samedi 24 juin 2017

Soyuz 2-1v conducts secret military launch


June 24, 2017

On June 23, 2017 Russia undertook a low-key launch of a Soyuz-2-1v rocket with a military payload. The launch, out of the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in northwest Russia, took place at 21:04 local time (18:04 UTC).

Image (above) archive of Soyuz 2-1v rocket during second successful flight. Image Credit:  Russian Ministry of Defense.

A Russian Soyuz 2-1v rocket launches a payload designated 14F150. Details on the payload’s mission are unavailable.

For reading very informative article from my friend Anatoly Zak, visit:

Soyuz-2-1v launches a secret satellite

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


vendredi 23 juin 2017

The future of the LHC takes shape

CERN - European Organization for Nuclear Research logo.

June 23, 2017

While the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is at the start of a new season of data taking, scientists and engineers around the world are already looking ahead, and working hard to develop its upgrade, the High-Luminosity LHC. This upgrade is planned to start operation in 2026, when it will increase the number of collisions by a factor of five to ten. Physicists will be able to take full advantage of this increased number of collisions to study the phenomena discovered at the LHC in greater detail.

This major upgrade to the machine requires installation of new equipment in 1.2 kilometres of the 27km-long-accelerator. Among the key components that will be installed are a set of new magnets: around 100 magnets of 11 new types are being developed.

Image above: View of a short-model magnet for the High Luminosity LHC quadrupole. (Image: Robert Hradil, Monika Majer/

More powerful superconducting quadrupole magnets will be installed at each side of the ATLAS and CMS detectors. Their purpose is to squeeze the particles closer, increasing the probability of collisions at the centre of the two experiments. These focusing magnets will exploit an innovative superconducting technology, based on the niobium-tin compound, which makes the quadrupoles’ magnetic field far greater, 50% higher than current LHC superconducting magnets based on niobium-titanium.

The magnets are now in the prototype phase – shorter models, on which tests are run to assess the stability of the design and the mechanical structure. Last year, two 1.5 metre-long short model quadrupoles were tested at CERN and at Fermilab, in the US. A third short model will soon be tested at CERN.

The LHC's future, part 1: The High-Luminosity quadrupole magnet

(Video: Noemi Caraban Gonzalez/CERN)

In January 2017, a full-length 4.5 metre-long coil – a world record-breaking length, for that kind of magnet – has been tested at the US Brookhaven National Laboratory and reached the nominal field value of 13.4 T. Meanwhile at CERN, winding the 7.15-metre-long coils for the final magnets has already begun.

The new magnets are being developed through a collaboration between CERN and the LHC-AUP (LHC Accelerator Upgrade Project) consortium, which involves three US laboratories.

This article is an excerpt from a feature article published 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.

Related links:

High-Luminosity LHC:



Large Hadron Collider:

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Image (mentioned), Video (mentioned), Text, Credits: CERN/Corinne Pralavorio/written by Stefania Pandolfi.

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Crew Explores Cardiac Research and Tiny Satellites Today

ISS - Expedition 52 Mission patch.

June 23, 2017

The Expedition 52 trio worked throughout Friday on human research studying cardiac biology and the microbes that live on humans. Tiny satellites inside the International Space Station were also investigated for future remote or autonomous use in space.

NASA astronaut Jack Fisher collected microbe samples from his body and stowed them inside a science freezer for later analysis on Earth. He also activated an ultrasound and scanned his legs for the Vascular Echo study that is exploring how veins and arteries adapt during a spaceflight mission.

Image above: Expedition 52 crew members Fyodor Yurchikhin (middle foreground) and Jack Fischer were inside the Zvezda service module monitoring the docking of a Russian Progress 67 cargo ship on June 16, 2017. Image Credit: NASA.

Three-time station crew member Peggy Whitson retrieved stem cell samples for observation to determine if living in space speeds up the aging process. Whitson then set up the SPHERES Halo experiment that is exploring the possibility of using satellites to clean up space debris and assemble objects such as space telescopes and habitats.

Commander Fyodor Yurchikhin worked in the station’s Russian segment maintaining life support systems. The veteran cosmonaut also explored pain sensation in space then wrapped up the work day with Earth photography documenting human and natural impacts across the globe.

Related links:

Expedition 52:

Vascular Echo study:

Stem cell:


Pain sensation in space:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

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Mars Rover Opportunity on Walkabout Near Rim

NASA - Mars Exploration Rover B (MER-B) patch.

June 23, 2017

NASA's senior Mars rover, Opportunity, is examining rocks at the edge of Endeavour Crater for signs that they may have been either transported by a flood or eroded in place by wind.

Those scenarios are among the possible explanations rover-team scientists are considering for features seen just outside the crater rim's crest above "Perseverance Valley," which is carved into the inner slope of the rim.

The team plans to drive Opportunity down Perseverance Valley after completing a "walkabout" survey of the area above it. The rover's drives now use steering motors on only the rear wheels, following a temporary jam of the left-front wheel's steering actuator this month. Opportunity has not used its right-front wheel's steering actuator since 2005, the year after it landed on Mars.

Image above: The Pancam on NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity took the component images of this enhanced-color scene during the mission's "walkabout" survey of an area just above the top of "Perseverance Valley," in preparation for driving down the valley. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell/Arizona State Univ.

The mission has been investigating sites on and near the western rim of Endeavour Crater since 2011. The crater is about 14 miles (22 kilometers) across.

"The walkabout is designed to look at what's just above Perseverance Valley," said Opportunity Deputy Principal Investigator Ray Arvidson of Washington University in St. Louis. "We see a pattern of striations running east-west outside the crest of the rim."

A portion of the crest at the top of Perseverance Valley has a broad notch. Just west of that, elongated patches of rocks line the sides of a slightly depressed, east-west swath of ground, which might have been a drainage channel billions of years ago.

"We want to determine whether these are in-place rocks or transported rocks," Arvidson said. "One possibility is that this site was the end of a catchment where a lake was perched against the outside of the crater rim. A flood might have brought in the rocks, breached the rim and overflowed into the crater, carving the valley down the inner side of the rim. Another possibility is that the area was fractured by the impact that created Endeavour Crater, then rock dikes filled the fractures, and we're seeing effects of wind erosion on those filled fractures."

In the hypothesis of a perched lake, the notch in the crest just above Perseverance Valley may have been a spillway. Weighing against that hypothesis is an observation that the ground west of the crest slopes away, not toward the crater. The science team is considering possible explanations for how the slope might have changed.

A variation of the impact-fracture hypothesis is that water rising from underground could have favored the fractures as paths to the surface and contributed to weathering of the fracture-filling rocks.

Close examination of the rock piles along the edges of the possible channel might help researchers evaluate these and other possible histories of the site. Meanwhile, the team is analyzing stereo images of Perseverance Valley, taken from the rim, to plot Opportunity's route. The valley extends down from the crest into the crater at a slope of about 15 to 17 degrees for a distance of about two football fields.

On June 4, during the walkabout survey, the steering actuator for Opportunity's left-front wheel stalled with the wheel turned outward more than 30 degrees. Each of the rover's six wheels has its own drive motor, which all still work after about 27.9 miles (44.9 kilometers) of driving on Mars. Each of the four corner wheels also has an independent steering actuator -- including motor and gearbox. The rover has driven about 25 miles (40 kilometers) since losing use of right-front wheel steering in April 2005.

Mars Exploration Rover "Opportunity". Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Diagnostic testing on June 17 succeeded in straightening out the left-front wheel, a more favorable orientation than it had been in for nearly two weeks.

"For at least the immediate future, we don't plan to use either front wheel for steering," said Opportunity Project Manager John Callas of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California. "We can steer with two wheels, just like a car except it's the rear wheels. We're doing exactly what we should be doing, which is to wear out the rover doing productive work -- to utilize every capability of the vehicle in the exploration of Mars."

The team has operated Opportunity on Mars for more than 50 times longer than the originally planned mission duration of three months.

Opportunity and the next-generation Mars rover, Curiosity, plus three active NASA Mars orbiters are part of ambitious robotic exploration to understand Mars, which will continue with NASA missions to be launched in 2018 and 2020. The robotic missions help lead the way for sending humans to Mars in the 2030s. JPL, a division of Caltech in Pasadena, built Opportunity and manages the mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. For more information about Opportunity, visit:

Image (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Laurie Cantillo/Dwayne Brown/Tony Greicius/JPL/Guy Webster.

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SpaceX - BulgariaSat-1 Mission Success

SpaceX - BulgariaSat-1 Mission patch.

June 23, 2017

Falcon 9 carrying BulgariaSat 1 launch. Image Credit: SpaceX

On June 23, 2017, SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket successfully launched the BulgariaSat-1 satellite into orbit—the first geostationary communications satellite in Bulgaria’s history. This mission marked the second reflight of a Falcon 9 first stage, having previously supported the Iridium-1 mission from Vandenberg Air Force Base in January of this year. Liftoff from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center was at 15:10 Eastern Daylight Time (19:10 UTC).

BulgariaSat-1 Launch Webcast

Following stage separation, the first stage of Falcon 9 successfully landed on SpaceX’s East Coast droneship “Of Course I Still Love You,” stationed in the Atlantic Ocean. This marks the first time a Falcon 9 first stage has landed on both SpaceX’s East and West coast droneships, having previously landed on “Just Read the Instructions” in the Pacific Ocean.

BulgariaSat 1 satellite. Image Credit: SSL

BulgariaSat 1 will provide direct-to-home television broadcast and data communications services over southeast Europe for Bulsatcom. The payload will be the first geostationary communications satellite owned by a Bulgarian company.

For more information about SpaceX, visit:

Images (mentioned), Video, Text, Credit: Spacex.


PSLV-C38 successfully launches Cartosat-2 series satellite along with 30 co-passenger satellites

ISRO - Indian Space Research Organisation logo.

June 23, 2017

PSLV-C38 carrying Cartosat-2 and 30 co-passenger launch

India's Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle, in its 40th flight (PSLV-C38), launched the 712 kg Cartosat-2 series satellite for earth observation and 30 co-passenger satellites together weighing about 243 kg at lift-off into a 505 km polar Sun Synchronous Orbit (SSO). PSLV-C38 was launched from the First Launch Pad (FLP) of Satish Dhawan Space Centre (SDSC) SHAR, Sriharikota. This is the seventeenth flight of PSLV in 'XL' configuration (with the use of solid strap-on motors). The launch occured at 03:59 GMT on 23rd (11:59 p.m. EDT on 22nd).

PSLV-C38 Liftoff and Onboard Camera Video

The co-passenger satellites comprise 29 Nano satellites from 14 countries namely, Austria, Belgium, Chile, Czech Republic, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia, United Kingdom and United States of America as well as one Nano satellite (NIUSAT) from India. The total weight of all these satellites carried on-board PSLV-C38 is about 955 kg.

Cartosat-2 series satellite

The 29 International customer Nano satellites were launched as part of the commercial arrangements between Antrix Corporation Limited (Antrix), a Government of India company under Department of Space (DOS) and the commercial arm of ISRO and the International customers.

PSLV-C38/Cartosat-2 Series Satellite Mission was launched on June 23, 2017 from SDSC SHAR, Sriharikota.

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Cartosat-2 Series Satellite:

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Images, Video, Text, Credits: ISRO.

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Why No One Under 20 Has Experienced a Day Without NASA at Mars

NASA - Mars Pathfinder Mission patch.

June 22, 2017

Image above: This portion of a classic 1997 panorama from the IMP camera on the mast of NASA's Mars Pathfinder lander includes "Twin Peaks" on the horizon, and the Sojourner rover next to a rock called "Yogi." Image credits: NASA/JPL.

As the Mars Pathfinder spacecraft approached its destination on July 4, 1997, no NASA mission had successfully reached the Red Planet in more than 20 years.

Even the mission team anxiously awaiting confirmation that the spacecraft survived its innovative, bouncy landing could not anticipate the magnitude of the pivot about to shape the Space Age.

In the 20 years since Pathfinder's touchdown, eight other NASA landers and orbiters have arrived successfully, and not a day has passed without the United States having at least one active robot on Mars or in orbit around Mars.

NASA at Mars: 20 years of 24/7 exploration

The momentum propelled by Pathfinder's success is still growing. Five NASA robots and three from other nations are currently examining Mars. The two decades since Pathfinder's landing have taken us about halfway from the first Mars rover to the first astronaut bootprint on Mars, proposed for the 2030s.

"Pathfinder initiated two decades of continuous Mars exploration bringing us to the threshold of sample return and the possibility of humans on the first planet beyond Earth," said Michael Meyer, lead scientist for NASA's Mars Exploration Program at the agency's headquarters in Washington.

Sojourner Rover

Pathfinder's rover, named Sojourner for the civil-rights crusader Sojourner Truth, became the best-known example of the many new technologies developed for the mission. Though Sojourner was only the size of a microwave oven, its six-wheel mobility system and its portable instrument for checking the composition of rocks and soil were the foundation for the expanded size and capabilities of later Mars rovers.

"Without Mars Pathfinder, there could not have been Spirit and Opportunity, and without Spirit and Opportunity, there could not have been Curiosity," Pathfinder Project Scientist Matt Golombek of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, said of the subsequent generations of Mars rovers. JPL is now developing another Mars rover for launch in 2020.

NASA planned Pathfinder primarily as a technology demonstration mission, but it also harvested new knowledge about Mars, from the planet's iron core to its atmosphere, and from its wetter and warmer past to its arid modern climate.

The space agency was shifting from less-frequent, higher-budget missions to a strategy of faster development and lower budgets. Pathfinder succeeded within a real-year, full-mission budget of $264 million, a small fraction of the only previously successful Mars lander missions, the twin Vikings of 1976.

"We needed to invent or re-invent 25 technologies for this mission in less than three years, and we knew that if we blew the cost cap, the mission would be cancelled," said JPL's Brian Muirhead, flight system manager and deputy project manager for Pathfinder. "Everybody who was part of the Mars Pathfinder Project felt we'd done something extraordinary, against the odds."

Crucial new technologies included an advanced onboard computer, the rover and its deployment system, solid-fuel rockets for deceleration, and airbags inflating just before touchdown to cushion the impact of landing. NASA re-used most of the Pathfinder technologies to carry out the Mars Exploration Rover Project, which landed Spirit and Opportunity on Mars in 2004.

Landing Day on Independence Day

"On the morning of July Fourth, 1997, we were in our tiny mission-control area waiting to see the signal that would confirm Pathfinder had survived its atmospheric entry and landing, and that it was transmitting from the surface of Mars," Muirhead said. "We saw that tiny spike in the signal coming through the Deep Space Network, and we knew."

Pathfinder quickly provided the first fresh images from Mars directly available to the public over the still-young World Wide Web. The mission set a web-traffic record at the time with more than 200 million hits from July 4 to July 8, 1997.

The lander and rover operated for three months -- triple the planned mission for the lander and 12 times the rover's planned mission of one week. This longevity enabled Pathfinder to overlap the Sept. 12, 1997, arrival of NASA's Mars Global Surveyor orbiter. That orbiter, in turn, operated at Mars for more than nine years, overlapping with arrivals of two later orbiters -- Mars Odyssey in 2001 and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter in 2006, which are both still active -- and the 2004 landings of two rovers, one of which -- Opportunity -- is still active. Subsequent successful NASA missions of the post-Pathfinder era have been the Phoenix lander, Curiosity rover and MAVEN orbiter.

Twenty straight years of studying Mars have yielded major advances in understanding active processes on modern Mars, wet environments favorable for life on ancient Mars, and how the planet changed. These two decades of continuous robotic presence have built on the science and engineering gains from NASA's Mars Mariner and Viking missions of the 1960s and '70s.

The advances in understanding Mars during the past two decades have set the stage for even greater advances in the next two decades, particularly in efforts to determine whether life has ever existed on Mars and to put humans on Mars. For more information about past, present and future exploration of Mars, visit:

For more information about the Mars Pathfinder mission, see:

Image (mentioned), Video (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Laurie Cantillo/Dwayne Brown/JPL/Guy Webster.

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Witness Cassini's Finale at Saturn Live from JPL

NASA - Cassini Mission to Saturn patch.

June 22, 2017

Image above: Cassini Project Manager Earl Maize waits for the spacecraft's signal at the start of the "Grand Finale" mission phase with the operations team in mission control at JPL on April 26, 2017. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

Social media users may apply for access to a two-day event culminating in the triumphant end of NASA's Cassini mission to Saturn after nearly 20 years in space. Up to 25 selected participants for the September 14-15, 2017, event will tour, explore and share their experiences from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

Writers, vloggers, photographers, educators, students, artists and other curious minds who use social media to engage specific audiences are encouraged to apply.

Selected attendees will tour JPL, including a visit to mission control and the Spacecraft Assembly Facility; meet Cassini mission scientists and engineers; and share in the final moments of the Cassini mission, live from the JPL media site, as the spacecraft makes a fateful plunge into Saturn's atmosphere on Sept. 15, ending its long and discovery-rich mission.

Cassinis Grand Finale. Animation Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA Social applications may be submitted through June 29, 2017. To apply, visit:

During its journey, Cassini has made many discoveries, including a global ocean with hydrothermal activity within Saturn's moon Enceladus, and vast seas of liquid methane on the planet's largest moon, Titan. Cassini began the final, dramatic phase of its mission, called the Grand Finale, on April 26, with the first of planned 22 dives between Saturn and its rings. The finale orbits bring the spacecraft closer to Saturn than ever before, providing stunning, high-resolution images and new insights into the planet's interior structure and the origins of the rings. During its final plunge into Saturn, Cassini will send data about the atmosphere's composition until its signal is lost.

NASA at Saturn: Cassinis Grand Finale

More information about Cassini's Grand Finale, including multimedia, is available at:

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, ESA (European Space Agency) and the Italian Space Agency. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of Caltech in Pasadena, manages the mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. JPL designed, developed and assembled the Cassini orbiter.

More information about Cassini is at:

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Interact with the Cassini mission on social media via:

Image (mentioned), Animation (mentioned), Video, Text, Credits: NASA/Jason Townsend/JPL/Stephanie L. Smith.


jeudi 22 juin 2017

Crew Studies Bone Loss Reversal and Unloads New Cargo

ISS - Expedition 52 Mission patch.

June 22, 2017

Expedition 52 is continuing to explore a new drug therapy today that may keep humans healthier in space. The trio onboard the International Space Station also worked on standard maintenance activities to keep the orbital complex in ship-shape.

Astronauts living on the station exercise a couple of hours every day to offset the muscle and bone loss experienced in microgravity. A new injectable drug is also being explored as a way to maintain strong bones during spaceflight. Flight Engineers Peggy Whitson and Jack Fischer of NASA are testing that drug today on mice for the fifth version of the ongoing Rodent Research experiment. Rodent Research-5 is testing the drugs ability to stop and reverse bone loss in space and may help patients with bone disease on Earth.

Image above: Astronaut Peggy Whitson checks out new science gear inside the Harmony module. The SpaceX Dragon is attached to the Earth-facing port of Harmony. Image Credit: NASA.

Fischer also worked on light plumbing duties and microbe sampling throughout Thursday. Whitson also worked on microbe sampling and set up life science gear ahead of a new experiment to be delivered on the next SpaceX Dragon cargo mission.

Commander Fyodor Yurchikhin checked out Russian life support gear and continued unloading new gear delivered last week inside the Progress 67 (67P) resupply ship. The veteran cosmonaut also repressurized the station’s atmosphere using oxygen stored inside the 67P.

Related links:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

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Scientists Uncover Origins of the Sun’s Swirling Spicules

NASA - IRIS Mission patch.

June 22, 2017

At any given moment, as many as 10 million wild jets of solar material burst from the sun’s surface. They erupt as fast as 60 miles per second, and can reach lengths of 6,000 miles before collapsing. These are spicules, and despite their grass-like abundance, scientists didn’t understand how they form. Now, for the first time, a computer simulation — so detailed it took a full year to run — shows how spicules form, helping scientists understand how spicules can break free of the sun’s surface and surge upward so quickly.

This work relied upon high-cadence observations from NASA’s Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph, or IRIS, and the Swedish 1-meter Solar Telescope in La Palma, in the Canary Islands. Together, the spacecraft and telescope peer into the lower layers of the sun’s atmosphere, known as the interface region, where spicules form. The results of this NASA-funded study were published in Science on June 22, 2017 — a special time of the year for the IRIS mission, which celebrates its fourth anniversary in space on June 26.

Scientists Uncover Origins of Dynamic Jets on Sun's Surface

Video above: Watch the video to learn how scientists used a combination of computer simulations and observations to determine how spicules form. Video Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/Joy Ng, producer.

“Numerical models and observations go hand in hand in our research,” said Bart De Pontieu, an author of the study and IRIS science lead at Lockheed Martin Solar and Astrophysics Laboratory, in Palo Alto, California. “We compare observations and models to figure out how well our models are performing, and to improve the models when we see major discrepancies.”

Observing spicules has been a thorny problem for scientists who want to understand how solar material and energy move through and away from the sun. Spicules are transient, forming and collapsing over the course of just five to 10 minutes. These tenuous structures are also difficult to study from Earth, where the atmosphere often blurs our telescopes’ vision.

A team of scientists has been working on this particular model for nearly a decade, trying again and again to create a version that would create spicules. Earlier versions of the model treated the interface region, the lower solar atmosphere, as a hot gas of electrically charged particles — or more technically, a fully ionized plasma. But the scientists knew something was missing because they never saw spicules in the simulations.

The key, the scientists realized, was neutral particles. They were inspired by Earth’s own ionosphere, a region of the upper atmosphere where interactions between neutral and charged particles are responsible for many dynamic processes.

Sun’s Swirling Spicules. Image Credit: NASA

The research team knew that in cooler regions of the sun, such as the interface region, not all gas particles are electrically charged. Some particles are neutral, and neutral particles aren’t subject to magnetic fields like charged particles are. Scientists had based previous models on a fully ionized plasma in order to simplify the problem. Indeed, including the necessary neutral particles was very computationally expensive, and the final model took roughly a year to run on the Pleiades supercomputer located at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley, and which supports hundreds of science and engineering projects for NASA missions.

The model began with a basic understanding of how plasma moves in the sun’s atmosphere. Constant convection, or boiling, of material throughout the sun generates islands of tangled magnetic fields. When boiling carries them up to the surface and farther into the sun’s lower atmosphere, magnetic field lines rapidly snap back into place to resolve the tension, expelling plasma and energy. Out of this violence, a spicule is born. But explaining how these complex magnetic knots rise and snap was the tricky part.

“Usually magnetic fields are tightly coupled to charged particles,” said Juan Martínez-Sykora, lead author of the study and a solar physicist at Lockheed Martin and the Bay Area Environmental Research Institute in Sonoma, California. “With only charged particles in the model, the magnetic fields were stuck, and couldn’t rise beyond the sun’s surface. When we added neutrals, the magnetic fields could move more freely.”

Neutral particles provide the buoyancy the gnarled knots of magnetic energy need to rise through the sun’s boiling plasma and reach the chromosphere. There, they snap into spicules, releasing both plasma and energy. Friction between ions and neutral particles heats the plasma even more, both in and around the spicules.

With the new model, the simulations at last matched observations from IRIS and the Swedish Solar Telescope; spicules occurred naturally and frequently. The 10 years of work that went into developing this numerical model earned scientists Mats Carlsson and Viggo H. Hansteen, both authors of the study from the University of Oslo in Norway, the 2017 Arctowski Medal from the National Academy of Sciences. Martínez-Sykora led the expansion of the model to include the effects of neutral particles.

Artist's concept of IRIS in Orbit. Image Credit: NASA

The scientists’ updated model revealed something else about how energy moves in the solar atmosphere. It turns out this whip-like process also naturally generates Alfvén waves, a strong kind of magnetic wave scientists suspect is key to heating the sun’s atmosphere and propelling the solar wind, which constantly bathes our solar system and planet with charged particles from the sun.

“This model answers a lot of questions we’ve had for so many years,” De Pontieu said. “We gradually increased the physical complexity of numerical models based on high-resolution observations, and it is really a success story for the approach we’ve taken with IRIS.”

The simulations indicate spicules could play a big role in energizing the sun’s atmosphere, by constantly forcing plasma out and generating so many Alfvén waves across the sun’s entire surface.

“This is a major advance in our understanding of what processes can energize the solar atmosphere, and lays the foundation for investigations with even more detail to determine how big of a role spicules play,” said Adrian Daw, IRIS mission scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “A very nice result on the eve of our launch anniversary.”

Related links:


IRIS Mission Overview:

New Space Weather Model Helps Simulate Magnetic Structure of Solar Storms:

IRIS (Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph):

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

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Jupiter’s Bands of Clouds

NASA - JUNO Mission logo.

June 22, 2017

This enhanced-color image of Jupiter’s bands of light and dark clouds was created by citizen scientists Gerald Eichstädt and Seán Doran using data from the JunoCam imager on NASA’s Juno spacecraft.

Three of the white oval storms known as the “String of Pearls” are visible near the top of the image. Each of the alternating light and dark atmospheric bands in this image is wider than Earth, and each rages around Jupiter at hundreds of miles (kilometers) per hour. The lighter areas are regions where gas is rising, and the darker bands are regions where gas is sinking.

Juno acquired the image on May 19, 2017, at 11:30 a.m. PST (2:30 p.m. EST) from an altitude of about 20,800 miles (33,400 kilometers) above Jupiter's cloud tops.

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


The White Cliffs of 'Rover'

NASA - Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) patch.

June 22, 2017

This image was acquired by the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera aboard NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter on April 18, 2017, at 14:04 local Mars time. It reminded the HiRISE team of the rugged and open terrain of a stark shore-line, perhaps of the British Isles. A close-up in enhanced color produces a striking effect, giving the impression of a cloud-covered cliff edge with foamy waves crashing against it.

The reality is that the surface of Mars is much dryer than our imaginations might want to suggest. This is only a tiny part of a much larger structure; an inverted crater—a crater that has been infilled by material that is more resistant to erosion than the rocks around it—surrounded by bluish basaltic dunes. The edge of these elevated light-toned deposits are degraded, irregular and cliff-forming.

Dunes visible below the cliff, give the impression of an ocean surface, complete with foam capped waves crashing against the “shore line,” demonstrating the abstract similarity between the nature of a turbulent ocean and a Martian dune field.

Meridiani Planum has an overall smooth terrain, which starkly contrasts with the more common boulder- and crater-laden landscapes observed over much of the rest of Mars. This makes it relatively younger in character than many other areas of the planet. Meridiani is one of the Mars Exploration Rover landing sites, and, is known for its layers and sediments. The orbital detection of hematite was one of the main reasons for sending Opportunity to this area.

Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO)

Salt-bearing rocks—also called sulphates—were observed in the very first image from Opportunity, so perhaps it’s apt that this HiRISE image reminds us of the turmoil and rugged beauty of a cliff-face, a coastline, being worn down by a relentless sea.

More information and image products: HiRISE website:

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, Calif., manages the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington. The HiRISE camera was built by Ball Aerospace and Technology Corporation and is operated by the University of Arizona.

NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO):

Images, Text,  Credits: NASA/Sarah Loff/JPL/University of Arizona/Caption: Jon Kissi, Livio L. Tornabene, Zach Morse, Eric Pilles and Gavin Tolometti.


Laser-targeting A.I. Yields More Mars Science

NASA - Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) logo.

June 22, 2017

Artificial intelligence is changing how we study Mars.

A.I. software on NASA's Curiosity Mars rover has helped it zap dozens of laser targets on the Red Planet this past year, becoming a frequent science tool when the ground team was out of contact with the spacecraft. This same software has proven useful enough that it's already scheduled for NASA's upcoming mission, Mars 2020.

A new paper in Science: Robotics looks at how the software has performed since rolling out to Curiosity's science team in May 2016. The AEGIS software, or Autonomous Exploration for Gathering Increased Science, has been used to direct Curiosity's ChemCam instrument 54 times since then. It's used on almost every drive when the power resources are available for it, according to the paper's authors.

The vast majority of those uses involved selecting targets to zap with ChemCam's laser, which vaporizes small amounts of rock or soil and studies the gas that burns off. Spectrographic analysis of this gas can reveal the elements that make up each laser target.

Image above: This is how AEGIS sees the Martian surface. All targets found by the A.I. program are outlined: blue targets are rejected, while red are retained. The top-ranked target is shaded green; if there's a second-ranked target, it's shaded orange. These NavCam images have been contrast-balanced. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

AEGIS allows the rover to get more science done while Curiosity's human controllers are out of contact. Each day, they program a list of commands for it to execute based on the previous day's images and data. If those commands include a drive, the rover may reach new surroundings several hours before it is able to receive new instructions. AEGIS allows it to autonomously zap rocks that scientists may want to investigate later.

"Time is precious on Mars," said lead author Raymond Francis of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. Francis is the lead system engineer for AEGIS' deployment on the Curiosity rover. "AEGIS allows us to make use of time that otherwise wasn't available because we were waiting for someone on Earth to make a decision."

AEGIS has helped the science team discover a number of interesting minerals. On separate occasions, higher quantities of chlorine and silica were discovered in nearby rocks -- information that helped direct science planning the following day.

"The goal is to provide more information for the science team," said Tara Estlin of JPL, co-author and team lead for AEGIS. "AEGIS has increased the total data coming from ChemCam by operating during times when the rover would otherwise just be waiting for a command."

Before AEGIS was implemented, this downtime was so valuable that the rover was instructed to carry out "blind" targeting of ChemCam. As it was carrying out commands, it would also fire the laser, just to see if it would gather interesting data. But the targeting was limited to a pre-programmed angle, since there was no onboard ability to search for a target.

"Half the time it would just hit soil -- which was also useful, but rock measurements are much more interesting to our scientists," Francis said.

Curiosity ChemCam's laser in action. Animation Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

With the intelligent targeting AEGIS affords, Curiosity can be given parameters for very specific kinds of rocks, defined by color, shape and size. The software uses computer vision to search out edges in the landscape; if it detects enough edges, there's a good chance it has found a distinct object, Francis said.

Then the software can rank, filter and prioritize those objects based on the characteristics the science team is looking for.

AEGIS can also be used for fine-scale pointing -- what Francis calls "pointing insurance." When Curiosity's operators aren't quite confident they'll hit a very narrow vein in a rock on the first try, they sometimes use this ability to fine-tune the pointing, though it only came up twice in the past year.

The upcoming Mars 2020 rover will also include AEGIS, which will be included in the next-generation version of ChemCam, called SuperCam. That instrument will also be able to use AEGIS for a remote RAMAN spectrometer that can study the crystal structures of rocks, as well as a visible and infrared spectrometer.

The U.S. Department of Energy's Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico leads the U.S. and French team that jointly developed and operates ChemCam. IRAP is a co-developer and shares operation of the instrument with France's national space agency (CNES), NASA and Los Alamos. JPL, a division of Caltech in Pasadena, California, manages the Curiosity mission for NASA.

Related links:

Curiosity's ChemCam:

Mars Science Laboratory (Curiosity):

Image (mentioned), Animation (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Tony Greicius/JPL/Andrew Good.


mercredi 21 juin 2017

Weekly Recap From the Expedition Lead Scientist, week of June 12, 2017

ISS - Expedition 52 Mission patch.

June 21, 2017

International Space Station (ISS). Animation Credit: NASA

(Highlights: Week of June 12, 2017) - Crew members on the International Space Station installed a recently-delivered science payload that will provide a unique vantage point for Earth observation.

The Multi-User System for Earth Sensing (MUSES) will provide opportunities for imaging payloads supporting research, scientific studies and humanitarian efforts for both government and commercial customers. When fully installed, the MUSES platform will provide a location for Earth-viewing instruments such as high-resolution digital cameras and hyperspectral imagers. It can accommodate up to four payloads simultaneously, and can be robotically serviced or upgraded. MUSES includes a server on the station that can store and transmit data from the payloads back to Earth for a variety of uses including disaster response, maritime domain awareness, agricultural applications, air and water quality, mining and atmospheric investigations.

Image above: Space Center Houston, the official visitors center for NASA's Johnson Space Center, hosted an amateur radio connection with International Space Station crew member Jack Fischer. Image Credit: NASA.

After a thorough check-out of a platform for Earth observation, crew members deployed an investigation looking into deep space. The Neutron Star Interior Composition Explorer (NICER) studies the physics into the glowing cinders left behind when massive stars explode as supernovas. Neutron stars consist of ultra-dense matter that may eventually collapse to a black hole. The nature of this matter cannot be produced in a laboratory and the cosmic rays produced by the phenomena do not penetrate Earth's atmosphere.

Neutron stars are also known as pulsars due to the pattern of X-rays emanating from the explosion. These pulses are reliable as atomic clocks in keeping accurate time, which is essential for accurate deep space navigation. Pulsar navigation could work similarly to GPS navigation on Earth, providing precise positioning for spacecraft throughout the solar system. The NICER investigation also enables new studies of sources of X-rays, advancing scientific understanding, education and technical development for the benefit of people on Earth.

Image above: NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson works on media exchanges for the Cardiac Stem Cells investigation on the space station. Image Credit: NASA.

Crew members replaced some hardware to continue investigations using the Multi-User Droplet Apparatus (MDCA) in the Combustion Integration Rack (CIR) on the space station. The MDCA is used to perform combustion tests using small droplets of various fuels to see how they burn in microgravity. Another round of combustion investigation will begin in the coming weeks to study the most efficient fuels that we could use on Earth and for missions to deep space.

Space to Ground: A NICER Look: 06/16/2017

Video above: NASA's Space to Ground is a weekly update on what is happening on the International Space Station. Social media users can post with #spacetoground to ask questions or make a comment. Video Credit: NASA.

Other investigations showing progress this week included Cardiac Stem Cells, Rodent Research-5, Body Measures, Neuromapping, SPRINT and LMM Biophysics.

Related links:

Multi-User System for Earth Sensing (MUSES):

Neutron Star Interior Composition Explorer (NICER):

Multi-User Droplet Apparatus (MDCA):

Combustion Integration Rack (CIR):

Cardiac Stem Cells:

Rodent Research-5:

Body Measures:



LMM Biophysics:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

Images (mentioned), Video (mentioned), Animation (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Kristine Rainey/Jorge Sotomayor, Lead Increment Scientist Expeditions 51 & 52.

Best regards,

CASIS Partnership Brings “Organs-on-Chips” Research to Space Station

ISS - International Space Station logo.

June 21, 2017

Models of human disease are beneficial for medical research, but have limitations in predicting the way a drug will behave within the human body using data from non-human models because of inherent differences between species. Many medications produce unexpected outcomes in the clinical trial stage using human subjects, despite success in animal models and even 2-D cell culture models using human cells. The “Organs-on-Chips” approach to human physiology research aboard the International Space Station may lead to more reliable and predictable results for drug development and reduce the need for animal testing.

Five recently announced research projects funded by the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and sponsored by the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS), will soon bring “Organs-on-Chips” research to the orbiting laboratory. 

International Space Station (ISS). Image Credit: NASA

Conducting biomedical investigations within the space station’s unique microgravity environment allows researchers to study cells as they grow in 3-D, rather than in the 2-D lab environment on Earth where gravity forces cells in culture to flatten against plastic walls. In addition to the advantages of growing cells into 3-D tissues, cell cultures will also be observed for changes in gene expression, cell communication, and patterns of differentiation that may lead to changes in organs and other body systems.

The research projects include:

- Lung Host Defense in Microgravity (George Worthen, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia)

- Organs-on-Chips as a Platform for Study the Effects of Microgravity on Human Physiology: Blood-Brain Barrier-Chip in Health and Disease (Christopher Hinojosa, Emulate, Inc.)

- Cartilage-Bone-Synovium Microphysiological System: Musculoskeletal Disease Biology in Space (Alan Grondzinsky, MIT)

- Microgravity as a Model for Immunological Senescense and its Impact on Tissue Stem Cells and Regeneration (Sonja Schrepfer, UCSF)

- Effects of Microgravity on the Structure and Function of Proximal and Distal Tubule Microphysiological System (Jonathan Himmelfarb, U of Washington)

Partnerships like the one between CASIS and NCATS at NIH provide scientists and engineers the unique opportunity to fly their science in space, furthering ground research and bringing space closer to home than ever.

 “The International Space Station is a unique platform for research innovation capable of benefitting life on Earth, but it also has the ability to foster valuable partnerships that enable experimentation for a variety of investigators,” said Patrick O’Neill, marketing and communications manager at CASIS.

“This partnership with the NCATS is part of a multi-year collaboration that will provide investigators the resources required to enhance this burgeoning new research discipline some 250 miles above Earth.”

For more information about the Organs-on-Chips research projects, take a look at the CASIS announcement here. Follow along with the science happening aboard the orbiting laboratory on Twitter at

Related links:

National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS):

Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS): http://casis/

National Institutes of Health (NIH):

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

Image (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/ Kristine Rainey/JSC/Jenny Howard.


Crew Researching Mice and Microbes to Understand Human Impacts

ISS - Expedition 52 Mission patch.

June 21, 2017

Sunset over the Earth from ISS

Video above: Sunset over the Earth, video captured with EarthCam from International Space Station (ISS) via ISS HD Live application. Video Credit: Aerospace Studio 2017.

The three orbiting crew members living on the International Space Station today explored the effects of microgravity on mice and microbes to understand how living in space impacts humans. Cargo transfers are also underway on the orbital complex after the arrival of the latest resupply ship.

A pair of life science experiments observing mice are being worked today to research how the weightless environment of space impacts bones, muscles and the immunity system. For the Rodent Research-5 study today, NASA astronauts Peggy Whitson and Jack Fischer observed how drug therapies on mice may offset the negative health impacts of spaceflight. The duo also set up gear for a new study, the Multi-Omics Mouse experiment, which will be launched on the next Space Dragon mission and will evaluate the impacts of space environment and prebiotics on astronauts’ immune function.

Image above: The aurora and the night sky above Earth’s atmosphere are pictured from the space station. A portion of the station’s solar arrays and a pair of nitrogen/oxygen recharge system tanks are pictured in the foreground. Image Credit: NASA.

The crew also collected saliva samples and stowed them in a science freezer for later microbial analysis on Earth. Station surfaces were also swabbed and air samples were taken to help scientists identify the microbes living on the station and how they may change on orbit.

Expedition 52 Commander Fyodor Yurchikhin continued unloading the 3,000 pounds of food, fuel and supplies delivered last week aboard the Progress 67 resupply ship. The veteran station cosmonaut also had some time set aside to update the station’s inventory system and check on Russian science experiments.

Related links:

Rodent Research-5:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

Best regards,

Hubble Captures Massive Dead Disk Galaxy that Challenges Theories of Galaxy Evolution

NASA - Hubble Space Telescope patch.

June 21, 2017

By combining the power of a "natural lens" in space with the capability of NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, astronomers made a surprising discovery—the first example of a compact yet massive, fast-spinning, disk-shaped galaxy that stopped making stars only a few billion years after the big bang.

Finding such a galaxy early in the history of the universe challenges the current understanding of how massive galaxies form and evolve, say researchers.

When Hubble photographed the galaxy, astronomers expected to see a chaotic ball of stars formed through galaxies merging together. Instead, they saw evidence that the stars were born in a pancake-shaped disk.

Image above: Acting as a “natural telescope” in space, the gravity of the extremely massive foreground galaxy cluster MACS J2129-0741 magnifies, brightens, and distorts the far-distant background galaxy MACS2129-1, shown in the top box. The middle box is a blown-up view of the gravitationally lensed galaxy. In the bottom box is a reconstructed image, based on modeling that shows what the galaxy would look like if the galaxy cluster were not present. The galaxy appears red because it is so distant that its light is shifted into the red part of the spectrum. Image Credits: NASA, ESA, S. Toft (University of Copenhagen), M. Postman (STScI), and the CLASH team.

This is the first direct observational evidence that at least some of the earliest so-called "dead" galaxies — where star formation stopped — somehow evolve from a Milky Way-shaped disk into the giant elliptical galaxies we see today.

This is a surprise because elliptical galaxies contain older stars, while spiral galaxies typically contain younger blue stars. At least some of these early "dead" disk galaxies must have gone through major makeovers. They not only changed their structure, but also the motions of their stars to make a shape of an elliptical galaxy.

"This new insight may force us to rethink the whole cosmological context of how galaxies burn out early on and evolve into local elliptical-shaped galaxies," said study leader Sune Toft of the Dark Cosmology Center at the Niels Bohr Institute, University of Copenhagen, Denmark. "Perhaps we have been blind to the fact that early "dead" galaxies could in fact be disks, simply because we haven't been able to resolve them."

Previous studies of distant dead galaxies have assumed that their structure is similar to the local elliptical galaxies they will evolve into. Confirming this assumption in principle requires more powerful space telescopes than are currently available. However, through the phenomenon known as "gravitational lensing," a massive, foreground cluster of galaxies acts as a natural "zoom lens" in space by magnifying and stretching images of far more distant background galaxies. By joining this natural lens with the resolving power of Hubble, scientists were able to see into the center of the dead galaxy.

Image above: This artist's concept shows what the young, dead, disk galaxy MACS2129-1, right, would look like when compared with the Milky Way galaxy, left. Although three times as massive as the Milky Way, it is only half the size. MACS2129-1 is also spinning more than twice as fast as the Milky Way. Note that regions of Milky Way are blue from bursts of star formation, while the young, dead galaxy is yellow, signifying an older star population and no new star birth. Image Credits: NASA, ESA, and Z. Levy (STScI).

The remote galaxy is three times as massive as the Milky Way but only half the size. Rotational velocity measurements made with the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope (VLT) showed that the disk galaxy is spinning more than twice as fast as the Milky Way.

Using archival data from the Cluster Lensing And Supernova survey with Hubble (CLASH), Toft and his team were able to determine the stellar mass, star-formation rate, and the ages of the stars.

Why this galaxy stopped forming stars is still unknown. It may be the result of an active galactic nucleus, where energy is gushing from a supermassive black hole. This energy inhibits star formation by heating the gas or expelling it from the galaxy. Or it may be the result of the cold gas streaming onto the galaxy being rapidly compressed and heated up, preventing it from cooling down into star-forming clouds in the galaxy's center.

But how do these young, massive, compact disks evolve into the elliptical galaxies we see in the present-day universe? "Probably through mergers," Toft said. "If these galaxies grow through merging with minor companions, and these minor companions come in large numbers and from all sorts of different angles onto the galaxy, this would eventually randomize the orbits of stars in the galaxies. You could also imagine major mergers. This would definitely also destroy the ordered motion of the stars."

The findings are published in the June 22 issue of the journal Nature. Toft and his team hope to use NASA's upcoming James Webb Space Telescope to look for a larger sample of such galaxies.

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, Maryland, conducts Hubble science operations. STScI is operated for NASA by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, Inc., in Washington, D.C.

The Very Large Telescope is a telescope facility operated by the European Southern Observatory on Cerro Paranal in the Atacama Desert of Northern Chile.

NASA’s Hubble Website:

The science paper by S. Toft et al.:

CLASH Project Website:

ESA's Hubble Website:

Images (mentioned), Animation (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Karl Hille/ESA/Space Telescope Science Institute/Ann Jenkins/Ray Villard/Dark Cosmology Center, Niels Bohr Institute, University of Copenhagen/Sune Toft.

Best regards,