A deceptively valuable wall hanging: this section of the NASA–ESA Hubble Space Telescope’s solar array flew for eight years in space before being returned to Earth aboard a Space Shuttle, and is now displayed at ESA’s technical centre in Noordwijk, the Netherlands.
See it for yourself at ESA’s Open Day in the Netherlands on Sunday 8 October. The theme this year is Bringing Space to Earth, focussing on knowledge, hardware and people returned to the ground from space.
VIP guests for the Open Day have been confirmed: astronauts Michael Foale of the UK, Dumitru Prunariu of Romania, Ulf Merbold and Ernst Messerschmid of Germany, Dirk Frimout of Belgium, Jean-Jacques Favier and Claudie Haigneré of France and André Kuipers of the Netherlands.
More than 9200 people have already registered to attend the event; you can sign up here.
Forty years ago this year NASA and ESA agreed to be partners on the Hubble Space Telescope, which was launched into orbit on 24 April 1990.
ESA provided the first two generations of solar wings for Hubble, replaced and returned during later servicing missions. ESA’s solar power engineers had the valuable opportunity to study how solar arrays degraded in the space environment.
Today, Hubble is powered by US-made solar wings, but they are kept trained on the Sun by the original European drive mechanisms.
The international Cassini mission is drawing to a close in spectacular style: diving between Saturn and its innermost rings and exploring uncharted territory like never before.
The final set of five dives even dips the spacecraft into the top of Saturn’s atmosphere, giving Cassini’s instruments the chance to make the first direct sampling of the planet, studying its chemical composition and analysing its temperature at different altitudes. The dives will also provide close-up images of the planet’s atmospheric features, including its polar vortex and aurora.
Cassini is just completing its third of such atmospheric ‘dips’, and towards the end of the final orbit, will make a distant flyby of Titan, at 119 049 km on 11 September. But this will still be close enough to set Cassini on its final trajectory into the planet’s atmosphere, concluding its 13-year odyssey in the Saturn system.
The image shown here was captured during an earlier dive between the planet and its rings, at a distance of approximately 1.1 million kilometers from Saturn on 13 May. It shows the thin sliver of Saturn’s 86 km-wide moon Prometheus lurking near ghostly structures in Saturn's narrow F-ring. Many of the narrow ring’s faint and wispy features result from its gravitational interactions with Prometheus.
Most of the small moon’s surface is in darkness because of the viewing geometry: Cassini was positioned behind Saturn and Prometheus with respect to the Sun, looking towards the moon’s dark side and just a bit of the moon’s sunlit northern hemisphere. Detail in the sunlit side of the rings shows a distinct difference in brightness between the outermost section of Saturn’s A ring (left of centre) and the rest of the ring, interior to the Keeler Gap (lower left).
The image was first released on 7 August 2017.
The Cassini mission is a cooperative project of NASA, ESA and Italy’s ASI space agency.
Phenomena across the Universe emit radiation spanning the entire electromagnetic spectrum — from high-energy gamma rays, which stream out from the most energetic events in the cosmos, to lower-energy microwaves and radio waves.
Microwaves, the very same radiation that can heat up your dinner, are produced by a multitude of astrophysical sources, including strong emitters known as masers (microwave lasers), even stronger emitters with the somewhat villainous name of megamasers, and the centres of some galaxies. Especially intense and luminous galactic centres are known as active galactic nuclei. They are in turn thought to be driven by the presence of supermassive black holes, which drag surrounding material inwards and spit out bright jets and radiation as they do so.
The two galaxies shown here, imaged by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, are named MCG+01-38-004 (the upper, red-tinted one) and MCG+01-38-005 (the lower, blue-tinted one). MCG+01-38-005 is a special kind of megamaser; the galaxy’s active galactic nucleus pumps out huge amounts of energy, which stimulates clouds of surrounding water. Water’s constituent atoms of hydrogen and oxygen are able to absorb some of this energy and re-emit it at specific wavelengths, one of which falls within the microwave regime. MCG+01-38-005 is thus known as a water megamaser!
Astronomers can use such objects to probe the fundamental properties of the Universe. The microwave emissions from MCG+01-38-005 were used to calculate a refined value for the Hubble constant, a measure of how fast the Universe is expanding. This constant is named after the astronomer whose observations were responsible for the discovery of the expanding Universe and after whom the Hubble Space Telescope was named, Edwin Hubble.
Living in space is no easy task, and one of the largest concerns for mission planners cannot even be seen: cosmic radiation poses a risk to the human body in the form of cancer, central nervous system disorders, cardiovascular problems and tissue degeneration.
Our atmosphere protects us on Earth from the constant barrage of cosmic radiation, but venture 50 km up – the International Space Station circles at around 400 km altitude – and the only thing protecting astronauts is the spacecraft hull or their spacesuits. Risk builds over time so we will need to develop ways of counteracting radiation on long missions to far-away planets.
To understand the full biological effects of cosmic rays and accurately calculate how much exposure humans can safely withstand is where GSI, the Helmholtz Center for Heavy Ion Research, comes in. ESA is inviting researchers to investigate the biological effects of space radiation using GSI’s large particle accelerator in Darmstadt, Germany.
Researchers from all over the world use this facility to gain new insights into the building blocks of matter and the evolution of the Universe, as well as developing new applications in medicine and technology.
The SIS-18 ring accelerator can shoot ions at targets including biological cells, recreating cosmic radiation. Analysing how the ions interact will help mission designers to develop new ways of minimising the risks of cosmic radiation. The ions are accelerated with magnets to 90% of the speed of light, or 270 000 km/s.
This image shows a beam diagnosis element, which allows scientists to analyse the shape of the ion beam as it passes through.
Sounds interesting? Send a letter of intent by 15 September with your experiment idea, which should contribute to improving the risk assessments of cosmic radiation exposure or to studying countermeasures on cells to allow safe human space exploration.
Results of such experiments will also have applications for life on Earth. Though well protected, humans are not immune from radiation exposure. Data from these studies inform us of risks of radiation exposure on Earth as well as improve radiation therapy for cancer treatment.
ESA astronaut Paolo Nespoli practices life-saving cardiopulmonary resuscitation skills on board the International Space Station. Two Space Station crewmembers are assigned as Crew Medical Officers and are trained to provide medical support during their mission. They offer basic medical support like a paramedic on Earth.
Paolo’s third and last mission to the Space Station is named Vita, which means “life” in Italian, and reflects the experiments Paolo will run and the philosophical notion of living in outer space – one of the most inhospitable places for humans.
Connect with Paolo via: http://paolonespoli.esa.int
Think hipster hairdos are cool? We do – ESA mission controllers sported them in 1972!
This image was taken in 1972 in the main control room at ESA’s European Space Operations Centre, in Darmstadt, Germany, during a VIP visit by the UK’s Louis Mountbatten, 1st Earl Mountbatten of Burma.
The centre has served as Europe’s gateway to space for half a century. In 2017, it is celebrating its 50th anniversary, highlighting a rich history of achievement in space.
Since inauguration in 1967, teams have flown 77 spacecraft, ranging from telecom, weather, Earth observation and climate monitoring satellites to spacecraft studying the Sun, peering deep into our Universe and exploring our Solar System.
While there’s no known connection, it cannot be entirely by chance that Hair, one of the most famous rock musicals, debuted in New York in 1967, the same year as the centre’s inauguration.
Sealed in its special protective container, today the Copernicus Sentinel-5P satellite was taken by lorry from Airbus Defence and Space in Stevenage, UK, to Stansted airport where it was carefully loaded on to this huge cargo aircraft. It will be flown to Russia to be prepared for liftoff in October.
Combining images captured by the Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission and the US Landsat-8 satellite between October 2015 and the end of 2016, this land-cover classification map shows different crops across Germany. A total of 2.2 TB of data were used to generate the map, which distinguishes between 21 land cover classes and includes 15 specific crop types.
Click on the box in the lower-right corner to view this image at its full 30 m resolution directly in your browser.
Clear pixels from all the satellite images were used to create a time series of 45 composites, each capturing the surface reflectance over a 10-day period, which can be related to crop type. Latest machine-learning software allowed this detailed map to be generated for the entire country.
While this early version of the map is still to be improved on, validation over the Brandenburg, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern and Bayern regions indicate an overall accuracy of 76%, with several crop types such as rapeseed, maize and sugar beet achieving accuracies of over 90%.
Having such detailed, spatially explicit, wall-to-wall results on land cover and crop types is a valuable source of information for a range of applications. Uses include supporting policies such as the EU Common Agricultural Policy, modelling biochemical fluxes and pollution, analysing land-use change, conserving biodiversity and managing natural resources.
Europe’s Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission provides important information for monitoring vegetation. Its multispectral camera has 13 spectral bands and is the first of its kind to include three bands in the ‘red edge’, which provide key data on vegetation state. The mission was designed to provide images that can be used to distinguish between different crop types as well as data on numerous plant indices, such as leaf area, leaf chlorophyll and leaf water – all essential to monitor plant growth accurately.
The Present Packaged, an explosive performance by Aoife van Linden Tol, the recipient of the first art&science@ESA residency organised by Ars Electronica in partnership with ESA.
Aoife’s new show, Star Storm, inspired by cosmic explosions and based on research performed during the residency at ESA’s technical heart in the Netherlands, will be premiered at the 2017 Ars Electronica Festival in Linz, Austria, on 10 September.
Week in Images
28 August - 1 September 2017