vendredi 7 février 2014

Looking Back to the Cradle of Our Universe














NASA - Spitzer Space Telescope patch / NASA & ESA - Hubble Space Telescope patch.

February 07, 2014


Image above: This image of the galaxy cluster Abell 2744 was obtained with NASA's Hubble Space Telescope. The zoomed image shows the region around the galaxy Abell2744_Y1, one of the most distant galaxy candidates known, harkening back to a time when the universe was 650 million years old.

NASA's Spitzer and Hubble Space Telescopes have spotted what might be one of the most distant galaxies known, harkening back to a time when our universe was only about 650 million years old (our universe is 13.8 billion years old). The galaxy, known as Abell2744 Y1, is about 30 times smaller than our Milky Way galaxy and is producing about 10 times more stars, as is typical for galaxies in our young universe.

The discovery comes from the Frontier Fields program, which is pushing the limits of how far back we can see into the distant universe using NASA's multi-wavelength suite of Great Observatories. Spitzer sees infrared light, Hubble sees visible and shorter-wavelength infrared light, and NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory sees X-rays. The telescopes are getting a boost from natural lenses: they peer through clusters of galaxies, where gravity magnifies the light of more distant galaxies.

Spitzer space telescope

The Frontier Fields program will image six galaxy clusters in total. Hubble images of the region are used to spot candidate distant galaxies, and then Spitzer is needed to determine if the galaxies are, in fact, as far as they seem. Spitzer data also help determine how many stars are in the galaxy.

These early results from the program come from images of the Abell 2744 galaxy cluster. The distance to this galaxy, if confirmed, would make it one of the farthest known. Astronomers say it has a redshift of 8, which is a measure of the degree to which its light has been shifted to redder wavelengths due to the expansion of our universe. The farther a galaxy, the higher the redshift. The farthest confirmed galaxy has a redshift of more than 7. Other candidates have been identified with redshifts as high as 11.

Hubble Space Telescope

"Just a handful of galaxies at these great distances are known," said Jason Surace, of NASA's Spitzer Science Center at the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena. "The Frontier Fields program is already working to find more of these distant, faint galaxies. This is a preview of what's to come."

The findings, led by astronomers from the Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias and La Laguna University, are accepted for publication in the scientific journal Astronomy and Astrophysics Letters.

Read the full European news release online at: http://www.iac.es/divulgacion.php?op1=16&id=836&lang=en .

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., manages the Spitzer Space Telescope mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. Science operations are conducted at the Spitzer Science Center at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. Spacecraft operations are based at Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company, Littleton, Colo. Data are archived at the Infrared Science Archive housed at the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center at Caltech. Caltech manages JPL for NASA. For more information about Spitzer, visit http://spitzer.caltech.edu and http://www.nasa.gov/spitzer .

The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between NASA and the European Space Agency. NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center manages the telescope. The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) conducts Hubble science operations. STScI is operated for NASA by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, Inc., in Washington, D.C. For more information, visit: http://hubblesite.org and http://www.nasa.gov/hubble and http://www.spacetelescope.org/

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

Greetings, Orbiter.ch

Is global warming hiding underwater?












ESA - European Space Agency patch.

7 February 2014

Satellite observations of global sea-surface temperature show that a 30-year upward trend has slowed down within the last 15 years. Climate scientists say this is not the end of global warming, but the result of a rearrangement in the energy flow of the climate system and, in particular, how the ocean stores heat.

Like flying thermometers, some satellites carry instruments that provide a global view of the surface temperature of oceans and seas. Measuring the sea-surface temperature is important for improving weather and ocean forecasting and climate change research.

Sea-surface temperature

Satellite and local readings show that sea-surface temperature has been rising rapidly since the 1970s, in line with the overall warming of our planet. But this increase has significantly slowed in the last 15 years.

In contrast, other variables such as increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide, rising sea levels and declining Arctic sea ice have not experienced the same reduction in trend and therefore demonstrate that Earth’s climate continues to change.

Scientists have speculated that one of the causes of this ‘plateau’ in sea-surface temperature could be a change in the exchange of ocean water between warm, surface waters and cold, deep waters below 700 m – as if the warming is ‘hiding’ underwater. Temperature measurements at this depth cover a relatively short period.

But the warm water won’t hide below the surface forever: scientists believe that it may re-emerge later or affect other climate indicators, such as sea level or ocean circulation.

video
Mediterranean sea-surface temperature

ESA’s Climate Change Initiative, or CCI, responds to the need for continuous data on the energy budget in our climate system to understand better the slowing increase in sea-surface temperature. Satellite readings enable the detection of real trends in climate.

“We can observe changes in sea-surface temperature from the 19th century onwards using millions of measurements gathered by voluntary observers at sea and by buoys that drift around the oceans,” said Nick Rayner from the Met Office Hadley Centre in the UK.

“CCI is developing sea-surface temperature information from satellites that provides an independent assessment of these changes over the last few decades.” 

Science leader for this project, Chris Merchant, says, “When comparing changes in global average sea-surface temperature from these two sources, we see they provide a consistent picture since 1996, when the most reliable satellite measurements began.

“We are now working on applying our methods to earlier satellites, in order to extend reliable satellite-based information back into the 1980s.”

Nick Rayner adds: “That will allow us to combine, with increased confidence, the sea-surface temperature information from satellites with measurements gathered in the ocean, to build a better, more complete picture of past changes.”

These topics, among others, were discussed this week during the CCI’s Collocation Meeting at ESA’s Centre for Earth Observation in Frascati, Italy.

ESA began monitoring sea-surface temperature in 1991 with the first Along-Track Scanning Radiometer on the ERS-1 satellite, followed by instruments on ERS-2 and Envisat.

ESA will continue observations of sea-surface temperature with the upcoming Sentinel-3 mission, being developed for Europe’s Copernicus programme.


Related links:

ESA's Climate Change Initiative (CCI): http://www.esa-cci.org/

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC): http://www.ipcc.ch/

UK Met Office: http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/

University of Reading: http://www.reading.ac.uk/

Copernicus: http://www.esa.int/Our_Activities/Observing_the_Earth/Copernicus

Related missions: 

ERS: http://www.esa.int/Our_Activities/Observing_the_Earth/ERS_overview

Envisat: http://www.esa.int/Our_Activities/Observing_the_Earth/Envisat

Sentinel-3: http://www.esa.int/Our_Activities/Observing_the_Earth/Copernicus/Sentinel-3

Graphic, Text, Credits: ESA / Hartmann, D.L., A.M.G. Klein Tank, M. Rusticucci, L.V. Alexander, S. Brönnimann, Y. Charabi, F.J. Dentener, E.J. Dlugokencky, D.R. Easterling, A. Kaplan, B.J. Soden, P.W. Thorne, M. Wild & P.M. Zhai, 2013: Observations: Atmosphere and Surface. In: Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Stocker, T.F., D. Qin, G.-K. Plattner, M. Tignor, S.K. Allen, J. Boschung, A. Nauels, Y. Xia, V. Bex & P.M. Midgley (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK & New York, USA. Video: ESA / Medspiration.

Best regards, Orbiter.ch

NASA Mars Rover Curiosity Sees 'Evening Star' Earth












NASA - Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) patch.

February 07, 2014


Image above: The two bodies in this portion of an evening-sky view by NASA's Mars rover Curiosity are Earth and Earth's moon. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/TAMU.

The rover's view of its original home planet even includes our moon, just below Earth.

The images, taken about 80 minutes after sunset during the rover's 529th Martian day (Jan. 31, 2014) are available at http://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/catalog/PIA17936 for a broad scene of the evening sky, and at http://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/catalog/PIA17935 for a zoomed-in view of Earth and the moon.


Image above: The two bodies zoomed-in view of Earth and the moon view by NASA's Mars rover Curiosity are Earth and Earth's moon. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/TAMU.

The distance between Earth and Mars when Curiosity took the photo was about 99 million miles (160 million kilometers).

NASA's Mars Science Laboratory Project is using Curiosity 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.

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

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

Cheers, Orbiter.ch

jeudi 6 février 2014

New Russian Resupply Spacecraft Docks With Station










ROSCOSMOS - Russian Vehicles patch.

February 6, 2014

The ISS Progress 54 resupply spacecraft, loaded with 2.8 tons of cargo, automatically docked to the International Space Station’s Pirs docking compartment at 5:22 p.m. EST Wednesday  about six hours after its launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

At the time of docking, the station was soaring about 260 miles over the Atlantic Ocean east of Florida.


Image above: The ISS Progress 54 cargo craft approaches the International Space Station's Pirs docking compartment. Image Credit: NASA TV.

Progress 54 atop its Soyuz rocket launched from Baikonur at 11:23 a.m. (10:23 p.m. Baikonur time) to begin the expedited, 4-orbit trek to the station. Flight Engineer Rick Mastracchio reported to Mission Control in Houston that he and his crewmates had “a pretty good view” of the ascent of Progress up until its separation from the first stage of its Soyuz booster.  Once the Progress reached its preliminary orbit about nine minutes after launch, it was less than 1,750 miles behind the complex.


Image above: The ISS Progress 54 resupply spacecraft launches from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan to begin a 6-hour journey to the International Space Station. Image Credit: Roscosmos.

The new Progress is loaded with 1,764 pounds of propellant, 110 pounds of oxygen, 926 pounds of water and 2,897 pounds of spare parts, experiment hardware and other supplies  for the Expedition 38 crew. Thursday morning the crew will open the hatch to Progress to begin unloading the cargo. Progress 54 is slated to spend about two months docked to the complex before departing to make way for ISS Progress 55.

The ISS Progress 52 cargo craft, which undocked from Pirs on Monday, is in the midst of several days of tests to study the thermal effects of space on its attitude control system before it is ultimately de-orbited Feb. 11 for a fiery demise over the Pacific.

video
New Space Station Cargo Ship Flies a Fast Track to Deliver Supplies

In addition to monitoring the arrival of Progress 54, the astronauts and cosmonauts of the Expedition 38 crew focused on a variety of science and maintenance tasks Wednesday.

Flight Engineer Mike Hopkins spent much of his day participating in the BP Reg experiment. This is a Canadian medical study that seeks to understand the causes of fainting and dizziness seen in some astronauts when they return to Earth following a long-duration mission. Results from this experiment will not only help researchers understand dizziness in astronauts, but it also will have direct benefits for people on Earth – particularly those predisposed to falls and resulting injuries, as seen in the elderly.

Read more about BP Reg: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments/66.html

Mastracchio began his day with the Microbiome study, which takes a look at the impact of space travel on the human immune system and an individual’s microbiome -- the collective community of microorganisms that are normally present in and on the human body. For this session, Mastracchio completed a survey and collected test samples from his own body.  In addition to providing data that will keep future crews healthy, findings from this study could benefit people on Earth who work in extreme environments and further research in the detection of diseases, alterations in metabolic function and deficiencies in the immune system.

Read more about Microbiome: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments/1010.html

Later Mastracchio exchanged sample cartridges inside the Materials Science Laboratory’s Solidification and Quench Furnace. This metallurgical research furnace provides three heater zones to ensure accurate temperature profiles and maintain a sample's required temperature variations throughout the solidification process. This type of research in space allows scientists to isolate chemical and thermal properties of materials from the effects of gravity.

Flight Engineer Koichi Wakata participated in another medical exam for the Ocular Health study. Vision changes have been observed in some astronauts returning from long-duration spaceflight, and researchers want to learn more about its root causes and develop countermeasures to minimize this risk. With assistance from the Ocular Health team on the ground and Mastracchio, Wakata measured his blood pressure and checked the pressure of his eyes with a tonometer.

Read more about Ocular Health: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments/204.html


Image above: Flight Engineer Koichi Wakata works with the Combustion Integrated Rack aboard the International Space Station. Image Credit: NASA TV.

The remainder of Wakata’s day centered on configuring hardware and positioning a camera inside the Combustion Integrated Rack for another round of data collection. This research rack, which includes an optics bench, combustion chamber, fuel and oxidizer control and five different cameras, allows a variety of combustion experiments to be performed safely aboard the station.

On the Russian side of the complex, Commander Oleg Kotov adjusted the thermostat for the Cascade biotechnology experiment, which investigates cell cultivation in microgravity. Afterward the commander performed the Aseptic investigation to study the methods and means of ensuring sterile conditions for biotechnological experiments aboard the station.

Flight Engineer Sergey Ryazanskiy conducted the Albedo experiment to examine the feasibility of using the solar radiation reflected from the Earth to provide power for the station.  Ryazanskiy also performed routine maintenance on the life-support system in the Zvezda service module.

Meanwhile Flight Engineer Mikhail Tyurin wrapped up work with the Kaplya-2 experiment and removed and stowed some of its associated hardware. Kaplya-2 studied the fluid motion and heat transfer of monodisperse drop flows in space.

ROSCOSMOS Press Release: http://www.federalspace.ru/20196/

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

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

Greetings, Orbiter.ch

CERN prepares four times larger LHC












CERN - European Organization for Nuclear Research logo.

February 6, 2014

Long particle accelerator 100km could be made in the Lake Geneva area. Scientists around the world will gather next week in Geneva.

Even as the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is only at the beginning of its activity , CERN is already working on its successor. Called FCC (Future circular collider), it would consist of a ring of a hundred miles in circumference in Switzerland and France.

Circle dot lines = FCC (Future Circular Collider)

The exploratory study will be launched next week. One hundred researchers from around the world will meet Wednesday to Saturday at the University of Geneva to launch the program provided over five years, as revealed Thursday "Tages-Anzeiger" and the "Bund." (Switzerland daily papers).

In a statement, the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) said that the LHC was designed in the 1980s to start only 25 years later. It is time to think about his successor in size from 80 to 100 miles in circumference, the FCC could reach an unprecedented energy of 100 TeV (téraélectronvolt) against 14 TeV LHC.

This study is similar to that, launched several years ago, a compact linear collider (CLIC), a linear accelerator 80 km which could also go under Switzerland and France. However, the United States and Japan and China are also potential candidates. The objective of both studies is to determine the feasibility of different machines and assess costs by 2018/2019, when the European strategy in this area will be updated, written CERN.

Planetary Research

Research in particle physics effect becomes increasingly global. Information is exchanged regularly between the Americas, Asia and Europe in a global body, ICFA - International Committee for Future Accelerators. A project such as the FCC can not be achieved by a single continent, told the ats spokesman Arnaud Marsollier CERN.

Artist's interpretation of the actual LHC

Meanwhile, it is planned to operate the LHC for another twenty years. Currently stopped, it should restart in 2015. Thereafter, it should undergo a "upgrade" with new instruments supposed to increase the brightness. The program, called HL-LHC (High Luminosity LHC) is intended to increase the number of collisions a factor of ten by 2024.

"We still know little about the Higgs boson , we are in search of dark matter and supersymmetry ... Only the results of the next LHC will be able to tell us the tracks of research to follow in the future, and the type of accelerator best suited,"says Sergio Bertolucci, director of research and computing at CERN.

Note:

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

For more information about the CERN, visit: http://home.web.cern.ch/

For more information about the TLEP, visit: http://tlep-saclay.extra.cea.fr/index_fr.php

Images, Text, Credits: CERN/AP/Translation: Orbiter.ch Aerospace.

Best regards, Orbiter.ch

Arianespace launch VA 217 Mission accomplished! Ariane 5 ECA orbits ABS-2 and Athena Fidus


















Arianespace / ESA - ABS-2 & Athena Fidus launch poster.


February 6, 2014

 Ariane 5 ECA - ABS-2 and Athena Fidus launch countdown

On February 6, at 21:30 UT, Arianespace carried out the 58th successful Ariane 5 launch in a row, orbiting two telecommunications satellites: ABS-2 for the operator ABS and Athena-Fidus for Telespazio, on behalf of the French and Italian space agencies.

First Ariane 5 launch in 2014 and 58th successful launch in a row: Arianespace continues to deliver the world's most reliable launch service!

video
Arianespace Flight VA217 / Success

Today's successful mission, the 58th in a row for Europe's Ariane 5 launcher, confirms that Arianespace continues to set the standard for guaranteed access to space for all operators, whether national or international space agencies, private industry or governments.

Following the announcement of the orbital injection of the ABS-2 and Athena Fidus satellites, Arianespace Chairman and CEO Stéphane Israël said, "Today's launch, the 58th success in a row for Ariane 5 and the 250th launch for our family of Ariane, Soyuz and Vega launchers, confirms the unrivaled reliability and availability of our launch systems. I would like to underscore our pride this evening in being able to meet the requirements of two customers that symbolize Arianespace's dual mission: to offer highly reliable services to private operators from around the world, like ABS, and to guarantee independent access to space to European governments, today for the French and Italian ministries of defense and homeland security units working in partnership with CNES, ASI and Telespazio. I would like to thank ABS for entrusting us with their first launch contract, and also thank Telespazio, along with customers CNES and ASI, for their loyalty. In addition, I would like to express my gratitude to Airbus Defence & Space, as the industrial prime contractor for Ariane 5, to the rest of the European space industry and to the teams from CNES-CSG for today's magnificent success."

A launch for a global operator, ABS

ABS is one of the fastest growing global satellite operators in the world.  ABS operates a fleet of five satellites, which will now include ABS-2. In addition, ABS has ordered two new satellites, slated for launch in the next two years.

ABS-2 satellite

The ABS-2 satellite was built by Space Systems/Loral (SS/L) using the LS-1300 platform. It weighed more than 6,330 kg at launch, and will be positioned in geostationary orbit at 75 degrees East. Fitted with C, Ku and Ka-band transponders, it will provide telecommunications, direct-to-home (DTH) broadcasting, multimedia and data transmission services for Africa, the Asia-Pacific, Europe, the Middle East, Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).

ABS-2 is the 43rd satellite built by Space Systems/Loral to be launched by Arianespace.

A dual mission: for civil and military communications

Athena-Fidus (Access on THeatres for European Nations Allied forces - French Italian Dual Use Satellite) is a French-Italian telecommunications satellite using state-of-the-art technologies to provide broadband Internet services. Operated jointly by the French and Italian space agencies, CNES and ASI, respectively, it will provide telecommunications services to both armed forces and homeland security units in France and Italy, along with the capacity offered by the countries' Syracuse 3 and Sicral satellites.

Athena-Fidus satellite

Athena-Fidus was built by Thales Alenia Space using a Spacebus 4000B2 platform. Weighing 3,080 kg at launch, it offers a design life exceeding 15 years.

It is the 130th payload built by Thales Alenia Space and launched by Arianespace.

The ABS-2/Athena-Fidus mission at a glance

The mission was carried out by an Ariane 5 ECA launcher from Europe's Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana. Liftoff was on Thursday, February 6, 2014 at 6:30 pm local time in Kourou (4:30 pm in Washington, D.C., 21:30 UT, 10:30 pm in Paris, and on Friday, February 7 at 5:30 am in Hong Kong).

This was the 216th Ariane launch. Airbus Defence & Space is the industrial prime contractor for Ariane launch vehicles. The Ariane 5 ECA used on this mission boosted 10,214 kg into geostationary transfer orbit, including 9,410 kg for the two satellites.

For more information about Arianespace, visit: http://www.arianespace.com/index/index.asp

Images, Text, Video, Credits: ARIANESPACE / Thales Alenia Space / Space Systems / Loral.

Best regards, Orbiter.ch

NASA Mars Orbiter Examines Dramatic New Crater












NASA - Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) patch.

6 February 2014

A Spectacular New Martian Impact Crater

Image above: A dramatic, fresh impact crater dominates this image taken by the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter on Nov. 19, 2013.

Space rocks hitting Mars excavate fresh craters at a pace of more than 200 per year, but few new Mars scars pack as much visual punch as one seen in a NASA image released today.

The image from the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter shows a crater about 100 feet (30 meters) in diameter at the center of a radial burst painting the surface with a pattern of bright and dark tones. It is available online at http://uahirise.org/ESP_034285_1835 and http://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/catalog/PIA17932.

The scar appeared at some time between imaging of this location by the orbiter's Context Camera in July 2010 and again in May 2012. Based on apparent changes between those before-and-after images at lower resolution, researchers used HiRISE to acquire this new image on Nov. 19, 2013. The impact that excavated this crater threw some material as far as 9.3 miles (15 kilometers).

Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO)

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Project is managed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. JPL is a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. HiRISE is operated by the University of Arizona, Tucson. The instrument was built by Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp., Boulder, Colo. Malin Space Science Systems, San Diego, built and operates the Context Camera.

For more information about the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which has been studying Mars from orbit since 2006, visit http://www.nasa.gov/mro

Images, Text, Credits: NASA / JPL / Guy Webster / University of Arizona / Daniel Stolte.

Greetings, Orbiter.ch

A New Look at an Old Friend











NASA - Chandra X-ray Observatory patch.

6 February 2014


Just weeks after NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory began operations in 1999, the telescope pointed at Centaurus A (Cen A, for short). This galaxy, at a distance of about 12 million light years from Earth, contains a gargantuan jet blasting away from a central supermassive black hole.

Since then, Chandra has returned its attention to this galaxy, each time gathering more data. And, like an old family photo that has been digitally restored, new processing techniques are providing astronomers with a new look at this old galactic friend.

This new image of Cen A contains data from observations, equivalent to over nine and a half days worth of time, taken between 1999 and 2012. In this image, the lowest-energy X-rays Chandra detects are in red, while the medium-energy X-rays are green, and the highest-energy ones are blue.

As in all of Chandra’s images of Cen A, this one shows the spectacular jet of outflowing material – seen pointing from the middle to the upper left – that is generated by the giant black hole at the galaxy’s center. This new high-energy snapshot of Cen A also highlights a dust lane that wraps around the waist of the galaxy. Astronomers think this feature is a remnant of a collision that Cen A experienced with a smaller galaxy millions of years ago.

The data housed in Chandra’s extensive archive on Cen A provide a rich resource for a wide range of scientific investigations. For example, researchers published findings in 2013 on the point-like X-ray sources in Cen A. Most of these sources are systems where a compact object – either a black hole or a neutron star – is pulling gas from an orbiting companion star. These compact objects form by the collapse of massive stars, with black holes resulting from heavier stars than neutron stars.

The results suggested that nearly all of the compact objects had masses that fell into two categories: either less than twice that of the sun, or more than five times as massive as the sun. These two groups correspond to neutron stars and black holes.

This mass gap may tell us about the way massive stars explode. Scientists expect an upper limit on the most massive neutron stars, up to twice the mass of the sun. What is puzzling is that the smallest black holes appear to weigh in at about five times the mass of the sun. Stars are observed to have a continual range of masses, and so in terms of their progeny’s weight we would expect black holes to carry on where neutron stars left off.

Artist's view of the Chandra X-ray Observatory

Although this mass gap between neutron stars and black holes has been seen in our galaxy, the Milky Way, this new Cen A result provides the first hints that the gap occurs in more distant galaxies. If it turns out to be ubiquitous, it may mean that a special, rapid type of stellar collapse is required in some supernova explosions.

The results described here were published in the April 1st, 2013 issue of The Astrophysical Journal and are available online. Mark Burke led the work when he was at the University of Birmingham in the UK and he is now at L'Institut de Recherche en Astrophysique et Planetologie in Toulouse, France. 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

View large image: http://chandra.harvard.edu/photo/2014/cena/

Chandra on Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/nasamarshall/sets/72157606205297786/

For more information about Chandra X-ray Observatory, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/chandra/main/

Images, Text, Credits: X-ray: NASA / CXC / U. Birmingham / M. Burke et al.

Cheers, Orbiter.ch

Gaia comes into focus












ESA - Gaia Mission patch.

6 February 2014

ESA’s billion-star surveyor Gaia is slowly being brought into focus. This test image shows a dense cluster of stars in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a satellite galaxy of our Milky Way.

Once Gaia starts making routine measurements, it will generate truly enormous amounts of data. To maximise the key science of the mission, only small ‘cut-outs’ centred on each of the stars it detects will be sent back to Earth for analysis.

This test picture, taken as part of commissioning the mission to ‘fine tune’ the behaviour of the instruments, is one of the first proper ‘images’ to be seen from Gaia, but ironically, it will also be one of the last, as Gaia's main scientific operational mode does not involve sending full images back to Earth.

Gaia calibration image

Gaia was launched on 19 December 2013, and is orbiting around a virtual point in space called L2, 1.5 million kilometres from Earth.

Gaia’s goal is to create the most accurate map yet of the Milky Way. It will make precise measurements of the positions and motions of about 1% of the total population of roughly 100 billion stars in our home Galaxy to help answer questions about its origin and evolution.

Repeatedly scanning the sky, Gaia will observe each of its billion stars an average of 70 times each over five years. In addition to positions and motions, Gaia will also measure key physical properties of each star, including its brightness, temperature and chemical composition.

To achieve its goal, Gaia will spin slowly, sweeping its two telescopes across the entire sky and focusing the light from their separate fields simultaneously onto a single digital camera – the largest ever flown in space, with nearly a billion pixels.

Inside Gaia’s billion-pixel camera

But first, the telescopes must be aligned and focused, along with precise calibration of the instruments, a painstaking procedure that will take several months before Gaia is ready to enter its five-year operational phase.

As part of that process, the Gaia team have been using a test mode to download sections of data from the camera, including this image of NGC1818, a young star cluster in the Large Magellanic Cloud. The image covers an area less than 1% of the full Gaia field of view.

The team is making good progress, but there is still work to be done to understand the full behaviour and performance of the instruments.

While all one billion of Gaia’s target stars will have been observed during the first six months of operations, repeated observations over five years will be needed to measure their tiny movements to allow astronomers to determine their distances and motions through space.

As a result, Gaia’s final catalogue will not be released until three years after the end of the nominal five-year mission. Intermediate data releases will be made, however, and if rapidly changing objects such as supernovae are detected, alerts will be released within hours of data processing.

Eventually, the Gaia data archive will exceed a million Gigabytes, equivalent to about 200 000 DVDs of data. The task of producing this colossal treasure trove of data for the scientific community lies with the Gaia Data Processing and Analysis Consortium, comprising more than 400 individuals at institutes across Europe.

For more information about Gaia Mission, visit: http://www.esa.int/Our_Activities/Space_Science/Gaia

Image, Video, Text, Credits: ESA / DPAC / Airbus DS.

Best regards, Orbiter.ch

Swarm heads for new heights








ESA - Swarm Mission logo.

6 February 2014

Some tricky manoeuvres are now under way to steer ESA’s trio of Swarm satellites into their respective orbits so that they can start delivering the best-ever survey of our magnetic field.

Since the Swarm constellation was launched last November, engineers have been busy putting the satellites through their paces to make sure that the craft and instruments are working correctly.

video
 Swarm: orbit with a difference

This commissioning phase is an essential part of the mission before it starts providing data to further our understanding of the complex and constantly changing magnetic field.

Essential to life, the magnetic field protects us from cosmic radiation and charged particles that bombard Earth in solar winds.

Since the intensity of solar activity is currently lower than anticipated, the original plan of where to place the satellites at the beginning of science operations has been reviewed recently by the scientific community and experts in ESA.

Low solar activity means the satellites experience lower atmospheric drag, as clearly demonstrated by ESA’s GOCE mission.

Swarm is tasked with measuring and untangling the different magnetic signals that stem from Earth’s core, mantle, crust, oceans, ionosphere and magnetosphere.

Launched together, the three identical Swarm satellites were released into adjacent orbits at an altitude of 490 km.

 Earth's protective shield

The satellites may be identical, but to optimise sampling in space and time their orbits are different – a key aspect of the mission.

The data acquired from different locations can be used to distinguish between the changes in the magnetic field caused by the Sun’s activity and those signals that originate from inside Earth.

The result for Swarm is a slightly different orbit configuration that will save satellite fuel at the beginning of the mission and offer a better return for science at a later stage.

Two satellites are now being lowered to an altitude of about 462 km and an inclination of 87.35°. They will orbit almost side by side, about 150 km apart as they pass over the equator. Over the life of the mission they will both descend to about 300 km.

The third satellite is being placed in a higher orbit of 510 km and at a different inclination of 87.75°, slightly closer to the pole.

The difference in inclination will cause a slow drift of the upper satellite relative to the path of the lower two at increasing angles. After three years, the fuel saved can be used to slow down the relative orbital drift.

 An electric field instrument is on the front of each satellite

Roger Haagmans, Swarm’s Mission Scientist, explained, “The constellation originally planned meant a continuous drift between the upper and lower satellites.

“Since we can now slow the relative drift thanks to the current state of the Sun and its even lower activity expected in the next years, we can now obtain more regular observations of the changing magnetic field over time.”

The mission’s System Engineer, Ralf Bock, said, “We are taking the satellites to their new heights through careful thrust and aim to achieve the constellation for science operations around mid-April.”

Karim Bouridah, the System Manager, added, “We are also continuing to fine-tune the satellite sensors, such as the new electric field instrument.”

video
 Electric field instrument first data

Each satellite carries a novel instrument to measures the velocity, direction and temperature of incoming ions. This information will be used to calculate the electric field near the satellite, an important counterpart to the magnetic field for studying processes in the upper atmosphere.

In fact, Swarm is the first mission to make these global, multipoint measurements. The animation on the right shows the first data from the electric field instrument from the horizontal and vertical imagers.

Johnathan Burchill from the University of Calgary explains, “This is a time-lapse movie of some of the first ion images observed by Swarm.

“Spanning more than an orbit, the images in this movie demonstrate the capability of the instrument to operate under a wide range of plasma conditions.”

Related links:

More information about Swarm Mission: http://www.esa.int/Our_Activities/Observing_the_Earth/Swarm/Three_identical_satellites

ESA’s GOCE mission: http://www.esa.int/Our_Activities/Observing_the_Earth/GOCE

Images, Text, Credits: ESA/ATG medialab/Videos: ESA/D. Knudsen and J. Burchill, University of Calgary, COMDEV.

Greetings. Orbiter.ch

mercredi 5 février 2014

The Anatomy of an Asteroid












ESO - European Southern Observatory logo.

5 February 2014

 Schematic view of asteroid (25143) Itokawa

ESO’s New Technology Telescope (NTT) has been used to find the first evidence that asteroids can have a highly varied internal structure. By making exquisitely precise measurements astronomers have found that different parts of the asteroid Itokawa have different densities. As well as revealing secrets about the asteroid’s formation, finding out what lies below the surface of asteroids may also shed light on what happens when bodies collide in the Solar System, and provide clues about how planets form.

Asteroid (25143) Itokawa seen in close-up

Using very precise ground-based observations, Stephen Lowry (University of Kent, UK) and colleagues have measured the speed at which the near-Earth asteroid (25143) Itokawa spins and how that spin rate is changing over time. They have combined these delicate observations with new theoretical work on how asteroids radiate heat.

Asteroid (25143) Itokawa seen in close-up

This small asteroid is an intriguing subject as it has a strange peanut shape, as revealed by the Japanese spacecraft Hayabusa in 2005. To probe its internal structure, Lowry’s team used images gathered from 2001 to 2013, by ESO’s New Technology Telescope (NTT) at the La Silla Observatory in Chile among others [1], to measure its brightness variation as it rotates. This timing data was then used to deduce the asteroid’s spin period very accurately and determine how it is changing over time. When combined with knowledge of the asteroid’s shape this allowed them to explore its interior — revealing the complexity within its core for the first time [2].

Asteroid (25143) Itokawa seen in close-up

“This is the first time we have ever been able to to determine what it is like inside an asteroid,” explains Lowry. “We can see that Itokawa has a highly varied structure — this finding is a significant step forward in our understanding of rocky bodies in the Solar System.”

The spin of an asteroid and other small bodies in space can be affected by sunlight. This phenomenon, known as the Yarkovsky-O’Keefe-Radzievskii-Paddack (YORP) effect, occurs when absorbed light from the Sun is re-emitted from the surface of the object in the form of heat. When the shape of the asteroid is very irregular the heat is not radiated evenly and this creates a tiny, but continuous, torque on the body and changes its spin rate [3], [4].

video
Artist’s impression of asteroid (25143) Itokawa

Lowry’s team measured that the YORP effect was slowly accelerating the rate at which Itokawa spins. The change in rotation period is tiny — a mere 0.045 seconds per year. But this was very different from what was expected and can only be explained if the two parts of the asteroid’s peanut shape have different densities.

This is the first time that astronomers have found evidence for the highly varied internal structure of asteroids. Up until now, the properties of asteroid interiors could only be inferred using rough overall density measurements. This rare glimpse into the diverse innards of Itokawa has led to much speculation regarding its formation. One possibility is that it formed from the two components of a double asteroid after they bumped together and merged.

video
Artist’s impression of asteroid (25143) Itokawa

Lowry added, “Finding that asteroids don’t have homogeneous interiors has far-reaching implications, particularly for models of binary asteroid formation. It could also help with work on reducing the danger of asteroid collisions with Earth, or with plans for future trips to these rocky bodies.”

This new ability to probe the interior of an asteroid is a significant step forward, and may help to unlock many secrets of these mysterious objects.

Notes:

[1] As well as the NTT, brightness measurements from the following telescopes were also used in this work: Palomar Observatory 60-inch Telescope (California, USA), Table Mountain Observatory (California, USA), Steward Observatory 60-inch Telescope (Arizona, USA), Steward Observatory 90-inch Bok Telescope (Arizona, USA), 2-metre Liverpool Telescope (La Palma, Spain), 2.5-metre Isaac Newton Telescope (La Palma, Spain) and the Palomar Observatory 5-metre Hale Telescope (California, USA).

[2] The density of the interior was found to vary from 1.75 to 2.85 grammes per cubic centimetre. The two densities refer to Itokawa’s two distinct parts.

[3] As a simple and rough analogy for the YORP effect, if one were to shine an intense enough light beam on a propeller it would slowly start spinning due to a similar effect.

[4] Lowry and colleagues were the first to observe the effect in action on a small asteroid known as 2000 PH5 (now known as 54509 YORP, see eso0711). ESO facilities also played a crucial role in this earlier study.

More information:

This research was presented in a paper “The Internal Structure of Asteroid (25143) Itokawa as Revealed by Detection of YORP Spin-up”, by Lowry et al., to appear in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics.

The team is composed of S.C Lowry (Centre for Astrophysics and Planetary Science, School of Physical Sciences (SEPnet), The University of Kent, UK), P.R. Weissman (Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, USA [JPL]), S.R. Duddy (Centre for Astrophysics and Planetary Science, School of Physical Sciences (SEPnet), The University of Kent, UK), B.Rozitis (Planetary and Space Sciences, Department of Physical Sciences, The Open University, Milton Keynes, UK), A. Fitzsimmons (Astrophysics Research Centre, University Belfast, Belfast, UK), S.F. Green (Planetary and Space Sciences, Department of Physical Sciences, The Open University, Milton Keynes, UK), M.D. Hicks (Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, USA), C. Snodgrass (Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, Katlenburg-Lindau, Germany), S.D. Wolters (JPL), S.R. Chesley (JPL), J. Pittichová (JPL) and P. van Oers (Isaac Newton Group of Telescopes, Canary Islands, Spain).

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

Links:

Research paper: http://www.eso.org/public/archives/releases/sciencepapers/eso1405/eso1405a.pdf

Photos of the NTT: http://www.eso.org/public/images/archive/search/?adv=&subject_name=New%20Technology%20Telescope

Images, Text, Credits: ESO / Acknowledgement: JAXA / Videos:  JAXA/ESO/L. Calçada/M. Kornmesser/Nick Risinger (skysurvey.org).

Best regards, Orbiter.ch

Russian Resupply Spacecraft Begins Expedited Flight to Station










ROSCOSMOS - Russian Vehicles patch.

February 5, 2014

The ISS Progress 54 resupply spacecraft, loaded with 2.8 tons of cargo, launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 11:23 a.m. EST Wednesday (10:23 p.m. Baikonur time) to begin a 6-hour, 4-orbit trek to the International Space Station.


Image above: The ISS Progress 54 resupply spacecraft launches from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan to begin a 6-hour journey to the International Space Station. Image Credit: ROSCOSMOS.

At the time of launch of Progress 54 atop its Soyuz rocket, the station was orbiting 262 statute miles over far western Kazakhstan near the border with Russia.

video
Launch of Soyuz-U with Progress M-22M Onboard

Once the Progress reached its preliminary orbit about nine minutes after launch, it was less than 1,750 miles behind the complex.  A series of thruster firings by the Russian space freighter during the next several hours will adjust the orbit to put the Progress on track for its rendezvous with the station and an automated docking to the Earth-facing port of the Pirs docking compartment at 5:25 p.m.

NASA Television coverage of the docking begins at 4:45 p.m.

Watch NASA TV: http://www.nasa.gov/ntv

Aboard the station, Commander Oleg Kotov and Flight Engineer Mikhail Tyurin will use the Telerobotically Operated Rendezvous Unit, or TORU, to monitor the approach and docking of Progress 54. The crew can use TORU to remotely guide the cargo craft to its docking port in the event that its Kurs automated rendezvous system experiences a problem.

The new Progress is loaded with 1,764 pounds of propellant, 110 pounds of oxygen, 926 pounds of water and 2,897 pounds of spare parts, experiment hardware and other supplies for the Expedition 38 crew. The crew will open the hatch to Progress Thursday morning to begin unloading the cargo. Progress 54 is slated to spend about two months docked to the complex before departing to make way for ISS Progress 55.

The ISS Progress 52 cargo craft, which undocked from Pirs on Monday, is in the midst of several days of tests to study the thermal effects of space on its attitude control system before it is ultimately de-orbited Feb. 11 for a fiery demise over the Pacific.

While they await the arrival of Progress 54, the astronauts and cosmonauts of the Expedition 38 crew will focus on a variety of science and maintenance tasks.

Flight Engineer Mike Hopkins is spending much of his day participating in the BP Reg experiment. This is a Canadian medical study that seeks to understand the causes of fainting and dizziness seen in some astronauts when they return to Earth following a long-duration mission. Results from this experiment will not only help researchers understand dizziness in astronauts, but it also will have direct benefits for people on Earth – particularly those predisposed to falls and resulting injuries, as seen in the elderly.

Read more about BP Reg: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments/66.html

Flight Engineer Rick Mastracchio began his day with Microbiome study, which takes a look at the impact of space travel on the human immune system and an individual’s microbiome -- the collective community of microorganisms that are normally present in and on the human body. For this session, Mastracchio completed a survey and collected test samples from his own body. In addition to providing data that will keep future crews healthy, findings from this study could benefit people on Earth who work in extreme environments and further research in the detection of diseases, alterations in metabolic function and deficiencies in the immune system.

Read more about Microbiome: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments/1010.html

Later Mastracchio will exchange sample cartridges inside the Materials Science Laboratory’s Solidification and Quench Furnace. This metallurgical research furnace provides three heater zones to ensure accurate temperature profiles and maintain a sample's required temperature variations throughout the solidification process. This type of research in space allows scientists to isolate chemical and thermal properties of materials from the effects of gravity.

Flight Engineer Koichi Wakata participated in another medical exam for the Ocular Health study. Vision changes have been observed in some astronauts returning from long-duration spaceflight, and researchers want to learn more about its root causes and develop countermeasures to minimize this risk. With assistance from the Ocular Health team on the ground and Mastracchio, Wakata measured his blood pressure and checked the pressure of his eyes with a tonometer.


Image above: Flight Engineer Koichi Wakata works with the Combustion Integrated Rack aboard the International Space Station. Image Credit: NASA TV.

Read more about Ocular Health: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments/204.html

The remainder of Wakata’s day will be centered on configuring hardware and positioning a camera inside the Combustion Integrated Rack for another round of data collection. This research rack, which includes an optics bench, combustion chamber, fuel and oxidizer control and five different cameras, allows a variety of combustion experiments to be performed safely aboard the station.

On the Russian side of the complex, Flight Engineer Sergey Ryazanskiy conducted the Albedo experiment, which takes a look at using the solar radiation reflected from the Earth to provide power for the station.  Ryazanskiy also is scheduled to perform routine maintenance on the life-support system in the Zvezda service module.

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

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

Greetings, Orbiter.ch

mardi 4 février 2014

Kepler Finds a Very Wobbly Planet












NASA - Kepler Mission patch.

February 4, 2014


Image above: This illustration shows the unusual orbit of planet Kepler-413b around a close pair of orange and red dwarf stars. The planet's 66-day orbit is tilted 2.5 degrees with respect to the plane of the binary star's orbit. The orbit of the planet wobbles around the central stars over 11 years, an effect called precession. This planet is also very unusual in that it can potentially precess wildly on its spin axis, much like a child's top. Image Credit: NASA, ESA, and A. Feild (STScI).

Imagine living on a planet with seasons so erratic you would hardly know whether to wear Bermuda shorts or a heavy overcoat. That is the situation on a weird, wobbly world found by NASA's planet-hunting Kepler space telescope.

The planet, designated Kepler-413b, precesses, or wobbles, wildly on its spin axis, much like a child's top. The tilt of the planet's spin axis can vary by as much as 30 degrees over 11 years, leading to rapid and erratic changes in seasons. In contrast, Earth's rotational precession is 23.5 degrees over 26,000 years. Researchers are amazed that this far-off planet is precessing on a human timescale.

Kepler 413-b is located 2,300 light-years away in the constellation Cygnus. It circles a close pair of orange and red dwarf stars every 66 days. The planet's orbit around the binary stars appears to wobble, too, because the plane of its orbit is tilted 2.5 degrees with respect to the plane of the star pair's orbit. As seen from Earth, the wobbling orbit moves up and down continuously.

Kepler finds planets by noticing the dimming of a star or stars when a planet transits, or travels in front of them. Normally, planets transit like clockwork. Astronomers using Kepler discovered the wobbling when they found an unusual pattern of transiting for Kepler-413b.

"Looking at the Kepler data over the course of 1,500 days, we saw three transits in the first 180 days -- one transit every 66 days -- then we had 800 days with no transits at all. After that, we saw five more transits in a row," said Veselin Kostov, the principal investigator on the observation. Kostov is affiliated with the Space Telescope Science Institute and Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Md. The next transit visible from Earth's point of view is not predicted to occur until 2020. This is because the orbit moves up and down, a result of the wobbling, in such a great degree that it sometimes does not transit the stars as viewed from Earth.

Artist's view of the Kepler space telescope. Image Credit: NASA

Astronomers are still trying to explain why this planet is out of alignment with its stars. There could be other planetary bodies in the system that tilted the orbit. Or, it could be that a third star nearby that is a visual companion may actually be gravitationally bound to the system and exerting an influence.

"Presumably there are planets out there like this one that we're not seeing because we're in the unfavorable period," said Peter McCullough, a team member with the Space Telescope Science Institute and Johns Hopkins University. "And that's one of the things that Veselin is researching: Is there a silent majority of things that we're not seeing?"

Even with its changing seasons, Kepler-413b is too warm for life as we know it. Because it orbits so close to the stars, its temperatures are too high for liquid water to exist, making it inhabitable. It also is a super Neptune -- a giant gas planet with a mass about 65 times that of Earth -- so there is no surface on which to stand.

NASA's Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, Calif., is responsible for the Kepler mission concept, ground system development, mission operations and science data analysis. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., managed Kepler mission development. Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. in Boulder, Colo., developed the Kepler flight system and supports mission operations with the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado in Boulder. The Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore archives, hosts and distributes Kepler science data. Kepler is NASA's 10th Discovery mission and was funded by the agency's Science Mission Directorate.

For images and more information about Kepler-413b, visit: http://hubblesite.org/news/2014/12

For more information about the Kepler space telescope, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/kepler

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA / J.D. Harrington / Space Telescope Science Institute / Ann Jenkins / Ray Villard.

Best regards, Orbiter.ch

Sun Emits Mid-Level Solar Flare












NASA - Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) patch.

February 4, 2014

The sun emitted a mid-level solar flare, beginning at 11:57 p.m. EST on Feb. 3, 2014, and peaking at midnight EST. NASA released images of the flare as captured by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory.


Image above: A mid-level solar flare erupted on the sun late on Feb. 3, 2014, peaking at midnight EST. This image, captured by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory, shows the bright flare near the center of the sun. Image Credit: NASA/SDO.

Solar flares are powerful bursts of radiation. Harmful radiation from a flare cannot pass through Earth's atmosphere to physically affect humans on the ground, however -- when intense enough -- they can disturb the atmosphere in the layer where GPS and communications signals travel.

To see how this event may impact Earth, please visit NOAA's Space Weather Prediction Center at http://spaceweather.gov, the U.S. government's official source for space weather forecasts, alerts, watches and warnings.


Image above: This image of an M5.2-class solar flare that occurred late on Feb. 3, 2014, was captured by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory. The solar flare can be seen as the bright flash near the center of the sun. The image shows light in the 304 Angstrom wavelength, which is typically colorized in red. Image Credit: NASA/SDO.

This flare is classified as an M5.2 flare. Updates will be provided as needed.

For more information about Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO), visit: http://sdo.gsfc.nasa.gov/ and http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/sdo/main/

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

Greetings, Orbiter.ch