vendredi 12 mai 2017

SHINE software shows data using virtual reality

CERN - European Organization for Nuclear Research logo.

May 12, 2017

A new piece of free, online software, called SHINE3D, has been developed by researchers at CERN’s NA61/SHINE experiment to show the physics data they’re creating in 3D.

The software allows anybody to visualise exactly the tracks particles leave as they fly through the detector inside the experiment, and will help to explain the physics as well as provide scientists with a new way of analysing the data.

“We wanted it to be accessible and understandable for everyone, so even a child could see how interesting it is. This is a very important task for all of the experiments at CERN - to bring science closer to people,” explains Filip Michalski who created the website with his colleague Taras Palayda at the University of Wrocław.

While the 3D visualisations can be explored on any web browser, the software also allows anyone with virtual reality goggles to get even closer to the raw data.

Try the website for yourself here:


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.

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

Image, Animation, Text, Credits: CERN/Harriet Jarlett.

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NASA Affirms Plan for First Mission of SLS, Orion

NASA - Space Launch System (SLS) logo / NASA - ORION Crew Vehicle patch.

May 12, 2017

In February, NASA began an effort looking at the feasibility of putting crew aboard the first integrated flight of the Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft -- Exploration Mission-1, or EM-1. After weighing the data and assessing all implications, the agency will continue pursuing the original plan for the first launch, as a rigorous flight test of the integrated systems without crew. However, engineers will apply insights gained from the effort to the first flight test and the integrated systems to strengthen the long-term push to extend human presence deeper into the solar system.

NASA determined it is technically capable of launching crew on EM-1, but after evaluating cost, risk and technical factors in a project of this magnitude, it would be difficult to accommodate changes needed to add crew at this point in mission planning. The effort confirmed that the baseline plan to fly EM-1 without crew is still the best approach to enable humans to move sustainably beyond low Earth orbit.

“We appreciate the opportunity to evaluate the possibility of this crewed flight,” said NASA acting Administrator Robert Lightfoot. “The bi-partisan support of Congress and the President for our efforts to send astronauts deeper into the solar system than we have ever gone before is valued and does not go unnoticed. Presidential support for space has been strong.”

Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft launch. Image Credit: NASA

Exploration Mission-1 is the first in a broad series of exploration missions that will take humans to deep space, and eventually to Mars. It is designed to be a flight test of our entire system -- one that is challenging in itself and will offer the opportunity to better understand our capabilities and limitations and ultimately build confidence in our ability to safely send crew into deep space.

“We’re considering additional ground testing of the heat shield prior to EM-1 as well as the possibility of advancing the ascent abort test for the Orion launch abort system based on findings from the study,” said William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate. “Conducting these tests in advance of EM-1 would provide additional data that will advance our systems knowledge faster and possibly improve the robustness of the overall plan for sending humans into deep space.”

As part of the assessment, NASA also reviewed the schedule for EM-1, including production schedules across the enterprise, anticipated budgets and appropriations, projected delivery of the European Service Module, first time production issues related to the core stage that is at the leading edge of new manufacturing, and the ongoing impact of the February tornado that directly affected the Michoud Assembly Facility in Louisiana. As a result of these factors, NASA will adjust the target launch date for the EM-1 mission to 2019, and will execute its normal process in the coming weeks to determine an official revised launch date.

NASA continues to keep each part of the enterprise – Orion, SLS, and ground systems – moving at their best possible pace toward the first integrated test mission. While components for EM-1 are being delivered, contractors can turn to the next phase of their work for the second flight, Exploration Mission-2, which will carry crew beyond the moon.

NASA Launch Animation of Space Launch System and Orion spacecraft

Flight hardware for SLS and Orion is currently in production for both the first and second missions, and progress continues across the country. The SLS engine section structural test hardware is currently aboard a barge on its way to the Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama for testing, a series of engine tests is taking place in Mississippi, and the Orion abort attitude control system was tested in Maryland. An abort motor for the launch abort system will soon be tested in Utah, and avionics systems for the Orion European Service Module have been integrated into the Orion testing laboratory near Denver. Meanwhile at the Kennedy Space Center, Orion’s heat shield is being installed, and ground systems and software continue development. In addition, deep space habitation and propulsion system development activities also are underway and life support and related technologies are being tested 250 miles above the Earth aboard the International Space Station now.

“We are building both systems and supporting infrastructure to ensure a sustained cadence of missions beginning with EM-1 and continuing thereafter,” said Lightfoot. “NASA will continue to work with the Administration and Congress as we move toward a crewed flight test on EM-2 and, right now, we are very focused on accomplishing the EM-1 flight test.”

NASA continues to lead the way in sending humans into deep space beyond the moon through building a flexible, reusable and sustainable capability and infrastructure that will last multiple decades and support missions of increasing complexity. This infrastructure will be available for use by others both domestic and international as they want to join in the effort to advance human presence into the solar system. These systems create an incredible capability from which future generations will continue to benefit.

Related links:

Exploration Mission-1:

Exploration Mission-2:

Journey to Mars:

Orion Spacecraft:

Space Launch System:

Image (mentioned), Video, Text, Credits: NASA/Kathryn Hambleton.


"One day, an asteroid will hit the earth"

ASE - Association of Space Explorers patch.

May 12, 2017

Former Swiss astronaut Claude Nicollier, passing through Geneva, is campaigning for an awareness of asteroids.

Astronaut Claude Nicollier: Image Credit: NASA

The former Swiss astronaut Claude Nicollier, on his way to Geneva with the European Space Explorers Association, warns against the impact of asteroids on Earth. The probability that an asteroid hits the Earth is 100%, according to him.

"It will not happen tomorrow, not ten years from now, but maybe in fifty or one hundred years: we have to be prepared," Claude Nicollier said on Thursday. The Association intends to convey this message to decision-makers.

Asteroids passing Earth. Image Credits: ESA/P.Carril

Asteroids are relatively small objects, large non-spherical pebbles that sometimes pass relatively close to the earth, adds Claude Nicollier. An impact with the Earth will cause "considerable damage on a planetary scale or at any scale on a continent or a large country", he said.

Ionic Propulsion

It evokes giant tsunamis in the event of an impact in an ocean. An asteroid could even destroy life on Earth, he said. But according to space explorers, there are opportunities to detect them early enough and intervene to deflect their trajectory and prevent the collision.

"You have to go with a spaceship to hang on the surface of the asteroid and install an engine with ionic propulsion," explains Claude Nicollier. This low-fuel engine can change the trajectory of the asteroid over the years and decades, adds the ex-astronaut.

NASA's Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) program. Image Credit: NASA

Claude Nicollier spoke on the sidelines of an annual meeting of the Association of Space Explorers which gathered twelve astronauts in Geneva. This organization has a total of 49 people in Europe and 550 in all parts of the world. Only astronauts with at least one orbit are accepted into this club.

Talent and luck

To date, Claude Nicollier, 72, remains the only Swiss astronaut. The next generation is there, says the professor. "There are many young people with motivation and talent, but there are few places in Europe," he said. We need luck to pass the European Space Agency (ESA) selections, according to Nicollier.

While waiting for a future astronaut, Switzerland remains truly a space country, notes Mr. Nicollier. He cites special niches from watchmaking, precision mechanics, microtechnology and microtechnology. Many industries work for space, says Claude Nicollier.

Related links:

Association of Space Explorers:

Asteroid Redirect Mission - NASA:

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

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Hubble Catches a Galaxy Duo by the "Hare"

NASA - Hubble Space Telescope patch.

May 12, 2017

This image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope shows the unusual galaxy IRAS 06076-2139, found in the constellation Lepus (The Hare). Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3) and Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS) instruments observed the galaxy from a distance of 500 million light-years.

This particular object stands out from the crowd by actually being composed of two separate galaxies rushing past each other at about 2 million kilometers (1,243,000 miles) per hour. This speed is most likely too fast for them to merge and form a single galaxy. However, because of their small separation of only about 20,000 light-years, the galaxies will distort one another through the force of gravity while passing each other, changing their structures on a grand scale.

Such galactic interactions are a common sight for Hubble, and have long been a field of study for astronomers. The intriguing behaviors of interacting galaxies take many forms; galactic cannibalism, galaxy harassment and even galaxy collisions. The Milky Way itself will eventually fall victim to the latter, merging with the Andromeda Galaxy in about 4.5 billion years. The fate of our galaxy shouldn’t be alarming though: while galaxies are populated by billions of stars, the distances between individual stars are so large that hardly any stellar collisions will occur.

Hubble Space Telescope

For images and more information about Hubble, visit:

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

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200th Station Spacewalk Comes to an End

ISS - Expedition 51 Mission patch / EVA - Extra Vehicular Activities patch.

May 12, 2017

Space Station Crew Conducts Milestone Spacewalk

Expedition 51 Commander Peggy Whitson and Flight Engineer Jack Fischer of NASA concluded their spacewalk at 1:21 p.m. EDT. During the spacewalk, which lasted just over four hours, the two astronauts successfully replaced a large avionics box that supplies electricity and data connections to the science experiments.

The astronauts also completed additional tasks to install a connector that will route data to the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer, repair insulation at the connecting point of the Japanese robotic arm, and install a protective shield on the Pressurized Mating Adapter-3. This adapter will host a new international docking port for the arrival of commercial crew spacecraft.

Image above: Astronaut Jack Fischer is tethered to the outside of the International Space Station during the 200th spacewalk to install and repair gear with astronaut Peggy Whitson. Image Credit: NASA TV.

Spacewalkers have now spent a total of 1,247 hours and 55 minutes working outside the station during 200 spacewalks in support of assembly and maintenance of the orbiting laboratory. The first spacewalk in support of International Space Station assembly and maintenance was conducted on Dec. 7, 1998, by NASA astronauts Jerry Ross and Jim Newman during space shuttle Endeavour’s STS-88 mission. Astronauts completed attaching and outfitting of the first two components of the station, the Russian Zarya module and the U.S. Unity module.

Related links:

Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

Image (mentioned), Video (NASA TV), Text, Credits: NASA/Mark Garcia.

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Negribreen on the move

ESA - Sentinel-1 Mission logo.

12 May 2017

Negribreen on the move

Rapid acceleration of an Arctic glacier over the past year has been detected by the Copernicus Sentinel-1 satellites.

Sitting on Norway’s Spitsbergen island in the Svalbard archipelago, the Negribreen glacier has recently seen a surge in ice surface speed, increasing from 1 m to 13 m a day over the winter.


When a glacier ‘surges’ a large amount of ice flows to the end in an unusually short time. While the causes are not completely understood, they are believed to be linked to changes in the amount of heat or water in the lowest layers of the glaciers. 

The last time Negribreen experienced a surge like this was in the 1930s, as documented in aerial photographs. At that time, it advanced almost 12 km into the fjord in one year along a 15 km-wide section of the front. Since then the front of the glacier had been steadily retreating, with large icebergs breaking off. 

Speed spike

This latest jump in speed began in July 2016 and has been climbing ever since – even over the cold winter months.

Monitoring glaciers in areas prone to bad weather and long periods of darkness – like the Arctic – was difficult before the advent of satellites. Radar satellites can ‘see’ through clouds and in the dark, and Sentinel-1 offers frequent and systematic coverage of the Arctic.

A team of scientists working under ESA’s Climate Change Initiative in the Glaciers_cci project are using satellite radar and optical coverage to map glaciers at different times and determine their changes in extent, elevation and speed.

Negribreen speeds up

“Sentinel-1 provides us with a near-realtime overview of glacier flow across the Arctic, remarkably augmenting our capacity to capture the evolution of glacier surges,” said Tazio Strozzi from Swiss company Gamma Remote Sensing and scientist on Glaciers_cci.

“This new information can be used to refine numerical models of glacier surging to help predict the temporal evolution of the contribution of Arctic glaciers to sea-level rise.”

Sentinel-1 is a two-satellite mission for Europe’s environment monitoring programme, Copernicus.

Related links:

Gamma Remote Sensing:

Glaciers CCI:

European Commission Copernicus site:

For more information about Sentinel-1, visit:

Animations, Images, Text, Credits: ESA/contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2016–17), processed by T. Strozzi.(Gamma)/AOES Medialab.


jeudi 11 mai 2017

Astronauts Wrap Up Preps for 200th Station Spacewalk

ISS - Expedition 51 Mission patch.

May 11, 2017

Commander Peggy Whitson will work outside the space station for the ninth time in her career on Friday. She will be joined by Flight Engineer Jack Fischer who will embark on his first spacewalk. The duo will exit the Quest airlock around 8 a.m. EDT for about 6.5 hours of external tasks.

Image above: Astronaut Jack Fischer is pictured wearing a U.S. spacesuit during a fit check in preparation for his first spacewalk. Image Credit: NASA.

They will replace an avionics box that provides power to science experiments, install a shield on the Pressurized Mating Adapter-3 and rig a new high-definition camera and pair of wireless antennas. NASA TV will broadcast live the 200th spacewalk at the station for assembly and maintenance starting at 6:30 a.m.

Whitson is also in the second week of a study that explores the differences in bone structure on Earth and in space. She swapped bone cell media inside the Microgravity Science Glovebox which is then stowed inside a science freezer. The experiment samples will be returned to Earth on a future SpaceX Dragon mission for analysis by scientists.

Related links:

Friday morning’s spacewalk:


Bone structure:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

Image (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Mark Garcia.


Astronomers Pursue Renegade Supermassive Black Hole

NASA - Chandra X-ray Observatory patch.

May 11, 2017

Supermassive holes are generally stationary objects, sitting at the centers of most galaxies. However, using data from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and other telescopes, astronomers recently hunted down what could be a supermassive black hole that may be on the move.

This possible renegade black hole, which contains about 160 million times the mass of our Sun, is located in an elliptical galaxy about 3.9 billion light years from Earth. Astronomers are interested in these moving supermassive black holes because they may reveal more about the properties of these enigmatic objects.

This black hole may have “recoiled,” in the terminology used by scientists, when two smaller supermassive black holes collided and merged to form an even larger one. At the same time, this collision would have generated gravitational waves that emitted more strongly in one direction than others. This newly formed black hole could have received a kick in the opposite direction of those stronger gravitational waves. This kick would have pushed the black hole out of the galaxy’s center, as depicted in the artist’s illustration.

The strength of the kick depends on the rate and direction of spin of the two smaller black holes before they merge. Therefore, information about these important but elusive properties can be obtained by studying the speed of recoiling black holes.

Astronomers found this recoiling black hole candidate by sifting through X-ray and optical data for thousands of galaxies. First, they used Chandra observations to select galaxies that contain a bright X-ray source and were observed as part of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS). Bright X-ray emission is a common feature of supermassive black holes that are rapidly growing.

Next, the researchers looked to see if Hubble Space Telescope observations of these X-ray bright galaxies revealed two peaks near their center in the optical image. These two peaks might show that a pair of supermassive black holes is present or that a recoiling black hole has moved away from the cluster of stars in the center of the galaxy.

If those criteria were met, then the astronomers examined the SDSS spectra, which show how the amount of optical light varies with wavelength. If the researchers found telltale signatures in the spectra indicative of the presence of a supermassive black hole, they followed up with an even closer examination of those galaxies.

After all of this searching, a good candidate for a recoiling black hole was discovered. The left image in the inset is from the Hubble data, which shows two bright points near the middle of the galaxy. One of them is located at the center of the galaxy and the other is located about 3,000 light years away from the center. The latter source shows the properties of a growing supermassive black hole and its position matches that of a bright X-ray source detected with Chandra (right image in inset). Using data from the SDSS and the Keck telescope in Hawaii, the team determined that the growing black hole located near, but visibly offset from, the center of the galaxy has a velocity that is different from the galaxy. These properties suggest that this source may be a recoiling supermassive black hole.

Chandra X-ray Observatory. Image Credits: NASA/CXC

The host galaxy of the possible recoiling black hole also shows some evidence of disturbance in its outer regions, which is an indication that a merger between two galaxies occurred in the relatively recent past. Since supermassive black hole mergers are thought to occur when their host galaxies merge, this information supports the idea of a recoiling black hole in the system.

Moreover, stars are forming at a high rate in the galaxy, at several hundred times the mass of the Sun per year. This agrees with computer simulations, which predict that star formation rates may be enhanced for merging galaxies particularly those containing recoiling black holes.

Another possible explanation for the data is that two supermassive black holes are located in the center of the galaxy but one of them is not producing detectable radiation because it is growing too slowly. The researchers favor the recoiling black hole explanation, but more data are needed to strengthen their case.

A paper describing these results was recently accepted for publication in The Astrophysical Journal and is available online. The first author is Dongchan Kim from the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Charlottesville, Virginia. 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.

Related link:

The Astrophysical Journal:

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

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

Images, Text, Credits: NASA/Lee Mohon/Illustration: CXC/M. Weiss; X-ray: NASA/CXC/NRAO/D.-C. Kim; Optical: NASA/STScI.

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NASA Study Finds Unexpectedly Primitive Atmosphere Around ‘Warm Neptune’

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

May 11, 2017

A study combining observations from NASA’s Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes reveals that the distant planet HAT-P-26b has a primitive atmosphere composed almost entirely of hydrogen and helium. Located about 437 light years away, HAT-P-26b orbits a star roughly twice as old as the sun.

The analysis is one of the most detailed studies to date of a “warm Neptune,” or a planet that is Neptune-sized and close to its star. The researchers determined that HAT-P-26b’s atmosphere is relatively clear of clouds and has a strong water signature, although the planet is not a water world. This is the best measurement of water to date on an exoplanet of this size.

The discovery of an atmosphere with this composition on this exoplanet has implications for how scientists think about the birth and development of planetary systems. Compared to Neptune and Uranus, the planets in our solar system with about the same mass, HAT-P-26b likely formed either closer to its host star or later in the development of its planetary system, or both.

“Astronomers have just begun to investigate the atmospheres of these distant Neptune-mass planets, and almost right away, we found an example that goes against the trend in our solar system,” said Hannah Wakeford, a postdoctoral researcher at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and lead author of the study published in the May 12, 2017, issue of Science. “This kind of unexpected result is why I really love exploring the atmospheres of alien planets.”

Image above: The atmosphere of the distant “warm Neptune” HAT-P-26b, illustrated here, is unexpectedly primitive, composed primarily of hydrogen and helium. By combining observations from NASA’s Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes, researchers determined that, unlike Neptune and Uranus, the exoplanet has relatively low metallicity, an indication of the how rich the planet is in all elements heavier than hydrogen and helium. Image Credits: NASA/GSFC.

To study HAT-P-26b’s atmosphere, the researchers used data from transits— occasions when the planet passed in front of its host star. During a transit, a fraction of the starlight gets filtered through the planet’s atmosphere, which absorbs some wavelengths of light but not others. By looking at how the signatures of the starlight change as a result of this filtering, researchers can work backward to figure out the chemical composition of the atmosphere.

In this case, the team pooled data from four transits measured by Hubble and two seen by Spitzer. Together, those observations covered a wide range of wavelengths from yellow light through the near-infrared region.

“To have so much information about a warm Neptune is still rare, so analyzing these data sets simultaneously is an achievement in and of itself,” said co-author Tiffany Kataria of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

Because the study provided a precise measurement of water, the researchers were able to use the water signature to estimate HAT-P-26b’s metallicity. Astronomers calculate the metallicity, an indication of how rich the planet is in all elements heavier than hydrogen and helium, because it gives them clues about how a planet formed.

To compare planets by their metallicities, scientists use the sun as a point of reference, almost like describing how much caffeine beverages have by comparing them to a cup of coffee. Jupiter has a metallicity about 2 to 5 times that of the sun. For Saturn, it’s about 10 times as much as the sun. These relatively low values mean that the two gas giants are made almost entirely of hydrogen and helium.

Spitzer Space Telescope. Image Credits: NASA/JPL

The ice giants Neptune and Uranus are smaller than the gas giants but richer in the heavier elements, with metallicities of about 100 times that of the sun. So, for the four outer planets in our solar system, the trend is that the metallicities are lower for the bigger planets.

Scientists think this happened because, as the solar system was taking shape, Neptune and Uranus formed in a region toward the outskirts of the enormous disk of dust, gas and debris that swirled around the immature sun. Summing up the complicated process of planetary formation in a nutshell: Neptune and Uranus would have been bombarded with a lot of icy debris that was rich in heavier elements. Jupiter and Saturn, which formed in a warmer part of the disk, would have encountered less of the icy debris.

Two planets beyond our solar system also fit this trend. One is the Neptune-mass planet HAT-P-11b. The other is WASP-43b, a gas giant twice as massive as Jupiter.

But Wakeford and her colleagues found that HAT-P-26b bucks the trend. They determined its metallicity is only about 4.8 times that of the sun, much closer to the value for Jupiter than for Neptune.

“This analysis shows that there is a lot more diversity in the atmospheres of these exoplanets than we were expecting, which is providing insight into how planets can form and evolve differently than in our solar system,” said David K. Sing of the University of Exeter and the second author of the paper. “I would say that has been a theme in the studies of exoplanets: Researchers keep finding surprising diversity.”

Hubble Space Telescope. Animation Credits: NASA/ESA

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

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, manages the Spitzer Space Telescope for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. Science operations are conducted at the Spitzer Science Center at Caltech in Pasadena. Spacecraft operations are based at Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company, Littleton, Colorado. Data are archived at the Infrared Science Archive housed at the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center at Caltech. Caltech manages JPL for NASA.

For more information about Spitzer, visit:

For images and more information about Hubble, visit:

Images (mentioned), Animation (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Karl Hille/Goddard Space Flight Center/Elizabeth Zubritsky/Nancy Neal-Jones/JPL/Elizabeth Landau.


Propeller Belts of Saturn

NASA - Cassini Mission to Saturn patch.

May 11, 2017

This view from NASA's Cassini spacecraft is the sharpest ever taken of belts of the features called propellers in the middle part of Saturn's A ring.

The propellers are the small, bright features that look like double dashes, visible on both sides of the wave pattern that crosses the image diagonally from top to bottom.

The original discovery of propellers in this region in Saturn's rings (see PIA07790, PIA07791, PIA07792) was made using several images taken from very close to the rings during Cassini's 2004 arrival at Saturn. Those discovery images were of low resolution and were difficult to interpret, and there were few clues as to how the small propellers seen in those images were related to the larger propellers Cassini observed later in the mission (for example PIA21437, PIA21433, and PIA21447).

This image, for the first time, shows swarms of propellers of a wide range of sizes, putting the ones Cassini observed in its Saturn arrival images in context. Scientists will use this information to derive a “particle size distribution” for propeller moons, which is an important clue to their origins.

This region was also featured in PIA21059.

The image was taken using the Cassini spacecraft's narrow-angle camera on April 19. The view was has an image scale of 0.24 mile (385 meters) per pixel, and was taken at a sun-ring-spacecraft angle, or phase angle, of 108 degrees. The view looks toward a point approximately 80,000 miles (129,000 kilometers) from Saturn’s center.

Cassini spacecraft animation

The Cassini mission is a cooperative project of NASA, ESA (the European Space Agency) and the Italian Space Agency. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of Caltech in Pasadena, California, manages the mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. 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 The Cassini imaging team homepage is at and ESA's website:

Related links:








Image, Video, Text,  Credits: NASA/Tony Greicius/ESA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute.

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SMOS brings Mediterranean salinity into focus

ESA - SMOS Mission logo.

11 May 2017

Alboran Sea salinity change

ESA’s SMOS mission maps variations in soil moisture and salt in the surface waters of the open oceans. When the satellite was designed, it was not envisaged that it would be able to measure salinity in smaller seas like the Mediterranean, but SMOS has again surpassed expectations.

The satellite carries a microwave instrument to capture images of ‘brightness temperature’, which correspond to microwave radiation emitted from Earth’s surface and can be related to soil moisture and ocean salinity.

While this information is fulfilling the mission’s core objective of improving our understanding of Earth’s water cycle, SMOS has found a multitude of other uses such as tracking hurricanes, measuring thin ice floating in the polar oceans and improving crop-yield forecasts.


Its measurements of salinity in the open oceans not only help us understand how our oceans are responding to climate change, but are also improving our understanding of issues such as ocean acidification and large-scale events like El Niño.

However, these processes take a long time so smaller seas such as the Mediterranean, where processes occur over much shorter timescales, offer an ideal laboratory to study ocean dynamics.

For instance, salinity maps are needed to understand how the flow of water from the Atlantic Ocean through the Strait of Gibraltar forms the Alboran Gyre in the western Mediterranean Sea.

Until recently, SMOS’ observations of salinity in the Mediterranean were hampered for two reasons.

The biggest issue, and one that was understood when the mission was designed, was one of ‘land–sea contamination’. This is because measurements taken over the surrounding land leach into the ocean data and affect the quality.

The other problem, which was not foreseen, is the extent of radio interference.

Reducing interference

Once SMOS was launched in 2009, it transpired that its signal was being interrupted by numerous illegal transmitters around the world. However, by working with national frequency protection authorities, 75% of these transmitters have now been shut down.

Nevertheless, this is a laborious process and some regions, such as the Libyan coast and the eastern Mediterranean Sea, remain contaminated where mitigation strategies have not yet been successful.

Thanks to the determination of scientists to address these problems and with the support of ESA’s Earth Observation Support to Science Element, SMOS can now map salinity in much of the Mediterranean Sea.

The Barcelona Expert Center in Spain has addressed both the problem of land–sea contamination and also reduced the effects of interference by making changes to the standard data processing chain.

Antonio Turiel from the centre said, “We look out over the Mediterranean Sea every day from our institute in Barcelona and we were determined to get to grips with the problem.

“The solution we came up with actually meant going back to each individual measurement of brightness temperature and filtering and processing it in a different way.”

Mediterranean Sea salinity

The University of Liege in Belgium has also tackled this issue by proposing a method for reducing noise.

Aida Alvera Azcárate from the University of Liege said, “Land–sea contamination and radio-frequency interference in the Mediterranean Sea cause the level of unwanted signal in the data to be rather high.

“We have developed an approach to extract the actual geophysical signal from the noisy data, increasing the accuracy of the final dataset.”

ESA’s SMOS mission manager, Susanne Mecklenburg, said, “Both institutes have done fabulous work in addressing the limitations we were facing when looking at changes of salinity in the Mediterranean Sea. Their work extends the catalogue of applications that SMOS can support to benefit science and society at large.

“Once again we see SMOS deliver way beyond its original promise – and I’m sure there will be more successes to come.”

Remote Sensing of Environment:

Debiased non-Bayesian retrieval: a novel approach to SMOS sea surface salinity:

Analysis of SMOS sea surface salinity data using DINEOF:

Related links:

Barcelona Expert Center:

University of Liege:

Support to Science Element:


SMOS technical info & data:

Image, Animations, Text, Credits: ESA/AOES Medialab/Barcelona Expert Center/University of Liege.

Best regards,

mercredi 10 mai 2017

Bone and Muscle Studies, Spacewalk Preps and New Crew Intro Today

ISS - Expedition 51 Mission patch.

May 10, 2017

Image above: Commander Peggy Whitson works on an experiment in the Microgravity Science Glovebox, a facility suited for working with and containing liquids, particles and hazardous materials. Image Credit: NASA.

The Expedition 51 crew reviewed Friday’s spacewalk today and researched how the human body adapts to microgravity. At the Johnson Space Center, three future International Space Station crew members introduced themselves live on NASA TV.

Astronauts Peggy Whitson and Jack Fischer reviewed procedures for Friday morning’s spacewalk this morning. The duo will replace an avionics box that sends electricity and data to science experiments installed outside the space station. Flight Engineer Thomas Pesquet will assist the spacewalkers from inside the station. This will be the 200th spacewalk at the station for assembly and maintenance, the ninth for Whitson and the first for Fischer.

Image above: Future station crew members (from left) Joe Acaba, Alexander Misurkin and Mark Vande Hei introduced themselves at NASA’s Johnson Space Center today. They are due to launch to space in September. Image Credit: NASA.

Whitson also continued researching the differences in bone growth in space versus Earth. Pesquet then joined cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin for a muscle study using electrodes attached to their legs while exercising.

NASA astronauts Joe Acaba and Mark Vande Hei and cosmonaut Alexander Misurkin talked about their upcoming Expedition 53-54 mission today from Houston. The trio’s mission is due to launch Sept. 13 and stay on orbit until March 2018.

Related links:

Expedition 51:

Friday morning’s spacewalk:


Bone growth in space versus Earth:

Muscle study:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Mark Garcia.

Best regards,

Ireland's Gorse Wildfires Creating Havoc

NASA - EOS Terra Mission patch.

May 10, 2017

Hundreds of gorse fires have created havoc across the island of Ireland for the better part of a month.  Gorse is a wildflower that grows abundantly all over the country.  It is native to Ireland and is quite invasive.  The amount of gorse coupled with extremely dry conditions create perfect conditions for wildfires to start.  Since Monday 1st May 2017 – 8th May 2017 Northern Ireland Fire & Rescue Service (NIFRS) has attended 511 gorse fires of which 466 were started deliberately.

Most of the 30 or so ongoing fires are around the outside portion of the island are in Roscommon and Sligo. The most significant fire is in Cloosh Valley, Galway, which has burned 3,500 hectares (8648 acres) of forest and bog land.  The 4,000 hectare (9884 acre) forest is one of the largest in Ireland.  Firefighters are battling to bring it under control after poor conditions allowed the fire to increase in intensity.

A serious dry spell that started at the beginning of April has created the conditions for wildfires to start and spread.  With average rainfall for this time of year cut by 75 per cent there is a serious drought hampering firefighting efforts and promoting the spread of fires.  There have been more than 100 serious gorse and forest fires in recent weeks.  Fire officials believe that most of the fires have been started deliberately either through the burning of vegetation (a method for clearing fields used by farmers) or with malicious intent.

EOS Terra satellite

This natural-color satellite image was collected by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) aboard the Terra satellite on May 08, 2017. Actively burning areas, detected by MODIS’s thermal bands, are outlined in red.  NASA image courtesy Jeff Schmaltz, MODIS Rapid Response Team. Caption: NASA/Goddard, Lynn Jenner with information from Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue and the Irish Farmers Journal.

Related links:

Fire and Smoke:

Terra Satellite:

Images, Text, Credits: NASA/Lynn Jenner.


Observatories Combine to Crack Open the Crab Nebula

NASA logo.

May 10, 2017

Astronomers have produced a highly detailed image of the Crab Nebula, by combining data from telescopes spanning nearly the entire breadth of the electromagnetic spectrum, from radio waves seen by the Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array (VLA) to the powerful X-ray glow as seen by the orbiting Chandra X-ray Observatory. And, in between that range of wavelengths, the Hubble Space Telescope's crisp visible-light view, and the infrared perspective of the Spitzer Space Telescope.

Composite View of the Crab Nebula

Video above: This video starts with a composite image of the Crab Nebula, a supernova remnant that was assembled by combining data from five telescopes spanning nearly the entire breadth of the electromagnetic spectrum: the Very Large Array, the Spitzer Space Telescope, the Hubble Space Telescope, the XMM-Newton Observatory, and the Chandra X-ray Observatory. The video dissolves to the red-colored radio-light view that shows how a neutron star’s fierce “wind” of charged particles from the central neutron star energized the nebula, causing it to emit the radio waves. The yellow-colored infrared image includes the glow of dust particles absorbing ultraviolet and visible light. The green-colored Hubble visible-light image offers a very sharp view of hot filamentary structures that permeate this nebula. The blue-colored ultraviolet image and the purple-colored X-ray image shows the effect of an energetic cloud of electrons driven by a rapidly rotating neutron star at the center of the nebula. Image Credits: NASA, ESA, J. DePasquale (STScI).

The Crab Nebula, the result of a bright supernova explosion seen by Chinese and other astronomers in the year 1054, is 6,500 light-years from Earth. At its center is a super-dense neutron star, rotating once every 33 milliseconds, shooting out rotating lighthouse-like beams of radio waves and light -- a pulsar (the bright dot at image center). The nebula's intricate shape is caused by a complex interplay of the pulsar, a fast-moving wind of particles coming from the pulsar, and material originally ejected by the supernova explosion and by the star itself before the explosion.

This image combines data from five different telescopes: The VLA (radio) in red; Spitzer Space Telescope (infrared) in yellow; Hubble Space Telescope (visible) in green; XMM-Newton (ultraviolet) in blue; and Chandra X-ray Observatory (X-ray) in purple.

Image above: This composite image of the Crab Nebula, a supernova remnant, was assembled by combining data from five telescopes spanning nearly the entire breadth of the electromagnetic spectrum: the Very Large Array, the Spitzer Space Telescope, the Hubble Space Telescope, the XMM-Newton Observatory, and the Chandra X-ray Observatory. Image Credits: NASA, ESA, NRAO/AUI/NSF and G. Dubner (University of Buenos Aires).

The new VLA, Hubble and Chandra observations all were made at nearly the same time in November of 2012. A team of scientists led by Gloria Dubner of the Institute of Astronomy and Physics (IAFE), the National Council of Scientific Research (CONICET) and the University of Buenos Aires in Argentina then made a thorough analysis of the newly revealed details in a quest to gain new insights into the complex physics of the object. They are reporting their findings in the Astrophysical Journal.

"Comparing these new images, made at different wavelengths, is providing us with a wealth of new detail about the Crab Nebula. Though the Crab has been studied extensively for years, we still have much to learn about it," Dubner said.

Related links:

Chandra X-Ray Observatory:

Hubble Space Telescope:

Spitzer Space Telescope:

Space Telescope Science Institute:

Goddard Space Flight Center:

Jet Propulsion Laboratory:

Marshall Space Flight Center:

Image (mentioned), Video (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Karl Hille/Space Telescope Science Institute/Ray Villard.


mardi 9 mai 2017

A brand new linear accelerator for CERN

CERN - European Organization for Nuclear Research logo.

9 May 2017

At a ceremony today, CERN inaugurated its linear accelerator, Linac 4, the newest accelerator acquisition since the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). Linac 4 is due to feed the CERN accelerator complex with particle beams of higher energy, which will allow the LHC to reach higher luminosity by 2021. After an extensive testing period, Linac 4 will be connected to CERN’s accelerator complex during the upcoming long technical shut down in 2019-20. Linac 4 will replace Linac 2, which has been in service since 1978. It will become the first step in CERN’s accelerator chain, delivering proton beams to a wide range of experiments.

“We are delighted to celebrate this remarkable accomplishment. Linac 4 is a modern injector and the first key element of our ambitious upgrade programme, leading up to the High-Luminosity LHC. This high-luminosity phase will considerably increase the potential of the LHC experiments for discovering new physics and measuring the properties of the Higgs particle in more detail,” said CERN Director General, Fabiola Gianotti.

“This is an achievement not only for CERN, but also for the partners from many countries who contributed to designing and building this new machine,” said CERN Director for Accelerators and Technology, Frédérick Bordry. “Today, we also celebrate and thank the wide international collaboration that led this project, demonstrating once again what can be accomplished by bringing together the efforts of many nations.”

Image above: At a ceremony today, CERN inaugurated its linear accelerator, Linac 4, the newest accelerator acquisition since the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) (Image: Maximilien Brice/ CERN).

The linear accelerator is the first essential element of an accelerator chain. In the linear accelerator, the particles are produced and receive the initial acceleration; the density and intensity of the particle beams are also shaped in the linac. Linac 4 is an almost 90-metre-long machine sitting 12 metres below the ground. It took nearly 10 years to build.

Linac 4 will send negative hydrogen ions, consisting of a hydrogen atom with two electrons, to CERN’s Proton Synchrotron Booster (PSB), which further accelerates the negative ions and removes the electrons. Linac 4 will bring the beam up to 160 MeV energy, more than three times the energy of its predecessor. The increase in energy, together with the use of hydrogen ions, will enable double the beam intensity to be delivered to the LHC, thus contributing to an increase in the luminosity of the LHC.

Luminosity is a parameter indicating the number of particles colliding within a defined amount of time. The peak luminosity of the LHC is planned to be increased by a factor of five by 2025. This will make it possible for the experiments to accumulate about 10 times more data over the period 2025 to 2035 than before. The High-Luminosity LHC will therefore provide more accurate measurements of fundamental particles than today, as well as the possibility of observing rare processes that occur beyond the machine’s present sensitivity level.


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:

Large Hadron Collider (LHC):

Linac 2:

Linac 4:

CERN’s Proton Synchrotron Booster (PSB):

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

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

Best regards from the very close neighbor of the CERN,

Cloud Bands Streak Across Titan

NASA - Cassini Mission to Saturn patch.

May 9, 2017

NASA's Cassini spacecraft captured this view of bands of bright, feathery methane clouds drifting across Saturn's moon Titan on May 7, 2017.

The view was obtained during a distant (non-targeted) flyby, during which Cassini passed 303,000 miles (488,000 kilometers) above the moon's surface. Although Cassini will have no further close, targeted flybys of Titan, the spacecraft continues to observe the giant moon and its atmosphere from a distance.

The dark regions at top are Titan's hydrocarbon lakes and seas.

Two versions of this image are presented here, one with stronger enhancement (figure A) and one with much softer enhancement (figure B). See PIA21610 for another view of these clouds.

The image was taken on May 7, 2017, at a distance of 316,000 miles (508,000 kilometers). The view is an orthographic projection centered on 57 degrees north latitude, 48 degrees west longitude. An orthographic view is most like the view seen by a distant observer. Image scale is about 2 miles (3 kilometers) per pixel.

The Cassini mission is a cooperative project of NASA, ESA (the European Space Agency) and the Italian Space Agency. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of Caltech in Pasadena, California, manages the mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. 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 The Cassini imaging team homepage is at and ESA's website:

Related link:


Image, Text, Credits: NASA/Tony Greicius/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute.

Best regards,