lundi 21 août 2017

The Eclipse 2017 from International Space Station

ISS - Expedition 52 Mission patch.

Aug. 22, 2017

The Eclipse 2017 from Space

Image above: iss052e055885 (Aug. 21, 2017) -- Aboard the International Space Station, NASA Flight Engineer Randy Bresnik took still images of the eclipse as seen from the unique vantage of the Expedition 52 crew. Witnessing the eclipse from orbit with Bresnik were NASA’s Jack Fischer and Peggy Whitson, ESA (European Space Agency’s) Paolo Nespoli, and Roscosmos’ Commander Fyodor Yurchikhin and Sergey Ryazanskiy. The space station crossed the path of the eclipse three times as it orbited above the continental United States at an altitude of 250 miles. Image Credit: NASA.

The Eclipse 2017 Umbra Viewed from Space

Image above: iss052e056122 (Aug. 21, 2017) -- As millions of people across the United States experienced a total eclipse as the umbra, or moon’s shadow passed over them, only six people witnessed the umbra from space. Viewing the eclipse from orbit were NASA’s Randy Bresnik, Jack Fischer and Peggy Whitson, ESA (European Space Agency’s) Paolo Nespoli, and Roscosmos’ Commander Fyodor Yurchikhin and Sergey Ryazanskiy. The space station crossed the path of the eclipse three times as it orbited above the continental United States at an altitude of 250 miles. Image Credit: NASA.

The Eclipse 2017 Umbra Viewed from Space
 Image above: iss052e056222 (Aug. 21, 2017). Image Credit: NASA.

The Eclipse 2017 Umbra Viewed from Space

Image above: iss052e056225 (Aug. 21, 2017). Image Credit: NASA.

The Eclipse 2017 Umbra Viewed from Space

Image above: iss052e056245 (Aug. 21, 2017). Image Credit: NASA.

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

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Chasing the Total Solar Eclipse from NASA’s WB-57F Jets

NASA - WB-57F Long Wing patch.

August 21, 2017

For most viewers, the Aug. 21, 2017, total solar eclipse will last less than two and half minutes. But for one team of NASA-funded scientists, the eclipse will last over seven minutes. Their secret? Following the shadow of the Moon in two retrofitted WB-57F jet planes.

Amir Caspi of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, and his team will use two of NASA’s WB-57F research jets to chase the darkness across America on Aug. 21. Taking observations from twin telescopes mounted on the noses of the planes, Caspi will ­­­­­capture the clearest images of the Sun’s outer atmosphere — the corona — to date and the first-ever thermal images of Mercury, revealing how temperature varies across the planet’s surface.

“These could well turn out to be the best ever observations of high frequency phenomena in the corona,” says Dan Seaton, co-investigator of the project and researcher at the University of Colorado in Boulder, Colorado. “Extending the observing time and going to very high altitude might allow us to see a few events or track waves that would be essentially invisible in just two minutes of observations from the ground.”

NASA Jets Chase The Total Solar Eclipse

Video above: For most viewers, the Aug. 21, 2017, total solar eclipse will last less than two and half minutes. But for one team of NASA-funded scientists, the eclipse will last over seven minutes. Their secret? Following the shadow of the Moon in two retrofitted WB-57F jet planes. Amir Caspi of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, and his team will use two of NASA's WB-57F research jets to chase the darkness across America on Aug. 21. Taking observations from twin telescopes mounted on the noses of the planes, Caspi will capture the clearest images of the Sun's outer atmosphere -- the corona -- to date and the first-ever thermal images of Mercury, revealing how temperature varies across the planet's surface. Video Credits: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.

The total solar eclipse provides a rare opportunity for scientists to study the Sun, particularly its atmosphere. As the Moon completely covers the Sun and perfectly blocks its light during an eclipse, the typically faint corona is easily seen against the dark sky. NASA is funding 11 science projects across America for scientists to take advantage of the unique astronomical event to learn more about the Sun and its effects on Earth’s upper atmosphere.

The corona is heated to millions of degrees, yet the lower atmospheric layers like the photosphere — the visible surface of the Sun — are only heated to a few thousand degrees. Scientists aren’t sure how this inversion happens. One theory proposes that magnetic waves called Alfvén waves steadily convey energy into the Sun’s outer atmosphere, where it is then dissipated as heat. Alternatively, micro explosions, termed nanoflares — too small and frequent to detect individually, but with a large collective effect — might release heat into the corona.

Due to technological limitations, no one has yet directly seen nanoflares, but the high-resolution and high-speed images to be taken from the WB-57F jets might reveal their effects on the corona. The high-definition pictures, captured 30 times per second, will be analyzed for wave motion in the corona to see if waves move towards or away from the surface of the Sun, and with what strengths and sizes.

Image above: (Photo illustration) During the upcoming total solar eclipse, a team of NASA-funded scientists will observe the solar corona using stabilized telescopes aboard two of NASA’s WB-57F research aircraft. This vantage point provides distinct advantages over ground-based observations, as illustrated by this composite photo of the aircraft and the 2015 total solar eclipse at the Faroe Islands. Image Credits: NASA/Faroe Islands/SwRI.

“We see the evidence of nanoflare heating, but we don’t know where they occur,” Caspi said. “If they occur higher up in the corona, we might expect to see waves moving downwards, as the little explosions occur and collectively reconfigure the magnetic fields.”

In this way, nanoflares may also be the missing link responsible for untangling the chaotic mess of magnetic field lines on the surface of the Sun, explaining why the corona has neat loops and smooth fans of magnetic fields. The direction and nature of the waves observed will also help distinguish between competing models of coronal heating.

The two planes, launching from Ellington Field near NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston will observe the total eclipse for about three and a half minutes each as they fly over Missouri, Illinois and Tennessee. By flying high in the stratosphere, observations taken with onboard telescopes will avoid looking through the majority of Earth’s atmosphere, greatly improving image quality. At the planes’ cruising altitude of 50,000 feet, the sky is 20-30 times darker than as seen from the ground, and there is much less atmospheric turbulence, allowing fine structures and motions in the Sun’s corona to be visible.

Image above: One of the WB-57F jets is readied for a test run at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. The instruments are mounted under the silver casing on the nose of the plane. Image Credits: NASA’s Johnson Space Center/Norah Moran.

Images of the Sun will primarily be captured at visible light wavelengths, specifically the green light given off by highly ionized iron, superheated by the corona. This light is best for showing the fine structures in the Sun’s outer atmosphere. These images are complementary to space-based telescopes, like NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, which takes images primarily in ultraviolet light and does not have the capacity for the high-speed imagery that can be captured aboard the WB-57F.

Observations of Mercury will also be taken a half-hour before and after totality, when the sky is still relatively dark. These images, taken in the infrared, will be the first attempt to map the variation of temperature across the surface of the planet.

Mercury rotates much slower than Earth — one Mercurial day is approximately 59 Earth days — so the night side cools to a few hundred degrees below zero while the dayside bakes at a toasty 800 F. The images will show how quickly the surface cools, allowing scientists to know what the soil is made of and how dense it is. These results will give scientists insight into how Mercury and other rocky planets may have formed.

The images of the corona will also allow the team to search for a hypothesized family of asteroids called vulcanoids. Its thought these objects orbit between the Sun and Mercury, and are leftover from the formation of the solar system. If discovered, vulcanoids could change what scientists understand about planet formation.

Related Links:

Learn more about the NASA funded eclipse projects:

Learn more about the 2017 total solar eclipse:

Learn more about NASA Sun science:

SDO (Solar Dynamics Observatory):

Images (mentioned), Video (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Rob Garner/Goddard Space Flight Center, by Mara Johnson-Groh.

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samedi 19 août 2017

Successful Launch of H-IIA Launch Vehicle No. 35 Encapsulating Michibiki No. 3

JAXA - Quasi.Zenith Satellite System (QZSS) patch.

August 19, 2017

H-IIA 204 rocket launches the Michibiki-3 satellite

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Ltd. and JAXA successfully launched H-IIA Launch Vehicle No. 35 (H-IIA F35) which encapsulates Michibiki No. 3, (Quasi-Zenith Satellite System; geostationary orbit) at 2:29:00 p.m. on August 19, 2017 (JST) from JAXA's Tanegashima Space Center.

H-IIA No.35 launches QZS-3 (Michibiki 3)

The launch and flight of H-IIA Launch Vehicle No. 35 proceeded as planned and the separation of the satellite was confirmed at approximately 28 minutes and 37 seconds after liftoff.

Michibiki 3 (QZS 3) satellite

Quasi-zenith Satellite System (QZSS)  is a constellation of Japan’s geographic positioning satellites that significantly improve the accuracy of positioning in areas where GPS signals are not fully received due to interference caused by skyscrapers and mountainous terrain. The H-IIA Launch Vehicle No. 35 frame configuration is a H2A204 launch vehicle utilizing four SRB-As, because QZS-3 has a launch mass of 4,700 kilograms, around 700 kilograms more than QZS-2.

H-IIA Launch Vehicle No. 35 Flight Sequence (Quick Estimation) PDF:


MHI Launch Services:

H-IIA Launch Vehicle:

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Images, Video, Text, Credits: Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA)/National Research and Development Agency/Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Ltd./SciNews/Günter Space Page/ Aerospace.


vendredi 18 août 2017

Station Crew Ends Week Preparing for Eclipse 2017

ISS - Expedition 52 Mission patch.

August 18, 2017

International Space Station (ISS). Animation Credit: NASA

The Expedition 52 crew wrapped up a busy week on Friday with more science work, cargo unloading and cleanup after a Russian spacewalk on Thursday. They are also busy preparing for the 2017 Total Solar Eclipse on Monday with the chance at several unique views of the event.

The crew participated in several studies including Vascular Echo Ultrasound, a Canadian Space Agency investigation that examines changes in blood vessels and the heart while the crew members are in space. They also completed weekly questionnaires for the ESA Space Headaches investigation which collects information that may help in the development of methods to alleviate associated symptoms and improvement in the well-being and performance of crewmembers in space.

Image above: The station crew will have three chances to see the solar eclipse from space. The third pass will offer the most coverage with the sun 84% obscured by the moon. Image Credit: NASA.

Russian cosmonauts Fyodor Yurchikhin and Sergey Ryazanskiy performed cleanup tasks following their Thursday spacewalk which lasted seven hours and 34 minutes. The duo completed a number of tasks including the manual deployment of five nanosatellites from a ladder outside the airlock.

Station crew members will have their cameras outfitted with special filters on Monday for three chances to photograph the solar eclipse from windows aboard the orbiting laboratory. For more information on their opportunities and what they expect to see, visit NASA’s Solar Eclipse website:

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Expedition 52:

Space Station Research and Technology:

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Animation (mentioned), Image (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Dan Huot.

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Large Asteroid to Safely Pass Earth on Sept. 1

Asteroid Watch logo.

Aug. 18, 2017

Asteroid Florence, a large near-Earth asteroid, will pass safely by Earth on Sept. 1, 2017, at a distance of about 4.4 million miles, (7.0 million kilometers, or about 18 Earth-Moon distances). Florence is among the largest near-Earth asteroids that are several miles is size; measurements from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope and NEOWISE mission indicate it’s about 2.7 miles (4.4 kilometers) in size. 

Animation of the asteroid trajectory. Animation Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

“While many known asteroids have passed by closer to Earth than Florence will on September 1, all of those were estimated to be smaller,” said Paul Chodas, manager of NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) at the agency's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “Florence is the largest asteroid to pass by our planet this close since the NASA program to detect and track near-Earth asteroids began.”

Image above: Asteroid Florence, a large near-Earth asteroid, will pass safely by Earth on Sept. 1, 2017, at a distance of about 4.4 million miles. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

This relatively close encounter provides an opportunity for scientists to study this asteroid up close. Florence is expected to be an excellent target for ground-based radar observations. Radar imaging is planned at NASA's Goldstone Solar System Radar in California and at the National Science Foundation's Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico. The resulting radar images will show the real size of Florence and also could reveal surface details as small as about 30 feet (10 meters).

Asteroid Florence was discovered by Schelte "Bobby" Bus at Siding Spring Observatory in Australia in March 1981. It is named in honor of Florence Nightingale (1820-1910), the founder of modern nursing. The 2017 encounter is the closest by this asteroid since 1890 and the closest it will ever be until after 2500. Florence will brighten to ninth magnitude in late August and early September, when it will be visible in small telescopes for several nights as it moves through the constellations Piscis Austrinus, Capricornus, Aquarius and Delphinus.

Radar has been used to observe hundreds of asteroids. When these small, natural remnants of the formation of the solar system pass relatively close to Earth, deep space radar is a powerful technique for studying their sizes, shapes, rotation, surface features and roughness, and for more precise determination of their orbital path.

JPL manages and operates NASA's Deep Space Network, including the Goldstone Solar System Radar, and hosts the Center for Near-Earth Object Studies for NASA's Near-Earth Object Observations Program, an element of the Planetary Defense Coordination Office within the agency's Science Mission Directorate.

More information about asteroids and near-Earth objects can be found at: and

For more information about NASA's Planetary Defense Coordination Office, visit:

Animation (mentioned), Image (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Laurie Cantillo/Dwayne Brown/Tony Greicius/JPL/DC Agle.


Atlas V Rocket Launches with TDRS-M Satellite

NASA - TDRS-M Mission patch.

Aug. 18, 2017

Image above: Liftoff of NASA’s TDRS-M spacecraft on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket. Image credit: NASA TV.

Liftoff aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket at 8:29 a.m. EDT from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 41.

Atlas V Rocket Launches with TDRS-M Satellite

Video above: The Tracking and Data Relay Satellite-M (TDRS-M) launches atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Launch time was 8:29 a.m. EDT. Video Credit: NASA TV.

The Tracking and Data Relay Satellite (TDRS) System is the solution to an early spaceflight problem: Officials on Earth had to rely on a pieced-together network of ground-based stations to communicate with spacecraft in orbit. The first TDRS satellite, TDRS-A, launched on space shuttle mission STS-6 in April 1983.

Today there are nine TDRS satellites in orbit at fixed points more than 22,000 miles above Earth’s surface. Two ground-based stations in White Sands, New Mexico, and one in Guam form the NASA Space Network. Together, the NASA Space Network and TDRS System provide a reliable high-bandwidth link to the International Space Station, the Hubble Space Telescope and a host of other orbiting missions.

Image above: This illustration depicts the NASA’s Tracking and Data Relay Satellite, TDRS-M, in orbit. Image credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.

The TDRS-M satellite that launched earlier today is the third and final in the system’s third generation of spacecraft. Once TDRS-M separates from the Centaur and begins its mission in space, it will go through a three- to four-month period of testing and calibration, followed by an additional three months of initial testing. At that time TDRS-M will be renamed TDRS-13, and it will either be put into service or stored in orbit until it’s needed by NASA’s Space Network.

Related article:

TDRS: An Era of Continuous Space Communications

For more information about TDRS, visit:

Related links:

SCaN (Space Communications and Navigation):

TDRS (Tracking and Data Relay Satellite):

Space Network (SN):

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


jeudi 17 août 2017

Cosmonauts Spacewalk Completed Successfully

ISS - Expedition 52 Mission patch / EVA - Extra Vehicular Activities patch.

August 17, 2017

Cosmonauts Begin Spacewalk

Image above: Cosmonauts Fyodor Yurchikhin (left) and Sergey Ryazanskiy are pictured in the Orlan spacesuits they are wearing during today’s spacewalk. Image Credit: @SergeyISS.

Expedition 52 Commander Fyodor Yurchikhin and Flight Engineer Sergey Ryazanskiy, of the Russian space agency Roscosmos began a planned six-hour spacewalk from the Pirs Docking Compartment of the International Space Station at 10:36 a.m. EDT.

Space Station Cosmonauts take a Walk in Space

Both spacewalkers are wearing Russian Orlan spacesuits with blue stripes. Yurchikhin is designated extravehicular crew member 1 (EV1) for this spacewalk, the ninth of his career. Ryazanskiy, embarking on his fourth spacewalk, is extravehicular crew member 2 (EV2).

Spacewalk Comes to a Close

Image above: Expedition 52 Commander Fyodor Yurchikhin and Flight Engineer Sergey Ryazanskiy, of the Russian space agency Roscosmos, have completed a seven hour and 34 minute spacewalk. They re-entered the airlock at 6:10 p.m. EDT. Image Credit: NASA.

The two spacewalkers exited the Pirs Docking Compartment Station at 10:36 a.m. EDT. Among their accomplishments was manual deployment of five nanosatellites from a ladder outside the airlock.

Image above: Illustration of 3-D printing technology nano-satellites or CubeSat (the one at right). Image Credit: ESA.

One of the satellites, with casings made using 3-D printing technology, will test the effect of the low-Earth-orbit environment on the composition of 3-D printed materials. Another satellite contains recorded greetings to the people of Earth in 11 languages. A third satellite commemorates the 60th anniversary of the Sputnik 1 launch and the 160th anniversary of the birth of Russian scientist Konstantin Tsiolkovsky.

They also collected residue samples from various locations outside the Russian segment of the station.

During their work, the cosmonauts mounted scientific equipment on the external surface of the station for the experiments "Restoration" and "Impact", took samples for microbial contamination in four working areas, installed new samples of materials for long exposure in open space, was launched with a hand and using a trigger Five nano-satellites, photographed the outer surface of Russian modules and their individual structural elements. To ensure movement along the surface of the station, astronauts installed soft handrails and struts. The handrail is not installed - the transition from the module "Search" (MIM-2) to the module "Dawn" (FGB).

Roscosmos cosmonauts Fyodor Yurchikhin and Sergey Ryazanskiy completed the first in 2017, the way out of the International Space Station (ISS) for the Russian program. The astronauts fulfilled their assigned tasks.

Related links:

ROSCOSMOS Press Release:

Sputnik 1:

Expedition 52:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

Images (mentioned), Video (NASA TV), Text, Credits: NASA/Mark Garcia/Melanie Whiting/ROSCOSMOS/ Aerospace/Roland Berga.

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NASA’s LRO Team Wants You to Wave at the Moon

NASA - Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) patch.

Aug. 17, 2017

NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) team invites the public to wave at the Moon on Aug. 21 as LRO turns its camera toward Earth.

The LRO Camera, which has captured gorgeous views of the lunar landscape and documented geologic activity still occurring today, will turn toward Earth during the solar eclipse on Aug. 21 at approximately 2:25 p.m. EDT (11:25 a.m. PDT) to capture an image of the Moon’s shadow on Earth.

Image above: NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter has observed solar eclipses from its vantage point at the moon before. The image LRO takes of Earth on Aug. 21, 2017, is expected to look similar to this view, which the satellite captured in May 2012. Australia is visible at the bottom left of this image, and the shadow cast on Earth's surface by the moon is the dark area just to the right of top-center. Image Credits: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center/Arizona State University.

“I’m really excited about this campaign because it is something so many people can be a part of,” said Andrea Jones, LRO public engagement lead at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “So much attention has been focused on the lucky folks who will get to experience eclipse totality, but everyone in an entire hemisphere of the Earth can wave at the Moon as LRO takes our picture!”

During the eclipse the Moon will be far enough from Earth that the resolution of the images are 2.5 miles per pixel. While the LRO Camera won’t be able to see people or buildings, it will be able to see the continents, clouds and large surface features.

“While people should not expect to see themselves in the images, this campaign is a great way to personalize the eclipse experience,” said Noah Petro, LRO deputy project scientist at Goddard.

Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO). Animation Credits: NASA/GSFC

A note of caution: the only time it’s safe to look at the Sun without eye protection is if you’re in the 70-mile-wide path of totality and only during the minutes of totality. Do not look directly at the Sun at any other time without certified eclipse glasses. For more information on eclipse eye safety:

The LRO Camera has imaged a solar eclipse previously. To see an example of the type of image captured, go to:

Launched on June 18, 2009, LRO has collected a treasure trove of data with its seven powerful instruments, making an invaluable contribution to our knowledge about the Moon. LRO is managed by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C.

For more information on LRO, visit:

Image (mentioned), Animation (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Rob Garner/Goddard Space Flight Center, by Nancy Neal Jones.

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Jupiter: A New Point of View

NASA - JUNO Mission logo.

Aug. 17, 2017

This striking Jovian vista was created by citizen scientists Gerald Eichstädt and Seán Doran using data from the JunoCam imager on NASA’s Juno spacecraft.

The tumultuous Great Red Spot is fading from Juno's view while the dynamic bands of the southern region of Jupiter come into focus. North is to the left of the image, and south is on the right.

The image was taken on July 10, 2017 at 7:12 p.m. PDT (10:12 p.m. EDT), as the Juno spacecraft performed its seventh close flyby of Jupiter. At the time the image was taken, the spacecraft was 10,274 miles (16,535 kilometers) from the tops of the clouds of the planet at a latitude of -36.9 degrees.

JUNO spacecraft orbiting Jupiter

JunoCam's raw images are available for the public to peruse and process into image products at:     

More information about Juno is at: and

Image, Animation, Text, Credits: NASA/Tony Greicius/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Gerald Eichstädt/Seán Doran.

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Scientists Improve Brown Dwarf Weather Forecasts

NASA - Spitzer Space Telescope patch.

Aug. 17, 2017

Dim objects called brown dwarfs, less massive than the Sun but more massive than Jupiter, have powerful winds and clouds -- specifically, hot patchy clouds made of iron droplets and silicate dust. Scientists recently realized these giant clouds can move and thicken or thin surprisingly rapidly, in less than an Earth day, but did not understand why.

Now, researchers have a new model for explaining how clouds move and change shape in brown dwarfs, using insights from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope. Giant waves cause large-scale movement of particles in brown dwarfs' atmospheres, changing the thickness of the silicate clouds, researchers report in the journal Science. The study also suggests these clouds are organized in bands confined to different latitudes, traveling with different speeds in different bands.

Animation above: This artist's concept shows a brown dwarf with bands of clouds, thought to resemble those seen at Neptune and the other outer planets. Animation Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

"This is the first time we have seen atmospheric bands and waves in brown dwarfs," said lead author Daniel Apai, associate professor of astronomy and planetary sciences at the University of Arizona in Tucson.

Just as in Earth’s ocean, different types of waves can form in planetary atmospheres. For example, in Earth’s atmosphere, very long waves mix cold air from the polar regions to mid-latitudes, which often lead clouds to form or dissipate.

The distribution and motions of the clouds on brown dwarfs in this study are more similar to those seen on Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. Neptune has cloud structures that follow banded paths too, but its clouds are made of ice. Observations of Neptune from NASA's Kepler spacecraft, operating in its K2 mission, were important in this comparison between the planet and brown dwarfs.

"The atmospheric winds of brown dwarfs seem to be more like Jupiter’s familiar regular pattern of belts and zones than the chaotic atmospheric boiling seen on the Sun and many other stars," said study co-author Mark Marley at NASA's Ames Research Center in California's Silicon Valley.

Brown dwarfs can be thought of as failed stars because they are too small to fuse chemical elements in their cores. They can also be thought of as "super planets" because they are more massive than Jupiter, yet have roughly the same diameter. Like gas giant planets, brown dwarfs are mostly made of hydrogen and helium, but they are often found apart from any planetary systems. In a 2014 study using Spitzer, scientists found that brown dwarfs commonly have atmospheric storms.

Due to their similarity to giant exoplanets, brown dwarfs are windows into planetary systems beyond our own. It is easier to study brown dwarfs than planets because they often do not have a bright host star that obscures them.

"It is likely the banded structure and large atmospheric waves we found in brown dwarfs will also be common in giant exoplanets," Apai said.

Using Spitzer, scientists monitored brightness changes in six brown dwarfs over more than a year, observing each of them rotate 32 times. As a brown dwarf rotates, its clouds move in and out of the hemisphere seen by the telescope, causing changes in the brightness of the brown dwarf. Scientists then analyzed these brightness variations to explore how silicate clouds are distributed in the brown dwarfs.

Researchers had been expecting these brown dwarfs to have elliptical storms resembling Jupiter's Great Red Spot, caused by high-pressure zones. The Great Red Spot has been present in Jupiter for hundreds of years and changes very slowly: Such "spots" could not explain the rapid changes in brightness that scientists saw while observing these brown dwarfs. The brightness levels of the brown dwarfs varied markedly just over the course of an Earth day.

Spitzer Space Telescope. Credits: NASA/JPL

To make sense of the ups and downs of brightness, scientists had to rethink their assumptions about what was going on in the brown dwarf atmospheres. The best model to explain the variations involves large waves, propagating through the atmosphere with different periods. These waves would make the cloud structures rotate with different speeds in different bands.

University of Arizona researcher Theodora Karalidi used a supercomputer and a new computer algorithm to create maps of how clouds travel on these brown dwarfs.

"When the peaks of the two waves are offset, over the course of the day there are two points of maximum brightness," Karalidi said. "When the waves are in sync, you get one large peak, making the brown dwarf twice as bright as with a single wave."

The results explain the puzzling behavior and brightness changes that researchers previously saw. The next step is to try to better understand what causes the waves that drive cloud behavior. 

JPL manages the Spitzer Space Telescope mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. Science operations are conducted at the Spitzer Science Center at Caltech in Pasadena, California. 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:

Observations of Neptune from NASA's Kepler spacecraft:

Animation (mentioned), Image (mentioned),Text, Credits: NASA/Tony Greicius/JPL/Elizabeth Landau.

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NASA-led Mission Studies Storm Intensification

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August 17, 2017

A group of NASA and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) scientists, including scientists from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, are teaming up this month for an airborne mission focused on studying severe storm processes and intensification. The Hands-On Project Experience (HOPE) Eastern Pacific Origins and Characteristics of Hurricanes (EPOCH) field campaign will use NASA's Global Hawk autonomous aircraft to study storms in the Northern Hemisphere to learn more about how storms intensify as they brew out over the ocean.

The scope of the mission initially focused only on the East Pacific region, but was expanded to both the Gulf and Atlantic regions to give the science team broader opportunities for data collection.

"Our key point of interest is still the Eastern Pacific, but if the team saw something developing off the East Coast that may have high impact to coastal communities, we would definitely recalibrate to send the aircraft to that area," said Amber Emory, NASA's principal investigator.

Image above: NASA's Global Hawk being prepared at Armstrong to monitor and take scientific measurements of Hurricane Matthew in 2016. Image Credits: NASA Photo/Lauren Hughes.

Having a better understanding of storm intensification is an important goal of HOPE EPOCH. The data will help improve models that predict storm impact to coastal regions, where property damage and threat to human life can be high.

NASA has led the campaign through integration of the HOPE EPOCH science payload onto the Global Hawk platform and maintained operational oversight for the six planned mission flights. NOAA's role will be to incorporate data from dropsondes -- devices dropped from aircraft to measure storm conditions -- into NOAA National Weather Service operational models to improve storm track and intensity forecasts that will be provided to the public. NOAA first used the Global Hawk to study Hurricane Gaston in 2016.

With the Global Hawk flying at altitudes of 60,000 feet (18,300 meters), the team will conduct six 24-hour-long flights, three of which are being supported and funded through a partnership with NOAA's Unmanned Aircraft Systems program.

NASA's autonomous Global Hawk is operated from NASA's Armstrong Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base in California and was developed for the U.S. Air Force by Northrop Grumman. It is ideally suited for high-altitude, long-duration Earth science flights.

The ability of the Global Hawk to autonomously fly long distances, remain aloft for extended periods of time and carry large payloads brings a new capability to the science community for measuring, monitoring and observing remote locations of Earth not feasible or practical with piloted aircraft or space satellites.

The science payload consists of a variety of instruments that will measure different aspects of storm systems, including wind velocity, pressure, temperature, humidity, cloud moisture content and the overall structure of the storm system.

Many of the science instruments have flown previously on the Global Hawk, including the High-Altitude MMIC Sounding Radiometer (HAMSR), a microwave sounder instrument that takes vertical profiles of temperature and humidity; and the Airborne Vertical Atmospheric Profiling System (AVAPS) dropsondes, which are released from the aircraft to profile temperature, humidity, pressure, wind speed and direction.

New to the science payload is the ER-2 X-band Doppler Radar (EXRAD) instrument that observes vertical velocity of a storm system. EXRAD has one conically scanning beam as well as one nadir beam, which looks down directly underneath the aircraft. EXRAD now allows researchers to get direct retrievals of vertical velocities directly underneath the plane.

The EXRAD instrument is managed and operated by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland; and the HAMSR instrument is managed by JPL. The National Center for Atmospheric Research developed the AVAPS dropsonde system, and the NOAA team will manage and operate the system for the HOPE EPOCH mission.

Besides the scientific value that the HOPE EPOCH mission brings, the campaign also provides a unique opportunity for early-career scientists and project managers to gain professional development.

HOPE is a cooperative workforce development program sponsored by the Academy of Program/Project & Engineering Leadership (APPEL) program and NASA's Science Mission Directorate. The HOPE Training Program provides an opportunity for a team of early-entry NASA employees to propose, design, develop, build and launch a suborbital flight project over the course of 18 months. This opportunity enables participants to gain the knowledge and skills necessary to manage NASA's future flight projects.

Emory started as a NASA Pathways Intern in 2009. The HOPE EPOCH mission is particularly exciting for her, as some of her first science projects at NASA began with the Global Hawk program.

The NASA Global Hawk had its first flights during the 2010 Genesis and Rapid Intensification Processes (GRIP) campaign. Incidentally, the first EPOCH science flight targeted Tropical Storm Franklin as it emerged from the Yucatan peninsula into the Gulf of Campeche along a track almost identical to that of Hurricane Karl in 2010, which was targeted during GRIP and where Emory played an important role.

"It's exciting to work with people who are so committed to making the mission successful," Emory said. "Every mission has its own set of challenges, but when people come to the table with new ideas on how to solve those challenges, it makes for a very rewarding experience and we end up learning a lot from one another."

Related links:

NOAA first used the Global Hawk to study Hurricane Gaston in 2016:

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA):


Image (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Armstrong Flight Research Center, written by Kate Squires/JPL/Alan Buis.


Sentinel-1 speeds up crop insurance payouts

ESA - Sentinel-1 Mission logo.

17 August 2017

For the first time in India, a state government is using satellites to assess lost crops so that farmers can benefit from speedy insurance payouts.

The southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu is home to around 68 million people, of which almost a million are rice farmers. However, Tamil Nadu is facing the worst drought in 140 years, leading to the land being too dry for paddy fields, lost yield, widespread misery and unrest.

Assessing rice crops with Sentinel-1

The Copernicus Sentinel-1 radar mission has been used to alleviate a little of the suffering by providing evidence of damaged land and failed crops so that the Agricultural Insurance Company of India can compensate farmers as quickly as possible. So far, more than 200 000 farmers have received payouts.

Malay Kumar Poddar, the company’s general manager, said, “Assessing damages based on remote-sensing technology is introducing much objectivity into the crop insurance programme.

“Beyond the area loss assessment, we are also keen to apply the technology to assess actual yields at the end of the season.”

Satellites carrying optical cameras can provide images of Earth’s surface only in daylight and in the absence of cloud, but the Sentinel-1 satellites carry radar which works regardless.

Sentinel-1: seeing through clouds

This makes it an ideal mission to use in tropical and subtropical regions, which are often cloudy.

Sentinel-1 radar imagery combined with rice-yield modelling is at the heart of the German–Swiss Remote-Sensing based Information and Insurance for Crops in Emerging Economies initiative (RIICE).

Francesco Holecz, from sarmap, set up the service in collaboration with the International Rice Research Institute, RIICE partners, Indian authorities and universities.

He said, “The reliable repetitiveness of the Sentinels, their short revisit intervals, the free, quick and easy access to the products and the high quality of the data have contributed a lot to the practicability of satellite-based rice monitoring systems.”

Start of rice cropping

Gagandeep Singh Bedi, agricultural production commissioner and principle secretary to the government in Tamil Nadu added, “RIICE remote-sensing technology allows us to assess crop loss and damages in a more transparent and timely manner.

“It was particularly useful during the last cropping season to identify villages that had been hit by drought, and farmers benefited from the technology by getting claims in a record time.”

The research network is also working with partners in other countries to develop the method further.

Rice yield

For example, the Tamil Nadu Agricultural University and the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines are looking to use it to assess yields at the end of the season.

Sellaperumal Pazhanivelan, from the university, said, “We believe that this technology can help the state governments to obtain objective and transparent data on actual rice yields so that farmers affected by natural hazards can be identified quickly.”

Related links:


Sentinel data access & technical information:


Agriculture Insurance Company of India:

Tamil Nadu Agricultural University:

Government of Tamil Nadu–Agriculture Department:

International Rice Institute:

Images, Video, Text, Credits: ESA/contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2016), processed by RIICE/TNAU.


ESA’s Proba-3 will create artificial solar eclipses

ESA - European Space Agency patch.

17 August 2017

Astrophysicists are joining sightseers in watching Monday’s total solar eclipse across North America but, in the decade to come, they will be viewing eclipses that last for hours instead of a few minutes – thanks to a pioneering ESA space mission.

Aiming for launch in late 2020, Proba-3 is not one but two small metre-scale satellites, lining up to cast a precise shadow across space to block out the solar disc for six hours at a time, and give researchers a sustained view of the Sun’s immediate vicinity.


Total eclipses occur thanks to a remarkable cosmic coincidence: Earth’s Moon is about 400 times smaller than our parent star, which is about 400 times further away. During the rare periods when the two overlap, the Moon can sometimes blank out the Sun entirely.

This brief period of ‘totality’ – Monday’s will be just 160 seconds long at most – reveals features of the Sun normally hidden by its intense glare, most notably the faint atmosphere, known as its corona.

The corona is a focus of interest because it is the source of the solar wind and space weather that can affect satellites and Earth itself, especially through the irregular eruptions of energy called ‘coronal mass ejections’.

Solar eclipses

With temperatures reaching more than a million degrees celsius, the corona is also much hotter than the relatively cool 5500ºC surface of the Sun – a fact that seems to contradict common sense.

Researchers seek ways to increase the corona’s visibility, chiefly through ‘coronagraphs’ – telescopes bearing discs to block out the direct light of the Sun. These are used both on the ground and in space, as aboard the veteran Sun-watching SOHO satellite. 

“The inner extent of the view afforded by standard coronagraphs is limited by stray light,” explains  Andrei Zhukov of the Royal Observatory of Belgium, serving as Principal Investigator for Proba-3’s coronagraph.

Proba-3 satellites form artificial eclipse

“Stray light is a sort of light pollution inside an instrument. In coronagraphs it is a kind of bending of the sunlight around the blocking disc.

“This problem can be minimised by extending the coronagraph length, the distance between the camera and the disc, as far as possible – but there are practical limits to coronagraph size.

Proba-3's pair of satellites

“Instead, Proba-3’s coronagraph uses two craft: a camera satellite and a disc satellite. They fly together so precisely that they operate like a single coronagraph, 150 m long.”

Each six-hour artificial eclipse per 19.6 hour Proba-3 orbit of Earth should provide a view close to the Sun’s visible surface. This will span the current observing gap between standard coronagraphs and the extreme-ultraviolet imagers used to monitor the face of the Sun on missions such as NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory and ESA’s Proba-2.

The challenge is in keeping the satellites safely controlled and correctly positioned, using new technologies and  sensors, plus intelligent software – autonomous driving, but this time in space.

Proba-3: Dancing with the stars

Proba-3 development is progressing well, with a structural and thermal model version of the coronagraph built, ahead of its critical design review this autumn, followed by that of the entire mission.

Related links:

Proba-3 mission:

Science backing for formation-flying Sun-watcher Proba-3:

Models of Proba-3 designs:

Proba-3: set the controls for the verge of the Sun:

Eclipse 2017:

Images, Video, Text, Credits: ESA/P. Carril/Wendy Carlos & Fred Espenak.


Khrunichev Center: The 100th launch of the Proton-M LV was completed successfully



Proton-M carrying Blagovest No. 11L launch

Started today, August 17, 2017 at 01:07 Moscow time from the Baikonur cosmodrome, the Proton-M booster rocket with the Breeze-M upper stage successfully launched a spacecraft into the orbit in the interests of the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation.

The launch was the jubilee, 100th, for the RN of the heavy-duty Proton-M class, which has been in use since 2001, and the 414th launch in the Proton carrier rocket history (all modifications since 1965).

Proton-M carrying Blagovest No. 11L at the launch-pad few second before launch

The Proton-M booster rocket and the Breeze-M upper stage are designed and mass-produced in the State Space Research and Production Center of the Khrunichev Space Research Center. M.V. Khrunichev (Khrunichev Center, part of the State Corporation "ROSCOSMOS").

Proton-M carrying Blagovest No. 11L rollout

Proton-M is a heavy-duty launch vehicle. The launch vehicle is intended for launches of various space vehicles for state and commercial programs. Today, the Proton-M rocket with the Breeze-M boost unit provides for the launch of a payload of more than 6 tons to the geostationary orbit and directly to the geostationary orbit to 3.3 tons. Proton-M is the development of a carrier rocket "Proton-K" and has improved energy-mass, operational and environmental characteristics. The first launch of the Proton-M - Breeze-M complex took place on April 7, 2001. The developer and manufacturer of the Proton-M LV is the FSUE "GKNPTS im. MV Khrunichev. "

Blagovest No. 11L satellite

At present, the Proton-M rocket with the Breeze-M upper stage is the main Russian heavy-duty rocket launcher that is used to launch automatic spacecraft into near-earth orbit and off-track trajectories within the framework of federal and commercial programs. With the help of the Proton-M LV, the national orbiting satellite systems GLONASS and EXPRESS are being updated and deployed, which provide the regions of Russia with communications. The Proton LV is the main means of launching the orbital modules for the ISS Russian Segment. In early 2002, the first launch of the Proton-M LV with the Breeze-M upper stage with commercial payload (Nimiq 2 spacecraft) took place. Over the past years, with the help of the Proton-M LV, about 70 space vehicles have been launched in the interests of foreign customers.

Roscosmos Press Release:

More information about ROSCOSMOS:

Images, Text, Credits: ROSCOSMOS/Khrunichev Center/Günter Space Page/ Aerospace/Roland Berga.

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