In mid-July the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope observed Mars, only 13 days before the planet made its closest approach to Earth in 2018. While previous images showed detailed surface features of the planet, this new image is dominated by a gigantic sandstorm enshrouding the entire planet.
Each Martian year, moderately large dust storms cover continent-sized areas and last for weeks at a time. Global dust storms — lasting for weeks or months — tend to happen during the spring and summer in the southern hemisphere, when Mars is closest to the Sun and heating is at a maximum, leading to greater generation of winds.
While spacecraft orbiting Mars can study the storm’s behaviour at lower altitudes, Hubble observations allow astronomers to study changes in the higher atmosphere. The combined observations will help planetary scientists to build a better understanding of how these global storms arise.
Learn more about this image here.
ESA’s Mars Express has used radar signals bounced through underground layers of ice to identify a pond of water buried below the surface.
This image shows an example radar profile for one of 29 orbits over the 200 x 200 km study region in the south polar region of Mars. The bright horizontal feature at the top corresponds to the icy surface of Mars. Layers of the south polar layered deposits – layers of ice and dust – are seen to a depth of about 1.5 km. Below is a base layer that in some areas is even much brighter than the surface reflections, while in other places is rather diffuse. The brightest reflections from the base layer – close to the centre of this image – are centred around 193°E/81°S in all intersecting orbits, outlining a well-defined, 20 km wide subsurface anomaly that is interpreted as a pond of liquid water.
Europe’s next four Galileo satellites lifted off at 11:25 GMT (13:25 CEST, 08:25 local time) on 25 July from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana atop an Ariane 5 launcher.
The Copernicus Sentinel-2 satellite takes us over Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt. Famous as a resort on the southern tip of the Sinai Peninsula, this coastal strip along the Red Sea is peppered with bars, restaurants and hotels. The ancient Greeks and Romans are thought to have taken their holidays in Egypt as long ago as the 4th century BC.
Click on the box in the lower-right corner to view this image at its full 10 m resolution directly in your browser.
This striking true-colour image shows the Gulf of Aqaba at the top centre, feeding into the Red Sea – home to some of the hottest and saltiest seawater in the world. The Red Sea is connected to the Mediterranean Sea via the Suez Canal, one of the world’s busiest waterways.
Usually an intense blue-green, as captured in this image, the Red Sea is known, on occasion, to turn reddish-brown owing to algal blooms, which change the colour of the sea when they die off.
The area offers many opportunities for diving. In the centre of the image we can see a series of coral reefs, which host rich marine life. The variations in the colour of the water surrounding the islands and in the right of the image represent the depth of water – the lighter areas show more shallow waters than the vast expanse of deep blue, which dominates the image.
In the top-right of the image we can see the western tip of mainland Saudi Araba – the beautiful and uninhabited sandy cape of Ras Al-Sheikh Hameed. Here, the red colour represents areas with higher levels of moisture in an arid, desert landscape, whilst the white colour represents salt.
Sentinel-2 is a two-satellite mission for land monitoring, providing imagery of soil and water cover, inland waterways and coastal areas, for Europe’s Copernicus environmental monitoring programme.
This image, which was captured on 11 April 2017, is also featured on the Earth from Space programme.
As this year’s heatwave continues, the Copernicus Sentinel-3 mission reveals once again how the colour of our vegetation has changed in just one month. These two images cover the same area: part of Ireland, the UK, the Netherlands, Belgium, part of Germany and part of France, but the difference between them couldn’t be more striking. The first, captured on 28 June 2018, is predominantly green, depicting healthy vegetation. The second, captured on 25 July 2018, however, is mainly brown, showing just how much the vegetation has changed owing to the long hot dry spell Europe has been enduring over the last weeks.
These two images were captured by Sentinel-3’s ocean and land colour instrument.
With temperatures soaring and no rain to speak of, Europe is in the grip of a heatwave. As well as the havoc that wildfires have caused in countries such as the UK, Sweden and Greece, the current heat is scorching our land and vegetation. These two images from the Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission show agricultural fields around the town of Slagelse in Zealand, Denmark. The image from July 2017 shows lush green fields, but as the image from this July shows, the heat and lack of rain has taken its toll on the health of the vegetation. This year’s summer weather means that the same comparison could be made for many other parts of Europe.
The two Copernicus Sentinel-2 satellites carry high-resolution multispectral optical imagers to monitor changes in vegetation. While the difference in plant health in these two images is clear to see, the mission offers measurements of leaf area index, leaf chlorophyll and leaf water content, which allow for a detailed assessment of plant health.
With things being ticked off the 'to do' list, preparations to launch ESA's Aeolus wind satellite on 21 August 2018 are going well. And we have a happy team!
The smaller model asteroid seen here atop a rover that slowly wheels around another larger model asteroid, a practical recreation of the kind of binary asteroid system to be visited by ESA’s proposed Hera mission.
The camera seen to the right, mounted on a 33 m track, approaches this miniature binary asteroid system to test vision-based navigation software. Employing 3D printed asteroid models, this test took place in ESA's GNC Rendezvous, Approach and Landing Simulator, or GRALS.
“ESA’s Hera mission, currently under study, would be humankind’s first mission to a binary asteroid system, targeting the Didymos pair of Near-Earth asteroids,” explains Paolo Martino, Hera system engineer.
“The plan is to map surface features of these bodies on an automated basis to pinpoint Hera’s position in space and chart its onward trajectory. And GRALS is letting us test candidate navigation algorithms in a real-world way.”
Part of the Agency's Orbital Robotics and Guidance, Navigation and Control Laboratory in its ESTEC technical centre in the Netherlands, GRALS is used to simulate close approach to uncooperative targets such as asteroids or drifting satellites.
The competition encourages ideas to solve some of the space industry’s main challenges while fostering products and services with commercial potential.
In the case of D-Orbit’s Fenix propulsion system, the idea was both simple and small. The pen-sized booster prototype, is just 10 cm long and 2 cm wide – allowing small satellites to work smarter and explore farther.
The 10 x 10 x 10 cm CubeSats are deployed directly into orbit from space. They currently have no propulsion system to change orbit or deorbit at the end of their missions. With the FENIX, CubeSats could be employed for longer missions farther out in space.
Each of the four boosters is packed with solid propellant that provides thrust which is triggered by a simple electrical ignition system. The boosters can be configured at each corner of the CubeSat or doubled up on either side. Thanks to their lightweight and compact size, they do not take up much instrument space.
With space exploration opening for business, technologies like Fenix have the potential to expand our horizons farther out in space. CubeSats can take on more sophisticated missions if they can manoeuvre in orbits – such as studying the Moon and asteroids from different angles.
In low Earth orbit, the boosters can deorbit the CubeSats at the end of their missions to help reduce space debris.
D-Orbit won a four-month ticket to test their prototype on the newly-installed ICE Cubes facility in the Columbus module of the International Space Station. The team will test the booster’s safe ignition mechanism inside an ICE cube experiment unit, without firing the actual propulsion system, to ensure that it works and is safe under space conditions.
Sensors and cameras will record the sparks, triggered by an electrical impulse, and the team can observe the testing anytime, anywhere, thanks to ICE Cubes dedicated control centre providing continuous remote access for users on ground. Fenix is set for launch to the Space Station by the end of next year.
Do you have an idea with commercial potential that could innovate space exploration? Submit it to the Space Exploration Masters challenge.
This year ESA is partnering with the United Nations World Health Organisation to target health and food. Problem-solvers are invited to come up with ideas and applications that promote nutritious food and food security on- and off-planet. Other challenges include using resources in space to make missions more sustainable and new ways to use future spacecraft.
Deadline for submissions is 31 July. Winners will be announced at the Space for Inspiration conference in Bilbao 29-31 October. More information and how to apply can be found here.
Last week the second of two solar arrays on the BepiColombo Mercury Transfer Module (MTM) underwent final inspections and deployment before being folded and stowed for launch.
In this image, the solar array is attached to the MTM, which is out of view to the right, and engineers are carefully checking the alignment of the deployed array. Electrical tests and illumination tests were performed before folding the five-panel, 15 metre-long array and tensioning the cables ahead of one last deployment test.
After a final inspection, the solar array was folded again and a temporary protective red cover installed, concluding a successful test phase of the transfer module’s solar arrays.
The MTM will carry the two science orbiters – ESA’s Mercury Planetary Orbiter and JAXA’s Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter – to the innermost planet using solar electric propulsion along with gravity assist flybys at Earth, Venus and Mercury.
Shortly before arriving at Mercury in 2025, the MTM will separate and the two science orbiters will be captured into orbit together, before separating and moving into their respective orbits. Together they will provide the most up-to-date investigation of the least explored planet in the inner Solar System to date.
For more images of the launch preparations at Kourou visit the BepiColombo image gallery.
This image taken by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope’s Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3) shows a beautiful spiral galaxy called NGC 6744. At first glance, it resembles our Milky Way albeit larger, measuring more than 200 000 light-years across compared to 100 000 light-year diameter for our home galaxy.
NGC 6744 is similar to our home galaxy in more ways than one. Like the Milky Way, NGC 6744 has a prominent central region packed with old yellow stars. Moving away from the galactic core, one can see parts of the dusty spiral arms painted in shades of pink and blue; while the blue sites are full of young star clusters, the pink ones are regions of active star formation, indicating that the galaxy is still very lively.
In 2005, a supernova, named 2005at, was discovered within NGC 6744, adding to the argument of this galaxy’s liveliness (not visible in this image). SN 2005at is a type Ic supernova, formed when a massive star collapses in itself and loses its hydrogen envelope.
Week in images
23 - 27 July 2018