vendredi 15 mars 2013

Earth-Directed Coronal Mass Ejection From the Sun














ESA / NASA - Solar Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) / ESA / NASA - Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory (STEREO) patch.

March 15, 2013


Images above:The ESA and NASA Solar Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) captured these images of the sun spitting out a coronal mass ejection (CME) on March 15, 2013, from 3:24 to 4:00 a.m. EDT. This type of image is known as a coronagraph, since a disk is placed over the sun to better see the dimmer atmosphere around it, called the corona. Credit: ESA & NASA/SOHO.

On March 15, 2013, at 2:54 a.m. EDT, the sun erupted with an Earth-directed coronal mass ejection (CME), a solar phenomenon that can send billions of tons of solar particles into space and can reach Earth one to three days later and affect electronic systems in satellites and on the ground. Experimental NASA research models, based on observations from the Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory (STEREO) and ESA/NASA’s Solar and Heliospheric Observatory, show that the CME left the sun at speeds of around 900 miles per second, which is a fairly fast speed for CMEs. Historically, CMEs at this speed have caused mild to moderate effects at Earth.

ESA / NASA - Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory (STEREO) spacecrafts. Credit: ESA & NASA

The NASA research models also show that the CME may pass by the Spitzer and Messenger spacecraft. NASA has notified their mission operators. There is, however, only minor particle radiation associated with this event, which is what would normally concern operators of interplanetary spacecraft since the particles can trip on board computer electronics.

ESA / NASA - Solar Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) spacecraft. Credit: ESA & NASA

Not to be confused with a solar flare, a CME is a solar phenomenon that can send solar particles into space and reach Earth one to three days later. Earth-directed CMEs can cause a space weather phenomenon called a geomagnetic storm, which occurs when they connect with the outside of the Earth's magnetic envelope, the magnetosphere, for an extended period of time. In the past, geomagnetic storms caused by CMEs such as this one have usually been of mild to medium strength.

NOAA's Space Weather Prediction Center (http://swpc.noaa.gov) is the United States Government official source for space weather forecasts, alerts, watches and warnings. Updates will be provided if needed.

video
 Active Region Release Two CMEs

Video above: Solar material can be seen blowing off the sun in this video captured by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) on the night of Feb. 5, 2013. This active region on the sun sent out two coronal mass ejections (CMEs) that night. Credit: NASA/SDO.

What is a CME?

For answers to this and other space weather questions, please visit the Spaceweather Frequently Asked Questions page: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/sunearth/spaceweather/index.html

Related Link:

View Past Solar Activity: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/sunearth/multimedia/Solar-Events.html

Images (mentioned), Video (mentioned), Text, Credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center / Karen C. Fox.

Greetings, Orbiter.ch

Expedition 34 Crew Lands Safely











ROSCOSMOS - Soyuz TMA-06M Mission patch.

March 15, 2013

video
Expedition 34 Safely Land & Egress Soyuz TMA-06M

Expedition 34 Commander Kevin Ford and Flight Engineers Evgeny Tarelkin and Oleg Novitskiy landed their Soyuz TMA-06M spacecraft in the steppe of Kazakhstan, northeast of the remote town of Arkalyk Friday evening. Russian recovery teams were on hand to help the crew exit the Soyuz vehicle and adjust to gravity after 144 days in space.

The trio launched aboard the Soyuz TMA-06M spacecraft from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan in October and spent 142 days living and working aboard the International Space Station.

Novitskiy was at the controls of the spacecraft as it undocked at 7:43 p.m. from the Poisk Mini-Research Module 2.

Soyuz TMA-06M undocking

The undocking marks the end of Expedition 34 and the start of Expedition 35 under the command of Canadian Space Agency astronaut Chris Hadfield, who is scheduled to remain on the station with Flight Engineers Tom Marshburn and Roman Romanenko until May. Ford ceremonially handed command of the station over to Hadfield on Wednesday. Hadfield, Marshburn and Romanenko arrived at the station aboard the Soyuz TMA-07M spacecraft in December 2012.

Expedition 34 Crew safely landed

Hadfield, Marshburn and Romanenko will remain aboard the orbiting complex as a three-person crew until the March 28 launch and docking of Expedition 35 Flight Engineers Chris Cassidy, Pavel Vinogradov and Alexander Misurkin.

For more information about International Space Station (ISS), visit: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/main/index.html

Read more about Expedition 35: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/expeditions/expedition35/index.html

Images, Video, Text, Credits: NASA / NASA TV / ROSCOSMOS / ROSCOSMOS TV.

Best regards, Orbiter.ch

Expedition 34 Crew Heads Home













ROSCOSMOS - Soyuz TMA-06M Mission patch / ISS - Expedition 34 Mission patch.

March 15, 2013


Image above: Expedition 34 Soyuz Commander Oleg Novitskiy (center) says goodbye to the three station residents staying behind moments before closing the hatches. Credit: NASA TV.

Expedition 34 Commander Kevin Ford and Flight Engineers Evgeny Tarelkin and Oleg Novitskiy undocked from the International Space Station in the Soyuz TMA-06M spacecraft at 7:43 p.m. EDT Thursday, wrapping up 142 days aboard the orbiting outpost.

video
Expedition 34 Says Goodbye and Undocks

After performing a deorbit burn, the Soyuz will be on track for a scheduled 11:05 p.m. landing in the steppe of Kazakhstan, northeast of the remote town of Arkalyk, wrapping up 144 days in space for the three. The crew members bid farewell to one another and closed the hatches between the two spacecraft at 4:38 p.m.

NASA TV coverage of deorbit and landing begins at 9:45 p.m. and will continue until the crew is safely in the medical tent at the landing site.


Three members of the Expedition 34 crew pose for some photographs in their Sokol suits in the Destiny lab. Credit: NASA.

The undocking marks the end of Expedition 34 and the start of Expedition 35 under the command of Canadian Space Agency astronaut Chris Hadfield, who is scheduled to remain on the station with Flight Engineers Tom Marshburn and Roman Romanenko until May. Ford ceremonially handed command of the station over to Hadfield on Wednesday. Hadfield, Marshburn and Romanenko arrived at the station aboard the Soyuz TMA-07M spacecraft in December 2012.

Soyuz TMA-06M spacecraft docked at ISS. Credit: NASA TV

Watch the change of command ceremony: http://www.nasa.gov/multimedia/videogallery/index.html?media_id=160978461

Hadfield, Marshburn and Romanenko will remain aboard the orbiting complex as a three-person crew until the March 28 launch and docking of Expedition 35 Flight Engineers Chris Cassidy, Pavel Vinogradov and Alexander Misurkin.

Read more about Expedition 35: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/expeditions/expedition35/index.html

Images, Video, Text, Credits: NASA / NASA TV / ROSCOSMOS / ROSCOSMOS TV.

Cheers, Orbiter.ch

Panorama From NASA Mars Rover Shows Mount Sharp












NASA - Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) patch.

March 15, 2013


This mosaic of images from the Mast Camera (Mastcam) on NASA's Mars rover Curiosity shows Mount Sharp in a white-balanced color adjustment that makes the sky look overly blue but shows the terrain as if under Earth-like lighting. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS.

Rising above the present location of NASA's Mars rover Curiosity, higher than any mountain in the 48 contiguous states of the United States, Mount Sharp is featured in new imagery from the rover.

A pair of mosaics assembled from dozens of telephoto images shows Mount Sharp in dramatic detail. The component images were taken by the 100-millimeter-focal-length telephoto lens camera mounted on the right side of Curiosity's remote sensing mast, during the 45th Martian day of the rover's mission on Mars (Sept. 20, 2012).

This layered mound, also called Aeolis Mons, in the center of Gale Crater rises more than 3 miles (5 kilometers) above the crater floor location of Curiosity. Lower slopes of Mount Sharp remain a destination for the mission, though the rover will first spend many more weeks around a location called "Yellowknife Bay," where it has found evidence of a past environment favorable for microbial life.


This mosaic of images from the Mast Camera (Mastcam) on NASA's Mars rover Curiosity shows Mount Sharp in raw color as recorded by the camera. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS.

A version of the mosaic that has been white-balanced to show the terrain as if under Earthlike lighting, which makes the sky look overly blue, is at http://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/catalog/PIA16768 . White-balanced versions help scientists recognize rock materials based on their terrestrial experience. The Martian sky would look like more of a butterscotch color to the human eye. A version of the mosaic with raw color, as a typical smart-phone camera would show the scene, is at http://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/catalog/PIA16769 . The white-balanced and raw images are both available with pan and zoom functionality on GigaPan at http://www.gigapan.com/gigapans/125627 and http://www.gigapan.com/gigapans/125628, respectively.

In both versions, the sky has been filled out by extrapolating color and brightness information from the portions of the sky that were captured in images of the terrain.

NASA's Mars Science Laboratory project is using Curiosity and the rover's 10 science instruments to investigate environmental history within Gale Crater, a location where the project has found that conditions were long ago favorable for microbial life.

Mars Science Laboratory (MSL). Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Malin Space Science Systems, San Diego, built and operates the Mast Camera (Mastcam) instrument. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the Mars Science Laboratory mission for the NASA Science Mission Directorate, Washington, and built the rover.

For more information about the mission, visit http://www.nasa.gov/msl and http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/msl .

Follow the mission on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/marscuriosity and on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/marscuriosity .

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

Greetings, Orbiter.ch

jeudi 14 mars 2013

'Hot Spots' Ride a Merry-Go-Round on Jupiter












NASA / ESA - Cassini Mission to Saturn patch.

March 14, 2013

video
Jupiter's Hot Spots

NASA postdoctoral fellow David Choi discusses his study of dark features in Jupiter's atmosphere called "hot spots," and their connection to large-scale atmospheric waves. Video credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center and Cassini Mission Team, NASA JPL.

 In the swirling canopy of Jupiter's atmosphere, cloudless patches are so exceptional that the big ones get the special name "hot spots." Exactly how these clearings form and why they're only found near the planet’s equator have long been mysteries. Now, using images from NASA's Cassini spacecraft, scientists have found new evidence that hot spots in Jupiter's atmosphere are created by a Rossby wave, a pattern also seen in Earth's atmosphere and oceans. The team found the wave responsible for the hot spots glides up and down through layers of the atmosphere like a carousel horse on a merry-go-round.

"This is the first time anybody has closely tracked the shape of multiple hot spots over a period of time, which is the best way to appreciate the dynamic nature of these features," said the study's lead author, David Choi, a NASA Postdoctoral Fellow working at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. The paper is published online in the April issue of the journal Icarus.

Choi and his colleagues made time-lapse movies from hundreds of observations taken by Cassini during its flyby of Jupiter in late 2000, when the spacecraft made its closest approach to the planet. The movies zoom in on a line of hot spots between one of Jupiter's dark belts and bright white zones, roughly 7 degrees north of the equator. Covering about two months (in Earth time), the study examines the daily and weekly changes in the sizes and shapes of the hot spots, each of which covers more area than North America, on average.


The dark hot spot in this false-color image from NASA's Cassini spacecraft is a window deep into Jupiter's atmosphere. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI/GSFC.

Much of what scientists know about hot spots came from NASA's Galileo mission, which released an atmospheric probe that descended into a hot spot in 1995. This was the first, and so far only, in-situ investigation of Jupiter’s atmosphere.

"Galileo's probe data and a handful of orbiter images hinted at the complex winds swirling around and through these hot spots, and raised questions about whether they fundamentally were waves, cyclones or something in between," said Ashwin Vasavada, a paper co-author who is based at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., and who was a member of the Cassini imaging team during the Jupiter flyby. "Cassini's fantastic movies now show the entire life cycle and evolution of hot spots in great detail."

Because hot spots are breaks in the clouds, they provide windows into a normally unseen layer of Jupiter's atmosphere, possibly all the way down to the level where water clouds can form. In pictures, hot spots appear shadowy, but because the deeper layers are warmer, hot spots are very bright at the infrared wavelengths where heat is sensed; in fact, this is how they got their name.


In this series of images from NASA's Cassini spacecraft, a dark, rectangular hot spot (top) interacts with a line of vortices that approaches from on the upper-right side (second panel). The interaction distorts the shape of the hot spot (third panel), leaving it diminished (bottom). Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI/GSFC.

One hypothesis is that hot spots occur when big drafts of air sink in the atmosphere and get heated or dried out in the process. But the surprising regularity of hot spots has led some researchers to suspect there is an atmospheric wave involved. Typically, eight to 10 hot spots line up, roughly evenly spaced, with dense white plumes of cloud in between. This pattern could be explained by a wave that pushes cold air down, breaking up any clouds, and then carries warm air up, causing the heavy cloud cover seen in the plumes. Computer modeling has strengthened this line of reasoning.

From the Cassini movies, the researchers mapped the winds in and around each hot spot and plume, and examined interactions with vortices that pass by, in addition to wind gyres, or spiraling vortices, that merge with the hot spots. To separate these motions from the jet stream in which the hot spots reside, the scientists also tracked the movements of small "scooter" clouds, similar to cirrus clouds on Earth. This provided what may be the first direct measurement of the true wind speed of the jet stream, which was clocked at about 300 to 450 mph (500 to 720 kilometers per hour) -- much faster than anyone previously thought. The hot spots amble at the more leisurely pace of about 225 mph (362 kilometers per hour).

By teasing out these individual movements, the researchers saw that the motions of the hot spots fit the pattern of a Rossby wave in the atmosphere. On Earth, Rossby waves play a major role in weather. For example, when a blast of frigid Arctic air suddenly dips down and freezes Florida's crops, a Rossby wave is interacting with the polar jet stream and sending it off its typical course. The wave travels around our planet but periodically wanders north and south as it goes.

The wave responsible for the hot spots also circles the planet west to east, but instead of wandering north and south, it glides up and down in the atmosphere. The researchers estimate this wave may rise and fall 15 to 30 miles (24 to 50 kilometers) in altitude.

 Cassini Jupiter flyby. Image credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech

The new findings should help researchers understand how well the observations returned by the Galileo probe extend to the rest of Jupiter's atmosphere. "And that is another step in answering more of the questions that still surround hot spots on Jupiter," said Choi.

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency, and the Italian Space Agency. The mission is managed by JPL for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington.

For more information on Cassini, visit http://www.nasa.gov/cassini and http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov and http://www.esa.int/Our_Activities/Space_Science/Cassini-Huygens

Images (mentioned), Video (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center / Elizabeth Zubritsky / JPL / Jia-Rui Cook.

Best regards, Orbiter.ch

NASA’s SDO Observes Earth, Lunar Transits in Same Day












NASA - Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) patch.

March 14, 2013


Left: The view of the sun is partially obscured by Earth as seen by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory on Mar. 11, 2013, at 2:20 a.m. EDT. Credit: NASA/SDO.


Right: This image from NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory on Mar. 11, 2013, at 8:00 a.m. EDT, shows the moon crossing in front of the sun. Credit: NASA/SDO.

On March 2, 2013, NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) entered its semiannual eclipse season, a period of three weeks when Earth blocks its view of the sun for a period of time each day. On March 11, however, SDO was treated to two transits. Earth blocked SDO’s view of the sun from about 2:15 to 3:45 a.m. EDT. Later in the same day, from around 7:30 to 8:45 a.m. EDT, the moon moved in front of the sun for a partial eclipse.

When Earth blocks the sun, the boundaries of Earth’s shadow appear fuzzy, since SDO can see some light from the sun coming through Earth’s atmosphere. The line of Earth appears almost straight, since Earth -- from SDO’s point of view -- is so large compared to the sun.

The eclipse caused by the moon looks far different. Since the moon has no atmosphere, its curved shape can be seen clearly, and the line of its shadow is crisp and clean. Any spacecraft observing the sun from an orbit around Earth has to contend with such eclipses, but SDO's orbit is designed to minimize them as much as possible, with only two three-week eclipse seasons each year. The 2013 spring eclipse season continues until March 26. The fall season will begin on Sept. 2.

For more information about SDO, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/sdo/main/index.html

Images (mentioned), Text, Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center / Karen C. Fox.

Cheers, Orbiter.ch

Sun Spits Out Two CMEs












NASA / ESA - SOHO Mission patch.

March 14, 2013


ESA and NASA’s Solar Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) captured this image of a coronal mass ejection bursting off the leftside of the image at 9:25 p.m. EDT on March 12, 2013. This sun itself is obscured in this image, called a coronagraph, in order to better see the dimmer structures around it. Credit: ESA&NASA/SOHO.

The sun recently erupted with two coronal mass ejections (CMEs). One began at 8:36 p.m. EDT on March 12, 2013 and is directed toward three NASA spacecraft, Spitzer, Kepler and Epoxi. There is, however, no particle radiation associated with this event, which is what would normally concern operators of interplanetary spacecraft since the particles can trip computer electronics on board. A second CME began at 6:54 a.m. EDT on March 13, 2013 and its flank may pass by Earth at a speed that does not typically have a significant impact at Earth.

Experimental NASA research models, based on observations from the Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory (STEREO) and ESA/NASA’s Solar and Heliospheric Observatory, indicate that both CMEs left the sun at around 400 miles per second, which is a fairly typical speed for CMEs.

Not to be confused with a solar flare, a CME is a solar phenomenon that can send solar particles into space and reach Earth one to three days later.

Earth-directed CMEs can cause a space weather phenomenon called a geomagnetic storm, which occurs when they connect with the outside of Earth's magnetic envelope, the magnetosphere, for an extended period of time. In the past, geomagnetic storms from CMEs of this speed are usually mild. CMEs such as this have caused auroras near the poles but are unlikely to disrupt electrical systems on Earth or interfere with GPS or satellite-based communications systems.

NOAA's Space Weather Prediction Center (http://swpc.noaa.gov) is the United States Government official source for space weather forecasts, alerts, watches and warnings. Updates will be provided if needed.

What is a CME?

For answers to this and other space weather questions, please visit the Spaceweather Frequently Asked Questions page: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/sunearth/spaceweather/index.html

Related Link:

View Past Solar Activity: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/sunearth/multimedia/Solar-Events.html

Image (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center / Karen C. Fox.

Greetings, Orbiter.ch

New results indicate that new particle is a Higgs boson












CERN - European Organization for Nuclear Research logo

March 14, 2013

At the Moriond Conference today, the ATLAS and CMS collaborations at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) presented preliminary new results that further elucidate the particle discovered last year. Having analysed two and a half times more data than was available for the discovery announcement in July, they find that the new particle is looking more and more like a Higgs boson, the particle linked to the mechanism that gives mass to elementary particles. It remains an open question, however, whether this is the Higgs boson of the Standard Model of particle physics, or possibly the lightest of several bosons predicted in some theories that go beyond the Standard Model. Finding the answer to this question will take time.

Higgs boson particle discovered in the CMS experiment at the LHC

Whether or not it is a Higgs boson is demonstrated by how it interacts with other particles, and its quantum properties. For example, a Higgs boson is postulated to have no spin, and in the Standard Model its parity – a measure of how its mirror image behaves – should be positive. CMS and ATLAS have compared a number of options for the spin-parity of this particle, and these all prefer no spin and positive parity. This, coupled with the measured interactions of the new particle with other particles, strongly indicates that it is a Higgs boson.

CERN - ATLAS control room

“The preliminary results with the full 2012 data set are magnificent and to me it is clear that we are dealing with a Higgs boson though we still have a long way to go to know what kind of Higgs boson it is,” says CMS spokesperson Joe Incandela.

"The beautiful new results represent a huge effort by many dedicated people. They point to the new particle having the spin-parity of a Higgs boson as in the Standard Model. We are now well started on the measurement programme in the Higgs sector," says ATLAS spokesperson Dave Charlton.

video
Higgs Boson particle, a key drop in the universal bucket

To determine if this is the Standard Model Higgs boson, the collaborations have, for example, to measure precisely the rate at which the boson decays into other particles and compare the results to the predictions. The detection of the boson is a very rare event – it takes around 1 trillion (1012) proton-proton collisions for each observed event. To characterize all of the decay modes will require much more data from the LHC.

ATLAS releases animated particle plots

video
Higgs - ZZ fixed scale

video
Higgs - 2 photon fixed scale

Videos above: The ATLAS collaboration has just released four animations showing how signals of new particles can emerge from LHC collision data (both are shown above): http://www.atlas.ch/photos/plots.html

Note:

CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, is the world's leading laboratory for particle physics. It has its headquarters in Geneva. At present, its Member States are Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. Romania is a candidate for accession. Israel is an Associate Member in the pre-stage to Membership. India, Japan, the Russian Federation, the United States of America, Turkey, the European Commission and UNESCO have Observer status.

Related links:

Moriond Conference: http://moriond.in2p3.fr/

ATLAS: http://home.web.cern.ch/about/experiments/atlas

ATLAS releases animated particle plots: http://home.web.cern.ch/about/updates/2013/03/atlas-releases-animated-particle-plots

CMS: http://home.web.cern.ch/about/experiments/cms

Large Hadron Collider (LHC): http://home.web.cern.ch/about/accelerators/large-hadron-collider

Images, Videos, Text, Credit: CERN.

Best regards, Orbiter.ch

ExoMars: ESA and Roscosmos set for Mars missions‏







ESA / ROSCOSMOS - ExoMars Mission logo.

14 March 2013

ESA and the Russian federal space agency, Roscosmos, have signed a formal agreement to work in partnership on the ExoMars programme towards the launch of two missions in 2016 and 2018.

Establishing whether life ever existed on Mars is one of the outstanding scientific questions of our time and the highest scientific priority of the ExoMars programme.

The partners have agreed a balanced sharing of responsibilities for the different mission elements. ESA will provide the Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) and the Entry, Descent and Landing Demonstrator Module (EDM) in 2016, and the carrier and rover in 2018.

Signing partnership agreement for ExoMars

Roscosmos will be responsible for the 2018 descent module and surface platform, and will provide launchers for both missions. Both partners will supply scientific instruments and will cooperate closely in the scientific exploitation of the missions.

ExoMars will also demonstrate core technologies under development by European industry such as landing, roving, drilling and sample preparation that are an essential part of paving the way for the next big step in the robotic exploration of Mars: a sample-return mission.

The 2016 mission has two major ESA elements: TGO and EDM. TGO will search for evidence of methane and other atmospheric gases that could be signatures of active biological or geological processes. It will also serve as a data relay for the 2018 mission. EDM will land on Mars to prove key technologies for the 2018 mission.

Trace Gas Orbiter

In 2018, the ExoMars rover, to be provided by ESA, will search the planet’s surface for signs of life, past and present. It will be the first Mars rover able to drill to depths of 2 m, collecting samples that have been shielded from the harsh conditions of the surface, where radiation and oxidants can destroy organic materials.

The rover will be delivered by a Russian descent module that includes a surface platform equipped with additional scientific instruments.

Today, ESA Director General Jean-Jacques Dordain and Head of Roscosmos Vladimir Popovkin met at ESA Headquarters in Paris to sign an agreement that seals ExoMars as a partnership between the two space agencies.

Signing partnership agreement for ExoMars

“This is a momentous occasion for the ExoMars programme that will see industry and scientists from Europe and Russia working together on these two exciting missions, which will develop new technologies that will demonstrate the competitiveness of European industry, be important for preparing a solid participation of ESA in future international exploration missions and address the key question of whether life ever arose on Mars,” says Jean-Jacques Dordain.

“It has been a long way, we have performed a large amount of work together. The ExoMars programme is to become the second large project after Soyuz in Kourou,” says Vladimir Popovkin.

“It confirms again that projects of such tremendous scale have to be implemented through international cooperation. The scientific data that we are going to obtain during all the planned missions are important for the worldwide community.”

ExoMars rover

NASA will also deliver important contributions to ExoMars, including the Electra UHF radio package for TGO, and Mars Proximity Link telecom and engineering support to EDM.

Today’s signature between ESA and Roscosmos provides the basis for industry and scientific institutes to begin full cooperation on the missions and to meet the challenging schedule, with the first launch planned in January 2016.

Related link:

Robotic exploration of Mars: http://exploration.esa.int/science-e/www/area/index.cfm?fareaid=118

ROSCOSMOS Press release (in Russian): http://www.federalspace.ru/main.php?id=2&nid=19951

Images, Text, Credit: ESA.

Greetings, Orbiter.ch

mercredi 13 mars 2013

Swiss Space Systems unveils small reusable satellite launch system












Swiss Space Systems (S-3) logo.

March 13, 2013

A Swiss company, Swiss Space Systems (S-3), has released plans for a reusable small satellite launch system, with a first launch planned in 2017.

VEHRA on S-3 Airbus A300

The launch system entails involves air-launching a reusable lifting body-like launch vehicle off the top of an Airbus A300, which will in turn release a disposable third stage. Though crucial details are immediately unavailable as of press time, the launch system is closely based off Dassault's airborne reusable hypersonic vehicle (VEHRA) concept, which the company has been proposing for several years without takers.

Reusable hypersonic vehicle (VEHRA) concept

The S-3 system will launch up to 250kg (551lb) into low Earth orbit. The company intends to build and flight test a mockup of the second stage in 2014, with a flight-ready spacecraft under assembly by 2016, for a 2017 launch. Budget, funded in part so far is unscrewed to 225 million francs and the first flights planned for 2017 already at the start of a new "Spaceport" at the airport in Payerne.

video
Project Swiss Space Systems (S-3)

A deal with Spaceport Malaysia was signed on the same day as the launch vehicle's public unveiling. The company is associated with a number of notable people within the spaceflight industry, the European Space Agency (ESA) is a partner in this project, including Switzerland's first astronaut, Claude Nicollier.

For more information about Swiss Space Systems (S-3), visit: http://www.s-3.ch/

Images, Video, Text, Credits: Swiss Space Systems (S-3) / Orbiter.ch Aerospace.

Best regards, Orbiter.ch

Herschel gets to the bottom of black-hole jets










ESA / NASA - Herschel  Exploring the Cold Universe patch.

13 Mar 2013

Astronomers using ESA's Herschel space observatory have detected emission from the base of black-hole jets for the first time. While studying the black-hole binary system GX 339-4 in a multi-wavelength observation campaign, they noticed changes in the source's X-ray and radio emissions signalling the onset of powerful jets being released from the black hole's vicinity. This prompted the astronomers to observe the source at far-infrared wavelengths with Herschel. As the first observation of emission from jets in a black-hole binary system at these wavelengths, the data have allowed the astronomers to probe the jets down to their base, where the far-infrared emission originates. Herschel's contribution to the multi-wavelength observations has proved a crucial addition to the understanding of black-hole jets and of the physical processes that take place very close to a black hole.

When black holes – the densest objects in the Universe – accrete matter from their surroundings, they also trigger the release of powerful jets of highly-energetic particles that stem from the accretion disc into outer space. This phenomenon happens both at the stellar-mass black holes that derive from the death of massive stars and at the supermassive black holes lurking at the centre of massive galaxies. The physical mechanisms underlying the outburst of jets and their connection with the accretion process, however, are still unclear although astronomers have been studying them for decades, first via observations at radio wavelengths and, more recently, across the entire electromagnetic spectrum.

Artist's impression of the GX 339-4 black-hole binary system. Credit: ESA/ATG medialab

Stellar-mass black holes that are accreting mass from a companion star in a binary system are of great help to astronomers interested in the dynamics of jets. Since they are much smaller than their supermassive counterparts, stellar-mass black holes give rise to jets whose properties change on relatively short time scales – of the order of a few hours or days – providing astronomers with a great opportunity to study their evolution and, possibly, the ignition mechanisms that trigger the appearance of jets.

"One of the best-studied stellar-mass black holes is the one hosted in the binary system GX 339-4: we can monitor its evolution quite closely because the source gives rise to bright outbursts every couple of years," explains Stéphane Corbel from Laboratoire AIM, France. Corbel led a new study of this system based on far-infrared (FIR) data from ESA's Herschel Space Observatory, as well as on observations performed at X-ray, optical, near-infrared (NIR) and radio wavelengths.

"The multi-wavelength approach is essential for us to explore the vicinity of black holes, as different regions radiate at different wavelengths. Broadly speaking, the accretion disc shines most brightly in X-rays, whereas the jets emit mainly radio waves. But there is more: the base of the jets – closer to the black hole – emit light at shorter wavelengths than radio waves, up to the infrared: this is where Herschel's contribution proved crucial," Corbel adds.

While GX 339-4 has been studied extensively at radio, NIR, optical and X-ray wavelengths, astronomers had rarely observed it in the vast portion of the spectrum between radio and NIR wavelengths. In fact, until now hardly any data from any stellar-mass black hole had been collected in this broad wavelength range.

The astronomers requested to observe GX 339-4 with Herschel after they detected changes to its X-ray emission signalling that the outburst phase of this source, which had been going on for several months, was about to cease. Since timing was essential, the observations were performed under Director's Discretionary Time.

"We believe that black-hole binaries give rise to outbursts when enough material has piled up in the accretion disc: then, just like a dam that bursts because it can no longer hold any more water, the material is accreted onto the black hole, giving rise to an enormous increase of the source's emission at soft X-ray wavelengths," explains Corbel.


Image above: Herschel image of the GX 339-4 black-hole binary system. Credit: ESA/Herschel/PACS/S.Corbel et al.

 The outburst phase, also known as 'soft' state, is accompanied by the release of 'ballistic jets' – jets that are very bright at radio wavelengths, consist of multiple ejections and extend up to 10 000 Astronomical Units (AU). When the outburst is over and the source evolves to the so-called 'hard' state, the appearance of the jets changes: with weaker radio emission and an extent up to only about 10 AU, these are known as 'compact jets'.

"We had been monitoring GX 339-4's outburst across the electromagnetic spectrum for several months. When we saw that it was transitioning to a more quiescent state, we were extremely curious to see what would happen to the jets," says Corbel.

"It is the first time that we could witness the onset of compact jets and follow their evolution," he adds. "By combining radio observations with Herschel's FIR data, we could probe the jet emission down to the base, very close to the black hole."

The Herschel data confirmed the current view, based on radio observations, which explains the emission from jets as synchrotron radiation released by highly-energetic electrons. In particular, the most energetic electrons, present at the base of the jets, radiate at FIR wavelengths, whilst the lower-energy ones, which are more abundant at larger distances from the black hole, give rise to radio emission.

The new data, however, raise questions about what causes the emission detected at NIR and optical wavelengths; this emission is also associated with the jets but does not seem to have the same origin as the radio and FIR emission. Since the optical and NIR emission follows that at radio and FIR wavelengths, one of the possible explanations is that radio and FIR photons emitted in the jets are then reflected off the disc, gaining energy in the process and thus radiating at shorter wavelengths.

Herschel Space Telescope. Image credit: ESA

"With this result, Herschel has filled a long-standing gap in the monitoring of stellar-mass black-hole jets across the electromagnetic spectrum, bridging observations performed at radio and near-infrared wavelengths," comments Göran Pilbratt, Herschel Project Scientist at ESA. "This new view complements our current picture of these fascinating objects, while highlighting, at the same time, how their emission is even more complex than previously thought," he concludes.

Notes for editors:

The study presented here is based on observations of the black-hole binary system GX 339-4 performed at 70 and 160 microns with the Photodetector Array Camera and Spectrometer (PACS) on board ESA's Herschel Space Observatory. The data were gathered under Director's Discretionary Time on 25 February and 6 March 2011.

GX 339-4 is a binary system hosting a 7-solar-mass black hole that accretes mass from its companion, a low-mass star. The system is located at a distance of about 26 000 light years.

In this study, the Herschel observations were combined with data from a multi-wavelength campaign aimed at monitoring GX 339-4 across the electromagnetic spectrum; the team of astronomers used data from NASA's Rossi X-Ray Timing Explorer (RXTE) and Swift satellites to study the source's X-ray emission, from the SMARTS 1.3-m telescope at Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory, located in Chile, to observe the source at optical and near-infrared wavelengths, and the Australia Telescope Compact Array to study its radio emission.

Herschel is an ESA space observatory with science instruments provided by European-led Principal Investigator consortia and with important participation from NASA. The PACS instrument contains an imaging photometer (camera) and an imaging spectrometer. The camera operates in three bands centred on 70, 100, and 160 μm, respectively, and the spectrometer covers the wavelength range between 51 and 220 μm. PACS has been developed by a consortium of institutes led by MPE (Germany) and including UVIE (Austria); KU Leuven, CSL, IMEC (Belgium); CEA, LAM (France); MPIA (Germany); INAF-IFSI/OAA/OAP/OAT, LENS, SISSA (Italy); IAC (Spain). This development has been supported by the funding agencies BMVIT (Austria), ESA-PRODEX (Belgium), CEA/CNES (France), DLR (Germany), ASI/INAF (Italy), and CICYT/MCYT (Spain).

Related publications:

S. Corbel, et al., "Formation of the compact jets in the black hole GX 339-4", 2013, Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, in press.

For more information about Herschel, Visit: http://www.esa.int/Our_Activities/Space_Science/Herschel

Images (mentioned), Text, Credit: ESA.

Greetings, Orbiter.ch

mardi 12 mars 2013

NASA Rover Finds Conditions Once Suited for Ancient Life on Mars












NASA - Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) patch.

March 12, 2013


This set of images compares rocks seen by NASA's Opportunity rover and Curiosity rover at two different parts of Mars. On the left is " Wopmay" rock, in Endurance Crater, Meridiani Planum, as studied by the Opportunity rover. On the right are the rocks of the "Sheepbed" unit in Yellowknife Bay, in Gale Crater, as seen by Curiosity. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell/MSSS.

An analysis of a rock sample collected by NASA's Curiosity rover shows ancient Mars could have supported living microbes.

Scientists identified sulfur, nitrogen, hydrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and carbon -- some of the key chemical ingredients for life -- in the powder Curiosity drilled out of a sedimentary rock near an ancient stream bed in Gale Crater on the Red Planet last month.

Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) "Curiosity". Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

"A fundamental question for this mission is whether Mars could have supported a habitable environment," said Michael Meyer, lead scientist for NASA's Mars Exploration Program at the agency's headquarters in Washington. "From what we know now, the answer is yes."

Clues to this habitable environment come from data returned by the rover's Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) and Chemistry and Mineralogy (CheMin) instruments. The data indicate the Yellowknife Bay area the rover is exploring was the end of an ancient river system or an intermittently wet lake bed that could have provided chemical energy and other favorable conditions for microbes. The rock is made up of a fine-grained mudstone containing clay minerals, sulfate minerals and other chemicals. This ancient wet environment, unlike some others on Mars, was not harshly oxidizing, acidic or extremely salty.


This false-color map shows the area within Gale Crater on Mars, where NASA's Curiosity rover landed on Aug. 5, 2012 PDT (Aug. 6, 2012 EDT) and the location where Curiosity collected its first drilled sample at the "John Klein" rock. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS.

The patch of bedrock where Curiosity drilled for its first sample lies in an ancient network of stream channels descending from the rim of Gale Crater. The bedrock also is fine-grained mudstone and shows evidence of multiple periods of wet conditions, including nodules and veins.

Curiosity's drill collected the sample at a site just a few hundred yards away from where the rover earlier found an ancient streambed in September 2012.

"Clay minerals make up at least 20 percent of the composition of this sample," said David Blake, principal investigator for the CheMin instrument at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif.

These clay minerals are a product of the reaction of relatively fresh water with igneous minerals, such as olivine, also present in the sediment. The reaction could have taken place within the sedimentary deposit, during transport of the sediment, or in the source region of the sediment. The presence of calcium sulfate along with the clay suggests the soil is neutral or mildly alkaline.

Scientists were surprised to find a mixture of oxidized, less-oxidized, and even non-oxidized chemicals, providing an energy gradient of the sort many microbes on Earth exploit to live. This partial oxidation was first hinted at when the drill cuttings were revealed to be gray rather than red.

"The range of chemical ingredients we have identified in the sample is impressive, and it suggests pairings such as sulfates and sulfides that indicate a possible chemical energy source for micro-organisms," said Paul Mahaffy, principal investigator of the SAM suite of instruments at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.


This side-by-side comparison shows the X-ray diffraction patterns of two different samples collected from the Martian surface by NASA's Curiosity rover. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Ames.

An additional drilled sample will be used to help confirm these results for several of the trace gases analyzed by the SAM instrument.

"We have characterized a very ancient, but strangely new 'gray Mars' where conditions once were favorable for life," said John Grotzinger, Mars Science Laboratory project scientist at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, Calif. "Curiosity is on a mission of discovery and exploration, and as a team we feel there are many more exciting discoveries ahead of us in the months and years to come."

Scientists plan to work with Curiosity in the "Yellowknife Bay" area for many more weeks before beginning a long drive to Gale Crater's central mound, Mount Sharp. Investigating the stack of layers exposed on Mount Sharp, where clay minerals and sulfate minerals have been identified from orbit, may add information about the duration and diversity of habitable conditions.

NASA's Mars Science Laboratory Project has been using Curiosity to investigate whether an area within Mars' Gale Crater ever has offered an environment favorable for microbial life. Curiosity, carrying 10 science instruments, landed seven months ago to begin its two-year prime mission. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., manages the project for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

For more about the mission, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/msl and http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/msl/ . You can follow the mission on Facebook and Twitter at: http://www.facebook.com/marscuriosity and http://www.twitter.com/marscuriosity

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA / Dwayne Brown / JPL / DC Agle.

Best regards, Orbiter.ch

Closest Star System Found in a Century









NASA - Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) patch.

March 12, 2013

NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) has discovered a pair of stars that has taken over the title for the third-closest star system to the sun. The duo is the closest star system discovered since 1916.

Both stars in the new binary system are "brown dwarfs," which are stars that are too small in mass to ever become hot enough to ignite hydrogen fusion. As a result, they are very cool and dim, resembling a giant planet like Jupiter more than a bright star like the sun.

"The distance to this brown dwarf pair is 6.5 light-years -- so close that Earth's television transmissions from 2006 are now arriving there," said Kevin Luhman, an associate professor of astronomy and astrophysics at Penn State University, University Park, Pa., and a researcher in Penn State's Center for Exoplanets and Habitable Worlds.

"It will be an excellent hunting ground for planets because the system is very close to Earth, which makes it a lot easier to see any planets orbiting either of the brown dwarfs."


Image above: WISE J104915.57-531906 is at the center of the larger image, which was taken by the NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE). Image credit: NASA/JPL/Gemini Observatory/AURA/NSF.

The results will be published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters.

The star system is named "WISE J104915.57-531906" because it was discovered in an infrared map of the entire sky obtained by WISE. It is only slightly farther away than the second-closest star, Barnard's star, which was discovered 6 light-years from the sun in 1916. The closest star system consists of: Alpha Centauri, found to be a neighbor of the sun in 1839 at 4.4 light-years away, and the fainter Proxima Centauri, discovered in 1917 at 4.2 light-years.

Edward (Ned) Wright, the principal investigator for the WISE satellite at UCLA, said, "One major goal when proposing WISE was to find the closest stars to the sun. WISE J1049-5319 is by far the closest star found to date using the WISE data, and the close-up views of this binary system we can get with big telescopes like Gemini and the future James Webb Space Telescope will tell us a lot about the low-mass stars known as brown dwarfs."

The Gemini South telescope in Chile was also used in this study for follow-up observations.

Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE). Image credit: NASA/JPL

Read the full news release from Penn state at http://science.psu.edu/news-and-events/2013-news/Luhman3-2013 .

WISE completed its all-sky survey in 2011, after surveying the entire sky twice at infrared wavelengths. The maps have been released to the public, but an ongoing project called "AllWISE" will combine data from both sky scans. AllWISE will provide a systematic search across the sky for the nearby moving stars such as WISE J104915.57-531906, and also uncover fainter objects from the distant universe. Those data will be publicly available in late 2013.

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., manages, and operated, WISE for NASA's Science Mission Directorate. Edward Wright is the principal investigator and is at UCLA. The mission was selected competitively under NASA's Explorers Program managed by the agency's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. The science instrument was built by the Space Dynamics Laboratory in Logan, Utah. The spacecraft was built by Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. in Boulder, Colo. Science operations and data processing take place at the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. Caltech manages JPL for NASA.

More information is online at http://www.nasa.gov/wise and http://wise.astro.ucla.edu and http://jpl.nasa.gov/wise .

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA / JPL / Whitney Clavin.

Cheers, Orbiter.ch

Cassini Returns Images of Battered Saturn Moon












NASA / ESA - Cassini-Huygens Mission to Saturn & Titan patch.

March 12, 2013


This image was taken on March 10, 2013, and received on Earth March 10, 2013 by NASA's Cassini spacecraft. The camera was pointing toward Rhea at approximately 174,181 miles (280,317 kilometers) away, and the image was taken using the CL1 and CL2 filters. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute.

 Following its last close flyby of Saturn's moon Rhea, NASA's Cassini spacecraft captured these raw, unprocessed images of the battered icy moon. They show an ancient, cratered surface bearing the scars of collisions with many space rocks. Scientists are still trying to understand some of the curious features they see in these Rhea images, including a curving, narrow fracture or a graben, which is a block of ground lower than its surroundings and bordered by cliffs on either side. This feature looks remarkably recent, cutting most of the craters it crosses, with only a few small craters superimposed.


This image was taken on March 09, 2013, and received on Earth March 10, 2013, by NASA's Cassini spacecraft. The camera was pointing toward Rhea at approximately 1,727 miles (2,779 kilometers) away, and the image was taken using the CL1 and CL2 filters. This image has not been validated or calibrated. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute.

Cassini flew by Rhea at an altitude of 620 miles (997 kilometers) on March 9, 2013. This flyby was designed primarily for the radio science sub-system to measure Rhea's gravity field. During closest approach and while the radio science sub-system was measuring the icy satellite's gravity field, the imaging team rode along and captured 12 images of Rhea's rough and icy surface. Outbound from Rhea, Cassini's cameras captured a set of global images from a distance of about 167,000 miles (269,000 kilometers).

Data from Cassini's cosmic dust analyzer were also collected to try to detect any dusty debris flying off the surface from tiny meteoroid bombardments. These data will help scientists understand the rate at which "foreign" objects are raining into the Saturn system.


This image was taken on March 09, 2013, and received on Earth March 10, 2013, by NASA's Cassini spacecraft. The camera was pointing toward Rhea at approximately 2,348 miles (3,778 kilometers) away, and the image was taken using the CL1 and CL2 filters. This image has not been validated or calibrated. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute.

This was the mission's fourth close encounter with Rhea. The spacecraft will pass the moon, but at a much greater distance, in a few years.

Cassini spacecraft. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory manages the mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington, D.C. JPL is a division of Caltech. For more information on Cassini, visit http://www.nasa.gov/cassini and http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA / JPL / Jia-Rui Cook.

Greetings, Orbiter.ch