vendredi 12 août 2016

GPM Examines Exceptionally Heavy Louisiana Rainstorms

NASA & JAXA - Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) logo.

Aug. 12, 2016

Image above: The GPM core satellite found heavy rainfall in storms on Aug. 11, 2016, at 10:26 p.m. EDT falling at a rate of over 3.9 inches (100.1 mm) per hour in one intense downpour in Louisiana. A few storm tops were reaching heights of over 9.9 miles (16 km). Image Credits: NASA/JAXA/Hal Pierce.

The low pressure center that has been gyrating over the northeastern Gulf of Mexico for days has now dropped very heavy precipitation over southeastern Louisiana. The Global Precipitation Measurement mission, or GPM, core satellite gathered rainfall data on the system and looked at it in three dimensions.

Up to 10 inches (254 mm) of rain since Thursday, Aug. 11, has already caused flooding in parts of the state. Today, Aug. 12 the National Weather Service issued flash flood warnings for many parts of southeastern Louisiana. Much of the New Orleans area is under a flood watch until Saturday morning, Aug. 13.

Animation Credits: NASA/JAXA/Hal Pierce

The GPM core observatory satellite flew directly above some very intense Louisiana storms on Aug. 11 at 10:26 p.m. EDT (Aug. 12, 2016, at 0226 UTC). Rainfall estimates in these storms were calculated using the satellite's Microwave Imager (GMI) and Dual-Frequency Precipitation Radar (DPR) instruments. GPM's radar (DPR Ku band) measured rain falling at a rate of over 3.9 inches (100.1 mm) per hour in one intense downpour.

At NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, a 3-D image and animation were created using the GPM data. The 3-D structure of rainfall within the Louisiana thunderstorms during the evening of Aug. 11 was measured by GPM's Radar (DPR Ku Band). DPR found that a few storm tops were reaching heights of over 9.9 miles (16 km). The GPM core observatory satellite gave further evidence of the power within these storms when it found that radar reflectivity values of over 53 dBZ were returned by some intense showers.

GPM is a joint mission of NASA and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.

For updates on the area forecasts, visit the National Weather Service website:

For more information about Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM): and

Image (mentioned), Animation (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, by Harold Pierce and Rob Gutro/Rob Garner.


NASA's Fermi Mission Expands its Search for Dark Matter

NASA - Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope logo.

Aug. 12, 2016

Dark matter, the mysterious substance that constitutes most of the material universe, remains as elusive as ever. Although experiments on the ground and in space have yet to find a trace of dark matter, the results are helping scientists rule out some of the many theoretical possibilities. Three studies published earlier this year, using six or more years of data from NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope, have broadened the mission's dark matter hunt using some novel approaches.

“We've looked for the usual suspects in the usual places and found no solid signals, so we've started searching in some creative new ways," said Julie McEnery, Fermi project scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. "With these results, Fermi has excluded more candidates, has shown that dark matter can contribute to only a small part of the gamma-ray background beyond our galaxy, the Milky Way, and has produced strong limits for dark matter particles in the second-largest galaxy orbiting it."

Dark matter neither emits nor absorbs light, primarily interacts with the rest of the universe through gravity, yet accounts for about 80 percent of the matter in the universe. Astronomers see its effects throughout the cosmos -- in the rotation of galaxies, in the distortion of light passing through galaxy clusters, and in simulations of the early universe, which require the presence of dark matter to form galaxies at all.

The leading candidates for dark matter are different classes of hypothetical particles. Scientists think gamma rays, the highest-energy form of light, can help reveal the presence of some of types of proposed dark matter particles. Previously, Fermi has searched for tell-tale gamma-ray signals associated with dark matter in the center of our galaxy and in small dwarf galaxies orbiting our own. Although no convincing signals were found, these results eliminated candidates within a specific range of masses and interaction rates, further limiting the possible characteristics of dark matter particles.

Among the new studies, the most exotic scenario investigated was the possibility that dark matter might consist of hypothetical particles called axions or other particles with similar properties. An intriguing aspect of axion-like particles is their ability to convert into gamma rays and back again when they interact with strong magnetic fields. These conversions would leave behind characteristic traces, like gaps or steps, in the spectrum of a bright gamma-ray source.

Animation above: Top: Gamma rays (magenta lines) coming from a bright source like NGC 1275 in the Perseus galaxy cluster should form a particular type of spectrum (right). Bottom: Gamma rays convert into hypothetical axion-like particles (green dashes) and back again when they encounter magnetic fields (gray curves). The resulting gamma-ray spectrum ((lower curve at right) would show unusual steps and gaps not seen in Fermi data, which means a range of these particles cannot make up a portion of dark matter. Image Credits: SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory/Chris Smith.

Manuel Meyer at Stockholm University led a study to search for these effects in the gamma rays from NGC 1275, the central galaxy of the Perseus galaxy cluster, located about 240 million light-years away. High-energy emissions from NGC 1275 are thought to be associated with a supermassive black hole at its center. Like all galaxy clusters, the Perseus cluster is filled with hot gas threaded with magnetic fields, which would enable the switch between gamma rays and axion-like particles. This means some of the gamma rays coming from NGC 1275 could convert into axions -- and potentially back again -- as they make their way to us.

Meyer's team collected observations from Fermi's Large Area Telescope (LAT) and searched for predicted distortions in the gamma-ray signal. The findings, published April 20 in Physical Review Letters, exclude a small range of axion-like particles that could have comprised about 4 percent of dark matter.

"While we don't yet know what dark matter is, our results show we can probe axion-like models and provide the strongest constraints to date for certain masses," Meyer said. "Remarkably, we reached a sensitivity we thought would only be possible in a dedicated laboratory experiment, which is quite a testament to Fermi."

Another broad class of dark matter candidates are called Weakly Interacting Massive Particles (WIMPs). In some versions, colliding WIMPs either mutually annihilate or produce an intermediate, quickly decaying particle. Both scenarios result in gamma rays that can be detected by the LAT.

Regina Caputo at the University of California, Santa Cruz, sought these signals from the Small Magellanic Cloud (SMC), which is located about 200,000 light-years away and is the second-largest of the small satellite galaxies orbiting the Milky Way. Part of the SMC's appeal for a dark matter search is that it lies comparatively close to us and its gamma-ray emission from conventional sources, like star formation and pulsars, is well understood. Most importantly, astronomers have high-precision measurements of the SMC's rotation curve, which shows how its rotational speed changes with distance from its center and indicates how much dark matter is present. In a paper published in Physical Review D on March 22, Caputo and her colleagues modeled the dark matter content of the SMC, showing it possessed enough to produce detectable signals for two WIMP types.

Image above: The Small Magellanic Cloud (SMC), at center, is the second-largest satellite galaxy orbiting our own. This image superimposes a photograph of the SMC with one half of a model of its dark matter (right of center). Lighter colors indicate greater density and show a strong concentration toward the galaxy's center. Ninety-five percent of the dark matter is contained within a circle tracing the outer edge of the model shown. In six years of data, Fermi finds no indication of gamma rays from the SMC's dark matter. Image Credits: Dark matter, R. Caputo et al. 2016; background, Axel Mellinger, Central Michigan University.

"The LAT definitely sees gamma rays from the SMC, but we can explain them all through conventional sources," Caputo said. "No signal from dark matter annihilation was found to be statistically significant."

In the third study, researchers led by Marco Ajello at Clemson University in South Carolina and Mattia Di Mauro at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory in California took the search in a different direction. Instead of looking at specific astronomical targets, the team used more than 6.5 years of LAT data to analyze the background glow of gamma rays seen all over the sky.

The nature of this light, called the extragalactic gamma-ray background (EGB) has been debated since it was first measured by NASA's Small Astronomy Satellite 2 in the early 1970s. Fermi has shown that much of this light arises from unresolved gamma-ray sources, particularly galaxies called blazars, which are powered by material falling toward gigantic black holes. Blazars constitute more than half of the total gamma-ray sources seen by Fermi, and they make up an even greater share in a new LAT catalog of the highest-energy gamma rays.

Animation above: This animation switches between two images of the gamma-ray sky as seen by Fermi's Large Area Telescope (LAT), one using the first three months of LAT data, the other showing a cumulative exposure of seven years. The blue color, representing the fewest gamma rays, includes the extragalactic gamma-ray background. Blazars make up most of the bright sources shown (colored red to white). With increasing exposure, Fermi reveals more of them. A new study shows blazars are almost completely responsible for the background glow. Animation Credits: NASA/DOE/Fermi LAT Collaboration.

Some models predict that EGB gamma rays could arise from distant interactions of dark matter particles, such as the annihilation or decay of WIMPs. In a detailed analysis of high-energy EGB gamma rays, published April 14 in Physical Review Letters, Ajello and his team show that blazars and other discrete sources can account for nearly all of this emission.

"There is very little room left for signals from exotic sources in the extragalactic gamma-ray background, which in turn means that any contribution from these sources must be quite small," Ajello said. "This information may help us place limits on how often WIMP particles collide or decay."

Although these latest studies have come up empty-handed, the quest to find dark matter continues both in space and in ground-based experiments. Fermi is joined in its search by NASA's Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer, a particle detector on the International Space Station.

NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope is an astrophysics and particle physics partnership, developed in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Energy and with important contributions from academic institutions and partners in France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Sweden and the United States.

Related links:

Physical Review:

NASA's Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer:

Satellite 2:

New LAT catalog: https://g/Work/!!_07_XX_Fermi_DM/a%20new%20LAT%20catalog

For more information about NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope, visit:

Image (mentioned), Animations (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, By Francis Reddy/Ashley Morrow.


Kepler Watches Stellar Dancers in the Pleiades Cluster

NASA - Kepler Mission patch.

Aug. 12, 2016

Image above: This image shows the Pleiades cluster of stars as seen through the eyes of WISE, or NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA.

Like cosmic ballet dancers, the stars of the Pleiades cluster are spinning. But these celestial dancers are all twirling at different speeds. Astronomers have long wondered what determines the rotation rates of these stars.

By watching these stellar dancers, NASA's Kepler space telescope during its K2 mission has helped amass the most complete catalog of rotation periods for stars in a cluster. This information can help astronomers gain insight into where and how planets form around these stars, and how such stars evolve.   

"We hope that by comparing our results to other star clusters, we will learn more about the relationship between a star’s mass, its age, and even the history of its solar system," said Luisa Rebull, a research scientist at the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center at Caltech in Pasadena, California. She is the lead author of two new papers and a co-author on a third paper about these findings, all being published in the Astronomical Journal.

The Pleiades star cluster is one of the closest and most easily seen star clusters, residing just 445 light-years away from Earth, on average. At about 125 million years old, these stars -- known individually as Pleiads -- have reached stellar "young adulthood." In this stage of their lives, the stars are likely spinning the fastest they ever will.

As a typical star moves further along into adulthood, it loses some zip due to the copious emission of charged particles known as a stellar wind (in our solar system, we call this the solar wind). The charged particles are carried along the star’s magnetic fields, which overall exerts a braking effect on the rotation rate of the star.

Rebull and colleagues sought to delve deeper into these dynamics of stellar spin with Kepler. Given its field of view on the sky, Kepler observed approximately 1,000 stellar members of the Pleiades over the course of 72 days. The telescope measured the rotation rates of more than 750 stars in the Pleiades, including about 500 of the lowest-mass, tiniest, and dimmest cluster members, whose rotations could not previously be detected from ground-based instruments.

Kepler measurements of starlight infer the spin rate of a star by picking up small changes in its brightness. These changes result from "starspots" which, like the more-familiar sunspots on our sun, form when magnetic field concentrations prevent the normal release of energy at a star’s surface. The affected regions become cooler than their surroundings and appear dark in comparison.

As stars rotate, their starspots come in and out of Kepler’s view, offering a way to determine spin rate. Unlike the tiny, sunspot blemishes on our middle-aged sun, starspots can be gargantuan in stars as young as those in the Pleiades because stellar youth is associated with greater turbulence and magnetic activity. These starspots trigger larger brightness decreases, and make spin rate measurements easier to obtain.

During its observations of the Pleiades, a clear pattern emerged in the data: More massive stars tended to rotate slowly, while less massive stars tended to rotate rapidly. The big-and-slow stars' periods ranged from one to as many as 11 Earth-days. Many low-mass stars, however, took less than a day to complete a pirouette. (For comparison, our sedate sun revolves fully just once every 26 days.) The population of slow-rotating stars includes some ranging from a bit larger, hotter and more massive than our sun, down to other stars that are somewhat smaller, cooler and less massive. On the far end, the fast-rotating, fleet-footed, lowest-mass stars possess as little as a tenth of our sun’s mass.

"In the 'ballet' of the Pleiades, we see that slow rotators tend to be more massive, whereas the fastest rotators tend to be very light stars," said Rebull. 

The main source of these differing spin rates is the internal structure of the stars, Rebull and colleagues suggest. Larger stars have a huge core enveloped in a thin layer of stellar material undergoing a process called convection, familiar to us from the circular motion of boiling water. Small stars, on the other hand, consist almost entirely of convective, roiling regions. As stars mature, the braking mechanism from magnetic fields more easily slows the spin rate of the thin, outermost layer of big stars than the comparatively thick, turbulent bulk of small stars.

Kepler Space Telescope. Image Credit: NASA

Thanks to the Pleiades’ proximity, researchers think it should be possible to untangle the complex relationships between stars’ spin rates and other stellar properties. Those stellar properties, in turn, can influence the climates and habitability of a star’s hosted exoplanets. For instance, as spinning slows, so too does starspot generation, and the solar storms associated with starspots. Fewer solar storms means less intense, harmful radiation blasting into space and irradiating nearby planets and their potentially emerging biospheres.   

"The Pleiades star cluster provides an anchor for theoretical models of stellar rotation going both directions, younger and older," said Rebull. "We still have a lot we want to learn about how, when and why stars slow their spin rates and hang up their 'dance shoes,' so to speak."

Rebull and colleagues are now analyzing K2 mission data from an older star cluster, Praesepe, popularly known as the Beehive Cluster, to further explore this phenomenon in stellar structure and evolution.

"We’re really excited that K2 data of star clusters, such as the Pleiades, have provided astronomers with a bounty of new information and helped advance our knowledge of how stars rotate throughout their lives," said Steve Howell, project scientist for the K2 mission at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California.

The K2 mission’s approach to studying stars employs the Kepler spacecraft's ability to precisely observe miniscule changes in starlight. Kepler’s primary mission ended in 2013, but more exoplanet and astrophysics observations continue with the K2 mission, which began in 2014.

Ames manages the Kepler and K2 missions for NASA's Science Mission Directorate. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, managed Kepler mission development. Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corporation operates the flight system with support from the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

For more information about Kepler and K2, visit:

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Tony Greicius/JPL/Elizabeth Landau/Ames Research Center/Michele Johnson/Written by Adam Hadhazy.


Hubble Spots a Lopsided Lynx

NASA - Hubble Space Telescope patch.

Aug. 12, 2016

This galaxy, known as NGC 2337, resides 25 million light-years away in the constellation of Lynx. NGC 2337 is an irregular galaxy, meaning that it — along with a quarter of all galaxies in the universe — lacks a distinct, regular appearance. The galaxy was discovered in 1877 by the French astronomer Édouard Stephan who, in the same year, discovered the galactic group Stephan’s Quintet (heic0910i).

Although irregular galaxies may never win a beauty prize when competing with their more symmetrical spiral and elliptical peers, astronomers consider them to be very important. Some irregular galaxies may have once fallen into one of the regular classes of the Hubble sequence, but were warped and deformed by a passing cosmic companion. As such, irregular galaxies provide astronomers with a valuable opportunity to learn more about galactic evolution and interaction.

Despite the disruption, gravitational interactions between galaxies can kick-start star formation activity within the affected galaxies, which may explain the pockets of blue light scattered throughout NGC 2337. These patches and knots of blue signal the presence of young, newly formed, hot stars.

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Image credits: ESA/Hubble & NASA/ Text credits: European Space Agency/NASA/Ashley Morrow.


jeudi 11 août 2016

Hubble Uncovers a Galaxy Pair Coming in from the Wilderness

NASA - Hubble Space Telescope patch.

Aug. 11, 2016

NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has uncovered two tiny dwarf galaxies that have wandered from a vast cosmic wilderness into a nearby “big city” packed with galaxies. After being quiescent for billions of years, they are ready to party by starting a firestorm of star birth.

“These Hubble images may be snapshots of what present-day dwarf galaxies may have been like at earlier epochs,” said lead researcher Erik Tollerud of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland. “Studying these and other similar galaxies can provide further clues to dwarf galaxy formation and evolution.”

The Hubble observations suggest that the galaxies, called Pisces A and B, are late bloomers because they have spent most of their existence in the Local Void, a region of the universe sparsely populated with galaxies. The Local Void is roughly 150 million light-years across.

Image above: NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has captured the glow of new stars in these small, ancient galaxies, called Pisces A and Pisces B. The dwarf galaxies have lived in isolation for billions of years and are just now beginning to make stars. Image Credits: NASA, ESA, and E. Tollerud (STScI).

Under the steady pull of gravity from the galactic big city, the loner dwarf galaxies have at last entered a crowded region that is denser in intergalactic gas. In this gas-rich environment, star birth may have been triggered by gas raining down on the galaxies as they plow through the denser region. Another idea is that the duo may have encountered a gaseous filament, which compresses gas in the galaxies and stokes star birth. Tollerud’s team determined that the objects are at the edge of a nearby filament of dense gas. Each galaxy contains only about 10 million stars.

Dwarf galaxies are the building blocks from which larger galaxies were formed billions of years ago in the early universe. Inhabiting a sparse desert of largely empty space for most of the universe’s history, these two galaxies avoided that busy construction period.

“These galaxies may have spent most of their history in the void,” Tollerud explained. “If this is true, the void environment would have slowed their evolution. Evidence for the galaxies’ void address is that their hydrogen content is somewhat high relative to similar galaxies. In the past, galaxies contained higher concentrations of hydrogen, the fuel needed to make stars. But these galaxies seem to retain that more primitive composition, rather than the enriched composition of contemporary galaxies, due to a less vigorous history of star formation. The galaxies also are quite compact relative to the typical star-forming galaxies in our galactic neighborhood.”

Pisces A and Pisces B (large image).  Image Credits: NASA, ESA, and E. Tollerud (STScI).

The dwarf galaxies are small and faint, so finding them is extremely difficult. Astronomers spotted them by using radio telescopes in a unique survey to measure the hydrogen content in our Milky Way. The observations captured thousands of small blobs of dense hydrogen gas. Most of them are gas clouds within our galaxy, but astronomers identified 30 to 50 of those blobs as possible galaxies. The researchers used the WIYN telescope in Arizona to study 15 of the most promising candidates in visible light. Based on those observations, Tollerud’s team selected the two that are the most likely candidates to be nearby galaxies and analyzed them with Hubble’s Advanced Camera for Surveys. Hubble’s sharp vision helped the astronomers confirm that both of them, Pisces A and B, are dwarf galaxies.

The Hubble telescope is aptly suited to study nearby, dim dwarf galaxies because its sharp vision can resolve individual stars and help astronomers estimate the galaxies’ distances. Distance is important for determining a galaxy’s brightness, and, in these Hubble observations, for calculating how far away the galaxies are from nearby voids. Pisces A is about 19 million light-years from Earth and Pisces B roughly 30 million light-years away. Based on the galaxies’ locations, an analysis of the stars’ colors allowed the astronomers to trace the star formation history of both galaxies. Each galaxy contains about 20 to 30 bright blue stars, a sign that they are very young, less than 100 million years old. Tollerud’s team estimates that less than 100 million years ago, the galaxies doubled their star-formation rate. Eventually, the star formation may slow down again if the galaxies become satellites of a much larger galaxy.

“The galaxies could even probably stop forming stars altogether, because they will stop getting new gas to make stars,” Tollerud said. “So they will use up their existing gas. But it’s hard to tell right now exactly when that would happen, so it’s a reasonable guess that the star formation will ramp up at least for a while.”

Tollerud’s team hopes to observe other similar galaxies with Hubble. He also plans to scour the Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System survey (PanSTARRS) for potential dwarf galaxies. Future wide-survey telescopes, such as the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) in Chile and the large radio telescope in China, should be able to find many of these puny galactic neighbors.

The team’s results will appear in the Aug. 11 issue of The Astrophysical Journal.

Hubble orbiting Earth

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 in Washington, D.C.

For images and more information about Pisces A and B, and Hubble, visit:

Images (mentioned), Video, Text, Credits: ESA/NASA/Ashley Morrow/Space Telescope Science Institute/Donna Weaver/Ray Villard/Erik Tollerud.


NASA Climate Modeling Suggests Venus May Have Been Habitable

NASA logo.

Aug. 11, 2016

Venus may have had a shallow liquid-water ocean and habitable surface temperatures for up to 2 billion years of its early history, according to computer modeling of the planet’s ancient climate by scientists at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) in New York.

The findings, published this week in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, were obtained with a model similar to the type used to predict future climate change on Earth.

“Many of the same tools we use to model climate change on Earth can be adapted to study climates on other planets, both past and present,” said Michael Way, a researcher at GISS and the paper’s lead author. “These results show ancient Venus may have been a very different place than it is today.” 

Venus today is a hellish world. It has a crushing carbon dioxide atmosphere 90 times as thick as Earth’s. There is almost no water vapor. Temperatures reach 864 degrees Fahrenheit (462 degrees Celsius) at its surface. 

Image above: Observations suggest Venus may have had water oceans in its distant past. A land-ocean pattern like that above was used in a climate model to show how storm clouds could have shielded ancient Venus from strong sunlight and made the planet habitable. Image Credit: NASA.

Scientists long have theorized that Venus formed out of ingredients similar to Earth’s, but followed a different evolutionary path. Measurements by NASA’s Pioneer mission to Venus in the 1980s first suggested Venus originally may have had an ocean. However, Venus is closer to the sun than Earth and receives far more sunlight. As a result, the planet’s early ocean evaporated, water-vapor molecules were broken apart by ultraviolet radiation, and hydrogen escaped to space. With no water left on the surface, carbon dioxide built up in the atmosphere, leading to a so-called runaway greenhouse effect that created present conditions.

Previous studies have shown that how fast a planet spins on its axis affects whether it has a habitable climate. A day on Venus is 117 Earth days. Until recently, it was assumed that a thick atmosphere like that of modern Venus was required for the planet to have today’s slow rotation rate. However, newer research has shown that a thin atmosphere like that of modern Earth could have produced the same result. That means an ancient Venus with an Earth-like atmosphere could have had the same rotation rate it has today.

Another factor that impacts a planet’s climate is topography. The GISS team postulated ancient Venus had more dry land overall than Earth, especially in the tropics. That limits the amount of water evaporated from the oceans and, as a result, the greenhouse effect by water vapor. This type of surface appears ideal for making a planet habitable; there seems to have been enough water to support abundant life, with sufficient land to reduce the planet’s sensitivity to changes from incoming sunlight.

Way and his GISS colleagues simulated conditions of a hypothetical early Venus with an atmosphere similar to Earth’s, a day as long as Venus’ current day, and a shallow ocean consistent with early data from the Pioneer spacecraft. The researchers added information about Venus’ topography from radar measurements taken by NASA’s Magellan mission in the 1990s, and filled the lowlands with water, leaving the highlands exposed as Venusian continents. The study also factored in an ancient sun that was up to 30 percent dimmer. Even so, ancient Venus still received about 40 percent more sunlight than Earth does today.

“In the GISS model’s simulation, Venus’ slow spin exposes its dayside to the sun for almost two months at a time,” co-author and fellow GISS scientist Anthony Del Genio said. “This warms the surface and produces rain that creates a thick layer of clouds, which acts like an umbrella to shield the surface from much of the solar heating. The result is mean climate temperatures that are actually a few degrees cooler than Earth’s today.”

The research was done as part of NASA’s Planetary Science Astrobiology program through the Nexus for Exoplanet System Science (NExSS) program, which seeks to accelerate the search for life on planets orbiting other stars, or exoplanets, by combining insights from the fields of astrophysics, planetary science, heliophysics, and Earth science. The findings have direct implications for future NASA missions, such as the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite and James Webb Space Telescope, which will try to detect possible habitable planets and characterize their atmospheres.

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Read the paper in Geophysical Research Letters:

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NASA GISS website:

Image (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, by Michael Cabbage and Leslie McCarthy/Rob Garner.


Spotlight on Schiaparelli’s landing site

ESA - Mars Express Mission patch.

11 August 2016

Mars Express image of Schiaparelli’s landing site – with ellipse

Schiaparelli, the Entry, Descent and Landing Demonstrator Module of the joint ESA/Roscosmos ExoMars 2016 mission, will target the Meridiani Planum region for its October landing, as seen in this mosaic created from Mars Express images.

The landing ellipse, measuring 100 x 15 km, is located close to the equator, in the southern highlands of Mars. The region was chosen based on its relatively flat and smooth characteristics, as indicated in the topography map, in order to satisfy landing safety requirements for Schiaparelli.

Meridiani Planum in context

NASA’s Opportunity rover also landed within this ellipse near Endurance crater in Meridiani Planum, in 2004, and has been exploring the 22 km-wide Endeavour crater for the last five years. Endeavour lies just outside the south-eastern extent of Schiaparelli’s landing ellipse.

The region has also been well studied from orbit and is shown to host clay sediments and sulphates that were likely formed in the presence of water. Indeed, a number of water-carved channels are also clearly visible, in particular in the southern portion of the image.

Meridiani Planum topography with Schiaparelli landing ellipse

Dune fields are seen inside a number of the craters in the region, and along with the dark deposits surrounding them, are likely shaped by wind and dust storms.

Although Schiaparelli’s main task is to demonstrate technologies needed to safely land on Mars, its small suite of scientific instruments will also record the wind speed, humidity, pressure and temperature at its landing site.

It will also obtain the first measurements of electric fields on the surface of Mars that, combined with measurements of the concentration of atmospheric dust, will provide new insights into the role of electric forces in dust lifting, the trigger for dust storms.

Perspective view in Meridiani Planum – with Schiaparelli landing ellipse

Schiaparelli is riding to Mars on board the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter. The mission launched on a Proton rocket from Baikonur on 14 March, and is on course for a 19 October rendezvous with the Red Planet.

Schiaparelli will separate from its mothership on 16 October; three days later, it will use a combination of a heat shield, a parachute, a propulsion system and a crushable structure to slow down during its six-minute descent to the surface of Mars.

Perspective view in Meridiani Planum – with Schiaparelli landing ellipse

ESA’s Mars Express, which has been in orbit at the Red Planet since 2003, is among the fleet of orbiters that will act as a data relay during Schiaparelli’s short battery-powered mission on the surface.

Flyover of Schiaparelli landing ellipse

Images acquired with the Mars Express High Resolution Stereo Camera on 23, 26 and 29 August 2005, and 1 August 2010, were used to compile the four-image colour mosaic featured in this release.

Related article:

A Little Help From Friends

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Looking at Mars:

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Mars Express overview:

Mars Express 10 year brochure:

Images, Video, Text, Credits: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO/NASA MGS MOLA Science Team.

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mercredi 10 août 2016

CERN - MoEDAL closes in on search for magnetic particle

CERN - European Organization for Nuclear Research logo.

August 10, 2016

Image above: The MoEDAL experiment is searching for magnetic monopoles, which could, in theory, carry either a North or a South pole. (Image: Daniel Dominguez/ CERN).

The Monopole & Exotics Detector at the LHC, nicknamed the MoEDAL experiment at CERN has narrowed the window of where to search for a hypothetical particle, the magnetic monopole, says a new paper published today in the journal JHEP.

In the last decades, experiments have been trying to find evidence for magnetic monopoles at accelerators, including at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider. Such particles were first predicted by physicist Paul Dirac in the 1930s but have never been observed so far.

“Today MoEDAL celebrates the release of its first physics result and joins the other LHC experiments at the discovery frontier," says spokesperson of the MoEDAL experiment, James Pinfold.

The paper published today is based on an analysis of data collected during the LHC’s first run, when the trapping detector was still a prototype. Although showing no evidence for trapped monopoles, the results have allowed the MoEDAL collaboration to place new mass limits, assuming a simple production mode of these hypothetical particles. You can read more in the press release here:

What is a magnetic monopole?
Just as electricity comes with two charges, positive and negative, so magnetism comes with two poles, North and South. The difference is that while it’s easy to isolate a positive or negative electric charge, nobody has ever seen a solitary magnetic charge, or monopole. If you take a bar magnet and cut it in half, you end up with two smaller bar magnets, each with a North and South pole. Yet theory suggests that magnetism could be a property of elementary particles. So just as electrons carry negative electric charge and protons carry positive charge, so magnetic monopoles could in theory carry a North or a South pole.

If monopoles exist, they are believed to be very massive. As the LHC produces collisions at unprecedented energy, physicists may be able to observe such particles if they are light enough to be in the LHC’s reach. For instance, high-energy photon–photon interactions could produce pairs of North and South monopoles.  Monopoles could manifest their presence via their magnetic charge and through their very high ionizing power, estimated to be about 4700 times higher than that of the protons. The MoEDAL experiment at the LHC is designed specifically to look at these effects.

How does MoEDAL work?

MoEDAL is composed of a largely passive detector, installed next to the LHCb experiment. As monopoles would be highly ionizing, they would leave tracks in plastic detectors (NTDs) that are examined by a microscope afterwards. Monopoles would also lose their energy very quickly and could therefore be slowed down by another device consisting of 0.8 tonnes of aluminium detectors that act as a trap. A trapped monopole would signal its presence afterwards, when a magnetometer ‘scans’ the detectors for a magnetic charge. Additionally, MoEDAL includes an array of TimePix silicon pixel detectors used to monitor the experiment’s environment in real-time.

What are magnetic monopoles?

Video above: What are magnetic monopoles? James Pinfold explains (Video: Noemi Caraban/CERN).

The results published today provide a clear demonstration of the power of the MoEDAL detector, as the LHC delivers data at higher energy. The MoEDAL collaboration is now actively working on the analysis of data obtained with the full detector – including plastic NTDs and trapping detectors – in 2015, with the exciting possibility of revolutionary discoveries in a number of new physics scenarios.


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 links:

MoEDAL experiment:

Large Hadron Collider (LHC):

LHCb experiment:

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

Image (mentioned), Video (mentioned), Text, Credits: CERN/Harriet Jarlett.

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Cassini Finds Flooded Canyons on Titan

NASA 6 ESA - Cassini Mission to Saturn & Titan patch.

Aug. 10, 2016

NASA's Cassini spacecraft has found deep, steep-sided canyons on Saturn's moon Titan that are flooded with liquid hydrocarbons. The finding represents the first direct evidence of the presence of liquid-filled channels on Titan, as well as the first observation of canyons hundreds of meters deep.

A new paper in the journal Geophysical Research Letters describes how scientists analyzed Cassini data from a close pass the spacecraft made over Titan in May 2013. During the flyby, Cassini's radar instrument focused on channels that branch out from the large, northern sea Ligeia Mare.

Animation above: Cassini spacecraft pinged the surface of Titan with microwaves, finding that some channels are deep, steep-sided canyons filled with liquid hydrocarbons. One such feature is Vid Flumina, the branching network of narrow lines in the upper-left quadrant of the image. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASI.

The Cassini observations reveal that the channels -- in particular, a network of them named Vid Flumina -- are narrow canyons, generally less than half a mile (a bit less than a kilometer) wide, with slopes steeper than 40 degrees. The canyons also are quite deep -- those measured are 790 to 1,870 feet (240 to 570 meters) from top to bottom.

The branching channels appear dark in radar images, much like Titan's methane-rich seas. This suggested to scientists that the channels might also be filled with liquid, but a direct detection had not been made until now. Previously it wasn't clear if the dark material was liquid or merely saturated sediment -- which at Titan's frigid temperatures would be made of ice, not rock.

Cassini's radar is often used as an imager, providing a window to peer through the dense haze that surrounds Titan to reveal the surface below. But during this pass, the radar was used as an altimeter, sending pings of radio waves to the moon's surface to measure the height of features there. The researchers combined the altimetry data with previous radar images of the region to make their discovery.

Image left: The canyons of Vid Flumina are seen in this view from Cassini's radar mapper. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASI.

Key to understanding the nature of the channels was the way Cassini's radar signal reflected off the bottoms of the features. The radar instrument observed a glint, indicating an extremely smooth surface like that observed from Titan's hydrocarbon seas. The timing of the radar echoes, as they bounced off the canyons' edges and floors, provided a direct measure of their depths.

The presence of such deep cuts in the landscape indicates that whatever process created them was active for a long time or eroded down much faster than other areas on Titan’s surface. The researchers' proposed scenarios include uplift of the terrain and changes in sea level, or perhaps both.

"It's likely that a combination of these forces contributed to the formation of the deep canyons, but at present it's not clear to what degree each was involved. What is clear is that any description of Titan's geological evolution needs to be able to explain how the canyons got there," said Valerio Poggiali of the University of Rome, a Cassini radar team associate and lead author of the study.

Earthly examples of both of these types of canyon-carving processes are found along the Colorado River in Arizona. An example of uplift powering erosion is the Grand Canyon, where the terrain's rising altitude caused the river to cut deeply downward into the landscape over the course of several million years. For canyon formation driven by variations in water level, look to Lake Powell. When the water level in the reservoir drops, it increases the river's rate of erosion.

"Earth is warm and rocky, with rivers of water, while Titan is cold and icy, with rivers of methane. And yet it's remarkable that we find such similar features on both worlds," said Alex Hayes, a Cassini radar team associate at Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, and a co-author of the study.

While the altimeter data also showed that the liquid in some of the canyons around Ligeia Mare is at sea level -- the same altitude as the liquid in the sea itself -- in others it sits tens to hundreds of feet (tens of meters) higher in elevation. The researchers interpret the latter to be tributaries that drain into the main channels below.

Future work will extend the methods used in this study to all other channels Cassini's radar altimeter has observed on Titan. The researchers expect their continued work to produce a more comprehensive understanding of forces that have shaped the Saturnian moon's landscape.

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, ESA (European Space Agency) and the Italian Space Agency. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of Caltech in Pasadena, manages the mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. JPL designed, developed and assembled the Cassini orbiter. The radar instrument was built by JPL and the Italian Space Agency, working with team members from the US and several European countries.

More information about Cassini:

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Tony Greicius/JPL/Preston Dyches.

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A Black Hole Story Told by a Cosmic Blob and Bubble

NASA - Chandra X-ray Observatory patch.

Aug. 10, 2016

Two cosmic structures show evidence for a remarkable change in behavior of a supermassive black hole in a distant galaxy. Using data from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and other telescopes, astronomers are piecing together clues from a cosmic “blob” and a gas bubble that could be a new way to probe the past activity of a giant black hole and its effect on its host galaxy.

The Green Blob, a renowned cosmic structure also called “Hanny’s Voorwerp” (which means “Hanny’s object” in Dutch), is located about 650 million light years from Earth. This object was discovered in 2007 by Hanny van Arkel, at the time a school teacher, as part of the citizen science project called Galaxy Zoo.

Astronomers think that a blast of ultraviolet and X-radiation produced by a supermassive black hole at the center of the galaxy IC 2497 (only 200,000 light years away) excited the oxygen atoms in a gas cloud, giving the Green Blob its emerald glow. At present the black hole is growing slowly and not producing nearly enough radiation to cause such a glow.

However, the distance of the Green Blob from IC 2497 is large enough that we may be observing a delayed response, or an echo of past activity, from a rapidly growing black hole. Such a black hole would produce copious amounts of radiation from infalling material, categorizing it as a “quasar.”

If the black hole was growing at a much higher rate in the past and then slowed down dramatically in the past 200,000 years, the glow of the Green Blob could be consistent with the present low activity of the black hole. In this scenario, the blob would become much dimmer in the distant future, as reduced ultraviolet and X-radiation levels from the faded quasar finally reach the cloud.

In this new composite image of IC 2497 (top object) and the Green Blob (bottom), X-rays from Chandra are purple and optical data from the Hubble Space Telescope are red, green, and blue.

New observations with Chandra show that the black hole is still producing large amounts of energy even though it is no longer generating intense radiation as a quasar. The evidence for this change in the black hole’s activity comes from hot gas in the center of IC 2497 detected in a long exposure by Chandra. The center of the X-ray emission shows cooler gas, which astronomers interpret as a large bubble in the gas.

Astronomers suspect this bubble may have been created when a pair of jets from the black hole blew away the hot gas. In this scenario, the energy produced by the supermassive black hole has changed from that of a quasar, when energy is radiated in a broad beam, to more concentrated output in the form of collimated jets of particles and consistent with the observed radio emission in this source.

Such changes in behavior from strong radiation to strong outflow are seen in stellar-mass black holes that weigh about ten times that of the Sun, taking place over only a few weeks. The much higher mass of the black hole in IC 2497 results in much slower changes over many thousands of years.

Chandra X-ray Observatory

The citizen and professional scientists of the Galaxy Zoo project have continued to hunt for objects like the Green Blob. Many smaller versions of the Green Blob have been found (dubbed “Voorwerpjes” or “little objects” in Dutch.) These latest results from Chandra suggest that fading quasars identified as Voorwerpjes are good places to search for examples of supermassive black holes affecting their surroundings.

A paper on these results recently appeared in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society and is available online. The authors of the paper are Lia Sartori (ETH Zurich), Kevin Schawinski (ETH Zurich), Michael Koss (ETH Zurich), Ezequiel Treister (University of Concepcion, Chile), Peter Maksym (Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics), William Keel (University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa), C. Megan Urry (Yale University), Chris Lintott (Oxford University), and O. Ivy Wong (University of Western Australia).

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

Read More from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory:

For more Chandra images, multimedia and related materials, visit:

Images, Text, Credits: X-ray: NASA/CXC/ETH Zurich/L. Sartori et al, Optical: NASA/STScI/Lee Mohon.


Stellar Lab in Sagittarius

ESO - European Southern Observatory logo.

10 August 2016

The star cluster Messier 18 and its surroundings

The small smattering of bright blue stars in the upper left of this vast new 615 megapixel ESO image is the perfect cosmic laboratory in which to study the life and death of stars. Known as Messier 18 this star cluster contains stars that formed together from the same massive cloud of gas and dust. This image, which also features red clouds of glowing hydrogen and dark filaments of dust, was captured by the VLT Survey Telescope (VST) located at ESO’s Paranal Observatory in Chile.

Messier 18 was discovered and catalogued in 1764 by Charles Messier — for whom the Messier Objects are named — during his search for comet-like objects [1]. It lies within the Milky Way, approximately 4600 light-years away in the constellation of Sagittarius, and consists of many sibling stars loosely bound together in what is known as an open cluster.

The star cluster Messier 18 in the constellation of Sagittarius

There are over 1000 known open star clusters within the Milky Way, with a wide range of properties, such as size and age, that provide astronomers with clues to how stars form, evolve and die. The main appeal of these clusters is that all of their stars are born together out of the same material.

In Messier 18 the blue and white colours of the stellar population indicate that the cluster’s stars are very young, probably only around 30 million years old. Being siblings means that any differences between the stars will only be due to their masses, and not their distance from Earth or the composition of the material they formed from. This makes clusters very useful in refining theories of star formation and evolution.

Wide-field view of the region around the star cluster Messier 18

Astronomers now know that most stars do form in groups, forged from the same cloud of gas that collapsed in on itself due to the attractive force of gravity. The cloud of leftover gas and dust — or molecular cloud — that envelops the new stars is often blown away by their strong stellar winds, weakening the gravitational shackles that bind them. Over time, loosely bound stellar siblings like those pictured here will often go their separate ways as interactions with other neighbouring stars or massive gas clouds nudge, or pull, the stars apart. Our own star, the Sun, was most likely once part of a cluster very much like Messier 18 until its companions were gradually distributed across the Milky Way.

Zooming in on the star cluster Messier 18

The dark lanes that snake through this image are murky filaments of cosmic dust, blocking out the light from distant stars. The contrasting faint reddish clouds that seem to weave between the stars are composed of ionised hydrogen gas. The gas glows because young, extremely hot stars like these are emitting intense ultraviolet light which strips the surrounding gas of its electrons and causes it to emit the faint glow seen in this image. Given the right conditions, this material could one day collapse in on itself and provide the Milky Way with yet another brood of stars — a star formation process that may continue indefinitely (eso1535).

Close-up look at the region around the star cluster Messier 18

This mammoth 30 577 x 20 108 pixel image was captured using the OmegaCAM camera, which is attached to the VLT Survey Telescope (VST) at ESO’s Paranal Observatory in Chile.


[1] Messier 18 is also listed in the New General Catalogue as NGC 6613.

More information:

ESO is the foremost intergovernmental astronomy organisation in Europe and the world’s most productive ground-based astronomical observatory by far. It is supported by 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”.


VLT Survey Telescope (VST):

ESO Information on OmegaCAM:


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

Best regards,

mardi 9 août 2016

NASA's IMERG Measures Hurricane Earl's Deadly Rainfall in Mexico

NASA & JAXA - Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) logo.

Aug. 9, 2016

Hurricane Earl began as a tropical wave that was tracked by the National Hurricane Center (NHC) from the African coast to the Caribbean Sea. The tropical wave drenched the Dominican Republic, where it was blamed for the deaths of six people. Southwest of Jamaica on Aug. 2, 2016, the tropical wave developed a closed circulation, and Earl was upgraded to a tropical storm.

Image above: The analysis of rainfall from Aug. 2 through Aug. 8, 2016, showed the period from when Earl became a tropical storm until Earl's remnants interacted with an area of disturbed weather along the Pacific coast. Some areas in extreme southern Mexico received up to 43.3 inches (1,100 mm) of rain. Earl's locations and intensities, as defined by the National Hurricane Center (NHC), are shown overlaid in white. Image Credits: NASA/JAXA/Hal Pierce.

On Aug. 3, Earl became a hurricane when it was located about 150 miles east of Belize. On Aug. 4 Earl made landfall just southwest of Belize City, Belize, at about 2 a.m. EDT (6 a.m. UTC). At landfall Earl had winds of about 81 mph (70 knots). Earl weakened to tropical depression intensity over the Yucatan but regained tropical storm wind speeds of about 58 mph (50 knots) when it emerged over the Bay of Campeche. On Aug. 6, Earl hit Mexico again just south of Veracruz. Earl was then disrupted by Mexico's rough terrain and dissipated.

Data from NASA's Integrated Multi-satellite Retrievals for GPM (IMERG) were used to estimate the amount of rain that fell from Aug. 2 through Aug. 8. GPM is the Global Precipitation Measurement mission, a joint mission of NASA and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.

Animation Credits: NASA/JAXA/Hal Pierce

The analysis, created at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, showed rainfall over the period from when Earl became a tropical storm until Earl's remnants interacted with an area of disturbed weather along the Pacific coast. Some areas in extreme southern Mexico received up to 43.3 inches (1,100 mm) of rain.

The IMERG analysis showed the extreme amount of rain that was dropped by Earl over Belize, Guatemala, eastern Mexico and Mexico's Pacific coast.

According to the official Twitter account of Luis Puente, Mexico’s national civil protection coordinator, at least 40 people were reported killed by landslides in the Mexican states of Puebla and Veracruz.

The remnants of Earl interacted with an area of disturbed weather along the Pacific coast of Mexico and aided in the formation of a tropical depression that became Tropical Storm Javier on Aug. 7.

Related article:

GPM Looks at Historic Flooding from Slow-Moving Maryland Storms

Related Links:

NASA's Earl coverage:

GPM (Global Precipitation Measurement): and

Image (mentioned), Animation (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/Hal Pierce/Rob Gutro/Rob Garner.


Infrared Saturn Clouds

NASA - Cassini Mission to Saturn patch.

Aug. 9, 2016

This false-color view from NASA's Cassini spacecraft shows clouds in Saturn's northern hemisphere. The view was produced by space imaging enthusiast Kevin M. Gill, who also happens to be an engineer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

The view was made using images taken by Cassini's wide-angle camera on July 20, 2016, using a combination of spectral filters sensitive to infrared light at 750, 727 and 619 nanometers.

Filters like these, which are sensitive to absorption and scattering of sunlight by methane in Saturn's atmosphere, have been useful throughout Cassini's mission for determining the structure and depth of cloud features in the atmosphere.

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

For more information about the Cassini-Huygens mission visit and and ESA's website:

Image, Text, Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute/Kevin M. Gill/Sarah Loff.

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Salvaged Galileos to help satnav specialists find their way

ESA - Galileo logo.

9 August 2016

Europe’s fifth and sixth Galileo satellites, which were salvaged from their faulty launch into working orbits, are set to begin broadcasting working navigation signals for test purposes.

This activation will allow satnav receiver manufacturers, service providers and scientific researchers to make use of these test signals. A decision on whether these satellites will become part of the operational Galileo constellation is due to be taken by the European Commission.

Galileos in orbit

A malfunction in their Soyuz-Fregat upper stage during their 22 August 2014 launch placed Galileos 5 and 6 into highly elliptical – or elongated orbits – instead of their planned circular medium-Earth orbits.

A team based at ESA’s ESOC control centre in Darmstadt, Germany, then performed a complex series of manoeuvres to raise and circularise their orbits.

The satellites lacked sufficient fuel to reach their originally envisaged orbits, but the salvage meant that their navigation payloads could then be operated on an ongoing basis; their initial orbits dipped the satellites too close to Earth to keep their antennas properly locked on the planet.

Controlling Galileo

“Once their orbits were modified, their navigation payloads could be turned on and in-orbit testing could take place,” explains Marco Falcone, Head of the Galileo System Office “The good news was their performance was excellent.

“Now they will be tested on a more sustained basis, along with the rest of the Galileo satellites. A pair of ‘Notice Advisory to Galileo Users’ (NAGUs) informing the user community of their availability for testing purposes have been published on the European Global Navigation Satellite System Service Centre website. Users are welcome to provide feedback on their usage of GSAT0201 and GSAT0202 by contacting the GSC helpdesk.

“On our side, switching on their navigation signals allows us to evaluate the entire spectrum of performance of the satellites on an end-to-end basis.

Corrected orbits 

“The navigation signals will include a signal health status reading that ‘signal component currently in test’ and its navigation data validity status will be ‘working without guarantee’. In this way, these signals will not disturb the performance of any receivers using the Galileo signals coming from the other satellites.

“On the user community side, some application providers are interested in harnessing as many available satellites as possible for precision applications.”

Because these satellites are not placed in nominal Galileo orbits, the orbital almanacs included in Galileo’s navigation signal will leave out their orbital positions, making Galileos 5 and 6 harder for receivers to locate – although the GSA website will give acquisition details.

Satnav signals

Their testing will take place in two phases: initially their navigation signal will be updated via the Galileo ground segment every 14 hours or so. Later on this year, the ground segment will be reconfigured to upgrade the update frequency more often, greatly enhancing their navigation precision – although they will remain outside the official Galileo constellation until decided otherwise.

The two satellites have not been idle since their in-orbit testing was completed. Instead, they are midway through an ambitious space experiment to test Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity more precisely than ever before, by measuring how their onboard time varies in accordance with their altitude and therefore gravity, known as their ‘gravitational redshift’.

This experiment uses only the carrier wave of the signals, so will be unaffected by the transmission of navigation messages by satellites 5 and 6.

About Galileo:

Galileo FOC

The Galileo programme is funded and owned by the EU. The European Commission has the overall responsibility for the programme, managing and overseeing the implementation of all programme activities.

Galileo’s deployment, the design and development of the new generation of systems and the technical development of infrastructure are entrusted to ESA. The definition, development and in-orbit validation phases were carried out by ESA, and co-funded by ESA and the European Commission.

The Commission and ESA have signed a delegation agreement by which ESA acts as design and procurement agent on behalf of the Commission.

The European Global Navigation Satellite System Agency (GSA) is ensuring the uptake and security of Galileo. Galileo operations and provision of services will be entrusted to the GSA from 2017.

Related articles:

Galileos 5 & 6: Salvage in space:

Salvaged Galileo performs its first navigation fix

Sixth Galileo satellite reaches corrected orbit

Galileo satellite recovered and transmitting navigation signals

Galileo satellite set for new orbit

Soyuz lifts off from French Guiana with the first fully-operational Galileo spacecrafts

Related links:

Galileo Tour:

EC Galileo website:

European GNSS Agency:

NAGU for Galileo 5 and NAGU for Galileo 6:

GSC helpdesk:

Images, Text, Credits: ESA/P. Carril.