ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst works with the BASS experiment (Burning and Suppression of Solids) in the European-built Microgravity Glove Box.
Alexander is currently a member of the resident International Space Station Expedition 40 crew. He is spending five and a half months living and working on the ISS for his Blue Dot mission.
Find out more about the Blue Dot science activities here: http://www.esa.int/Our_Activities/Human_Spaceflight/Blue_dot/Space_Station_Science
Back in 1998, the Sun was behaving as expected. The approximately 11-year cycle of activity was proceeding smoothly, heading towards a peak in 2001.
The Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) captured this image on 9 November 1998 through its ultraviolet telescope, showing radiation from iron atoms bathed in a gas of around a million degrees Celsius.
This textbook image of solar activity shows two brighter bands circling the Sun at the same latitude in each hemisphere.
At visible wavelengths these bright loops and patches are associated with dark smudges known as sunspots. They are produced when loops of magnetism become buoyant and rise from inside the Sun into the atmosphere.
When the cycle begins, the active regions appear at high latitudes in sparse numbers, disappearing after a few weeks or so. As the cycle proceeds, new and often larger active regions appear more frequently at successively lower latitudes. Many can be larger than Earth, and they sometimes persist for months.
This activity takes place in both hemispheres simultaneously, and about five or six years into the cycle sunspots reach lower latitudes closer to the equator. This is known as solar maximum.
After this, the number of spots begins to decline until they virtually disappear and the cycle starts again at high latitudes. It is one of the enduring mysteries of the Sun why this cycle happens. Certainly, it is linked to the way the Sun generates magnetism deep inside its gaseous layers but the details remain elusive.
In recent years, the Sun has deviated from this textbook behaviour. The current cycle was about two years late in starting, the hemispheres are behaving differently and the peak of activity is relatively modest. The next cycle is expected to continue in this new vein. It may even be weaker than the current cycle.
An MRI scan using of a volunteer's brain for the BRAIN-DTI experiment using tractography to show neural networks.
Researchers suspect that astronauts’ brains adapt to living in weightlessness by using previously untapped links between neurons. As the astronauts learn to float around in their spacecraft, left–right and up–down become second nature as these connections are activated.
To confirm this theory, up to 16 astronauts will be put through advanced MRI scanners before and after their spaceflight to study any changes in their brain structure. A control group on ground will undergo the same scans for further comparison.
Wind-carved ridges and furrows in southeast Iran’s Dasht-e Lut salt desert are pictured in this satellite image.
The desert is often called the ‘hottest place on Earth’ as satellites measured record surface temperatures there for several years. The highest land surface temperature ever recorded was in the Lut Desert in 2005 at 70.7ºC, as measured by NASA’s Aqua satellite.
The region is generally considered an abiotic zone – meaning that even bacteria cannot survive here, let alone plants and animals. Some reports claim that research groups brought sterilised milk to the desert and left it uncovered in the shade, but the milk remained sterile.
The area pictured is surrounded by salt flats, visible on the left side of the image. The ridges dominating the image extend about 125 km.
This image was acquired by Korea’s Kompsat-2 satellite on 4 November 2011.
ESA supports Kompsat as a Third Party Mission, meaning it uses its ground infrastructure and expertise to acquire, process and distribute data to users.
‘Snapshot’ of the main magnetic field at Earth’s surface as of June 2014 based on Swarm data. The measurements are dominated by the magnetic contribution from Earth’s core (about 95%) while the contributions from other sources (the mantle, crust, oceans, ionosphere and magnetosphere) make up the rest. Red represents areas where the magnetic field is stronger, while blues show areas where it is weaker.
The Ring Nebula at optical wavelengths as seen by the Hubble Space Telescope, with Herschel data acquired with SPIRE and PACS over a wavelength range of 51–672 micrometres for the region identified. The spectra have been cropped and the scales stretched in order to show the OH+ emission, a molecular ion important for the formation of water. ESA’s Herschel space observatory is the first to detect this molecule in planetary nebulas – the product of dying Sun-like stars.
Full story: New molecules around old stars
Moonrise over the South Pacific, photographed from the International Space Station by ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst. Alexander is currently a member of the resident ISS Expedition 40 crew after arriving with the Soyuz TMA-13M spacecraft on 29 May 2014.
This is the galaxy known as NGC 5548. At its heart, though not visible here, is a supermassive black hole behaving in a strange and unexpected manner. Researchers detected a clumpy gas stream flowing quickly outwards and blocking 90 percent of the X-rays emitted by the black hole. This activity could provide insights into how supermassive black holes interact with their host galaxies.
Week In Images
16-20 June 2014