vendredi 13 mars 2020

Cardiac Research, Bone Studies on Station Promote Advanced Therapies on Earth

ISS - Expedition 62 Mission patch.

March 13, 2020

New cardiac research is beginning today on the International Space Station. NASA astronaut Jessica Meir is installing gear that will support heart cells being produced inside the U.S. Destiny laboratory module. Those cells will be compared to cultures on Earth to promote regenerative cell therapies.

She also continued bone sample operations for the ongoing OsteoOmics-02 study. The investigation takes place in the Japanese Kibo laboratory module and may reveal innovative bone treatments for humans living on Earth and in space.

Image above: Expedition 62 Flight Engineer Jessica Meir swaps media that nourishes bone samples inside the Life Science Glovebox located in Japan’s Kibo laboratory module. Image Credit: NASA.

Meir also joined fellow NASA Flight Engineer Andrew Morgan for maintenance work on a U.S. spacesuit. The duo recharged and swapped out components inside the suit ahead of spacewalks planned for this year.

Morgan also spent Friday working on orbital plumbing and space biology research. He first serviced hardware in the station’s bathroom located in the Tranquility module during the morning. Afterward, Morgan photographed bacteria samples for an experiment seeking improved therapies for antibiotic-resistant infections.

International Space station (ISS). Animation Credit: NASA

Commander Oleg Skripochka spent the majority of his day focusing on life support and computer activities over in the Russian segment of the space station. In the afternoon, the veteran cosmonaut set up and activated gear that observes the atmosphere at nighttime in near-ultraviolet wavelengths.

Related links:

Expedition 62:

New cardiac research:

U.S. Destiny laboratory module:


JAXA Kibo laboratory module:

Tranquility module:

Improved therapies:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

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Science takes time, even in a lab moving 17,500 miles per hour

ISS - International Space Station logo.

March 13, 2020

The International Space Station, a microgravity laboratory orbiting Earth at 17,500 miles per hour, has hosted a variety of scientific research for nearly 20 years. Some of that research continues for months and even years.

A prime example is the ongoing Fluid Shifts investigation. When astronauts began spending months at a time on station, they experienced a number of physical changes, including changes in their vision. Scientists suspect fluids shifting from the lower to the upper body in microgravity may increase pressure inside the head, changing the shape of the eye and affecting vision in some astronauts. The investigation began in 2015 and has measured the extent of body fluid shifts in multiple astronauts since then.

Image above: NASA astronaut Scott Kelly undergoes ultrasound measurements for the Fluid Shifts experiment during his one-year mission. The investigation measures how much fluid shifts from the lower to the upper body and in or out of cells and blood vessels as well as the effect on vision and the eye. Image Credit: NASA.

Five years may seem like a long time, but scientific research follows a lengthy step-by-step process. Medical research, for example, takes an average of 17 years from lab to clinical practice.

Looking at each step makes it easy to see why. First, researchers must come up with a question and a possible answer, or hypothesis. For Fluid Shifts, for example, the question is: what is causing vision changes? One hypothesis is that increased fluid pressure in the head is the cause. Scientists then design an experiment to test the hypothesis, which involves determining what data to collect and the resources needed to do so.

For research aboard the space station, scientists submit a research proposal, which goes through review to evaluate its relevance to NASA’s goals as well as its scientific merit. Selected investigations are assigned to a mission and the crew for that mission briefed. Individual crew members can volunteer to participate in research requiring human subjects. NASA works with investigators to meet their science requirements, obtain approvals, schedule crew training, develop flight procedures, launch hardware and supplies to the space station and collect any preflight data needed. Once the crew launches, in-flight data collection begins. Finally, the scientists can analyze all the data.

In addition, researchers must determine whether their data are significant. “Just because something is different in space doesn’t mean it is scientifically meaningful or a sign of a problem,” says Judy Tate-Brown, International Space Station research results coordinator at NASA. “You also have to look at what the results mean. Is this something we don’t already know or does the change make a difference either to what is happening or how it affects the process or organism? Is this is a helpful response to spaceflight?”

 International Space Station (ISS). Animation Credit: NASA

The next step is writing a paper about the results and submitting it to a scientific journal. It may take an investigator a year or more to evaluate the data from the research and write the paper. It can take weeks or months for a journal to respond, and its editors may request additional analysis and revisions. Journals also have the paper reviewed by other scientists in the same field, a process known as peer review. According to one analysis, this review takes an average of 100 days. For space station investigations, from date received to date published often takes up to a year and a half, according to Tate-Brown.

Several unique aspects of research on the space station add more time to the process. A truism of science is the more test subjects, the better. Although clinical human research usually needs 100 to 1,000 subjects to find a statistically significant result, Tate-Brown says, the space station typically houses at most six people at a time. Some clinical research that measures a specific change in the body may only require eight to 12 subjects to determine whether the change is real. Most human research studies on the space station have only one to three subjects at a time. New crew members currently arrive only every six months or so. In nearly 20 years of continuous human presence on the station, only 239 people have visited, and only three of those have been long-duration crew members staying more than six months.

The Lighting Effects investigation illustrates how the need for enough subjects adds time to a study. The space station’s speed means it orbits Earth 16 times a day, exposing crew members to atypical periods of dark and light that can affect the body’s daily clock and crew health and performance. While the crew members live and work indoors and maintain light during waking hours and darkness during sleep, they experience the circadian challenge of working with two mission controls, one in Houston and one in Moscow, with an eight-hour time difference between them. Lighting Effects examines whether light-emitting diodes (LEDs) with adjustable intensity and color can improve crew circadian rhythms. To collect data from enough crew members, this investigation began in 2016 and has continued into 2020.

Image above: NASA astronaut Jessica Meir cuts Mizuna mustard green leaves grown aboard the space station for the VEG-04B investigation, part of research on how to provide fresh food to crews on long-duration missions. Image Credit: NASA.

Other lengthy studies about how humans adapt to life in space include research on cardiac atrophy (decrease in heart muscle) associated with long-duration space flight, testing a wearable device to analyze sleep-wake and activity patterns, and a suite of long-term studies on food and nutrition, including producing fresh food in space. NASA began growing plants aboard the space station in 2001. Current plant research includes Veg-04B, focusing on how light quality and fertilizer affect growth.

The space station also has hosted a number of long-running experiments to study protein crystal growth (PCG). Microgravity produces larger, higher quality protein crystals that can reveal new structural details and PCG research holds particular promise for pharmaceutical development, a lengthy process on its own.

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

The JAXA PCG investigation is one example. A 2002 study revealed a specific protein expressed in Duchenne’s muscular dystrophy (DMD) patients, opening up the possibility of targeted therapeutic agents. JAXA PCG led to a considerably more effective disease inhibitor than those under investigation at that time. Subsequent tests showed it was effective. A 2015 study verified its safety for use in humans, and in 2017 the inhibitor completed a clinical trial in human patients. After additional trials, this treatment could finally end up in the hands of patients.

The PCG-5 investigation by Merck Research Laboratories began in 2016 and published results in 2019, reporting production of an existing drug, Keytruda®, in crystalline suspension form. This new form may enable administration of the drug by injection rather than intravenously, a lengthy process done at a hospital. Receiving an injection at the doctor’s office greatly improves quality of life for patients and saves them time and money. Paul Reichert, the principal investigator at Merck, says the time it took to publish results largely reflects the sheer amount of data researchers had to analyze. But a proposed follow up investigation could move more quickly: new capabilities on the space station enable real-time analysis of crystalline suspensions as they are produced in microgravity.

“Astronauts now can pipette, aspirate and handle liquids rather easily on the station. That means we can do multiple rounds and adjust and continue the experiment without having to bring samples back to the ground and send up new ones,” Reichert says. “This is a tremendous improvement, allowing us to do research in microgravity the same way we do it on Earth.”

Image above: Image from a flame test for Burning and Suppression of Solids – II (BASS-II), which examined the burning and extinction characteristics of a wide variety of fuel samples. Image Credit: NASA.

Physical science investigations already can send plenty of samples to the space station and complete data collection more quickly than human studies. But sometimes, the more we learn, the more questions we have, creating the need for additional research. Studies of fire in space are one example. From 2011 to 2013, Burning and Suppression of Solids (BASS) examined the burning and extinction characteristics of a wide variety of fuel samples and BASS-II continued that work through 2017. The Saffire series of fire safety demonstrations on Northrop Grumman's Cygnus cargo spacecraft began in 2016 and continued into 2020. Researchers have answered many questions with all of this work, but still have much to learn about preventing, detecting and extinguishing fires in space.

NASA Explorers S4 E7: Back to Gravity

The timeline for science, especially in microgravity, can run long. But results can be well worth the wait.

Related links:

Fluid Shifts:

Lighting Effects:

Wearable device:




Burning and Suppression of Solids (BASS):



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/JSC/International Space Station Program Science Office/Melissa Gaskill.


Hubble Investigates Hungry Galaxy

NASA - Hubble Space Telescope patch.

March 13, 2020

The subject of this image taken by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, a spiral galaxy named NGC 1589, was once the scene of a violent bout of cosmic hunger pangs. As astronomers looked on, a poor, hapless star was seemingly torn apart and devoured by the ravenous supermassive black hole at the center of the galaxy.

The astronomers are now using Hubble to test this interpretation. The telescope has observed such events before, so the scientists are confident that Hubble will be able to provide smoking-gun evidence in the form of stellar debris that was ejected during the disruption event.

Hubble Space Telescope (HST)

For more information about Hubble, visit:

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


Space Station Science Highlights: Week of March 9, 2020

ISS - Expedition 62 Mission patch.

March 13, 2020

Scientific investigations conducted the week of March 9 aboard the International Space Station included studies of human heart tissue and gene expression in plants. The crew also began unloading and setting up new scientific investigations that arrived on the SpaceX-20 resupply mission.

Image above: Expedition 62 crewmembers Andrew Morgan, Oleg Skripochka and Jessica Meir (top to bottom) inside the SpaceX Dragon resupply ship shortly after opening the freighter’s hatch. The crew wore portable breathing gear during the initial operations while testing for particles and airway irritants that may have dislodged during Dragon’s launch and ascent to space. 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:

The human heart in space

Scientists know that microgravity exposure causes changes in the cardiovascular function of astronauts. Engineered Heart Tissues looks at how adult human heart tissue functions in space using a unique three-dimensional culture of adult human cardiac muscle tissue embedded with graphene-derived materials and an external magnet-based sensor. The sensor records contractions in the muscle tissue non-invasively, providing real-time data on how the tissues mature and perform. A better understanding of how heart function changes in space could help scientists find ways to prevent or mitigate those changes on future long space missions.

During the week, crew members performed a cell culture media exchange in the Life Science Glovebox (LSG) for this investigation.

Comparing bone loss in real and simulated microgravity

Image above: NASA astronaut Jessica Meir works on the OsteoOmics-02 investigation, which compares bone cells in space with samples levitated magnetically on Earth. Image Credit: NASA.

OsteoOmics investigates the molecular and metabolic changes that occur in genetic expression in osteoblasts, cells in the body that form bone, in real and analog or simulated microgravity. During the week, crew members exchanged cell culture media in the remaining viable BioCells. The previous week, the crew removed some contaminated Biocells and the cause of the contamination is under discussion. Bone loss occurs during spaceflight as well as from disease or extended bed rest on Earth. OsteoOmics determines whether magnetic levitation accurately simulates microgravity by comparing bone cells levitated in a high-field superconducting magnet and cells flown aboard the space station.

Analyzing the genetics of plants in microgravity

The crew conducted operations for Space Cells-01, which examines gene expression changes and genetic mutations in hemp and coffee plant cells in microgravity. The cell cultures are spending approximately one month on the space station before returning to Earth for analysis of their physical structure and gene expression and comparison to preflight analyses. Results could help identify new varieties of plants or new chemical expressions and improve understanding of how plants manage the stress of space travel.

Learning more about how plants adapt to the harsh environment of space contributes to efforts to grow plants for food in space, a critical capability on future missions that last longer and venture farther from resupply capabilities. Improved understanding of how plants manage the stress of space travel also could advance research on plants that are better able to adapt to drought and temperature extremes on Earth.

Image above: The cities of southeast China glitter as the International Space Station passes 259 miles above the Asian continent. The brightest lights at right center are from the city of Shanghai on the coast of the East China Sea. Image Credit: NASA.

Other investigations on which the crew performed work:

- Phage Evolution examines the effects of microgravity and radiation exposure on phage and bacterial host interactions, including phage specificity for a host and host resistance to specific phages. Bacteriophages, or phages, are viruses that specifically invade and destroy bacteria.

- The JAXA Mouse Habitat Unit-5 (MHU-5) investigation examines the effects of partial gravity on mice, analyzing alterations in gene expression caused by partial gravity and the possible effects on development of germ cells, which carry genetic information and expression to subsequent generations.

- Dose Distribution Inside the International Space Station - 3D (DOSIS-3D), sponsored by the ESA (European Space Agency, uses active and passive detectors to determine radiation doses inside the space station.

- The STaARS BioScience-9 investigation 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.

Animation above: NASA astronaut Andrew Morgan prepares to conduct operations growing crystals for the JAXA Moderate Temp PCG investigation. Animation Credit: NASA.

- The JAXA Protein Crystal Growth Experiment at moderate temperature (JAXA MT PCG) grows protein crystals of biological macromolecules by the counter-diffusion technique or permeation method.

- 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: 20x: 03/13/2020

Related links:

Expedition 62:

Engineered Heart Tissues:

Life Science Glovebox (LSG):


Space Cells-01:

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 62.

Best regards,

European Gateway experiment will monitor radiation in deep space

International - Lunar Orbital Gateway patch.

March 13, 2020


The first science experiments that will be hosted on the Gateway, the international research outpost orbiting the Moon, have been selected by ESA and NASA. Europe’s contribution will monitor radiation to gain a complete understanding of cosmic and solar rays in unexplored areas as the orbital outpost is assembled around the Moon.

Gateway Power and Propulsion Element

The first module for the Gateway, the Power and Propulsion Element, is set to launch on the second Artemis mission and will host two external scientific investigations.

ESA’s hardware will actively monitor radiation at all times and return data for all scientists from participating countries to consult.

The Sun-Earth connection

As the Gateway module flies to its position in a halo-like orbit around the Moon, it will pass through the Van Allen radiation belt – an area around Earth where high-energy particles are trapped by our planet’s magnetic field. The particles can cause more radiation damage to humans, and the hardware will provide useful information on to how to keep astronauts safe as they pass through the belt.

Once in position, the Gateway will orbit the Moon flying as close as 3000 km from the lunar surface and at its furthest, 70 000 km. The radiation investigation will continue to monitor the changes in protons, electrons and heavy ions and neutrons as they hit the measuring instruments.

Angelic halo orbit chosen for humankind’s first lunar outpost

Heavy interactions in space

“Heavy neutrons are of particular interest for us,” says ESA’s Science Team Leader of Human and Robotic Exploration Jennifer Ngo-Anh “some cosmic rays hit the Moon and interact with the surface to reflect as heavy neutrons that are particularly damaging to humans. We need to know more about where and how these particles form, to protect astronauts.”

NASA’s first investigation to fly aboard the Gateway is a Sun-oriented space weather experiment to observe solar particles and solar wind. These phenomena are unpredictable and can cause violent outbursts of radiation that could hit astronauts as they venture farther from the protective atmosphere of Earth.

Gateway over Moon

“Both these experiments will work together to supply much-needed information to forecast radiation events and how to build better spacecraft and protection for astronauts on and around the Moon,” explains ESA’s director of Human and Robotic Exploration David Parker.

“As we prepare for the next generation of European astronauts who will join their NASA colleagues in the Artemis programme, this research is of vital importance and shows how science and exploration go hand-in-hand as we move forward to the Moon.”

The Gateway concept

More science will be selected to fly aboard the Gateway in the future to take advantage of the unique environment in lunar orbit that cannot be duplicated on Earth or on the International Space Station.

The Gateway will be built and assembled this decade as a platform for science in deep space and as an outpost for astronauts traveling onwards to the lunar surface. It is led by NASA. Following decisions at Space19+, ESA will build a Habitation module, communications systems and a refuelling module for the Gateway. The Canadian Space Agency has committed to provide advanced robotics for the lunar outpost. The Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency is also in discussion to supply elements.

Related articles:

NASA Selects First Science Instruments to Send to Gateway

Lunar Gateway: Earth’s guard post against asteroids?

Related links:

Human and Robotic Exploration:


Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway:

Images, Animation, Video, Text, Credits: ESA/NASA/SOHO/ATG Medialab.

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jeudi 12 mars 2020

Station Works External Science, Maintenance Before Next Crew Launch

ISS - Expedition 62 Mission patch.

March 12, 2020

The Expedition 62 crew took a break today from its weeks-long space biology research aboard the International Space Station. Instead, the orbital residents focused on setting up an external science payload and maintaining life support systems.

Research takes place not only inside the space station, but also outside as scientists study how extreme temperatures and space radiation affect a variety of materials. NASA Flight Engineer Andrew Morgan configured hardware today containing a materials science experiment for installation outside the orbital lab. He placed the gear inside the Kibo laboratory module’s airlock where it was depressurized. The Canadarm2 robotic arm will retrieve the experiment and externally install it on the station.

Image above: NASA astronaut and Andrew Morgan takes photographs of the Earth from the Window Observation Research Facility inside NASA’s Destiny laboratory module. Image Credit: NASA.

NASA astronaut Jessica Meir started her day collecting samples of the station’s water for microbial analysis. In the afternoon, she serviced an experiment module that can generate artificial gravity environments before working on orbital plumbing at the end of her shift.

Veteran cosmonaut and station Commander Oleg Skripochka continued more communication tests today checking two-way audio and video satellite links. He also wrapped up a study that observed Earth’s upper atmosphere in visible and near-infrared wavelengths. At the end of the day, Skripochka shared his inputs for the long-running experiment researching the interactions between crews and mission controllers.

International Space Station (ISS). Animation Credit: NASA

The new Expedition 63 crew is in Russia getting ready for its launch on April 9 aboard the Soyuz MS-16 crew ship. NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy with Roscosmos cosmonauts Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner are wrapping up two days of final qualification exams. The trio will soon head to the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan for final preparations before beginning their 195-day mission aboard the orbiting lab.

Related links:

Expedition 62:

Expedition 63:

Kibo laboratory module:

Experiment module:

Earth’s upper atmosphere:

Interactions between crews and mission controllers:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

Best regards,

CASC - Long March-3B launches new BeiDou-3 satellite

BeiDou Navigation Satellite System patch.

March 12, 2020

Long March-3B launches new BeiDou-3 satellite

A Long March-3B launch vehicle launched a new BeiDou-3 navigation satellite from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center, Sichuan Province, southwest China, on 9 March 2020, at 11:55 UTC (19:55 local time).

Long March-3B launches new BeiDou-3 satellite

The satellite, sent into a geostationary orbit, is the 54th of the BeiDou family and the penultimate of the BeiDou-3 Navigation Satellite System. Yang Changfeng (chief designer, BeiDou), Chen Zhonggui (chief designer of BDS-3 satellites, China Academy of Space Technology – CAST) and Liu Tianxiong (deputy chief designer of BDS-3 satellites, China Academy of Space Technology - CAST) explain the BeiDou Navigation Satellite System (BDS).

BeiDou-3 satellite by J. Huart

The Beidou Navigation Satellite System (BDS) has been independently constructed, developed and operated by China taking into account the needs of the country’s national security, economic and social development. As a space infrastructure of national significance, BDS provides all-time, all-weather and high-accuracy positioning, navigation and timing services to global users.

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

For more information about China National Space Administration (CNSA), visit:

For more information about Beidou navigation system:

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

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NASA’s MMS Marks its 5th Year Breaking Records in Space

NASA - Magnetospheric Multiscale Mission (MMS) patch.

March 12, 2020

Since its launch on March 12, 2015, NASA’s Magnetospheric Multiscale Mission, or MMS, has been making new discoveries as it flies around Earth studying magnetic reconnection — the explosive snapping and forging of magnetic field lines, at the heart of space weather storms that manifest around Earth. In its first year, MMS’s state-of-the-art design broke records — and it hasn’t stopped excelling since.

Animation above: Just as gravity is one key to how things move on Earth, a process called magnetic reconnection is key to how electrically-charged particles speed through space. Scientists have observed this phenomenon many times in Earth’s vast magnetic environment, the magnetosphere. Animation Credits: NASA Goddard's Conceptual Image Lab.

The mission uses four identical spacecraft flying in a pyramid-shape to measure magnetic field lines and charged particles in three-dimensions. In 2016 their trajectory won the spacecraft a Guinness World record for highest altitude fix of a GPS — 43,500 miles above the surface (which it later smashed with a fix at 116,300 miles). Additionally, when the satellites are closest to Earth, they move at up to 22,000 miles per hour, making them the fastest known operational use of a GPS receiver.

But it’s not just about breaking flight records. MMS has made pivotal scientific discoveries that are helping scientists understand the Earth’s magnetic environment — its magnetosphere — and magnetic reconnection, which powers magnetic storms around Earth and sparks the auroras. Here are five ways MMS has changed our understanding of these explosive events in our near-Earth space in the past five years.

1) How Magnetic Reconnection Works

How Magnetic Reconnection Works

Video above: Gravity may be key to how things move on Earth, but in space a process called magnetic reconnection is key to how electrically-charged particles travel. Scientists have observed this phenomenon many times in Earth’s vast magnetic environment, the magnetosphere with the help of MMS. Video Credits: NASA Goddard’s Conceptual Image Lab/Krystofer Kim.

Determining the details of how magnetic reconnection works was one of the key jobs MMS was tasked with — and the mission soon delivered. Before MMS, scientists didn’t truly understand the specifics of how magnetic reconnection works, they only had general ideas. But MMS quickly changed that. Mission observations determined which of several 50-year-old theories about magnetic reconnection were correct and further showed how the physics of electrons dominates the process, which had not been predicted. Much of the discovery was driven by MMS’s innovative instrument design. “We increased MMS’s instrument measuring speeds 100 times from previous instruments,” said Jim Burch, principal investigator for MMS at the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas. “It’s allowed us to see things no one had been able to measure before MMS.”

2) Reconnection in Surprising New Places

In the five years after launch, MMS made over a thousand trips around Earth, passing through countless magnetic reconnection events. It saw magnetic reconnection where scientists first expected it, behind the Earth, away from the Sun — and it  discovered magnetic reconnection in several new places. Completely surprising scientists, MMS has seen events in turbulent regions in front of Earth that were previously expected to be too tumultuous for magnetic reconnection. It has also observed magnetic reconnection in magnetic flux ropes — giant magnetic tubes, which can form in the wake of previous magnetic reconnection events, and in Kelvin-Helmholtz vortices, the same phenomenon that are created when wind blows over water to create waves on the surface.

Animation above: MMS made the first ever observations of magnetic reconnection in the magnetosheath — the boundary between our magnetosphere and the solar wind that flows throughout the solar system and one of the most turbulent regions in near-Earth space — a place it wasn’t expected to occur. Animation Credits: NASA Goddard/Mary Pat Hrybyk-Keith; NASA Goddard’s Conceptual Image Lab/Josh Masters.

3) Transferring Energy

MMS scientists discovered the ways energy is transferred via magnetic reconnection and at what rate, in part because of the spacecrafts’ tight flying formation — just 4.5 miles between them, the closest of any spacecraft ever flown — which allows scientists to study small-scale details unobservable by previous missions. One energy transfer mechanism was discovered in 2017 when scientists uncovered complex electron motions in the thin layers of electrical current where reconnection happens. The unique dances electrons made in this region allowed them to gain additional energy and accelerate the reconnection process.

Exploring Reconnection - Guide Field Off

Video above: MMS scientist discovered new ways electrons move and transfer energy during magnetic reconnection, including the movement of the electron (yellow particle) in this visualization of MMS data. Magnetic field direction is represented by the cyan lines. The color trail represents an electron moving in the field with the color representative of speed —blue for slow and red for fast. Video Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/Tom Bridgman.

4) Computer Simulations

Before MMS, computer simulations were the best tool scientists had to understand magnetic reconnection. The models were a way to fill in the gaps between measurements made across large distances as captured by previous space missions. But thanks to MMS’s detailed measurements, the scales flipped. Today MMS’s high resolution data has uncovered a myriad of electron-scale physics that the computer simulations are now rushing to accurately represent. Having such detailed data has allowed theoretical physicists to further refine their models and understand the specific mechanisms behind magnetic reconnection better than ever before.

5) Insights into Astrophysics and Nuclear Physics

MMS has opened a unique space laboratory where all scales of magnetic reconnection can be directly measured by the spacecraft as they fly through ongoing events. This has allowed new insights into magnetic reconnection in other regions of space, including explosions on the Sun and in supernovae and black holes.

MMS Insights into Astrophysics and Nuclear Physics

Video above: MMS’s insights into magnetic reconnection around Earth help scientists understand it in other regions, such as around black holes, which can’t be probed directly. Video Credits: NASA Goddard’s Conceptual Image Lab/Krystofer Kim.

“MMS’s measurements are critical because we can understand how magnetic reconnection happens in other places, even though we can’t get there,” said Kevin Genestreti, MMS research scientist at the Southwest Research Institute’s Earth, Oceans and Space Department at the University of New Hampshire in Durham. MMS has also given insight into nuclear experiments on Earth. The plasma — that is, the hot, charged gases — used in nuclear experiments is the same state of matter that MMS flies through as it travels through space. Magnetic reconnection, which happens often within plasma, poses a challenge for scientists wanting to confine plasma in nuclear experiments. The information garnered by MMS is helping scientists better understand and potentially control magnetic reconnection, which may lead to improved nuclear fusion techniques to generate energy more efficiently. 

MMS - Magnetic Reconnection at the Sun

Video above: MMS’s insights into magnetic reconnection around Earth help scientists understand it in other regions, such as on the Sun, which can’t be probed directly. Video Credits: NASA Goddard’s Conceptual Image Lab/Krystofer Kim.

MMS was originally launched for a two-year prime mission, and after its early successes it was extended an additional three years. Due to careful maneuvering during flight operations, MMS should have enough fuel to last it at least another two decades.

Illustration of MMS spacecraft. Image Credit: NASA

“MMS has well over 100 instrument components,” said Barbara Giles, MMS senior project scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “We’re five years in and this mission is still just as capable as when it launched.”

To date, MMS data has been used in over 580 scientific papers. MMS has also launched early career scientists and contributed to 14 PhD theses and 10 master’s theses. Outreach at schools, museums, conferences and other events has also directly reached 120,000 people. MMS scientists are confident the spacecraft’s data will continue to fuel new discoveries for decades to come.

Related Links:

- Learn more about MMS:

- NASA Keep Watch Over Space Explosions:

- Above and Beyond: NASA’s Magnetospheric Multiscale Mission Surpasses - Expectations Flying to New Heights:

Image (mentioned), Animations (mentioned), Videos (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Karl Hille/Goddard Space Flight Center, by Mara Johnson-Groh.


NASA Selects First Science Instruments to Send to Gateway

International - Lunar Orbital Gateway patch.

March 12, 2020

NASA has selected the first two scientific investigations to fly aboard the Gateway, an orbital outpost which will support Artemis lunar operations while demonstrating the technologies necessary to conduct a historic human mission to Mars. The instruments selected for Gateway will observe space weather and monitor the Sun’s radiation environment.

Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway. Animation Credit: ESA

“Building the Gateway with our commercial and international partners is a critical component of sustainable lunar exploration and the Artemis program,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “Using the Gateway as a platform for robotic and human exploration around the Moon will help inform what we do on the lunar surface as well as prepare us for our next giant leap – human exploration of Mars.”

The radiation instrument package, built by the European Space Agency (ESA), will help provide an understanding of how to keep astronauts safe by monitoring the radiation exposure in Gateway’s unique orbit.

The space weather instrument suite, built by NASA, will observe solar particles and solar wind created by the Sun. As we move deeper into space, human and robotic explorers face greater challenges from the sometimes violent and unpredictable outbursts of the Sun. The space weather instrument suite will gather data and enhance our ability to forecast events originating from the Sun that could affect our astronauts on and around the Moon as well as on future missions to Mars. 

“Our Sun and the environment around it is very dynamic.  This instrument suite will help us observe the particles and energy that our star emits -- and mitigate the risks to astronauts at the Moon and eventually Mars,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA’s associate administrator for science at the agency’s headquarters in Washington. “Not only will we learn more about our space environment, but we'll also learn how to improve forecasting space weather wherever the Artemis Generation journeys away from Earth.”

Additional scientific payloads will be selected to fly aboard the Gateway in the future.  These investigations will take advantage of the unique environment in lunar orbit, one that cannot be duplicated on Earth or on the International Space Station.

The Gateway will orbit near the Moon and will be occupied periodically by astronauts as part of NASA’s sustainable lunar exploration plans. NASA awarded Maxar Technologies a contract in May 2019 to develop the power and propulsion element which will provide solar arrays and maneuvering capabilities. NASA is continuing negotiations with Northrop Grumman to build the habitation and logistics outpost or HALO, the first pressurized module for crew visiting the Gateway.

Image above: The power and propulsion element of NASA's Gateway is a high-power, 50-kilowatt solar electric propulsion spacecraft – three times more powerful than current capabilities. Image Credit: NASA.

ESA, the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency, and the Canadian Space Agency are all actively engaged in discussions with NASA to support the construction and operation of the Gateway which, again, will support lunar surface missions and pave the way for the human exploration of Mars.  

“This is an incredible moment in human spaceflight as NASA is closer than any other time in history since the Apollo program to returning to the lunar surface,” said Bridenstine. “America is leading a return to the Moon, and this time, we’re taking all of humanity with us to explore long-term and get ready for Mars.”

Learn more about NASA’s Moon to Mars exploration approach:

Related article:

Lunar Gateway: Earth’s guard post against asteroids?

Related links:

Maxar Technologies:

Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway:


Animation (mentioned), Image (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Erin Mahoney.

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mercredi 11 mars 2020

Crew Begins Cardiac Research and Continues Unloading New Science Experiments

ISS - Expedition 62 Mission patch.

March 11, 2020

Bone cells and now heart cells are on the space research agenda for the Expedition 62 crew. The International Space Station continues gearing up for more space investigations recently delivered aboard the SpaceX Dragon resupply ship.

NASA Flight Engineer Jessica Meir turned her attention today to a new experiment exploring cardiac activity in microgravity. She tended to heart cells swapping media that nourishes the samples being observed and manipulated with magnetic sensors. The results could inform measures to keep astronauts healthy on long-term missions and possibly treat heart conditions on Earth.

Image above: The amber hue hovering just above the Earth’s limb is the atmospheric glow with the Milky Way’s stars sparkling in the background as photographed from the space station. Image Credit: NASA.

Bone health is also important for humans living and working on and off the Earth. Over in the Japanese Kibo laboratory module, NASA astronaut Andrew Morgan worked in the Life Science Glovebox servicing bone cell samples for an experiment that began in February. That research is comparing samples nurtured in weightlessness to a set of samples that are magnetically levitated in a lab on Earth. Insights could prove valuable when treating bone ailments such as osteoporosis.

The pair also split their time on several other investigations ranging from radiation detection to protein crystals. Radiation detectors were retrieved from Dragon and installed throughout the station to characterize the orbital lab’s radiation dosage and distribution. The crew also looked at protein crystals that grow better in space than on Earth, for a pair of studies, PCG-10 and JAXA Moderate Temp PCG, supporting the development of more effective medications.

ISS, Flying over the Earth

Commander Oleg Skripochka focused on Russian communications gear throughout the day testing two-way audio and video satellite links. He also spent some time exploring advanced photography techniques to locate Earth targets.

Related links:

Expedition 62:

Cardiac activity in microgravity:

Bone health:

Kibo laboratory module:

Life Science Glovebox:

Radiation detectors:


JAXA Moderate Temp PCG:

Advanced photography techniques:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

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Mars - A Slice of Polar Layer Cake

NASA - Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) patch.

March 11, 2020

The Martian ice cap is like a cake with every layer telling a story. In this case, the story is one of climate change on Mars.

This image of an exposed section of the north polar layered deposits (NPLD) looks much like a delicious slice of layered tiramisu. The NPLD is made up of water-ice and dust particles stacked one on top of the other. However, instead of icing, layers are topped with seasonal carbon dioxide frost, as seen here as lingering frost adhering to one of the layers.

The high-resolution and color capabilities of the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter's HiRISE camera provides details on the variations in the layers. Scientists are also using radar data, which show us that they have continuity in the subsurface. During deposition, these complex layers might encapsulate tiny air pockets from the atmosphere which, if sampled, could be studied to understand linkages to previous climates.

Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO)

In the end, it's not always a piece of cake studying NPLD on Mars but, where there is cake, there is hope!

Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO):

Images, Text, Credits: NASA/Yvette Smith/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona.


ESO Telescope Observes Exoplanet Where It Rains Iron

ESO - European Southern Observatory logo.

11 March 2020

Artist’s impression of the night side of WASP-76b

Researchers using ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) have observed an extreme planet where they suspect it rains iron. The ultra-hot giant exoplanet has a day side where temperatures climb above 2400 degrees Celsius, high enough to vaporise metals. Strong winds carry iron vapour to the cooler night side where it condenses into iron droplets.

“One could say that this planet gets rainy in the evening, except it rains iron,” says David Ehrenreich, a professor at the University of Geneva in Switzerland. He led a study, published today in the journal Nature, of this exotic exoplanet. Known as WASP-76b, it is located some 640 light-years away in the constellation of Pisces.

Another artist’s impression of WASP-76b

This strange phenomenon happens because the 'iron rain' planet only ever shows one face, its day side, to its parent star, its cooler night side remaining in perpetual darkness. Like the Moon on its orbit around the Earth, WASP-76b is ‘tidally locked’: it takes as long to rotate around its axis as it does to go around the star.

On its day side, it receives thousands of times more radiation from its parent star than the Earth does from the Sun. It’s so hot that molecules separate into atoms, and metals like iron evaporate into the atmosphere. The extreme temperature difference between the day and night sides results in vigorous winds that bring the iron vapour from the ultra-hot day side to the cooler night side, where temperatures decrease to around 1500 degrees Celsius.

A ‘fly to’ WASP-76, the star around which WASP-76b orbits

Not only does WASP-76b have different day-night temperatures, it also has distinct day-night chemistry, according to the new study. Using the new ESPRESSO instrument on ESO’s VLT in the Chilean Atacama Desert, the astronomers identified for the first time chemical variations on an ultra-hot gas giant planet. They detected a strong signature of iron vapour at the evening border that separates the planet’s day side from its night side. “Surprisingly, however, we do not see the iron vapour in the morning,” says Ehrenreich. The reason, he says, is that “it is raining iron on the night side of this extreme exoplanet.”

“The observations show that iron vapour is abundant in the atmosphere of the hot day side of WASP-76b," adds María Rosa Zapatero Osorio, an astrophysicist at the Centre for Astrobiology in Madrid, Spain, and the chair of the ESPRESSO science team. "A fraction of this iron is injected into the night side owing to the planet's rotation and atmospheric winds. There, the iron encounters much cooler environments, condenses and rains down."

A view of the orbit of WASP-76b around its host star WASP-76

This result was obtained from the very first science observations done with ESPRESSO, in September 2018, by the scientific consortium who built the instrument: a team from Portugal, Italy, Switzerland, Spain and ESO.

ESPRESSO — the Echelle SPectrograph for Rocky Exoplanets and Stable Spectroscopic Observations — was originally designed to hunt for Earth-like planets around Sun-like stars. However, it has proven to be much more versatile. “We soon realised that the remarkable collecting power of the VLT and the extreme stability of ESPRESSO made it a prime machine to study exoplanet atmospheres,” says Pedro Figueira, ESPRESSO instrument scientist at ESO in Chile.

“What we have now is a whole new way to trace the climate of the most extreme exoplanets,” concludes Ehrenreich.


A previous version of this press release mistakenly indicated the distance to WASP-76b as being 390 light-years, based on a 2016 study. More recent data indicates that the exoplanet is 640 light-years away.

More information:

This research was presented in a paper to appear in Nature.

The team is composed of David Ehrenreich (Observatoire astronomique de l’Université de Genève, Geneva, Switzerland [UNIGE]), Christophe Lovis (UNIGE), Romain Allart (UNIGE), María Rosa Zapatero Osorio (Centro de Astrobiología, Madrid, Spain [CSIC-INTA]), Francesco Pepe (UNIGE), Stefano Cristiani (INAF Osservatorio Astronomico di Trieste, Italy [INAF Trieste]), Rafael Rebolo (Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias, Tenerife, Spain [IAC]), Nuno C. Santos (Instituto de Astrofísica e Ciências do Espaço, Universidade do Porto, Portugal [IA/UPorto] & Departamento de Física e Astronomia, Faculdade de Ciências, Universidade do Porto, Portugal [FCUP]), Francesco Borsa (INAF Osservatorio Astronomico di Brera, Merate, Italy [INAF Brera]), Olivier Demangeon (IA/UPorto), Xavier Dumusque (UNIGE), Jonay I. González Hernández (IAC), Núria Casasayas-Barris (IAC), Damien Ségransan (UNIGE), Sérgio Sousa (IA/UPorto), Manuel Abreu (Instituto de Astrofísica e Ciências do Espaço, Universidade de Lisboa, Portugal [IA/FCUL] & Departamento de Física da Faculdade de Ciências da Universidade de Lisboa, Portugal [FCUL], Vardan Adibekyan [IA/UPorto], Michael Affolter (Physikalisches Institut & Center for Space and Habitability, Universität Bern, Switzerland [Bern]), Carlos Allende Prieto (IAC), Yann Alibert (Bern), Matteo Aliverti (INAF Brera), David Alves (IA/FCUL & FCUL), Manuel Amate (IA/UPorto), Gerardo Avila (European Southern Observatory, Garching bei München, Germany [ESO]), Veronica Baldini (INAF Trieste), Timothy Bandy (Bern), Willy Benz (Bern), Andrea Bianco (INAF Brera), Émeline Bolmont (UNIGE), François Bouchy (UNIGE), Vincent Bourrier (UNIGE), Christopher Broeg (Bern), Alexandre Cabral (IA/FCUL & FCUL), Giorgio Calderone (INAF Trieste), Enric Pallé (IAC), H. M. Cegla (UNIGE), Roberto Cirami (INAF Trieste), João M. P. Coelho (IA/FCUL & FCUL), Paolo Conconi (INAF Brera), Igor Coretti (INAF Trieste), Claudio Cumani (ESO), Guido Cupani (INAF Trieste), Hans Dekker (ESO), Bernard Delabre (ESO), Sebastian Deiries (ESO), Valentina D’Odorico (INAF Trieste & Scuola Normale Superiore, Pisa, Italy), Paolo Di Marcantonio (INAF Trieste), Pedro Figueira (European Southern Observatory, Santiago de Chile, Chile [ESO Chile] & IA/UPorto), Ana Fragoso (IAC), Ludovic Genolet (UNIGE), Matteo Genoni (INAF Brera), Ricardo Génova Santos (IAC), Nathan Hara (UNIGE), Ian Hughes (UNIGE), Olaf Iwert (ESO), Florian Kerber (ESO), Jens Knudstrup (ESO), Marco Landoni (INAF Brera), Baptiste Lavie (UNIGE), Jean-Louis Lizon (ESO), Monika Lendl (UNIGE & Space Research Institute, Austrian Academy of Sciences, Graz, Austria), Gaspare Lo Curto (ESO Chile), Charles Maire (UNIGE), Antonio Manescau (ESO), C. J. A. P. Martins (IA/UPorto & Centro de Astrofísica da Universidade do Porto, Portugal), Denis Mégevand (UNIGE), Andrea Mehner (ESO Chile), Giusi Micela (INAF Osservatorio Astronomico di Palermo, Italy), Andrea Modigliani (ESO), Paolo Molaro (INAF Trieste & Institute for Fundamental Physics of the Universe, Trieste, Italy), Manuel Monteiro (IA/UPorto), Mario Monteiro (IA/UPorto & FCUP), Manuele Moschetti (INAF Brera), Eric Müller (ESO), Nelson Nunes (IA), Luca Oggioni (INAF Brera), António Oliveira (IA/FCUL & FCUL), Giorgio Pariani (INAF Brera), Luca Pasquini (ESO), Ennio Poretti (INAF Brera & Fundación Galileo Galilei, INAF, Breña Baja, Spain), José Luis Rasilla (IAC), Edoardo Redaelli (INAF Brera), Marco Riva (INAF Brera), Samuel Santana Tschudi (ESO Chile), Paolo Santin (INAF Trieste), Pedro Santos (IA/FCUL & FCUL), Alex Segovia Milla (UNIGE), Julia V. Seidel (UNIGE), Danuta Sosnowska (UNIGE), Alessandro Sozzetti (INAF Osservatorio Astrofisico di Torino, Pino Torinese, Italy), Paolo Spanò (INAF Brera), Alejandro Suárez Mascareño (IAC), Hugo Tabernero (CSIC-INTA & IA/UPorto), Fabio Tenegi (IAC), Stéphane Udry (UNIGE), Alessio Zanutta (INAF Brera), Filippo Zerbi (INAF Brera).

ESO is the foremost intergovernmental astronomy organisation in Europe and the world’s most productive ground-based astronomical observatory by far. It has 16 Member States: Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, along with the host state of Chile and with AustralIA/FCULas a Strategic Partner. ESO carries out an ambitious programme focused on the design, construction and operation of powerful ground-based observing facilities enabling astronomers to make important scientific discoveries. ESO also plays a leading role in promoting and organising cooperation in astronomical research. ESO operates three unique world-class observing sites in Chile: La Silla, Paranal and Chajnantor. At Paranal, ESO operates the Very Large Telescope and its world-leading Very Large Telescope Interferometer as well as two survey telescopes, VISTA working in the infrared and the visible-light VLT Survey Telescope. Also at Paranal ESO will host and operate the Cherenkov Telescope Array South, the world’s largest and most sensitive gamma-ray observatory. ESO is also a major partner in two facilities on Chajnantor, APEX and ALMA, the largest astronomical project in existence. And on Cerro Armazones, close to Paranal, ESO is building the 39-metre Extremely Large Telescope, the ELT, which will become “the world’s biggest eye on the sky”.


ESOcast 218: The Stranger Exoplanets:

Research paper:

Photos of ESPRESSO:

Photos of the VLT:

More about ESPRESSO and how it finds exoplanets:


Text, Credits: ESO/Bárbara Ferreira/EXPRESSO/INAF Astronomical Observatory of Trieste/Stefano Cristiani/Instituto de Astrofísica e Ciências do Espaço, Universidade do Porto and Departamento de Física e Astronomia Faculdade de Ciências, Universidade do Porto/Nuno C. Santos/Astronomer at ESO and Instituto de Astrofísica e Ciências do Espaço/Pedro Figueira/Images: ESO/M. Kornmesser/Frederik Peeters ( ESO/L.Calçada/


mardi 10 mars 2020

Crew Sets Up New Science During Ongoing Bone Research

ISS - Expedition 62 Mission patch.

March 10, 2020

The Expedition 62 crew started unloading and activating new science experiments, which were delivered Monday aboard the SpaceX Dragon resupply ship.

NASA astronauts Andrew Morgan and Jessica Meir opened Dragon’s hatch shortly after its capture and installation on Monday. The duo quickly retrieved critical research samples and installed science hardware, setting up operations aboard the International Space Station.

Image above: NASA astronauts and Andrew Morgan and Jessica Meir are pictured inside the cupola, the International Space Station’s “window to the world,” shortly after capturing the SpaceX Dragon resupply ship. Image Credit: NASA.

Mice are living on the station now after their ride to space aboard Dragon. Morgan placed the rodents in specialized habitats for a JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) investigation exploring how microgravity affects genetic expression. Observations will give doctors insights into the how human body will adapt to longer missions to the Moon, Mars and beyond.

Meir collected a science freezer and commercial research hardware from inside Dragon and began setting up the gear throughout the orbital lab. In the afternoon, she got back to work on ongoing bone research tending to bone cells being observed to understand Earth ailments such as osteoporosis.

International Space Station (ISS). Image Credit: NASA

Commander Oleg Skripochka of Roscosmos collected air samples from inside Dragon shortly after its hatch opening Monday. The veteran cosmonaut focused on Russian life support maintenance Tuesday morning before setting up Earth observation hardware during the afternoon.

Related links:

Expedition 62:

Genetic expression:

Bone cells:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

Best regards,