Sometimes, nature is the best art director!
When Uwe Reichert grabbed his camera and tripod on the evening of 16 June 2018, he intended simply to image the conjunction of the then-three-day old Moon and the bright Venus.
In his backyard, near Heidelberg, Germany, trees and bushes blocked the view towards the western horizon, so he strolled through the neighbourhood searching for a better viewpoint. After taking a few pictures from various positions, he finally ended up on the outskirts of the town where he could see both celestial objects shining above some scattered clouds in the far distance.
He set the focal length of his 100-400mm telephoto lens to 180mm, chose a small aperture of f/10 so that bright Venus might produce some pictorial rays and switched the sensitivity to ISO 4000 to keep the exposure time short enough to avoid blurring due to Earth’s rotation. By cosmic chance, in the same instant that he pressed the button of the camera's remote control, Reichert saw something bright falling from the sky.
First, a white light flashed up above Venus, moved downward with high speed, changing colour into an intense greenish glare, and what once appeared as one object disintegrated to a spray of smaller sparkles keeping the original trajectory until dying out just over the horizon.
As a long-time observer, both amateur and professional, he had seen many different celestial phenomena, including countless meteors and some bright fireballs, but this one appeared odd: The sparkles looked more like an exploding firework than a dying shooting star. But both the speed of the object and the very narrow angle under which the sparkles fanned out were arguments against artificial fireworks or other pyrotechnics.
Within a few seconds, Reichert went through different emotional states ranging from astonishment and puzzlement to euphoria: Had he really seen a cosmic body burning up in Earth’s atmosphere? When he checked the display of his camera, he was even more surprised: The object had crossed the camera’s field of view leaving a bright streak on the image. The streak appeared to have pierced the clouds as an object would have done when falling from high altitude down to Earth. Clearly, this object had really been falling down, but taking perspective into account the whole trajectory must have been above the clouds. Therefore, the flight path must have been much farther away than it appeared.
As it turned out a few hours later, with the help of Reichert’s picture, the fireball’s ground track was identified to have been over Belgium, some 230 kilometres away from the photographer’s position. Hundreds of people had seen the fireball, and the many sightings were also reported from Belgium and Holland, where Reichert’s picture made it to several news websites the next day.
Uwe Reichert is editor-in-chief at Sterne und Weltraum
On 30 June 2018, join ESA and the European Southern Observatory (ESO) for the live Asteroid Day webcast, packed with expert interviews, news and updates and some of the most recent asteroid science results starting at 13:00 CEST.
It is easy to be distracted by the impressive feature towards the right, which may represent a broken-off part of the comet’s layered structure, but this image also contains a tiny clue to Philae’s presence. Very close to the left hand edge of this image in the top half, is a thin vertical line with a broad top – one of Philae’s three legs. Can you spot it? (Click here to find Philae.)
The scale of the image is 4.6 cm/pixel, with Philae’s foot estimated to be about 2.5 km away when Rosetta’s OSIRIS narrow-angle camera took the image on 30 August 2016. The contrast of the image has been stretched to reveal Philae’s foot against the shadowed background.
A view of the Juice thermal development model inside the Large Space Simulator at ESA's technical heart in the Netherlands.
Juice, or the Jupiter Icy Moon Explorer, is ESA's future mission to explore the Solar System's largest planet and its ocean-bearing moons. Planned for launch in June 2022, it will embark on a seven year cruise that will make use of several flybys – of Earth, Venus, Earth, Mars, and again Earth – before leaving the inner Solar System for Jupiter.
In order to ensure that the spacecraft will survive the extreme temperature variations it will experience along the journey, a thermal verification test was completed in May 2018.
The spacecraft model, wrapped in multi-layer insulation, is visible in the foreground, while the high-energy lamps and mirrors of the Sun simulator can be seen in the upper part of the frame. The Sun simulator was used to heat the Sun-facing side of the spacecraft model to around 200ºC. Meanwhile the internal temperature of the vacuum chamber was lowered to -180ºC by thermal shrouds filled with liquid nitrogen to reproduce the cold conditions of the sides that will face away from the Sun.
This hot phase was followed by the cold phase, which simulated the low-temperature environment at Jupiter by maintaining the frigid conditions inside the chamber and switching off the Sun simulation lamps.
More about the testing campaign: Juice comes in from extreme temperature test
Have you ever considered yourself capable of manipulating gravity? When you grip an object, you are doing just that.
Gravity is constantly exerting its force on objects, most notably by keeping everything weighed down. But when you lift a cup to your mouth, you are playing against gravity.
Despite gravity being a force of nature, living with it does not come naturally to humans; we learn how to work with gravity in infancy when we pick up objects and learn to adjust our grip to its weight and gravitational force.
How our brains learn this process is at the core of the Grip experiment, being performed in this image by ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst on the International Space Station on his current Horizons mission.
In the weightless environment of the Station astronauts are like infants learning to adjust to the world in which they find themselves.
In microgravity, objects have no weight, which is an important indicator to our brain of how much grip force to apply to an object when moving it up or down. Furthermore, the inner ear no longer tells us which way is up. Naturally, our brains are a little thrown off and our coordination is disturbed. Researchers from the Institute of Neuroscience in Brussels are studying how long it takes our brains to adjust to this dynamic.
How does the experiment work? Alexander performs a series of movements while gripping a purpose-built sensor that measures grip-forces, moisture and acceleration, and more to assess how the body adapts to situations in which there is no up or down.
Alexander will carry out three sessions of the experiment during his mission. As with most experiments flown on the Space Station, the data will be compared to preflight and postflight sessions.
The Grip experiment has flown on 20 parabolic flight campaigns. Results indicate that short-term exposure to microgravity induces subtle changes in how the forces used in gripping an object are coordinated. Our brains anticipate the effects of gravity even when it is not there. On the Space Station, researchers can now observe the long-term effects. The experiment was first commissioned by ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet during his mission in 2016.
These experiments are designed to help us better understand human physiology and disease diagnosis on Earth. They are also helpful to engineers designing prosthetic limbs on Earth and will be used to help design robot-human interfaces so astronauts can command robots on other planets, allowing us to further explore our Solar System.
Learn more about Grip in this video produced by Principle Investigator Jean-Louis Thonnard and his team.
ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst took this photo of an Aurora Australis from the International Space Station on 18 June 2018. He posted the image on social media with the comment: "Saw my first Aurora Australis on this mission today, my silent magical old friend. 6 nose prints on the window, despite being busy with science. Quite fittingly, the ship in the foreground is the one that carried Serena, Sergey & me into space almost 2 weeks ago."
Alexander Gerst is currently on his second mission to the International Space Station for Expeditions 56 and 57. The mission is part of ESA’s vision to use Earth-orbiting spacecraft as a place to live and work for the benefit of European society while using the experience to prepare for future voyages of exploration further into the Solar System.
Connect with Alexander Gerst: http://alexandergerst.esa.int/
ESA’s next CubeSat mission seen enduring the scorching heat of simulated atmospheric reentry inside the world’s largest plasma wind tunnel.
Equipped with a cork-based heatshield, titanium side walls and silicon carbide deployable panels, the QARMAN (QubeSat for Aerothermodynamic Research and Measurements on Ablation) CubeSat survived six and a half minutes of testing inside Italy’s Scirocco Plasma Wind Tunnel.
An arc jet using up to 70 megawatts of power – enough to light up a town of 80 000 people – converted air into hot plasma at temperatures of several thousand degrees Celsius, which sped towards QARMAN at seven times the speed of sound. See video of the test here.
“This test marked the world premiere in arc jet testing of a complete, full-scale spacecraft,” explains test engineering group leader Eduardo Trifoni. “It also represents a tremendous step forward in our ground testing, since up to now only single components were tested at a time.”
CubeSats are low-cost nanosatellites based around standard 10 cm units and typically end their spaceflights burning up in the atmosphere as their orbits gradually decay. But the three-unit QARMAN is designed with this fiery fate in mind.
Designed and manufactured for ESA by Belgium’s Von Karman Institute, QARMAN will use temperature and pressure sensors together with an emission spectrometer to gather precious data on the extreme conditions of reentry as its leading edges are enveloped in scorching plasma.
“The precious outcome of this test gives us confidence that the QARMAN design will indeed make it through the reentry phase,” said project leader Davide Masutti of the Von Karman Institute. “The results of the real flight are now the missing element to consolidate our design strategy based on ground-testing, numerical models and flight data.”
QARMAN is due to be deployed from the International Space Station next year. It will orbit Earth for around four months before reentering the atmosphere. It will survive reentry but not its fall to Earth. Instead its data will be transmitted to Iridium telecom satellites.
Fully loaded with solid fuel, the P120C rocket motor common to Europe’s future launchers Vega-C and Ariane 6 was moved from the integration building and transferred to the test stand at the beginning of June 2018, to prepare for its first hot firing at Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana.
The P120C is 13.5 m long and 3.4 m in diameter, contains 142 tonnes of solid propellant and is the largest-ever solid rocket motor built in one piece.
The Copernicus Sentinel-2A satellite takes us over Lake Huron, the second largest of the five Great Lakes of North America. Bound on the north and east by the Canadian province of Ontario and on the south and west by the state of Michigan in the U.S., Lake Huron was the first of the Great Lakes to be seen by Europeans in 1615.
This image highlights the dominance of agricultural production in the region where conditions are ideal for cultivating corn, soybeans and hay. The coloured blocks in the image show a grid-like structure for growing crops, typical of American agricultural practice.
This image also shows signs of sediments and algae bloom along the coast, one of the consequences of intensive agricultural activity in a region that responds to the ongoing demand for produce.
Lake Huron is around 330 km long from northwest to southeast. Covering an area of over 244 000 sq km and containing around 22 600 cubic km of water, together the Great Lakes form the largest connected area of fresh, surface water on Earth. The only places that hold more fresh water are the polar ice caps.
Many islands lie in the northeastern part of the lake, with Heisterman Island, North Island and Middle Grounds Island, home to Wild Fowl Bay State Park, shown on the bottom left of the image.
This image, which was captured on 1 December 2017, is also featured on the Earth from Space video programme.
EDRS-C is shown being prepared for shipment from OHB System AG in Bremen, Germany, to IABG in Munich, Germany.
EDRS-C is the second node of the European Data Relay System and first dedicated satellite to complement the infrastructure. It is the second satellite to be based on ESA and OHB’s SmallGEO platform.
The European Data Relay System is designed to transmit data between low Earth orbiting satellites and the EDRS payloads in geostationary orbit using innovative laser communication technology. By relaying their findings to Europe via EDRS, Earth-observing satellites can transmit their information to the ground in near-realtime as they gather it, instead of having to store it onboard until they travel over one of their own ground stations.
The sunshield that will protect the JAXA Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter en route to Mercury is seen here in the foreground, while the ESA Mercury Transfer Module that will carry the two orbiters to Mercury is in the background.
The Vega launch pad and mobile gantry are being modified to accommodate Vega-C requiring a more powerful crane, new pallets, and modified fluid services.
The crane that will hoist Vega-C’s 40-tonne second stage was installed in the mobile gantry, and is undergoing mechanical and lift qualification tests.
A NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope viewofgalaxy 6dFGS gJ215022.2-055059– the large white-yellow blob at the centre of the image – and neighbouring galaxies, combined with X-ray observations of a black hole at the galaxy’s outskirts – the small white-purple dot to its lower left – obtained with NASA’s Chandra X-ray observatory.
This is the best-ever candidate for a very rare and elusive type of cosmic phenomenon: a so-called intermediate-mass black hole in the process of tearing apart and feasting on a nearby star.
The discovery was based on data from ESA’s XMM-Newton X-ray space observatory, NASA’s Chandra and Swift X-ray telescopes, and a number of other telescopes on ground and in space, including Hubble.
This rare breed of black hole was spotted as it disrupted and tore apart a nearby star, gorging on the resulting debris and throwing off an enormous amount of light in the process. It has a mass of around fifty thousand times that of the Sun, and is located within a massive cluster of stars on the outskirts of a galaxy some 740 million light-years away.
This view comprises data from Hubble’s Advanced Camera for Surveys.
Explore this object in ESASky.
In astronomy, the devil is in the details — as this image, taken by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope’s Advanced Camera for Surveys and Wide-Field Camera 3, demonstrates.
The numerous fuzzy blobs and glowing shapes scattered across this image make up a galaxy cluster named RXC J0949.8+1707. Located to the upper right of the frame sits an especially beautiful and interesting barred spiral galaxy, seen face-on. In the past decade, astronomers peering at this galaxy have possibly discovered not one but three examples of a cosmic phenomenon known as a supernova, the magnificently bright explosion of a star nearing the end of its life.
The newest supernova candidate is nicknamed SN Antikythera, and can be seen to the lower right of the host galaxy. This shone brightly in visible and infrared light over a number of years before fading slightly. The two other supernovae, nicknamed SN Eleanor and SN Alexander, were present in data collected in 2011 but are not visible in this image, which was taken a few years later — their temporary nature unambiguously confirmed their status as supernovae. If future observations of RXC J0949.8+1707 show SN Antikythera to have disappeared then we can most likely label it a supernova, as with its two older (and now absent from the images) siblings.
This image was taken as part of an observing programme called RELICS (Reionization Lensing Cluster Survey). RELICS imaged 41 massive galaxy clusters with the aim of finding the brightest distant galaxies for the forthcoming NASA/ESA/CSA James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) to study.
Week In Images
18 - 22 June 2018