samedi 9 janvier 2021

Researchers get a look at the sun's dusty environment


NASA - Parker Solar Probe Mission patch.

Jan. 9, 2021

Researchers from the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP) at the University of Colorado Boulder are diving into the dusty environment that surrounds the sun—a search that could help to reveal how planets like Earth come into being.

The pursuit comes by way of NASA’s Parker Solar Probe—a pioneering mission that has taken scientists closer to Earth’s home star than any spacecraft to date. Over two years, the probe has circled the sun six times, hitting maximum speeds of roughly 290,000 miles per hour.

Image above: Parker Solar Probe circles in front of the sun in this artist rendering. (Credits: NASA, Johns Hopkins APL, Steve Gribben).

In the process, the Parker team has learned a lot about the microscopic grains of dust that lie just beyond the sun’s atmosphere, said David Malaspina, a space plasma physicist at LASP. In new research, for example, he and his colleagues discovered that the densities of these bits of rock and ice seem to vary wildly over the span of months—not something scientists were expecting.

“Every time we go into a new orbit, and we think we understand what we’re seeing around the sun, nature goes and surprises us,” said Malaspina, also an assistant professor in the Department of Astrophysical and Planetary Sciences.

He presented the group’s results this week at the 2020 virtual fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU).

Malaspina said that dust can give researchers an unexpected, and tiny, window into the processes that formed Earth and its neighboring planets more than 4.5 billion years ago.

“By learning how our star processes dust, we can extrapolate that to other solar systems to learn more about planet formation and how a cloud of dust becomes a solar system,” he said.

Solar Dyson

The area just around the sun, a hot and radiation-rich environment, is often dustier than you might imagine, Malaspina said. It contains more grains of dust by volume than most other open expanses of space in the solar system. That’s because the star, through gravity and other forces, pulls dust toward it from millions to billions of miles away, a bit like a vacuum cleaner.

But this vacuum cleaner is imperfect. As dust particles get closer to the sun, its radiation pushes on them more and more—some of those grains of dust will begin to blow in the other direction and can even fly out of the solar system entirely. The Wide-Field Imager for Parker Solar Probe (WISPR) instrument suite onboard the spacecraft found the first evidence for the existence of this dust-devoid region, known as the dust-free zone, more than 90 years after it was predicted.

“What you get is this really interesting environment where all of these particles are moving inward, but once they reach the near-sun environment, they can be blown away,” Malaspina said.

Image above: Photos taken by the Wide-Field Imager for Parker Solar Probe (WISPR) showing the solar wind streaming past the spacecraft. These flows of energy can carry small grains of dust away from the sun and even out of the solar system entirely. (Credits: NASA/Naval Research Laboratory/Parker Solar Probe).

Since launching in 2018, Parker Solar Probe—built and operated by the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, which also leads the mission for NASA—has flown to within about 11.6 million miles of the Sun’s surface.

On each of Parker’s orbits around the sun, the spacecraft collided with thousands of grains of dust. Many of these particles vaporize on the spot, creating a small burst of charged particles that the probe can detect using the five antennae that are part of its FIELDS Experiment. LASP plays an important role in this experiment, which is led by the University of California, Berkeley. Think of it like studying insect populations by counting the splatters on your car’s windshield.

“You get a small puff of plasma,” Malaspina said. “By looking at these spikes, we can understand how many dust impacts we’re getting hit by.”

New mysteries

Malaspina and his colleagues were originally hoping to use those puffs to pinpoint where exactly the solar system’s inward-flying dust becomes outward-flying dust. But they stumbled on something puzzling in the process: The concentrations of dust that the team recorded seemed to vary by as much as 50% between Parker’s six orbits around the Sun.

“That’s really interesting because the timescale that it takes for dust to move in toward the Sun is thousands to millions of years,” Malaspina said. “So how do we get variation in just three or four months?”

Parker Solar Probe. Animation Credits: NASA/Johns Hopkins APL

This dusty environment, in other words, may be a lot more complicated and fast-shifting than scientists previously thought. Malaspina said that the team will need to wait for Parker to complete more orbits to know exactly what’s happening. He’s just excited to be part of this once-in-a-lifetime chance to run a finger along the Sun’s dusty shelves.

“This is the only in-situ measurement we are going to get for a long time in the inner solar system,” Malaspina said. “We’re trying to make the best of it and learn as much as we can.”

Related links:

2020 virtual fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU):

Department of Astrophysical and Planetary Sciences:

Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP):

NASA’s Parker Solar Probe:

Images (mentioned), Animation (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/University of Colorado Boulder/By Daniel Strain.


vendredi 8 janvier 2021

SpaceX Dragon Capsule to Make First of Its Kind Science Splashdown


SpaceX - Dragon CRS-21 Mission patch.

Jan. 8, 2021

By capsule, helicopter, boat, plane, and car, space station science experiments are about to make a first of a kind journey back to researchers on Earth.

Image above: The upgraded version of SpaceX’s Cargo Dragon spacecraft, Dragon 2, is seen atop a Falcon 9 rocket on Dec. 2, 2020, as they prepare to be rolled out to Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida for the company’s 21st Commercial Resupply Services (CRS-21) launch. Image Credit: NASA.

On Jan. 11, the SpaceX cargo Dragon spacecraft carrying out the company’s 21st commercial resupply services (CRS-21) mission for NASA undocks from the International Space Station, heading for splashdown off the coast of Florida about 12 hours later. This upgraded Dragon transports significantly more science back to Earth than possible in previous Dragon capsules and is the first space station cargo capsule to splash down off the coast of Florida.

In addition, science returns from the space station through NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida for the first time since the retirement of the space shuttle.

Image above: NASA astronaut Kate Rubins poses next to cold stowage Polar Facilities in the SpaceX CRS-9 cargo Dragon spacecraft in 2016. The new cargo spacecraft has more powered locker space, enabling additional cold stowage space. Image Credit: NASA.

“I am excited to finally see science returning here again because we can get these time sensitive experiments into the lab faster than ever,” says Kennedy Space Center utilization project manager Jennifer Wahlberg. “Sending science up to space and then receiving it again on the runway was definitely something in the shuttle days that we really took pride in, and being able to rejoin that process is great.”

Image above: JAXA astronaut Sochi Noguchi is pictured inside the newly arrived upgraded SpaceX Cargo Dragon vehicle on December 7, 2020. Safety goggles and masks are required when a crew member opens the hatch and enters a new spacecraft for the first time due to dust and debris that may have been dislodged during the ascent to space. Image Credit: NASA.

As the spacecraft returns to Earth, the experiments start to experience the effects of gravity again. Splashdown sets into motion rapid operations to return the samples and experiments back to researchers around the world. After a SpaceX boat scoops the capsule out of the water, a waiting team pulls time-critical science out of the spacecraft and loads it onto a waiting helicopter. The helicopter will deliver this science to shore a few hours after splashdown. Any remaining scientific cargo will come back either in a second helicopter load or stay aboard the boat and be removed at the port.

Space station experiments coming back include:

Image above: NASA astronaut and Expedition 64 Flight Engineer Kate Rubins works inside the Life Sciences Glovebox conducting research for the Cardinal Heart study. The biomedical research seeks to help scientists understand the aging and weakening of heart muscles to provide new treatments for humans on Earth and astronauts in space. Image Credit: NASA.

- Cardinal Heart, which studies how changes in gravity affect cardiovascular cells at the cellular and tissue level using 3D engineered heart tissues, a type of tissue chip. Results could provide new understanding of heart problems on Earth, help identify new treatments, and support development of screening measures to predict cardiovascular risk prior to spaceflight.

Animation above: The Cardinal Heart team prepares their experiment for launch in the Space Station Processing Facility (SSPF) at Kennedy Space Center. Cardinal Heart will return to the SSPF for analysis after splashing down off the coast of Florida aboard a Dragon capsule. Animation Credit: NASA.

- A Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency study, Space Organogenesis, which demonstrates the growth of 3D organ buds from human stem cells in order to analyze changes in gene expression. Results from this investigation could show advantages of using microgravity for cutting-edge developments in regenerative medicine and may contribute to the establishment of technologies needed to create artificial organs.

- The Bacterial Adhesion and Corrosion experiment, which identifies the bacterial genes used during biofilm growth, examines whether these biofilms can corrode stainless steel, and evaluates the effectiveness of a silver-based disinfectant. This investigation could provide insight into better ways to control and remove resistant biofilms, contributing to the success of future long-duration spaceflights.

- Fiber Optic Production, which includes the return of experimental optical fibers created in microgravity using a blend of zirconium, barium, lanthanum, sodium, and aluminum. The return of the fibers, called ZBLAN in reference to the chemical formula, will help verify experimental studies that suggest fibers created in space should exhibit far superior qualities to those produced on Earth.

- Rodent Research-23, which involves the return of live mice. This experiment studies the function of arteries, veins, and lymphatic structures in the eye and changes in the retina before and after spaceflight. The aim is to clarify whether these changes impair visual function. At least 40 percent of astronauts experience vision impairment known as Spaceflight-Associated Neuro-ocular Syndrome (SANS) on long-duration spaceflights, which could adversely affect mission success.

“Rodent Research-23 was designed to start studying rodent gravity readaptation responses as quickly as possible, making it an ideal candidate for this flight,” said Jennifer Buchli, deputy chief scientist for the International Space Station program at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.

The helicopter will land the experiments at the Shuttle Landing Facility (SLF), previously used for space shuttle return activities. Then a team will move most of the cargo to the Kennedy Space Center Space Station Processing Facility (SSPF) by truck, where science teams will be waiting.

“We are going to have a parade of researchers ready at Kennedy Space Center waiting to receive samples,” said Kennedy’s Research Integration Office utilization flight lead Mary Walsh.

Traditionally used to prepare experiments for launch to space, the SSPF is home to world-class laboratories that provide the tools and workspace to immediately take data and analyze samples.

“The scientists will take a quick look to get initial results and then ship it back to their home bases,” says Wahlberg. “The benefit of being able to observe the science earlier is the ability to negate any gravitational effects on the research after it has been in space.”

From the hub at Kennedy Space Center, the science samples and experiments will head around the globe to California, Texas, Massachusetts, Japan, and more locations. “For every flight, we have hundreds of people all over the world preparing to put science on a vehicle. Likewise, we have all those people all over the world preparing to receive these items,” says Walsh.

The large amount of science returning to Earth on this mission is possible thanks to upgrades to the SpaceX cargo Dragon spacecraft, which has double the powered locker capability of the company’s previous capsules. On return, it can support up to 12 powered lockers, enabling transport of more cold cargo and power for additional payloads.

“The old capsule was like a cream filled doughnut. You packed everything around the walls, and then in the middle we put a big giant stack of bags,” said Walsh. “This upgraded cargo Dragon is more like a three-story house. You put stuff in the basement, then you pack that second story, then you go upstairs and pack the third story. So it's really different from a design perspective.”

Image above: A look inside the upgraded cargo Dragon spacecraft as time-sensitive payloads bound for the International Space Station on SpaceX’s CRS-21 mission are loaded. The spacecraft delivered more than 6,400 pounds of science investigations and cargo to the orbiting laboratory. Image Credit: SpaceX.

This design also allows for quicker unloading of the research at splashdown, which, paired with the new splashdown location off the coast of Florida, gets scientific samples back to the researchers in record time.

“Using the previous Dragon spacecraft, it could take up to 48 hours from the time the capsule hits the water in the Pacific Ocean for it to be back in Long Beach, California. We then started distributing those samples about four to five hours after that,” says Walsh. “Now we are going to have early return science in hand and turn it over to researchers at just four to nine hours after splashdown.”

Image above: A SpaceX cargo Dragon capsule sits atop a boat after successfully splashing down in the Pacific Ocean in 2012, ending the first contracted cargo delivery flight contracted by NASA to resupply the International Space Station. Image Credit: NASA.

On future missions, more scientists around the world can take advantage of these faster return capabilities to expand into new areas of microgravity research.

“This allows us to do different types of science,” said Buchli. “In the past if you wanted to watch an organism readapt to gravity, the best case was by the time you got it back to the lab from splashdown, you were getting data within 18 hours. However, you start to see gravity readaptation responses within organisms within 13 hours. This quicker return of just a few hours opens up a whole new area of science.”

Coverage of SpaceX Dragon departure will begin at 9 a.m. on Jan. 11 on NASA Television and the agency’s website:

Related links:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

Images (mentioned), Animation (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Michael Johnson/JSC/International Space Station Program Research Office/Erin Winick.


NASA Extends Exploration for Two Planetary Science Missions


NASA logo.

Jan. 8, 2021

As NASA prepares to send astronauts back to the Moon and on to Mars, the agency’s quest to seek answers about our solar system and beyond continues to inform those efforts and generate new discoveries. The agency has extended the missions of two spacecraft, following an external review of their scientific productivity.

The missions — Juno and InSight — have each increased our understanding of our solar system, as well as spurred new sets of diverse questions.

An independent review panel, comprised of experts with backgrounds in science, operations, and mission management, found the Juno and InSight missions have “produced exceptional science,” and recommended NASA continue both missions.

The Juno spacecraft and its mission team have made discoveries about Jupiter’s interior structure, magnetic field, and magnetosphere, and have found its atmospheric dynamics to be far more complex than scientists previously thought. Extended through September 2025, or its end of life (whichever comes first), the mission will not only continue key observations of Jupiter, but also will expand its investigations to the larger Jovian system including Jupiter’s rings and large moons, with targeted observations and close flybys planned of the moons Ganymede, Europa, and Io.

Image above: Citizen scientist Kevin M. Gill created this image using data from the spacecraft's JunoCam imager. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

The InSight mission is extended for two years, running through December 2022. InSight’s spacecraft and team deployed and operated its highly sensitive seismometer to expand our understanding of Mars’ crust and mantle. Searching for and identifying Marsquakes, the mission team collected data clearly demonstrating the robust tectonic activity of the Red Planet, and enhanced our knowledge of the planet’s atmospheric dynamics, magnetic field, and interior structure. InSight’s extended mission will focus on producing a long-duration, high quality seismic dataset. Continued operation of its weather station and burial of the seismic tether using the spacecraft’s Instrument Deployment Arm (IDA), will contribute to the quality of this seismic dataset. The extended mission may continue deployment (at low priority) of the spacecraft’s Heat Probe and Physical Properties instrument (HP3), which remains close to the surface.

Image above: This illustration shows NASA's InSight spacecraft with its instruments deployed on the Martian surface. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

“The Senior Review has validated that these two planetary science missions are likely to continue to bring new discoveries, and produce new questions about our solar system,” said Lori Glaze, director of the planetary science division at NASA Headquarters, Washington. “I thank the members of the Senior Review panel for their comprehensive analysis and thank the mission teams as well, who will now continue to provide exciting opportunities to refine our understanding of the dynamic science of Jupiter and Mars."

Extended missions leverage NASA’s large investments, allowing continued science operations at a cost far lower than developing a new mission. In some cases, the extensions allow missions to continue to acquire valuable long-duration datasets, while in other cases, they allow missions to visit new targets, with entirely new science goals.

NASA’s Planetary Science Division currently operates more than a dozen spacecraft across the solar system.

The detailed reports from the 2020 Planetary Science Senior Review may be found at:

More information about Juno is available at:

For more information about InSight, visit:

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Tricia Talbert/Grey Hautaluoma/Alana Johnson.


Crew Packs Cargo Dragon With Science, Begins Spacewalk Preps


ISS - Expedition 64 Mission patch.

Jan. 8, 2021

International Space Station (ISS). Animation Credit: ESA

The Expedition 64 crew is going into the weekend packing the SpaceX Dragon resupply ship and readying it for a Monday morning undocking from the International Space Station. The orbital residents are also turning their attention to a pair of spacewalks taking place before the end of January.

A month after its arrival and delivery of a suite of vital space science investigations, the Dragon will return the research back to Earth for analysis on Monday. The astronauts will be loading gear and samples from those studies, as well as a variety of station hardware, into Dragon this weekend before closing its hatch a few hours before undocking.

Image above: The SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft is pictured approaching the International Space Station for a docking on Nov. 17, 2020. Image Credit: NASA.

The astronauts are transferring rodents inside specialized habitats into Dragon including an array of biological and microbial samples stowed in science freezers. Scientists on Earth will examine the mice for insights into advanced therapies to treat space-caused vision and bone conditions. Heart tissue samples and microbes will be also looked at, among other samples, to learn how to keep astronauts healthy and spacecraft clean and safe.

NASA Flight Engineer Kate Rubins will be monitoring Dragon when it undocks Monday at 9:25 a.m. EST. from the Harmony module’s space-facing international docking adapter. The upgraded space freighter is planned to splash down several hours later in the Atlantic Ocean, a first for a commercial cargo spacecraft. NASA and SpaceX personnel will be on hand to retrieve the cargo craft. NASA TV will broadcast Dragon’s undocking and separation live on NASA TV beginning at 9 a.m.

Image above: NASA astronaut Kate Rubins loads engineered heart tissue samples into a science freezer for preservation and later analysis. Image Credit: NASA.

Following a busy holiday season of space research, the crew now turns its attention to spacewalks planned for January 19 and 25. Veteran spacewalker Michael Hopkins will conduct both spacewalks with Flight Engineer Victor Glover. They will outfit science hardware on Europe’s Columbus laboratory module during the first spacewalk then upgrade high definition video and camera gear on the second.

The pair were joined today by Rubins and JAXA Flight Engineer Soichi Noguchi for spacewalk procedure reviews and a conference with spacewalk specialists on the ground. Hopkins and Glover also began configuring and organizing their spacewalking tools. Rubins and Noguchi will assist the astronauts in and out of their spacesuits and the Quest airlock before and after both spacewalks.

Related article:

NASA to Air Departure of Upgraded SpaceX Cargo Dragon from Space Station

Related links:

Expedition 64:



Heart tissue samples:


Harmony module:

Science hardware:

Columbus laboratory module:

Quest airlock:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

Best regards,

Second Lunokhod - On the Moon


CCCP Lunar Program - Lunokhod-2 medal.

Jan. 8, 2021

48 years ago, on January 8, 1973, the automatic station Luna-21 was launched from the Baikonur cosmodrome using the Proton-K launch vehicle. The flight to the Moon and the braking procedures were carried out normally, and on January 16, 1973, the automated probe Luna-21 landed on the eastern edge of the Sea of Clarity, inside the Lemonnier crater. The landing of the station took place only 3 meters from the edge of the crater with a diameter of about 40 meters, located inside the Lemonnier crater.

After inspecting the terrain, a command was issued from the Earth's television image, and at 4:14 pm Lunokhod-2 left the landing stage on the lunar surface and began to carry out a program of scientific and technical research and experiments. Thanks to the experience gained while flying the first lunar rover, the average speed of Lunokhod-2 was significantly higher than the average speed of its predecessor: 340 meters per hour against 140 meters, and the distance covered on a lunar day reached 16.5 km.

On the second lunar day, February 12, 1973, the lunar rover reached the nearest projection of the coastline of the Gulf of Lemonnier, explored the foothills of the Taurus Mountains, examined a large crater with a diameter of 2 km. On the third and fourth lunar days (from March 10 to March 23 and from April 10 to April 22) Lunokhod-2 conducted research in the southern part of Lemonnier crater. The route along which the apparatus moved at the same time began on the mainland, crossed the pre-continental hilly area, passed along the southern coast of the crater and ended 2.5 km from a large tectonic fault located in the eastern part of Lemonnier crater. 


The total distance covered by the spacecraft in 4 lunar days was 36 km 200 m. When the spacecraft moved across the lunar surface, studies of the physicochemical and magnetic properties of the lunar soil were carried out, 93 panoramas were obtained, of which 18 stereo panoramas when the lunar rover moved 30–100 cm Sessions of laser ranging were also carried out using a French corner reflector and a laser signal photodetector. During the shooting, stereoscopic images of the most interesting features of the relief were obtained, allowing a detailed study of their structure.

On the fifth lunar day, May 9, 1973, the lunar rover, trying to get out of the crater, “scooped up” dust from the crater wall with a plate of the solar battery. This would not have happened if one of the cameras was located in the back. As a result, dust adhered to both the solar panel and the radiator-cooler. Due to the dusting of the solar battery, the charging current fell, and due to the fact that the dust got on the radiator, the thermal regime was violated: during the day, the temperature in the compartment rose to + 47 ° С. The last time telemetry information was received from Lunokhod-2 on May 10, 1973.

During the operation of the complex of the automatic station "Luna-21" and "Lunokhod-2", a large complex of scientific research was carried out on the lunar surface:

- The RIFMA-M device, which was used to measure the chemical composition of the lunar soil, recorded changes in the chemical composition of the surface, associated mainly with the differences in rocks in the “sea” and “continental” regions;

- As a result of magnetic measurements carried out continuously during movement and at stops using the SG-70A magnetometer, an inhomogeneity of the magnetic field on the lunar surface was recorded, which indicates the processes of induction of currents in the moon under the influence of changing interplanetary fields;

- Regular laser-ranging measurements of the distances to the Lunokhod-2 reflector, which were carried out at the telescope of the Crimean Astrophysical Observatory for several months, gave the statistical accuracy of determining the distance between the pulse source and the reflector mounted on the Moon +40 cm;

- During lunar days, continuous measurements of the intensity of corpuscular radiation of solar and galactic origin were carried out from the self-propelled vehicle. At the same time, the radiation situation in the region of the Moon was calm;

- An astronomical experiment carried out on board Lunokhod-2 using an astrophotometer to determine the luminosity of the lunar sky in the visible and ultraviolet regions of the spectrum, showed that the luminosity of the lunar sky is much higher than scientists expected. This result indicated that the Moon is surrounded by a layer of dust particles that strongly scatter sunlight and the reflected light of the Earth.

ROSCOSMOS Press Release:

Related articles:

Half a century on the Moon

Lunokhod-1 - 50 years old

Lunokhod-1 first on the surface of the Earth satellite

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


Space Station Science Highlights: Week of January 4, 2021


ISS - Expedition 64 Mission patch.

Jan. 8, 2021

Crew members aboard the International Space Station conducted dozens of scientific investigations during the week of Jan. 4, including microgravity studies of biofilms, cultivating plants, behavior of liquid in a tank, and protein crystal growth. Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus supply craft departed the station on Wed. and is scheduled to conduct several post-departure science investigations, including testing technology for 5G communications, prior to re-entry on Jan. 26.

Image above: Northrop Grumman's Cygnus space freighter departs the International Space Station after a 93-day mission docked to the station. Cygnus has several post-departure science investigations to complete prior to its reentry into Earth’s atmosphere. Image Credit: NASA.

Seven crew members currently inhabit the station, including four from NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, providing increased crew time 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:

Biofilms – friend and foe

Two vastly different investigations conducted this week focused on biofilms, layers that communities of microbes form on various surfaces. Sometimes this formation is harmful, but in other cases, it can be beneficial.

Forming biofilms can enable bacteria to survive environmental stresses, disinfectants, and antibiotic treatments, which can present health risks to crew members. Biofilms also affect the integrity and function of the materials on which they form, a risk expected to increase with longer duration space missions. The Bacterial Adhesion and Corrosion investigation tests an antimicrobial coating on several different materials used to represent typical surfaces on the space station. This study could provide insight into better ways to control and remove resistant biofilms on long-duration spaceflights and support development of more effective disinfection in extreme environments on Earth. The crew performed three fixation sessions for the investigation during the week.

Certain microbes form biofilms on the surface of rocks that can extract minerals and metals such as iron and magnesium from the material, a process known as biomining. The BioAsteroid investigation from ESA (European Space Agency) examines this potentially beneficial biofilm formation on asteroid or meteorite material. Potential uses for biomining on future space missions include breaking down rock into soils for plant growth, or extracting elements useful for life support systems and production of medicines. Future space explorers may be able to use rocks and regolith (the dust-like material covering the Moon, asteroids and other planetary bodies) for a variety of purposes. During the week, the crew wrapped up BioAsteriod operations and uninstalled the investigation.

Moving closer to fresh food in space

Future long-duration space missions will require crew members to grow their own food. Understanding how plants respond to microgravity is an important step toward that goal. The Veg-03 investigation cultivates and analyzes various plants, using pillows – low-mass modules that accommodate a variety of plant types and require little energy and maintenance. Researchers tested and refined the pillows and selected the growth media, fertilizers, plant species, materials, and protocols for the investigation. During this week, the crew installed root mat and plant pillows containing Extra Dwarf Pak Choi, Amara Mustard, and Red Romaine Lettuce in the station’s Veggie facility and initiated the experiment.

Watching fuel in the tank

Animation above: NASA astronaut Victor Glover sets up operations for FLUIDICS, an ESA investigation that uses small, transparent spheres as stand-ins for spacecraft fuel tanks to study liquid sloshing and turbulence. Animation Credit: NASA.

The crew performed the first of three runs for FLUIDICS, an ESA investigation. FLUIDICS uses small, transparent spheres as stand-ins for spacecraft fuel tanks to look at how liquids move inside closed spaces, called sloshing, and on the surface of a liquid in motion, or wave turbulence. Measuring these phenomena can help more accurately determine how much fuel remains in a tank. In addition, since fuel sloshing can cause a satellite to wobble, a better understanding of sloshing could help improve guidance and movement precision of satellites and optimize satellite fuel management. Interaction with the forces of gravity and surface tension affect wave turbulence on Earth, but microgravity allows scientists to focus on the effect of surface tension.

Continued Quest for Quality Crystals

Image above: This image shows hardware for the JAXA Moderate Temp PCG investigation aboard the space station. Protein crystals contribute to development of pharmaceutical drugs and research on human health, and microgravity enables growth of higher-quality crystals. Image Credit: NASA.

An investigation from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), JAXA Moderate Temp PCG grows high quality protein crystals at 20 degrees C in microgravity to determine details of their structures. Protein crystals contribute to development of pharmaceutical drugs and research on human health. Microgravity enables growth of higher-quality crystals than those grown on Earth. JAXA has more than a decade of experience growing protein crystals in space and has developed new techniques for studying them. JAXA Moderate Temp PCG, together with JAXA Low Temp PCG, helps determine the effect of temperature variation in particular on crystal growth. The crew installed kits to initiate runs of the investigation during the week.

Other investigations on which the crew performed work:

- Rodent Research-10 examines the role of a particular gene in tissues affected by microgravity and could lead to the development of treatments to counter tissue degeneration in space.

- Rodent Research-23 looks at function of arteries, veins, and lymphatic structures in the eye and changes in the retina before and after spaceflight in order to clarify whether these changes impair visual function.

- 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 Kate Rubins services engineered heart tissue samples for the Cardinal Heart study that seeks to understand space-caused cell and tissue abnormalities. Image Credit: NASA.

- Cardinal Heart studies changes in gene expression in three human heart cell types after spending time in microgravity, using three-dimensional engineered heart tissues. Results may help establish screening measures to predict cardiovascular risk in humans prior to spaceflight and identify new treatments for people with heart disease on Earth.

Image above: NASA astronaut Michael Hopkins conducts operations for the HemoCue experiment, which tests an autonomous method for blood analysis in microgravity. Accurate blood analysis can diagnose illnesses, monitor conditions such as infections or radiation exposure, and track response to treatment – all important capabilities on future long-duration space missions. Image Credit: NASA.

- HemoCue tests using a commercially available device to provide quick and accurate counts of total and individual WBCs in microgravity. Being able to perform autonomous blood analysis in space is an important step toward meeting the health care needs of crew members on long duration missions.

- 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.

- SUBSA-BRAINS examines differences in capillary flow, interface reactions, and bubble formation during solidification of brazing alloys in microgravity. Researchers plan to perform the same capillary flow tests on Earth and in microgravity in order to better understand the physics of the flow of molten metals.

- Food Acceptability looks at how the appeal of food changes during long-duration missions. Whether crew members like and actually eat foods directly affects caloric intake and associated nutritional benefits.

Space to Ground: A New Year: 01/08/2021

Related links:

Expedition 64:

Bacterial Adhesion and Corrosion:





JAXA Moderate Temp PCG:

JAXA Low Temp PCG:

ISS National Lab:

Spot the Station:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

Best regards,

Hubble Views a Dazzling ‘Fireworks Galaxy’


NASA & ESA - Hubble Space Telescope patch.

Jan. 8, 2021

The galaxy NGC 6946 is nothing short of spectacular. In the last century alone, NGC 6946 has experienced 10 observed supernovae, earning its nickname as the Fireworks Galaxy. In comparison, our Milky Way averages just one to two supernova events per century. This NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image shows the stars, spiral arms, and various stellar environments of NGC 6946 in phenomenal detail.

We are able to marvel at NGC 6946 as it is a face-on galaxy, which means that we see the galaxy “facing” us, rather than seeing it from the side (known as edge-on). The Fireworks Galaxy is further classified as an intermediate spiral galaxy and as a starburst galaxy. The former means the structure of NGC 6946 sits between a full spiral and a barred spiral galaxy, with only a slight bar in its center, and the latter means it has an exceptionally high rate of star formation.

The galaxy resides 25.2 million light-years away, along the border of the northern constellations of Cepheus and Cygnus (The Swan).

Hubble Space Telescope (HST)

For more information about Hubble, visit:

Text Credits: European Space Agency (ESA)/NASA/Lynn Jenner/Image, Animation Credits: ESA/Hubble & NASA, A. Leroy, K.S. Long.

Best regards,

Chandra Studies Extraordinary Magnetar


NASA - Chandra X-ray Observatory logo.

Jan. 8, 2021

Image Credits: X-ray: NASA/CXC/Univ. of West Virginia/H. Blumer; Infrared (Spitzer and Wise): NASA/JPL-CalTech/Spitzer.

In 2020, astronomers added a new member to an exclusive family of exotic objects with the discovery of a magnetar. New observations from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory help support the idea that it is also a pulsar, meaning it emits regular pulses of light.

Magnetars are a type of neutron star, an incredibly dense object mainly made up of tightly packed neutron, which forms from the collapsed core of a massive star during a supernova.

What sets magnetars apart from other neutron stars is that they also have the most powerful known magnetic fields in the universe. For context, the strength of our planet’s magnetic field has a value of about one Gauss, while a refrigerator magnet measures about 100 Gauss. Magnetars, on the other hand, have magnetic fields of about a million billion Gauss. If a magnetar was located a sixth of the way to the Moon (about 40,000 miles), it would wipe the data from all of the credit cards on Earth.

On March 12, 2020, astronomers detected a new magnetar with NASA’s Neil Gehrels Swift Telescope. This is only the 31st known magnetar, out of the approximately 3,000 known neutron stars.

After follow-up observations, researchers determined that this object, dubbed J1818.0-1607, was special for other reasons. First, it may be the youngest known magnetar, with an age estimated to be about 500 years old. This is based on how quickly the rotation rate is slowing and the assumption that it was born spinning much faster. Secondly, it also spins faster than any previously discovered magnetar, rotating once around every 1.4 seconds.

Chandra’s observations of J1818.0-1607 obtained less than a month

after the discovery with Swift gave astronomers the first high-resolution view of this object in X-rays. The Chandra data revealed a point source where the magnetar was located, which is surrounded by diffuse X-ray emission, likely caused by X-rays reflecting off dust located in its vicinity. (Some of this diffuse X-ray emission may also be from winds blowing away from the neutron star.)

Harsha Blumer of West Virginia University and Samar Safi-Harb of the University of Manitoba in Canada recently published results from the Chandra observations of J1818.0-1607 in The Astrophysical Journal Letters.

This composite image contains a wide field of view in the infrared from two NASA missions, the Spitzer Space Telescope and the Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE), taken before the magnetar’s discovery. X-rays from Chandra show the magnetar in purple. The magnetar is located close to the plane of the Milky Way galaxy at a distance of about 21,000 light-years from Earth.

Other astronomers have also observed J1818.0-1607 with radio telescopes, such as the NSF’s Karl Jansky Very Large Array (VLA), and determined that it gives off radio waves. This implies that it also has properties similar to that of a typical “rotation-powered pulsar,” a type of neutron star that gives off beams of radiation that are detected as repeating pulses of emission as it rotates and slows down. Only five magnetars including this one have been recorded to also act like pulsars, constituting less than 0.2% of the known neutron star population.

The Chandra observations may also provide support for this general idea. Safi-Harb and Blumer studied how efficiently J1818.0-1607 is converting energy from its decreasing rate of spin into X-rays. They concluded this efficiency is lower than that typically found for magnetars, and likely within the range found for other rotation-powered pulsars.

The explosion that created a magnetar of this age would be expected to have left behind a detectable debris field. To search for this supernova remnant, Safi-Harb and Blumer looked at the X-rays from Chandra, infrared data from Spitzer, and the radio data from the VLA. Based on the Spitzer and VLA data they found possible evidence for a remnant, but at a relatively large distance away from the magnetar. In order to cover this distance the magnetar would need to have traveled at speeds far exceeding those of the fastest known neutron stars, even assuming it is much older than expected, which would allow more travel time.

Chandra X-ray Observatory. Animation Credits: NASA/CXC

A preprint of the Astrophysical Journal Letters paper by Blumer and Safi-Harb describing these results is available online:

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

Read more from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory:

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Spitzer Space Telescope:


Image (mentioned), Animation (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Lee Mohon.

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SpaceX - Falcon 9 launches Turksat 5A


SpaceX - Falcon 9 / Turksat 5A Mission patch.

Jan. 8, 2021

Falcon 9 launches Turksat 5A

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launched the Turksat 5A mission from Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Florida, on 8 January 2021, at 02:15 UTC (7 January, 21:15 EST).

Falcon 9 launches Turksat 5A and Falcon 9 first stage landing

Following stage separation, Falcon 9’s first stage landed on the “Just Read the Instructions” droneship, stationed in the Atlantic Ocean.

Turksat 5A deployment

The first stage booster (Block 5 B1060) previously supported launch of GPS III Space Vehicle 03 and two Starlink missions. Türksat 5A is the first of two Turkish next generation communications satellites.

Turksat 5A satellite

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launches the Turksat 5A communications satellite for Turksat, a Turkish satellite operator. Built by Airbus Defense and Space with significant Turkish contributions, the Turkish 5A satellite provide Ku-band television broadcast services over Turkey, the Middle East, Europe and Africa. Delayed from Nov. 30 and December. Delayed from Jan. 4.


Images, Videos, Text, Credits: SpaceX/SciNews/Wikipedia/ Aerospace/Roland Berga.


When Galaxies Collide: Hubble Showcases 6 Beautiful Galaxy Mergers


NASA & ESA - Hubble Space Telescope patch.

Jan, 8, 2021

Hubble Showcases 6 Galaxy Mergers

To celebrate a new year, the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has published a montage of six beautiful galaxy mergers. Each of these merging systems was studied as part of the recent HiPEEC survey to investigate the rate of new star formation within such systems. These interactions are a key aspect of galaxy evolution and are among the most spectacular events in the lifetime of a galaxy.

Peculiar galaxy NGC 3256

It is during rare merging events that galaxies undergo dramatic changes in their appearance and in their stellar content. These systems are excellent laboratories to trace the formation of star clusters under extreme physical conditions.

NGC 1614

The Milky Way typically forms star clusters with masses that are 10 thousand times the mass of our Sun. This doesn’t compare to the masses of the star clusters forming in colliding galaxies, which can reach millions of times the mass of our Sun.

Snakes and Stones

These dense stellar systems are also very luminous. Even after the collision, when the resulting galactic system begins to fade into a more quiescent phase, these very massive star clusters will shine throughout their host galaxy, as long-lasting witnesses of past merging events.

NGC 3690

By studying the six galaxy mergers shown here, the Hubble imaging Probe of Extreme Environments and Clusters (HiPEEC) survey has investigated how star clusters are affected during collisions by the rapid changes that drastically increase the rate at which new stars are formed in these galaxies. Hubble’s capabilities have made it possible to resolve large star-forming “knots” into numerous compact young star clusters. Hubble’s ultraviolet and near-infrared observations of these systems have been used to derive star cluster ages, masses, and extinctions and to analyse the star formation rate within these six merging galaxies. The HiPEEC study reveals that the star cluster populations undergo large and rapid variations in their properties, with the most massive clusters formed towards the end of the merger phase.

Colliding galaxies

Each of the merging systems shown here has been previously published  by Hubble, as early as 2008 and as recently as October 2020. To celebrate it’s 18th anniversary in 2008, the Hubble Space Telescope released a collection of 59 images of merging galaxies, which can be explored here:

Beauty From Chaos

Hubble Showcases 6 Galaxy Mergers

More information:

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

The HiPEEC survey was completed as part of the Hubble Space Telescope program GO 14066 (PI: A. Adamo). A repository with the study’s final data and catalogues is available here in the MAST Archive.

Hubble Space Telescope (HST). Image Credit: NASA

The international team of astronomers in this study consists of A. Adamo, K. Hollyhead, M. Messa, J. E. Ryon, V. Bajaj, A. Runholm, A. Aalto, D. Calzeti, J. S. Gallagher, M. J. Hayes, J. M. D. Kruijssen, S. König, S. S. Larsen, J. Melinder, E. Sabbi, L. J. Smith, and G. Östlin.


Images of Hubble:

Science paper:

ESA Hubblesite:

Images, Text, Credits: ESA/Bethany Downer/NASA/Hubble/Video: ESA/Hubble, N. Bartmann/Music Credit: Stellardrone – Twilight.

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