ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti tests her custom-made Sokol spacesuit in a vacuum chamber. Samantha will wear this suit during the liftoff and landing for her six-month International Space Station mission set to start in November this year.
Read more in Samantha's daily training logbook: plus.google.com/+SamanthaCristoforetti/
Follow Samantha as she prepares for her Futura mission: samanthacristoforetti.esa.int/
We all know what to do if something harmful splashes into our eyes: wash with lots of water. As with many things in space, however, a simple operation on Earth can become quite complicated when floating around in weightlessness.
Imagine you are an astronaut on the International Space Station and a fleck of dust gets in your eye or you accidently splash chilli sauce or something even worse in there. Where do you get the water from and how do you rinse your eyes? There are no flowing-water taps and even if there were cupping water in your hands is impossible in zero-gravity.
And think of cleaning up afterwards – water floating around electrical equipment in space is not a good idea.
Engineers came up with the idea seen in this picture. ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst is practising the space version of “wash copiously under running water” at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, USA. The goggles are connected to an eyewash solution that is pumped around the eyes and then away.
Although the contraption might look painful, Alexander comments: “It feels somewhat strange, but not too bad, and of course it is good to know that we have these items onboard.”
This medical refresher course is getting Alexander ready for his Blue Dot mission that begins 28 May when he leaves for space with cosmonaut Maxim Suraev and NASA astronaut Reid Wiseman for a six-month expedition on the International Space Station.
The moons of our Solar System are brimming with unusual landscapes. However, sometimes they look a little more familiar, as in this new radar image from the Cassini orbiter. The image shows dark streaks carved into dunes reminiscent of those we might find on a beach on Earth, or raked with flowing lines in a Japanese Zen garden — but this scene is actually taking place on Saturn’s moon Titan.
While our sand is composed of silicates, the ‘sand’ of these alien dunes is formed from grains of organic materials about the same size as particles of our beach sand. The small size and smoothness of these grains means that the flowing lines carved into the dunes show up as dark to the human eye.
These grains are shunted around by winds shifting over the moon’s surface. These winds aren’t particularly fast — only moving at around 1 m/s — but they blow in opposing directions throughout the year, causing Titan’s ‘sand’ to pile up in certain places over time.
Titan seems to be full of features and phenomena that are quite familiar to those found on Earth. Since Cassini arrived in the Saturn system in 2004, and dropped off ESA’s Huygens probe in 2005, scientists have been studying the similarities between Titan and Earth by exploring sand dunes, channels and lakes of liquid ethane and methane scattered across its surface.
While previous images have spotted these eerily familiar patterns on Titan’s dunes, this new image shows them in greater detail. The image was obtained by Cassini’s Titan radar mapper on 10 July 2013, by a team led by Steve Wall at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, USA. The horizontal seam near the centre is an artifact of radar image data processing.
The Cassini–Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, ESA and Italy's ASI space agency.
This satellite image was acquired over the edge of a salt marsh near the northeast Caspian Sea in southwestern Kazakhstan.
The Caspian Sea (not pictured) is the largest inland body of water by surface area. With an average depth of about 5 m, the northern part of the Caspian is very shallow, while the central and southern parts of the sea are much deeper. The salinity of the waters also change from north to south, being more saline in the northern, shallow waters and less in the south.
The salt marsh in the upper section of this image was once a gulf of the Caspian Sea, but fluctuating sea levels over the last decades cause it to be cut off occasionally from the main body of water and even dry up. In this image, it appears that the water has evaporated, leaving behind a white salt crust.
Rock formations dominate the central part of the image, while a plateau stretches south and east (not pictured). The visible shapes in combination with the dark colour of the rocks may indicate that they are volcanic, with water erosion evident in the finger-like runoff patterns.
The grey rim between the land and salt pan comes from the sedimentary runoff from the land mixing with the saltwater. When the marsh is dry, a greyish colour is left behind.
The arid climate in this region makes it easy to acquire optical imagery from satellites, without the obstruction of visibility by clouds.
This image was acquired on 6 November 2012 by the Korea Aerospace Research Institute’s Kompsat-2 satellite and is featured on the Earth from Space video programme.
Close-up perspective view of the central portion of Osuga Valles, a valley carved by intense floods. The water flowed in the direction towards the top of this perspective image. The grooved nature of the valley floor suggests the water was fast flowing, carving out the features as it flooded the region. The elevated ‘island’ blocks are also carved with small channels, recording the history of previous flood episodes.
The image was created using data acquired with the High Resolution Stereo Camera on Mars Express on 7 December 2013 during orbit 12 624. The image resolution is about 17 m per pixel.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Prime Minister of the Netherlands Mark Rutte were introduced to space activities at the Holland Pavilion’s NL Space booth of this year’s Hannover Messe, the world’s largest industry fair. From left: Mark Rutte (Prime Minister of the Netherlands), Arnaud de Jong (CEO, Dutch Space), Prof. Pieternel Levelt explaining the Tropomi sensor that will fly on the Sentinel–5P satellite, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Ineke Dezentje Hamming-Bluemink (President, Dutch Technology Industry Association, FME-CWM) and ESA astronaut André Kuipers.
Turning light into power, solar arrays are a must-have for the vast majority of satellites.
With solar arrays sized according to the power needs of the mission, there might be thousands of individual solar cells crammed onto a typical satellite.
The design seen here is a thin version of the European 3G30 triple-junction gallium arsenide solar cell. Produced by Azur Space Solar Power, it is one of the most efficient in the world.
It was more than 60 years ago that the first practical solar (or ‘photovoltaic’ cell) was demonstrated at Bell Labs in New Jersey, USA. This new invention’s very first practical use was in powering early satellites, and solar cells remain pivotal to the space industry to this day.
But photovoltaic electricity generation is also on the way to becoming a major terrestrial energy source, projected to supply close to 3% of global electricity demand by 2020.
This bright future was the focus of the European Photovoltaic Solar Energy Conference and Exhibition in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, in September 2004.
Thousands of experts discussed the progress of photovoltaic technology across – as well as off – the planet.
Historically, the space industry has helped to drive advances in photovoltaics. For instance, the gallium arsenide cells powering today’s satellites are more than twice as efficient as those installed on domestic rooftops.
With such successes in mind, ESA has begun an initiative devoted to the synergies between space and energy technology called Space for Energy, with solar energy a major element.
Meanwhile, April 2014 marked the ESA-organised European Space Power Conference in Noordwijkerhout, the Netherlands, covering all aspects of electrical power for space missions, including batteries, power components and nuclear power.
Turning light into power, solar arrays are a must-have for the vast majority of satellites. With solar arrays sized according to the power needs of the mission, there might be thousands of individual solar cells crammed onto a typical satellite.
When astronomical objects are named, astronomers like to pick out notable features for inspiration — for example, the Whirlpool Galaxy with its pinwheeling arms, or the Needle Galaxy, which appears as a long, thin streak of silver across the sky.
This image shows a galaxy cluster known as El Gordo, or “the fat one”, a very distant object that lies some ten billion light-years away from us. This grouping of galaxies certainly lives up to its nickname; it is the largest known galaxy cluster in the distant Universe and contains several hundred galaxies. What’s more, new NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope observations show that it is actually some 43 percent heavier than previously thought, with a mass some three million billion times the mass of the Sun — which is 3000 times the mass of our own galaxy, the Milky Way.
A small fraction of the cluster’s immense mass is locked up in the galaxies that inhabit it, and a larger fraction is held in hot gas that fills its entire volume, but the majority is made up of the infamous, and invisible, dark matter. The location of this dark matter is mapped out in the blue overlay. Although galaxy clusters as massive as this do exist in the nearby Universe, for example the Bullet Cluster, nothing like this has ever been seen to exist so far back in time, when the Universe was roughly half of its current age of 13.8 billion years.
Astronomers previously weighed El Gordo back in January 2012, studying the unusual cluster’s appearance and dynamics in the X-ray part of the spectrum. This new Hubble study instead analysed how the huge cluster affected the space around it to get an idea of its mass. Large clumps of mass warp space and distort the view of more distant objects. This process, known as gravitational lensing, allows astronomers to estimate the mass of the clumps that are causing this distortion.
Week in Images
07-11 April 2014