The high resolution stereo camera on board ESA’s Mars Express captured this impressive upwelling front of dust clouds – visible in the right half of the frame – near the north polar ice cap of Mars in April this year.
It was one of several local small-scale dust storms that have been observed in recent months at the Red Planet, which is currently enduring a particularly intense dust storm season. A much larger storm emerged further southwest at the end of May and developed into a global, planet-encircling dust storm within several weeks.
The intensity of this major event means very little light from the Sun reaches the martian surface, a situation extreme enough that NASA’s 15-year old Opportunity rover has been unable to recharge its batteries and call home: it has been in hibernation mode since mid-June.
Dust storms on Mars occur regularly during the southern summer season when the planet is closer to the Sun along its elliptical orbit. The enhanced solar illumination causes stronger temperature contrasts, with the resulting air movements more readily lifting dust particles from the surface – some of which measure up to about 0.01 mm in size.
Martian dust storms are very impressive, both visually like in this image and in terms of the intensity and duration of the rarer global events, but they are generally weaker compared to hurricanes on Earth. Mars has a much lower atmospheric pressure – less than one hundredth of Earth’s atmospheric pressure at the surface – and martian storms have less than half the typical wind speeds of hurricanes on Earth.
The current storm is being monitored by five ESA and NASA orbiters, while NASA’s Curiosity rover has been observing it from the ground thanks to its nuclear-powered battery. Understanding more about how global storms form and evolve will be critical for future solar-powered missions to Mars.
This colour image was created using data from the nadir channel, the field of view of which is aligned perpendicular to the surface of Mars, and the colour channels of the high-resolution stereo camera. The ground resolution is approximately 16 m/pixel and the images are centred at about 78°N/106°E.
Mars Express is also equipped with the Visual Monitoring Camera that captures daily images of the Red Planet.
The Copernicus Sentinel-2 satellite takes us over the city of Valencia and its stunning blue coast. Situated on the east coast of the Iberian Peninsula, Valencia is the third largest city in Spain after Madrid and Barcelona.
Click on the box in the lower-right corner to view this image at its full 10 m resolution directly in your browser.
The city is visible in the centre of the image, flanked by the Mediterranean Sea on one side and overlooked by the mountains of Sierra Calderona to the north. As a significant cultural centre for the country, it is home to the futuristic City of Arts and Sciences complex, which also hosts Oceanografic – the biggest aquarium in Europe.
Just 10 km south of the city, this true-colour image shows us the Albufera freshwater lagoon in green. Separated by a narrow strip of coastline featuring sand dunes and Mediterranean pine forest, three canals connect the lagoon and surrounding wetlands with the sea.
The area is home to huge numbers of both migratory and resident birds, including rare species such as Eurasian Bittern. The area is also thought to be the home of the world-famous Paella dish, with the traditional rice used for the dish grown in the surrounding fields since the 19th century.
On the right of the image, amidst the waves and popcorn clouds, we can see a boat, possibly travelling to the port of Valencia from one of the nearby Balearic Islands – a popular route for tourists and residents of the city alike.
The region of Valencia is famous for the diversity of its landscapes, covering mountains, beaches, wetlands and semi-arid desert environments within a total area of less than 25 0000 sq km. This diversity is clearly highlighted in the Sentinel-2 image.
Sentinel-2 data can be used to monitor agriculture, biodiversity, and coastal and inland waters for Europe’s Copernicus environmental monitoring programme.
This satellite image will be shown at IGARRS – the International Geoscience and Remote Sensing Symposium, held in Valencia from 22–27 July. The theme for this year’s symposium highlights the pressing demands for ‘observing, understanding and forecasting the dynamics of our planet’.
This image, which was captured on 9 August 2017, is also featured on the Earth from Space programme.
This frame shows a map of the North Galactic Pole as imaged by the Photodetector Array Camera and Spectrometer (PACS) on ESA’s Herschel Space Observatory. As on Earth, astronomers define locations on a cosmic scale using a coordinate system. For the Milky Way galaxy, this coordinate system is spherical with the Sun at its centre, and provides values for longitude and latitude on the sky with respect to our Galaxy.
The North Galactic Pole lies far from the cluttered disc of the Milky Way, and offers a clean, clear view of the distant Universe beyond our home galaxy. In the sky, it is located somewhere in the northern constellation of Coma Berenices (Berenice’s Hair), a region that also contains an especially rich galaxy cluster known as the Coma Cluster. Serendipitously, the Coma Cluster is included in this map, adding over 1000 points of light to the tally of individual galaxies.
Herschel was active from 2009 to 2013, and used its instruments to study the sky in the far infrared. PACS was particularly well-suited to mapping large areas of sky, and observed the North Galactic Pole in two different filters simultaneously – such observations can be used to produce multicoloured images.
The image shown is a single-filter map obtained at a wavelength of 160 μm as part of the Herschel Astrophysical Terahertz Large Area Survey (H-ATLAS), and covers some 180.1 square degrees of sky. This used both PACS and another Herschel instrument, the Spectral and Photometric Imaging Receiver (SPIRE), to survey some 660 square degrees of sky in five wavelength bands and produce the largest far infrared surveys ever made of the sky lying outside our galaxy.
The North Galactic Pole imaged by SPIRE
With Europe in the grip of a heatwave and little rain, the scorched ground and dry vegetation is succumbing to fire. Fires have now broken out as far as the Arctic Circle, in Sweden. This wide view, which stretches from the west coast of Norway to central Sweden, was captured by Sentinel-3 on 17 July 2018. Here, smoke can be seen billowing from several fires. The fires have led to the authorities evacuating some villages and appealing for help from other countries, and concerns that the current record temperatures and drought are linked to climate change. There are said to be around 50 fires now burning in the country. Through July there have been three times as many fires as there were last year.
Their protective fairing made ready to be lowered over Galileo satellites 23–26 atop their Ariane 5 inside the BAF Final Assembly Building on Thursday 12 July, ahead of the launch of Arianespace Flight VA244 on Wednesday 25 July.
This satellite image, captured by Sentinel-2A on 9 July 2018, shows a huge iceberg perilously close to the village of Innaarsuit on the west coast of Greenland. If the berg breaks apart, waves resulting from the falling ice could wash away parts of the village.
The 169 residents of Innaarsuit are relatively used to seeing large icebergs floating by, but weighing around 10 million tonnes, this is reported to be the largest in memory. With chunks of ice calving from the iceberg, a number of residents were evacuated amid fears of a bigger break up. The local power plant is also on the coast so waves could also potentially shut down the village’s power supply. However, there are recent reports that strong winds from the south have started to push the berg to the north. The image also shows several other large icebergs in the vicinity.
The Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission is a two-satellite constellation. Each of the two satellites carries an innovative wide swath high-resolution multispectral imager with 13 spectral bands .The combination of high resolution, novel spectral capabilities, a swath width of 290 km and frequent revisit times provides unprecedented views of Earth and the ability to monitor rapidly changing events such as this.
When preparing a satellite for launch, the engineers use big red tags to mark components that must be removed before the satellite is encapsulated in the rocket fairing and launched. The idea is to remove these components as late as possible in the launch campaign, and the red tags serve as an important reminder do so. These items are usually covers that protect things like optics, connectors and so on. Very careful attention is paid to removing these items because if one is forgotten, the satellite will not work properly and there’s a good chance that the mission will be lost. The Aeolus launch campaign team in Kourou, French Guiana, has been making sure that the satellite's red tags are removed.
This image was taken by ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst from the International Space Station on 30 June 2018 when the Moon and Mars were at its closest so far during his six-month Horizons mission.
For illustration purposes, Mars has been highlighted and enlarged twenty times: the ‘Red Planet’ has a radius of 3389 km but at the time was roughly 67 million km from Earth while the Moon has a radius of 1737 km and was at a distance of around 411 000 km.
The distance from Mars to Earth varies as both planets orbit the Sun and it is at its closest in these weeks, appearing brighter than Jupiter in the night sky. The night of 27 July offers another periodic spectacle during the lunar eclipse when Earth casts its shadow over the Moon causing our satellite to appear red.
With careful planning and some luck it should be possible to see the Red Planet and the reddish moon with the International Space Station always flying past from West to East. In mainland Europe the Moon will rise eclipsed and the total eclipse will continue past 23:00 CEST.
The International Space Station, Moon and Mars are the destinations for ESA’s human and robotic exploration strategy, using low-Earth orbit for research and demonstrating technology, developing the Orion service module and elements for a gateway around the Moon and sending robotic probes to Mars, such as the ExoMars rover that will drill down 2 metres into the surface in search for life.
We would love to see any pictures taken showing the Moon, Mars and the International Space Station in one shot – even better if you manage to get all three during the lunar eclipse. Send your images to ESA’s social media channels, as a Facebook message to ESA, with hashtag #youresa on Instagram, or as a reply to the pinned tweet on @esaspaceflight. Provide as much background to how you took the picture as you can. The best three entries will be eligible to win exclusive prizes.
Alexander took this picture with a 210 mm lens when not working on the dozens of European experiments run on the International Space Station. Flying at 28 800 km/h it only takes 90 minutes to circle Earth, meaning the astronauts on board fly through the night every 45 minutes: coupled with always-clear skies, there are more opportunities for an astronaut to take the perfect picture.
Suzie Imber, Associate Professor of Planetary Science at the University of Leicester, shows the participants from the audience and ESA astronaut Tim Peake, a powder experiment to explain how the X-ray spectrometer is able to detect X-rays coming from Mercury’s surface.
The Rt Hon Theresa May, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, visits the joint UK Space Agency, UK industry, ESA exhibition area, accompanied by ESA Director General Jan Wörner, ESA astronaut Tim Peake and Chief Executive of the UK Space Agency Dr Graham Turnock, 16 July 2018.
The anisotropies of the cosmic microwave background, or CMB, as observed by ESA’s Planck mission.
The CMB is a snapshot of the oldest light in our cosmos, imprinted on the sky when the Universe was just 380 000 years old. It shows tiny temperature fluctuations that correspond to regions of slightly different densities, representing the seeds of all future structure: the stars and galaxies of today.
This image is based on data from the Planck Legacy release, the mission’s final data release, published in July 2018.
A cloud-specked view of the US territory of Guam in the western Pacific Ocean, as seen by ESA’s Proba-1 microsatellite, which is still observing Earth despite being launched 16 years ago.
Antonio B. Won Pat International Airport is visible just right of centre. To the north is the town of Tamuning and the bluish, coral-rich shores of Tumon Bay, with the capital Hagåtña to the west.
The cubic-metre Proba-1 was the first in ESA’s series of satellites aimed at flight-testing new space technologies. It was launched on 22 October 2001 but is still going strong as the Agency’s longest-serving Earth-observing mission.
Proba-1’s main hyperspectral CHRIS imager acquires 13 square km scenes at 17 m spatial resolution across 18 programmable visible and near-infrared wavelengths. Proba-1 additionally carries a 5 m-resolution black and white camera. The microsatellite’s agile nature means it can image the same scene from a variety of viewing angles.
Onboard innovations include what were then novel gallium-arsenide solar cells, the use of startrackers for gyroless attitude control, one of the first lithium-ion batteries – now the longest such item operating in orbit – and one of ESA’s first ERC32 microprocessors to run Proba-1’s agile computer.
For more background on Proba-1, read this celebration in the ESA Bulletin.
This image was acquired on 22 March 2018.
In this unique image, one spacecraft orbiting Mars records the presence of another. The narrow blur against a black backdrop is, in fact, ESA’s Mars Express spacecraft, taken by the Mars Orbiter Camera on NASA’s Mars Global Surveyor. It is the first-ever successful image of any spacecraft orbiting Mars taken by another spacecraft in a Martian orbit.
Mars Express, still in operation, represents ESA’s first visit to another planet in the Solar System. Launched in 2003 it marked the beginning of a new era for Europe’s planetary exploration, contributing over the past 15 years to the newly emerging picture of Mars as a once-habitable planet, with warmer and wetter epochs that may have once acted as oases for ancient Martian life. These findings have paved the way for missions dedicated to hunting for signs of life on the planet, such as ESA and Roscosmos’s two-mission ExoMars programme.
The Mars Global Surveyor was developed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and launched in 1996. It mapped the entire Martian planet from the ionosphere down through the atmosphere to its red, rocky surface.
On one special occasion, on 20 April 2005, from a distance of 250-370 km, the Mars Global Surveyor captured this remarkable shot of Mars Express, but unfortunately, ESA’s satellite could not return the favour during the few years in which the two spacecraft operated simultaneously at the Red Planet.
On 2 November 2006, the NASA spacecraft failed to respond to messages and commands. Three days later a faint signal was detected, indicating the spacecraft had gone into safe mode and was awaiting further instruction. Attempts to re-contact the Mars Global Surveyor and resolve the problem failed, and the mission ended officially in January 2007.
Following this loss of contact, ESA’s Mars Express team was requested by NASA to perform actions in the hope of visually identifying the American spacecraft. Two attempts were made to find it, but both proved unsuccessful.
The hot firing of the development model of the P120C solid fuel rocket motor at Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana on 16 July 2018, proves the design for use on Vega-C next year and on Ariane 6 from 2020.
The P120C is 13.5 m long and 3.4 m in diameter, and uses solid fuel in a case made of carbon composite material built in a single segment.
It will replace the current P80 as the first stage motor of Vega-C. Two or four P120Cs will be strapped onto Ariane 6 as boosters for liftoff.
This test was a collaboration between ESA, France’s CNES space agency, and Europropulsion under contract to Avio and ArianeGroup.
At first glance, it may seem as though this image was taken through a faulty lens, but the mind-bending distortions visible in this Hubble Wide Field Camera 3 impressive image are actually caused by a cosmic phenomenon.
The bright object at the centre of the frame is the galaxy cluster SDSS J1336-0331. The enormous gravitational influence of the cluster warps the very shape and fabric of its environment (the spacetime around it) creating an effect known as strong gravitational lensing. Through this the light from background galaxies in the line of sight to the observer are bent into fantastic arcs. This effect is very useful for studying distant background galaxies.
Moreover SDSS J1336-0331 is interesting in itself: the cluster was part of a study of star formation within 42 of the Brightest Cluster Galaxies (BCGs — the brightest galaxies within their host clusters, as the name would suggest). Typically located in the centres of their clusters, BCGs are among the most massive and luminous galaxies in the Universe. They are generally huge elliptical galaxies and are likely to host active galactic nuclei (AGN) in their cores. The study found evidence to suggest that BCGs are fueled by cold gas from the galaxy. It also showed that star formation in older BCGs no longer significantly contributes to the galaxy’s growth; instead, the stellar growth occurs through mergers, the collision of two galaxies. Violent, gas-rich major mergers can trigger intense bursts of star formation in their aftermath.
Week In Images
16 - 20 July 2018