vendredi 10 juin 2022

BEAM Work, Space Gardening, Free-Flying Robots End Crew Week


ISS - Expedition 67 Mission patch.

June 10, 2022

The Expedition 67 crew opened up BEAM, the International Space Station’s expandable module, today and conducted sensor checks and organized hardware. The orbital residents also continued their space botany and automated robotics research as well as ongoing cargo operations.

NASA Flight Engineers Jessica Watkins and Bob Hines partnered together inside the BEAM module today for systems checks after six years attached to the station’s Tranquility module. Watkins opened up BEAM on Friday morning then replaced batteries inside sensors that can detect impacts on the module. Hines retrieved cargo and cleaned vents inside BEAM.

Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) during inflation. Animation Credit: NASA

Watkins started her day servicing laptop computers and replacing ethernet cables throughout the station’s U.S. and Russian modules. Hines worked in the Columbus laboratory module recirculating fluids and nourishing radishes and mizuna greens growing for the XROOTS botany study. The advanced space gardening experiment explores hydroponics and aeroponics growing techniques in microgravity.

NASA Flight Engineer Kjell Lindgren swapped experiment samples inside the Mochii electron microscope that is used to rapidly identify potentially harmful particles that could impact vehicles on space station as part of a study related to spacecraft engineering and safety. Astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti of ESA (European Space Agency) activated the Astrobee robotic free-flyers for a test of their ability to conduct automated science maneuvers using the smartphone video guidance sensor.

Image above: The Milky Way is pictured above Earth’s atmospheric glow as the station orbited above the island nation of Vanuatu in the Pacific Ocean. Image Credit: NASA.

Cosmonauts Denis Matveev and Sergey Korsakov partnered together at the end of the week offloading new cargo delivered inside the Progress 81 resupply ship docked to the rear port of the Zvezda service module. Matveev earlier installed a camera that monitors the effects of natural and man-made Earth disasters while Korsakov replaced station fire extinguishers. Commander Oleg Artemyev inspected Russian Orlan spacesuit helmets then wrapped up his day working on computer and life support systems.

Related links:

Expedition 67:

BEAM module:

Columbus laboratory module:


Mochii electron microscope:


Ssmartphone video guidance sensor:

Zvezda service moduleö:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

Best regards,

Hubble Investigates an Enigmatic Star Cluster






NASA - Hubble Space Telescope patch.


June 10, 2022

Like Sherlock Holmes’s magnifying glass, the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope can peer into an astronomical mystery in search of clues. The enigma in question concerns the globular cluster Ruprecht 106, pictured here. Unlike most globular clusters, Ruprecht 106 may be what astronomers call a single population globular cluster. While the majority of stars in a globular cluster formed at approximately the same location and time, it turns out that almost all globular clusters contain at least two groups of stars with distinct chemical compositions. The newer stars will have a different chemical make-up that includes elements processed by their older, massive cluster companions. A tiny handful of globular clusters do not possess these multiple populations of stars, and Ruprecht 106 is a member of this enigmatic group.

Hubble captured this star-studded image using one of its most versatile instruments, the Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS). Much like the stars in globular clusters, Hubble’s instruments also have distinct generations: ACS is a third-generation instrument which replaced the original Faint Object Camera in 2002. Some of Hubble’s other instruments have also gone through three iterations: The Wide Field Camera 3 replaced the Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2 (WFPC2) during the last servicing mission to Hubble. WFPC2 itself replaced the original Wide Field and Planetary Camera, which was installed on Hubble prior to its launch.

Hubble Space Telescope (HST)

Astronauts on the space shuttle serviced Hubble in orbit a total of five times and were able to either upgrade aging equipment or replace instruments with newer, more capable versions. This high-tech tinkering in low Earth orbit has helped keep Hubble at the cutting edge of astronomy for more than three decades.

For more information about Hubble, visit:

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


Space Station Science Highlights: Week of June 6, 2022


ISS - Expedition 67 Mission patch.

June 10, 2022

Crew members aboard the International Space Station conducted scientific investigations during the week of June 6 that included demonstrating technology for real-time measurement of particles in space, testing a radiation protection garment, and examining solidification of alloys.

Image above: Smoke billows from Mount Etna, Europe's tallest active volcano on Italy's island of Sicily, in this image taken as the International Space Station orbits 263 miles above Bulgaria. Image Credit: NASA.

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

Mini microscope

Mochii demonstrates a miniature scanning electron microscope to conduct real-time, on-site imaging and measurements of tiny particles on the space station. Such particles can cause vehicle and equipment malfunctions and threaten crew health. Currently, samples must be returned to Earth for analysis, which can take several months. Rapid identification of these particles can help keep crews and vehicles safe, critical for future missions where samples cannot be sent back to Earth. Mochii also serves as a powerful new analysis tool to support future microgravity research. During the week, crew members reviewed procedures and exchanged samples for experiment runs.

This vest is rad

An ISS National Lab study, AstroRad Vest tests a garment designed to protect astronauts from radiation caused by unpredictable solar particle events, which can deliver high radiation doses in a short period of time. The garment targets protection to specific radiation-sensitive organs and tissues. Crew members wear the vest while performing daily tasks over a period of several weeks and provide feedback to ground teams, including how easy it is to put on the vest, how it fits and feels, and the range of motion it allows. This feedback helps garment developers improve vest design, which could better protect crew members on missions to the Moon and Mars from the harmful effects of radiation exposure. Data from the investigation also could improve radiation protection garments used on Earth. Crew members conducted several sessions with the vest during the week.

Making metals clear

Animation above: NASA astronaut Jessica Watkins works on hardware for Transparent Alloys, an ESA investigation examining solidification of an alloy using an organic material that remains transparent to allow scientists to view the process. Animation Credit: NASA.

Alloys are mixtures of different metals, and certain combinations can make lighter, stronger, and even self-healing materials. Transparent Alloys - METCOMP, an investigation from ESA (European Space Agency), examines solidification of an alloy, particularly the timing of the formation of layered structures. Because metals are not transparent, researchers are using specific organic materials that solidify like a metal yet remain transparent so they can examine the process. Alloys are used in a wide variety of applications from smartphones to aircraft, and lighter, stronger versions could benefit consumers and industry. During the week, crew members prepared hardware for the experiment.

Other investigations involving the crew:

- The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) Cell Biology Experiment Facility-L (CBEF-L) is an upgrade of the original CBEF that provides new capabilities and resources, including high-definition video interface and a larger centrifugal test environment. JAXA’s Liquid Behavior investigation uses the facility to examine how liquid behaves in microgravity, which could help optimize design of future space equipment.

Image above: Expedition 67 crew members pose with fresh fruit aboard the space station. Pictured clockwise from left: Roscosmos cosmonauts Sergey Korsakov and Denis Matveev, NASA astronauts Jessica Watkins and Kjell Lindgren, ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti, and Roscosmos Commander Oleg Artemyev. Image Credit: NASA.

- NutrISS, an investigation from ESA, assesses an individual’s body composition and energy balance throughout spaceflight using wearable sensors and ESA’s EveryWear app. Results could lead to improved physical health and quality of life for astronauts and better clinical management of malnourished, obese, or immobilized patients on Earth.

- XROOTS uses hydroponic (liquid-based) and aeroponic (air-based) techniques to grow plants without traditional growth media, which could enable production of crops on a larger scale for future space exploration.

- Acoustic Diagnostics, an investigation from ESA, tests the hearing of crew members before, during, and after flight. While the symptoms of mild hearing impairment can be temporary, it is important to detect them as early as possible before they lead to more significant issues.

- 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.

- Wireless Compose-2, an investigation from ESA, demonstrates wireless infrastructure for data collection and transmission in microgravity. The investigation includes analysis of how space affects the cardiovascular system, using a shirt with imbedded sensors. This technology could contribute to development of less intrusive ways to monitor the health of astronauts and people on the ground.

Space to Ground: The To-Do List: 06/10/2022

Related links:

Expedition 67:


ISS National Lab:

AstroRad Vest:

Transparent Alloys - METCOMP:

Spot the Station:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

Animation (mentioned), Image (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Ana Guzman/John Love, ISS Research Planning Integration Scientist Expedition 67.

Best regards,

Hubble Determines Mass of Isolated Black Hole Roaming Our Milky Way


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

June 10, 2022

Artist’s Impression of an Isolated Black Hole

Astronomers estimate that 100 million black holes roam among the stars in our Milky Way galaxy, but they have never conclusively identified an isolated black hole. Following six years of meticulous observations, the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has, for the first time ever, provided direct evidence for a lone black hole drifting through interstellar space by a precise mass measurement of the phantom object. Until now, all black hole masses have been inferred statistically or through interactions in binary systems or in the cores of galaxies. Stellar-mass black holes are usually found with companion stars, making this one unusual.

The newly detected wandering black hole lies about 5,000 light-years away, in the Carina-Sagittarius spiral arm of our galaxy. However, its discovery allows astronomers to estimate that the nearest isolated stellar-mass black hole to Earth might be as close as 80 light-years away. The nearest star to our solar system, Proxima Centauri, is a little over 4 light-years away.

Microlensing Black Hole

Black holes roaming our galaxy are born from rare, monstrous stars (less than one-thousandth of the galaxy's stellar population) that are at least 20 times more massive than our Sun. These stars explode as supernovae, and the remnant core is crushed by gravity into a black hole. Because the self-detonation is not perfectly symmetrical, the black hole may get a kick, and go careening through our galaxy like a blasted cannonball.

Telescopes can't photograph a wayward black hole because it doesn't emit any light. However, a black hole warps space, which then deflects and amplifies starlight from anything that momentarily lines up exactly behind it.

Video above: Space Sparks Episode 16: Hubble Determines Mass of Isolated Black Hole Roaming Our Milky Way.

Ground-based telescopes, which monitor the brightness of millions of stars in the rich star fields toward the central bulge of our Milky Way, look for a tell-tale sudden brightening of one of them when a massive object passes between us and the star. Then Hubble follows up on the most interesting such events.

Two teams used Hubble data in their investigations — one led by Kailash Sahu of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland; and the other by Casey Lam of the University of California, Berkeley. The teams' results differ slightly, but both suggest the presence of a compact object.

The warping of space due to the gravity of a foreground object passing in front of a star located far behind it will momentarily bend and amplify the light of the background star as it passes in front of it. Astronomers use the phenomenon, called gravitational microlensing, to study stars and exoplanets in the approximately 30,000 events seen so far inside our galaxy.

Artist’s Impression of a Black Hole (Animation)

The signature of a foreground black hole stands out as unique among other microlensing events. The very intense gravity of the black hole will stretch out the duration of the lensing event for over 200 days. Also, if the intervening object was instead a foreground star, it would cause a transient color change in the starlight as measured because the light from the foreground and background stars would momentarily be blended together. But no color change was seen in the black hole event.

Next, Hubble was used to measure the amount of deflection of the background star's image by the black hole. Hubble is capable of the extraordinary precision needed for such measurements. The star's image was offset from where it normally would be by about a milliarcsecond. That’s equivalent to measuring the height of an adult human lying on the surface of the moon from the Earth.

This astrometric microlensing technique provided information on the mass, distance, and velocity of the black hole. The amount of deflection by the black hole's intense warping of space allowed Sahu's team to estimate that it weighs seven solar masses.

Lam's team reports a slightly lower mass range, meaning that the object may be either a neutron star or a black hole. They estimate that the mass of the invisible compact object is between 1.6 and 4.4 times that of the Sun. At the high end of this range the object would be a black hole; at the low end, it would be a neutron star.

"As much as we would like to say it is definitively a black hole, we must report all allowed solutions. This includes both lower mass black holes and possibly even a neutron star," said Jessica Lu of the Berkeley team.

"Whatever it is, the object is the first dark stellar remnant discovered wandering through the galaxy, unacompanied by another star" Lam added.

This was a particularly difficult measurement for the team because there is another bright star that is extremely close in angular separation to the source star. “So it’s like trying to measure the tiny motion of a firefly next to a bright light bulb,” said Sahu. “We had to meticulously subtract the light of the nearby bright star to precisely measure the deflection of the faint source.”

Sahu's team estimates the isolated black hole is traveling across the galaxy at 160,000 kilometres per hour (fast enough to travel from Earth to the Moon in less than three hours). That's faster than most of the other neighbouring stars in that region of our galaxy.

“Astrometric microlensing is conceptually simple but observationally very tough,” said Sahu. “Microlensing is the only technique available for identifying isolated black holes.” When the black hole passed in front of a background star located 19,000 light-years away in the galactic bulge, the starlight coming toward Earth was amplified for a duration of 270 days as the black hole passed by. However, it took several years of Hubble observations to follow how the background star's position appeared to be deflected by the bending of light by the foreground black hole.

Hubble Space Telescope (HST)

The existence of stellar-mass black holes has been known since the early 1970s, but all of their mass measurements—until now—have been in binary star systems. Gas from the companion star falls into the black hole and is heated to such high temperatures that it emits X-rays. About two dozen black holes have had their masses measured in X-ray binaries through their gravitational effect on their companions. Mass estimates range from 5 to 20 solar masses. Black holes detected in other galaxies by gravitational waves from mergers between black holes and companion objects have been as high as 90 solar masses.

“Detections of isolated black holes will provide new insights into the population of these objects in the Milky Way,” said Sahu. He expects that his programme will uncover more free-roaming black holes inside our galaxy. But it is a needle-in-a-haystack search. The prediction is that only one in a few hundred microlensing events are caused by isolated black holes.

In his 1916 paper on general relativity, Albert Einstein predicted that his theory could be tested by observing the offset in the apparent position of a background star caused by the Sun’s gravity. This was tested by a collaboration led by astronomers Arthur Eddington and Frank Dyson during a solar eclipse on 29 May 1919. Eddington and his colleagues measured a background star being offset by 2 arc seconds, validating Einstein’s theories. These scientists could hardly have imagined that over a century later this same technique would be used — with a then-unimaginable thousandfold improvement in precision — to look for black holes across our galaxy.

More information:

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

The international team of astronomers in Sahu's study consists of K. C. Sahu (Space Telescope Science Institute, USA), J. Anderson (Space Telescope Science Institute, USA), S. Casertano (Space Telescope Science Institute, USA), H. E. Bond (Space Telescope Science Institute, USA; University of Pennsylvania, USA), A. Udalski (University of Warsaw, Poland), M. Dominik (University of St. Andrews, UK), A. Calamida (Space Telescope Science Institute, USA), A. Bellini (Space Telescope Science Institute, USA), T. M. Brown (Space Telescope Science Institute, USA), M. Rejkuba (European Southern Observatory, Germany), V. Bajaj (Space Telescope Science Institute, USA), N. Kains (Columbia University, USA), H. C. Ferguson (Space Telescope Science Institute, USA), C. L. Fryer (Los Alamos National Laboratory, USA), and P. Yock (University of Auckland, New Zealand), together with the other members of the following teams: the OGLE Collaboration consisting of P. Mroz (University of Warsaw, Poland), S. Kozlowski (University of Warsaw, Poland), P. Pietrukowicz (University of Warsaw, Poland), R. Poleski (University of Warsaw, Poland), J. Skowron (University of Warsaw, Poland), I. Soszynski (University of Warsaw, Poland), M. K. Szymanski (University of Warsaw, Poland), K. Ulaczyk (University of Warsaw, Poland; University of Warwick, UK), and L. Wyrzykowski (University of Warsaw, Poland); the MOA Collaboration consisting of R. Barry (NASA Goddard Space Flight Centre, USA), D. P. Bennett (NASA Goddard Space Flight Centre, USA; University of Maryland, USA), I. A. Bond (Massey University, New Zealand), Y. Hirao (Osaka University, Japan), S. I. Silva (NASA Goddard Space Flight Centre, USA; Catholic University of America, USA), I. Kondo (Osaka University, Japan), N. Koshimoto (NASA Goddard Space Flight Centre, USA), C. Ranc (Heidelberg University, Germany), N. J. Rattenbury (University of Auckland, New Zealand), T. Sumi (Osaka University, Japan), D. Suzuki (Osaka University, Japan), P. J. Tristram (University of Canterbury, New Zealand), and A. Vandorou (NASA Goddard Space Flight Centre, USA; University of Maryland, USA); the PLANET Collaboration consisting of J. Beaulieu (University of Tasmania, Australia; Sorbonne University, France), J. Marquette (University of Bordeaux, France), A. Cole (University of Tasmania, Australia), P. Fouque (University of Toulouse, France), K. Hill (University of Tasmania, Australia), S. Dieters (University of Tasmania, Australia), C. Coutures (Sorbonne University, France), D. Dominis-Prester (National Astronomical Observatory of Japan, Japan), C. Bennett (Massachussets Institute of Technology, USA), E. Bachelet (Las Cumbres Observatory, USA), J. Menzies (South African Astronomical Observatory, South Africa), M. Alb-row (University of Canterbury, New Zealand), and K. Pollard (University of Canterbury, New Zealand); the µFUN Collaboration consisting of A. Gould (Max Planck Institute for Astronomy, Germany; Ohio State University, USA), J. C. Yee (Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian, USA), W. Allen (Vintage Lane Observatory, New Zealand), L. A. de Almeida (Federal University of Rio Grande do Norte, Brazil; State University of Rio Grande do Norte, Brazil), G. Christie (Auckland Observatory, New Zealand), J. Drummond (Possum Observatory, New Zealand; University of Southern Queensland, Australia), A. Gal-Yam (Weizmann Institute of Science, Israel), E. Gorbikov (Tel Aviv University, Israel), F. Jablonski (Natonal Institute for Space Research, Brazil), C. Lee (Korea Astronomy and Space Science Institute, Republic of Korea), D. Maoz (Tel Aviv University, Israel), I. Manulis (Weizmann Institute of Science, Israel), J. McCormick (Centre for Backyard Astrophysics, New Zealand), T. Natusch (Auckland Observatory, New Zealand; Auckland University of Technology, New Zealand), R. W. Pogge (Ohio State University, USA), and Y. Shvartzvald (Weizmann Institute of Science, Israel); the MiNDSTEp Collaboration consisting of U. G. Jorgensen (University of Copenhagen, Denmark), K. A. Alsubai (Hamad Bin Khalifa University, Qatar), M. I. Andersen (University of Copenhagen, Denmark), V. Bozza (University of Salerno, Italy), S. C. Novati (California Institute of Technology, USA), M. Burgdorf (Hamburg, Germany), T. C. Hinse (Nicolaus Copernicus University, Poland; Chungnam National University, Republic of Korea), M. Hundertmark (Heidelberg University, Germany), T.  Husser (University of Göttingen, Germany), E. Kerins (University of Manchester, UK), P. Longa-Pena (University of Antofagasta, Chile), L. Mancini (Tor Vergata University of Rome, Italy; Max Planck Institute for Astronomy, Germany; Astrophysical Observatory of Turin, Italy), M. Penny (Louisiana State University, USA), S. Rahvar (Sharif University of Technology, Iran), D. Ricci (Padova Astronomical Observatory, Italy), S. Sajadian (Isfahan University of Technology, Iran), J. Skottfelt (The Open University, UK), C. Snodgrass (University of Edinburgh, UK), J. Southworth (Keele University, UK), J. Tregloan-Reed (University of Atacama, Chile), J. Wambsganss (Heidelberg University, Germany), and O. Wertz (University of Liège, Belgium); and the RoboNet Collaboration consisting of Y. Tsapras (Heidelberg University, Germany), R. A. Street (Las Cumbres Observatory, USA), D. M. Bramich (New York University Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates), K. Horne (University of St. Andrews, UK), and I. A. Steele (Liverpool John Moores University, UK).

The international team of astronomers in Lam's study consists of C. Y. Lam (University of California, Berkeley, USA), J. R. Lu (University of California, Berkeley, USA), A. Udalski (University of Warsaw, Poland), I. Bond (Massey University, New Zealand), D. P. Bennett (NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, USA; University of Maryland, USA), J. Skowron (University of Warsaw, Poland), P. Mroz (University of Warsaw, Poland), R. Polski (University of Warsaw, Poland), T. Sumi (Osaka University, Japan), M. Szmanski (University of Warsaw, Poland), S. Kozlowski (University of Warsaw, Poland), P. Pietrukowicz (University of Warsaw, Poland), I. Soszynski (University of Warsaw, Poland), K. Ulaczyk (University of Warsaw, Poland; University of Warwick, UK), L. Wyrzykowski (University of Warsaw, Poland), S. Miyazaki (Osaka University, Japan), D. Suzuki (Osaka University, Japan), N. Koshimoto (NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, USA; University of Maryland, USA; The University of Tokyo, Japan), N. J. Rattenbury (University of Auckland, New Zealand), M. W. Josek, Jr. (University of California, Los Angeles, USA), F. Abe (Nagoya University, Japan), R. Barry (NASA Goddard Space Flight Center), A. Bhattacharya (NASA Goddard Space Flight Center; University of Maryland, USA), A. Fukui (The University of Tokyo, Japan; Instituto de Astrofisica de Canarias, Spain), H. Fuji (Nagoya University, Japan), Y. Hirao (Osaka University, Japan), Y. Itow (Nagoya University, Japan), R. Kirikawa (Osaka University, Japan), I. Kondo (Osaka University, Japan), Y. Matsubara (Nagoya University, Japan), S. Matsumoto (Osaka University, Japan), Y. Muraki (Nagoya University, Japan), G. Olmschenk (NASA Goddard Space Flight Center), C. Ranc (Universitat Heidelberg, Germany), A. Okamura (Osaka University, Japan), Y. Satoh (Osaka University, Japan), S. I. Silva (The Catholic University of America, DC, USA; NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, USA), T. Toda (Osaka University, Japan), T. Toda (Osaka University, Japan), P. J. Tristram (University of Canterbury, New Zealand), A. Vandorou (NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, USA; University of Maryland, USA), H. Yama (Osaka University, Japan), N. S. Abrams (University of California, Berkeley, USA), S. Agarwal (University of California, Berkeley, USA), S. Rose (University of California, Berkeley, USA), S. K. Terry (University of California, Berkeley, USA).


Images of Hubble:
Hubblesite release:

Sahu et al. science paper:

Lam et al. science paper:

ESA's Hubble:

Images, Animation Credits: ESA/Hubble, Digitized Sky Survey, Nick Risinger (, N. Bartmann/NASA, ESA, K. Sahu (STScI), J. DePasquale (STScI)/Videos Credits: ESA/Hubble, Digitized Sky Survey, Nick Risinger (, N. Bartmann/Text Credits: ESA/Hubble/Bethany Downer/STSi/Kailash Sahu.


jeudi 9 juin 2022

Crew Works on Space Biology Gear, Practices Emergency Drill


ISS - Expedition 67 Mission patch.

June 9, 2022

The Expedition 67 crew spent Thursday servicing a variety of advanced space biology and human research hardware to learn how different organisms adapt to long-term microgravity.

NASA Flight Engineer Kjell Lindgren kicked off Thursday morning swapping centrifuges inside the Kibo laboratory module’s Cell Biology Experiment Facility (CBEF). The CBEF is an incubator that can house cells and plants while generating artificial gravity between 0.1 and 2.0 G during gravity contrast experiments. The life science research device is part of the Saibo Experiment Rack that houses science, power, and data transmission facilities.

Image above: Expedition 67 astronauts (clockwise from bottom) Samantha Cristoforetti, Bob Hines, Kjell Lindgren, and Jessica Watkins, smile for a portrait from inside the Boeing Starliner vehicle on May 24, 2022. Image Credit: NASA.

NASA Flight Engineers Bob Hines and Jessica Watkins worked throughout Thursday on cargo operations inside the Cygnus space freighter ahead of its departure targeted for the end of June. Lindgren finalized the day’s cargo work in the afternoon before cleaning and inspecting hatch mechanisms in the station’s U.S. segment. Watkins also wrapped up her test session with the AstroRad radiation protection vest and completed a survey to document the specialized vest’s comfort and mobility.

Astrobee. Animation Credit: NASA

ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti logged her food and beverage intake in a database in the morning for the NutrISS study that monitors an astronaut’s body composition in weightlessness. She later trained for Astrobee operations before joining Watkins to audit systems inside the Tranquility module. At the end of the day, she participated in the U.S. hatch inspections with Lindgren.

The orbiting lab’s three cosmonauts spent Thursday morning practicing an emergency evacuation drill on a computer. Commander Oleg Artemyev joined Flight Engineers Denis Matveev and Sergey Korsakov and simulated an unlikely emergency scenario that would require the threesome to quickly enter the Soyuz MS-21 crew ship, undock from the station, and descend toward Earth for a landing. The trio then split up in the afternoon and worked on an array of communications and life support systems.

Related links:

Expedition 67:

Kibo laboratory module:

Cell Biology Experiment Facility (CBEF):

Saibo Experiment Rack:




Tranquility module:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

Best regards,

NASA’s NuSTAR Mission Celebrates 10 Years Studying the X-Ray Universe



NASA - Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) patch.

June 9, 2022

After a decade of observing some of the hottest, densest, and most energetic regions in our universe, this small but powerful space telescope still has more to see.

Image above: NASA’s NuSTAR space telescope, shown in this illustration, features two main components separated by a 30-foot (10-meter) mast, sometimes called a boom. Light is collected at one end of the mast and is focused along its length before hitting detectors at the other end. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

NASA’s Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) is turning 10. Launched on June 13, 2012, this space telescope detects high-energy X-ray light and studies some of the most energetic objects and processes in the universe, from black holes devouring hot gas to the radioactive remains of exploded stars. Here are some of the ways NuSTAR has opened our eyes to the X-ray universe over the last decade.

Seeing X-Rays Close to Home

Different colors of visible light have different wavelengths and different energies; similarly, there is a range of X-ray light, or light waves with higher energies than those human eyes can detect. NuSTAR detects X-rays at the higher end of the range. There aren’t many objects in our solar system that emit the X-rays NuSTAR can detect, but the Sun does: Its high-energy X-rays come from microflares, or small bursts of particles and light on its surface. NuSTAR’s observations contribute to insights about the formation of bigger flares, which can cause harm to astronauts and satellites. These studies could also help scientists explain why the Sun’s outer region, the corona, is many times hotter than its surface. NuSTAR also recently observed high-energy X-rays coming from Jupiter, solving a decades-old mystery about why they’ve gone undetected in the past.

Image above: X-rays from the Sun – seen in the green and blue observations by NASA’s NuSTAR – come from gas heated to more than 5.4 million degrees Fahrenheit (3 million degrees Celsius). Data taken by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, seen in orange, shows material around 1.8 million F (1 million C). Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/GSFC.

Illuminating Black Holes

Black holes don’t emit light, but some of the biggest ones we know of are surrounded by disks of hot gas that glow in many different wavelengths of light. NuSTAR can show scientists what’s happening to the material closest to the black hole, revealing how black holes produce bright flares and jets of hot gas that stretch for thousands of light-years into space. The mission has measured temperature variations in black hole winds that influence star formation in the rest of the galaxy. Recently, the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) took the first-ever direct images of the shadows of black holes, and NuSTAR provided support. Along with other NASA telescopes, NuSTAR monitored the black holes for flares and changes in brightness that would influence EHT’s ability to image the shadow cast by them.  

One of NuSTAR’s biggest accomplishments in this arena was making the first unambiguous measurement of a black hole’s spin, which it did in collaboration with the ESA (European Space Agency) XMM-Newton mission. Spin is the degree to which a black hole’s intense gravity warps the space around it, and the measurement helped confirm aspects of Albert Einstein’s theory of general relativity.

Image above: This illustration shows a black hole surrounded by an accretion disk made of hot gas, with a jet extending into space. NASA’s NuSTAR telescope has helped measure how far particles in these jets travel before they “turn on” and become bright sources of light, a distance also known as the “acceleration zone.” Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

Finding Hidden Black Holes

NuSTAR has identified dozens of black holes hidden behind thick clouds of gas and dust. Visible light typically can’t penetrate those clouds, but the high-energy X-ray light observed by NuSTAR can. This gives scientists a better estimate of the total number of black holes in the universe. In recent years scientists have used NuSTAR data to find out how these giants become surrounded by such thick clouds, how that process influences their development, and how obscuration relates to a black hole’s impact on the surrounding galaxy.

Revealing the Power of ‘Undead’ Stars

NuSTAR is a kind of zombie hunter: It’s deft at finding the undead corpses of stars. Known as neutron stars, these are dense nuggets of material left over after a massive star runs out of fuel and collapses. Though neutron stars are typically only the size of a large city, they are so dense that a teaspoon of one would weigh about a billion tons on Earth. Their density, combined with their powerful magnetic fields, makes these objects extremely energetic: One neutron star located in the galaxy M82 beams with the energy of 10 million Suns.

Without NuSTAR, scientists wouldn’t have discovered just how energetic neutron stars can be. When the object in M82 was discovered, researchers thought that only a black hole could generate so much power from such a small area. NuSTAR was able to confirm the object’s true identity by detecting pulsations from the star’s rotation – and has since shown that many of these ultraluminous X-ray sources, previously thought to be black holes, are in fact neutron stars. Knowing how much energy these can produce has helped scientists better understand their physical properties, which are unlike anything found in our solar system.

Image above: NuSTAR is the first space telescope able to focus high-energy X-rays. This colorful poster was made in celebration of the mission’s 10-year anniversary. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

Solving Supernova Mysteries

During their lives, stars are mostly spherical, but NuSTAR observations have shown that when they explode as supernovae, they become an asymmetrical mess. The space telescope solved a major mystery in the study of supernovae by mapping the radioactive material left over by two stellar explosions, tracing the shape of the debris and in both cases revealing significant deviations from a spherical shape. Because of NuSTAR’s X-ray vision, astronomers now have clues about what happens in an environment that would be almost impossible to probe directly. The NuSTAR observations suggest that the inner regions of a star are extremely turbulent at the time of detonation.   

More About the Mission

NuSTAR launched on June 13, 2012. The mission’s principal investigator is Fiona Harrison, chair of the Division of Physics, Mathematics, and Astronomy at Caltech in Pasadena, California. A Small Explorer mission managed by the agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington, NuSTAR was developed in partnership with the Danish Technical University (DTU) and the Italian Space Agency (ASI). The telescope optics were built by Columbia University, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and DTU. The spacecraft was built by Orbital Sciences Corp. in Dulles, Virginia. NuSTAR’s mission operations center is at the University of California, Berkeley, and the official data archive is at NASA’s High Energy Astrophysics Science Archive Research Center. ASI provides the mission’s ground station and a mirror data archive. Caltech manages JPL for NASA.

For more information on NuSTAR, visit:

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Tony Greicius/JPL/Calla Cofield.

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When Galaxy Clusters Collide


NASA - Chandra X-ray Observatory patch.

June 9, 2022

Colossal Collisions Linked to Solar System Science

A new study shows a deep connection between some of the largest, most energetic events in the Universe and much smaller, weaker ones powered by our own Sun.

The results come from a long observation with NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory of Abell 2146, a pair of colliding galaxy clusters located about 2.8 billion light years from Earth. The new study was led by Helen Russell of the University of Nottingham in the United Kingdom.

Image above: A composite image of Abell 2146, a pair colliding galaxy clusters. Image Credits: X-ray: NASA/CXC/Univ. of Nottingham/H. Russell et al.; Optical: NAOJ/Subaru.

Galaxy clusters contain hundreds of galaxies and huge amounts of hot gas and dark matter and are among the largest structures in the Universe. Collisions between galaxy clusters release enormous amounts of energy unlike anything witnessed since the big bang and provide scientists with physics laboratories that are unavailable here on Earth.

In this composite image of Abell 2146, Chandra X-ray data (purple) shows hot gas, and Subaru Telescope optical data shows galaxies (red and white). One cluster is moving towards the bottom left and plowing through the other cluster. The hot gas in the former is pushing out a shock wave, like a sonic boom generated by a supersonic jet, as it collides with the hot gas in the other cluster.

The shock wave is about 1.6 million light years long and is labeled in a version of the X-ray image that has been processed to emphasize sharp features. Also labeled are the hot gas in the center of the cluster moving towards the lower left and its direction of motion. A second shock wave of similar size is seen behind the collision. Called an "upstream shock," features like this arise from the complex interplay of stripped gas from the infalling cluster and the surrounding cluster gas.

Shock waves like those generated by a supersonic jet are collisional shocks, involving direct collisions between particles. In Earth's atmosphere near sea level, gas particles typically travel only about 4 millionths of an inch before colliding with another particle.

Image above: A labeled composite image of Abell 2146, a pair colliding galaxy clusters. Image Credits: X-ray: NASA/CXC/Univ. of Nottingham/H. Russell et al.; Optical: NAOJ/Subaru.

Conversely, in galaxy clusters and in the solar wind — streams of particles blown away from the Sun — direct collisions between particles occur too rarely to produce shock waves because the gas is so diffuse, with incredibly low density. For example, in galaxy clusters particles typically must travel about 30,000 to 50,000 light years before colliding. Instead, the shocks in these cosmic environments are "collisionless," generated by interactions between charged particles and magnetic fields.

Chandra observed Abell 2146 for a total of about 23 days, giving the deepest X-ray image yet obtained of shock fronts in a galaxy cluster. The two shock fronts in Abell 2146 are among the brightest and clearest shock fronts known among galaxy clusters.

Using this powerful data, Russell and her team studied the gas temperature behind the shock waves in Abell 2146. They showed that electrons have been mainly heated by compression of gas by the shock, an effect like that seen in the solar wind. The rest of the heating occurred by collisions between particles. Because the gas is so diffuse this additional heating took place slowly, over about 200 million years.

Chandra X-ray Observatory. Animation Credits: NASA/CXC

Chandra makes such sharp images that it can actually measure how much random gas motions are blurring shock front that is expected from theory to be much more narrow. For this cluster, they measure random gas motions of around 650,000 miles per hour.

Collisionless shock waves are important in several other fields of research. For example, the radiation produced by shocks in the solar wind can negatively impact spacecraft operation, as well as the safety of humans in space.

A paper describing these results was accepted by The Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society and appears online. The authors are Helen Russell (University of Nottingham, United Kingdom), Paul Nulsen (Center for Astrophysics Harvard | Smithsonian, or CfA), Damiano Caprioli (University of Chicago), Urmila Chadayammuri (CfA), Andy Fabian (Cambridge University, United Kingdom), Matthew Kunz (Princeton University), Brian McNamara (University of Waterloo, Canada), Jeremy Sanders (Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics, Germany), Annabelle Richard-Laferriere (Cambridge University, United Kingdom), Maya Beleznay (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), Becky Canning (University of Portsmouth, United Kingdom), Julie Hlavacek-Larrondo (University of Montreal, Canada), and Lindsay King (University of Texas at Dallas).

NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center manages the Chandra program. The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory's Chandra X-ray Center controls science operations from Cambridge, Massachusetts, and flight operations from Burlington, Massachusetts.

Read more from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory:

For more Chandra images, multimedia and related materials, visit:

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


Falcon 9 launches Nilesat 301


SpaceX - Falcon 9 / Nilesat 301 Mission patch.

June 9, 2022

Falcon 9 carrying Nilesat 301 liftoff

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launched the Nilesat 301 communications satellite from Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida, on 8 June 2022, at 21:04 UTC (17:04 EDT).

Falcon 9 launches Nilesat 301 and Falcon 9 first stage landing

Following stage separation, Falcon 9’s first stage landed on the “Just Read the Instructions” droneship, stationed in the Atlantic Ocean. Falcon 9’s first stage (B1062) previously supported six missions: GPS III SV04, GPS III SV05, Inspiration4, Axiom-1 and two Starlink missions.

The NILESAT-301 telecommunications satellite, manufactured by Thales Alenia Space, the joint venture between Thales (67%) and Leonardo (33%), for the Egyptian operator NILESAT, was successfully launched today from the Space Center Cape Canaveral, Florida, aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.

Thanks to the power of its Ku band, NILESAT-301 will strengthen NILESAT's commercial leadership in broadcasting services from the 7° West orbital position, not only to cover the Middle East and North Africa region, but also to incorporate new services in southern Africa and in the Nile basin. Additionally, a new generation Ka-band multibeam payload will facilitate this operator's entry into the high-speed connectivity market throughout Egypt.

Nilesat 301 telecommunications satellite

Thales Alenia Space, as prime contractor for the satellite, was in charge of the design, production, ground testing and in-orbit acceptance testing of the satellite. NILESAT will also benefit from the new control centers inaugurated in Cairo and Alexandria, which are already operating to control the NILESAT-201 satellite in its orbit.

The nominal useful life of the new satellite, built on the Spacebus 4000-B2 platform with a mass of about 4 tons at liftoff, will be more than 15 years. After NILESAT-201, NILESAT-301 is the second geostationary telecommunications satellite manufactured by Thales Alenia Space for NILESAT. Likewise, it is the fourth payload developed by Thales Alenia Space for this operator.

Thales Alenia Space:

Images, Video, Text, Credits: SpaceX/Thales Alenia Space/SciNews/ Aerospace/Roland Berga.

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Methane emissions detected over offshore platform in the Gulf of Mexico


ESA - European Space Agency emblem.

June 9, 2022

A team of scientists have used satellite data to detect methane plumes from an offshore platform in the Gulf of Mexico. This is the first time that individual methane plumes from offshore platforms are mapped from space.

Methane is the second most abundant anthropogenic greenhouse gas after carbon dioxide yet is more than 25 times as potent as carbon dioxide at trapping heat in the atmosphere, within a 100-year time period. The mitigation of methane emissions from fossil fuel extraction, processing and transport is one of the most effective ways to slow global warming.

Satellite-based methods have proved instrumental for the detection and quantification of these type of emissions. However, despite the rapid development of satellite-based methane plume detection methods over land, there is still an important observational gap regarding emissions coming from offshore oil and gas operations – which accounts for roughly 30% of global production.

This is mostly due to the low reflection of water in the shortwave infrared wavelengths used for methane remote sensing. This limits the amount of light reaching the sensor which, subsequently, makes it difficult to distinguish methane emissions.

Zaap-C platform

In a recent study published in Environmental Science and Technology Letters, a team, led by scientists from Universitat Politècnica de València (UPV), used data from Maxar’s WorldView-3 satellite, obtained through ESA’s Third Party Missions Programme, and US Landsat 8 mission to detect and quantify strong methane plumes from an offshore oil and gas production platform near the coast of Campeche – in one of Mexico's major oil producing fields.

These results are part of a study led by Christian Retscher, Atmosphere Scientist at ESA’s Directorate of Earth Observation Programmes. The study received funding from the EO Science for Society component of ESA’s FutureEO Programme and the ESA Living Planet Fellowship.  

The team found that the platform released high volumes of methane during a 17-day ultra-emission event which amounted to approximately 40 000 tonnes of methane released into the atmosphere in December 2021.

These emissions are equivalent to around 3% of Mexico’s annual oil and gas emissions and this single event would have a similar magnitude to the entire regional annual emissions from Mexico’s offshore region.

The team then analysed a longer time-series of flaring activity at the site. The results from this analysis showed that this ultra-emitting event, likely related to abnormal process conditions, was a one-time incident with the longest duration since flaring activity began at this platform.

Methane plume from the Zaap-C platform

Luis Guanter, from the Valencia Polytechnic University, commented, “The results here demonstrate how satellites can detect methane plumes from offshore infrastructure. This represents a breakthrough in the monitoring of industrial methane emissions from space, as it opens the door to systematic monitoring of emissions from individual offshore platforms.”

Itziar Irakulis-Loitxate, scientist at UPV and lead author of the study, added, “In fact, we are currently expanding this work to other offshore oil and gas production regions in the world with both Copernicus Sentinel-2 and Landsat, with the first results extremely promising.”

Oil and gas extraction areas

Christian Retscher commented, “The study demonstrates the growing capabilities to detect methane emissions from space at a very high spatial resolution.”

Yasjka Meijer, Mission Scientist of ESA’s upcoming Copernicus Carbon Dioxide Monitoring mission, added, “Observations from satellites are instrumental for the detection and quantification of these human-made emissions.”

Related links:

Environmental Science and Technology Letters:

Copernicus Sentinel-2:

Maxar’s WorldView-3:

US Landsat 8:

ESA’s Third Party Missions Programme:

ESA’s FutureEO Programme:

ESA Living Planet Fellowship:

EO Science for Society:

Images, Text, Credits: ESA/Contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2021), processed by ESA, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO/ESA (Data: WorldView-3)/ESA (Data: Global Oil and Gas Extraction Tracker, Global Energy Monitor, January 2022).


Iris system to digitalise airspace goes global


ESA - Iris Mission patch.

June 9, 2022

A space-enabled system to help clear congested skies while reducing carbon emissions is going global, following a deal signed today between satellite communications provider Inmarsat and ESA.

Iris artist impression

Passengers will experience fewer delays once the Iris system is fully implemented – and airlines will save fuel and reduce emissions of carbon dioxide. It could even be used to safely coordinate the flights of drones delivering medical supplies between hospitals or aid to remote communities.

Air travel is increasing and is expected to return to pre-pandemic levels within the next few years. It is predicted to continue to rise thereafter, which will further increase congestion in the skies, while airlines find ways to become more carbon neutral.

At present pilots mostly communicate with air traffic controllers by voice or by using an outdated data communication technology. This makes flight operations inefficient, as planes have to be kept far apart from one another and follow pre-defined air corridors instead of taking the most direct route.

Data exchanges will soon become the primary means of communication, with large quantities of data relayed to and from the aircraft.

The Iris system uses satellites to relay data digitally from the cockpit to the ground, increasing communication capacity and coverage including remote and oceanic areas. This means that flight plans can be continually updated during the flight to maintain an optimal trajectory towards the destination, minimising the fuel burned and the carbon dioxide emitted.

The first flight trials took place in 2018

Iris has been fully validated within Europe and is due to become operational on commercial flights across Europe at the start of 2023. Today’s agreement means that it is now ready to be assessed and adapted for use in other regions such as Asia and the Americas.

Rajeev Suri, Chief Executive of Inmarsat, said: “Capacity crunches are a major issue worldwide – and relying on existing technologies alone won’t solve the problem. Iris will have an enormous impact in Europe as it enters service in 2023, which is set to continue at pace as air travel increases and the push for more sustainable aviation operations grows.

“It’s a natural next step for us to expand its remit beyond European airspace and share our spoils with the rest of the world. To beat capacity issues and make aviation greener long-term, as well as successfully integrate unmanned aerial vehicles into our airspace as soon as possible, we need the right technologies on board every aircraft – and this starts with Iris.”

Paul Bate, Chief Executive of the UK Space Agency, said: “Iris is a real-world example of how space and satellite technologies can bring huge benefits to global industries, making operations more efficient while cutting carbon emissions. There is great potential to catalyse more investment into the space industry by showcasing these benefits, and I’m delighted that Iris was developed in the UK by Inmarsat, thanks to the UK Space Agency's investment in commercially focused ESA programmes.”

Josef Aschbacher and Rajeev Suri sign the Iris Global agreement

Josef Aschbacher, ESA Director General, said: “Iris is a major step forward towards creating a more sustainable and efficient aviation industry. It is exciting to see the progress we have made so far – but this is only just the beginning.

“Iris Global will extend the benefits of innovation and operational efficiency beyond Europe to other parts of the world. Reaching carbon neutrality for air traffic management by 2050 will be challenging, but we are hope to contribute through innovation in space to achieve this ambitious goal.”

Iris is backed by a consortium of 16 European partners, including the European Satellite Services Provider (ESSP), which is leading the certification effort. The ESSP was founded by seven national air traffic control organisations from France, Germany, Italy, Portugal, Spain, Switzerland and the UK.

Iris: satcom for aviation

Charlotte Neyret, Chief Executive Officer of the ESSP, said: “The Iris programme is a game-changer for the aviation industry, providing the most advanced new technology to complement datalink communications and meet the challenge of digital, greener and more sustainable air travel. As a stepping stone for the future datalink service provider organisation under discussion, ESSP is proud to lend its expertise on this important programme that will deliver a pan-European certified service for the first time.”

Related links:

Telecommunications & Integrated Applications:

European Space Agency (ESA):

Images, Video, Text, Credits: ESA/Inmarsat.


Burst of underwater explosions powered Tonga volcano eruption


Natural Disasters logo.

June 9, 2022

Research expeditions find that the caldera’s collapse exposed huge amounts of hot magma to water.

Image above: The Hunga Tonga–Hunga Haʻapai volcano eruption on 15 January produced the largest atmospheric explosion in recorded history. Image Credits: NASA/GOES/NOAA/NESDIS.

Researchers are starting to piece together why the eruption of an underwater volcano in Tonga was so explosive — and what happened in the aftermath. Evidence gathered by two groups suggests that when the volcano’s centre collapsed, it spewed an enormous amount of magma that reacted violently with water, powering several large blasts and hundreds of much smaller explosions.

The Hunga Tonga–Hunga Haʻapai volcano erupted on 15 January 2022, producing the largest atmospheric explosion in recorded history. It sent shock waves around the world and a plume of ash into the upper atmosphere.

In May, Shane Cronin, a volcanologist at the University of Auckland, New Zealand, led a group that sailed over the volcano’s caldera, the central depression that forms when a volcano erupts, and used sonar to map its structure. They found the four-kilometre-wide caldera had dropped in depth from less than 200 metres below sea level to more than 850 metres.

“The volcano produced this enormous new caldera,” says Cronin. He estimates that some 6.5 cubic kilometres of rock were thrown out, roughly equivalent to a sphere as wide as the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, California. “It was an amazing finding,” says Taaniela Kula, Tonga’s Deputy Secretary for Lands and Natural Resources in Nuku’alofa and a collaborator on the research. “It creates a better picture of the mechanism of the volcano.” The work was presented at a meeting of the European Geosciences Union (EGU) in Vienna on 26 May.

Image above: Following the eruption, researchers mapped the caldera, the central depression that forms when a volcano erupts. Image Credits: Shane Cronin/University of Auckland and Taaniela Kula Tonga Geological Services.

The reason for this large explosion was probably the interaction between large amounts of magma and water as the eruption began, says Cronin. “You’ve got 20-degree water and you’ve got 1,110-degree magma coming directly in contact,” he says. Such a large temperature difference meant that, as the water was forced into contact with the magma by the eruption, it exploded. Each interaction pushed the water deeper into the edges of the magma, says Cronin, increasing the surface area of contact and driving further explosions in a chain reaction.

The initial depth of the caldera was also just shallow enough that the water pressure did not suppress the blast, but deep enough that the magma was fed huge amounts of water to power the interactions, resulting in several large blasts and hundreds of much smaller explosions every minute. Eyewitness accounts from the day of the eruption reported “crackling and noise like artillery fire” as far as 90 kilometres from the eruption, says Cronin. “Those aren’t sounds I’ve heard from erupting volcanoes before,” he says.

Ash grains recovered from Tonga after the eruption also suggest that there was a violent interaction between magma and water. As the seawater came into contact with the magma, it produced shock waves powerful enough to fracture the grains, said Joali Paredes-Mariño, a geological engineer at the University of Auckland, in work presented at the EGU.

Wipe out

A separate expedition by a team at New Zealand’s National Institute for Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) in Auckland travelled to the volcano in April, but they did not go over the caldera. They sampled ash from the sea floor around the volcano, which showed that the eruption was probably followed by dramatic pyroclastic flows, hot streams of ash and lava that rained down over the submerged sides of the caldera. The onrushing hot ash turned the surrounding sea floor into a white desert that “wiped out everything”, says voyage leader Kevin Mackay, a marine geologist at NIWA.

Animation above: The Hunga Tonga–Hunga Haʻapai volcano eruption on 15 January produced the largest atmospheric explosion in recorded history. Animation Credits: NASA/GOES/NOAA/NESDIS.

These flows spread underwater for thousands of square kilometres from the eruption, ripping up sea-floor cables — including those providing Tonga’s access to the Internet, which has still not been fully restored — and powering tsunamis that washed over nearby islands, reaching up to 18 metres in height. On the sea floor, nothing seems to have survived, although samples are still being analysed to work out the extent of the damage. “We don’t even think bacteria is living there,” says Mackay. “That’s how toxic we think the sediment is.”

Samples collected by the NIWA team are being used to study potential impacts on ocean oxygen levels and ocean acidification, says Sarah Seabrook, a biogeochemist at NIWA.

Not everything was decimated, however. Satellite data showed a big bloom of phytoplankton in the ocean following the eruption, which fed on nutrients released by the blast, says Seabrook. And on nearby hills that jutted above the sea floor just 15 kilometres from the eruption, life was flourishing, says Mackay. “We expected life to be universally destroyed.”

Water-vapour plume

Other research presented at the EGU by Philippe Heinrich at the French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission near Paris showed that the pressure wave from the eruption produced a tsunami as far as the French Mediterranean coast, 17,000 kilometres away, with several centimetres in sea-level rise recorded. Luis Millán at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, also found that the eruption sent up a water-vapour plume that reached a height of 53 kilometres, well into the stratosphere. This plume, which has now encircled the globe, increased the water-vapour content of the stratosphere by 146 teragrams (146 trillion grams), or 10%, and will probably remain in the atmosphere for at least a year. “We haven’t seen anything like this before in the entire satellite era,” says Millán.

Some research suggests there were hints of what was to come. Thomas Walter at the German Research Center for Geosciences in Potsdam says seismology readings point to a possible partial collapse of the caldera wall in the hours before the event. “It’s a very weak hint,” he says. “But it may indicate we have first a collapse and then the explosion.”

Cronin agrees that there might have been some forewarning. Satellite imagery showed part of the protruding northern rim of the volcano falling into the sea the day before the eruption. “It could have indicated early stages of the caldera collapse,” he says. That could be a crucial tool in predicting future submarine eruptions. “If we missed the big clue that this big one was coming, then that’s obviously a lesson we’ll take forward,” says Cronin.


Related articles:

NASA Mission Finds Tonga Volcanic Eruption Effects Reached Space

Tonga Eruption Sent Ripples Through Earth’s Ionosphere

Deep down temperature shifts give rise to eruptions

Dramatic Changes at Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha‘apai

How the Tonga eruption is helping space scientists understand Mars

Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha‘apai Erupts

Tonga eruption heard in New Zealand, pressure waves picked up in Europe

Images (mentioned), Animation (mentioned), Text, Credits: Nature/Jonathan O'Callaghan.

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