vendredi 13 décembre 2019

Space Station Science Highlights: Week of December 9, 2019

ISS - Expedition 61 Mission patch.

Dec. 13, 2019

Scientific investigations conducted aboard the International Space Station the week of Dec. 9 included studies of protein crystal growth and how changes in gravity affect the way a person manipulates an object. After docking the 19th SpaceX Commercial Resupply Services (CRS-19) Dragon craft on Dec. 8, the crew began unloading its supplies and new scientific experiments.

Image above: NASA Astronaut Christina Koch with hardware for the Cold Atom Lab (CAL), an experiment that produces clouds of atoms chilled to temperatures much colder than deep space so scientists can study fundamental behaviors and quantum characteristics. Image Credit: NASA.

The space station, now in its 20th year of continuous human presence, conducts research critical to future missions such as Artemis, NASA’s program to go forward to the Moon and on to Mars.

Here are details on some of the scientific investigations taking place on the orbiting lab:

Higher quality protein crystals

The crew initiated protein crystallization growth inside the FROST2 facility for the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency Protein Crystallization Growth (JAXA-PCG). This investigation grows high quality protein crystals in microgravity and returns them to Earth for detailed structural analysis. This analysis contributes to design of new pharmaceuticals and catalysts for a wide range of industries. Scientists have performed protein crystallization experiments in space for more than 20 years, as the absence of gravity produces better quality crystals.

Image above: Magnification of protein crystals grown in space by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) PCG investigation. Image Credit: JAXA.

Mighty mice in space

Crew members prepared and filled habitats for the Rodent Research -19 (RR-19) investigation, which evaluates using a myostatin inhibitor to prevent the muscle and bone loss experienced in microgravity. Myostatin (MSTN) and activin are molecular signaling pathways that influence muscle degradation. RR-19 uses the Bone Densitometer (BD), which measures the mass per unit volume (density) of minerals in bone. This research could provide valuable data to support clinical trials of therapies for a wide range of conditions that affect muscle and bone health. Such research is particularly important for conditions that involve disuse muscle atrophy, or muscle wasting due to immobility or lessened activity seen in patients experiencing extended bed rest and the elderly.

Image above: NASA astronaut Andrew Morgan performs medical checks inside the U.S. Destiny laboratory module following an exercise session. Prescribed exercise and regular medical monitoring are part of several ongoing investigations into how the human body adapts to space and ways to counteract its negative effects. Image Credit: NASA.

Bio-printing on demand

The BioFabrication Facility (BFF) tests a technology to print organ-like tissues in microgravity as a step toward manufacturing human organs in space using refined biological 3D printing techniques. In test runs during the week, the crew successfully printed three “bio-inks” and achieved a thickness double that accomplished on the ground. All printed samples later return to ground for analysis. The BFF is a step toward manufacturing human organs and tissues in space, primarily for use by patients on Earth. This capability also could help maintain the health of crews on future exploration missions by, for example, producing personalized pharmaceuticals on demand.

International Space Station (ISS). Animation Credit: NASA

Getting a grip in space

The crew performed several sessions for the GRIP investigation. Developed by the ESA (European Space Agency), it tests how the human nervous system takes into account forces due to gravity and inertia when manipulating objects. Results may provide insight into potential hazards astronauts could face as they manipulate objects in different gravitational environments. In addition, the investigation could provide information useful for the evaluation and rehabilitation of impaired upper limb control in patients with neurological diseases. It also could support design and control of haptic interfaces, systems that allow humans to interact with a computer through bodily sensations and movements, for use in challenging environments.

Image above: The SpaceX Dragon CRS-19 shown as the Canadarm2 robotic grapples and installs it to the Harmony module as the International Space Station orbits at the edge of darkness approximately 260 miles above the Earth. Image Credit: NASA.

Other investigations on which the crew performed work:

- Inertial Spreading slows down and magnifies a drop of water spreading over and through a metal object designed to resemble properties of a sponge. It uses detailed video observations to create a benchmark for computer simulations of more complicated devices and materials.

- The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) Space Moss investigation examines how microgravity affects the growth and development of mosses. Tiny plants without roots, mosses grow in a very small area, a possible advantage for their potential use on long space voyages and future bases on the Moon or Mars.

- The Cold Atom Laboratory (CAL) produces clouds of atoms chilled to temperatures much colder than deep space so scientists can study fundamental behaviors and quantum characteristics that are difficult or impossible to probe at higher temperatures.

- XENOGRISS, developed by the Italian Space Agency, studies the effect of microgravity on the processes of growth and regeneration. Results could prove relevant both for space exploration and disease prevention and treatment on Earth, and assessment of the best diet for the experimental model organism contributes to studies on nutrition for long-duration spaceflight.

- Bio-Monitor, a device developed by the Canadian Space Agency, uses wearable sensors to monitor and record heart rate, respiration rate, skin temperature and other parameters from astronauts during their daily routines.

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

- Food Acceptability examines how the appeal of food changes 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 an ongoing, optimized set of measures from crew members to characterize how their bodies adapt to living in space. Researchers use these measures to create a data repository for high-level monitoring of the effectiveness of countermeasures and better interpretation of health and performance outcomes.

- ISS HAM gives students an opportunity to talk directly with crew members via ham radio when the space station passes over their school.

Space to Ground: Holiday Traffic: 12/13/2019

Related links:

Expedition 61:


Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency Protein Crystallization Growth (JAXA-PCG):


Rodent Research -19 (RR-19):

Bone Densitometer (BD):

BioFabrication Facility (BFF):


ISS National Lab:

Spot the Station:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

Images (mentioned), Animation (mentioned), Video (NASA), Text, Credits: NASA/Michael Johnson/John Love, Lead Increment Scientist Expedition 61.

Best regards,

Hubble Views Galaxy’s Dazzling Display

NASA - Hubble Space Telescope patch.

Dec. 13, 2019

NGC 3175 is located around 50 million light-years away in the constellation of Antlia (the Air Pump). The galaxy can be seen slicing across the frame in this image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, with its mix of bright patches of glowing gas, dark lanes of dust, bright core, and whirling, pinwheeling arms coming together to paint a beautiful celestial scene.

The galaxy is the eponymous member of the NGC 3175 group, which has been called a nearby analog for the Local Group. The Local Group contains our very own home galaxy, the Milky Way, and around 50 others — a mix of spiral, irregular and dwarf galaxies. The NGC 3175 group contains a couple of large spiral galaxies — the subject of this image and NGC 3137 — and numerous lower-mass spiral and satellite galaxies. Galaxy groups are some of the most common galactic gatherings in the cosmos, and they comprise 50 or so galaxies all bound together by gravity.

This image comprises observations from Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3.

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, D. Rosario et al.


Go Outside and See the Geminids!

Astronomy logo.

December 13, 2019

Meteor shower – Watch the Skies!

With the holidays right around the corner, most of us are in gift-giving mode… and one of our favorite gifts every December is the Geminid meteor shower!

This year, the peak is during the overnight hours of December 13 and into the morning of December 14. If you can’t catch the Geminids on Friday night, no worries — viewing should still be good on the night of December 14 into the early morning hours of the 15th.

The Geminids are pieces of debris from an asteroid called 3200 Phaethon. Earth runs into Phaethon’s debris stream every year in mid-December, causing meteors to fly from the direction of the constellation Gemini – hence the name “Geminids.”

Under dark, clear skies, the Geminids can produce up to 120 meteors per hour. But this year, a bright, nearly full moon will hinder observations of the shower. Observers can hope to see up to 30 meteors per hour.

Image above: A Geminid streaks across the sky in this photo from December 2019. Image Credit: NASA.


Weather permitting, the Geminids can best be viewed from around midnight to 4 a.m. local time. The best time to see them is around 2 a.m. your local time on December 14. This time is when the Geminid radiant is highest in your night sky. The radiant is the celestial point in the sky from which the paths of meteors appear to originate.

The higher the radiant rises into the sky, the more meteors you are likely to see.

Find the darkest place you can and give your eyes about 30 minutes to adapt to the dark. Avoid looking at your cell phone, as it will disrupt your night vision. Lie flat on your back and look straight up, taking in as much sky as possible. You should soon start to see Geminid meteors!

As the night progresses, the Geminid rate will increase. If you see a meteor, try to trace it backwards. If you end up in the constellation Gemini, there is a good chance you’ve seen a Geminid. The Geminids are best observed in the Northern Hemisphere, but no matter where you are in the world (except Antarctica), some Geminids will be visible.

Good luck and happy viewing!

Watch the Skies:

Image (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/William Bryan.


CryoSat maps ice shelf on the move

ESA - CRYOSAT Mission logo.

Dec. 13, 2019

It is now almost 10 years since ESA’s CryoSat was launched. Throughout its decade in orbit, this novel satellite, which carries a radar altimeter to measure changes in the height of the world’s ice, has returned a wealth of information about how ice sheets, sea ice and glaciers are responding to climate change. One of the most recent findings from this extraordinary mission shows how it can be used to map changes in the seaward edges of Antarctic ice shelves.

About three-quarters of the Antarctic coastline consists of ice shelves. They are permanent floating extensions of the ice sheet that are connected to and fed by huge ice streams draining the interior ice sheet. Ice shelves form as the ice sheet flows towards the ocean and detaches from the bedrock beneath. The advance or retreat of ice shelves is determined by a balance between mass gain from the flow of ice behind and snowfall on top, and mass loss through ocean melting at the base or iceberg calving at the edge.

Filchner-Ronne ice shelf advance 2011–18

Animation above: The animation shows the gradual advance of the Filchner-Ronne ice shelf in Antarctica. Applying a new method, called ‘elevation edge’, to CryoSat data and computational theory has revealed that the entire Filchner-Ronne ice shelf advanced by more than 800 sq km per year between 2011 and 2018. The growth of the ice shelf was only interrupted by the calving of a 120 sq km iceberg in 2012 and a few smaller-scale events.

Ice shelves are important for the stability of the ice sheet because they act as buttresses, holding back the glaciers that feed them and slowing the flow of land ice into the ocean that contributes to sea-level rise.

However, in recent years warming ocean waters and higher air temperatures are taking their toll on some of the ice shelves, causing them to thin, shrink or even collapse entirely. Therefore, mapping ice-shelf calving front locations is important for understanding and predicting future changes in the stability of the ice sheet.

A paper published recently describes how scientists have developed a novel approach of using CryoSat to generate a unique time series of ice front positions for the Filchner-Ronne ice shelf – the second largest ice shelf in Antarctica.

Jan Wuite, from ENVEO in Austria, said, “The detection of the calving front is based on the premise that the edge of an ice shelf is typically a steep ice cliff, with a drop of tens of metres to the ocean surface or sea-ice cover, which is clearly revealed by CryoSat.

“Applying a new method, called ‘elevation edge’, to CryoSat’s data has revealed that the entire Filchner-Ronne ice shelf advanced by more than 800 sq km per year between 2011 and 2018. The growth of the ice shelf was only interrupted by the calving of a 120 sq km iceberg in 2012 and a few smaller-scale events.”

Filchner-Ronne ice shelf

Image above: The Filchner-Ronne ice shelf in Antarctica. Applying a new method, called ‘elevation edge’, to CryoSat data has revealed that the entire Filchner-Ronne ice shelf advanced by more than 800 sq km per year between 2011 and 2018. The growth of the ice shelf was only interrupted by the calving of a 120 sq km iceberg in 2012 and a few smaller-scale events.

Eventually, the advancing ice front is expected to break off as part of the natural ice shelf cycle, but these are rather episodic events that only happen every few years or sometimes decades. Many questions still need to be answered as to what is driving these calving events.

Thomas Nagler, also from ENVEO, added, “Combining this new dataset with ice velocities derived from Copernicus Sentinel-1 data allows us to calculate changes in the thickness and area of the ice shelf, as well as the advance rates and iceberg calving rates, emphasising the value of combining data from both satellite missions.”

ESA’s Mark Drinkwater noted, “Understanding how the world’s ice shelves are changing is fundamental to assessing ice sheet stability, and the role of ice shelves in controlling ice-sheet contribution to sea-level rise.”

“Just this week a paper was published in Nature stating that the Greenland ice sheet mass loss closely follows the IPCC high-end climate warming scenario – and the research was based on measurements from a number of different satellites.

“Here, we see how using this innovative elevation edge method with CryoSat data is a welcome addition to standard calving front location detection techniques based on radar and optical satellite imagery. This is great news, as the more information we have the more confident we can be about what’s going on in the far reaches of the polar regions.”

ESA's ice mission

The new method provides calving front locations at regular intervals and can fill existing gaps in time and space. Moreover, it simultaneously provides ice-thickness measurements that are needed to calculate mass changes, and it also has a high degree of automation which removes the need for heavy manual intervention.

Dr Wuite added, “We fully expect that, in the future, altimetry data will deliver a systematic and continuous record of change in ice-shelf calving front positions around Antarctica.

“With CryoSat set to remain in service and the future CRISTAL Copernicus Polar Ice and Snow Topography Altimeter mission – one of the Copernicus high-priority candidate missions – on the table for development, there are certainly excellent opportunities for satellite radar altimetry to deliver valuable new calving front location datasets to monitor the effects of climate change in Antarctica.”

Related links:



Observing the Earth:

Copernicus high-priority candidate missions:

Animation, Images, Text, Credits; ESA/ENVEO/AOES Medialab.


Hubble Watches Interstellar Comet Borisov Speed Past the Sun

ESA - Hubble Space Telescope logo.

13 December 2019

Comet 2I/Borisov and Distant Galaxy in November 2019

The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has once again captured comet 2I/Borisov streaking through our solar system on its way back into interstellar space. At a breathtaking speed of over 175 000 kilometres per hour, Borisov is one of the fastest comets ever seen. It is only the second interstellar object known to have passed through the Solar System.

In October 2019, Hubble observed the comet at a distance of approximately 420 million kilometres from Earth. These new observations taken in November and December 2019 of the comet at a closer distance provide clearer insights into the details and dimensions of the interstellar visitor [1].

Comet 2I/Borisov at Perihelion in December 2019

The first image shows the comet in front of a distant background spiral galaxy (2MASX J10500165-0152029). The galaxy’s bright central core is smeared in the image because Hubble was tracking the comet. Borisov was approximately 326 million kilometres from Earth in this exposure. Its tail of ejected dust streaks off to the upper right.

The second image is Hubble’s revisit observation of the comet near its closest approach to the Sun. There it was subjected to a greater degree of heating than it had ever experienced,  after spending most of its life in the extreme cold of interstellar space. The comet is 298 million kilometres from Earth in this photo, near the inner edge of the asteroid belt. The nucleus, an agglomeration of ices and dust, is still too small to be resolved. The bright central portion is a coma made up of dust leaving the surface. The comet will make its closest approach to Earth in late December, when it will be at a distance of 290 million kilometres.

Side By Side of Hubble’s New 2I/Borisov Observations

“Hubble gives us the best measure of the size of comet Borisov’s nucleus, which is the really important part of the comet,” said David Jewitt, a professor of planetary science and astronomy at the University of California Los Angeles, whose team has captured the best and sharpest images of this first interstellar comet. “Surprisingly, our Hubble images show that its nucleus is more than 15 times smaller than earlier investigations suggested it might be. The radius is smaller than half a kilometre. This is important because knowing the size helps us to determine the total number, and mass, of such objects in the Solar System, and in the Milky Way. Borisov is the first known interstellar comet, and we would like to know how many others there are.”

Crimean amateur astronomer Gennady Borisov discovered the comet on 30 August 2019. After a week of observations by amateur and professional astronomers all over the world, the International Astronomical Union’s Minor Planet Center computed an orbit for the comet which showed that it came from interstellar space. Until now, all catalogued comets have come either from a ring of icy debris at the periphery of our Solar System, called the Kuiper belt, or from the Oort cloud, a shell of icy objects which is thought to be in the outermost regions of our Solar System, with its innermost edge at about 2000 times the distance between the Earth and the Sun.

Hubble’s Observation of Comet 2I/Borisov in October 2019

2I/Borisov may represent only the beginning of a series of discoveries of interstellar objects paying a brief visit to our Solar System. There may be thousands of such interstellar objects here at any given time; most, however, are too faint to be detected with present-day telescopes.

Observations by Hubble and other telescopes have shown that rings and shells of icy debris encircle young stars where planet formation is underway. A gravitational interaction between these comet-like objects and other massive bodies could cause them to hurtle deep into space where they go adrift among the stars.

Animation of Comet 2I/Borisov's Orbit


[1] These observations were obtained under the Hubble Space Telescope’s Director’s Discretionary Time allocation GO 16009.

Hubble Space Telescope (HST)

More information:

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


Images of Hubble:

HubbleSite release:

UCLA release:

ESA Hubble Site:

Images, Animation, Text, Credits: NASA, ESA, and D. Jewitt (UCLA)/ESA/Hubble/Bethany Downer/UCLA/Stuart Wolpert/David Jewitt/Video Credits: ESA/ Calçada/Music: Johan B. Monell.

Best regards,

NASA's Juno Navigators Enable Jupiter Cyclone Discovery

NASA - JUNO Mission logo.

Dec. 13, 2019

Image above: A new, smaller cyclone can be seen at the lower right of this infrared image of Jupiter's south pole taken on Nov. 4, 2019, during the 23rd science pass of the planet by NASA's Juno spacecraft. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/ASI/INAF/JIRAM.

Jupiter's south pole has a new cyclone. The discovery of the massive Jovian tempest occurred on Nov. 3, 2019, during the most recent data-gathering flyby of Jupiter by NASA's Juno spacecraft. It was the 22nd flyby during which the solar-powered spacecraft collected science data on the gas giant, soaring only 2,175 miles (3,500 kilometers) above its cloud tops. The flyby also marked a victory for the mission team, whose innovative measures kept the solar-powered spacecraft clear of what could have been a mission-ending eclipse.

Simulation of merging cyclones at Jupiter's south pole

Video above: In this computer simulation, a new ("intruder") cyclone is placed in proximity to six Jovian polar cyclones (one in the center and five surrounding it in a pentagonal configuration). None of the cyclones have buffer zones (shielding winds that surround the core and swirl in the opposite direction of the cyclone). Without buffer zones providing bulwark against other cyclones, they become unstable and eventually merge into one large polar cyclone. Video credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/Li.

"The combination of creativity and analytical thinking has once again paid off big time for NASA," said Scott Bolton, Juno principal investigator from the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. "We realized that the orbit was going to carry Juno into Jupiter's shadow, which could have grave consequences because we're solar powered. No sunlight means no power, so there was real risk we might freeze to death. While the team was trying to figure out how to conserve energy and keep our core heated, the engineers came up with a completely new way out of the problem: Jump Jupiter's shadow. It was nothing less than a navigation stroke of genius. Lo and behold, first thing out of the gate on the other side, we make another fundamental discovery."

JUNO spacecraft orbiting Jupiter. Animation Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

When Juno first arrived at Jupiter in July 2016, its infrared and visible-light cameras discovered giant cyclones encircling the planet's poles — nine in the north and six in the south. Were they, like their Earthly siblings, a transient phenomenon, taking only weeks to develop and then ebb? Or could these cyclones, each nearly as wide as the continental U.S., be more permanent fixtures?

With each flyby, the data reinforced the idea that five windstorms were swirling in a pentagonal pattern around a central storm at the south pole and that the system seemed stable. None of the six storms showed signs of yielding to allow other cyclones to join in.

Image above: An outline of the continental United States superimposed over the central cyclone and an outline of Texas is superimposed over the newest cyclone at Jupiter's south pole give a sense of their immense scale. The hexagonal arrangement of the cyclones is large enough to dwarf the Earth. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/ASI/INAF/JIRAM.

"It almost appeared like the polar cyclones were part of a private club that seemed to resist new members," said Bolton.

Image above: In this annotated infrared image, six cyclones form a hexagonal pattern around a central cyclone at Jupiter's south pole. The image was generated from data collected by NJASA’s Juno spacecraft on Nov. 4, 2019. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/ASI/INAF/JIRAM.

Then, during Juno's 22nd science pass, a new, smaller cyclone churned to life and joined the fray.

Image above: This composite visible-light image taken by the JunoCam imager aboard NASA's Juno spacecraft on Nov. 3, 2019, shows a new cyclone at Jupiter's south pole has joined five other cyclones to create a hexagonal shape around a large single cyclone. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/JunoCam.

The Life of a Young Cyclone

"Data from Juno's Jovian Infrared Auroral Mapper [JIRAM] instrument indicates we went from a pentagon of cyclones surrounding one at the center to a hexagonal arrangement," said Alessandro Mura, a Juno co-investigator at the National Institute for Astrophysics in Rome. "This new addition is smaller in stature than its six more established cyclonic brothers: It's about the size of Texas. Maybe JIRAM data from future flybys will show the cyclone growing to the same size as its neighbors."

Probing the weather layer down to 30 to 45 miles (50 to 70 kilometers) below Jupiter's cloud tops, JIRAM captures infrared light emerging from deep inside Jupiter. Its data indicate wind speeds of the new cyclone average 225 mph (362 kph) — comparable to the velocity found in its six more established polar colleagues.

The spacecraft's JunoCam also obtained visible-light imagery of the new cyclone. The two datasets shed light on atmospheric processes of not just Jupiter but also fellow gas giants Saturn, Uranus and Neptune as well as those of giant exoplanets now being discovered; they even shed light on atmospheric processes of Earth's cyclones.

Image above: Soft pastels enhance the rich colors of the swirls and storms in Jupiter's clouds. This image of a vortex on Jupiter, taken by the Juno mission camera, JunoCam, captures the amazing internal structure of the giant storm. Image Credits: Image data: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS Image processing by Gerald Eichstädt/Seán Doran, © BY NC ND.

"These cyclones are new weather phenomena that have not been seen or predicted before," said Cheng Li, a Juno scientist from the University of California, Berkeley. "Nature is revealing new physics regarding fluid motions and how giant planet atmospheres work. We are beginning to grasp it through observations and computer simulations. Future Juno flybys will help us further refine our understanding by revealing how the cyclones evolve over time."

Shadow Jumping

Of course, the new cyclone would never have been discovered if Juno had frozen to death during the eclipse when Jupiter got between the spacecraft and the Sun's heat and light rays.

Image above: Jupiter's moon Io casts its shadow on Jupiter whenever it passes in front of the Sun as seen from Jupiter. Image Credits: Image data: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS Image processing by Tanya Oleksuik, © CC BY.

Juno has been navigating in deep space since 2011. It entered an initial 53-day orbit around Jupiter on July 4, 2016. Originally, the mission planned to reduce the size of its orbit a few months later to shorten the period between science flybys of the gas giant to every 14 days. But the project team recommended to NASA to forgo the main engine burn due to concerns about the spacecraft's fuel delivery system. Juno's 53-day orbit provides all the science as originally planned; it just takes longer to do so. Juno's longer life at Jupiter is what led to the need to avoid Jupiter's shadow.

Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

"Ever since the day we entered orbit around Jupiter, we made sure it remained bathed in sunlight 24/7," said Steve Levin, Juno project scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. "Our navigators and engineers told us a day of reckoning was coming, when we would go into Jupiter's shadow for about 12 hours. We knew that for such an extended period without power, our spacecraft would suffer a similar fate as the Opportunity rover, when the skies of Mars filled with dust and blocked the Sun's rays from reaching its solar panels."

Image above: Jupiter's clouds have a luminous beauty in this image taken by Juno's JunoCam camera on its 20th close pass by Jupiter. Image Credits: Image data: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS Image processing by Kevin M. Gill, © CC BY.

Without the Sun's rays providing power, Juno would be chilled below tested levels, eventually draining its battery cells beyond recovery. So the navigation team set devised a plan to "jump the shadow," maneuvering the spacecraft just enough so its trajectory would miss the eclipse.

"In deep space, you are either in sunlight or your out of sunlight; there really is no in-between," said Levin.

Image above: "A mind of limits, a camera of thoughts" is the name of this contribution from citizen scientist Prateek Sarpal. Jupiter inspires artists and scientists with its beauty. In this image, south is up, and the enhanced color evokes an exotic marble and childhood joy. Image Credits: Image data: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS Image processing by Prateek Sarpal, © CC NC SA.

The navigators calculated that if Juno performed a rocket burn weeks in advance of Nov. 3, while the spacecraft was as far in its orbit from Jupiter as it gets, they could modify its trajectory enough to give the eclipse the slip. The maneuver would utilize the spacecraft's reaction control system, which wasn't initially intended to be used for a maneuver of this size and duration.

Image above: Swirling in Jupiter's atmosphere for hundreds of years, the Great Red Spot is captured in this pair of close-up images from Juno's JunoCam camera. Image Credits: Image data: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS Image processing by Kevin M. Gill, © CC BY.

On Sept. 30, at 7:46 p.m. EDT (4:46 p.m. PDT), the reaction control system burn began. It ended 10 ½ hours later. The propulsive maneuver — five times longer than any previous use of that system — changed Juno's orbital velocity by 126 mph (203 kph) and consumed about 160 pounds (73 kilograms) of fuel. Thirty-four days later, the spacecraft's solar arrays continued to convert sunlight into electrons unabated as Juno prepared to scream once again over Jupiter's cloud tops.

Image above: NASA's Juno spacecraft captured this image of White Spot Z, one of the long-lived storms in Jupiters atmosphere. "White Spot Z" is one of the long-lived storms in Jupiter's atmosphere. Three JunoCam images from Juno's 21st close pass by Jupiter have been mosaicked together, showing the setting of this oval-shaped storm perched just above the reddish-brown North Equatorial Belt. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS Image processing by Björn Jónsson, © CC NC SA.

"Thanks to our navigators and engineers, we still have a mission," said Bolton. "What they did is more than just make our cyclone discovery possible; they made possible the new insights and revelations about Jupiter that lie ahead of us."

NASA's JPL manages the Juno mission for the principal.

Image above: Six cyclones can be seen at Jupiter's south pole in this infrared image taken on Feb. 2, 2017, during the 3rd science pass of NASA’s Juno spacecraft. Juno's Jovian Infrared Auroral Mapper (JIRAM) instrument measures heat radiated from the planet at an infrared wavelength of around 5 microns. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/ASI/INAF/JIRAM.

investigator, Scott Bolton, of the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. Juno is part of NASA's New Frontiers Program, which is managed at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The Italian Space Agency (ASI) contributed the Jovian Infrared Auroral Mapper. Lockheed Martin Space in Denver built and operates the spacecraft.

Image above: A series of JunoCam images from Juno's 23rd close pass by Jupiter (Perijove 23) on Nov. 3, 2019 has revealed a sixth circumpolar cyclone in the cluster around Jupiter's south pole Image Credits: NASA/JPL-CaltechNASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS.

More information about Juno is available at:

More information on Jupiter is at:

The public can follow the mission on Facebook and Twitter at:

Images (mentioned), Animation (mentioned), Video (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Tony Greicius/Alana Johnson/JPL/DC Agle/Southwest Research Institute/Deb Schmid.

Best regards,

jeudi 12 décembre 2019

ISRO - PSLV-C48/RISAT-2BR1 launch success

ISRO - Indian Space Research Organisation logo.

Dec.12, 2019

PSLV-C48 Liftoff

ISRO’s PSLV-C48 mission, a Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) in “QL” configuration launched RISAT-2BR1 and 9 small satellites from the First Launch Pad (FLP) of Satish Dhawan Space Centre (SDSC) SHAR, Sriharikota, on 11 December 2019, at 09:55 UTC (15:25 IST). PSLV-C48 is the second mission of PSLV-QL, a new variant of PSLV with 4 XL strap-on boosters.

India’s Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle, in its fiftieth flight (PSLV-C48), successfully launched RISAT-2BR1, an earth observation satellite, along with nine commercial satellites of Israel, Italy, Japan and USA from Satish Dhawan Space Centre (SDSC) SHAR, Sriharikota.

PSLV-QL launches RISAT-2BR1 and 9 small satellites

PSLV-C48 lifted-off at 1525Hrs (IST) on December 11, 2019 from the First Launch Pad of SDSC SHAR, Sriharikota. PSLV-C48 was the 75th launch vehicle mission from SDSC SHAR, Sriharikota. This is the 2nd flight of PSLV in 'QL' configuration (with 4 solid strap-on motors).


About 16 minutes and 23 seconds after lift-off, RISAT-2BR1 was injected into an orbit of 576 km at an inclination of 37 degree to the equator.

RISAT-2BR1 separation

RISAT-2BR1 is a radar imaging earth observation satellite weighing about 628 kg. The satellite will provide services in the field of Agriculture, Forestry and Disaster Management. The mission life of RISAT-2BR1 is 5 years.

RISAT-2BR1 satellite

9 Commercial satellites were also successfully injected into designated orbit. These satellites were launched under commercial arrangement with NewSpace India Limited (NSIL), the commercial arm of Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO).

Indian Space Research Organisation )ISRO):

Images, Video, Text, Credits: ISRO/SciNews.


U.S. Crew Ship Launch Plans Proceed; Mind and Body Research on Station

ISS - Expedition 61 Mission patch.

December 12, 2019

NASA and Boeing are proceeding with plans for Boeing’s Orbital Flight Test following a full day of briefings and a Flight Readiness Review that took place at the Kennedy Space Center.

Launch of the CST-100 Starliner spacecraft atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket is scheduled for 6:36 a.m. EST Friday, Dec. 20, from Florida. The uncrewed flight test will be Starliner’s maiden mission to the International Space Station for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.

Image above: A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket, topped by the Boeing CST-100 Starliner spacecraft, stands at the launch pad in Florida. Image Credit: Boeing.

The Expedition 61 crew today is exploring how the brain, muscles and bones adapt to long-term exposure in weightlessness. The orbiting lab’s communications systems are also being continuously maintained.

Astronauts Andrew Morgan and Luca Parmitano were back in the Columbus lab module today investigating how the central nervous system manages hand-eye coordination in space. The duo wore virtual reality gear using real-time visual and audible displays while coordinating a variety of body motions. The GRASP study explores how the brain adapts to the lack of a traditional up and down reference in space to ensure mission success farther away from Earth.

The musculoskeletal system also adjusts rapidly to the microgravity environment and studying mice aboard the orbiting lab helps reveal the impacts. Flight Engineers Jessica Meir and Christina Koch continued scanning rodents today in a bone densitometer before placing them back in their habitats. The new Rodent Research-19 study is investigating two proteins that may prevent muscle and bone loss while living off the Earth.

International Space Station (ISS). Animation Credit: NASA

Cosmonauts Alexander Skvortsov and Oleg Skripochka ensured the upkeep of a variety of Russian space station systems. The duo connected a Progress cargo craft’s thrusters to the Zarya module’s fuel tanks. The veteran cosmonauts also checked out antenna gear, laptop computers and video recording equipment.

Japan’s new high-resolution spectral Earth imager has been installed and activated on the Kibo lab module. HISUI, or Hyperspectral Imagery Suite, is a technology demonstration that will send data to agricultural and environmental industries for improved resource management.

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

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Newfound Martian Aurora Actually the Most Common; Sheds Light on Mars’ Changing Climate

NASA - MAVEN Mission patch.

Dec. 12, 2019

A type of Martian aurora first identified by NASA’s MAVEN spacecraft in 2016 is actually the most common form of aurora occurring on the Red Planet, according to new results from the mission. The aurora is known as a proton aurora and can help scientists track water loss from Mars’ atmosphere.

At Earth, aurora are commonly seen as colorful displays of light in the night sky near the polar regions, where they are also known as the northern and southern lights. However, the proton aurora on Mars happens during the day and gives off ultraviolet light, so it is invisible to the human eye but detectable to the Imaging UltraViolet Spectrograph (IUVS) instrument on the MAVEN (Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN) spacecraft.

Image above: Conceptual image depicting the early Martian environment (right) – believed to contain liquid water and a thicker atmosphere – versus the cold, dry environment seen at Mars today (left). Image Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.

MAVEN’s mission is to investigate how the Red Planet lost much of its atmosphere and water, transforming its climate from one that might have supported life to one that is cold, dry, and inhospitable. Since the proton aurora is generated indirectly by hydrogen derived from Martian water that’s in the process of being lost to space, this aurora could be used to help track ongoing Martian water loss.

“In this new study using MAVEN/IUVS data from multiple Mars years, the team has found that periods of increased atmospheric escape correspond with increases in proton aurora occurrence and intensity,” said Andréa Hughes of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Florida. Hughes is lead author of a paper on this research published December 12 in the Journal of Geophysical Research, Space Physics. “Perhaps one day, when interplanetary travel becomes commonplace, travelers arriving at Mars during southern summer will have front-row seats to observe Martian proton aurora majestically dancing across the dayside of the planet (while wearing ultraviolet-sensitive goggles, of course). These travelers will witness firsthand the final stages of Mars losing the remainder of its water to space.” Hughes is presenting the research on December 12 at the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco.

Different phenomena produce different kinds of aurora. However, all aurora at Earth and Mars are powered by solar activity, whether it be explosions of high-speed particles known as solar storms, eruptions of gas and magnetic fields known as coronal mass ejections, or gusts in the solar wind, a stream of electrically conducting gas that blows continuously into space at around a million miles per hour. For example, the northern and southern lights at Earth happen when violent solar activity disturbs Earth’s magnetosphere, causing high velocity electrons to slam into gas particles in Earth’s nightside upper atmosphere and make them glow. Similar processes generate Mars’ discrete and diffuse aurora – two types of aurora that were previously observed on the Martian nightside.

Animation above: This animation shows a proton aurora at Mars. First, a solar wind proton approaches Mars at high speed and encounters a cloud of hydrogen surrounding the planet. The proton steals an electron from a Martian hydrogen atom, thereby becoming a neutral atom. The atom passes through the bowshock, a magnetic obstacle surrounding Mars, because neutral particles are not affected by magnetic fields. Finally, the hydrogen atom enters Mars' atmosphere and collides with gas molecules, causing the atom to emit ultraviolet light. Animation Credits: NASA/MAVEN/Goddard Space Flight Center/Dan Gallagher.

Proton aurora form when solar wind protons (which are hydrogen atoms stripped of their lone electrons by intense heat) interact with the upper atmosphere on the dayside of Mars. As they approach Mars, the protons coming in with the solar wind transform into neutral atoms by stealing electrons from hydrogen atoms in the outer edge of the Martian hydrogen corona, a huge cloud of hydrogen surrounding the planet. When those high-speed incoming atoms hit the atmosphere, some of their energy is emitted as ultraviolet light.

Image above: Images of Mars proton aurora. MAVEN’s Imaging Ultraviolet Spectrograph observes the atmosphere of Mars, making images of neutral hydrogen and proton aurora simultaneously (left). Observations under normal conditions show hydrogen on the disk and in the extended atmosphere of the planet from a vantage point on the nightside (middle). Proton aurora is visible as a significant brightening on the limb and disk (right); with the contribution of neutral hydrogen subtracted, the distribution of proton aurora is revealed, showing that it peaks in brightness just off the Martian disk as energetic neutrals slam into the atmosphere. Image Credits: Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University/LASP, U. of Colorado.

When the MAVEN team first observed the proton aurora, they thought it was a relatively unusual occurrence. “At first, we believed that these events were rather rare because we weren’t looking at the right times and places,” said Mike Chaffin, research scientist at the University of Colorado Boulder’s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP) and second author of the study. “But after a closer look, we found that proton aurora are occurring far more often in dayside southern summer observations than we initially expected.” The team has found proton aurora in about 14 percent of their dayside observations, which increases to more than 80 percent of the time when only dayside southern summer observations are considered. “By comparison, IUVS has detected diffuse aurora on Mars in a few percent of orbits with favorable geometry, and discrete aurora detections are rarer still in the dataset,” said Nick Schneider, coauthor and lead of the IUVS team at LASP.

Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution or MAVEN. Image Credit: NASA

The correlation with the southern summer gave a clue as to why proton aurora are so common and how they could be used to track water loss. During southern summer on Mars, the planet is also near its closest distance to the Sun in its orbit and huge dust storms can occur. Summer warming and dust activity appear to cause proton auroras by forcing water vapor high in the atmosphere. Solar extreme ultraviolet light breaks the water into its components, hydrogen and oxygen. The light hydrogen is weakly bound by Mars’ gravity and enhances the hydrogen corona surrounding Mars, increasing hydrogen loss to space. More hydrogen in the corona makes interactions with solar-wind protons more common, making proton aurora more frequent and brighter.

“All the conditions necessary to create Martian proton aurora (e.g., solar wind protons, an extended hydrogen atmosphere, and the absence of a global dipole magnetic field) are more commonly available at Mars than those needed to create other types of aurora,” said Hughes. “Also, the connection between MAVEN’s observations of increased atmospheric escape and increases in proton aurora frequency and intensity means that proton aurora can actually be used as a proxy for what’s happening in the hydrogen corona surrounding Mars, and therefore, a proxy for times of increased atmospheric escape and water loss.”

This research was funded by the MAVEN mission. MAVEN's principal investigator is based at the University of Colorado's Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics in Boulder, Colorado, and NASA Goddard manages the MAVEN project. NASA is exploring our Solar System and beyond, uncovering worlds, stars, and cosmic mysteries near and far with our powerful fleet of space and ground-based missions.

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X Marks the Spot: NASA Selects Site for Asteroid Sample Collection

NASA - OSIRIS-REx Mission patch.

Dec. 12, 2019

After a year scoping out asteroid Bennu’s boulder-scattered surface, the team leading NASA’s first asteroid sample return mission has officially selected a sample collection site.

The Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-Rex) mission team concluded a site designated “Nightingale” – located in a crater high in Bennu’s northern hemisphere – is the best spot for the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft to snag its sample.

The OSIRIS-REx team spent the past several months evaluating close-range data from four candidate sites in order to identify the best option for the sample collection. The candidate sites – dubbed Sandpiper, Osprey, Kingfisher, and Nightingale – were chosen for investigation because, of all the potential sampling regions on Bennu, these areas pose the fewest hazards to the spacecraft’s safety while still providing the opportunity for great samples to be gathered.

Image above: This image shows sample site Nightingale, OSIRIS-REx’s primary sample collection site on asteroid Bennu. The image is overlaid with a graphic of the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft to illustrate the scale of the site. Image Credits: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona.

“After thoroughly evaluating all four candidate sites, we made our final decision based on which site has the greatest amount of fine-grained material and how easily the spacecraft can access that material while keeping the spacecraft safe,” said Dante Lauretta, OSIRIS-REx principal investigator at the University of Arizona in Tucson. “Of the four candidates, site Nightingale best meets these criteria and, ultimately, best ensures mission success.”

Site Nightingale is located in a northern crater 230 feet (70 meters) wide. Nightingale’s regolith – or rocky surface material – is dark, and images show that the crater is relatively smooth. Because it is located so far north, temperatures in the region are lower than elsewhere on the asteroid and the surface material is well-preserved. The crater also is thought to be relatively young, and the regolith is freshly exposed. This means the site would likely allow for a pristine sample of the asteroid, giving the team insight into Bennu’s history.

Although Nightingale ranks the highest of any location on Bennu, the site still poses challenges for sample collection. The original mission plan envisioned a sample site with a diameter of 164 feet (50 meters). While the crater that hosts Nightingale is larger than that, the area safe enough for the spacecraft to touch is much smaller – approximately 52 feet (16 meters) in diameter, resulting in a site that is only about one-tenth the size of what was originally envisioned. This means the spacecraft has to very accurately target Bennu’s surface. Nightingale also has a building-size boulder situated on the crater’s eastern rim, which could pose a hazard to the spacecraft while backing away after contacting the site.

The mission also selected site Osprey as a backup sample collection site. The spacecraft has the capability to perform multiple sampling attempts, but any significant disturbance to Nightingale’s surface would make it difficult to collect a sample from that area on a later attempt, making a backup site necessary. The spacecraft is designed to autonomously “wave-off” from the site if its predicted position is too close to a hazardous area. During this maneuver, the exhaust plumes from the spacecraft’s thrusters could potentially disturb the surface of the site, due to the asteroid’s microgravity environment. In any situation where a follow-on attempt at Nightingale is not possible, the team will try to collect a sample from site Osprey instead.

Origins Spectral Interpretation Resource Identification Security Regolith Explorer or OSIRIS-REx

 Image Credit: NASA.

"Bennu has challenged OSIRIS-REx with extraordinarily rugged terrain," said Rich Burns, OSIRIS-REx project manager at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. "The team has adapted by employing a more accurate, though more complex, optical navigation technique to be able to get into these small areas. We'll also arm OSIRIS-REx with the capability to recognize if it is on course to touch a hazard within or adjacent to the site and wave-off before that happens."

With the selection of final primary and backup sites, the mission team will undertake further reconnaissance flights over Nightingale and Osprey, beginning in January and continuing through the spring. Once these flyovers are complete, the spacecraft will begin rehearsals for its first "touch-and-go" sample collection attempt, which is scheduled for August. The spacecraft will depart Bennu in 2021 and is scheduled to return to Earth in September 2023.

NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, provides overall mission management, systems engineering, and the safety and mission assurance for OSIRIS-REx. Dante Lauretta of the University of Arizona, Tucson, is the principal investigator, and the University of Arizona also leads the science team and the mission’s science observation planning and data processing. Lockheed Martin Space in Denver built the spacecraft and provides flight operations. Goddard and KinetX Aerospace are responsible for navigating the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft. OSIRIS-REx is the third mission in NASA’s New Frontiers Program, which is managed by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, for the agency’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

Related article:

NASA’s OSIRIS-REx in the Midst of Site Selection

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Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Sean Potter/Grey Hautaluoma/Alana Johnson/GSFC/Nancy N. Jones/University of Arizona/Erin Morton.