vendredi 22 mai 2020

Hubble Sees Stellar Glitter in a Cosmic Void

NASA - Hubble Space Telescope patch.

May 22, 2020

Unlike a spiral or elliptical galaxy, the galaxy KK 246 looks like glitter spilled across a black velvet sheet. KK 246, also known as ESO 461-036, is a dwarf irregular galaxy residing within the Local Void, a vast region of empty space. This lonely galaxy is the only one known for certain to reside in this enormous volume, along with 15 others that have been tentatively identified.

Although the picture appears to be full of galaxies, they are actually beyond this void, and instead form part of other galaxy groups or clusters. Cosmic voids, such as this one, are the spaces within the web-like structure of the universe wherein very few or no galaxies exist.

Adjacent to the Local Group, this region of empty space is at least 150 million light-years across. For perspective, our own Milky Way galaxy is estimated to be 150,000 light-years across, making this void immense in its nothingness.

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, E. Shaya, L. Rizzi, B. Tully, et al.


Space Station Science Highlights: Week of May 18, 2020

ISS - Expedition 63 Mission patch.

May 22, 2020

During the week of May 18, research activities aboard the International Space Station included studies on how spaceflight affects muscles and the gut microbiota and tests of using levitation to melt substances to make glass and metal alloys. Crew members also conducted preparations for the arrival of SpaceX Demo-2 and NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley, targeted for Thursday, May 28, following launch on Wednesday. Part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, Demo-2 marks the first launch of astronauts on American rockets and spacecraft from American soil since 2011.

Image above: The space station passes over the first typhoon of the season, Vongfong, in the South Pacific Ocean, known in the Philippines as Typhoon Ambo.
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:

Landing in the dust

Image above: Hourglass structures used in the Hourglass investigation of the behavior of various materials in different gravity conditions to advance understanding of regolith, the dust-like particles that cover the Moon and other celestial bodies. Image Credit: JAXA.

Crew members installed hardware, ground teams initiated experiment runs and the crew removed experiment units and downloaded data for Hourglass. This Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) investigation examines the behavior of various granular materials under different gravity conditions. The materials simulate regolith, a dust that covers the surface of planets and planetary-like bodies. Results could support the design of vehicles and instruments that come into contact with the surfaces of planets and other celestial bodies, such as landing gear, soil sampling devices and roving vehicles.

Muscles in space

The ESA (European Space Agency) Muscle Tone in Space (Myotones) investigation observes how long-term exposure to spaceflight affects the biochemical properties of muscles, such as tone, stiffness and elasticity. A better understanding of human resting muscle tone could help lead to development of new strategies for alternative rehabilitation treatments for people on future space missions and on Earth. Crew members performed Myotones sessions on specific muscles and collected blood samples during the week.

Better food for adapting to space

The Integrated Impact of Diet on Human Immune Response, the Gut Microbiota, and Nutritional Status During Adaptation to Spaceflight (Food Physiology) documents the effects of dietary improvements on immune function and the gut microbiome and the ability of those improvements to support adaptation to spaceflight. These factors are linked, but only diet can be easily and meaningfully changed on Earth or during flight. Researchers track daily food intake during the duration of a crew member’s flight and for several pre- and post-flight sessions and have weekly in-flight conferences to discuss diet with the crew members.

Floating and melting materials

Image above: The Electrostatic Levitation Furnace (ELF) in the Japanese Experiment Module (JEM). ELF supports a variety of physical science experiments, including one on levitating materials for melting. Image Credit: NASA.

When raw materials are melted to make glass, metals and other materials, reactions between those materials and the crucible or container that holds them can cause imperfections. Using static electricity to cause the materials to levitate or float prevents these reactions and is much easier in microgravity than on Earth. Scientists are studying melting of floating materials in the JAXA Electrostatic Levitation Furnace (ELF) on the space station. ELF supports a variety of physical science experiments on creating new materials and measuring their properties.

Other investigations on which the crew performed work:

Animation above: ROSCOSMOS cosmonaut Anatoly Ivanishin replaces a gas bottle in the Combustion Integration Rack (CIR) in preparation for flame studies controlled by the ground. Animation Credit: NASA.

- Structure and Response of Spherical Diffusion Flames (s-Flame) studies the structure and dynamics of soot-free and sooty flames. Findings could contribute to development of engines with improved efficiency and reduced emissions on Earth. S-Flame is part of the Advanced Combustion via Microgravity Experiments (ACME) project, a series of independent studies of gaseous flames performed in the station’s Combustion Integrated Rack (CIR).

- Astrobee tests three self-contained, free-flying robots designed to assist astronauts with routine chores, give ground controllers additional eyes and ears and perform crew monitoring, sampling and logistics management.

- The NASA Sample Cartridge Assembly-Gravitational Effects on Distortion in Sintering (MSL SCA-GEDS-German) experiment determines the underlying principles for forecasting density, size, shape and properties for liquid phase sintered bodies over a broad range of compositions in Earth gravity and microgravity.

Space to Ground: Preparing for Launch: 05/22/2020

Related links:

Expedition 63:

SpaceX Demo-2:

Commercial Crew Program:




Food Physiology:

JAXA Electrostatic Levitation Furnace (ELF):

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 63.

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Expedition 63 Awaits Japanese Cargo and American Crew

ISS - Expedition 63 Mission patch.

May 22, 2020

Three Expedition 63 crewmates are orbiting Earth getting ready to welcome a Japanese cargo ship and the first crew to launch from America in almost a decade.

NASA Commander Chris Cassidy will command the Canadarm2 robotic arm to capture Japan’s ninth space freighter to visit the station on Memorial Day at 8:15 a.m. EDT. The H-II Transfer Vehicle-9 (HTV-9) is delivering over four tons of crew supplies, space experiments and new lithium-ion batteries to upgrade station power systems. NASA TV’s live coverage begins Monday at 6:45 a.m.

Image above: Japan’s HTV-8 cargo craft (left) is pictured gripped by the Canadarm2 robotic arm on November of 2019. The SpaceX Crew Dragon vehicle is pictured at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Image Credit: NASA.

Cassidy spent Friday readying the Harmony module for the HTV-9’s installation while also working on plumbing tasks. He’ll spend Saturday and Sunday relaxing aboard the International Space Station before turning his attention to the Japanese and American spaceships.

In Florida, astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program are in final preparations for their launch aboard the SpaceX Crew Dragon on Wednesday at 4:33 p.m. They will dock the next day at 11:39 a.m. to the station’s International Docking Adapter on the Harmony module’s forward port.

International Space Station (ISS). Animation Credit: NASA

Cassidy with Flight Engineers Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner will welcome the Commercial Crew astronauts aboard the station when the hatches open about two-and-a-half hours later. Behnken and Hurley will join the Expedition 63 crew as Flight Engineers and ramp up space science aboard the orbiting lab.

Back onboard the space station, cosmonauts Ivanishin and Vagner spent Friday servicing a variety of Russian communications and life support hardware. The duo also continued inventorying station maintenance and repair equipment.

Related articles:

NASA’s Commercial Crew Program Brings Extra Hands to Science on the Space Station

JAXA HTV-9 Spacecraft Carries Science, Technology to the International Space Station

Related links:

Expedition 63:


Harmony module:

Commercial Crew Program:

SpaceX Crew Dragon:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

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NASA’s Commercial Crew Program Brings Extra Hands to Science on the Space Station

NASA & SpaceX - First Crewed Flight DM-2 patch.

May 22, 2020

The International Space Station soon returns to a stable rotation of four U.S. Operating Segment (USOS) crew members thanks to the first launch of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program (CCP).

“Returning to stable rotation effectively doubles the amount of time we have available for research,” says NASA ISS Deputy Chief Scientist Jennifer Buchli.

Image above: The SpaceX Crew Dragon craft shown during a testing of its parachutes. Image Credit: SpaceX.

Since 2010, the CCP has worked with Boeing and SpaceX to design, build, test and operate systems to transport humans to low-Earth orbit. These partners have conducted multiple test missions as part of the process to begin regularly flying crew missions to the space station.

Demo-1, SpaceX’s inaugural uncrewed flight, tested the end-to-end capabilities of the company’s new system. The next step is Demo-2, scheduled for launch from Florida no earlier than May 27, with NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley aboard the Crew Dragon spacecraft.

This and future commercial flights are key to ongoing scientific work on the space station, the only platform for long-duration research in microgravity. During its nearly 20 years of continuous occupation, the orbiting lab’s residents have conducted almost 3,000 experiments in many scientific fields, as well as technology demonstrations. CCP is part of ongoing efforts to increase the time dedicated to advancing important science and technology demonstrations to enable future missions to the Moon and Mars.

Image above: In March, SpaceX teams at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida and the company's Mission Control in Hawthorne, California, and NASA flight controllers in Mission Control Houston, executed a full simulation of launch and docking of the Crew Dragon spacecraft, with NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley participating in SpaceX's flight simulator. Image Credit: NASA.

Typically, the space station crew consists of six people, three of them USOS crew members, but it functions with as few as three total crew. NASA’s commercial crew contracts call for the flights to transport four crew members to space at a time. The more crew members, the more time they can dedicate to scientific research, and the more research, the more results.

Those results include thousands of scientific papers, many in top scientific journals. They also fuel a growing space economy and private sector interest in space as well as support for NASA’s Artemis program to return humans to the Moon and on to Mars. Space station investigations generate many and varied benefits to humanity as well, ranging from improvements in development of pharmaceuticals to better disaster response, improved materials manufacturing, advances in robotics, bioprinting human tissue and much more.

While many station experiments now require less crew involvement thanks to increasingly automated research facilities, hands-on astronaut participation remains key for numerous microgravity studies. Safe, reliable and cost-effective transportation to and from the space station is what enables these experiments to continue, and that’s where commercial flights come in.

Image above: Through NASA’s partnership with the Russian space agency, Roscomos, Russian crew members can assist with science activities when necessary, such as when the space station is not carrying a full crew. Here, Russian cosmonauts take photographs for Earth observations. Image Credit: NASA.

Commercial crew flights also enable NASA to adjust the duration of astronaut visits in order to close gaps in data about how long-duration space missions affect human health, Buchli says. “We have quite a bit of data about the physiological changes astronauts experience during six-month expeditions and short duration flights through the Space Shuttle program. But to increase our understanding of astronaut health and develop countermeasures, we need missions of roughly one year as well as durations of 30 to 60 days. Varying mission lengths will enable us to reduce risks to astronaut health for longer exploration missions to the moon and Mars.”

The commercial flights increase the amount of cargo that can be sent to the station as well, and they have the capability to return scientific samples to Earth and put them in the hands of researchers more quickly. That opens up the microgravity lab to even more types of research.

NASA also continues to validate performance of Boeing’s Starliner in anticipation of a flight carrying NASA astronauts Nicole Mann and Mike Fincke and Boeing’s Christopher Ferguson to the space station.

#LaunchAmerica Boosts Space Station Science

“We are looking forward to launching astronauts to the station from the U.S. again and returning to an increased four crew presence through the Commercial Crew Program,” Buchli says.

Because CCP capability ultimately means more science, and science is what the space station is all about.

Related links:

Commercial Crew Program (CCP):






Research in microgravity:

Benefits to humanity:

Long-duration space missions affect human health:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

Images (mentioned), Video (NASA), Text, Credits: NASA/Michael Johnson/JSC/International Space Station Program Research Office/Melissa Gaskill.


ROSCOSMOS - Soyuz-2.1b launches Kosmos-2546


May 22, 2020

Soyuz-2.1b launches Kosmos-2546

A Soyuz-2.1b rocket launched the Kosmos-2541 satellite from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome, Russia, on 22 May 2020, at 06:45 UTC (09:45 local time).

Soyuz-2.1b launches Kosmos-2546

According to official sources, the satellite was placed into the desired orbit and is functioning normally. Kosmos-2546, also known as Tundra 14L, is part of the EKS system.

Kosmos (Tundra) satellite

A Russian government Soyuz rocket launches the EKS 4 early warning satellite for the Russian military. The EKS, or Tundra, satellites fly in highly elliptical tundra orbits. The rocket flying in the Soyuz-2.1b configuration with a Fregat upper stage.


Images, Video, Text, Credits: Credits: Roscosmos/ Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation/SciNews/ROSCOSMOS/ Aerospace/Roland Berga.


jeudi 21 mai 2020

The A380 struck down by the coronavirus

Airbus logo.

May 21, 2020

The coronavirus crisis and the collapse of traffic accelerated the end of production of the A380, flagship of Airbus.

Deemed unprofitable by airlines, the A380, the flagship of Airbus whose production was announced to have ended in February 2019, sees its end of life further accelerated by the coronavirus crisis and the collapse of traffic.

Image above: After the German company Lufthansa which indicated at the beginning of April that it intended in particular to withdraw from its fleet its six A380s, it was Air France which announced that it would stop operating its nine aircraft. Image Credit: AFP.

After the German company Lufthansa which indicated at the beginning of April that it intended in particular to withdraw from its fleet its six A380s, it was Air France which announced that it would stop operating its nine aircraft, which was initially planned for 2022.

Airbus A380 Lufthansa

And if the most important operator of the "Super Jumbo" thought as the successor of the mythical 747 of the American rival Boeing, the company Emirates, has not indicated what it intends to do with its 115 A380, its president Tim Clark affirmed that 'with the pandemic the A380 was' finished'.

Larger than a 747

Airbus had already announced in February 2019 the halt of deliveries for 2021 of its giant aircraft with 251 copies ordered by 14 customers, thus acknowledging that this industrial jewel appreciated by passengers for its comfort constituted a commercial failure.

The plane, whose development costs amounted to more than $ 18 billion, was sold for $ 445.6 million at the 2018 list price, the latest published by Airbus.

 Airbus A380 & Boeing 747 size comparison

Larger than a 747, the four-jet engine that made its first flight just 15 years ago and entered service two years later, can carry from 575 to 850 passengers, thanks to the 550 m2 of its cabin.

But its gigantic size harms flexibility. The aircraft cannot land anywhere: with its two decks, it requires specific airport facilities for passenger embarkation and disembarkation.

The A380 offers the best cost at the market headquarters provided that it is 100% full, according to Sébastien Maire, aeronautical expert at Kea & Partners.

Failed bet

This was far from evident on many routes despite congestion at airports like London and Los Angeles.

By launching the A380 project, Airbus had bet on the development of mega-city “hubs”, served by a very large capacity aircraft, but which requires improvements and imposes the highest possible occupancy rate to ensure the profitability of lines.

Air France A380

A failed bet for the European aircraft manufacturer in a widebody market which was already in overcapacity before the crisis. Airbus had not seen the turning point of medium-capacity long-haul jets like the B787 "Dreamliner" from Boeing, which focused on point-to-point development, that is to say direct links, coming. He has since successfully replied with his A350.

Related articles:

Coronavirus kills A380

Planes have disappeared from the European sky

Airbus announces the end of production of the A380

Related link:


Images, Text, Credits: AFP/Airbus/Lufthansa/Air France/ Aerospace/Roland Berga.


SpaceX Crew Preps for Launch as Japanese Cargo Heads to Station

ISS - Expedition 63 Mission patch.

May 21, 2020

The International Space Station will welcome a pair of different spaceships next week. Japan’s space freighter will arrive first on Monday followed by the first crewed mission from SpaceX on Thursday.

The H-II Transfer Vehicle-9 (HTV-9) is in space racing toward the orbiting lab following its launch from Japan on Wednesday. The HTV-9, nicknamed Kounotori, or “white stork”, will arrive at the station Monday packed with over four tons of crew supplies, space experiments and new lithium-ion batteries to upgrade station power systems.

Image above: The crew of the SpaceX Demo-2 mission: NASA astronauts (from left) Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken. Image Credit: NASA.

Commander Chris Cassidy will be on deck Monday in the cupola to command the Canadarm2 robotic arm to capture the Kounotori at 8:15 a.m. EDT. Roscosmos Flight Engineer Ivan Vagner will back up Cassidy and monitor the approach and rendezvous of the HTV-9. The duo has been training for a couple of weeks on a computer to get ready for Kounotori’s arrival. NASA TV’s live coverage of the robotic capture and installation will begin at 6:45 a.m. Monday.

The Expedition 63 crew is also preparing to welcome two NASA astronauts next week after they dock to the station inside the SpaceX Crew Dragon vehicle. The first Commercial Crew with Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken arrived in Florida Wednesday and is in final preparations for launch on May 27 at 4:33 p.m. from Kennedy Space Center. They will dock the following day at 11:39 a.m. to the Harmony module’s forward-facing International Docking Adapter.

Image above: A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with the company's Crew Dragon spacecraft onboard is seen as it is raised into a vertical position on the launch pad at Launch Complex 39A as preparations continue for the Demo-2 mission, Thursday, May 21, 2020, at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2 mission is the first launch with astronauts of the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 rocket to the International Space Station as part of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program. The flight test will serve as an end-to-end demonstration of SpaceX’s crew transportation system. Behnken and Hurley are scheduled to launch at 4:33 p.m. EDT on Wednesday, May 27, from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center. A new era of human spaceflight is set to begin as American astronauts once again launch on an American rocket from American soil to low-Earth orbit for the first time since the conclusion of the Space Shuttle Program in 2011. Photo Credits: NASA/Bill Ingalls.

Cassidy has been familiarizing himself this week with the Crew Dragon’s automated rendezvous and docking procedures. He set up a command and control device that will relay communications and telemetry back and forth with the Crew Dragon as it nears the space station next week.

International Space Station (ISS). Animation Credit: NASA

Veteran Russian Flight Engineer Anatoly Ivanishin has been keeping up with his lab maintenance tasks while his crewmates get ready for the Kounotori’s arrival. The three-time station resident serviced computers and life support gear and updated station inventory systems today.

Related links:

Expedition 63:




Commercial Crew:

Harmony module:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

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ESO Telescope Sees Signs of Planet Birth

ESO - European Southern Observatory logo.

21 May 2020

The Twist Marks the Spot

SPHERE image of the disc around AB Aurigae

Observations made with the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope (ESO’s VLT) have revealed the telltale signs of a star system being born. Around the young star AB Aurigae lies a dense disc of dust and gas in which astronomers have spotted a prominent spiral structure with a ‘twist’ that marks the site where a planet may be forming. The observed feature could be the first direct evidence of a baby planet coming into existence.

SPHERE image of the inner disc around AB Aurigae

“Thousands of exoplanets have been identified so far, but little is known about how they form,” says Anthony Boccaletti who led the study from the Observatoire de Paris, PSL University, France. Astronomers know planets are born in dusty discs surrounding young stars, like AB Aurigae, as cold gas and dust clump together. The new observations with ESO’s VLT, published in Astronomy & Astrophysics, provide crucial clues to help scientists better understand this process.

SPHERE images of the AB Aurigae system (side by side)

“We need to observe very young systems to really capture the moment when planets form,” says Boccaletti. But until now astronomers had been unable to take sufficiently sharp and deep images of these young discs to find the ‘twist’ that marks the spot where a baby planet may be coming to existence.

SPHERE images of the AB Aurigae system (side by side, annotated)

The new images feature a stunning spiral of dust and gas around AB Aurigae, located 520 light-years away from Earth in the constellation of Auriga (The Charioteer). Spirals of this type signal the presence of baby planets, which ‘kick’ the gas, creating “disturbances in the disc in the form of a wave, somewhat like the wake of a boat on a lake,” explains Emmanuel Di Folco of the Astrophysics Laboratory of Bordeaux (LAB), France, who also participated in the study. As the planet rotates around the central star, this wave gets shaped into a spiral arm. The very bright yellow ‘twist’ region close to the centre of the new AB Aurigae image, which lies at about the same distance from the star as Neptune from the Sun, is one of these disturbance sites where the team believe a planet is being made.

Location of AB Aurigae in the constellation of Auriga

Observations of the AB Aurigae system made a few years ago with the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), in which ESO is a partner, provided the first hints of ongoing planet formation around the star. In the ALMA images, scientists spotted two spiral arms of gas close to the star, lying within the disc’s inner region. Then, in 2019 and early 2020, Boccaletti and a team of astronomers from France, Taiwan, the US and Belgium set out to capture a clearer picture by turning the SPHERE instrument on ESO’s VLT in Chile toward the star. The SPHERE images are the deepest images of the AB Aurigae system obtained to date.

Wide-field view of the region of the sky where AB Aurigae is located

With SPHERE's powerful imaging system, astronomers could see the fainter light from small dust grains and emissions coming from the inner disc. They confirmed the presence of the spiral arms first detected by ALMA and also spotted another remarkable feature, a ‘twist’, that points to the presence of ongoing planet formation in the disc. "The twist is expected from some theoretical models of planet formation,” says co-author Anne Dutrey, also at LAB. “It corresponds to the connection of two spirals  — one winding inwards of the planet’s orbit, the other expanding outwards — which join at the planet location. They allow gas and dust from the disc to accrete onto the forming planet and make it grow."

Zooming in to the inner region of the AB Aurigae system

ESO is constructing the 39-metre Extremely Large Telescope, which will draw on the cutting-edge work of ALMA and SPHERE to study extrasolar worlds. As Boccaletti explains, this powerful telescope will allow astronomers to get even more detailed views of planets in the making. “We should be able to see directly and more precisely how the dynamics of the gas contributes to the formation of planets,” he concludes.

Zooming in to AB Aurigae

More information:

This research was presented in the paper “Possible evidence of ongoing planet formation in AB Aurigae: A showcase of the SPHERE/ALMA synergy” to appear in Astronomy & Astrophysics (doi: 10.1051/0004-6361/202038008).

The team is composed of A. Boccaletti (LESIA, Observatoire de Paris, Université PSL, CNRS, Sorbonne Université, Univ. Paris Diderot, Sorbonne Paris Cité, CNRS, France), E. Di Folco (Laboratoire d’Astrophysique de Bordeaux, Université de Bordeaux, CNRS, France [Bordeaux]), E. Pantin (Laboratoire CEA, IRFU/DAp, AIM, Université Paris-Saclay, Université Paris Diderot, Sorbonne Paris Cité, CNRS, France), A. Dutrey (Bordeaux), S. Guilloteau (Bordeaux), Y. W. Tang (Academia Sinica, Institute of Astronomy and Astrophysics, Taipei, Taiwan), V. Piétu (IRAM, Domaine Universitaire, France), E. Habart (Institut d’astrophysique spatiale, CNRS UMR 8617, Université Paris-Sud 11, France), J. Milli (CNRS, IPAG, Univ. Grenoble Alpes, France), T. L. Beck (Space Telescope Science Institute, Baltimore, MD, USA), and A.-L. Maire (STAR Institute, Université de Liège, Belgium).

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 as 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”.

The Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), an international astronomy facility, is a partnership of ESO, the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institutes of Natural Sciences (NINS) of Japan in cooperation with the Republic of Chile. ALMA is funded by ESO on behalf of its Member States, by NSF in cooperation with the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) and the National Science Council of Taiwan (NSC) and by NINS in cooperation with the Academia Sinica (AS) in Taiwan and the Korea Astronomy and Space Science Institute (KASI). ALMA construction and operations are led by ESO on behalf of its Member States; by the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO), managed by Associated Universities, Inc. (AUI), on behalf of North America; and by the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan (NAOJ) on behalf of East Asia. The Joint ALMA Observatory (JAO) provides the unified leadership and management of the construction, commissioning and operation of ALMA.


ESOcast 221 Light: ESO Telescope Sees Signs of Planet Birth:

Research paper:

Photos of the VLT:

Photos of ALMA:

For scientists: got a story? Pitch your research:

Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA):


Very Large Telescope (VLT):

Text, Credits: ESO/Bárbara Ferreira/Astrophysics Laboratory of Bordeaux (LAB)/Anne Dutrey/Emmanuel Di Folco/Laboratory for Space Science and Astrophysical Instrumentation (LESIA), Observatoire de Paris - PSL/Anthony Boccaletti/Images: ESO/Boccaletti et al./Videos: ESO/Boccaletti et al./M. Kornmesser/ESO/Boccaletti et al./L. Calçada, Digitized Sky Survey 2, N. Risinger ( Music: Konstantino Polizois.

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mercredi 20 mai 2020

NASA Telescope Named For ‘Mother of Hubble’ Nancy Grace Roman

NASA - WFIRST Mission patch.

May 20, 2020

NASA is naming its next-generation space telescope currently under development, the Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST), in honor of Nancy Grace Roman, NASA’s first chief astronomer, who paved the way for space telescopes focused on the broader universe.

Image above: NASA’s Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST) is now named the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope, after NASA’s first Chief of Astronomy. Image Credit: NASA.

The newly named Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope – or Roman Space Telescope, for short – is set to launch in the mid-2020s. It will investigate long-standing astronomical mysteries, such as the force behind the universe’s expansion, and search for distant planets beyond our solar system. 

Considered the “mother” of NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, which launched 30 years ago, Roman tirelessly advocated for new tools that would allow scientists to study the broader universe from space. She left behind a tremendous legacy in the scientific community when she died in 2018.

Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST) wild-field instruments. Animation Credit: NASA

“It is because of Nancy Grace Roman’s leadership and vision that NASA became a pioneer in astrophysics and launched Hubble, the world’s most powerful and productive space telescope,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “I can think of no better name for WFIRST, which will be the successor to NASA’s Hubble and Webb Telescopes.”

Former Sen. Barbara Mikulski, who worked with NASA on the Hubble and WFIRST space telescopes, said, "It is fitting that as we celebrate the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage, NASA has announced the name of their new WFIRST telescope in honor of Dr. Nancy Roman, the Mother of Hubble – well deserved. It recognizes the incredible achievements of women in science and moves us even closer to no more hidden figures and no more hidden galaxies."

NASA's Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope: Broadening Our Cosmic Horizons

Video above: Scheduled to launch in the mid-2020s, the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope, formerly known as WFIRST, will function as Hubble’s wide-eyed cousin. While just as sensitive as Hubble's cameras, the Roman Space Telescope's 300-megapixel Wide Field Instrument will image a sky area 100 times larger. This means a single Roman Space Telescope image will hold the equivalent detail of 100 pictures from Hubble. Video Credit: NASA.

Who Was Nancy Grace Roman?

Born on May 16, 1925, in Nashville, Tennessee, Roman consistently persevered in the face of challenges that plagued many women of her generation interested in science. By seventh grade, she knew she wanted to be an astronomer. Despite being discouraged about going into science – the head of Swarthmore College’s physics department told her he usually dissuaded girls from majoring in physics, but that she “might make it” – Roman earned a bachelor’s degree in astronomy from Swarthmore in 1946 and a doctorate from the University of Chicago in 1949.

She remained at Chicago for six years and made discoveries about the compositions of stars that had implications for the evolution of our Milky Way galaxy. Knowing that her chances of achieving tenure at a university as a woman were slim at that time, she took a position at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory and made strides in researching cosmic questions through radio waves.

Roman came to NASA in 1959, just six months after the agency had been established. At that time, she served as the chief of astronomy and relativity in the Office of Space Science, managing astronomy-related programs and grants.

“I knew that taking on this responsibility would mean that I could no longer do research, but the challenge of formulating a program from scratch that I believed would influence astronomy for decades to come was too great to resist,” she said in a NASA interview.

Nancy Grace Roman. Image Credit: NASA

This was a difficult era for women who wanted to advance in scientific research. While Roman said that men generally treated her equally at NASA, she also revealed in one interview that she had to use the prefix “Dr.” with her name because “otherwise, I could not get past the secretaries.”

But she persisted in her vision to establish new ways to probe the secrets of the universe. When she arrived at NASA, astronomers could obtain data from balloons, sounding rockets and airplanes, but they could not measure all the wavelengths of light. Earth’s atmosphere blocks out much of the radiation that comes from the distant universe. What’s more, only a telescope in space has the luxury of perpetual nighttime and doesn’t have to shut down during the day. Roman knew that to see the universe through more powerful, unblinking eyes, NASA would have to send telescopes to space.

Through Roman’s leadership, NASA launched four Orbiting Astronomical Observatories between 1966 and 1972. While only two of the four were successful, they demonstrated the value of space-based astrophysics and represented the precursors to Hubble. She also championed the International Ultraviolet Explorer, which was built in the 1970s as a joint project between NASA, ESA (European Space Agency) and the United Kingdom, as well as the Cosmic Background Explorer, which measured the leftover radiation from the big bang and led to two of its leading scientists receiving the 2006 Nobel Prize in Physics.

Above all, Roman is credited with making the Hubble Space Telescope a reality. In the mid-1960s, she set up a committee of astronomers and engineers to envision a telescope that could accomplish important scientific goals. She convinced NASA and Congress that it was a priority to launch the most powerful space telescope the world had ever seen.

Hubble turned out to be the most scientifically revolutionary space telescope of all time. Ed Weiler, Hubble’s chief scientist until 1998, called Roman “the mother of the Hubble Space Telescope.”

“Nancy Grace Roman was a leader and advocate whose dedication contributed to NASA seriously pursuing the field of astrophysics and taking it to new heights,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA’s associate administrator for science. “Her name deserves a place in the heavens she studied and opened for so many.”

A New Portrait of the Cosmos is Coming

Video above: The Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope, formerly known as WFIRST, is an upcoming space telescope designed to perform wide-field imaging and spectroscopy of the infrared sky. One of the Roman Space Telescope's objectives will be looking for clues about dark energy — the mysterious force that is accelerating the expansion of the universe. Another objective of the mission will be finding and studying exoplanets. Video Credit: NASA.

What is the Roman Space Telescope?

The Roman Space Telescope will be a NASA observatory designed to settle essential questions in the areas of dark energy, exoplanets and infrared astrophysics. The telescope has a primary mirror that is 2.4 meters (7.9 feet) in diameter and is the same size as the Hubble Space Telescope's primary mirror. The Roman Space Telescope is designed to have two instruments, the Wide Field Instrument and a technology demonstration Coronagraph Instrument. The Wide Field Instrument will have a field of view that is 100 times greater than the Hubble infrared instrument, allowing it to capture more of the sky with less observing time. The Coronagraph Instrument will perform high contrast imaging and spectroscopy of individual nearby exoplanets.

Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST). Animation Credit: NASA

The WFIRST project passed a critical programmatic and technical milestone in February, giving the mission the official green light to begin hardware development and testing. With the passage of this latest key milestone, the team will begin finalizing the mission design by building engineering test units and models to ensure the design will hold up under the extreme conditions during launch and while in space.

NASA’s Fiscal Year 2020 Consolidated Appropriations Act funds the WFIRST program through September 2020. It is not included in the Fiscal Year 2021 budget request, as the administration wants to focus on completing the James Webb Space Telescope.

Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST): and

For a statement from Nancy Grace Roman’s cousins, Laura Bates Verreau and Barbara Brinker, go to:

For more information about the Roman Space Telescope, go to:

Images (mentioned), Animations (mentioned), Videos (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Sean Potter/Felicia Chou/Elizabeth Landau/GSFC/Claire Andreoli​.

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The Flame of Discovery Grows as Saffire Sets New Fires in Space

NASA - SAFFIRE Mission patch.

May 20, 2020

NASA ignited another set of space fire experiments last week when Saffire IV lit a number of longer, stronger flames inside Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus cargo spacecraft. Saffire, NASA’s Spacecraft Fire Safety Demonstration Project, is a series of six experiments that investigate how fires grow and spread in space, especially aboard future spacecraft bound for the Moon and Mars.

Just like Saffires I, II and III, the researchers began the experiment in Cygnus after it completed its primary International Space Station resupply mission and departed to a safe distance away from the station.

Image above: This edge view of Saffire’s flame shows it developing over a one-centimeter thick sample of a plexiglass type material found on spacecraft. The blue color is typical of microgravity flames and moves from left to right at 20 cm per second.  Image Credit: NASA.

One of the unique features of Saffire IV, is that after two material burns, a carbon dioxide scrubber and smoke eater were used to remove particulate and carbon monoxide.  The instrument to monitor combustion gases and the smoke eater filter are prototypes of what will be used on the Orion spacecraft.

“We want to take what we learned from the first three Saffire experiments and see how flames spread and grow in other spacecraft conditions,” says Gary Ruff, Saffire project manager at NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland.  “We also loaded Saffire IV with more diagnostic equipment to see how effectively we can detect fires, measure combustion products, and evaluate future fire response and clean up technologies.”

NASA's Spacecraft Fire Safety Demonstration Project, Saffire IV

Video above: During the Saffire IV experiment, researchers burned a sample of SIBAL cloth, a composite of 75% cotton and 25% fiberglass. As the flame spreads shortly after ignition, you can see bright speckles behind, which are glowing char on the cloth. Video Credit: NASA.

Saffire, built by Zin Technologies, Inc. in Cleveland, is equipped with numerous sensors that detect oxygen and carbon dioxide levels, smoke concentration and diameter, and temperatures at different places in the Cygnus vehicle.  Four cameras were mounted inside to show the size and spread of the flame.

The first three Saffire experiments had limited-sized fires and examined ignition and spread over similar materials. Results showed that flames spread quickly and achieved a steady size and burn rate, unlike here on Earth where flames tend to continue to grow. Scientists also learned that the size of the spacecraft had more effect on the fire than anticipated.

Saffire’s most important goal is to understand fire behavior in space so safety measures can be developed to deal with fire emergencies, when astronauts do not have the option to exit spacecraft or quickly return to Earth. Imagery and data returned from the Saffire investigations will be important for Artemis missions to the Moon and future missions to Mars.

Two additional Saffire experiments are scheduled for this October and March of 2021, as NASA continues to develop safer ways to operate future crewed exploration missions.

Related article:

U.S. Cygnus Resupply Ship Departs Station

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Image (mentioned), Video (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Kelly Sands/Glenn Research Center/Nancy Smith Kilkenny.


NASA’s OSIRIS-REx Ready for Touchdown on Asteroid Bennu

NASA - OSIRIS-REx Mission patch.

May 20, 2020

NASA’s first asteroid sample return mission is officially prepared for its long-awaited touchdown on asteroid Bennu’s surface. The Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification and Security – Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) mission has targeted Oct. 20 for its first sample collection attempt.

“The OSIRIS-REx mission has been demonstrating the very essence of exploration by persevering through unexpected challenges,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA’s associate administrator for science. “That spirit has led them to the cusp of the prize we all are waiting for – securing a sample of an asteroid to bring home to Earth, and I’m very excited to follow them through the home stretch.”

From discovering Bennu’s surprisingly rugged and active surface, to entering the closest-ever orbit around a planetary body, OSIRIS-REx has overcome several challenges since arriving at the asteroid in December 2018. Last month, the mission brought the spacecraft 213 ft (65 m) from the asteroid’s surface during its first sample collection rehearsal — successfully completing a practice run of the activities leading up to the sampling event.

Iamge above: This illustration shows NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft descending towards asteroid Bennu to collect a sample of the asteroid’s surface. Video Credits: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona.

Now that the mission is ready to collect a sample, the team is facing a different kind of challenge here on Earth. In response to COVID-19 constraints and after the intense preparation for the first rehearsal, the OSIRIS-REx mission has decided to provide its team with additional preparation time for both the final rehearsal and the sample collection event. Spacecraft activities require significant lead time for the development and testing of operations, and given the current requirements that limit in-person participation at the mission support area, the mission would benefit from giving the team additional time to complete these preparations in the new environment. As a result, both the second rehearsal and first sample collection attempt will have two extra months for planning.

“In planning the mission, we included robust schedule margin while at Bennu to provide the flexibility to address unexpected challenges,” said Rich Burns, OSIRIS-REx project manager at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. “This flexibility has allowed us to adapt to the surprises that Bennu has thrown at us. It's now time to prioritize the health and safety of both team members and the spacecraft.”

The mission had originally planned to perform the first Touch-and-Go (TAG) sample collection event on Aug. 25 after completing a second rehearsal in June. This rehearsal, now scheduled for Aug. 11, will bring the spacecraft through the first three maneuvers of the sample collection sequence to an approximate altitude of 131 ft (40 m) over the surface of Bennu. The first sample collection attempt is now scheduled for Oct. 20, during which the spacecraft will descend to Bennu’s surface and collect material from sample site Nightingale.

“This mission’s incredible performance so far is a testament to the extraordinary skill and dedication of the OSIRIS-REx team,” said Dante Lauretta, OSIRIS-REx principal investigator at the University of Arizona, Tucson. “I am confident that even in the face of the current challenge, this team will be successful in collecting our sample from Bennu.”

OSIRIS-REx collecting sample on Bennu. Animation Credit: NASA

During the TAG event, OSIRIS-REx’s sampling mechanism will touch Bennu’s surface for approximately five seconds, fire a charge of pressurized nitrogen to disturb the surface, and collect a sample before the spacecraft backs away. The mission has resources onboard for three sample collection opportunities. If the spacecraft successfully collects a sufficient sample on Oct. 20, no additional sampling attempts will be made. The spacecraft is scheduled to depart Bennu in mid-2021, and will return the sample to Earth on Sept. 24, 2023.

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

For more information on NASA’S OSIRIS-REx mission: and

Image (mentioned), Animation (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Rob Garner/GSFC/Nancy Neal Jones/University of Arizona/Erin Morton/Written by Brittany Enos, University of Arizona.


Japanese Cargo Vehicle Lifts Off To Resupply Station Crew

JAXA - H-II Transfer Vehicle (HTV-9) patch.

May 20, 2020

Carrying four tons of supplies, water, spare parts and experiment hardware for the Expedition 63 crew aboard the International Space Station, HTV-9 launched from Tanegashima Space Center in southern Japan on Wednesday, May 20 at 1:31 p.m. EDT (2:31 a.m. Thursday, May 21, Japan time).

Image above: Japan’s HTV-9 cargo craft moments after liftoff from the at the Tanegashima Space Center. Image Credits: JAXA/NASA.

The cargo vehicle will arrive at the station Monday, May 25. Live coverage of rendezvous and grapple will begin at 6:45 a.m. and capture of HTV-9 is scheduled to occur around 8:15 a.m. and coverage of HTV-9’s final installation will begin at 9:30 a.m.

HTV-9 will approach the station from below and slowly make its way toward the orbital outpost. Expedition 63 Commander Chris Cassidy of NASA, with assistance from Russian Flight Engineer Ivan Vagner of Roscosmos, will operate the station’s Canadarm2 robotic arm from the station’s cupola and grapple the 12-ton spacecraft.


The cargo includes six new lithium-ion batteries needed to complete an overall update of the station’s electrical system. The batteries and corresponding adapter plates will replace aging nickel-hydrogen batteries for two power channels on the station’s far starboard truss segment (S6) through a series of spacewalks by the station’s crew members planned for later this year. This is the final set of new batteries to be launched to the station as part of an overall upgrade of its power system that began in January 2017. Learn more about the science experiments and technology heading to station on the related articles.

At the time of launch, the International Space Station will be flying about 256 statute miles over the Atlantic Ocean just off the southern coast of Brazil.

Related articles:

Last of NASA’s Vital, Versatile Science ‘EXPRESS Racks’ Heads to Space Station

New European Drawer Rack set for Space Station

JAXA HTV-9 Spacecraft Carries Science, Technology to the International Space Station

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Image (mentioned), Video, Text, Credits: NASA/Norah Moran/JAXA/NASA TV/SciNews.

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Swarm probes weakening of Earth’s magnetic field

ESA - SWARM Mission logo.

May 20, 2020

In an area stretching from Africa to South America, Earth’s magnetic field is gradually weakening. This strange behaviour has geophysicists puzzled and is causing technical disturbances in satellites orbiting Earth. Scientists are using data from ESA’s Swarm constellation to improve our understanding of this area known as the ‘South Atlantic Anomaly.’

Development of the South Atlantic Anomaly

Earth’s magnetic field is vital to life on our planet. It is a complex and dynamic force that protects us from cosmic radiation and charged particles from the Sun. The magnetic field is largely generated by an ocean of superheated, swirling liquid iron that makes up the outer core around 3000 km beneath our feet. Acting as a spinning conductor in a bicycle dynamo, it creates electrical currents, which in turn, generate our continuously changing electromagnetic field.

This field is far from static and varies both in strength and direction. For example, recent studies have shown that the position of the north magnetic pole is changing rapidly.

Over the last 200 years, the magnetic field has lost around 9% of its strength on a global average. A large region of reduced magnetic intensity has developed between Africa and South America and is known as the South Atlantic Anomaly.

South Atlantic Anomaly impact radiation

From 1970 to 2020, the minimum field strength in this area has dropped from around 24 000 nanoteslas to 22 000, while at the same time the area of the anomaly has grown and moved westward at a pace of around 20 km per year. Over the past five years, a second centre of minimum intensity has emerged southwest of Africa – indicating that the South Atlantic Anomaly could split up into two separate cells.

Earth’s magnetic field is often visualised as a powerful dipolar bar magnet at the centre of the planet, tilted at around 11° to the axis of rotation. However, the growth of the South Atlantic Anomaly indicates that the processes involved in generating the field are far more complex. Simple dipolar models are unable to account for the recent development of the second minimum.

Scientists from the Swarm Data, Innovation and Science Cluster (DISC) are using data from ESA’s Swarm satellite constellation to better understand this anomaly. Swarm satellites are designed to identify and precisely measure the different magnetic signals that make up Earth’s magnetic field.

Swarm constellation

Jürgen Matzka, from the German Research Centre for Geosciences, says, “The new, eastern minimum of the South Atlantic Anomaly has appeared over the last decade and in recent years is developing vigorously. We are very lucky to have the Swarm satellites in orbit to investigate the development of the South Atlantic Anomaly. The challenge now is to understand the processes in Earth’s core driving these changes.”

It has been speculated whether the current weakening of the field is a sign that Earth is heading for an eminent pole reversal – in which the north and south magnetic poles switch places. Such events have occurred many times throughout the planet’s history and even though we are long overdue by the average rate at which these reversals take place (roughly every 250 000 years), the intensity dip in the South Atlantic occurring now is well within what is considered normal levels of fluctuations.

At surface level, the South Atlantic Anomaly presents no cause for alarm. However, satellites and other spacecraft flying through the area are more likely to experience technical malfunctions as the magnetic field is weaker in this region, so charged particles can penetrate the altitudes of low-Earth orbit satellites.

The mystery of the origin of the South Atlantic Anomaly has yet to be solved. However, one thing is certain: magnetic field observations from Swarm are providing exciting new insights into the scarcely understood processes of Earth’s interior.

Related article:

Magnetic north and the elongating blob

Related links:


Observing the Earth:

Videos, Image, Text, Credits: ESA/ATG Medialab/Division of Geomagnetism, DTU Space.