vendredi 9 octobre 2020

Cancer, Bone Loss Studies on Station Promote Earth and Space Health


ISS - Expedition 63 Mission patch.

October 9, 2020

Cancer therapy was the main focus of Friday’s research aboard the International Space Station. The Expedition 63 crew is also getting ready to return to Earth while still finding time for more science work.

Microgravity research on the station has enabled pharmaceutical innovations with real benefits for patients on Earth. Biology experiments in space also provide insights into how the human body adapts to weightlessness. This helps doctors keep astronauts healthy as NASA plans missions to the Moon, Mars and beyond.

Image above: Expedition 63 Commander Chris Cassidy unpacks fresh fruit and other food items shipped aboard the Northrop Grumman Cygnus. Image Credit: NASA.

The Onco-Selectors study taking place today inside the space station’s Life Sciences Glovebox, installed in Japan’s Kibo laboratory module, seeks to develop drugs that could improve the survival rate of cancer patients. Commander Chris Cassidy spent most of Friday mixing and applying a treatment to healthy and cancerous cell samples being observed for the new cancer investigation.

Cosmonauts Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner were once again exploring ways to reverse the loss of bone mass that occurs during a long-term space mission. The Russian duo worked throughout the day setting up hardware and logging meals and drinks to monitor and understand the mechanisms of bone loss caused by weightlessness.

EarthCam view from ISS. Animation Credit: ISS HD Live Now

The two cosmonauts are also gearing up for their return to Earth with Cassidy in less than two weeks. They have been gathering station hardware and personal items that will soon be stowed inside the Soyuz MS-16 crew ship. All three crew members will parachute to Earth inside the Soyuz spacecraft ending their 196-day space research mission on Oct. 21.

Related links:

Expedition 63:

Microgravity research on the station:

Moon, Mars and beyond:


Life Sciences Glovebox:

Kibo laboratory module:

Bone loss:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

Image (mentioned), Animation (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Norah Moran.

Best regards,

Hubble Sees Swirls of Forming Stars


NASA - Hubble Space Telescope patch.

Oct. 9, 2020

At around 60 million light-years from Earth, the Great Barred Spiral Galaxy, NGC 1365, is captured beautifully in this image by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope. Located in the constellation of Fornax (the Furnace), the blue and fiery orange swirls show us where stars have just formed and the dusty sites of future stellar nurseries.

At the outer edges of the image, enormous star-forming regions within NGC 1365 can be seen. The bright, light-blue regions indicate the presence of hundreds of baby stars that formed from coalescing gas and dust within the galaxy's outer arms.

This Hubble image was captured as part of a joint survey with the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) in Chile. The survey will help scientists understand how the diversity of galaxy environments observed in the nearby universe, including NGC 1365 and other galaxies such as NGC 2835 and NGC 2775, influence the formation of stars and star clusters. Expected to image over 100,000 gas clouds and star-forming regions beyond our Milky Way, the PHANGS survey is expected to uncover and clarify many of the links between cold gas clouds, star formation, and the overall shape and morphology of galaxies.

 Hubble Space Telescope (HST)

For more information about Hubble, visit:

PHANGS survey:

Text Credits: European Space Agency (ESA)/NASA/Lynn Jenner/Image, Animation Credits: ESA/Hubble & NASA, J. Lee and the PHANGS-HST Team; Acknowledgment: Judy Schmidt (Geckzilla).


Space Station Science Highlights: Week of October 5, 2020


ISS - Expedition 63 Mission patch.

Oct. 9, 2020

Scientific investigations conducted during the week of Oct. 5 aboard the International Space Station included studies of targeted cancer drugs and bacterial growth in space, and a demonstration of remote control technology. A Northrop Grumman Cygnus space freighter docked to the station on Oct. 4, bringing a number of brand-new science experiments that crew members began preparing to work on in the coming months.

Image above: Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus space freighter approaches the International Space Station where the Canadarm2 robotic arm is poised to capture it for docking. 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:

More effective cancer drugs

Leveraging Microgravity to Screen Onco-selective Messenger RNAs for Cancer Immunotherapy (Onco-Selectors) tests drugs based on messenger ribonucleic acids (mRNA) to treat leukemia. Found in all our cells, mRNA plays a role in the process of making proteins, and it can differ in healthy versus cancerous cells. In normal gravity, the drugs to be tested are onco-selective, meaning they can tell cancer cells from healthy ones. Any of these drugs that demonstrate this trait in microgravity as well could make good candidates for safer, more effective, and more affordable cancer treatments. During the week, crew members mixed test samples and injected them into healthy and malignant cell cultures.

Image above: NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy with fresh food that arrived on the Cygnus resupply ship. Image Credit: NASA.

Testing Avatar technology on the space station

During the week, crew members set up and checked equipment for the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) Avatar-X, a camera controlled from the ground to demonstrate remote robot technology. Avatar technology could be used to provide medical care, education, and other services in remote areas (including aboard the space station); control robots on the surface of the Moon or Mars; or give people virtual experiences such as a visit to space. Teachers also could use the technology to teach students anywhere on Earth.

A comprehensive look at bacteria growing in space

Image above: Images of Arabidopsis plants growing on a Petri plate taken by the Spectrum imager undergoing testing on the space station, showing chlorophyll fluorescence on the right. Image Credits: Sarah Swanson and Simon Gilroy.

Bacterial growth can negatively affect the systems and functions of spacecraft. The Whole Genome Fitness of Bacteria under Microgravity (Bacterial Genome Fitness) investigation looks at what environmental factors and processes are important for bacteria to grow in space. Results could help spacecraft designers control or prevent bacterial growth. Scientists have conducted only limited research on how microgravity affects bacteria, and most studies have involved only one or two bacterial species. This investigation combines multiple species and examines a number of factors involved in their growth. The crew activated sample packs and placed them into the Space Automated Bio-product Laboratory (SABL) for incubation during the week.

Other investigations on which the crew performed work:

- The rhizosphere, or layer of soil that interacts with plant roots, contains clumps of soil particles called aggregates that provide the nutrients plants need to grow.  Soil Health in Space: Determination of Gravitational Effects on Soil Stability for Controlled Environment Agriculture (Rhodium Space Rhizosphere) examines how spaceflight affects soil aggregates in order to help improve food production in space and on Earth.

- Spectrum-001 provides on-orbit testing of an imager to detect fluorescent protein markers in plants and yeast, which can be used to assess growth and development based on intensity of fluorescence signals.

- Through Sally Ride Earth Knowledge Acquired by Middle Schools (Sally Ride EarthKAM), students use the internet to control a special digital camera and photograph Earth from space. Images of coastlines, mountain ranges, and other geographic items of interest requested by students are posted online.

- The Integrated Impact of Diet on Human Immune Response, the Gut Microbiota, and Nutritional Status During Adaptation to Spaceflight (Food Physiology) investigation documents the effects of dietary improvements on immune function and the gut microbiome and the ability of those improvements to support adaptation to spaceflight.

- ISS Ham Radio gives students an opportunity to talk directly with crew members via ham radio, engaging and educating students, teachers, parents, and other members of the community in science, technology, engineering, and math, The crew contacted McConnell Middle School, Loganville, GA, this week.

- 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.

Space to Ground: Crank it to 11: 10/09/2020

Related links:

Expedition 63:



Bacterial Genome Fitness:


ISS National Lab:

Spot the Station:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

Images (mentioned), Video (NASA), Text, Credits: NASA/Jack Griffin/John Love, ISS Research Planning Integration Scientist Expedition 63.

Best regards,

jeudi 8 octobre 2020

Crew Missions Ramping Up During Robotics, Biology Research


ISS - Expedition 63 Mission patch.

October 8, 2020

The Expedition 63 crew is readying gear and suits today as they prepare to return to Earth in less than two weeks. Meanwhile, Thursday’s research aboard the International Space Station looked at robotics and biology.

Two crews will launch to the station and another one will complete its mission this month. First, NASA astronaut Kate Rubins will ride to the station aboard the Soyuz MS-17 spacecraft with cosmonauts Sergey Ryzhikov and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov. The Expedition 64 trio crew will blast off from Kazakhstan on Oct. 14 to begin a 185-day mission aboard the orbiting lab.

Image above: The Expedition 64 crew poses in front of the Soyuz MS-17 spacecraft that will launch the trio to the space station on Oct. 14. Image Credits: NASA/GCTC/Andrey Shelepin.

Expedition 64 Commander Chris Cassidy will hand over the station “keys” to Ryzhikov the day before he completes his mission with Flight Engineers Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner. The three crew members will enter the Soyuz MS-16, undock from the Poisk module and parachute to a landing in Kazakhstan on Oct. 21.

Cassidy joined Ivanishin and Vagner during the afternoon and checked for leaks inside the Sokol flight suits they will wear when they depart the station. Ivanishin and Vagner also continued gathering station gear and personal items they will soon pack inside their Soyuz crew ship.

Image above: Expedition 64 NASA astronaut Kate Rubins, left, and Russian cosmonauts Sergey Ryzhikov, center, and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov, right, of Roscosmos take a moment during the Soyuz MS-17 spacecraft fit check to pose for a photograph, Monday, Sept. 28, 2020, at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Image Credits: NASA/GCTC/Andrey Shelepin.

As usual, science experiments are ongoing on the station whether with inputs from the crew or by remote operations from students and scientists on the ground. Robotics is a prime space research subject and Cassidy set up the AstroBee free-flying satellites today that students are learning to program to understand spacecraft maneuvers. The veteran NASA astronaut later installed new hardware on the Life Sciences Glovebox to support prolonged crew operations in the research device.

International Space Station (ISS). Image Credit: NASA

Ivanishin and Vagner were back on biology studies today exploring ways to prevent the loss of bone mass due to extended missions in space.

Related article:

NASA Television Coverage Set for Space Station Crew Launch Aboard Soyuz

Related links:

Expedition 63:

Poisk module:


Life Sciences Glovebox:

Loss of bone mass:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

Best regards,

NASA's Perseverance Rover Will Peer Beneath Mars' Surface


NASA - Mars 2020 Perseverance Rover logo.

Oct. 8, 2020

After touching down on the Red Planet Feb. 18, 2021, NASA's Mars 2020 Perseverance rover will scour Jezero Crater to help us understand its geologic history and search for signs of past microbial life. But the six-wheeled robot won't be looking just at the surface of Mars: The rover will peer deep below it with a ground-penetrating radar called RIMFAX.

Image above: Perseverance's Radar Imager for Mars' Subsurface Experiment (RIMFAX) uses radar waves to probe the ground, revealing the unexplored world that lies beneath the Martian surface. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/FFI.

Unlike similar instruments aboard Mars orbiters, which study the planet from space, RIMFAX will be the first ground-penetrating radar set on the surface of Mars. This will give scientists much higher-resolution data than space-borne radars can provide while focusing on the specific areas that Perseverance will explore. Taking a more focused look at this terrain will help the rover's team understand how features in Jezero Crater formed over time.

Short for Radar Imager for Mars' Subsurface Experiment, RIMFAX can provide a highly detailed view of subsurface structures down to at least 30 feet (10 meters) underground. In doing so, the instrument will reveal hidden layers of geology and help find clues to past environments on Mars, especially those that may have provided the conditions necessary for supporting life.

Image above: A test model of the RIMFAX instrument – aboard the trailer behind the snow mobile – undergoes field testing in Svalbard, Norway. Image Credit: FFI.

"We take an image of the subsurface directly beneath the rover," said Svein-Erik Hamran, the instrument's principal investigator, with the University of Oslo in Norway. "We can do a 3D model of the subsurface – of the different layers – and determine the geological structures underneath."

While Mars is a frigid desert today, scientists suspect that microbes may have lived in Jezero during wetter times billions of years ago and that evidence of such ancient life may be preserved in sediments in the crater. Information from RIMFAX will help pinpoint areas for deeper study by instruments on the rover that search for chemical, mineral, and textural clues found within rocks that may be signs of past microbial life. Ultimately, the team will collect dozens of drill-core samples with Perseverance, seal them in tubes that will be deposited on the surface for return to Earth by future missions. That way, these first samples from another planet can be studied in laboratories with equipment too large to take to Mars.

Traveling Back in Time

Scientists believe the 28-mile-wide (45-kilometer-wide) Jezero Crater formed when a large object collided with Mars, kicking up rocks from deep in the planet's crust. More than 3.5 billion years ago, river channels spilled into the crater, creating a lake that was home to a fan-shaped river delta.

Hamran hopes RIMFAX will shed light on how the delta formed. "This is not so easy, based on surface images only, because you have this dust covering everything, so you may not necessarily see all the changes in geology."

Image above: Highlighted in blue in this visualization, the RIMFAX instrument's antenna is externally mounted underneath the MMRTG (the rover’s nuclear battery) on the back of Perseverance. With the interactive tool Learn About Perseverance, you can get a closer look at Perseverance and its many features. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

He and his science team will stack successive radar soundings to create a two-dimensional subsurface image of the crater floor. Eventually, data will be combined with images from a camera on the rover to create a 3D topographical image.

The instrument employs the same type of ground-penetrating radar used here on Earth to find buried utilities, underground caverns, and the like. In fact, Hamran uses it to study glaciers. Tens of millions of miles away on Mars, however, he and his colleagues will be relying on Perseverance to do the work as it roams through Jezero Crater. "We do some measurements while we are stationary," he said, "but most measurements will actually be gathered while the rover is driving."

More About the Mission

A key objective for Perseverance's mission on Mars is astrobiology, including the search for signs of ancient microbial life. The rover will characterize the planet's ancient climate and geology, pave the way for human exploration of the Red Planet, and be the first mission to collect and cache Martian rock and regolith (broken rock and dust).

Subsequent missions, currently under consideration by NASA in cooperation with ESA (the European Space Agency), would send spacecraft to Mars to collect these cached samples from the surface and return them to Earth for in-depth analysis.

The Mars 2020 mission is part of a larger program that includes missions to the Moon as a way to prepare for human exploration of the Red Planet. Charged with returning astronauts to the Moon by 2024, NASA will establish a sustained human presence on and around the Moon by 2028 through NASA's Artemis lunar exploration plans.

JPL, which is managed for NASA by Caltech in Pasadena, California, built and manages operations of the Perseverance and Curiosity rovers.

For more about Perseverance:

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Tony Greicius/Alana Johnson/Grey Hautaluoma/JPL/Andrew Good.

Best regards,

NASA’s OSIRIS-REx Unlocks More Secrets from Asteroid Bennu


NASA - OSIRIS-REx Mission patch.

Oct. 8, 2020

NASA’s first asteroid sample return mission now knows much more about the material it’ll be collecting in just a few weeks. In a special collection of six papers published today in the journals Science and Science Advances, scientists on the OSIRIS-REx mission present new findings on asteroid Bennu’s surface material, geological characteristics, and dynamic history. They also suspect that the delivered sample of Bennu may be unlike anything we have in the meteorite collection on Earth.

These discoveries complete the OSIRIS-REx mission’s pre–sample collection science requirements and offer insight into the sample of Bennu that scientists will study for generations to come.

Tour of Asteroid Bennu

One of the papers, led by Amy Simon from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, shows that carbon-bearing, organic material is widespread on the asteroid’s surface, including at the mission’s primary sample site, Nightingale, where OSIRIS-REx will make its first sample collection attempt on October 20. These findings indicate that hydrated minerals and organic material will likely be present in the collected sample.

This organic matter may contain carbon in a form often found in biology or in compounds associated with biology. Scientists are planning detailed experiments on these organic molecules and expect that the returned sample will help answer complex questions about the origins of water and life on Earth.

“The abundance of carbon-bearing material is a major scientific triumph for the mission. We are now optimistic that we will collect and return a sample with organic material – a central goal of the OSIRIS-REx mission,” said Dante Lauretta, OSIRIS-REx principal investigator at the University of Arizona in Tucson.

Authors of the special collection have also determined that carbonate minerals make up some of the asteroid’s geological features. Carbonate minerals often precipitate from hydrothermal systems that contain both water and carbon dioxide. A number of Bennu’s boulders have bright veins that appear to be made of carbonate – some of which are located near the Nightingale crater, meaning that carbonates might be present in the returned sample.

The study of the carbonates found on Bennu was led by Hannah Kaplan, from Goddard. These findings have allowed scientists to theorize that Bennu’s parent asteroid likely had an extensive hydrothermal system, where water interacted with and altered the rock on Bennu’s parent body. Although the parent body was destroyed long ago, we’re seeing evidence of what that watery asteroid once looked like here – in its remaining fragments that make up Bennu. Some of these carbonate veins in Bennu’s boulders measure up to a few feet long and several inches thick, validating that an asteroid-scale hydrothermal system of water was present on Bennu’s parent body.

Image above: During fall 2019, NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft captured this image, which shows one of asteroid Bennu’s boulders with a bright vein that appears to be made of carbonate. The image within the circle (lower right) shows a focused view of the vein. Image Credits: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona.

Scientists made another striking discovery at site Nightingale: its regolith has only recently been exposed to the harsh space environment, meaning that the mission will collect and return some of the most pristine material on the asteroid. Nightingale is part of a population of young, spectrally red craters identified in a study led by Dani DellaGiustina at the University of Arizona. Bennu’s “colors” (variations in the slope of the visible-wavelength spectrum) are much more diverse than originally anticipated. This diversity results from a combination of different materials inherited from Bennu’s parent body and different durations of exposure to the space environment.

This paper’s findings are a major milestone in an ongoing debate in the planetary science community – how primitive asteroids like Bennu change spectrally as they are exposed to “space weathering” processes, such as bombardment by cosmic rays and solar wind. While Bennu appears quite black to the naked eye, the authors illustrate the diversity of Bennu’s surface by using false-color renderings of multispectral data collected by the MapCam camera. The freshest material on Bennu, such as that found at the Nightingale site, is spectrally redder than average and thus appears red in these images. Surface material turns vivid blue when it has been exposed to space weathering for an intermediate period of time. As the surface material continues to weather over long periods of time, it ultimately brightens across all wavelengths, becoming a less intense blue – the average spectral color of Bennu.

The paper by DellaGiustina et al. also distinguishes two main types of boulders on Bennu’s surface: dark and rough, and (less commonly) bright and smooth. The different types may have formed at different depths in the parent asteroid of Bennu.

Not only do the boulder types differ visually, they also have their own unique physical properties. The paper led by Ben Rozitis from The Open University in the UK shows that the dark boulders are weaker and more porous, whereas the bright boulders are stronger and less porous. The bright boulders also host the carbonates identified by Kaplan and crew, suggesting that the precipitation of carbonate minerals in cracks and pore spaces may be responsible for their increased strength.

OSIRIS-REx probe. Image Credit: NASA

However, both boulder types are weaker than scientists expected. Rozitis and colleagues suspect that Bennu’s dark boulders (the weaker, more porous, and more common type) would not survive the journey through Earth’s atmosphere. It’s therefore likely that the returned samples of asteroid Bennu will provide a missing link for scientists, as this type of material is not currently represented in meteorite collections.

Bennu is a diamond-shaped pile of rubble floating in space, but there’s more to it than meets the eye. Data obtained by the OSIRIS-REx Laser Altimeter (OLA) – a science instrument contributed by the Canadian Space Agency – have allowed the mission team to develop a 3D digital terrain model of the asteroid that, at 20 cm resolution, is unprecedented in detail and accuracy. In this paper, led by Michael Daly of York University, scientists explain how detailed analysis of the asteroid’s shape revealed ridge-like mounds on Bennu that extend from pole-to-pole, but are subtle enough that they could be easily missed by the human eye. Their presence has been hinted at before, but their full pole-to-pole extents only became clear when the northern and southern hemispheres were split apart in the OLA data for comparison.

The digital terrain model also shows that Bennu’s northern and southern hemispheres have different shapes. The southern hemisphere appears to be smoother and rounder, which the scientists believe is a result of loose material getting trapped by the region’s numerous large boulders.

Image above: NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission created these images using false-color Red-Green-Blue (RGB) composites of asteroid Bennu. A 2D map and spacecraft imagery were overlaid on a shape model of the asteroid to create these false-color composites. In these composites, spectrally average and bluer than average terrain looks blue, surfaces that are redder than average appear red. Bright green areas correspond to the instances of a mineral pyroxene, which likely came from a different asteroid, Vesta. Black areas near the poles indicate no data. Image Credits: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona.

Another paper in the special collection, led by Daniel Scheeres of University of Colorado Boulder, examines the gravity field of Bennu, which has been determined by tracking the trajectories of the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft and the particles that are naturally ejected from Bennu’s surface. The use of particles as gravity probes is fortuitous. Prior to the discovery of particle ejection on Bennu in 2019, the team was concerned about mapping the gravity field to the required precision using only spacecraft tracking data. The natural supply of dozens of mini gravity probes allowed the team to vastly exceed their requirements and gain unprecedented insight into the asteroid interior.

The reconstructed gravity field shows that the interior of Bennu is not uniform. Instead, there are pockets of higher and lower density material inside the asteroid. It’s as if there is a void at its center, within which you could fit a couple of football fields. In addition, the bulge at Bennu’s equator is under-dense, suggesting that Bennu’s rotation is lofting this material.

All six publications in the special collection use global and local datasets collected by the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft from Feb. through Oct. 2019. The special collection underscores that sample return missions like OSIRIS-REx are essential to fully understanding the history and evolution of our Solar System.

The mission is less than two weeks away from fulfilling its biggest goal – collecting a piece of a pristine, hydrated, carbon-rich asteroid. OSIRIS-REx will depart Bennu in 2021 and deliver the sample to Earth on Sep. 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.

Related links:

OSIRIS-REx (Origins Spectral Interpretation Resource Identification Security Regolith Explorer):


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


A New Look at Sunspots is Helping NASA Scientists Understand Major Flares and Life Around Other Stars


NASA - Solar Dynamics Observatory patch.

Oct. 8, 2020

NASA’s extensive fleet of spacecraft allows scientists to study the Sun extremely close-up – one of the agency’s spacecraft is even on its way to fly through the Sun’s outer atmosphere. But sometimes taking a step back can provide new insight.

In a new study, scientists looked at sunspots – darkened patches on the Sun caused by its magnetic field – at low resolution as if they were trillions of miles away. What resulted was a simulated view of distant stars, which can help us understand stellar activity and the conditions for life on planets orbiting other stars.


“We wanted to know what a sunspot region would look like if we couldn’t resolve it in an image,” said Shin Toriumi, lead author on the new study and scientist at the Institute of Space and Astronautical Science at JAXA. “So, we used the solar data as if it came from a distant star to have a better connection between solar physics and stellar physics.”

Sunspots are often precursors to solar flares – intense outbursts of energy from the surface of the Sun – so monitoring sunspots is important to understanding why and how flares occur. Additionally, understanding the frequency of flares on other stars is one of the keys to understanding their chance of harboring life. Having a few flares may help build up complex molecules like RNA and DNA from simpler building blocks. But too many strong flares can strip entire atmospheres, rendering a planet uninhabitable.

To see what a sunspot and its effect on the solar atmosphere would look like on a distant star, the scientists started with high-resolution data of the Sun from NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory and JAXA/NASA’s Hinode mission. By adding up all the light in each image, the scientists converted the high-resolution images into single datapoints. Stringing subsequent datapoints together, the scientists created plots of how the light changed as the sunspot passed across the Sun’s rotating face. These plots, which scientists call light curves, showed what a passing sunspot on the Sun would look like if it were many light-years away.

The Sun as a Distant Star: A New Look at Sunspots

Video above: Scientists created light curves using the high-resolution images of the Sun to understand what a sunspot would look like on a distant star. They studied different layers of the Sun from the visible surface to the outer atmosphere using 14 different wavelengths, including the six shown here (top left to right: photosphere, magnetic flux of the photosphere, ultraviolet 304 angstroms; bottom left to right: ultraviolet 171 angstroms, ultraviolet 131 angstroms, x-ray). Video Credits: NASA/SDO/JAXA/NAOJ/Hinode.

“The Sun is our closest star. Using solar observing satellites, we can resolve signatures on the surface 100 miles wide,” said Vladimir Airapetian, co-author on the new study and astrophysicist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “On other stars you might only get one pixel showing the entire surface, so we wanted to create a template to decode activity on other stars.”

The new study, published in the Astrophysical Journal, looked at simple cases where there is just one group of sunspots visible across the entire face of the Sun. Even though NASA and JAXA missions have continually gathered observations of the Sun for over a decade, these cases are quite rare. Usually there are either several sunspots – such as during the solar maximum, which we are now moving toward – or none at all. In all the years of data, the scientists only found a handful of instances of just one isolated sunspot group.

Studying these events, the scientists found the light curves differed when they measured different wavelengths. In visible light, when a singular sunspot appears at the center of the Sun, the Sun is dimmer. However, when the sunspot group is near the edge of the Sun, it’s actually brighter due to faculae – bright magnetic features around sunspots – because, near the edge, the hot walls of their nearly vertical magnetic fields become increasingly visible.

The scientists also looked at the light curves in x-ray and ultraviolet light, which show the atmosphere above the sunspots. As the atmospheres above sunspots are magnetically heated, the scientists found brightening there at some wavelengths. However, the scientists also unexpectedly discovered that the heating could also cause a dimming in the light coming from the lower temperature atmosphere. These findings may provide a tool to diagnose the environments of spots on the stars.

“So far we’ve done the best-case scenarios, where there’s only one sunspot visible,” Toriumi said. “Next we are planning on doing some numerical modeling to understand what happens if we have multiple sunspots.”

Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO)

By studying stellar activity on young stars in particular, scientists can glean a view of what our young Sun may have been like. This will help scientists understand how the young Sun – which was overall more dim but active – impacted Venus, Earth and Mars in their early days. It could also help explain why life on Earth started four billion years ago, which some scientists speculate is linked to intense solar activity.

Studying young stars can also contribute to scientists’ understanding of what triggers superflares – those that are 10 to 1000 times stronger than the biggest seen on the Sun in recent decades. Young stars are typically more active, with superflares happening almost daily. Whereas, on our more mature Sun, they may only occur once in a thousand years or so.

Spotting young suns that that are conducive to supporting habitable planets, helps scientists who focus on astrobiology, the study of the origin evolution, and distribution of life in the universe. Several next generation telescopes in production, which will be able to observe other stars in x-ray and ultraviolet wavelengths, could use the new results to decode observations of distant stars. In turn, this will help identify those stars with appropriate levels of stellar activity for life – and that can then be followed up by observations from other upcoming high-resolution missions, such as NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope.

Related Links:

- Learn more about SDO:

- Ten Things We’ve Learned About the Sun From NASA’s SDO This Decade:

- Flares May Threaten Planet Habitability Near Red Dwarfs:

- Hubble Uses Earth as a Proxy for Identifying Oxygen on Potentially Habitable Planets Around Other Stars:

- Astrophysical Journal:

- Hinode:

Image, Animation, Video (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Miles Hatfield/GSFC/By Mara Johnson-Groh.


mercredi 7 octobre 2020

Crew Packs for Landing While Studying Space Tech and Biology


ISS - Expedition 63 Mission patch.

October 7, 2020

The Expedition 63 trio is packing up and getting ready for its return to Earth as the International Space Station is orbiting slightly lower today. Meanwhile, advanced space science continues full speed ahead aboard the orbiting lab.

Commander Chris Cassidy of NASA is about to wrap up a 196-day mission in space with Roscosmos Flight Engineers Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner. The Russian duo has begun gathering hardware and other items that will be packed inside the Soyuz MS-16 crew ship for return to Earth. The three-member crew will enter the Soyuz, undock from the Poisk module and parachute to a landing in Kazakhstan on Oct. 21.

Image above: The Soyuz MS-16 crew ship is pictured docked to the International Space Station’s Poisk module. Image Credit: NASA.

Cassidy spent a busy Wednesday operating a range of science experiments investigating space technology, microbiology and botany. He started the day setting up the Avatar-X camera that seeks to demonstrate remote robotics that may inform the future of telemedicine. Next, he transferred microbe samples, shipped in a Cygnus cargo craft science freezer, that will be observed to learn how to control bacterial growth in space. Finally, Cassidy set up the Spectrum-001 hardware that will enable fluorescent imaging of protein markers and stress signaling in plants grown on the space station.

As the crew counts down to departure, Ivanishin worked on Russian power supply systems and checked radiation measurements. Vagner assisted Cassidy with the Cygnus science freezer work and checked on a pair of Russian studies looking at bone loss and space piloting techniques.

International Space Station (ISS). Animation Credit: NASA

The space station is orbiting slightly lower after the docked Progress 75 spacecraft fired its engines for nearly seven minutes this morning. The “deboost” puts the station in the correct phasing for the  docking on Oct. 14 of the Soyuz MS-17 crew ship carrying the Expedition 64 crew aboard.

Related links:

Expedition 63:

Expedition 64:

Poisk module:


Control bacterial growth in space:


Bone loss:

Space piloting techniques:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

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LHCb sees new form of matter–antimatter asymmetry in strange beauty particles


CERN - European Organization for Nuclear Research logo.

October 7, 2020

The LHCb collaboration has observed time-dependent matter–antimatter asymmetry in the decays of strange beauty particles into charged kaons

Image above: A CP-symmetry transformation swaps a particle with the mirror image of its antiparticle. The LHCb collaboration has observed a time-dependent breakdown of this symmetry in the decays of the strange beauty meson (red sphere on the left), which oscillates into its antimatter counterpart (oscillation illustrated by the pendulum motion). (Image: CERN).

The observed excess of matter over antimatter in the Universe is an enduring puzzle in physics. The imbalance implies a difference in the behaviour of matter and antimatter particles. This difference, or “asymmetry”, is known as CP violation and is a fundamental part of the Standard Model of particle physics. But the amount of CP violation predicted by the model and observed so far in experiments is too small to explain the cosmic imbalance, suggesting the existence of as-yet-unknown sources and manifestations of CP violation beyond the Standard Model.

At the nineteenth beauty conference last month and at a seminar today at CERN, the LHCb collaboration reported the first observation of so-called time-dependent matter–antimatter asymmetry in particles known as Bs0 mesons, which contain a beauty antiquark and a strange quark.

CP violation was first observed more than five decades ago in particles called K0 mesons, and has since been observed in other types of particle – including in B0 mesons in 2001 by experiments at the SLAC laboratory in the US and the KEK laboratory in Japan, and recently by the LHCb collaboration in D0 mesons. The effect can manifest itself in two forms: time-integrated and time-dependent. In the time-integrated form, the number of transformations, or “decays”, of a matter particle into certain particles differs from that of the corresponding antimatter particle. In the time-dependent form, the violation varies with the particle’s lifetime due to the spontaneous oscillation of the particle into its antiparticle and back.

The new LHCb study provides the first observation of time-dependent CP violation in Bs0 mesons, in their decays into charged K mesons. The result, obtained by combining data collected during the first and second runs of the Large Hadron Collider, has a statistical significance of 6.7 standard deviations, which is beyond the threshold of 5 standard deviations used by particle physicists to claim an observation.

Large Hadron Collider (LHC). Animation Credit: CERN

“The Bs0 mesons oscillate between particle and antiparticle three thousand billion times per second, but the excellent resolution of our detector made it possible to observe the effect of these oscillations. Our observation of time-dependent CP violation in Bs0 mesons represents a further milestone in the study of the differences between matter and antimatter,” says LHCb spokesperson Chris Parkes, “adding to our previous observation of time-integrated CP violation in these mesons.”

The next steps will be to compare the measurement with other measurements of CP violation and with predictions from the Standard Model and beyond. It’s only after researchers make these comparisons that they will be able to tell whether or not the new measurement hides any surprises that might help to explain the matter–antimatter imbalance in the universe.


CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, is one of the world’s largest and most respected centres for scientific research. Its business is fundamental physics, finding out what the Universe is made of and how it works. At CERN, the world’s largest and most complex scientific instruments are used to study the basic constituents of matter — the fundamental particles. By studying what happens when these particles collide, physicists learn about the laws of Nature.

The instruments used at CERN are particle accelerators and detectors. Accelerators boost beams of particles to high energies before they are made to collide with each other or with stationary targets. Detectors observe and record the results of these collisions.

Founded in 1954, the CERN Laboratory sits astride the Franco–Swiss border near Geneva. It was one of Europe’s first joint ventures and now has 23 Member States.

Related links:

Large Hadron Collider (LHC):

Standard Model:


Read more on the LHCb website:

For more information about European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), Visit:

Image (mentioned), Animation (mentioned), Text, Credits: CERN/Ana Lopes.

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NASA, Boeing Announce Crew Changes for Starliner Crew Flight Test


NASA & Boeing - CST-100 Starliner OFT Mission patch.

Oct. 7, 2020

Veteran NASA astronaut Barry “Butch” Wilmore will join astronauts Mike Fincke and Nicole Mann for NASA’s Boeing Crew Flight Test, the inaugural crewed flight of the CST-100 Starliner launching to the International Space Station in 2021.

Wilmore will take the place of Boeing astronaut Chris Ferguson on the flight test as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. Ferguson decided not to fly for personal reasons.

Image above: NASA astronaut Barry “Butch” Wilmore, left, and Chris Ferguson, director of Mission Integration and Operations at Boeing, train for the first flight of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft, which will carry astronauts to the International Space Station as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. Image Credit: NASA.

Wilmore has been training side-by-side with the crew since being named the sole backup for all flight positions in July 2018. He now will shift his focus specifically to the spacecraft commander’s duties in preparation for the flight to the space station. The flight is designed to test the end-to-end capabilities of the new Starliner system.

“Butch will be able to step in seamlessly, and his previous experience on both space shuttle and space station missions make him a valuable addition to this flight,” said Kathy Lueders, associate administrator of NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate. “Chris has been a talented member of the crew for this mission. The NASA and Boeing Commercial Crew teams sincerely appreciate the invaluable work he has completed and he will continue to lead in the development of Starliner, which will help ensure that the Starliner Crew Flight Test will be a success.”

Wilmore has spent a total of 178 days in space over the course of two missions. In 2009, he served as the pilot of space shuttle Atlantis on STS-129, helping to deliver 14 tons of spare parts for the space station. In 2014, he returned to the space station via a Russian Soyuz spacecraft for a 167-day mission, during which he performed four spacewalks.

CST-100 Starliner. Image Credits: Boeing

A native of Mt. Juliet, Tennessee, Wilmore earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in electrical engineering from Tennessee Technological University in Cookeville, and a master’s degree in aviation systems from the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. He is a retired captain in the U.S. Navy, with more than 7,800 flight hours and 663 carrier landings in tactical jet aircraft. He was selected as an astronaut in 2000.

“I’m grateful to Chris for his exceptional leadership and insight into this very complex and most capable vehicle,” Wilmore said. “Having had the chance to train alongside and view this outstanding crew as backup has been instrumental in my preparation to assume this position. Stepping down was a difficult decision for Chris, but with his leadership and assistance to this point, this crew is positioned for success. We will move forward in the same professional and dedicated manner that Chris has forged.”

Ferguson will assume the role of director of Mission Integration and Operations, as well as director of Crew Systems for Boeing’s Commercial Crew Program, where he will focus on ensuring the Starliner spacecraft meets the needs of NASA astronauts. In this role, he will be one of the last people the crew sees before leaving Earth and one of the first they see upon their return, as well as supporting them throughout their training and mission.

“I have full confidence in the Starliner vehicle, the men and women building and testing it, and the NASA astronauts who will ultimately fly it,” Ferguson said. “The Boeing team has taken all lessons from our first uncrewed Orbital Flight Test to heart, and is making Starliner one of the safest new crewed spacecraft ever fielded. I will be here on the ground supporting Butch, Nicole, and Mike while they prove it.”

Ferguson has been an integral part of the Starliner program since 2011, after retiring from NASA as a three-time space shuttle veteran, including as commander of STS-135, the final space shuttle flight to the space station.

“My personal thank you to Chris for his leadership. He is putting his family first, which Boeing fully supports,” said Leanne Caret, president and CEO, Boeing Defense, Space & Security. “We are fortunate he will continue to take an active role on the Starliner program and bring his depth and breadth of experience in human spaceflight to the program.”

The development of a safe, reliable and cost-effective solution for crew transportation services to and from the International Space Station remains a priority for NASA and Boeing, allowing the on-orbit research facility to continue to fulfill its promise as a world-class laboratory.

NASA’s Commercial Crew Program is working with the American aerospace industry as companies develop and operate a new generation of spacecraft and launch systems capable of carrying crews to low-Earth orbit and to the space station. Commercial transportation to and from the station will provide expanded utility, additional research time and broader opportunities for discovery on the orbital outpost.

Related article:

Boeing’s Starliner Makes Progress Ahead of Flight Test with Astronauts

For more information on NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, visit:

Commercial Space:

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Sean Potter/Joshua Finch/Stephanie Schierholz/JSC/Brandi Dean/Megan Sumner.


Planned correction of the ISS orbit was carried out successfully


ROSCOSMOS - Russian Vehicles patch.

Oct. 7, 2020

In accordance with the flight program of the International Space Station, on October 7, 2020, specialists of the State Corporation Roscosmos carried out a planned correction of the ISS orbit. For this purpose, the engines of the Progress MS-14 cargo vehicle docked to the Zvezda module were automatically switched on at 11:26 Moscow time. They worked for 412.9 s, as a result of which the average altitude of the station's orbit decreased by 1.3 km and amounted to approximately 418.6 km above the Earth's surface.

International Space Station (ISS)

The orbit was corrected in full accordance with the calculated data. According to the ballistic and navigation support service of the TsNIIMash Flight Control Center (part of the Roscosmos State Corporation), the orbital parameters of the space station after the correction were:

- Orbital period: 92.88 min;

- Orbital inclination: 51.66 degrees;

- Minimum height above the surface of the Earth: 417.96 km;

- Maximum height above the Earth's surface: 436.55 km.

The purpose of the correction was the formation of ballistic conditions before the launch and docking of the Soyuz MS-17 manned spacecraft, which are scheduled for October 14, 2020. The main crew of the long-term expedition ISS-64 includes Roscosmos cosmonauts Sergei Ryzhikov and Sergei Kud-Sverchkov, as well as NASA astronaut Kathleen Rubins. The backup crew consists of cosmonauts Oleg Novitsky, Peter Dubrov, and astronaut Mark Vande Hai. At present, both crews are in prelaunch training at the Baikonur cosmodrome.

ROSCOSMOS Press Release:

International Space Station (ISS):

Image, Text, Credits: ROSCOSMOS/NASA/ Aerospace/Roland Berga.


mardi 6 octobre 2020

New Experiments Installed as U.S. and Russian Crew Ships Near Launch


ISS - Expedition 63 Mission patch.

October 6, 2020

Four spaceships are parked at the International Space Station today as two new crews are due to launch by the end of October. In the meantime, the Expedition 63 crew has begun unpacking the nearly four tons of science experiments, crew supplies and station hardware from the newly arrived Cygnus cargo craft.

Commander Chris Cassidy has begun configuring brand new science experiments and research gear delivered on Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus space freighter. He started removing a variety of time-sensitive investigations from Cygnus’ science freezers on Monday and quickly transferred them into space station research racks. The new experiments will explore cancer treatments, space botany and life support systems among other important subjects benefitting humans living on Earth and in space.

Image above: The tip of the Canadarm2 robotic arm which grapples hardware, science experiments and approaching spaceships is pictured as the station soared into an orbital sunrise. Image Credit: NASA.

Flight Engineers Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner were once again testing a unique suit today designed to offset a common space symptom that sees blood pool toward a crewmember’s upper torso and head. The Lower Body Negative Pressure suit attempts to normalize blood flow to counteract some adverse effects of long-duration spaceflight and prepare the astronauts for the return to Earth’s gravity.

October will be a busy month at the orbiting lab bringing a crew swap and four new Commercial Crew members. First, NASA astronaut Kate Rubins will ride alongside Roscosmos cosmonauts Sergey Ryzhikov and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov when they lift off Oct. 14 from Kazakhstan aboard the Soyuz MS-17 crew ship. The Expedition 64 trio will take a three-hour trip to their new home in space where they will stay until April of next year.

International Space Station (ISS). Animation Credit: NASA

Just one week later, Cassidy will hand control of the station over to Ryzhikov and return to Earth with Ivanishin and Vagner. The trio will parachute to a landing in Kazakhstan inside the Soyuz MS-16 spacecraft ending a 195-day research mission on the station.

Next, four more astronauts are scheduled to join Expedition 64 just one day after they launch aboard the first operational SpaceX Crew Dragon mission from Florida on Oct. 31. Commander Mike Hopkins of NASA will lead Pilot Victor Glover and Mission Specialists Shannon Walker and Soichi Noguchi during the 25-hour ride to the space station. The quartet will stay in space until the Spring.

Related links:

Expedition 63:

Expedition 64:

Cancer treatments:

Space botany:

Life support systems:

Lower Body Negative Pressure suit:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

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2020 Nobel Prize in Physics awarded for research with ESO telescopes on Milky Way's supermassive black hole


ESO - European Southern Observatory logo.

6 October 2020

The centre of the Milky Way*

Reinhard Genzel and Andrea Ghez have jointly been awarded the 2020 Nobel Prize in Physics for their work on the supermassive black hole, Sagittarius A*, at the centre of our galaxy. Genzel, Director at the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics in Germany, and his team have conducted observations of Sagittarius A* for nearly 30 years using a fleet of instruments on European Southern Observatory (ESO) telescopes.

Professor Reinhard Genzel at the Paranal Observatory

Genzel shares half of the prize with Ghez, a professor at the University of California, Los Angeles in the US, "for the discovery of a supermassive compact object at the centre of our galaxy", with the other half awarded to Roger Penrose, professor at the University of Oxford in the UK, "for the discovery that black hole formation is a robust prediction of the general theory of relativity."

A laser beam towards the Milky Way's centre*

"Congratulations to all three Nobel laureates! We are delighted that the research on the supermassive black hole at the centre of our galaxy has been recognised with the 2020 Nobel Prize in Physics. We are proud that the telescopes ESO builds and operates at its observatories in Chile played a key role in this discovery," says ESO's Director General Xavier Barcons. “The work done by Reinhard Genzel with ESO telescopes and by Andrea Ghez with the Keck telescopes in Hawaii has enabled unprecedented insight into Sagittarius A*, which confirmed predictions of Einstein’s general relativity."

Orbits of stars around black hole at the heart of the Milky Way

ESO has worked in very close collaboration with Genzel and his group for around 30 years. Since the early 1990s, Genzel and his team, in cooperation with ESO, have developed instruments designed to track the orbits of stars in the Sagittarius A* region at the centre of the Milky Way.

They started their campaign in 1992 using the SHARP instrument on ESO’s New Technology Telescope (NTT) at the La Silla Observatory in Chile. The team later used extremely sensitive instruments on ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) and the Very Large Telescope Interferometer at the Paranal Observatory, namely NACO, SINFONI and later GRAVITY, to continue their study of Sagittarius A*.

Orbit diagram of S2 around black hole at centre of the Milky Way

In 2008, after 16 years of tracking stars orbiting Sagittarius A*, the team delivered the best empirical evidence that a supermassive black hole exists at the centre of our galaxy. Both Genzel's and Ghez's groups accurately traced the orbit of one star in particular, S2, which reached the closest distance to Sagittarius A* in May 2018. ESO undertook a number of developments and infrastructure upgrades in Paranal to enable accurate measurements of the position and velocity of S2. The team led by Genzel found the light emitted by the star close to the supermassive black hole was stretched to longer wavelengths, an effect known as gravitational redshift, confirming for the first time Einstein’s general relativity near a supermassive black hole. Earlier this year, the team announced they had seen S2 ‘dance’ around the supermassive black hole, showing its orbit is shaped like a rosette, an effect called Schwarzschild precession that was predicted by Einstein.

Testing general relativity at the Galactic Centre — compilation

Genzel and his team are also involved in the development of instruments that will be installed on ESO’s Extremely Large Telescope, currently under construction in Chile’s Atacama Desert, which will enable them to probe the environment even closer to the supermassive black hole.

More information:

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 Nobel Prize in Physics 2020:

ESO’s New Technology Telescope (NTT):

ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT):




Images, Video, Text, Credits: ESO/Bárbara Ferreira/S. Gillessen et al./L. Calçada/ Collaboration.

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