samedi 16 février 2013

Patrouille Suisse: a boss flies to the rescue

Breitling Jet Team logo.

Feb. 16, 2013

"It is unacceptable that fifty years are destroyed for financial reasons after all small scale of a country," unworthy Thedy Schneider, Breitling boss.

Breitling is ready to repaint its jets and lend military pilots to continue the tradition

In response to the decision of the Swiss Minister of Defence, ending the Patrouille Suisse in 2016, a watchmaker and instruments manufacturer for aviation, proposes to his own squadron of free L-39 Albatros available for military pilots, even the paint colors of Switzerland.

Patrouille Suisse logo painted on actual Northrop F-5E Tiger II

This case of replacement of the Northrop F-5E Tiger II from the Swiss Air Force, the controversy continues, with the grounding of the Patrouille Suisse, after reviewing the file, many questions remain about the funding that Gripen remains unclear (Final invoice and funding from the Swiss Government and Swedish Government).

Discover or read previous articles on this issue:

Choice of a new fighter aircraft of the Swiss Air Force: Description and comparison:

Swiss Air Force - The Gripen saga continues ...:

Breitling Jet Team:

Images, Text, Credits: Breitling Jet Team / Patrouille Suisse / Aerospace.


vendredi 15 février 2013

Asteroid 2012 DA14 - Near-Earth Asteroid Makes View Appearance

Asteroid Watch.

Feb. 15, 2013

 Asteroid 2012 DA14 as Seen from Siding Spring, Australia

This animated set of images, from the telescope known as the Siding Spring Observatory, shows asteroid 2012 DA14 as the streak moving from left to right in the field of view. The images were taken around 9:40 a.m. PST (12:40 p.m. EST, or 17:40 UTC) on Feb. 15, 2013. The exposure time was 5 seconds long. Image courtesy of E. Guido/N. Howes/Remanzacco Observatory.

These are some of many images that may be taken of the asteroid during its close - but safe - encounter with Earth. It will be observed by numerous optical observatories worldwide in an attempt to determine its rough shape, spin rate and composition. NASA scientists will use NASA's Goldstone Solar System Radar, located in California's Mojave Desert, to take radar images of the asteroid to determine its precise size and shape on Feb. 16, 18, 19 and 20. The NASA Near Earth Object Observation (NEOO) Program will continue to track the asteroid and predict its future orbit.

Diagram depicting the passage of asteroid 2012 DA14 through the Earth-moon system on Feb. 15, 2013. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

Asteroid 2012 DA14 is about 150 feet (45 meters) in diameter. It is expected to fly about 17,200 miles (27,000 kilometers) above Earth's surface at the time of closest approach, which is about 11:25 a.m. PST (2:25 p.m. EST) on Feb. 15. This distance is well away from Earth and the swarm of low Earth-orbiting satellites, including the International Space Station, but it is inside the belt of satellites in geostationary orbit (about 22,200 miles, or 35,800 kilometers, above Earth's surface.) The flyby of 2012 DA14 is the closest-ever predicted approach to Earth for an object this large.

Gingin Observatory Spots Near-Earth Asteroid at Closest Approach

Video above: Observatory in Australia around the time of its closest approach, 11:24:42 a.m. PST (2:24:42 p.m. EST, or 19:24:24 UTC), Feb. 15, 2013.

At that time, the asteroid was about 17,150 miles (27,600 kilometers) above Earth's surface. The asteroid appears streaked because the telescope was focused on the stars while the asteroid passed through the field of view. Images courtesy of Gingin Observatory/Tonello.

Outbound Near-Earth Asteroid, as Seen from Spain

Video above: This set of images from the La Sagra Sky Survey, operated by the Astronomical Observatory of Mallorca in Spain, shows the passage of asteroid 2012 DA14 shortly after its closest – and safe -- approach to Earth. The images were taken around 12:59 p.m. PST (3:59 p.m. EST, or 20:59 UTC) on Feb. 15, 2013. The images have been sped up 10 times.

In the last set of images, the fainter object that passes near the top of the field of view is a satellite or another asteroid. Images courtesy of La Sagra Sky Survey.

The NASA Near Earth Object Observation (NEOO) Program detects and tracks asteroids and comets passing close to Earth using ground- and space-based telescopes. The network of projects supported by this program, commonly called "Spaceguard," discovers these objects, characterizes a subset of them and plots their orbits to determine if any could be potentially hazardous to our planet.

The Near-Earth Object Program Office at JPL manages the technical and scientific activities for NASA's Near-Earth Object Observation Program of the Science Mission Directorate in Washington. JPL is a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. The NEOO Program Office performs more precise orbit determination on the objects, and predicts whether any will become an impact hazard to the Earth, or any other planet in the solar system.

More information is available at:

Asteroid and Comet Watch site:

Images (mentioned), Videos (mentioned), Text, Credit: NASA.

Best regards,

Russian Asteroid Strike

Asteroid Watch.

15 February 2013

A space rock a few metres across exploded in Earth’s atmosphere above the city of Chelyabinsk, Russia today at about 03:15 GMT. The numerous injuries and significant damage remind us that what happens in space can affect us all.

Chelyabinsk asteroid vapour trail

While precise information on the size, mass and composition of the object are yet to be confirmed, videos show a fireball and explosion consistent with an asteroid up to a few metres in size exploding in the atmosphere, possibly several to ten kilometres above the surface.

 Slow Motion Moment of  Meteorite Explosion in Russia

In this type of event, if the explosion altitude is less than 10 km or so, the resulting shockwave can cause damage on the ground, such as shattering windows. Debris from the object may be found later.

“Current information, which is not yet complete nor confirmed, points to a small asteroid,” said Detlef Koschny, Head of Near-Earth Object activity at ESA’s Space Situational Awareness (SSA) programme office.

Chelyabinsk, location of the asteroid strike

“There is no way it could have been predicted with the technical means available today. What can be said with near certainty is that this object has no connection with asteroid 2012 DA14.”

Asteroid 2012 DA14 made a close flyby of Earth at 19:27 GMT (20:27 CET) today.

Finding objects that pass close to our planet and are large enough to do damage if they enter our atmosphere is a major goal of ESA’s SSA programme.

In addition to conducting its own sky searches using ESA's Optical Ground Station in Tenerife, Spain, SSA is partnering with existing European and international asteroid survey activities. 

It also sponsors astronomer groups in Europe, supporting surveys carried out with their own equipment or allocating observation time on its Tenerife telescope. The office also provides access to orbit predictions, close flyby details and related data via its technical website at

 Asteroid 2012 DA14 size comparative

“Today’s event is a strong reminder of why we need continuous efforts to survey and identify near-Earth objects,” said Thomas Reiter, ESA’s Director of Human Spaceflight and Operations.

“Our SSA programme is developing a system of automated optical telescopes that can detect asteroids and other objects in solar orbits.”

 In cooperation with survey efforts worldwide, ESA’s goal is to spot near-Earth objects larger than 40 m at least three weeks before closest approach to our planet.

To achieve this, ESA, European industry and partner agencies are developing a system of automated 1 m-diameter telescopes capable of imaging the complete sky in one night.

In addition to Russian media, who reported immediately, all media worldwide have published images of notable damage around Chelyabinsk, and reports also mention numerous casualties.

“Our most sincere sympathies are with those suffering injury and property loss due to this event in Russia,” added Thomas Reiter.

Related links:

Space Situational Awareness:

Stranger in the night: space rock to make close Earth flyby:

Spotting an ancient asteroid:

SSA NEO Data Centre:

Near Earth Objects - Dynamic Site:

Images, Video, Text, Credits: ESA / Eumetsat / RT / Youtube.


jeudi 14 février 2013

Swiss Air Force - The Gripen saga continues ...

Swiss Air Force patch.

Feb. 14, 2013

 Six Northrop F-5E Tiger II of the Patrouille Suisse

Latest news of the day: The Swiss defense minister wants grounded Patrouille Suisse since 2016!

What are the problems of the Patrouille Suisse:

The reasons cited by the defense minister are once again wrong. The annual cost of this patrol is ridiculous expense comparisons other military spendings, and I want to reiterate that the Patrouille Suisse is very popular in Switzerland and abroad, or they are the "card" of our Air Force and our entire army as the military band (Military Tatoo) who are our only two ambassadors of the Swiss Army.

The Patrouille Suisse viewed inside the cockpit of the leader solo

We never see the Swiss military abroad (apart from the Vatican Guard in Roma and KFOR in Kosovo), because Switzerland is a neutral country and our army only defensive.

The real reasons he has mentioned himself during his interview with Swiss television, the Minister issues are simple:

- Not enough money for its proposed purchase of Gripen, because he knows that the total cost of the Gripen will be much higher than the advertised price in Swiss people and parliamentarians, in fact, any military aviation specialist you say that the proposed purchase of Gripen aircraft (for more information on this project, see my previous article) is worse and more expensive first officially announced (4 billion will be reached), the initial budget more 3.1 Billion has already been revised upwards twice, we get now more than 3.5 billion (all amounts are expressed in Swiss Francs).

- Not enough aircraft, 22 aircraft will be ordered to replace provided aerial surveillance of Switzerland sky and he has already reduced the activity to office hours (07:00-19:00), as customs officials... Personally, I did not know that the Schengen agreements included airspace ... This is new?

Swiss Air Force Northrop F-5E Tiger II

The real problem is just a matter of calculation: there are 42 Northrop F-5E Tiger II still in service, this aircraft is to be replaced by Gripen, if one incorporates the Patrouille Suisse 11 aircraft made by the Gripen, there will be more than 11 aircraft to ensure air monitoring in the country and it is not enough if one takes into account the rotation of service units (flight hours and ground maintenance and revisions).

Founded in 1963, the Patrouille Suisse is like all patrols made famous the "cream" of the countrie pilots.

The Patrouille Suisse

Controversies are recurrent in Switzerland each new aircraft purchases in 1973 when evaluating the Northrop F-5E Tiger II (98 aircafts total purchased) they have been the same kinds of problems that currently, except that in is era, the minister in place had the decency not to use this file for personal, in order to justify one sucked (purchase of Gripen) to ministry mandate forgotten more than lukewarm ... All this at the expense of the country's security and military morale (they have at the bottom of the military boots "Ranger's").

So with the purchase of Gripen aircraft we have the worst performer of his generation, he does not exist (E/F model), it has never been tested, it will be much more expensive than expected, there will not be enough planes to replace those currently in use, so no more Patrouille Suisse ... Where are the positive choice of Gripen?

The film "Tigris Helveticus" produced by the Swiss army in 1981, demonstrates that there has been controversy in these years about buying the Northrop F-5E Tiger II, as today Gripen and Rafale. Note that the fighters Saab 37 Viggen and the Mirage F-1 (Saab / Dassault) was already present in the 4 planes tested had at that time.

Image taken from the movie "Tigris Helveticus" presents the 4 aircrafts had set evaluation in 1974

Furthermore, seen from abroad, we go for the Gripen with horns, this is probably one of the reasons why some countries (apart from the Swedish Air Force, which as all aircraft manufacturers in their own country team) I mean the Gripen model "E/F", because as I've written before, this plane does not yet exist, it is in the development stage. I do not know which countries buy a ghost plane ... If! the Swiss!

Link to my previous article about the purchase of a new fighter aircraft for the Swiss Air Force:

Images, Text, Credits: Swiss Army / Aerospace.


Clues to the Mysterious Origin of Cosmic Rays

ESO - European Southern Observatory logo.

14 February 2013

VLT probes remains of medieval supernova

VLT/VIMOS observations of the shock front in the remnant of the supernova SN 1006

Very detailed new observations with ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) of the remains of a thousand-year-old supernova have revealed clues to the origins of cosmic rays. For the first time the observations suggest the presence of fast-moving particles in the supernova remnant that could be the precursors of such cosmic rays. The results are appearing in the 14 February 2013 issue of the journal Science.

In the year 1006 a new star was seen in the southern skies and widely recorded around the world. It was many times brighter than the planet Venus and may even have rivaled the brightness of the Moon. It was so bright at maximum that it cast shadows and it was visible during the day. More recently astronomers have identified the site of this supernova and named it SN 1006. They have also found a glowing and expanding ring of material in the southern constellation of Lupus (The Wolf) that constitutes the remains of the vast explosion.

The remnant of the supernova SN 1006 seen at many different wavelengths

It has long been suspected that such supernova remnants may also be where some cosmic rays — very high energy particles originating outside the Solar System and travelling at close to the speed of light — are formed. But until now the details of how this might happen have been a long-standing mystery.

A team of astronomers led by Sladjana Nikolić (Max Planck Institute for Astronomy, Heidelberg, Germany [1]) has now used the VIMOS instrument on the VLT to look at the one-thousand-year-old SN 1006 remnant in more detail than ever before. They wanted to study what is happening where high-speed material ejected by the supernova is ploughing into the stationary interstellar matter — the shock front. This expanding high-velocity shock front is similar to the sonic boom produced by an aircraft going supersonic and is a natural candidate for a cosmic particle accelerator.

For the first time the team has not just obtained information about the shock material at one point, but also built up a map of the properties of the gas, and how these properties change across the shock front. This has provided vital clues to the mystery.

Part of the supernova remnant SN 1006 seen with the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope

The results were a surprise — they suggest that there were many very rapidly moving protons in the gas in the shock region [2]. While these are not the sought-for high-energy cosmic rays themselves, they could be the necessary “seed particles”, which then go on to interact with the shock front material to reach the extremely high energies required and fly off into space as cosmic rays.

Nikolić explains: “This is the first time we were able to take a detailed look at what is happening in and around a supernova shock front. We found evidence that there is a region that is being heated in just the way one would expect if there were protons carrying away energy from directly behind the shock front.”

The study was the first to use an integral field spectrograph [3] to probe the properties of the shock fronts of supernova remnants in such detail. The team now is keen to apply this method to other remnants.

Co-author Glenn van de Ven of the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy, concludes: “This kind of novel observational approach could well be the key to solving the puzzle of how cosmic rays are produced in supernova remnants.”


[1] The new evidence emerged during analysis of the data by Sladjana Nikolić (Max Planck Institute for Astronomy) as part of work towards her doctoral degree at the University of Heidelberg.

[2] These protons are called suprathermal as they are moving much quicker than expected simply from the temperature of the material.

[3] This is achieved using a feature of VIMOS called an integral field unit, where the light recorded in each pixel is separately spread out into its component colours and each of these spectra recorded. The spectra can then be subsequently analysed individually and maps of the velocities and chemical properties of each part of the object created.

More information:

This research was presented in a paper “An Integral View of Fast Shocks around Supernova 1006” to appear in the journal Science on 14 February 2013.

The team is composed of Sladjana Nikolić (Max Planck Institute for Astronomy [MPIA], Heidelberg, Germany), Glenn van de Ven (MPIA), Kevin Heng (University of Bern, Switzerland), Daniel Kupko (Leibniz Institute for Astrophysics Potsdam [AIP], Potsdam, Germany), Bernd Husemann (AIP), John C. Raymond (Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, Cambridge, USA), John P. Hughes (Rutgers University, Piscataway, USA), Jesús Falcon-Barroso (Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias, La Laguna, Spain).

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”.


Photos of the VLT:

Images, Text, Credits: ESO, Radio: NRAO/AUI/NSF/GBT/VLA/Dyer, Maddalena & Cornwell, X-ray: Chandra X-ray Observatory; NASA/CXC/Rutgers/G. Cassam-Chenaï, J. Hughes et al., Visible light: 0.9-metre Curtis Schmidt optical telescope; NOAO/AURA/NSF/CTIO/Middlebury College/F. Winkler and Digitized Sky Survey /  ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA). Acknowledgment: W. Blair (Johns Hopkins University).

Best regards,

NASA's Fermi Proves Supernova Remnants Produce Cosmic Rays

NASA - Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope logo.

Feb. 14, 2013

A new study using observations from NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope reveals the first clear-cut evidence the expanding debris of exploded stars produces some of the fastest-moving matter in the universe. This discovery is a major step toward understanding the origin of cosmic rays, one of Fermi's primary mission goals.

Fermi Proves Supernova Remnants Produce Cosmic Rays

Video above: The husks of exploded stars give rise to some of the fastest particles in the cosmos. New findings by NASA's Fermi show that two supernova remnants accelerate protons to near the speed of light. These protons interact with nearby interstellar gas clouds, which then emit gamma rays. Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.

"Scientists have been trying to find the sources of high-energy cosmic rays since their discovery a century ago," said Elizabeth Hays, a member of the research team and Fermi deputy project scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. "Now we have conclusive proof supernova remnants, long the prime suspects, really do accelerate cosmic rays to incredible speeds."

Cosmic rays are subatomic particles that move through space at almost the speed of light. About 90 percent of them are protons, with the remainder consisting of electrons and atomic nuclei. In their journey across the galaxy, the electrically charged particles are deflected by magnetic fields. This scrambles their paths and makes it impossible to trace their origins directly.

Through a variety of mechanisms, these speedy particles can lead to the emission of gamma rays, the most powerful form of light and a signal that travels to us directly from its sources.

Image above: The W44 supernova remnant is nestled within and interacting with the molecular cloud that formed its parent star. Fermi's LAT detects GeV gamma rays (magenta) produced when the gas is bombarded by cosmic rays, primarily protons. Radio observations (yellow) from the Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array near Socorro, N.M., and infrared (red) data from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope reveal filamentary structures in the remnant's shell. Blue shows X-ray emission mapped by the Germany-led ROSAT mission. Credit: NASA/DOE/Fermi LAT Collaboration, NRAO/AUI, JPL-Caltech, ROSAT.

Since its launch in 2008, Fermi's Large Area Telescope (LAT) has mapped million- to billion-electron-volt (MeV to GeV) gamma-rays from supernova remnants. For comparison, the energy of visible light is between 2 and 3 electron volts.

The Fermi results concern two particular supernova remnants, known as IC 443 and W44, which scientists studied to prove supernova remnants produce cosmic rays. IC 443 and W44 are expanding into cold, dense clouds of interstellar gas. These clouds emit gamma rays when struck by high-speed particles escaping the remnants.

Scientists previously could not determine which atomic particles are responsible for emissions from the interstellar gas clouds because cosmic ray protons and electrons give rise to gamma rays with similar energies. After analyzing four years of data, Fermi scientists see a distinguishable feature in the gamma-ray emission of both remnants. The feature is caused by a short-lived particle called a neutral pion, which is produced when cosmic ray protons smash into normal protons. The pion quickly decays into a pair of gamma rays, emission that exhibits a swift and characteristic decline at lower energies. The low-end cutoff acts as a fingerprint, providing clear proof that the culprits in IC 443 and W44 are protons.

The findings will appear in Friday's issue of the journal Science.

"The discovery is the smoking gun that these two supernova remnants are producing accelerated protons," said lead researcher Stefan Funk, an astrophysicist with the Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology at Stanford University in Calif. "Now we can work to better understand how they manage this feat and determine if the process is common to all remnants where we see gamma-ray emission."

This multiwavelength composite shows the supernova remnant IC 443, also known as the Jellyfish Nebula. Fermi GeV gamma-ray emission is shown in magenta, optical wavelengths as yellow, and infrared data from NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) mission is shown as blue (3.4 microns), cyan (4.6 microns), green (12 microns) and red (22 microns). Cyan loops indicate where the remnant is interacting with a dense cloud of interstellar gas. Credit: NASA/DOE/Fermi LAT Collaboration, NOAO/AURA/NSF, JPL-Caltech/UCLA.

In 1949, the Fermi telescope's namesake, physicist Enrico Fermi, suggested the highest-energy cosmic rays were accelerated in the magnetic fields of interstellar gas clouds. In the decades that followed, astronomers showed supernova remnants were the galaxy's best candidate sites for this process.

A charged particle trapped in a supernova remnant's magnetic field moves randomly throughout the field and occasionally crosses through the explosion's leading shock wave. Each round trip through the shock ramps up the particle's speed by about 1 percent. After many crossings, the particle obtains enough energy to break free and escape into the galaxy as a newborn cosmic ray.

The supernova remnant IC 443, popularly known as the Jellyfish Nebula, is located 5,000 light-years away toward the constellation Gemini and is thought to be about 10,000 years old. W44 lies about 9,500 light-years away toward the constellation Aquila and is estimated to be 20,000 years old. Each is the expanding shock wave and debris formed when a massive star exploded.

The Fermi discovery builds on a strong hint of neutral pion decay in W44 observed by the Italian Space Agency's AGILE gamma ray observatory and published in late 2011.

AGILE gamma ray observatory (left) - Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope (right). Image Credits: NASA / JPL-Caltech / ASI.

NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope is an astrophysics and particle physics partnership. Goddard manages Fermi. The telescope was developed in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Energy, with contributions from academic institutions and partners in the United States France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and Sweden.

Related Links:

Download video in HD formats from NASA Goddard's Scientific Visualization Studio and print resolution images:

SLAC press release:

"NASA's Fermi Shows That Tycho's Star Shines in Gamma Rays" (12.13.11):

"NASA's Fermi Closes on Source of Cosmic Rays" (02.16.10):

Supernova Remnants and Cosmic Ray Acceleration at NASA's Imagine the Universe!:

Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope:

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


At the Mouth of the Red Valley

ESA - Mars Express Mission patch.

14 February 2013

ESA’s Mars Express took a high-resolution stereo image on 13 January of the southeast corner of the Amenthes Planum region on Mars, near to Palos crater and the mouth of a well-known sinuous valley, Tinto Vallis.

Southeast of Amenthes Planum

At the bottom-centre of the full-colour image above, and up close in the first perspective image, is a nearby shorter and wider valley, which is fed by a number of tributaries before it joins the mouth of Tinto Vallis as both empty into Palos crater, just off the bottom of the image.

The 190 km-long Tinto Vallis is seen in the context image and is named after the famous Rio Tinto river in the Andalucía region of Spain. It is believed to have formed around 3.7 billion years ago, during the early history of Mars.

Valley feeding Palos Crater

The network of shorter valleys shown in the first perspective image is thought to have formed through volcanic activity melting subsurface ice and liberating water to the martian surface via seeps and springs.

If underground water emerges to the surface from the side of a slope – a process that planetary geologists call ‘groundwater sapping’ – it weakens the ground above it, causing it to collapse. Over time, this process may lead to the formation of steep-sided U-shaped valleys.

Amenthes Planum in context

Groundwater sapping is believed to be responsible for erosion seen in many of the valley networks on the Red Planet.

Another eye-catching feature is the relatively deep 35 km-wide crater seen in the left-hand portion of the colour, topographic and 3D images. Spectacular landslides along the crater’s walls can be seen and are particularly evident along the broken southern (left) rim.

Amenthes Planum topography

This crater sits on top of at least three older craters, the largest of which is 100 km wide and dominates the whole top left half of the 2D and 3D anaglyph images. The western rim of this crater continues beyond the image frame, and can be more easily distinguished in the context image.

The floor of this 100 km-wide crater is chaotic, with flat-topped geological features called mesas, and their smaller siblings, buttes, littering the floor. These are probably the result of the removal of subsurface water ice leading to the collapse of weaker material around them, leaving these more resistant high-sided features behind.

On Earth, the desert regions in Utah are home to many examples of these types of formation.

Trough feeding Amenthes Planum

Toward the north (right) side of the 2D images, several smaller craters display very smooth and flat floors, from infilling by sediments.

The darker regions to the far north and south shown most clearly in the first colour image are covered in wind-transported basaltic sands.

The smooth low-lying region to the far right and shown in the second perspective image is a small trough that feeds into the broader lava field of Amenthes Planum. The trough has likely been modified by the outflow of material from the ancient lake that may have once existed in Palos crater, the rim of which can only just be seen at the bottom of the colour, topographic and 3D images.

Amenthes Planum in 3D

This smooth, channel-like feature brushes against the rim of a 30 km-wide crater, and both have been covered with dark wind-blown materials.

With these recent images, Mars Express continues to show the similarities between regions on Mars with those on our home planet.

Related links:

Mars Express overview:

Mars Express in depth:

High Resolution Stereo Camera:

Behind the lens:

Frequently asked questions:

ESA Planetary Science archive (PSA):

NASA Planetary Data System:

HRSC data viewer:

Mars Webcam:

Images, Text, Credits: ESA / DLR / FU Berlin (G. Neukum).

Best regards,

mercredi 13 février 2013

"A drop of ink on the luminous sky"

ESO - European Southern Observatory logo.

13 February 2013

Wide Field Imager snaps cosmic gecko

The bright star cluster NGC 6520 and the strangely shaped dark cloud Barnard 86

This image from the Wide Field Imager on the MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope at ESO’s La Silla Observatory in Chile, shows the bright star cluster NGC 6520 and its neighbour, the strange gecko-shaped dark cloud Barnard 86. This cosmic pair is set against millions of glowing stars from the brightest part of the Milky Way — a region so dense with stars that barely any dark sky is seen across the picture.

This part of the constellation of Sagittarius (The Archer) is one of the richest star fields in the whole sky — the Large Sagittarius Star Cloud. The huge number of stars that light up this region dramatically emphasise the blackness of dark clouds like Barnard 86, which appears at the centre of this new picture from the Wide Field Imager, an instrument mounted on the MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope at ESO’s La Silla Observatory in Chile.

The cluster NGC 6520 and the dark cloud Barnard 86 in the constellation of Sagittarius

This object, a small, isolated dark nebula known as a Bok globule [1], was described as “a drop of ink on the luminous sky” by its discoverer Edward Emerson Barnard [2], an American astronomer who discovered and photographed numerous comets, dark nebulae, one of Jupiter’s moons, and made many other contributions. An exceptional visual observer and keen astrophotographer, Barnard was the first to use long-exposure photography to explore dark nebulae.

Through a small telescope Barnard 86 looks like a dearth of stars, or a window onto a patch of distant, clearer sky. However, this object is actually in the foreground of the star field — a cold, dark, dense cloud made up of small dust grains that block starlight and make the region appear opaque. It is thought to have formed from the remnants of a molecular cloud that collapsed to form the nearby star cluster NGC 6520, seen just to the left of Barnard 86 in this image.

Wide-field view of the star cluster NGC 6520 and the dark cloud Barnard 86

NGC 6520 is an open star cluster that contains many hot stars that glow bright blue-white, a telltale sign of their youth. Open clusters usually contain a few thousand stars that all formed at the same time, giving them all the same age. Such clusters usually only live comparatively short lives, on the order of several hundred million years, before drifting apart.

Zooming into the star cluster NGC 6520 and the dark cloud Barnard 86

The incredible number of stars in this area of the sky muddles observations of this cluster, making it difficult to learn much about it. NGC 6520’s age is thought to be around 150 million years, and both this star cluster and its dusty neighbour are thought to lie at a distance of around 6000 light-years from our Sun.

Panning across the star cluster NGC 6520 and the dark cloud Barnard 86

The stars that appear to be within Barnard 86 in the image above are in fact in front of it, lying between us and the dark cloud. Although it is not certain whether this is still happening within Barnard 86, many dark nebulae are known to have new stars forming in their centres  — as seen in the famous Horsehead Nebula (eso0202), the striking object Lupus 3 (eso1303) and to a lesser extent in another of Barnard’s discoveries, the Pipe Nebula (eso1233). However, the light from the youngest stars is blocked by the surrounding dusty regions, and they can only be seen in infrared or longer-wavelength light.


Video above: Infrared/visible-light crossfade view of the star cluster NGC 6520 and the dark cloud Barnard 86


[1] Bok globules were first observed in the 1940s by astronomer Bart Bok. They are very cold, dark clouds of gas and dust that often have new stars forming at their centres. These globules are rich in dust that scatters and absorbs background light, so they are almost opaque to visible light.

[2] This quotation comes from E. E. Barnard, Dark Regions in the Sky Suggesting an Obscuration of Light, Yerkes Observatory, Nov 15 1913 (available online here).

More information:

ESO, the European Southern Observatory, is the foremost intergovernmental astronomy organisation in Europe and the world’s most productive astronomical observatory. 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”.


Information about the MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope:

Information about the La Silla Observatory:

Images of La Silla:

Images, Text, Credits: ESO / Digitized Sky Survey 2. Acknowledgement: Davide De Martin / Videos: ESO / Digitized Sky Survey 2 / Nick Risinger ( / VVV Survey / Music: movetwo.


Supernova Remnant W49B

NASA - Chandra X-ray Observatory patch.

Feb. 13, 2013

The highly distorted supernova remnant shown in this image may contain the most recent black hole formed in the Milky Way galaxy. The image combines X-rays from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory in blue and green, radio data from the NSF's Very Large Array in pink, and infrared data from Caltech's Palomar Observatory in yellow.

The remnant, called W49B, is about a thousand years old, as seen from Earth, and is at a distance about 26,000 light years away.

The supernova explosions that destroy massive stars are generally symmetrical, with the stellar material blasting away more or less evenly in all directions. However, in the W49B supernova, material near the poles of the doomed rotating star was ejected at a much higher speed than material emanating from its equator. Jets shooting away from the star's poles mainly shaped the supernova explosion and its aftermath.

By tracing the distribution and amounts of different elements in the stellar debris field, researchers were able to compare the Chandra data to theoretical models of how a star explodes. For example, they found iron in only half of the remnant while other elements such as sulfur and silicon were spread throughout [include the Fe/Si image]. This matches predictions for an asymmetric explosion. Also, W49B is much more barrel-shaped than most other remnants in X-rays and several other wavelengths, pointing to an unusual demise for this star.

Chandra X-ray Observatory

The authors also examined what sort of compact object the supernova explosion left behind. Most of the time, massive stars that collapse into supernovas leave a dense spinning core called a neutron star. Astronomers can often detect these neutron stars through their X-ray or radio pulses, although sometimes an X-ray source is seen without pulsations. A careful search of the Chandra data revealed no evidence for a neutron star, implying an even more exotic object might have formed in the explosion, that is, a black hole.

This may be the youngest black hole formed in the Milky Way galaxy, with an age of only about a thousand years, as viewed from Earth (i.e., not including the light travel time). A well-known example of a supernova remnant in our Galaxy that likely contains a black hole is SS433. This remnant is thought to have an age between 17,000 and 21,000 years, as seen from Earth, making it much older than W49B.

The new results on W49B, which were based on about two-and-a-half days of Chandra observing time, appear in a paper in the Feb. 10, 2013 issue of the Astrophysical Journal. The authors of the paper are Laura Lopez, from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Enrico Ramirez-Ruiz from the University of California at Santa Cruz, Daniel Castro, also of MIT, and Sarah Pearson from the University of Copenhagen in Denmark.

Read more/access all images:

Chandra's Flickr photoset:

Images, Text, Credits: Credits: X-ray: NASA / CXC / MIT / L.Lopez et al; Infrared: Palomar; Radio: NSF / NRAO / VLA.


Cryosat reveals major loss of Artic sea ice

ESA - Cryosat 2 Mission logo.

13 February 2013

An international team of scientists using new measurements from ESA’s ice mission has discovered that the volume of Arctic sea ice has declined by 36% during autumn and 9% during winter between 2003 and 2012.

Monthly sea ice volume

Satellite records show a constant downward trend in the area covered by Arctic sea ice during all seasons, but in particular in summer. The past six years have seen the lowest summer ice extent in three decades, reaching the lowest last September at about 3.61 million sq km.

A team of scientists led by University College London has now generated estimates of the sea-ice volume for the 2010–11 and 2011–12 winters over the Arctic basin using data from ESA’s CryoSat satellite.

This study has confirmed, for the first time, that the decline in sea ice coverage in the polar region has been accompanied by a substantial decline in ice volume.

The new CryoSat dataset shows the volume’s continuing decline observed from 2003 to 2008 by NASA’s ICESat satellite.

Sea ice thickness

Since 2008, the Arctic has lost about 4300 cubic km of ice during the autumn period and about 1500 cubic km in winter.

The team confirmed CryoSat estimates using independent ground and airborne measurements carried out by ESA and international scientists during the last two years in the polar region, as well as by comparing measurements from NASA’s Operation IceBridge.

“The data reveal that thick sea ice has disappeared from a region to the north of Greenland, the Canadian Archipelago and to the northeast of Svalbard,”  said Katharine Giles, co-author of the study ‘CryoSat-2 estimates of Arctic sea ice thickness and volume’, recently published online in Geophysical Research Letters.

Cryosat 2 satellite

“Other satellites have already shown drops in the area covered by Arctic sea ice as the climate has warmed, but CryoSat allows scientists to estimate the volume of sea ice – a much more accurate indicator of the changes taking place in the Arctic,” added Tommaso Parrinello, CryoSat Mission Manager.

To do this, CryoSat’s high-resolution radar altimeter sends pulses of microwave energy down towards the ice.

The energy bounces off both the top sections of ice and the water in the cracks between. The difference in height between these two surfaces allows scientists to calculate the ‘freeboard’ – the height of ice above the water – and, as a result, volume of the ice cover.

While the researchers say two years of CryoSat data aren’t indicative of a long-term change, they speculate that the lower ice thickness and volume in the winter of 2012, compared to the winter of 2011, may have contributed to the record minimum ice extent during the 2012 autumn.

Related links:

Article: CryoSat-2 estimates of Arctic sea ice thickness and volume:

Geophysical Research Letters:

UK Natural Environment Research Council (NERC):

Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling (CPOM):

University College London:


NASA’s IceSat satellite:

NASA’s Operation IceBridge:


Images, Video, Text, Credits: ESA / CPOM / UCL / ESA / UW-APL / NSIDC / Planetary Visions / K. Giles et al.

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mardi 12 février 2013

Mars Rock Takes Unusual Form

NASA - Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) patch.

Feb. 12, 2013

Image above: A shiny-looking Martian rock is visible in this image taken by NASA's Mars rover Curiosity's Mast Camera (Mastcam) during the mission's 173rd Martian day, or sol (Jan. 30, 2013). Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Malin Space Science Systems.

On Mars, as on Earth, sometimes things can take on an unusual appearance. A case in point is a shiny-looking rock seen in a recent image from NASA's Curiosity Mars rover.

Some casual observers might see a resemblance to a car door handle, hood ornament or some other type of metallic object. To Ronald Sletten of the University of Washington, Seattle, a collaborator on Curiosity's science team, the object is an interesting study in how wind and the natural elements cause erosion and other effects on various types of rocks.

Find out what likely caused the shiny appearance of the Martian rock, and see some examples of similar phenomena found on Earth. A PDF of the images and explanatory text is available at:

Curiosity Rover's Self Portrait at 'John Klein' Drilling Site, Cropped

Image above: This rectangular version of a self-portrait of NASA's Mars rover Curiosity combines dozens of exposures taken by the rover's Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) during the 177th Martian day, or sol, of Curiosity's work on Mars (Feb. 3, 2013).

The rover is positioned at a patch of flat outcrop called "John Klein," which was selected as the site for the first rock-drilling activities by Curiosity. The self-portrait was acquired to document the drilling site.

The rover's robotic arm is not visible in the mosaic. MAHLI, which took the component images for this mosaic, is mounted on a turret at the end of the arm. Wrist motions and turret rotations on the arm allowed MAHLI to acquire the mosaic's component images. The arm was positioned out of the shot in the images or portions of images used in the mosaic.

Malin Space Science Systems, San Diego, developed, built and operates MAHLI. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., manages the Mars Science Laboratory Project and the mission's Curiosity rover for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The rover was designed and assembled at JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. Image Credit:NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS.

JPL manages the project for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

For images and more information about the mission, visit: and .

You can follow the mission on Facebook and Twitter at: and

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA / JPL / Guy Webster.


Five years of unique science on Columbus‏

ESA - Columbus Contributors patch / ESA - Columbus Mission logo.

Feb. 12, 2013

 Installing Columbus

Since Europe’s Columbus laboratory module was attached to the International Space Station five years ago, it has offered researchers worldwide the opportunity to conduct science beyond the effects of gravity.

A total of 110 ESA-led experiments involving some 500 scientists have been conducted since 2008, spanning fluid physics, material sciences, radiation physics, the Sun, the human body, biology and astrobiology.

The Space Station allows researchers to play with a force that is fixed on Earth: gravity. ‘Turning off’ gravity and performing experiments in space over long periods can reveal the inner workings of natural phenomena.

Installing Colloid

“We focus research on achieving scientific discoveries, developing applications and benefitting people on Earth while preparing for future space exploration,” explains Martin Zell, responsible for ESA’s utilisation of the European orbital laboratory.

Studying colloids – tiny particles in liquids – is one area of research hampered by gravity. Colloids are found in many liquids such as milk, paint and even in our bodies, yet they are so small you need an electron microscope to study them. At this scale, gravity will always influence the results, but in space experiments can be run repeatedly without interference.

ESA Columbus cutaway & description

The Colloid experiment on Columbus has shown how ‘quantum forces’ can be used to control colloid structures. It confirmed the effect of these forces as predicted theoretically over 30 years ago, but observed for the first time in 2008. The findings are part of the building blocks for creating nanomaterials.

Eating on Station

Research inside Columbus is also helping scientists to understand the human body. Astronauts in space absorb more salt without absorbing more fluids – contradicting generally accepted medical knowledge.

It turns out that high-salt diets seem to be causing bone loss in astronauts. Until now, bone loss was thought to be caused by the physical effect of living in weightlessness. This new result has implications for people suffering from osteoporosis on Earth.

André Kuipers freezing samples

Delving deeper, cell research is offering clues on how to control ageing. The Roald biology experiment revealed that certain enzymes in our immune systems are more active in space, showing scientists on the ground where to look to combat premature cell death.

There are also experiments mounted outside of the Columbus module. The first of a series of Expose experiments has shown that living organisms can survive space travel.

Removing outside experiment from Columbus

A number of bacteria, seeds, lichen and algae spent 18 months outside Columbus in space with no protection from the harsh space environment. When they were returned to Earth in 2009, the lichen awoke from their dormant state, highlighting the possibility that life forms could possibly hitch a ride on asteroids to planets.

Closer to home, technology developed for Columbus research is also being used by hospitals and firefighters. A new type of thermometer designed for astronauts reads temperatures continuously via two sensors on the forehead and chest. The technology was patented as a spin-off and is of great use for heart surgery and monitoring newborn babies.


“Our European laboratory in space is accessible around the clock and allows us to do outstanding research with the international science community,” says Martin. “We already have a high demand and continuously receive requests for research in Columbus, so we can expect plenty of exciting results.”

Participation in Space Station research

Read & see more:

Gallery: Columbus 5 years:

Columbus operations:

Columbus Control Centre, Oberpfaffenhofen, Germany:

Columbus Control Centre at DLR:

International Space Station Science Reports:

Images, Text, Credits: ESA / NASA / Charite, ZWMB.