samedi 25 janvier 2020

Astronauts Wrap Up Spacewalk Repair Job on Cosmic Ray Detector

ISS - Expedition 61 Mission patch / EVA - Extra Vehicular Activities patch.

January 25, 2020

Image above: NASA astronauts Christina Koch (foreground) and Jessica Meir assist spacewalkers Luca Parmitano (left) and Andrew Morgan (right) before beginning today’s spacewalk. Image Credit: NASA TV.

Expedition 61 crew members Andrew Morgan of NASA and Luca Parmitano of ESA (European Space Agency) concluded their spacewalk at 1:20 p.m. EST. During the 6 hour, 16 minute spacewalk, the two astronauts successfully completed leak checks for the cooling system on the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS) and opened a valve to being pressurizing the system. Preliminary testing shows AMS is responding as expected.

Image above: Spacewalkers Andrew Morgan and Luca Parmitano (attached to Canadarm2) are pictured during excursion to repair the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer today. Image Credits: NASA TV/ISS Live Now/ Aerospace/Roland Berga.

Ground teams will work over the next several days to fill the new AMS thermal control system with carbon dioxide, allow the system to stabilize, and power on the pumps to verify and optimize their performance. The tracker, one of several detectors on AMS, should be collecting science data again before the end of next week. The upgraded cooling system is expected to support AMS through the lifetime of the space station.

Image above: A helmet cam attached to the spacesuit of astronaut Andrew Morgan pictures astronaut Luca Parmitano during the final spacewalk to repair a cosmic ray detector. Image Credits: NASA TV/ISS Live Now/ Aerospace/Roland Berga.

AMS is a joint effort between NASA and the Department of Energy’s Office of Science and is led by Principal Investigator Samuel Ting, a Nobel laureate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The AMS team includes some 600 physicists from 56 institutions in 16 countries from Europe, North America and Asia. AMS has been capturing high-energy cosmic rays to help researchers answer fundamental questions about the nature of antimatter, the unseen “dark matter” that makes up most of the mass in the universe, and the even-more-mysterious dark energy that is speeding up the expansion of the cosmos.

Image above: A helmet cam attached to the spacesuit of astronaut Andrew Morgan pictures astronaut Luca Parmitano during the final spacewalk to repair a cosmic ray detector. Image Credits: NASA TV/ISS Live Now/ Aerospace/Roland Berga.

The astronauts also completed an additional task to remove degraded lens filters on two  high-definition video cameras.

Image above: A helmet cam attached to the spacesuit of astronaut Andrew Morgan pictures astronaut Luca Parmitano during the final spacewalk to repair a cosmic ray detector. Image Credit: NASA TV.

This was the fourth spacewalk by Morgan and Parmitano to repair the spectrometer and the 227th in support of station assembly, maintenance and upgrades. For Morgan, it was the seventh spacewalk of his career, for a total of 45 hours and 48 minutes, and the sixth for Parmitano, with a total of 33 hours and 9 minutes, who will return to Earth Feb. 6 in a Russian Soyuz spacecraft to complete a six-and-a-half month mission on the outpost. Spacewalkers have now spent a total of 59 days 12 hours and 26 minutes working outside the station. This was also the ninth spacewalk for the Expedition 61 crew, more than in any other increment in the history of the station.

Related links:

Expedition 61:

Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS):

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

Best regards,

vendredi 24 janvier 2020

Hubble Sees Dusty Galaxy With Supermassive Center

NASA - Hubble Space Telescope patch.

Jan. 24, 2020

This peculiar galaxy, beautifully streaked with tendrils of reddish dust, is captured here in wonderful detail by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope.

The galaxy is known as NGC 1022, and is officially classified as a barred spiral galaxy. You can just about make out the bar of stars in the center of the galaxy in this image, with swirling arms emerging from its ends. This bar is much less prominent than in some of the galaxy’s barred cousins and gives the galaxy a rather squat appearance; but the lanes of dust that swirl throughout its disk ensure it is no less beautiful.

Hubble observed this image as part of a study into one of the universe’s most notorious residents: black holes. These are fundamental components of galaxies and are thought to lurk at the hearts of many — if not all — spirals. In fact, they may have quite a large influence over their cosmic homes. Studies suggest that the mass of the black hole sitting at a galaxy’s center is linked with the larger-scale properties of the galaxy itself. However, in order to learn more, we need observational data of a wider and more diverse range of galaxies — something Hubble’s study aims to provide.

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

For more information about Hubble, visit:

Animation (mentioned), Text Credits: ESA (European Space Agency)/NASA/Rob Garner/Image Credits: ESA/Hubble & NASA, A. Seth.

Best regards,

Space Station Science Highlights: Week of January 20, 2020

ISS - Expedition 61 Mission patch.

Jan. 24, 2020

The week of Jan. 20, crew members aboard the International Space Station worked on a number of scientific investigations, including studies of using probiotics to improve immune health and of complex plasmas, as well as measurements of black holes and Earth’s upper atmosphere. NASA astronauts Jessica Meir and Christina Koch conducted their third spacewalk together on Jan. 20, completing replacement of batteries that store and distribute solar power on the space station. The crew also continued operations for the departure of the Cygnus cargo craft, currently planned for Jan. 31, and NASA astronaut Andrew Morgan and Luca Parmitano of ESA (European Space Agency) prepared for Saturday’s fourth and final spacewalk to repair the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS-02).

Image above: NASA astronaut Jessica Meir uses pistol grip tools while attached to an articulating portable foot restraint during her third spacewalk with NASA astronaut Christina Koch to finalize an upgrade for power systems on the International Space Station. Image Credit: NASA.

Now in its 20th year of continuous human presence, the space station provides a platform for long-duration research in microgravity and for learning to live and work in space. Experience gained on the orbiting lab supports Artemis, NASA’s program to go forward to the Moon and on to Mars.

Here are details on some of the microgravity investigations currently taking place:

Studying complex plasmas

The crew took photos of the Plasma Krystall-4 (PK-4) system and packed hard drives for return to Earth on a Soyuz supply craft. A collaboration between the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Russian Federal Space Agency (ROSCOSMOS), PK-4 studies complex plasmas, or low temperature gaseous mixtures of ionized gas, neutral gas, and micron-sized particles. When the micro-particles become highly charged, they interact strongly with each other and can form self-organized structures called plasma crystals. Plasmas occur throughout the universe, from the interstellar medium to the heat shields of spacecraft re-entering Earth's atmosphere. Understanding how plasma crystals form in microgravity could shed light on plasma phenomena in space and lead to new research methods and improved spacecraft designs. Analyzing different influences on complex plasmas also could lead to improvements in industries that use plasmas on Earth.

Beneficial bacteria

Probiotics are live microorganisms that aid human digestion. The Probiotics investigation studies whether these beneficial bacteria improve the human intestinal microbiota and immune function. Some species of harmful bacteria may grow stronger in microgravity, while the human immune system becomes weaker in space, leading to increased risk to the health of astronauts on long-duration missions. Incorporating probiotics into food for future space missions could provide basic nutrition and help safeguard the health of crew members. The investigation also could shed light on changes that take place in bacteria during spaceflight, benefiting efforts to reduce infections. The crew performed sampling activities for the ongoing investigation during the week.

Meanwhile, outside the space station

Image above: View of the Neutron Star Interior Composition ExploreR (NICER) device attached to ExPRESS (Expedite the Processing of Experiments to Space Station) Logistics Carrier-2 (ELC-2). NICER observed matter orbiting within a few hundred kilometers of the event horizon, evidence confirming the object as a relatively lightweight black hole binary. Image Credit: NASA.

The Neutron star Interior Composition Explorer (NICER) provides high-precision measurements of neutron stars and other X-ray astrophysics phenomena through observations in the electromagnetic band in which these stars radiate significant portions of their energy. Since July of 2019, NICER has been observing a recent outburst of the X-ray binary EXO 1846-031, last detected in 1985. The mission measured the most ever high frequency quasi-periodic oscillations (QPOs), oscillations related to matter orbiting at a significant fraction of the speed of light within a few hundred kilometers of the event horizon, the boundary beyond which even light cannot escape and, thus, nothing can be observed. The data provide evidence confirming the object as a relatively lightweight black hole binary, only three to four times the Sun’s mass.

Animation above: SAGE-III, an instrument attached to the outside of the space station, collects measurements of stratospheric ozone and other gases, water vapor, and aerosols, or tiny particles in the atmosphere, which together protect life on Earth from some of the harsh effects of the Sun. Animation Credit: NASA.

Another instrument on the outside of the space station, SAGE-III, began operation in July 2017 and continues to collect measurements of stratospheric ozone and other gases, water vapor, and aerosols, or tiny particles in the atmosphere. These essentially make up Earth’s “sunscreen,” protecting the planet and life on it from some of the harsh effects of solar radiation.

Other investigations on which the crew performed work:

- Food Acceptability examines the effect of repetitive consumption of the food currently available during spaceflight. “Menu fatigue” from a limited choice of foods over time 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. This interaction engages and educates students, teachers, parents and other members of the community in science, technology, engineering and math.

- 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.

- 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.

- Astronauts show accelerated arterial stiffening, thicker artery walls, and other aging-like changes after spending six months in space. Vascular Aging monitors these changes using artery ultrasounds, blood samples, and other measures to identify risk and possible mechanisms for reducing that risk.

- HERMES is a reconfigurable, on-orbit facility for providing long-duration exposure to the microgravity and vacuum conditions of space. It provides customizable experiment tools, data downlink, data storage, autonomous monitoring, and ground commanding of lighting and cameras.

Space to Ground: Upgrading the Station: 01/24/2020

Related links:

Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS-02):

Plasma Krystall-4 (PK-4):


Neutron star Interior Composition Explorer (NICER):


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,

GEDI Forest Structure Mission Releases First Data

ISS - Global Ecosystem Dynamics Investigation mission (GEDI) logo.

Jan. 24, 2020

NASA’s Global Ecosystem Dynamics Investigation mission (GEDI) released its first publicly available data on January 21, 2020, giving researchers access to measurements of forests around the world.

GEDI (pronounced like the Jedi of “Star Wars” fame) surveys Earth’s forests from aboard the International Space Station, using its three lasers to construct detailed 3-dimensional (3D) maps of forest canopy height and the distribution of branches and leaves in the forest. By accurately measuring forests in 3D, GEDI data play an important role in understanding how much biomass and carbon forests store and how much they lose when disturbed — vital information for understanding Earth’s carbon cycle and how it is changing. Data from the mission can also be used to study plant and animal habitats and biodiversity, and how these may change over time.

Image above: GEDI’s view of a forest appears as a collection of waveforms that show the treetops, the ground, and the branches, leaves and open space in between. Put together, collections of waveforms begin to show the forest’s structure — not only vertically, but horizontally as well. This shot of the Amazon rainforest shows the canopy height and the structure underneath. Image Credits: NASA Earth Observatory/Lauren Dauphin.

Image above: GEDI’s three lasers cover a path roughly 2.5 miles wide, capturing canopy height and forest structure across the swath. This track shows where the Amazon forest swath (above) was measured. Image Credits: NASA Earth Observatory/Lauren Dauphin.

The first data release contains the first eight weeks of GEDI data: Hundreds of millions of data points, covering the globe between southern Canada and the tip of South America. By the time it reaches its 2nd birthday, GEDI will have collected an estimated 10 billion laser observations, representing the most comprehensive global satellite data set on forest structure ever produced.

“Existing pan-tropical biomass maps use laser data acquired nearly 15 years ago and were based on less than 5 million laser observations in total,” said Ralph Dubayah, GEDI principal investigator and a professor of geographical sciences at the University of Maryland. “GEDI collects 6 million laser observations every day. So over the tropics, we’ve already collected about two orders of magnitude more data than what was ‘state-of-the-art’ before.”

What makes GEDI unique is more than just its number of measurements, however. GEDI has an ability to “see” into the forest better than any other space-borne instrument. It uses light detection and ranging (LIDAR), which bounces rapid laser pulses off objects to detect their 3D location and shape, the way radar detects shapes by bouncing radio waves.

“Measurements over vegetation are challenging,” said Bryan Blair, GEDI’s deputy principal investigator and instrument scientist. “To make these accurate height measurements, we use a technique called waveform LIDAR that maps the 3-D structure of the forests. To do this accurately, we need to penetrate through the canopy and see a sometimes very weak ground signal. We’ve been using this measurement from aircraft for more than 25 years, but when you implement that in space, you have to be very efficient with resources like mass and power and you can’t make the sensor too complex or expensive.”

Image above: While forests in the Pacific Northwest (shown here) are tall and dense like those in the Amazon, taking a closer look at GEDI data shows structural variations between the two, including much taller trees in the Pacific Northwest. GEDI can “see” into the forest better than any other space-borne instrument, giving researchers clues to how the structures of Earth’s forests differ. Image Credits: NASA Earth Observatory/Lauren Dauphin.

Image above: GEDI’s LIDAR uses lightweight, energy-efficient lasers and innovative optics that split and scan its lasers into multiple beams, increasing coverage without adding weight. The instrument can also rotate to point at specific tracks on the ground, allowing it to make sure GEDI samples as much of the forest as possible. This track shows where the Pacific Northwest swath (above) was measured. Image Credits: Earth Observatory/Lauren Dauphin.

GEDI’s LIDAR, Blair said, uses several unique technologies including lightweight, energy-efficient lasers and innovative optics that split and scan the lasers into multiple beams, increasing coverage without adding weight. The instrument can also rotate to point at specific tracks on the ground, allowing it to make sure GEDI samples as much of the forest as possible.

GEDI’s view of a forest appears as a collection of waveforms that show the treetops, the ground, and the branches, leaves and open space in between. Put together, collections of waveforms begin to show the forest’s structure — not only vertically, but horizontally as well. This allows scientists to calculate the amount of biomass and carbon contained in a given area of forest.

Data on forests’ vertical structure is a key missing piece for studies of biomass and biodiversity, Dubayah said. With a global map of the mass contained in forest tree trunks, branches and leaves, researchers can estimate how much carbon different forest areas contain and how it changes over time. By combining GEDI data with other satellite data sources, it is possible to estimate how forest biomass has changed in the past and how it might change in the future.

Image above: By accurately measuring forests in 3D, GEDI data play an important role in understanding how much biomass and carbon forests store and how much they lose when disturbed — vital information for understanding Earth’s carbon cycle and how it is changing. Image Credits: NASA's Scientific Visualization Studio/Lori Losey.

“The amount of carbon that’s being held in the land surface by trees, and how it has changed over time through disturbance and subsequent regrowth, is the least understood aspect of the global carbon cycle,” Dubayah said. “Until we know how much carbon there currently is in Earth’s forests, and how that’s changed over the last 20-30 years, we will have a difficult time predicting how much more carbon forests will continue to absorb in the future, and what role they’ll play in helping to mitigate or accelerate atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations.”

Researchers will also be able to take their maps a step further and model biodiversity around the world and over time, he added. GEDI partners with public and private organizations dedicated to researching and protecting wildlife around the world.

“By having vertical structure data everywhere, we can spot relationships between that structure and species diversity and abundance, and habitat quality,” he said. “This should also enable us to identify biological and conservation hotspots.”

Global Ecosystem Dynamics Investigation mission (GEDI) instrument. Image Credit: NASA

The team will continue to calibrate the data against airborne LIDAR data and make GEDI’s algorithms more accurate, in many cases with the help of researchers from around the world using the data, the team said.

“It’s all very exciting!” said Michelle Hofton, a co-investigator with GEDI and research professor at the University of Maryland. “It’s the ability to look globally at forest structure in a precise way that allows us to see such a variety of forest canopy conditions. And it is often in places we haven’t been able to go with airborne instruments. Now we can see different portions of these areas every 90 minutes. It’s fantastic!”

GEDI is funded by NASA’s Earth Ventures program, which competitively selects low-cost missions to address a variety of Earth science topics. GEDI was selected as cost-capped mission for $94.6 million, and has managed to not only stay within budget, but even launch early.

“I am so impressed that we were able to launch the mission at this remarkably low cost, six months ahead of schedule, and now have almost a year of nearly flawless operation,” Dubayah said. “To me, that is an amazing achievement and reflects the excellence of our NASA Goddard engineering partners and the entire GEDI Science Team.”

Related links:

Global Ecosystem Dynamics Investigation mission (GEDI):

International Space Station (ISS):

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Sara Blumberg/Goddard Space Flight Center, by Jessica Merzdorf.


Expedition 61 Ready for Saturday Spacewalk During Human Research Today

ISS - Expedition 61 Mission patch.

January 24, 2020

The Expedition 61 astronauts are ready to finish repairing the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS) after wrapping up their spacewalk preparations today. The International Space Station residents today also had time to explore what microgravity is doing to their muscles and digestive system.

Astronauts Andrew Morgan and Luca Parmitano have readied the U.S. spacesuits they will wear for about six hours and thirty minutes beginning Saturday at 6:50 a.m. EST. They will finalize the complex thermal repairs on the AMS, a dark matter and antimatter detector, installed in 2011 on the Starboard-3 truss structure.

Image above: An aurora blankets the Earth beneath a celestial night sky as the space station orbited 261 miles above the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of North America. Image Credit: NASA.

Morgan and Parmitano were joined by NASA Flight Engineers Jessica Meir and Christina Koch for a final procedures review with mission controllers on the ground. Meir and Koch will operate the Canadarm2 robotic arm carefully making fine-tuned maneuvers to assist the spacewalkers at the AMS worksite.

Meir and Koch began their workday by performing scans of their neck, arm, leg and feet muscles with an ultrasound device. The scans are downlinked to doctors studying how weightlessness affects the biochemical properties of muscles. The pair also collected their blood samples and stowed them in a science freezer for the human research study. Insights my impact health strategies on future long-term space missions.

International Space Station (ISS) flying over auroras. Animation Credit: NASA

Cosmonauts Alexander Skvortsov and Oleg Skripochka spent Friday morning on a Russian digestion study today scanning their stomachs with another ultrasound device before and after breakfast. They split up in the afternoon working on a variety of station hardware maintenance and crew departure activities.

Related links:

Expedition 61:

Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS):

Starboard-3 truss structure:


Biochemical properties of muscles:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

Best regards,

For Hottest Planet, a Major Meltdown, Study Shows

KELT - Kilodegree Extremely Little Telescope logo.

January 24, 2020

In the scorching atmosphere of exoplanet KELT-9b, even molecules are torn to shreds. 

Animation above: Artist's rendering of a "hot Jupiter" called KELT-9b, the hottest known exoplanet - so hot, a new paper finds, that even molecules in its atmosphere are torn to shreds. Animation Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

Massive gas giants called "hot Jupiters" - planets that orbit too close to their stars to sustain life - are some of the strangest worlds found beyond our solar system. New observations show that the hottest of them all is stranger still, prone to planetwide meltdowns so severe they tear apart the molecules that make up its atmosphere.

Called KELT-9b, the planet is an ultra-hot Jupiter, one of several varieties of exoplanets - planets around other stars - found in our galaxy. It weighs in at nearly three times the mass of our own Jupiter and orbits a star some 670 light-years away. With a surface temperature of 7,800 degrees Fahrenheit (4,300 degrees Celsius) - hotter than some stars - this planet is the hottest found so far.

Now, a team of astronomers using NASA's Spitzer space telescope has found evidence that the heat is too much even for molecules to remain intact. Molecules of hydrogen gas are likely ripped apart on the dayside of KELT-9b, unable to re-form until their disjointed atoms flow around to the planet's nightside.

Though still extremely hot, the nightside's slight cooling is enough to allow hydrogen gas molecules to reform - that is, until they flow back to the dayside, where they're torn apart all over again.

"This kind of planet is so extreme in temperature, it is a bit separate from a lot of other exoplanets," said Megan Mansfield, a graduate student at the University of Chicago and lead author of a new paper revealing these findings. "There are some other hot Jupiters and ultra-hot Jupiters that are not quite as hot but still warm enough that this effect should be taking place."

The findings, published in Astrophysical Journal Letters, showcase the rising sophistication of the technology and analysis needed to probe these very distant worlds. Science is just beginning to peer into the atmospheres of exoplanets, examining the molecular meltdowns of the hottest and brightest.

KELT-9b will stay firmly categorized among the uninhabitable worlds. Astronomers became aware of its extremely hostile environment in 2017, when it was first detected using the Kilodegree Extremely Little Telescope (KELT) system - a combined effort involving observations from two robotic telescopes, one in southern Arizona and one in South Africa.

Artist's view of KELT-9b

In the Astrophysical Journal Letters study, the science team used the Spitzer space telescope to parse temperature profiles from this infernal giant. Spitzer, which makes observations in infrared light, can measure subtle variations in heat. Repeated over many hours, these observations allow Spitzer to capture changes in the atmosphere as the planet presents itself in phases while orbiting the star. Different halves of the planet roll into view as it orbits around its star.

That allowed the team to catch a glimpse of the difference between KELT-9b's dayside and its "night." In this case, the planet orbits its star so tightly that a "year" - once around the star - takes only 1 1/2 days. That means the planet is tidally locked, presenting one face to its star for all time (as our Moon presents only one face to Earth). On the far side of KELT-9b, nighttime lasts forever.

But gases and heat flow from one side to the other. A big question for researchers trying to understand exoplanet atmospheres is how radiation and flow balance each other out.

Computer models are major tools in such investigations, showing how these atmospheres are likely to behave in different temperatures. The best fit for the data from KELT-9b was a model that included hydrogen molecules being torn apart and reassembled, a process known as dissociation and recombination.

"If you don't account for hydrogen dissociation, you get really fast winds of [37 miles or] 60 kilometers per second," Mansfield said. "That's probably not likely."

KELT-9b turns out not to have huge temperature differences between its day- and nightsides, suggesting heat flow from one to the other. And the "hot spot" on the dayside, which is supposed to be directly under this planet's star, was shifted away from its expected position. Scientists don't know why - yet another mystery to be solved on this strange, hot planet.

Kilodegree Extremely Little Telescope (KELT):

Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL):

Animation (mentioned), Image, Text, Credits: NASA/JPL/Calla Cofield.


NASA's Kepler Witnesses Vampire Star System Undergoing Super-Outburst

NASA - Kepler / K2 Mission logo.

Jan. 24, 2020

NASA's Kepler spacecraft was designed to find exoplanets by looking for stars that dim as a planet crosses the star's face. Fortuitously, the same design makes it ideal for spotting other astronomical transients – objects that brighten or dim over time. A new search of Kepler archival data has uncovered an unusual super-outburst from a previously unknown dwarf nova. The system brightened by a factor of 1,600 over less than a day before slowly fading away.

The star system in question consists of a white dwarf star with a brown dwarf companion about one-tenth as massive as the white dwarf. A white dwarf is the leftover core of an aging Sun-like star and contains about a Sun's worth of material in a globe the size of Earth. A brown dwarf is an object with a mass between 10 and 80 Jupiters that is too small to undergo nuclear fusion.

The brown dwarf circles the white dwarf star every 83 minutes at a distance of only 250,000 miles (400,000 km) – about the distance from Earth to the Moon. They are so close that the white dwarf's strong gravity strips material from the brown dwarf, sucking its essence away like a vampire. The stripped material forms a disk as it spirals toward the white dwarf (known as an accretion disk).

Image above: This illustration shows a newly discovered dwarf nova system, in which a white dwarf star is pulling material off a brown dwarf companion. The material collects into an accretion disk until reaching a tipping point, causing it to suddenly increase in brightness. Using archival Kepler data, a team observed a previously unseen, and unexplained, gradual intensification followed by a super-outburst in which the system brightened by a factor of 1,600 over less than a day. Image Credits: NASA and L. Hustak (STScI).

It was sheer chance that Kepler was looking in the right direction when this system underwent a super-outburst, brightening by more than 1,000 times. In fact, Kepler was the only instrument that could have witnessed it, since the system was too close to the Sun from Earth's point of view at the time. Kepler's rapid cadence of observations, taking data every 30 minutes, was crucial for catching every detail of the outburst.

The event remained hidden in Kepler's archive until identified by a team led by Ryan Ridden-Harper of the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI), Baltimore, Maryland, and the Australian National University, Canberra, Australia. "In a sense, we discovered this system accidentally. We weren't specifically looking for a super-outburst. We were looking for any sort of transient," said Ridden-Harper.

Kepler captured the entire event, observing a slow rise in brightness followed by a rapid intensification. While the sudden brightening is predicted by theories, the cause of the slow start remains a mystery. Standard theories of accretion disk physics don't predict this phenomenon, which has subsequently been observed in two other dwarf nova super-outbursts.

Kepler/K2. Animation Credit: NASA

"These dwarf nova systems have been studied for decades, so spotting something new is pretty tricky," said Ridden-Harper. "We see accretion disks all over – from newly forming stars to supermassive black holes – so it's important to understand them."

Theories suggest that a super-outburst is triggered when the accretion disk reaches a tipping point. As it accumulates material, it grows in size until the outer edge experiences gravitational resonance with the orbiting brown dwarf. This might trigger a thermal instability, causing the disk to get superheated. Indeed, observations show that the disk's temperature rises from about 5,000–10,000° F (2,700–5,300° C) in its normal state to a high of 17,000–21,000° F (9,700–11,700° C) at the peak of the super-outburst.

This type of dwarf nova system is relatively rare, with only about 100 known. An individual system may go for years or decades between outbursts, making it a challenge to catch one in the act.

"The detection of this object raises hopes for detecting even more rare events hidden in Kepler data," said co-author Armin Rest of STScI.

The team plans to continue mining Kepler data, as well as data from another exoplanet hunter, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) mission, in search of other transients.

"The continuous observations by Kepler/K2, and now TESS, of these dynamic stellar systems allows us to study the earliest hours of the outburst, a time domain that is nearly impossible to reach from ground-based observatories," said Peter Garnavich of the University of Notre Dame in Indiana.

This work was published in the Oct. 21, 2019 issue of the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

Related link:

Kepler and K2:

Image (mentioned), Animation (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Rob Garner/Space Telescope Science Institute/Christine Pulliam/Ryan Ridden-Harper/Australian National University/Ryan Ridden-Harper/GSFC/Claire Andreoli.


How Earth Climate Models Help Scientists Picture Life on Unimaginable Worlds

NASA Goddard Space Flight Center logo.

Jan. 24, 2020

In a generic brick building on the northwestern edge of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center campus in Greenbelt, Maryland, thousands of computers packed in racks the size of vending machines hum in a deafening chorus of data crunching. Day and night, they spit out 7 quadrillion calculations per second. These machines collectively are known as NASA’s Discover supercomputer and they are tasked with running sophisticated climate models to predict Earth’s future climate.

But now, they’re also sussing out something much farther away: whether any of the more than 4,000 curiously weird planets beyond our solar system discovered in the past two decades could support life.

Scientists are finding that the answer not only is yes, but that it’s yes under a range of surprising conditions compared to Earth. This revelation has prompted many of them to grapple with a question vital to NASA’s search for life beyond Earth. Is it possible that our notions of what makes a planet suitable for life are too limiting?

Image above: Illustration of an exoplanet. Image Credits: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/Chris Smith.

The next generation of powerful telescopes and space observatories will surely give us more clues. These instruments will allow scientists for the first time to analyze the atmospheres of the most tantalizing planets out there: rocky ones, like Earth, that could have an essential ingredient for life — liquid water — flowing on their surfaces.

For the time being, it’s difficult to probe far-off atmospheres. Sending a spacecraft to the closest planet outside our solar system, or exoplanet, would take 75,000 years with today’s technology. Even with powerful telescopes nearby exoplanets are virtually impossible to study in detail. The trouble is that they’re too small and too drowned out by the light of their stars for scientists to make out the faint light signatures they reflect — signatures that could reveal the chemistry of life at the surface.

In other words, detecting the ingredients of the atmospheres around these phantom planets, as many scientists like to point out, is like standing in Washington, D.C., and trying to glimpse a firefly next to a searchlight in Los Angeles. This reality makes climate models critical to exploration, said chief exoplanetary scientist Karl Stapelfeldt, who’s based at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

“The models make specific, testable predictions of what we should see,” he said. “These are very important for designing our future telescopes and observing strategies.”

Is the Solar System a Good Role Model?

In scanning the cosmos with large ground-based and space telescopes, astronomers have discovered an eclectic assortment of worlds that seem drawn from the imagination.

“For a long time, scientists were really focused on finding Sun- and Earth-like systems. That’s all we knew,” said Elisa Quintana, a NASA Goddard astrophysicist who led the 2014 discovery of Earth-sized planet Kepler-186f. “But we found out that there’s this whole crazy diversity in planets. We found planets as small as the Moon. We found giant planets. And we found some that orbit tiny stars, giant stars and multiple stars.”

Indeed, most of the planets detected by NASA’s Kepler space telescope and the new Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, as well as ground-based observations, don’t exist in our solar system. They fall between the size of a terrestrial Earth and a gaseous Uranus, which is four times bigger than this planet.

Animation above: When a planet crosses directly between us and its star, we see the star dim slightly because the planet is blocking out a portion of the light. Measuring these dips in starlight is one technique, which is known as the “transit method,” that scientists use to identify exoplanets. Scientists make a plot called a “light curve” which shows the brightness of the star over time. Using this plot, scientists can see what percentage of the star's light the planet blocks and how long it takes the planet to cross the disk of the star, information that helps them estimate the planet's distance from the star and its mass. Animation Credits: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.

Planets closest in size to Earth, and most likely in theory to have habitable conditions, so far have been found only around “red dwarf” stars, which make up a vast majority of stars in the galaxy. But that’s likely because red dwarfs are smaller and dimmer than the Sun, so the signal from planets orbiting them is easier for telescopes to detect.

Because red dwarfs are small, planets have to lap uncomfortably close — closer than Mercury is to the Sun — to stay gravitationally attached to them. And because red dwarfs are cool, compared to all other stars, planets have to be closer to them to draw enough heat to allow liquid water to pool on their surfaces.

Image above: In 2014, NASA's Swift mission detected a record-setting series of X-ray flares unleashed by DG CVn, a nearby binary consisting of two red dwarf stars, illustrated here. At its peak, the initial flare was brighter in X-rays than the combined light from both stars at all wavelengths under normal conditions. Animation Credits: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.

Among the most alluring recent discoveries in red dwarf systems are planets like Proxima Centauri b, or simply Proxima b. It's the closest exoplanet. There are also seven rocky planets in the nearby system TRAPPIST-1. Whether or not these planets could sustain life is still a matter of debate. Scientists point out that red dwarfs can spew up to 500 times more harmful ultraviolet and X-ray radiation at their planets than the Sun ejects into the solar system. On the face of it, this environment would strip atmospheres, evaporate oceans and fry DNA on any planet close to a red dwarf.

Yet, maybe not. Earth climate models are showing that rocky exoplanets around red dwarfs could be habitable despite the radiation. 

The Magic is in the Clouds

Anthony Del Genio is a recently retired planetary climate scientist from NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York City. During his career he simulated the climates of Earth and of other planets, including Proxima b.

Del Genio's team recently simulated possible climates on Proxima b to test how many would leave it warm and wet enough to host life. This type of modeling work helps NASA scientists identify a handful of promising planets worthy of more rigorous study with NASA’s forthcoming James Webb Space Telescope.

“While our work can’t tell observers if any planet is habitable or not, we can tell them whether a planet is smack in the midrange of good candidates to search further,” Del Genio said.

Earth Climate Models Bring Exoplanet To Life

Video Credits: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.

Proxima b orbits Proxima Centauri in a three-star system located just 4.2 light years from the Sun. Besides that, scientists don’t know much about it. They believe it’s rocky, based on its estimated mass, which is slightly larger than Earth’s. Scientists can infer mass by watching how much Proxima b tugs on its star as it orbits it.

The problem with Proxima b is that it’s 20 times closer to its star than Earth is to the Sun. Therefore, it takes the planet only 11.2 days to make one orbit (Earth takes 365 days to orbit the Sun once). Physics tells scientists that this cozy arrangement could leave Proxima b gravitationally locked to its star, like the Moon is gravitationally locked to Earth. If true, one side of Proxima b faces the star’s intense radiation while the other one freezes in the darkness of space in a planetary recipe that doesn’t bode well for life on either side.

But Del Genio’s simulations show that Proxima b, or any planet with similar characteristics, could be habitable despite the forces conspiring against it. “And the clouds and oceans play a fundamental role in that,” Del Genio said.

Del Genio’s team upgraded an Earth climate model first developed in the 1970s to create a planetary simulator called ROCKE-3D. Whether Proxima b has an atmosphere is an open and critical question that will hopefully be settled by future telescopes. But Del Genio’s team assumed that it does.

With each simulation Del Genio’s team varied the types and amounts of greenhouse gases in Proxima b’s air. They also changed the depth, size, and salinity of its oceans and adjusted the ratio of land to water to see how these tweaks would influence the planet’s climate.

Image above: This is an excerpt of Fortran code from the ROCKE-3D model that calculates the details of the orbit of any planet around its star. This has been modified from the original Earth model so that it can handle any kind of planet in any kind of orbit, including planets that are "tidally locked," with one side always facing the star. This code is needed to predict how high in the sky of a planet the star is at any time, and thus how strongly heated the planet is, how long day and night are, whether there are seasons, and if so, how long they are. Image Credits: NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies/Anthony Del Genio.

Models such as ROCKE-3D begin with only grains of basic information about an exoplanet: its size, mass, and distance from its star. Scientists can infer these things by watching the light from a star dip as a planet crosses in front of it, or by measuring the gravitational tugging on a star as a planet circles it.

These scant physical details inform equations that comprise up to a million lines of computer code needed to build the most sophisticated climate models. The code instructs a computer like NASA's Discover supercomputer to use established rules of nature to simulate global climate systems. Among many other factors, climate models consider how clouds and oceans circulate and interact and how radiation from a sun interacts with a planet’s atmosphere and surface.

When Del Genio’s team ran ROCKE-3D on Discover they saw that Proxima b’s hypothetical clouds acted like a massive sun umbrella by deflecting radiation. This could lower the temperature on Proxima b’s sun-facing side from too hot to warm.

Other scientists have found that Proxima b could form clouds so massive they would blot out the entire sky if one were looking up from the surface.

“If a planet is gravitationally locked and rotating slowly on its axis a circle of clouds forms in front of the star, always pointing towards it. This is due to a force known as the Coriolis effect, which causes convection at the location where the star is heating the atmosphere,” said Ravi Kopparapu, a NASA Goddard planetary scientist who also models the potential climates of exoplanets. “Our modeling shows that Proxima b could look like this.”

In addition to making Proxima b’s day side more temperate than expected, a combination of atmosphere and ocean circulation would move warm air and water around the planet, thereby transporting heat to the cold side. “So you not only keep the atmosphere on the night side from freezing out, you create parts on the night side that actually maintain liquid water on the surface, even though those parts see no light,” Del Genio said.

Taking a New Look at an Old Role Model

Atmospheres are envelopes of molecules around planets. Besides helping maintain and circulate heat, atmospheres distribute gases that nourish life or are produced by it.

These gases are the so-called “biosignatures” scientists will look for in the atmospheres of exoplanets. But what exactly they should be looking for is still undecided.

Earth’s is the only evidence scientists have of the chemistry of a life-sustaining atmosphere. Yet, they have to be cautious when using Earth’s chemistry as a model for the rest of the galaxy. Simulations from Goddard planetary scientist Giada Arney, for instance, show that even something as simple as oxygen — the quintessential sign of plant life and photosynthesis on modern Earth — could present a trap.

Image above: NASA scientists now have the most complete global picture of life on Earth to date. From the unique vantage point of space, NASA observes not only Earth’s landmasses and oceans but also the organisms that live among them. Image Credits: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.

Arney’s work highlights something interesting. Had alien civilizations pointed their telescopes toward Earth billions of years ago hoping to find a blue planet swimming in oxygen, they would have been disappointed; maybe they would have turned their telescopes toward another world. But instead of oxygen, methane could have been the best biosignature to look for 3.8 to 2.5 billion years ago. This molecule was produced in abundance back then, likely by the microorganisms quietly flourishing in the oceans.

“What is interesting about this phase of Earth’s history is that it was so alien compared to modern Earth,” Arney said. “There was no oxygen yet, so it wasn’t even a pale blue dot. It was a pale orange dot,” she said, referencing the orange haze produced by the methane smog that may have shrouded early Earth.

Findings like this one, Arney said, “have broadened our thinking about what’s possible among exoplanets,” helping expand the list of biosignatures planetary scientists will look for in distant atmospheres.

Building a Blueprint for Atmosphere Hunters

While the lessons from planetary climate models are theoretical — meaning scientists haven’t had an opportunity to test them in the real world — they offer a blueprint for future observations.

One major goal of simulating climates is to identify the most promising planets to turn to with the Webb telescope and other missions so that scientists can use limited and expensive telescope time most efficiently. Additionally, these simulations are helping scientists create a catalog of potential chemical signatures that they will one day detect. Having such a database to draw from will help them quickly determine the type of planet they’re looking at and decide whether to keep probing or turn their telescopes elsewhere.

Discovering life on distant planets is a gamble, Del Genio noted: “So if we want to observe most wisely, we have to take recommendations from climate models, because that’s just increasing the odds.”

The researchers and science profiled in this story are part of the Sellers Exoplanet Environments Collaboration, or SEEC, at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. The multidisciplinary collaborative brings together experts from planetary and Earth sciences, with those from astrophysics and heliophysics, to build the most comprehensive and sophisticated computer models of exoplanets in order to better prepare for current and future exoplanet observations. To learn more, visit:

Related article:

NESSI Emerges as New Tool for Exoplanet Atmospheres

Related links:

Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC):

Karl Stapelfeldt:

Del Genio’s simulations:




TESS (Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite):

Kepler space telescope:

Images (mentioned), Animation (mentioned), Video (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Svetlana Shekhtman/Goddard Space Flight Center, by Lonnie Shekhtman.


The opening of the CHEOPS lid postponed

CHEOPS - CHaracterising ExOPlanet Satellite logo.

Jan. 24, 2020

The Swiss space telescope team wants to optimize certain parameters of the instrument. The opening of the telescope cover, scheduled for Monday, January 27, has been postponed.

Image above: Opening the CHEOPS lid is irreversible, all the more reason to be careful. Image Credit: ESA.

The Swiss space telescope CHEOPS will send its first images of space later than expected. Some tests will be repeated and the opening of the lid is postponed for a few days, announced the University of Bern on Friday.

The telescope cover was scheduled to open on Monday, January 27. Even if everything has worked perfectly since its launch on December 18, the CHEOPS team has come to the conclusion, based on the analysis of all the data, that certain parameters of the instrument can still be optimized. Some measures have therefore been repeated, which results in a slight delay compared to the initial planning.

Irreversible opening

The decision was made because the lid opening is irreversible: all pending trials and activities that require a closed lid must be completed and interpreted correctly before opening. The delay will have no impact on CHEOPS 'overall operational plan and the start of scientific exploitation.

Since its launch, the space telescope has revolved around the Earth at an altitude of 700 kilometers. The gradual commissioning of its various functions since the beginning of January went very well, continues the University of Bern. Various tests have been carried out to ensure that the instrument and its platform are functioning properly.

CHEOPS orbiting the Earth

CHEOPS also produced the first images which it transmitted to Earth. With the telescope cover still closed, these images are black, but they are essential for calibrating the instrument.

Under the aegis of the University of Bern

CHEOPS (CHaracterising ExOPlanet Satellite) is a project of the European Space Agency (ESA) and Switzerland. Over a hundred scientists from eleven European countries have built the telescope under the aegis of the University of Bern. Its objectives are to study exoplanets by observing the stars around which they orbit.

Nearly 4,000 exoplanets - orbiting a star other than the Sun - have been detected since the discovery of the first, 51 Pegasi b, 24 years ago by the 2019 Nobel Prize winners Didier Queloz, of the University of Geneva, and Michel Mayor.

The goal of CHEOPS is not to seek out new ones, but to analyze those already identified to try to understand what they are made of. This is a step in the long quest for extraterrestrial life forms, but also for the origins of the Earth.

Related links:

CHEOPS Mission Home Page:


Image (mentioned), Animation, Text, Credits: ATS/ESA/UNIBE/ Aerospace/Roland Berga.

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jeudi 23 janvier 2020

Mars Curiosity Rover Says Farewell to Murray Buttes

NASA - Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) logo.

Jan. 23, 2020

This view from the Curiosity Mars rover's Mast Camera (Mastcam) shows an outcrop with finely layered rocks within the "Murray Buttes" region on lower Mount Sharp. The buttes and mesas rising above the surface in this area are eroded remnants of ancient sandstone that originated when winds deposited sand after lower Mount Sharp had formed. Curiosity closely examined that layer -- called the "Stimson formation" -- during the first half of 2016, while crossing a feature called "Naukluft Plateau" between two exposures of the Murray formation. The layering within the sandstone is called "cross-bedding" and indicates that the sandstone was deposited by wind as migrating sand dunes. The image was taken on Sept. 8, 2016, the 1,454th Martian day, or sol, of Curiosity's work on Mars.

Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) or Curiosity rover

Mars Science Laboratory (Curiosity):

Image, Animation, Credits: NASA/Yvette Smith/JPL-Caltech/MSSS.


Spacewalk Preps Underway as Station Orbits Higher Ahead of Crew Departure

ISS - Expedition 61 Mission patch.

January 23, 2020

The International Space Station is orbiting higher today as three Expedition 61 crewmates get ready to return to Earth in two weeks. Meanwhile, two astronauts are finalizing preparations for a spacewalk early Saturday.

Russia’s Progress 74 cargo craft fired its engines twice boosting the space station’s altitude Thursday morning. The orbital adjustment sets up the correct trajectory for the undocking and landing of the Soyuz MS-13 crew ship on Feb. 6.

Image above: Astronaut Andrew Morgan holds on to a handrail during the second spacewalk to repair the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer on Nov. 22, 2019. Image Credit: NASA.

The Soyuz MS-13 will be commanded by Alexander Skvortsov returning home with astronauts Christina Koch and Luca Parmitano. The trio will parachute to a landing in Kazakhstan at 4:14 a.m. EST (3:14 p.m. Kazakh time). Koch will have lived in space continuously for 328 days, second only to U.S. astronaut Scott Kelly with 340 days.

The third spacewalk of January 2020 is set to begin Saturday at 6:50 a.m. EST with live NASA TV coverage getting under way at 5:30 a.m. Parmitano with NASA Flight Engineer Andrew Morgan will complete the complex thermal repairs on the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer, a dark matter and antimatter detector.

International Space Station (ISS). Animation Credit: NASA

Koch and fellow NASA astronaut Jessica Meir will assist the spacewalkers with the Canadarm2 robotic arm and are getting up to speed with the fine-tuned robotics maneuvers. They were joined by Morgan and Parmitano as the quartet reviewed spacewalk tasks and procedures.

Related links:

Expedition 61:

Progress 74 cargo craft:

Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS):


Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

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Chang'e 4 lander "Yutu 2" lunar rover awakens independently and enters the 14th day sunlight on the Moon

 CLEP - China Lunar Exploration Program logo.

Jan. 23, 2020

The two pioneers of Yuebei pioneered the wild cold and trudged in spring and autumn. On the occasion of the Spring Festival, the most important traditional festival of the Chinese nation, the Chang'e 4 lander "Yutu 2" lunar rover was awakened by light and started work on the 14th day of the day. This industrious "rabbit" will join hands with the lander and work on the moon to spend the Spring Festival again with everyone.

Chang'e 4 lander and "Yutu 2" lunar rover successfully awakened autonomously at 22 o'clock on January 18 and 17:55 on the 19th, respectively. The telemetry signal is normal, the energy balance is normal, and the scientific load is turned on normally. Lunar science continues Probe activity. The latest scientific results and scientific discoveries will be released in time.

Saying goodbye to 2019, China's lunar exploration and deep space exploration cause fruitful results. Chang'e-4 shined on the moon's back, and the results of in-situ detection and patrol detection have been fruitful, and it has become the longest working time detector on the moon in human history. The Long March 5 was reborn and the go-around mission was successfully completed. A solid foundation has been laid for space exploration activities and for going further into deep space.

Yutu 2 lunar rover

The spirit shines, and the future continues. Following this, Chinese astronauts will continue to uphold the "two bombs and one star" spirit, the manned spaceflight spirit, and the spirit of "chasing dreams, courage to explore, collaborate to overcome difficulties, and win-win cooperation" to trace the grand blueprint for the development of China's space industry and climb the space. Explore the scientific peak of innovation, submit satisfactory answers to people across the country, and make contributions to the construction of a community of shared future for mankind.

CNSA Press Release:

China National Space Administration (CNSA):

Images (CNSA/CLEP), Animation (CNSA/CLEP), Text, Credits: CNSA/ Aerospace/Roland Berga.


Spacewalks, science and Beyond

ESA - Beyond Mission logo.

Jan. 23, 2020

Luca and Drew with their spacesuits

Spacewalk season continues on the International Space Station. ESA astronaut Luca Parmitano and NASA astronaut Andrew Morgan are getting ready to step outside the Quest airlock for their fourth and final time together on Saturday. But before they do, we look back at an action-packed fortnight of science and operations on the world’s only orbital outpost.

Hearing test

Acoustic Diagnostics

Acoustic Diagnostics is an Italian Space Agency (ASI) experiment, developed in cooperation with the University of Rome Tor Vergata, to study the effects of microgravity on the hearing of astronauts. Both Luca and Drew lent their ears to this experiment over the past six months and on 17 January Luca performed his fifth and final session of the experiment in space.

Those who have listened to episode four of the ESA Explores Beyond mission podcast will know, the International Space Station can be a noisy place. In order to understand the impact of this environment on astronauts’ hearing, Acoustic Diagnostics monitors what are known as optoacoustic emissions (OAEs).

OAEs are caused when hairs in the inner ear move in response to auditory stimulation. That means the measurement is passive. Astronauts put on headphones with a special inner-ear tip that simultaneously plays sound and measures their ears’ reactions.

Though his space sessions are complete, in his second week back on Earth Luca will perform the experiment again allowing researchers to compare data.

Finishing TIME

Timing is everything

Luca also performed his sixth and final mandatory session of another familiar experiment – TIME. Pending sessions on the ground at the end of their missions, Luca and Drew are subjects five and six for this experiment that uses a virtual reality headset to better understand how astronauts perceive time in space.

TIME’s first two tasks require each astronaut to reproduce the perceived duration of an event. Tasks three and four require them to estimate the amount of time elapsed for a given event. Task five measures response time and task six requires the participants to judge the length of a minute.

Time perception is fundamental to motion perception, sound localisation, speech, and fine motor coordination. The results of ground-based studies have shown that distance perception and time perception are intimately linked and it is thought that microgravity could be responsible for an underestimation of the time between events. It is also thought that this misperception of time carries over to the early post-flight period. Luca is scheduled to perform more sessions once he is back on the ground to help researchers’ understanding.

Safer surfaces

Matiss-2 experiment on the Space Station

In the constantly recycled atmosphere of the International Space Station, buildup of bacteria poses a challenge to astronaut health – in fact, bacteria and viruses are often more virulent in microgravity than on earth. Mitigating this will be vital during missions to the Moon and Mars.

MATISS is an experiment from the French space agency CNES investigating the antibacterial properties of materials in space to determine whether future spacecraft could be easier to clean and better for astronaut hygiene.

Last September, Drew Morgan installed two MATISS-2.5 sample holders in Europe’s Columbus laboratory. These sample holders are a continuation of the experiment and contain new patterned hydrophobic materials that will remain exposed in the lab for a further two months. Hydrophobic materials are non-polar, meaning they repel water and could present a self-cleaning solution.

More in store

Experiment cube

In addition to these experiments, crewmembers have been studying the physics of flame spread as part of an experiment called Confined Combustion, completed surveys to help researchers better understand the effect of “menu fatigue” caused by the limited food options available in space and even communicated with a community centre in Japan via ham radio.

Autonomous experiments on everything from cyber security to an interactive artistic kaleidoscope have been running in Europe’s first commercial research facility ICE Cubes and – despite Luca returning to Earth – the European science will continue in earnest.

In fact, you can get an even closer look at life on board the International Space Station this Saturday on ESA Web TV ahead of the next #SpacewalkForAMS as we premiere an hour-long tour filmed by Luca and Drew themselves. Stay tuned.

Related links:

Confined Combustion:

“Menu fatigue”:

Ham radio:

ICE Cubes:


Human and Robotic Exploration:

Science & Exploration:

International Space Station (ISS):

Images, Text, Credits: ESA/NASA.

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