On 14 November 2017 at about 16:45 GMT a football-sized meteoroid entered Earth’s atmosphere about 50 km northeast of Darmstadt, Germany. It created a bright fireball in the sky, which was seen by thousands of people in Germany, France, Switzerland, Austria and Luxembourg, and was reported widely by media.
This remarkable image was taken by Ollie Taylor, a photographer from Dorset, UK, who happened to be on a shoot in Italy, in the Dolomites. The landscape scene shows the village of La Villa, Alta Badia, with Ursa Major seen in the background sky.
At dusk on 14 November, he was setting up for a night landscape shoot at Passo Falzarego, at 2200 m altitude, in clear but chilly –6ºC weather.
Ollie reports: “I was composing a shot of this scene and Ursa Major, seen above the meteor. I wanted to get it at twilight so the sky had a nice pink hue. I just decided I was not getting close enough, and was reaching for my other camera with a longer lens, luckily I left this camera exposing!
“It was a stroke of luck, as it’s given me not only the meteor, but great landscape background, too.”
Small lumps of rock enter our atmosphere every day, but it is rare for one to burn so brightly and to be seen by so many people.
“Owing to the meteoroid’s very high speed, estimated to be at least 70 000 km/h, it super-heated the air molecules in its path as it decelerated, creating a very luminous fireball,” adds Rudiger Jehn, of ESA’s Space Situational Awareness programme.
“Observers reported the meteoroid in detail, which allowed us to estimate its final fate: burning up at an altitude of around 50 km above Luxembourg.”
By yesterday, over 1150 sightings had been submitted to the International Meteor Organization, which runs a website to gather sightings of such events worldwide.
Four other fireballs were reported in France and the US 14–15 November, and the fireball over Luxembourg could be linked to the Taurid Meteor Shower , according to the organisation.
ESA supports the global effort to spot natural objects such as asteroids – much larger than this object – that can potentially strike Earth and cause damage. Access more information on the Space Situational Awareness programme via http://www.esa.int/ssa_neo.
Additional video footage of this event
Meteoroid seen from Saarland by Freiwillige Feuerwehr Höchen
The sharp eye of the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope captured the tiny moon Phobos during its orbital trek around Mars on 12 May 2016. The observations were intended to photograph Mars while it was on its closest approach to Earth along its orbit, so the moon’s cameo appearance was a bonus.
Over the course of 22 minutes, Hubble took 13 separate exposures, allowing astronomers to create a timelapse video showing the movement of Phobos around its host planet. Because the moon is so small, just 27×22×18 km, it appears star-like in the images.
It also orbits incredibly close to Mars, just 6000 km above the planet, making it closer to its parent planet than any other moon in the Solar System.
Sibling Deimos orbits much further out, at a distance of some 23 500 km.
While the origin of the moons is much debated, their fate is inevitable. Phobos is gradually spiraling in towards Mars and within 50 million years will likely either break up due to the planet’s gravity, or crash into its surface. Meanwhile, the opposite is true for Deimos: its orbit is slowly taking it away from Mars.
This image was first published on 20 July 2017.
M-Argo is designed as ESA’s first CubeSat to enter interplanetary space.
Studied in the Concurrent Design Facility, ESA’s highly networked facility for designing novel missions, the ‘Miniaturised Asteroid Remote Geophysical Observer’, or M-Argo, is a nanospacecraft based on the CubeSat design employing standardised 10 cm cubic units within which electronic boards can be stacked and subsystems attached.
M-Argo would be a 12-unit CubeSat – with a 22 x 22 x 34 cm body – that would hitch a ride on the launch of a larger space mission whose trajectory takes it beyond Earth orbit, such as astronomy missions to a Sun–Earth Lagrange point.
The CubeSat would then use its own electric thruster to take it into deep space and rendezvous with an asteroid, which it would survey using a multispectral camera and a laser altimeter. Other miniaturised payloads are also being considered.
ESA’s Advanced Concepts Team has identified a total of 83 near-Earth asteroids suitable for a CubeSat rendezvous. The study prioritised spinning bodies of around 50 m diameter as a never-before explored class of asteroid, although the target list also includes larger bodies of up to 300 m.
“For now, M-Argo is just a concept, but provides us very valuable information about technology developments that we need to put in place for a flight demonstration in the near future,” comments Roger Walker, overseeing ESA’s Technology CubeSats.
“It would cost around a tenth of the smallest deep-space mission to date, democratising space exploration beyond Earth, bringing it into the reach of new actors, in the same way low-Earth orbit has already been opened up by CubeSats.
“Each time we survey a new asteroid, our understanding of these small bodies has been transformed. With such a cost reduction, we could send 10 to 20 CubeSats to scout different asteroids and build up a wide survey of the near-Earth population, getting to know the neighbours better for the purposes of science and identifying potential in-situ resources for future exploitation.”
The next step is to undertake supporting research and development through ESA’s General Support Technology Programme, which is tasked with developing promising technologies for space, and identifying a suitable piggyback launch opportunity.
To become reality, M-Argo would require miniaturised solar electric propulsion, a flat array antenna to boost radio signal gain and an X-band transponder to support communication and ranging to the ground stations back on Earth, as a means of deep-space navigation.
Colour view of the Sirenum Fossae fracture system on Mars, located about 1800 km southwest of the vast Tharsis volcanic region. The features are associated with tectonic stresses linked to the volcanic activity of the region.
The images were acquired by the High Resolution Stereo Camera on Mars Express 5 March 2017 during Mars Express Orbit 16688. The ground resolution is approximately 14 m/pixel and the images are centered at 28°S / 215°E.
The colour image was created using data from the nadir channel, the field of view which is aligned perpendicular to the surface of Mars, and the camera’s colour channels.
This new Picture of the Week, taken by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, shows the dwarf galaxy NGC 4625, located about 30 million light-years away in the constellation of Canes Venatici (The Hunting Dogs). The image, acquired with the Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS), reveals the single spiral arm of the galaxy, which gives it an asymmetric appearance. But why is there only one spiral arm, when spiral galaxies normally have at least two?
Astronomers looked at NGC 4625 in different wavelengths in the hope of solving this cosmic mystery. Observations in the ultraviolet provided the first hint: in ultraviolet light the disc of the galaxy appears four times larger than on the image depicted here. An indication that there are a large number of very young and hot — hence mainly visible in the ultraviolet — stars forming in the outer regions of the galaxy. These young stars are only around one billion years old, about 10 times younger than the stars seen in the optical centre. At first astronomers assumed that this high star formation rate was being triggered by the interaction with another, nearby dwarf galaxy called NGC 4618.
They speculated that NGC 4618 may be the culprit “harassing” NGC 4625, causing it to lose all but one spiral arm. In 2004 astronomers found proof for this claim: The gas in the outermost regions of the dwarf galaxy NGC 4618 has been strongly affected by NGC 4625.
From the Salar de Atacama salt flat in the east to the Cordillera Domeyko mountains in the west, Sentinel-2 takes us over part of the Atacama Desert in northern Chile.
The desert runs along part of South America’s central west coast. It is considered one of the driest places on Earth. Being a ‘coastal desert’, the cold, upwelling waters in the Pacific Ocean inhibit rain from reaching the land. Instead, the winds that blow from the ocean bring fog.
Because of the Atacama plateau’s high altitude, low cloud cover and lack of light pollution, it is one of the best places in the world to conduct astronomical observations and home to two major observatories.
Some areas of the desert have been compared to the planet Mars, and have been used as a location for filming scenes set on the red planet. ESA has even tested a self-steering rover in the Atacama, which was selected for its similarities to martian conditions.
In the lower right, the geometric shapes of large evaporation ponds dominate the Salar de Atacama – Chile’s largest salt flat. At about 3000 sq km, it is the world’s third largest salt flat as well as one of the largest active sources of lithium. From evaporation ponds like the ones pictured here, lithium bicarbonate is isolated from salt brine. Lithium is used in the manufacturing of batteries, and the increasing demand has significantly increased its value in recent years – especially for the production of electric-car batteries.
This image, also featured on the Earth from Space video programme, was captured by the Copernicus Sentinel-2A satellite on 29 April 2017.
Astronauts, planetary scientists and engineers cast their shadows at the rim of a volcanic crater.
ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti (second from left) surveys the landscape to identify geological features. Clues on the formation of the volcanic cone could be crucial in the search of life during future missions to other planets.
The crew is taking part in the third session of ESA’s Pangaea geology course in Lanzarote, Spain. They stand at the top of Caldera Blanca, one of the highest peaks in the centre of the island, after a day of exploration, rock recognition and sampling.
The course takes place in collaboration with the Geopark of Lanzarote, a protected area that resembles Moon and Mars landscapes. In the past, the locals used the flat interior of the crater to grow food.
More about Pangaea
ESA astronaut Paolo Nespoli (left) with his Soyuz crewmates, NASA astronaut Randy Bresnik (centre) and Russian cosmonaut Sergei Ryazansky (right), pictured inside the Space Station's Kibo module on 12 November 2017. Paolo, Randy and Sergei launched to the Station on 28 July 2017 and are set to return to Earth in one month.
Paolo is currently working and living aboard the International Space Station as part of the Italian Space Agency's long-duration VITA mission.
Europe's next four Galileo satellites are fuelled at Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana. Galileos 19, 20, 21, and 22 are set for launch on 12 December using a customised Ariane 5.
Galileo is Europe’s own satellite navigation system, providing an array of positioning, navigation and timing services to Europe and the world.
Week in Images
13-17 November 2017