samedi 19 février 2022

Solar Arrays Deploy on Cargo Craft Heading to Station


Northrop Grumman - Cygnus NG-17 (CRS) Mission patch.

Feb 19, 2022

Following its launch earlier today, Cygnus’ solar arrays have deployed and the S.S. Piers Sellers is on its way to the International Space Station. The arrays deployed following launch on the Northrop Grumman Antares rocket at 12:40 p.m. EST from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, carrying 8,300 pounds of research, hardware, and supplies to the International Space Station. Solar array deployment completes the launch phase.

Image above: The Cygnus space freighter’s cymbal-shaped solar arrays are pictured in this photograph taken from the space station in August of 2021. Image Credit: NASA.

The Cygnus spacecraft will arrive at the space station Monday, Feb. 21, for a capture at approximately 4:35 a.m. Coverage of the spacecraft’s approach and arrival at the space station will begin at 3 a.m. on NASA Television and the agency’s website.

Cygnus spacecraft is filled with supplies and payloads including critical materials to directly support dozens of the more than 250 science and research investigations that will occur during Expedition 66. Using the Canadarm2 robotic arm, NASA astronaut Raja Chari will capture Cygnus, and Kayla Barron will be acting as a backup. After capture, the spacecraft will be installed on the Unity module’s Earth-facing port.

Related articles:

Liftoff of Northrop Grumman’s CRS-17

Weather 75% Favorable for Saturday Antares Launch

Northrop Grumman’s 17th Resupply Mission Carries Science Experiments, Technology Demonstrations to Space Station

Related links:

Northrop Grumman:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

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Liftoff of Northrop Grumman’s CRS-17


Northrop Grumman - Antares / Cygnus NG-17 (CRS) Mission patch.

Feb 19, 2022

Antares CRS-17 liftoff. Image Credit: NASA

The International Space Station-bound Cygnus spacecraft aboard Northrop Grumman’s Antares rocket has lifted off from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport’s Pad 0A at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on Virginia’s Eastern Shore.

NG-17 Antares launches S.S. Piers Sellers Cygnus

A fresh supply 8,300 pounds of scientific investigations and cargo is on its way to the International Space Station on a Northrop Grumman Cygnus resupply spacecraft after launching on an Antares rocket at 12:40 p.m. EST Saturday from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.

About 2 hours and 45 minutes after launch, Cygnus will reach its preliminary orbit and deploy its solar arrays.

Related articles:

Weather 75% Favorable for Saturday Antares Launch

Northrop Grumman’s 17th Resupply Mission Carries Science Experiments, Technology Demonstrations to Space Station

Related links:

Northrop Grumman:


International Space Station (ISS):

Image (mentioned), Video, Text, Credits: NASA/Rob Garner/NASA TV/SciNews.


vendredi 18 février 2022

Weather 75% Favorable for Saturday Antares Launch


Northrop Grumman - Cygnus NG-17 (CRS) Mission patch.

Feb 18, 2022

The Wallops Range continues to predict 75% favorable weather 24 hours ahead of the launch window of NASA commercial cargo provider Northrop Grumman’s Antares rocket and Cygnus cargo spacecraft.

Image above: This file photo from Feb. 16, 2021, shows the Northrop Grumman CRS-15 Antares rocket on Pad-0A on Wallops Island Virginia. Image Credits: NASA Wallops/Patrick Black.

The primary concern for launch at this time is strong southwesterly surface winds that could violate weather constraints.

Northrop Grumman is targeting 12:40 p.m EST Saturday, Feb. 19, for the International Space Station-bound Cygnus spacecraft, loaded with about 8,300 pounds of research, crew supplies, and hardware. Launch will be from Virginia Space’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on the Eastern Shore of Virginia.

Live coverage of the launch will air on NASA Television, the agency’s website and the NASA app beginning at 12:15 p.m. EST Saturday, Feb. 19.

For those in the mid-Atlantic region, weather permitting, you may have a chance to see the Antares rocket in the sky after launch. Check out the visibility map below.

Image above: This map shows how many seconds after launch the Antares rocket may be visible in the sky to the mid-Atlantic region. Image Credit: NASA.

Related article:

Northrop Grumman’s 17th Resupply Mission Carries Science Experiments, Technology Demonstrations to Space Station

Related links:

NASA Television:

Northrop Grumman:


International Space Station (ISS):

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Jamie Adkins.

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Hubble Captures Swirling Galactic Trio


NASA - Hubble Space Telescope patch.

Feb 18, 2022

The mass of dust and bright swirls of stars in this image are the distant galaxy merger IC 2431, which lies 681 million light-years from Earth in the constellation Cancer. The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has captured what appears to be a triple galaxy merger in progress, as well as a tumultuous mixture of star formation and tidal distortions caused by the gravitational interactions of this galactic trio. A thick cloud of dust obscures the center of this image – though light from a background galaxy is piercing its outer extremities.

This image is from a series of Hubble observations investigating weird and wonderful galaxies found by the Galaxy Zoo citizen science project. Using Hubble’s powerful Advanced Camera for Surveys, astronomers took a closer look at some of the more unusual galaxies that volunteers identified. The original Galaxy Zoo project was the largest galaxy census ever carried out and relied on crowdsourcing time from more than 100,000 volunteers to classify 900,000 unexamined galaxies. The project achieved what would have been years of work for a professional astronomer in only 175 days and has led to a steady stream of similar astronomical citizen science projects. Later Galaxy Zoo projects have included the largest ever studies of galaxy mergers and tidal dwarf galaxies, as well as the discovery of entirely new types of compact star-forming galaxies.

Hubble Space Telescope (HST)

For more information about Hubble, visit:

Text Credits: European Space Agency (ESA)/NASA/Andrea Gianopoulos/Image, Animation Credits: ESA/Hubble & NASA, W. Keel, Dark Energy Survey, Department of Energy, Fermilab, Dark Energy Survey Camera, (DECam), Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory, NoirLab/National Science Foundation/AURA, Sloan Digital Sky Survey; Acknowledgment: J. Schmidt.

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Space Station Science Highlights: Week of February 14, 2022


ISS - Expedition 66 Mission patch.

Feb 18, 2022

Crew members aboard the International Space Station conducted scientific investigations during the week of Feb. 14 that included examining combustion and flammability, demonstrating a new wireless network infrastructure, and collecting data on human adaptation to space. Northrop Grumman’s 17th commercial resupply services mission delivering scientific investigations and technology demonstrations, supplies, and equipment aboard its Cygnus spacecraft is targeted for liftoff on Saturday, Feb. 19.

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:

Answering burning questions

Image above: NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei configures the Combustion Integrated Rack for upcoming experiments utilizing the SoFIE (Solid Fuel Ignition and Extinction) insert. Image Credit: NASA.

During the week, crew members continued reconfiguring the Combustion Integrated Rack (CIR) for SoFIE, hardware that enables a wide range of solid-material combustion and fire suppression studies. SoFIE initially supports five investigations, including SoFIE-MIST, examining thermally-assisted burning in microgravity, and SoFIE-GEL, which measures heating in a fuel sample to determine how fuel temperature affects material flammability. Results could improve understanding of early fire growth behavior, help inform selection of materials for future space facilities, and determine the best methods for extinguishing fires in space.

Wireless technology

Wireless Compose-2, an investigation from ESA (European Space Agency), demonstrates a wireless network infrastructure for sensor monitoring and data transmission to support scientific experiments in microgravity. The investigation includes an experiment examining the effect of the space environment on the cardiovascular system that could contribute to development of new technologies for monitoring the health of astronauts and people on the ground. Wireless Compose-2 also demonstrates new hardware that could enable precise control of free-flying robotic systems and identification of obstacles to operating such systems in environments comparable to the space station. During the week, crew members conducted troubleshooting in preparation for performing the investigation.

Image above: ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Matthias Maurer organizes cargo in anticipation of new supplies and scientific investigations launching to the space station. Image Credit: NASA.

Measure this

Preparing for long-duration missions to other planets requires a set of consistent, meaningful data on how crew members respond to life in microgravity. Standard Measures collects a set of core measurements, including data on behavioral health and performance, cellular profiles and immunology, the microbiome, biochemistry markers, sensorimotor changes, and cardiovascular health. This consistent collection of data from crew members through the entire life of the space station aims to characterize adaptive responses to living and working in space, monitor countermeasure effectiveness, and support future research on planetary missions. During the week, crew members completed post-sleep questionnaires for the investigation.

Image above: The desert of Semnan Province southeast of Tehran, Iran, is pictured from the International Space Station as it orbits 258 miles above. Image Credit: NASA.

Other investigations involving the crew:

- SQuARE studies objects and built spaces and how crew members use them over time. Results could contribute to better design for future spacecraft and habitats.
- 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.

- JAXA’s JEM Water Recovery System tests a technology to increase the recovery of drinkable water from urine. Adequate water supply could be a limiting factor on future long-term missions, and this technology could be a vital part of the Environmental Control and Life Support System (ECLSS) on future spacecraft as well as provide water regeneration in dry regions or after disasters on Earth.

- Mochii demonstrates a miniature scanning electron microscope that images and measures particles on the space station in real time. Such particles can cause equipment malfunctions and threaten crew health, and currently, samples must be returned to Earth for analysis, causing delays in addressing possible risks.

- EarthKAM allows students to remotely control a digital camera mounted on the space station to take photographs of coastlines, mountain ranges, and other interesting features and phenomena on Earth. The EarthKAM team posts the images online, where they are available to the public and participating classrooms.

- EasyMotion from ESA tests a suit worn during pre- and postflight exercise that provides Electro-Myo-Stimulation (EMS). It could save crew time and improve outcomes of inflight exercise on future space missions and in healthy populations on Earth.

- Actiwatch is a wearable monitor that continuously collects data on a crew member’s circadian rhythms, sleep-wake patterns, and activity during flight, beginning as soon as possible after arrival aboard the station.

- JAXA’s Hicari aims to verify a new method to grow high-quality crystals of silicon-germanium, a semiconductor material. This technology could support development of more efficient solar cells and semiconductor-based electronics.

- ISS Ham Radio provides students, teachers, parents, and others the opportunity to communicate with astronauts using amateur radio units. Before a scheduled call, students learn about the station, radio waves, and other topics, and prepare a list of questions on topics they have researched.

- Lumina, an ESA investigation, demonstrates a dosimeter using optical fibers that darken when exposed to radiation to monitor in real time the radiation dose received by crew members. Monitoring ionizing radiation is a key challenge for future longer-term space exploration, and a fiber-based dosimeter that provides real-time measurements could make it possible to anticipate potentially dangerous radiation flares and react to them properly.

Space to Ground: Targeting Cancer Cells: 02/18/2022

Related links:

Expedition 66:

Combustion Integrated Rack (CIR):



Wireless Compose-2:

Standard Measures:

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.


NASA’s Perseverance Celebrates First Year on Mars by Learning to Run


NASA - Mars 2020 Perseverance Rover logo.

Feb 18, 2022

The rover has racked up a series of accomplishments, including new distance records, as it reaches the end of the first of several planned science campaigns on the Red Planet.

Image above: The Mars 2020 descent stage lowers NASA’s Perseverance rover onto the Red Planet on Feb. 18, 2021. The image is from video captured by a camera aboard the descent stage. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

NASA’s Perseverance rover has notched up a slew of firsts since touching down on Mars one year ago, on Feb. 18, 2021, and the six-wheeled scientist has other important accomplishments in store as it speeds toward its new destination and a new science campaign.

Weighing roughly 1 ton (1,025 kilograms), Perseverance is the heaviest rover ever to touch down on Mars, returning dramatic video of its landing. The rover collected the first rock core samples from another planet (it’s carrying six so far), served as an indispensable base station for Ingenuity, the first helicopter on Mars, and tested MOXIE (Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment), the first prototype oxygen generator on the Red Planet.

Perseverance also recently broke a record for the most distance driven by a Mars rover in a single day, traveling almost 1,050 feet (320 meters) on Feb. 14, 2022, the 351st Martian day, or sol, of the mission. And it performed the entire drive using AutoNav, the self-driving software that allows Perseverance to find its own path around rocks and other obstacles.

Image above: Perseverance snapped this view of a hill called “Santa Cruz” on April 29, 2021. About 20 inches (50 centimeters) across on average, the boulders in the foreground are among the type of rocks the rover team has named “Ch’ał” (the Navajo term for “frog” and pronounced “chesh”). Perseverance will return to the area next week or so. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU/MSSS.

The rover has nearly wrapped up its first science campaign in Jezero Crater, a location that contained a lake billions of years ago and features some of the oldest rocks Mars scientists have been able to study up close. Rocks that have recorded and preserved environments that once hosted water are prime locations to search for signs of ancient microscopic life.

Using a drill on the end of its robotic arm and a complex sample collection system in its belly, Perseverance is snagging rock cores from the crater floor – the first step in the Mars Sample Return campaign.

“The samples Perseverance has been collecting will provide a key chronology for the formation of Jezero Crater,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “Each one is carefully considered for its scientific value.”

Counting the Eons

Two more samples will be collected in coming weeks from the “Ch’ał” rock type (named with the Navajo term for “frog”), a set of dark, rubbly rocks representative of what’s seen across much of the crater floor. If samples of these rocks are returned to Earth, scientists think they could provide an age range for Jezero’s formation and the lake that once resided there.

Scientists can approximate the age of a planet or moon’s surface by counting its impact craters. Older surfaces have had more time to accumulate impact craters of various sizes. In the case of the Moon, scientists were able to refine their estimates by analyzing Apollo lunar samples. They’ve taken those lessons to narrow down the age estimates of surfaces on Mars. But having rock samples from the Red Planet would improve crater-based estimates of how old the surface is – and help them find more pieces of the puzzle that is Mars’ geological history.

Perseverance Lands on Mars, as the World Watches

Video above: NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance mission captured thrilling footage of the rover landing in Mars’ Jezero Crater on Feb. 18, 2021. Video Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

“Right now, we take what we know about the age of impact craters on the Moon and extrapolate that to Mars,” said Katie Stack Morgan, Perseverance’s deputy project scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, which manages the rover mission. “Bringing back a sample from this heavily cratered surface in Jezero could provide a tie-point to calibrate the Mars crater dating system independently, instead of relying solely on the lunar one.”

The mission hasn’t been without challenges. The rover’s first attempt at drilling a rock core came up empty, prompting an extensive testing campaign to better understand fragile rocks. The team also needed to clear out pebbles that had dropped into the part of the sampling system that holds the drill bits.

Image above: NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover landed on the Red Planet on Feb. 18, 2021, and took this selfie over a rock nicknamed “Rochette,” on Sept. 10, 2021, the 198th Martian day, or sol of the mission. Two holes can be seen where the rover used its robotic arm to drill rock core samples. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS.

Perseverance’s airborne companion, NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter, has proven similarly plucky: It was grounded for almost a month following a dust storm before recently resuming its flights. Originally slated to fly five times, the rotorcraft has successfully completed 19 flights now, providing a new perspective of Martian terrain and helping Perseverance’s team to plan the path ahead.

To the west of “Octavia E. Butler Landing,” where Perseverance started its journey, are the remains of a fan-shaped delta formed by an ancient river as it fed the lake in Jezero Crater. Deltas accumulate sediment over time, potentially trapping organic matter and possible biosignatures – signs of life – that may be in the environment. That makes this destination, which the mission expects to reach this summer, a highlight of the year to come.

More About the Mission

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

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

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

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

For more about Perseverance: and

Related links:

Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment (MOXIE):

Mars Sample Return campaign:

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

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Giant solar eruption seen by Solar Orbiter


ESA / NASA - Solar Orbiter Mission patch.

Feb 18, 2022

The ESA/NASA Solar Orbiter spacecraft has captured the largest solar prominence eruption ever observed in a single image together with the full solar disc.

Solar Orbiter and SOHO’s view of a giant eruption

Solar prominences are large structures of tangled magnetic field lines that keep dense concentrations of solar plasma suspended above the Sun’s surface, sometimes taking the form of arching loops. They are often associated with coronal mass ejections, which if directed towards Earth, can wreak havoc with our technology and everyday lives.

This latest event took place on 15 February and extended millions of kilometres into space. The coronal mass ejection was not directed at Earth. In fact, it is travelling away from us. There is no signature of the eruption on the solar disc facing the spacecraft – which is currently approaching the Earth-Sun line – meaning that it must have originated from the side of the Sun facing away from us.

Solar Orbiter captures giant solar eruption

The imagery was captured by the ‘Full Sun Imager’ (FSI) of the Extreme Ultraviolet Imager (EUI) on Solar Orbiter. FSI is designed to look at the full solar disc even during close passages of the Sun, such as during the upcoming perihelion passage next month. At closest approach on 26 March, which will see the spacecraft pass within about 0.3 times the Sun-Earth distance, the Sun will fill a much larger portion of the telescope’s field of view. Right now, there is still a lot of ‘viewing margin’ around the disc, enabling stunning detail to be captured by FSI out to about 3.5 million kilometres, equivalent to five times the radius of the Sun.

Solar Orbiter and SOHO’s view of a giant eruption – wide view

Other space telescopes such as the ESA/NASA SOHO satellite frequently see solar activity like this, but either closer to the Sun, or further out by means of an occulter, which blocks out the glare of the Sun’s disc to enable detailed imagery of the corona itself. Thus, the prominence observed by Solar Orbiter is the largest ever event of its kind to be captured in a single field of view together with the solar disc, opening up new possibilities to see how events like these connect to the solar disc for the first time. At the same time, SOHO can provide complementary views to even larger distances.

Solar Orbiter and SOHO’s view of a giant eruption - side by side

Other space missions were also watching the event, including NASA’s Parker Solar Probe. Next week, Solar Orbiter and Parker Solar Probe will perform dedicated joint observations during Parker’s perihelion passage.

Even spacecraft not dedicated to solar science felt its blast – the ESA/JAXA BepiColombo mission, currently in the vicinity of Mercury’s orbit – detected a massive increase in the readings for electrons, protons, and heavy ions with its radiation monitor.

Solar Orbiter

And while this event did not send a blast of deadly particles towards Earth, it is an important reminder of the unpredictable nature of the Sun and the importance of understanding and monitoring its behaviour. Together with ESA’s future dedicated space weather mission Vigil, which will provide unique views of events like these, we can better protect our home planet from the Sun’s violent outbursts.

Related links:

Solar Orbiter:

Extreme Ultraviolet Imager (EUI):

ESA/NASA SOHO satellite:


Image, Animation, Videos, Text, Credits: ESA/Solar Orbiter/EUI Team/ESA & NASA.


jeudi 17 février 2022

Russian Space Freighter Docks to Station After Two Days


ISS - Expedition 66 Mission patch.

Feb 17, 2022

Image above: Russia’s Progress 80 resupply ship approaches the station for docking on Feb. 17, 2022. Image Credit: NASA TV.

An uncrewed Russian Progress 80 spacecraft arrived at the International Space Station’s Poisk module at 2:03 a.m. EST, about two days after launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

Progress MS-19 docking

Progress is delivering almost three tons of food, fuel and supplies to the International Space Station for the Expedition 66 crew.

U.S. Cargo Mission Nears Launch, Crew Unloads Russian Space Freighter

A U.S. rocket carrying Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus space freighter is counting down to launch toward the International Space Station on Saturday. Meanwhile, Russia’s Progress 80 cargo craft completed a two-day space delivery mission to the Expedition 66 crew early Thursday.

An Antares rocket stands at the Wallops Flight Facility launch pad in Virginia ready to boost the Cygnus cargo craft to orbit on Saturday. It will lift off at 12:40 p.m. EST placing Cygnus, carrying more than 8,300 pounds of station gear and science experiments, into space about nine minutes later. Once on orbit, Cygnus will deploy its cymbal-shaped UltraFlex solar arrays which will power the vehicle during its journey to the orbiting lab.

Image above: The Cygnus space freighter is pictured launching atop the Antares rocket from Virgina to the space station in April of 2019. Image Credit: Northrop Grumman.

NASA Flight Engineers Raja Chari and Kayla Barron will be on duty early Monday monitoring Cygnus’ automated approach and rendezvous. When Cygnus reaches a point about 10 meters from the station, Chari will command the Canadarm2 robotic arm to reach out and capture the vehicle at 4:35 a.m. Ground controllers will then take over the Canadarm2 and remotely install the U.S. cargo craft to the Unity module a couple of hours later.

Russia’s Progress 80 resupply ship docked to the Poisk module at 2:03 a.m. on Thursday, delivering nearly three-and-a-half tons of food, fuel, and supplies, to the seven orbital residents. Station commander Anton Shkaplerov and Flight Engineer Pyotr Dubrov opened the hatch a few hours later and began unpacking the cargo that had launched from Kazakhstan just over two days earlier.

International Space Station (ISS). Animation Credit: ESA

Despite the busy cargo schedule this week, biomedical science was in full-swing on the station today. Barron joined NASA astronauts Thomas Marshburn and Mark Vande Hei investigating how weightlessness affects visual function. Chari partnered with ESA (European Space Agency) Flight Engineer Matthias Maurer and checked his eyes using medical imaging gear.

Related links:

Expedition 66:

Canadarm2 robotic arm:

Unity module:

Poisk module:

Visual function:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

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Gaia reveals a new member of the Milky Way family


ESA - Gaia Mission patch.

Feb 17, 2022

Our galaxy, the Milky Way, began forming around 12 billion years ago. Since then, it has been growing in both mass and size through a sequence of mergers with other galaxies.

Perhaps most exciting is that this process has not quite finished, and by using data from ESA’s Gaia spacecraft, astronomers can see it taking place. This in turn allows to reconstruct the history of our galaxy, revealing the ‘family tree’ of smaller galaxies that has helped make the Milky Way what it is today.

The latest work on this subject comes from Khyati Malhan, a Humboldt Fellow at the Max-Planck-Institut für Astronomie, Heidelberg, Germany, and colleagues. Together, they have analysed data based on Gaia’s early third data release (EDR3) looking for the remains of smaller galaxies merging with our own. These can be found in the so-called halo of the Milky Way, which surrounds the disc of younger stars and central bulge of older stars that comprise the more luminous parts of the Milky Way.

When a foreign galaxy falls into our own, great gravitational forces known as tidal forces pull it apart. If this process goes slowly, the stars from the merging galaxy will form a vast stellar stream that can be easily distinguished in the halo. If the process goes quickly, the merging galaxy’s stars will be more scattered throughout the halo and no clear signature will be visible.

But the merging galaxy may contain more than just stars. It could also be surrounded by a population of globular star cluster and small satellite galaxies. So, the team looked for these in the Gaia data.

In total they studied 170 globular clusters, 41 stellar streams and 46 satellites of the Milky Way. Plotting them according to their energy and momentum revealed that 25 percent of these objects fall into six distinct groups. Each group is a merger taking place with the Milky Way. There was also a possible seventh merger in the data.


Five had been previously identified on surveys of stars. They are known as Sagittarius, Cetus, Gaia-Sausage/Enceladus, LMS-1/Wukong, and Arjuna/Sequoia/I’itoi. But the sixth was a newly identified merger event. The team called it Pontus, meaning the sea. In Greek mythology, Pontus is the name of one of the first children of Gaia, the Greek goddess of the Earth.

Based upon the way Pontus has been pulled apart by the Milky Way, Khyati and colleagues estimate that it probably fell into the Milky Way some eight to ten billion years ago. Four of the other five merger events likely also took place around this time as well. But the sixth event, Sagittarius, is more recent. It might have fallen into the Milky Way sometime in the last five to six billion years. As a result, the Milky Way has not yet been able to completely disrupt it.

Piece by piece, astronomers are fitting together the merger history of the Galaxy, and Gaia data is proving invaluable.

On 13 June 2022, the Gaia mission will issue its data release 3, which will provide even more detailed information about the Milky Way’s past, present, and future.

Image description:

This image shows the Milky Way as seen by Gaia. The squares represent the location of globular clusters, the triangles the location of satellite galaxies, and the small dots are stellar streams. The dots and squares in purple are objects brought into the Milky Way by the Pontus merging galaxy.

This research by Khyati Malhan was published in The Astrophysical Journal:

Related link:

Gaia data release 3:

ESA’s Gaia spacecraft:

Image, Animation, Text, Credits: ESA/Gaia/DPAC, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO.


mercredi 16 février 2022

The ISS orbit will be increased by a kilometer at the end of February


ROSCOSMOS - Russian Vehicles patch.

Feb 16, 2022

The next correction of the orbital height of the International Space Station is scheduled for February 26, 2022 in order to form ballistic conditions before the launch of the manned spacecraft Soyuz MS-21 into orbit (March 18) and the landing of the Soyuz MS-19 descent vehicle (March 30).

International Space Station (ISS)

According to preliminary data from the ballistic and navigation support service of the TsNIIMash Mission Control Center (part of the Roscosmos State Corporation), at 04:37 Moscow time it is planned to issue a command to turn on the engines of the Progress MS-18 cargo ship docked to the Zvezda service module Russian segment of the ISS. They should work 372.5 seconds and give an impulse of 0.54 m / s. It is expected that after the corrective maneuver, the average height of the station's orbit will increase by 1.1 km - up to 417.94 km.

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

- Orbital period: 92.87 min;
- Orbital inclination: 51.66 degrees;
- Minimum orbit height: 415.40 km;
- Maximum orbit height: 435.97 km.

For the entire duration of the ISS flight, 315 corrections of its orbital height were made, including 166 with the help of the Progress cargo spacecraft engines. Before the arrival of the new Russian crew on the Soyuz MS-21 to the ISS on March 11, 2022, another correction of the station's orbit is scheduled.

Currently, a crew of Roscosmos cosmonauts Anton Shkaplerov (station commander) and Petr Dubrov, as well as NASA astronauts Mark Vande Hei, Raja Chari, Thomas Marshburn, Kayla Barron and European Space Agency astronaut Matthias Maurer are working on board the ISS.

Related links:

ROSCOSMOS Press Release:



Progress MS-18:

Soyuz MS-19:

Soyuz MS-21:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

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Russian Cargo Craft Nears Station, U.S. Space Freighter at Launch Pad


ISS - Expedition 66 Mission patch.

Feb 16, 2022

A Russian resupply ship is targeting the International Space Station for a cargo delivery early Thursday. While two cosmonauts get ready to support the cargo craft’s arrival, the rest of the Expedition 66 crew juggled lab maintenance, space research, and robotics training ahead of a U.S. cargo mission due to launch on Saturday.

Nearly three-and-a-half tons of food, fuel, and supplies are racing toward the orbiting lab today aboard the ISS Progress 80 resupply ship from Roscosmos. Station Commander Anton Shkaplerov and Flight Engineer Pyotr Dubrov will be monitoring the cargo craft’s automated approach on Thursday when it docks to the Poisk module at 2:06 a.m. EST. The duo continued training today on the tele-robotically operated rendezvous unit, or TORU, preparing for the unlikely event the Progress 80 would need to be manually docked.

Image above: Russia’s Progress 76 resupply ship is pictured approaching the space station in July of 2020. Image Credit: NASA.

Another cargo craft rolled out to its launch pad on Tuesday at the Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. The U.S. Cygnus space freighter from Northrop Grumman is loaded with over 8,300 pounds of station hardware and new science experiments. It will launch atop an Antares rocket on Saturday at 12:40 p.m. and reach the station for a capture with the Canadarm2 robotic arm on Monday at 4:35 a.m.

NASA Flight Engineers Raja Chari and Kayla Barron trained today for the capture activities on the robotics workstation and will be on duty Monday monitoring Cygnus’ approach and rendezvous. Controllers on the ground will take over robotics duties after Cygnus is captured and remotely install the U.S. cargo craft to the Unity module’s Earth-facing port where it will stay for just over three months.

Image above: Antares rocket carrying U.S. Cygnus space freighter on the launch-pad. Image Credit: Northrop Grumman.

The station’s other three astronauts focused on ongoing equipment servicing and microgravity science in the midst of this week’s cargo activities. NASA Flight Engineers Mark Vande Hei and Thomas Marshburn wrapped up the cooling component work on the COLBERT treadmill in the Tranquility module. Marshburn also set up an Astrobee robotic free-flyer with a smart phone video guidance sensor being tested remotely by controllers on Earth. ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Matthias Maurer swapped hardware inside the waste and hygiene compartment, the station’s restroom, before computer operations on human research gear.

Related articles:

Russian Cargo Craft Blasts off to Resupply Station

Join the NG CRS-17 Virtual NASA Social to Experience the Cargo Launch from Wallops

Related links:

Expedition 66:

Poisk module:

Canadarm2 robotic arm:

Unity module:

COLBERT treadmill:

Tranquility module:

Astrobee robotic free-flyer:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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


Fighting Fire with Fire: New Space Station Experiments Study Flames in Space


ISS - Solid Fuel Ignition and Extinction (SoFIE) patch.

Feb 16, 2022

Americans can feel safer in their homes now than decades ago thanks to studies and standards that have removed highly flammable materials in clothing, beds, and furniture. NASA relies on similar studies and standards to protect astronauts when selecting materials for spacesuits and spacecraft.

But fire behaves differently in space. Changes in gravity and air flow can alter the way it spreads and make it harder to extinguish. So, how do engineers design fire safe homes for the Moon, where only 12 people have walked, or Mars, where no human has even visited? How do they study flammability in these little-known environments?

Image above: To demonstrate flame growth, decay, and extinction in space, a preliminary test called Burning and Suppression of Solids (BASS) burned a synthetic resin on the space station several years ago. The top row shows the flame growing, while the bottom row shows it going out. Image Credit: NASA.

The Solid Fuel Ignition and Extinction (SoFIE) project, a set of experiments launching aboard Northrop Grumman’s 17th cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station, could light the way to a deeper understanding of fire in space. SoFIE will run in the station’s Combustion Integrated Rack, which features a chamber where experiments can burn safely.

“With NASA planning outposts on other planetary bodies like the Moon and Mars, we need to be able to live there with minimal risk,” said Paul Ferkul, SoFIE project scientist at NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland. “Understanding how flames spread and how materials burn in different environments is crucial for the safety of future astronauts.”

SoFIE will help NASA select materials and designs for spacesuits, cabins, and habitats. The experiments also will help NASA identify the best ways to put out fires or smoldering materials in space as it prepares to go farther and stay longer.

"On Earth, gravity has a profound influence on flames, but in the reduced gravity of space, fire can behave unexpectedly and could be more hazardous,” Ferkul said.

Image above: NASA astronaut and Expedition 66 Flight Engineer Thomas Marshburn configures the Combustion Integrated Rack to begin SoFIE operations. Image Credit: NASA.

The station’s unique microgravity environment enables scientists to study the true nature of flames isolated and unaltered by gravity. The resulting data, which could never be collected on Earth, can then be applied to mathematical models that predict how those materials would burn in lunar, Martian, or other environments.

“SoFIE builds on NASA’s prior flammability research,” said Lauren Brown, a project manager at Glenn. “Like other flame studies, this research will home in on how things ignite, burn, and are extinguished in space. It will provide a foundation for continuing human spaceflight beyond low-Earth orbit.”

SoFIE consists of five investigations to study the flammability of plexiglass, cotton-based fabrics, and other materials commonly used in spaceflight.

The Five Experiments

- Residence Time Driven Flame Spread will investigate steady and unsteady flame spread using thin spaceflight materials. Varying the thickness of the test materials helps scientists understand when a fire will grow or go out.

- Narrow Channel Apparatus will measure flame spread across thick, flat surfaces and compare the results with those from a device used on Earth to test the flammability of spaceflight materials.

- Growth and Extinction Limit will concentrate on the flame growth, decay, and extinction over the surface of a solid sphere. This will improve understanding of how thick and round materials heat inside and how the air flow around a sphere affects flame spread.

- Material Ignition and Suppression Test consists of a small combustion wind tunnel, a cylindrical material sample, radiant heaters, an igniter, and supporting instrumentation.

- Spacecraft Materials Microgravity Research on Flammability will correlate Earth gravity flammability test data with data under ventilated microgravity conditions.

Although SoFIE’s purpose is to study spacecraft fire safety, data from the experiments could help improve fire safety on Earth. The data will add to the existing body of knowledge that could improve screening tests to evaluate fire-safe materials for the home, office, aircraft, or other uses.

NASA plans to operate SoFIE until November 2025 and may accept proposals for additional experiments during that time.

The Biological and Physical Sciences Division of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate provides funding for SoFIE and related investigations.

Related links:

Solid Fuel Ignition and Extinction (SoFIE):

Combustion Integrated Rack:

NASA’s Glenn Research Center:

Biological and Physical Sciences:

Future Human Spaceflight:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Kelly Sands/Glenn Research Center/Mike Gianonne.


Supermassive black hole caught hiding in a ring of cosmic dust


ESO - European Southern Observatory logo.

Feb 16, 2022

Galaxy Messier 77 and close-up view of its active centre

The European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope Interferometer (ESO’s VLTI) has observed a cloud of cosmic dust at the centre of the galaxy Messier 77 that is hiding a supermassive black hole. The findings have confirmed predictions made around 30 years ago and are giving astronomers new insight into “active galactic nuclei”, some of the brightest and most enigmatic objects in the universe.

Active galactic nuclei (AGNs) are extremely energetic sources powered by supermassive black holes and found at the centre of some galaxies. These black holes feed on large volumes of cosmic dust and gas. Before it is eaten up, this material spirals towards the black hole and huge amounts of energy are released in the process, often outshining all the stars in the galaxy.

A close-up view of Messier 77’s active galactic nucleus

Astronomers have been curious about AGNs ever since they first spotted these bright objects in the 1950s. Now, thanks to ESO’s VLTI, a team of researchers, led by Violeta Gámez Rosas from Leiden University in the Netherlands, have taken a key step towards understanding how they work and what they look like up close. The results are published today in Nature.

By making extraordinarily detailed observations of the centre of the galaxy Messier 77, also known as NGC 1068, Gámez Rosas and her team detected a thick ring of cosmic dust and gas hiding a supermassive black hole. This discovery provides vital evidence to support a 30-year-old theory known as the Unified Model of AGNs.

Dazzling galaxy Messier 77

Astronomers know there are different types of AGN. For example, some release bursts of radio waves while others don’t; certain AGNs shine brightly in visible light, while others, like Messier 77, are more subdued. The Unified Model states that despite their differences, all AGNs have the same basic structure: a supermassive black hole surrounded by a thick ring of dust.

According to this model, any difference in appearance between AGNs results from the orientation at which we view the black hole and its thick ring from Earth. The type of AGN we see depends on how much the ring obscures the black hole from our view point, completely hiding it in some cases.

Artist’s impression of the active galactic nucleus of Messier 77

Astronomers had found some evidence to support the Unified Model before, including spotting warm dust at the centre of Messier 77. However, doubts remained about whether this dust could completely hide a black hole and hence explain why this AGN shines less brightly in visible light than others.

“The real nature of the dust clouds and their role in both feeding the black hole and determining how it looks when viewed from Earth have been central questions in AGN studies over the last three decades,” explains Gámez Rosas. “Whilst no single result will settle all the questions we have, we have taken a major step in understanding how AGNs work.”

The active galaxy Messier 77 in the constellation of Cetus

The observations were made possible thanks to the Multi AperTure mid-Infrared SpectroScopic Experiment (MATISSE) mounted on ESO’s VLTI, located in Chile’s Atacama Desert. MATISSE combined infrared light collected by all four 8.2-metre telescopes of ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) using a technique called interferometry. The team used MATISSE to scan the centre of Messier 77, located 47 million light-years away in the constellation Cetus.

“MATISSE can see a broad range of infrared wavelengths, which lets us see through the dust and accurately measure temperatures. Because the VLTI is in fact a very large interferometer, we have the resolution to see what’s going on even in galaxies as far away as Messier 77. The images we obtained detail the changes in temperature and absorption of the dust clouds around the black hole,” says co-author Walter Jaffe, a professor at Leiden University.

Wide-field image of the sky around Messier 77

Combining the changes in dust temperature (from around room temperature to about 1200 °C) caused by the intense radiation from the black hole with the absorption maps, the team built up a detailed picture of the dust and pinpointed where the black hole must lie. The dust — in a thick inner ring and a more extended disc — with the black hole positioned at its centre supports the Unified Model. The team also used data from the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array, co-owned by ESO, and the National Radio Astronomy Observatory’s Very Long Baseline Array to construct their picture.

“Our results should lead to a better understanding of the inner workings of AGNs,” concludes Gámez Rosas. “They could also help us better understand the history of the Milky Way, which harbours a supermassive black hole at its centre that may have been active in the past.”

Artist’s animation of the active galactic nucleus of Messier 77

The researchers are now looking to use ESO’s VLTI to find more supporting evidence of the Unified Model of AGNs by considering a larger sample of galaxies.

Team member Bruno Lopez, the MATISSE Principal Investigator at the Observatoire de la Côte d’Azur in Nice, France, says: “Messier 77 is an important prototype AGN and a wonderful motivation to expand our observing programme and to optimise MATISSE to tackle a wider sample of AGNs."

The Unified Model of active galactic nuclei

ESO’s Extremely Large Telescope (ELT), set to begin observing later this decade, will also aid the search, providing results that will complement the team’s findings and allow them to explore the interaction between AGNs and galaxies.

More information:

This research was presented in the paper “Thermal imaging of dust hiding the black hole in the Active Galaxy NGC 1068” (doi: 10.1038/s41586-021-04311-7) to appear in Nature.

The team is composed of Violeta Gámez Rosas (Leiden Observatory, Leiden University, Netherlands [Leiden]), Jacob W. Isbell (Max Planck Institute for Astronomy, Heidelberg, Germany [MPIA]), Walter Jaffe (Leiden), Romain G. Petrov (Université Côte d’Azur, Observatoire de la Côte d’Azur, CNRS, Laboratoire Lagrange, France [OCA]), James H. Leftley (OCA), Karl-Heinz Hofmann (Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy, Bonn, Germany [MPIfR]), Florentin Millour (OCA), Leonard Burtscher (Leiden), Klaus Meisenheimer (MPIA), Anthony Meilland (OCA), Laurens B. F. M. Waters (Department of Astrophysics/IMAPP, Radboud University, the Netherlands; SRON, Netherlands Institute for Space Research, the Netherlands), Bruno Lopez (OCA), Stéphane Lagarde (OCA), Gerd Weigelt (MPIfR), Philippe Berio (OCA), Fatme Allouche (OCA), Sylvie Robbe-Dubois (OCA), Pierre Cruzalèbes (OCA), Felix Bettonvil (ASTRON, Dwingeloo, the Netherlands [ASTRON]), Thomas Henning (MPIA), Jean-Charles Augereau (Univ. Grenoble Alpes, CNRS, Institute for Planetary sciences and Astrophysics, France [IPAG]), Pierre Antonelli (OCA), Udo Beckmann (MPIfR), Roy van Boekel (MPIA), Philippe Bendjoya (OCA), William C. Danchi (NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, USA), Carsten Dominik (Anton Pannekoek Institute for Astronomy, University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands [API]), Julien Drevon (OCA), Jack F. Gallimore (Department of Physics and Astronomy, Bucknell University, Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, USA), Uwe Graser (MPIA), Matthias Heininger (MPIfR), Vincent Hocdé (OCA), Michiel Hogerheijde (Leiden; API), Josef Hron (Department of Astrophysics, University of Vienna, Austria), Caterina M.V. Impellizzeri (Leiden), Lucia Klarmann (MPIA), Elena Kokoulina (OCA), Lucas Labadie (1st Institute of Physics, University of Cologne, Germany), Michael Lehmitz (MPIA), Alexis Matter (OCA), Claudia Paladini (European Southern Observatory, Santiago, Chile [ESO-Chile]), Eric Pantin (Centre d'Etudes de Saclay, Gif-sur-Yvette, France), Jörg-Uwe Pott (MPIA), Dieter Schertl (MPIfR), Anthony Soulain (Sydney Institute for Astronomy, University of Sydney, Australia [SIfA]), Philippe Stee (OCA), Konrad Tristram (ESO-Chile), Jozsef Varga (Leiden), Julien Woillez (European Southern Observatory, Garching bei München, Germany [ESO]), Sebastian Wolf (Institute for Theoretical Physics and Astrophysics, University of Kiel, Germany), Gideon Yoffe (MPIA), and Gerard Zins (ESO-Chile).

MATISSE was designed, funded and built in close collaboration with ESO, by a consortium composed of institutes in France (J.-L. Lagrange Laboratory — INSU-CNRS — Côte d’Azur Observatory — University of Nice Sophia-Antipolis), Germany (MPIA, MPIfR and University of Kiel), the Netherlands (NOVA and University of Leiden), and Austria (University of Vienna). The Konkoly Observatory and Cologne University have also provided some support in the manufacture of the instrument.

The European Southern Observatory (ESO) enables scientists worldwide to discover the secrets of the Universe for the benefit of all. We design, build and operate world-class observatories on the ground — which astronomers use to tackle exciting questions and spread the fascination of astronomy — and promote international collaboration in astronomy. Established as an intergovernmental organisation in 1962, today ESO is supported by 16 Member States (Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom), along with the host state of Chile and with Australia as a Strategic Partner. ESO’s headquarters and its visitor centre and planetarium, the ESO Supernova, are located close to Munich in Germany, while the Chilean Atacama Desert, a marvellous place with unique conditions to observe the sky, hosts our telescopes. ESO operates three observing sites: La Silla, Paranal and Chajnantor. At Paranal, ESO operates the Very Large Telescope and its Very Large Telescope Interferometer, as well as two survey telescopes, VISTA working in the infrared and the visible-light VLT Survey Telescope. Also at Paranal ESO will host and operate the Cherenkov Telescope Array South, the world’s largest and most sensitive gamma-ray observatory. Together with international partners, ESO operates APEX and ALMA on Chajnantor, two facilities that observe the skies in the millimetre and submillimetre range. At Cerro Armazones, near Paranal, we are building “the world’s biggest eye on the sky” — ESO’s Extremely Large Telescope. From our offices in Santiago, Chile we support our operations in the country and engage with Chilean partners and society.


Uncovering a Black Hole in an Immense Dust Cloud (ESOcast 251 Light)

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Images Credits: ESO/Jaffe, Gámez-Rosas et al./ESO/M. Kornmesser and L. Calçada/ESO, IAU and Sky & Telescope/NASA/ESA, Digitized Sky Survey 2/Videos Credits: ESO/M. Kornmesser and L. Calçada and M. Kornmesser/Text, Credits: ESO/Bárbara Ferreira/MATISSE Project Scientist, Observatoire de la Côte d’ Azur, Nice/Romain Petrov/MATISSE Principal Investigator/Bruno Lopez/Leiden University/Walter Jaffe/Violeta Gámez Rosas.

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