samedi 27 juillet 2013

Launch of ILV Soyuz-U with THC Progress M-20M

ROSCOSMOS - Russian Vehicles patch.


 52nd launch of  Progress cargo delivery ship to the International Space Station

July 28 at 00.45 Moscow time from the launch complex area 31 Baikonur starting calculations of rocket-space industry conducted a successful launch Vehicle (ILV) Soyuz-U to transport cargo vehicle (THC), Progress M-20M.


Video above: Progress 52 M-20M ISS resupply ship launches to ISS on Soyuz-U rocket.

After 529 seconds of flight THC Progress M-20M cleanly separated from the third stage rocket orbiting satellite.

Docking of THC with the International Space Station is scheduled for 06.27 MSK.

ROSCOSMOS Press Release:

Image, Video, Text, Credits: Press Service of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos PAO) / / Translation & screen capture: Aerospace.


vendredi 26 juillet 2013

Hubble Eyes a Mysterious Old Spiral

NASA - Hubble Space Telescope patch.

July 26, 2013

This striking cosmic whirl is the center of galaxy NGC 524, as seen with the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope. This galaxy is located in the constellation of Pisces, some 90 million light-years from Earth.

NGC 524 is a lenticular galaxy. Lenticular galaxies are believed to be an intermediate state in galactic evolution — they are neither elliptical nor spiral. Spirals are middle-aged galaxies with vast, pin wheeling arms that contain millions of stars. Along with these stars are large clouds of gas and dust that, when dense enough, are the nurseries where new stars are born. When all the gas is either depleted or lost into space, the arms gradually fade away and the spiral shape begins to weaken. At the end of this process, what remains is a lenticular galaxy — a bright disc full of old, red stars surrounded by what little gas and dust the galaxy has managed to cling on to.

This image shows the shape of NGC 524 in detail, formed by the remaining gas surrounding the galaxy’s central bulge. Observations of this galaxy have revealed that it maintains some spiral-like motion, explaining its intricate structure.

The Hubble Space Telescope is a cooperative project between NASA and the European Space Agency. NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., manages the telescope. The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore, Md., conducts Hubble science operations. STScI is operated by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy Inc., in Washington.

For more information about NASA / ESA Hubble Space Telescope: and

Image, Text, Credits:  ESA / Hubble & NASA, Acknowledgement: Judy Schmidt.


jeudi 25 juillet 2013

Progress M-18M in free flight

ROSCOSMOS - Russian Vehicles patch.


July 26, 2013 at 00.44 Moscow time on logistics vehicle (THC), Progress M-18M undocked from the docking module Pirs (DC1) of the Russian Segment (RS) of the International Space Station (ISS). In accordance with the autonomous flight of THC at 03.53 MSK is scheduled to begin a set from orbit for further flooding.

Progress M cargo spacecraft in free flight

Running THC Progress M-18M to the ISS using the carrier rocket Soyuz-U was carried out on February 11 this year After 6 hours TGC docked to the station. He delivered to the ISS more than 2,600 pounds of cargo. As a part of the space station truck spent 5 months and 14 days.

ROSCOSMOS Press Release:

Image, Text, Credits: Press Service of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos PAO)/ ROSCOSMOS/ NASA / Translation: Aerospace.


Arianespace launch VA214: Mission accomplished! Ariane 5 ECA orbits Alphasat and INSAT-3D

ESA / ARIANESPACE - Flight VA214 poster.

July 25, 2013

 Liftoff of Arianespace Flight VA214 from the Spaceport with Alphasat and INSAT-3D

On Thursday, July 25, Arianespace carried out the 56th successful Ariane 5 launch in a row, orbiting two satellites: the Alphasat mobile telecommunications satellite for the operator Inmarsat, and the INSAT-3D meteorological satellite for ISRO (Indian Space Research Organisation).

A European Ariane 5 rocket successfully lifted off her launch pad in Kourou, French Guiana today - 25th July 2013 at 19:54 UTC. The 17 story rocket successfully placed two payloads into orbit weighing a total of 9,760kg.

 Launch of Mighty Ariane 5 Rocket with Alphasat and Insat-3D

Third Ariane 5 launch in 2013, 56th success in a row

Today's successful mission, the 56th in a row for the European launcher, once again proves the reliability and availability of the Ariane 5 launch system. It also confirms that Arianespace continues to set the standard for guaranteed access to space for all operators, including national and international space agencies, private industry and governments.

Following the announcement of the orbital injection of the Alphasat and INSAT-3D satellites, Arianespace Chairman and CEO Stéphane Israël said: "The 70th launch of Ariane 5 confirms the unequaled reliability of our launcher, which clearly sets Arianespace apart. Ariane 5 launcher has just orbited the largest telecommunications satellite ever built in Europe for our customer Inmarsat, and I would like to thank them for their ongoing trust. This technological success is the result of an exemplary partnership between European industry, ESA and CNES. We also orbited a meteorology satellite for the Indian Space Research Organization, ISRO. I would like to express my thanks to ISRO for placing their trust in us for more than 30 years. Each of these satellites will drive progress in the management of crises and emergency situations, reflecting how systems up in space benefit citizens down on Earth. And this is all made possible by the reliability and availability of the launch solutions that Arianespace provides to all of our customers."

A launch for two long-standing customers, Inmarsat and ISRO

Arianespace provides the launch services that best match the requirements of all operators.

The long-standing relationship of mutual trust between Arianespace and Inmarsat reaches back to the launch of the first Inmarsat satellites. The British company has chosen Arianespace to launch eight of its satellites to date.


INSAT-3D is the 16th ISRO satellite launched by Ariane since the experimental satellite Apple, launched on Flight L03 in 1981.

Arianespace has also launched two other Indian-designed satellites, for the operators Eutelsat and Avanti Communications. ISRO's 17th satellite, the GSAT-7 telecommunications satellite, will be launched on Ariane 5's next mission, VA215, scheduled for August 29.

The collaboration between ISRO and Arianespace has been extended to include technological development aid for launcher operation.

Alphasat/INSAT-3D mission at a glance

The mission was carried out by an Ariane 5 ECA launcher from Europe's Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana. Liftoff was on Thursday, July 25, 2013 at 4:54 pm local time in Kourou (3:54 pm in Washington, D.C., 19:54 UT, 9:54 pm in Paris, and on Friday, July 26 at 1:24 am in Bangalore).


Alphasat was designed and built by Astrium and weighed 6,650 kg at liftoff. The Alphasat satellite is the result of a public-private partnership agreement between Inmarsat, the world's leading provider of mobile satellite services, and the European Space Agency (ESA), with support from French space agency CNES, to produce and launch the first satellite based on the new European platform, Alphabus, developed by Astrium and Thales Alenia Space. The platform is being used on this mission to deliver commercial services and provide in-orbit validation of the most advanced space communications technologies developed in Europe. Alphasat will deliver advanced voice and data transmission services across Europe, Africa and the Middle East, for both commercial and government customers.

INSAT-3D: designed, developed and integrated by ISRO in Bangalore, southern India, the INSAT-3D meteorological satellite weighed 2,200 kg at launch, and offers a design life exceeding seven years. INSAT-3D features a 6-channel imager, data relay transponders (DRT), sounder and a weather warning payload with a cyclone warning dissemination system (CWDS), activated during cyclone season, and a satellite-aided search and rescue (Sasar) system, which relays emergency messages to local terminals. Positioned at 82 degrees East, its coverage zone encompasses the entire Indian subcontinent.

For more information about ARIANESPACE, visit:

Images, Video, Text, Credits: ARIANESPACE / ARIANESPACE TV / Astrium / ISRO.

Best regards,

NASA's IRIS Telescope Offers First Glimpse of Sun's Mysterious Atmosphere

NASA - IRIS Mission patch.

July 25, 2013

Image above: These two images show a section of the sun as seen by NASA's Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph, or IRIS, on the right and NASA's SDO on the left. The IRIS image provides scientists with unprecedented detail of the lowest parts of the sun's atmosphere, known as the interface region. Image Credit: NASA/SDO/IRIS.

The moment when a telescope first opens its doors represents the culmination of years of work and planning -- while simultaneously laying the groundwork for a wealth of research and answers yet to come. It is a moment of excitement and perhaps even a little uncertainty. On July 17, 2013, the international team of scientists and engineers who supported and built NASA's Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph, or IRIS, all lived through that moment. As the spacecraft orbited around Earth, the door of the telescope opened to view the mysterious lowest layers of the sun's atmosphere and the results thus far are nothing short of amazing. The data is crisp and clear, showing unprecedented detail of this little-observed region.

"These beautiful images from IRIS are going to help us understand how the sun's lower atmosphere might power a host of events around the sun," said Adrian Daw, the mission scientist for IRIS at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. "Anytime you look at something in more detail than has ever been seen before, it opens up new doors to understanding. There's always that potential element of surprise."

As the telescope door opened on July 17, 2013, IRIS’s single instrument began to observe the sun in exceptional detail. IRIS’s first images showed a multitude of thin, fibril-like structures that have never been seen before, revealing enormous contrasts in density and temperature occur throughout this region even between neighboring loops that are only a few hundred miles apart. The images also show spots that rapidly brighten and dim, which provide clues to how energy is transported and absorbed throughout the region.

The IRIS images of fine structure in the interface region will help scientists track how magnetic energy contributes to heating in the sun’s atmosphere. Scientists need to observe the region in exquisite detail, because the energy flowing through it powers the upper layer of the sun’s atmosphere, the corona, to temperatures greater than 1 million kelvins (about 1.8 million F), almost a thousand times hotter than the sun's surface itself.

IRIS is a NASA Small Explorer mission that launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., on June 27, 2013. IRIS's capabilities are uniquely tailored to unravel the interface region. Understanding the interface region is important because it forms the ultraviolet emission that impacts near-Earth space and Earth’s climate. Energy traveling through the region also helps drive the solar wind, which during extreme space weather events near Earth can affect satellites, power grids, and global positioning systems, or GPS.

NASA's Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph (IRIS). Credit: NASA

Designed to research the interface region in more detail than has ever been done before, IRIS's instrument is a combination of an ultraviolet telescope and what's called a spectrograph. Light from the telescope is split into two components. The first provides high-resolution images, capturing data on about one percent of the sun at a time. While these are relatively small snapshots, the images can resolve very fine features, as small as 150 miles across.

While the images are of one wavelength of light at a time, the second component is the spectrograph that provides information about many wavelengths of light at once. The instrument splits the sun's light into its various wavelengths and measures how much of any given wavelength is present. This information is then portrayed on a graph showing spectral "lines." Taller lines correspond to wavelengths in which the sun emits relatively more light. Analysis of the spectral lines can also provide velocity, temperature and density, key information when trying to track how energy and heat moves through the region.

"The quality of images and spectra we are receiving from IRIS is amazing. This is just what we were hoping for," said Alan Title, IRIS principal investigator at the Lockheed Martin Advanced Technology Center Solar and Astrophysics Laboratory in Palo Alto, Calif. "There is much work ahead to understand what we're seeing, but the quality of the data will enable us to do that."

Not only does IRIS provide state-of-the-art observations to look at the interface region, it makes uses of advanced computing to help interpret what it sees. Indeed, interpreting the light flowing out of the interface region could not be done well prior to the advent of today's supercomputers because, in this area of the sun, the transfer and conversion of energy from one form to another is not understood.

The IRIS mission has long-term implications for understanding the genesis of space weather near Earth. Understanding how energy and solar material move through the interface region could help scientists improve forecasts for the kinds of events that can disrupt Earth technologies.

The IRIS Observatory was designed and the mission managed by Lockheed Martin. The Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Mass., built the telescope. Montana State University in Bozeman, Mont. designed the spectrograph. NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., provides mission operations and ground data systems. Goddard manages the Small Explorer Program for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington, D.C. The Norwegian Space Centre is providing regular downlinks of science data. Other contributors include the University of Oslo in Norway and Stanford University in Stanford, Calif.

For more information about the IRIS mission, visit:

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

Best regards,

NASA's Van Allen Probes Discover Particle Accelerator in the Heart of Earth’s Radiation Belts

NASA - Van Allen Probes Mission patch.

July 25, 2013

Image above: Recent observations by NASA’s twin Van Allen Probes show that particles in the radiation belts surrounding Earth are accelerated by a local kick of energy, helping to explain how these particles reach speeds of 99 percent the speed of light. Image Credit: G. Reeves/M. Henderson.

Scientists have discovered a massive particle accelerator in the heart of one of the harshest regions of near-Earth space, a region of super-energetic, charged particles surrounding the globe called the Van Allen radiation belts. Scientists knew that something in space accelerated particles in the radiation belts to more than 99 percent the speed of light but they didn't know what that something was. New results from NASA's Van Allen Probes now show that the acceleration energy comes from within the belts themselves. Particles inside the belts are sped up by local kicks of energy, buffeting the particles to ever faster speeds, much like a perfectly timed push on a moving swing.

The discovery that the particles are accelerated by a local energy source is akin to the discovery that hurricanes grow from a local energy source, such as a region of warm ocean water. In the case of the radiation belts, the source is a region of intense electromagnetic waves, tapping energy from other particles located in the same region. Knowing the location of the acceleration will help scientists improve space weather predictions, because changes in the radiation belts can be risky for satellites near Earth. The results were published in Science magazine on July 25, 2013.

In order for scientists to understand the belts better, the Van Allen Probes were designed to fly straight through this intense area of space. When the mission launched in August 2012, it had top-level goals to understand how particles in the belts are accelerated to ultra-high energies, and how the particles can sometimes escape. By determining that this superfast acceleration comes from these local kicks of energy, as opposed to a more global process, scientists have been able to definitively answer one of those important questions for the first time.

"This is one of the most highly anticipated and exciting results from the Van Allen Probes," said David Sibeck, Van Allen Probes project scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. "It goes to the heart of why we launched the mission."

The radiation belts were discovered upon the launch of the very first successful U.S. satellites sent into space, Explorers I and III. It was quickly realized that the belts were some of the most hazardous environments a spacecraft can experience. Most satellite orbits are chosen to duck below the radiation belts or circle outside of them, and some satellites, such as GPS spacecraft, must operate between the two belts. When the belts swell due to incoming space weather, they can encompass these spacecraft, exposing them to dangerous radiation. Indeed, a significant number of permanent failures on spacecraft have been caused by radiation. With enough warning, we can protect technology from the worst consequences, but such warning can only be achieved if we truly understand the dynamics of what's happening inside these mysterious belts.

"Until the 1990s, we thought that the Van Allen belts were pretty well-behaved and changed slowly," said Geoff Reeves, the first author on the paper and a radiation belt scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory in Los Alamos, N.M. "With more and more measurements, however, we realized how quickly and unpredictably the radiation belts changed. They are basically never in equilibrium, but in a constant state of change."

In fact, scientists realized that the belts don't even change consistently in response to what seem to be similar stimuli. Some solar storms caused the belts to intensify; others caused the belts to be depleted, and some seemed to have almost no effect at all. Such disparate effects from apparently similar events suggested that this region is much more mysterious than previously thought. To understand – and eventually predict – which solar storms will intensify the radiation belts, scientists want to know where the energy that accelerates the particles comes from.

The twin Van Allen Probes were designed to distinguish between two broad possibilities on what processes accelerate the particles to such amazing speeds: radial acceleration or local acceleration. In radial acceleration, particles are transported perpendicular to the magnetic fields that surround Earth, from areas of low magnetic strength far from Earth to areas of high magnetic strength nearer Earth. The laws of physics dictate that the particle speeds in this scenario will speed up when the magnetic field strength increases. So the speed would increase as the particles move toward Earth, much the way a rock rolling down hill gathers speed simply due to gravity. The local acceleration theory posits that the particles gain energy from a local energy source more similar to the way hot ocean water spawns a hurricane above it.

image above: Two swaths of particles surrounding Earth called the radiation belts are one of the greatest natural accelerators in the solar system, able to push particles up to 99% the speed of light. The Van Allen Probes launched in August 2012, have now discovered mechanisms behind this acceleration. Image Credit: NASA/Goddard /Scientific Visualization Studio.

To help distinguish between these possibilities, the Van Allen Probes consist of two spacecraft. With two sets of observations, scientists can measure the particles and energy sources in two regions of space simultaneously, which is crucial to distinguish between causes that occur locally or come from far away. Also, each spacecraft is equipped with sensors to measure particle energy and position and determine pitch angle – that is, the angle of movement with respect to Earth's magnetic fields. All of these will change in different ways depending on the forces acting on them, thus helping scientists distinguish between the theories.

Equipped with such data, Reeves and his team observed a rapid energy increase of high-energy electrons in the radiation belts on Oct. 9, 2012. If the acceleration of these electrons was occurring due to radial transport, one would measure effects starting first far from Earth and moving inward due to the very shape and strength of the surrounding fields. In such a scenario, particles moving across magnetic fields naturally jump from one to the next in a similar cascade, gathering speed and energy along the way – correlating to that scenario of rocks rolling down a hill.

But the observations didn't show an intensification that formed further away from Earth and gradually moved inward. Instead they showed an increase in energy that started right in the middle of the radiation belts and gradually spread both inward and outward, implying a local acceleration source.

"In this particular case, all of the acceleration took place in about 12 hours," said Reeves. "With previous measurements, a satellite might have only been able to fly through such an event once, and not get a chance to witness the changes actually happening. With the Van Allen Probes we have two satellites and so can observe how things change and where those changes start."

Scientists believe these new results will lead to better predictions of the complex chain of events that intensify the radiation belts to levels that can disable satellites. While the work shows that the local energy comes from electromagnetic waves coursing through the belts, it is not known exactly which such waves might be the cause. During the set of observations described in the paper, the Van Allen Probes observed a specific kind of wave called chorus waves at the same time as the particles were accelerated, but more work must be done to determine cause and effect.

"This paper helps differentiate between two broad solutions," said Sibeck. "This shows that the acceleration can happen locally. Now the scientists who study waves and magnetic fields will jump in to do their job, and find out what wave provided the push."

Luckily, such a task will also be helped along by the Van Allen Probes, which were also carefully designed to measure and distinguish between the numerous types of electromagnetic waves.

“When scientists designed the mission and the instrumentation on the probes, they looked at the scientific unknowns and said, ‘This is a great chance to unlock some fundamental knowledge about how particles are accelerated,’” said Nicola J. Fox, deputy project scientist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md. “With five identical suites of instruments on board twin spacecraft – each with a broad range of particle and field and wave detection – we have the best platform ever created to better understand this critical region of space above Earth.”

The Applied Physics Laboratory built and operates the twin Van Allen Probes for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. The Van Allen Probes comprise the second mission in NASA's Living With a Star program, managed by Goddard, to explore aspects of the connected sun-Earth system that directly affect life and society.

For more information about the Van Allen probes, visit:

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


NASA's WISE Finds Mysterious Centaurs May Be Comets

NASA - WISE Mission patch.

July 25, 2013

 NEOWISE Eyes the Enigmatic Centaurs

Image above: This artist's concept shows a Centaur creature together with asteroids on the left and comets at right. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

The true identity of centaurs, the small celestial bodies orbiting the sun between Jupiter and Neptune, is one of the enduring mysteries of astrophysics. Are they asteroids or comets? A new study of observations from NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) finds most centaurs are comets.

Until now, astronomers were not certain whether centaurs are asteroids flung out from the inner solar system or comets traveling in toward the sun from afar. Because of their dual nature, they take their name from the creature in Greek mythology whose head and torso are human and legs are those of a horse.

"Just like the mythical creatures, the centaur objects seem to have a double life," said James Bauer of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. Bauer is lead author of a paper published online July 22 in the Astrophysical Journal. "Our data point to a cometary origin for most of the objects, suggesting they are coming from deeper out in the solar system."

"Cometary origin" means an object likely is made from the same material as a comet, may have been an active comet in the past, and may be active again in the future.

The findings come from the largest infrared survey to date of centaurs and their more distant cousins, called scattered disk objects. NEOWISE, the asteroid-hunting portion of the WISE mission, gathered infrared images of 52 centaurs and scattered disk objects. Fifteen of the 52 are new discoveries. Centaurs and scattered disk objects orbit in an unstable belt. Ultimately, gravity from the giant planets will fling them either closer to the sun or farther away from their current locations.

Although astronomers previously observed some centaurs with dusty halos, a common feature of outgassing comets, and NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope also found some evidence for comets in the group, they had not been able to estimate the numbers of comets and asteroids.

NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer.. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Infrared data from NEOWISE provided information on the objects' albedos, or reflectivity, to help astronomers sort the population. NEOWISE can tell whether a centaur has a matte and dark surface or a shiny one that reflects more light. The puzzle pieces fell into place when astronomers combined the albedo information with what was already known about the colors of the objects. Visible-light observations have shown centaurs generally to be either blue-gray or reddish in hue. A blue-gray object could be an asteroid or comet. NEOWISE showed that most of the blue-gray objects are dark, a telltale sign of comets. A reddish object is more likely to be an asteroid.

"Comets have a dark, soot-like coating on their icy surfaces, making them darker than most asteroids," said the study's co-author, Tommy Grav of the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson, Ariz. "Comet surfaces tend to be more like charcoal, while asteroids are usually shinier like the moon."

The results indicate that roughly two-thirds of the centaur population are comets, which come from the frigid outer reaches of our solar system. It is not clear whether the rest are asteroids. The centaur bodies have not lost their mystique entirely, but future research from NEOWISE may reveal their secrets further.

The paper is available online at: .

JPL, managed by the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, managed and operated WISE for NASA's Science Mission Directorate. The NEOWISE portion of the project was funded by NASA's Near Earth Object Observation Program. WISE completed its key mission objective, two scans of the entire sky, in 2011 and has been hibernating in space since then.

For more information about the WISE mission, visit: .

Images (mentioned), Text, Credit: NASA / J.D. Harrington / JPL / Whitney Clavin.


mercredi 24 juillet 2013

Curiosity Mars Rover Gleams in View from Orbiter

NASA - Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) patch.

July 24, 2013

 View From Mars Orbiter Showing Curiosity Rover at 'Shaler' (click for enlarge)

Image above: NASA's Mars Science Laboratory rover Curiosity appears as a bluish dot near the lower right corner of this enhanced-color view from the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona.

An image from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter released today shows NASA's Curiosity Mars rover and the wheel tracks from its landing site to the "Glenelg" area where the rover worked for the first half of 2013.

The image is available at .

The orbiter's High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera captured the scene on June 27, 2013, with the orbiter rolled for an eastward-looking angle rather than straight downward. The afternoon sun illuminated the scene from the western sky, so the lighting was nearly behind the camera. This geometry hides shadows and reveals subtle color variations.

Curiosity that day was examining an outcrop called "Shaler," the rover mission's final science target in the Glenelg area before commencing a many-month trek southwestward to an entry point for the lower layers of Mount Sharp. The rover appears as a bright blue spot in the enhanced coloring of the image.

NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The image shows two scour marks at the Bradbury Landing site where the Mars Science Laboratory mission's skycrane landing system placed Curiosity onto the ground on Aug. 6, 2012, EDT and Universal Time (Aug. 5, PDT). The scour marks are where the landing system's rockets cleared away reddish surface dust. Visible tracks commencing at the landing site show the path the rover traveled eastward to Glenelg.

HiRISE is operated by the University of Arizona, Tucson. The instrument was built by Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp., Boulder, Colo. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, manages the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Project and Mars Science Laboratory Project for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington.

For more information about the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, visit .  For more information about Curiosity, visit and .

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


Curiosity Makes Its Longest One-Day Drive on Mars

NASA - Mars Science Laboratory patch.

July 24, 2013

Image above: The Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) camera on NASA's Curiosity rover is carried at an angle when the rover's arm is stowed for driving. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS.

NASA's Mars rover Curiosity drove twice as far on July 21 as on any other day of the mission so far: 109.7 yards (100.3 meters).

The length of the drive took advantage of starting the 340th Martian day, or sol, of the mission from a location with an unusually good view for rover engineers to plan a safe path. In weeks to come, the rover team plans to begin using "autonav" capability for the rover to autonomously navigate a path for itself, which could make such long drives more frequent.

Curiosity is about three weeks into a multi-month trek, from the "Glenelg" area where it worked for the first half of 2013, to an entry point for the mission's major destination: the lower layers of Mount Sharp. The mission's longest one-day drive prior to July 21 was about 54 yards (49 meters), on Sol 50 (Sept. 26, 2012). After completing the longer drive, Curiosity drove 68.2 yards (62.4 meters) on July 23 (Sol 342), bringing the mission's total driving distance so far to 0.81 mile (1.23 kilometers).

The Sol 340 drive included three segments, with turns at the end of the first and second segments. Rover planners used information from stereo imaging by the Navigation Camera (Navcam) on Curiosity's mast, plus images from the telephoto-lens Mast Camera (Mastcam).  The drive also used the rover's capability to use imagery taken during the drive to calculate the driving distance, a way to verify that wheels have not been slipping too much while turning.

"What enabled us to drive so far on Sol 340 was starting at a high point and also having Mastcam images giving us the size of rocks so we could be sure they were not hazards," said rover planner Paolo Bellutta of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. “We could see for quite a distance, but there was an area straight ahead that was not clearly visible, so we had to find a path around that area."

The rover was facing southwest when the sol began. It turned slightly more to the west before driving and used visual odometry to be sure it drove the intended distance (about 55 yards or 50 meters) before turning back farther southward. The second leg, next turn, and third leg completed the drive without visual odometry, though the rover was using another new capability: to turn on visual odometry autonomously if tilt or other factors exceed predetermined limits.

Mars Science Laboratory rover "Curiosity". Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

New software on Curiosity gives it the capability to use visual odometry through a range of temperatures. This was needed because testing this spring indicated the Navcam pair linked to the rover's B-side computer is more sensitive to temperature than anticipated. Without the compensating software, the onboard analysis of stereo images could indicate different distances to the same point, depending on the temperature at which the images are taken. The rover was switched from its A-side computer to the redundant B-side computer on Feb. 28 due to a flash-memory problem -- subsequently resolved -- on the A-side. The Navcam pair linked to the A-side computer shows less variability with temperature than the pair now in use.

"For now, we're using visual odometry mostly for slip-checking," said JPL's Jennifer Trosper, deputy project manager for Curiosity. "We are validating the capability to begin using autonav at different temperatures."

The autonomous navigation capability will enable rover planners to command drives that go beyond the route that they can confirm as safe from previous-sol images. They can tell the rover to use the autonomous capability to choose a safe path for itself beyond that distance.

Curiosity landed at the "Bradbury Landing" location within Gale Crater on Aug. 6, 2012, EDT and Universal Time (Aug. 5, PDT). From there, the rover drove eastward to the Glenelg area, where it accomplished the mission's major science objective of finding evidence for an ancient wet environment that had conditions favorable for microbial life. The rover's route is now southwestward. At Mount Sharp, in the middle of Gale Crater, scientists anticipate finding evidence about how the ancient Martian environment changed and evolved.

JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, manages the Mars Science Laboratory Project for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. JPL designed and built the project's Curiosity rover.

More information about Curiosity is online at and . You can follow the mission on Facebook at and on Twitter at .

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


Starburst to Star Bust

ESO - European Southern Observatory logo.

24 July 2013

ALMA Sheds Light on Mystery of Missing Massive Galaxies

Three-dimensional view of ALMA observations of the outflows from NGC 253

New observations from the ALMA telescope in Chile have given astronomers the best view yet of how vigorous star formation can blast gas out of a galaxy and starve future generations of stars of the fuel they need to form and grow. The dramatic images show enormous outflows of molecular gas ejected by star-forming regions in the nearby Sculptor Galaxy. These new results help to explain the strange paucity of very massive galaxies in the Universe. The study is published in the journal Nature on 25 July 2013.

Galaxies — systems like our own Milky Way that contain up to hundreds of billions of stars — are the basic building blocks of the cosmos. One ambitious goal of contemporary astronomy is to understand the ways in which galaxies grow and evolve, a key question being star formation: what determines the number of new stars that will form in a galaxy?

The starburst galaxy NGC 253 seen with the VISTA and ALMA

The Sculptor Galaxy, also known as NGC 253, is a spiral galaxy located in the southern constellation of Sculptor. At a distance of around 11.5 million light-years from our Solar System it is one of our closer intergalactic neighbours, and one of the closest starburst galaxies [1] visible from the southern hemisphere. Using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) astronomers have discovered billowing columns of cold, dense gas fleeing from the centre of the galactic disc.

“With ALMA’s superb resolution and sensitivity, we can clearly see for the first time massive concentrations of cold gas being jettisoned by expanding shells of intense pressure created by young stars,” said Alberto Bolatto of the University of Maryland, USA lead author of the paper. “The amount of gas we measure gives us very good evidence that some growing galaxies spew out more gas than they take in. We may be seeing a present-day example of a very common occurrence in the early Universe.”

The galaxy NGC 253 in the constellation of Sculptor

These results may help to explain why astronomers have found surprisingly few high-mass galaxies throughout the cosmos. Computer models show that older, redder galaxies should have considerably more mass and a larger number of stars than we currently observe. It seems that the galactic winds or outflow of gas are so strong that they deprive the galaxy of the fuel for the formation of the next generation of stars [2].

“These features trace an arc that is almost perfectly aligned with the edges of the previously observed hot, ionised gas outflow,” noted Fabian Walter, a lead investigator at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg, Germany, and a co-author of the paper. “We can now see the step-by-step progression of starburst to outflow.”

Wide-field view of NGC 253 from the VLT Survey Telescope

The researchers determined that vast quantities of molecular gas — nearly ten times the mass of our Sun each year and possibly much more — were being ejected from the galaxy at velocities between 150 000 and almost 1 000 000 kilometres per hour [3]. The total amount of gas ejected would add up to more gas than actually went into forming the galaxy’s stars in the same time. At this rate, the galaxy could run out of gas in as few as 60 million years.

“For me, this is a prime example of how new instruments shape the future of astronomy. We have been studying the starburst region of NGC 253 and other nearby starburst galaxies for almost ten years. But before ALMA, we had no chance to see such details,” says Walter. The study used an early configuration of ALMA with only 16 antennas. “It’s exciting to think what the complete ALMA with 66 antennas will show for this kind of outflow!” Walter adds.

Three-dimensional view of ALMA observations of the outflows from NGC 253

More studies with the full ALMA array will help determine the ultimate fate of the gas carried away by the wind, which will reveal whether the starburst-driven winds are recycling or truly removing star forming material.

Three-dimensional view of ALMA observations of the outflows from NGC 253


[1] Starburst galaxies are producing stars at an exceptionally high rate. As NGC 253 is one of the closest such extreme objects it is an ideal target to study the effect of such growth frenzy on the galaxy hosting it.

[2] Previous observations had shown hotter, but much less dense, gas streaming away from NGC 253’s star-forming regions, but alone this would have little, if any, impact on the fate of the galaxy and its ability to form future generations of stars. This new ALMA data show the much more dense molecular gas getting its initial “kick” from the formation of new stars and then being swept along with the thin, hot gas on its way to the galactic halo.

[3] Although the velocities are high, they may not be high enough for the gas to be ejected from the galaxy. It would get trapped in the galactic halo for many millions of years, and could eventually rain back on the disk, causing new episodes of star formation.

More information:

This research was presented in a paper “The Starburst-Driven Molecular Wind in NGC 253 and the Suppression of Star Formation”, by Alberto D. Bolatto et al., to appear in Nature on 25 July 2013.

The team is composed of A. D. Bolatto (Department of Astronomy, Laboratory for Millimeter-wave Astronomy, and Joint Space Institute, University of Maryland, USA), S. R. Warren (University of Maryland), A. K. Leroy (National Radio Astronomy Observatory, Charlottesville, USA), F. Walter (Max-Planck Institut für Astronomie, Heidelberg, Germany), S. Veilleux (University of Maryland), E. C. Ostriker (Department of Astrophysical Sciences, Princeton University, USA), J. Ott (National Radio Astronomy Observatory, New Mexico, USA), M. Zwaan (European Southern Observatory, Garching, Germany), D. B. Fisher (University of Maryland), A. Weiss (Max-Planck-Institut für Radioastronomie, Bonn, Germany), E. Rosolowsky (Department of Physics, University of Alberta, Canada) and J. Hodge (Max-Planck Institut für Astronomie, Heidelberg, Germany).

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


Research paper:

More about ALMA:

Photos of ALMA:

Press release at NRAO:

Press release at MPIA:

Images, Videos, Text, Credits: ALMA (ESO / NAOJ / NRAO)/Erik Rosolowsky) / J. Emerson / VISTA / Acknowledgment: Cambridge Astronomical Survey Unit / IAU and Sky & Telescope / INAF-VST / Acknowledgement: A. Grado/L. Limatola / INAF-Capodimonte Observatory.

Best regards,

mardi 23 juillet 2013

Spitzer Observes Gas Emission From Comet ISON

NASA - Spitzer Space Telescope patch.

July 23, 2013

 Spitzer Eyes Comet ISON. 

Images above: These images from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope of C/2012 S1 (Comet ISON) were taken on June 13, when ISON was 310 million miles (about 500 million kilometers) from the sun. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/JHUAPL/UCF.

Astronomers using NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope have observed what most likely are strong carbon dioxide emissions from Comet ISON ahead of its anticipated pass through the inner solar system later this year.

Images captured June 13 with Spitzer's Infrared Array Camera indicate carbon dioxide is slowly and steadily "fizzing" away from the so-called "soda-pop comet," along with dust, in a tail about 186,400 miles (300,000 kilometers) long.

"We estimate ISON is emitting about 2.2 million pounds (1 million kilograms) of what is most likely carbon dioxide gas and about 120 million pounds (54.4 million kilograms) of dust every day," said Carey Lisse, leader of NASA's Comet ISON Observation Campaign and a senior research scientist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md. "Previous observations made by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope and the Swift Gamma-Ray Burst Mission and Deep Impact spacecraft gave us only upper limits for any gas emission from ISON. Thanks to Spitzer, we now know for sure the comet's distant activity has been powered by gas."

Comet ISON was about 312 million miles (502 million kilometers) from the sun, 3.35 times farther than Earth, when the observations were made.

"These fabulous observations of ISON are unique and set the stage for more observations and discoveries to follow as part of a comprehensive NASA campaign to observe the comet," said James L. Green, NASA's director of planetary science in Washington. "ISON is very exciting. We believe that data collected from this comet can help explain how and when the solar system first formed."

Comet ISON (officially known as C/2012 S1) is less than 3 miles (4.8 kilometers) in diameter, about the size of a small mountain, and weighs between 7 billion and 7 trillion pounds (3.2 billion and 3.2 trillion kilograms). Because the comet is still very far away, its true size and density have not been determined accurately. Like all comets, ISON is a dirty snowball made up of dust and frozen gases such as water, ammonia, methane and carbon dioxide. These are some of the fundamental building blocks, which scientists believe led to the formation of the planets 4.5 billion years ago.

Comet ISON is believed to be inbound on its first passage from the distant Oort Cloud, a roughly spherical collection of comets and comet-like structures that exists in a space between one-tenth light-year and 1 light-year from the sun. The comet will pass within 724,000 miles (1.16 million kilometers) of the sun on Nov. 28.

 Spitzer Space Telescope. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

It is warming up gradually as it gets closer to the sun. In the process, different gases are heating up to the point of evaporation, revealing themselves to instruments in space and on the ground. Carbon dioxide is thought to be the gas that powers emission for most comets between the orbits of Saturn and the asteroids.

The comet was discovered Sept. 21, roughly between Jupiter and Saturn, by Vitali Nevski and Artyom Novichonok at the International Scientific Optical Network (ISON) near Kislovodsk, Russia. This counts as an early detection of a comet, and the strong carbon dioxide emissions may have made the detection possible.

"This observation gives us a good picture of part of the composition of ISON, and, by extension, of the proto-planetary disk from which the planets were formed," said Lisse. "Much of the carbon in the comet appears to be locked up in carbon dioxide ice. We will know even more in late July and August, when the comet begins to warm up near the water-ice line outside of the orbit of Mars, and we can detect the most abundant frozen gas, which is water, as it boils away from the comet."

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., manages the Spitzer Space Telescope mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. Science operations are conducted at the Spitzer Science Center at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. Data are archived at the Infrared Science Archive housed at the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center at Caltech. Caltech manages JPL for NASA.

For more information about Spitzer, visit: . Learn more about NASA's Comet ISON Observing Campaign: . NASA's Comet ISON Toolkit is at: .

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA / J.D. Harrington / JPL / Whitney Clavin / Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory / Geoffrey Brown.


lundi 22 juillet 2013

NASA Releases Images of Earth Taken by Distant Spacecraft

NASA / ESA - Cassini Mission to Saturn patch / NASA - MESSENGER Mission to Mercury patch.

July 22, 2013

Image above: In this rare image taken on July 19, 2013, the wide-angle camera on NASA's Cassini spacecraft has captured Saturn's rings and our planet Earth and its moon in the same frame. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute.

Color and black-and-white images of Earth taken by two NASA interplanetary spacecraft on July 19 show our planet and its moon as bright beacons from millions of miles away in space.

NASA's Cassini spacecraft captured the color images of Earth and the moon from its perch in the Saturn system nearly 900 million miles (1.5 billion kilometers) away. MESSENGER, the first probe to orbit Mercury, took a black-and-white image from a distance of 61 million miles (98 million kilometers) as part of a campaign to search for natural satellites of the planet.

Image above: The cameras on NASA's Cassini spacecraft captured this rare look at Earth and its moon from Saturn orbit on July 19, 2013. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute.

In the Cassini images Earth and the moon appear as mere dots -- Earth a pale blue and the moon a stark white, visible between Saturn's rings. It was the first time Cassini's highest-resolution camera captured Earth and its moon as two distinct objects.

It also marked the first time people on Earth had advance notice their planet's portrait was being taken from interplanetary distances. NASA invited the public to celebrate by finding Saturn in their part of the sky, waving at the ringed planet and sharing pictures over the Internet. More than 20,000 people around the world participated.

"We can't see individual continents or people in this portrait of Earth, but this pale blue dot is a succinct summary of who we were on July 19," said Linda Spilker, Cassini project scientist, at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. "Cassini's picture reminds us how tiny our home planet is in the vastness of space, and also testifies to the ingenuity of the citizens of this tiny planet to send a robotic spacecraft so far away from home to study Saturn and take a look-back photo of Earth."

Image above: These images show views of Earth and the moon from NASA's Cassini (left) and MESSENGER spacecraft (right) from July 19, 2013. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute and NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington.

Pictures of Earth from the outer solar system are rare because from that distance, Earth appears very close to our sun. A camera's sensitive detectors can be damaged by looking directly at the sun, just as a human being can damage his or her retina by doing the same. Cassini was able to take this image because the sun had temporarily moved behind Saturn from the spacecraft's point of view and most of the light was blocked.

A wide-angle image of Earth will become part of a multi-image picture, or mosaic, of Saturn's rings, which scientists are assembling. This image is not expected to be available for several weeks because of the time-consuming challenges involved in blending images taken in changing geometry and at vastly different light levels, with faint and extraordinarily bright targets side by side.

"It thrills me to no end that people all over the world took a break from their normal activities to go outside and celebrate the interplanetary salute between robot and maker that these images represent," said Carolyn Porco, Cassini imaging team lead at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colo. "The whole event underscores for me our 'coming of age' as planetary explorers."

Image above: This image of Earth and the moon was taken by NASA's Cassini spacecraft on July 19, 2013. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute.

In the MESSENGER image, Earth and the moon are less than a pixel, but appear very large because they are overexposed. Long exposures are required to capture as much light as possible from potentially dim objects. Consequently, bright objects in the field of view become saturated and appear artificially large.

"That images of our planet have been acquired on a single day from two distant solar system outposts reminds us of this nation's stunning technical accomplishments in planetary exploration," said MESSENGER Principal Investigator Sean Solomon of Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in Palisades, N.Y. "And because Mercury and Saturn are such different outcomes of planetary formation and evolution, these two images also highlight what is special about Earth. There's no place like home."

The Mystery of the Missing Waves on Titan

The Mystery of the Missing Waves on Titan

Video above: Saturn's giant moon Titan is dotted with hydrocarbon lakes and seas that bear an uncanny resemblance to bodies of water on Earth. Strangely, though, Titan's lakes and seas have no waves.

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. JPL designed, developed and assembled the Cassini orbiter and its two onboard cameras. The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md., designed and built MESSENGER, a spacecraft developed under NASA's Discovery Program. NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., manages the program for the agency's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. JPL and APL manage their respective missions for NASA.  The California Institute of Technology in Pasadena manages JPL for NASA.

To view the Earth images. visit: .

More information about the picture and the Wave at Saturn campaign is available at: .

To view the MESSENGER images, visit: .

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


Spacecraft "twins" have one year


July 22, 2013

Today marks one year since the successful launch of the satellite Canopus-V № 1 and Belarusian spacecraft (BKA) that operate in a single constellation.

Canopus-V 1

SC Canopus-V created by JSC Corporation VNIIEM under the Federal Space Program of Russia for the operational monitoring of man-made and natural disasters.

Belarusian spacecraft remote sensing of the Earth was created as part of a contract between the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus and JSC Corporation VNIIEM.

Egypt, a suburb of Cairo

BSA was created in conjunction with the SC Canopus-V № 1 and it is a complete analog, they are called "twins". In this connection, the two spacecraft have common goals:

    - Monitoring of man-made and natural disasters, including extreme weather events;

    - Detection of forest fires, large emissions of pollutants into the environment;

    - Monitoring of agricultural activities, natural (including water and coastal) resources;

    - Land use;

    - Operational monitoring target areas the earth's surface;

    - Mapping.

The very first images taken by satellite remote sensing in the flight test showed a high level of quality (spatial resolution panchromatic images of ~ 2.1 m).

France, Charles de Gaulle Airport

Spacecraft carrying out occasional and regular shooting target areas the surface of the Earth. Information obtained from the spacecraft is used to control land use in agriculture, natural resource monitoring, environmental monitoring, mapping and solve a number of problems in the interests of different sectors of the economy.

During the period of regular operation (with the November 30, 2012) only companion Canopus-V was filmed over 2,800 routes, a total area of ​​16.5 million square kilometers of the cloudless Earth's surface, suitable for further processing.

Information from the SC Canopus-V has been successfully used satellite monitoring system to assess the Russian Ministry of Emergency Situations of the situation in the disaster areas, assessment of potentially hazardous sites and areas that are in high-risk areas of a disaster, monitoring forest fires.

Russia, Kazan, central stadium

For example, the images were allowed to assess the situation in such emergencies as a sinkhole near settlement Buturlino Nizhny Novgorod region, the fall of a meteorite in the Chelyabinsk region, the gathering of cars around the settlement Utulik Irkutsk region, the gathering of cars around the settlement Tymerslol Amur region, monitoring the passage of spring floods in the Russian Federation, and more.


The next step in the development of this constellation will be the creation of the modernized spacecraft of this type. The main difference between the new SC from the previous installation will be on it a multi-channel radiometer, mid-and far infrared bands, which will explore a bandwidth of 2,000 km and identify pockets of fire area of ​​5x5 meters.

ROSCOSMOS Press Release:

Images, Text, Credits: Press service of the Russian Space Agency and JSC Corporation VNIIEM / ROSCOSMOS / Gunter's / Translation: Aerospace.


Large Coronal Hole Near the Sun’s North Pole

NASA / ESA - SOHO Mission patch.

July 22, 2013

Image above: The European Space Agency/NASA Solar and Heliospheric Observatory, or SOHO, captured this image of a gigantic coronal hole hovering over the sun’s north pole on July 18, 2013, at 9:06 a.m. EDT. Image Credit: ESA & NASA / SOHO.

The European Space Agency/NASA Solar and Heliospheric Observatory, or SOHO, captured this image of a gigantic coronal hole hovering over the sun’s north pole on July 18, 2013, at 9:06 a.m. EDT. Coronal holes are dark, low density regions of the sun’s outermost atmosphere, the corona. They contain little solar material, have lower temperatures, and therefore, appear much darker than their surroundings.

Coronal holes are a typical feature on the sun, though they appear at different places and with more frequency at different times of the sun’s activity cycle. The activity cycle is currently ramping up toward what is known as solar maximum, currently predicted for late 2013. During this portion of the cycle, the number of coronal holes decreases. During solar max, the magnetic fields on the sun reverse and new coronal holes appear near the poles with the opposite magnetic alignment. The coronal holes then increase in size and number, extending further from the poles as the sun moves toward solar minimum again.  At such times, coronal holes have appeared that are even larger than this one.

The holes are important to our understanding of space weather, as they are the source of a high-speed wind of solar particles that streams off the sun some three times faster than the slower wind elsewhere. While it’s unclear what causes coronal holes, they correlate to areas on the sun where magnetic fields soar up and away, failing to loop back down to the surface, as they do elsewhere.

Related links:

ESA's SOHO home page:

NASA's SOHO home page:

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


Space Station Research Exposing the Salty Truth of Supercritical Water Transitions

ISS - International Space Station patch.

July 22, 2013

There is a moment when everything changes. Something familiar crosses a boundary and suddenly behaves in new ways. Take water for example. In middle school science class, you probably learned about saturation points when adding salt to a liquid. Or you discovered the importance of phase changes when going from boiling to steam or from freezing to ice. That moment of change is now being studied at a new level in space.

At sea level, water boils at 212 degrees Fahrenheit, and both liquid and water vapor (i.e., steam) coexist. However, water heated under high pressures (more than 3,200 pounds per square inch, about the amount of pressure in 100 car tires) doesn’t boil. Above the critical temperature of 705 degrees Fahrenheit, water behaves like a dense gas where its distinct liquid and vapor phases no longer exist. At this point, any salt in the water no longer is soluble. It separates, or precipitates, from the water and attaches itself to surfaces like heating coils and pipes.

Image above: The High Temperature Insert (above) is placed in the Device for the Study of Critical Liquids and Crystallization. Image Credit: CNES.

In order to study this phenomenon, the Supercritical Water Mixture (SCWM) investigation currently is running aboard the International Space Station. It is a joint effort between NASA and Centre National d'Etudes Spatiales (CNES), the French space agency.

"By studying supercritical and near-critical water without the effects of gravity, we'll look at how salt precipitates on a very fundamental level," said Mike Hicks, SCWM principal investigator at NASA's Glenn Research Center in Cleveland. "We'll look at some fundamental questions: how is salt actually transported in this medium without the influences of gravity; what happens to the salt/water mixture when taken past the critical point; how does it precipitate; at what point does it start to agglomerate and clump together to where you can actually see little salt particles in the water?"

SCWM experiments began on the space station during the first week of July and will continue for a one-year period in a series of five test sequences, each lasting approximately 15 days.

Testing occurs in the Device for the Study of Critical Liquids and Crystallization's (DECLIC) High Temperature Insert (HTI). DECLIC and HTI were built by CNES and are housed in the space station's Kibo module. SCWM is operated by CNES from its facility in Toulouse, France. Results from the research will be shared between NASA and CNES.

"The salt water experiment was something NASA proposed to the French as an experiment that we would be interested in performing in their DECLIC facility," said Hicks, who also is NASA's SCWM project scientist and project manager. "The French wanted to perform a similar experiment but didn't have the funding to pursue this until NASA joined forces with them. So it is a collaboration of mutual interests. We're looking for ways to handle waste streams in space, and this is just one of the technologies that we're looking at for that."

Image above: The Device for the Study of Critical Liquids and Crystallization has two rectangular boxes. The upper box contains the High Temperature Insert and all the diagnostic hardware. The lower box contains the command/control and data storage hardware. Image Credit: CNES.

SCWM research results can be extended easily to ground-based applications. A better understanding about what happens at near-critical and supercritical conditions is important in designing extended-life and low-maintenance systems, such as power plants, waste management and high salinity aquifers.

Use of supercritical fluids in supercritical water oxidation (SCWO) technology has been in place for years. For example, supercritical carbon dioxide is used in dry cleaning and decaffeinating coffee.

Learning how to use water efficiently in its supercritical phase is of great interest to researchers since many of our waste streams -- like city sewage, agricultural wastes and paper mill wastes -- contain water. SCWO provides a way to oxidize sewage in a closed system that essentially will burn out all the organics in a wet waste stream. The beauty of this process is that the combustion products are relatively benign compared with incineration, which produces a range of sulfur and nitrogen oxides. Typically, the SCWO processing of an organic waste stream will leave behind only carbon dioxide and water.

"SCWM is not just a fundamental science experiment," said Uday Hegde, SCWM co-principal investigator at the National Center for Space Exploration Research in Cleveland. "This is actually something that can be of benefit to NASA, in terms of recycling and waste management systems, and has application to real systems on the ground as well. For example, water reclamation in remote places. It may also prove to be extremely useful for waste processing at the single home or neighborhood level or an entire city. It is a relativity green process compared to incineration."

Images of water/saline solution being heated. The temperature and pressure increases through the critical point until there is no distinction between water’s liquid and vapor phase. This is evidenced by the disappearance of the thin black line that separates the phases. Image Credit: NASA.

The tendency for salts to “fall out” of solution presents one of the leading challenges of SCWO technology. At ambient temperatures and pressures, salt is easily dissolved in water. However, when water goes to its supercritical state, salt no longer is soluble, and it precipitates out of the water. The salt then adheres to surfaces, building up and corroding systems and fouling pipes resulting in a large maintenance overhead.

Typically, these small particles of salt migrate toward the cooler regions, a process known as thermophoresis. Engineers have a hard time designing reactor vessels that can withstand these tremendously corrosive environments without implementing a costly maintenance program.

"In a very systematic way, we want to study the nature of these precipitates," said Hicks. "That's just the start. There's a tremendous amount of work to be done to make this technology economically viable. It's a wonderful technology except for the fact that it tends to be a maintenance nightmare. Hopefully, we can minimize this by better understanding how to handle the corrosion and fouling problems."

International Space Station (ISS), the space laboratories. Credit: NASA

A good understanding of the behavior of salt in near-critical and supercritical conditions would assist designers in building next-generation SCWO reactors. With the knowledge gleaned from SCWM, they possibly could design systems that would operate without large maintenance problems.

Related links:

International Space Station (ISS):

Supercritical Water Mixture (SCWM):

Centre National d'Etudes Spatiales (CNES):

NASA's Glenn Research Center:

Study of Critical Liquids and Crystallization's (DECLIC):

The space station's Kibo module:

Supercritical water oxidation (SCWO):

Images (mentioned), Text, Credit: NASA Glenn Research Center/Mike Giannone.

Best regards,