samedi 16 janvier 2021

A new way to look for gravitational waves


CERN - European Organization for Nuclear Research logo.

Jan. 16, 2021

In a paper published today in Physical Review Letters, Valerie Domcke of CERN and Camilo Garcia-Cely of DESY report on a new technique to search for gravitational waves – the ripples in the fabric of spacetime that were first detected by the LIGO and Virgo collaborations in 2015 and earned Rainer Weiss, Barry Barish and Kip Thorne the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2017.

The EDGES radio telescope. (Image: Suzyj, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Domcke and Garcia-Cely’s technique is based on the conversion of gravitational waves of high frequency (ranging from megahertz to gigahertz) into radio waves. This conversion takes place in the presence of magnetic fields and distorts the relic radiation from the early universe known as cosmic microwave background, which permeates the universe.

The research duo shows that this distortion, deduced from cosmic microwave background data obtained with radio telescopes, can be used to search for high-frequency gravitational waves generated by cosmic sources such as sources from the dark ages or even further back in our cosmic history. The dark ages are the period between the time when hydrogen atoms formed and the moment when the first stars lit up the cosmos.

“The odds that these high-frequency gravitational waves convert into radio waves are tiny, but we counterbalance these odds by using an enormous detector, the cosmos,” explains Domcke. “The cosmic microwave background provides an upper bound on the amplitude of the high-frequency gravitational waves that convert into radio waves. These high-frequency waves are beyond the reach of the laser interferometers LIGO, Virgo and KAGRA.”

Domcke and Garcia-Cely derived two such upper bounds, using cosmic microwave background measurements from two radio telescopes: the balloon-borne ARCADE 2 instrument and the EDGES telescope located at the Murchison Radio-Astronomy Observatory in Western Australia. The researchers found that, for the weakest possible cosmic magnetic fields, determined from current astronomical data, the EDGES measurements result in a maximum amplitude of one part in 1012 for a gravitational wave with a frequency of around 78 MHz, whereas the ARCADE 2 measurements yield a maximum amplitude of one part in 1014 at a frequency of 3−30 GHz. For the strongest possible cosmic magnetic fields, these bounds are tighter – one part in 1021 (EDGES) and one part in 1024 (ARCADE 2) – and are about seven orders of magnitude more stringent than current bounds derived from existing laboratory-based experiments.

Domcke and Garcia-Cely say that data from next-generation radio telescopes such as the Square Kilometre Array, as well as improved data analysis, should tighten these bounds further and could perhaps even detect gravitational waves from the dark ages and earlier cosmic times.


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:

Physical Review Letters:


Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO):

Virgo interferometer:

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

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

Best regards,

vendredi 15 janvier 2021

Space Station Science Highlights: Week of January 11, 2021


ISS - Expedition 64 Mission patch.

Jan. 15, 2021

The week of Jan. 11, scientific investigations conducted aboard the International Space Station included studies of perception of motion in microgravity, capturing footage for a virtual reality series about life on station, testing of a new spacesuit cooling system, and monitoring adaptation of the body to space. An upgraded SpaceX Dragon cargo capsule departed the station on Tues. Its historic splashdown off the coast of Florida on Wed., moved to the Gulf of Mexico due to weather, makes possible delivery of science samples back into the hands of researchers in as few as four to nine hours.

Image above: The SpaceX CRS-21 mission Dragon capsule is pictured after splashdown off the coast of Florida. The spacecraft returned more than 4,000 pounds of scientific research and cargo. Image Credit: SpaceX.

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:

Sensing motion and distance in space

Image above: NASA astronauts Kate Rubins and Victor Glover set up hardware for the VECTION investigation, which looks at how microgravity affects a person’s ability to judge body motion and orientation and estimate distances. Image Credit: NASA.

Changes in an astronaut’s ability to judge body motion and orientation and to estimate distances could have a big effect on performance of their mission activities. The VECTION investigation from the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) looks at how changes in gravity affect these abilities as well as how they may adapt in space and upon return to Earth. Virtual reality is used to create simulations of body movement and orientation and present a crew member with images of objects so they can estimate the size and distance away of those objects. Results could help drivers, pilots, and robotic manipulators control vehicles in low-gravity environments. During the week, crew members conducted sessions for the investigation.

Almost like being there

Crew members set up to capture footage for The ISS Experience during the week. This project is creating an immersive virtual reality (VR) series documenting life and research aboard the space station using customized 360-degree cameras, including one modified for filming a spacewalk and the exterior of the space station. Those modifications include elements that accommodate unique conditions in space, including temperature extremes and variable light exposure due to the multiple sunsets and sunrises the station experiences as it orbits Earth about every 90 minutes. The first episode of Space Explorers: The ISS Experience premiered in fall 2020 on multiple platforms. The series is a partnership of the ISS National Lab, Time, and Felix and Paul Studios.

Keeping cool on spacewalks

Crew members retrieved samples for the SERFE investigation from cold stowage and packed them for return on the departing SpaceX CRS-21 Dragon cargo capsule. SERFE demonstrates a new technology using evaporative cooling to remove heat from spacesuits and maintain appropriate temperatures for crew members and equipment during space walks. The investigation evaluates the technology’s effect on contamination and corrosion of spacesuit material and seeks to determine whether microgravity affects performance. Results could support improvements to spacesuits for future exploration missions, including better tolerance of water contamination.

Monitoring the human body in space

Monitoring the health of crew members and assessing how spaceflight affects the human body are critical functions to ensure safety and success on current and future missions. Standard Measures and Food Physiology are just two of many investigations that contribute to these functions. Food Physiology determines the effect of dietary improvements on the human immune system and gut microbiome and the ability of those improvements to enhance adaptation to spaceflight. Standard Measures ensures consistent collection of specific data from crew members throughout the space station program in order to characterize the adaptive responses to and risks of living in space. During the week, crew members collected blood samples for these investigations and packed them unfrozen for return to ground teams on the departing Dragon. The teams use these samples to perform different analyses and comparisons to previous samples.

Other investigations on which the crew performed work:

Image above: NASA astronaut Shannon Walker tends to plants growing inside the Veggie plant growth facility for the Veg-03J space botany study. The investigation is cultivating Extra Dwarf Pak Choi, Amara Mustard, and Red Romaine Lettuce, which are harvested in orbit, with samples returned to Earth for testing. Image Credit: NASA.

- The Veg-03 investigation cultivates various plants using pillows – low-mass modules that require little energy and maintenance – as part of efforts to understand how plants respond to microgravity so crews can eventually grow them for food on long-duration missions.

Image above: NASA astronaut Kate Rubins services samples of microbes for Bacterial Adhesion and Corrosion, an experiment that seeks to understand the microbial risk in a spacecraft environment. Image Credit: NASA.

- Bacterial Adhesion and Corrosion tests an antimicrobial coating on materials used to represent typical surfaces on the space station, which could provide insight into better ways to control and remove resistant biofilms on long-duration spaceflights.

- Rodent Research-23 looks at the 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.

- 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.

- 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, vital for the crew’s health.

- ACME is a set of six independent studies of gaseous flames. ACME’s goals are to advance fuel efficiency and reduce pollutant production in practical combustion on Earth, and to improve spacecraft fire prevention.

Space to Ground: Science Splashdown: 01/15/2021

Related links:

Expedition 64:

Commercial Crew Program:


The ISS Experience:

ISS National Lab:


Standard Measures:

Food Physiology:

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.

Best regards,

Hubble Snaps Stunning Barred Spiral Galaxy


NASA - Hubble Space Telescope patch.

Jan. 15, 2021

First discovered in 1798 by German-English astronomer William Herschel, NGC 613 is a galaxy which lies in the southern constellation of Sculptor 67 million light-years away.

Featured here in a new image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, NGC 613 is a lovely example of a barred spiral galaxy. It is easily distinguishable as such because of its well-defined central bar and long arms, which spiral loosely around its nucleus. As revealed by surveys, about two-thirds of spiral galaxies, including our own Milky Way galaxy, contain a bar.

Recent studies have shown that bars are more common in galaxies now than they were in the past, which gives us important clues about galaxy formation and evolution.

For more information about Hubble, visit:

Text Credits: European Space Agency (ESA)/NASA/Lynn Jenner/Image Credits: ESA/Hubble & NASA, G. Folatelli.


Small Treatment with Big Effect: Using the Space Station to Understand How Nanoparticles Could Combat Bone Loss


ISS - International Space Station logo.

Jan. 15, 2021

In 2015, a team led by three Italian scientists sent an experiment to the International Space Station to be performed by ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut, Samantha Cristoforetti,who is Italian. Five years later, the all-woman led team has now published the results in the research journal, Scientific Reports.

Livia Visai, Giuseppina Rea, and Angela Maria Rizzo are the women behind the fundamental work for the Italian Space Agency (ASI) experiment known as the Nanoparticles and Osteoporosis (NATO) project. The results show that a new drug delivery system tested aboard the station has beneficial effects for promoting stem cells to become osteoblasts – the cells responsible for bone formation. Scientists could use this research to develop treatments to combat bone degeneration during long-duration spaceflight or even for treating osteoporosis on Earth.

“Bone is a living tissue that is constantly destroyed and reformed. Cells called osteoclasts destroy bone, while other cells called osteoblasts produce new bone,” says Cristoforetti in the logbook for her 199-day mission, dubbed Futura. “As long as destruction and production are in balance, everything is good, but in weightlessness this balance is disturbed and osteoclasts win. That is also what happens when people suffer of osteoporosis, unfortunately a common problem.”

Image above: The NATO team with their experiment just prior to handover to SpaceX for loading into the Dragon capsule. Pictured from left to right are Alessandro Mariani, Luca Petracchi, Giuseppina Rea, Fabio Creati, Derek Duflo, Livia Visai, Marco Vukich, Barbara Pascucci, Giuseppe Pani and Francesco Cristofaro. Image Credit: NATO Project Team.

Before leaving Earth, the Nanoparticles and Osteoporosis experiment began with some rotations on the ground to induce simulated microgravity-like conditions.

“Space science needs a simulation preparation phase on Earth before performing the experiment [in orbit]. You have to know how your cells behave in microgravity, and you have to set up your hardware,” explains Angela Marie Rizzo, NATO project co-investigator. Both the samples and the hardware were tested on a Random Positioning Machine prior to launch to help the team better understand their system and how it may behave in microgravity. They tested how many cells lived, the number of cells needed for the experiment, and whether the material of the container was compatible with their samples.

With launch day approaching, the NATO team received word that Cristoforetti would be performing their experiment. “We were excited and enthusiastic. We had the opportunity to meet her at the ASI Headquarters in Rome before her Futura mission to present an overview of our experiment,” says Visai. The meeting fostered a collaboration between the ground-based team and the astronaut, the in-orbit scientist for the NATO project.

SpaceX CRS-6 lifts off Pad 40 on April 14, 2015. Image Credit: NASA

When the hardware was ready for space, it was packed into a SpaceX Dragon spacecraft atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket that roared off Launch Complex 40 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on April 14, 2015, for the company’s sixth commercial resupply services (SpaceX CRS-6) mission for NASA. “That was an absolutely memorable and unforgettable day, like all of our hard work and dreams became real,” says Visai.

Cristoforetti began the NATO experiment by loading the samples into the space station’s Kubik, an incubator where the stem cells were placed for the duration of the study. Upon installation, the science was underway to see if this nanoparticle-based system could promote the stem cells to become bone forming cells.

Animation above: ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti works with nanoparticle samples in the ESA Kubik facility aboard the space station. Image Credit: NASA.

The system being tested had three main components: the delivery method (nanoparticles), the biological integrator (hydroxyapatite), and the component that acts on the bone cells (strontium).

“Nanocarriers as a drug delivery system are a really promising avenue for disease treatment,” says Giuseppina Rea, a co-investigator on the NATO team. “This potential is mainly due to specific properties the materials acquire when fabricated at the nanoscale.” A nanometer measures about 1/100,000th the width of a human hair. The novel synthesized nanoparticles could induce changes to the targeted bone cells in unique ways that are not feasible when using matter at larger scale.

To achieve integration of the nanoparticle into the bone, the NATO team used hydroxyapatite, a naturally occurring mineral compound. This hydroxyapatite compound was enriched with strontium, a metal ion that can have positive effects on bone health.

Previous studies show that strontium levels are elevated in newborns, but this level declines with age. Strontium replenishment in adults has previously been shown to help promote an increase in bone formation and limit bone degradation. The NATO team believes this compound makes for an intriguing option for a potential countermeasure, both for spaceflight and also for people on Earth. “Strontium nanoparticles are a novel and effective non-biological treatment for bone injuries and can be used as powerful therapeutics for bone regeneration,” says Visai. The NATO team is interested in further exploring strontium nanoparticles, either in food supplements or in implants for broken bones.

Animation above: NATO team members Giuseppe Pani, Fabio Creati, Barbara Pascucci, Livia Visai, Giuseppina Rea, and Francesco Cristofaro, celebrate their work at the laminar flow bench and assemble their hardware prior to flight. Image Credit: NATO Project Team.

Results from this study add to the pool of knowledge gained from science conducted aboard the International Space Station, which has been continuously inhabited for more than 20 years. “[The space station] was very important 20 years ago, and it is more important now,” explains Visai. “We have to build experiments to understand what happens to our body when we stay in space.”

The NATO project was sponsored by the Italian Space Agency (ASI) in cooperation with ESA and NASA. The project was developed in partnership between the University of Pavia, the University of Milan, the National Council of Research in Rome (Institute of Crystallography), and Kayser Italia Srl as the payload developer.

Related links:

Nanoparticles and Osteoporosis (NATO):

Scientific Reports:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

Images (mentioned), Animations (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Michael Johnson/JSC/International Space Station Program Research Office/Jessica Hellein.


Asgardia’s project for new Space Station module


Asgardia seal.

Jan. 15, 2021

Plans by Asgardia, the space nation, to build and supply a new node module for the International Space Station (ISS) are revealed in an exclusive article in the winter issue of the global space industry publication ROOM Space Journal.

Asgardia - represented by three Austrian-based legal entities, Asgardia Terra Ark (ATA) NGO, Asgardia Financial Ark (AFA) AG and Asgardia Independent Research Centre (AIRC) GmbH - has modelled the node on the proven design of existing European-built modules.

Asgardia module node. Image Credits: ROOM/D.Ducros

Expanding on the idea in his ROOM article, Dr Igor Ashurbeyli, founder of Asgardia and the general designer of the Asgardia node module and the lead of the project, said the module would help extend the capacity and commercial value of the Space Station.

Asgardia has created a consortium of established industry players, including Nanoracks Europe, Thales Alenia Space (Italy), OHB System (Germany) and QinetiQ (Belgium), to develop, build and deliver the module

As well as supporting commercial development and expanding scientific research opportunities, the state-of-art module would ultimately have the capacity to eventually form the core node of an autonomous space station operated by Asgardia.

In his article, Dr Ashurbeyli notes that the limited number of available docking ports and related infrastructure constitutes a major obstacle to the future expansion of commercial capabilities on the ISS.

“To directly address this, Asgardia has proposed the provision of an Asgardia node module that would be integrated into the European part of the ISS,” he says.

Asgardia’s proposal for a new ISS module was submitted in 2020 in response to a European Space Agency (ESA) Call for Ideas entitled, ‘Space Exploration as a Driver for Growth and Competitiveness: Opportunities for the Private Sector’.

Dr Ashurbeyli describes the project as being “very much in line with the goals of ESA’s space exploration strategy”, adopted in 2014 with the strategic goals of scientific advancement; innovation and economic growth; global cooperation; and inspiration.

Dr Igor Ashurbeyli. Image Credit: Asgardia

“It addresses the current limitations in habitable volume and research capabilities, incorporating the much-needed additional docking ports, which would be made available to both agency and commercial customers.”

He says the project is designed to capture investment from around the world, while providing jobs for European industry and offering a path to take European independence in space to a new level.

Asgardia would own the new infrastructure - comprising a node module based on ISS existing orbital infrastructure developed by the European space industry.

It would commercially fund the project via external investment as part of a public-private partnership (PPP) between commercial organisations and ESA.

An initial technical feasibility study would focus on the insertion of the Asgardia node module between Node 2 starboard and ESA’s Columbus, a configuration that best enables the expansion of docking facilities for third party customers.

Development, manufacturing and deployment is planned to take about five years leading to a possible launch in 2026.

The Asgardia node module would also provide functions for autonomous flight, including rendezvous and docking, a capability crucial for the time when, following the ISS end of life, the Asgardia module could be re-deployed as a core element of Asgardia’s proposed Earth Ark, an autonomous space infrastructure that will enable continuous development and research beyond the operational lifetime of the Space Station.

Despite recognising its “technical validity and potential promise”, ESA has for now declined the consortium’s proposal due to what it described as “political and technological risks”, both of which are refuted by Dr Ashurbeyli in his article.

Addressing the widely noted aspect of Asgardia's positioning as a digital space nation, he writes: “As a digital space nation Asgardia is not yet formally recognised by earthly states and so political risks are zero.”

“Technological risks are also minimal given that the consortium members are space industry world leaders and are committed to the project to design, build and delivery. “Asgardia also remains confident that the financial resources for the project can be found in the marketplace.”

The ambitious proposal was first revealed to space industry leaders by Dr Ashurbeyli during the Asgardia Space Science & Investment Conference (ASIC) in Darmstadt, Germany, in 2019.

Dr Ashurbeyli, a Russian scientist, businessman and philanthropist, is the Founder of Asgardia, which is also currently working to launch the world's first national digital economy.

Asgardia's core technical scientific vision is the birth of the first human child in space - a first   step towards the ultimate survival of the humankind as a species in the universe.

To achieve this Asgardia is examining solutions for protecting people from space radiation, creating artificial gravity for fully-fledged life in space, and is drafting laws to create a fair and equitable society beyond planet Earth.

The full article published in ROOM is available to read by clicking here:

Related articles:

What is Asgardia?

Three Years in Space. The Backstory of Satellite ‘Asgardia-1’

Related links:

ROOM Space Journal:


Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: Asgardia/ROOM Space Journal/Clive Simpson.

Best regards,

jeudi 14 janvier 2021

Human Research, Space Combustion on Station Science Schedule Today


ISS - Expedition 64 Mission patch.

Jan. 14, 2021

Understanding how microgravity impacts perception, vision and combustion highlighted Thursday’s research aboard the International Space Station. The Expedition 64 crew also explored ways to improve space exercise and space piloting techniques.

NASA Flight Engineer Kate Rubins kicked off her day inside Europe’s Columbus laboratory module conducting a session for the Vection perception study. The investigation is exploring how an astronaut adapts to visually interpreting motion, orientation, and distance in weightlessness.

Image above: Flight Engineer Shannon Walker tends to plants growing inside the Veggie plant growth facility for a space botany study. Image Credit: NASA.

Rubins also configured hardware for a suite of studies known as the Advanced Combustion via Microgravity Experiments, or ACME, that takes place in the Combustion Integrated Rack. JAXA Flight Engineer Soichi Noguchi worked on installing the Solid Combustion Experiment Module in a science rack located in Japan’s Kibo laboratory module. Combustion studies on the station help improve fire safety and fuel efficiency on Earth and in space.

NASA astronauts Victor Glover and Shannon Walker joined each other for ultrasound eye scans at the end of the work day. The duo had worked earlier on an array of science and life support maintenance tasks throughout the orbital lab.

International Space Station (ISS). Animation Credit: ESA

Commander Sergey Ryzhikov joined Roscosmos Flight Engineer Sergey Kud-Sverchkov for a Russian exercise study that seeks to maintain a crewmember’s fitness during long-term space missions. Ryzhikov then explored how pilots might operate future spacecraft and robots on planetary missions.

Related links:

Expedition 64:

Columbus laboratory module:


Advanced Combustion via Microgravity Experiments (ACME):

Kibo laboratory module:

Exercise study:

Future spacecraft and robots:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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


NASA InSight’s ‘Mole’ Ends Its Journey on Mars


NASA - InSight Mission patch.

Jan. 14, 2021

The heat probe hasn’t been able to gain the friction it needs to dig, but the mission has been granted an extension to carry on with its other science.

Image above: In this artist's concept of NASA's InSight lander on Mars, layers of the planet's subsurface can be seen below, and dust devils can be seen in the background. Image Credits: IPGP/Nicolas Sarter.

The heat probe developed and built by the German Aerospace Center (DLR) and deployed on Mars by NASA’s InSight lander has ended its portion of the mission. Since Feb. 28, 2019, the probe, called the “mole,” has been attempting to burrow into the Martian surface to take the planet’s internal temperature, providing details about the interior heat engine that drives the Mars’ evolution and geology. But the soil’s unexpected tendency to clump deprived the spike-like mole of the friction it needs to hammer itself to a sufficient depth.

After getting the top of the mole about 2 or 3 centimeters under the surface, the team tried one last time to use a scoop on InSight’s robotic arm to scrape soil onto the probe and tamp it down to provide added friction. After the probe conducted 500 additional hammer strokes on Saturday, Jan. 9, with no progress, the team called an end to their efforts.

Part of an instrument called the Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package (HP3), the mole is a 16-inch-long (40-centimeter-long) pile driver connected to the lander by a tether with embedded temperature sensors. These sensors are designed to measure heat flowing from the planet once the mole has dug at least 10 feet (3 meters) deep.

“We’ve given it everything we’ve got, but Mars and our heroic mole remain incompatible,” said HP3’s principal investigator, Tilman Spohn of (DLR). “Fortunately, we’ve learned a lot that will benefit future missions that attempt to dig into the subsurface.”

While NASA’s Phoenix lander scraped the top layer of the Martian surface, no mission before InSight has tried to burrow into the soil. Doing so is important for a variety of reasons: Future astronauts may need to dig through soil to access water ice, while scientists want to study the subsurface’s potential to support microbial life.

“We are so proud of our team who worked hard to get InSight’s mole deeper into the planet. It was amazing to see them troubleshoot from millions of miles away,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for science at the agency’s headquarters in Washington. “This is why we take risks at NASA – we have to push the limits of technology to learn what works and what doesn’t. In that sense, we’ve been successful: We’ve learned a lot that will benefit future missions to Mars and elsewhere, and we thank our German partners from DLR for providing this instrument and for their collaboration.”

Animation above: The “mole,” a heat probe that traveled to Mars aboard NASA’s InSight lander, as it looked after hammering on Jan. 9, 2021, the 754th Martian day, or sol, of the mission. After trying since Feb. 28, 2019, to bury the probe, the mission team called an end to their efforts. Animation Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

Hard-Earned Wisdom

The unexpected properties of the soil near the surface next to InSight will be puzzled over by scientists for years to come. The mole’s design was based on soil seen by previous Mars missions – soil that proved very different from what the mole encountered. For two years, the team worked to adapt the unique and innovative instrument to these new circumstances.

“The mole is a device with no heritage. What we attempted to do – to dig so deep with a device so small – is unprecedented,” said Troy Hudson, a scientist and engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California who has led efforts to get the mole deeper into the Martian crust. “Having had the opportunity to take this all the way to the end is the greatest reward.”

Besides learning about the soil at this location, engineers have gained invaluable experience operating the robotic arm. In fact, they used the arm and scoop in ways they never intended to at the outset of the mission, including pressing against and down on the mole. Planning the moves and getting them just right with the commands they were sending up to InSight pushed the team to grow.

They’ll put their hard-earned wisdom to use in the future. The mission intends to employ the robotic arm in burying the tether that conveys data and power between the lander and InSight’s seismometer, which has recorded more than 480 marsquakes. Burying it will help reduce temperature changes that have created cracking and popping sounds in seismic data.

There’s much more science to come from InSight, short for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy, and Heat Transport. NASA recently extended the mission for two more years, to Dec. 2022. Along with hunting for quakes, the lander hosts a radio experiment that is collecting data to reveal whether the planet’s core is liquid or solid. And InSight’s weather sensors are capable of providing some of the most detailed meteorological data ever collected on Mars. Together with weather instruments aboard NASA's Curiosity rover and its new Perseverance rover, which lands on Feb. 18, the three spacecraft will create the first meteorological network on another planet.

More About the Mission

JPL manages InSight for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. InSight is part of NASA’s Discovery Program, managed by the agency’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. Lockheed Martin Space in Denver built the InSight spacecraft, including its cruise stage and lander, and supports spacecraft operations for the mission.

A number of European partners, including France’s Centre National d’Études Spatiales (CNES) and the German Aerospace Center (DLR), are supporting the InSight mission. CNES provided the Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS) instrument to NASA, with the principal investigator at IPGP (Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris). Significant contributions for SEIS came from IPGP; the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research (MPS) in Germany; the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH Zurich) in Switzerland; Imperial College London and Oxford University in the United Kingdom; and JPL. DLR provided the Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package (HP3) instrument, with significant contributions from the Space Research Center (CBK) of the Polish Academy of Sciences and Astronika in Poland. Spain’s Centro de Astrobiología (CAB) supplied the temperature and wind sensors.

Related links:

Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package (HP3):

Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS):

InSight Mars Lander:

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

Best regards,

Researchers Rewind the Clock to Calculate Age and Site of Supernova Blast


NASA - Hubble Space Telescope patch.

Jan. 14, 2021

Astronomers are winding back the clock on the expanding remains of a nearby, exploded star. By using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, they retraced the speedy shrapnel from the blast to calculate a more accurate estimate of the location and time of the stellar detonation.

The victim is a star that exploded long ago in the Small Magellanic Cloud, a satellite galaxy to our Milky Way. The doomed star left behind an expanding, gaseous corpse, a supernova remnant named 1E 0102.2-7219, which NASA's Einstein Observatory first discovered in X-rays. Like detectives, researchers sifted through archival images taken by Hubble, analyzing visible-light observations made 10 years apart.

Image above: This Hubble Space Telescope portrait reveals the gaseous remains of an exploded massive star that erupted approximately 1,700 years ago. The stellar corpse, a supernova remnant named 1E 0102.2-7219, met its demise in the Small Magellanic Cloud, a satellite galaxy of our Milky Way. Image Credits: NASA, ESA, and J. Banovetz and D. Milisavljevic (Purdue University).

The research team, led by John Banovetz and Danny Milisavljevic of Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, measured the velocities of 45 tadpole-shaped, oxygen-rich clumps of ejecta flung by the supernova blast. Ionized oxygen is an excellent tracer because it glows brightest in visible light.

To calculate an accurate explosion age, the astronomers picked the 22 fastest moving ejecta clumps, or knots. The researchers determined that these targets were the least likely to have been slowed down by passage through interstellar material. They then traced the knots' motion backward until the ejecta coalesced at one point, identifying the explosion site. Once that was known, they could calculate how long it took the speedy knots to travel from the explosion center to their current location.

According to their estimate, light from the blast arrived at Earth 1,700 years ago, during the decline of the Roman Empire. However, the supernova would only have been visible to inhabitants of Earth's southern hemisphere. Unfortunately, there are no known records of this titanic event.

The researchers' results differ from previous observations of the supernova's blast site and age. Earlier studies, for example, arrived at explosion ages of 2,000 and 1,000 years ago. However, Banovetz and Milisavljevic say their analysis is more robust.

Hubble Time-Lapse Video Reveals Supernova Remnant Expansion

Video above: This time-lapse video shows the movement of a supernova remnant—the gaseous remains of an exploded star—that erupted approximately 1,700 years ago. The stellar corpse, a supernova remnant named 1E 0102.2-7219, met its demise in the Small Magellanic Cloud, a satellite galaxy of our Milky Way. The movie's opening frame shows ribbons of glowing gaseous clumps that make up the remnant. The video then toggles between two black-and-white images of the remnant, taken 10 years apart, revealing subtle shifts in the ejecta's expansion over time. Video Credits: NASA, ESA, A. Pagan (STScI), J. Banovetz and D. Milisavljevic (Purdue University).

"A prior study compared images taken years apart with two different cameras on Hubble, the Wide Field Planetary Camera 2 and the Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS)," Milisavljevic said. "But our study compares data taken with the same camera, the ACS, making the comparison much more robust; the knots were much easier to track using the same instrument. It's a testament to the longevity of Hubble that we could do such a clean comparison of images taken 10 years apart."

The astronomers also took advantage of the sharp ACS images in selecting which ejecta clumps to analyze. In prior studies, researchers averaged the speed of all of the gaseous debris to calculate an explosion age. However, the ACS data revealed regions where the ejecta slowed down because it was slamming into denser material shed by the star before it exploded as a supernova. Researchers didn't include those knots in the sample. They needed the ejecta that best reflected their original velocities from the explosion, using them to determine an accurate age estimate of the supernova blast.

Hubble Space Telescope (HST). Animation Credits: NASA/ESA

Hubble also clocked the speed of a suspected neutron star—the crushed core of the doomed star—that was ejected from the blast. Based on their estimates, the neutron star must be moving at more than 2 million miles per hour from the center of the explosion to have arrived at its current position. The suspected neutron star was identified in observations with the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope in Chile, in combination with data from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory.

"That is pretty fast and at the extreme end of how fast we think a neutron star can be moving, even if it got a kick from the supernova explosion," Banovetz said. "More recent investigations call into question whether the object is actually the surviving neutron star of the supernova explosion. It is potentially just a compact clump of supernova ejecta that has been lit up, and our results generally support this conclusion."

So the hunt may still be on for the neutron star. "Our study doesn't solve the mystery, but it gives an estimate of the velocity for the candidate neutron star," Banovetz said.

Banovetz will present the team's findings Jan. 14 at the American Astronomical Society's winter meeting.

The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between NASA and ESA (European Space Agency). NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, manages the telescope. The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore, Maryland, conducts Hubble science operations. STScI is operated for NASA by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy in Washington, D.C.

Related links:

American Astronomical Society's winter meeting:

Hubble Space Telescope (HST):

Image (mentioned), Video (mentioned), Animation (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA, ESA, and J. Banovetz and D. Milisavljevic (Purdue University)/GSFC/Claire Andreoli/Space Telescope Science Institute/DonnaWeaver/Ray Villard.


Blue Origin - Successful Demonstration of Crew Capsule Upgrades


Blue Origin logo.

Jan. 14, 2021

Blue Origin successfully completed its 14th mission to space and back today for the New Shepard program. The New Shepard reusable launch system was launched from and landed at Blue Origin’s Launch Site One in West Texas, on 14 January 2021, at 17:18 UTC (11:18 CST).

Image above: The New Shepard crew capsule outfitted with astronaut experience upgrades landing at Launch Site One. (January 14, 2021). Image Credit: Blue Origin.

Blue Origin NS-14: New Shepard launch and landing, 14 January 2021

Mission NS-14 featured a crew capsule outfitted with astronaut experience upgrades for upcoming flights with passengers onboard. Capsule upgrades included:

- Speakers in the cabin with a microphone and a push-to-talk button at each seat so astronauts can continuously talk to Mission Control.

- First flight of the crew alert system with a panel at each seat relaying important safety messages to passengers.

- Cushioned wall linings and sound suppression devices to reduce ambient noise inside the capsule.
- Environmental systems, including a cooling system and humidity controls to regulate temperature and prevent capsule windows from fogging during flight, as well as carbon dioxide scrubbing.
- Six seats.

Also today during ascent, the booster rotated at 2-3 degrees per second. This is done to give future passengers a 360-degree view of space during the flight.

 Blue Origin New Shepard Mission Profile

This flight continued to prove the robustness and stability of the New Shepard system and the BE-3PM liquid hydrogen/liquid oxygen engine.

Also onboard today were more than 50,000 postcards from Blue Origin’s nonprofit Club for the Future. The Club has now flown over 100,000 postcards to space and back from students around the world. More information here:


- 15th consecutive successful crew capsule landing (every flight in program, including pad escape test in 2012).

- The crew capsule reached an apogee of 347,568 ft above ground level (AGL) / 351,215 ft mean sea level (MSL) (105 km AGL/107 km MSL).

- The booster reached an apogee of 347,211 ft AGL / 350,858 ft MSL (105 km AGL/106 km MSL).

- The mission elapsed time was 10 min, 10 sec and the max ascent velocity was 2,242 mph / 3,609 km/h.

All mission crew supporting this launch exercised strict social distancing and safety measures to mitigate COVID-19 risks to personnel, customers, and surrounding communities. 

Related article:

Blue Origin - New Shepard NS-14 - Astronaut Experience Upgrades

Related link:

Blue Origin:

Image (mentioned), Video, Text, Credits: Blue Origin/Gradatim Ferociter/SciNews.


Magnetic ‘Highway’ Channels Material Out of Cigar Galaxy


NASA & DLR - SOFIA patch.

Jan. 14, 2021

What’s fueling the massive ejection of gas and dust out of the Cigar galaxy, otherwise known as Messier 82?

We know that thousands of stars bursting into existence are driving a powerful super-wind that’s blowing matter into intergalactic space. New research shows that magnetic fields are also contributing to the expulsion of material from Messier 82, a well-known example of a starburst galaxy with a distinctive, elongated shape.

The findings from NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, or SOFIA, help explain how dust and gas can move from inside galaxies into intergalactic space, offering clues to how galaxies formed. This material is enriched with elements like carbon and oxygen that support life and are the building blocks for future galaxies and stars. The research was presented at the meeting of the American Astronomical Society.

Image above: Magnetic fields in Messier 82, or the Cigar galaxy, are shown as lines over a visible light and infrared composite image of the galaxy from the Hubble Space Telescope and the Spitzer Space Telescope. Stellar winds streaming from hot new stars form a galactic super wind that is blasting out plumes of hot gas (red) and a huge halo of smoky dust (yellow/orange) perpendicular to the narrow galaxy (white). Researchers used the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy magnetic field data and tools that have been used extensively to study the physics around the Sun to extrapolate the magnetic field’s strength 20,000 lights-years around the galaxy. They appear to extend indefinitely into intergalactic space, like the Sun’s solar wind, and may help explain how the gas and dust have traveled so far away from the galaxy. Image Credits: NASA, SOFIA, L. Proudfit; NASA, ESA, Hubble Heritage Team; NASA, JPL-Caltech, C. Engelbracht.

SOFIA, a joint project of NASA and the German Aerospace Center, DLR, previously studied the direction of magnetic fields close to the core of Messier 82, as the Cigar galaxy is officially known. This time the team applied tools that have been used extensively to study the physics around the Sun, known as heliophysics, to understand the magnetic field’s strength surrounding the galaxy at a distance 10 times larger than before.

“This is old physics for studying the Sun, but new for galaxies,” said Joan Schmelz, an associate director at the Universities Space Research Association based at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley, and co-author of the upcoming paper about this research. “It’s helping us understand how the space between stars and galaxies became so rich with matter for future cosmic generations.”

Located 12 million light-years from Earth in the constellation Ursa Major, the Cigar galaxy is undergoing an exceptionally high rate of star formation called a starburst. The star formation is so intense that it creates a “super wind” that blows material out of the galaxy. As SOFIA previously found using the instrumented called the High-Resolution Airborne Wideband Camera, or HAWC+, the wind drags the magnetic field near the galaxy’s core so that it’s perpendicular to the plane of the galaxy across 2,000 light-years.

Researchers wanted to learn if the magnetic field lines would extend indefinitely into intergalactic space like the magnetic environment in the solar wind, or turn over to form structures similar coronal loops that are found in active regions of the Sun. They calculate that the galaxy’s magnetic fields extend out like the solar wind, allowing the material blown by the super wind to escape into intergalactic space.

These extended magnetic fields may help explain how gas and dust spotted by space telescopes have traveled so far away from the galaxy. NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope detected dusty material 20,000 lightyears beyond the galaxy, but it was unclear why it had spread so far away from the stars in both directions instead of in a cone-shaped jet.

“The magnetic fields may be acting like a highway, creating lanes for galactic material to spread far and wide into intergalactic space,” said Jordan Guerra Aguilera, a postdoctoral researcher at Villanova University in Pennsylvania and co-author on the upcoming paper.

With rare exceptions, the magnetic field in the solar corona cannot be measured directly. So, about 50 years ago, scientists developed methods to accurately extrapolate magnetic fields from the Sun’s surface into interplanetary space, known in heliophysics as the potential field extrapolation. Using SOFIA’s existing observations of central magnetic fields, the research team modified this method to estimate the magnetic field about 25,000 light-years around the Cigar galaxy.

“We can’t easily measure the magnetic fields at scales this large, but we can extrapolate it with these tools from heliophysics,” said Enrique Lopez-Rodriguez, a Universities Space Research Association scientist for SOFIA based at Ames and lead author on the study. “This new, interdisciplinary method gives us the larger perspective that we need to understand starburst galaxies.”

SOFIA telescope door opening. Animation Credit: NASA

SOFIA is a joint project of NASA and the German Aerospace Center. NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley manages the SOFIA program, science, and mission operations in cooperation with the Universities Space Research Association, headquartered in Columbia, Maryland, and the German SOFIA Institute at the University of Stuttgart. The aircraft is maintained and operated by NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center Building 703, in Palmdale, California. The High-Resolution Airborne Wideband Camera instrument was developed and delivered to NASA by a multi-institution team led by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Related links:

SOFIA - German Aerospace Center (DLR):


Image (mentioned), Animation (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Kassandra Bell/Elizabeth Landau/Ames Research Center/Alison Hawkes.

Best regards,

Bright, Blue Stars


NASA & ESA - Hubble Space Telescope patch.

Jan. 14, 2021

Inside star cluster NGC 602, a star-forming region in the Small Magellanic Cloud, bright, blue, newly formed stars are blowing a cavity in this nebula,sculpting the inner edge of its outer portions, slowly eroding it away and eating into the material beyond. The diffuse outer reaches of the nebula prevent the energetic outflows from streaming away from the cluster. Elephant trunk–like dust pillars point toward the hot blue stars and are telltale signs of their eroding effect. Star formation started at the center of the cluster and propagated outward, with the youngest stars still forming today along the dust ridges.

For more information about Hubble, visit:

Image, Text,  Credits: ESA/NASA/Yvette Smith.


Citizen Scientists Help Create 3D Map of Cosmic Neighborhood


JPL - Jet Propulsion Laboratory logo.

Jan 14, 2021

Scientists tapped into the worldwide network of volunteers using Backyard Worlds: Planet 9 to map dozens of new brown dwarfs, or balls gas not heavy enough to be stars.

Image above: Artist’s conception of a brown dwarf, featuring the cloudy atmosphere of a planet and the residual light of an almost-star. Image Credits: NASA/ESA/JPL.

Is our solar system located in a typical Milky Way neighborhood? Scientists have gotten closer to answering this question, thanks to the NASA-funded Backyard Worlds: Planet 9 project, a citizen science collaboration between professional scientists and members of the public.

Scientists tapped into the worldwide network of 150,000 volunteers using Backyard Worlds: Planet 9 to find new examples of brown dwarfs. These objects are balls of gas that are not heavy enough to be stars, since they can’t power themselves through nuclear fusion the way stars do. And while “brown” is in the name, they would appear magenta or orange-red if a person could see them close up. By making a complete map of these objects, scientists could find out whether different kinds of brown dwarfs are evenly distributed in our solar system’s neighborhood.

Telescopes can detect brown dwarfs because they emit heat, in the form of infrared light, left over from their formation. Infrared light is invisible to human eyes, but it can reveal tantalizing details about brown dwarfs and other objects throughout the universe.

Image above: Citizen scientists and professional astronomers collaborated to find brown dwarfs in the neighborhood of our solar system. This image shows Earth surrounded by the nearest brown dwarfs, shown in red, against the backdrop of surrounding constellations. Image Credits: NASA/Jacqueline Faherty (American Museum of Natural History)/OpenSpace.

The result of the new citizen science effort is the most complete map to date of L, T and Y dwarfs in the vicinity of the solar system. These brown dwarf varieties can have temperatures of up to thousands of degrees Fahrenheit, but the Y dwarfs, which are the coolest, may have below-freezing temperatures and clouds made of water.

Of course, an astronomer’s idea of a neighborhood is different in space than on Earth. The map encompasses a radius of 65 light-years, or about 400 trillion miles, with “close neighbors” inhabiting space within about 35 light-years, or 200 trillion miles.

Since 2017, citizen scientists have been searching for brown dwarf candidates as part of Backyard Worlds, using data from NASA’s Near-Earth Object Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer (NEOWISE) satellite along with all-sky observations collected between 2010 and 2011 under its previous moniker, WISE. The Backyard Worlds team also collaborated with Caltech’s Summer Research Connection program to involve high school students in finding brown dwarfs. Both worldwide volunteers and high school students in the Pasadena, California, area are listed as co-authors of the study, which was presented at the 237th meeting of the American Astronomical Society.

While brown dwarfs are millions to billions of years old, this team of professional and citizen scientists had a much shorter deadline to find them. They knew that NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope was the only operating observatory that could confirm the distances and positions of the brown dwarfs they were interested in, and Spitzer was set to retire in January 2020. It was a frantic rush to find as many brown dwarfs as they could so Spitzer could reveal their locations more precisely.

Fortunately, citizen scientists helped save the day: They discovered dozens of new brown dwarfs.

“Without the citizen scientists, we couldn't have created such a complete sample in so short a time,” said J. Davy Kirkpatrick, scientist at Caltech/IPAC in Pasadena and lead author of the study. “Having the power of thousands of inquiring eyes on the data enabled us to find brown dwarf candidates much faster.”

Professional astronomers then used Spitzer to observe 361 local brown dwarfs of types L, T, and Y, and combined them with previous discoveries to make a 3D map of 525 brown dwarfs. Besides the citizen science discoveries, scientists made use of CatWise, a NASA-funded catalog of objects from WISE and NEOWISE, to complete their census.

And there’s a surprise: One of our solar system’s neighbors – the galaxy’s coldest known Y dwarf, with temperatures likely below freezing – represents a rare resident in the cosmic neighborhood. Astronomers would have expected to find a lot more of them in the vicinity. But this may be because current telescopes aren’t sensitive enough to find them, since these objects are so faint.

As previous research has found, of the seven objects nearest to our solar system, three are rare types of brown dwarfs. The rest are normal stars: red dwarfs Proxima Centauri and Barnard’s Star, and Sun-like stars Alpha Centauri A and B.

“If you were to put the Sun at a random place within our 3D map and you were to ask, ‘Typically, what do its neighbors look like?’ We find that they would look very different from what our actual neighbors are,” said Aaron Meisner, assistant scientist at the National Science Foundation’s NOIRLab and co-author of the study.

So, is the Sun in an unusually diverse cosmic neighborhood, or is it just that nearby Y dwarfs are easiest to spot? Astronomers will need to investigate further to find out.

3D Map of Brown Dwarfs in the Sun’s Neighborhood

Some of these L, T, and Y dwarfs have masses and temperatures similar to exoplanets – planets beyond our solar system. Getting details about distant planets can be challenging because if they orbit other stars, starlight is a lot brighter than the planet. Since brown dwarfs in this study do not orbit stars, a telescope does not have to subtract starlight to look at them. This makes brown dwarfs a new kind of laboratory for understanding exoplanets.

Scientists will learn even more about brown dwarfs with NASA’s forthcoming James Webb Space Telescope, which will examine these mysterious objects in detail in infrared light. NASA’s upcoming SPHEREx mission, which will be an all-sky infrared survey, also presents new opportunities to characterize more brown dwarfs.

The Backyard Worlds: Planet 9 project is ongoing and open to anyone worldwide who wants to join the quest to find more mysterious objects in spacecraft data. In addition to a total of about 3,000 brown dwarfs, volunteers have helped find the oldest, coldest white dwarf surrounded by a disk of debris.

“I enjoy this project because the objects that we send to the researchers might get observed with a big telescope,” said Melina Thévenot, a citizen scientist in Germany who is listed as a co-author of the new study. “I think we volunteers can really see the fruits of our efforts with this project and the publications by the science team.”

Check out Backyard Worlds: Planet 9 at and more NASA citizen science projects at

Related links:

Near-Earth Object Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer (NEOWISE):


Spitzer Space Telescope:


As previous research has found:


Images (mentioned), Video, Text, Credits: NASA/Elizabeth Landau/JPL/Ian J. O'Neill.


mercredi 13 janvier 2021

Astronauts Relax After Sending Off U.S. Cargo Ships


ISS - Expedition 64 Mission patch.

Jan. 13, 2021

One U.S. crew ship and three Russian spaceships remain parked at the International Space Station after the departure of two U.S. space freighters this month. Most of the Expedition 64 crew is relaxing today while a pair of cosmonauts focus on Russian maintenance and science.

Five astronauts, four from NASA and one from JAXA, are taking it easy aboard the orbiting lab today. The quintet kicked off the New Year loading a pair of U.S. cargo ships to wrap up their cargo missions less than a week apart. This followed a busy December full of space research to benefit humans living on and off the Earth.

Image above: The seven-member Expedition 64 crew poses for a portrait inside the space station’s Kibo laboratory module. Image Credit: NASA.

Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus cargo craft left the station first on Jan. 6 following its release from the Canadarm2 robotic arm. Cygnus will orbit Earth until Jan. 26 for flight tests and remotely controlled science experiments before its fiery, but safe descent above the South Pacific.

The SpaceX Cargo Dragon resupply ship undocked on Tuesday from the Harmony module’s space-facing international docking adapter, a first for a U.S. commercial cargo spacecraft. It will splashdown Wednesday night in the Gulf of Mexico carrying science experiments and station hardware for retrieval and analysis.

 International Space Station (ISS). Animation Credit: NASA

JAXA Flight Engineer Soichi Noguchi did start Wednesday collecting his urine samples for a Russian biomedical study before taking the rest of Wednesday off. Station Commander Sergey Ryzhikov and Flight Engineer Sergey Kud-Sverchkov of Roscosmos also participated in the study that seeks to understand how the human body adapts to weightlessness.

Ryzhikov then moved on to Russian spacecraft activities packing the Progress 76 cargo craft and charging batteries inside the Soyuz MS-17 crew ship. Kud-Sverchkov worked on life support gear and deployed radiation detectors in the station’s Russian segment.

Related links:

Expedition 64:

Canadarm2 robotic arm:

Harmony module:

Radiation detectors:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

Best regards,

NASA’s Juno Mission Expands Into the Future


NASA - JUNO Mission logo.

Jan. 13, 2021

The spacecraft, which has been gathering data on the gas giant since July 2016, will become an explorer of the full Jovian system – Jupiter and its rings and moons.

Image above: This view from the JunoCam imager on NASA’s Juno spacecraft shows two storms merging. The two white ovals seen within the orange-colored band left of center are anticyclonic storms – that is, storms that rotate counterclockwise. The image was taken on Dec. 26, 2019. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS Image processing by Tanya Oleksuik, © CC BY.

NASA has authorized a mission extension for its Juno spacecraft exploring Jupiter. The agency’s most distant planetary orbiter will now continue its investigation of the solar system’s largest planet through September 2025, or until the spacecraft’s end of life. This expansion tasks Juno with becoming an explorer of the full Jovian system – Jupiter and its rings and moons – with multiple rendezvous planned for three of Jupiter’s most intriguing Galilean moons: Ganymede, Europa, and Io.

“Since its first orbit in 2016, Juno has delivered one revelation after another about the inner workings of this massive gas giant,” said principal investigator Scott Bolton of the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. “With the extended mission, we will answer fundamental questions that arose during Juno’s prime mission while reaching beyond the planet to explore Jupiter’s ring system and Galilean satellites.”

Proposed in 2003 and launched in 2011, Juno arrived at Jupiter on July 4, 2016. The prime mission will be completed in July 2021. The extended mission involves 42 additional orbits, including close passes of Jupiter’s north polar cyclones; flybys of Ganymede, Europa, and Io; as well as the first extensive exploration of the faint rings encircling the planet.

Image above: NASA has extended the mission of its Juno spacecraft exploring Jupiter. The extended mission involves 42 additional orbits, expands on discoveries Juno has already made and adds exploration of the rings encircling the planet as well as flybys of Ganymede, Europa, and Io. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI.

“By extending the science goals of this important orbiting observatory, the Juno team will start tackling a breadth of science historically required of flagships,” said Lori Glaze, planetary science division director at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “This represents an efficient and innovative advance for NASA’s solar system exploration strategy.”

The data Juno collects will contribute to the goals of the next generation of missions to the Jovian system – NASA’s Europa Clipper and the ESA (European Space Agency) JUpiter ICy moons Explorer (JUICE) mission. Juno’s investigation of Jupiter’s volcanic moon Io addresses many science goals identified by the National Academy of Sciences for a future Io explorer mission.

The extended mission’s science campaigns will expand on discoveries Juno has already made about Jupiter’s interior structure, internal magnetic field, atmosphere (including polar cyclones, deep atmosphere, and aurora), and magnetosphere.

JUNO spacecraft orbiting Jupiter. Animation Credit: NASA

“With this extension, Juno becomes its own follow-on mission,” said Steve Levin, Juno project scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. “Close-up observations of the pole, radio occultations” – a remote sensing technique to measure properties of a planetary atmosphere or ring systems – “satellite flybys, and focused magnetic field studies combine to make a new mission, the next logical step in our exploration of the Jovian system.”

Jupiter’s enigmatic Great Blue Spot, an isolated patch of intense magnetic field near the planet’s equator, will be the target of a high-spatial-resolution magnetic survey during six flybys early in the extended mission. As Juno’s orbit evolves, multiple flybys of the moons Ganymede (2), Europa (3), and Io (11) are planned, as well as multiple passages through Jupiter’s tenuous rings.

Juno will also fly through the Europa and Io tori – ring-shaped clouds of ions – on multiple occasions, characterizing the radiation environment near these satellites to better prepare the Europa Clipper and JUICE missions for optimizing observation strategies and planning, science priorities, and mission design. The extended mission also adds planetary geology and ring dynamics to Juno’s extensive list of science investigations.

An Evolving Orbit

The natural evolution of Juno’s orbit around the gas giant provides the wealth of new science opportunities that the extended mission capitalizes on. Every science pass sends the solar-powered spacecraft zooming low over Jupiter’s cloud tops, collecting data from a unique vantage point no other spacecraft has enjoyed.

The point during each orbit where Juno comes closest to the planet is called perijove (or PJ). Over the course of the mission, Juno’s perijoves have migrated northward, dramatically improving resolution over the northern hemisphere. The design of the extended mission takes advantage of the continued northward migration of these perijoves to sharpen its view of the multiple cyclones encircling the north pole while incorporating ring and Galilean moon flybys.

“The mission designers have done an amazing job crafting an extended mission that conserves the mission’s single most valuable onboard resource – fuel,” said Ed Hirst, the Juno project manager at JPL. “Gravity assists from multiple satellite flybys steer our spacecraft through the Jovian system while providing a wealth of science opportunities.” The satellite flybys also reduce Juno’s orbital period, which increases the total number of science orbits that can be obtained.”

The satellite encounters begin with a low-altitude flyby of Ganymede on June 7, 2021 (PJ34), which reduces the orbital period from about 53 days to 43 days. That flyby sets up a close flyby of Europa on Sept. 29, 2022 (PJ45), reducing the orbital period further to 38 days. A pair of close Io flybys, on Dec. 30, 2023 (PJ57), and Feb. 3, 2024 (PJ58), combine to reduce the orbital period to 33 days.

More About the Mission

JPL, a division of Caltech in Pasadena, California, manages the Juno mission for the principal investigator, Scott J. 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.

Related article:

NASA Extends Exploration for Two Planetary Science Missions

More information about Juno is available at:

Images (mentioned), Animation (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Tony Greicius/Grey Hautaluoma/Alana Johnson/JPL/DC Agle/Southwest Research Institute/Deb Schmid.