vendredi 6 décembre 2013

Thinking Inside the Box, Launching into Space

USAF - NROL-39 Mission patch.

Dec. 6, 2013

Image above: The NROL-39 GEMSat mission lifted off from California's Vandenberg Air Force Base on Dec. 5, 2013, aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket. Image Credit: P. Corkery/ULA.

Two tiny, cube-shaped research satellites hitched a ride to Earth orbit to validate new hardware and software technologies for future NASA Earth-observing instruments.

The cube satellites, or “CubeSats,” which typically have a volume of exactly 33.814 ounces (1 liter), were launched on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket at 11:14 p.m. PST last night (Dec. 5) from California's Vandenberg Air Force Base as part of the NROL-39 GEMSat mission. Led by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., and developed with university and industry partners, these two CubeSats will help enable near-real-time processing capabilities relevant to future climate science measurements.

Launch of Atlas V 501 with NROL-39 & CubeSats from Vandenberg Air Force

One of the CubeSats that launched was developed in collaboration with California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, and is called the Intelligent Payload Experiment, or IPEX. It enables imagery to be transmitted more rapidly from satellite missions back to Earth. By using new software and algorithms, the spacecraft can sift through the data, looking only for the most important images that the scientists urgently need on the ground. This method is designed to speed delivery time of critical data products from days to minutes.

“IPEX will demonstrate software that will enable future NASA missions to recognize science events such as flooding, volcanism and wildfires, and respond by sending alerts and autonomously acquiring follow-up imagery,” said Steve Chien of JPL, principal investigator for the IPEX mission.

The other CubeSat launched is the Michigan Multipurpose Mini-satellite/CubeSat On-board processing Validation Experiment, or M-Cubed/COVE.

M-Cubed, developed in partnership with the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, will image Earth. The COVE payload will use these data to validate an instrument image data processing algorithm that will greatly reduce the science data transmission rate required for on-orbit operations.

Image above: Artist's concept of the Intelligent Payload Experiment (IPEX) and M-Cubed/COVE-2, two NASA Earth-orbiting cube satellites ("CubeSats") that were launched as part of the NROL-30 GEMSat mission from California's Vandenberg Air Force Base on Dec. 5, 2013.Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

“The COVE payload will advance processor and algorithm technology designed for use in a future science instrument to characterize properties of aerosols and clouds, which will help our understanding of global climate change,” said Paula Pingree of JPL, principal investigator of the MCubed/COVE-2 mission.

These technology validation missions are sponsored by NASA’s Earth Science Technology Office. They are designed to satisfy their science objectives within six months, but will remain in Earth orbit for many years.

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

For additional information on NASA's CubeSat Launch Initiative program, visit:

Images (mentioned), Video, Text, Credits: NASA / Joshua Buck / JPL / David Israel.


jeudi 5 décembre 2013

Laser Instrument on NASA Mars Rover Tops 100,000 Zaps

NASA - Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) patch.

Dec. 5, 2013

Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) or Curiosity firing laser shot. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA's Curiosity Mars rover has passed the milestone of 100,000 shots fired by its laser. It uses the laser as one way to check which chemical elements are in rocks and soils.

The 100,000th shot was one of a series of 300 to investigate 10 locations on a rock called "Ithaca" in late October, at a distance of 13 feet, 3 inches (4.04 meters) from the laser and telescope on rover's mast. The Chemistry and Camera instrument (ChemCam) uses the infrared laser to excite material in a pinhead-size spot on the target into a glowing, ionized gas, called plasma. ChemCam observes that spark with the telescope and analyzes the spectrum of light to identify elements in the target.

Target for 100,000th Laser Shot by Curiosity on Mars

Image above: Since landing on Mars in August 2012, NASA's Curiosity Mars rover has fired the laser on its Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) instrument more than 100,000 times at rock and soil targets up to about 23 feet (7 meters) away. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL/CNES/IRAP/UNM.

"Passing 100,000 laser shots is terribly exciting and is providing a remarkable set of chemical data for Mars," said ChemCam co-investigator Horton Newsom of the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque.

As of the start of December, ChemCam has fired its laser on Mars more than 102,000 times, at more than 420 rock or soil targets. Virtually every shot yields a spectrum of data returned to Earth. Most targets get zapped at several points with 30 laser pulses at each point. The instrument has also returned more than 1,600 images taken by its remote micro-imager camera.

An international team of scientists and students is mining information from ChemCam to document the diversity or materials on the surface inside Mars' Gale Crater and the geological processes that formed them. "These materials include dust, wind-blown soil, water-lain sediments derived from the crater rim, veins of sulfates and igneous rocks that may be ejecta from other parts of Mars," Newsom said.

Target Rock 'Ithaca' in Gale Crater, Mars

Image above: The rock "Ithaca" shown here, with a rougher lower texture and smoother texture on top, appears to be a piece of the local sedimentary bedrock protruding from the surrounding soil in Gale Crater. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS.

Each pulse delivers more than a million watts of power for about five one-billionths of a second. The technique used by ChemCam, called laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy, has been used to assess composition of targets in other extreme environments, such as inside nuclear reactors and on the sea floor. Experimental applications have included environmental monitoring and cancer detection. NASA's Mars Science Laboratory Project, using the Curiosity rover, is the first mission to use it on another planet.

ChemCam is one of 10 instruments in Curiosity's science payload. The U.S. Department of Energy's Los Alamos National Laboratory, Los Alamos, N.M., developed ChemCam in partnership with scientists and engineers funded by the French national space agency, CNES, the University of Toulouse and research agency, CNRS. The laser was built by Thales, Paris. More information about ChemCam is available at .

Graphic above: This graph shows a spectrum recorded by the Chemistry and Camera instrument (ChemCam) in NASA's Curiosity Mars rover. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL/CNES/IRAP/UNM.

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


mercredi 4 décembre 2013

SpaceX launches Falcon 9 rocket in historic commercial mission

SpaceX - SES-8 & Falcon 9 Mission patch.

Dec. 4, 2013

Image above: A SpaceX Falcon 9 v1.1 rocket launches the SES-8 commercial communications satellite into orbit from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Dec. 3, 2013. The mission is SpaceX's first commercial satellite launch into a geostationary transfer orbit. (Photo: SpaceX).

The launch was an achievement for SpaceX's plans to provide reliable and affordable launch services to commercial satellite operators and governments.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lit up the night sky over Florida Tuesday, Dec. 3, in a landmark communications satellite mission that catapulted the private spaceflight company into the commercial launch business.

SpaceX launches Falcon 9 rocket & SES-8 in historic commercial mission

The upgraded Falcon 9 rocket launched into space from SpaceX's pad at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on a mission to deliver the 3.2-ton SES-8 communications satellite into orbit. The liftoff at 5:41 p.m. EST (2241 GMT) marked SpaceX's first entry into the large commercial satellite market and its first launch into a geostationary transfer orbit needed for such a mission.

The launch also marked the first flight of SpaceX's enhanced Falcon 9 v1.1 rocket from Florida and came after two aborted attempts last week due to technical glitches, making the third time the charm for the upgraded rocket design.

"We've had a great launch today," SpaceX Falcon 9 product manager John Insprucker said just after liftoff.

Another major milestone for SpaceX occurred 27 minutes after liftoff, when the two-stage Falcon 9 rocket reignited its second stage for a maneuver that delivered the SES-8 satellite into its intended orbit. An attempt to perform the maneuver during a September test flight of the upgraded Falcon 9 failed due to a frozen igniter fluid line, a glitch SpaceX engineers fixed with the addition of insulation to the affected system.

"Spacecraft separation confirmed!" SpaceX officials wrote in a Twitter post 33 minutes after launch. "SES-8 is now in its targeted GEO transfer orbit."

SES-8 satellite

SpaceX's billionaire CEO and founder Elon Musk was exultant.

"Restart was good, apogee raised to 80k km (50k miles). Yes!!!" Musk wrote on Twitter.

The 6,918-lb. (3,138 kilograms) SES-8 satellite was placed in a transfer orbit that ranges between 183 miles (295 kilometers) above Earth at its nearest point and 49,709 miles (80,000 km) at its highest point. The satellite is a hybrid Ku-and Ka-band spacecraft built to provide high-definition telecommunications services to SES World Skies customers across the South Asia and Pacific region.

The smooth launch is a landmark achievement for SpaceX's plans to provide reliable and affordable launch services to commercial satellite operators and government space agencies.

SpaceX has already demonstrated the dependability of its baseline Falcon 9 rocket with the repeated launch success of its unmanned Dragon space capsule. Today's mission marked SpaceX's seventh Falcon 9 launch since 2010, all of them successful.

For more information about SpaceX, visit:

Images, Video, Text, Credits: SpaceX / Tariq Malik.

Best regards,

Glimpsing the Infrastructure of a Gamma-ray Burst Jet

NASA - SWIFT Mission patch.

Dec. 4, 2013

A new study using observations from a novel instrument provides the best look to date at magnetic fields at the heart of gamma-ray bursts, the most energetic explosions in the universe. An international team of astronomers from Britain, Slovenia and Italy has glimpsed the infrastructure of a burst's high-speed jet.

Gamma-ray bursts are the most luminous explosions in the cosmos. Most are thought to be triggered when the core of a massive star runs out of nuclear fuel, collapses under its own weight, and forms a black hole. The black hole then drives jets of particles that drill all the way through the collapsing star and erupt into space at nearly the speed of light.

Image above: Measurements of polarized light in the afterglow of GRB 120308A by the Liverpool Telescope and its RINGO2 instrument indicate the presence of a large-scale stable magnetic field linked with a young black hole, as shown in this illustration. Image Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/S. Wiessinger.

On March 8, 2012, NASA’s Swift satellite detected a 100-second pulse of gamma rays from a source in the constellation Ursa Minor. The spacecraft immediately forwarded the location of the gamma-ray burst, dubbed GRB 120308A, to observatories around the globe.

The world's largest fully autonomous robotic optical telescope, the 2-meter Liverpool Telescope located at Roque de los Muchachos Observatory on La Palma in the Canary Islands, automatically responded to Swift's notification.

"Just four minutes after it received Swift's trigger, the telescope found the burst's visible afterglow and began making thousands of measurements," said lead researcher Carole Mundell, who heads the gamma-ray burst team at the Astrophysics Research Institute at Liverpool John Moores University in the U.K.

The telescope was fitted with an instrument named RINGO2, which Mundell's team designed to detect any preferred direction, called polarization, in the vibration of light waves from burst afterglows.

Image above: The 2-meter Liverpool Telescope, located at Roque de los Muchachos Observatory on La Palma in the Canary Islands, is the world's largest fully autonomous robotic optical telescope. Image Credit: © 2005, R. Smith.

Mundell's team built RINGO2 in order to probe the magnetic fields long postulated to drive and focus the jets of gamma-ray bursts. The shoe-box-sized instrument pairs a spinning polarizing filter with a super-fast camera.

Energy across the spectrum, from radio waves to gamma rays, is emitted when a jet slams into its surroundings and begins to decelerate. This results in the formation of an outward-moving shock wave. At the same time, a reverse shock wave drives back into the jet debris, also producing bright emission.

"One way to picture these different shocks is by imagining a traffic jam," Mundell said. "Cars approaching the jam abruptly slow down, which is similar to what happens in the forward shock. Cars behind them slow in turn, resulting in a wave of brake lights that moves backward along the highway, much like the reverse shock."

Theoretical models of gamma-ray bursts predict that light from the reverse shock should show strong and stable polarized emissions if the jet possesses a structured magnetic field originating from the environment around the newly-formed black hole, thought to be the "central engine" driving the burst.

Image above: Theoretical models link the presence of strong and stable polarized light in a gamma-ray burst’s jet with a large-scale magnetic field (a blue spiral, in this illustration) originating from the newly-formed black hole. Image Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/S. Wiessinger.

Previous observations of optical afterglows detected polarizations of about 10 percent, but they provided no information about how this value changed with time. As a result, they could not be used to test competing jet models.

The Liverpool Telescope's rapid targeting enabled the team to catch the explosion just four minutes after the initial outburst. Over the following 10 minutes, RINGO2 collected 5,600 photographs of the burst afterglow while the properties of the magnetic field were still encoded in its captured light.

The observations show that the initial afterglow light was polarized by 28 percent, the highest value ever recorded for a burst, and slowly declined to 16 percent, while the angle of the polarized light remained the same. This supports the presence of a large-scale organized magnetic field linked to the black hole, rather than a tangled magnetic field produced by instabilities within the jet itself.

Swift satellite (Artist's view). Image Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center

A paper describing the team's findings will appear in the Dec. 5 issue of the journal Nature.

"This is a remarkable discovery that could not have occurred without the lickety-split response times of the Swift satellite and the Liverpool Telescope," said Neil Gehrels, the Swift principal investigator at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

Related Links:

Download additional graphics from NASA Goddard's Scientific Visualization Studio:

Paper: "Highly polarized light from stable ordered magnetic fields in GRB 120308A":

For more information about Swift Mission, visit: and

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


LADEE Instruments Healthy and Ready for Science

NASA - LADEE Mission patch.

Dec. 4, 2013

Now in orbit around the moon, NASA's newest lunar mission has completed the commissioning phase, and its science instruments have passed their preliminary checks.

The Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE), launched Sept. 6, 2013, carries three science instruments designed to gather detailed information about the structure and composition of the thin lunar atmosphere and determine whether dust is being lofted into the lunar sky. A thorough understanding of these characteristics of our nearest celestial neighbor will help researchers understand other bodies in the solar system, such as large asteroids, Mercury, and the moons of outer planets.

“This is very promising for LADEE’s science phase – we are already seeing the shape of things to come,” said Rick Elphic, LADEE project scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., the center that is managing the mission.

The mission's commissioning phase lasted roughly one month, a period in which the spacecraft remained in a high-altitude preliminary orbit and the instruments were turned on, checked and calibrated.

All three science instruments are in good health, according to the mission's payloads manager, Robert Caffrey at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. "The sensitivity of the instruments is very high, and we are looking forward to an exciting science phase!"

The Lunar Dust Experiment (LDEX), built to collect and analyze lunar dust particles in the moon's thin atmosphere, is fully operational. The instrument recorded its first dust hit within minutes after its cover was deployed on Oct. 16. In subsequent orbits, LDEX observed dozens of dust particles, indicating an impact rate on the order of one hit per minute. Preliminary analysis suggests the particle sizes are much smaller than one micrometer in radius.

The Ultraviolet and Visible Light Spectrometer (UVS), designed to probe the composition of the lunar atmosphere, made its first measurements shortly after the telescope door opened on Oct. 16. The instrument has been performing as expected and has conducted a series of pointing and instrument-performance calibrations, including looking at the limb of the moon and performing solar crossings by aiming the solar viewer at the sun and panning back and forth.

Image above: Artist’s concept of NASA's Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer in orbit above the moon as dust scatters light during the lunar sunset. Image Credit: NASA Ames/Dana Berry.

The Neutral Mass Spectrometer (NMS), which will measure variations in the lunar atmosphere over multiple lunar orbits, is operating normally. One of the first steps in getting the NMS ready for science measurements was to remove the cover of the instrument and expose the mass spectrometer to the lunar atmosphere. To do this, a pyrotechnic device was commanded to fire, breaking a ceramic to metal to ceramic seal, and the cover flew away from the spacecraft. Sensors on the spacecraft detected a small amount of motion caused by this event, and measurements made before and after the cover deployment showed that trapped calibration gases had indeed been released to space.

In addition to the three science instruments, LADEE includes a Lunar Laser Communication Demonstration (LLCD) payload. LLCD has made history using a pulsed laser beam to transmit data over the 239,000 miles between the moon and Earth at a record-breaking download rate of 622 megabits per second (Mbps). LLCD is NASA's first system for two-way communication using a laser instead of radio waves. It also has demonstrated an error-free data upload rate of 20 Mbps transmitted from the primary ground station in New Mexico to the spacecraft currently orbiting the moon.

"LLCD's goal is to validate and build confidence in the technology, so that future missions will consider using it," said Don Cornwell, LLCD manager at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. "The unique ability developed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Lincoln Laboratory has incredible possibilities."

In addition to LLCD, LADEE marks several other firsts. The mission is the first flight of a spacecraft developed at Ames, the first spacecraft launched on a U.S. Air Force Minotaur V rocket integrated by Orbital Sciences Corp., and the first deep-space mission to launch from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.

Now that the commissioning phase has ended, LADEE has lowered its orbit to get closer to the lunar surface and begin its 100-day science mission.

NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington funds the LADEE mission; a cooperative effort led by Ames, which manages the mission, built the spacecraft and performs mission operations. Goddard manages the science instruments and technology demonstration payload, and the science operations center. Wallops was responsible for launch vehicle integration, launch services, and launch range operations. NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., manages LADEE within the Lunar Quest Program Office.

For more information about LADEE Mission, visit:

Image (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center / Elizabeth Zubritsky.


Cassini Spacecraft Obtains Best Views of Saturn Hexagon

NASA / ESA - Cassini Mission to Saturn patch.

Dec. 4, 2013

Cassini spacecraft has obtained the highest-resolution movie yet of a unique six-sided jet stream, known as the hexagon, around Saturn's north pole.

This colorful view from NASA's Cassini mission is the highest-resolution view of the unique six-sided jet stream at Saturn's north pole known as "the hexagon." This movie, made from images obtained by Cassini's imaging cameras, is the first to show the hexagon in color filters, and the first movie to show a complete view from the north pole down to about 70 degrees north latitude. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI/Hampton.

This is the first movie of its kind, using color filters, and the first to show a complete view of the top of Saturn down to about 70 degrees latitude. Spanning about 20,000 miles (30,000 kilometers) across, the hexagon is a wavy jet stream of 200-mph winds with a massive, rotating storm at the center. There is no weather feature exactly, consistently like this anywhere else in the solar system.

"The hexagon is just a current of air, and weather features out there that share similarities to this are notoriously turbulent and unstable," said Andrew Ingersoll, a Cassini imaging team member at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. "A hurricane on Earth typically lasts a week, but this has been here for decades -- and who knows -- maybe centuries."

Weather patterns on Earth are interrupted when they encounter friction from land forms or ice caps. Scientists suspect the stability of the hexagon has something to do with the lack of solid land forms on Saturn, which is essentially a giant ball of gas.

Better views of the hexagon are available now because the sun began to illuminate its interior in late 2012. Cassini captured images of the hexagon over a 10-hour time span with high-resolution cameras, giving scientists a good look at the motion of cloud structures within.

They saw the storm around the pole, as well as small vortices rotating in the opposite direction of the hexagon. Some of the vortices are swept along with the jet stream as if on a racetrack. The largest of these vortices spans about 2,200 miles (3,500 kilometers), or about twice the size of the largest hurricane recorded on Earth.

This infrared movie from NASA's Cassini mission shows the churning of the curious six-sided jet stream at Saturn's north pole known as "the hexagon." The movie, which was sped up here, covers 2 hours and 45 minutes in real time. It was made from data obtained by Cassini's visual and infrared mapping spectrometer in the 5-micron wavelength of radiation. This channel shows clouds in silhouette against infrared light emanating from Saturn's interior. These clouds are composed of relatively large particles and are thick, blocking light so they appear dark. These kinds of clouds tend to lie deep in Saturn's atmosphere, at about 3 bars of pressure. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona.

Scientists analyzed these images in false color, a rendering method that made it easier to distinguish differences among the types of particles suspended in the atmosphere -- relatively small particles that make up haze -- inside and outside the hexagon.

"Inside the hexagon, there are fewer large haze particles and a concentration of small haze particles, while outside the hexagon, the opposite is true," said Kunio Sayanagi, a Cassini imaging team associate at Hampton University in Virginia. "The hexagonal jet stream is acting like a barrier, which results in something like Earth's Antarctic ozone hole."

This black-and-white movie from NASA's Cassini mission shows a polar projection of the curious six-sided jet stream at Saturn's north pole known as "the hexagon" in the infrared. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona.

The Antarctic ozone hole forms within a region enclosed by a jet stream with similarities to the hexagon. Wintertime conditions enable ozone-destroying chemical processes to occur and the jet stream prevents a resupply of ozone from the outside. At Saturn, large aerosols cannot cross into the hexagonal jet stream from outside and large aerosol particles are created when sunlight shines on the atmosphere. Only recently, with the start of Saturn's northern spring in August 2009, did sunlight begin bathing the planet's northern hemisphere.

"As we approach Saturn's summer solstice in 2017, lighting conditions over its north pole will improve, and we are excited to track the changes that occur both inside and outside the hexagon boundary," said Scott Edgington, Cassini deputy project scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

A black-and-white version of the imaging camera movie and movies obtained by Cassini's visual and infrared mapping spectrometer also are tools Cassini scientists can use to look at wind speeds and the mini-storms inside the jet stream.

Cassini launched in 1997 and arrived at Saturn on July 1, 2004. Its mission is scheduled to end in September 2017. The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. JPL manages the mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. JPL designed, developed and assembled the Cassini orbiter and its two onboard cameras. The imaging team is based at the Space Science Institute, Boulder, Colo.

The movies are available online at:

More information about Cassini is available at: &

Images & Animations (mentioned), Text, Credit: NASA.

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Supernova Blast Provides Clues to Determining Age of Binary Star System

NASA - Chandra X-ray Observatory patch.

Dec. 4, 2013

Data from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory has revealed faint remnants of a supernova explosion and helped researchers determine Circinus X-1 -- an X-ray binary -- is the youngest of this class of astronomical objects found to date.

As the name suggests, X-ray binaries are star systems made up of two parts: a compact stellar remnant -- either a neutron star or a black hole; and a companion star -- a normal star like our sun. As they orbit one another, the neutron star or black hole pulls in gas from the companion star. This heats the gas to millions of degrees, producing intense X-ray radiation and making these star systems some of the brightest X-ray sources in the sky.

Sebastian Heinz and his team at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (UW) discovered Circinus X-1 is less than 4,600 years old, making it the youngest X-ray binary system ever seen. This discovery, made in parallel with a radio telescope in Australia, provides scientists unique insight into the formation of neutron stars and supernovas, and the effect of the supernova's explosion on a nearby companion star.

Image of Circinus X-1, an X-ray binary star system, taken by the Chandra X-ray Observatory. (Credit: NASA).

"X-ray binaries provide us with opportunities to study matter under extreme conditions that would be impossible to recreate in a laboratory," Heinz said. "For the first time, we can study a newly minted neutron star in an X-ray binary system."

Astronomers have detected hundreds of X-ray binaries throughout the Milky Way and other nearby galaxies. However, these older X-ray binaries, with ages typically measured in millions of years, only reveal information about what happens much later in the evolution of these systems.

"It's critical that we see what these X-ray binaries are doing at all stages of their lives," said co-author Paul Sell, also of UW. "Circinus X-1 is showing us what happens in a cosmic blink of an eye after one of these objects is born."

To determine the age of Circinus X-1, the team of astronomers needed to examine the material around the orbiting pair of stars. However, the overwhelming brightness of the neutron star made it too difficult for researchers to observe that interstellar gas. The team recently caught a break, when they observed the neutron star in a very faint state -- dim enough for scientists to detect the X-rays from the supernova shock wave that plowed through the surrounding interstellar gas.

"Since the supernova was triggered by the formation of the neutron star, our limit on the age of the supernova remnant also limits the age of the neutron star in Circinus X-1," said co-author Robert Fender of the University of Oxford in the U.K.

The youth of Circinus X-1 helps explain its wild swings in brightness and the highly unusual orbit of its two stars, which had puzzled astronomers for years. The orbit is very eccentric -- non-circular -- and the period during which the two stars orbit each other is decreasing by several minutes every year. This is exactly what is expected for a young X-ray binary disrupted by a supernova explosion before the gravitational pull of the stars on each other has had time to circularize and stabilize the orbit.

Previous observations with other telescopes indicated the magnetic field of the neutron star in Circinus X-1 is weak. That, in addition to the star system's young age, has led to two possible theories: either a neutron star can be born with a weak magnetic field, or it can quickly become de-magnetized as it pulls material from its companion star onto itself. Neither conclusion was expected from existing theories of neutron star evolution.

Chandra X-ray Observatory spacecraft

In our galaxy, the only other established X-ray binary within a supernova remnant is SS 433, which is between 10,000 and 100,000 years old, and behaves in many ways like an older version of Circinus X-1. Two other candidate X-ray binaries in nearby galaxies have ages similar to SS 433.

In addition to the Chandra data, radio observations from the Australia Telescope Compact Array were critical in these findings. A paper describing these results is available online and appears in the Dec. 3 issue of The Astrophysical Journal.

NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., manages the Chandra program for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, Mass., controls Chandra's science and flight operations.

For more information about Chandra, visit: and

Images, Text, Credit: NASA.


Massive Black Hole Duo: Possible Sighting by NASA's WISE

NASA - WISE Mission patch.

December 4, 2013

Astronomers have spotted what appear to be two supermassive black holes at the heart of a remote galaxy, circling each other like dance partners. The incredibly rare sighting was made with the help of NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE.

Follow-up observations with the Australian Telescope Compact Array near Narrabri, Australia, and the Gemini South telescope in Chile, revealed unusual features in the galaxy, including a lumpy jet thought to be the result of one black hole causing the jet of the other to sway.

"We think the jet of one black hole is being wiggled by the other, like a dance with ribbons," said Chao-Wei Tsai of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., who is lead author of a paper on the findings appearing in the Dec. 10 issue of Astrophysical Journal. "If so, it is likely the two black holes are fairly close and gravitationally entwined."

The findings could teach astronomers more about how supermassive black holes grow by merging with each other.

The WISE satellite scanned the entire sky twice in infrared wavelengths before being put into hibernation in 2011. NASA recently gave the spacecraft a second lease on life, waking it up to search for asteroids, in a project called NEOWISE.

The new study took advantage of previously released all-sky WISE data. Astronomers sifted through images of millions of actively feeding supermassive black holes spread throughout our sky before an oddball, also known as WISE J233237.05-505643.5, jumped out.

"At first we thought this galaxy's unusual properties seen by WISE might mean it was forming new stars at a furious rate," said Peter Eisenhardt, WISE project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., and a co-author of the study. "But on closer inspection, it looks more like the death spiral of merging giant black holes."

Two Black Holes on Way to Becoming One (Artist's Concept)

Image above: Two black holes are entwined in a gravitational tango in this artist's conception. Supermassive black holes at the hearts of galaxies are thought to form through the merging of smaller, yet still massive black holes, such as the ones depicted here. Image credit: NASA.

Almost every large galaxy is thought to harbor a supermassive black hole filled with the equivalent in mass of up to billions of suns. How did the black holes grow so large? One way is by swallowing ambient materials. Another way is through galactic cannibalism. When galaxies collide, their massive black holes sink to the center of the new structure, becoming locked in a gravitational tango. Eventually, they merge into one even-more-massive black hole.

The dance of these black hole duos starts out slowly, with the objects circling each other at a distance of about a few thousand light-years. So far, only a few handfuls of supermassive black holes have been conclusively identified in this early phase of merging. As the black holes continue to spiral in toward each other, they get closer, separated by just a few light-years.

It is these close-knit black holes, also called black hole binaries, that have been the hardest to find. The objects are usually too small to be resolved even by powerful telescopes. Only a few strong candidates have been identified to date, all relatively nearby. The new WISE J233237.05-505643.5 is a new candidate, and located much farther away, at 3.8 billion light-years from Earth.

Radio images with the Australian Telescope Compact Array were key to identifying the dual nature of WISE J233237.05-505643.5. Supermassive black holes at the cores of galaxies typically shoot out pencil-straight jets, but, in this case, the jet showed a zigzag pattern. According to the scientists, a second massive black hole could, in essence, be pushing its weight around to change the shape of the other black hole's jet.

NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE spacecraft (Artist's Concept)

Visible-light spectral data from the Gemini South telescope in Chile showed similar signs of abnormalities, thought to be the result of one black hole causing disk material surrounding the other black hole to clump. Together, these and other signs point to what is probably a fairly close-knit set of circling black holes, though the scientists can't say for sure how much distance separates them.

"We note some caution in interpreting this mysterious system," said Daniel Stern of JPL, a co-author of the study. "There are several extremely unusual properties to this system, from the multiple radio jets to the Gemini data, which indicate a highly perturbed disk of accreting material around the black hole, or holes. Two merging black holes, which should be a common event in the universe, would appear to be simplest explanation to explain all the current observations."

The final stage of merging black holes is predicted to send gravitational waves rippling through space and time. Researchers are actively searching for these waves using arrays of dead stars called pulsars in hopes of learning more about the veiled black hole dancers (see ).

The technical paper is online at .

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

Images, Text, Credits: NASA / JPL / Whitney Clavin.


mardi 3 décembre 2013

CERN - X-ray tests: Night at the collider

CERN - European Organization for Nuclear Research logo.

Dec 3, 2013

Image above: Gunter Kniesche prepares to X-ray a section of the Large Hadron Collider (Image: CERN).

When night falls over Geneva and technicians, engineers and physicists finish their work in the Large Hadron Collider tunnel to go home, Gunter Kniesche and his colleagues take the helm. They are non-destructive testers – a team of experts who X-ray components such as connections, bellows and pipes to check that they meet the required quality standards.

X-raying isn’t straightforward in the LHC tunnel. Twenty-seven kilometres of collider, consisting of more than a thousand interconnected 15-metre magnets and acceleration sections, cannot be brought to the surface for tests. But many thousands of tests are needed during the current long shutdown (LS1), for example of the newly repaired and shunted connections between magnets, welds, pipes and cooling bellows.

At 7pm, the non-destructive testers don their safety equipment and go underground with their mobile X-ray source. Because this source consists of the radioactive element selenium 75, no other work can be carried out in the tunnel at the same time. This is why the X-ray testers come at night. On rickety LHC bikes, with 10-kilo mobile X-ray source in tow, they cycle up to three kilometres to the point where their expertise is needed.

"This kind of life isn’t for everybody," says Kniesche, who originally comes from Dresden in Germany but has worked in Geneva and at CERN for a Swiss contractor company for more than 10 years. He is one of seven experts for non-destructive testing at CERN. "I like it though."

It takes roughly half an hour to X-ray a magnet interconnect and digital X-ray images are immediately checked against design requirements. “The decision whether something needs to be opened and fixed is taken by the CERN experts, not by us. We just supply them with the data they need to take this decision,” says Kniesche. Every image is saved to a detailed digital database.

One important checking point is the compensators for the cooling system. During LHC operation two small helium leaks were detected, and during the warming up for LS1 five more were found. X-ray images soon showed heavily deformed compensators. A compensator is a sort of bellow that makes up for differences in size when material contracts because of the extremely low temperatures in the LHC. One particular weld had not been up to the job and the compensator more or less collapsed upon itself. Now, every single compensator is X-rayed to detect faulty bellows and potential future problems.

Image above: X-rays of a damaged compensator bellows in sector 4-5 of the LHC (Image: CERN).

The X-ray shift ends at around 4am and LS1 activities resume. Until the end of the long shutdown Kniesche and his colleagues will spend many more nights in the tunnel, inspecting thousands of interconnects and mountains of other components.


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

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

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

Related links:

The Large Hadron Collider:

For more information about CERN, visit:

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: CERN / Barbara Warmbein.

Best regards,

Hubble Traces Subtle Signals of Water on Hazy Worlds

NASA - Hubble Space Telescope patch.

Dec. 3, 2013

Using the powerful­ eye of NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, two teams of scientists have found faint signatures of water in the atmospheres of five distant planets.

The presence of atmospheric water was reported previously on a few exoplanets orbiting stars beyond our solar system, but this is the first study to conclusively measure and compare the profiles and intensities of these signatures on multiple worlds.

Alien Atmospheres

Video above: Although exoplanets are too far away to be imaged, detailed studies of their size, composition and atmospheric makeup are possible. This video explains how researchers investigate those characteristics. Image Credit: NASA Goddard/ESA/Hubble.

The five planets -- WASP-17b, HD209458b, WASP-12b, WASP-19b and XO-1b -- orbit nearby stars. The strengths of their water signatures varied. WASP-17b, a planet with an especially puffed-up atmosphere, and HD209458b had the strongest signals. The signatures for the other three planets, WASP-12b, WASP-19b and XO-1b, also are consistent with water.

"We're very confident that we see a water signature for multiple planets," said Avi Mandell, a planetary scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., and lead author of an Astrophysical Journal paper, published today, describing the findings for WASP-12b, WASP-17b and WASP-19b. "This work really opens the door for comparing how much water is present in atmospheres on different kinds of exoplanets, for example hotter versus cooler ones."

Image above: NASA scientists found faint signatures of water in the atmospheres of five distant planets orbiting three different stars. All five planets appear to be hazy. This illustration shows a star's light illuminating the atmosphere of a planet. Image Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.

The studies were part of a census of exoplanet atmospheres led by L. Drake Deming of the University of Maryland in College Park. Both teams used Hubble's Wide Field Camera 3 to explore the details of absorption of light through the planets' atmospheres. The observations were made in a range of infrared wavelengths where the water signature, if present, would appear. The teams compared the shapes and intensities of the absorption profiles, and the consistency of the signatures gave them confidence they saw water. The observations demonstrate Hubble's continuing exemplary performance in exoplanet research.

"To actually detect the atmosphere of an exoplanet is extraordinarily difficult. But we were able to pull out a very clear signal, and it is water," said Deming, whose team reported results for HD209458b and XO-1b in a Sept. 10 paper in the same journal. Deming's team employed a new technique with longer exposure times, which increased the sensitivity of their measurements.

Image aqbove: To determine what’s in the atmosphere of an exoplanet, astronomers watch the planet pass in front of its host star and look at which wavelengths of light are transmitted and which are partially absorbed. Image Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.

The water signals were all less pronounced than expected, and the scientists suspect this is because a layer of haze or dust blankets each of the five planets. This haze can reduce the intensity of all signals from the atmosphere in the same way fog can make colors in a photograph appear muted. At the same time, haze alters the profiles of water signals and other important molecules in a distinctive way.

The five planets are hot Jupiters, massive worlds that orbit close to their host stars. The researchers were initially surprised that all five appeared to be hazy. But Deming and Mandell noted that other researchers are finding evidence of haze around exoplanets.

"These studies, combined with other Hubble observations, are showing us that there are a surprisingly large number of systems for which the signal of water is either attenuated or completely absent," said Heather Knutson of the California Institute of Technology, a co-author on Deming's paper. "This suggests that cloudy or hazy atmospheres may in fact be rather common for hot Jupiters."

Hubble's high-performance Wide Field Camera 3 is one of few capable of peering into the atmospheres of exoplanets many trillions of miles away. These exceptionally challenging studies can be done only if the planets are spotted while they are passing in front of their stars. Researchers can identify the gases in a planet's atmosphere by determining which wavelengths of the star's light are transmitted and which are partially absorbed.

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

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

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


Proba-V data ready for use

ESA - Proba-V Mission logo.

3 December 2013

Less than seven months after launch, Earth-watcher Proba-V is ready to provide global vegetation data for operational and scientific use.

Launched by a Vega rocket from French Guiana in the early hours of 7 May, the Proba-V miniaturised satellite is designed to map land cover and vegetation growth across the entire planet every two days at a resolution of 330 m.


The satellite is less than a cubic metre in volume, and carries a Vegetation instrument that collects light in the blue, red, near-infrared and mid-infrared wavebands. This allows Proba-V to distinguish between different types of land cover and plant species, including crops.

Vital uses of these data include day-by-day tracking of vegetation development, alerting authorities to crop failures, monitoring inland water resources and tracing the steady spread of deserts and deforestation.

Artist's view of the Proba-V satellite

Immediately following its launch, Proba-V entered the Launch and Early Operations Phase to establish contact, confirm its pointing direction and check the various subsystems to ensure their functionality following the stress of launch.

All satellite systems were then activated and evaluated during the six-month commissioning phase. This included a careful cross-calibration of the Vegetation imager with the previous generation of the instrument, operating on France’s Spot-5 satellite, to ensure data compatibility. Radiometric and geometric calibration was also executed.

Río de la Plata

The crucial commissioning phase is now complete and the satellite has been declared ready for operations.

“We are anticipating that with the data from Proba-V the user community ranging from operational Copernicus services to scientific users will be able to answer questions related to the state of global vegetation and its dynamic changes in a seasonal context,” said Bianca Hoersch, Proba-V Mission Manager.

“It will furthermore extend the valuable time series that was started by the Spot-4/5 Vegetation instruments 15 years ago.”

Access to near-realtime data at a 1 km resolution is free and open with user registration, with high-resolution data accessible for free to the research and development community.

Related links:

Proba-V 1 km data - user registration:

Proba-V high resolution data:

Mission overview:

About Proba-V:

Vegetation mapping:

Data flow:

Images, Text, Credits: ESA / BELSPO.


lundi 2 décembre 2013

ATLAS sees Higgs boson decay to fermions

CERN - European Organization for Nuclear Research logo.

Dec. 2, 2013

Image above: The ATLAS detector, open during a recent technical stop (Image: Maximilien Brice/CERN).

The ATLAS experiment at CERN has released preliminary results that show evidence that the Higgs boson decays to two tau particles. Taus belong to a group of subatomic particles called the fermions, which make up matter. This result – measured at 4.1 sigma on the 5-point scale particle physicists use to determine the certainty of a result – is the first evidence for a Higgs decay to fermions.

On 4 July 2012, the ATLAS and CMS experiments at CERN announced the discovery of a new particle, which was later confirmed to be a Higgs boson.

For physicists, the discovery meant the beginning of a quest to find out what the new particle was, if it fit in the Standard Model, our current model of nature in particle physics, or if its properties could point to new physics beyond that model. An important property of the Higgs boson that ATLAS physicists are trying to measure is how it decays.

Image above: Graphical representation of a Higgs boson decaying to two tau particles in the ATLAS detector. The taus decay into an electron (blue line) and a muon (red line) (Image: ATLAS).

The Higgs boson lives only for a short time and disintegrates into other particles. The various possibilities of the final states are called decay modes. So far, ATLAS physicists had found evidence that the Higgs boson decays into different types of gauge bosons - the kind of elementary particles that carry forces. The other family of fundamental particles, the fermions, make up matter. The tau is a fermion and behaves like a very massive electron.

The Brout-Englert-Higgs mechanism was first proposed to describe how gauge bosons acquire mass. But the Standard Model predicts that fermions also acquire mass in this manner, so the Higgs boson could decay directly to either bosons or fermions. The new preliminary result from ATLAS shows clear evidence that the Higgs boson indeed does decay to fermions, consistent with the rate predicted by the Standard Model.

This important finding was made possible through careful analysis of data produced by the LHC during its first run. Only with new data will physicists be able to determine if the compatibility remains or if other new models become viable. Fortunately, the next LHC run, which begins in 2015, is expected to produce several times the existing data sample. In addition, the proton collisions will be at higher energies, producing Higgs bosons at higher rates.

CERN In 3 Minutes

ATLAS' broad physics programme, which includes precision measurements of the Higgs boson, will continue to test the Standard Model. The years ahead will be exciting for particle physics as – the LHC experiments have found new territory that they have only just begun to explore.


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

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

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

Related links:

The ATLAS experiment:

About the Higgs boson:

For more information about European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), visit:

Images (mentioned), Video, Text, Credits: CERN /  Sylvie Brunet, Abha Eli Phoboo.


Sunlit Edge of Saturn's Largest Moon & Titan South Polar Vortex

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

Dec. 2, 2013

 Sunlit Edge of Saturn's Largest Moon, Titan

The sunlit edge of Titan's south polar vortex stands out distinctly against the darkness of the moon's unilluminated hazy atmosphere. The Cassini spacecraft images of the vortex led scientists to conclude that its clouds form at a much higher altitude -- where sunlight can still reach -- than the surrounding haze.

Titan (3,200 miles, or 5,150 kilometers across) is Saturn's largest moon. This view looks toward the trailing hemisphere of Titan. North on Titan is up and rotated 32 degrees to the left. The image was taken with the Cassini spacecraft narrow-angle camera on July 14, 2013 using a spectral filter sensitive to wavelengths of near-infrared light centered at 938 nanometers.

The view was obtained at a distance of approximately 808,000 miles (1.3 million kilometers) from Titan and at a Sun-Titan-spacecraft, or phase, angle of 82 degrees. Image scale is 5 miles (8 kilometers) per pixel.

Titan's Colorful South Polar Vortex

Image above: This true color image captured by NASA'S Cassini spacecraft before a distant flyby of Saturn's moon Titan on June 27, 2012, shows a south polar vortex, or a mass of swirling gas around the pole in the atmosphere of the moon.

The south pole of Titan (3,200 miles, or 5,150 kilometers, across) is near the center of the view.

Since Cassini arrived in the Saturn system in 2004, Titan has had a visible "hood" high above the north pole (see PIA08137). It was northern winter at Cassini's arrival, and much of the high northern latitudes were in darkness. But the hood, an area of denser, high altitude haze compared to the rest of the moon's atmosphere, was high enough to be still illuminated by sunlight. The seasons have been changing since Saturn's August 2009 equinox signaled the beginning of spring in the northern hemisphere and fall in the southern hemisphere for the planet and its many moons. Now the high southern latitudes are moving into darkness. The formation of the vortex at Titan's south pole may be related to the coming southern winter and the start of what will be a south polar hood.

These new, more detailed images are only possible because of Cassini's newly inclined orbits, which are the next phase of Cassini Solstice Mission. Previously, Cassini was orbiting in the equatorial plane of the planet, and the imaging team's images of the polar vortex between late March and mid-May were taken from over Titan's equator. At that time, images showed a brightening or yellowing of the detached haze layer on the limb, or edge of the visible disk of the moon, over the south polar region.

Scientists think these new images show open cell convection. In open cells, air sinks in the center of the cell and rises at the edge, forming clouds at cell edges. However, because the scientists can't see the layer underneath the layer visible in these new images, they don't know what mechanisms may be at work.

Cosmic ray hits on the camera detectors appear as bright dots in the black and white version of the image.

Images taken using red, green and blue spectral filters were combined to create this natural color view. The images were obtained with the Cassini spacecraft narrow-angle camera late on June 26, 2012 at a distance of approximately 301,000 miles (484,000 kilometers) from Titan. Image scale is 2 miles (3 kilometers) per pixel.

Artist's view of Cassini flyby Titan

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.

The Cassini–Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, ESA and ASI, the Italian space agency. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington. The Cassini orbiter was designed, developed and assembled at JPL. The radar instrument was built by JPL and ASI, working with team members from the US and several European countries.

Related links:

At Saturn and Titan:

Cassini-Huygens in depth:

NASA JPL Cassini site:

Italian Space Agency:

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

Best regards,

dimanche 1 décembre 2013

Launch of Chinese Chang'e-3 Lunar Exploration Rover to the Moon

CNSA - China National Space Administration logo.

Dec. 1, 2013

Long March 3B rocket & Lunar probe Chang’e-3

The Chinese space agency has launched Lunar probe Chang’e-3 on Long March 3B rocket from Xichang Satellite Launch Center at 1:30 am local time, December 2 (12:30pm EDT on December 1). the rover will land on the surface of the Moon on December 14, and it will be the first landing on the Moon (as opposed to deliberate crashing of orbital satellites) of a probe from any country since the USSR’s Luna 24 probe landed in 1976.

Launch of Chinese Chang'e 3 Lunar Exploration Rover on Long March 3B

There are two parts to the Chang’e-3 probe: a lander also a robotic rover which is nicknamed “Yutu” (or “Jade Rabbit.”) The rover was named “Yutu” after the Chinese space agency conducted an online poll for names. ”Yutu” was the name of the pet rabbit of the Chinese moon goddess Chang’e. The probe will land at the “Sea of Rainbows” on the Moon.

Yutu is an autonomous Lunar rover, meaning that it will “drive itself” for the most part, surveying the Moon’s surface. Scientists in the Chinese space program will also be able to control the rover from Earth.

The two parts to the Chang’e-3 probe: a lander also a robotic rover which is nicknamed “Yutu”

The European Space Agency will be assisting the Chinese with their efforts to reach the Moon from their station in Kourou, French Guiana, which will be used to route communications from the Chinese space agency to the probe shortly after the launch. The ESA will help China track the probe throughout the duration of the flight.

“We are proud that the expertise of our ground station and flight dynamics teams and the sophisticated technologies of our worldwide Estrack network can assist China to deliver a scientifically important lander and rover to the Moon,” says ESA’s Thomas Reiter in a press release.

Artist’s conception of the Chinese Lunar rover ‘Yutu’ on the surface of the Moon

Once on the surface of the Moon, the Yutu rover is expected to be active for about three months. If the Chang’e-3 mission is successful, then China will begin its next phase of lunar operations. Up next? A Lunar rover that lands on the Martian surface, collects samples, and returns to Earth.

Assuming that China’s Moon missions go according to schedule (and so far, they have) the country will put a person on the Moon some time in 2025.

Image above: Artist’s conception of the Chinese Lunar rover ‘Yutu’ on the surface of the Moon.

For more information about China National Space Administration (CNSA), visit:

Images, Video, Text, Credits: CNSA  / News.CN.