vendredi 28 janvier 2022

Crew Works Spine Scans, Heart and Breathing Checks on Friday


ISS - Expedition 66 Mission patch.

Jan 28, 2022

Spinal scans and cardiopulmonary measurements were the key research operations taking place aboard the International Space Station on Friday. The Expedition 66 crew also serviced spacesuits, life support gear, and a Russian science module.

Human research is fundamental to understanding how the body adapts to weightlessness with doctors seeking to keep astronauts healthy during long-term missions. Researchers look at the data using a variety of tools to understand the physiological changes the human body goes through in space.

Image above: Russian spacewalkers Pyotr Dubrov and Anton Shkaplerov work on the Prichal module during a spacewalk on Jan. 19, 2022. Image Credits: Roscosmos/NASA TV.

NASA astronauts Mark Vande Hei and Thomas Marshburn took turns scanning each other’s spines using the Ultrasound 2 device during the afternoon on Friday. The duo marked their lower back area and scanned the lumber spinal section with real time guidance from doctors on the ground.

Another experiment is using portable gear an astronaut can wear that measures heart rate and breathing function. Flight Engineer Matthias Maurer of ESA (European Space Agency) put on the vest-like medical monitoring device Friday morning and worked out on the exercise cycle for the Metabolic Space study.

Sunrise from ISS. Animation Credits: ISS HD Live/ Aerospace

Two NASA astronauts focused their efforts on maintaining space station hardware on the last day of the workweek. Flight Engineer Kayla Barron worked for several hours in the Quest airlock cleaning cooling loops and water lines inside a pair of U.S. spacesuits. NASA Flight Engineer Raja Chari adjusted the station’s Internal Thermal Control System located behind an avionics rack in the U.S. Destiny laboratory module.

In the station’s Russian segment, Commander Anton Shkaplerov of Roscosmos worked throughout the day on orbital plumbing and ventilation cleaning tasks. Flight Engineer Pyotr Dubrov spent the day checking cable connections, laptop computers, and other components inside the Nauka multipurpose laboratory module.

Related links:

Expedition 66:

Ultrasound 2:

Metabolic Space:

Quest airlock:

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/Heidi Lavelle.


Hubble Spots a Starship-Shaped Galactic Pair


NASA - Hubble Space Telescope patch.

Jan 28, 2022

The subject of this image is a group of three galaxies, collectively known as NGC 7764A. They were imaged by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, using both its Advanced Camera for Surveys and Wide Field Camera 3. The two galaxies in the upper right of the image appear to be interacting with one another. The long trails of stars and gas extending from them give the impression that they have both just been struck at great speed, thrown into disarray by the bowling-ball-shaped galaxy to the lower left of the image. In reality, interactions between galaxies happen over very long time periods, and galaxies rarely collide head-on with one another. It is also unclear whether the galaxy to the lower left is interacting with the other two, although they are so relatively close in space that it seems possible that they are. By happy coincidence, the collective interaction between these galaxies has caused the two on the upper right to form a shape, which from our solar system's perspective, resembles the starship known as the USS Enterprise from Star Trek!

NGC 7764A, which lies about 425 million light-years from Earth in the constellation Phoenix, is a fascinating example of just how awkward astronomical nomenclature can be. The three galaxies are individually referred as NGC 7764A1, NGC 7764A2, and NGC 7764A3. This rather haphazard naming makes more sense when we consider that many astronomical catalogs were compiled well over 100 years ago, long before modern technology made standardizing scientific terminology much easier. As it is, many astronomical objects have several different names, or might have names that are so similar to other objects’ names that they cause confusion.

Hubble Space Telescope (HST)

For more information about Hubble, visit:

Related links:

Advanced Camera for Surveys:

Wide Field Camera 3:

Image, Animation Credits: ESA/Hubble & NASA, J. Dalcanton, Dark Energy Survey, U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), Fermilab (FNAL), Dark Energy Survey Camera (DECam), Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory (CTIO), NoirLab/National Science Foundation/AURA, European Southern Observatory (ESO); Acknowledgment: J. Schmidt/Text credit: European Space Agency (ESA).

Best regards,

Space Station Science Highlights: Week of January 24, 2022


ISS - Expedition 66 Mission patch.

Jan 28, 2022

Crew members aboard the International Space Station conducted scientific investigations during the week of Jan. 24 that included several studies of plant growth and development and an examination of how liquid behaves in a tank in microgravity.

International Space Station (ISS). Animation Credit: ESA

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.

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

Plants in space

Humans have grown plants for food on Earth for some 10,000 years. One day, they may do so on other planets. Scientists are using the space station to conduct a range of studies on growing plants in microgravity. In addition to allowing astronauts to grow some of their own food on future missions, this work could help scientists engineer more hardy crops for Earth. This week crew members conducted several such studies.

Image above: This image shows growth of cotton cells during the Plant Habitat-05 study, which looks at gene expression in certain cells and could help identify ways to engineer cotton plants with specific qualities such as drought resistance. Image Credit: NASA.

The way that commercial crops have been cultivated can make it difficult to engineer varieties with specific traits. Plant Habitat-05 studies gene expression in certain cotton plant cells to better understand this resistance to genetic engineering and possibly identify ways to create specific qualities such as drought resistance. The investigation is hosted in the station’s Advanced Plant Habitat. Crew members took photographs of designated experiment plates and prepared for harvesting during the week.

Image above: NASA astronaut Kayla Barron conducts operations for MVP Plant-01, an investigation that could help scientists understand the molecular mechanisms and regulatory networks behind how plants sense and adapt to changes in their environment. Image Credit: NASA.

MVP Plant-01 examines shoot and root development in plants and the molecular mechanisms behind how plants sense and adapt to changes in their environment. Results could contribute to the design of plants better able to withstand adverse environmental conditions, including long-duration spaceflight. During the week, crew members installed hardware into the Multi-use Variable-g Platform (MVP) to initiate the investigation.

Veggie PONDS uses a newly developed passive nutrient delivery system and the station’s Veggie plant growth facility to cultivate lettuce and mizuna greens. Results could improve our understanding of how plants respond to microgravity and demonstrate reliable vegetable production on orbit. The crew installed Veggie Ponds modules into Veggie to initiate the science run and conducted water fill and thinning of plants during the week.

Tempest in a tank

Image above: A view of the FLUIDICS experiment equipment showing one of the three transparent spheres. Image Credits: CNES/French Space Agency.

An investigation from ESA (European Space Agency), FLUIDICS uses three liquid-filled spheres to observe and analyze sloshing and wave turbulence. A better understanding of liquid sloshing in a tank in microgravity could improve the guidance and precision of satellites and optimize lifetime of these craft through better fuel management. Wave turbulence at the surface of liquids is affected by gravity on Earth, but in microgravity, scientists can study only the liquid’s surface tension. A better understanding of wave turbulence could provide insights into measuring the volume of liquid in a sphere, helping to improve ways to determine how much fuel is left in a tank. Results also could provide a better understanding of how Earth’s oceans work, including the phenomenon of "rogue waves," help improve climate prediction systems, and optimize the use of ocean-based renewable energy. During the week, crew members installed the FLUIDICS hardware and initiated several science runs.

Other investigations involving the crew:

- Students across Europe use two augmented Raspberry Pi computers aboard the space station for AstroPi, an education program coordinated by ESA. The program helps motivate students to study science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

- ESA’s Acoustic Diagnostics investigation tests the hearing of crew members before, during, and after flight to assess possible adverse effects of noise and the microgravity environment on human hearing.

- CIMON, an ESA investigation, observes the effects of crew support by an artificial intelligence (AI) using an interactive robotic free flyer that navigates autonomously. Spaceflight missions involve substantial stress and workload, and AI assistance with tasks could reduce that stress.

- MVP Cell-01 studies cartilage and bone tissue cultures subjected to mechanical injury and treated with a pharmaceutical. The work could lead to treatments for a disease called Post-traumatic Osteoarthritis, where a traumatic joint injury leads to arthritis.

- Bioprint FirstAid, an ESA investigation, demonstrates a portable, handheld bioprinter that uses a patient’s own skin cells to create a tissue-forming patch to cover a wound and accelerate the healing process.

- ESA’s Touching Surfaces tests laser-structured antimicrobial surfaces on the space station. Results could help determine the most suitable materials for future spacecraft and habitations as well as for terrestrial applications such as public transportation and clinical settings.

- Flame Design, part of the ACME series of payloads, studies the production and control of soot in oxygen-enriched combustion and the design of soot-free flames. This research may lead to cleaner and more efficient burner designs for combustion applications on Earth and aid the development of future space-based combustion devices for tasks such as solid waste processing or to improve spacecraft fire safety.

- Food Acceptability looks at how the appeal of food changes during long-duration missions. Whether crew members like and actually eat food has a direct effect on caloric intake and associated nutritional benefits.

Space to Ground: Next Day Delivery: 01/28/2022

Related links:

Expedition 66:

Plant Habitat-05:

Advanced Plant Habitat:

MVP Plant-01:

Multi-use Variable-g Platform (MVP):

Veggie PONDS:



ISS National Lab:

Spot the Station:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

Images (mentioned), Animation (mentioned), Video (NASA), Text, Credits: NASA/Michael Johnson/John Love, ISS Research Planning Integration Scientist Expedition 66.


Astronomers close in on new way to detect gravitational waves


JPL-Caltech - LIGO Lab logo.

Jan 28, 2022

Several teams hope to use pulsars in the Milky Way to detect ripples in space-time made by distant supermassive black holes.

Image above: Supermassive black holes orbiting each other very closely are expected to produce gravitational waves. Image Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/Science Photo Library.

Astronomers could be on the verge of detecting gravitational waves from distant supermassive black holes — millions or even billions of times larger than the black holes spotted so far — an international collaboration suggests. The latest results from several research teams suggest they are closing in on a discovery after two decades of efforts to sense the ripples in space-time through their effects on pulsars, rapidly spinning spent stars that are sprinkled across the Milky Way.

Gravitational-wave hunters are looking for fluctuations in the signals from pulsars that would reveal how Earth bobs in a sea of gravitational waves. Like chaotic ripples in water, these waves could be due to the combined effects of perhaps hundreds of pairs of black holes, each lying at the centre of a distant galaxy.

So far, the International Pulsar Timing Array (IPTA) collaboration has found no conclusive evidence of these gravitational waves. But its latest analysis — using pooled data from collaborations based in North America, Europe and Australia — reveals a form of ‘red noise’ that has the features researchers expected to see. The findings were published on 19 January in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society (1).

“This is a major milestone,” says Michael Kramer, an astronomer at the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, who is a leading member of the European team. Although it does not yet constitute a gravitational-wave detection, it is a necessary step towards one, he adds. If the red noise had not been seen at this stage, cosmologists might have had to reconsider their predictions for the prevalence of supermassive black holes and their role in the evolution of the Universe.

Xavier Siemens, a radio astronomer at Oregon State University in Corvallis and a leader of the North American group, agrees that the red noise is not yet a detection. “But it’s reassuring,” he says.

Beyond LIGO

The first direct detection of gravitational waves was achieved in 2015 by the Laser Interferometry Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) in Louisiana and Washington state. LIGO’s twin antennas measured waves produced in the final moments of the merger of two black holes, each with a mass tens of times that of the Sun. Since then, LIGO and its Italy-based counterpart Virgo have spotted dozens of similar bursts. Those waves peak in frequency at tens to thousands of cycles per second — similar to the lower frequencies of audible sound — and can be sensed for several seconds or, in some cases, minutes.

The IPTA collaboration’s pulsar technique aims to detect longer-lasting gravitational waves that oscillate at much lower frequencies, measured in cycles per year or even per decade (see ‘The gravitational-wave spectrum’). These signals would typically originate from pairs of black holes that orbit each other long-term, rather than from mergers. “This is different from LIGO burst events, where the event occurs very quickly and that particular event will not reoccur,” says radio astronomer George Hobbs at the Australia Telescope National Facility in Epping.

Astrophysicists think that most large galaxies have a supermassive black hole at their centre. When two galaxies merge, their central black holes eventually sink to the centre of the newly formed galaxy and begin to orbit each other. If they get close enough, they will emit intense gravitational waves.

The pulsar technique looks for these gravitational waves as they sweep through our Galaxy, stretching and compressing the space that separates the Solar System from spinning neutron stars called pulsars (see ‘Pulsars as detectors’). Observatories such as LIGO, by contrast, detect gravitational waves as they sweep Earth.

The approach has unique challenges. Whereas LIGO directly measures minute changes in the distance between two mirrors several kilometres apart, changes in the distance between Earth and a pulsar cannot be measured directly, in part because thousands of gravitational-wave crests and troughs are propagating between them. Earth and the pulsar “are not riding the same crest or trough”, explains Maura McLaughlin, an astronomer at West Virginia University in Morgantown who is a leading member of the North American pulsar collaboration. “To estimate the delay, we have to care about the gravitational waves’ effect on the pulsar and on Earth. The stuff in between cancels out,” says McLaughlin.

Such changes should be revealed because, when local space is stretched, the periodic signals from a pulsar will take tens of nanoseconds more or less to reach Earth than they would have otherwise.

Noisy signals

Measuring these delays requires decades of painstaking data gathering, followed by weeks of number crunching on a supercomputer. And it relies on the bizarre physics of the neutron stars known as pulsars.

Many neutron stars — collapsed cores of stars that pack a mass greater than that of the Sun into a sphere just 20 kilometres or so across — spew radiation from their magnetic poles. As a neutron star spins, the beam of radiation circles around like the rotating light of a lighthouse. Some of these beams happen to cross Earth’s path through space, and are detected as radiation pulsating at regular intervals. In the late 1970s, some astronomers pointed out that because they appear at highly regular intervals, some of these beacons could serve as detectors for gravitational waves.

Image Creditd: Nik Spencer/Nature; Milky way: NASA/JPL-Caltech/R. Hurt (SSC/Caltech). (Click on the image for enlarge).

But pulsar signals are noisy, and can be slowed or scattered by clouds of interstellar electrons. To overcome this issue, astronomers must compare the signals from as many of these beacons as possible, forming a ‘pulsar timing array’.

And the baseline position of the Solar System’s centre of mass — which is affected by the motions of the planets — must be calculated to a precision of less than 100 metres.

In the past decade, those estimates have improved greatly thanks to measurements of Jupiter and Saturn’s positions made by NASA’s Juno and Cassini missions. The revisions have reassured some astronomers: earlier, less-precise measurements, together with some overly conservative assumptions, had made some worry that the expected gravitational-wave background wasn’t there.

But with each passing year, researchers have accumulated more data and refined their techniques. In 2020 and 2021, each of the three collaborations began to see a telltale sign of the gravitational-wave background (2),(3),(4). Whereas ordinary, ‘white’ noise includes random fluctuations at all frequencies, red noise is louder at lower frequencies. Such a feature is expected when signals of long wavelength — with periods comparable to the 20-odd years of data that have now been accumulated — are beginning to emerge. The IPTA’s latest joint analysis — made by pooling the regional collaborations’ data on 65 pulsars to improve their sensitivity to gravitational waves — has detected the red noise, too, even though it did not use the most recent data sets that the three groups analysed separately in 2020 and 2021.

The finding doesn’t necessarily indicate the presence of gravitational waves. “Red noise can also be produced by other things,” warns Kramer, such as a previously unsuspected pattern in the way the spinning pulsars gradually slow down.

To claim a discovery, “a crucial component is missing”, says radio astronomer Andrea Possenti, a leading member of the European group who is at the Cagliari Astronomical Observatory in Italy. “These long-term signals must be correlated from one pulsar to another.”

Hobbs agrees. “I personally would like a lot more checks to be done before I’m going to break open the champagne bottle,” he says.

If and when the gravitational-wave background is discovered, “the scientific reward will be immense”, says Monica Colpi, an astrophysicist at the University of Milan–Bicocca in Italy. From the signals, researchers could ultimately get information about how the black holes interacted with dark matter, stars and gas clouds in their galaxies, she says.

Image above: The radio telescope at the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, which collapsed in December 2020, was part of the International Pulsar Timing Array. Image Credits: Ricardo Arduengo/AFP/Getty.

The worldwide effort to hunt for the waves took a hit in December 2020, when the venerable 300-metre Arecibo Observatory — which played an important part in measuring pulsars — collapsed. Since then, the North American team has rerouted some of the work to its other major facility, the 100-metre Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia. “We have dropped a handful of our weaker pulsars and have gaps in our data set of a few months, but all in all we are weathering the loss of [Arecibo] as well as we can,” Siemens says.

Future efforts will benefit from pulsar-timing data being collected at major radio-astronomy observatories in India and South Africa. Eventually, China’s Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Radio Telescope is expected to join, too.

And the researchers say that the next IPTA paper, expected this year or next, could use the data that already exist to confirm a discovery of the gravitational-wave background produced by supermassive black holes. “Now the time is ripe to bring it all together and make a detection,” says Kramer.


Related article:

Arecibo telescope collapses, ending 57-year run


1. Antoniadis, J. et al. Mon. Not. R. Astron. Soc. 510, 4873–4887 (2022).

2. Arzoumanian, Z. et al. Astrophys. J. Lett. 905, L34 (2020).

3. Goncharov, B. et al. Astrophys. J. Lett 917, L19 (2021).

4. Chen, S. et al. Mon. Not. R. Astron. Soc. 508, 4970–4993 (2021).

Related links:


Arecibo Observatory:

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: Nature/Davide Castelvecchi/LIGO/JPL-Caltech.

Best regards,

jeudi 27 janvier 2022

Plants, Bioprinting and Orbital Plumbing Fill Crew’s Thursday Schedule


ISS - Expedition 66 Mission patch.

Jan 27, 2022

The Expedition 66 crew split its research schedule between space botany and life science aboard the International Space Station today.

NASA Flight Engineer Thomas Marshburn started Thursday watering plants growing for the Veggie PONDS study that explores ways to reliably grow vegetables in microgravity. Afterward, the three-time space station visitor verified the operability of the two robotics workstations, located in the U.S. Destiny laboratory module and the cupola, that control the Canadarm2 robotic arm.

Image above: The Soyuz MS-19 crew ship and the Prichal docking module attached to the Nauka multipurpose laboratory module are pictured during an orbital sunset. Image Credit: NASA.

Matthias Maurer, flight engineer from ESA (European Space Agency), printed samples from a handheld bioprinter for analysis back on Earth. The samples were printed to investigate how to develop tissues in microgravity to advance personalized medicine on Earth and in space.

The three other NASA Flight Engineers aboard the orbiting lab, Raja Chari, and Kayla Barron, Mark Vande Hei, worked throughout the day on a variety of life support and science maintenance tasks. Chari was on plumbing duty draining and transferring fluids in station tanks. Barron serviced the lab’s exercise cycle before replacing components in the waste and hygiene compartment, the station’s bathroom. Vande Hei processed samples for DNA analysis for the Food Physiology experiment that documents how diet affects a crew member’s health during a long-term space mission.

International Space Station (ISS). Animation Credit: NASA

The station’s commander, Anton Shkaplerov of Roscosmos, was back on exercise research on Thursday exploring how to maximize the effectiveness of working out in weightlessness. Russian Flight Engineer Pyotr Dubrov cleaned up the Zvezda and Poisk modules, returning them to a post-spacewalk configuration following his excursion with Shkaplerov on Jan. 19.

Related links:

Expedition 66:

Veggie PONDS:

U.S. Destiny laboratory module:


Canadarm2 robotic arm:

Exercise cycle:

Food Physiology:

Zvezda module:

Poisk module:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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


Permafrost thaw: it’s complicated


ESA - European Space Agency emblem.

Jan 27, 2022

One of the many serious consequences of the climate crisis is that precious permafrost is thawing, and this is unleashing even more carbon to the atmosphere and further exacerbating climate change. However, it’s complicated. For example, sometimes permafrost can thaw rapidly and scientists are unsure why and what these abrupt thaws mean in terms of feedback loops. This makes it difficult to predict the future impact on the climate. Thanks to an ESA–NASA initiative, new research digs deep into understanding the complexities of permafrost thaw and how carbon is released over time.

A lake that has partially drained on the Yamal Peninsula

Permafrost is frozen soil, rock or sediment – sometimes hundreds of metres thick. To be classified as permafrost, the ground has to have been frozen for at least two years, but much of the subsurface in the polar regions has remained frozen since the ice age. Permafrost holds carbon-based remains of vegetation and animals that froze before decomposition could set in.

Most of Earth’s permafrost is in the northern hemisphere – Arctic permafrost stores almost 1700 billion tonnes of carbon.

The animation below shows how the extent of permafrost in the Arctic changed between 1997 and 2019.

Extent of Arctic permafrost 1997–2019

Permafrost plays a critical role in keeping our planet from losing its cool, but the rise in global temperatures, particularly evident in the Arctic, is causing the subsurface ground to thaw and release long-held carbon to the atmosphere.

The image below shows how the how the subsurface is warming, risking permafrost thaw.

Subsurface temperature change

Highlighting the importance of permafrost in the climate system, the journal Nature Reviews Earth & Environment recently featured a wealth of research papers in a special collection that examines the physical, biogeochemical and ecosystem changes related to permafrost thaw and the associated impacts.

One of the papers in the collection is based on research conducted through the ESA–NASA Arctic Methane and Permafrost Challenge.

The paper describes how scientists from Europe and the US are working together to better track permafrost carbon dynamics. This includes gaining a better understanding of the mechanisms that lead to abrupt thaws through the use of key observations of carbon release and developing models to predict permafrost–carbon feedback.

The image below show the amount of carbon stored in the upper 2 m of permafrost.

Organic carbon in permafrost

Abrupt thawing and thermokarst, which is a fast process of permafrost degradation but varies significantly depending on local conditions, can emit substantial amounts of carbon to the atmosphere very quickly, even in a matter of days. These processes risk mobilising the deep, legacy carbon sequestered in yedoma. Yedoma is a type of permafrost that formed between 1.8 million and 10 000 years ago, and is particularly rich in organic material, so a significant source of atmospheric methane.

Increasingly frequent wildfires in the Arctic will also lead to a notable and unpredictable carbon flux.

The paper’s lead author, Kimberley Miner, from NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said, “The traditional view of permafrost thaw is that it is a gradual process that exposes layers slowly. Abrupt thawing exposes old permafrost layers far more quickly.

Permafrost layers

“Scaling is a real challenge but our research focuses on understanding emissions of carbon across different timescales – from the microbially mediated release at soil level, to wildfire dynamics across the tundra.

“Similarly, we need to use observational methods across scales, from in-situ fieldwork to satellite observations to mirror thaw timescales. Only with data covering days to years to decades can we substantially reduce uncertainties in our understanding of what may trigger rapid thaws, predict emission rates and then have a better picture of the feedback cycles involved.”

The paper not only highlights the dangers of rapid permafrost thaw but also calls for more detailed monitoring through in-situ, airborne and satellite observations to provide a deeper understanding of the Arctic’s future role as a carbon source or sink, and the subsequent impact on the Earth system.

Charles Miller, also from JPL, said, “Our understanding of permafrost is of course advancing all the time. Permafrost cannot be directly observed from space, we have to combine different measurements such as land-surface temperature and soil moisture to give us a picture of change. And, thanks to satellites, we have a record going back over 20 years that details changes to the northern hemisphere’s permafrost soils – and this is key to improving climate models.

“However, we look forward to future in-situ measurements and future satellite systems to give us more information.”

ESA’s Diego Fernandez added, “Thanks to missions such as ESA’s SMOS and Copernicus Sentinel-5P, the research being conducted as part of the ESA–NASA Arctic Methane and Permafrost Challenge within ESA’s FutureEO programme and ESA’s Climate Change Initiative is once again proving essential to better understand the effects climate change is having on the delicate Arctic environment, and how these changes, in turn, add to the climate crisis.

“As part of the Arctic Methane and Permafrost Challenge, ESA and NASA aim to support strong scientific collaboration from both sides of the Atlantic to tackle jointly the scientific and societal issues associated with permafrost thaw.”

In the future, upcoming missions such as the German–French MERLIN, planned to launch in 2027, uses laser technology and shows promise to add valuable methane data to the Arctic observing system.

Also, the Copernicus Carbon Monitoring mission, which is scheduled for launch in 2025, will provide high-frequency data to better monitor carbon emissions from thawing permafrost.

Measuring greenhouse gases over Scandinavia

Groundwork is also essential for understanding how greenhouse gases are being emitted from the Arctic. For example, last year, ESA was involved in an international research campaign based in Sweden. The Monitoring of Atmospheric Composition and Greenhouse Gases through Multi-Instrument campaign included launching balloons into the stratosphere, flying instrumentation on aircraft and taking measurements on the ground to record climate gas sources and sinks in Scandinavia.

Similar activities will be continued in the North American Arctic in the summer of 2022 as part of Arctic Boreal Vulnerability Experiment and the Carbon Dioxide and Methane mission. Both of these airborne campaigns are led by NASA and German Aerospace Center, respectively.

Related links:

ESA–NASA Arctic Methane and Permafrost Challenge:

Nature Reviews Earth & Environment paper:

International research campaign:

Arctic Boreal Vulnerability Experiment:

Carbon Dioxide and Methane mission:

Northern Circumpolar Soil Carbon Database:


Observing the Earth:

Animation, Images, Text, Credits: ESA/CCI Permafrost project/ESA (data source: NCSCDv2, Hugelius et al., 2013)/JPL–K. Miner/CNES/Romain Gaboriaud Prodigima 2021/A. Bartsch.

Best regards,

Everyday objects can run artificial intelligence programs


Artificial Neural Networks logo.

Jan 27, 2022

Nontraditional hardware could help neural networks operate faster and more efficiently than computer chips

Image above:  The computational layers inside a neural network could be powered by any number of physical systems, researchers say. Image Credit: Philipp Jordan.

Imagine using any object around you—a frying pan, a glass paperweight—as the central processor in a neural network, a type of artificial intelligence that loosely mimics the brain to perform complex tasks. That’s the promise of new research that, in theory, could be used to recognize images or speech faster and more efficiently than computer programs that rely on silicon microchips.

“Everything can be a computer,” says Logan Wright, a physicist at Cornell University who co-led the study. “We’re just finding a way to make the hardware physics do what we want.”

Current neural networks usually operate on graphical processing chips. The largest ones perform millions or billions of calculations just to, say, make a chess move or compose a word of prose. Even on specialized chips, that can take lots of time and electricity. But Wright and his colleagues realized physical objects also compute in a passive way, merely by responding to stimuli. Canyons, for example, add echoes to voices without the use of soundboards.

To demonstrate the concept, the researchers built neural networks in three types of physical systems, which each contained up to five processing layers. In each layer of a mechanical system, they used a speaker to vibrate a small metal plate and recorded its output using a microphone. In an optical system, they passed light through crystals. And in an analog-electronic system, they ran current through tiny circuits.

In each case, the researchers encoded input data, such as unlabeled images, in sound, light, or voltage. For each processing layer, they also encoded numerical parameters telling the physical system how to manipulate the data. To train the system, they adjusted the parameters to reduce errors between the system’s predicted image labels and the actual labels.

In one task, they trained the systems, which they call physical neural networks (PNNs), to recognize handwritten digits. In another, the PNNs recognized seven vowel sounds. Accuracy on these tasks ranged from 87% to 97%, they report in this week’s issue of Nature. In the future, Wright says, researchers might tune a system not by digitally tweaking its input parameters, but by adjusting the physical objects—warping the metal plate, say.

Lenka Zdeborová, a physicist and computer scientist at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne who was not involved in the work, says the study is “exciting,” although she would like to see demonstrations on more difficult tasks.

“They did a good job of demonstrating the idea in different contexts,” adds Damien Querlioz, a physicist at CNRS, the French national research agency. “I think it’s going to be quite influential.”

Wright is most excited about PNNs’ potential as smart sensors that can perform computation on the fly. A microscope’s optics might help detect cancerous cells before the light even hits a digital sensor, or a smartphone’s microphone membrane might listen for wake words. These “are applications in which you really don’t think about them as performing a machine-learning computation,” he says, but instead as being “functional machines.”

doi: 10.1126/science.ada0599

Image (mentioned), Text, Credits: Science/Matthew Hutson.


mercredi 26 janvier 2022

Station Agriculture Teaching How to Sustain Space Crews


ISS - Expedition 66 Mission patch.

Jan 26, 2022

Space agriculture dominated the research schedule aboard the International Space Station today to learn how to sustain long-term crews far beyond low-Earth orbit. The Expedition 66 crew also had time set aside for ongoing life science work to help keep astronauts and Earthlings healthy.

NASA Flight Engineers Raja Chari and Kayla Barron spent Wednesday afternoon servicing cotton plant cell samples for the Plant Habitat-5 space botany study. The experiment is investigating how microgravity affects cotton genetic expression possibly impacting plant regeneration on and off the Earth.

Image above: The waning gibbous Moon is pictured above the Earth’s horizon from the International Space Station. Image Credit: NASA.

NASA Flight Engineer Mark Vande Hei worked on a similar botany study today nourishing Arabidopsis plants grown on petri plates. That study is exploring how plant molecular mechanisms and regulatory networks adapt to the weightless environment of space.

Astronauts Thomas Marshburn of NASA and Matthias Maurer of ESA (European Space Agency) worked throughout the day on research hardware supporting investigations into how space affects biology. Marshburn installed a centrifuge inside the Cell Biology Experiment Facility, an incubator with an artificial gravity generator that cultivates cells and plants inside the Kibo laboratory module. Maurer stowed science gear used for a visual function study after the experiment samples were returned to Earth on Monday inside the SpaceX Cargo Dragon resupply ship.

ISS HD Live / Aerospace

Commander Anton Shkaplerov from Roscosmos continued his exercise research today studying how to maintain the physical fitness of crew members in weightlessness. Flight Engineer Pyotr Dubrov assisted the commander during the workout study and also swapped fuel bottles inside the Combustion Integrated Rack.

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Cell Biology Experiment Facility:

Kibo laboratory module:

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

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NASA’s MRO Finds Water Flowed on Mars Longer Than Previously Thought


NASA - Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) patch.

Jan 26, 2022

Caltech researchers used the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter to determine that surface water left salt minerals behind as recently as 2 billion years ago.

Mars once rippled with rivers and ponds billions of years ago, providing a potential habitat for microbial life. As the planet’s atmosphere thinned over time, that water evaporated, leaving the frozen desert world that NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) studies today.

Image above: NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter used its Context Camera to capture this image of Bosporos Planum, a location on Mars. The white specks are salt deposits found within a dry channel. The largest impact crater in the scene is nearly 1 mile (1.5 kilometers) across. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS.

It’s commonly believed that Mars’ water evaporated about 3 billion years ago. But two scientists studying data that MRO has accumulated at Mars over the last 15 years have found evidence that reduces that timeline significantly: Their research reveals signs of liquid water on the Red Planet as recently as 2 billion to 2.5 billion years ago, meaning water flowed there about a billion years longer than previous estimates.

The findings – published in AGU Advances on Dec. 27, 2021 – center on the chloride salt deposits left behind as icy meltwater flowing across the landscape evaporated.

While the shape of certain valley networks hinted that water may have flowed on Mars that recently, the salt deposits provide the first mineral evidence confirming the presence of liquid water. The discovery raises new questions about how long microbial life could have survived on Mars, if it ever formed at all. On Earth, at least, where there is water, there is life.

The study’s lead author, Ellen Leask, performed much of the research as part of her doctoral work at Caltech in Pasadena. She and Caltech professor Bethany Ehlmann used data from the MRO instrument called the Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars (CRISM) to map the chloride salts across the clay-rich highlands of Mars’ southern hemisphere – terrain pockmarked by impact craters. These craters were one key to dating the salts: The fewer craters a terrain has, the younger it is. By counting the number of craters on an area of the surface, scientists can estimate its age.

MRO has two cameras that are perfect for this purpose. The Context Camera, with its black-and-white wide-angle lens, helps scientists map the extent of the chlorides. To zoom in, scientists turn to the High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) color camera, allowing them to see details as small as a Mars rover from space.

Using both cameras to create digital elevation maps, Leask and Ehlmann found that many of the salts were in depressions – once home to shallow ponds – on gently sloping volcanic plains. The scientists also found winding, dry channels nearby – former streams that once fed surface runoff (from the occasional melting of ice or permafrost) into these ponds. Crater counting and evidence of salts on top of volcanic terrain allowed them to date the deposits.

“What is amazing is that after more than a decade of providing high-resolution image, stereo, and infrared data, MRO has driven new discoveries about the nature and timing of these river-connected ancient salt ponds,” said Ehlmann, CRISM’s deputy principal investigator. Her co-author, Leask, is now a post-doctoral researcher at Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory, which leads CRISM.

Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The salt minerals were first discovered 14 years ago by NASA’s Mars Odyssey orbiter, which launched in 2001. MRO, which has higher-resolution instruments than Odyssey, launched in 2005 and has been studying the salts, among many other features of Mars, ever since. Both are managed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California.

“Part of the value of MRO is that our view of the planet keeps getting more detailed over time,” said Leslie Tamppari, the mission’s deputy project scientist at JPL. “The more of the planet we map with our instruments, the better we can understand its history.”

More About the Mission

JPL, a division of Caltech in Pasadena, California, manages the MRO mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The University of Arizona, in Tucson, operates HiRISE, which was built by Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp., in Boulder, Colorado. MARCI and the Context Camera were both built and are operated by Malin Space Science Systems in San Diego.

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


CASC - Long March-4C launches L-SAR 01A and L-SAR 01B


CASC - Long March-4C (CZ-4C) / L-SAR 01A & L-SAR 01B (Y29) patch.

Jan 26, 2022

Long March-4C carrying L-SAR 01A and L-SAR 01B liftoff

A Long March-4C launch vehicle launched the first group of  L-SAR 01 satellites, L-SAR 01A and L-SAR 01B, from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, Gansu Province, northwest China, on 25 January 2022, at 23:44 UTC (26 January, 07:44 local time).

Long March-4C launches L-SAR 01A and L-SAR 01B

According to official sources, the L-SAR 01 satellites (陆地探测一号01) are equipped with L-band synthetic aperture radar (SAR) and will be used to monitor the geological environment, landslides and earthquakes.

L-SAR 01 satellite

For more information about China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC):

Images, Video, Text, Credits: China Media Group(CMG)/China Central Television (CCTV)/China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC)/SciNews/Günter's Space Page/ Aerospace/Roland Berga.


A mysterious object in the Milky Way "that looks like nothing known"

ICRAR - International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research logo.


Jan 26, 2022

Researchers have spotted a celestial body, about 4000 light years from Earth, incredibly bright and endowed with a very powerful magnetic field.

Image above: This image shows a new view of the Milky Way from the Murchison Widefield Array. The star icon shows the position of the mysterious repeating transient phenomenon. Image Credits: Dr Natasha Hurley-Walker (ICRAR/Curtin) and the GLEAM Team.

Australian astronomers have discovered a strange rotating object in the Milky Way that they say is unlike anything previously observed, according to a scientific publication published in the latest edition of the journal Nature.

'That just shouldn't be possible'

The object, first spotted by a student working on his undergraduate thesis, produces strong electromagnetic radiation three times per hour.

The waves are emitted every 18.18 minutes, explains astrophysicist Natasha Hurley-Walker, who observed the phenomenon using a giant low-frequency radio telescope in the Australian Outback.

Repeating Transient Profile

Although there are other objects in the universe that emit regular radio variations, such as pulsars, this frequency has never been observed before, she says.

The discovery of this object was “a bit scary”, she adds, “because there is nothing known in the sky that does this”.

The team established that the object is around 4,000 light-years from Earth, is incredibly bright and has an extremely strong magnetic field.

But many mysteries remain to be unraveled. “If you do all the math, you find it shouldn't have enough power to produce those kind of radio waves every 20 minutes. It just shouldn't be possible,” Hurley-Walker said.

Repeating Transient Animation

“A natural process, not an artificial signal”

It could be an ultra-long period magnetar, a phenomenon theorized by researchers but never yet observed, or even a white dwarf, an aging star with a surface temperature twice as high as that of the Sun.

"But it's also quite unusual," says the astrophysicist. We know of only one white dwarf pulsar, and nothing as important as this one."

“Of course, it could be something we never thought of. It could be an entirely new type of object,” she says.

The research team was able to observe the signal over a wide range of frequencies.

"That means it must be a natural process, it's not an artificial signal," the scientist assured when asked if this strong and coherent radio signal from space could have been sent by another life form.

The next step for researchers is to search for more of these strange objects in the universe.

"Further detections will tell astronomers whether this is a rare one-time event or a large new population that we've never noticed before," Hurley-Walker said.

Related links:

Nature: A radio transient with unusually slow periodic emission

International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR):

Image, Videos, Text, Credits: ICRAR/AFP/ Aerospace/Roland Berga.

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Making a splash in a lava sea


ESA - Mars Express Mission patch.

Jan 26, 2022

Volcanoes, impact craters, tectonic faults, river channels and a lava sea: a vast amount of information is captured in a relatively small area in this geologically rich new image from ESA’s Mars Express.

Jovis Tholus volcano and surrounds

At first glance, two contrasting circular features jump out of this scene: a volcano that rises gently above the surface with a collapsed caldera system, and an impact crater that digs down below. Both features have different stories to tell.

Volcano in a lava sea

Lying in the shadows of the Solar System’s largest volcano, Olympus Mons, the much smaller Jovis Tholus shield volcano bears its own evidence of a long eruptive history.

Second perspective view of Jovis Tholus

Its complex caldera system comprises at least five craters. The largest is about 28 km wide, and sits off centre, as clearly seen in the plan view images. The calderas step down towards the southwest where the youngest eventually meets with the surrounding sea of even younger lava flows. The lavas create a shoreline around the flanks, obscuring the original relief of the volcano, which now only sits about 1 km above the surrounding plains.  

On closer look, individual lava flows can be found all over the plains. These lava flows have also washed over fault lines, filling in the sets of parallel graben that dominate the north and north east parts of the scene in particular.

Perspective view of Jovis Tholus

Graben are sunken valleys created when the planet’s crust stretches apart, such as under the pressure of volcanic and tectonic stresses in this region.

A steep scarp of one of these graben cuts right into the eastern flank of Jovis Tholus. Some portions of this graben can be traced for several kilometres further north, in some places more significantly filled in with lavas.

Topography of Jovis Tholus

A hidden surprise lies close to the east of Jovis Tholus. Easily missed in the main plan view image, the colour-coded topography image gives it away: a less developed volcano subtly causes the surface to bulge.

Zooming in shows a fissure vent, from which less viscous lava flows than at Jovis Tholus once erupted, perhaps in a similar style to the activity seen in Iceland or Hawaii on Earth.

Making a splash

In contrast to the volcanic craters, a very different type of crater lies to the north of the region. This 30-km-wide impact crater was created when an asteroid or comet crashed into the surface, penetrating the layers below. Its fractured floor and the fluidised nature of the ejected material around the central crater – giving it the appearance of a flower with many layers of petals – points to the impactor striking a water- or ice-saturated ground.  

More evidence of this region’s watery past lies to the northwest of the crater. Zooming in to the long fault line that truncates the top left of the plan view images are signs of an outflow channel. Water bursting out from here in the past formed streamlined islands and terraced channel walls.

Jovis Tholus in context

Some much smaller channels can be found crosscutting the northern ejecta blanket of the large impact crater as well.

Massive amounts of water were likely purged from underground aquifers over time as a result of volcanic warming melting the ground ice, and as faulting took place, with the water taking the easiest way to the surface through the graben system.

Taken together, this single scene paints the picture of a fascinating and extremely active planetary history.

Mars Express

Mars Express has been orbiting the Red Planet since 2003, imaging Mars’ surface, mapping its minerals, identifying the composition and circulation of its tenuous atmosphere, probing beneath its crust, and exploring how phenomena such as the solar wind interacts in the martian environment.

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Images, Text, Credits: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO/NASA/MGS/MOLA Science Team.