samedi 18 décembre 2021

Artemis I Integrated Testing Update


NASA - ARTEMIS-1 Mission patch.

Dec 18, 2021

NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Orion spacecraft are undergoing integrated testing inside the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida to ensure they are “go” for launch of the Artemis I mission early next year.

After stacking the Orion atop the SLS rocket, the engineers completed several tests to ensure the rocket and spacecraft are ready to roll to the launch pad ahead of the Artemis I wet dress rehearsal. These tests included ensuring Orion, the core stage, and boosters can communicate with the ground systems and verification testing to make sure all the pieces of the rocket and spacecraft can power up and connect to the consoles in the Launch control Center.

During a recent core stage power test, engineers identified an issue with one of the RS-25 engine flight controllers. The flight controller works as the “brain” for each RS-25 engine, communicating with the SLS rocket to provide precision control of the engine as well as internal health diagnostics. Each controller is equipped with two channels so that there is a back-up, should an issue arise with one of the channels during launch or ascent. In the recent testing, channel B of the controller on engine four failed to power up consistently.

The controller had powered up and communicated successfully with the rocket’s computers during preliminary integrated testing, in addition to performing a full duration hot fire during Green Run testing with all four RS-25 engines earlier this year at NASA’s Stennis Space Center near Bay St. Louis, Mississippi. NASA and lead contractor for the RS-25 engines, Aerojet Rocketdyne, also test all RS-25 engines and flight controllers for Artemis missions at Stennis prior to integration with the rocket.

After performing a series of inspections and troubleshooting, engineers determined the best course of action is to replace the engine controller, returning the rocket to full functionality and redundancy while continuing to investigate and identify a root cause. NASA is developing a plan and updated schedule to replace the engine controller while continuing integrated testing and reviewing launch opportunities in March and April.

SLS RS-25 Engine Test, 15 December 2021

Verification testing of the Interim Cryogenic Propulsions Stage is ongoing along with closeouts of the boosters, and parallel work continues with core stage engineering testing. Communication end-to-end testing is underway, and countdown sequence testing will begin as early as next week to demonstrate all SLS and Orion communication systems with the ground infrastructure and launch control center. Integrated testing will culminate with the wet dress rehearsal at historic Launch Complex 39B. NASA will set a target launch date after a successful wet dress rehearsal test.

SLS will be the most powerful rocket in the world and is the only rocket that can send Orion, astronauts, and supplies to the Moon in a single mission. With the Artemis missions, NASA will land the first woman and the first person of color on the Moon and establish long-term exploration in preparation for missions to Mars. SLS and Orion, along with the commercial human landing system and the Gateway that will orbit the Moon, are NASA’s backbone for deep space exploration.

Related links:

Artemis missions:

Space Launch System (SLS):

Image, Video, Text, Credits: NASA/SciNews.

Best regards,

Retrograde asteroids and comets


Moscow Planetarium logo.

Dec 18, 2021

For planetary systems, retrograde motion usually means motion that is opposite to the rotation of the main body, that is, the object that is the center of the system. Asteroids usually have a direct orbit around the sun. At present, of the entire set of asteroids, several dozen are known in retrograde orbits, which received it, most likely due to the gravitational interaction with Jupiter.

The orbit of asteroid 20461 Diorets and its position in the solar system

Such objects include the asteroid Dioretsa, which was discovered in 1999 at an observatory near the city of Socorro (New Mexico, USA). It moves in an orbit characterized by high eccentricity and, most importantly, retrograde motion. To highlight this fact, it was named Dioretsa: an "asteroid" read in reverse order.

The asteroid's orbital period around the Sun is 116 years at a distance of 2.4 to 45.4 AU. In terms of these indicators, the orbit of Diotetsa is similar to the orbit of a comet, which led some researchers to the assumption that Diotetsa is of cometary origin, since comets are more likely to be retrograde than asteroids. The famous Halley's comet, for example, orbits the sun in a retrograde orbit.

In 2008, the first trans-Neptunian object with a retrograde orbit, 2008 KV42, was discovered at the Mauna Kea observatory. At perihelion 2008, KV42 is located slightly further than Uranus's orbit, at a distance of 20.3 AU. from the sun. At the time of discovery, the object was at a distance of 32 AU. from the sun. Object 2008 KV42 makes a revolution around our star in about 300 years. The orbital inclination is 103 °. This unusual (retrograde) orbit suggested that 2008 KV42 entered it from the Oort Cloud.

Another trans-Neptunian object (471325) 2011 KT19, discovered in 2011, attracted the attention of scientists due to the almost perpendicular retrograde motion of the object relative to other planets of the solar system. These circumstances prompted scientists to name the object Niku, which means “rebellious” in Chinese.

Image above: Orbits of trans-Neptunian objects 2008 KV 42 and 2011 KT 19 Orbits of trans-Neptunian objects 2008 KV 42 and 2011 KT 19.

Scientists do not yet have reliable versions regarding the non-standard behavior of these space wanderers. Some researchers associate such anomalies with the gravitational effect of a hypothetical ninth planet, the search for which was unsuccessful. Be that as it may, the study of such objects must continue, as they will help to identify the areas that are the sources of retrograde comets and asteroids, as well as understand the evolution of the outer regions of the solar system.

Source: Moscow Planetarium.

Related links:

ROSCOSMOS Press Release:

Moscow Planetarium:



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

Best regards,

SpaceX Starlink 33 launch


SpaceX - Falcon 9 / Starlink Mission patch.

Dec 18, 2021

SpaceX carrying Starlink 33 liftoff

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launched 52 Starlink satellites (Starlink-33) from Space Launch Complex 4 East (SLC-4E) at Vandenberg Space Force Base in California, on 18 December 2021, at 12:41 UTC (04:41 PST).

SpaceX Starlink 33 launch & Falcon 9 first stage landing, 18 December 2021

Following stage separation, Falcon 9’s first stage landed on the “Of Course I Still Love You” droneship, stationed in the Atlantic Ocean. Falcon 9’s first stage (B1051) previously supported ten missions: SXM-7, RADARSAT Constellation Mission, Demo-1 (Crew Dragon’s first demonstration mission) and seven Starlink missions.

Related links:



Image, Video, Text, Credits: SpaceX/SciNews/ Aerospace/Roland Berga.


Weather 40% Favorable for Tuesday’s SpaceX Cargo Resupply Launch


SpaceX - Dragon CRS-24 Mission patch.

Dec 18, 2021

Weather officials with Cape Canaveral Space Force Station’s 45th Weather Squadron predict a 40% chance of favorable weather conditions for Tuesday’s launch, with the cumulous cloud, thick cloud layer, and surface electric field rules being the primary weather concerns.

Image above: A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, topped with the Dragon spacecraft, is seen inside the company’s hangar at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Aug. 24, 2021, prior to being rolled out to the launch pad in preparation for the 23rd commercial resupply services launch. The mission delivered science investigations, supplies, and equipment to the crew aboard the International Space Station. Image Credit: NASA.

SpaceX is targeting Dec. 21, at 5:06 a.m. EST, to launch its 24th commercial resupply services mission to the International Space Station for NASA. Liftoff will be from Launch Complex 39A at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft will deliver new science investigations, supplies, and equipment for the international crew.

Some of the NASA science investigations launching as part of Dragon’s 6,500 pounds of cargo include a protein crystal growth study that could improve how cancer treatment drugs are delivered to patients and a handheld bioprinter that could one day be used to print tissue directly onto wounds for faster healing. There are also experiments from students at several universities as part of the Student Payload Opportunity with Citizen Science (SPOCS) program and an investigation from the makers of Tide that examines detergent efficacy in microgravity.

Animation above: SpaceX Falcon 9 / Dragon Commercial Resupply Service (CRS) launch. Animation Credit: SpaceX.

Live coverage will air on NASA Television, the NASA app and the agency’s website, with prelaunch events starting Tuesday at 4:45 a.m. You can also join us here on the blog for live updates.

Related article:

Experiments Riding 24th SpaceX Cargo Mission to Space Station Study Bioprinting, Crystallization, Laundry

Related links:


NASA Television:

Protein crystal growth study:

Handheld bioprinter:

Student Payload Opportunity with Citizen Science (SPOCS):

International Space Station (ISS):

Image (mentioned), Animation (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Patti Bielling.


vendredi 17 décembre 2021

Crew Ramps Up for Visitors’ Departure and U.S. Cargo Mission


ISS - Expedition 66 Mission patch.

Dec 17, 2021

Next week will see a U.S. resupply ship launch toward the International Space Station following Sunday’s departure of three orbiting lab visitors. Meanwhile, the seven Expedition 66 crewmates continued their space biology and physics research while maintaining station systems.

SpaceX is due to launch its Cargo Dragon spacecraft from Florida on Tuesday at 5:06 a.m. EST to replenish the station crew. It will automatically dock to the Harmony module’s space-facing port on Wednesday at 4:30 a.m. delivering about 6,500 pounds of new science experiments, crew supplies and station hardware. NASA TV will cover both events live on the agency’s website, and the NASA app.

Image above: SpaceX’s Cargo Dragon spacecraft, seen atop a Falcon 9 rocket, at the launch pad at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Aug. 24, 2021, in preparation for the company’s 23rd commercial resupply services mission. Image Credit: SpaceX.

NASA astronauts Raja Chari and Thomas Marshburn are training for the U.S. cargo mission. The duo reviewed Cargo Dragon’s approach and rendezvous profile and got familiarized with docked operations. Both flight engineers will be on duty Wednesday morning monitoring the commercial craft’s automated arrival and docking.

Three space travelers are nearing the end of their 11-day mission as they prepare to return to Earth this weekend. Roscosmos cosmonaut Alexander Misurkin has been staging gear to be packed inside the Soyuz MS-20 crew ship and checking components inside the Russian spacecraft. He’ll lead Japanese spaceflight participants Yusaku Maezawa and Yozo Hirano back home when the spacecraft undocks on Sunday at 6:50 p.m. and parachutes to a landing in Kazakhstan at 10:18 p.m. NASA TV coverage begins at 3 p.m. when the departing trio says farewell to the station crew and closes the Soyuz vehicle’s hatch.

Image above: The three-person Soyuz MS-20 crew (front row) participates in a group portrait with the seven-member Expedition 66 crew. Image Credit: NASA/ROSCOSMOS.

Human research is ongoing in space as Flight Engineers Kayla Barron and Matthias Maurer began Friday with blood and saliva collections and stowed the samples in a science freezer for future analysis. Barron of NASA then spent the afternoon inspecting personal protective equipment. Maurer of ESA (European Space Agency) swapped samples for a wet foams study then configured components that support the EasyMotion space exercise suit.

NASA Flight Engineer Mark Vande Hei continued more runs today of the InSPACE-4 manufacturing study learning how to manipulate nanoparticles in weightlessness. Vande Hei then wrapped up his day early following a busy week of space physics research taking place inside the Microgravity Science Glovebox.

The International Space Station seen from the “Endeavour” Crew Dragon

Video above: ESA astronaut Thomas Pesque photographed the International Space Station from the Crew-2 “Endeavour” Crew Dragon spacecraft on 8 November 2021. Video Credits: NASA/ESA/Thomas Pesquet/Music: Habanera by Bizet courtesy of YouTube Audio Library.

The two Expedition 66 cosmonauts, Commander Anton Shkaplerov and Flight Engineer Pyotr Dubrov, started the day attaching sensors to their hands for a muscle study. Shkaplerov then analyzed the Zvezda service module’s atmosphere and checked Russian life support and electronics hardware. Dubrov worked on communications gear and downloaded data collected from radiation detectors.

Related article:

NASA Sets Coverage, Invites Public to Virtually Join Next Cargo Launch

Related links:


Expedition 66:

Harmony module:

Wet foams study:

EasyMotion space exercise suit:


Microgravity Science Glovebox:

Zvezda service module:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

Best regards,

NASA’s Juno Spacecraft ‘Hears’ Jupiter’s Moon


NASA - JUNO Mission logo.

Dec 17, 2021

An audio track collected during Jupiter mission’s Ganymede flyby offers a dramatic ride-along. It is one of the highlights mission scientists shared in a briefing at American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting.

Image above: This JunoCam image shows two of Jupiter's large rotating storms, captured on Juno’s 38th perijove pass, on Nov. 29, 2021. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS Image processing: Kevin M. Gill CC BY.

Sounds from a Ganymede flyby, magnetic fields, and remarkable comparisons between Jupiter and Earth’s oceans and atmospheres were discussed during a briefing today on NASA’s Juno mission to Jupiter at the American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting in New Orleans.

Juno Principal Investigator Scott Bolton of the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio has debuted a 50-second audio track generated from data collected during the mission’s close flyby of the Jovian moon Ganymede on June 7, 2021. Juno’s Waves instrument, which tunes in to electric and magnetic radio waves produced in Jupiter’s magnetosphere, collected the data on those emissions. Their frequency was then shifted into the audio range to make the audio track.  

“This soundtrack is just wild enough to make you feel as if you were riding along as Juno sails past Ganymede for the first time in more than two decades,” said Bolton. “If you listen closely, you can hear the abrupt change to higher frequencies around the midpoint of the recording, which represents entry into a different region in Ganymede's magnetosphere.”

Audio of Juno’s Ganymede Flyby

Video above: Radio emissions collected during Juno’s June 7, 2021, flyby of Jupiter’s moon Ganymede are presented here, both visually and in sound. Video Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/Univ of Iowa.

Detailed analysis and modeling of the Waves data are ongoing. “It is possible the change in the frequency shortly after closest approach is due to passing from the nightside to the dayside of Ganymede,” said William Kurth of the University of Iowa in Iowa City, lead co-investigator for the Waves investigation.

At the time of Juno’s closest approach to Ganymede – during the mission’s 34th trip around Jupiter – the spacecraft was within 645 miles (1,038 kilometers) of the moon’s surface and traveling at a relative velocity of 41,600 mph (67,000 kph).

Magnetic Jupiter

Jack Connerney from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, is the lead investigator with Juno’s magnetometer and is the mission’s deputy principal investigator. His team has produced the most detailed map ever obtained of Jupiter’s magnetic field.

Compiled from data collected from 32 orbits during Juno’s prime mission, the map provides new insights into the gas giant’s mysterious Great Blue Spot, a magnetic anomaly at the planet’s equator. Juno data indicates that a change in the gas giant’s magnetic field has occurred during the spacecraft’s five years in orbit, and that the Great Blue Spot is drifting eastward at a speed of about 2 inches (4 centimeters) per second relative to the rest of Jupiter’s interior, lapping the planet in about 350 years.

Image above: This image of the Jovian moon Ganymede was obtained by the JunoCam imager aboard NASA's Juno spacecraft during its June 7, 2021, flyby of the icy moon. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS.

In contrast, the Great Red Spot – the long-lived atmospheric anticyclone just south of Jupiter’s equator – is drifting westward at a relatively rapid clip, circling the planet in about four-and-a-half years.

In addition, the new map shows that Jupiter’s zonal winds (jet streams that run east to west and west to east, giving Jupiter’s its distinctive banded appearance) are pulling the Great Blue Spot apart. This means that the zonal winds measured on the surface of the planet reach deep into the planet’s interior.

The new magnetic field map also allows Juno scientists to make comparisons with Earth’s magnetic field. The data suggests to the team that dynamo action – the mechanism by which a celestial body generates a magnetic field – in Jupiter’s interior occurs in metallic hydrogen, beneath a layer expressing “helium rain.”

Data Juno collects during its extended mission may further unravel the mysteries of the dynamo effect not only at Jupiter but those of other planets, including Earth.

Earth’s Oceans, Jupiter’s Atmosphere

Image above: Left to right: A phytoplankton bloom in the Norwegian Sea, and turbulent clouds in Jupiter’s atmosphere. Jupiter images provided by NASA’s Juno spacecraft have given oceanographers the raw materials to study the rich turbulence at the gas giant’s poles and the physical forces that drive large cyclones on Jupiter. Image Credits: NASA OBPG OB.DAAC/GSFC/Aqua/MODIS Image processing: Gerald Eichstadt CC BY.

Lia Siegelman, a physical oceanographer and postdoctoral fellow at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego, decided to study the dynamics of Jupiter’s atmosphere after noticing that the cyclones at Jupiter’s pole appear to share similarities with ocean vortices she studied during her time as a doctoral student.

“When I saw the richness of the turbulence around the Jovian cyclones, with all the filaments and smaller eddies, it reminded me of the turbulence you see in the ocean around eddies,” said Siegelman. “These are especially evident in high-resolution satellite images of vortices in Earth’s oceans that are revealed by plankton blooms that act as tracers of the flow.”

The simplified model of Jupiter’s pole shows that geometric patterns of vortices, like those observed on Jupiter, spontaneously emerge, and survive forever. This means that the basic geometrical configuration of the planet allows these intriguing structures to form.

Although Jupiter’s energy system is on a scale much larger than Earth’s, understanding the dynamics of the Jovian atmosphere could help us understand the physical mechanisms at play on our own planet.

Arming Perseus

The Juno team has also released its latest image of Jupiter’s faint dust ring, taken from inside the ring looking out by the spacecraft’s Stellar Reference Unit navigation camera. The brightest of the thin bands and neighboring dark regions scene in the image are linked to dust generated by two of Jupiter’s small moons, Metis and Adrastea. The image also captures the arm of the constellation Perseus.

“It is breathtaking that we can gaze at these familiar constellations from a spacecraft a half-billion miles away,” said Heidi Becker, lead co-investigator of Juno’s Stellar Reference Unit instrument at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena. “But everything looks pretty much the same as when we appreciate them from our backyards here on Earth. It’s an awe-inspiring reminder of how small we are and how much there is left to explore.”

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

More About the Mission

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

More information about Juno online at:

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


Space Station Science Highlights: Week of December 13, 2021


ISS - Expedition 66 Mission patch.

Dec 17, 2021

Crew members aboard the International Space Station conducted scientific investigations during the week of Dec. 13 that included assessment of body composition as well as bone and muscle loss in crew members, testing a wearable health monitor, and studying soot-free flames.

The space station, continuously inhabited by humans for 21 years, has supported many scientific breakthroughs. A robust microgravity laboratory with dozens of research facilities and tools, the station supports investigations spanning every major scientific discipline, conveying benefits to future space exploration and advancing basic and applied research on Earth. The orbiting lab also provides a platform for a growing commercial presence in low-Earth orbit that includes research, satellite services, and in-space manufacturing.

Image above: The city of Chicago, Illinois, pictured from the International Space Station as it orbited 262 miles above Lake Michigan. Image Credit: NASA.

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

Eat this, not that

Long-duration spaceflight can cause changes in body composition such as bone and muscle loss. An investigation from ESA (European Space Agency), NutrISS periodically assesses body composition, including weight, fat mass, and fat-free mass, and measures long-term energy balance modification over time. One way to help mitigate microgravity-induced bone and muscle loss by crew members could be to adjust their diet by, for example, increasing protein intake. The investigation may improve understanding of the mechanisms behind body composition changes during spaceflight and help lead to ways to mitigate any negative effects of those changes. Results also could help improve quality of life on Earth by contributing to better clinical management of people with body mass issues on Earth. During the week, crew members answered an experiment questionnaire and performed a body composition analysis measurement session.

Keep your shirt on

The Canadian Space Agency (CSA) BioMonitor investigation performs on-orbit monitoring of crew member health. The technology includes a smart shirt and dedicated tablet application in place of bulky and invasive medical devices that can be disruptive and time-consuming to use. The shirt records the wearer’s physical activity, heart rate, and respiration; takes regular blood pressure readings; and estimates arterial stiffness. In addition to monitoring astronaut health, the technology could help people on Earth who are bedridden, housebound, or living in rural communities with limited access to medical support. It also could be worn by workers in dangerous environments such as mines, industrial sites, or factories. After conducting operations for the investigation, crew members performed a final stow of the device.

Better burning

Image above: Set-up for the ACME Flame Design experiment, which studies the production and control of soot-free flames in an effort to create more efficient and cleaner burner designs for combustion applications on Earth and in space. Image Credit: NASA.

The crew replaced fuel bottles in support of the on-going Flame Design investigation, which studies the production and control of soot in oxygen-enriched combustion and the design of soot-free flames. Soot can adversely affect efficiency, emissions, and equipment lifetime, so this research may lead to cleaner and more efficient burner designs for combustion applications on Earth. Findings also could aid the development of future space-based combustion devices for tasks such as solid waste processing or to improve spacecraft fire safety. The experiment is conducted with spherical flames of gaseous fuels in the Combustion Integrated Rack (CIR) as part of the Advanced Combustion via Microgravity Experiments (ACME) project.

Other investigations involving the crew:

- Myotones, an ongoing investigation from ESA, observes properties of muscles and assesses the mechanisms involved in muscle adaptation to spaceflight. The work could support development of ways to protect muscular function on future space missions and in clinical settings on Earth.

Image above: NASA astronaut Thomas Marshburn works on Vascular Aging, a CSA study that examines the cardiovascular changes that take place in microgravity. Image Credit: NASA.

- An investigation from the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), Vascular Aging, analyzes changes in the arteries of crew members using artery ultrasounds, blood samples, oral glucose tolerance testing, and wearable sensors. Results could help researchers assess the risks to astronaut cardiovascular health and potentially point to mechanisms to reduce those risks.

- The Dreams investigation from ESA uses a headband to monitor sleep quality of crew members. Sleep is vital to human health and well-being, helping to repair and reset the body for optimal performance and reducing the risk of certain medical conditions such as cardiovascular disease.

- InSPACE-4 studies magnetic assembly of structures from colloids, or particles suspended in a liquid in microgravity. Results could lead to more advanced materials for space applications, including thermal shields, protection from micrometeorites, energy production, and sensors for robotic and human missions.

- Phospho-aging, an investigation from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), examines the molecular mechanism behind aging-like symptoms, such as bone and muscle loss, that can occur more rapidly in microgravity. Results could lead to the development of more effective countermeasures.

- Touching Surfaces tests laser-structured antimicrobial surfaces as a method for reducing microbial contamination aboard the space station. Results from this ESA investigation could help determine the most suitable design for antimicrobial surfaces for spacecraft and habitats as well as for terrestrial applications such as public transportation and clinical settings.

- Space Studio Kibo from JAXA is a broadcasting studio that can livestream activities, interactive entertainment, and communication from space and receive uplinked video and audio from a ground studio. Part of JAXA Space Innovation through Partnership and Co-Creation (J-SPARC), the program aims to create new space-related businesses.

Space to Ground: Dreams of New Science: 12/17/2021

Related links:

Expedition 66:



Flame Design:

Combustion Integrated Rack (CIR):

Advanced Combustion via Microgravity Experiments (ACME):

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 66.

Best regards,

Hubble Views a Galaxy With an Explosive Past


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

Dec 17, 2021

In this image, the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope captures a side-on view of NGC 3568, a barred spiral galaxy roughly 57 million light-years from the Milky Way in the constellation Centaurus. In 2014 the light from a supernova explosion in NGC 3568 reached Earth – a sudden flare of light caused by the titanic explosion accompanying the death of a massive star. While most astronomical discoveries are the work of teams of professional astronomers, this supernova was discovered by amateur astronomers who are part of the Backyard Observatory Supernova Search in New Zealand. Dedicated amateur astronomers often make intriguing discoveries – particularly of fleeting astronomical phenomena such as supernovae and comets.

This Hubble observation comes from a wealth of data gathered to pave the way for future science with the upcoming NASA/ESA/CSA James Webb Space Telescope. By combining ground-based observations with data from Hubble’s Advanced Camera for Surveys and Wide Field Camera 3, astronomers have built a treasure trove of data on the connections between young stars and the clouds of cold gas in which they form. One of Webb’s key science goals is to explore the life cycle of stars – particularly how and where stars are born. Since Webb observes at infrared wavelengths, it will be able to peer through the clouds of gas and dust in stellar nurseries and observe the fledgling stars within. Webb’s superb sensitivity will even allow astronomers to directly investigate faint protostellar cores – the earliest stages of star birth.

Hubble Space Telescope (HST)

For more information about Hubble, visit:

Image, Animation Credits: ESA/Hubble & NASA, M. Sun/Text Credits: European Space Agency (ESA)/NASA/Andrea Gianopoulos.


Opening a 50-year-old Christmas present from the Moon


NASA - Apollo 17 Mission patch.

Dec 17, 2021

A pretty special gift unwrapping will soon take place – a piercing tool built by ESA will open a Moon soil container from Apollo 17 that has gone untouched for nearly 50 years. The opening will allow the extraction of precious lunar gases which may have been preserved in the sample.

Piercing tool for a Moon sample container

Analysis of the gaseous volatiles will allow scientists to better understand the geology of the Moon and help engineers to design better sampling tools and techniques for future missions to the Moon or even Mars.

The gas extraction experiment is part of the larger Apollo Next-Generation Sample Analysis (ANGSA) programme that coordinates the analysis of pristine Moon samples from the Apollo era. And for the first time ever, ESA is involved in the opening of soil returned from the Moon.

Apollo 17 astronaut Gene Cernan on the Moon

“The opening and analyses of these samples now, with the technical advancements achieved since the Apollo era, can enable new scientific discoveries on the Moon. This can also inspire and inform a new generation of explorers,” says Francesca McDonald, science and project lead of ESA’s contribution to ANGSA.

Francesca and colleague Timon Schild travelled last month to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, USA, to deliver the piercing tool and train the lunar sample curation team on how to operate it.

 Apollo can openers

“It is a privilege to be able to work amongst the treasure trove of ancient Moon samples that have witnessed the history of our Solar System, and be a part of a programme that can help to reveal their secrets,” adds Francesca.   

The tool now stands-by to be used on the Apollo sample container in the coming weeks.

Lunar origins

Astronaut Gene Cernan collected the sample on the Moon in 1972 from a landslip deposit that cascaded down into the Taurus-Littrow Valley. The Apollo 17 astronaut hammered a 70 cm long cylindrical tube into the surface to extract a core sample of the lunar soil.

The lower half of this core sample was sealed in a vacuum tight container on the lunar surface. Back on Earth, the container was put in an additional vacuum chamber where it has sat undisturbed until this day.

Moon sample 73002 dissection

Scientists believe that there may be loosely bound gases, such as hydrogen, helium and noble gases still trapped in the sample container.

“The piercing tool is a solution for accessing the gases. We are eager to learn how well the vacuum container preserved the sample and the fragile gases,” says Francesca.

The international effort can help develop new sample return containers and protocols, particularly for water-ice rich samples from lunar polar locations and future martian samples.

Operations of a lunar can opener

ESA’s piercing tool, jokingly called the “Apollo can opener” amongst the team, can puncture the Moon sample vacuum container to aid capturing the trapped gases as they escape.

The fragile gases are then collected in dedicated canisters thanks to an extraction manifold designed by a partner team at Washington University in Saint-Louis, USA.

Piercing device

The gas sample canisters will be sent to specialised laboratories around the world, including Europe, for more detailed studies.

“Each gas component that is analysed can help to tell a different part of the story about the origin and evolution of volatiles on the Moon and within the early Solar System,” says Francesca.

A unique innovation and design challenge

ESA developed the “Apollo can opener” over a period of about 16 months in a truly international effort. Scientific and technical experts from six different teams and seven nationalities across two ESA sites worked with the ANGSA consortium, with support from the laboratory facilities at ESTEC, ESA’s main technology centre.

“This piercing tool is a one-of-a-kind system built for the sole purpose of puncturing the so-called 73001 Apollo sample container,” says Timon Schild, who led the development at ESA’s Spaceship EAC team.

Baking for the Moon

The work with lunar material imposed a lot of stringent rules for material choices, cleanliness and operating procedures. On top of that, all the information came from 50-year-old documents.

“Some of the characteristics of the sample container were simply unknown. All in all, building the tool was a challenge, but also extremely inspiring and a rewarding project to work on,” adds Timon.

Lessons for future Moon and Mars missions

Looking ahead, the lessons learned through the ANGSA programme will help improve future missions to the Moon, such as NASA’s Artemis and ESA’s Prospect programmes.

Sample Fetch Rover for Mars Sample Return campaign

New sample handling and containment approaches can also contribute to the exploration of the Red Planet. Together with NASA, ESA is aiming to return samples with the Mars Sample Return programme.

Related articles:

ESA helps analyse untouched Moon rocks

NASA Selects Teams to Study Untouched Moon Samples

Related links:

Apollo 17:

Apollo Next-Generation Sample Analysis (ANGSA):

Laboratory facilities at ESTEC:

ESA’s Spaceship EAC:

NASA’s Artemis:

ESA’s Prospect:

Mars Sample Return:

Images, Video, Text, Credits: ESA/Francesca McDonald/NASA/ANGSA science team/ATG Medialab.

Best regards,

jeudi 16 décembre 2021

Science and Exercise Hardware Work as Trio Nears Departure


ISS - Expedition 66 Mission patch.

Dec 16, 2021

The seven-member Expedition 66 crew spent Thursday servicing physics research gear and exercise hardware aboard the International Space Station. Meanwhile, the orbiting lab’s three visitors are preparing for their departure on Sunday.

The coldest temperatures in the Universe can be found inside the space station’s Cold Atom Lab (CAL). Atoms are chilled to temperatures near absolute zero allowing scientists to observe fundamental behaviors and quantum characteristics not possible on Earth. NASA Flight Engineers Kayla Barron and Raja Chari opened the CAL today and replaced computer hardware inside the space physics device.

Image above: A waxing crescent Moon during is pictured from the station during an orbital sunset as it flew above the Pacific Ocean. Image Credit: NASA.

Human research is always ongoing aboard the station helping scientists understand how microgravity affects humans as NASA prepares to go to the Moon, Mars and beyond. NASA Flight Engineer Thomas Marshburn scanned his right leg’s femoral artery with an ultrasound device to observe accelerated aging-like characteristics in the cardiovascular system that take place in weightlessness.

Cosmonauts Anton Shkaplerov and Pyotr Dubrov replaced a motor inside the Zvezda service module’s treadmill during the afternoon. Flight surgeons regularly monitor space exercise ensuring crew members maintain muscle and bone health during long term space missions.

Sunrise from International Space Station (ISS). Animation Credit: NASA

NASA Flight Engineer Mark Vande Hei took a robotics test for the Behavioral Core Measures space psychology study and continued researching how to manipulate nanoparticles. Flight Engineer Matthias Maurer of ESA (European Space Agency) spent his day maintaining science and computer systems inside the Columbus laboratory module.

Three station visitors are nearing the end of their mission and getting ready to return to Earth on Sunday. Roscosmos cosmonaut Alexander Misurkin led Japanese spaceflight participants Yusaku Maezawa and Yozo Hirano on a review of the descent procedures they will use as they soar into the atmosphere aboard the Soyuz MS-20 crew ship. The trio will undock from the Poisk module on Sunday at 6:50 p.m. EST and parachute to a landing in Kazakhstan at 10:13 p.m.

Related links:

Expedition 66:

Cold Atom Lab (CAL):

Accelerated aging-like characteristics:

Zvezda service module:

Behavioral Core Measures:

Manipulate nanoparticles:

Columbus laboratory module:

Poisk module:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

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IXPE Unfolds its Origami Boom for Science


NASA - Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE) patch.

Dec. 16, 2021

NASA’s newest X-ray observatory – the Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer, or IXPE – extended its boom successfully Dec. 15, giving IXPE the ability to see high-energy X-rays. The mission, which launched on Dec. 9, is one step closer to studying some of the most energetic and mysterious places in the universe in a new way.

Animation above: A gif of IXPE deploying in space before starting its science operations to study the cosmos. Animation Credit: NASA.

The IXPE observatory features three identical telescopes, each with a mirror assembly and a polarization-sensitive detector. To focus X-rays, IXPE’s mirrors need to be about 13 feet (4 meters) away from the detectors. That’s too large to fit inside some rocket fairings. So IXPE’s boom had to fold up, like origami, into a 12-inch (0.3-meter) cannister and stretch out again in orbit.

Imaging X-Ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE). Image Credit: NASA

“For those of us in the space game, moving parts are always frightening,” said Martin Weisskopf, IXPE’s principal investigator at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center. “Right now, I’m smiling from ear to ear.”

With the boom now deployed, mission specialists are ready to focus on commissioning the telescopes, preparing them for the spacecraft’s first science.

Related article:

NASA Launches New Mission to Explore Universe’s Most Dramatic Objects

For more information about the IXPE mission, visit:

Animation (mentioned), Image ((mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Jennifer Harbaugh.


Reflections of Starlight


NASA - Hubble Space Telescope patch.

Dec 16, 2021

This Hubble Space Telescope image captures a portion of the reflection nebula IC 2631, which contains a protostar, the hot, dense core of a forming star that is accumulating gas and dust. Eventually, the protostar may gravitationally gather enough matter to begin nuclear fusion and emit its own energy and starlight.

Reflection nebulae are clouds of gas and dust that reflect the light from nearby stars. The starlight scatters through the gas and dust like a flashlight beam shining on mist in the dark and illuminates it. Because of the way light scatters when it hits the fine dust of the interstellar medium, these nebulae are often bluish in color.

Hubble observed this nebula while looking for disks of gas and dust around young stars. Such disks are left over from the formation of the star and may eventually form planets.

Hubble Space Telescope (HST)

For more information about Hubble, visit:

Image, Animation Credits: NASA, ESA, and K. Stapelfeldt (Jet Propulsion Laboratory); Processing; Gladys Kober (NASA/Catholic University of America)/Text Credits: NASA/Yvette Smith.

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Chang’e-5 sample has high-titanium content and rare Earth elements


CLEP - China Lunar Exploration Program logo.

Dec 16, 2021

A Chang'E 5 high-Ti mare basalt

Scientists from the Chinese Academy of Sciences have analysed a Chang’e-5 sample and discovered it to be “a relatively rare high-titanium mare basalt enriched with rare earth elements”.

Chang’e-5 sample has high-titanium content and rare earth elements

According to the published study, the Chang’e-5 basalt sample CE5C0000YJYX065 “is a high-Ti mare basalt with a rare earth element (REE) enriched signature.”

Chang’e-5 Moon rover

Mineral chemistry and 3D tomography of a chang’E 5 high-Ti basalt: implication for the lunar thermal evolution history.

China National Space Administration (CNSA):

Image, Animation, Video, Text, Credits: CNSA/China Media Group(CMG)/China Central Television (CCTV)/Yun Jiang, Ye Li, Shiyong Liao, Zongjun Yin, Weibiao Hsu/Science Bulletin, DOI: 10.1016/j.scib.2021.12.006/SciNews/ Aerospace/Roland Berga.


Did black holes form immediately after the Big Bang?


NASA / ESA / CSA-ASC - James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) patch.

Dec 16, 2021

How did supermassive black holes form? What is dark matter? In an alternative model for how the Universe came to be, as compared to the ‘textbook’ history of the Universe, a team of astronomers propose that both of these cosmic mysteries could be explained by so-called ‘primordial black holes’.

Nico Cappelluti (University of Miami), Günther Hasinger (ESA Science Director) and Priyamvada Natarajan (Yale University), suggest that black holes existed since the beginning of the Universe ­­and that these primordial black holes could themselves be the as-of-yet unexplained dark matter. The new study is accepted for publication in The Astrophysical Journal.

“Black holes of different sizes are still a mystery. We don’t understand how supermassive black holes could have grown so huge in the relatively short time available since the Universe existed,” explains Günther Hasinger.

At the other end of the scale, there might also be very small black holes, as suggested by observations from ESA’s Gaia, for example. If they exist, they are too small to have formed from dying stars.

Did black holes form immediately after the Big Bang?

Our study shows that without introducing new particles or new physics, we can solve mysteries of modern cosmology from the nature of dark matter itself to the origin of super-massive black holes," says Nico Cappelluti.

If most of the black holes formed immediately after the Big Bang, they could have started merging in the early Universe, forming more and more massive black holes over time. ESA’s future gravitational wave space observatory, LISA, might pick up the signals of those mergers if primordial black holes exist. Small black holes might simply be the primordial black holes that have not merged into larger ones yet.

According to this model, the Universe would be filled with black holes all over. Stars would start to form around these clumps of ‘dark matter’, creating solar systems and galaxies over billions of years. If the first stars indeed formed around primordial black holes, they would exist earlier in the Universe than is expected by the ‘standard’ model.

“Primordial black holes, if they do exist, could well be the seeds from which all black holes form, including the one at the centre of the Milky Way,” says Priyamvada Natarajan.

ESA’s Euclid mission, which will probe the dark Universe in greater detail than ever before, could play a role in the quest to identify primordial black holes as dark matter candidates.

Artist's impression of the James Webb Space Telescope

The upcoming NASA/ESA/CSA James Webb Space Telescope, a cosmic time machine looking back over more than 13 billion years, will further shed light on this mystery.

“If the first stars and galaxies already formed in the so-called ‘dark ages’, Webb should be able to see evidence of them,” adds Günther.

Notes for editors:

“Exploring the high-redshift PBH-ΛCDM Universe: early black hole seeding, the first stars and cosmic radiation backgrounds,” by N. Cappelluti, G. Hasinger and P. Natarajan is accepted for publication in The Astrophysical Journal:

Related link:

NASA/ESA/CSA James Webb Space Telescope (JWST):

Images, Text, Credits: ESA/ATG medialab.

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mercredi 15 décembre 2021

Research Focusing on Muscles, Botany during Russian Spaceship Work


ISS - Expedition 66 Mission patch.

Dec 15, 2021

Wednesday’s research schedule aboard the International Space Station highlighted the human muscular and circulatory systems as well as botany. The Expedition 66 crew also continued its space physics studies while working on docked Russian spacecraft.

The lack of gravity affects the human body and station crew members exercise about two hours a day to counteract the loss of bone and muscle. Flight Engineers Thomas Marshburn of NASA and Matthias Maurer of ESA (European Space Agency) focused their science work today on how weightlessness affects the biochemical properties of muscles. Maurer scanned Marshburn’s arm, leg, back and neck muscles with an ultrasound device before and after the NASA astronaut worked out on the Advanced Resistive Exercise Device (ARED). Observations may help doctors increase muscle health in space and on Earth.

Image above: Astronaut Kayla Barron is pictured inside the seven-windowed cupola, the space station’s “window to the world.” Image Credit: NASA.

NASA Flight Engineer Raja Chari is setting up the Advanced Plant Habitat in the Kibo laboratory module which will house a space botany experiment launching on the next SpaceX Cargo Dragon mission. Over in the U.S. Destiny laboratory module, NASA Flight Engineers Kayla Barron and Mark Vande Hei took turns researching how to manipulate nanoparticles for the InSPACE-4 space manufacturing study.

In the station’s Russian segment, Expedition 66 Commander Anton Shkaplerov unpacked cargo from the ISS Progress 79 cargo craft and inspected the Rassvet, Poisk and Nauka modules. Flight Engineer Pyotr Dubrov focused on electronics work and cable connections.

International Space Station (ISS). Animation Credit: NASA

Visiting Flight Engineer Alexander Misurkin from Roscosmos loaded gear and readied the Soyuz MS-20 crew ship for its return on Sunday. Japanese spaceflight participants Yusaku Maezawa and Yozo Hirano spent the day videotaping and photographing the Earth and continued more research into how the circulatory system behaves in space.

Related links:

Expedition 66:

Biochemical properties of muscles:

Advanced Resistive Exercise Device (ARED):

Advanced Plant Habitat:

Kibo laboratory module:

Space botany experiment:

U.S. Destiny laboratory module:




Nauka multipurpose laboratory module:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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