravity research into protein crystal growth and fiber-optic cables offers scalable commercial opportunities and benefits for humanity.

Astronaut Anne McClain installs of the Thermal Amine Scrubber in the Destiny module

The space station has expanded these efforts to open for more commercial activities with the goal of building a self-sustaining commercial economy in low-Earth orbit where NASA can be one of many commercial and international customers.

The 19th anniversary of Shepherd’s launch to the station kicks off NASA’s year of recognition that will continue through the 20th anniversary of his Expedition 1 launch, and the beginning of a continuous human presence on the International Space Station that continues today. Throughout the year, NASA will make new content available, such as archival footage, feature videos, STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) products, special events, and unique logos for the general public. The content will recognize not only the anniversary, but also demonstrate how the research conducted and lessons learned on the space station will serve as a launching pad for future lunar and Mars exploration under the banner of NASA’s Artemis program and the continued international and commercial cooperation that will continue to return benefits for all humankind.

The Soyuz rocket lifts off with the Expedition One crew on Oct.31, 2000

Engage with the International Space Station on social media:


Spot the Station in the Night Sky:

Humans in Space:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

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