samedi 12 décembre 2020

Chang’e-5 completes first trans-Earth injection maneuver


CLEP - China Lunar Exploration Program logo.

Dec. 12, 2020

Chang’e-5 completes first trans-Earth injection maneuver

On 12 December 2020, at 01:54 UTC (09:54 China Standard Time), the Chang’e-5 orbiter-sample return vehicle completed its first maneuver for returning to Earth, by changing from a nearly circular orbit to an elliptical orbit with a perilune altitude of 200 km.

Chang’e-5 completes first trans-Earth injection maneuver

A second maneuver will put Chang’e-5 on a trajectory to Earth.

According to Lin Yangting (professor, Institute of Geology and Geophysics, Chinese Academy of Sciences), a joint team will be formed with European researchers to study the samples, part of the cooperation with the European Space Agency.

Related articles & links:

Chang’e-5 orbiter-sample return vehicle separates from ascender

Chang’e-5 - Rendezvous and docking explained

Chang’e-5 ascends to lunar orbit

Chang’e-5 collecting lunar samples

Chang’e-5 lands on the Moon

Chang’e-5 ready for Moon landing

Chang’e-5 enters lunar orbit

Chang’e-5 completes first orbital correction

CASC - Long March-5 Y5 launches Chang’e-5 lunar mission

ESA tracks Chang'e-5 Moon mission

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

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

Image, Video, Text, Credits: China Central Television (CCTV)/China National Space Administration (CNSA)/SciNews/ Aerospace/Roland Berga.

Best regards,

NASA's Juno Spacecraft Updates Quarter-Century Jupiter Mystery


NASA - JUNO Mission logo.

Dec. 12, 2020

The spacecraft has been collecting data on the gas giant's interior since July 2016. Some of its latest findings touch on "hot spots" in the planet's atmosphere.

Animation above: In this animated GIF, the clouds on the periphery of some of Jupiter's polar cyclones rotate counterclockwise, while the core of the cyclones rotate clockwise. The JunoCam images used for this animation were taken from altitudes of about 18,000 miles (28,567 kilometers) above Jupiter's cloud tops. Citizen scientist Gerald Eichstädt processed the images to enhance the color and contrast. Image data: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS. Image processing: Gerald Eichstädt © CC BY.

Twenty-five years ago, NASA sent history's first probe into the atmosphere of the solar system's largest planet. But the information returned by the Galileo probe during its descent into Jupiter caused head-scratching: The atmosphere it was plunging into was much denser and hotter than scientists expected. New data from NASA's Juno spacecraft suggests that these "hot spots" are much wider and deeper than anticipated. The findings on Jupiter's hot spots, along with an update on Jupiter's polar cyclones, were revealed on Dec. 11, during a virtual media briefing at the American Geophysical Union's fall conference.

"Giant planets have deep atmospheres without a solid or liquid base like Earth," said Scott Bolton, principal investigator of Juno at the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. "To better understand what is happening deep into one of these worlds, you need to look below the cloud layer. Juno, which recently completed its 29th close-up science pass of Jupiter, does just that. The spacecraft's observations are shedding light on old mysteries and posing new questions - not only about Jupiter, but about all gas giant worlds."

Cyclones at Jupiter's South Pole

Video above: This time-lapse video clip shows the movement of the cyclones at Jupiter's south pole from February 2017 through November 2020. The data was collected by the Jovian Infrared Auroral Mapper (JIRAM) instrument aboard NASA's Juno spacecraft. Video credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/ASI/INAF/JIRAM.

The latest longstanding mystery Juno has tackled stems from 57 minutes, 36 seconds of data Galileo beamed back on Dec. 7, 1995. When the probe radioed back that its surroundings were dry and windy, surprised scientists attributed the finding to the fact that the 75-pound (34-kilogram) probe had descended into the atmosphere within one of Jupiter's relatively rare hot spots - localized atmospheric "deserts" that traverse the gas giant's northern equatorial region. But results from Juno's microwave instrument indicate that the entire northern equatorial belt - a broad, brown, cyclonic band that wraps around the planet just above of the gas giant's equator - is generally a very dry region.

The implication is that the hot spots may not be isolated "deserts," but rather, windows into a vast region in Jupiter's atmosphere that may be hotter and drier than other areas. Juno's high-resolution data show that these Jovian hot spots are associated with breaks in the planet's cloud deck, providing a glimpse into Jupiter's deep atmosphere. They also show the hot spots, flanked by clouds and active storms, are fueling high-altitude electrical discharges recently discovered by Juno and known as "shallow lightning." These discharges, which occur in the cold upper reaches of Jupiter's atmosphere when ammonia mixes with water, are a piece of this puzzle.

Image above: These images from NASA's Juno mission show three views of a Jupiter "hot spot" - a break in Jupiter's cloud deck that provides a glimpse into the planet's deep atmosphere. The pictures were taken by the JunoCam imager during the spacecraft's 29th close flyby of the giant planet on Sept. 16, 2020. Image data: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS. Image processing: Brian Swift © CC BY.

"High up in the atmosphere, where shallow lightning is seen, water and ammonia are combined and become invisible to Juno's microwave instrument. This is where a special kind of hailstone that we call 'mushballs' are forming," said Tristan Guillot, a Juno co-investigator at the Université Côte d'Azur in Nice, France. "These mushballs get heavy and fall deep into the atmosphere, creating a large region that is depleted of both ammonia and water. Once the mushballs melt and evaporate, the ammonia and water change back to a gaseous state and are visible to Juno again."

Jupiter "Mushball"

Video above: This animation takes the viewer high into a large storm high in Jupiter's atmosphere, where a mushy water-ammonia particle (represented in green) descends through the atmosphere, collecting water ice. The process creates a "mushball" - a special hailstone formed of a partially liquid water-ammonia mush and a solid water-ice crust exterior. Within about 10 to 60 minutes (depending on their sizes), these mushballs reach Jupiter's deeper layers, below the water clouds, where they rapidly melt and evaporate. Theoretical models predict these mushballs could grow to about 4 inches (10 centimeters) in diameter, weigh up to 2 pounds (1 kilogram), and reach speeds up to 450 mph (700 kph) during their descent. Video Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/CNRS.

Jupiter Weather Report

Last year the Juno team reported on the cyclones of the south pole. At that time, Juno's Jovian Infrared Auroral Mapper instrument captured images of a new cyclone appearing to attempt to join the five established cyclones revolving around the massive central cyclone at the south pole.

"That sixth cyclone, the baby of the group, appeared to be changing the geometric configuration at the pole - from a pentagon to a hexagon," said Bolton. "But, alas, the attempt failed; the baby cyclone got kicked out, moved away, and eventually disappeared."

At present, the team doesn't have an agreed-upon theory regarding how these giant polar vortices form - or why some appear stable while others are born, grow, and then die relatively quickly. Work continues on atmospheric models, but at present no one model appears to explain everything. How new storms appear, evolve, and are either accepted or rejected is key to understanding the circumpolar cyclones, which might help explain how the atmospheres of such giant planets work in general.

More About the Mission

JUNO spacecraft orbiting Jupiter. Animation Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

JPL, a division of Caltech in Pasadena, California, manages the Juno mission for the principal investigator, Scott Bolton, of the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. Juno is part of NASA's New Frontiers Program, which is managed at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, for the agency's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. Lockheed Martin Space in Denver built and operates the spacecraft.

More information about Juno is available at:

Image (mentioned), Animations (mentioned), Videos (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Grey Hautaluoma/Alana Johnson/JPL/DC Agle/Southwest Research Institute/Deb Schmid.


vendredi 11 décembre 2020

Cancer and Heart Studies, Spacesuit Swaps Aboard Station Today


ISS - Expedition 64 Mission patch.

Dec. 11, 2020

Life science continues ramping up aboard the International Space Station as the Expedition 64 crew explores cancer therapies and heart conditions.

NASA Flight Engineers Kate Rubins and Victor Glover set up research hardware to create high quality antibody crystals Thursday morning for a new cancer study. The space medical research could accelerate the development of advanced therapies on Earth that target cancer cells.

Image above: Four Expedition 64 crew members are pictured relaxing after a meal at the end of the work day inside the Unity module. Image Credit: NASA.

Rubins then spent the afternoon servicing samples for the Cardinal Heart study that observes microgravity’s affect on aging and weakening heart muscles. Glover participated in ultrasound eye exams with fellow Flight Engineers Shannon Walker and Soichi Noguchi.

NASA astronaut Michael Hopkins, with assistance from Noguchi, spent the day swapping U.S. spacesuits inside the SpaceX Cargo Dragon resupply ship today. One spacesuit was launched to the station on Sunday ready for operations another will return to Earth next month for maintenance.

International Space Station (ISS). Animation Credit: ESA

Station Commander Sergey Ryzhikov configured gear inside the Poisk mini-research module before working on the Zarya module’s ventilation system. Flight Engineer Sergey Kud-Sverchkov swapped fuel bottles inside the Combustion Integrated Rack that enables safe research into fuel and flame studies.

Related links:

Expedition 64:

Cancer study:

Cardinal Heart:

Poisk mini-research module:

Zarya module:

Combustion Integrated Rack:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

Best regards,

Dust Devil on Mount Sharp, Mars


NASA - Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) logo.

Dec. 11, 2020

Image above: NASA's Curiosity Mars rover took this selfie at a location nicknamed "Mary Anning" after a 19th century English paleontologist. Curiosity snagged three samples of drilled rock at this site on its way out of the Glen Torridon region, which scientists believe preserves an ancient habitable environment. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS.

On 9 August 2020, NASA’s Curiosity rover was stationed on the “Mary Anning” drill site. The Right Navigation Camera captured 21 raw images between 08:09:20 and 08:13:37 UTC.

Dust Devil on Mount Sharp, Mars

The dust devil appears to be passing through small hills just above Curiosity location. NASA estimated the dust devil was approximately half-a-kilometer to a kilometer away and about 5 metres wide.

Related article:

NASA's Curiosity Takes Selfie With 'Mary Anning' on the Red Planet

For more information about Curiosity, visit:

Image (mentioned), Video, Text, Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI/SciNews.

Best regards,

ULA - Delta IV Heavy launches NROL-44


ULA - Delta IV Heavy / NROL-44 Mission patch.

Dec. 11, 2020

Delta IV Heavy launches NROL-44

A United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket launched the NROL-44 mission from Space Launch Complex-37 (SLC-37), Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, on 11 December 2020, at 01:09 UTC (20:09 EST). The NROL-44 mission was launched for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) and is the 12th Delta IV Heavy launch.

Delta IV Heavy launches NROL-44

The Delta IV Heavy is recognized for delivering high-priority missions for the U.S. Space Force, NRO and NASA. The vehicle also launched NASA's Orion capsule on its first orbital test flight and sent the Parker Solar Probe on its journey to become the fastest spacecraft in history while surfing through the sun's atmosphere.

ULA - Delta IV Heavy / NROL-44 Mission poster

This was the 41st launch of the Delta IV rocket, the 12th in the Heavy configuration and ULA’s 30th launch with the NRO.

United Launch Alliance (ULA):

Images, Video, Text, Credits: United Launch Alliance (ULA)/SciNews/ Aerospace/Roland Berga.


For 30th Anniversary, Hubble Releases Images of 30 Celestial Gems


NASA - Hubble Space Telescope patch.

Dec. 11, 2020

The Hubble Space Telescope turned 30 this year, and for the occasion, it’s sharing a present with you. NASA has just released dozens of newly processed Hubble images featuring 30 dazzling galaxies, sparkling star clusters, and ethereal nebulae.

And there’s something extra special about these 30 celestial gems: All of them can be seen through backyard telescopes. Some of them can also be spotted with binoculars or even the naked eye.

Image above: This Hubble image captures Caldwell 78 (or NGC 6541), a globular star cluster roughly 22,000 light-years from Earth. The cluster is bright enough that backyard stargazers in the Southern Hemisphere can easily spot it with binoculars. Image Credits: NASA, ESA, and G. Piotto (Università degli Studi di Padova); Processing: Gladys Kober (NASA/Catholic University of America).

All of these celestial objects belong to a collection known to amateur astronomers as the Caldwell catalog. Compiled by British amateur astronomer and science communicator Sir Patrick Caldwell-Moore, the catalog was published by Sky & Telescope magazine 25 years ago, in December 1995. It was inspired by the Messier catalog, assembled by French comet-hunter Charles Messier, which includes 110 relatively bright but fuzzy objects in the skies of the Northern Hemisphere that could accidentally be mistaken for comets. Caldwell’s catalog highlights 109 galaxies, star clusters, and nebulae that are not included in Messier’s catalog but are also bright enough to be seen by amateur astronomers. In addition, the Caldwell objects are split between the northern and southern hemisphere skies, providing interesting targets to pursue for amateur astronomers around the world.

This newly released collection of more than 50 Hubble images feature 30 objects in the Caldwell catalog. (Some of these 30 Caldwell objects appear in more than one new Hubble image.) These images have been taken by Hubble throughout its career and used for scientific research or for engineering tests, but NASA had not fully processed the images for public release until now.

Because of Hubble’s detailed field of view, some of its pictures do not capture the entirety of a Caldwell object, sometimes instead zooming in on clusters of young stars in the arms of a spiral galaxy, stars on the outskirts of a cluster, or the zombie star at the heart of a nebula. But in other cases, a mosaic of Hubble observations assemble to create a complete or nearly complete portrait of the celestial marvel.

Hubble Space Telescope (HST)

These new images join Hubble’s existing gallery of Caldwell objects, first published in December 2019. Hubble’s collection now includes 87 of the 109 Caldwell objects. For each listing in Hubble’s Caldwell catalog, a basic star chart shows observers when and where they can find that object in the night sky, and a description suggests what type of observing equipment can be used to view it. The individual articles also explain Hubble’s images for those who prefer to just enjoy the telescope’s exquisite views.

The Hubble Space Telescope was launched aboard Space Shuttle Discovery in April 1990. After being upgraded five times by crews of spacewalking astronauts, Hubble is today, at 30 years old, even better than when it was launched and continues to make groundbreaking discoveries that challenge and advance our fundamental understanding of the cosmos.

Related links:

Hubble’s existing gallery of Caldwell objects:

Messier catalog:

Hubble Space Telescope (HST):

Image (mentioned), Animation (NASA/ESA), Text, Credits: NASA/Lynn Jenner/GFSC/By Vanessa Thomas.


Space Station Science Highlights: Week of December 7, 2020


ISS - Expedition 64 Mission patch.

Dec. 11, 2020

The week of Dec. 7, crew members aboard the International Space Station conducted a wide variety of investigations, including extracting microbial DNA, growing protein crystals, and studies of cardiovascular health. A SpaceX Dragon on the company’s 21st cargo resupply mission arrived at the station on Monday carrying a variety of new research and technology demonstrations.

Image above: The SpaceX Cargo Dragon vehicle approaches the space station as both vehicles orbit above the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Mexico. A portion of the SpaceX Crew Dragon vehicle docked to the station is visible in the top right. Image Credit: NASA.

The seven crew members currently aboard include four from NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, increasing the crew time available for science on the orbiting lab. The space station has been continuously inhabited by humans for 20 years and has supported many scientific breakthroughs during that time. The station provides a platform for long-duration research in microgravity and for learning to live and work in space, experience that supports Artemis, NASA’s program to go forward to the Moon and on to Mars.

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

Studying microbial DNA in space

During the week, the crew collected samples from surfaces in the space station, extracted DNA, and amplified it using the miniPCR16 for a demonstration of the Biomole Facility. Coming up next for the astronauts is the sequencing of the DNA. The facility is part of the Environmental Health System (EHS) Crew Health Care System (CHeCS) effort, which supports future exploration such as Gateway and Mars transit missions when returning samples to Earth for analysis would be less practical. This demonstration conducts comparative analysis for possible replacement of the current microbial monitoring systems aboard the space station. Previously, the Biomolecule Sequencer demonstrated that DNA sequencing is feasible in space. In addition to identifying microbes on the space station, space-based DNA sequencing can be used to monitor crew health, diagnose diseases, and even help detect DNA-based life elsewhere in the solar system.

Growing protein crystals at different temperatures

Image above: Hardware for the JAXA Moderate Temp PCG investigation in the KIBO laboratory. This investigation grows high quality protein crystals in microgravity to determine structural details of proteins that may be used to develop pharmaceuticals. Image Credit: NASA.

The JAXA Moderate Temp PCG and JAXA Low Temp PCG investigations from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency grow high quality protein crystals in microgravity. Low Temp PCG crystallizes proteins at 4 degrees C and Moderate Temp PCG crystallizes proteins at 20 degrees C, allowing researchers to examine the effects of temperature on crystal quality. Crystals are returned to Earth to determine details of protein structures that are used to develop pharmaceuticals and explore functions of the human body. During the week, crew members prepared for runs of both investigations.

Examining engineered heart tissue

Image above: NASA astronaut Kate Rubins works on a tissue change for the Cardinal Heart experiment. Results from this study could help establish screening measures to predict cardiovascular risk in humans prior to spaceflight, and lead to new treatments for people with heart disease on Earth. Image Credit: NASA.

Microgravity causes changes in the human heart that look much the same as those seen in age-related diseases on Earth. These changes affect the tissues of the heart that perform work, causing molecular and structural abnormalities that can lead to disease. Cardinal Heart studies these changes at the cellular and tissue level using engineered heart tissues (EHTs). Researchers plan to analyze changes in gene expression in each of three cell types. Results could help establish screening measures to predict cardiovascular risk in humans prior to spaceflight, and lead to new treatments for people with heart disease on Earth. The crew managed the habitat for the EHTs during the week.

Analyzing arteries

The Vascular series, a suite of studies from the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), examines how time in microgravity affects astronauts’ carotid arteries. Carotid arteries are located in the neck and help transport blood to the head. The Vascular series includes Vascular Echo, for which crew members collect blood samples, monitor ambulatory blood pressure, and perform resting and exercise ultrasounds. Vascular Aging also uses artery ultrasound and blood samples as well as oral glucose tolerance tests and wearable sensors. Results could provide insight into potential countermeasures to help maintain crew member health in space and improve quality of life for people on Earth. The crew performed a 13-hour blood pressure monitoring session for Vascular Echo during the week.

Other investigations on which the crew performed work:

- Fiber Optic Production produces fiber optic cable in space from a blend of elements called ZBLAN. Previous research suggests optical fibers produced in microgravity should exhibit superior qualities to those produced on Earth.

- BRE focuses on fire prevention in spacecraft, examining burning conditions and the flammability of materials in microgravity. BRE is part of ACME, a set of six independent studies of gaseous flames intended to advance fuel efficiency and reduce pollutant production in practical combustion on Earth, and to improve spacecraft fire prevention.

Image above: NASA astronaut Victor Glover installs gear for MVP Cell-06, an investigation developing a biological model to study the effects of spaceflight on musculoskeletal disease. Image Credit: NASA.

- MVP Cell-06 studies the effects of spaceflight on musculoskeletal disease. Astronauts experience exercise-related injuries in space and on Earth, and loss of cartilage and bone due to joint injury can lead to arthritis. This investigation could help identify drugs to protect both astronauts and people on Earth.

- STaARS BioScience-4 examines the rate of proliferation and differentiation in microgravity of oligodendrocyte progenitor cells (OPCs). OPCs are precursors to a type of central nervous system cell and results could improve neural stem cell studies, including those on tissue regrowth and organ farming.

- Thermal Amine Scrubber tests a system to remove carbon dioxide from the space station’s cabin air. The system also reduces loss of water vapor and recovers carbon dioxide, which can be used to produce oxygen through a process called electrolysis.

- Space Organogenesis, an investigation from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), demonstrates the growth of 3D organ buds from human stem cells in order to analyze changes in gene expression.

- The ISS Experience is creating an immersive virtual reality (VR) series documenting life and research aboard the space station.

- APM measures and quantifies the concentration of both small and large particles in cabin air as part of efforts to maintain air quality in the occupied environment on station, which is vital for the crew’s health.

- Rotifer B2, an ESA (European Space Agency) experiment, explores the cumulative effect of microgravity and space radiation on living organisms.

- Plant Habitat-02 cultivates radish plants (Raphanus sativus) to determine the effects of space on their growth. This model plant is nutritious, has a short cultivation time, and is genetically similar to Arabidopsis, a plant frequently studied in microgravity.

- AstroRad Vest tests a wearable vest designed to protect astronauts from radiation caused by unpredictable solar particle events. Astronauts provide input on how easy the garment is to put on, how it fits and feels, and the range of motion it allows.

Space to Ground: Double Dragons: 12/11/2020

Related links:

Expedition 64:

Biomolecule Sequencer:

JAXA Moderate Temp PCG:

JAXA Low Temp PCG:

Cardinal Heart:

Vascular series:

Vascular Echo:

Vascular Aging:

ISS National Lab:

Spot the Station:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

Images (mentioned), Video (NASA), Text, Credits: NASA/Michael Johnson/John Love, ISS Research Planning Integration Scientist Expedition 64.


ALICE collaboration opens avenue for high-precision studies of the strong force


CERN - ALICE Experiment logo.

Dec. 11, 2020

The collaboration shows how proton–proton collisions at the Large Hadron Collider can reveal the strong interaction between composite particles called hadrons

Image above: An artist’s impression of the ALICE study of the interaction between the rarest of the hyperons, Omega (Ω) hyperon (left), which contains three strange quarks, and a proton (right). (Image: CERN).

In a paper published today in Nature, the ALICE collaboration describes a technique that opens a door to high-precision studies at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) of the dynamics of the strong force between hadrons.

Hadrons are composite particles made of two or three quarks bound together by the strong interaction, which is mediated by gluons. This interaction also acts between hadrons, binding nucleons (protons and neutrons) together inside atomic nuclei. One of the biggest challenges in nuclear physics today is understanding the strong interaction between hadrons with different quark content from first principles, that is, starting from the strong interaction between the hadrons’ constituent quarks and gluons.

Calculations known as lattice quantum chromodynamics (QCD) can be used to determine the interaction from first principles, but these calculations provide reliable predictions only for hadrons containing heavy quarks, such as hyperons, which have one or more strange quarks. In the past, these interactions were studied by colliding hadrons together in scattering experiments, but these experiments are difficult to perform with unstable (i.e. rapidly decaying) hadrons such as hyperons. This difficulty has so far prevented a meaningful comparison between measurements and theory for hadron–hadron interactions involving hyperons.

Photos of ALICE detector. (Photo Credit: CERN)

Enter the new study from the collaboration behind ALICE, one of the main experiments at the LHC. The study shows how a technique based on measuring the momentum difference between hadrons produced in proton–proton collisions at the LHC can be used to reveal the dynamics of the strong interaction between hyperons and nucleons, potentially for any pair of hadrons. The technique is called femtoscopy because it allows the investigation of spatial scales close to 1 femtometre (10−15 metres) – about the size of a hadron and the spatial range of the strong-force action.

This method has previously allowed the ALICE team to study interactions involving the Lambda (Λ) and Sigma (Σ) hyperons, which contain one strange quark plus two light quarks, as well as the Xi (Ξ) hyperon, which is composed of two strange quarks plus one light quark. In the new study, the team used the technique to uncover with high precision the interaction between a proton and the rarest of the hyperons, the Omega (Ω) hyperon, which contains three strange quarks.

ALICE: Views inside the detector. (Video Credit: CERN)

“The precise determination of the strong interaction for all types of hyperons was unexpected,” says ALICE physicist Laura Fabbietti, professor at the Technical University of Munich. “This can be explained by three factors: the fact that the LHC can produce hadrons with strange quarks in abundance, the ability of the femtoscopy technique to probe the short-range nature of the strong interaction, and the excellent capabilities of the ALICE detector to identify particles and measure their momenta.”

“Our new measurement allows for a comparison with predictions from lattice QCD calculations and provides a solid testbed for further theoretical work,” says ALICE spokesperson Luciano Musa. “Data from the next LHC runs should give us access to any hadron pair.”

“ALICE has opened a new avenue for nuclear physics at the LHC – one that involves all types of quarks,” concludes Musa.


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:



Recreating Big Bang matter on Earth:

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

Images (mentioned), Video (mentioned), Text, Credit: European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN).

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Ireland helping ESA’s Hera asteroid mission find its way


ESA - Hera Mission patch.

Dec. 11, 2020

The very first sensor to be used by ESA’s Hera asteroid mission for planetary defence is currently being manufactured in Ireland. A gyroscope unit manufactured by Dublin-based InnaLabs will track the spacecraft’s spin rate as it tumbles away from its Ariane 6 launcher following its 2024 liftoff, allowing it to safely orient its solar panels to the Sun and come to life.

Hera leaving Earth

Then, when Hera reaches the double-asteroid Didymos system, the gyro unit will give backup orientation information from the spacecraft’s main startracker system, whose optical view may be impacted by sun glare or asteroid dust.

The gyro will also ensure the spacecraft will speedily recover from any malfunction, switching into a steadily positioned ‘safe mode’ from which ground controllers can bring it back to full operation.

Hera, her CubeSats, and their rocky target destination

“This 3-axis gyro unit including electronics and shielding is only 1.5 kg in mass, but is really crucial to the mission,” explains Steeve Kowaltschek, Head of ESA’s Attitude and Orbit Control and Guidance Navigation and Control Sensors unit.

“ESA has been working with InnaLabs on its design and testing for the last three and a half years, using commercial off the shelf parts but qualified individually and collectively to space standards.”

Gyros for Hera

With no up or down in space, gyros are used aboard many space missions. In function, they resemble the fast-spinning gyroscopes traditionally employed aboard submarines, aircraft, and missiles, whose spin maintains a fixed orientation, just like a child’s spinning top.

But modern solid-state gyros do without moving parts, instead relying on electrically-excited vibration of a solid cylindrical element whose pitch changes as its orientation does: rub a wineglass to make it ‘sing’ and its tone will change if you tilt it.

Integrated gyro unit

Chances are you own many such solid-state gyros without knowing it. They allow smartphones to detect whether they are being tilted or shaken, keep drones flying steadily and guide automobile anti-skid systems. Gyros for space follow the same principle but must be designed to endure harsh orbital conditions, including radiation exposure and temperature extremes – as well as the vibration of launch.

“There are a range of gyro units available of different size and precision, ranging from less-accurate sugar-cube-sized gyros up to highly-precise fibre optic gyros which determine movement based on shifting light frequencies,” adds Steeve. ESA is seeking to make a dual source of European procurement available for each performance grade.

Hera approaches the impact scene

“What we noticed is a gap in the market for medium-range gyros with ‘good enough’ performance. As a consequence, some missions’ attitude and orbit control subsystems were doing without gyros altogether. The introduction of a ‘NewSpace’ gyroscope, using ‘up-screened’ commercial-off-the-shelf components, could reverse this trend.

“That led us to InnaLabs, a 2012-founded company specialising in inertial sensors and stabilisation systems for high-performance applications including aircraft, tracking systems and underwater remotely operated vehicles.

InnaLabs cleanroom

“It took a few years to converge with InnaLabs on the type of product to be developed. Our first visit to InnaLabs made a dramatic impression. We were expecting to see a few offices, labs, and prototypes. However, we were pleasantly surprised to learn about their advanced in-house manufacturing and testing capability, and large team of experts. The company also had already supplied gyros to one commercial satellite constellation, so were familiar with space requirements.”

ESA partnered with the company on two projects: one to develop a space-qualified gyro for Hera and commercial customers based on standard parts, supported through the Agency’s General Support Technology Programe (GSTP link)– readying profitable products for space and commercial markets.


The second is a high-end gyro made entirely from space-qualified parts, backed by ESA’s Science Core Technology Programme (CTP), which readies critical enabling technologies for future scientific missions. Intended for manufacture in lower volume, this unit is earmarked for ESA’s PLATO space telescope for exoplanet detection and the Copernicus Land Surface Temperature Monitoring mission.

“The main area where we have been supporting InnaLabs is in the area of radiation hardening,” adds Steeve, “Space is awash in charged particles, and the units are tested for radiation exposure, to ensure they are proof against reset, disruption or false data – which could lead to mission failure in turn.”

Hera: ESA’s planetary defence mission

Alberto Torasso, Vice President of Space Programmes with InnaLabs, comments: “InnaLabs has extensive knowledge with inertial sensors such as gyroscopes, accelerometers, and system developments for various market sectors. With ESA’s continuous support, we are now developing a number of products designed specifically for space applications, which is getting excellent traction globally. space has become one of the key marketss for InnaLabs, and we are extremely happy to be associated with such important missions as Hera.”

Related links:



ESA’s Science Core Technology Programme (CTP):

Images, Animations, Video, Text, Credits: ESA/Science Office/InnaLabs/Airbus.


jeudi 10 décembre 2020

Spectrum-RG detects large-scale bubbles of hot gas in the halo of the Milky Way




ROSCOSMOS & DLR - Spectrum-RG (or Spektr-RG) Mission patch.

Dec. 10, 2020

Image above: Map of diffuse X-ray radiation in the range 0.6–1.0 keV, obtained by the SRG / eROSITA telescope. The contribution of point sources was removed. Map of diffuse X-rays in the range 0.6–1.0 keV, obtained by the SRG / eROSITA telescope.

The structures of hot gas on both sides of the Galactic disk, clearly visible in an X-ray survey of the entire sky, arose, most likely, due to shock waves caused by a powerful burst of activity in the center of our Galaxy tens of millions of years ago. In the first all-sky map produced by the eROSITA X-ray telescope, one of two instruments aboard Russia's Spektr-RG orbital observatory, astronomers have discovered an astonishing new detail: a huge circular structure below the plane of the Milky Way that occupies a significant portion of the Southern Sky.

A similar structure in the Northern Sky, the so-called North Polar Spur, has been known since the days of radio astronomy and X-ray astronomy. For many years it was believed that it arose as a result of a supernova explosion close to the Sun tens or hundreds of thousands of years ago. However, taken together, the northern and southern structures on the map resemble an hourglass-shaped halo, quite symmetrical about the center of the Galaxy, which is 25 thousand light years from the Sun (1 light year is about 9.46 trillion kilometers).

Image above: Overlay of maps of our Galaxy, obtained by the telescopes EROSITA and "Fermi". Diffuse X-ray radiation recorded by the erosite telescope (0.6–1 keV, indicated in shades of blue) surrounds a region of harder radiation (gigaelectron-volts, indicated in red), which is called Fermi bubbles. Comparison of these maps indicates a close relationship between Fermi and erosite bubbles. Overlay of maps of our Galaxy, obtained by the telescopes EROSITA and "Fermi". Diffuse X-ray radiation recorded by the erosite telescope (0.6–1 keV, indicated in shades of blue) surrounds a region of harder radiation (gigaelectron-volts, indicated in red), which is called Fermi bubbles. Comparison of these maps indicates a close relationship between Fermi and erosite bubbles.

“With its high sensitivity, good spectral and angular resolution and low background, the eROSITA telescope, which scans the entire sky every six months, has become a unique tool for detecting and studying objects that are much larger than the telescope's field of view and make up a significant portion of the entire sky,” explains Michael Freiberg, a scientist working with data from the eROSITA telescope at the Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics of the Society. Max Planck (MPE, Germany).

Large-scale X-rays observed in the 0.6–1.0 keV range show the manifestation of these giant bubbles with slowly varying brightness over a large part of the sky. Their angular dimensions are comparable to the dimensions of our entire Milky Way Galaxy, which corresponds to linear dimensions of ten kiloparsecs, that is, up to 30,000 light years across.

"Bubbles eROSITA" have a striking morphological similarity with the well-known "Fermi bubbles", but do not coincide with them geometrically, and the size of the latter is noticeably smaller. Fermi Bubbles were discovered years ago by the Fermi Gamma Observatory at much higher photon energies (gamma rays), a million times more energetic than the X-ray photons recorded by the Russian Spektr-RG Observatory.

Image above: An illustration of the possible position of eROSITA bubbles (EB, eROSITA bubbles, yellow) and Fermi bubbles (FB, Fermi bubbles, pink) relative to the Galaxy and the Solar System. The approximate dimensions of the structures obtained in this study are indicated next to the arrows of the corresponding color. An illustration of the possible position of eROSITA bubbles (EB, eROSITA bubbles, yellow) and Fermi bubbles (FB, Fermi bubbles, pink) relative to the Galaxy and the Solar System. The approximate dimensions of the structures obtained in this study are indicated next to the arrows of the corresponding color.

“The eROSITA telescope is now completing the second scan of the entire sky, doubling the number of X-ray photons recorded, in particular, from the bubbles it discovered,” says academician Rashid Sunyaev, scientific director of the Spektr-RG orbital observatory. “We have a tremendous amount of work ahead of us, because the eROSITA data allow us to isolate many X-ray spectral lines emitted by highly ionized gas ions in various regions of the“ bubbles ”. We were able to investigate the abundance of chemical elements, the degree of their ionization, the density and temperature of the emitting gas in many zones of the bubbles, to investigate the position of shock waves and to estimate the characteristic times that have passed since the time of the giant flash that generated these bubbles. It is striking that the eROSITA and Fermi bubbles are separated in space and the eROSITA bubbles are much larger. Most likely, magnetic fields play an important role at their boundary, which impede the escape of cosmic rays outside the Fermi bubbles.

This discovery helps to understand the circulation of matter in and around the Milky Way, as well as in other galaxies that we cannot observe with such a degree of detail due to the enormous distance to them. Most of the normal matter in the universe is invisible to our eyes. All the stars and galaxies that we observe with optical telescopes make it possible to see less than 10% of the total number of baryons. Huge amounts of unobservable baryonic matter are expected to be found in the rarefied halos that surround galaxies like cocoons, as well as in "filaments" that connect galaxy clusters like a cosmic web. These halos are hot, their temperature is millions of degrees, and therefore they are available for observation in the X-ray wavelength range.

Image above: An X-ray map of the entire sky obtained by the SRG / EOSITA telescope in galactic coordinates (the Galactic plane passes horizontally through the center of the map). An X-ray map of the entire sky obtained by the SRG / EOSITA telescope in galactic coordinates (the Galactic plane passes horizontally through the center of the map).

The bubbles seen by the eROSITA telescope are “reflections” of disturbances in this envelope of hot gas. They were caused by the ejection of matter due to the activity of a supermassive black hole in the center of our Galaxy, or by a giant burst of star formation in the gas of the central part of the Galaxy.

“The size of the bubbles and the temperature of the gas in them allow us to judge only the total released energy and approximately the time scale,” says Yevgeny Churazov, academician of the Space Research Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences, one of the authors of the article. "But to unambiguously choose one of the hypotheses, this is not enough."

Now "our" black hole manifests itself as a very weak X-ray and radio source, from time to time faintly flashing in X-rays and infrared rays. However, she may well have been quite active in the past. We know examples of such activity from observations of supermassive black holes in other galaxies. In any case, the energy required to form these huge bubbles must have been very high - 1056 erg. This corresponds to the release of energy from 100,000 supernovae, which is similar to the estimates of other explosions in active nuclei of distant galaxies.

“The sharp edges of these bubbles are most likely the traces of shock waves caused by the powerful release of energy from the center of our Galaxy into its halo,” notes Peter Predel, one of the two leading authors of the article. "Such an explanation was previously proposed for the Fermi bubbles, and now, according to the eROSITA telescope, the full volume and morphology of these structures have become apparent." “The scars left by such flashes take a long time to heal in such halos,” adds Andrea Merloni, scientific director of the eROSITA telescope.

Spectrum-RG (or Spektr-RG) observatory

The eROSITA “multicolor” X-ray map of the sky contains a colossal amount of information about the interstellar medium of the Milky Way as a whole, says Corresponding Member of the Russian Academy of Sciences, one of the creators of the X-ray sky map and co-author of the article Marat Gilfanov (Space Research Institute, RAS). - It can be seen that the radiation of hot and warm gas comes to us from all directions, but its brightness in the direction of the Galactic plane is greatly reduced due to absorption by cold matter located in the spiral arms and in the disk of our Galaxy. The observed picture is complicated by the contribution of radiation from the so-called. “Local Bubble”, the nature of which is still not fully understood, and we expect eROSITA to contribute to solving this mystery as well.

The discovery was published in the journal Nature on December 9, 2020. Half of the co-authors of the article are employees of Russian research institutes, members of scientific groups of the eROSITA telescope.

The Russian spacecraft "Spektr-RG", developed at the Scientific and Production Association named after S.A. Lavochkin (part of the Roscosmos State Corporation), was launched on July 13, 2019 from the Baikonur cosmodrome. It was created with the participation of Germany within the framework of the Federal Space Program of Russia by order of the Russian Academy of Sciences. The observatory is equipped with two unique X-ray mirror telescopes: ART-XC (IKI RAS, Russia) and eROSITA (MPE, Germany), operating on the principle of oblique incidence X-ray optics. The telescopes are installed on the Navigator space platform (NPO Lavochkina, Russia), adapted to the project's objectives. The main goal of the mission is to build a map of the entire sky in the soft (0.3–8 keV) and hard (4–20 keV) ranges of the X-ray spectrum with unprecedented sensitivity. The observatory must operate in space for at least 6.5 years.

ROSCOSMOS Press Release:

Spektr-RG (SRG):

Images, Text, Credits: ROSCOSMOS/DLR/ Aerospace/Roland Berga.

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Hubble Identifies Strange Exoplanet That Behaves Like the Long-Sought “Planet Nine”


ESA - Hubble Space Telescope logo.

Dec. 10, 2020

Artist’s Impression of Exoplanet HD 106906b

The 11-Jupiter-mass exoplanet called HD106906 b occupies an unlikely orbit around a double star 336 light-years away and it may be offering clues to something that might be much closer to home: a hypothesized distant member of our Solar System dubbed “Planet Nine.” This is the first time that astronomers have been able to measure the motion of a massive Jupiter-like planet that is orbiting very far away from its host stars and visible debris disc.

Artist’s Impression of the Hypothesized “Planet Nine”

The exoplanet HD106906 b was discovered in 2013 with the Magellan Telescopes at the Las Campanas Observatory in Chile’s Atacama Desert. However, astronomers did not then know anything about the planet’s orbit. This required something only the Hubble Space Telescope could do: collect very accurate measurements of the vagabond’s motion over 14 years with extraordinary precision.

Region of the Sky Around HD 106906b

The exoplanet resides extremely far from its host pair of bright, young stars — more than 730 times the distance of Earth from the Sun. This wide separation made it enormously challenging to determine the 15 000-year-long orbit in such a short time span of Hubble observations. The planet is creeping very slowly along its orbit, given the weak gravitational pull of its very distant parent stars.

The Hubble team behind this new result [1] was surprised to find that the remote world has an extreme orbit that is very inclined, elongated and external to a dusty debris disc that surrounds the exoplanet’s twin host stars. The debris disc itself is very extraordinary, perhaps due to the gravitational tug of the rogue planet. This study was led by Meiji Nguyen of the University of California, Berkeley.

Artist’s Impression of Exoplanet HD 106906b

“To highlight why this is weird, we can just look at our own Solar System and see that all of the planets lie roughly in the same plane,” explained Nguyen. “It would be bizarre if, say, Jupiter just happened to be inclined 30 degrees relative to the plane that every other planet orbits in. This raises all sorts of questions about how HD 106906 b ended up so far out on such an inclined orbit.”

The prevailing theory to explain how the exoplanet arrived at such a distant and strangely inclined orbit is that it formed much closer to its stars, about three times the distance that Earth is from the Sun. However, drag within the system’s gas disc caused the planet’s orbit to decay, forcing it to migrate inward toward its stellar hosts. The gravitational forces from the whirling twin stars then kicked it out onto an eccentric orbit that almost threw it out of the system and into the void of interstellar space. Then a star passed very close by to this system, stabilising the exoplanet’s orbit and preventing it from leaving its home system. Candidate passing stars had been previously identified using precise distance and motion measurements from the European Space Agency’s Gaia survey satellite.

Artist’s Impression of the Hypothesized “Planet Nine”

This scenario to explain HD106906 b’s bizarre orbit is similar in some ways to what may have caused the hypothetical Planet Nine to end up in the outer reaches of our own Solar System, beyond the Kuiper Belt. Planet Nine could have formed in the inner Solar System and was then kicked out by interactions with Jupiter. However, Jupiter would very likely have flung Planet Nine far beyond Pluto. Passing stars may have stabilised the orbit of the kicked-out planet by pushing the orbit path away from Jupiter and the other planets in the inner Solar System.

“It’s as if we have a time machine for our own Solar System going back 4.6 billion years to see what may have happened when our young Solar System was dynamically active and everything was being jostled around and rearranged,” explained team member Paul Kalas of the University of California, Berkeley.

To date, astronomers have only circumstantial evidence for the existence of Planet Nine. They’ve found a cluster of small celestial bodies beyond Neptune that move in unusual orbits compared to the rest of the Solar System. This configuration, some astronomers think, suggests that these objects were shepherded together by the gravitational pull of a huge, unseen planet. An alternative hypothesis is that there is not one giant perturber, but instead the imbalance is due to the combined gravitational influence of much smaller objects.

Artist’s Impression of the Hypothesized “Planet Nine”

“Despite the lack of detection of Planet Nine to date, the orbit of the planet can be inferred based on its effect on the various objects in the outer Solar System,” explained team member Robert De Rosa of the European Southern Observatory in Santiago, Chile who led the study’s analysis. “This suggests that if a planet was indeed responsible for what we observe in the orbits of trans-Neptunian objects it should have an eccentric orbit inclined relative to the plane of the Solar System. This prediction of the orbit of Planet Nine is similar to what we are seeing with HD 106906b."

Scientists using the upcoming NASA/ESA/CSA James Webb Space Telescope plan to get additional data on HD106906 b to better understand the planet’s system. Astronomers want to know where and how the planet formed and whether the planet has its own debris system around it, among other questions.

Hubble Space Telescope (HST)

“There are still a lot of open questions about this system,” added De Rosa. “For example, we do not conclusively know where or how the planet formed. Although we have made the first measurement of orbital motion, there are still large uncertainties on the various orbital parameters. It is likely that both observers and theorists alike will be studying HD 106906 for years to come, unraveling the many mysteries of this remarkable planetary system.”


[1] The data used in this study were taken as part the following Hubble Space Telescope observing programs GO-10330 (PI: Ford), GO-14670 (PI: Kalas), GO-14241 (PI: Apai) and GO-14241 (PI: Apai).

These results have been published in the Astronomical Journal.

More information:

The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between ESA and NASA.

The international team of astronomers in this study consists of M. Nguyen, R. De Rosa, and P. Kalas.


Images of Hubble:

HubbleSite release:

UC Berkeley release:

Science paper:

ESA Hubblesite:

Images, Animation, Text Credits: ESA/Hubble, M. Kornmesser/Digitized Sky Survey 2.
Acknowledgement: Davide De Martin/Videos: ESA/Hubble, M. Kornmesser.

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Solar Orbiter: turning pictures into physics


ESA & NASA - Solar Orbiter Mission patch.

Dec. 10, 2020

Solar Orbiter’s latest results show that the mission is making the first direct connections between events at the solar surface and what’s happening in interplanetary space around the spacecraft. It is also giving us new insights into solar ‘campfires’, space weather and disintegrating comets.

Solar Orbiter

“I could not be more pleased with the performance of Solar Orbiter and the various teams that keep it and its instruments operating,” says Daniel Müller, ESA Solar Orbiter Project Scientist.

“It has been a real team effort under difficult circumstances this year, and now we are beginning to see those efforts really paying off.”

Solar Orbiter’s ten scientific instruments are split into two groups. There are six remote sensing telescopes, and four in-situ instruments. The remote sensing instruments look at the Sun and its extended atmosphere, the corona. The in-situ instruments measure the particles around the spacecraft, which have been released by the Sun and are known as the solar wind, along with its magnetic and electric fields. Tracing the origin of those particles and fields back to the solar surface is one of the key objectives of Solar Orbiter.

During Solar Orbiter’s first close pass of the Sun, which took place on 15 June and saw the spacecraft approach to 77 million kilometres, both remote sensing and in-situ instruments were recording data.

Footprint of the solar wind

Footprints of the solar wind

Solar Orbiter data have made it possible to calculate the source region of the solar wind that hits the spacecraft, and identify this ‘footprint’ in the remote sensing images. In an example studied in June 2020, the footprint is seen at the edge of a region called a ‘coronal hole’, where the Sun’s magnetic field reaches out into space, allowing the solar wind to flow.

Even though the work is preliminary, it is still beyond anything that has been possible so far.

“We’ve never been able to do mapping this accurate before,” says Tim Horbury, Imperial College, London, and Chair of the Solar Orbiter In-Situ Working Group.

Campfire physics

Solar Orbiter also has new information about the Sun’s ‘campfires’ that captured the world’s attention earlier this year.

The mission’s first images showed a multitude of what appeared to be tiny solar eruptions bursting across the surface of the Sun. The scientists called them campfires because the exact energy associated with these events is not yet known. Without the energy, it is not yet clear whether they are the same phenomenon as other smaller-scale eruptive events that have been seen by other missions. What makes it all so tantalising is that small-scale ‘nano-flares' have long been thought to exist on the Sun but we’ve never had the means to see events this small before.

“The campfires could be the nano-flares that we are after with Solar Orbiter,” says Frédéric Auchère, Institut d’Astrophysique Spatiale, Orsay, France, and Chair of the Solar Orbiter Remote-Sensing Working Group.

Solar Orbiter spots ‘campfires’ on the Sun (annotated)

This is important because the nano-flares are theorised to be responsible for heating the corona, the outer atmosphere of the Sun. The fact that the corona is at about a million degrees Celsius whereas the surface is only about 5000 degrees is still one of the most puzzling issues in solar physics today. Investigating this mystery is one of the key scientific objectives of Solar Orbiter.

To explore the idea, researchers have been analysing data by Solar Orbiter’s SPICE (Spectral Imaging of the Coronal Environment) instrument. SPICE is designed to reveal the velocity of the gas at the solar surface. It has shown that there are indeed small-scale events in which the gas is moving with significant velocity but looking for a correlation to the campfires has not yet been done.

“Right now, we only have commissioning data, taken when the teams were still learning the behaviours of their instruments in space, and the results are very preliminary. But clearly, we do see very interesting things,” says Frédéric. “Solar Orbiter is all about discovery, and that is very exciting.”

Surfing a comet’s tail

As well as progress towards the planned scientific objectives of Solar Orbiter, there has also been serendipitous science from the spacecraft too.

Shortly after Solar Orbiter was launched, it was noticed that it would fly downstream of Comet ATLAS, passing through its two tails. Although Solar Orbiter was not designed for such an encounter, and was not due to be taking science data at this time, mission experts worked to ensure that all the in-situ instruments did record the unique encounter.

But Nature had one more trick to play: the comet disintegrated before the spacecraft got close. So, instead of the hoped-for strong signals from the tails, it was entirely possible that the spacecraft would see nothing at all.

That was not the case. Solar Orbiter did see signatures in the data from comet ATLAS, but not the kind of things that scientists would normally expect. Instead of a strong, single tail-crossing, the spacecraft detected numerous episodes of waves in the magnetic data. It also detected dust in patches too. This was probably released from the insides of the comet as it split into many small pieces.

“This is the first time we've essentially traveled through the wake of a comet that's disintegrated,” says Tim. “There's a lot of really interesting data there, and it’s another example of the kind of high-quality fortuitous science we can do with Solar Orbiter.”

An orbit’s worth of particle data

Stealth space weather

Solar Orbiter has been measuring the solar wind for much of its time in space, recording a number of particle ejections from the Sun. Then, on 19 April, a particularly interesting coronal mass ejection swept across Solar Orbiter.

A coronal mass ejection, or CME, is a large space weather event, in which billions of tonnes of particles can be ejected from the Sun’s outer atmosphere. During this particular CME, which burst from the Sun on 14 April, Solar Orbiter was about twenty percent of the way from the Earth to the Sun.

Multipoint detections of a coronal mass ejection

Solar Orbiter wasn’t the only spacecraft that observed this event. ESA’s BepiColombo Mercury mission happened to be flying by the Earth at the time. There was also a NASA solar spacecraft called STEREO situated about ninety degrees away from the direct Sun-Earth line, and looking directly across the area of space that the CME travelled through. It watched the CME impact Solar Orbiter and then BepiColombo and Earth. Combining the measurements from all the different spacecraft allowed researchers to really study the way that the coronal mass ejection evolved as it travelled through space.

This is known as multipoint science and thanks to the number of spacecraft now in the inner solar system, it will become an increasingly powerful tool in our quest to understand the solar wind and space weather.

“We can look at it remotely, we can measure it in-situ and we can see how a CME changes as it travels towards the Earth,” says Tim.

Perhaps just as intriguing as the spacecraft that saw the event, were those that didn’t. The ESA-NASA SOHO spacecraft, which is situated in front of Earth and constantly watches the Sun for eruptions such as this, barely registered it. This puts the 19 April event in a rare class of space weather events, termed a stealth CME. Studying these more elusive events will help us understand space weather more completely.

Solar Orbiter Venus flyby

In the coming years, the opportunities for multipoint science will increase. On 27 December, Solar Orbiter will complete its first Venus flyby. This event will use the planet’s gravity to swing the spacecraft closer to the Sun, putting Solar Orbiter in an even better position for joint measurements with NASA’s Parker Solar Probe, which will also complete two Venus flybys in 2021.

The Sun’s mysteries

As Parker makes in-situ measurements from inside the solar atmosphere, Solar Orbiter will take images of the same region. Together, the two spacecraft will give both the details and the bigger picture.

“2021 is going to be an exciting time for Solar Orbiter,” says Teresa Nieves-Chinchilla, NASA Solar Orbiter Project Scientist. “By the end of the year, all the instruments will be working together in full-fledged science mode, and we will be preparing to get even closer to the Sun.”

In 2022, Solar Orbiter will close to within 48 million kilometres of the Sun’s surface, more than 20 million kilometres closer than it will go in 2021.

Related links:

Solar Orbiter:

Sun’s ‘campfires’:

Images, Animation, Videos, Text, Credits: Solar Orbiter/EUI Team/ESA & NASA; CSL, IAS, MPS, PMOD/WRC, ROB, UCL/MSSL, LFO/IO; Imperial College/EPD (ESA & NASA)/ATG medialab.

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