samedi 29 février 2020

SpaceX CRS-20 Launch Targeted for March 6

SpaceX - Dragon CRS-20 Mission patch.

February 29, 2020

SpaceX is now targeting March 6 at 11:50 p.m. EST for launch of its 20th commercial resupply services mission (CRS-20) to the International Space Station. During standard preflight inspections, SpaceX identified a valve motor on the second stage engine behaving not as expected and determined the safest and most expedient path to launch is to utilize the next second stage in line that was already at the Cape and ready for flight. The new second stage has already completed the same preflight inspections with all hardware behaving as expected. The updated target launch date provides the time required to complete preflight integration and final checkouts.

Image above: A two-stage SpaceX Falcon 9 launch vehicle lifts off from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on June 29, 2018. SpaceX is targeting 11:50 p.m. EST Friday, March 6, 2020 for the launch of its 20th resupply mission to the International Space Station. Photo credit: NASA.

The cargo Dragon will lift off atop a Falcon 9 rocket from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida carrying more than 5,600 pounds of science investigations and cargo to the station, including research on particle foam manufacturing, water droplet formation, the human intestine and other cutting-edge investigations.

Related articles:

Improving Shoes, Showers, 3D Printing: Research Launching to the Space Station

Space Life and Physical Sciences Research and Applications SpaceX-20 Experiments and Payloads

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Image (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Linda Herridge.

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Space Life and Physical Sciences Research and Applications SpaceX-20 Experiments and Payloads

SpaceX - Dragon CRS-20 Mission patch.

Feb. 29, 2020

Research on physical science and life sciences in space allows humans to both expand their knowledge of space and enhance their economic vitality on Earth. A series of physical science experiments testing micro gravity properties in space are driving global advances in science and technology. Through a number of innovative biological experiments, NASA is also finding new ways to help plants, animals and humans survive and thrive in spaceflight conditions. Investigations launching to the International Space Station on SpaceX’s 20th contracted commercial resupply services mission include the following:

Physical Sciences

Combustion Research From Fuel Efficiency to Flammability

Several experiments will study combustion focusing on three primary goals: How can we improve fuel efficiency? How can we reduce combustion pollutants? How can we better prevent a fire inside a spacecraft? The Advanced Combustion via Microgravity Experiments (ACME) project is a series of six independent studies of gaseous flames that will be conducted in the Combustion Integrated Rack on board the orbiting laboratory.

Image above: The shape of a flame under microgravity conditions is visibly different from the long, tapered shape found on Earth.

Five of the experiments are focused on improving how we use fuel on Earth. By developing computational models, scientists hope to improve the efficiency and reduce the pollutant emission in combustion machines. In addition, the computational simulation capability resulting from ACME could lead to reductions in the time and cost to design the next generation of combustion engines. Other ACME goals are to improve our understanding of combustion during limited fuel conditions where both optimum performance and low emissions can be achieved, as well as soot control and reduction – that is, oxygen-enriched combustion which would capture carbons before they were released into the air, and flame stability and extinction limits, as well as the use of electric fields for combustion control.

The objective of the sixth experiment is focused on spacecraft fire prevention. Scientists want to improve their fundamental understanding of materials flammability such as extinction behavior and the microgravity conditions needed for sustained combustion. It will also help them assess the relevance of existing flammability test methods as they screen and select materials for future spacecraft.

Principal Investigators:
Richard Axelbaum, Ph.D. Washington University in St. Louis,
Derek Dunn-Rankin, Ph.D. University of California, Irvine, Irvine,
Chung (Ed) Law, Ph.D. Princeton University,
Marshall Long, Ph.D. Yale University,
James Quintiere, Ph.D. University of Maryland

NASA Glenn Research Center
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Turning up the Temperature on Materials Science with Liquid Metal

For thousands of years, humans have produced glass, metal alloys, and other materials by placing a mixture of raw materials in a container - called a crucible – and heating them to a high temperature. But, as melting begins, a chemical reaction can occur between the materials and the crucible, causing imperfections and contaminations. So what if you could avoid using the crucible? You can – in space.

Aboard the International Space Station, NASA will use the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s Electrostatic Levitation Furnace (ELF) handles materials using a containerless processing technique. This allows researchers to reduce imperfections, provide enhanced fidelity of results, and investigate the behavior of high-temperature manufactured materials including oxides, semiconductors, insulators and alloys which are only possible in the microgravity environment of space.

Image above: Flight Engineer Serena Auñón-Chancellor of NASA monitors the arrival of the H-II Transfer Vehicle-7. The Japanese resupply ship delivered a new sample holder for the Electrostatic Levitation Furnace.

The ELF will soon perform two new experiments: The Thermophysical Property Measurement investigation will study small (~2mm) spheres of metal to provide a better understanding of how to measure liquid metal properties. The knowledge gained will help researchers better understand how to maximize the levitators of each. NASA is part of an international team of researchers for the Origin Of Fragility In High-Temperature Oxide Liquids experiment that will, on the other hand, investigate what happens when high temperatures are applied to those same small spheres of various metal oxides. Oxides are a class of chemical compounds in which oxygen is combined with another element, in this case a metal. The spheres are heated by multiple laser beams to a high temperature, where the metal becomes a liquid. Metal oxides are developed for products such as thermal conductors and electrical insulators, and these liquids formed from these materials are expected to serve as precursors to products that are useful in advanced sensors, benefiting manufacturers and scientists designing new materials and manufacturing techniques that can be used both on Earth and in Space.

ELF Thermophysical Property Measurement Experiment

Principal Investigator:
Douglas M. Matson, Ph.D., Tufts University

Krivilev, Ph.D., Udmurt State University, Russia

High-Temperature Oxide Liquids Experiment

Principal Investigator:
Shinji Kohara, Ph.D., National Institute for Materials Science, Japan

Richard Weber, Ph.D., Materials Development Inc.

Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, Space Environment Utilization Center

A Closer Look at Complex Nanostructures for Future New Materials

Take a close look at an object – any object – through an electron microscope, and you’ll see how it’s composed of micron-scale particles. How do those particles form and blend with each other to become that object? Welcome to the world of colloids and nanostructures. In chemistry, a colloid is a mixture in which one substance of microscopically dispersed insoluble or soluble particles is suspended throughout another substance, much like tapioca pudding.  Scientists know temperature is a factor in determining how these microscopic particles bond with their surfaces and with each other. But another factor that’s been difficult to measure is the effect gravity has on these particles – until now.

Image above: NASA astronaut Karen Nyberg, Expedition 36 flight engineer, as she conducts a session with the Advanced Colloids Experiment (ACE)-1 sample preparation at the Light Microscopy Module in the Fluids Integrated Rack / Fluids Combustion Facility.

The Advanced Colloids Experiment Temperature-2 (ACE-T-2) experiment will look at the complex structures of these micron-scale colloidal particles, and how they assemble in micro gravity conditions. Using the electron microscope on board the station, scientists will observe these particle interactions when different temperatures are applied to them.

The experimental work emanates from an increasing demand for ever more complex, specifically designed micro and nano-scale structures for photonic and electric devices. Controlling how these complex 3D structures are assembled, however, is highly challenging. Through these experiments, and assisted by complex algorithms, scientists hope to gain a basic understanding of the assembly process to better grow complex nanostructured materials.

These Colloidal and nano-particles are good candidates to become the building blocks of some of tomorrow’s new materials. Applications of nano and micro materials are rapidly growing: this new particulate matter finds increasing applications in all parts of modern life ranging from food and drug industry to coating and painting to everyday electronic devices.

Principal Investigator:
Peter Schall, Ph.D

Gerard Wegdam, Ph.D., University of Amsterdam, Institute of Physics
Simon Stuij, University of Amsterdam, Institute of Physics
Piet Swinkels, University of Amsterdam, Institute of Physics
Marco A. C. Potenza, Ph.D., University of Milan

NASA Glenn Research Center
Zin Technologies Incorporated

There’s a relatively new technique that allows scientists to design and assemble complex three-dimensional structures from colloids. Those are particles of different sizes that are suspended in a fluid, similar in concept to how microbeads are suspended  in liquid soap. The technique is known as nanoparticle haloing (NPH) which uses highly charged nanoparticles to stabilize much larger, non charged particles. It is thought that the nanoparticles create a charge layer by forming a cage, or Halo, around the larger particles.

Image above: Onboard the International Space Station of the ACE Modules taken during the ACE-T12 Module Configuration.

On Earth, gravity plays a role in how well particles are suspended in a fluid. But, by allowing these structures to form in the microgravity on board the International Space Station for the Advanced Colloids Experiment-Nanoparticle Haloing (ACE-T-12)

experiment, scientists hope to gain new insights into the relationship between the shape surface charge and concentrations of particles and the particle interactions.

Microgravity allows for the monitoring of particle behavior for longer time periods than on Earth, and this experiment will allow the first observation of 3D aggregations formed by NPH. The resulting structure and its stability address fundamental issues in the science of condensed matter.

Since self-assembled colloidal structures are vital to the design of advanced materials, this investigation will contribute to a fundamental understanding of nanoparticle haloing and the colloidal structures it creates. That lays the foundation for applying this technique to creating the next generation colloidal materials, including optically-based energy platforms and sensors, for use on Earth.

Principal Investigators:
Stuart J. Williams, Ph.D. University of Louisville
Suzanne Smith, Ph.D. University of Kentucky

Gerold Willing, Ph.D. University of Louisville

NASA Glenn Research Center​
Zin Technologies Incorporated

Space Biology

Understanding Plant Defenses in Space

Crews on future long-term space missions need to be able to grow their own food, and studies of how plants respond to microgravity are an important step toward developing that capability. The Biological Research in Canisters-Light Emitting Diode-002 (BRIC-LED)-002 investigation tests whether spaceflight affects the ability of plants to defend themselves against pathogens. Arabidopsis thaliana is a weed commonly found abutting the pavement on the back roads of Africa or Eurasia, popularly known as thale cress or mouse-ear cress. Arabidopsis is a model organism, commonly used by biologists due to its relatively small genome, making it ideal for research. Even though it has a complex multicellular frame, this particular weed is well-understood by scientists.

Image above: NASA astronaut Jack Fischer installing the Biological Research In Canisters (BRIC) Light Emitting Diode (LED) for future BRIC-LED experiments.

While this particular plant does well in defending itself against pathogens on Earth, the results of this investigation could have important implications for any plant grown on board as part of a crew’s life support system. Specifically, researchers will grow the Arabidopsis plants in orbit grown for a period of up to 14 days. Then, crew members will apply a bacterial compound that triggers the plant’s defense responses. After one hour, they preserve the plant samples, and after a period of 12-24 hours, they freeze the samples using the ultra-cold freezer on the station. The plants are stored there until they return to Earth for analysis.

Research on plant function in microgravity also contributes to a better understanding of basic plant processes, which could support development of better agricultural practices on Earth.

Principal Investigator:
Simon Gilroy, Ph.D. University of Wisconsin-Madison

Testing Hardware for Space Gardens

Future long-duration space missions will require crew members to grow their own food. Before they do, they’ll need to better understand how plants respond to microgravity and other challenges not found on Earth, and also refine the systems and procedures to support plant growth.

VEG-PONDS-03 will evaluate how plants - in this case lettuce - grow in a newly developed plant growth system known as PONDS, or Passive Orbital Nutrient Delivery System. On Earth, gravity naturally forces rainwater down into the ground to nourish a plant’s roots. The PONDS units have features that are designed to bypass the lack of gravity in order to distribute water. They are also able to increase the plant’s oxygen exchange and provide sufficient room for root growth.

Image above: Howard Levine, Ph.D., a research scientist at NASA's Kennedy Space Center, reviews the growth of several tomato plants in a laboratory in the Space Station Processing Facility. The tomato plants are growing in the Veggie Passive Orbital Nutrient Delivery System (PONDS).

Red romaine lettuce was chosen for the testing because it has a baseline for its growth from several previous experiments in the Vegetable Production System (Veggie) where crew members grew and ate it in space. The plants are grown in mixtures of arcillite, a porous material. Prior to launch, the PONDS units are packed with arcilite and time-release fertilizer, just like you use in potting soil at home. In space, the PONDS units are placed in the Veggie facility and supplied with water to initiate plant growth. Observations on plant tissue samples will provide insight regarding any growth differences when compared with control plants grown on Earth. Additional tests aim to monitor the microbial changes that are present in space grown crops, providing baseline data for future food production efforts.

VEG-PONDS-03 is a direct follow-on to the VEG-PONDS-01 and VEG-PONDS-02 hardware and plant growth validation tests. VEG-PONDS-01 tested growth of a single organism: Mizuna mustard. VEG-PONDS-03 now includes Dragoon Lettuce, Red Russian Kale, Extra Dwarf Pak Choi, Wasabi Mustard, and Red Romaine Lettuce. By demonstrating plant growth in this newly developed system, crew members may soon be able to grow even more crops, from new leafy greens to dwarf fruit plants in space.

Back on Earth, scientists are already exploring how the technology used in the Veggie plant growth facility could be adapted for use in roof top gardens in densely populated areas where there is little room for growing plants.

Principal Investigators:
Howard G. Levine, Ph.D. NASA Kennedy Space Center
Ye Zhang, Ph.D. NASA Kennedy Space Center

NASA Kennedy Space Center

Researching Cellular Response to Radiation

Of all the risks associated with long term space travel, one of the most hazardous is exposure to radiation – these invisible particles have sufficient energy to change or break DNA, which can damage or kill a cell. Too much exposure can lead to health problems ranging from short to long term effects. Radiation particles emanate from galactic cosmic rays originating outside our solar system, and by the Sun during solar flares. Crew members aboard the space station receive some protection from Earth’s atmosphere and magnetic field, but radiation will become are much bigger challenge when they travel to the Moon or Mars.

Image above: This illustration depicts the two main types of radiation and how the magnetic field around Earth affects the radiation in space near Earth.

To better understand the biological impact of space radiation on cells, NASA launched a long-term radiation exposure experiment called Evaluation of ISS Environmental Radiation Damage on Cryopreserved Mammalian Cells (Rad-Dorm) to the space station in late 2018 and will return aboard Dragon in April. Prior to launch, cryopreserved cells were placed into biological canisters. On board the space station, the canisters containing the frozen cells were placed in the Minus Eighty Degree Laboratory Freezer (MELFI) and then transferred to another even colder freezer at minus 160C.  Scientists will analyze DNA damage and other cellular features to better understand how different cells respond to long duration exposure to space radiation.

This data will provide valuable information for evaluating the biological impact of true space radiation and assisting in radiation risk assessments. Also, it potentially will benefit other radiation research on Earth, giving researchers a better understanding of how cells respond to exposure of different radiation sources.

Principal Investigator:
Ye Zhang, Ph.D. NASA Kennedy Space Center

Abba C. Zubair, Ph.D. Mayo Clinic Jacksonville
Honglu Wu, Ph.D. NASA Johnson Space Center

Hardware Developer:
NASA Kennedy Space Center
Jacobs (Test and Operations Support Contract)

Payload Developer:
Jacobs (Test and Operations Support Contract)
MEI Technologies

This life science and physical science research was funded by, or in collaboration with, the Space Life and Physical Science Research and Applications division at NASA headquarters.

Stay informed on other exciting SLPSRA research initiatives:

Related links:

Commercial Resupply:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

Images, Text, Credits: NASA/Carlyle Webb.


vendredi 28 février 2020

Examining Ice Giants With James Webb Space Telescope

NASA / ESA / CSA-ASC - James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) patch's.

Feb. 28, 2020

Far-flung Uranus and Neptune — the ice giants of our solar system — are as mysterious as they are distant. Soon after its launch in 2021, NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope will change that by unlocking secrets of the atmospheres of both planets.

The cold and remote giant planets Uranus and Neptune are nicknamed the “ice giants” because their interiors are compositionally different from Jupiter and Saturn, which are richer in hydrogen and helium, and are known as the “gas giants.” The ice giants are also much smaller than their gaseous cousins, being intermediate in size between terrestrial planets and the gas giants.  They represent the least-explored category of planet in our solar system.  Scientists using Webb plan to study the circulation patterns, chemistry and weather of Uranus and Neptune in a way only Webb can.

Image above: These Hubble Space Telescope images show the varied faces of Uranus. On the left, Uranus in 2005 displays its ring system. The planet — along with its rings and moons — is tipped on its side, rotating at roughly a 90-degree angle from the plane of its orbit. In the Hubble close-up taken just one year later, Uranus reveals its banded structure and a mysterious dark storm. Image Credits: NASA, ESA, and M. Showalter (SETI Institute); Right: NASA, ESA, L. Sromovsky and P. Fry (U. Wisconsin), H. Hammel (Space Science Institute), and K. Rages (SETI Institute).

“The key thing that Webb can do that is very, very difficult to accomplish from any other facility is map their atmospheric temperature and chemical structure,” explained the studies’ leader, Leigh Fletcher, an associate professor of planetary science at the University of Leicester in the United Kingdom. “We think that the weather and climate of the ice giants are going to have a fundamentally different character compared to the gas giants. That’s partly because they’re so far away from the Sun, they’re smaller in size and rotate slower on their axes, but also because the blend of gases and the amount of atmospheric mixing is very different compared with Jupiter and Saturn.”

All the gases in the upper atmospheres of Uranus and Neptune have unique chemical fingerprints that Webb can detect. Crucially, Webb can distinguish one chemical from another.  If these chemicals are being produced by sunlight interacting with the atmosphere, or if they’re being redistributed from place to place by large-scale circulation patterns, Webb will be able to see that.

These studies will be conducted through a Guaranteed Time Observations (GTO) program of the solar system led by Heidi Hammel, a planetary scientist and Webb Interdisciplinary Scientist. She is also Vice President for Science at the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA) in Washington, D.C. Hammel’s program will demonstrate the capabilities of Webb for observing solar system objects and exercise some of Webb’s specific techniques for objects that are bright and/or are moving in the sky.

Uranus: The Tilted Planet

Unlike the other planets in our solar system, Uranus — along with its rings and moons — is tipped on its side, rotating at roughly a 90-degree angle from the plane of its orbit. This makes the planet appear to roll like a ball around the Sun. That weird orientation — which may be the result of a gargantuan collision with another massive protoplanet early in the formation of the solar system — gives rise to extreme seasons on Uranus.

When NASA’s Voyager 2 spacecraft flew by Uranus in 1986, one pole was pointing directly at the Sun.  “No matter how much Uranus would spin,” Hammel explained, “one half was in complete sunlight all the time, and the other half was in total darkness. It’s the craziest thing you can imagine.”

Image above: Arriving at Uranus in 1986, Voyager 2 observed a bluish orb with extremely subtle features. A haze layer hid most of the planet's clouds from view. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

Disappointingly, Voyager 2 saw only a billiard-ball smooth planet covered in haze, with only a scant handful of clouds. But when Hubble viewed Uranus in the early 2000s, the planet had traveled a quarter of the way around in its orbit. Now the equator was pointed at the Sun, and the entire planet was illuminated over the course of a Uranian day.

“Theory told us nothing would change,” said Hammel, “But the reality was that Uranus started sprouting up all kinds of bright clouds, and a dark spot was discovered by Hubble. The clouds seemed to be changing dramatically in response to the immediate change in sunlight as the planet traveled around the Sun.”

As the planet continues its slow orbital trek, it will point its other pole at the Sun in 2028.

Webb will give insight into the powerful seasonal forces driving the formation of its clouds and weather, and how this is changing with time. It will help determine how energy flows and is transported through the Uranian atmosphere. Scientists want to watch Uranus throughout Webb’s life, to build up a timeline of how the atmosphere responds to the extreme seasons. That will help them understand why this planet’s atmosphere seems to go through periods of intense activity punctuated by moments of calm.

Neptune: A World of Supersonic Winds

Neptune is a dark, cold world, yet it is whipped by supersonic winds that can reach up 1,500 miles per hour. More than 30 times as far from the Sun as Earth, Neptune is the only planet in our solar system not visible to the naked eye. Its existence was predicted by mathematics before its discovery in 1846. In 2011, Neptune completed its first 165-year orbit since its discovery.

Like Uranus, this ice giant’s very deep atmosphere is made of a thick soup of water, ammonia, hydrogen sulfide and methane over an unknown and inaccessible interior. The accessible upper layers of the atmosphere are made of hydrogen, helium and methane. As with Uranus, the methane gives Neptune its blue color, but some still-mysterious atmospheric chemistry makes Neptune’s blue a bit more striking than that of Uranus.

Image above: his Voyager 2 image of Neptune shows a cold and dark wind-whipped world. In 1989, NASA’s Voyager 2 became the first and only spacecraft to observe the planet Neptune, passing about 3,000 miles above the planet’s north pole. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

“It’s the same question here: How does energy flow and how is it transported through a planetary atmosphere?” explained Fletcher. “But in this case, unlike Uranus, the planet has a strong internal heat source. That heat source generates some of the most powerful winds and the most short-lived atmospheric vortices and cloud features of anywhere in the solar system. If we look at Neptune from night to night, its face is always shifting and changing as these clouds are stretched and pulled and manipulated by the underlying wind field.”

Following the 1989 Voyager 2 flyby of Neptune, scientists discovered a bright, hot vortex — a storm — at the planet’s south pole. Because the temperature there is higher than everywhere else in the atmosphere, this region is likely associated with some unique chemistry. Webb’s sensitivity will allow scientists to understand the unusual chemical environment within that polar vortex.

Image above: This Hubble Space Telescope image of Neptune, taken in 2018, shows a new dark storm (top center). Image Credits: NASA, ESA, and A. Simon (NASA Goddard Space Flight Center), and M. Wong and A. Hsu (University of California, Berkeley).

Just the Beginning

Fletcher advises to be prepared for seeing phenomena on Uranus and Neptune that are totally unlike what we’ve witnessed in the past. “Webb really has the capability to see the ice giants in a whole new light.  But to understand the continual atmospheric processes that are shaping these giant planets, you really need more than just a couple of samples,” he said. “So we compare Jupiter to Saturn to Uranus to Neptune, and by that, we build up a wider picture of how atmospheres work in general. This is the beginning of understanding how these worlds are changing with time.”

James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). Animation Credit: NASA

Hammel added, “We now know of hundreds of exoplanets — planets around other stars — of the size of our local ice giants. Uranus and Neptune provide us ground truth for studies of these newly discovered worlds.”

The James Webb Space Telescope will be the world’s premier space science observatory when it launches in 2021. Webb will solve mysteries in our solar system, look beyond to distant worlds around other stars, and probe the mysterious structures and origins of our universe and our place in it. Webb is an international program led by NASA with its partners, ESA (European Space Agency) and the Canadian Space Agency.

For more information about Webb, visit:




Images (mentioned), Animation (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Rob Garner/GSFC/Rob Gutro/Space Telescope Science Institute/Ann Jenkins/Christine Pulliam.


Space Station Science Highlights: Week of February 24, 2020

ISS - Expedition 62 Mission patch.

Feb. 28, 2020

Scientific investigations conducted aboard the International Space Station the week of Feb. 24 included studies of complex plasmas and shifts in body fluids in space. Crew members also completed initial unloading operations from the recently arrived Cygnus resupply craft, configuring it for easy access to the remaining cargo and as temporary stowage in anticipation of arrival of the SpaceX 20th resupply mission in early March.

Image above: An image taken as the space station orbited 265 miles above Canada shows the eastern United State coasts of, from bottom left to top right, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia and North Carolina. 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:

Understanding plasma crystals

The crew performed four experiment runs over several days for the Plasma Krystal-4 (PK-4) investigation, a collaboration between the ESA (European Space Agency) and the Russian Federal Space Agency (ROSCOSMOS) to study complex plasmas. These are low temperature gaseous mixtures of ionized gas, neutral gas and micron-sized particles. The particles can become highly charged and interact with each other, leading to 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 possibly lead to new research methods or improved spacecraft designs.

Producing isobutene from E. coli

The crew retrieved samples for the Tapping Microgravity to Enhance Biofuel Production (STaARS BioScience-9) investigation and placed them in cold stowage. This research examines the rates of production of isobutene from a genetically modified Escherichia coli (E. coli) bacteria. Isobutene is a widely used biofuel, and producing it from cultures aboard spacecraft could enhance the sustainability of future long-duration missions. The microgravity experiment also may help identify better ways to produce isobutene on Earth, reducing dependence on petrochemical processes and petroleum resources.

Taking a look at vision changes

Image above: NASA astronaut Jessica Meir configures the Light Microscopy Module (LMM) inside the Fluids Integrated Rack. The LMM enables novel research on microscopic phenomena in microgravity with the capability of remotely acquiring and downloading digital images and videos across many levels of magnification. Image Credit: NASA.

More than half of American astronauts experience vision changes and anatomical changes to their eyes during and after long-duration space flight. During spaceflight, body fluids shift into the head, increasing pressure in the brain. Scientists suspect that this increased pressure pushes on the back of the eye, changing its shape and affecting vision. The Fluid Shifts investigation measures how much fluid moves from the lower to the upper body and in or out of cells and blood vessels, and determines the effect on fluid pressure in the head, vision and eye structures.

Other investigations on which the crew performed work:

Image above: NASA astronaut Andrew Morgan conducts the OsteoOmics investigation, which studies the cellular mechanisms of bone loss associated with microgravity and could help researchers understand the mechanisms of bone loss in a wide range of disorders. Image Credit: NASA.

- OsteoOmics investigates the molecular and metabolic changes that occur in osteoblasts, cells in the body that form bone, in real and simulated microgravity.

- BioFabrication Facility (BFF) tests the printing of human organs and tissues in microgravity, a first step toward manufacturing entire human organs in space using refined biological 3D printing techniques.

- Sally Ride EarthKAM allows students to remotely control a camera to take photographs of coastlines, mountain ranges and other interesting features and phenomena from space. The EarthKAM team posts the images online for the public and participating classrooms to view.

- ISS Ham gives students an opportunity to talk directly with crew members via ham radio when the space station passes over their schools. This interaction engages and educates students, teachers, parents and other members of the community in science, technology, engineering and math.

- 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.

- Food Acceptability examines the effect of repetitive consumption of the food currently available during spaceflight. “Menu fatigue” resulting 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.

Space to Ground: Investigating Bone Loss: 02/28/2020

Related links:

Expedition 62:

Plasma Krystal-4 (PK-4):

STaARS BioScience-9:

Fluid Shifts:


ISS National Lab:

Spot the Station:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

Images (mentioned), Video (NASA), Text, Credits: NASA/Michael Johnson/John Love, Lead Increment Scientist Expedition 62.

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Crew Wraps Up Week With Space Biology and Physics Research

ISS - Expedition 62 Mission patch.

February 28, 2020

The Expedition 62 crew wrapped up the workweek with more bone studies and human research activities. Meanwhile, a U.S. cargo craft is one week away from launching to resupply the International Space Station.

NASA astronauts Jessica Meir and Andrew Morgan split their day between a pair of investigations exploring how the human physiology is impacted by long-term weightlessness.

Image above: The Expedition 62 mission patch floats inside the seven-window cupola, the International Space Station’s “window to the world.” The orbiting complex was flying 265 miles above Russia near the Caspian Sea at the time this photograph was taken. Image Credit: NASA.

The pair started Friday with ultrasound scans of the upper chest area followed by eye and head pressure checks. The biomedical exams are part of the Fluid Shifts study that seeks to understand and control the upward flow of body fluids in microgravity that affects astronauts. Results could inform preventative measures that keep crews healthy on future missions to the Moon, Mars and beyond.

Morgan then set up a 3D video camera in the afternoon to film Meir as she serviced bone cell samples for the OsteoOmics-02 experiment. The study is observing these cells for accelerated bone loss caused by microgravity. Doctors are pursuing the new knowledge to gain therapeutic insights into ground-based ailments such as osteoporosis. The virtual reality film is being recorded to provide cinematic, immersive experiences for audiences back on Earth.

Exterior view of International Space Station. Animation Credits: NASA/ISS HD Live

Space physics continued in the Russian segment of the space station as Commander Oleg Skripochka studied the formation of plasma crystals. The experiment provides fundamental knowledge about the physics of microgravity potentially influencing advanced research activities and future spacecraft designs.

Meanwhile, processing continues at the Kennedy Space Center as SpaceX readies its Dragon resupply ship to launch atop the Falcon 9 rocket on March 6 at 11:49 p.m. EST. Dragon will arrive March 9 at the station packed with new science gear to study a wide variety of space phenomena. The experiments will be looking at how to grow food in space, develop nano-materials and increase fuel efficiency.

Related links:

Expedition 62:

Fluid Shifts:


Plasma crystals:

Space phenomena:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

Best regards,

NASA’s OSIRIS-REx Students Catch Unexpected Glimpse of Newly Discovered Black Hole

NASA - OSIRIS-REx Mission patch.

Feb. 28, 2020

University students and researchers working on a NASA mission orbiting a near-Earth asteroid have made an unexpected detection of a phenomenon 30 thousand light years away. Last fall, the student-built Regolith X-Ray Imaging Spectrometer (REXIS) onboard NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft detected a newly flaring black hole in the constellation Columba while making observations off the limb of asteroid Bennu.

Image above: This image shows the X-ray outburst from the black hole MAXI J0637-043, detected by the REXIS instrument on NASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft. The image was constructed using data collected by the X-ray spectrometer while REXIS was making observations of the space around asteroid Bennu on Nov. 11, 2019. The outburst is visible in the center of the image, and the image is overlaid with the limb of Bennu (lower right) to illustrate REXIS’s field of view. Image Credits: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona/MIT/Harvard.

REXIS, a shoebox-sized student instrument, was designed to measure the X-rays that Bennu emits in response to incoming solar radiation. X-rays are a form of electromagnetic radiation, like visible light, but with much higher energy. REXIS is a collaborative experiment led by students and researchers at MIT and Harvard, who proposed, built, and operate the instrument.

Animation above: This visualization simulates an X-ray outburst from the black hole MAXI J0637-043, detected by the REXIS instrument on NASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft, as it moves through REXIS’s line of sight. At first, the outburst is visibly intense, but it gradually fades as it subsides. The animation was constructed using data collected by the X-ray spectrometer while REXIS was making observations of the space around asteroid Bennu on Nov. 11, 2019.
Animation Credits: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona/MIT/Harvard.

On Nov. 11, 2019, while the REXIS instrument was performing detailed science observations of Bennu, it captured X-rays radiating from a point off the asteroid’s edge. “Our initial checks showed no previously cataloged object in that position in space,” said Branden Allen, a Harvard research scientist and student supervisor who first spotted the source in the REXIS data.

The glowing object turned out to be a newly flaring black hole X-ray binary – discovered just a week earlier by Japan’s MAXI telescope – designated MAXI J0637-430. NASA's Neutron Star Interior Composition Explorer (NICER) telescope also identified the X-ray blast a few days later. Both MAXI and NICER operate aboard NASA's International Space Station and detected the X-ray event from low Earth orbit. REXIS, on the other hand, detected the same activity millions of miles from Earth while orbiting Bennu, the first such outburst ever detected from interplanetary space.

“Detecting this X-ray burst is a proud moment for the REXIS team. It means our instrument is performing as expected and to the level required of NASA science instruments,” said Madeline Lambert, an MIT graduate student who designed the instrument’s command sequences that serendipitously revealed the black hole.

X-ray blasts, like the one emitted from the newly discovered black hole, can only be observed from space since Earth’s protective atmosphere shields our planet from X-rays. These X-ray emissions occur when a black hole pulls in matter from a normal star that is in orbit around it. As the matter spirals onto a spinning disk surrounding the black hole, an enormous amount of energy (primarily in the form of X-rays) is released in the process.

“We set out to train students how to build and operate space instruments,” said MIT professor Richard Binzel, instrument scientist for the REXIS student experiment. “It turns out, the greatest lesson is to always be open to discovering the unexpected.”

OSIRIS-REx orbiting Bennu. Image Credit: NASA

The main purpose of the REXIS instrument is to prepare the next generation of scientists, engineers, and project managers in the development and operations of spaceflight hardware. Nearly 100 undergraduate and graduate students have worked on the REXIS team since the mission’s inception.

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

For more information on NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission, visit: and

Images (mentioned), Animation (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Karl Hille/University of Arizona/Brittany Enos.


Hubble Spots a Spiral With a Past

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Feb. 28, 2020

This image of an archetypal spiral galaxy was captured by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope.

The subject of this image is known as NGC 691, and it can be found some 120 million light-years from Earth. This galaxy was one of thousands of objects discovered by astronomer William Herschel during his prolific decades-long career spent hunting for, characterizing and cataloging a wide array of the galaxies and nebulas visible throughout the night sky — almost 200 years before Hubble was even launched.

The intricate detail visible in this image would likely be extraordinary to Herschel. Hubble was able to capture an impressive level of structure within NGC 691’s layers of stars and spiraling arms — all courtesy of the telescope’s high-resolution Wide Field Camera 3.

Hubble Space Telescope (HST)

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


jeudi 27 février 2020

Chang'e 4 lander and Yutu 2 lunar rover smoothly awakened, entering the 15th days of work week's

CLEP - China Lunar Exploration Program logo.

Feb. 27, 2020

China's Chang'e 4 lander and "Yutu 2" lunar rover passed the 14-day extreme low temperature test again, ending the "sleep" on the moon night at 6:57 on February 18 and 17:55 on February 17, respectively, successfully exposed to light Wake up on your own and enter the fifteenth day work period. At present, it is confirmed that the equipment is in good condition and the working conditions are normal. The lunar rover will move northwest and then southwest, and synchronously drive and detect at the new target point. The fifteenth day of the work will be carried out as planned. At present, the "Yutu No. 2" lunar rover has accumulated 367.25 meters on the moon.

At present with corona virus, the epidemic prevention and control work has entered a period of tough work. The exploration of the moon and the aerospace engineering center adhere to both epidemic prevention and control and business work. This year, China's first Mars exploration mission, Chang'e 5 lunar sampling return mission and other major engineering tasks will be implemented one after the other, and the follow-up of major special engineering tasks will be critical stage. The more special the period, the more we cannot relax; the harder and harder we are, the more we need to shine. We will work together with the people of the country to fully carry forward the spirit of exploring the moon, work together to overcome the difficulties, and win the overall victory of the epidemic blockade and major aerospace engineering tasks.

Yutu-2 reveals the Moon’s farside shallow subsurface structure

Video above: China’s Chang’e-4 mission on the far side of the Moon returned observations made by the Lunar Penetrating Radar onboard the Yutu-2 rover. Chang’e-4 landed in the Von Karman Crater, located in the Aitken Basin, in the South Pole region on the far side of the Moon, on 3 January 2019, at 02:26 UTC (10:26 Beijing time). Chang’e-4’s landing site was named Statio Tianhe. Video Credits: The Moon’s farside shallow subsurface structure unveiled by Chang’E-4 Lunar Penetrating Radar Chunlai Li, Yan Su, Elena Pettinelli, Shuguo Xing1, Chunyu Ding, Jianjun Liu, Xin Ren, Sebastian E. Lauro, Francesco Soldovieri, Xingguo Zeng, Xingye Gao, Wangli Chen, Shun Dai, Dawei Liu, Guangliang Zhang, Wei Zuo, Weibin Wen, Zhoubin Zhang, Xiaoxia Zhang and Hongbo Zhang
Science Advances, DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aay6898/China Central Television (CCTV)/SciNews.

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


New Commercial Robot Copies Geckos’ Toes

NASA logo.

Feb. 27, 2020

No sooner had the gecko’s secret been cracked than humans got to work trying to copy it.

“It was one of those mysteries that had been around for a long time,” says Aaron Parness, who until recently managed the robotic climbers and grippers group at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

Aristotle was the first to go on the record asking how the gecko is able to scurry up and down surfaces in open defiance of gravity, but anyone watching a six-inch lizard cross a ceiling would have to wonder. The Greek philosopher’s question wasn’t answered until about 20 years ago, in part because the secret lay in a force of physics discovered millennia after Aristotle’s death.

Image above: Illustration of the Limbed Excursion Mechanical Utility Robot (LEMUR) climbing around the outside of the International Space Station. JPL considered outfitting LEMUR with its gecko-imitating gripper technology. Image Credit: NASA.

Van der Waals forces are weak electrostatic attractions between polarizable molecules.

Geckos’ toepads take advantage of this slight attraction by multiplying it. Each pad has about half a million hairs, made of keratin like human hair but much thinner. Each of them ends with hundreds of far thinner nanohairs, creating an incredible amount of surface area that, with minimal pressure, completely conforms to the tiniest features of any surface it touches. It’s enough surface-to-surface contact that Van der Waals forces become significant.

The concept is simple but recreating such a surface is not.

From Spacewalks to Circuit Boards

When Parness arrived at JPL in 2010, a decade after scientists had unlocked the gecko’s mystery, he had already been working on gecko-like human climbing technology as a graduate student at Stanford University (Spider-Man gloves are still in the prototype stage).

NASA was interested in such gripping technology for space operations. “Moving around in microgravity is more of a climbing problem than a walking problem,” he says, noting that gecko-like pads would be easy to use and radiation-resistant, and they wouldn’t rely on suction cups or other vacuum technology that’s useless in a vacuum.

Image above: A gecko’s toepads have millions of microscopic hairs that capitalize on a weak electrical attraction known as Van der Waals force to let the lizard scale even the smoothest surfaces. Image Credit: David Clements.

By the time Nick Wettels joined Parness’ group as a post-doctoral researcher in 2013, the work had turned to grappling satellites for repair in orbit. Wettels is now director of research and development at OnRobot, the first company to offer a commercial robotic gripper based on the gecko toe pad. At the time, he was leading the company Perception Robotics, which he had recently cofounded.

Following his JPL post-doctoral work, and as the company focused on developing standardized products, he says, “the gripper was really a prime candidate.” He saw potential in automated manufacturing, where such a tool could offer advantages over conventional alternatives for lifting and moving objects on an assembly line, for example.

He licensed the underlying technology from Stanford and the California Institute of Technology, which manages JPL — the two teams had cooperated on the work. And Perception Robotics won Phase I and II Small Business Innovation Research contracts from JPL to fund further advances. In 2018, the company merged with Hungarian robotic sensor company OptoForce and Danish company On Robot, which specialized in finger-based robotic grippers. The Gecko Gripper debuted almost immediately thereafter, starting to take preorders that June, with the first units shipping at the end of the year.

Image above: Engineers at JPL spent years working with a team at Stanford University to develop grippers that could imitate the toe pads that let geckos defy gravity. Image Credit: Tim Vickers.

“I had never heard of anything like this prior to speaking with Nick,” says Enrico Krog Iversen, CEO of the newly merged company, OnRobot, which is headquartered in Odense, Denmark, but produces the Gecko Gripper near Culver City, California. But he immediately saw its potential. 

In particular, he saw a market in the manufacturing of printed circuit boards. These start out full of holes, so they can’t be picked up with a vacuum gripper. Most circuit board manufacturers use finger grippers, but the Gecko Gripper could do the job quicker and with less programming.

14 Pounds of Grip

OnRobot is still improving the device and releasing new generations, but it’s already come a long way. The gripper can achieve an adhesion force of 35 to 40 kilopascals on a polished surface, compared with a maximum of just four or five kilopascals at the time NASA started working on it. This makes it competitive with vacuum grippers. The company says it can easily lift polished metal weighing up to about 14 pounds.

Wettels notes that this improvement is partly because the company has figured out how to apply even tinier tendrils to the ends of the microstructures, increasing their surface contact.

The gripper is equipped with an ultrasonic sensor to locate its target and a load sensor to determine its weight.

It’s also able to activate and deactivate adhesion using the same technique as a gecko toe: the tiny fibers stick out at an angle, so they only adhere if they’re pulled in the right direction. Pulled the other way, they’ll release their hold. 

“It’s really cool to demonstrate it at a trade show, and people’s eyes light up, and they’re like, ‘Whoa, that is magic,’” he says, but he notes that even people working in robotics or manufacturing often don’t intuitively grasp its usefulness.

If it replaces a Venturi pump — a common vacuum gripper that relies on compressed air — a Gecko Gripper pays for itself in seven to nine months, Wettels says. It’s stronger than suction-cup grippers when loaded in shear, and the upcoming version runs on low enough power that it won’t require an external cord, increasing its mobility.

He says the gripper easily grips anything flat and smooth, such as circuit boards, solar panels, glass, and metals and it doesn’t leave a mark on anything it grabs.

Image above: The Gecko Gripper, based directly on technology developed by NASA and Stanford University, is now available for manufacturing facilities, where it can move circuit boards, solar panels and many other smooth objects more easily than traditional grippers. Image Credit: OnRobot A/S.

As the company continues to improve the technology and work it into different designs, and as more manufacturers become aware of it, Krog Iversen says he’s confident it will catch on, given its advantages. “It allows us to handle applications that couldn’t be handled by existing technology or had to be handled in a different way.”

NASA successfully tested its own version for long-term gripping ability in a year-long test on the International Space Station. A gecko-inspired technology will be further tested on the space station by integrating a gecko-style gripper with an Astrobee robot. Astrobee serves as a research platform that can be outfitted and programmed to carry such experiments in zero gravity.

Gareth Meirion-Griffith, who now manages the JPL climbers and grippers group, says human engineers can't take full credit for this remarkable technology: “If nature hadn’t come up with this, I don’t think anyone would have ever thought of it.”

NASA has a long history of transferring technology to the private sector. The agency’s Spinoff publication profiles NASA technologies that have transformed into commercial products and services, demonstrating the wider benefits of America’s investment in its space program. Spinoff is a publication of the Technology Transfer program in NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate.

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Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Loura Hall.


Human Research, Mouse Preps Ahead of Dragon Cargo Mission

ISS - Expedition 62 Mission patch.

February 27, 2020

The Expedition 62 crew is running a host of human research and space biology studies today aboard the International Space Station. The orbiting lab is also ramping up for new science being delivered on an upcoming U.S. cargo mission.

A crewmember’s bones and flow of body fluids are affected by the weightless environment of space. Besides daily exercise and diet, scientists are exploring ways to offset the detrimental effects and ensure long-term mission health and success. Insights from the ongoing experiments may also prove beneficial to humans on Earth.

Image above: NASA astronaut Andrew Morgan conducts research operations inside the Life Sciences Glovebox for the OsteoOmics-02 bone experiment. Image Credit: NASA.

NASA Flight Engineer Jessica Meir worked on the OsteoOmics-02 bone research hardware that has been in operation all week and serviced science freezers where biological samples are stowed. She also installed a carbon dioxide controller on an incubator that houses a variety of lifeforms such as microbes, animal cells and tissue cultures.

A common condition caused by living in space is called “puffy face.” A crewmember’s face becomes redder and rounder due to body fluids rising up as a symptom of weightlessness. NASA astronaut Andrew Morgan set up gear that measures the head pressure caused by this upward flow that has also been known to affect vision.

International Space Station (ISS). Animation Credit: NASA

The SpaceX Dragon cargo craft is due to blast off toward the station on March 6 at 11:49 p.m. EST. It will arrive March 9 carrying about 5,600 pounds of cargo including live mice. Morgan installed hardware today that will house the rodents for the Mouse Habitat Unit-5 investigation from JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency). He prepared the habitat specifically designed for the study and will attach it later to the upgraded Cell Biology Experiment Facility.

Commander Oleg Skripochka continued studying the physics of dust particles creating plasma crystals. The veteran cosmonaut also worked on orbital plumbing tasks before wrapping up a session that recorded his heart rate and blood pressure for 24 hours.

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

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Record-breaking Explosion by Black Hole Spotted

ESA - XMM-Newton Mission patch / NASA - Chandra X-ray Observatory patch.

Feb. 27, 2020

Image above: Evidence for the biggest explosion seen in the Universe comes from a combination of X-ray data from Chandra and XMM-Newton, and the Murchison Widefield Array and Giant Metrewave Telescope, as shown here. The eruption is generated by a black hole located in the cluster's central galaxy, which has blasted out jets and carved a large cavity in the surrounding hot gas. Researchers estimate this explosion released five times more energy than the previous record holder and hundreds of thousands of times more than a typical galaxy cluster. Image Credits: X-ray: Chandra: NASA/CXC/NRL/S. Giacintucci, et al., XMM-Newton: ESA/XMM-Newton; Radio: NCRA/TIFR/GMRT; Infrared: 2MASS/UMass/IPAC-Caltech/NASA/NSF.

The biggest explosion seen in the universe has been found. This record-breaking, gargantuan eruption came from a black hole in a distant galaxy cluster hundreds of millions of light years away.

"In some ways, this blast is similar to how the eruption of Mt. St. Helens in 1980 ripped off the top of the mountain," said Simona Giacintucci of the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, DC, and lead author of the study. "A key difference is that you could fit fifteen Milky Way galaxies in a row into the crater this eruption punched into the cluster's hot gas."

Astronomers made this discovery using X-ray data from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory and ESA's XMM-Newton, and radio data from the Murchison Widefield Array (MWA) in Australia and the Giant Metrewave Radio Telescope (GMRT) in India.

The unrivaled outburst was detected in the Ophiuchus galaxy cluster, which is about 390 million light years from Earth. Galaxy clusters are the largest structures in the Universe held together by gravity, containing thousands of individual galaxies, dark matter, and hot gas.

In the center of the Ophiuchus cluster, there is a large galaxy that contains a supermassive black hole. Researchers think that the source of the gigantic eruption is this black hole.

Although black holes are famous for pulling material toward them, they often expel prodigious amounts of material and energy. This happens when matter falling toward the black hole is redirected into jets, or beams, that blast outward into space and slam into any surrounding material.

The most powerful black hole eruption in the Universe

Image above: Astronomers using ESA’s XMM-Newton and NASA’s Chandra X-ray space observatories, along with radio telescopes on ground, have spotted the aftermath of the most powerful explosion ever seen in the Universe. Image Credits: X-ray: ESA/XMM-Newton and NASA/CXC/Naval Research Lab/S. Giacintucci; Radio: NCRA/TIFR/GMRTN; Infrared: 2MASS/UMass/IPAC-Caltech/NASA/NSF.

Chandra observations reported in 2016 first revealed hints of the giant explosion in the Ophiuchus galaxy cluster. Norbert Werner and colleagues reported the discovery of an unusual curved edge in the Chandra image of the cluster. They considered whether this represented part of the wall of a cavity in the hot gas created by jets from the supermassive black hole. However, they discounted this possibility, in part because a huge amount of energy would have been required for the black hole to create a cavity this large.

The latest study by Giacintucci and her colleagues show that an enormous explosion did, in fact, occur. First, they showed that the curved edge is also detected by XMM-Newton, thus confirming the Chandra observation. Their crucial advance was the use of new radio data from the MWA and data from the GMRT archives to show the curved edge is indeed part of the wall of a cavity, because it borders a region filled with radio emission. This emission is from electrons accelerated to nearly the speed of light. The acceleration likely originated from the supermassive black hole.

Chandra X-ray Observatory. Animation Credits: NASACXC

"The radio data fit inside the X-rays like a hand in a glove," said co-author Maxim Markevitch of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. "This is the clincher that tells us an eruption of unprecedented size occurred here."

The amount of energy required to create the cavity in Ophiuchus is about five times greater than the previous record holder, MS 0735+74, and hundreds and thousands of times greater than typical clusters.

The black hole eruption must have finished because the researchers do not see any evidence for current jets in the radio data. This shutdown can be explained by the Chandra data, which show that the densest and coolest gas seen in X-rays is currently located at a different position from the central galaxy. If this gas shifted away from the galaxy it will have deprived the black hole of fuel for its growth, turning off the jets.

This gas displacement is likely caused by "sloshing" of the gas around the middle of the cluster, like wine sloshing around in a glass. Usually the merger of two galaxy clusters triggers such sloshing, but here it could have been set off by the eruption.

One puzzle is that only one giant region of radio emission is seen, as these systems usually contain two on opposite sides of the black hole. It is possible that the gas on the other side of the cluster from the cavity is less dense so the radio emission there faded more quickly.

XMM-Newton. Image Credit: ESA

"As is often the case in astrophysics we really need multiwavelength observations to truly understand the physical processes at work," said Melanie Johnston-Hollitt, a co-author from International Centre for Radio Astronomy in Australia. "Having the combined information from X-ray and radio telescopes has revealed this extraordinary source, but more data will be needed to answer the many remaining questions this object poses."

A paper describing these results appears in the February 27th issue of The Astrophysical Journal, and a preprint is available here. In addition to Giacintucci, Markevitch, and Johnston-Hollitt, the authors are Daniel Wik (University of Utah), Qian Wang (University of Utah), and Tracy Clarke (Naval Research Laboratory). The 2016 paper by Norbert Werner was published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

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NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center manages the Chandra program. The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory's Chandra X-ray Center controls science and flight operations from Cambridge and Burlington, Massachusetts.

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Images (mentioned), Animation (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Lee Mohon/Marshall Space Flight Center/Molly Porter/Chandra X-ray Center/Megan Watzke.