samedi 15 avril 2023

SpaceX Cargo Dragon Departs the Space Station and splashdown off the coast of Florida


SpaceX - Dragon CRS-27 Mission patch.

April 15, 2023

Image above: A SpaceX cargo Dragon undocked from the International Space Station at 11:05 a.m. EDT on April 15, 2023, as the station was flying over the Indian Ocean. It will return nearly 4,300 pounds of scientific samples and hardware for NASA. Image Credit: NASA TV.

Following commands from ground controllers at SpaceX in Hawthorne, California, Dragon undocked at 11:05 a.m. from the forward port of the station’s Harmony module. At the time of undocking the station was flying over the Indian Ocean.

SpaceX CRS-27 Dragon undocking and departure

After re-entering Earth’s atmosphere, the spacecraft will make a parachute-assisted splashdown off the coast of Florida on Saturday, April 15. NASA will not broadcast the splashdown.

Dragon cargo splashdown (Illustration). Animation Credits: NASA TV/SpaceX

Dragon arrived at the space station March 16 as SpaceX’s 27th Commercial Resupply Services mission for NASA, delivering more than 6,000 pounds of research investigations, crew supplies, and station hardware. It was launched March 14 on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy.

Related article:

NASA, SpaceX's 27th Resupply Mission Returns Science Samples for Study

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International Space Station (ISS):

Image (mentioned), Animation (mentioned), Video, Text, Credits: NASA/Heidi Lavelle/NASA TV/SciNews.

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SpaceX Transporter-7 launch


SpaceX - Falcon 9 / Transporter-7 Mission patch.

April 15, 2023

Falcon 9 carrying Transporter-7 liftoff

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launched Transporter-7, SpaceX’s seventh dedicated SmallSat Rideshare Program mission with 51 payloads, from Space Launch Complex 4E (SLC-4E) at Vandenberg Space Force Base in California, on 14 April 2023, at 06:48 UTC (13 April, at 23:48 PDT). 

SpaceX Transporter-7 launch and Falcon 9 first stage landing

Falcon 9’s first stage landed on Landing Zone 4 (LZ-4) at Vandenberg Space Force Base. Falcon 9’s first stage (B1063) previously supported nine missions: Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich, DART, and seven Starlink missions.

Image above: Left image, Falcon 9 first stage in descent phase, right image, Transporter-7 on the second stage just after fairings separation.
For the first time, a shorter second stage MVac nozzle was because Falcon 9 didn’t need as much performance to get the payload to its final destination.

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


vendredi 14 avril 2023

Dragon Go for Earth Return as Heart Study, Spacewalk Preps Continue


ISS - Expedition 69 Mission patch.

April 14, 2023

International Space Station (ISS). Animation Credit: ESA

NASA and SpaceX officials have given the “go” for the science- and cargo-packed Dragon cargo craft to undock from the International Space Station and return to Earth.  While the Expedition 69 crew finalizes Dragon cargo operations, preparations are still underway for a busy period of spacewalks set to begin on Tuesday.

An array of experiment hardware and research samples will return to Earth for analysis after Dragon undocks from the Harmony module’s forward port at 11:05 a.m. EDT on Saturday. Dragon will parachute to a splash down off the coast of Florida several hours later where support personnel from NASA and SpaceX will retrieve the vehicle. The 4,300 pounds of return cargo packed inside Dragon will then be extracted at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, where the completed research and station hardware will be shipped to scientists and engineers around the world for investigation and examination.

Image above: The SpaceX Dragon resupply ship is pictured approaching the space station 260 miles above the Bay of Bengal on March 16, 2023. Image Credit: NASA.

NASA Flight Engineer Frank Rubio is wrapping up one final space biology study today, preparing scientific samples for observation back on Earth so researchers can understand how the human body adjusts to living long-term in microgravity. Stephen Bowen and Woody Hoburg, both from NASA, are also stowing a variety of research samples inside portable science freezers that can be launched into space, installed on the station, then returned inside the Dragon spacecraft.

Other science experiments are still ongoing aboard the orbiting outpost, including a cardiac study exploring ways to offset microgravity’s effect on heart cells and tissues. UAE (United Arab Emirates) Flight Engineer Sultan Alneyadi spent Friday morning in the Kibo laboratory module treating samples for the Engineered Heart Tissues-2 experiment. Using Kibo’s Life Sciences Glovebox, Alneyadi conducted the research operations that may help doctors treat, as well as prevent, space-caused heart conditions and Earth-bound cardiac disorders.

Image above: Roscosmos cosmonauts Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitri Petelin conduct a six-hour and 25-minute spacewalk in their Orlan spacesuits to transfer a radiator from the Rassvet module to the Nauka multipurpose laboratory module for future installation. The duo is pictured tethered to the Rassvet module with the Soyuz MS-22 crew ship docked at top. Image Credit: NASA.

The orbital residents are also gearing up for several spacewalks to move hardware outside the space station. Commander Sergey Prokopyev and Flight Engineer Dmitri Petelin, both Roscosmos cosmonauts, will work over three spacewalks, the first beginning at 8:30 p.m. on Tuesday, to move a radiator and an experiment airlock from the Rassvet module to the Nauka science module. The duo spent Friday organizing their spacewalk tools and practicing their external maneuvers on a computer.

Roscosmos Flight Engineer Andrey Fedyaev began Friday attaching a sensor cap to himself then simulating piloting a spacecraft on a computer for a study exploring futuristic, piloting techniques on planetary missions. Afterward, he tested laptop computers inside the Zvezda service module then powered down Earth observation hardware in the Harmony module.

Related articles (NASA):

NASA to Provide Live Coverage of SpaceX Cargo Craft Station Departure

NASA Plans Coverage of Roscosmos Spacewalks at Space Station

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Expedition 69:

Harmony module:

Kibo laboratory module:

Engineered Heart Tissues-2:

Life Sciences Glovebox:

Zvezda service module:

Rassvet module:

Nauka multipurpose laboratory module:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

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Hubble Spots a Galaxy with Tendrils


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

April 14, 2023

This image taken with the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope shows JO204, a ‘jellyfish galaxy’ so named for the bright tendrils of gas that appear in this image as drifting lazily below JO204’s bright central bulk. The galaxy lies almost 600 million light-years away in the constellation Sextans. Hubble observed JO204 as part of a survey performed with the intention of better understanding star formation under extreme conditions.

While the delicate ribbons of gas beneath JO204 may look like floating jellyfish tentacles, they are in fact the outcome of an intense astronomical process known as ram pressure stripping. Ram pressure is a particular type of pressure exerted on a body when it moves relative to a fluid. An intuitive example is the sensation of pressure you experience when you are standing in an intense gust of wind – the wind is a moving fluid, and your body feels pressure from it. An extension of this analogy is that your body will remain whole and coherent, but the more loosely bound things – like your hair and your clothes – will flap in the wind. The same is true for jellyfish galaxies. They experience ram pressure because of their movement against the intergalactic medium that fills the spaces between galaxies in a galaxy cluster. The galaxies experience intense pressure from that movement, and as a result their more loosely bound gas is stripped away. This gas is mostly the colder and denser gas in the galaxy – gas which, when stirred and compressed by the ram pressure, collapses and forms new stars in the jellyfish’s beautiful tendrils.

Hubble Space Telescope (HST)

For more information about Hubble, visit:

Text Credits: European Space Agency (ESA)/NASA/Andrea Gianopoulos/Image Credits: ESA/Hubble & NASA; M. Gullieuszik and the GASP team.


NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter Completes 50th Flight


NASA - Ingenuity Mars Helicopter logo.

April 14, 2023

The history-making rotorcraft has recently been negotiating some of the most hazardous terrain it’s encountered on the Red Planet.

Image above: This image of NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter was taken at “Airfield D” by the Mastcam-Z instrument on the Perseverance rover on June 15, 2021, the 114th Martian day, or sol, of the mission. The rotorcraft completed its 50th flight on April 13, 2023. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU/MSSS.

NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter has completed its 50th flight on Mars. The first aircraft on another world reached the half-century mark on April 13, traveling over 1,057.09 feet (322.2 meters) in 145.7 seconds. The helicopter also achieved a new altitude record of 59 feet (18 meters) before alighting near the half-mile-wide (800-meter-wide) “Belva Crater.”

With Flight 50 in the mission logbook, the helicopter team plans to perform another repositioning flight before exploring the “Fall River Pass” region of Jezero Crater.  

“Just as the Wright brothers continued their experiments well after that momentous day at Kitty Hawk in 1903, the Ingenuity team continues to pursue and learn from the flight operations of the first aircraft on another world,” said Lori Glaze, director of the Planetary Science Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

Ingenuity Mars Helicopter Celebrates 50 Flights

Video above: NASA’s Ingenuity Mars helicopter made history when it achieved the first powered, controlled flight on another planet on April 19, 2021. A little less than two years later, on April 13, 2023, it completed its 50th flight. Here are some highlights from the rotorcraft’s journeys on the Red Planet. Video Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU/MSSS.

Ingenuity landed on the Red Planet in February 2021 attached to the belly of NASA’s Mars Perseverance rover and will soon mark the two-year anniversary of its first flight, which took place on April 19, 2021. Designed as a technology demonstration that would fly no more than five times, the helicopter was intended to prove powered, controlled flight on another planet was possible. But Ingenuity exceeded expectations and transitioned into being an operations demonstration.

Every time Ingenuity goes airborne, it covers new ground and offers a perspective no previous planetary mission could achieve. Imagery from the helicopter has not only demonstrated how aircraft could serve as forward scouts for future planetary expeditions, but it has even come in handy for the Perseverance team.

Ingenuity Helicopter Inspires Future Flights on Mars (Mars Report - April 2023)

Video above: Teddy Tzanetos at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory provides an update on the agency’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter and discusses how it’s inspiring future aerial exploration of the Red Planet. Video Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

By testing the helicopter’s limits, engineers are gathering flight data that can be used by engineers working on designs for possible future Mars helicopters. That includes the people designing the Mars Sample Return campaign’s proposed Sample Recovery Helicopters.

Riskier Terrain

Since leaving the relatively flat confines of Jezero Crater’s floor on Jan. 19, Ingenuity has flown 11 times, setting new speed and altitude records of 14.5 mph (6.5 meters per second) and 59 feet (18 meters) along the way.

Although the deep chill of winter and regional dust events (which can block the Sun’s rays from reaching the helicopter’s solar panel) have abated, Ingenuity continues to brown out at night. As a result, the Helicopter Base Station on the rover needs to search for the rotorcraft’s signal each morning at the time Ingenuity is predicted to wake up. And when the helicopter does fly, it now must navigate rugged and relatively uncharted terrain, landing in spots that can be surrounded by hazards.

Perseverance's Mastcam-Z Views Ingenuity's 47th Takeoff

Video above: NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter is seen here at the starting point of its 47th flight on Mars. The video was captured by the Mastcam-Z imager aboard NASA’s Perseverance rover on March 9, 2023. Video Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU/MSSS.

“We are not in Martian Kansas anymore,” said Josh Anderson, Ingenuity operations lead at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. “We’re flying over the dried-up remnants of an ancient river that is filled with sand dunes, boulders, and rocks, and surrounded by hills that could have us for lunch. And while we recently upgraded the navigation software onboard to help determine safe airfields, every flight is still a white-knuckler.”

Frequent Flyer

Beyond facing more challenging terrain, Ingenuity will also fly at a greater frequency in the coming days because the helicopter needs to remain within electronic earshot of the rover. With its AutoNav capability, Perseverance can travel hundreds of meters each day.

“Ingenuity relies on Perseverance to act as a communications relay between it and mission controllers here at JPL,” said Anderson. “If the rover gets too far ahead or disappears behind a hill, we could lose communications. The rover team has a job to do and a schedule to keep. So it’s imperative Ingenuity keeps up and is in the lead whenever possible.”

Perseverance recently completed exploring “Foel Drygarn,” a scientific target that may contain hydrated silica (which is of strong astrobiological interest). It is currently headed to “Mount Julian,” which will provide a panoramic view into nearby Belva Crater.

Feats of Ingenuity

Built with many off-the-shelf components, such as smartphone processors and cameras, Ingenuity is now 23 Earth months and 45 flights beyond its expected lifetime. The rotorcraft has flown for over 89 minutes and more than 7.1 miles (11.6 kilometers).

“When we first flew, we thought we would be incredibly lucky to eke out five flights,” said Teddy Tzanetos, Ingenuity team lead at JPL. “We have exceeded our expected cumulative flight time since our technology demonstration wrapped by 1,250% and expected distance flown by 2,214%.”

Surpassing expectations like this comes at a cost, however. With some helicopter components showing signs of wear and the terrain becoming more challenging, the Ingenuity team recognizes that every great mission must eventually come to an end. “We have come so far, and we want to go farther,” said Tzanetos. “But we have known since the very beginning our time at Mars was limited, and every operational day is a blessing. Whether Ingenuity’s mission ends tomorrow, next week, or months from now is something no one can predict at present. What I can predict is that when it does, we’ll have one heck of a party.”

More About Ingenuity

The Ingenuity Mars Helicopter was built by JPL, which also manages the project for NASA Headquarters. It is supported by NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley and NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, provided significant flight performance analysis and technical assistance during Ingenuity’s development. AeroVironment Inc., Qualcomm, and SolAero also provided design assistance and major vehicle components. Lockheed Space designed and manufactured the Mars Helicopter Delivery System.

At NASA Headquarters, Dave Lavery is the program executive for the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter.

Related article:

What Flight 50 Means for the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter

Related links:

Sample Recovery Helicopters:

Helicopter Base Station:

AutoNav capability:

Mars Helicopter Delivery System:

Ingenuity Mars Helicopter:

Image (mentioned), Videos (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Naomi Hartono/Karen Fox/Alana Johnson/JPL/DC Agle.

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That’s No Meteor: NASA Satellite’s Elusive Green Lasers Spotted at Work


NASA - ICESat-2 Mission patch.

April 14, 2023

The green light streaking across the cloudy sky was something that Daichi Fujii had never seen before. The museum curator's motion-detecting cameras were set up near Japan’s Mount Fuji to capture meteors, allowing him to calculate their position, brightness, and orbit. But the bright green lines that appeared on a video taken Sept. 16, 2022, were a mystery.

ICESat-2 Laser Beams over Japan

Video above: On Sept. 16, 2022, motion-sensing cameras set up by museum curator Daichi Fujii to capture meteors instead caught the laser beams of NASA's ICESat-2 satellite as it passed over Japan. It's the first time the ICESat-2 team has seen footage of the lasers at work in orbit. Video Credits: Video Courtesy of Daichi Fujii, Hiratsuka City Museum.

Then Fujii looked closer. The beams were synchronized with a tiny green dot that was briefly visible between the clouds. He guessed it was a satellite, so he investigated orbital data and got a match. NASA’s Ice, Cloud and Land Elevation Satellite 2, or ICESat-2, had flown overhead that night. Fujii posted his findings on social media, which eventually got the attention of the NASA team.

It’s the first time the ICESat-2 team has seen footage of the satellite’s green laser beams streaming from orbit to Earth, said Tony Martino, ICESat-2 instrument scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

“ICESat-2 appeared to be almost directly overhead of him, with the beam hitting the low clouds at an angle,” Martino said. “To see the laser, you have to be in the exact right place, at the right time, and you have to have the right conditions.”

Image above: As its picture was being taken from the ground, ICESat-2 was at work collecting data on the height profile of the clouds, mountainous terrain and ocean of Japan below. This ICESat-2 data plot shows what the satellite measured as it passed over Fuji City, Japan (marked with a vertical green line) on Sept. 16, 2022. The laser instrument detected two cloud layers, one high and one low, which scattered the light enough to be detected by the cameras on the ground. Image Credits: NASA/Tony Martino.

ICESat-2 was launched in September 2018 with a mission to use laser light to measure the height of Earth's ice, water, and land surfaces from space. The laser instrument, called a lidar, fires 10,000 times a second, sending six beams of light to Earth. It precisely times how long it takes individual photons to bounce off the surface and return to the satellite. Computer programs use these measurements to calculate ice losses from Greenland and Antarctica, observe how much of the polar oceans are frozen, determine the heights of freshwater reservoirs, map shallow coastal regions, and more.

Fired from hundreds of miles up in space, the laser light is not harmful. In fact, it’s tricky to spot. If someone stood directly under the satellite and looked up, the laser would have the strength of a camera flash more than 100 yards away, Martino said.

People have tried to photograph the satellite when it passed over, and in a couple instances they were able to capture photos – once from southern Chile and once from Oklahoma.

Image above: On Sept. 16, 2022, a homemade motion detecting camera set up by Daichi Fujii near Mount Fuji, Japan, captured green laser light from NASA's ICESat-2 satellite. It’s the first time the ICESat-2 team has seen footage of the lidar instrument at work. The satellite has six beams; the left-most beam in the image is Beam 4, the stronger beam next to it is Beam 3. The two shorter and fainter green streaks in the image are the beams scattering off higher clouds, and the dot that appears next to those faint streaks is the ICESat-2 satellite. Courtesy of Daichi Fujii/Hiratsuka City Museum.

The beam is even more difficult to capture, he noted, since cameras and eyes need the laser light to reflect off something to see the beam from the side. That’s where the atmospheric conditions come in.

On the night ICESat-2 passed over Fuji City, however, there were enough clouds to scatter the laser light – making it visible to the cameras – but not so many clouds that they blocked the light altogether. There were actually two thin layers of clouds over Japan that night – information Martino found by analyzing the ICESat-2 data, which shows clouds as well as the ground below.

ICESat-2. Image Credit: NASA

With the precise location of the satellite in space, the location of where the beam hit, the coordinates of where Fujii’s cameras were set up, and the addition of cloudy conditions, Martino was able to confirm, definitively, that the streaks of light came from ICESat-2’s laser.

Related links:


Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC):

Images (mentioned), Video (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/GSFC/By Kate Ramsayer.


Space Station Science Highlights: Week of April 10, 2023


ISS - Expedition 69 Mission patch.

April 14, 2023

Crew members aboard the International Space Station conducted scientific investigations during the week of April 10 that included taking student-requested images of Earth, examining the benefits of live plants on the space station, and determining the effects of an enhanced diet during spaceflight. The SpaceX 27th resupply mission ends when Dragon undocks from the station on Saturday, returning scientific samples back to Earth.

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

A Unique View of Earth

Image above: The International Space Station EarthKAM captured this image of the Salton Sea in California’s Colorado Desert, one of the world’s largest inland seas and lowest spots on Earth. Image Credits: EarthKAM.

The Sally Ride EarthKAM program, sponsored by the ISS National Lab, lets students remotely control a digital camera on the space station to photograph interesting features and phenomena on Earth. The experience provides students and educators the opportunity to participate in a space mission and to develop teamwork, communication, and problem-solving skills. Participating students learn about spacecraft orbits and check weather forecasts before requesting desired images. The EarthKAM team posts the images online for viewing by the public and participating classrooms. During the week, crew members set up and activated the camera to capture requested images.

The Benefits of Plants

Image above: Tomato plants growing on the International Space Station. HRF Veg examines the behavioral health benefits for astronauts from having live plants such as these and fresh food in space. Image Credit: NASA.

HRF Veg examines the behavioral health benefits of having live plants and fresh food in space. Crew members complete surveys on their mood after interacting with live plants and, when produce from different plant investigations is available, rate its flavor, texture, and other qualities. The investigation is part of a NASA research project called the Pick-and-Eat Salad-Crop Productivity, Nutritional Value, and Acceptability to Supplement the ISS Food System, which studies growing plants to provide fresh food and enhance the overall living experience for crew members on future long-duration missions. During the week, crew members completed questionnaires for the investigation.

You Are What You Eat

Image above: UAE (United Arab Emirates) astronaut Sultan Alneyadi with food canisters and packages in the International Space Station. Food Physiology examines how an enhanced spaceflight diet affects various aspects of crew health and performance. Image Credit: NASA.

Food Physiology characterizes how an enhanced spaceflight diet affects immune function, the gut microbiome, and nutritional status indicators. Few human studies document simultaneous changes in multiple physiological systems related to diet, as it is complex and difficult to accurately monitor dietary intake over long periods. Results could provide guidance for using targeted, efficient dietary interventions to maintain crew health and performance and food system requirements to support these interventions. Insights and analyses from this study also could have significant scientific and medical applications for people on Earth. Crew members collected samples for the investigation during the week.

Other Investigations Involving the Crew:

- Engineered Heart Tissues-2, sponsored by the ISS National Lab, assesses human cardiac function in microgravity and tests new therapies to prevent these potentially harmful changes. Results could help protect humans on future extended missions in space.

- BFF-Meniscus-2 compares 3D-printed meniscus-like constructs bioprinted in space and on Earth. The constructs resemble knee cartilage tissue. The capability to bioprint tissue such as knee cartilage could benefit those who experience musculoskeletal injuries on future space missions and on Earth.

- Cardinal Heart 2.0, sponsored by the ISS National Lab, tests drugs to reduce changes in heart cell function in space. Results could support development of effective drug combinations to improve the health of astronauts and patients on Earth.

- ISS Ham Radio provides students, teachers, 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 based on the topics they have researched.

- Sphere Camera-1, sponsored by the ISS National Lab, evaluates the performance of a commercial, off-the-shelf, ultra-high-resolution camera in microgravity. Results ultimately could support design and development of cameras with greater resolution, detail, and sharpness for imaging needs on future exploration missions, including to the Moon and Mars.

- Plant Habitat-03 assesses whether epigenetic adaptations in one generation of plants grown in space can transfer to the next generation. Results could provide insight into how to grow repeated generations of crops to provide food and other services on future space missions.

- Rhodium DARPA Biomanufacturing 01, sponsored by the ISS National Lab, examines gravity’s effects on the production of drugs and nutrients from bacteria and yeast. Results could help improve biomanufacturing in space to supply future missions.

Space to Ground: Packing Up: April 14, 2023

The space station, a robust microgravity laboratory with a multitude of specialized research facilities and tools, has supported many scientific breakthroughs from investigations spanning every major scientific discipline. The ISS Benefits for Humanity 2022 publication details the expanding universe of results realized from more than 20 years of experiments conducted on the station.

ISS Benefits for Humanity 2022:

Related links:

Expedition 69:


HRF Veg:

Food Physiology:

ISS National Lab:

Spot the Station:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

Images (mentioned), Video (NASA), Text, Credits: NASA/Carrie Gilder/John Love, ISS Research Planning Integration Scientist Expedition 69.

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Icy Moonquakes: Surface Shaking Could Trigger Landslides


NASA - Europa Clipper Mission patch.

April 14, 2023

A new NASA study offers an explanation of how quakes could be the source of the mysteriously smooth terrain on moons circling Jupiter and Saturn.

Image above: NASA’s Galileo spacecraft captured this image of the surface of Jupiter’s moon Ganymede. On Earth, similar features form when tectonic faulting breaks the crust. Scientists modeled how fault activity could trigger landslides and make relatively smooth areas on the surfaces of icy moons. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Brown University.

Many of the ice-encrusted moons orbiting the giant planets in the far reaches of our solar system are known to be geologically active. Jupiter and Saturn have such strong gravity that they stretch and pull the bodies orbiting them, causing moonquakes that can crack the moons’ crusts and surfaces. New research shows for the first time how these quakes may trigger landslides that lead to remarkably smooth terrain.

The study, published in Icarus, outlines the link between quakes and landslides, shedding new light on how icy moon surfaces and textures evolve.

On the surfaces of icy moons such as Europa, Ganymede, and Enceladus, it’s common to see steep ridges surrounded by relatively flat, smooth areas. Scientists have theorized that these spots result from liquid that flows out of icy volcanoes. But how that process works when the surface temperatures are so cold and inhospitable to fluids has remained a mystery.

Image above: This view of Jupiter’s moon Europa was captured in the 1990s by NASA’s Galileo spacecraft. It shows the kind of features studied by scientists who modeled how moonquakes may trigger landslides. The smooth slopes and nearby rubble may have been produced by landslides. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

A simple explanation outlined in the study doesn’t involve liquid on the surface. Scientists measured the dimensions of the steep ridges, which are believed to be tectonic fault scarps (like those on Earth) – steep slopes caused when the surface breaks along a fault line and one side drops. By applying the measurements to seismic models, they estimated the power of past moonquakes and found they could be strong enough to lift debris that then falls downhill, where it spreads out, smoothing the landscape.

“We found the surface shaking from moonquakes would be enough to cause surface material to rush downhill in landslides. We’ve estimated the size of moonquakes and how big the landslides could be,” said lead author Mackenzie Mills, a graduate student at the University of Arizona in Tucson, who conducted the work during a series of summer internships at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. “This helps us understand how landslides might be shaping moon surfaces over time.”

Image above: Another image of Jupiter’s moon Europa captured in the 1990s by NASA’s Galileo shows possible fault scarps (like those found on Earth when tectonic activity breaks the crust) adjacent to smooth areas that may have been produced by landslides. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/DLR.

Upcoming Investigations

NASA’s upcoming Europa Clipper mission, bound for Jupiter’s moon Europa in 2024, will give the research a significant boost, providing imagery and other science data. After reaching Jupiter in 2030, the spacecraft will orbit the gas giant and conduct about 50 flybys of Europa. The mission has a sophisticated payload of nine science instruments to determine if Europa, which scientists believe contains a deep internal ocean beneath an outer ice shell, has conditions that could be suitable for life.

“It was surprising to find out more about how powerful moonquakes could be and that it could be simple for them to move debris downslope,” said co-author Robert Pappalardo, project scientist of Europa Clipper at JPL, which manages the mission.

Especially surprising were the modeling results for tectonic activity and quakes on Saturn’s moon Enceladus, a body that has less than 3% of the surface area of Europa and about 1/650 that of Earth. “Because of that moon’s small gravity, quakes on tiny Enceladus could be large enough to fling icy debris right off the surface and into space like a wet dog shaking itself off,” Pappalardo said.

Image above: This view of Jupiter’s icy moon Europa was captured by the JunoCam imager aboard NASA’s Juno spacecraft during the mission’s close flyby on Sept. 29, 2022. The agency’s Europa Clipper spacecraft will explore the moon when it reaches orbit around Jupiter in 2030. Image Credits: Image data: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS, Image processing: Kevin M. Gill CC BY 3.0.

When it comes to Europa, the high-resolution images gathered by Europa Clipper will help scientists determine the power of past moonquakes. Researchers will be able to apply the recent findings to understand whether quakes have moved ice and other surface materials and by how much. Images from the ESA (European Space Agency) Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer (JUICE) mission will offer similar information about Europa’s neighboring Jovian moon, Ganymede.

“We hope to gain a better understanding of the geological processes that have shaped icy moons over time and to what extent their surfaces may still be active today,” Pappalardo said.

More About the Mission

Europa Clipper spacecraft. Image Credits: NASA/JPL

Europa Clipper’s main science goal is to determine whether there are places below the surface of Jupiter’s icy moon, Europa, that could support life. The mission’s three main science objectives are to understand the nature of the ice shell and the ocean beneath it, along with their composition and geology. The mission’s detailed exploration of Europa will help scientists better understand the astrobiological potential for habitable worlds beyond our planet.

Managed by Caltech in Pasadena, California, JPL leads the development of the Europa Clipper mission in partnership with the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland, for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. APL designed the main spacecraft body in collaboration with JPL and NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. The Planetary Missions Program Office at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, executes program management of the Europa Clipper mission.

More information about Europa can be found here:

Related links:



ESA's Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer (JUICE):

Europa Clipper:

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Naomi Hartono/Karen Fox/Alana Johnson/JPL/Gretchen McCartney.

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Wobbling star found in Gaia-Hipparcos data confirmed to host exoplanet


ESA - Gaia Mission patch.

April 14, 2023

Data from ESA’s star-mapping Gaia spacecraft has allowed astronomers to image a gigantic exoplanet using Japan's Subaru Telescope. This world is the first confirmed exoplanet found by Gaia’s ability to sense the gravitational tug or ‘wobble’ a planet induces on its star. And the technique points the way to the future of direct exoplanet imaging.

Wobbling star found in Gaia-Hipparcos data confirmed to host exoplanet

When it comes to detecting planets around other stars, known as exoplanets, astronomers have a variety of methods at their disposal. These techniques fall into two broad categories: direct and indirect. Both have advantages and drawbacks.

Historically, most exoplanets have been found by indirect methods. This means that planets are inferred to exist because of the effect they have on their parent star. Whereas in direct imaging, a telescope actually sees the planet.

While astronomers have detected more than 5000 exoplanets using indirect means, only about 20 have been imaged directly. This is because for the planets to be visible with our current level of technology, they must be widely separated from their parent star and be much more massive than Jupiter, the largest planet in our Solar System.

Gaia mapping the stars of the Milky Way

Because nature does not make many of these types of planets, astronomers would like to know exactly where to look.  Most direct imaging searches are ‘blind’, meaning that they simply target stars based on their age and distance and hope that a planet will be seen. Out of hundreds of stars surveyed in this way, only a handful have yielded planets.

“We wanted a different strategy,” says Thayne Currie, National Astronomical Observatory of Japan (NAOJ), Hilo, Hawaii and the University of Texas-San Antonio. In his attempt to load the dice in favour of success, he and colleagues turned to the Gaia mission to look for stars that literally wobbled on the sky.

In particular, they used the Hipparcos-Gaia Catalogue of Accelerations. This catalogue combines data from Gaia with that from ESA’s previous star mapping mission, Hipparcos, to provide a 25-year baseline for comparing the precise positions of stars. Measuring the position of a star on the sky is known as astrometry. From this database, the team identified a number of stars that appeared to change position on the night sky in a way that suggested they were each orbited by a giant planet.

Detecting exoplanets with astrometry

Next they turned to NAOJ’s Subaru Telescope on Mauna Kea, Hawaii, and took observations in July and September 2020, and May and October 2021. They used the telescope’s Subaru Coronagraphic Extreme Adaptive Optics (SCExAO) instrument coupled to the Coronagraphic High-Resolution Imager and Spectrograph (CHARIS) instrument – and they quickly caught an exoplanet.

The newly discovered planet is called HIP 99770 b. It is about 16 times the mass of Jupiter in our own Solar System, and orbits a star that is nearly twice as massive as the Sun. Even though the planet’s orbit is more than three times larger than Jupiter’s orbit around the Sun, it receives nearly the same amount of light as Jupiter because its host star is far more luminous than the Sun.

Wobbling star found in Gaia-Hipparcos data confirmed to host exoplanet

The success of finding this planet also has wider implications.

“It provides a new path forward to discovering more exoplanets, and characterising them in a far more holistic way than we could do before,” says Thayne.

This is because direct and indirect methods of detection provide different information about a planet. Direct imaging can provide excellent constraints on a planet’s temperature and composition. Meanwhile, indirect methods deliver excellent measurements of a planet’s mass and orbital characteristics, especially when they are combined with measurements of the planet’s position from direct imaging.

Subaru Telescope

The combination of Gaia data with the images from Subaru gives astronomers the best of both worlds. And this is just the beginning.

Now that astronomers know that the planet is there and visible, other telescopes can take up the job of further analysing its light. “The discovery of this planet will spawn dozens of follow-on studies,” says Thayne.

And there will be more discoveries to come from this method. HIP 99770 was one of the first stars observed from the Gaia candidates. Presently, Thayne and his colleagues are analysing data from around 50 other stars and what they’ve seen make them promise that more discoveries are in the pipeline.

“[HIP 99770 b] is a proof of concept of this new strategy for finding imageable planets that will get far better in the next five years,” he says.

Gaia’s stellar motion for the next 400 thousand years

This method of targeting stars for exoplanet discovery is going to accelerate. This is because Gaia’s fourth data release (DR4), which will be based on 5.5 years of data (nearly double the baseline for DR3) will make it much easier to spot which stars are wobbling.

Ultimately, this combined approach will allow us to target other Earths. Finding a planet like our own remains an ultimate goal for astronomers. Such a planet will be much closer to its star and so will spend a large amount of time either in front or behind that star, making it impossible to see.

“This is sort of a test run for the kind of strategy we need to be able to image an earth. It demonstrates that an indirect method sensitive to a planet’s gravitational pull can tell you where to look and exactly when to look for direct imaging. So I think that's really exciting,” says Thayne.

Direct Imaging and Astrometric Detection of a Gas Giant Planet Orbiting an Accelerating Star by Thayne Currie is published online on 13 April 2023 and in the print issue of Science on 14 April 2023:

Related links:

Hipparcos-Gaia Catalogue of Accelerations:


ESA's Gaia:

NAOJ’s Subaru Telescope:

Animation, Images, Text, Credits: ESA/ATG Medialab; background: ESO/S. Brunier/T. Currie (Subaru/UTSA)/ESA/Gaia/DPAC; CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO. Acknowledgement: A. Brown, S. Jordan, T. Roegiers, X. Luri, E. Masana, T. Prusti and A. Moitinho.


ESA’s Juice lifts off on quest to discover secrets of Jupiter’s icy moons


ARIANESPACE / ESA - Ariane 5 Flight VA260 Mission patch.

April 14, 2023

ESA’s Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer (Juice) lifted off on an Ariane 5 rocket from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana at 14:14 CEST on 14 April. The successful launch marks the beginning of an ambitious voyage to uncover the secrets of the ocean worlds around giant planet Jupiter.

Juice launch

Following launch and separation from the rocket, ESA’s European Space Operations Centre (ESOC) in Darmstadt, Germany, confirmed acquisition of signal via the New Norcia ground station in Australia at 15:04 CEST. The spacecraft’s vast 27 m long solar arrays unfurled into their distinctive cross shapes at 15:33 CEST, ensuring Juice can travel to the outer Solar System. The completion of this critical operation marked the launch a success.

Juice lifts off into space (artist's impression)

“ESA, with its international partners, is on its way to Jupiter,” says ESA Director General Josef Aschbacher. “Juice’s spectacular launch carries with it the vision and ambition of those who conceived the mission decades ago, the skill and passion of everyone who has built this incredible machine, the drive of our flight operations team, and the curiosity of the global science community. Together, we will keep pushing the boundaries of science and exploration in order to answer humankind’s biggest questions.”

Juice liftoff

“It is thanks to the leadership of ESA and the effort and commitment of hundreds of European industries and scientific institutions that the Juice mission has become a reality,” says Giuseppe Sarri, ESA’ s Juice Project Manager. “Together with our partners NASA, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency and the Israel Space Agency, who have also contributed hardware or scientific instrumentation, we have reached this much-awaited launch milestone.”

Juice released into space (artist's impression)

From Galileo to Juice

Jupiter, shining brightly in the night sky, has sparked fascination ever since our ancient ancestors first looked up. Astronomer Galileo Galilei brought Jupiter into focus in 1610, observing the planet through a telescope for the first time and discovering its orbiting moons. His observations overturned the long-held idea that everything in the heavens revolved around Earth. Centuries later, Juice – which carries a commemorative plaque in honour of Galileo’s discoveries – will see Jupiter and its moons in a way that Galileo couldn’t even have dreamt of.

Thanks to the legacy of previous Jupiter missions we know that three of the planet’s largest moons – Europa, Ganymede and Callisto – hold quantities of water buried under their surfaces in volumes far greater than in Earth’s oceans. These planet-sized moons offer us tantalising hints that conditions for life could exist other than here on our ‘pale blue dot’, and Juice is equipped to bring us one step closer to answering this alluring question.

Exploring Jupiter and Ganymede (artist’s impression)

“Over 400 years ago, Galileo discovered moons orbiting Jupiter – news that shocked the renaissance world and revolutionised humankind’s understanding of our place in the Universe,” says Carole Mundell, ESA’s Director of Science. “Today, we have sent a suite of ground-breaking science instruments on a journey to those moons that will give us an exquisite close-up view that would have been unimaginable to previous generations. Juice carries the dreams of anyone who’s ever gazed up at Jupiter shining brightly in the night sky and wondered about our origins.

“The treasure trove of data that ESA Juice will provide will enable the science community worldwide to dig in and uncover the mysteries of the jovian system, explore the nature and habitability of oceans on other worlds and answer questions yet unasked by future generations of scientists.”

The Juice mission

Journey to Jupiter

Juice is the last ESA space science mission to launch on an Ariane 5, in a long legacy dating back to 1999 with the launch of XMM-Newton, which is still in operation today, and most recently, the NASA/ESA/CSA James Webb Space Telescope in 2021.

“What a magnificent demonstration of Europe’s capacity to dream big and deliver results to match,” says Daniel Neuenschwander, ESA’s Director of Space Transportation. “We can all be proud of Ariane 5 for making possible missions like Juice and setting such a high standard for our new generation of launch systems.”

Over the next two-and-half weeks Juice will deploy its various antennas and instrument booms, including the 16 m long radar antenna, 10.6 m long magnetometer boom, and various other instruments that will study the environment of Jupiter and the subsurface of the icy moons.

An eight-year cruise with four gravity-assist flybys at Earth and Venus will slingshot the spacecraft towards the outer Solar System. The first flyby in April 2024 will mark a space exploration first: Juice will perform a lunar-Earth gravity-assist – a flyby of the Moon followed 1.5 days later by one of Earth.

Juice’s journey to Jupiter

ESA’s spacecraft operators, technology engineers and mission analysts have worked exhaustively to prepare for the challenges that lie ahead on this adventurous mission.

Shields will protect the spacecraft’s sensitive electronics from the monstrous levels of radiation in the Jupiter system. Multi-layered insulation will keep internal temperatures stable while externally they may reach more than 250ºC during the Venus flyby and -230ºC at Jupiter.

“Hundreds of millions of kilometres from Earth and powered by just a sliver of sunlight, we will guide Juice through 35 flybys of Jupiter’s ocean moons in order to gather the data needed to bring scientists closer than ever to these compelling destinations,” says Ignacio Tanco, ESA’s Juice spacecraft operations manager.

Operating in an extreme environment

“To fly such a complex path from such an enormous distance – and vitally, to get Juice’s valuable data home to Earth – will require precise navigation techniques, reliant on ESA’s deep space antennas in Spain, Argentina and Australia, all controlled remotely from ESOC.”

“We are ready to steer one of the most complex missions ESA has ever flown to adventures in the jovian system,” says Angela Dietz, deputy spacecraft operations manager. “From flybys of Jupiter’s moons over a period of two-and-a-half years, to the immense challenge of switching orbits from massive Jupiter to orbiting Ganymede, we’ll be solving challenges at mission control that have never been done before."

The secrets of Jupiter

Explore farther

Ganymede, which is larger than the planet Mercury, is Juice’s primary scientific target; it will spend around nine months observing the moon closely from orbit. Ganymede has a particularly intriguing characteristic in addition to its hidden ocean: it is the only moon in the Solar System to generate its own magnetic field. Only two other solid bodies generate a field like Ganymede’s – Mercury and Earth.

The effect is a mini ‘magnetic bubble’ sitting within Jupiter’s larger one, and the two interact in highly complex ways. Juice will reveal more about the interior structure of Ganymede and in doing so will be able to determine how its core is able to generate and maintain a magnetic field. This will be key to understanding how the moon evolved, and the consequences for habitability.

Inside Ganymede

Ganymede also displays a wide range of surface ages and features, offering a geological record spanning several billion years. This complements its ‘siblings’ – ancient Callisto, which may hold clues to early conditions in the jovian system, and young and active Europa, which vents water into space.

“The scientific treasure that will be returned will undoubtedly have far-reaching implications on how we understand our Solar System and if there are potentially habitable locations beyond Earth – not just in our own cosmic neighbourhood but also well beyond in the vast number of exoplanet systems populating our Universe,” says Olivier Witasse, ESA’s Juice project scientist. “In turn, this knowledge will make us richer beings, learning more about ourselves, our origins, and our place in the Universe.”

About Juice

ESA’s Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer, ‘Juice’, is humankind’s next bold mission to the outer Solar System. It will make detailed observations of gas giant Jupiter and its three large ocean-bearing moons – Ganymede, Callisto and Europa. This ambitious mission will characterise these moons with a powerful suite of remote sensing, geophysical and in situ instruments to discover more about these compelling destinations as potential habitats for past or present life. Juice will monitor Jupiter’s complex magnetic, radiation and plasma environment in depth and its interplay with the moons, studying the Jupiter system as an archetype for gas giant systems across the Universe.

Juice launches on an Ariane 5 from Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou in April 2023. It has an eight-year cruise with flybys of Earth and Venus to slingshot it to Jupiter. It will make 35 flybys of the three large moons while orbiting Jupiter, before changing orbits to Ganymede.

Exploring Jupiter

Juice is a mission under ESA leadership with contributions from NASA, JAXA and the Israel Space Agency. It is the first Large-class mission in ESA’s Cosmic Vision programme.

Related links:

NASA’s Galileo spacecraft:

ESA’s Juice Mission:

Ariane 5 rocket:

Europe’s Spaceport (in French Guiana):

Images, Animation, Videos, Text, Credits: ESA/M. Pédoussaut/ATG Medialab/CNES/Arianespace/Spacecraft: ESA/ATG medialab; Jupiter: NASA/ESA/J. Nichols (University of Leicester); Ganymede: NASA/JPL; Io: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona; Callisto and Europa: NASA/JPL/DLR/SciNews.

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