vendredi 22 mai 2015

Space Station Module Relocation Makes Way for Commercial Crew Spacecraft

ISS - International Space Station patch / NASA - Commercial Crew Program logo.

May 22, 2015

The International Space Station Program will take the next step in expanding a robust commercial market in low-Earth orbit when work continues Wednesday, May 27, to prepare the orbiting laboratory for the future arrival of U.S. commercial crew and cargo vehicles. NASA Television will provide live coverage of the activity beginning at 8 a.m. EDT.

Image above: This illustration shows the current location (blue) of the Permanent Multipurpose Module (PMM) on the International Space Station and the location to which it will be repositioned (green) during the May 27 move. Image Credits: NASA.

NASA is in the process of reconfiguring the station to create primary and back up docking ports for U.S. commercial crew spacecraft currently in development by Boeing and SpaceX to once again transport astronauts from U.S. soil to the space station and back beginning in 2017. The primary and backup docking ports also will be reconfigured for U.S. commercial spacecraft delivering research, supplies and cargo for the crew.

On Wednesday, robotics flight controllers at the Mission Control Center at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston will detach the large Permanent Multipurpose Module (PMM), used as a supply depot on the orbital laboratory, from the Earth-facing port of the Unity module and robotically relocate it to the forward port of the Tranquility module. This move will clear the Unity port for its conversion into the spare berthing location for U.S. cargo spacecraft; the Earth-facing port on Harmony is the primary docking location. Harmony’s space-facing port currently is the spare berthing location for cargo vehicles, so this move frees that location to be used in conjunction with Harmony’s forward port as the arrival locations for commercial crew spacecraft.

PMM Relocation Animation

Video above: Animation of ISS module relocation activity. Video Credits: NASA.

Before broadcasting the final movements and installation, NASA TV will replay the operations conducted earlier in the day to detach the PMM from Unity and move it toward Tranquility.

Expedition 43 Commander Terry Virts and Flight Engineer Scott Kelly of NASA will supervise the unbolting of the module from Unity and its final attachment to Tranquility. Virts and Kelly will close the hatch to the module on Tuesday, May 26, and reopen it at its new location on Thursday, May 28.

The transformation of Harmony’s space-facing and forward ports for crew arrivals will continue later this year, when a pair of International Docking Adapters (IDAs) will be delivered on the seventh and ninth NASA-contracted SpaceX cargo resupply missions. The IDAs will be attached to Pressurized Mating Adapters 2 and 3, which enable the spacecraft to equalize internal pressure with the ISS.

NASA Commercial Crew Program. Image Credit: NASA

The PMM, originally named “Leonardo” by the Italian Space Agency that supervised its manufacture, was one of three cargo modules used to haul supplies back and forth from the station during space shuttle assembly missions. The PMM was launched for the last time to the station on the final flight of the shuttle Discovery on Feb. 24, 2011, and was installed on Unity five days later. The PMM is 22 feet long, 14 feet in diameter and weighs almost 11 tons. It has an internal volume of more than 2,400 cubic feet.

Related link:

U.S. commercial crew spacecraft:

For more information about the International Space Station, visit:

For more information about the Commercial Crew Program, visit:

Image (mentioned), Video (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Stephanie Schierholz/Johnson Space Center/Dan Huot/Karen Northon.


ISS - Watching Worms Will Help Humans Age More Gracefully

ISS - International Space Station logo.

May 22, 2015

International Space Station (ISS). Image Credit: NASA

The plot of many a science fiction TV series or movie revolves around the premise that people traveling long distances in space age more slowly than their counterparts on Earth. Now, tiny worms who spent time aboard the International Space Station could help humans understand more about the effects of aging in space for real.

Many studies document changes that happen to the human body in microgravity, including a decrease in heart function and loss of bone and muscle. The mechanisms behind these changes still are not well-understood and also may play a role in the rate at which organisms – including astronauts – age in space. A recent study called Space Aging, with samples returning aboard the sixth SpaceX resupply mission, will compare the health and longevity of roundworms aboard the station with others remaining on Earth. The roundworm Caenorhabditis elegans (C. elegans) is about 1 millimeter (some 0.04 inches) long with a life span of only two months, making it an ideal model organism for such a study.

Image above: Caenorhabditis elegans -- a millimeter-long roundworm with a genetic makeup scientists understand -- is central to a pair of Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency investigations into muscle and bone loss of astronauts on the International Space Station. Image Credits: NASA.

“Aging rate and lifespan could be influenced by microgravity,” says principal investigator Yoko Honda, Ph.D., with the Tokyo Metropolitan Geriatric Hospital and Institute of Gerontology. “If that is correct, we may be able to identify novel genes that play a role in longevity.” Identification of such genes could contribute to development of new drugs to treat age-related illnesses such as neurodegenerative disease in humans.

The worms were cultivated to all reach young adult stage at the same time. The ones sent to space were cultured inside boxes in the station’s Cell Biology Experiment Facility (CBEF), located inside the Japanese Experiment Module (JEM)—also known as Kibo, meaning hope in Japanese. The CBEF has one compartment under microgravity conditions and another compartment where a centrifuge provides artificial gravity. This allowed researchers to compare the aging rate of worms in microgravity, simulated gravity, and Earth’s gravity.

Image above: Caenorhabditis elegans culture chambers for the Space Aging experiment aboard the International Space Station. Image Credits: JAXA.

Each box has four cameras, controlled from the ground in Tsukuba, Japan, that filmed the worms for three minutes each day. The researchers developed special software to analyze the activity level of each worm as a marker of its aging rate, given that older organisms typically move more slowly. Any roundworm that did not move for three minutes would be assumed to have died.

Video images were transmitted to the ground daily for review, according to Sachiko Yano, Ph.D., life science mission scientist with the JEM Utilization Center at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). At the end of the expedition, the worms were frozen and stowed for return to the ground for gene analysis.

Image above: NASA Astronaut Scott Kelly working with the Space Aging investigation and the Cell Biology Experiment Facility rack in the Japanese Experiment Module of the International Space Station. Image Credits: NASA.

Understanding how microgravity affects our aging process is critical to long-duration space missions such as those to Mars and other planets—not only to protect astronauts, but also any organisms used in life support hardware such as plants or bacteria in bioregenerative systems. Any such organisms adversely affected by microgravity-caused changes to aging processes would have limited usefulness for lengthy space travel.

ScienceCasts: Roundworms Have the Right Stuff

Video above: The common roundworm shares a surprising amount of genetic material with humans - enough, in fact, to make them the good substitutes for astronauts in low-gravity medical studies. Video Credits: NASA.

Even for those of us who never leave the Earth, this work on C. elegans could help realize those sci-fi dreams of living long and prospering.

Related links:

Space Aging study:

Model organism study:

Cell Biology Experiment Facility (CBEF):

Japanese Experiment Module (JEM):

Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA):

Related articles:

Critical NASA Research Returns to Earth Aboard U.S. SpaceX Dragon Spacecraft:

SpinSat Investigation Tests New Technology, Returns Data:

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

Images (mentioned), Video (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/International Space Station Program Science Office/Johnson Space Center/Melissa Gaskill/Kristine Rainey.


NASA's Curiosity Rover Adjusts Route Up Martian Mountain

NASA - Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) patch.

May 22, 2015

NASA's Curiosity Mars rover climbed a hill Thursday to approach an alternative site for investigating a geological boundary, after a comparable site proved hard to reach.

(Click on the image for enlarge)

Image above: This May 10, 2015, view from Curiosity's Mastcam shows terrain judged difficult for traversing between the rover and an outcrop in the middle distance where a pale rock unit meets a darker rock unit above it. The rover team decided not to approach this outcrop and identified an alternative. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS.

The drive of about 72 feet (22 meters) up slopes as steep as 21 degrees brought Curiosity close to a target area where two distinctive types of bedrock meet. The rover science team wants to examine an outcrop that contains the contact between the pale rock unit the mission analyzed lower on Mount Sharp and a darker, bedded rock unit that the mission has not yet examined up close.

Two weeks ago, Curiosity was headed for a comparable geological contact farther south. Foiled by slippery slopes on the way there, the team rerouted the vehicle and chose a westward path.The mission's strategic planning keeps multiple route options open to deal with such situations.

"Mars can be very deceptive," said Chris Roumeliotis, Curiosity's lead rover driver at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California. "We knew that polygonal sand ripples have caused Curiosity a lot of drive slip in the past, but there appeared to be terrain with rockier, more consolidated characteristics directly adjacent to these ripples. So we drove around the sand ripples onto what we expected to be firmer terrain that would give Curiosity better traction. Unfortunately, this terrain turned out to be unconsolidated material too, which definitely surprised us and Curiosity."

In three out of four drives between May 7 and May 13, Curiosity experienced wheel slippage in excess of the limit set for the drive, and it stopped mid-drive for safety. The rover's onboard software determines the amount of slippage occurring by comparing the wheel-rotation tally to actual drive distance calculated from analysis of images taken during the drive.

Image above: The Martian outcrop where pale rock meets darker overlying rock near the middle of this May 21, 2015, view is an example of a geological contact. Such contacts can reveal clues about how environmental conditions that produced one type of rock were related to conditions that produced the other. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

The rover was heading generally southward from near the base of a feature called "Jocko Butte" toward a geological contact in the eastern part of the "Logan Pass" area.

Routes to this contact site would have required driving across steeper slopes than Curiosity has yet experienced on Mars, and the rover had already experienced some sideways slipping on one slope in this area.

"We decided to go back to Jocko Butte, and, in parallel, work with the scientists to identify alternate routes," Roumeliotis said.

The team spent a few days analyzing images from the rover and from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter to choose the best route for short-term and long-term objectives.

"One factor the science team considers is how much time to spend reaching a particular target, when there are many others ahead," said Curiosity Project Scientist Ashwin Vasavada of JPL. "We used observations from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter to identify an alternative site for investigating the geological contact in the Logan Pass area. It's a little mind-blowing to drive up a hill to a site we saw only in satellite images and then find it in front of us."

Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) or Curiosity rover. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Curiosity has been exploring on Mars since 2012. It reached the base of Mount Sharp last year after fruitfully investigating outcrops closer to its landing site and then trekking to the mountain. The main mission objective now is to examine successively higher layers of Mount Sharp.

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: and

You can follow the mission on Facebook and Twitter at: and

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Dwayne Brown/JPL/Guy Webster/Tony Greicius.

Best regards,

Coronal Loops Over a Sunspot Group

NASA - Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) patch.

May 22, 2015

The Atmospheric Imaging Assembly (AIA) instrument aboard NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) images the solar atmosphere in multiple wavelengths to link changes in the surface to interior changes. Its data includes images of the sun in 10 wavelengths every 10 seconds. When AIA images are sharpened a bit, such as this AIA 171Å channel image, the magnetic field can be readily visualized through the bright, thin strands that are called "coronal loops".

Loops are shown here in a blended overlay with the magnetic field as measured with SDO's Helioseismic and Magnetic Imager underneath. Blue and yellow represent the opposite polarities of the magnetic field. The combined images were taken on Oct. 24, 2014, at 23:50:37 UT.

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

Image, Text, Credits: NASA/SDO/Sarah Loff.


United Launch Alliance Successfully Launches X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle for the U.S. Air Force

ULA - Atlas 5 / AFSPC-5 launch poster.

May 22, 2015

Launches of the USAF X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle

May 20, 2015 - A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket successfully launched the Air Force Space Command 5 (AFSPC-5) satellite for the U.S. Air Force at 11:05 a.m. EDT today from Space Launch Complex-41. The rocket carried the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle or OTV, a reliable, reusable, unmanned space test platform for the U.S. Air Force. 

“ULA is honored to launch this unique spacecraft for the U.S Air Force. Congratulations to the Air Force and all of our mission partners on today’s successful launch! The seamless integration between the Air Force, Boeing, and the entire mission team culminated in today’s successful launch of the AFSPC-5 mission” said Jim Sponnick, ULA vice president, Atlas and Delta Programs.

Atlas V AFSPC-5 Launch Highlights

This Atlas V mission also includes the Aft Bulkhead Carrier (ABC) carrying the National Reconnaissance Office’s (NRO’s) Ultra Lightweight Technology and Research Auxiliary Satellite (ULTRASat).  ULTRASat is composed of 10 CubeSats managed by the NRO and NASA. "The ABC contained 8 P-Pods that released 10 CubeSats that were successfully delivered. The CubeSats were developed by the U.S Naval Academy, the Aerospace Corporation, Air Force Research Laboratory, The Planetary Society and California Polytechnic, San Luis Obispo to conduct various on orbit experiments” said Sponnick.

This mission was launched aboard an Atlas V 501 configuration Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) , which includes a 5.4-meter-diameter payload fairing. The Atlas booster for this mission was powered by the RD AMROSS RD-180 engine, and the Centaur upper stage was powered by the Aerojet Rocketdyne RL10C-1 engine. This was ULA’s sixth launch of the 501 configuration, and ULA’s 54th mission to launch on an Atlas V rocket.

ULA's next launch is the Atlas V GPS IIF-10 mission for the U. S. Air Force, scheduled for July 15 from Space Launch Complex-41 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

USAF X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle

The EELV program was established by the United States Air Force to provide assured access to space for Department of Defense and other government payloads. The commercially developed EELV program supports the full range of government mission requirements, while delivering on schedule and providing significant cost savings over the heritage launch systems.

With more than a century of combined heritage, United Launch Alliance is the nation’s most experienced and reliable launch service provider. ULA has successfully delivered more than 90 satellites to orbit that provide critical capabilities for troops in the field, aid meteorologists in tracking severe weather, enable personal device-based GPS navigation and unlock the mysteries of our solar system.

For more information on ULA, visit the ULA website at Join the conversation at, and

Images, Video, Text, Credits: ULA/USAF.


CERN - First images of collisions at 13 TeV

CERN - European Organization for Nuclear Research logo.

May 22, 2015

Image above: Test collisions continue today at 13 TeV in the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) to prepare the detectors ALICE, ATLAS, CMS, LHCb, LHCf, MOEDAL and TOTEM for data-taking, planned for early June (Image: LHC).

Last night, protons collided in the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at the record-breaking energy of 13 TeV for the first time. These test collisions were to set up systems that protect the machine and detectors from particles that stray from the edges of the beam.

Image above: Protons collide at 13 TeV sending showers of particles through the ALICE detector (Image: ALICE).

A key part of the process was the set-up of the collimators. These devices which absorb stray particles were adjusted in colliding-beam conditions. This set-up will give the accelerator team the data they need to ensure that the LHC magnets and detectors are fully protected.

Image above: Protons collide at 13 TeV sending showers of particles through the CMS detector (Image: CMS).

Today the tests continue. Colliding beams will stay in the LHC for several hours. The LHC Operations team will continue to monitor beam quality and optimisation of the set-up.

Image above: Protons collide at 13 TeV sending showers of particles through the ATLAS detector (Image: ATLAS).

This is an important part of the process that will allow the experimental teams running the detectors ALICE, ATLAS, CMS, LHCb, LHCf, MOEDAL and TOTEM to switch on their experiments fully. Data taking and the start of the LHC's second run is planned for early June

Image above: Protons collide at 13 TeV sending showers of particles through the LHCb detector (Image: LHCb).

Image above: Protons collide at 13 TeV sending showers of particles through the TOTEM detector (Image: TOTEM).


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 22 Member States.

Related article:

Protons set to collide at 13 TeV to prepare for physics:

Related links:

Large Hadron Collider (LHC):

ALICE experiments:

ATLAS experiments:

CMS experiments:

LHCf experiments:

MOEDAL experiments:

TOTEM experiments:

Follow the experiments on Twitter for updates:

@ALICE Experiment:

@ATLAS Experiment:

@CMS Experiment:

@LHCb Experiment:

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

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: CERN/Cian O'Luanaigh.

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CryoSat detects sudden ice loss in Southern Antarctic Peninsula

ESA - CRYOSAT Mission logo.

22 May 2015

A recent acceleration in ice loss in a previously stable region of Antarctica has been detected by ESA’s ice mission.

ESA's Cryosat ice mission

The latest findings by a team of scientists from the UK’s University of Bristol show that with no sign of warning, multiple glaciers along the Southern Antarctic Peninsula suddenly started to shed ice into the ocean starting in 2009 at rate of about 60 cubic km each year.

This makes the region one of the largest contributors to sea-level rise in Antarctica, having added about 300 cubic km of water into the ocean in the past six years. Some glaciers along the coastal expanse are currently lowering by as much as four m each year.

Southern Antarctic Peninsula ice loss

Prior to 2009, the 750 km-long Southern Antarctic Peninsula showed no signs of change.

“It appears that sometime around 2009, the ice-shelf thinning and the subsurface melting of the glaciers passed a critical threshold that triggered the sudden ice loss,” said Dr Bert Wouters from the University of Bristol, who led the study.

“However, compared to other regions in Antarctica, the Southern Peninsula is rather understudied, exactly because it did not show any changes in the past, ironically.”

The study includes five years of measurements from ESA’s ice mission, CryoSat, which employs an advanced radar altimeter that can measure the surface height variation of ice in fine detail, allowing scientists to record changes in its volume with unprecedented accuracy.

The ice loss in the region is so large that it has even caused small changes in Earth’s gravity field, detected by NASA’s GRACE mission.

Ice loss dips gravity

“The fact that so many glaciers in such a large region suddenly started to lose ice came as a surprise to us. It shows a very fast response of the ice sheet: in just a few years the dynamic regime completely shifted,” said Dr Wouters.

Climate models show that the sudden change cannot be explained by changes in snowfall or air temperature. Instead, the team attributes the rapid ice loss to warming oceans.

Many of the glaciers in the region feed into ice shelves that float out over on the ocean surface, acting as buttresses to the ‘grounded’ ice resting on land. This slows down the flow of the glaciers into the ocean.

But the westerly winds that encircle Antarctica have become more vigorous in recent decades, in response to climate warming and ozone depletion. The stronger winds push warm waters from the Southern Ocean toward the poles, where they eat away at the glaciers and floating ice shelves from below. 

Grounding line retreat

Ice shelves in the region have lost almost one fifth of their thickness in the last two decades, thereby reducing the resisting force on the glaciers. A key concern is that much of the ice of the Southern Antarctic Peninsula is grounded on bedrock below sea level, which gets deeper inland.  This means that even if the glaciers retreat, the warm water will chase them inland and melt them even more.

“To pinpoint the cause of the changes, more data need to be collected. A detailed knowledge of geometry of the local ice shelves, the ocean floor topography, ice sheet thickness and glacier flow speeds are crucial to tell how much longer the thinning will continue,” said Dr Wouters.

The findings were published in Science yesterday:

Related links:

University of Bristol:


Images, Video, Text, Credits: ESA/University of Bristol/DGFI/Planetary Visions.


jeudi 21 mai 2015

SpinSat Investigation Tests New Technology, Returns Data

ISS - International Space Station patch.

May 21, 2015

Equipment and data from the SpinSat investigation returns to Earth today, May 21, 2015, with splashdown of SpaceX's Dragon cargo spacecraft following its release from the International Space Station’s robotic arm at 7:04 a.m. EDT. This Nov. 28, 2014 photograph by NASA astronaut Terry Virts captures the predeploy of SpinSat, which was launched into orbit from the station through the Cyclops small satellite deployer, also known as the Space Station Integrated Kinetic Launcher for Orbital Payload Systems (SSIKLOPS).

NASA astronaut Terry Virts captures the predeploy of SpinSat

The SpinSat study tested how a spherical satellite measuring 22 inches in diameter moves and positions itself in space using new thruster technology. Researchers can use high-resolution atmospheric data captured by SpinSat to determine the density of the thermosphere, one of the uppermost layers of the atmosphere. With better knowledge of the thermosphere, engineers and scientists can refine satellite and telecommunications technology.

Related link:


Related article:

Critical NASA Research Returns to Earth Aboard U.S. SpaceX Dragon Spacecraft:

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

Image, Text, Credits: NASA/Sarah Loff.


Critical NASA Research Returns to Earth Aboard U.S. SpaceX Dragon Spacecraft

SpaceX - Falcon 9/Dragon CRS-6 Mission patch.

May 21, 2015

SpaceX's Dragon cargo spacecraft splashed down in the Pacific Ocean at 12:42 p.m. EDT Thursday with almost 3,100 pounds of NASA cargo from the International Space Station, including research on how spaceflight and microgravity affect the aging process and bone health.

Dragon is the only space station resupply spacecraft able to return a significant amount of cargo to Earth. It is the U.S. company’s sixth NASA-contracted commercial resupply mission to the station and carried more than two tons of supplies and scientific cargo when it lifted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on April 14. NASA also has contracted with American companies SpaceX and Boeing to develop their Crew Dragon and CST-100, respectively, to once again transport astronauts to and from the orbiting laboratory from the United States in 2017.

Image above: The SpaceX Dragon cargo spacecraft was released from the International Space Station's robotic arm at 7:04 a.m. EDT Thursday. The capsule then performed a series of departure burns and maneuvers to move beyond the 656-foot (200-meter) "keep out sphere" around the station and begin its return trip to Earth. Image Credits: NASA TV.

The returning Space Aging study, for example, examines the effects of spaceflight on the aging of roundworms, widely used as a model for larger organisms. By growing millimeter-long roundworms on the space station, researchers can observe physiological changes that may affect the rate at which organisms age. This can be applied to changes observed in astronauts, as well, particularly in developing countermeasures before long-duration missions.

"Spaceflight-induced health changes, such as decreases in muscle and bone mass, are a major challenge facing our astronauts," said Julie Robinson, NASA's chief scientist for the International Space Station Program Office at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston. "We investigate solutions on the station not only to keep astronauts healthy as the agency considers longer space exploration missions but also to help those on Earth who have limited activity as a result of aging or illness."

Space station supply ship returns to Earth

Also returned on Dragon were samples for the Osteocytes and Mechanomechano-transduction (Osteo-4) investigation. Researchers with Osteo-4 will observe the effects of microgravity on the function of osteocytes, the most common cells in bone. Understanding the effects of microgravity on osteocytes will be critical as astronauts plan for future missions that require longer exposure to microgravity, including the NASA’s journey to Mars. The results derived from this study also could have implications on Earth for patients suffering bone disorders related to disuse or immobilization, as well as metabolic diseases such as osteoporosis.

Equipment and data from the Special Purpose Inexpensive Satellite (SpinSat) investigation also made the trip back to Earth. The SpinSat study tested how a spherical satellite, measuring 22 inches in diameter, moves and positions itself in space using new thruster technology. Researchers can use high-resolution atmospheric data captured by SpinSat to determine the density of the thermosphere, one of the uppermost layers of the atmosphere. With better knowledge of the thermosphere, engineers and scientists can refine satellite and telecommunications technology.

SpaceX's Dragon with Full Parachutes

The Dragon will be transported by ship approximately 155 miles northeast of its splashdown location to Long Beach, California where NASA cargo will be removed and returned to the agency. The spacecraft then will be prepared for its trip to SpaceX's test facility in McGregor, Texas, for processing.

The International Space Station is a convergence of science, technology and human innovation that enables us to demonstrate new technologies and make research breakthroughs not possible on Earth. It has been continuously occupied since November 2000 and, since then, has been visited by more than 200 people and a variety of international and commercial spacecraft. The ISS remains the springboard to NASA's next giant leap in exploration, including future missions to an asteroid and Mars.

Related link:

Osteocytes and Mechanomechano-transduction (Osteo-4) investigation:

For more information about the International Space Station, visit:

For more information about SpaceX's mission to the International Space Station, visit:

Images, Video, Text, Credits: NASA/Kathryn Hambleton/JPL/Dan Huot/NASA TV/Karen Northon.


NASA's WISE Spacecraft Discovers Most Luminous Galaxy in Universe

NASA - WISE Mission logo.

May 21, 2015

A remote galaxy shining with the light of more than 300 trillion suns has been discovered using data from NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE). The galaxy is the most luminous galaxy found to date and belongs to a new class of objects recently discovered by WISE -- extremely luminous infrared galaxies, or ELIRGs.

Artist's concept of the galaxy WISE J224607.57-052635.0

"We are looking at a very intense phase of galaxy evolution," said Chao-Wei Tsai of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, lead author of a new report appearing in the May 22 issue of The Astrophysical Journal. "This dazzling light may be from the main growth spurt of the galaxy’s black hole."

The brilliant galaxy, known as WISE J224607.57-052635.0, may have a behemoth black hole at its belly, gorging itself on gas. Supermassive black holes draw gas and matter into a disk around them, heating the disk to roaring temperatures of millions of degrees and blasting out high-energy, visible, ultraviolet, and X-ray light. The light is blocked by surrounding cocoons of dust. As the dust heats up, it radiates infrared light.

Immense black holes are common at the cores of galaxies, but finding one this big so “far back” in the cosmos is rare. Because light from the galaxy hosting the black hole has traveled 12.5 billion years to reach us, astronomers are seeing the object as it was in the distant past. The black hole was already billions of times the mass of our sun when our universe was only a tenth of its present age of 13.8 billion years.

The new study outlines three reasons why the black holes in the ELIRGs could have grown so massive. First, they may have been born big. In other words, the "seeds," or embryonic black holes, might be bigger than thought possible.

"How do you get an elephant?" asked Peter Eisenhardt, project scientist for WISE at JPL and a co-author on the paper. "One way is start with a baby elephant."

The other two explanations involve either breaking or bending the theoretical limit of black hole feeding, called the Eddington limit. When a black hole feeds, gas falls in and heats up, blasting out light. The pressure of the light actually pushes the gas away, creating a limit to how fast the black hole can continuously scarf down matter. If a black hole broke this limit, it could theoretically balloon in size at a breakneck pace. Black holes have previously been observed breaking this limit; however, the black hole in the study would have had to repeatedly break the limit to grow this large.

Alternatively, the black holes might just be bending this limit.

"Another way for a black hole to grow this big is for it to have gone on a sustained binge, consuming food faster than typically thought possible," said Tsai. "This can happen if the black hole isn't spinning that fast."

If a black hole spins slowly enough, it won't repel its meal as much. In the end, a slow-spinning black hole can gobble up more matter than a fast spinner.

"The massive black holes in ELIRGs could be gorging themselves on more matter for a longer period of time," said Andrew Blain of University of Leicester in the United Kingdom, a co-author of this report. "It's like winning a hot-dog-eating contest lasting hundreds of millions of years."

WISE Reactivated to Hunt for Asteroids

More research is needed to solve this puzzle of these dazzlingly luminous galaxies. The team has plans to better determine the masses of the central black holes. Knowing these objects’ true hefts will help reveal their history, as well as that of other galaxies, in this very crucial and frenzied chapter of our cosmos.

WISE has been finding more of these oddball galaxies in infrared images of the entire sky captured in 2010. By viewing the whole sky with more sensitivity than ever before, WISE has been able to catch rare cosmic specimens that might have been missed otherwise.

The new study reports a total of 20 new ELIRGs, including the most luminous galaxy found to date. These galaxies were not found earlier because of their distance, and because dust converts their powerful visible light into an incredible outpouring of infrared light.

"We found in a related study with WISE that as many as half of the most luminous galaxies only show up well in infrared light," said Tsai.

JPL manages and operates WISE for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The spacecraft was put into hibernation mode in 2011, after it scanned the entire sky twice, thereby completing its main objectives. In September 2013, WISE was reactivated, renamed NEOWISE and assigned a new mission to assist NASA's efforts to identify potentially hazardous near-Earth objects.

For more information on WISE, visit:

Images, Text, Credits: NASA/Felicia Chou/JPL/Whitney Clavin/Karen Northon.


Hubble Observes One-of-a-Kind Star Nicknamed ‘Nasty’

NASA - Hubble Space Telescope patch.

May 21, 2015

Astronomers using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope have uncovered surprising new clues about a hefty, rapidly aging star whose behavior has never been seen before in our Milky Way galaxy. In fact, the star is so weird that astronomers have nicknamed it “Nasty 1,” a play on its catalog name of NaSt1. The star may represent a brief transitory stage in the evolution of extremely massive stars.

Image above: Astronomers using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope have uncovered surprising new clues about a hefty, rapidly aging star whose behavior has never been seen before in our Milky Way galaxy. Image Credits: NASA/Hubble.

First discovered several decades ago, Nasty 1 was identified as a Wolf-Rayet star, a rapidly evolving star that is much more massive than our sun. The star loses its hydrogen-filled outer layers quickly, exposing its super-hot and extremely bright helium-burning core.

But Nasty 1 doesn’t look like a typical Wolf-Rayet star. The astronomers using Hubble had expected to see twin lobes of gas flowing from opposite sides of the star, perhaps similar to those emanating from the massive star Eta Carinae, which is a Wolf-Rayet candidate. Instead, Hubble revealed a pancake-shaped disk of gas encircling the star. The vast disk is nearly 2 trillion miles wide, and may have formed from an unseen companion star that snacked on the outer envelope of the newly formed Wolf-Rayet.  Based on current estimates, the nebula surrounding the stars is just a few thousand years old, and as close as 3,000 light-years from Earth.

“We were excited to see this disk-like structure because it may be evidence for a Wolf-Rayet star forming from a binary interaction,” said study leader Jon Mauerhan of the University of California, Berkeley. “There are very few examples in the galaxy of this process in action because this phase is short-lived, perhaps lasting only a hundred thousand years, while the timescale over which a resulting disk is visible could be only ten thousand years or less.”

In the team’s proposed scenario, a massive star evolves very quickly, and as it begins to run out of hydrogen, it swells up. Its outer hydrogen envelope becomes more loosely bound and vulnerable to gravitational stripping, or a type of stellar cannibalism, by a nearby companion star. In that process, the more compact companion star winds up gaining mass, and the original massive star loses its hydrogen envelope, exposing its helium core to become a Wolf-Rayet star.

Hubble orbiting the Earth

Another way Wolf-Rayet stars are said to form is when a massive star ejects its own hydrogen envelope in a strong stellar wind streaming with charged particles. The binary interaction model where a companion star is present is gaining traction because astronomers realize that at least 70 percent of massive stars are members of double-star systems. Direct mass loss alone also cannot account for the number of Wolf-Rayet stars relative to other less-evolved massive stars in the galaxy.

“We’re finding that it is hard to form all the Wolf-Rayet stars we observe by the traditional wind mechanism, because mass loss isn’t as strong as we used to think,” said Nathan Smith of the University of Arizona in Tucson, who is a co-author on the new NaSt1 paper. “Mass exchange in binary systems seems to be vital to account for Wolf-Rayet stars and the supernovae they make, and catching binary stars in this short-lived phase will help us understand this process.”

But the mass transfer process in mammoth binary systems isn’t always efficient. Some of the stripped matter can spill out during the gravitational tussle between the stars, creating a disk around the binary.

“That’s what we think is happening in Nasty 1,” Mauerhan said. “We think there is a Wolf-Rayet star buried inside the nebula, and we think the nebula is being created by this mass-transfer process. So this type of sloppy stellar cannibalism actually makes Nasty 1 a rather fitting nickname.”

The star’s catalogue name, NaSt1, is derived from the first two letters of each of the two astronomers who discovered it in 1963, Jason Nassau and Charles Stephenson.

Viewing the Nasty 1 system hasn’t been easy. The system is so heavily cloaked in gas and dust, it blocks even Hubble’s view of the stars. Mauerhan’s team cannot measure the mass of each star, the distance between them, or the amount of material spilling onto the companion star.

Previous observations of Nasty 1 have provided some information on the gas in the disk. The material, for example, is travelling about 22,000 miles per hour in the outer nebula, slower than similar stars. The comparatively slow speed indicates that the star expelled its material through a less violent event than Eta Carinae’s explosive outbursts, where the gas is travelling hundreds of thousands of miles per hour.

Hubble Space Telescope in orbit. Image Credit: NASA

Nasty 1 may also be shedding the material sporadically. Past studies in infrared light have shown evidence for a compact pocket of hot dust very close to the central stars. Recent observations by Mauerhan and colleagues at the University of Arizona, using the Magellan telescope at Las Campanas Observatory in Chile, have resolved a larger pocket of cooler dust that may be indirectly scattering the light from the central stars. The presence of warm dust implies that it formed very recently, perhaps in spurts, as chemically enriched material from the two stellar winds collides at different points, mixes, flows away, and cools. Sporadic changes in the wind strength or the rate the companion star strips the main star’s hydrogen envelope might also explain the clumpy structure and gaps seen farther out in the disk.

To measure the hypersonic winds from each star, the astronomers turned to NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory. The observations revealed scorching hot plasma, indicating that the winds from both stars are indeed colliding, creating high-energy shocks that glow in X-rays. These results are consistent with what astronomers have observed from other Wolf-Rayet systems.

The chaotic mass-transfer activity will end when the Wolf-Rayet star runs out of material. Eventually, the gas in the disk will dissipate, providing a clear view of the binary system.

“What evolutionary path the star will take is uncertain, but it will definitely not be boring,” said Mauerhan. “Nasty 1 could evolve into another Eta Carinae-type system. To make that transformation, the mass-gaining companion star could experience a giant eruption because of some instability related to the acquiring of matter from the newly formed Wolf-Rayet. Or, the Wolf-Rayet could explode as a supernova. A stellar merger is another potential outcome, depending on the orbital evolution of the system. The future could be full of all kinds of exotic possibilities depending on whether it blows up or how long the mass transfer occurs, and how long it lives after the mass transfer ceases.”

The team’s results will appear May 21 in the online edition of the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

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

For images and more information about Nasty 1 and the Hubble Space Telescope, visit:

Images (mentioned), Video, Text, Credits: NASA/ESA/Space Telescope Science Institute/Ray Villard/Holly Zell.


Impact crater or supervolcano caldera?

ESA - Mars Express Mission patch.

21 May 2015

Siloe Patera

At first glance, the region covered by this latest Mars Express image release appears to be pockmarked with impact craters. But the largest structure among them may hold a rather explosive secret: it could be remains of an ancient supervolcano.

The images presented here were taken by the high-resolution stereo camera on ESA’s Mars Express on 26 November 2014, and focus on the Siloe Patera feature in the Arabia Terra region of Mars.

Siloe Patera comprises two large nested craters, close to the centre of the main colour image. The outer rim measures about 40 x 30 km and, at its deepest point, the crater dips as low as 1750 m below the surrounding plains.

Siloe Patera in context

Some scientists believe that Siloe Patera and a number of similar features inArabia Terra are calderas, the collapsed centres of volcanoes. But not just any volcanoes: these are thought to be martian supervolcanoes.

On Earth, a supervolcano is defined as a volcano that can produce at least 1000 cubic kilometres of volcanic materials in an eruption – thousands of times larger than ‘normal’ volcanic eruptions and powerful enough to alter global climate. An example is the Yellowstone caldera in the United States.

Supervolcanoes occur when magma is trapped below the surface, leading to a huge built up in pressure. They erupt suddenly in violent explosions and thus do not ‘grow’ sloping mountains like Olympus Mons. That makes them hard to identify, especially millions or billions of years later.

But a number of irregularly shaped craters have been detected in the Arabia Terra region that could represent a family of ancient supervolcano calderas.

Siloe Patera topography

Siloe Patera is one such example. It is characterised by two depressions with steep-sided walls, collapse features and low topographic relief. The two depressions could even represent two different eruptive episodes due to collapse as the underlying magma pressure was released, or as the magma chamber migrated below the surface.

By comparison, impact craters include features such as a central peak, uplifted crater rims and ejecta blankets surrounding them. Indeed, impact craters are widespread in this scene: textbook examples can be found in the two side-by-side craters just above Siloe Patera, and in the large crater at the far right of the scene. These craters each exhibit a central peak, terraced crater walls and a surrounding ejecta blanket.

An impact crater with depth to diameter ratio comparable to Siloe Patera would be expected to show these features – unless perhaps the crater had undergone extensive erosion or modification – but it does not.  

Perspective view of Siloe Patera

Looking in more detail at Siloe Patera, as shown in the perspective view, numerous small channels and gullies are seen, cut into the walls and partly flowing into the depression. A prominent valley-like feature is present in the foreground, which cuts into the depression on one side.

The valley, along with numerous other small channels in the immediate vicinity, appears to cut through material to the lower left of the craters that could be either ejecta from an impact or volcanic flow.

If it is impact ejecta, then its asymmetric distribution could be explained either by an oblique meteoroid impact or by selective erosion of the blanket. Alternatively, it could be the product of lava flow from this part of the caldera.

Siloe Patera in 3D

Arabia Terra is already known to comprise plains of fine-grained, layered sulphate- and clay-bearing materials. The source of the material has been much debated, but lava and dust from eruptions could be the explanation.

Without any doubt, more data and high-resolution coverage – and even in situ sampling – would be necessary to resolve this mystery. And since the gases released in supervolcano eruptions could have had significant effects on the martian climate, this is a topic of great interest.

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mercredi 20 mai 2015

SpaceX Dragon Set For Thursday Departure

ISS - Expedition 43 Mission patch.

May 20, 2015

The Expedition 43 crew completed preparations on Wednesday to send SpaceX’s Dragon cargo vehicle back to Earth.

NASA astronauts Scott Kelly and Terry Virts transferred samples from two of the station’s Minus Eighty Degree Celsius Laboratory Freezer for ISS, or MELFI, freezers for return on Dragon. These included samples from the Cell Shape and Expression, CASIS PCG-3, Nematode Muscles experiments along with human research samples.

Image above: SpaceX’s Dragon cargo capsule is seen here docked to the Earth facing port of the Harmony module. SpaceX’s sixth commercial resupply flight to the International Space Station launched on April 14th and arrived three days later. It will depart with over 3,100 pounds of research samples and equipment and splashdown in the Pacific Ocean on May 21.

After final cargo loading was completed, the crew closed the hatch to Dragon and began preparing it for release tomorrow. Dragon has been grappled by the station’s robotic arm and is set to be released on Thursday, May 21 at 7:04 a.m. EDT.

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Image, Text, Credits: NASA/NASA TV.


The Dreadful Beauty of Medusa

ESO - European Southern Observatory logo.

20 May 2015

ESO’s Very Large Telescope images the Medusa Nebula

Astronomers using ESO’s Very Large Telescope in Chile have captured the most detailed image ever taken of the Medusa Nebula. As the star at the heart of this nebula made its transition into retirement, it shed its outer layers into space, forming this colourful cloud. The image foreshadows the final fate of the Sun, which will eventually also become an object of this kind.

This beautiful planetary nebula is named after a dreadful creature from Greek mythology — the Gorgon Medusa. It is also known as Sharpless 2-274 and is located in the constellation of Gemini (The Twins). The Medusa Nebula spans approximately four light-years and lies at a distance of about 1500 light-years. Despite its size it is extremely dim and hard to observe.

The Medusa Nebula in the constellation of Gemini

Medusa was a hideous creature with snakes in place of hair. These snakes are represented by the serpentine filaments of glowing gas in this nebula. The red glow from hydrogen and the fainter green emission from oxygen gas extends well beyond this frame, forming a crescent shape in the sky. The ejection of mass from stars at this stage of their evolution is often intermittent, which can result in fascinating structures within planetary nebulae.

For tens of thousands of years  the stellar cores of planetary nebulae are surrounded by these spectacularly colourful clouds of gas [1]. Over a further few thousand years the gas slowly disperses into its surroundings. This is the last phase in the transformation of stars like the Sun before ending their active lives as white dwarfs. The planetary nebula stage in the life of a star is a tiny fraction of its total life span — just as the time a child takes to blow a soap bubble and see it drift away is a brief instant compared to a full human life span.

Wide-field view of the sky around the Medusa Nebula

Harsh ultraviolet radiation from the very hot star at the core of the nebula causes atoms in the outward-moving gas to lose their electrons, leaving behind ionised gas. The characteristic colours of this glowing gas can be used to identify objects. In particular, the presence of the green glow from doubly ionised oxygen ([O III]) is used as a tool for spotting planetary nebulae. By applying appropriate filters, astronomers can isolate the radiation from the glowing gas and make the dim nebulae appear more pronounced against a darker background.

When the green [O III] emission from nebulae was first observed, astronomers thought they had discovered a new element that they dubbed nebulium. They later realised that it was simply a rare wavelength of radiation [2] from an ionised form of the familiar element oxygen.

Zooming in on the Medusa

The nebula is also referred to as Abell 21 (more formally PN A66 21), after the American astronomer George O. Abell, who discovered this object in 1955. For some time scientists debated whether the cloud could be the remnant of a supernova explosion. In the 1970s, however, researchers were able to measure the movement and other properties of the material in the cloud and clearly identify it as a planetary nebula [3].

This image uses data from the FOcal Reducer and low dispersion Spectrograph (FORS) instrument attached to the VLT, which were acquired as part of the ESO Cosmic Gems programme [4].

Close-up pan video showing the Medusa Nebula


[1] Counterintuitively, the stellar core of the Medusa Nebula is not the bright star in the centre of this image — this is a foreground star called TYC 776-1339-1. Medusa’s central star is a dimmer, bluish star lying just off-centre of the crescent shape and in the right-hand part of this image.

[2] This type of radiation is rare because it is created by a forbidden mechanism — transitions that are forbidden by quantum selection rules, but can still occur with a low probability. The designation [O III] means that the radiation is forbidden (the square brackets) emission from doubly ionised (the III part of the name) oxygen (O).

[3] The expansion velocity of the cloud was found to be about 50 kilometres/second — much lower than would be expected for a supernova remnant.

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

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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 16 countries: Austria, Belgium, Brazil, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Finland, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, along with the host state of Chile. 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 a major partner in ALMA, the largest astronomical project in existence. And on Cerro Armazones, close to Paranal, ESO is building the 39-metre European Extremely Large Telescope, the E-ELT, which will become “the world’s biggest eye on the sky”.


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Images, Text, Credits: ESO/IAU and Sky & Telescope/Digitized Sky Survey 2/Videos: ESO/Digitized Sky Survey 2/N. Risinger ( Music: Johan Monell (