The Colour and Stereo Surface Imaging System, CaSSIS, onboard the joint ESA-Roscosmos ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter imaged the Ariadne Colles region at 34ºS on 2 September 2018.
The image shows an unusual terrain type – sometimes referred to as chaotic blocks – but what is particularly striking are the large number of dark streaks. One possible interpretation is that these features were produced during the recent dust storm: they could have resulted from dust devils stirring up the surface dust.
ESA’s space weather expert, Juha-Pekka Luntama, took to the stage at this year’s New Scientist Live to illustrate the hazards that come from our star and the agency’s plan to protect infrastructure on Earth and in space.
Space weather refers to the environmental conditions in space as influenced by solar activity. Besides emitting a continuous stream of electrically charged atomic particles, the Sun periodically sneezes out billions of tonnes of material threaded with magnetic fields in colossal-scale ‘coronal mass ejections’ — immense clouds of matter.
“People do not realise just how reliant humanity is on satellite technology, from mobile phone communication and GPS, to navigation systems, power grids and weather services. These tools that are so fundamental to our way of life are vulnerable to even medium-sized outbursts from our raging star.” explains Juha-Pekka.
ESA and European industry are currently preparing for the Lagrange mission, the first-ever satellite placed onto the gravitational plateau 150 million km behind Earth, known as L5. From there it has a constant view of the side of our star that we cannot see from Earth. This allows the spacecraft to supply vital data on the Sun’s behaviour before it affects us, feeding advanced warnings into Europe's Space Weather services network that will ultimately allow economically vital infrastructure to be protected.
In the event of extreme solar weather, these warnings will ensure astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS) have time to get to safety, and that power grid operators can take necessary measures to protect their networks and ensure continued power delivery. Vitally, these warnings will also provide satellite operators with the time to take defensive measures needed to protect space infrastructure.
Juha-Pekka adds, "The Lagrange mission is the first of its kind, and as technology develops, the warnings and alerts it will enable are becoming more necessary every day."
For more information on the Lagrange mission, click here.
Technicians work underneath the European Service Module for NASA’s Orion spacecraft, September 2018.
ESA’s European service module will provide power, water, air and electricity to NASA’s Orion exploration spacecraft that will eventually fly beyond the Moon with astronauts. The European Service Module is now complete for Orion’s first mission that will do a lunar fly-by without astronauts to demonstrate the spacecraft’s capabilities.
Much like closing the bonnet on a car, with the radiators in place technicians can no longer access the internals of the European service module, symbolically ending the assembly and integration of the module that will fly further into our Solar System than any other human-rated spacecraft has ever flown before.
The Nissan Navara ‘Dark Sky’ concept vehicle features a bespoke off-road trailer allowing a high-powered telescope to be safely transported to remote ‘dark-sky’ locations.
This image of ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst testing the space suit for his rescheduled spacewalks was shared on his social media channels on 18 September 2018.
Alexander said "Today getting our suits ready for the upcoming space walks"
This image shows the south-facing rim of a pit crater at 68°S in the Sisyphi Planum region of Mars. It is a colour composite made from images acquired on 2 September 2018 by the Colour and Stereo Surface Imaging System, CaSSIS, onboard the joint ESA-Roscosmos ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter, when the southern hemisphere of Mars was in late spring.
Most striking are the bright residual carbon dioxide ice deposits on south-facing slopes of the crater. In colder months carbon dioxide and some water vapour freezes on the surface. Then, as the Sun gets higher in the sky again, the ice sublimates away, revealing the underlying surface.
This particular crater is known to have active gullies – small, incised networks of narrow channels at the rim of the crater that are associated with debris flows. Ice-rich landslide-like flows of material down-slope can be seen in this image – perhaps related to the ‘defrosting’ of the ice as the seasons change.
Seasonal changes of ices and frost on Mars is one aspect of the ExoMars orbiter’s mission being discussed this week at the European Planetary Science Congress, a major European annual meeting on planetary science, this year hosted by the Technische Universität Berlin Germany.
The image measures 20 x 8 km and the resolution is 4.5 m/pixel. North is 45° on the upper left. The image was taken at 07:22 AM local solar time and assembled from the RED, PAN and BLU filters.
Participants of the Pangaea geology field training course take a break at the riverbed during week two of the 2018 course in the Italian Dolomites. Designed to train astronauts and future explorers on planetary formation and detecting signs of life, the course combines classroom lectures with field trips to sites of geological interest.
Led by European geologists, this year’s participants ESA astronaut Thomas Reiter, Roscosmos cosmonaut Sergei Kud-Sverchkov and ESA science expert lead Aidan Cowley studied geological processes, how to read rock formations and tools available to researchers before moving out into the field to put their knowledge into practice.
After exploring one of the best-preserved impact craters in Germany, the crew took on the Bletterbach canyon in the Italian Dolomites.
Over 10 billion tonnes of rock were transported by ancient rivers to this valley since the end of the glacial age some 18 000 years ago. The multi-coloured layers of rock that make up the eight kilometre long and 400-m deep canyon forge has much in common with the sedimentary processes found on Mars.
Geologists have unearthed crystallised white gypsum in the area, a rock-like mineral found after an abundance of water evaporates. This same mineral has been detected on Mars and points to flowing water under the surface.
Digging into the layers of the Bletterbach canyon reveals the footprints of prehistoric reptiles as well as plants and animals that lived millions of years ago. Following the thread of life on Earth in a region that shares many similar qualities to the martian surface is invaluable to unravelling the mystery of life on Mars.
Pangaea’s last stop will be the alien landscapes of Lanzarote, Spain, in November. This is one of the best areas on Earth to understand the geological interactions between volcanic activity and water – two key factors in the search for life.
The winner of ESA’s ‘Graffiti without Gravity’ street art competition has left a permanent mark on the Agency’s technical heart, with this mural on the wall next to ESA’s Compact Antenna Test Range.
Irish street artist Shane Sutton won the Graffiti without Gravity competition in May. Jointly organised by ESA and the Hague Street Art, 10 top street artists from across Europe competed together against the clock to create artworks across 2x2 m canvases.
Then, as a result, ESA’s antenna testing team invited Shane to decorate the entrance to their Compact Antenna Test Range (CATR), used to test satellite antennas in space-like conditions.
“This gave me more than six times bigger than the competition canvas to work with,” says Shane. “And the wall incorporates a corner, so I included related images on each side. It’s fun to paint such a large work – for me it’s all about giving things a go.”
It took Shane two and a half days to finish – and you can watch the entire process here in this time-lapse video.
The mural shows an astronaut in contact with ESA’s Rosetta mission like someone holding a puppet on string, representing the use of antennas – essential to link space missions with their home world. Its background shows the ‘anechoic’ foam spikes that line the walls of the CATR, serving to absorb radio signals and reproduce the boundless void of space.
“I’ve been interested in space as a subject anyway, well before Graffiti without Gravity,” explains Shane. “My first big artwork was inspired by a trip to Munich Airport, where I saw a sculpture of an astronaut hanging out of the roof.
“For what I call my ‘Spacer’ paintings I like to use the narrative of ‘that space in between’ – which I describe as the place after you leave but before you get there. It’s somewhere we all go at some point and I like to represent this through faceless astronaut paintings.
“Things have taken off as my work was retweeted by various people, including astronaut Chris Hadfield, and I’ve been commissioned for artworks by various companies.
“The idea for the artwork gets sketched out first, then I scale it up for the space using a grid, adding different colours to the various blocks as I go, with pure white coming last.”
“We commissioned Shane after seeing the competition,” comments ESA antenna engineer Luis Rolo. “Our idea was to make an artistic connection with the hi-tech activities we carry out.”
“We do a lot of exciting work here in the facility with a lot of different people, from ESA projects as well as outside customers,” adds ESA antenna engineer Eric van der Houwen. “This new artwork gives us a more stimulating environment that reflects that excitement, ripe for innovation and discovery.”
This image, taken on 27 January 2018 during orbit 17813 by the High Resolution Stereo Camera (HRSC) on ESA’s Mars Express, shows a portion of the Cerberus Fossae system in Elysium Planitia near the Martian equator.
The image was created using data from the nadir channel, the field of view which is aligned perpendicular to the surface of Mars, and the colour channels of the HRSC. The ground resolution is approximately 16 m/pixel and the images are centred at about 159°E/10°N.
The Copernicus Sentinel-2A satellite takes us over the largest island of the Azores: São Miguel. Resting at the intersection of the Eurasian, African and North American tectonic plates, the Azores form a string of volcanic islands in the North Atlantic Ocean, some 1500 km west of mainland Portugal. The nine major islands are divided into three groups, with São Miguel falling into the eastern group.
The archipelago is an autonomous region of Portugal and home to just under 250 000 people. We can see the capital of the region, Ponta Delgada, in the bottom left of the image. The main transport hub of the Azores, João Paulo II de Ponta Delgada International Airport, is clearly visible in the same part of the image. Tourism is an important industry for the islands, with visitors flocking to enjoy the unspoilt beaches and breathtaking landscapes, from the geysers of São Miguel to the natural waterfalls of Flores.
Known locally as the Green Island, São Miguel is the most populous of the islands and amidst the lush foliage, volcanic craters, and freshwater lakes, visitors are spoilt for choice when it comes to visual attractions.
The largest freshwater lake in the Azores, Lagoa das Sete Cidades, can be seen in the top left of the image. It lies in a large volcanic crater and consists of two lakes: Lagoa Azul and Lagoa Verde. On the right of the image we can see Furnas Lake, in the Furnas Valley, famous for its volcanic cones. The volcanic landscape of the island has even influenced local cooking methods. Cozido das Furnas, a stew-type dish, is prepared by lowering a pot filled with meat and vegetables into the hot springs dotted around the valley, and leaving it to cook for around five hours.
The Azores islands are rich in terms of flora and fauna, and are home to a large number of resident and migratory bird populations. Efforts are being made to restore and expand the laurel forests typical of the Macaronesian islands (an area covering the archipelagos of Madeira, Azores, Canary Islands and Cape Verde) as only around 2% of the native laurel forest remains on the islands.
ESA, in collaboration with the French Space Agency, CNES, is organising a symposium on 25 years of progress in radar altimetry, which will be held in Ponta Delgada from 24–29 September. With global sea-level rise a global concern, the symposium will focus on the advances made in our understanding of the open ocean, the cryosphere, and coastal and land processes. The annual meeting of the Ocean Surface Topography Science Team and the International DORIS Service Workshop will also be held in the same week.
This image, which was captured on 8 September 2016, is also featured on the Earth from Space video programme.
In the northern constellation of Coma Berenices (Berenice's Hair) lies the impressive Coma Cluster — a structure of over a thousand galaxies bound together by gravity. Many of these galaxies are elliptical types, as is the brighter of the two galaxies dominating this image: NGC 4860 (centre). However, the outskirts of the cluster also host younger spiral galaxies that proudly display their swirling arms. Again, this image shows a wonderful example of such a galaxy in the shape of the beautiful NGC 4858, which can be seen to the left of its bright neighbour and which stands out on account of its unusual, tangled, fiery appearance.
NGC 4858 is special. Rather than being a simple spiral, it is something called a “galaxy aggregate”, which is, just as the name suggests, a central galaxy surrounded by a handful of luminous knots of material that seem to stem from it, extending and tearing away and adding to or altering its overall structure. It is also experiencing an extremely high rate of star formation, possibly triggered by an earlier interaction with another galaxy. As we see it, NGC 4858 is forming stars so frantically that it will use up all of its gas long before it reaches the end of its life. The colour of its bright knots indicates that they are formed of hydrogen, which glows in various shades of bright red as it is energised by the many young, hot stars lurking within.
This scene was captured by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope’s Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3), a powerful camera designed to explore the evolution of stars and galaxies in the early Universe.
Week in images
17 - 21 September 2018