ESA astronaut Tim Peake with UK participants of the Mission-X challenge during Futures Day at the Farnborough International Air Show, 18 July 2014.
Mission-X invites schoolchildren aged 8–12 years to learn what it takes to be an astronaut. Teams of schoolschildren perform physical activities and learn about healthy nutrition using space as inspiration.
The electromagnetic spectrum is vast, ranging from high-energy gamma rays all the way to low-energy radio waves. Different telescopes and instruments are optimised to detect different regions of this spectrum — for example, ESA’s XMM-Newton and Integral space observatories study the high-energy Universe, scouring the skies for X-rays and gamma rays.
One cosmic source of such high-energy radiation is the phenomenon shown in this ESA artist’s impression as an ethereal blue glow: a gamma-ray burst.
These bursts are extraordinarily high-energy events, created when a star in a distant galaxy explodes at the end of its life. This produces an intense stream of gamma rays that can last from a few seconds to a few hours. This violent burst then fades away, leaving a fainter afterglow that can be seen at X-ray, optical and radio wavelengths.
ESA’s Integral observatory is capable of observing these intense initial bursts. However, the gamma-ray explosion itself is often very short-lived, making it extremely difficult to pinpoint and observe a burst as it happens. Luckily, Integral and XMM-Newton can also search for and observe the dimmer X-ray afterglow that follows, using it to trace both the composition and the location of a gamma-ray burst.
Gamma-ray bursts emit such an enormous amount of energy that, when at their peak, they are the brightest and most powerful phenomena in the Universe. The source of such an extraordinary amount of energy is still uncertain, but there are several theories: jets escaping from the turbulent environment around a forming black hole, the merging of two compact objects such as neutron stars, or a beam of energy from a hypernova – a very energetic type of supernova explosion following the death of an extremely massive star.
An average gamma-ray burst might last on the order of milliseconds to minutes, but astronomers recently discovered another class of ultra-long burst. These continue to spew out gamma-rays for several hours before settling down to an afterglow. Only a handful of these events have been identified, but they are likely caused by the demise of a specific type of star known as a blue supergiant.
Although relatively rare in the nearby Universe, these very massive stars are thought to have been commonplace in the early Universe, with most of the very first population of stars having evolved into them over the course of their lives. Understanding more about their extreme nature may give clues about the primordial Universe. Read more here.
A team at ESA’s Space Operations Centre, ESOC, in Darmstadt, are seen here maintaining the link between a simulated astronaut on the International Space Station and the agency’s Eurobot rover. The rover is one of the largest of its kind – the size of a small car. The signal from the ‘astronaut’ actually comes from two separate places: ESOC and the B.USOC Belgian Space Station user operations centre.
For the real thing, an astronaut will control the rover from the Space Station. ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst already has the laptop with the commands in space ready for experiments in August.
The robot itself is in Noordwijk, the Netherlands, at ESA’s Technical Centre, ESTEC, while ground control is in ESOC. The simulation involved collaboration between three ESA sites – ESOC, ESTEC and the Columbus Control Centre in Oberpfaffenhofen, Germany – NASA and B.USOC.
The ESOC team watch the robot on a screen on the far wall, and track its movements and actions via a computer network.
The team are pictured using an operating system designed by ESA to monitor rovers of this type. They send and receive signals using a special network – also a new design – which operates securely even when a signal is lost.
Normally, when a network is interrupted the information would have to be sent again, costing time. Instead, the Disruption Tolerant Network efficiently stores information during a disruption until the signal returns to continue sending information packets at the earliest possible moment.
An ESA team is working on this very useful technology. The Meteron project is conducting a series of experiments to test new communications, robotics and operations technologies. The goal of Meteron is to validate the concepts and technologies essential to human exploration of celestial bodies.
One launch for two satellites, flying together in space – the 2017 Proba-3 precision formation flying mission highlighted at the ESA stand at this week’s Farnborough International Air and Space Show.
Proba-3 will demonstrate millimetre-scale formation flying in the context of a large-scale science experiment.
The paired satellites will form a 150-m long solar coronagraph to study the Sun’s faint corona closer to the solar rim than has ever before been achieved.
Beside its scientific interest, the experiment will be a perfect instrument to measure the achievement of the precise positioning of the two spacecraft.
This week’s satellite image was acquired over the eastern part of Mexico City.
The area pictured lies within central Mexico’s highlands plateau called the Valley of Mexico. This valley was originally covered by the waters of Lake Texcoco but over the centuries the water has been drained. The area that has not been built up is today used for hydraulic management and is made up of reservoirs and ponds such as the large, dark Nabor Carrillo lake pictured here.
The area receives more than 100 000 migratory birds each year that travel through the Central Migratory Flyway, and is a key resting, feeding and breeding ground for several species of shorebirds.
In contrast to the open space of the former Lake Texcoco, Mexico City is a densely populated metropolitan area (left and bottom).
We can see the runways of the international airport on the far left. South of the airport is the Alameda Oriente recreational park with its somewhat spiral artificial lake. North of the airport, El bosque de San Juan de Aragón is another park and important green area.
City parks play a large role in the city’s effort to alleviate air pollution. In the early 1990s, pollution was believed to cause hundreds of deaths each year. Air quality has improved in recent decades through a series of government efforts to cut emissions.
This image, acquired by Korea’s Kompsat-2 satellite on 21 December 2012, is also featured on the Earth from Space video programme.
Engineers are forging ahead with the final tests on ESA’s Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle, IXV, to check that it can withstand the demanding conditions from liftoff to separation from its Vega launcher in November 2014.
Orbital Science's Cygnus Orbital-2 spacecraft approaching the International Space Station. ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst was in control of the vehicle and communications while colleague NASA astronaut Steve Swanson operated the Station's robotic arm on the left.
The spacecraft was berthed on 16 July 2014.
ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst is sharing his incredible views from 400 km above on the International Space Station.
Alexander will run over 100 experiments for all space agencies during his six-month Blue Dot mission.
ATV-5 on its Ariane 5 launcher in the BAF (Final Assembly Building), on 11 July 2014.
ESA’s fifth and last Automated Transfer Vehicle, Georges Lemaître, will deliver more than 2600 kg of dry cargo to the International Space Station; its launch is set for summer 2014 on an Ariane 5 from Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana.
Jean-Jacques Dordain, ESA Director General, and Rt Hon Greg Clark, Minister of State for Cabinet Office and Minister for Universities and Science, United Kingdom, at the Farnborough air and space show, on 15 July 2014.
This year, when the European Space Agency and its member states are celebrating 50 years of European cooperation in space, ESA’s exhibition underlines the importance of building on past achievements in space science, exploration and applications to shape the future of Europe in this strategic sector.
The exhibition reflects the wealth of recent mission results and upcoming launches across all space domains.
What happened to half of Saturn? Nothing other than Earth's Moon getting in the way. As pictured above on the far right, Saturn is partly eclipsed by a dark edge of a Moon itself only partly illuminated by the Sun. This year the orbits of the Moon and Saturn have led to an unusually high number of alignments of the ringed giant behind Earth's largest satellite. Technically termed an occultation, the above image captured one such photogenic juxtaposition from Buenos Aires, Argentina that occurred early last week. Visible to the unaided eye but best viewed with binoculars, there are still four more eclipses of Saturn by our Moon left in 2014. The next one will be on August 4 and visible from Australia, while the one after will occur on August 31 and be visible from western Africa at night but simultaneously from much of eastern North America during the day.
Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, imaged on 14 July 2014 by OSIRIS, Rosetta’s scientific imaging system, from a distance of approximately 12 000 km. The image suggests that the comet may consist of two parts: one segment seems to be rather elongated, while the other appears more bulbous.
Read more via the blog: The dual personality of comet 67P/C-G
Credits: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA
Week In Images
14-18 July 2014