samedi 17 avril 2021

NASA’s NICER Probes the Squeezability of Neutron Stars


ISS - NICER - SEXTANT Mission patch.

Apr 17, 2021

Matter in the hearts of neutron stars ­– dense remnants of exploded massive stars – takes the most extreme form we can measure. Now, thanks to data from NASA’s Neutron star Interior Composition Explorer (NICER), an X-ray telescope on the International Space Station, scientists have discovered that this mysterious matter is less squeezable than some physicists predicted.

The finding is based on NICER’s observations of PSR J0740+6620 (J0740 for short), the most massive known neutron star, which lies over 3,600 light-years away in the northern constellation Camelopardalis. J0740 is in a binary star system with a white dwarf, the cooling remnant of a Sun-like star, and rotates 346 times per second. Previous observations place the neutron star’s mass at about 2.1 times the Sun’s.

"We're surrounded by normal matter, the stuff of our everyday experience, but there’s much we don’t know about how matter behaves, and how it is transformed, under extreme conditions,” said Zaven Arzoumanian, the NICER science lead at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “By measuring the sizes and masses of neutron stars with NICER, we are exploring matter on the verge of imploding into a black hole. Once that happens, we can no longer study matter because it’s hidden by the black hole’s event horizon."

Arzoumanian and members of the NICER team presented their findings on Saturday, April 17, at a virtual meeting of the American Physical Society, and papers describing the findings and their implications are now undergoing scientific review.

NASA's NICER Tests Matter's Limits

Video above: Watch how NASA’s Neutron star Interior Composition Explorer (NICER) is helping physicists peer into the hearts of neutron stars, the remains of massive stars that exploded in supernovae. Scientists want to explore the nature of matter inside these objects, where it exists on the verge of collapsing into black holes. To do so, scientists need precise measurements of neutron stars’ masses and sizes, which NICER and other efforts are now making possible. Video Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.

At the end of its life, a star many times heavier than the Sun runs out of fuel in its core, collapses under its own weight, and bursts into a supernova. The heaviest of these exploding stars leave behind black holes. Lighter ones birth neutron stars, which pack more mass than the Sun into a sphere about as wide as New York City’s Manhattan Island is long.

Scientists think neutron stars are layered. At the surface, a thin atmosphere of hydrogen or helium atoms rests on a solid crust of heavier atoms. In the crust, the rapid increase in pressure strips electrons from atomic nuclei. Deeper down, in the outer core, the nuclei split into neutrons and protons. The immense pressure crushes together protons and electrons to form a sea of mostly neutrons that are eventually packed together at up to twice the density of an atomic nucleus.

But what form does matter take in the inner core? Is it neutrons all the way down, or do the neutrons break into their own constituent parts, called quarks?

Physicists have been asking this question since Walter Baade and Fritz Zwicky proposed the existence of neutron stars in 1934. To answer it, astronomers need precise measurements of both the sizes and masses of these objects. This allows them to calculate the relationship between pressure and density in the star’s inner core and evaluate matter’s ultimate squeezability.

Image above: Scientists think neutron stars are layered. As shown in this illustration, the state of matter in their inner cores remains mysterious. Image Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/Conceptual Image Lab.

In traditional models of a typical neutron star, one with about 1.4 times the Sun’s mass, physicists expect the inner core to be mostly filled with neutrons. The lower density ensures that neutrons remain far enough apart to stay intact, and this inner stiffness results in a larger star.

In more massive neutron stars like J0740, the inner core’s density is much higher, crushing the neutrons closer together. It’s unclear whether neutrons can remain intact under these conditions or if they instead break down into quarks. Theorists suspect they shatter under the pressure, but many questions about the details remain. To get answers, scientists need a precise size measurement for a massive neutron star. A smaller star would favor scenarios where quarks roam freely at the innermost depths because the tinier particles can be packed more closely. A larger star would suggest the presence of more complex forms of matter.

To get the precise measurements needed, NICER observes rapidly rotating neutron stars called pulsars, discovered in 1967 by Jocelyn Bell Burnell. Bright, X-ray-emitting hot spots form on the surfaces of these objects. As pulsars rotate, their spots spin in and out of view like the beams of a lighthouse, producing regular variations in their X-ray brightness.

But pulsars are also so dense that their gravity warps nearby space-time, like a bowling ball resting on a trampoline. This distortion is strong enough that it causes light from the star’s far side – light we otherwise could not detect – to be redirected toward us, which makes the pulsar look bigger than it really is. The same mass in a smaller package produces greater distortion. This effect can be so intense that it may prevent the hot spots from disappearing completely as they rotate around the pulsar.

Scientists can take advantage of these effects because NICER measures the arrival of each X-ray to better than 100 nanoseconds. By tracking how the pulsar’s X-ray brightness varies as it spins, scientists can reconstruct how much it distorts space-time. Since they know its mass, they can translate this distortion into a size.

Two teams used different approaches to model J0740’s size. A group led by Thomas Riley and Anna Watts – a postdoctoral researcher and a professor of astrophysics at the University of Amsterdam, respectively – estimate that the pulsar is around 15.4 miles (24.8 kilometers) across. A team led by Cole Miller, a professor of astronomy at the University of Maryland, College Park, found J0740 to be around 17 miles (27.4 kilometers) wide. The two results overlap significantly within their uncertainties, ranging from 14.2 to 17 miles (22.8 to 27.4 kilometers) and 15.2 to 20.2 miles (24.4 to 32.6 kilometers), respectively.

Animation above: A neutron star's gravity warps nearby space-time, like a bowling ball resting on a trampoline. The distortion is strong enough that it redirects light from the star’s far side toward us, which makes the star look bigger than it really is. Animation Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/Chris Smith (USRA/GESTAR).

In addition to NICER data, both groups also included X-ray observations from the European Space Agency’s XMM-Newton satellite that were helpful in accounting for background noise. J0740’s mass was previously determined by radio measurements made by scientists from the North American Nanohertz Observatory for Gravitational Waves and Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment collaborations.

In 2019, Riley and Miller’s teams used NICER data to estimate both the size and mass of pulsar J0030+0451 (or J0030). They determined the object was about 1.4 times the Sun’s mass and 16 miles (26 kilometers) across.

“Our new measurements of J0740 show that even though it’s almost 50% more massive than J0030, it’s essentially the same size,” Watts said. “That challenges some of the more squeezable models of neutron star cores, including versions where the interior is just a sea of quarks. J0740's size and mass also pose problems for some less squeezable models containing only neutrons and protons.”

Recent theoretical models propose some alternatives, such as inner cores containing a mix of neutrons, protons, and exotic matter made of quarks or new combinations of quarks. But all possibilities will need to be reevaluated in the context of this new information from NICER.

Animation above: NASA’s Neutron star Interior Composition Explorer (NICER), at center, is an X-ray telescope aboard the International Space Station. Animation Credit: NASA.

“J0740’s size has us theorists baffled and excited,” said Sanjay Reddy, a professor of physics at the University of Washington who studies matter under extreme conditions but was not involved in the finding. “NICER’s measurements, combined with other multimessenger observations, seem to support the idea that pressure increases rapidly in massive neutron star cores. While this disfavors transitions to more squeezable forms of matter in the core, its implications are yet to be fully understood.”

Miller’s team also determined how well scientists can estimate the size of a pulsar, using NICER’s J0740 and J0030 measurements to supplement existing information from other heavy pulsars and gravitational wave events, space-time ripples generated by the collisions of massive objects like neutron stars and black holes.

“We now know the radius of a standard neutron star, with 1.4 times the Sun’s mass, within an uncertainty of 5%,” Miller said. “That’s like knowing the size of Washington, D.C., to within about a quarter mile. NICER is not only rewriting the textbooks on neutron stars, but also revolutionizing our confidence in our measurements of objects that are both very distant and very small.”

In addition to testing matter’s limits, neutron stars also offer a new means of exploring the vast reaches of space. In 2018, a team of scientists and NASA engineers used NICER to demonstrate, for the first time, fully autonomous navigation in space using pulsars, which could revolutionize our ability to pilot robotic spacecraft to the far reaches of the solar system and beyond.

“NICER was a great crewmate,” said NASA astronaut Christina Koch, who served as a flight engineer on the space station from March 2019 to February 2020, setting the record for the longest single spaceflight by a woman. “The mission exemplifies all the best aspects of station research. It’s groundbreaking fundamental science, space science, and technological innovation, all enabled by the unique environment and platform of an orbiting laboratory.”

NICER is an Astrophysics Mission of Opportunity within NASA's Explorers program, which provides frequent flight opportunities for world-class scientific investigations from space utilizing innovative, streamlined and efficient management approaches within the heliophysics and astrophysics science areas. NASA's Space Technology Mission Directorate supports the SEXTANT component of the mission, demonstrating pulsar-based spacecraft navigation.

Related links:

European Space Agency’s XMM-Newton:

North American Nanohertz Observatory for Gravitational Waves:

Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment:

Neutron star Interior Composition Explorer (NICER):

International Space Station (ISS):

Animations (mentioned), Image (mentioned), Video (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, by Jeanette Kazmierczak.


Expedition 64 Trio Back On Earth After 185-Day Mission


ROSCOSMOS - Soyuz MS-17 Mission patch.

Apr 17, 2021

Image above: The Soyuz MS-17 spacecraft just before landing in Kazakhstan on April 17th, 2021. Image Credit: NASA TV.

NASA astronaut Kate Rubins and cosmonauts Sergey Ryzhikov and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov of Roscosmos landed on Earth at 12:55 a.m. EDT Saturday, April 17 in Kazakhstan. The trio departed the International Space Station in their Soyuz MS-17 spacecraft at 9:34 p.m.

Soyuz MS-17 hatch closure

After post-landing medical checks, the crew will split up with Rubins returning to her home in Houston, while the cosmonauts fly back to their training base in Star City, Russia.

Image above: The Soyuz MS-17 spacecraft moments after undocking from the station on April 16th, 2021. Image Credit: NASA TV.

Remaining aboard the station is the seven-person crew of Expedition 65, with new station commander Shannon Walker of NASA, NASA astronauts Victor Glover, Michael Hopkins, and Mark Vande Hei, Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronaut Soichi Noguchi, and cosmonauts Oleg Novitskiy and Pyotr Dubrov.

Soyuz MS-17 undocking and departure

Later this month, NASA’s SpaceX Crew-2 members – NASA astronauts Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur, JAXA astronaut Akihiko Hoshide, and ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Thomas Pesquet – will join the Expedition 65 members aboard the station. Crew-2 will be the second long-duration mission to fly as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, continuing to provide the capability of regularly launching humans from American soil.

Soyuz MS-17 landing

In November 2020, the International Space Station surpassed a 20-year milestone of continuous human presence, providing opportunities for unique technological demonstrations and research that help prepare for long-duration missions to the Moon and Mars while also improving life on Earth. To date, 243 people from 19 countries have visited the orbiting laboratory that has hosted nearly 3,000 research investigations from researchers in 108 countries and areas.

Related links:

Expedition 64:

International Space Station (ISS):

Images (mentioned), Video, Text, Credits: NASA/Mark Garcia/NASA TV/ROSCOSMOS/SciNews.

Best regards,

vendredi 16 avril 2021

Science Marches on: International Space Station update


ISS - International Space Station patch.

April 16, 2021

The first quarter of 2021 flew by almost as fast as the International Space Station itself. Get up to speed with some March highlights from our orbital outpost as an astronaut prepares to be launched into space on a Dragon.

Fifth spacewalk in three months

NASA astronauts Michael Hopkins and Victor Glover suited up for a spacewalk on 13 March 2021, with a task list that included mating connectors for Europe’s Bartolomeo platform. The spacewalking duo successfully mated three out of four connectors for the external research platform. This allowed ground teams to begin commissioning activities on 22 March, which were completed 30 March.

Bartolomeo connected to Columbus

Mounted to the forward side of ESA’s Columbus laboratory and operated by Airbus, Bartolomeo provides opportunities for commercial research and technology demonstrations outside the International Space Station’s shell. It offers 11 payload slots and provides a data downlink capacity of 10 Gbit/s – enough to download a high-definition movie within 30 seconds.

Bartolomeo is suitable for many types of missions, including Earth observation, environmental and climate research, robotics, material sciences and astrophysics.

Kristall cleared for 11th campaign

Also on 22 March, current International Space Station commander Sergey Ryzhikov began the 11th science campaign for joint Roscosmos/ESA experiment Plasma Kristall-4 (PK-4). Following a monitor installation and check-out, Sergey completed two science runs using neon gas, performed a gas supply exchange to argon and exchanged a hard drive in preparation for upcoming runs.

PK-4 focuses on low temperature gaseous mixtures known as ‘complex plasmas’, made up of ions, electrons, inert gas and micro-particles. Due to the strong influence of gravity on the micro-particles, most experiments on complex plasmas are strongly distorted or even impossible on Earth.

Visualising atoms

Plasma for the PK-4 experiment is created with neon or argon gas in tubes that give particles an electrical charge. The experiment allows researchers across the world to better understand how objects melt, how waves spread in fluids and how currents change at the atomic level.

In fact, a team of scientists has already made use of the know-how gained from developing the experiment to build plasma devices that disinfect wounds at room temperature. This revolution in healthcare has many practical applications, from food hygiene to the treatment of skin diseases, water purification and even neutralisation of bad odours.

View from the ground

This update tends to focus on space-based activity, but March also saw our ground-based operations teams get together for a pre-launch tag-up ahead of ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet’s Alpha mission.

International Space Station Operations Team tag-up

Led by ESA’s Columbus Control Centre in Oberpfaffenhofen, Germany, these meetings are held to discuss the mission and run through all the particularities, key events and changes to protocol. For the first time ever, the meeting was done virtually due to COVID-19 restrictions.

With over 200 investigations planned for the Expedition 60, including 12 new European experiments, Thomas and the crew on the International Space Station will be busy. You can read about some of those new experiments in the newly released Alpha mission brochure and tune into ESA Web TV on 22 April for Thomas’ launch as part of Crew-2 on a SpaceX Crew Dragon.

Related links:


Alpha mission brochure:


Human and Robotic Exploration:

Science & Exploration:

Images, Text, Credits: ESA/NASA/MPE–M. Kretschmer.


As Artemis Moves Forward, NASA Picks SpaceX Human Lunar Lander


NASA - ARTEMIS Program logo.

April 16, 2021

NASA is getting ready to send astronauts to explore more of the Moon as part of the Artemis program, and the agency has selected SpaceX to continue development of the first commercial human lander that will safely carry the next two American astronauts to the lunar surface. At least one of those astronauts will make history as the first woman on the Moon. Another goal of the Artemis program includes landing the first person of color on the lunar surface.

Image above: Illustration of SpaceX Starship human lander design that will carry NASA astronauts to the Moon's surface during the Artemis mission. Image Credit: SpaceX.

The agency’s powerful Space Launch System rocket will launch four astronauts aboard the Orion spacecraft for their multi-day journey to lunar orbit. There, two crew members will transfer to the SpaceX human landing system (HLS) for the final leg of their journey to the surface of the Moon. After approximately a week exploring the surface, they will board the lander for their short trip back to orbit where they will return to Orion and their colleagues before heading back to Earth.

The firm-fixed price, milestone-based contract total award value is $2.89 billion.

"With this award, NASA and our partners will complete the first crewed demonstration mission to the surface of the Moon in the 21st century as the agency takes a step forward for women’s equality and long-term deep space exploration,” said Kathy Lueders, NASA's associate administrator for Human Explorations and Operations Mission Directorate. “This critical step puts humanity on a path to sustainable lunar exploration and keeps our eyes on missions farther into the solar system, including Mars.”

SpaceX has been working closely with NASA experts during the HLS base period of performance to inform its lander design and ensure it meets NASA’s performance requirements and human spaceflight standards. A key tenet for safe systems, these agreed-upon standards range from areas of engineering, safety, health, and medical technical areas.

“This is an exciting time for NASA and especially the Artemis team,” said Lisa Watson-Morgan, program manager for HLS at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. “During the Apollo program, we proved that it is possible to do the seemingly impossible: land humans on the Moon. By taking a collaborative approach in working with industry while leveraging NASA’s proven technical expertise and capabilities, we will return American astronauts to the Moon’s surface once again, this time to explore new areas for longer periods of time.”

SpaceX’s HLS Starship, designed to land on the Moon, leans on the company’s tested Raptor engines and flight heritage of the Falcon and Dragon vehicles. Starship includes a spacious cabin and two airlocks for astronaut moonwalks. The Starship architecture is intended to evolve to a fully reusable launch and landing system designed for travel to the Moon, Mars, and other destinations.

The HLS award is made under the Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships (NextSTEP-2) Appendix H Broad Agency Announcement (BAA).

In parallel with executing the Appendix H award, NASA intends to implement a competitive procurement for sustainable crewed lunar surface transportation services that will provide human access to the lunar surface using the Gateway on a regularly recurring basis beyond the initial crewed demonstration mission.

With NASA’s Space Launch System rocket, Orion spacecraft, HLS, and the Gateway lunar outpost, NASA and its commercial and international partners are returning to the Moon for scientific discovery, economic benefits, and inspiration for a new generation. Working with its partners throughout the Artemis program, the agency will fine-tune precision landing technologies and develop new mobility capabilities to enable exploration of new regions of the Moon. On the surface, the agency has proposed building a new habitat and rovers, testing new power systems and more. These and other innovations and advancements made under the Artemis program will ensure that NASA and its partners are ready for human exploration’s next big step—the exploration of Mars.

For more information about the human landing system, visit:

Related links:

Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships (NextSTEP-2):

Space Launch System (SLS):




Image (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Monica Witt/Marshall Space Flight Center/Jena Rowe.

Best regards,

NASA’s New Horizons Reaches a Rare Space Milestone


NASA - New Horizons Mission patch.

Apr 16, 2021

Now 50 times as far from the Sun as Earth, History-Making Pluto Explorer Photographs Voyager 1’s Location from the Kuiper Belt

Image above: Artist's impression of NASA's New Horizons spacecraft, en route to a January 2019 encounter with Kuiper Belt object 2014 MU69. Image Credits: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI.

In the weeks following its launch in early 2006, when NASA’s New Horizons was still close to home, it took just minutes to transmit a command to the spacecraft, and hear back that the onboard computer received and was ready to carry out the instructions.

As New Horizons crossed the solar system, and its distance from Earth jumped from millions to billions of miles, that time between contacts grew from a few minutes to several hours. And on April 18 at 12:42 UTC (or April 17 at 8:42 p.m. EDT), New Horizons will reach a rare deep-space milepost -- 50 astronomical units from the Sun, or 50 times farther from the Sun than Earth is.

New Horizons is just the fifth spacecraft to reach this great distance, following the legendary Voyagers 1 and 2 and their predecessors, Pioneers 10 and 11. It’s almost 5 billion miles (7.5 billion kilometers) away; a remote region where one of those radioed commands, even traveling at the speed of light, needs seven hours to reach the far flung spacecraft. Then add seven more hours before its control team on Earth finds out if the message was received.   

“It’s hard to imagine something so far away,” said Alice Bowman, the New Horizons mission operations manager at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland. “One thing that makes this distance tangible is how long it takes for us on Earth to confirm that the spacecraft received our instructions. This went from almost instantaneous to now being on the order of 14 hours. It makes the extreme distance real.”

To mark the occasion, New Horizons recently photographed the star field where one of its long-distance cousins, Voyager 1, appears from New Horizons’ unique perch in the Kuiper Belt. Never before has a spacecraft in the Kuiper Belt photographed the location of an even more distant spacecraft, now in interstellar space. Although Voyager 1 is far too faint to be seen directly in the image, its location is known precisely due to NASA’s radio tracking.

Image above: Hello, Voyager! From the distant Kuiper Belt at the solar system’s frontier, on Christmas Day, Dec. 25, 2020, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft pointed its Long Range Reconnaissance Imager in the direction of the Voyager 1 spacecraft, whose location is marked with the yellow circle. Voyager 1, the farthest human-made object and first spacecraft to actually leave the solar system, is more than 152 astronomical units (AU) from the Sun—about 14.1 billion miles or 22.9 billion kilometers—and was 11.2 billion miles (18 billion kilometers) from New Horizons when this image was taken. Voyager 1 itself is about 1 trillion times too faint to be visible in this image. Most of the objects in the image are stars, but several of them, with a fuzzy appearance, are distant galaxies. New Horizons reaches the 50 AU mark on April 18, 2021, and will join Voyagers 1 and 2 in interstellar space in the 2040s. Image Credits: NASA/Johns Hopkins APL/Southwest Research Institute.

“That’s a hauntingly beautiful image to me,” said Alan Stern, New Horizons principal investigator from the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado.

“Looking back at the flight of New Horizons from Earth to 50 AU almost seems in some way like a dream,” he continued. “Flying a spacecraft across our entire solar system to explore Pluto and the Kuiper Belt had never been done before New Horizons. Most of us on the team have been a part of this mission since it was just an idea, and during that time our kids have grown up, and our parents, and we ourselves, have grown older. But most importantly, we made many scientific discoveries, inspired countless STEM careers, and even made a little history.”

New Horizons was practically designed to make history. Dispatched at 36,400 miles per hour (58,500 kilometers per hour) on Jan. 19, 2006, New Horizons was and is still the fastest human-made object ever launched from Earth. Its gravity-assist flyby of Jupiter in February 2007 not only shaved about three years from its voyage to Pluto, but allowed it to make the best views ever of Jupiter’s faint ring, and capture the first movie of a volcano erupting anywhere in the solar system except Earth.

New Horizons successfully pulled off the first exploration of the Pluto system in July 2015, followed by the farthest flyby in history – and first close-up look at a Kuiper Belt object (KBO) -- with its flight past Arrokoth on New Year’s day 2019. From its unique perch in the Kuiper Belt, New Horizons is making observations that can’t be made from anywhere else; even the stars look different from the spacecraft’s point of view.

Image above: Currently exploring the Kuiper Belt beyond Pluto, New Horizons is just one of five spacecraft to reach 50 astronomical units – 50 times the distance between the Sun and Earth – on its way out of the solar system and, eventually, into interstellar space. Image Credits: NASA/Johns Hopkins APL/Southwest Research Institute.

New Horizons team members use giant telescopes like the Japanese Subaru observatory to scan the skies for another potential (and long-shot) KBO flyby target, New Horizons itself remains healthy, collecting data on the solar wind and space environment in the Kuiper Belt, other Kuiper Belt objects, and distant planets like Uranus and Neptune. This summer, the mission team will transmit a software upgrade to boost New Horizons’ scientific capabilities. For future exploration, the spacecraft’s nuclear battery should provide enough power to keep New Horizons operating until the late-2030s.

Related links:

New Horizons:


Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Tricia Talbert.


Space Station Science Highlights: Week of April 12, 2021


ISS - Expedition 64 Mission patch.

Apr 16, 2021

Scientific activities conducted aboard the International Space Station the week of April 12 included testing autonomous robots, harvesting leafy green plants, and measuring radiation dose throughout the space station.

Image above: The Nile River, Red Sea, Gulf of Oman, Gulf of Aqaba, and Mediterranean Sea are pictured in this image taken from the International Space Station as it orbits 263 miles above Egypt. Image Credit: NASA.

Ten crew members currently occupy the station, including the newly-arrived members of Expedition 65, NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei and cosmonauts Oleg Novitskiy and Pyotr Dubrov of Roscosmos. Crew-1, which includes NASA astronauts Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover, and Shannon Walker, and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Soichi Noguchi, is scheduled to depart the station on Wednesday, April 28. The space station has been continuously inhabited by humans for 20 years, supporting many scientific breakthroughs. The orbiting lab 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.

Image above: NASA astronauts Shannon Walker and Michael Hopkins install temporary sleeping quarters for when as many as 11 crew members briefly occupy the International Space Station. These new Crew Alternate Sleep Accommodations also can be converted to cargo storage racks. Image Credit: NASA.

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

Testing robot helpers

The ISAAC investigation demonstrates technology that could enable autonomous robots in human exploration vehicles to track vehicle health, transfer and unpack cargo, and respond to critical faults such as leaks and fires. These robots could perform these and other vehicle and habitat operations on future exploration missions to the Moon and Mars, as well as maintain vehicles while astronauts are away for extended periods. Crew members conducted a session during the week.  

Bringing in the crop

Image above: This image shows plants from the Veg-03 investigation ready for final harvest. This investigation grew Red Romaine lettuce, Extra Dwarf Pak Choi, and Amara Mustard aboard the space station. Image Credit: NASA.

Plants for two of the Veg-03 groups reached the end of their several-month life cycle, and the crew performed final sample gathering and harvest. This investigation uses plant pillows, low-mass modules that require little energy and maintenance, to cultivate leafy green vegetables including Red Romaine lettuce, Extra Dwarf Pak Choi, and Amara Mustard. It continues efforts using the space station to understand plant response to microgravity, helping to refine the growth media, fertilizers, plant species, materials, and protocols for the pillow concept, so crews can eventually grow plants for food and recreation on long-duration missions.

Pinpointing radiation levels

Image above: The gold cylinder in this image is the Tissue Equivalent Proportional Counter (TEPC) Radiation Detector, one of several radiation measurement devices used for DOSIS-3D. This investigation is creating a 3D map pinpointing the distribution and levels of radiation inside station. Image Credit: NASA.

People in space are exposed to varying levels of radiation, some of which can be harmful to their health. An ESA (European Space Agency) investigation, DOSIS-3D, uses several active and passive detectors to measure radiation doses and create a three-dimensional radiation map covering all sections of the space station. Pinpointing the distribution and levels of radiation helps provide a comprehensive understanding of exposure and could lead to specific recommendations to protect the crew. The experiment also could provide insight into using different devices for monitoring and help protect those exposed to higher than average doses of radiation on Earth, including commercial and military airline crews. Crew members took measurements for DOSIS-3D during the week.

Other investigations on which the crew performed work:

- Transparent Alloys, a set of five ESA experiments, seeks to improve the understanding of melting-solidification processes in plastics. These studies add to basic knowledge for solidification dynamics and microstructure formation.

- The ESA’s Time Perception investigation quantifies subjective changes in time perception during and after long-duration exposure to microgravity.

- Vascular Echo, a Canadian Space Agency (CSA) experiment, examines changes in blood vessels and the heart during flight and upon return to Earth. Results could provide insight into potential countermeasures to help maintain crew member health and improve quality of life on Earth as well.

- SERFE demonstrates a technology using evaporation of water to remove heat from spacesuits and maintain appropriate temperatures for crew members and equipment during space walks.

- Gecko-Inspired Adhesive Grasping uses the station’s Astrobee robots to test an adhesive for robotic grasping and manipulating, which could allow robots to rapidly and controllably attach to and detach from objects even if they are moving or spinning.

- Antimicrobial Coatings tests a coating to control microbial growth on several different materials that represent high-touch surfaces. Some microbes change characteristics in microgravity, potentially creating new risks to crew health and spacecraft.

- The ESA GRASP investigation examines how the central nervous system integrates information from the senses to coordinate hand movement and visual input, in part to determine whether gravity is a frame of reference for control of this movement.

- RTPCG-2 demonstrates new methods for producing high-quality protein crystals in microgravity for analysis on Earth to identify possible targets for drugs to treat disease.

- Standard Measures collects a set of core measurements from astronauts before, during, and after long-duration missions to create a data repository to monitor and interpret how humans adapt to living in space.

- 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: Signing Out: 04/16/2021

Related links:




ISS National Lab:

Spot the Station:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

Images (mentioned), Video (NASA), Text, Credits: NASA/Ana Guzman/John Love, ISS Research Planning Integration Scientist Expedition 65.

Best regards,

Almost Every Galaxy Has One – A Black Hole, That Is


NASA - Hubble Space Telescope patch.

Apr 16, 2021

Spectacular jets are powered by the gravitational energy of a supermassive black hole in the core of the elliptical galaxy Hercules A. The jets shoot through space for millions of trillions of miles.

This image, taken by the Hubble Telescope, was originally released in November 2012.

Related articles:

New NASA Visualization Probes the Light-bending Dance of Binary Black Holes

Telescopes Unite in Unprecedented Observations of Famous Black Hole

Learn more about black holes: NASA's Field Guide to Black Holes:

For more information about Hubble, visit:

Image, Text, Credits: NASA, ESA, S. Baum and C. O'Dea (RIT), R. Perley and W. Cotton (NRAO/AUI/NSF), and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA).


Exodus of civilization into space - Symbol of the End of the XXI century. Part 8


Nuclear Apocalypse logo.

April 16, 2021


Here the eighth article of a series of articles by Ph.D. Morozov Sergey Lvovich, expert in chronology and calendar systems, as well as space biology and medicine, Parliamentarian of Asgardia (AMP) the first space Nation.

Ph.D. Morozov Sergey Lvovich

Symbol of the End of the XXI century

Civilization on Earth has gone through five socio-economic formations: primitive communal, slave-owning, feudal, capitalist and socialist. These are types of industrial relations.

At the same time, historically, the productive forces of civilization developed in terms of four societies: nomadic, sedentary, industrial and informational.

The interaction of productive forces and relations of production forms a vector of development of the world economy, which dialectically leads civilization to the emergence of the sixth socio-economic formation (SHOEF) - information-space, or astronautical.

Those states on Earth that in the next 10 years will not have their own flotilla of homeostatic arks (GC) or share participation in it, will forever remain outside the new global vector of the political and economic organization of society, that is, outside the new information-space social system.

SHOEF is a new ideology of space cooperative interstate relations. This is a way out of the crisis of the fifth socio-economic formation. This is a new unified target setting for the development of the entire earthly civilization.

All 68 countries, states and space organizations that are part of the system of the International Astronautical Federation (IAF, The International Astronautical Federation), which was created in 1951, will be able to take part in its implementation.

IAF member countries map. Author: Jurryaany

World geopolitical wars for any territory on Earth in the 21st century have lost all meaning. In my opinion, the Earth, as a planet, has no Future in the Future. There is nothing to fight for.

The future belongs to homeostatic arks, which will be a kind of clones of the Earth in its comfortable climatic state when it created man. The future belongs to the fleets of these GC clones in space.

O'Neill Space Colony Artistic Concept

However, the modern thermonuclear world war can bury all the hopes of civilization for this bright Future of mankind. Thermonuclear multistage "tsar-bombs" of the AN602 type, of unlimited power, created back in 1961 in the USSR-Russia, are capable of turning the Earth into a second lifeless asteroid belt at one moment.

Image above: Full-scale model "Tsar Bomba" AN602 in the Museum of Nuclear Weapons RFNC-VNIIEF.

These multistage thermonuclear bombs are probably not only in Russia today. The technologies for their production are not a secret.

As a minimum, as a result of such explosions, the Earth can immediately be left without an atmosphere, which will simply be ripped off by giant thermonuclear tornadoes-mushrooms. This is probably the end of the history of Human Civilization in world history, if the Third World Thermonuclear War takes place.

An atmospheric test of ½ the power of the AN602 bomb took place on October 30, 1961 by dropping from a Tu-95V aircraft at the Sukhoi Nos nuclear test site, Novaya Zemlya Island.

Image above: A tornado mushroom after the explosion of the Tsar Bomb, October 30, 1961. Height 67 km (the height of the atmospheric boundary - the Karman line - 100 km).

The measured explosion power was: 57-58.6 Mt in TNT TNT equivalent, or in thermal equivalent - about 2.4x10 ^ 17 J, which corresponds to a mass defect of 2.65 kg), and taking into account in the calculation that 1 Mt = 4.184 * 10 ^ 15 J = 0.999 * 10 ^ 15 cal ~ 1.0 * 10 ^ 15 cal.

Image above: The expected radius of the zone of continuous destruction in the explosion of the Tsar Bomb, superimposed on the map of Paris for clarity.

57-58.6 Mt is about 1/16 of the daily thermal energy of the entire Earth, radiated into the open Space (wiki: Earth) [4.42 * 10 ^ 13 W (J / sec) = 381.888 * 10 ^ 16 J / day = 912 MT / day].

In other words, it can be assumed that ~ 16 such bombs, 57-58.6 Mt each, detonated during the day on the Earth's surface in the Earth's atmosphere, may well completely destroy the Earth along with its entire "civilization".

Or a break in the earth's crust and a wide rupture of its mantle may occur, followed by the detonation of the most mysterious core of the Earth, which provides the Earth with its unique magnetic field.

The water of the world's oceans will rush into this rift, and the Earth can instantly explode like a huge steam boiler, since there is tremendous pressure inside the volume of the Earth, and the temperature is more than one thousand degrees, as on the surface of the Sun. The Earth will scatter in different directions in millions of pieces and fractions, creating a new asteroid belt in orbit in its place.

The moon will take the place of the earth in orbit around the sun. Our current planet Earth-Moon will turn into a single, purely Lunar planet.

The problems of the Earth today are mainly those of the awareness of the leaders of its countries.

In terms of geopolitics, civilization in the 21st century has only two choices - thermonuclear suicide on Earth or prosperity on the flotillas of GK clones in the Universe. There is no third.

"Tsar Bomba" AN602 is a symbol of the End of the XXI century

Read further: "Tsiolkovsky's Galactic State".

Related articles:

Exodus of civilization into space - Stopping the process of increasing value added. Part 7

Exodus of civilization into space - The sixth socio-economic formation of civilization. Part 6

Exodus of civilization into space - Space man. Part 5

Exodus of civilization into space - Biological End of the World. Part 4

Exodus of civilization into space - Geochronological Ice Ages, periods, eras. Part 3

Exodus of civilization into space - Astrophysical End of the World. Part 2

The ideology of space expansion - Space calendar. Part 1

Related links:

About Ph.D. Morozov Sergey Lvovich:

Original article in Russian on Zen.Yandex:

Asgardia website:

Author: Ph.D. Morozov Sergey Lvovich / Zen.Yandex. Editor / Translation: Roland Berga. 


jeudi 15 avril 2021

Walker to Command Station Until Departure at End of April


ISS - Expedition 64 Mission patch.

April 15, 2021

NASA astronaut Shannon Walker of Houston will assume command of the International Space Station today from Roscosmos cosmonaut Sergey Ryzhikov. Walker will lead the Expedition 65 crew for almost two weeks until she returns to Earth with her crewmates aboard the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft.

NASA TV is broadcasting the traditional change of command ceremony beginning at 3:45 p.m. EDT today.

Image above: NASA astronaut Shannon Walker, seen here signing the Unity module’s vestibule that leads to the Cygnus space freighter, will command the station till her departure at the end of April. Image Credit: NASA.

Ryzhikov will depart the orbiting lab on Friday with his Expedition 64 crewmates Kate Rubins of NASA and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov of Roscosmos. The trio will undock from the Poisk module inside the Soyuz MS-17 crew ship at 9:34 p.m. and parachute to a landing in Kazakhstan about three-and-a-half hours later.

The seven-member Expedition 65 crew will be waiting for the arrival of four new Commercial Crew members due to launch to the station on April 22 at 6:11 a.m. SpaceX Crew-2 Commander Shane Kimbrough and Pilot Megan McArthur will be guiding the SpaceX Crew Dragon vehicle toward the station with Mission Specialists Akihiko Hoshide and Thomas Pesquet. The new quartet will dock to the Harmony module’s forward-facing international docking adapter a little less than 24 hours later.

Image above: The night lights of Tokyo, Japan, are pictured from the International Space Station as it orbited 261 miles above the island nation in this image from February 2021. Image Credit: NASA.

11 people will occupy the orbiting lab until April 28 when the four members of SpaceX Crew-1 end their 162-day space research mission. Michael Hopkins will be in charge of the Crew Dragon as Victor Glover pilots the vehicle, with Walker and Soichi Noguchi inside, when it undocks from Harmony’s space-facing port at 7:04 a.m. They will parachute to a splashdown off the coast of Florida about five-and-a-half hours later.

The day before the Crew-1 departure Walker will hand over station command to Hoshide who will lead the Expedition 65 crew. Hoshide will be the second astronaut overall from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency to lead a station crew since Koichi Wakata commanded Expedition 39 in 2014.

Related links:


Expedition 39:

Expedition 64:

Expedition 65:

Poisk module:

Harmony module:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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


New NASA Visualization Probes the Light-bending Dance of Binary Black Holes


NASA Goddard Space Flight Center logo.

Apr 15, 2021

A pair of orbiting black holes millions of times the Sun’s mass perform a hypnotic pas de deux in a new NASA visualization. The movie traces how the black holes distort and redirect light emanating from the maelstrom of hot gas – called an accretion disk – that surrounds each one.   

Viewed from near the orbital plane, each accretion disk takes on a characteristic double-humped look. But as one passes in front of the other, the gravity of the foreground black hole transforms its partner into a rapidly changing sequence of arcs. These distortions play out as light from both disks navigates the tangled fabric of space and time near the black holes.

The Doubly Warped World of Binary Black Holes

Video above: Explore how the extreme gravity of two orbiting supermassive black holes distorts our view. In this visualization, disks of bright, hot, churning gas encircle both black holes, shown in red and blue to better track the light source. The red disk orbits the larger black hole, which weighs 200 million times the mass of our Sun, while its smaller blue companion weighs half as much. Zooming into each black hole reveals multiple, increasingly warped images of its partner. Watch to learn more. Video Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/Jeremy Schnittman and Brian P. Powell.

“We’re seeing two supermassive black holes, a larger one with 200 million solar masses and a smaller companion weighing half as much,” said Jeremy Schnittman, an astrophysicist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, who created the visualization. “These are the kinds of black hole binary systems where we think both members could maintain accretion disks lasting millions of years.”

Image above: In this frame from the new visualization, a supermassive black hole weighing 200 million solar masses lies in the foreground. Its gravity distorts light from the accretion disk of a smaller companion black hole almost directly behind it, creating this surreal view. Different colors for the accretion disks make it easier to track the contributions of each one. Image Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/Jeremy Schnittman and Brian P. Powell.

The accretion disks have different colors, red and blue, to make it easier to track the light sources, but the choice also reflects reality. Hotter gas gives off light closer to the blue end of the spectrum, and material orbiting smaller black holes experiences stronger gravitational effects that produce higher temperatures. For these masses, both accretion disks would actually emit most of their light in the UV, with the blue disk reaching a slightly higher temperature.

Visualizations like this help scientists picture the fascinating consequences of extreme gravity’s funhouse mirror. The new video doubles down on an earlier one Schnittman produced showing a solitary black hole from various angles.

Seen nearly edgewise, the accretion disks look noticeably brighter on one side. Gravitational distortion alters the paths of light coming from different parts of the disks, producing the warped image. The rapid motion of gas near the black hole modifies the disk’s luminosity through a phenomenon called Doppler boosting – an effect of Einstein’s relativity theory that brightens the side rotating toward the viewer and dims the side spinning away.

The visualization also shows a more subtle phenomenon called relativistic aberration. The black holes appear smaller as they approach the viewer and larger when moving away.

These effects disappear when viewing the system from above, but new features emerge. Both black holes produce small images of their partners that circle around them each orbit. Looking closer, it’s clear that these images are actually edge-on views. To produce them, light from the black holes must be redirected by 90 degrees, which means we’re observing the black holes from two different perspectives – face on and edge on – at the same time.

Image above: A face-on view of the system highlights the smaller black hole's distorted image (inset) of its bigger companion. To reach the camera, the smaller black hole must bend light from its red companion by 90 degrees. The accretion disk of this secondary image appears as a line, which means we're seeing an edge-on view of the red companion – while also simultaneously seeing it from above. A secondary image of the blue disk also forms just outside the bright ring of light nearest the larger black hole, too. Image Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/Jeremy Schnittman and Brian P. Powell.

“A striking aspect of this new visualization is the self-similar nature of the images produced by gravitational lensing,” Schnittman explained. “Zooming into each black hole reveals multiple, increasingly distorted images of its partner.”

Schnittman created the visualization by computing the path taken by light rays from the accretion disks as they made their way through the warped space-time around the black holes. On a modern desktop computer, the calculations needed to make the movie frames would have taken about a decade. So Schnittman teamed up with Goddard data scientist Brian P. Powell to use the Discover supercomputer at the NASA Center for Climate Simulation. Using just 2% of Discover’s 129,000 processors, these computations took about a day.

Astronomers expect that, in the not-too-distant future, they’ll be able to detect gravitational waves – ripples in space-time – produced when two supermassive black holes in a system much like the one Schnittman depicted spiral together and merge.

Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC):

Images (mentioned), Video (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, by Francis Reddy.

Best regards,

NASA's OSIRIS-REx Leaves its Mark on Asteroid Bennu


NASA - OSIRIS-REx Mission patch.

Apr 15, 2021

Like boot prints on the Moon, NASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft left its mark on asteroid Bennu. Now, new images — taken during the spacecraft's final fly-over on April 7 — reveal the aftermath of its historic encounter with the asteroid.

Image above: This image sequence shows how the local surface of Bennu changed after the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft successfully performed its Touch-And-Go (TAG) sample acquisition maneuver on Oct. 20, 2020. The earlier image (below) was taken on March 7, 2019, by the spacecraft’s PolyCam instrument, as part of the mission's global mapping campaign. The right-side image was taken on April 7, 2021, as part of a final observation campaign to document the state of the surface after TAG. Sample site Nightingale is located in the relatively clear patch just above the crater’s center – visible in the center of the earlier image. The large, dark boulder located at the center right measures 43 feet (13 meters) on its longest axis. Image Credits: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona.

The spacecraft flew within 2.3 miles (3.7 km) of the asteroid — the closest it has been since the Touch-and-Go, or TAG, sample collection event on Oct. 20, 2020. During TAG, the spacecraft's sampling head sunk 1.6 feet (48.8 centimeters) into the asteroid's surface and simultaneously fired a pressurized charge of nitrogen gas, churning up surface material and driving some into the collection chamber. The spacecraft's thrusters also launched rocks and dust during the maneuver to reverse course and safely back away from the asteroid.

Comparing the two images reveals obvious signs of surface disturbance. At the sample collection point, there appears to be a depression, with several large boulders evident at the bottom, suggesting that they were exposed by sampling. There is a noticeable increase in the amount of highly reflective material near the TAG point against the generally dark background of the surface, and many rocks were moved around.

Where thrusters fired against the surface, substantial mass movement is apparent. Multiple sub-meter boulders were mobilized by the plumes into a campfire ring–like shape — similar to rings of boulders seen around small craters pocking the surface.

Animation above: Bennu’s surface was disturbed in three different ways: by the force of the spacecraft touching down; by the sampling mechanism, which collected material by blowing gas into its collection filter; and by four of the spacecraft's back-away thrusters, which moved the spacecraft away from the sample site (marked with a red "X" in the second of these two images) and agitated dust and boulders on the surface. The image above shows the TAG site and highlights (red circle) a large boulder thrown about 40 feet (about 12 meters). Animation Credits: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona.

Jason Dworkin, the mission's project scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, noticed that one boulder measuring 4 feet (1.25 meters) across on the edge of the sampling site seemed to appear only in the post-TAG image. “The rock probably weighs around a ton, with a mass somewhere between a cow and a car.”

Dante Lauretta, of the University of Arizona and the mission's principal investigator, later pointed out that this boulder is likely one of those present in the pre-TAG image, but much nearer the sampling location, and estimates it was thrown a distance of 40 feet (about 12 meters) by the sample collection event.

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

In order to compare the before and after images, the team had to meticulously plan this final flyover. "Bennu is rough and rocky, so if you look at it from a different angle or capture it at a time when the sun is not directly overhead, that dramatically changes what the surface looks like," says Dathon Golish, a member of the OSIRIS-REx image processing working group, headquartered at the University of Arizona. "These images were deliberately taken close to noon, with the Sun shining straight down, when there's not as many shadows."

"These observations were not in the original mission plan, so we were excited to go back and document what we did," Golish said. "The team really pulled together for this one last hurrah."

The spacecraft will remain in Bennu's vicinity until departure on May 10, when the mission will begin its two-year return cruise back to Earth. As it approaches Earth, the spacecraft will jettison the Sample Return Capsule (SRC) that contains the sample from Bennu. The SRC will then travel through Earth’s atmosphere and land under parachutes at the Utah Test and Training Range on Sept. 24, 2023.

Once recovered, the capsule will be transported to the curation facility at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, where the sample will be removed for distribution to laboratories worldwide, enabling scientists to study the formation of our solar system and Earth as a habitable planet. NASA will set 75% of the sample aside for future generations to study with technologies not invented yet.

The OSIRIS-REx mission is the first NASA mission to visit a near-Earth asteroid, survey the surface, and collect a sample to deliver to Earth.

OSIRIS-REx Leaves its Mark on Bennu

Video above: Like boot prints on the Moon, NASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft left its mark on asteroid Bennu. Now, new images — taken during the spacecraft's final fly-over on April 7, 2021 — reveal the aftermath of the historic Touch-and-Go (TAG) sample acquisition event from Oct. 20, 2020. Video Credits: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.

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

For more information about OSIRIS-REx visit:

Images (mentioned), Animations (mentioned), Video (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Rob Garner/GSFC/Rani Gran/University of Arizona, by Mikayla Mace Kelley.


Telescopes Unite in Unprecedented Observations of Famous Black Hole


NASA & ESA - Hubble Space Telescope patch.

Apr 15, 2021

In April 2019, scientists released the first image of a black hole in the galaxy M87 using the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT). However, that remarkable achievement was just the beginning of the science story to be told.

Tour: M87 in Different Wavelengths of Light

Video Credits: NASA/GSFC/SVS/M.Subbarao & NASA/CXC/SAO/A.Jubett.

Data from 19 observatories are being released that promise to give unparalleled insight into this black hole and the system it powers, and to improve tests of Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity.

“We knew that the first direct image of a black hole would be groundbreaking,” said Kazuhiro Hada of the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan, a co-author of a new study being published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters to describe the large set of data. “But to get the most out of this remarkable image, we need to know everything we can about the black hole’s behavior at that time by observing over the entire electromagnetic spectrum.”

The immense gravitational pull of a supermassive black hole can power jets of particles that travel at almost the speed of light across vast distances. M87’s jets produce light spanning the entire electromagnetic spectrum, from radio waves to visible light to gamma rays. The intensity of light across this spectrum gives a different pattern for each black hole. Identifying this pattern gives crucial insight into a black hole’s properties (for example, its spin and energy output), but this is a challenge because the pattern changes with time.

Scientists compensated for this variability by coordinating observations with many of the world’s most powerful telescopes on the ground and in space, collecting light from across the spectrum. This is the largest simultaneous observing campaign ever undertaken on a supermassive black hole with jets.

Image above: A view of the M87 supermassive black hole in polarised light. Image Credits: ESO/EHT Collaboration/ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO).

The NASA telescopes involved in this observing campaign included the Chandra X-ray Observatory, Hubble Space Telescope, Neil Gehrels Swift Observatory, the Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR), and the Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope.

Beginning with the EHT’s now iconic image of M87, a new video takes viewers on a journey through the data from each telescope. The video shows data across many factors of ten in scale, both of wavelengths of light and physical size. The sequence begins with the EHT image of the black hole in M87 released in April 2019 (the data was obtained in April 2017). It then moves through images from other radio telescope arrays from around the globe, moving outward in the field of view during each step. (The scale for the width of squares is given in light years in the bottom right hand corner). Next, the view changes to telescopes that detect visible light (Hubble and Swift), ultraviolet light (Swift), and X-rays (Chandra and NuSTAR). The screen splits to show how these images, which cover the same amount of the sky at the same time, compare to one another. The sequence finishes by showing what gamma ray telescopes on the ground, and Fermi in space, detect from this black hole and its jet.

Each telescope delivers different information about the behavior and impact of the 6.5-billion-solar-mass black hole at the center of M87, which is located about 55 million light-years from Earth.

“There are multiple groups revving up to see if their models are a match for these rich observations, and we’re excited to see the whole community use this public data set to help us better understand the deep links between black holes and their jets,” said co-author Daryl Haggard of McGill University in Montreal, Canada.

The data were collected by a team of 760 scientists and engineers from nearly 200 institutions, 32 countries or regions, using observatories funded by agencies and institutions around the globe. The observations were concentrated from the end of March to the middle of April 2017.

Black Hole M87 Animation 2009-2017. Animation Credits: ESO/NAOJ/NRAO.

“This incredible set of observations includes many of the world’s best telescopes,” said co-author Juan Carlos Algaba of the University of Malaya in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. “This is a wonderful example of astronomers around the world working together in the pursuit of science.”

The first results show that the intensity of electromagnetic radiation produced by material around M87’s supermassive black hole was the lowest that had ever been seen. This produced ideal conditions for studying the black hole, from regions close to the event horizon out to tens of thousands of light-years.

The combination of data from these telescopes, and current (and future) EHT observations, will allow scientists to conduct important lines of investigation into some of astrophysics’ most significant and challenging fields of study. For example, scientists plan to use these data to improve tests of Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity. Currently, the main hurdles for these tests are uncertainties about the material rotating around the black hole and being blasted away in jets, in particular the properties that determine the emitted light.

A related question that is addressed by today's study concerns the origin of energetic particles called “cosmic rays,” which continually bombard the Earth from outer space. Their energies can be a million times higher than what can be produced in the most powerful accelerator on Earth, the Large Hadron Collider. The huge jets launched from black holes, like the ones shown in today’s images, are thought to be the most likely source of the highest energy cosmic rays, but there are many questions about the details, including the precise locations where the particles get accelerated. Because cosmic rays produce light via their collisions, the highest-energy gamma rays can pinpoint this location, and the new study indicates that these gamma-rays are likely not produced near the event horizon—at least not in 2017. A key to settling this debate will be comparison to the observations from 2018, and the new data being collected this week.

“Understanding the particle acceleration is really central to our understanding of both the EHT image as well as the jets, in all their ‘colors’,” said co-author Sera Markoff, from the University of Amsterdam. “These jets manage to transport energy released by the black hole out to scales larger than the host galaxy, like a huge power cord. Our results will help us calculate the amount of power carried, and the effect the black hole’s jets have on its environment.”

The release of this new treasure trove of data coincides with the EHT's 2021 observing run, which leverages a worldwide array of radio dishes, the first since 2018. Last year’s campaign was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the previous year was suspended because of unforeseen technical problems. This very week, EHT astronomers are targeting the supermassive black hole in M87 again, the one in our Galaxy (called Sagittarius A*), together with several more distant black holes for six nights. Compared to 2017 the array has been improved by adding three more radio telescopes: the Greenland Telescope, the Kitt Peak 12-meter Telescope in Arizona, and the NOrthern Extended Millimeter Array (NOEMA) in France.

“With the release of these data, combined with the resumption of observing and an improved EHT, we know many exciting new results are on the horizon,” said co-author Mislav Baloković of Yale University.

The Astrophysical Journal Letter describing these results is available here:

Related article:

Astronomers image magnetic fields at the edge of M87’s black hole

Related links:

Chandra X-ray Observatory:

Hubble Space Telescope (HST):

Neil Gehrels Swift Observatory:

Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR):

Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope:

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

Best regards,