samedi 3 décembre 2016

Europe allocates € 1.4 billion to the ISS

ESA - International Crew patch.

Dec. 3, 2016

The European Space Agency will spend € 400 million on its plan to explore Mars

Europe will allocate a further € 1.4 billion to the continued operation of the ISS and to the ExoMars 2020 mission, its plan to explore the red planet, announced Friday in Lucerne ( Switzerland) the European Space Agency (ESA).

Image above: ISS photographed by an STS-130 crew member. Image Credits: NASA/STS-130.

For these two emblematic projects, the International Space Station (ISS) and the exploration of Mars, "this makes a budget of about 1.444 billion" euros, said, at a press conference broadcast online Jan Woerner, Director General of the European Space Agency.

ESA will allocate more than 400 million euros to ExoMars 2020 and will spend about 1 billion to extend the operation of the ISS.

Conference in Lucerne

This announcement was made at the end of the ESA Ministerial Conference, which brought together on Thursday and Friday the heads of space affairs of the 22 Member States.

Image above: ESA Council meeting at Ministerial Level, Lucerne, on 1 December 2016. Image Credits: ESA/Stephane Corvaja.

The ExoMars 2020 mission involves sending a mobile robot to the red planet, with the burden of drilling the Martian soil in search of traces of past life.

It was preceded by the ExoMars 2016 mission, which resulted in the successful launch of the TGO probe on 19 October, as well as the crash caused by a navigation software problem of the Schiaparelli test lander On the surface of Mars.

Extended use

The ministers also decided Friday to continue the operation of the international space station, a laboratory the size of a soccer field where the French astronaut Thomas Pesquet has just taken his quarters for the next six months.

Image above: Flying over Chile & Argentina, latitude: 67.55°/longitude: 60.35°, altitude: 418,66 Km/Speed: 27'564 Km/h. Image captured (by me) with Earth Cam from ISS - International Space Station (via ISS HD Live application) on December 3, 2016 at 15:28 (GMT + 1). Image Credits: ISS/Earth Cam/Roland Berga.

Europe thus joins the United States, Russia, Japan and Canada, which had already decided to extend the use of the station until 2024.

"Europe is giving itself the means to be really at the forefront (...) for the years that come when new competitors emerge and uncertainties," commented AFP Thierry Mandon, French State in charge of Higher Education and Research.

Related links:

European Ministers ready ESA for a united space in Europe in the era of space 4.0

Ministerial Council 2016 in images:

Media briefing replay:

Resolutions and main decisions:

International Space Station (ISS):

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: AFP/ Aerospace/Roland Berga.

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vendredi 2 décembre 2016

Hubble Spotlight on Irregular Galaxy IC 3583

NASA - Hubble Space Telescope patch.

Dec. 2, 2016

This delicate blue group of stars — actually an irregular galaxy named IC 3583 — sits some 30 million light-years away in the constellation of Virgo (The Virgin).

It may seem to have no discernable structure, but IC 3583 has been found to have a bar of stars running through its center. These structures are common throughout the Universe, and are found within the majority of spiral, many irregular, and some lenticular galaxies. Two of our closest cosmic neighbors, the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds, are barred, indicating that they may have once been barred spiral galaxies that were disrupted or torn apart by the gravitational pull of the Milky Way.

Researchers at the University of Leicester, England note there are two types of irregular galaxy. Type I's are usually single galaxies of peculiar appearance. They contain a large fraction of young stars, and show the luminous nebulae that are also visible in spiral galaxies. Type II irregulars include the group known as interacting or disrupting galaxies, in which the strange appearance is due to two or more galaxies colliding, merging or otherwise interacting gravitationally.

Hubble orbiting Earth

Something similar might be happening with IC 3583. This small galaxy is thought to be gravitationally interacting with one of its neighbors, the spiral Messier 90. Together, the duo form a pairing known as Arp 76. It’s still unclear whether these flirtations are the cause of IC 3583’s irregular appearance — but whatever the cause, the galaxy makes for a strikingly delicate sight in this NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image, glimmering in the blackness of space.

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

Image, Video, Credits: ESA/Hubble & NASA/Text Credits: European Space Agency/NASA/Karl Hille.

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Space Gardener Shane Kimbrough Enjoys First of Multiple Harvests

NASA - Veggie Mission patch.

Dec. 2, 2016

For a mid-afternoon snack, NASA astronaut Shane Kimbrough cut some of the "Outredgeous" Red Romaine lettuce leaves he nurtured during the past month aboard the International Space Station as part of a gardening harvest technique termed “cut-and-come-again.”

Kimbrough initiated the most recent round of the Veggie experiment on Oct. 25, and for the first time in space, all six lettuce plants are growing simultaneously. Kimbrough has taken on the part-time role of on-orbit gardener, working virtually autonomously to cultivate the crops, although gardeners on the ground at Kennedy Space Center provided help in the beginning.

Image above: Charles Spern, a Veggie project engineer with the Engineering Services Contract, relays messages from the Kennedy Space Center Veggie team to assist the crew during the harvest. Image Credit: NASA.

“During their first week of life, the small seedlings were getting too much water,” said Veggie Project Manager Nicole Dufour. “This put the plants’ growth a bit behind schedule, but they recovered nicely after we instructed Kimbrough to use a fan to dry up some of the moisture.”

Cut-and-come-again is a repetitive harvest technique in which a selection of leaves can be harvested for a bit of fresh lettuce and possibly science samples. The remaining leaves and the core of the plant are left intact and will continue to grow and produce more leaves for subsequent harvests approximately every 10 days. The goal is to increase the on-orbit crop yield, as well as allow for more opportunities to supplement astronaut diets with fresh, nutritious food.

“Testing this method on-orbit, after using it on the ground, is very exciting for us,” said Dufour. “A repetitive harvest allows us to provide more food for both the crew and for science, so it’s a win-win. We are looking forward to hearing how Shane enjoys his first harvest!”

Image above: Six lettuce plants grow aboard the International Space Station as part of the Veg-03 experiment. At the rear of the chamber, a triangle plaque that crew members mounted this summer is visible. The plaque honors the memory and contributions of Thora Halstead and Ken Souza — both giants in the field of Space Biology, and reads: "Dedicated to the memory of space biology pioneers Thora Halstead and Ken Souza, for all they did to plant and nurture the seeds of biological research in space." Halstead conceived of and implemented the NASA Small Payload Program for Life Science through her innovative use of the mid-deck lockers in the space shuttle. She nurtured the program through its early years in the ‘80s and was a founding member of the American Society for Gravitational and Space Research (ASGSR), America’s premier society for space research in the life and physical sciences. Souza was also a founding member of ASGSR, and made numerous contributions to the field of Space Biology during his nearly 50 years with NASA. He was the principal investigator in the first demonstration of successful reproduction of a vertebrate animal (frogs) in space. Souza also had numerous programmatic contributions to the field of Space Biology during his tenure at both Ames Research Center and NASA Headquarters. Both Halstead’s and Souza’s early stewardship of a new science that became the discipline of space biology will continue to benefit future explorers on the journey to Mars. Image Credit: NASA.

Today’s harvest will be solely for crew consumption, and the plan is to have four harvests in total, with the final harvest targeted for the first of the new year. The yields from these harvests will be split between samples for science return and crew consumption.

This experiment also is an important demonstration of how NASA applies science across disciplines — in this case Space Biology to grow a healthy crop and Human Research to ensure astronauts remain healthy — to enable human space exploration. NASA’s Space Life and Physical Sciences Research and Applications division integrates and funds such research.

Related links:

Veggie experiment:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Anna Heiney.


NASA’s AIM Observes Early Noctilucent Ice Clouds Over Antarctica

NASA - AIM Mission patch.

Dec. 2, 2016

Data from NASA’s Aeronomy of Ice in the Mesosphere, or AIM, spacecraft shows the sky over Antarctica is glowing electric blue due to the start of noctilucent, or night-shining, cloud season in the Southern Hemisphere – and an early one at that. Noctilucent clouds are Earth’s highest clouds, sandwiched between Earth and space 50 miles above the ground in a layer of the atmosphere called the mesosphere. Seeded by fine debris from disintegrating meteors, these clouds of ice crystals glow a bright, shocking blue when they reflect sunlight.

Animation above: Data from NASA’s Aeronomy of Ice in the Mesosphere, or AIM, spacecraft shows the sky over Antarctica is glowing electric blue due to the start of noctilucent, or night-shining, cloud season in the Southern Hemisphere. This data was collected from Nov. 17-28, 2016. Video Credits: NASA/HU/VT/CU-LASP/AIM/Joy Ng, producer.

AIM studies noctilucent clouds in order to better understand the mesosphere, and its connections to other parts of the atmosphere, weather and climate. We observe them seasonally, during summer in both the Northern and Southern hemispheres. This is when the mesosphere is most humid, with water vapor wafting up from lower altitudes. Additionally, this is also when the mesosphere is the coldest place on Earth – dropping as low as minus 210 degrees Fahrenheit – due to seasonal air flow patterns.

This year, AIM saw the start of noctilucent cloud season on Nov. 17, 2016 – tying with the earliest start yet in the AIM record of the Southern Hemisphere. Scientists say this corresponds to an earlier seasonal change at lower altitudes. Winter to summer changes in the Antarctic lower atmosphere sparked a complex series of responses throughout the atmosphere – one of which is an earlier noctilucent cloud season. In the Southern Hemisphere, AIM has observed seasons beginning anywhere from Nov. 17 to Dec. 16.

Image above: An artist's rendition of the AIM spacecraft in orbit above Earth. Image Credit: NASA.

Since its 2007 launch, AIM data has shown us that changes in one region of the atmosphere can effect responses in another distinct, and sometimes distant, region. Scientists call these relationships atmospheric teleconnections. Now, due to natural precession, the spacecraft’s orbit is evolving, allowing the measurement of atmospheric gravity waves that could be contributing to the teleconnections.

AIM is a NASA-funded mission managed by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and led by the AIM principal investigator from the Center for Atmospheric Sciences at Hampton University in Hampton, Virginia.

Related Links:

Aeronomy of Ice in the Mesosphere (AIM) Mission Overview:

Edge of Space: The Science of AIM:

Noctilucent Clouds Get an Early Start:

Animation (mentioned), Image (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, by Lina Tran/Rob Garner.


Tangled threads weave through cosmic oddity

ESA - Hubble Space Telescope logo.

2 December 2016

Dusty filaments in NGC 4696

New observations from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope have revealed the intricate structure of the galaxy NGC 4696 in greater detail than ever before. The elliptical galaxy is a beautiful cosmic oddity with a bright core wrapped in system of dark, swirling, thread-like filaments.

NGC 4696 is a member of the Centaurus galaxy cluster, a swarm of hundreds of galaxies all sitting together, bound together by gravity, about 150 million light-years from Earth and located in the constellation of Centaurus.

Despite the cluster’s size, NGC 4696 still manages to stand out from its companions — it is the cluster’s brightest member, known for obvious reasons as the Brightest Cluster Galaxy . This puts it in the same category as some of the biggest and brightest galaxies known in the Universe.

Wide-field image of NGC 4696 (ground-based image)

Even if NGC 4696 keeps impressive company, it has a further distinction: the galaxy’s unique structure. Previous observations have revealed curling filaments that stretch out from its main body and carve out a cosmic question mark in the sky (heic1013), the dark tendrils encircling a brightly glowing centre.

An international team of scientists, led by astronomers from the University of Cambridge, UK, have now used new observations from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope to explore this thread-like structure in more detail. They found that each of the dusty filaments has a width of about 200 light-years, and a density some 10 times greater than the surrounding gas. These filaments knit together and spiral inwards towards the centre of NGC 4696, connecting the galaxy’s constituent gas to its core.

Zoom in on NGC 4696

In fact, it seems that the galaxy’s core is actually responsible for the shape and positioning of the filaments themselves. At the centre of NGC 4696 lurks an active supermassive black hole. This floods the galaxy’s inner regions with energy, heating the gas there and sending streams of heated material outwards.

It appears that these hot streams of gas bubble outwards, dragging the filamentary material with them as they go. The galaxy’s magnetic field is also swept out with this bubbling motion, constraining and sculpting the material within the filaments.

At the very centre of the galaxy, the filaments loop and curl inwards in an intriguing spiral shape, swirling around the supermassive black hole at such a distance that they are dragged into and eventually consumed by the black hole itself.

Pan across NGC 4696

Understanding more about filamentary galaxies such as NGC 4696 may help us to better understand why so many massive galaxies near to us in the Universe appear to be dead; rather than forming newborn stars from their vast reserves of gas and dust, they instead sit quietly, and are mostly populated with old and aging stars. This is the case with NGC 4696. It may be that the magnetic structure flowing throughout the galaxy stops the gas from creating new stars.

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



Images of Hubble:

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

Images, Text, Credits: NASA, ESA, Andy Fabian/ESA, Mathias Jäger/Digitized Sky Survey 2/Acknowledgement: Davide De Martin/Videos: ESA/Hubble, NASA, ESO/Digitized Sky Survey 2 and S. Brunier. Music: John Dyson (from the album "Moonwind"). Acknowledgment: Davide De Martin/ESO/L. Calçada/Music Credit: Konstantino Polizois.

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jeudi 1 décembre 2016

Russian Resupply Ship Experiences Anomaly; International Space Station Crew is Fine

ISS - Expedition 50 Mission patch.

Dec. 1, 2016

The Russian space agency Roscosmos has confirmed a Progress cargo resupply spacecraft bound for the International Space Station has been lost. The spacecraft launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan Thursday on a Soyuz rocket, but experienced an anomaly around six and a half minutes into its flight.

Six crew members living aboard the space station are safe and have been informed of the mission’s status. Both the Russian and U.S. segments of the station continue to operate normally with onboard supplies at good levels.

The ISS Progress 65 cargo spacecraft launched on time from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 9:51 a.m. EST (8:51 p.m. Baikonur time). The first few minutes of flight were normal, but Russian flight controllers reported telemetry data indicating a problem during third stage operation. The Russians have formed a State Commission and are the source for details on the specific failure cause.

ISS - International Space Station. Image Credit: NASA

The spacecraft was not carrying any supplies critical for the United States Operating Segment (USOS) of the station. The next mission scheduled to deliver cargo to the station is an H-II Transfer Vehicle (HTV)-6 from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) on Friday, Dec. 9.

Cargo packed inside the Progress 65 included more than 2.6 tons of food, fuel, and supplies for the space station crew, including approximately 1,400 pounds of propellant, 112 pounds of oxygen, 925 pounds of water, and 2,750 pounds of spare parts, supplies and scientific experiment hardware. Among the U.S. supplies on board were spare parts for the station’s environmental control and life support system, research hardware, crew supplies and crew clothing, all of which are replaceable.

As teams continue to monitor the situation, additional updates and more information about the International Space Station will be available online at:

Related article:

Anomaly During Third Stage Operation in Russian Cargo Craft

Image (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Cheryl Warner/Allard Beutel/JSC/Dan Huot.

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NASA's Sun-Observing IRIS Mission

NASA - IRIS Mission patch.

Dec. 1, 2016

While it seems static from our vantage point on Earth 93 million miles away, the sun is constantly changing. Under the influence of complex magnetic forces, material moves throughout the solar atmosphere and can burst forth in massive eruptions.

NASA’s Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph, or IRIS, which will continue its study of the sun thanks to a recent mission extension, watches what is known as the interface region, the lower levels of the sun’s atmosphere. The solar observatory was launched in 2013 for a prime mission of two years. The mission has been extended through September 2018, with further extensions possible.

Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph, or IRIS spacecraft. Image Credit: NASA

IRIS collects data on the temperature and movement of solar material throughout this region to determine how it helps drive the constant changes we see on our sun. This data is crucial for answering outstanding questions about our sun, such as why its million-degree upper atmosphere, the corona, is several hundred times hotter than the fiery surface below. The interface region feeds solar material into the corona and the solar wind, the constant stream of charged particles flowing from the sun. This particular region is also responsible for generating most of the ultraviolet emission that reaches Earth. Our space weather and environment are continuously influenced by both these emissions and the solar wind.

ScienceCasts: The Mystery of Coronal Heating

Video above: This video from NASA’s ScienceCast explores the mystery of coronal heating – why the sun’s million-degree upper atmosphere, the corona, is several hundred times hotter than the surface below – and how scientists are using IRIS to address it. Video Credit: NASA.

Watch the video to learn more about the mystery of coronal heating, one that has fascinated and perplexed scientists for decades, and how scientists are using IRIS to address it. One major question has been whether the corona is heated everywhere at once, or in distinct, bomb-like events. Recent studies have found evidence for the latter – the result of magnetic reconnection, in which magnetic fields in the corona clash and explosively realign. Two more years of observation is a valuable opportunity for IRIS to collect more data and increase our understanding of the sun.

NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, manages the Explorer Program for the agency’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. Lockheed Martin Solar and Astrophysics Laboratory in Palo Alto, California, built and operates the IRIS spacecraft for NASA.

Related Links

- NASA’s IRIS Helps Explain Mysterious Heating of the Solar Atmosphere:

- IRIS mission overview:

- NASA’s ScienceCasts:

- IRIS (Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph):

Image (mentioned), Video (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, by Lina Tran/Rob Garner.