On 6 August 2018, ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst captured this image of the Iberian Peninsula and the northern part of Africa from the International Space Station and shared it on social media saying: "Dramatic weather pattern over Portugal today. Looks like a mixture of dust, sand and smoke."
ESA’s Aeolus satellite ready to be encapsulated in the Vega rocket fairing. Liftoff is set for 21 August at 21:20 GMT (23:20 CEST) from Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana. Aeolus carries one of the most sophisticated instruments ever to be put into orbit. The first of its kind, the Aladin instrument includes revolutionary laser technology to generate pulses of ultraviolet light that are beamed down into the atmosphere to profile the world’s winds – a completely new approach to measuring the wind from space.
After being sealed within its Vega rocket fairing, Aeolus has been rolled out to the launch pad at Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana. Here it will join the rest of the rocket in the launch tower in preparation for liftoff on 21 August at 21:20 GMT (23:20 CEST).
Comet Swift–Tuttle, formally 109P/Swift–Tuttle, is an enormous, icy comet on a 133-year orbit around the Sun, and the reason for the spectacular annual Perseids meteor showers on Earth.
This image shows the comet photographed on 4 April 1892 (top) and 6 April 1892 (bottom) by Professor EE Barnard, taken from Plate III in “A Popular History of Astronomy” published in the nineteenth century by Agnes M. Clerke (third edition), courtesy of the Internet Archive.
Once a year, Earth passes through a section of Swift–Tuttle’s cometary tail — a cloud of particles ejected from the comet, most of which have been lingering in space for a thousand years. As these tiny particles enter Earth’s atmosphere at extremely fast speeds, they burn up, resulting in the wonderful show that is a meteor shower.
Every year from the middle of July to late August, observers are treated to the spectacle of glowing cosmic debris, streaming across the night’s skies. This year the shower will peak from the evening of Sunday, 12 August, to the early hours of Monday, 13 August. The Moon will be a new crescent moon, fortunately setting before the show really gets underway and so leaving the skies dark for what is set to be the best shower of 2018.
Discovered in 1862, the ‘near-Earth comet’ Swift–Tuttle has a nucleus 26 km in diameter — that’s two-and-a-half times the size of the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs, and it is travelling four times as fast.
As the largest Solar System object (bar the Moon) to repeatedly pass close to Earth, comet Swift-Tuttle’s movements have been meticulously studied by scientists around the globe. Its most recent ‘perihelion’ — the point in its orbit in which it comes closest to the Sun — was in 1992, and the next won’t be until 12 July 2126.
Fortunately all of comet Swift–Tuttle’s orbits for the next 2000 years have been intricately calculated, when Earth is 100% safe – passing for example 22.9 million km from Earth in 2126 and 22 million km in 2261.
A close encounter is expected around 15 September 4479, when Swift-Tuttle is expected to pass within 1.6 million km of Earth – only about four times the distance of the Moon.
For the foreseeable future, we will continue to enjoy the beautiful show put on every year by the remnants of this Sun-grazer’s historic journeys to the centre of our Solar System. These stunning events also serve as a reminder that our planet has been visited before by huge cosmic space rocks, and has the potential to be so visited once again.
The International Space Station is a maze of modules filled with racks, cables and experiments running 24/7. Upgrading and shifting units from one place to another becomes a tricky task in space – there is no up or down, and everything is weightless.
ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst has been recently busy with one of the facilities in Europe’s Columbus module. The Fluid Science Laboratory measures fluid dynamics in weightlessness.
Scientists are interested in how foams, emulsions and granular materials – materials easily deformed by thermal fluctuations and external forces – behave without the effects of gravity.
On Earth, buoyancy-driven convection and sedimentation can mask the underlying phenomena that scientists would like to observe. Without gravity, it is possible to study the samples disentangled from these processes.
After 10 years of service, it was time for the Fluid Science Laboratory to get a revamp. Alexander installed a new video management unit to record experiments for analysis on Earth. He also installed the Soft Matter Dynamics instrument, at the bottom of the unfastened Fluid Science Laboratory in this image.
This new instrument is equipped with cameras and sensors to detect very small changes in the samples with high accuracy. Soft matter is anything that can be deformed by mechanical or thermal means at room temperature.
“The instrument allows us to observe the dynamics of soft matter materials down to the microsecond,” explains Marco Braibanti, complex fluids scientists at ESA.
Soft matter research can lead to industrial applications. Many components found in food, cosmetics and pharmacy products must stay stable for long periods of time. Experiments with the Soft Matter Dynamics can help improve the stability of foams, emulsions, gels and aerosols.
With this latest upgrade the Fluid Science Laboratory is ready to receive yet another unit later in 2019: the Multiscale Boiling experiment. Scientists will study boiling phenomena and the role of various forces acting on vapour bubbles.
The Fluid Science Laboratory is one of many instruments supporting sophisticated research in Europe’s Columbus module. Celebrating its 10th year in operation, the lab is the European hub for research in life and physical sciences, space science, Earth observation and technology demonstrations on the International Space Station.
Alexander is performing many more experiments during his six month Horizons mission. Follow along for all the exciting science he’s performing via alexandergerst.esa.int and on the Horizons mission blog.
The deployment of ESA's Mercury Planetary Orbiter (MPO) solar array is tested as part of launch preparations at Europe's Spaceport in Kourou.
The MPO is one of the three modules of the ESA-JAXA BepiColombo along with the Japanese Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter (MMO) and the Mercury Transfer Module (MTM). The MTM will use solar electric propulsion to take the two science orbiters to the Mercury, together with gravity assist flybys at Earth, Venus and Mercury itself.
BepiColombo is Europe's first mission to Mercury, due to launch this year on a journey to the smallest and least explored terrestrial planet in the inner Solar System.
On 6 August of 2014, after a decade of travelling through interplanetary space, ESA’s Rosetta spacecraft arrived at its final target: Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko (67P/C-G). The mission was the first to successfully land on a comet when it sent the lander Philae down to the surface a few months later, while the orbiter studied 67P/C-G in detail before the mission’s end on 30 September 2016.
Over its lifetime Rosetta extensively mapped the comet’s surface, which has since been divided into 26 geological regions named after Ancient Egyptian deities. The entire comet has been likened to a duck in shape, with a small ‘head’ attached to a larger ‘body’.
This image shows a section of 67P/C-G as viewed by Rosetta’s high-resolution camera OSIRIS on 10 February 2016. Amateur astronomer Stuart Atkinson, from the UK, selected and processed this view from the OSIRIS image archive. It is a crop of a larger image that shows a slightly wider view of the comet’s ‘Bes’ region on body of the comet, which takes its name from the protective deity of households, children and mothers.
It shows the uneven, shadowed surface of the comet in detail; particularly prominent just to the right of centre is an upright feature surrounded by scattered depressions, rocky outcrops and debris.
This image of the release of the SpaceX Dragon CRS-15 was captured from the ISS by ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst on 3 August 2018.
When shared on social media, Alexander said: "We released a Dragon into the wild to return carrying unveiled secrets and solved mysteries."
This Picture of the Week shows the colourful globular cluster NGC 2108. The cluster is nestled within the Large Magellanic Cloud, in the constellation of the Swordfish (Dorado). It was discovered in 1835 by the astronomer, mathematician, chemist and inventor John Herschel, son of the famous William Herschel.
The most striking feature of this globular cluster is the gleaming ruby-red spot at the centre left of the image. What looks like the cluster’s watchful eye is actually a carbon star. Carbon stars are almost always cool red giants, with atmospheres containing more carbon than oxygen — the opposite to our Sun. Carbon monoxide forms in the outer layer of the star through a combination of these elements, until there is no more oxygen available. Carbon atoms are then free to form a variety of other carbon compounds, such as C2, CH, CN, C3 and SiC2, which scatter blue light within the star, allowing red light to pass through undisturbed.
This image was captured by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope’s Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS), using three different filters.
Week in images
6 - 10 August 2018