samedi 25 septembre 2021

Comet dust and comet matter


Moscow Planetarium logo.

Sep. 25, 2021

Comet dust is cosmic dust of cometary origin. These are particles of solid matter separated from comets during their flight in outer space. Dust particles range in size from a few molecules to hundreds of microns.

In recent decades, technical possibilities have appeared to study the matter of comets and cometary dust. In 1986, several spacecraft (Vega-1, Vega-2 - USSR; Giotto - ESA, etc.) investigated Halley's comet. In 2004, NASA's Stardust spacecraft approached Comet Wild at a distance of 240 km, collecting samples of comet dust from its tail using a special collector. In 2014, the ESA lander Philae lander  landed on the Churyumov-Gerasimenko comet to study its substance.

As a result of these studies, it was found that solid cometary matter and cometary dust are a mixture of crystalline and amorphous minerals from the silicate class. The most common of them are: forsterite (Mg2SiO4), enstatite (MgSiO3), olivine (Mg, Fe) 2 [SiO4]) and pyroxenes - a group of minerals of the subclass of chain silicates. Iron oxides and sulfides were found in insignificant quantities.

In general, the results of studies of comet matter and cometary dust in recent years turned out to be quite unexpected. So, among scientists there was a popular point of view, according to which comets were formed at the earliest stages of the formation of the solar system, since their bulk is located in its peripheral (cold) parts and are samples of primary matter, from which the planets and their satellites were subsequently formed. And, indeed, a significant part of the matter of comets consists of cold material, but such minerals as olivine and others could only form under conditions of high temperatures - over 1000 ° C.

Comet dust

These facts allow us to cautiously assume that comets, apparently, consist of a mixture of substances formed at very different temperatures, possibly throughout the entire space of the solar system and at different times.

Source: Moscow Planetarium.

Related links:

ROSCOSMOS Press Release:

Moscow Planetarium:


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

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vendredi 24 septembre 2021

Space Biology, Dragon Packing and Station Traffic Fill Crew Schedule


ISS - Expedition 65 Mission patch.

September 24, 2021

Rodent research, microbe sampling and Dragon packing filled the Expedition 65 crew’s day at the end of the week aboard the International Space Station. Three orbital residents are also preparing their Soyuz crew ship to switch docking ports next week.

NASA Flight Engineers Megan McArthur and Shane Kimbrough started their day observing mice once again inside the Life Science Glovebox (LSG) located in Japan’s Kibo laboratory module. The space biology study is helping scientists identify genes and observe cell functions that are impacted by weightlessness and affect skin processes.

Image above: A portion of the SpaceX Cargo Dragon vehicle is pictured at lower left as the space station orbited above northern France. Image Credit: NASA.

Assisting the duo, ESA (European Space Agency) Thomas Pesquet continued the mice observations during the afternoon. NASA Flight Engineer Mark Vande Hei handled the LSG set up and closeout operations during Friday’s experiment work.

During the afternoon, McArthur swabbed and collected microbe samples from surfaces in the station’s U.S. segment. She photographed the surface areas and stowed the samples for later analysis to document the types of microbes living on the orbiting lab.

Vande Hei and Commander Akihiko Hoshide of the Japan Aerospace Exploration (JAXA) spent a couple of hours on Friday loading the SpaceX Cargo Dragon resupply ship for return to Earth. The Cargo Dragon will undock from the Harmony module’s forward international docking adapter on Thursday at 9:05 a.m. EDT. It will parachute to a splashdown off the coast of Florida several hours later for retrieval by SpaceX and NASA personnel.

Image above: The SpaceX Cargo Dragon vehicle approaches the International Space Station for an autonomous docking to the Harmony module's forward international docking adapter. Image Credit: NASA.

Roscosmos cosmonauts Oleg Novitskiy and Pyotr Dubrov reviewed the procedures today and the path they will take when their Soyuz MS-18 spacecraft moves to a new port. Vande Hei will join his Russian crewmates when they undock from the Rassvet module at 8:21 a.m. on Tuesday. They will temporarily maneuver toward the station’s U.S. segment where they will photograph the orbiting lab’s configuration. Shortly after that, they will move back toward the Russian segment and redock to the Nauka multipurpose laboratory module at around 9 a.m.

The Russian segment’s Zvezda service module fired its engines for less than a minute today slightly lowering the space station’s orbit. The deorbit boost, as it is called, places the station at the correct phase ahead of the arrival of the Soyuz MS-19 crew ship and the departure of the Soyuz MS-18 crew ship in October.

Related article:

NASA TV to Air US Cargo Ship Departure from Space Station

Related links:

Expedition 65:

Life Science Glovebox (LSG):

Kibo laboratory module:

Microbe samples:

Harmony module:

Soyuz MS-18:

Zvezda service module:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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


Grabbing magic tin by the tail


CERN - European Organization for Nuclear Research logo.

24 September, 2021

The ISOLTRAP experiment at CERN’s ISOLDE facility has weighed the neighbouring indium nuclei of tin-100, shedding new light on this special “doubly magic” nucleus

The ISOLDE facility seen from above. (Image: CERN)

Atomic nuclei have only two ingredients, protons and neutrons, but the relative number of these ingredients makes a radical difference in their properties. Certain configurations of protons and neutrons, with “magic numbers” of protons or neutrons arranged into filled shells within the nucleus, are more strongly bound than others. The rare nuclei with complete proton and neutron shells, which are termed doubly magic, exhibit particularly enhanced binding energy and are excellent test cases for studies of nuclear properties.

In a paper just published in Nature Physics, Maxime Mougeot of CERN and colleagues describe theoretical calculations and experimental results from CERN’s ISOLDE facility that shed new light on one of the most iconic doubly magic nuclei: tin-100.

With 50 protons and 50 neutrons, tin-100 is of particular interest for studies of nuclear properties because, in addition to being doubly magic, it is the heaviest nucleus comprising protons and neutrons in equal number – a feature that gives it one of the strongest beta decays, in which a positron (the antiparticle of an electron) is emitted to produce a daughter nucleus.

Studies of the beta decay of tin-100 suffer from difficulties in producing it. Moreover, the two most recent such studies, at RIKEN in Japan by Lubos and colleagues and at GSI in Germany by Hinke and colleagues, yield different values for the energy released in the decay, resulting in discrepant values for the mass of tin-100.

Recent developments at the ISOLDE facility have enabled production of the neighbouring nuclei indium-101, indium-100 and indium-99, a mere proton below tin-100. In their new study, Mougeot and colleagues used all of the experimental armament of the facility’s ISOLTRAP set-up to measure the masses of these new members of the ISOLDE family, notably the mass of indium-100.

“The mass of tin-100 can be derived from that of indium-100 and the energy released in the beta decay of tin-100 into indium-100,” says Mougeot, “So our indium-100 mass measurement grabbed this iconic doubly magic nucleus by the tail.”

The ISOLTRAP mass measurement of indium-100 is ninety times more precise than the previous one, magnifying the discrepancy in the values of the tin-100 mass deduced from the most recent beta-decay studies.

The researchers then made comparisons between the measured masses of the indium nuclei and new sophisticated “ab initio” theoretical calculations that attempt to describe nuclei from first principles. These comparisons favour the beta-decay energy result of Hinke and colleagues over that of Lubos and colleagues. Moreover, they show excellent agreement between the measurements and the calculations, giving the researchers great confidence that the calculations capture the intricate nuclear physics of tin-100 and its indium neighbours.


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:

Nature Physics:


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

Image (mentioned), Text, Credits: European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN).

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Space Station Science Highlights: Week of September 20, 2021


ISS - Expedition 65 Mission patch.

Sep 24, 2021

Crew members aboard the International Space Station conducted scientific investigations during the week of Sept. 20 that included monitoring sleep quality during spaceflight, studying characteristics of bacteria and fungi on surfaces inside the space station, and capturing student-requested images of Earth.

International Space Station (ISS), flying over the Earth. Animation Credit: NASA

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.

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

Sweet Dreams are Made of This

Sleep is vital to human health and well-being. Along with helping to repair and reset the body for optimal performance, adequate sleep can reduce the risk of developing certain medical conditions such as cardiovascular disease. The Dreams investigation from ESA (European Space Agency) uses a headband to monitor sleep quality of crew members. This week, a crew member wore the headband during sleep and answered questions about sleep quality upon waking up.

Follow that Fungi (and Bacteria)

Image above: Astronaut Akihiko Hoshide of JAXA collects samples for Microbial Tracking, an investigation of the potentially disease-causing bacteria and fungi present on the International Space Station. Image Credit: NASA.

Microbes make genetic changes to survive in challenging environments. Some of these changes can represent threats to human health. Microbial Tracking-3 continues a series of studies monitoring pathogenicity (the ability to cause disease) and antibiotic resistance in potentially disease-causing bacteria and fungi on the space station. This week, crew members collected samples from surfaces, documenting with photographs where each sample was taken. Analyses from the investigation add important data to the NASA GeneLab, a comprehensive space-related database.

Lights, Camera, EarthKAM!

Image above: This image, taken by middle school students with the space station’s EarthKAM, shows the coast meeting the shoreline in Brazil, South America. Image Credits: NASA/EarthKAM.

Not everyone can go to space, but anyone can see Earth from an astronaut’s perspective with the Sally Ride EarthKAM. Students remotely control a digital camera mounted on the space station, using it to take photographs of coastlines, mountain ranges, and other interesting features and phenomena. The EarthKAM team posts the images on the Internet, where they are available to the public and participating classrooms. The image gallery provides support for teaching activities ranging from Earth science to space and environmental science, geography, social studies, mathematics, communications, and art. During the week, crew members set up the hardware for collection of images.

Other investigations involving the crew:

- RFID Recon tests using radio frequency identification tags to identify and locate cargo on the space station using the space station’s free-flying Astrobee robots. The technology could help crew members find items more quickly and efficiently and enable more efficient packing, reducing launch mass and stowage volume.

- Changes in the liver enzymes that metabolize medicines may cause some to be less effective in space. Genes in Space-8 tests a technology to monitor the expression of the genes that control these enzymes, which could provide a better understanding of changes and help support development of new medicines to address them.

- For Eklosion, a crew member grows a Marigold plant in a specially designed vase and takes photographs to document the flower’s growth each week. This ESA investigation gathers data on plant growth and the psychological benefits of tending the plant for the crew member.

- 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.

- Ring Sheared Drop uses a device to create shear flow, or a difference in velocity between adjacent liquid layers. Previous research shows shear flow plays a role in the formation of protein aggregations in the brain called amyloid fibrils. Amyloids may be involved in development of diseases such as Alzheimer’s, and results could contribute to a better understanding of those diseases.

- The Four Bed CO2 Scrubber demonstrates improvements in technology for removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere aboard spacecraft. Better reliability and performance of carbon dioxide removal systems in future spacecraft will help to maintain the health of crews and ensure mission success.
- Cool Flames Investigation with Gases, part of the ACME series of studies, observes chemical reactions of cool flames, which burn at lower temperatures. Nearly impossible to create in Earth’s gravity, cool flames are easily created in microgravity and studying them may improve understanding of combustion and fires on Earth.

Image above: NASA astronaut Megan McArthur cleans up debris in the Plant Habitat where Hatch Green chiles are growing for the Plant Habitat-04 experiment. Image Credit: NASA.

- Plant Habitat-04 grows New Mexico Hatch Green Chili peppers in the Advanced Plant Habitat and conducts microbial analysis to improve understanding of plant-microbe interactions in space, assessment of flavor and texture, and nutritional analysis.

Space to Ground: Interactive Investigations: 09/24/2021

Related links:

Expedition 65:


Microbial Tracking-3:

NASA GeneLab:

Sally Ride EarthKAM:

ISS National Lab:

Spot the Station:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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


ISS orbit altitude correction was carried out normally


ROSCOSMOS - Russian Vehicles patch.

Sep. 24, 2021

The orbital altitude of the International Space Station was adjusted in preparation for the arrival of the Soyuz MS-19 manned transport vehicle and the return of the Soyuz MS-18 spacecraft. According to preliminary data, after the corrective maneuver, the station's orbit altitude decreased by 1.2 km.

On Friday, September 24, 2021, at 17:38 Moscow time, a command was issued and the engines of the Zvezda service module of the ISS Russian segment were turned on. The two correcting motors in the normal mode worked for 47.5 seconds, and the impulse value was 0.65 m / s. At present, specialists from the ballistic and navigation support service of the TsNIIMash Flight Control Center (part of the Roscosmos State Corporation) are studying telemetric information.

Currently, seven crew members are on board the International Space Station: Roscosmos cosmonauts Oleg Novitsky and Petr Dubrov, NASA astronauts Mark Vande Hei, Shane Kimbrough and Megan MacArthur, European Space Agency astronaut Thomas Pesquet, and JAXA astronaut Akihiko Hoshide. Roscosmos cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov, as well as space flight participants - actress Yulia Peresild and director Klim Shipenko are to arrive on the Soyuz MS-19 spacecraft.

The launch of the Soyuz-2.1a carrier rocket with the Soyuz MS-19 manned transport vehicle is scheduled for October 5, 2021 from the Baikonur cosmodrome. It is expected that on October 17 Peresild and Shipenko will return to Earth on the Soyuz MS-18 spacecraft together with Roskosmos cosmonaut Oleg Novitsky.

Related articles:

The ISS orbit on Friday will be reduced by 1.2 km

ISS orbit altitude correction is scheduled for September 24

Related links:

ROSCOSMOS Press Release:



Soyuz MS-18:

Soyuz MS-19:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

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Discovering Neptune


NASA - Voyager 1 & 2 Mission patch.

Sep 24, 2021

On the night 175 years ago on Sept. 23-24, 1846, astronomers discovered Neptune, the eighth planet orbiting our Sun. The discovery was made based on mathematical calculations of its predicted position due to observed perturbations in the orbit of the planet Uranus. The discovery was made using a telescope since Neptune is too faint to be visible to the naked eye, and astronomers soon discovered a moon orbiting the planet. More than a century later, a second moon was discovered orbiting the planet. Our knowledge of distant Neptune greatly increased from the scientific observations made during Voyager 2’s flyby in 1989, including the discovery of five additional moons and confirmation of dark rings orbiting the planet.

This image of Neptune was taken by Voyager 2 less than five days before the probe's closest approach of the planet on Aug. 25, 1989, and shows the "Great Dark Spot" — a storm in Neptune's atmosphere — and the bright, light-blue smudge of clouds that accompanies the storm.

Related links:

Voyager 2 Neptune flyby:

For more information about the Voyager spacecraft, visit:


Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Text Credits: NASA/Yvette Smith.


jeudi 23 septembre 2021

Space Biology and Upcoming Spaceship Relocation Keep Crew Busy


ISS - Expedition 65 Mission patch.

September 23, 2021

The Expedition 65 astronauts are moving full speed ahead today studying how living in space affects skin processes. The International Space Station is also gearing up for a busy period of spaceship activities.

Rodents continue to be observed aboard the orbiting lab today so scientists can identify genes and observe cell functions that are impacted by weightlessness and affect skin processes. The Rodent Research-1 Demonstration will take place until next week when the mice are transferred into the SpaceX Cargo Dragon vehicle for return and examination on Earth.

Image above: NASA Flight Engineers Megan McArthur, Shane Kimbrough and Mark Vande Hei work inside the U.S. Destiny laboratory module. Image Credit: NASA.

NASA Flight Engineers Megan McArthur and Shane Kimbrough partnered with ESA (European Space Agency) Flight Engineer Thomas Pesquet for the space biology study today taking place inside the Kibo laboratory module. NASA Flight Engineer Mark Vande Hei is assisting the astronauts with the rodent research, helping them with operations in the Life Science Glovebox.

Commander Akihiko Hoshide of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) spent Thursday morning exploring how weightlessness affects microbes living on the station. He extracted DNA earlier this week from microbe samples he swabbed from surfaces inside the station. Today, Hoshide prepared the DNA for onboard sequencing to help researchers understand the microbial environment of the station and future spacecraft.

Image above: Seeing the Earth's Glow From Space. The atmospheric glow blankets the Earth's horizon beneath the stars, as shown in a photo taken while the International Space Station orbited 261 miles above the Pacific Ocean southeast of Japan. Image Credit: NASA.

In the Russian segment of the orbital lab, Flight Engineers Oleg Novitskiy and Pyotr Dubrov are familiarizing themselves with the procedures for next week’s relocation of their Soyuz MS-18 crew ship. The duo, along with Vande Hei, will take a short ride in the Soyuz on Tuesday when they undock from the Rassvet module at 8:21 a.m. EDT.

They will temporarily maneuver toward the station’s U.S. segment where they will photograph the orbiting lab’s configuration. Shortly after that, they will move back toward the Russian segment and redock to the Nauka multipurpose laboratory module module at around 9 a.m.

Related links:

Expedition 65:

Rodent Research-1 Demonstration:

Kibo laboratory module:

Life Science Glovebox:

Microbial environment:

Soyuz MS-18:

Rassvet module:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

Best regards,

The ISS orbit on Friday will be reduced by 1.2 km


ROSCOSMOS - Russian Vehicles patch.

Sep. 23, 2021

The next correction of the orbit of the International Space Station is scheduled for September 24, 2021. According to preliminary data from the ballistic and navigation service of the TsNIIMash Mission Control Center (part of the Roscosmos State Corporation), the engines of the Zvezda service module of the ISS Russian segment will be turned on at 17:38 Moscow time and will run for 47.5 seconds. After carrying out the corrective maneuver, the station's orbit height should decrease by 1.2 km.

The parameters of the ISS orbit after the corrective maneuver should be:

- Orbital period: 92.91 min;
- Orbital inclination: 51.62 degrees;
- Minimum altitude: 417.49 km;
- Maximum height: 438.83 km;
- The average orbit height is 419.98 km.

Now the crew of Roscosmos cosmonauts Oleg Novitsky and Peter Dubrov, NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei, who arrived on April 9, 2021 on the Soyuz MS-18 spacecraft, as well as crew members of the Crew Dragon spacecraft NASA astronauts Shane Kimbrough and Megan MacArthur, ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Akihiko Hoshide.

Related article:

ISS orbit altitude correction is scheduled for September 24

Related links:

ROSCOSMOS Press Release:



Soyuz MS-18:

Soyuz MS-19:

International Space Station (ISS):

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


NASA’s Perseverance Rover Cameras Capture Mars Like Never Before


NASA - Mars 2020 Perseverance Rover logo.

Sep 23, 2021

Scientists tap into an array of imagers aboard the six-wheeled explorer to get a big picture of the Red Planet.

Image above: Using its WATSON camera, NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover took this selfie over a rock nicknamed “Rochette,” on Sept.10, 2021, the 198th Martian day, or sol, of the mission. Two holes can be seen where the rover used its robotic arm to drill rock core samples. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS.

NASA’s Perseverance rover has been exploring Jezero Crater for more than 217 Earth days (211 Martian days, or sols), and the dusty rocks there are beginning to tell their story – about a volatile young Mars flowing with lava and water.

That story, stretching billions of years into the past, is unfolding thanks in large part to the seven powerful science cameras aboard Perseverance. Able to home in on small features from great distances, take in vast sweeps of Martian landscape, and magnify tiny rock granules, these specialized cameras also help the rover team determine which rock samples offer the best chance to learn whether microscopic life ever existed on the Red Planet.

Altogether, some 800 scientists and engineers around the world make up the larger Perseverance team. That includes smaller teams, from a few dozen to as many as 100, for each of the rover’s cameras and instruments. And the teams behind the cameras must coordinate each decision about what to image.

“The imaging cameras are a huge piece of everything,” said Vivian Sun, the co-lead for Perseverance’s first science campaign at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. “We use a lot of them every single day for science. They’re absolutely mission-critical.”

Mars Report: Update on NASA's Perseverance Rover SHERLOC Instrument (September 23rd, 2021)

Video above: Watch as Caltech’s Eva Scheller, a member of the Perseverance science team, provides a snapshot of the rover’s SHERLOC science instrument. Mounted on the rover’s robotic arm, SHERLOC features spectrometers, a laser, and cameras, including WATSON, which takes close-up images of rock grains and surface textures. Video Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

The storytelling began soon after Perseverance landed in February, and the stunning images have been stacking up as the multiple cameras conduct their scientific investigations. Here’s how they work, along with a sampling of what some have found so far:

The Big Picture

Perseverance’s two navigation cameras – among nine engineering cameras – support the rover’s autonomous driving capability. And at each stop, the rover first employs those two cameras to get the lay of the land with a 360-degree view.

Image above: Perseverance looks back with one of its navigation cameras toward its tracks on July 1, 2021 (the 130th sol, or Martian day, of its mission), after driving autonomously 358 feet (109 meters) – its longest autonomous drive to date. The image has been processed to enhance the contrast. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

“The navigation camera data is really useful to have those images to do a targeted science follow-up with higher-resolution instruments such as SuperCam and Mastcam-Z,” Sun said.

Perseverance’s six hazard avoidance cameras, or Hazcams, include two pairs in front (with only a single pair in use at any one time) to help avoid trouble spots and to place the rover’s robotic arm on targets; the two rear Hazcams provide images to help place the rover in the context of the broader landscape.

Mastcam-Z, a pair of “eyes” on the rover’s mast, is built for the big picture: panoramic color shots, including 3D images, with zoom capability. It can also capture high-definition video.

Image above: Perseverance Mars rover used its Mastcam-Z camera system to create this enhanced-color panorama, which scientists used to look for rock-sampling sites. The panorama is stitched together from 70 individual images taken on July 28, 2021, the 155th Martian day, or sol, of the mission. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU/MSSS.

Jim Bell at Arizona State University leads the Mastcam-Z team, which has been working at high speed to produce images for the larger group. “Part of our job on this mission has been a sort of triage,” he said. “We can swing through vast swaths of real estate and do some quick assessment of geology, of color. That has been helping the team figure out where to target instruments.”

Color is key: Mastcam-Z images allow scientists to make links between features seen from orbit by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) and what they see on the ground.

The instrument also functions as a low-resolution spectrometer, dividing the light it captures into 11 colors. Scientists can analyze the colors for clues about the composition of the material giving off the light, helping them decide which features to zoom in on with the mission’s true spectrometers.

For instance, there’s a well-known series of images from March 17. It shows a wide escarpment, aka the “Delta Scarp,” that is part of a fan-shaped river delta that formed in the crater long ago. After Mastcam-Z provided the broad view, the mission turned to SuperCam for a closer look.

The Long View

Image above: Composed of five images, this mosaic of Jezero Crater’s “Delta Scarp” was taken on March 17, 2021, by Perseverance’s Remote Microscopic Imager (RMI) camera from 1.4 miles (2.25 kilometers) away. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL/CNES/CNRS/ASU/MSSS.

Scientists use SuperCam to study mineralogy and chemistry, and to seek evidence of ancient microbial life. Perched near Mastcam-Z on Perseverance’s mast, it includes the Remote Micro-Imager, or RMI, which can zoom in on features the size of a softball from more than a mile away.

Once Mastcam-Z provided images of the scarp, the SuperCam RMI homed in on a corner of it, providing close-ups that were later stitched together for a more revealing view.

To Roger Wiens, principal investigator for SuperCam at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, these images spoke volumes about Mars’ ancient past, when the atmosphere was thick enough, and warm enough, to allow water to flow on the surface.

“This is showing huge boulders,” he said. “That means there had to have been some huge flash flooding that occurred that washed boulders down the riverbed into this delta formation.”

The chock-a-block layers told him even more.

“These large boulders are partway down the delta formation,” Wiens said. “If the lakebed was full, you would find these at the very top. So the lake wasn’t full at the time the flash flood happened. Overall, it may be indicating an unstable climate. Perhaps we didn’t always have this very placid, calm, habitable place that we might have liked for raising some micro-organisms.”

In addition, scientists have picked up signs of igneous rock that formed from lava or magma on the crater floor during this early period. That could mean not only flowing water, but flowing lava, before, during, or after the time that the lake itself formed.

These clues are crucial to the mission’s search for signs of ancient Martian life and potentially habitable environments. To that end, the rover is taking samples of Martian rock and sediment that future missions could return to Earth for in-depth study.

The (Really) Close-up

Image above: Perseverance took this close-up of a rock target nicknamed “Foux” using its WATSON camera on July 11, 2021, the 139th Martian day, or sol, of the mission. The area within the camera is roughly 1.4 by 1 inches (3.5 centimeters by 2.6 centimeters). Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS.

A variety of Perseverance’s cameras assist in the selection of those samples, including WATSON (the Wide Angle Topographic Sensor for Operations and eNgineering).

Located at the end of the rover’s robotic arm, WATSON provides extreme closeups of rock and sediment, zeroing in on the variety, size, shape, and color of tiny grains – as well as the “cement” between them – in those materials. Such information can lend insight into Mars’ history as well as the geological context of potential samples.

WATSON also helps engineers position the rover’s drill for extracting rock core samples and produces images of where the sample came from.

The imager partners with SHERLOC (Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman & Luminescence for Organics & Chemicals), which includes an Autofocus and Contextual Imager (ACI), the rover’s highest-resolution camera. SHERLOC uses an ultraviolet laser to identify certain minerals in rock and sediment, while PIXL (Planetary Instrument for X-ray Lithochemistry), also on the robotic arm, uses X-rays to determine the chemical composition. These cameras, working in concert with WATSON, have helped capture geologic data – including signs of that igneous rock on the crater floor – with a precision that has surprised scientists.

“We’re getting really cool spectra of materials formed in aqueous [watery] environments – for example sulfate and carbonate,” said Luther Beegle, SHERLOC’s principal investigator at JPL.

Engineers also use WATSON to check on the rover’s systems and undercarriage – and to take Perseverance selfies (here’s how).

Beegle says not just the strong performance of the imaging instruments, but their ability to endure the harsh environment on the Martian surface, gives him confidence in Perseverance’s chances for major discoveries.

“Once we get over closer to the delta, where there should be really good preservation potential for signs of life, we’ve got a really good chance of seeing something if it’s there,” he said.

More About the Mission

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

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

The Mars 2020 Perseverance mission is part of NASA’s Moon to Mars exploration approach, which includes Artemis missions to the Moon that will help prepare for human exploration of the Red Planet.

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

For more about Perseverance: and

Images (mentioned), Video (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Naomi Hartono/Karen Fox/Alana Johnson/JPL/DC Agle/Andrew Good.

Best regards,

ESA/Hubble Picture of the Week Prompts New Understanding of Einstein Ring


NASA / ESA - Hubble Space Telescope (HST) patch.

23 September 2021

Rings of Relativity

In December 2020 the ESA/Hubble team published a stunning view from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope of one of the most complete Einstein rings ever discovered. This observation has since been used to develop a lensing model to study the physical properties of the lensed galaxy. Scientists have successfully measured the distance to the object and determined the magnification factor to be 20, which effectively makes Hubble’s observing capability equivalent to that of a 48-metre telescope.

In December 2020 ESA/Hubble published an image in the Picture of the Week series depicting GAL-CLUS-022058s, located in the southern hemisphere constellation of Fornax (The Furnace). The image shows the largest and one of the most complete Einstein rings ever discovered, and was nicknamed the "Molten Ring'' by the Hubble observation’s Principal Investigator, which alludes to its appearance and host constellation.

Wide-Field View of GAL-CLUS-022058s

​​First theorised to exist by Einstein in his general theory of relativity, this object’s unusual shape can be explained by a process called gravitational lensing, which causes light shining from far away to be bent and pulled by the gravity of an object between its source and the observer. In this case, the light from the background galaxy has been distorted into the curve we see by the gravity of the galaxy cluster sitting in front of it. The near exact alignment of the background galaxy with the centre of the galaxy cluster, seen in the middle of this image, has warped and magnified the image of the background galaxy into an almost perfect ring. The gravity from the galaxies in the cluster is soon to cause additional distortions.

Hubble Space Telescope (HST)

A team of European astronomers have now used a multi-wavelength dataset, which includes inputs from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope and this featured image, to study this Einstein ring in detail. Archival data from the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope (VLT) FORS instrument determined the redshift value of the lensed galaxy.

“In order to derive the physical properties of the lensed galaxy a lensing model is needed. Such a model could only be obtained with the Hubble imaging,” explained the lead investigator Anastasio Díaz-Sánchez of the Universidad Politécnica de Cartagena in Spain. “In particular, Hubble helped us to identify the four counter images and the stellar clumps of the lensed galaxy, for which the Picture of the Week image was used.”

Pan of GAL-CLUS-022058s

From this lensing model the team calculated the amplification factor, which is a valuable effect of gravitational lensing. This allowed the team to study the intrinsic physical properties of the lensed galaxy. Of particular interest is the determination of the galaxy’s distance, which shows that the galaxy’s light has travelled approximately 9.4 billion light-years [1].

“The detection of molecular gas, of which new stars are born, allowed us to calculate the precise redshift and thus gives us confidence that we are truly looking at a very distant galaxy," said Nikolaus Sulzenauer, PhD student at the Max Plank Institute for Radio Astronomy in Germany and member of the investigation team.

Zoom into GAL-CLUS-022058s

Furthermore, the team determined the galaxy’s magnification factor to be 20, which effectively makes the Hubble Space Telescope’s observing capability equivalent to that of a 48-metre telescope. This is larger than the currently planned extremely large telescopes.

“The lensed galaxy is one of the brightest galaxies in the millimetre wavelength regime,” added Helmut Dannerbauer of the Institute of Astrophysics of the Canary Islands in Spain and a member of the investigation team. “Our research has also shown that it is a normal star-forming galaxy (a so-called main sequence galaxy) at the peak epoch of star formation in the Universe.”

Animation of gravitational lensing (artist’s impression)

“We can clearly see the spiral arms and the central bulge of the galaxy in the Hubble images. This will help us to better understand star formation in distant galaxies using planned observations," added team member Susana Iglesias-Groth of the Institute of Astrophysics of the Canary Islands in Spain.


[1] The team determined the lensed galaxy’s redshift value to be z = 1.47.

More information:

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

The international team of astronomers in this study consists of A. Díaz-Sánchez (Universidad Politécnica de Cartagena, Spain), H. Dannerbauer (Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias, Spain), N. Sulzenauer (Max-Planck-Institut für Radiastronomie, Germany), S. Iglesias-Groth (Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias, Spain), and R. Rebolo (Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias, Spain). The results have been published today in The Astrophysical Journal.


European Southern Observatory's (ESO) Very Large Telescope (VLT):

Space Sparks Episode 5:

Images of Hubble:
Hubblesite release:

Science paper:

Hubblesite (ESA):

Images, Animation Credits: ESA/Hubble & NASA, S. Jha. Acknowledgement: L. Shatz/ESA/Hubble, Digitized Sky Survey 2. Acknowledgement: D. De Martin/Videos: ESA/Hubble, NASA, Dark Energy Survey/DOE/FNAL/DECam/CTIO/NOIRLab/NSF/AURA, Digitized Sky Survey 2, M. Zamani (NSF’s NOIRLab), E. Slawik/ESA/Hubble and M. Kornmesser/Music: zero-project - Through the Looking Glass ( tonelabs - Happy Hubble ( Credits: ESA/Hubble/Bethany Downer/Universidad Politécnica de Cartagena/Anastasio Díaz-Sánchez.


NASA Satellites Show How Clouds Respond to Arctic Sea Ice Change


NASA logo.

Sep 23, 2021

Clouds are one of the biggest wildcards in predictions of how much and how fast the Arctic will continue to warm in the future. Depending on the time of the year and the changing environment in which they form and exist, clouds can both act to warm and cool the surface below them.

For decades, scientists have assumed that losses in Arctic sea ice cover allow for the formation of more clouds near the ocean’s surface. Now, new NASA research shows that by releasing heat and moisture through a large hole in sea ice known as a polynya, the exposed ocean fuels the formation of more clouds that trap heat in the atmosphere and hinder the refreezing of new sea ice.

The findings come from a study over a section of northern Baffin Bay between Greenland and Canada known as the North Water Polynya. The research is among the first to probe the interactions between the polynya and clouds with active sensors on satellites, which allowed scientists to analyze clouds vertically at lower and higher levels in the atmosphere.

The approach allowed scientists to more accurately spot how cloud formation changed near the ocean’s surface over the polynya and the surrounding sea ice, explained Emily Monroe, an atmospheric scientist at NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, who led the study.

“Instead of relying on model output and meteorological reanalysis to test our hypothesis, we are able to pull near-instantaneous satellite scan data from the area near the polynya,” Monroe said. “Since each scan is collected over a time scale on the order of about 10 seconds, it is more likely the polynya and nearby ice are experiencing the same large-scale weather conditions, so we can more accurately tease apart what effect the change from ice surface to water surface is having on the overlying clouds.”

Animation above: A simplified visualization showing cloud responses before, during, and after the opening of a large hole surrounded by sea ice known as a polynya. The insulating effect of sea ice is seen, as the opening of the polynya facilitates heat (red) and moisture (yellow) exchanges. Heat emitted by clouds (purple) over the ice hole helps keep the polynya open, and remains after new sea ice closes the ice hole. Image Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center Conceptual Image Lab/Jenny McElligott.

Sea ice acts like a lid on a pot of boiling water, explained Linette Boisvert, a sea ice scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, who was part of the study. When the lid is removed, heat and steam escape into the air.

“We're getting more heat and moisture from the ocean going into the atmosphere because the sea ice acts like a cap or a barrier between the relatively warm ocean surface and the cold and dry atmosphere above,” Boisvert said. “This warming and moistening of the atmosphere slows down the vertical growth of the sea ice, meaning that it will not be as thick, so it's more vulnerable to melt in the summer months.”

Like other polynyas in the Arctic and Antarctic, the North Water Polynya forms when specific wind patterns blow in a persistent direction and tear holes in the ice. These wind patterns only exist in the winter months, and the holes open and close repeatedly, alternately exposing and insulating the ocean.

Image above: A section of the North Water Polynya and adjacent sea ice seen during an Operation IceBridge flight on April 19, 2016. Moisture evaporated from the ocean is seen condensing into small clouds. Image Credits: NASA/Jeremy Harbeck.

The new insights come during a time when Arctic sea ice appears to have hit its annual minimum extent after waning during the warmer months in 2021. They underscore how sea ice influences a region that plays an integral role in regulating the pace of global warming, sea level rise, and other effects of human-caused climate change.

Sea ice does not raise global sea levels directly. Like ice cubes in a drink, melting sea ice does not directly increase the volume of water in the ocean. Still, a shrinking Arctic sea ice extent can expose relatively warm sea water to the region’s coastal ice sheets and glaciers, causing more melting that contributes freshwater to the ocean and does cause sea level rise.

The new research shows low clouds over the polynya emitted more energy or heat than clouds in adjacent areas covered by sea ice. Those low clouds contained more liquid water, too—nearly four times higher than clouds over nearby sea ice. The increased cloud cover and heat under the clouds persisted for about a week after each occasion the polynya refroze during the time span of the study.

“Just because the sea ice reforms and the polynya closes up, that doesn't mean that conditions go back to normal right away,” Boisvert said. “Even though the moisture sources are essentially gone, this effect of extra clouds and increased cloud radiative effect to the surface remains for a time after [the polynya freezes].”

Image above: The western edge of the North Water Polynya seen during an Operation IceBridge flight on April 3, 2019. The polynya, a large patch of exposed ocean within an area of substantial sea ice cover, opens four to five times during the colder months. The extent of the North Water Polynya varies from year to year, but can be large enough to cover the area of entire U.S. states such as Virginia. Image Credits: NASA/Jeremy Harbeck.

The findings also suggest the response of the clouds to the polynya lengthened the time the hole remained open, said Patrick Taylor, a climate scientist at NASA Langley, who also was part of the study.

“They can create a thicker blanket and increase the amount of heat emitted down to the surface,” Taylor said. “The emitted heat helps keep the surface of the North Water Polynya a little warmer and helps prolong the event itself.”

Large-scale meteorological processes often make studies of Arctic warming difficult. However, repeated openings in the sea ice in the same region create a natural laboratory to study the feedback between clouds and the alternation between sea ice and polynyas.

“We can compare both sea ice and open water areas, and the clouds over those two surface types in close enough proximity, so that we don't have to worry about large changes in atmospheric conditions that have confounded previous studies,” Taylor said. “If there's not a cloud response to a polynya event where sea ice goes away over the course of a few days, you wouldn't expect a response anywhere else. The opening of a polynya is a very strong, distinct forcing.”

The team is planning to take their research to the next level and test whether a similar cloud effect can be observed in other areas where sea ice and open ocean meet.

Related links:

NASA study:

Aqua Satellite:

CALIPSO (Cloud-Aerosol Lidar and Infrared Pathfinder Satellite):



Terra Satellite:

Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC):

Langley Research Center:

Images (mentioned), Animation (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Roberto Molar-Candanosa/NASA's Earth Science News Team/By Roberto Molar Candanosa.

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NASA’s InSight Finds Three Big Marsquakes, Thanks to Solar-Panel Dusting


NASA - InSight Mars Lander patch.

Sep 23, 2021

The lander cleared enough dust from one solar panel to keep its seismometer on through the summer, allowing scientists to study the three biggest quakes they’ve seen on Mars.

Image above: This selfie of NASA’s InSight lander is a mosaic made up of 14 images taken on March 15 and April 11 – the 106th and 133rd Martian days, or sols, of the mission – by the spacecraft Instrument Deployment Camera located on its robotic arm. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

On Sept. 18, NASA’s InSight lander celebrated its 1,000th Martian day, or sol, by measuring one of the biggest, longest-lasting marsquakes the mission has ever detected. The temblor is estimated to be about a magnitude 4.2 and shook for nearly an hour-and-a-half.

This is the third major quake InSight has detected in a month: On Aug. 25, the mission’s seismometer detected two quakes of magnitudes 4.2 and 4.1. For comparison, a magnitude 4.2 quake has five times the energy of the mission’s previous record holder, a magnitude 3.7 quake detected in 2019.

The mission studies seismic waves to learn more about Mars’ interior. The waves change as they travel through a planet’s crust, mantle, and core, providing scientists a way to peer deep below the surface. What they learn can shed light on how all rocky worlds form, including Earth and its Moon.

Image above: InSight’s domed Wind and Thermal Shield covers the lander’s seismometer, called Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure, or SEIS. The image was taken on the 110th Martian day, or sol, of the mission. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

The quakes might not have been detected at all had the mission not taken action earlier in the year, as Mars’ highly elliptical orbit took it farther from the Sun. Lower temperatures required the spacecraft to rely more on its heaters to keep warm; that, plus dust buildup on InSight’s solar panels, has reduced the lander’s power levels, requiring the mission to conserve energy by temporarily turning off certain instruments.

The team managed to keep the seismometer on by taking a counterintuitive approach: They used InSight’s robotic arm to trickle sand near one solar panel in the hopes that, as wind gusts carried it across the panel, the granules would sweep off some of the dust. The plan worked, and over several dust-clearing activities, the team saw power levels remain fairly steady. Now that Mars is approaching the Sun once again, power is starting to inch back up.

"Even after more than two years, Mars seems to have given us something new with these two quakes." InSight’s principal investigator, Bruce Banerdt.

“If we hadn’t acted quickly earlier this year, we might have missed out on some great science,” said InSight’s principal investigator, Bruce Banerdt of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, which leads the mission. “Even after more than two years, Mars seems to have given us something new with these two quakes, which have unique characteristics.”

Temblor Insights

While the Sept. 18 quake is still being studied, scientists already know more about the Aug. 25 quakes: The magnitude 4.2 event occurred about 5,280 miles (8,500 kilometers) from InSight – the most distant temblor the lander has detected so far.

Scientists are working to pinpoint the source and which direction the seismic waves traveled, but they know the shaking occurred too far to have originated where InSight has detected almost all of its previous large quakes: Cerberus Fossae, a region roughly 1,000 miles (1,609 kilometers) away where lava may have flowed within the last few million years. One especially intriguing possibility is Valles Marineris, the epically long canyon system that scars the Martian equator. The approximate center of that canyon system is 6,027 miles (9,700 kilometers) from InSight.

To the surprise of scientists, the Aug. 25 quakes were two different types, as well. The magnitude 4.2 quake was dominated by slow, low-frequency vibrations, while fast, high-frequency vibrations characterized the magnitude 4.1 quake. The magnitude 4.1 quake was also much closer to the lander – only about 575 miles (925 kilometers) away.

InSight Mission logo. Animation Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

That’s good news for seismologists: Recording different quakes from a range of distances and with different kinds of seismic waves provides more information about a planet’s inner structure. This summer, the mission’s scientists used previous marsquake data to detail the depth and thickness of the planet’s crust and mantle, plus the size of its molten core.

Despite their differences, the two August quakes do have something in common other than being big: Both occurred during the day, the windiest – and, to a seismometer, noisiest – time on Mars. InSight’s seismometer usually finds marsquakes at night, when the planet cools off and winds are low. But the signals from these quakes were large enough to rise above any noise caused by wind.

Looking ahead, the mission’s team is considering whether to perform more dust cleanings after Mars solar conjunction, when Earth and Mars are on opposite sides of the Sun. Because the Sun’s radiation can affect radio signals, interfering with communications, the team will stop issuing commands to the lander on Sept. 29, though the seismometer will continue to listen for quakes throughout conjunction.

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:

Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS):

Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package (HP3):

InSight Mars Lander:

Images (mentioned), Animation (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Karen Fox/Alana Johnson/JPL/Andrew Good.


mercredi 22 septembre 2021

China Space Station - Tianzhou-3 launch & Docking


CNSA - Tianzhou-3 (天舟三号) patch.

Sep. 22, 2021

Tianzhou-3 liftoff

The Long March-7 Y4 launch vehicle launched the Tianzhou-3 cargo spacecraft from the Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site, Hainan Province, China, on 20 September 2021, at 07:10 UTC (15:10 local time).

Tianzhou-3 launch

Tianzhou-3 (天舟三号) is the second cargo mission scheduled to autonomously dock to the Tianhe Core Module (天和核心舱), the first and main component of the China Space Station (中国空间站).

Tianzhou-3’s fast automated rendezvous explained

The fast automated rendezvous and docking of Tianzhou-3 explained by Xu Xiaoping (deputy chief designer of cargo spacecraft system). Tianzhou-3 (天舟三号) is the second cargo mission scheduled to autonomously dock to the Tianhe Core Module (天和核心舱), the first and main component of the China Space Station (中国空间站).

Tianzhou-3 docking

The Tianzhou-3 cargo spacecraft was launched by The Long March-7 Y4 launch vehicle on 20 September 2021, at 07:10 UTC (15:10 China Standard Time). Tianzhou-3 carries nearly 6 tonnes of goods and materials, including living supplies for the astronauts, one extravehicular space suit for back-up, supplies for extravehicular activities, space station platform materials, payloads and propellants.

Tianzhou-3 docking

Tianzhou-3 autonomously docked to the Tianhe Core Module on 20 September 2021, at 14:08 UTC (22:08 China Standard Time). Tianzhou-3 (天舟三号) is the second cargo mission scheduled to autonomously dock to the Tianhe Core Module (天和核心舱), the first and main component of the China Space Station (中国空间站).

Related articles (archives):

China Space Station - Shenzhou-12 Crew's Back on Earth

China Space Station - Shenzhou-12 radial rendezvous test explained

China Space Station - Shenzhou-12 astronauts present the Tianhe core module

Successful second spacewalk on the China Space Station

China Space Station - Shenzhou-12 crew prepares for second spacewalk

China Space Station - Shenzhou-12 astronauts test their health

CMS - Shenzhou-12 - one month on board the China Space Station

First spacewalk on the China Space Station

China Space Station - The Tianhe core module has Hall-effect thrusters - CSS astronauts unpack EVA spacesuit

China Space Station - Shenzhou-12 crew begins three-month mission

China sends its first crew to its Space Station

Long March-7 Y3 launches Tianzhou-2 & Tianzhou-2 docking to the Tianhe Core Module

Tianhe completes in-orbit checks & Long March-7 Y3 ready to launch Tianzhou-2

China Space Station

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

Images, Videos, Text, Credits: China National Space Administration (CNSA)/China Media Group(CMG)/China Central Television (CCTV)/SciNews/ Aerospace/Roland Berga.