mardi 21 février 2017

The brightest, furthest pulsar in the Universe












ESA - XMM-Newton Mission patch.

21 February 2017

ESA’s XMM-Newton has found a pulsar – the spinning remains of a once-massive star – that is a thousand times brighter than previously thought possible.

The pulsar is also the most distant of its kind ever detected, with its light travelling 50 million light-years before being detected by XMM-Newton.

Pulsars are spinning, magnetised neutron stars that sweep regular pulses of radiation in two symmetrical beams across the cosmos. If suitably aligned with Earth these beams are like a lighthouse beacon appearing to flash on and off as it rotates. They were once massive stars that exploded as a powerful supernova at the end of their natural life, before becoming small and extraordinarily dense stellar corpses.

NGC 5907 X-1: record-breaking pulsar

This X-ray source is the most luminous of its type detected to date: it is 10 times brighter than the previous record holder. In one second it emits the same amount of energy released by our Sun in 3.5 years.

XMM-Newton observed the object several times in the last 13 years, with the discovery a result of a systematic search for pulsars in the data archive – its 1.13 s periodic pulses giving it away.

The signal was also identified in NASA’s Nustar archive data, providing additional information.

“Before, it was believed that only black holes at least 10 times more massive than our Sun feeding off their stellar companions could achieve such extraordinary luminosities, but the rapid and regular pulsations of this source are the fingerprints of neutron stars and clearly distinguish them from black holes,” says Gian Luca Israel, from INAF-Osservatorio Astronomica di Roma, Italy, lead author of the paper describing the result published in Science this week.

The archival data also revealed that the pulsar’s spin rate has changed over time, from 1.43 s per rotation in 2003 to 1.13 s in 2014. The same relative acceleration in Earth’s rotation would shorten a day by five hours in the same time span

“Only a neutron star is compact enough to keep itself together while rotating so fast,” adds Gian Luca.

Although it is not unusual for the rotation rate of a neutron star to change, the high rate of change in this case is likely linked to the object rapidly consuming mass from a companion.

XMM-Newton x-ray observatory

“This object is really challenging our current understanding of the ‘accretion’ process for high-luminosity stars,” says Gian Luca. “It is 1000 times more luminous than the maximum thought possible for an accreting neutron star, so something else is needed in our models in order to account for the enormous amount of energy released by the object.”

The scientists think there must be a strong, complex magnetic field close to its surface, such that accretion onto the neutron star surface is still possible while still generating the high luminosity.

“The discovery of this very unusual object, by far the most extreme ever discovered in terms of distance, luminosity and rate of increase of its rotation frequency, sets a new record for XMM-Newton, and is changing our ideas of how such objects really ‘work’,” says Norbert Schartel, ESA’s XMM-Newton project scientist.

Notes for Editors

“An accreting pulsar with extreme properties drives an ultraluminous X-ray source in NGC 5907” by G.L. Israel is published in Science: http://science.sciencemag.org/content/early/2017/02/17/science.aai8635

The discovery was made as a result of the “Exploring the X-ray Transient and variable Sky” (EXTraS) project.

More about...

XMM-Newton overview: http://www.esa.int/Our_Activities/Space_Science/XMM-Newton_overview

XMM-Newton image gallery: http://xmm.esac.esa.int/external/xmm_science/gallery/public/index.php

In depth:

XMM-Newton in-depth: http://sci.esa.int/science-e/www/area/index.cfm?fareaid=23

Images, Text, Credits: ESA/Markus Bauer/Norbert Schartel/INAF, Osservatorio Astronomico di Roma/Gian Luca Israel/XMM-Newton; NASA/Chandra and SDSS.

Best regards, Orbiter.ch

lundi 20 février 2017

SpaceX Mission Launches New Era for Premier, Multi-user Spaceport











NASA logo.

Feb. 20, 2017


The SpaceX launch of a Falcon 9 rocket at Launch Complex 39-A is another milestone for NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida as a premier, multi-user spaceport. Lifting off from the historic launch site in the photo on the right, SpaceX CRS-10 is the company's 10th commercial resupply services mission to the International Space Station.

Pad 39-A now is operated by SpaceX under a property agreement with NASA.

The first ever launch from Kennedy's Pad 39-A was Apollo 4, in the image on the left. Lifting off on Nov. 9, 1967, it was the first test flight of the Saturn V rocket that took Apollo astronauts to the moon.

The first space shuttle lifted off April 12, 1981 from Pad 39-A for STS-1 -- the center picture. NASA astronauts John Young and Bob Crippen flew the shuttle Columbia for two days, landing at Edwards Air Force Base, California.

The SpaceX CRS-10 launch of a Dragon spacecraft is the first from Pad 39-A since the final space shuttle mission on July 8, 2011. The Dragon will deliver about 5,500 pounds of supplies to the space station, such as Stratospheric Aerosol and Gas Experiment (SAGE) III instrument to further study ozone in the atmosphere.

Related links:

Commercial Resupply: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/structure/launch/index.html

Commercial Space: http://www.nasa.gov/exploration/commercial/index.html

Kennedy Space Center: https://www.nasa.gov/centers/kennedy/home/index.html

Image, Text, creditS: NASA/Bob Granath.

Greetings, Orbiter.ch

Magnetic mirror design for finding evidence of primordial gravitational waves












ESA - Planck Mission patch.

20 February 2017

ESA has backed the development of a ‘metamaterial’ device to sift through the faint afterglow of the Big Bang, to search for evidence of primordial gravitational waves triggered by the rapidly expanding newborn Universe.

“This technological breakthrough widens the potential for a future follow-on to ESA’s 2009-launched Planck mission, which would significantly increase our detailed understanding of the Universe as it began,” explains Peter de Maagt, heading ESA’s Antennas and Sub-Millimetre Wave section.

Cosmic microwave background polarisation

Planck mapped the ‘cosmic microwave background’ (CMB) – leftover light from the creation of the cosmos, subsequently redshifted to microwave wavelengths – across the deep sky in more detail than ever before.

The CMB retains properties of ordinary light, including its tendency to polarise in differing directions – employed in everyday life by polarised sunglasses to cut out glare, or 3D glasses used to see alternating differently polarised cinema images through separate eyes.

Researchers are now searching for one particular corkscrew polarisation of the CMB, known as ‘B-mode polarisation’, predicted to have been caused by gravitational waves rippling through the early Universe as it underwent exponential expansion – surging from a subatomic singularity to its current vastness.

Metamaterial-reflective half-wave plate

Identifying these theorised ‘stretchmarks’ within the CMB would offer solid proof that expansion did indeed occur, bringing cosmologists a big step closer to unifying the physics of the very large and the very small.

“This would be the holy grail of cosmology,” comments Giampaolo Pisano of Cardiff University, heading the team that built the new prototype B-mode polarisation device for ESA. 

The history of the Universe

“Our contribution is only a small bit of the hugely complex instrument that will be necessary to accomplish such a detection. It won’t be easy, not least because it involves only a tiny fraction of the overall CMB radiation.”

One of the main obstacles in detecting primordial B-modes is additional sources of polarisation located between Earth and the CMB, such as dust within our own galaxy.

Such polarised foreground contributions have different spectral signatures to that of the CMB, however, enabling their removal if measurements are taken over a large frequency range.  

The challenge is therefore to devise a polarisation modulator that operates across a wide frequency bandwidth with high efficiency.

“Our new ‘magnetic mirror’-based modulator can do just that, thanks to the quite new approach we adopted,” said Giampaolo Pisano.

Planck

Polarisation modulation is often achieved with rotating ‘half-wave plates’. These induce the rotation of the polarised signals which can ‘stick out’ from the unpolarised background. However, the physical thickness of these devices defines their operational bandwidths, which cannot be too large.

“Our new solution is based on a combination of metal grids embedded in a plastic substrate - what we call a ‘metamaterial’ – possessing customised electromagnetic properties not found in nature.

“This flat surface transforms and reflects the signal back like a half-wave plate, facing none of the geometrical constraints of previous designs.”

The team’s prototype multiband magnetic mirror polarisation modulator measures 20 cm across. Any post-Planck space mission would need one larger than a metre in diameter, its design qualified to survive the harsh space environment. The team are now working on enlarging it.

“To come so far, the University of Cardiff team has had to develop all the equipment and engineering processes making it possible,” adds Peter. “Their work has been supported through ESA’s long-running Basic Technology Research Programme, serving to investigate promising new ideas to help enable future missions.”

Related links:

ESA’s long-running Basic Technology Research Programme: http://www.esa.int/Our_Activities/Space_Engineering_Technology/Shaping_the_Future/About_the_Technology_Research_Programme_TRP

Planck: http://www.esa.int/SPECIALS/Planck/index.html#a

The cosmic microwave background and inflation: http://www.esa.int/Our_Activities/Space_Science/Planck/The_cosmic_microwave_background_and_inflation

Cardiff University: http://www.cardiff.ac.uk/

Images, Text, Credits: ESA and the Planck Collaboration/D. Ducros/Cardiff University.

Best regards, Orbiter.ch

dimanche 19 février 2017

Cargo Headed to Space Station Includes Important Experiments, Equipment

SpaceX - CRS-10 / Dragon patch.

Feb. 19, 2017

SpaceX Falcon 9 launches carrying CRS-10 cargo mission

Major experiments that will look into a range of scientific disciplines from human health to atmospheric conditions on Earth are on their way to the International Space Station following liftoff at 9:39 a.m. EST aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. About 5,500 pounds of research equipment, cargo and supplies are packed into the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft that is now in Earth orbit and headed to the station on the CRS-10 mission.

SpaceX’s Dragon cargo craft launched from Launch Complex 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. This was the first commercial launch from Kennedy’s historic pad.

Astronauts Thomas Pesquet of ESA (European Space Agency) and Shane Kimbrough of NASA will use the space station’s robotic arm to capture Dragon when it arrives at the station. Live coverage of the rendezvous and capture will begin at 4:30 a.m. Wednesday, Feb. 22 on NASA TV and the agency’s website, with installation coverage set to begin at 8:30 a.m. 

video
SpaceX Launches Tenth Cargo Mission to the International Space Station

Research materials flying inside the Dragon's pressurized area include a crystal growth experiment that will crystallize a monoclonal antibody that is undergoing clinical trials for the treatment of immunological diseases. Growing the crystal in space will allow it develop more than it could on Earth where gravity causes crystals to collapse on themselves. Preserving these antibodies in crystals allows researchers a glimpse into how the biological molecules are arranged, which can provide new information about how they work in the body. So far, Earth-grown crystalline suspensions of monoclonal antibodies have proven to be too low-quality to fully model.

Better defining how some bacteria become drug-resistant is the focus of another experiment that aims to develop medicines that counter the resistance. Stem cells like those used to treat strokes and other occurrences also will be studied using experiment supplies brought up on this flight.

The equipment aboard the Dragon includes a major instrument that will survey Earth's upper atmosphere in a continuation of one of NASA's longest-running Earth-observing programs. Called SAGE III for Stratospheric Aerosol and Gas Experiment, the instrument examines the levels of ozone, aerosols, nitrogen dioxide and water vapor in the stratosphere and troposphere high above Earth. It is the latest version of an experiment that began in 1979 and has created a multi-decade record of measurements. The 2,200-pound instrument will be connected to the outside of the station to make daily observations for several years.

Dragon cargo spacecraft

The mission is the company's tenth cargo flight to the station under NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services contract. Dragon's cargo will support dozens of the more than 250 science and research investigations during the station’s Expeditions 50 and 51.

Dragon is scheduled to depart the space station in late March, returning nearly 5,000 pounds of science, hardware and crew supplies.

For more than 16 years, humans have lived and worked continuously aboard the International Space Station, advancing scientific knowledge and demonstrating new technologies, making research breakthroughs not possible on Earth that will enable long-duration human and robotic exploration into deep space. A global endeavor, more than 200 people from 18 countries have visited the unique microgravity laboratory that has hosted more than 1,900 research investigations from researchers in more than 95 countries.

Related links:

Research materials: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/SX10_science

SAGE III: https://www.nasa.gov/feature/sage-iii-to-look-back-at-earths-atmospheric-sunscreen

Keep up with the International Space Station, and its research and crews, at: http://www.nasa.gov/station

Get breaking news, images and features from the station on Instagram and Twitter at:

http://instagram.com/iss and http://www.twitter.com/Space_Station

Learn more about SpaceX's resupply mission at: http://www.nasa.gov/spacex

Images, Video, Text, Credits: NASA/Tabatha Thompson/JSC/Dan Huot/KSC/Stephanie Martin/Allard Beutel.

Best regards, Orbiter.ch

vendredi 17 février 2017

NASA Selects Proposals for First-Ever Space Technology Research Institutes











NASA logo.

Feb. 17, 2017

NASA has selected proposals for the creation of two multi-disciplinary, university-led research institutes that will focus on the development of technologies critical to extending human presence deeper into our solar system.


Image above: High performance materials and structures are needed for safe and affordable next generation exploration systems such as transit vehicles, habitats, and power systems. Image Credit: NASA.

The new Space Technology Research Institutes (STRIs) created under these proposals will bring together researchers from various disciplines and organizations to collaborate on the advancement of cutting-edge technologies in bio-manufacturing and space infrastructure, with the goal of creating and maximizing Earth-independent, self-sustaining exploration mission capabilities.

“NASA is establishing STRIs to research and exploit cutting-edge advances in technology with the potential for revolutionary impact on future aerospace capabilities," said Steve Jurczyk, associate administrator for NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate in Washington. "These university-led, multi-disciplinary research programs promote the synthesis of science, engineering and other disciplines to achieve specific research objectives with credible expected outcomes within five years. At the same time, these institutes will expand the U.S. talent base in areas of research and development with broader applications beyond aerospace."

Each STRI will receive up to $15 million over the five-year period of performance. The selected new institutes are:

Center for the Utilization of Biological Engineering in Space (CUBES)

As NASA shifts its focus from low-Earth orbit to deep space missions, the agency is investing in the development of technologies that will allow long-duration mission crews to manufacture the products they need, rather than relying on the current practice of resupply missions from Earth.


Image above: Advanced biological engineering techniques are rapidly emerging that can lead to innovative approaches for in situ biological manufacturing techniques using microbes and plants, and provide the means to create sustainable technologies for both future space exploration and terrestrial applications. Image Credit: NASA.

The CUBES institute will advance research into an integrated, multi-function, multi-organism bio-manufacturing system to produce fuel, materials, pharmaceuticals and food. While the research goals of the CUBES institute are to benefit deep-space planetary exploration, these goals also lend themselves to practical Earth-based applications. For example, the emphasis on using carbon dioxide as the base component for materials manufacturing has relevance to carbon dioxide management on Earth.

The CUBES team is led by Adam Arkin, principal investigator at the University of California, Berkeley, in partnership with Utah State University, the University of California, Davis, Stanford University, and industrial partners Autodesk and Physical Sciences, Inc.

Institute for Ultra-Strong Composites by Computational Design (US-COMP)

Affordable deep space exploration will require transformative materials for the manufacturing of next-generation transit vehicles, habitats, power systems, and other exploration systems. These building materials need to be lighter and stronger than those currently used in even the most advanced systems.

US-COMP aims to develop and deploy a carbon nanotube-based, ultra-high strength, lightweight aerospace structural material within five years. Success will mean a critical change to the design paradigm for space structures. Through collaboration with industry partners, it is anticipated that advances in laboratories could quickly translate to advances in manufacturing facilities that will yield sufficient amounts of advanced materials for use in NASA missions.

Results of this research will have broad societal impacts, as well. Rapid development and deployment of the advanced materials created by the institute could support an array of Earthly applications and benefit the U.S. manufacturing sector.

US-COMP is a multidisciplinary team of 22 faculty members led by Gregory Odegard, principal investigator at the Michigan Technological University, in partnership with Florida State University, University of Utah, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Florida A&M University, Johns Hopkins University, Georgia Institute of Technology, University of Minnesota, Pennsylvania State University, University of Colorado and Virginia Commonwealth University. Industrial partners include Nanocomp Technologies and Solvay, with the U.S. Air Force Research Lab as a collaborator.

These awards are funded by NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate, which is responsible for developing the cross-cutting, pioneering, new technologies and capabilities needed by the agency to achieve its current and future missions.

For more information about STMD, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/spacetech

Technology: https://www.nasa.gov/topics/technology/index.html

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Gina Anderson/Karen Northon.

Greetings, Orbiter.ch

A Dust Devil on Hilly Terrain & Scars of Erosion












NASA - Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) logo.

Feb. 17, 2017

A Dust Devil on Hilly Terrain

There are many dust devils on Mars -- little twisters that raise dust from the surface. They have also cleaned dust off of the solar panels of the rovers Opportunity and Spirit, improving the solar power production. (Spirit became stuck in 2009 and ceased communication a year later.)

HiRISE sees many dust-devil tracks on Mars, but rarely captures an active feature because the images cover such small areas and because the typical time of day near 3 p.m. is past the peak heating and dust-devil activity. In this 2008 image in the Amazonis region, we got lucky, although not lucky enough to capture the whole swirl in the color strip.

The map is projected here at a scale of 25 centimeters (9.8 inches) per pixel. [The original image scale is 29.5 centimeters (11.6 inches) per pixel (with 1 x 1 binning) to 58.9 centimeters (23.2 inches) per pixel (with 2 x 2 binning)]. North is up.

The University of Arizona, Tucson, operates HiRISE, which was built by Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp., Boulder, Colo. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of Caltech in Pasadena, California, manages the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Project for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington.

Scars of Erosion

This large crescent dune in Kaiser Crater shows the scars of many types of seasonal erosional activities. Along its downwind slope are large gullies which are active during winter, when frost drives dune material downslope, carving out channels and creating fan-shaped aprons.

On the upwind slope (bottom), dust devil tracks are visible: dark lines and curliques created during the spring season by small wind vortices vacuuming up a thin layer of dust and exposing the dark dune sand.

This is a stereo pair with http://www.uahirise.org/ESP_021720_1330

Note: Both the cutout and the above image are rotated so that North is to the right.

The map is projected here at a scale of 25 centimeters (9.8 inches) per pixel. [The original image scale is 25.3 centimeters (10 inches) per pixel (with 1 x 1 binning); objects on the order of 76 centimeters (30 inches) across are resolved.] North is up.

Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO)

The University of Arizona, Tucson, operates HiRISE, which was built by Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp., Boulder, Colo. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of Caltech in Pasadena, California, manages the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Project for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington.

Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO): http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/MRO/main/index.html

Images, Text, Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona/Tony Greicius.

Best regards, Orbiter.ch

Dragon Capture Training and Robonaut Power Check Today











ISS - Expedition 50 Mission patch.

February 17, 2017

Three Expedition 50 crew members practiced today the robotic capture of the SpaceX Dragon resupply ship when it arrives at the International Space Station two days after its launch. A humanoid robot, better known as Robonaut, had its power supply checked out during a full day of troubleshooting.

Commander Shane Kimbrough and Flight Engineer Thomas Pesquet partnered up and practiced capturing the Dragon cargo ship using the Canadarm2 robotic arm. The duo will be in the cupola Monday morning to capture Dragon following its 10:01 a.m. EST Saturday launch from Kennedy Space Center. NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson will assist her crewmates and monitor Dragon’s approach and rendezvous.


Image above: Expedition 50 astronauts (from left) Peggy Whitson, Shane Kimbrough and Thomas Pesquet pose with the humanoid Robonaut. Image Credit: NASA.

Dragon is packing nearly 5,500 pounds of crew supplies, station gear and advanced science experiments. Some of the research will look at new technologies to improve space travel, observation gear to study Earth’s ozone and processes to improve how medicine works.

Whitson worked throughout the day on the robotic astronaut assistant, Robonaut. She opened up Robonaut’s torso and checked its cables and computer cards searching for an intermittent fault in its power supply. Robonaut is being tested for its ability to assist astronauts in the future with routine tasks and high risk activities.

Related links:

Robonaut: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments/760.html

Resupply mission: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/structure/launch/orbital.html

Space Station Research and Technology: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/index.html

International Space Station (ISS): https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/main/index.html

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

Greetings, Orbiter.ch