vendredi 29 novembre 2013

Progress 53 cargo craft docked to the ISS

ROSCOSMOS - Russian Vehicles patch.

Nov. 29, 2013

A Russian space freighter docked to the aft port of the International Space Station’s Zvezda service module at 5:30 p.m. EST Friday, delivering almost three tons of food, fuel, supplies and holiday gifts for the Expedition 38 crew.

Russian resupply ship makes holiday arrival at space station

Video above: The ISS Progress 53 cargo craft docks to the International Space Station, delivering nearly three tons of food, fuel, supplies and holiday gifts for the Expedition 38 crew. Image Credit: NASA TV.

The ISS Progress 53 cargo ship, which launched Monday from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, performed an automated approach to the station using upgraded Kurs automated rendezvous equipment.  The on-orbit performance of the new Kurs hardware was tested earlier by Russian flight controllers during a “flyby” of the station Wednesday during which the Progress came to within one mile of the orbiting complex.  The lighter, revamped Kurs system will be integrated into advanced Progress and piloted Soyuz vehicles in the future.

Read more about Wednesday's Progress "flyby":

Read more about the launch of ISS Progress 53:

Image above: Commander Oleg Kotov practices manual docking techniques with TORU, the telerobotically operated rendezvous system, on Nov. 22. Kotov used TORU on Friday to manually dock the ISS Progress 53 resupply ship. Image Credit: NASA.

When the Progress was about 60 meters from the docking port, it went into an unexpected station keeping mode. Station Commander Oleg Kotov took over manual control of the vehicle using TORU, the telerobotically operated docking system, and guided the vehicle in for a successful docking.   At the time of docking, the station was flying about 260 miles over Kazakhstan.

On Saturday, the crew will open the hatch to the Progress to begin unloading its cargo. Progress 53 is filled with 2.9 tons of food, fuel and supplies for the station crew, including 1,763 pounds of propellant, 48 pounds of oxygen, 57 pounds of air, 925 pounds of water and 3,119 pounds of spare parts, experiment hardware and holiday gifts.

Image above: Flight Engineer Rick Mastracchio works with Biolab hardware in the Columbus laboratory of the International Space Station. Image Credit: NASA.

The Expedition 38 crew also supported a range of research activities and maintenance work aboard the orbiting complex Friday.

Flight Engineer Rick Mastracchio began his workday with the Binary Colloidal Alloy Test science payload, which takes a look at colloids -- microscopic particles suspended in a liquid -- and may lead to improvements in manufacturing processes here on Earth.  Mastracchio mixed some new test samples for the experiment and photographed the hardware.

Read more about Binary Colloidal Alloy Test-C1:

Afterward, Mastracchio continued setting up BioLab, a research facility located in the Columbus laboratory. BioLab is used to perform space biology experiments on microorganisms, cells, tissue cultures, plants and small invertebrates. Results from experiments performed inside this facility could benefit biomedical research in such areas as immunology, pharmacology, bone demineralization and biotechnology.

Flight Engineer Mike Hopkins relocated stowage items to make room for new NanoRacks payload hardware. NanoRacks provides lower-cost microgravity research facilities for small payloads utilizing a standardized “plug-and-play” interface.  The new payload hardware will be arriving to the station aboard the Orbital Sciences’ Cygnus cargo craft during  its first commercial resupply mission in December. Cygnus successfully completed a demonstration mission to the station in October.

Image above: Flight Engineers Mike Hopkins (left) and Rick Mastracchio display some of their Thanksgiving fare in this photo Hopkins posted to Twitter on Thursday. Image Credit: NASA.

Inside the station’s dome-shaped cupola observation module, Flight Engineer Koichi Wakata prepared a high-definition camera system to capture any sightings of Comet ISON. 

View NASA's Comet ISON coverage:

Wakata later interacted with an experiment known as the eValuatIon And monitoring of microBiofiLms insidE the ISS, or VIABLE ISS, as he touched and breathed on sample bags. The VIABLE study involves the evaluation of microbial biofilm development on space materials.

Read more about VIABLE ISS:

Wakata rounded out his day downloading and saving data from a small digital electrocardiograph he wore this week for the Biological Rhythms 48hrs experiment. This Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency study takes a look at the circadian variation of astronauts’ cardiac function during spaceflight.

International Space Station (ISS). Image Credit: NASA

Read about Biological Rhythms 48hrs:

On the Russian side of the complex, Flight Engineer Sergey Ryazanskiy studied chemical luminescent reactions in the Earth’s atmosphere for the Relaxation experiment. He and Kotov also participated in a Russian medical study to assess their physical condition during their long-duration stay aboard the station.

For more information about International Space Station (ISS), visit:

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

Best regards,

Do Black Holes Come in Size Medium?

NASA - NuStar Mission patch.

Nov. 29, 2013

Topsy Turvy Black Holes

Image above: The magenta spots in this image show two black holes in the Circinus galaxy: the supermassive black hole at its heart, and a smaller one closer to the edge that belongs to a class called ultraluminous X-ray sources, or ULXs. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

Black holes can be petite, with masses only about 10 times that of our sun -- or monstrous, boasting the equivalent in mass up to 10 billion suns. Do black holes also come in size medium? NASA's Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array, or NuSTAR, is busy scrutinizing a class of black holes that may fall into the proposed medium-sized category.

"Exactly how intermediate-sized black holes would form remains an open issue," said Dominic Walton of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena. "Some theories suggest they could form in rich, dense clusters of stars through repeated mergers, but there are a lot of questions left to be answered."

The largest black holes, referred to as supermassive, dominate the hearts of galaxies. The immense gravity of these black holes drags material toward them, forcing the material to heat up and release powerful X-rays. Small black holes dot the rest of the galactic landscape. They form under the crush of collapsing, dying stars bigger than our sun.

Evidence for medium-sized black holes lying somewhere between these two extremes might come from objects called ultraluminous X-ray sources, or ULXs. These are pairs of objects in which a black hole ravenously feeds off a normal star. The feeding process is somewhat similar to what happens around supermassive black holes, but isn't as big and messy. In addition, ULXs are located throughout galaxies, not at the cores.

The bright glow of X-rays coming from ULXs is too great to be the product of typical small black holes. This and other evidence indicates the objects may be intermediate in mass, with 100 to 10,000 times the mass of our sun. Alternatively, an explanation may lie in some kind of exotic phenomenon involving extreme accretion, or "feeding," of a black hole.

 Black Holes of the Circinus Galaxy

Image above: The magenta spots in this image show two black holes in the spiral galaxy called NGC 1313, or the Topsy Turvy galaxy. Both black holes belong to a class called ultraluminous X-ray sources, or ULXs. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/IRAP.

NuSTAR is joining with other telescopes to take a closer look at ULXs. It’s providing the first look at these objects in focused, high-energy X-rays, helping to get better estimates of their masses and other characteristics.

In a new paper from Walton and colleagues accepted for publication in the Astrophysical Journal, the astronomers report serendipitously finding a ULX that had gone largely unnoticed before. They studied the object, which lies in the Circinus spiral galaxy 13 million light-years away, not only with NuSTAR but also with the European Space Agency's XMM-Newton satellite. Archival data from NASA's Chandra, Swift and Spitzer space telescopes as well as Japan's Suzaku satellite, were also used for further studies. "We went to town on this object, looking at a range of epochs and wavelengths," said Walton.

The results indicate the black hole in question is about 100 times the mass of the sun, putting it right at the border between small and medium black holes.

In another accepted Astrophysical Journal paper, Matteo Bachetti of the Institut de Recherche en Astrophysique et Planétologie and colleagues looked at two ULXs in NGC 1313, a spiral galaxy known as the "Topsy Turvy galaxy," also about 13 million light-years way.

These are among the best-studied ULXs known. A single viewing with NuSTAR showed that the black holes didn't fit with models of medium-size black holes. As a result, the researchers now think both ULXs harbor small, stellar-mass black holes. One of the objects is estimated to be big for its size category, at 70 to 100 solar masses.

"It's possible that these objects are ultraluminous because they are accreting material at a high rate and not because of their size," said Bachetti. "If intermediate-mass black holes are out there, they are doing a good job of hiding from us."

NuSTAR is a Small Explorer mission led by Caltech and managed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The spacecraft was built by Orbital Sciences Corporation, Dulles, Va. Its instrument was built by a consortium including Caltech; JPL; the University of California, Berkeley; Columbia University, New York; NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.; the Danish Technical University in Denmark; Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Livermore, Calif.; ATK Aerospace Systems, Goleta, Calif., and with support from the Italian Space Agency (ASI) Science Data Center.

NuSTAR's mission operations center is at UC Berkeley, with the ASI providing its equatorial ground station located at Malindi, Kenya. The mission's outreach program is based at Sonoma State University, Rohnert Park, Calif. NASA's Explorer Program is managed by Goddard. JPL is managed by Caltech for NASA.

Technical paper on Circinus galaxy and Topsy Turvy galaxy. For more information about NuStar Mission, visit: and

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


Comet ISON May Have Survived

ESA-NASA - SOHO Mission patch.

Nov. 29, 2013

Animated image: This movie shows Comet ISON orbiting around the sun – represented by the white circle -- on Nov. 28, 2013. ISON looks smaller as it streams away, but scientists believe its nucleus may still be intact. The video covers Nov. 27, 2013, 3:30 p.m. EST to Nov. 29, 2013, 8:30 a.m. EST.Image Credit: ESA/NASA/SOHO/Jhelioviewer.

Continuing a history of surprising behavior, material from Comet ISON appeared on the other side of the sun on the evening on Nov. 28, 2013, despite not having been seen in observations during its closest approach to the sun.

Images above: ISON appears as a white smear heading up and away from the sun. ISON was not visible during its closest approach to the sun, so many scientists thought it had disintegrated, but images like this one from the ESA/NASA Solar and Heliospheric Observatory suggest that a small nucleus may be intact. Image Credit: ESA/NASA/SOHO/GSFC.

As ISON appeared to dim and fizzle in several observatories and later could not be seen at all by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory or by ground based solar observatories, many scientists believed it had disintegrated completely. However, a streak of bright material streaming away from the sun appeared in the European Space Agency and NASA's Solar and Heliospheric Observatory later in the evening. The question remains whether it is merely debris from the comet, or if some portion of the comet's nucleus survived, but late-night analysis from scientists with NASA's Comet ISON Observing Campaign suggest that there is at least a small nucleus intact.

Images above: Another view from SOHO's C2 chronograph shows Comet ISON appearing bright as it streams toward the sun (right). it can be seen as a dim streak heading upward and out in the left image. The comet may still be intact. Image Credit: ESA/NASA/SOHO/Jhelioviewer.

Throughout the year that researchers have watched Comet ISON – and especially during its final approach to the sun – the comet brightened and dimmed in unexpected ways.  Such brightness changes usually occur in response to material boiling off the comet, and different material will do so at different temperatures thus providing clues as to what the comet is made of.  Analyzing this pattern will help scientists understand the composition of ISON, which contains material assembled during the very formation of the solar system some 4.5 billion years ago.

Related Links:

For more information on Comet ISON:

To download recent ISON imagery:

SOHO Mission websites: and

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


jeudi 28 novembre 2013

Comet ISON Fizzles as it Rounds the Sun

NASA - Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) patch / ESA-NASA - SOHO Mission patch.

Nov. 28, 2013

Comet ISON Fizzles

Video above: These images from NASA's Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory and the ESA/NASA Solar and Heliospheric Observatory show Comet ISON growing dim as it made the journey around the sun. The comet is believed to have broken up and evaporated. Image Credit: NASA/SDO/ESA/SOHO/GSFC.

Comet ISON went around the sun on Nov. 28, 2013. Several solar observatories watched the comet throughout this closest approach to the sun, known as perihelion. While the fate of the comet is not yet established, it is likely that it did not survive the trip. The comet grew faint while within both the view of NASA's Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory, and the joint European Space Agency and NASA's Solar and Heliospheric Observatory. The comet was not visible at all in NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory.

"We didn't see Comet ISON in SDO," said Dean Pesnell, project scientist for SDO.

"So we think it must have broken up and evaporated before it reached perihelion."

Image above: This image from NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory shows the sun, but no Comet ISON was seen. A white plus sign shows where the Comet should have appeared. It is likely that the comet did not survive the trip. Image Credit: NASA/SDO.

While this means that Comet ISON will not be visible in the night sky in December, the wealth of observations gathered of the comet over the last year will provide great research opportunities for some time. One important question will simply be to figure out why it is no longer visible.

Related Links:

For more information on Comet ISON:

To download images and movies of Comet ISON:

For more information about Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO), visit: and

For more information about SOHO Mission, visit: and

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


Spacelab and 30 years of ESA astronauts

ESA - Spacelab Mission patch / ESA - NASA - Spacelab 1 patch.

28 November 2013

Spacelab-1/STS-9 launch

Thirty years ago this week the first European-built Spacelab was launched on the Space Shuttle. ESA’s first astronaut, Ulf Merbold, flew on the mission, marking ESA’s entry into human spaceflight.

On 28 November 1983 at 11:00 local time, the ninth Space Shuttle mission was launched from Kennedy Space Center, Florida, USA.

Spacelab-1/STS-9 crew walkout

The six astronauts on Spacelab-1 worked in two teams on 12-hour shifts, allowing for continuous operations. They performed over 70 experiments in solar physics, space plasma physics, astronomy, Earth observation, material science, technology and life sciences.

After circling Earth 166 times in just over 10 days, Space Shuttle Columbia landed back on Earth on 8 December.

Space laboratory

Spacelab was a cooperation between ESA and NASA, with Europe responsible for funding, designing and building Spacelab and agreeing to deliver free of charge the engineering model, the first flight unit and ground equipment in return for a shared first mission.

In preparation for Spacelab, ESA Member States in 1978 put forward 53 astronaut candidates, and four were selected: Ulf Merbold of Germany, Wubbo Ockels of the Netherlands, Claude Nicollier of Switzerland and Franco Malerba of Italy.

Spacelab-1 integration with Shuttle, August 1983

Ulf was selected for the first Spacelab mission, with Wubbo as backup. Wubbo flew on the Spacelab-D1 mission in 1985.

Between 1983 and 1998, Spacelab modules flew on the Space Shuttle 22 times and totalled 244 days in orbit. Experiments surveyed the possibilities of weightless research in many scientific areas that led to space-age metals used in mass-produced smartphones and revealed areas of space research that show promise in treating chronic muscle diseases.

Spacelab evolution

Many of Spacelab’s features live on in space hardware that is flying above us today. The pressure shell was reused for the Harmony and Tranquility modules on the International Space Station, and supply spacecraft, such as ESA’s Automated Transfer Vehicles and the commercial Cygnus, reuse Spacelab’s exterior structure.

Cygnus approaches Station

Europe’s Columbus laboratory on the Station evolved from Spacelab. On the inside, Spacelab used standardised science racks that contributed to its success and were adopted for all of the Station’s laboratory modules.

Spacelab in orbit

In the same way that Spacelab was operated by international teams of astronauts, so are today’s European experiments and laboratories on the Station. They are kept running and performing science by the Station’s permanent crew – which now includes European astronauts.

Related links:

History of Europe in Space:

Spacelab beginnings:

Building and flying Spacelab:

Spacelab legacy:

Memories of STS-9: Ulf Merbold, Payload Specialist:

Memories of STS-9: Owen Garriott, Mission Specialist:

Memories of STS-9: Brewster Shaw, Pilot:

Memories of STS-9: Robert Parker, Mission Specialist:

Image gallery: Remembering Spacelab-1/STS-9:

Images, Text, Credits: ESA / NASA.

Best regards,

mercredi 27 novembre 2013

A Fiery Drama of Star Birth and Death

ESO - European Southern Observatory logo.

27 November 2013

The star formation region NGC 2035 imaged by the ESO Very Large Telescope

The Large Magellanic Cloud is one of the closest galaxies to our own. Astronomers have now used the power of ESO’s Very Large Telescope to explore one of its lesser known regions. This new image shows clouds of gas and dust where hot new stars are being born and are sculpting their surroundings into odd shapes. But the image also shows the effects of stellar death — filaments created by a supernova explosion.

The star formation region NGC 2035 in the constellation of Dorado

Located only about 160 000 light-years from us (eso1311) in the constellation of Dorado (The Swordfish), the Large Magellanic Cloud is one of our closest galactic neighbours. It is actively forming new stars in regions that are so bright that some can even be seen from Earth with the naked eye, such as the Tarantula Nebula (eso1033). This new image, taken by ESO’s Very Large Telescope at the Paranal Observatory in Chile, explores an area called NGC 2035 (right), sometimes nicknamed the Dragon’s Head Nebula.

Wide-field view of part of the Large Magellanic Cloud

NGC 2035 is an HII region, or emission nebula, consisting of clouds of gas that glow due to the energetic radiation given off by young stars. This radiation strips electrons from atoms within the gas, which eventually recombine with other atoms and release light. Mixed in with the gas are dark clumps of dust that absorb rather than emit light, creating weaving lanes and dark shapes across the nebula.

The filamentary shapes to the left in the image are the not the results of starbirth, but rather stellar death. It was created by one of the most violent events that can happen in the Universe — a supernova explosion [1]. These explosions are so bright that they often briefly outshine their entire host galaxy, before fading from view over several weeks or months (also see eso1315 and potw1323a).

Zooming in on the star formation region NGC 2035

From looking at this image, it may be difficult to grasp the sheer size of these clouds — they are several hundred light-years across. And they are not in our galaxy, but far beyond. The Large Magellanic Cloud is enormous, but when compared to our own galaxy it is very modest in extent, spanning just 14 000 light-years — about ten times smaller than the Milky Way.

This image was acquired using the FOcal Reducer and low dispersion Spectrograph instrument attached to ESO’s Very Large Telescope, which is located at the Paranal Observatory in Chile, as part of the ESO Cosmic Gems programme [2].


[1] The remnant left over by the supernova explosion that can be seen in this image is called SNR 0536-67.6.

[2] The ESO Cosmic Gems programme is an initiative to produce images of interesting, intriguing or visually attractive objects using ESO telescopes, for the purposes of education and public outreach. The programme makes use of telescope time that cannot be used for science observations. All data collected may also be suitable for scientific purposes, and are made available to astronomers through ESO’s science archive.

More information:

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”.


The ESO Cosmic Gems programme:

Images, Text, Credits: ESO / IAU and Sky & Telescope / Digitized Sky Survey 2. Acknowledgement: Davide De Martin / Video: ESO / Digitized Sky Survey 2 / Nick Risinger ( / Robert Gendler ( Music: John Dyson.

Best regards,

mardi 26 novembre 2013

NASA'S STEREO Shows Comet ISON Approaching the Sun

NASA - STEREO Mission logo.

Nov. 26, 2013

Animated image above: The latest movie from the STEREO-A spacecraft's Heliospheric Imager shows the comet over a five-day period from Nov. 20 to Nov. 25, 2013.  Image Credit: NASA/NRL/STEREO/CIOC/GSFC.

The latest movie from the STEREO-A spacecraft's Heliospheric Imager shows the comet over a five-day period from Nov. 20 to Nov. 25, 2013.


Video above: This movie from the spacecraft's Heliospheric Imager shows Comet ISON, Mercury, Comet Encke andEarth over a five-day period from Nov. 20 to Nov. 25, 2013. The sun sits right of the field of view of this camera. Video Credit: NASA/NRL/STEREO/CIOC/GSFC.

NASA's STEREO-A spacecraft continues to observe Comet ISON as it approaches the sun. This movie from the spacecraft's Heliospheric Imager shows Comet ISON, Mercury, Comet Encke and Earth over a five day period from Nov. 20 to Nov. 25, 2013. The sun sits right of the field of view of this camera. This version is enhanced, resized and cropped for HD.


Video above: Cropped and enlarged footage from the STEREO A Hi 1 sensor covering Nov 21 at 0:39UT to Nov 25 at 15:19 UT.The sun sits right of the field of view of this camera. Video Credit: Nathan Rich/NRL/NASA STEREO/CIOC.

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


Scientists Seek Other Scientists for Cosmology Problem

NASA logo.

Nov. 26, 2013

Images above: Can you match each galaxy in the top row with its warped counterpart in the bottom row? For example, is the warped version of galaxy A in box D, E, or F? Image Credit: UCL/NASA/JPL-Caltech.

How do you measure something that is invisible? It's a challenging task, but astronomers have made progress on one front: the study of dark matter and dark energy, two of the most mysterious substances in our cosmos. Dark matter is intermixed with normal matter, but it gives off no light, making it impossible to see. Dark energy is even more slippery, yet scientists think it works against gravity to pull our universe apart at the seams.

Now for the third time, an innovative competition has begun again with the goal of finding better tools for probing dark matter and dark energy. Called GREAT3, which stands for GRavitational lEnsing Accuracy Testing 3, the event is sponsored by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., and a European Union Network of Excellence called Pattern Analysis, Statistical Modeling and Computation Learning 2 (PASCAL2).

The idea behind the challenge is to spur scientists, including those from fields outside astronomy, to come up with new insight into the problems of measuring dark matter and dark energy. Contestants are asked to solve galaxy puzzles involving millions of images from NASA's Hubble Space Telescope. A better understanding of the "dark side of the cosmos" may reveal new information about the very fabric and fate of our universe.

The first two challenges were a big success, attracting new brainpower to the field, including scientists from machine learning and particle physics. Machine learning involves programming computers to learn on their own using actual data from the real world. It has several applications, such as facial-recognition software, medical diagnostics and spam filtering, to name a few.

"Other data scientists have been thinking about the same type of algorithms we need for our cosmology tools for a long time," said Jason Rhodes of JPL. "We want to acquire that knowledge and see this field grow."

One of the most powerful tools for studying dark matter and dark energy is gravitational lensing. When dark matter lies between us and a distant galaxy, the light of the galaxy can be warped by the gravity from the dark matter. By measuring this warping, scientists can map dark matter, despite it being invisible. What's more, by looking at the distribution of dark and normal matter in our universe, scientists can get a better handle on dark energy and how it battles gravity to slow the growth of galactic structures.

In some cases of gravitational lensing, galaxies look wacky, as if seen in a funhouse mirror, or they appear multiple times. This is referred to as strong lensing. But in most cases, called weak lensing, the warping effects are tiny and impossible to see by eye.

The GREAT3 challenge is designed to improve methods for measuring weak lensing in preparation for future dark matter/dark energy missions, such as the European Space Agency's Euclid, in which NASA plays an important role, and the National Academy of Science's highest priority for NASA, WFIRST -- also known as the WFIRST-AFTA mission, which stands for Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope-Astrophysics Focused Telescope Assets.

The millions of images given to GREAT3 contestants show galaxies that have been artificially warped via weak lensing. The puzzle is to figure out precisely how the galaxy images were warped, a complex task that involves looking for patterns and sifting out artificial warping effects caused by telescope optics and the atmosphere.

The winner will be announced in May 2014 and will receive $3,000 worth of computing equipment, the perfect gift for programmers hoping to crack more cosmic codes.

"With these contests, we have seen new ideas seeping into our field," said Rachel Mandelbaum of Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, who is working with Rhodes and Barnaby Rowe of UCL (University College London), England, to organize the challenge, along with a special committee. "It's a fun problem to work on and it's a problem that needs to be solved."

A visual quiz involving strongly lensed, or warped, galaxies is at: .

More information about the competition is online at: .

The California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, manages JPL for NASA.

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


Cluster takes a tilt at radio wave sources

ESA - Cluster II Mission patch.

26 November 2013

A new study using ESA's Cluster mission has shown improved precision in determining the source of a radio emission produced by the Earth. The experiment involved tilting one of the four identical Cluster spacecraft to measure the electric field of this emission in three dimensions for the first time.

Image above: The Cluster spacecraft in special configuration for observing Earth's radio wave emissions in May 2008. Credit: ESA.

Two main types of radio waves, with different generation mechanisms, are known to be produced within the Earth's magnetosphere: the auroral kilometric radiation (AKR) and the non-thermal continuum (NTC) radiation. Both have been observed in space around Earth since the 1970s, and within the magnetospheres of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune since the late 1980s. Radio waves can travel long distances, carrying with them useful information from the regions of the magnetosphere where they are generated.

 A new study, published in Annales Geophysicae, presents two different approaches for locating the source of NTC, with differing results. The researchers analysed radio waves measured by the WHISPER instruments on board the four Cluster spacecraft. They showed that classical triangulation, in this case using three of the spacecraft situated thousands of kilometres apart, can lead to a source location nowhere near the boundaries where NTC generation occurs. NTC can emit from the plasmapause, and possibly from the magnetopause. The erroneous source location, far from these boundaries, given by triangulation is attributed to small deviation from the assumed polarization of the emission.

The second method using the new 3D electric field measurements indicated a source located along the plasmapause at medium geomagnetic latitude, far away from the source location estimated by triangulation. Cluster observations reveal that this NTC source emits from the flank of the plasmapause towards the polar cap. Understanding the source of NTC waves will help with the broader understanding of their generation, amplification, and propagation.

The new 3D method involved placing two of the four identical Cluster spacecraft, C3 and C4, within 50 km of each other so that they could be considered as a single observatory.

"While the other spacecraft remained in their normal positions with their spin plane roughly level with the ecliptic plane, the spin axis of C3 was tilted to an angle of 45 degrees, its spinning antenna pointing to directions outside the ecliptic plane," explains Pierrette Décréau, who led the study. "This allowed the radio waves to be measured locally in three dimensions by the C3 - C4 observatory, with two identical 88-m long-boom antennas capable of catching faint waves, for the first time in space."

The Cluster constellation. Image Credit: ESA

There were particular dangers in operating the spacecraft like this, since the solar panels should always be exposed to sunlight. Spacecraft operators at ESOC took care to ensure C3 was operating safely.

"Because we needed to keep enough of the solar panels exposed to sunlight, we had to choose the right time of the year for the data to be collected and it could only be done for a period of one month," says Philippe Escoubet, Project Scientist for Cluster. "It was a high-risk manoeuvre as it was possible that something might have prevented us from being able to return C3 to its original orientation, which obviously would have had a huge impact on the operation of Cluster.

"On the other hand, the tilt experiment also shows the value of a mission like Cluster, in that it can be used for new ideas that weren't even being thought of when the mission was conceived," he says.

SCOPE, a possible future mission under study by the Japanese Space Agency (JAXA) would use similar techniques to research space plasma physics. The proposed mission would comprise one large spacecraft with four smaller ones operating around it, one of them tilted 90 degrees. This configuration would be able to collect data in three dimensions for the study of shocks, boundary layers and magnetic reconnection in the magnetosphere.

About Cluster:
Cluster is a constellation of four spacecraft flying in formation around Earth. It is the first space mission able to study, in three dimensions, the natural physical processes occurring within and in the near vicinity of the Earth's magnetosphere. Launched in 2000, it is composed of four identical spacecraft orbiting the Earth in a pyramidal configuration, along a nominal polar orbit of 4 × 19.6 Earth radii (1 Earth radius = 6380 km). Cluster's payload consists of state-of-the-art plasma instrumentation to measure electric and magnetic fields over wide frequency ranges, and key physical parameters characterising electrons and ions from energies of near 0 eV to a few MeV. The science operations are coordinated by the Joint Science Operations Centre (JSOC) at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, United Kingdom, and implemented by ESA's European Space Operations Centre (ESOC), in Darmstadt, Germany.

Related Publications:

Décréau, P.M.E., et al. [2013].

Cluster Mission Home:

- Summary:

- Fact Sheet:

- Objectives:

- Mission Team:

Images (mentioned), Text, Credit: ESA.


lundi 25 novembre 2013

Curiosity Resumes Science After Analysis of Voltage Issue

NASA - Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) patch.

Nov. 25, 2013

NASA's Mars rover Curiosity resumed full science operations on Saturday, Nov. 23.

Activities over the weekend included use of Curiosity’s robotic arm to deliver portions of powdered rock to a laboratory inside the rover. The powder has been stored in the arm since the rover collected it by drilling into the target rock "Cumberland" six months ago. Several portions of the powder have already been analyzed. The laboratory has flexibility for examining duplicate samples in different ways.

The decision to resume science activities resulted from the success of work to diagnose the likely root cause of a Nov. 17 change in voltage on the vehicle. The voltage change itself did not affect the rover safety or health. The vehicle's electrical system has a "floating bus" design feature to tolerate a range of voltage differences between the vehicle's chassis -- its mechanical frame -- and the 32-volt power lines that deliver electricity throughout the rover. This protects the rover from electrical shorts.

Image above: This artist concept features NASA's Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover, a mobile robot for investigating Mars' past or present ability to sustain microbial life.

"We made a list of potential causes, and then determined which we could cross off the list, one by one," said rover electrical engineer Rob Zimmerman of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. Science operations were suspended for six days while this analysis took priority.

The likely cause is an internal short in Curiosity's power source, the Multi-Mission Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator. Due to resiliency in design, this short does not affect operation of the power source or the rover. Similar generators on other spacecraft, including NASA's Cassini at Saturn, have experienced shorts with no loss of capability. Testing of another Multi-Mission Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator over many years found no loss of capability in the presence of these types of internal shorts.

Following the decision to resume science activities, engineers learned early Nov. 23 that the rover had returned to its pre-Nov. 17 voltage level. This reversal is consistent with their diagnosis of an internal short in the generator on Nov. 17, and the voltage could change again.

The analysis work to determine the cause of the voltage change gained an advantage from an automated response by the rover's onboard software when it detected the voltage change on Nov. 17. The rover stepped up the rate at which it recorded electrical variables, to eight times per second from the usual once per minute, and transmitted that engineering data in its next communication with Earth. "That data was quite helpful," Zimmerman said.

In subsequent days, the rover performed diagnostic activities commanded by the team, such as powering on some backup hardware to rule out the possibility of short circuits in certain sensors.

NASA's Mars Science Laboratory Project is using Curiosity inside Gale Crater to assess ancient habitable environments and major changes in Martian environmental conditions.  JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, built the rover and manages the project for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

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

Image, Text, Credits: NASA / JPL-Caltech.

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Amidst and Beyond the Rings

NASA / ESA - Cassini Mission to Saturn patch.

Nov. 25, 2013

While the moon Epimetheus passes by, beyond the edge of Saturn's main rings, the tiny moon Daphnis carries on its orbit within the Keeler gap of the A ring. Although quite different in size, both moons create waves in the rings thanks to their gravitational influences.

Epimetheus (70 miles, or 113 kilometers across) is visible at the lower-right of the image, and Daphnis (5 miles, or 8 kilometers across) is barely visible at one pixel wide just below-right of the image center. A close inspection of the image also reveals the waves Daphnis creates on the edges of the Keeler gap.

This view looks toward the unilluminated side of the rings from about 2.6 degrees below the ringplane. The image was taken in visible light with the Cassini spacecraft narrow-angle camera on June 28, 2013.

The view was acquired at a distance of approximately 808,000 miles (1.3 million kilometers) from Daphnis and at a Sun-Daphnis-spacecraft, or phase, angle of 28  degrees. Image scale is 5 miles (8 kilometers) per pixel.

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington, D.C. The Cassini orbiter and its two onboard cameras were designed, developed and assembled at JPL. The imaging operations center is based at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colo.

For more information about the Cassini-Huygens mission visit, . The Cassini imaging team homepage is at and

Image, Text, Credits: NASA / ESA / JPL-Caltech / Space Science Institute.


Chinese Long March 2D launches Shiyan-5

CASC - China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation logo.

Nov. 25, 2013

The Chinese were back in action again on Monday, launching the Shiyan Weixing-5 (SW-5) satellite via their Long March 2D rocket. Launch occurred at 02:12 UTC from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center.

Long March 2D rocket. launch

SW-5 uses the CAST-100 satellite platform and is possibly related to the medium size rapid surveying earth observation satellite platform that can house optical, SAR and other payloads for rapid target acquisition.

This was featured in one news article early in 2013 while mechanical tests were being performed on SW-5.

The first Shiyan satellite was launched on April 18, 2004, by a Long March-2C rocket from the Xichang satellite Launch Center.

This was China’s first experimental digital imaging system capable of stereo Earth-terrain mapping, also testing the digital imaging capability for the then new generation of Chinese military reconnaissance spacecraft in development.

Shiyan-5 satellite

Similar to Shiyan-1, Shiyan-2 was launched on November 18, 2004, also from Xichang and using a Long March-2C launch vehicle. Shiyan-3 and Shiyan-4 were both launched from Jiuquan. Both satellites were experimental vehicles with digital imaging system capable of stereo Earth-terrain mapping. Shiyan-3 was launched on November 5, 2008, and Shiyan-4 was launched on November 20, 2011.

Both satellites didn’t travel alone on their Long March-2D launch vehicles, which also launched the mini ‘store and forward’ communication satellites Chuangxin-1 developed by CAS (China Academy of Science), Shanghai Academy of Space Technology and Shanghai Telecomm.

This launch was the 186th Chinese successful orbital launch and the 185th launch of a Long March launch vehicle, also becoming the 63rd orbital launch from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, the seventh orbital launch from Jiuquan this year and the 12th Chinese orbital launch in 2013.

For more information about China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC), visit:

Images, Text, Credits: CASC / Aerospace.


Russian Cargo Ship Heading to Space Station

ROSCOSMOS - Russian Vehicles patch.

Nov. 25, 2013

Image above: The ISS Progress 53 resupply ship atop a Soyuz booster awaits liftoff from the Site 31 launch pad at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Image Credit: TsENKI.

A new Russian Progress space freighter loaded with nearly three tons of food, fuel, supplies and holiday gifts for the International Space Station’s Expedition 38 crew launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 3:53 p.m. EST Monday (2:53 a.m. Tuesday, Kazakh time).  During its four-day journey to the orbiting complex, the ISS Progress 53 cargo ship will conduct a “flyby” of the station to test an enhanced docking system for future Russian spacecraft.

At the time of launch, the station was flying about 260 miles over southern Russia, near the northeast border with Kazakhstan.

Russian Cargo Spacecraft Heads to Space Station with Holiday Goodies

Progress 53, which along with its Soyuz booster was rolled out to Baikonur’s Site 31 launch pad on Saturday,  is delivering  1,763 pounds of propellant, 48 pounds of oxygen, 57 pounds of air, 925 pounds of water and 3,119 pounds of spare parts and experiment hardware to the station.

Once the Progress reached its preliminary orbit nine minutes after launch and deployed its solar arrays, it was set to begin a series of automated engine burns to put it on track to fly within one mile of the station on Wednesday. That close encounter “flyby” Wednesday at 4:53 p.m. will test lighter, more-efficient Kurs automated rendezvous system hardware for upgraded Soyuz and Progress vehicles.  After it finishes its “flyby”, the Progress will loop above and behind the station, returning Friday for a docking to the aft port of the Zvezda service module at 5:28 p.m.

Image above: The Russian Mission Control Center monitors the ISS Progress 53 cargo ship as it heads to its preliminary orbit. Image Credit: NASA TV.

Meanwhile the Expedition 38 crew aboard the station continued their support of station science and maintenance Monday.

Flight Engineer Rick Mastracchio spent most of his morning preparing hardware and test samples inside BioLab, a research facility located in the Columbus laboratory. BioLab is used to perform space biology experiments on microorganisms, cells, tissue cultures, plants and small invertebrates.  Results from experiments performed inside this facility could benefit biomedical research in such areas as immunology, pharmacology, bone demineralization and biotechnology.

Image above: Flight Engineer Rick Mastracchio works with BioLab hardware in this photo posted from the NASA astronaut's Twitter account, @AstroRM. Image Credit: NASA.

Inside the station’s 7-windowed cupola, Flight Engineer Koichi Wakata set up the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s ultra-high definition camera system to capture detailed imagery and video of Comet ISON as it orbits around the sun.

Afterward, Wakata participated in the periodic Body Measures experiment, which collects anthropometric data to help researchers understand the magnitude and variability of the changes to body measurements during spaceflight. Predicting these changes will maximize crew performance, prevent injury and reduce time spent altering or adjusting suits and workstations to accommodate anthropometrics. Flight Engineer Mike Hopkins assisted Wakata throughout the experiment session, setting up the calibration tape, collecting data and taking photographs.

Image above: Equipped with seven windows, the station's cupola probably has exponentially more beneficial facets than it has windows. Image Credit: NASA.

Hopkins rounded out his day installing wire harnesses in the Harmony node to support the installation of Ethernet video cables for the station’s local area network.  These new cables will provide Ethernet connectivity to the visiting vehicles that dock to  Harmony’s Earth-facing port.  The first required use of this capability will take place when the SpaceX-3 commercial cargo ship arrives in February 2014.

On the Russian side of the complex, Commander Oleg Kotov and Flight Engineer Sergey Ryazanskiy conducted the Bar experiment, studying methods and instruments for detecting the location of an air leak from one of the station’s modules.

In advance of the arrival of Progress 53, Flight Engineer Mikhail Tyurin conducted a test of the MPEG2 video stream over the Ku-band system. Tyurin  also performed the Uragan Earth-observation experiment, which seeks to document and predict the development of natural and man-made disasters on Earth.

For more information about the International Space Station (ISS), visit:

Images (mentioned), Video, Text, Credits: ROSCOSMOS TV / NASA TV / NASA.


Hubble Sees Anemic Spiral NGC 4921

NASA - Hubble Space Telescope patch.

Nov. 25, 2013

How far away is spiral galaxy NGC 4921? Although presently estimated to be about 310 million light years distant, a more precise determination could be coupled with its known recession speed to help humanity better calibrate the expansion rate of the entire visible universe. Toward this goal, several images were taken by the Hubble Space Telescope in order to help identify key stellar distance markers known as Cepheid variable stars. Since NGC 4921 is a member of the Coma Cluster of Galaxies, refining its distance would also allow a better distance determination to one of the largest nearby clusters in the local universe. The magnificent spiral NGC 4921 has been informally dubbed anemic because of its low rate of star formation and low surface brightness. Visible in the above image are, from the center, a bright nucleus, a bright central bar, a prominent ring of dark dust, blue clusters of recently formed stars, several smaller companion galaxies, unrelated galaxies in the far distant universe, and unrelated stars in our Milky Way Galaxy.


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

ESA Hubble website:

NASA Hubble website:

Image Credits: Hubble Legacy Archive, ESA, NASA.