samedi 24 novembre 2012

CERN - ATLAS prepares for upgrades

CERN - European Organization for Nuclear Research logo.

Nov. 24, 2012

Image above: A technician conducts routine maintenance on the ATLAS detector during a technical stop last year (Image: CERN).

The ATLAS collaboration is preparing a series of upgrades to their detector for the coming long shutdown of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in 2013-2014. As well as routine maintenance, a new layer will be added to one of the tracking detectors at the heart of ATLAS, and changes to the data acquisition system will give physicists more precise spatial information about signals in the detector.

 ATLAS Experiment and LHC. (Image: CERN)


CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, is one of the world’s largest and most respected centres for scientific research. Its business is fundamental physics, finding out what the Universe is made of and how it works. At CERN, the world’s largest and most complex scientific instruments are used to study the basic constituents of matter — the fundamental particles. By studying what happens when these particles collide, physicists learn about the laws of Nature.

The instruments used at CERN are particle accelerators and detectors. Accelerators boost beams of particles to high energies before they are made to collide with each other or with stationary targets. Detectors observe and record the results of these collisions.

Founded in 1954, the CERN Laboratory sits astride the Franco–Swiss border near Geneva. It was one of Europe’s first joint ventures and now has 20 Member States.

Read more:

"Action stations at ATLAS" [PDF]:

ATLAS collaboration:

Large Hadron Collider:

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Images, Text, Credit: CERN.


vendredi 23 novembre 2012

Spacecraft Monitoring Martian Dust Storm

NASA - Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) patch.

Nov. 23, 2012

Image above: This nearly global mosaic of observations made by the Mars Color Imager on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter on Nov. 18, 2012, shows a dust storm in Mars' southern hemisphere. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS.

A Martian dust storm that NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has been tracking since last week has also produced atmospheric changes detectable by rovers on Mars.

Using the orbiter's Mars Color Imager, Bruce Cantor of Malin Space Science Systems, San Diego, began observing the storm on Nov. 10, and subsequently reported it to the team operating NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity. The storm came no closer than about 837 miles (1,347 kilometers) from Opportunity, resulting in only a slight drop in atmospheric clarity over that rover, which does not have a weather station.

Halfway around the planet from Opportunity, the NASA Mars rover Curiosity's weather station has detected atmospheric changes related to the storm. Sensors on the Rover Environmental Monitoring Station (REMS), which was provided for Curiosity by Spain, have measured decreased air pressure and a slight rise in overnight low temperature.

"This is now a regional dust storm. It has covered a fairly extensive region with its dust haze, and it is in a part of the planet where some regional storms in the past have grown into global dust hazes," said Rich Zurek, chief Mars scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. "For the first time since the Viking missions of the 1970s, we are studying a regional dust storm both from orbit and with a weather station on the surface."

Curiosity's equatorial location and the sensors on REMS, together with the daily global coverage provided by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, provide new advantages compared with what Viking offered with its combination of orbiters and landers. The latest weekly Mars weather report from the orbiter's Mars Color Imager is at


Video above: Martian weather between 12 November 2012 and 18 November 2012. Video Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Malin Space Science Systems.

Each Martian year lasts about two Earth years. Regional dust storms expanded and affected vast areas of Mars in 2001 and 2007, but not between those years nor since 2007.

"One thing we want to learn is why do some Martian dust storms get to this size and stop growing, while others this size keep growing and go global," Zurek said.

From decades of observing Mars, scientists know there is a seasonal pattern to the largest Martian dust-storm events. The dust-storm season began just a few weeks ago, with the start of southern-hemisphere spring.

Starting on Nov. 16, the Mars Climate Sounder instrument on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter detected a warming of the atmosphere at about 16 miles (25 kilometers) above the storm. Since then, the atmosphere in the region has warmed by about 45 degrees Fahrenheit (25 degrees Celsius). This is due to the dust absorbing sunlight at that height, so it indicates the dust is being lofted well above the surface and the winds are starting to create a dust haze over a broad region.

Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). Image Credit: NASA

Warmer temperatures are seen not only in the dustier atmosphere in the south, but also in a hot spot near northern polar latitudes due to changes in the atmospheric circulation. Similar changes affect the pressure measured by Curiosity even though the dust haze is still far away.

Besides the research value in better understanding storm behavior, monitoring the storm is also important for Mars rover operations. If the storm were to go global, the Opportunity rover would be affected most. More dust in the air or falling onto its solar panels would reduce the solar-powered rover's energy supply for daily operations. Curiosity is powered by a radioisotope thermoelectric generator, rather than solar cells. The main effects of increased dust in the air at its site would be haze in images and increased air temperature.

JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, manages the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Project and both of the Mars rover projects for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington.

For more information about the missions of NASA's Mars Exploration Program, visit

Images (mentioned), Video (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA / JPL / Guy Webster / D.C. Agle.

Best regards,

Hubble Eyes a Loose Spiral Galaxy

NASA  - Hubble Space Telescope patch.

Nov. 23, 2012

The Hubble Space Telescope has spotted the spiral galaxy ESO 499-G37, seen here against a backdrop of distant galaxies, scattered with nearby stars.

The galaxy is viewed from an angle, allowing Hubble to reveal its spiral nature clearly. The faint, loose spiral arms can be distinguished as bluish features swirling around the galaxy’s nucleus. This blue tinge emanates from the hot, young stars located in the spiral arms. The arms of a spiral galaxy have large amounts of gas and dust, and are often areas where new stars are constantly forming.

The galaxy’s most characteristic feature is a bright elongated nucleus. The bulging central core usually contains the highest density of stars in the galaxy, where typically a large group of comparatively cool old stars are packed in this compact, spheroidal region.

One feature common to many spiral galaxies is the presence of a bar running across the center of the galaxy. These bars are thought to act as a mechanism that channels gas from the spiral arms to the center, enhancing the star formation.


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


ESA Hubble website:

NASA Hubble Website:

Image, Text, Credits: NASA / ESA / Hubble.


mercredi 21 novembre 2012

European Space Agency sets € 10 bn space budget

ESA logo labeled.

21 November 2012

(NAPLES) - Members of the European Space Agency (ESA) on Wednesday approved a multi-year budget of € 10 billion ($12.3 billion), ESA director general Jean-Jacques Dordain said, hailing this as a "big success."

Spending levels are largely unchanged compared with the outgoing budget, but "it's a big success in spite of the economic situation," Dordain said after a two-day strategy meeting of the 20-nation agency.

Image above: European ministers and officials pose during the European Space Agency (ESA) Council Meeting on November 20, 2012 in Naples (Italy). Credit: AFP/Getty Images.

Dordain had proposed three-year spending of  € 12 billion ($15 billion) but had said last week he would be satisfied with "something around € 10 billion," meaning that current levels would be maintained. In the event, spending will be just over € 10 billion, he said.

Many of ESA's members are struggling with constrained budgets, and many proposed space projects have been sidelined in the light of close scrutiny. The meeting was the first at ministerial level in four years. The budget is averaged out over three years, but many programmes can be longer or shorter than this.

 Ariane 5 to get an upgrade

The budget included missions and programs ongoing, such as the ExoMars mission, which was originally a combined program between NASA and ESA, with the withdrawal of the NASA following budget cuts of the American Administration, this program as nearly canceled. Thanks to the Russian Federal Space Agency (ROSCOSMOS), which has joined the ExoMars program, and it saved and maintained.

ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter would search for atmospheric methane at Mars

The "Mars budget" (initial budget between ESA and NASA) of about $580 million in 2010 would be radically reduced by over $200 million, thereby necessitating the end of NASA’s participation in ExoMars. These cuts will have a devastating impact on American scientists and engineers working on Mars missions.

The ESA's budget includes funding for a new launcher, called Ariane 5 ME, which would start to fly in 2017, and work towards a successor, Ariane 6, whose maiden flight would be in 2021 or 2022.

ESA proposal for an adapted Ariane 5 launcher and proposal for Ariane 6. Image Credit: ESA

It also funds ESA's continuing participation in the International Space Station to 2020.

For more information about European Space Agency (ESA), visit:

Images, Video, Text, Credits: ESA / Arianespace / AFP / Getty Images / Euronews / Aerospace.

Best regards,

Dwarf Planet Makemake Lacks Atmosphere

ESO - European Southern Observatory logo.

21 November 2012

Distant frigid world reveals its secrets for the first time

Artist’s impression of the surface of the dwarf planet Makemake

Astronomers have used three telescopes at ESO’s observatories in Chile to observe the dwarf planet Makemake as it drifted in front of a distant star and blocked its light. The new observations have allowed them to check for the first time whether Makemake is surrounded by an atmosphere. This chilly world has an orbit lying in the outer Solar System and was expected to have an atmosphere like Pluto (eso0908), but this is now shown not to be the case. The scientists also measured Makemake’s density for the first time. The new results are to be published in the 22 November issue of the journal Nature.

Dwarf planet Makemake [1] is about two thirds of the size of Pluto, and travels around the Sun in a distant path that lies beyond that of Pluto but closer to the Sun than Eris, the most massive known dwarf planet in the Solar System (eso1142). Previous observations of chilly Makemake have shown it to be similar to its fellow dwarf planets, leading some astronomers to expect its atmosphere, if present, to be similar to that of Pluto. However, the new study now shows that, like Eris, Makemake is not surrounded by a significant atmosphere.

The team, led by José Luis Ortiz (Instituto de Astrofísica de Andalucía, CSIC, Spain), combined multiple observations using three telescopes at ESO’s La Silla and Paranal observing sites in Chile — the Very Large Telescope (VLT), New Technology Telescope (NTT), and TRAPPIST (TRAnsiting Planets and PlanetesImals Small Telescope) — with data from other small telescopes in South America [2], to look at Makemake as it passed in front of a distant star [3].

Path of the shadow of Makemake as it crossed the Earth on 23 April 2011

“As Makemake passed in front of the star and blocked it out, the star disappeared and reappeared very abruptly, rather than fading and brightening gradually. This means that the little dwarf planet has no significant atmosphere,” says José Luis Ortiz. “It was thought that Makemake had a good chance of having developed an atmosphere — that it has no sign of one at all shows just how much we have yet to learn about these mysterious bodies. Finding out about Makemake’s properties for the first time is a big step forward in our study of the select club of icy dwarf planets.”

Makemake’s lack of moons and its great distance from us make it difficult to study [4], and what little we do know about the body is only approximate. The team’s new observations add much more detail to our view of Makemake — determining its size more accurately, putting constraints on a possible atmosphere and estimating the dwarf planet’s density for the first time. They have also allowed the astronomers to measure how much of the Sun’s light Makemake’s surface reflects — its albedo [5]. Makemake’s albedo, at about 0.77, is comparable to that of dirty snow, higher than that of Pluto, but lower than that of Eris.

It was only possible to observe Makemake in such detail because it passed in front of a star — an event known as a stellar occultation. These rare opportunities are allowing astronomers for the first time to find out a great deal about the sometimes tenuous and delicate atmospheres around these distant, but important, members of the Solar System, and providing very accurate information about their other properties.

The occultation of dwarf planet Makemake on 23 April 2011

Occultations are particularly uncommon in the case of Makemake, because it moves in an area of the sky with relatively few stars. Accurately predicting and detecting these rare events is extremely difficult and the successful observation by a coordinated observing team, scattered at many sites across South America, ranks as a major achievement.

“Pluto, Eris and Makemake are among the larger examples of the numerous icy bodies orbiting far away from our Sun,” says José Luis Ortiz. “Our new observations have greatly improved our knowledge of one of the biggest, Makemake — we will be able to use this information as we explore the intriguing objects in this region of space further.”


[1] Makemake was initially known as 2005 FY9. It was discovered a few days after Easter in March 2005, earning it the informal nickname of Easterbunny. In July 2008 it was given the official name of Makemake. Makemake is the creator of humanity and god of fertility in the myths of the native people of Easter Island.

Makemake is one of five dwarf planets so far recognised by the International Astronomical Union. The others are Ceres, Pluto, Haumea and Eris. Further information about dwarf planets and planets is available from the International Astronomical Union.

[2] Another of the telescopes used in this observing campaign was an 0.84-metre telescope installed by the Católica del Norte University of Chile. This telescope is sited on Cerro Armazones, the future site of the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT).

[3] Makemake passed in front of faint star NOMAD 1181-0235723 (where NOMAD refers to the Naval Observatory Merged Astrometric Dataset) on 23 April 2011. The team observed this event using seven different telescopes across Brazil and Chile. The event only lasted about one minute, so the astronomers took advantage of a specialised high-speed camera known as ULTRACAM (eso0520) and a high-speed infrared imager named ISAAC to capture the event.

[4] In the case of objects that are orbited by one or more moons the motions of the moons can be used to deduce the mass of the object. This was not possible in the case of Makemake.

[5] The dwarf planet was calculated to have a geometrical albedo of 0.77 ± 0.03, greater than Pluto’s, but smaller than that of Eris. An albedo of 1 represents a perfectly reflecting body, and 0 a black surface that does not reflect at all. The observations, together with previous results, indicate that Makemake has a density of 1.7 ± 0.3 grams per cubic centimetre, which in turn allowed the team to infer the shape and appearance of an oblate spheroid — a sphere flattened slightly at both poles — with axes of 1430 ± 9 kilometres and 1502 ± 45 kilometres. Makemake shows no global Pluto-like atmosphere at a level of one thousandth of that of Pluto's atmosphere. However, it may have an atmosphere that only covers part of the surface. Such a local atmosphere, which is possible in theory, is not excluded by the observations.

More information:

This research was presented in a paper “Albedo and atmospheric constraints of dwarf planet Makemake from a stellar occultation” to appear in the 22 November 2012 issue of the journal Nature.

The team is composed of J. L. Ortiz (Instituto de Astrofísica de Andalucía, CSIC, Spain), B. Sicardy (Observatoire de Paris; CNRS; Université Pierre et Marie Curie; Université Paris Diderot; Institut Universitaire de France), F. Braga-Ribas (Observatoire de Paris, CNRS, France; Observatório Nacional/MCTI, Brazil), A. Alvarez-Candal (European Southern Observatory, Chile; Instituto de Astrofísica de Andalucía, CSIC, Spain), E. Lellouch (Observatoire de Paris, CNRS, France), et al.

For the full list of authors and affiliations please refer to the Nature paper.

The year 2012 marks the 50th anniversary of the founding of the European Southern Observatory (ESO). ESO is the foremost intergovernmental astronomy organisation in Europe and the world’s most productive ground-based astronomical observatory by far. It is supported by 15 countries: Austria, Belgium, Brazil, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Finland, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. ESO carries out an ambitious programme focused on the design, construction and operation of powerful ground-based observing facilities enabling astronomers to make important scientific discoveries. ESO also plays a leading role in promoting and organising cooperation in astronomical research. ESO operates three unique world-class observing sites in Chile: La Silla, Paranal and Chajnantor. At Paranal, ESO operates the Very Large Telescope, the world’s most advanced visible-light astronomical observatory and two survey telescopes. VISTA works in the infrared and is the world’s largest survey telescope and the VLT Survey Telescope is the largest telescope designed to exclusively survey the skies in visible light. ESO is the European partner of a revolutionary astronomical telescope ALMA, the largest astronomical project in existence. ESO is currently planning the 39-metre European Extremely Large optical/near-infrared Telescope, the E-ELT, which will become “the world’s biggest eye on the sky”.


    Research paper in Nature:

    Photos of the VLT:

    Photos of La Silla:

Images, Video, Text, Credits: ESO/L. Calçada/Richard Hook/Nick Risinger ( de Paris/Bruno Sicardy/Earth and Planetary Sciences Department, University of Tennessee/Noemi Pinilla-Alonso/Institut d'Astrophysique de I'Université de Liège/Emmanuel Jehin/Instituto de Astrofísica de Andalucía, CSIC/José Luis Ortiz.


Switzerland endorse the co-presidency of the European Space Agency (ESA) with the Luxembourg

Switzerland Space Activities.

Nov. 21, 2012

At the ministerial meeting of the European Space Agency (ESA), which takes place Tuesday and Wednesday in Naples, Switzerland endorse co-chair of this organization with Luxembourg. This is an opportunity to show his skills at the international level in the field of space technology. Ministers of 20 Member States decide how ESA programs will be conducted and financed long term despite the economic situation. Switzerland, which is one of the founding members of the organization, will serve for the first time the co-presidency, for 3-4 years.

On the occasion of this co-presidency, here is a highlights of the space activities of Switzerland (since 1969, well before the creation of the ESA).

Apollo Program, the first Swiss measuring instruments (astronaut watches) and experiments on the Moon

Swiss solar wind experiment one of few on Apollo's missions

U.S. astronaut Neil Armstrong took his giant leap for mankind more forty years ago today as man set foot on the moon for the first time. Sitting in NASA’s control centre on that historic day was the Director of the Physics Institute at Bern University, Johannes Geiss. He was in charge of one of the scientific instruments aboard Apollo 11. It consisted of an aluminum sheet which the astronauts would deploy on a pole stuck into the lunar surface. It was designed to capture particles from the solar wind. Solar Wind Composition Experiment (SWC, Exp. S-080) by University of Berne, Switzerland, used in Mission Apollo 11, 12, 14, 15, 16.

The Solar Wind Composition Experiment (SWC) was used to determine the elemental and isotopic composition of the noble gasses (helium, neon, and argon) in the solar wind. It was a simple experiment that used a sheet of 0.5 mm thick aluminium foil to trap individual particles of the solar wind to a depth of several hundred atomic layers, but allowed cosmic rays to pass through. The astronauts put the screens out on arrival and brought the foil back to Earth for analysis by Swiss scientists.

Image above: Omega Speedmaster Pro, the first swiss watch that equipped astronauts of the Apollo missions. Neil Armstrong on the picture during the Apollo 11 Mission.

Claude Nicollier, the first Swiss Astronaut

Nicollier, born 2 September 1944 in Vevey, Switzerland, is an astrophysicist and astronaut European Space Agency. In 1992 he became the first Swiss in space (STS-46). He completed four missions aboard various shuttles, two of which were devoted to the repair and maintenance of the Hubble Space Telescope. During the first mission, he was responsible for steering the shuttle's robotic arm and as such made ​​the first capture orbit Space Telescope.

 Claude Nicollier, the Swiss Astronaut to participate in four space missions

Launcher Fairings

Since 1974, RUAG Space has been responsible for the development and production of all Ariane launcher payload fairings. Currently, fairings are produced for the European Ariane 5 and for the United Launch Alliance Atlas V-500 launch vehicles as well as for the new small European Launcher Vega. The fairings are built in composite technology based on aluminum honeycomb cores with carbon fiber reinforced plastic face sheets. This construction method allows the combination of low mass with high stiffness. To date, all payload fairings built by RUAG Space in a variety of sizes and configurations have an unrivalled 100 % mission success.

Payload fairings

RUAG Space not only designs and manufactures payload fairings but provides the customer also with the required support on the launch site. The data regarding the payload fairings' dynamic behavior during separation is routinely measured and down-linked to the ground control station and analyzed by RUAG Space specialists.

Ruag Space also build some space products:

    - Launcher Structures & Separation Systems
    - Satellite Structures, Mechanisms & Mechanical Equipment
    - Digital Electronics for Satellites & Launchers
    - Satellite Communication Equipment
    - Satellite Instruments

ATV: Made in Switzerland

Countries’ contributions to ATV, let's look at Switzerland. The mountain country is often associated with Albert Einstein who lends his name to ATV-4. The scientist famously worked in a patent office in Bern while he wrote many papers including his ground-breaking Special Theory of Relativity. 

Image above: Albert Einstein at the patent office in Bern. Credits: Swiss Federal Institute of Intellectual Property.

Ruag space, based in Zurich, contributed the basic structural elements of ATV, and that is not to be taken lightly, as they were designed to be as low-mass as possible. In space flight, mass equals cost as more fuel is needed to propel heavier objects into orbit.

The racks that hold ATV’s cargo are made of aluminium and comply with NASA’s standard sizes: the Internal Subrack Interface Standard and the Mid-Deck Locker. Weighing in at only 92 kgs, Ruag’s racks can hold 750 kg of equipment and will still stand strong after enduring more than 12,5 g. This means that up 9375 kg can be supported by only 92 kg of structure, more sturdy than your average bookshelf!

ATV-3 Cargo racks

Ruag also supplied the Solar Array Deployment Mechanism, the equipment that unfolds the solar panels after launch. They were not chosen at random, and their ‘sun panel-deployer’ proved itself on the Hubble telescope in 1990.

Also made in Switzerland: the LCAM, or Late Cargo Access Means, that allows cargo to be added to an ATV just before launch. Apco, based in the canton of Vaud, took care of the MGSE or Mechanical Ground Support Equipment on ATV.

In addition, Apco supplied ATV’s armoured coating, protecting the precious spacecraft from dangerous micrometeorites and space debris. In space terms this is called the MDPS (Meteorite and Debris Protection Shields), an acronym that, surprisingly, is easy to understand.

The 4 TCU's mounted inside ATV

Micrometeorites and space debris are serious threats to spacecraft. Travelling at speeds of up to 72 km per second, the impact of a flick of dried paint can have serious effects. ATV uses a so-called Whipple Shield, which comprises a double layer of armour placed at a distance from ATV’s outer skin. Any objects that strike the shield break into fragments on impact with the outer protective shield layer, and then the inner layer stops anything from penetrating into the vessel and its mission critical hardware.

Lastly, SYDERAL, based in Berne, provides four thermal control units to keep ATV operating at its optimum temperature. The units monitor and control the batteries and report directly to ATV’s platform computer. The system is designed to be fail-safe and has multiple redundancies, which is why SYDERAL supplies four of the units per ATV.

Related article: ATV-4 to carry name Albert Einstein

Measurement time: atomic clocks world leading

Galileo program GPS: four clocks designed Neuchâtel will be sent into space. Two satellites of the European Galileo program GPS will soon be put into orbit. Within each of these four satellites are atomic clocks that were designed to Neuchâtel.

Galileo navigation satellite

Switzerland maintains its top ranking in the measurement of time, a team of researchers from the Neuchâtel Observatory has taken a decisive step in improving the stability of the clock, which is already one of the best in the world . This is a significant advance in the measurement of time.

Metrologists does not meet the achievements. The research project continues Swiss Fontaine (FOCS) is a good example. In 1997, the Federal Office of Metrology and Accreditation (METAS) mandated the Neuchâtel Observatory (ON) to develop an atomic clock based on a continuous stream of cold atoms. This project is also financially supported by the National Fund for Scientific Research and the Canton of Neuchâtel.

Principle unique

From the outset, the researchers ON, under the direction of Pierre Thomann, sought an original way. FOCS 1 is the first atomic clock which uses a continuous stream of cold atoms. Characteristic of an atomic clock is to use atoms as a balance: their oscillations are indeed very stable and reproducible. Observation period of these oscillations is critical: the longer it is, the better the clock.

Recent years is known to use lasers to cool cesium atoms to a few millionths of a degree above absolute zero (-273.15 ° C). By cooling at this temperature, we can reduce their thermal velocity of 200 meters per second to a few centimeters per second. This technique allows to have a precise observation time much longer than in the past.

The Galileo atomic clock

The usual practice is to produce these cooled atoms in successive packets. The originality of the Swiss Fontaine continues to occur in the form of a continuous stream. This technique has considerable metrological interest:

If all the world's best atomic clocks based on the same operating principle, errors characteristic of this principle might go unnoticed, since they distort all the clocks in the same way. The original configuration of the Swiss clock helps to make visible such errors and, if necessary, to correct. This project provides an important contribution to the frequency metrology and time at international level.

Deviation of 1 second in 30 million years

In April 2003, the clock was moved from one FOCS Neuchatel Bern-Wabern. METAS infrastructure that ideal clocks are immune to vibration and changes in temperature or humidity. These conditions should allow one FOCS achieve an accuracy corresponding to a difference of one second in 30 million years.

Stability in the short term, one of the essential characteristics of a clock since it allows to evaluate its accuracy in reasonable time depends directly on the intensity of the atomic beam: if the atoms are more available, the clock is more stable and more accurate measurements. Since installing FOCS 1 METAS Neuchâtel team has embarked to increase the flow of the jet of cold atoms.

Image above: André Stefanov, head of laboratory time and frequency at the Federal Office of Metrology, before the first copy of the Swiss Fontaine continues (FOCS). Credit: Fabrice Eschmann / BIPH.

Researchers ON, who had gained an international reputation with FOCS 1, a new record success experiences showed that they were now able to produce continuous jets 40 times more intense than ever.

FOCS 2, whose stability will be enhanced by these results, was moved to mid-March METAS to be completed. If predictions are confirmed researchers, this clock will present the best combination in the world between accuracy and stability, progress very easily accessible to clock pulse. This clock will make a significant contribution to a more accurate determination of the second.

Progress navigation

With two clocks FOCS 1 and FOCS 2, Switzerland has its first atomic clock reference (primary clocks). METAS as Office responsible for conducting federal and dissemination of official time Swiss maintains several conventional atomic clocks. New primary clocks to calibrate conventional clocks. In collaboration with some fifty similar institutions in the world, METAS contributes to the establishment of Coordinated Universal Time (UTC), which is under the responsibility of the International Bureau of Weights and Measures in Paris.

But the usefulness of such clocks goes beyond the production of correct time they make it possible to improve the performance of satellite navigation systems such as the American GPS and European Galileo equivalent. Telecommunications and scientific research also enjoy plenty of progress.

These new clocks contribute to the reputation of Switzerland as the ultra-precise measurement of time.

Related article: Argotec-made parts to orbit in Galileo atomic clock:

CERN - The search of the secrets of the universe

Image above: The Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer experiment, assembled at CERN, currently operates as an external module of the ISS (Image: NASA).

The European Organization for Nuclear Research, is one of the world’s largest and most respected centres for scientific research. Its business is fundamental physics, finding out what the Universe is made of and how it works. At CERN, the world’s largest and most complex scientific instruments are used to study the basic constituents of matter — the fundamental particles. By studying what happens when these particles collide, physicists learn about the laws of Nature.

CERN - The search of the secrets of the universe

The instruments used at CERN are particle accelerators and detectors. Accelerators boost beams of particles to high energies before they are made to collide with each other or with stationary targets. Detectors observe and record the results of these collisions.

Founded in 1954, the CERN Laboratory sits astride the Franco–Swiss border near Geneva. It was one of Europe’s first joint ventures and now has 20 Member States. 

Related articles: Last Shuttle ride to ISS for ESA astronaut with ‘dark matter’ hunter:

Testing Mars and Moon soil for sheltering astronauts from radiation

The Swiss participates via its laboratories (CERN) in search of materials and technologies that protect astronauts from cosmic radiation, in order to allow space exploration without the risk of exposure to cosmic radiation.

 Future deep space base

The Velcro attachment system and the closure team all spacesuits and many other uses, is a Swiss invention inspired by an Alpine plant.

Related article: Testing Mars and Moon soil for sheltering astronauts from radiation:

Switzerland will participate in GAIA Mission

In Greek mythology, Gaia is a primordial goddess identified with "Mother Earth". She is the maternal ancestor of divine races. But Gaia is not it. It is also a space mission which actively Observatory of the University of Geneva.

The Gaia looks like the great successor to the Hipparcos satellite, and is expected to continue its mission. Its launch is scheduled for
2013. Gaia will provide a map of the portion of the Milky Way that surrounds the solar system and will report to do the exact position of more than one billion stars, as well as their speed.

Gaia spacecraft

Gaia will be placed in orbit around the L2 Lagrange point - a point of stability at 1.5 million kilometers from Earth in the direction opposite to the Sun. Three telescopes will cover the entire sky and record all visible sources.

During his 5 years mission, Gaia should thus observe more than one hundred times each among a billion stars it must identify. In passing, it should also provide important data on the presence of thousands of extra solar planets, and discover tens of thousands of new bodies - comets and asteroids - in our own solar system.

Finally, Gaia will observe with unprecedented accuracy the effects of general relativity, in particular how the Sun bends the light from the stars across the sky. It is hoped that this will lead to a first overview of the structure of space-time.

Related link: ESA Science & Technology - Gaia:

ESA Science Programme’s new small satellite will study super-Earths

Studying planets around other stars will be the focus of the new small Science Programme mission, Cheops, ESA announced today. Its launch is expected in 2017.

Artist impression of Cheops

Cheops – for CHaracterising ExOPlanets Satellite – will target nearby, bright stars already known to have planets orbiting around them. These key parameters will help scientists to understand the formation of planets from a few times the mass of the Earth – ‘super-Earths’ – up to Neptune-sized worlds.

It will also identify planets with significant atmospheres and constrain the migration of planets during the formation and evolution of their parent systems.

Cheops will be implemented as a partnership between ESA and Switzerland, with a number of other ESA Member States delivering substantial contributions.

Cheops will operate in a Sun-synchronous low-Earth orbit at an altitude of 800 km. It has a planned mission lifetime of 3.5 years and part of the observing time will be open to the wider scientific community.

Related article: ESA Science Programme’s new small satellite (Cheops) will study super-Earths

Cleaning up Earth's orbit: A Swiss satellite tackles space debris

The proliferation of debris orbiting the Earth – primarily jettisoned rocket and satellite components – is an increasingly pressing problem for spacecraft, and it can generate huge costs. To combat this scourge, the Swiss Space Center at EPFL is announcing today the launch of CleanSpace One, a project to develop and build the first installment of a family of satellites specially designed to clean up space debris.

CleanSpace One spacecraft approaching Swiss Cube

The project developers have chosen a symbolic target for the initial CleanSpace One launch: either Switzerland’s first orbiting object, the Swisscube picosatellite which was put in orbit in 2009, or its cousin TIsat, launched in July 2010.

 Swisscube, the first "home made" satellite

Related article: Cleaning up Earth's orbit: A Swiss satellite tackles space debris

Switzerland at the forefront of the search for life in the universe

The first extrasolar planet was discovered by Swiss astronomers, M.Mayor S.Udry of the Geneva Observatory, hundreds of others will follow (more than 500).

M.Mayor and S.Udry, from Geneva Observatory

The last discover: A team of astronomers from the University of Geneva (UNIGE) revealed the existence of a new extrasolar planet. If it adds to a few hundred of these objects we know now, it is characterized by two essential aspects. First of all the mass is similar to that of the Earth. On the other hand, the object rotates around one star system nearest our Sun, Alpha Centauri is B. A new holiday destination away from only 4.4 light years, the details of the discovery are thoroughly explained in the journal Nature.

Related article: ESO’s HARPS instrument finds Earth-mass exoplanet orbiting Alpha Centauri B

Hoping that the budget space missions are not reduced, I wish a good co-presidency to Switzerland and Luxembourg.

The author of this article is also involved in the space adventure of Switzerland, is the owner and founder of Aerospace, and is one of the programmers & developers of some add-ons for Orbiter Space Flight Simulator (eg Mars Face), an computer application used to simulate spaceflight on Mars500 mission, a joint mission from ESA and ROSCOSMOS which simulated a complete flight to Mars (500 days). Related website:

Related links:

Microsystems for Space Technologies Laboratory EPFL-LMTS:

École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL):

OBSERVATOIRE DE GENEVE (Geneva Observatory):

Bern University - Cheops Homepage:

Federal Office of Metrology & Time (METAS):

ESA Portal:

European Southern Observatory (ESO):

Images, Text, Credits: Syderal SA / Ruag Space / AP / NASA / ESA / CNES / Arianespace, Optique Video du CSG, S. Martin / ESO / CERN / EPFL / LMTS / UNIGE (Geneva Observatory) / UNIBE / BIPH / Fabrice Eschmann / Federal Office of Metrology & Time (METAS) / Aerospace.

Best regards,

mardi 20 novembre 2012

Proton-M with EchoStar XVI liftoff

ILS / ROSCOSMOS - EchoStar XVI Mission poster.


 Proton-M with EchoStar XVI liftoff

November 20 at 22:31:00 Moscow time from the launch complex of the platform 200 Baikonur starting calculations of rocket-space industry performed launch space (ILV) Proton-M with the upper stage (RB) Breeze-M and the communication space vehicle (SV) EchoStar-16.

Launch of an ILS Proton-M Rocket with EchoStar 16

According to the launch in cyclogram 22:40:42 MSK head unit in the Republic of Belarus Briz-M and SC EchoStar-16 was separated from the third stage of the launch vehicle.

EchoStar XVI

Further removal of the spacecraft to the target orbit is produced by the march of the propulsion upper stage. EchoStar 16 is a direct-to-home television broadcasting satellite covering North America for EchoStar Corp.

Original text in Russian:

For more information about ILS, visit:

Images, Video, Text, Credits: Press Service of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos PAO) / ILS / ILS TV / Translation:


Planck spots hot gas bridging galaxy cluster pair

ESA - Planck Mission patch.

20 November 2012

ESA’s Planck space telescope has made the first conclusive detection of a bridge of hot gas connecting a pair of galaxy clusters across 10 million light-years of intergalactic space.

Galaxy clusters connected by gas bridge

Planck’s primary task is to capture the most ancient light of the cosmos, the Cosmic Microwave Background, or CMB. As this faint light traverses the Universe, it encounters different types of structure including galaxies and galaxy clusters – assemblies of hundreds to thousands of galaxies bound together by gravity.

If the CMB light interacts with the hot gas permeating these huge cosmic structures, its energy distribution is modified in a characteristic way, a phenomenon known as the Sunyaev–Zel’dovich (SZ) effect, after the scientists who discovered it.

This effect has already been used by Planck to detect galaxy clusters themselves, but it also provides a way to detect faint filaments of gas that might connect one cluster to another.

In the early Universe, filaments of gaseous matter pervaded the cosmos in a giant web, with clusters eventually forming in the densest nodes.

Much of this tenuous, filamentary gas remains undetected, but astronomers expect that it could most likely be found between interacting galaxy clusters, where the filaments are compressed and heated up, making them easier to spot.

Planck’s discovery of a bridge of hot gas connecting the clusters Abell 399 and Abell 401, each containing hundreds of galaxies, represents one such opportunity.

ESA's Planck

The presence of hot gas between the billion-light-year-distant clusters was first hinted at in X-ray data from ESA’s XMM-Newton, and the new Planck data confirm the observation.

It also marks Planck’s first detection of inter-cluster gas using the SZ effect technique.

By combining the Planck data with archival X-ray observations from the German satellite Rosat, the temperature of the gas in the bridge is found to be similar to the temperature of the gas in the two clusters – on the order of 80 million degrees Celsius.

Early analysis suggests the gas could be mixture of the elusive filaments of the cosmic web mixed with gas originating from the clusters.

A more detailed analysis and the possible detection of gas bridges connecting other clusters will help to provide a more conclusive answer.

The new finding highlights the ability of Planck to probe galaxy clusters to their outskirts and beyond, examining their connection with the gas that permeates the entire Universe and from which all groups of galaxies formed. 


Planck: looking back at the dawn of time:

Planck in depth:

Planck Science Team:

Planck on YouTube:

Looking inside Planck:

Images, Text, Credits: Sunyaev–Zel’dovich effect: ESA Planck Collaboration; optical image: STScI Digitized Sky Survey.


lundi 19 novembre 2012

Astronomers Directly Image Massive Star's 'Super-Jupiter'

Subaru Telescope logo.

Nov. 19, 2012

Astronomers using infrared data from the Subaru Telescope in Hawaii have discovered a "super-Jupiter" around the bright star Kappa Andromedae, which now holds the record for the most massive star known to host a directly imaged planet or lightweight brown dwarf companion.

Designated Kappa Andromedae b (Kappa And b, for short), the new object has a mass about 12.8 times greater than Jupiter's. This places it teetering on the dividing line that separates the most massive planets from the lowest-mass brown dwarfs. That ambiguity is one of the object's charms, say researchers, who call it a super-Jupiter to embrace both possibilities.

The "super-Jupiter" Kappa Andromedae b, shown here in an artist's rendering, circles its star at nearly twice the distance that Neptune orbits the sun. With a mass about 13 times Jupiter's, the object glows with a reddish color. Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/S. Wiessinger.

"According to conventional models of planetary formation, Kappa And b falls just shy of being able to generate energy by fusion, at which point it would be considered a brown dwarf rather than a planet," said Michael McElwain, a member of the discovery team at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. "But this isn't definitive, and other considerations could nudge the object across the line into brown dwarf territory."

Massive planets slowly radiate the heat leftover from their own formation. For example, the planet Jupiter emits about twice the energy it receives from the sun. But if the object is massive enough, it's able to produce energy internally by fusing a heavy form of hydrogen called deuterium. (Stars like the sun, on the other hand, produce energy through a similar process that fuses the lighter and much more common form of hydrogen.) The theoretical mass where deuterium fusion can occur -- about 13 Jupiters -- marks the lowest possible mass for a brown dwarf.

Kappa Andromedae. Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/DSS

"Kappa And b, the previously imaged planets around HR 8799 and Beta Pictoris, and the most massive planets discovered by non-imaging techniques likely all represent a class of object that formed in much the same way as lower-mass exoplanets," said lead researcher Joseph Carson, an astronomer at the College of Charleston, S.C., and the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg, Germany.

The discovery of Kappa And b also allows astronomers to explore another theoretical limit. Astronomers have argued that large stars likely produce large planets, but experts predict that this stellar scaling can only extend so far, perhaps to stars with just a few times the sun's mass. The more massive a young star is, the brighter and hotter it becomes, resulting in powerful radiation that could disrupt the formation of planets within a circumstellar disk of gas and dust.

"This object demonstrates that stars as large as Kappa And, with 2.5 times the sun's mass, remain fully capable of producing planets," Carson adds.

This false-color near-infrared image has been processed to remove most of the scattered light from the star Kappa Andromedae (masked out at center). The "super-Jupiter" companion, Kappa Andromedae b (upper left), lies at a projected distance of about 55 times the average distance between Earth and the sun and about 1.8 times farther than Neptune, whose orbit is shown for comparison (dashed circle). The white region marking the companion indicates a signal present in all near-infrared wavelengths, while colored blobs represent residual noise. The Subaru Telescope in Hawaii captured the image in July. Credit: NOAJ/Subaru/J. Carson, College of Charleston.

The research is part of the Strategic Explorations of Exoplanets and Disks with Subaru (SEEDS), a five-year effort to directly image extrasolar planets and protoplanetary disks around several hundred nearby stars using the Subaru Telescope on Mauna Kea, Hawaii. Direct imaging of exoplanets is rare because the dim objects are usually lost in the star's brilliant glare. The SEEDS project images at near-infrared wavelengths using the telescope's adaptive optics system, which compensates for the smearing effects of Earth's atmosphere, in concert with its High Contrast Instrument for the Subaru Next Generation Adaptive Optics and Infrared Camera and Spectrograph.

Young star systems are attractive targets for direct exoplanet imaging because young planets have not been around long enough to lose much of the heat from their formation, which enhances their brightness in the infrared. The team focused on the star Kappa And because of its relative youth -- estimated at the tender age of 30 million years, or just 0.7 percent the age of our solar system, based on its likely membership in a stellar group known as the Columba Association. The B9-type star is located 170 light-years away in the direction of the constellation Andromeda and is visible to the unaided eye.

This chart locates the star Kappa Andromedae, which is visible to the unaided eye from suburban skies. Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/DSS.

Kappa And b orbits its star at a projected distance of 55 times Earth's average distance from the sun and about 1.8 times as far as Neptune; the actual distance depends on how the system is oriented to our line of sight, which is not precisely known. The object has a temperature of about 2,600 degrees Fahrenheit (1,400 Celsius) and would appear bright red if seen up close by the human eye.

Carson's team detected the object in independent observations at four different infrared wavelengths in January and July of this year. Comparing the two images taken half a year apart showed that Kappa And b exhibits the same motion across the sky as its host star, which proves that the two objects are gravitationally bound and traveling together through space. Comparing the brightness of the super-Jupiter between different wavelengths revealed infrared colors similar to those observed in the handful of other gas giant planets successfully imaged around stars.

Subaru Telescope in Hawaii. Credit: NOAJ/Subaru

A paper describing the results has been accepted for publication in The Astrophysical Journal Letters and will appear in a future issue.

The SEEDS research team is continuing to study Kappa And b to better understand the chemistry of its atmosphere, constrain its orbit, and search for possible secondary planets.

Coincidentally, the stellar association that hosts Kappa And also includes another famous high-mass star, HR 8799, which is one of the first where astronomers directly imaged an extrasolar planet. The system hosts several gas giant planets with masses and infrared colors similar to Kappa And b.

Related Links

› Paper (preprint): "Direct Imaging Discovery of a 'Super-Jupiter' Around the late B-Type Star Kappa And.":

› Related multimedia from NASA Goddard's Scientific Visualization Studio:

› Subaru Telescope press release: "Direct Imaging of a Super-Jupiter Around a Massive Star" (11.19.12):

› "Spiral Arms Point to Possible Planets in a Star's Dusty Disk" (10.19.11):

Images (mentioned), Text, Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center / Francis Reddy.

Best regards,