At the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, Expedition 56 astronauts NASA astronaut Serena Auñón-Chancellor, Roscosmos commander Sergei Prokopyev and ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst pose in their Sokol suits in front of the Soyuz MS-09 spacecraft that will launch them into space. They will be launched 6 June for a six-month mission on the International Space Station.
Alexander's mission is called Horizons to evoke exploring our Universe, looking far beyond our planet and broadening our knowledge. His first mission was called Blue Dot. Alexander will take over command of the International Space Station for the second half of his mission. This is only the second time that a European astronaut will take up this leading position on the space outpost – the first was ESA astronaut Frank De Winne in 2009. Alexander Gerst is the 11th German citizen to fly into space.
The science programme is packed with European research: more than 50 experiments will deliver benefits to people back on Earth and prepare for future space exploration.
The Copernicus Sentinel-1B satellite takes us over one of the most active volcanos in the world: Mount Mayon on the island of Luzon in the Philippines.
Luzon is the biggest island in the Philippines and home to most of the country’s active volcanoes. This volcanism is associated with plate tectonic processes where the floor of the South China Sea is being drawn down into the mantle along the Manila Trench, which is to the west of the island. The image just shows part of the southern end of this large island, but features no less than five volcanoes.
While Mount Mayon – the most southerly volcano in the image – is famous not only for being perfectly formed, but also for being one of the most active in the world, the other four volcanoes in the image are actually either dormant or extinct.Dubbed a perfect volcano because of its symmetry, Mount Mayon has a classical conical shape, built up by many layers of hardened lava. It erupts frequently with the most recent eruption occurring in January this year.
This image was captured on 16 January 2018 and while satellite radar isn’t typically used to detect hot lava flows, the way it has been processed reveals a pink line running down the southeast flank of the volcano that matches the flow of lava in optical images from satellites such as Sentinel-2. The predominant bright green in the image corresponds to vegetation, the lighter green and pink to towns and the blue to cultivated fields.
While the Sentinel-1 radar mission is used for a myriad of everyday applications, it is also used to detect ground movement, which is essential for monitoring shifts from earthquakes and volcanic uplift.
This image is also featured on the Earth from Space video programme.
Spanish street artist Lily Brik works on her canvas art during the Graffiti without Gravity space art competition.
ESA and The Hague Street Art teamed up for a unique crossover project between street art and space travel last week.
On 18 May, 12 street artists from across Europe competed to create their own masterpiece on a square canvas using ‘space’ as inspiration at Space Expo in Noordwijk, the Netherlands.
A three-member jury, together with voting by the public, will select which artist created the very best artwork within the deadline of one day.
The selected artist will win a seat on a parabolic flight and become the first street artist to draw a piece of art in microgravity.
During three-hour flights, ESA runs experiments on a rollercoaster aircraft that offers 20 seconds of zero gravity at the top of the apex as it flies up and down at 45° angles.
See the final 12 products and vote here from now until 1 June.
Solar cells have a hard life in space – their efficiency at converting sunlight into energy at the end of their time there is more prized than their initial efficiency. This next generation solar cell having an area of around 30 sq. cm boosts the beginning of life efficiency of up to 30.9% and end of life efficiency to 27.5% - and in the future designers expect to push this figure above 30%.
Developed for ESA by a consortium led by German solar cell manufacturer Azur Space, CESI in Italy, Germany’s Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems, Qioptiq in the UK, Umicore in Belgium, tf2 devices in the Netherlands, and Finland’s Tampere University of Technology, this design is a ‘four-junction’ 0.1 mm-thick device containing four layers of different materials (AlGaInP, AlGaInAs, GaInAs,Ge) to absorb separate wavelengths of sunlight.
This design was originated through ESA’s Technology Research Programme with further development and qualification testing supported through the Agency’s ARTES, Advanced Research in Telecommunications Systems, programme. It is currently intended to fly with ESA’s next generation Neosat telecom satellites.
At first glance, this image is dominated by the vibrant glow of the swirling spiral to the lower left of the frame. However, this galaxy is far from the most interesting spectacle here — behind it sits a galaxy cluster.
Galaxies are not randomly distributed in space; they swarm together, gathered up by the unyielding hand of gravity, to form groups and clusters. The Milky Way is a member of the Local Group, which is part of the Virgo Cluster, which in turn is part of the 100 000-galaxy-strong Laniakea Supercluster.
The galaxy cluster seen in this image is known as SDSS J0333+0651. Clusters such as this can help astronomers understand the distant — and therefore early — Universe. SDSS J0333+0651 was imaged as part of a study of star formation in far-flung galaxies. Star-forming regions are typically not very large, stretching out for a few hundred light-years at most, so it is difficult for telescopes to resolve them at a distance. Even using its most sensitive and highest-resolution cameras, Hubble cannot resolve very distant star-forming regions, so astronomers use a cosmic trick: they search instead for galaxy clusters, which have a gravitational influence so immense that they warp the spacetime around them. This distortion acts like a lens, magnifying the light of galaxies sitting far behind the cluster and producing elongated arcs like the one seen to the left of centre in this image.
This mosaic of cloud-free images from the Copernicus Sentinel-3A satellite spans the entire continent of Europe and more. The view stretches from Iceland in the northwest across to Scandinavia and Russia in the northeast, and from the northern tips of Norway and Finland to as far south as Algeria, Libya and Egypt.
The Sentinel-3 mission observes our home planet to understand large-scale environmental dynamics. Based on a constellation of two identical satellites, the Sentinel-3 mission carries a suite of instruments to measure our oceans, land and ice.
While the satellite’s ocean and land colour instrument depicts the green of summer in many parts of Europe, the dryness that summer brings, particularly to the south, can also be seen in parts of Spain, Italy and Turkey, for example.
This image is made up of scenes captured by Sentinel-3A between 1 March 2017 and 30 July 2017.
Covering 3000 sq km, the Zambezi Delta in Mozambique is one of the most diverse and productive river delta systems in the world. This unique wetland, which is protected under the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, features a broad alluvial plain with vast mosaics of grassland, woods, deep swamps and extensive mangroves. Recognised as a global biodiversity conservation hotspot, this remarkable delta is home to a myriad of wildlife, from big mammals such as buffaloes, lions and elephants to water birds such as fish eagles and flamingos, to marine species such as dolphins and freshwater fish. As well as this rich biodiversity, this extraordinary delta not only provides a source of food for Mozambique, but also protects the coast from flooding.
While the Zambezi River Delta is an example of a healthy ecosystem, biological diversity is declining around the world. It is estimated that between 100 and 150 species disappear every day. The International Day for Biological Diversity is held every 22 May to increase understanding and awareness of biodiversity issues such as this. Ratified by 196 nations, the Convention on Biological Diversity is the international legal instrument for the conservation of biological diversity and the sustainable use of its components.
Satellites observing Earth have an important role to play as images can be used to assess the health of important ecosystems and show how they may be changing. This image was captured by the Copernicus Sentinel-2A satellite on 28 September 2016.
ESRO-2 control room at ESOC, Darmstadt, Germany, in 1968.
On 17 May 1968, ESA’s predecessor, the European Space Research Organisation (ESRO), launched ESRO-2B – an 86kg cylindrical spacecraft designed to study X-rays from our closest star, the Sun, and cosmic rays from the rest of the Universe.
The ESRO-2 satellites were the first developed by ESRO, with ESRO-2B launched after ESRO-2A failed to reach orbit around Earth, becoming the first mission controlled by teams at the European Space Operations Centre (ESOC) in Darmstadt, Germany.
Also known as the International Radiation Investigation Satellite, ESRO-2B was launched with the Scout B rocket from Vandernberg Air Force Base in California.
The launch of the first European satellites on US rockets came after an offer from NASA to fly these first two satellites free of charge, as a ‘christening gift’ to ESRO.
Powered by 3456 solar cells ESRO-2B was designed to work for one year, however it continued to return data until it re-entered Earth’s atmosphere on 9 May 1971 after completing 16,282 orbits.
ESRO’s first satellites concentrated on solar and cosmic radiation and their interaction with the Earth and its magnetosphere. While ESRO-2B was designed for solar observations, it is also credited with the detection of X-rays from non-solar sources.
Dutch students due to compete in Elon Musk’s high-speed ‘Hyperloop’ challenge this July subjected their motor module to near-vacuum conditions within ESA's ESTEC Test Centre in the Netherlands. The Delft Hyperloop team slid their test rig inside the Centre’s 3.5m-long and 2m-wide VTC-1.5 Space Simulator chamber to be operated for around half an hour at a time.
Stellar nurseries are cloudy and dusty places that shine brightly in infrared light. The G305 star-forming complex is no exception. It features a number of bright, intricate gas clouds heated by infant stars in their midst. In this spectacular image by ESA’s Herschel space observatory, these star-forming hotspots stand out in a blue tone that contrasts with the red-brownish colour of cooler regions.
While there are several star-formation sites dotted throughout this scene, the most striking ones surround the dark, heart-shaped area in the top right of the image. Hidden at the centre of the dark region lie the massive star WR48a and its two neighbours, stellar clusters Danks 1 and 2. All three play an important role in triggering the formation of new stars, even if they themselves are relatively young objects no older than a few million years (for comparison, the Sun is around 4.6 billion years old).
Strong winds and radiation from WR48a and the high-mass stars in the two clusters have pushed away the gas remnants from the cloud where they originated. The swept-away gas, gathered together at the edge of the heart-shaped bubble, is now forming new stars.
Using Herschel, astronomers have identified 16 sites where high-mass stars are forming in this stellar nursery. The region is one of the brightest and most plentiful star-forming complexes in the Milky Way, and an ideal ground to observe and study massive stars at different stages of formation and evolution.
The G305 complex is about 12 000 light-years away and gets its name from its location at around 305º longitude in the plane of our Galaxy. In the night sky, it appears near the Coalsack Nebula, a large interstellar cloud of dust visible to the naked eye and located in the constellation of Crux, the Southern Cross. A very prominent dark nebula, Coalsack shows up in the southern skies as a black patch against the bright, starry backdrop of the Milky Way.
This image, obtained as part of Hi-GAL – the Herschel infrared Galactic Plane Survey, combines observations at three different wavelengths: 70 microns (blue), 160 microns (green) and 250 microns (red).
Launched in 2009, Herschel operated for four years observing at far infrared and submillimetre wavelengths. This spectral range allowed it to observe the glow of dust in gas clouds where stars are born to investigate this process and observe their early evolution.
Week In Images
21 - 25 May 2018