vendredi 27 décembre 2019

A giant red star is acting weird and scientists think it may be about to explode

NASA - Herschel Space Observatory patch.

December 27, 2019

A young, bright star has been acting a little erratic lately.

The star, Betelgeuse, is suddenly dimming. It may be a sign, astronomers say, that the star is about to explode. Another possibility is the red supergiant may just be going through a phase.

Ed Guinan, an astronomy professor at Villanova University, was the lead author on a December 8 paper entitled "The Fainting of the Nearby Supergiant Betelgeuse."

He told CNN that Betelgeuse (pronounced: BAY-tel juice) been declining in brightness sharply since October, and was now about 2.5 times fainter than usual. Once the ninth brightest star in the sky, Betelgeuse has fallen now to about the 23rd brightest.

Guinan and his colleagues have been closely observing the star for decades, with "continuous coverage since 1980," he said.

In the last half-century, the star has never dimmed so aggressively, and that could mean we're on the verge of something extraordinary.

"What causes the supernova is deep inside the star," Guinan said. And because the star is so huge, it's impossible to tell what's going on so far down.

Image above: The red supergiant star Betelgeuse is seen here in a new view from the Herschel Space Observatory.

It could be a prelude to a supernova

Betelgeuse is the star at the shoulder of Orion, the iconic constellation in the shape of a hunter wielding a bow in the night sky. Its name is derived from the Arabic for "hand of Orion."

The star, which is about 700 light years away from Earth, is a relatively close neighbor within our galaxy.

"What's special about this is how close it is," Guinan said.

Guinan said it's the most likely nearby supernova candidate. It's about nine million years old, and stars as large as Betelgeuse don't usually have lifespans past 10 million years. Though its time is nigh, it probably won't explode in your lifetime.

"It'll probably happen in the next 200,000 or 300,000 years," Guinan said.

It's a variable star, which means it regularly dims and brightens, in cycles that can last about 420 days. Betelgeuse has been in a normal dimming period over the past few months, but it's just dramatically accelerated compared to past years.

Herschel Space Observatory

The dimming process should end by mid-January, according to mathematical models. But Betelgeuse often follows its own rules, he says.

"I personally think it's going to bounce back, but it's fun to watch stars change," Guinan said. However, he adds, "If it continues dimming, then all bets are off."

If it exploded, it would be be bright enough to see during the day

That might mean we're on the verge of a brilliant light show, because if a star this close exploded, it would make an impact.

Giant star (supernova) explosion

Stars rapidly fuse various elements in their cores. And if Betelgeuse burns down to an iron core, which won't fuse, that core could collapse rapidly, leading to a supernova.

The red supergiant would glow a vibrant blue for three of four months, and would take about a year to fade out.

"It would be a really bright star visible in the daytime," Guinan said.

There wouldn't be any direct danger to life on earth, but ultraviolet radiation from the celestial blast could scorch ozone in our atmosphere.

Betelgeuse has been acting strangely for years

Betelgeuse's curious behavior has stuck out in other ways over the decades.

In 2009, the late astronomer and Nobel Laureate Charles Townes told CNN he had observed Betelgeuse shrinking 15% since the mid 1990s.

Back then, Townes and his colleagues were puzzled because as stars usually get brighter as they shrink. Betelgeuse, however, was dimming.

The star has been acting differently in the past few months, and it's anyone guess what all the unusual readings may mean.

"It might then be a very small bright star, or it might even be a black hole. An explosion would be very surprising," Townes said at the time.

Herschel Space Observatory: and

Images, Animation, Text, Credits: NASA/ESA/CNN/By Ryan Prior.


Space Biology and Fire Research as Station Orbits Higher

ISS - Expedition 61 Mission patch.

December 27, 2019

The Expedition 61 crew is learning how to live and work in space and researching ways to adapt to long-term human spaceflight. Meanwhile, the International Space Station is orbiting higher today to support Russian spacecraft activities planned for 2020.

Rodents are being studied aboard the orbiting lab today since their physiology is similar to humans and reacts the same way to microgravity. NASA Flight Engineer Andrew Morgan set up the Life Sciences Glovebox to research therapies that may prevent space-caused muscle and bone loss in mice. Commander Luca Parmitano and Flight Engineer Jessica Meir supported the research activities cleaning the rodent habitats and feeding the mice.

Image above: NASA astronaut Christina Koch handles media bags that enable the manufacturing of organ-like tissues using the BioFabrication Facility, a 3-D biological printer. Image Credit: NASA.

Safety in a spacecraft is crucial for the success of long-term mission to the Moon, Mars and beyond. Combustion research on the station helps scientists understand how a variety of materials burn and how flames expand in weightlessness. NASA Flight Engineer Christina Koch used the Microgravity Science Glovebox today observing how different fabrics burn under controlled conditions. Results could improve fire safety on Earth and in space.

Veteran cosmonauts Alexander Skvortsov and Oleg Skripochka conducted a variety of space research in the orbital lab’s Russian segment. The duo partnered together in the morning for an exercise study. Skvortsov also explored ways to detect micrometeoroid impacts on the station. Skripochka routed and installed cables supporting a study to observe and forecast Earth catastrophes.

International Space Station (ISS). Animation Credit: NASA

Overnight, a docked Progress 74 cargo craft fired its engines in a sequence of two burns raising the space station’s orbit. The orbital maneuvers set the stage for upcoming Soyuz crew ship and Progress cargo craft missions scheduled in 2020.

Astronaut Christina Koch Poised to Make History Again

NASA astronaut Christina Koch makes observations from the International space Station's cupola. Koch has already made history once in her stay aboard the orbital laboratory.  In October 2019 she was part of the first all-female spacewalk and now she is poised to make history again. On Dec. 28, 2019, she will break the record for the longest single spaceflight by a woman, when she surpasses former Station Commander Peggy Whitson's record. When she arrives back on Earth in February 2020, she will have spent more than 300 days in space.

Related article:

Russian Space Freighter Docks Automatically to Station

Related links:

Expedition 61:


Life Sciences Glovebox:

Combustion research:

Microgravity Science Glovebox:

Exercise study:

Micrometeoroid impacts:

Earth catastrophes:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

Best regards,

Hubble Views a Galaxy with an Active Center

NASA - Hubble Space Telescope patch.

Dec. 27, 2019

This swirling mass of celestial gas, dust and stars is a moderately luminous spiral galaxy named ESO 021-G004, located just under 130 million light-years away.

This galaxy has something known as an active galactic nucleus. While this phrase sounds complex, this simply means that astronomers measure a lot of radiation at all wavelengths coming from the center of the galaxy. This radiation is generated by material falling inward into the very central region of ESO 021-G004, and meeting the behemoth lurking there — a supermassive black hole. As material falls toward this black hole it is dragged into orbit as part of an accretion disk; it becomes superheated as it swirls around and around, emitting characteristic high-energy radiation until it is eventually devoured.

The data comprising this image were gathered by the Wide Field Camera 3 aboard the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope.

Hubble Space Telescope (HST)

For more information about Hubble, visit:

Text Credits: ESA (European Space Agency)/NASA/Lynn Jenner/Image, Animation Credits: ESA/Hubble & NASA, D. Rosario et al.

Best regards,

CASC - Long March-5 Y3 Successful Launch

CASC - Long March 5 / Shijian 20 Mission patch.

Dec. 27, 2019

Long March-5 Y3 liftoff

The Long March-5 Y3 launch vehicle was launched from the Wenchang Space Launch Center, Hainan Province, China, on 27 December 2019, at 12:46 UTC (20:46 local time).

Long March-5 Y3 launch

This was the third  launch of the Long March-5 rocket, China’s largest launch vehicle. The payload is Shijian 20, an experimental geostationary communications satellite.

Shijian 20 communications satellite

A Chinese Long March 5 rocket launches the Shijian 20 communications satellite. Shijian 20 is the first spacecraft based on the new DFH-5 communications satellite platform, a heavier, higher-power next-generation design, replacing the Shijian 18 satellite lost on a launch failure in 2017.

China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC):

CASC/China Central Television (CCTV)/SciNews/Günter Space Page/ Aerospace/Roland Berga.


ROSCOSMOS - Successful Rockot Launch


Dec. 27, 2019

Rockot liftoff

Launched on December 27, 2019 at 02:11 Moscow time from the First State Testing Cosmodrome of Plesetsk, the Rokot light carrier rocket successfully launched the Gonets-M communication spacecraft into orbit. This launch completes the operation of this modification of the launch vehicle.

All prelaunch operations and the launch of the launch vehicle took place as usual. The space head of the Rokot rocket as part of the Breeze-KM booster block and spacecraft separated at the set time from the second stage of the launch vehicle. Spacecraft launched into the calculated orbit and transferred to the control.

Rokot launches Blits-M and Gonets-M satellites

The Rokot liquid two-stage light rocket was designed at the Khrunichev GKNPC on the basis of the RS-18 intercontinental ballistic missile and is designed to launch small and medium spacecraft into solar-synchronous and near-polar orbits.

Gonets-M satellite

The use of the Briz-KM booster block as a part of the Rokot rocket launcher allows for the implementation of various payload launch schemes, including the group launch of spacecraft into one or more orbits. Over the flight history of the Rokot launch vehicle, since 2000, 31 launches have been made as part of federal and commercial programs.

Blits-M satellite

Currently, the GKNPTs im. M.V. Khrunicheva (part of Roscosmos State Corporation) is developing technical documentation for a modernized version of the Rokot launch vehicle with the replacement of the imported element base with a Russian one.

Roscomos Press Release:

Images, Video, Text, Credits: ROSCOSMOS/SciNews/Günter Space Page/ Aerospace/Roland Berga.


jeudi 26 décembre 2019

BEAM and Dragon Work, DNA Studies Before Station Lifts Orbit

ISS - Expedition 61 Mission patch.

December 26, 2019

It is back to work for the six-member Expedition 61 crew from the U.S., Russia and Italy after celebrating Christmas aboard the International Space Station. The space residents checked out BEAM and a commercial resupply ship and researched a variety of space phenomena.

NASA astronaut Andrew Morgan opened up the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) today for some housecleaning work. He and fellow NASA Flight Engineer Christina Koch relocated gear stowed in front of BEAM’s hatch and sampled the module’s air and surfaces for microbes. BEAM has been attached to the station since April 2016.

Image above: Expedition 61 Flight Engineers (clockwise from bottom) Andrew Morgan and Jessica Meir of NASA and cosmonaut Oleg Skripochka of Roscosmos brush up on their emergency response skills. Image Credit: NASA.

Koch then moved on to loading cargo inside the SpaceX Dragon cargo craft due to return to Earth on January 5. Flight Engineer Jessica Meir started the packing work today as the crew readies research results for splashdown in the Pacific Ocean aboard Dragon.

Meir also explored what microgravity does to genetics sequencing DNA samples with student-designed tools. Next, she ran a combustion experiment and observed how different samples burn and how flames spread in weightlessness.

International Space Station (ISS). Image Credit: NASA

Commander Luca Parmitano of ESA (European Space Agency) is also gathering hardware for return to Earth inside Dragon. He is packing the obsolete power and electronics gear retrieved during a series of spacewalks earlier this year. Engineers on the ground will analyze how years of exposure to the harsh space environment impacted the devices that powered multiple station systems.

Russia’s docked cargo craft, the Progress 74, will fire its engines twice beginning tonight to lift the station’s orbit to support Russian spacecraft activities in 2020. Cosmonauts Alexander Skvortsov and Oleg Skripochka readied the orbital lab today and shuttered windows for the orbital reboost.

Related articles:

Russian Space Freighter Docks Automatically to Station

Dragon Attached to Station for Month-Long Stay

Related links:

Expedition 61:

Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM):

Sequencing DNA samples:

Flames spread in weightlessness:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

Best regards,

What we learned from the space station in 2019

ISS - International Space Station logo.

Dec. 26, 2019

Dozens of experiments are going on at any given time aboard the International Space Station. We are advancing our understanding of everything from Parkinson’s disease to combustion thanks to this research. This information is benefiting us on Earth, as well as preparing us for missions to the Moon and Mars.

It can take years before research results based on data collected in microgravity are published. Therefore, much of the space station research results published in 2019 came from experiments performed and data collected over the past 20 years of continuous human habitation on the orbiting laboratory.

Here are some of the things we learned this year from ground-breaking space station science:

Seeing double

The landmark Twins Study brought 10 research teams from around the country together to observe what changes could happen to a human from exposure to spaceflight hazards for a year. The Twins Study demonstrated the resilience and robustness of how a human body can adapt to a multitude of changes created by the spaceflight environment.

The study published a paper in Science in April 2019 in which teams compared a wide range of samples and measurements of astronaut Scott Kelly (now retired) to those of his identical twin brother, retired astronaut Mark Kelly, who remained on Earth. One of the results included the observation of the lengthening of Scott’s telomeres, special features on the ends of each strand of DNA that typically shorten with age.

You can dive into more of the study’s findings here:

Image above: Retired astronaut Mark Kelly faces his identical twin brother, now-retired astronaut Scott Kelly. The brothers participated in the Twins Study, which explored what changes could happen to a human from exposure tospaceflight hazards. Image Credit: NASA.

Observing the Earth

Artificial lighting at night affects the behavior of urban wildlife, according to a recent study published in Scientific Reports, which examined animals in the laboratory and the field. The researchers mapped light levels in the city of Chicago using publicly available images of Earth astronauts took from the space station.

The study is one example of the wide variety of scientific research based on images crew members take from space using the Crew Earth Observations (CEO) investigation. Most orbiting satellites collect data at the same place and about the same time of day for set intervals of time. The space station’s orbit takes its crew and cameras over different parts of the planet at different times, and the station revisits sites at variable intervals, making it possible to collect images from many areas at varying times of day and night. Other recent research used these images to show that urban green areas, which contribute to human well-being, are rarely in close proximity to where people live.

Image above: An image of the city of Chicago at night taken by crew aboard the International Space Station. Scientists have used images such as this one in studies demonstrating the effects of artificial light on urban wildlife and research on the proximity of urban greenspaces to residential areas. Image Credits: Earth Science and Remote Sensing Unit, NASA Johnson Space Center.

Honey, I shrunk the microscope!

A miniaturized fluorescence microscope makes it possible to observe changes in living cells in microgravity. Future observations of astronauts’ cells could provide scientists with important information about how the body adapts to space. The space station crew successfully demonstrated that a 3D high-resolution fluorescence microscope can generate digital images of human T-cell samples while in space during NASA’s FLUMIAS-DEA investigation.

This microscope makes possible real-time analysis of cell behavior during long duration space flight. This fast imaging capability is needed to monitor cellular and molecular reactions that can occur more quickly in altered-gravity environments. The implementation of real-time analysis methods on the station extends our knowledge about how cells react and adapt to the space environment. The microscope might have shrunk, but there is nothing small about its potential. The results of this technology demonstration were published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences in April 2019.

Image above: Image of fixed macrophages using three chromophores created by the FLUMIAS-DEA miniaturized fluorescence microscope during a verification test. Image courtesy of: Airbus.

A NICER way of looking at the universe

Installed aboard the station in 2017, NASA’s Neutron star Interior Composition Explorer (NICER) provides precise measurements of neutron stars, objects containing ultra-dense matter at the threshold of collapse into black holes. On March 11, 2018, JAXA’s Monitor of All-sky X-ray Image (MAXI) detected a new, transient X-ray source in the sky and designated it "MAXI J1820+070". Shortly after the discovery, NICER began monitoring the source and determined it to be a black hole binary system in which the black hole's mass is several times that of our Sun.

Within days, MAXI J1820+070 became one of the brightest X-ray sources in the sky. NICER tracked the evolution of this system. Its measurements have helped us understand how the inner edge of a black hole’s accretion disk (and the corona above it) change in size and shape as a black hole consumes material from a companion star. These observations were published in Nature in January 2019.

In another result published this year, NICER detected a sudden spike of X-rays caused by a thermonuclear flash on the surface of a pulsar, the crushed remains of a star that long ago exploded as a supernova.

NICER Charts the Area Around a New Black Hole

Video above: Watch how X-ray echoes, mapped by NASA’s Neutron star Interior Composition Explorer (NICER) revealed changes to the corona of black hole MAXI J1820+070. Video Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.

Under control

Astronauts’ bodies adapt to microgravity while in space. When they return to Earth’s gravity, it takes time to re-adapt. This return to gravity can cause numerous adverse effects. NASA’s Manual Control investigation analyzed the effect of spaceflight on the performance of pilots who need to operate and land a vehicle safely.

Active crew members and control groups on the ground completed cognitive assessments and car-driving simulations to test their performance after spaceflight. The tests examined performance indicators such as visual perception, manual dexterity, multitasking abilities and short-term memory.

Image above: The simulator cabin used for the Manual Control investigation, which analyzed the effect of spaceflight on the performance of pilots who need to operate and land a vehicle safely. Image Credit: NASA.

Results published in Scientific Reports showed that on the day of return after spending six months aboard the station, crew members showed significant decreases in manual dexterity, multitasking, motion perception and ability to operate a vehicle. The ground control groups that either shadowed crew operations on the ground or were sleep-deprived did not show these effects. Therefore, it appears that decreased performance post flight was related to spaceflight factors and not other potential concerns such as lack of practice or sleep.

Cementing the future

When humans go to the Moon or Mars to stay, they will need to construct safe places in which to live and work. The most widely used building material on Earth, concrete, may help inform a solution. A recent investigation on the station, Microgravity Investigation of Cement Solidification (MICS), examines how changes in gravity alter the chemistry and structure of cement.

MICS researchers mixed water and the main mineral component of most commercially available cement, tricalcium silicate (C3S), outside of Earth’s gravity for the first time. As reported in a paper published in Frontiers in Materials, the samples processed on the station show considerable changes in the cement microstructure compared to those processed on Earth. A primary difference was increased porosity, or the presence of more open spaces. Showing that cement can harden in space represents an important step toward building the first structure on the Moon using materials from the Moon.

Image above: NASA astronaut Serena Auñón-Chancellor mixes samples for the Microgravity Investigation of Cement Solidification (MICS) experiment and installs them into the Multi-use Variable-g Platform. The research uses the microgravity environment aboard the International Space Station to investigate the complex process of cement solidification. Image Credit: NASA.

Keep it clean

Counteracting the growth and spread of bacteria resistant to antibiotics and silver coatings requires new materials. A Russian space agency (ROSCOSMOS) investigation known as Biorisk-KM-Metally tested an antimicrobial coating called AGXX® and compared it to silver and stainless steel coatings.

Crew members placed 12 plaques on a space station bathroom door, enough for one plaque coated in each tested material to be collected at six, 12 and 19 months. At all time periods, the researchers found that the AGXX® coating had significantly less bacteria on it than the surfaces coated with silver and stainless steel. These results could contribute to the development of technologies to reduce the risk of biological damage to space equipment and hardware.

Image above: Russian cosmonaut Alexander Samokutyaev, Expedition 28 flight engineer, works with a Biorisk-MSN experiment container in the Zvezda Service Module of the International Space Station. Image Credit: Roscosmos.

Going to the extremes

The space station is unusual in that the external environment does not influence its bacterial composition. It is affected by the arrival of crew members, supplies to support the crew and technical items. The station can be considered an extreme environment for microbes, with unique but almost stable environmental conditions. The ESA (European Space Agency) Extremophiles investigation sought to better understand the contribution of extremophile bacteria, microorganisms that live in extreme environments, to the station.

International Space Station (ISS). Animation Credit: NASA

The researchers found that the majority of bacteria found aboard the orbiting laboratory were human-associated, particularly those found on skin. While the space station microbiome fluctuates in composition and diversity, the research found that a core set of bacteria existed over time, suggesting that the station has an established microbiome. The study did not support the hypothesis that bacteria become more extremophilic or antibiotic resistant in space but rather that only the best-adapted organisms survive in the space environment.

Winding back the clock

Spaceflight has many complex effects on the human body, but its effect on aging is not well understood. The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) Biological Rhythms 48 hrs investigation took a look at how one of the potential hazards for humans, geomagnetic space weather, affects human cardiac activity and how that effect is associated with longevity. The researchers compared how a crew member’s heart rate changed before, during and after spaceflight and compared data collected on magnetically quiet days with days on which a magnetic disturbance occurred.

The results, published in Scientific Reports, showed that changes in the magnetosphere can affect and enhance heart rate variability indices associated with anti-aging biomarkers. That means that exposure to higher magnetic activity in space leads to the human body responding in a way that would indicate an anti-aging-like effect.

These are just a few of the more than 190 papers published based on space station research during 2019. Learn more about the International Space Station results from this past year in our Annual Highlights of Results. To keep up with station science throughout the year, follow @ISS_Research, Space Station Research and Technology News or our Facebook. For opportunities to see the space station pass over your town, check out Spot the Station.

Related links:

Crew Earth Observations (CEO):

CEO Research:


International Journal of Molecular Sciences:

Neutron star Interior Composition Explorer (NICER):

Monitor of All-sky X-ray Image (MAXI):


Manual Control:

Scientific Reports:

Frontiers in Materials:



Biological Rhythms 48 hrs:

Scientific Reports:

Annual Highlights of Results:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

Best regards,

Tansuo-1 suborbital rocket maiden flight

Beijing Space Trek Technology Co. Ltd. logo.

Dec. 26, 2019

Tansuo-1 suborbital rocket liftoff

The Tansuo-1 suborbital rocket was launched on its maiden flight from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, Gansu Province, northwest China, on 25 December 2019, at 08:50 UTC (16:50 local time).

Tansuo-1 suborbital rocket maiden flight

Tansuo-1 (探索一号, meaning explore, exploration) was developed by Beijing Space Trek Technology Co. Ltd., a private Chinese company. The rocket can be used for meteorological observations, microgravity testing, as well as satellite payload experiments.

Tansuo-1 suborbital rocket

Beijing Space Trek Technology Co. Ltd.:

Images, Video, Text, Credits: CNSA - China National Space Administration/Space Trek/China Central Television (CCTV)/SciNews.


mardi 24 décembre 2019

ROSCOSMOS - Proton-M launches Elektro-L No.3


Dec. 24, 2019

Proton-M carrying Elektro-L No.3 liftoff

A Proton-M launch vehicle, with a DM-03 upper stage, launched the Elektro-L No.3 meteorological satellite from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, on 24 December 2019, at 12:03 UTC (18:03 local time). All stages of flight of the launch vehicle were carried out as normal.

Proton-M launches Elektro-L No.3

Elektro-L No.3 (Электро-Л №3) is the third hydrometeorological geostationary satellite developed by NPO Lavochkin (Russia) and launched by Roscosmos.

Elektro-L No.3

In accordance with the flight sequence diagram, after 585 seconds after launch, the head unit (a bunch of the upper stage and the satellite) was separated from the third stage of the launch vehicle. After that, the DM-03 upper stage continued to launch a new meteorological satellite into the target orbit. The total duration of the launch from the launch of the launch vehicle to the separation of the spacecraft will be 6 hours 37 minutes.

The Proton-M launch vehicle is mass-produced at the MV Center. Khrunicheva (part of Roscosmos State Corporation) and has been used to derive payloads on given orbits and take-off trajectories as part of federal and commercial programs since 2001. Over the years of operation, the Proton-M rocket has undergone four phases of deep modernization, which has significantly improved its energy-mass and environmental characteristics while removing heavy single and paired payloads.

ROSCOSMOS Press Release:

Images, Video, Text, Credits: ROSCOSMOS/ЦЭНКИ/SciNews/ Aerospace/Roland Berga.

Seasons Greetings,

lundi 23 décembre 2019

Christmas Week Starts With Biology Research Aboard Orbiting Lab

ISS - Expedition 61 Mission patch.

December 23, 2019

The six Expedition 61 crewmembers aboard the International Space Station started Christmas week exploring how weightlessness affects biology. The orbital residents also focused on housekeeping and lab maintenance tasks.

International Space Station (ISS). Animation Credit: NASA

NASA astronaut Andrew Morgan tested a specialized anti-gravity suit today that reverses the upward flow of fluids in humans caused by microgravity. Cosmonaut Alexander Skvortsov attached sensors to Morgan and assisted him into the suit. NASA Flight Engineer Jessica Meir scanned his veins and arteries with an ultrasound device downlinking the data real-time to doctors on the ground.

Image above: The SpaceX Dragon and Northrop Grumman Cygnus cargo ships are pictured attached to the station as the orbital complex flew above the Laccadive Sea south of India. Image Credit: NASA.

ESA (European Space Agency) Commander Luca Parmitano and Flight Engineer Christina Koch continued the upkeep of a variety life support hardware and science gear. Parmitano was sampling fluid throughout the station’s thermal control systems to ensure a safe breathing environment. Koch configured air ducts to prevent dust buildup then installed a new combustion experiment that will study how flames spread in space.

Expedition 61 Christmas Message

Over in the station’s Russian segment, veteran cosmonaut Oleg Skripochka juggled research and life support duties. He first checked on gear collecting data about the station’s external environment of gases and charged particles. Skripochka then logged his meals for a dietary study before turning on sensors recording his cardiac activity.

Related links:

Expedition 61:

Upward flow of fluids in humans:

How flames spread in space:

Station’s external environment:

Dietary study:

Cardiac activity:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

Best regards,

Spektr-RG commences sky scanning

ROSCOSMOS & DLR - Spektr-RG Mission patch.

Dec. 23, 2019

Spektr-RG orbital x-ray observatory launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome on July 13, 2019 starts observing the sky of stars.

On December 8, the Spektr-RG spacecraft designed by NPO Lavochkin (part of Roscosmos State Corporation) moving at the orbit around the L2 libration point 1.5 million kilometers away from Earth made one revolution around the Earthward axis. Thus, a test scan along the large circle was conducted. This marked the beginning of the whole sky of stars scanning which is to last for four years.


Following the Earth moving around the Sun, x-ray telescopes aboard the observatory - ART-XC (Russia) иeROSITA (Germany) will get the sky map every six months, which will be several times more sensitive than all the previous x-ray maps before. Four years later, the sum of eight independent maps will help achieve record sensitivity and discover about 3 millions of active galaxy cores and quasars, a hundred thousand of galactic clusters and groups, as well as about half a million active stars, white dwarf stars, pulsars and supernova remnants, neutron stars and black holes in our Galaxy. Comparing separate sky maps will allow astrophysicists follow the fluctuation of millions x-ray sources in the sky.

The main scientific task of sky scanning is to explore the largescale structure of the Universe and study the nature of dark matter and dark energy. At the same time, the record scanning sensitivity and massive selection of various types of x-ray sources will have a colossal potential for new discoveries and allow researching in all the modern high-energy astrophysics spheres.

Prior to sky scanning the scientists at the Space Research Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow and Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics in Germany worked hard to set up and calibrate two telescopes of the observatory. This work ended up in thorough check observations when the observatory telescopes were tested watching the real astrophysical objects.

eROSITA telescope capabilities to conduct deep scanning of sites dozens square degrees in area are shown in the picture below (mini-scan image can be also seen at the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics website).

X-ray map of the galactic disk area (the so-called Galactic Ridge), received by the eROSITA telescope in October 2019. The map of 25 square degrees in area shows multiple x-ray sources located both in our Galaxy, as well as farawayquasars. Galactic objects such as clusters of young stars actively emitting x-rays are also of great interest. The map also shows pulsars, supernova remnants with the interstellar gas. Diffuse x-ray emission zones are also visible. Light blue and green colours correspond to the photon high energy (emitted by gas heated to dozens of millions degrees, while the red colour means lower temperature gasses from hundreds of thousands to million degrees).

The Lockman Hole is a unique area in the sky where x-ray emission is minimal allowing to research faraway quasars and galaxy clusters. eROSITA detected about 6,000 x-ray sources with most of them being active galaxy cores and quasars. More than 100 galaxy clusters and several hundreds of active stars located in our Galaxy were also detected.

Max Planck Institute for extraterrestrial Physics:

ROSCOSMOS Press Release:

Images, Text, Credits: ROSCOSMOS.


Stellar Snowflake Cluster

NASA - Spitzer Space Telescope patch.

Dec. 23, 2019

Newborn stars, hidden behind thick dust, are revealed in this image of a section of the so-called Christmas Tree Cluster from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope. The newly revealed infant stars appear as pink and red specks toward the center and appear to have formed in regularly spaced intervals along linear structures in a configuration that resembles the spokes of a wheel or the pattern of a snowflake. Hence, astronomers have nicknamed this the "Snowflake Cluster."

Star-forming clouds like this one are dynamic and evolving structures. Since the stars trace the straight line pattern of spokes of a wheel, scientists believe that these are newborn stars, or "protostars." At a mere 100,000 years old, these infant structures have yet to "crawl" away from their location of birth. Over time, the natural drifting motions of each star will break this order, and the snowflake design will be no more.

Spitzer Space Telescope

While most of the visible-light stars that give the Christmas Tree Cluster its name and triangular shape do not shine brightly in Spitzer's infrared eyes, all of the stars forming from this dusty cloud are considered part of the cluster.

Like a dusty cosmic finger pointing up to the newborn clusters, Spitzer also illuminates the optically dark and dense Cone Nebula, the tip of which can be seen towards the bottom left corner of the image.

Spitzer Space Telescope:

Image, Animation, Text, Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/P.S. Teixeira (Center for Astrophysics).


Space Station Science Highlights: Week of December 16, 2019

ISS - Expedition 61 Mission patch.

Dec. 23, 2019

Crew members conducted a variety of scientific investigations aboard the International Space Station the week of Dec. 16, including research on the effects of noise and microgravity on hearing and how performing motor tasks differs in space from doing the same tasks on Earth.

Now in its 20th year of continuous human presence, the space station is the only platform for long-duration research in microgravity. Learning to live and work in space is one of the biggest challenges of long-duration spaceflight, and the experience gained on the space station supports Artemis, NASA’s program to go forward to the Moon and on to Mars.

Image above: This wearable Biometric patch connects to an iPAD on the space station that uses the ESA (European Space Agency) EVERYWEAR application to transmit data to the ground. The NutrISS investigation collects data on body mass and composition using such sensors and the app. Image Credit: NASA.

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

Can you hear me now?

The crew set up hardware, performed audio measurements and used the EveryWear application to answer questionnaires for Acoustic Diagnostics. This investigation, sponsored by the ESA (European Space Agency), tests the hearing of crew members before, during and after flight and assesses the possible adverse effects of noise and the microgravity environment on human hearing. Researchers compare the relationship between the detection of otoacoustic emissions, sounds naturally generated from within the inner ear, and hearing loss levels when exposed to noisy environments.

International Space Station (ISS). Image Credits: NASA/STS-131

Performing motor tasks in space

Another ESA experiment, Time Perception, induces visual and audio stimuli from a computer program to measure a subject's response to spatial and time perception in microgravity. Experiment tasks look at specifics such reaction time and judgement of the passage of time. Previous research shows that speed of body movement may affect time perception and that it takes about 50 percent more time to execute an experimental procedure in orbit as it does on Earth. Cognitive performance, good eye-hand control and coordination, spatial orientation, and time perception all are critical for safe and successful control of vehicles and other complex systems used on space missions. Crew members performed operations for Time Perception using a head-mounted Oculus Rift display and headphones, a finger trackball and support computer.

Tiny radiation resistors

Image above: ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Luca Parmitano sets up for Rotifer-B1, an investigation that explores the effects of spaceflight on the metabolism and genome of tiny aquatic animals called rotifers. Image Credit: NASA.

Rotifer-B1 explores the effects of spaceflight on the metabolism and genome of the bdelloid rotifer Adineta vaga. Rotifers, tiny aquatic animals found in freshwater ecosystems and soil, are highly radiation-resistant on Earth, and the investigation looks at whether they have similar adaptation mechanisms in microgravity. The crew concluded the investigation and removed the Experiment Container from Kubik, an on-orbit incubator facility. Samples are scheduled for return to Earth for analysis on SpaceX-19 in early January. Rotifer-B1 is another ESA sponsored investigation.

Other investigations on which the crew performed work:

- Actiwatch, a sleep-wake monitor worn by a crew member, analyzes circadian rhythms, sleep-wake patterns, and activity. The data are used in a number of studies on sleep and biological rhythms.

- Biomolecule Extraction and Sequencing Technology (BEST) studies the use of DNA sequencing to identify microbial organisms and improve understanding of how humans, plants and microbes adapt to living in space.

- RR-19 examines the potential benefits of targeting the myostatin (MSTN) and activin signaling pathways to prevent skeletal muscle and bone loss during spaceflight.

Image above: NASA astronaut Jessica Meir installs the Bone Densitometer in an EXPRESS (EXpedite the PRocessing of Experiments to Space Station) rack inside the Japanese Kibo laboratory module. The device images rodent bones for the Rodent Research-19 experiment investigating two proteins that may prevent muscle and bone loss in space. Image Credit: NASA.

- 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.

Image above: A 360 image of the space station’s cupola taken as a part of filming for the ISS Experience. Image Credits: Courtesy of Felix & Paul Studios/Time.

- Polymer Convection examines the effect of gravity on formation and crystallization of Broadband Angular Selective Material (BASM), an optical material with the ability to control the reflection and absorption of light. BASM has applications in polymer packaging, optical films, solar power and electronic displays.

- 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.

- NutrISS, an investigation by the Italian Space Agency (ASI), assesses the body composition of crew members during spaceflight using a device that measures long-term energy balance modification over time. The ESA’s EveryWear application transmits data to the nutritional team on the ground.

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

Related links:

Expedition 61:

Acoustic Diagnostics:

Time Perception:



ISS National Lab:

Spot the Station:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

Best regards,