Astronomers using ESA’s XMM-Newton space observatory have captured the X-ray glow (shown here in purple) emitted by the hot gas that pervades the galaxy cluster XLSSC006.
The cluster is home to a few hundreds of galaxies, large amounts of diffuse, X-ray bright gas, and even larger amounts of dark matter, with a total mass equivalent to some 500 trillion solar masses. Because of its distance from us, we are seeing this galaxy cluster as it was when the Universe was only about nine billion years old.
The galaxies that belong to the cluster are concentrated towards the centre, with two dominant members. Since galaxy clusters normally have only one major galaxy at their core, this suggests that XLSSC006 is undergoing a merger event.
Pictured in this view, where the X-ray data are combined with a three-colour composite of optical and near-infrared data from the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope, are a multitude of other galaxies. Some are closer to us than the cluster – like the spiral galaxy towards the top right – and some are farther away. The image also shows a handful of foreground stars belonging to our Milky Way galaxy, which stand out with their diffraction spikes (a common artefact of astronomical images), while the small purple dots sprinkled across the frame are point sources of X-rays, many of them beyond the Milky Way.
The X-ray data were obtained as part of the XXL Survey, XMM-Newton’s largest observational programme to date, with follow-up observations performed by a number of other observatories around the world and in space. The latest XXL Survey release contains data for 365 galaxy clusters, tracing their large-scale distribution across cosmic history. These observations are helping astronomers refine our understanding of the Universe’s structure and evolution, and will serve as a reference for ESA’s future missions Euclid and Athena.
More about the XXL Survey: Tracing the Universe: X-ray survey supports standard cosmological model
The BepiColombo spacecraft stack mounted on the launcher.
BepiColombo is a joint endeavour between ESA and JAXA, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. JAXA’s Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter is seen at the top of the stack, ESA’s Mercury Planetary Orbiter is in the middle, and ESA’s Mercury Transfer Module is at the bottom.
The Copernicus Sentinel-2B satellite takes us over South Sudan. Having gained independence from Sudan in July 2011, South Sudan is the youngest country in the world. It has an estimated population of 13 million people, more than 80% of whom live in rural areas. Most of the population relies on farming, fishing or herding to meet their food and income needs.
The Sobat river is traced in a vibrant green colour along the left part of the image. This is the most southerly of the great eastern tributaries of the White Nile, the section of the Nile between Malakal, South Sudan and Khartoum, Sudan.
Tropical forests, swamps and grassland make up the majority of South Sudan’s terrain. A large, swampy area called the Sudd, which is about 320 km wide and 400 km long, can be found in the centre of the country. This is thought to be one of the largest freshwater ecosystems in the world and is fed by the White Nile and rainfall runoff from surrounding areas. It is home to large fish populations, millions of migratory birds, and various endangered species.
The area has also provided shelter for refugees fleeing the ongoing Sudanese civil war, which broke out in South Sudan in December 2013.
The red and gold in the lower-central part of the image shows smoke from a fire. The smoke is being driven by a northerly wind. The black parts of the image, similarly, show burnt areas of land – possibly the result of slash and burn agriculture. By burning dry grass, herders are able to fertilise the soil with ash, promoting new growth that can be used to feed livestock. Subsistence farmers also tend to use this method to manage land, returning nutrients to the soil and clearing the ground of unwanted plants in the process. Some of the negative longer-term impacts of this practice include air pollution, deforestation and erosion.
Sentinel-2 carries an innovative wide swath high-resolution multispectral imager for observing our land and vegetation. The mission mainly provides information for agricultural and forestry practices and for helping manage food security.
This image, which was captured on 18 January 2018, is also featured on the Earth from Space video programme.
ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst captured the aborted launch of the Soyuz MS-10 from the International Space Station and shared it on his social media channels saying: "Glad our friends are fine. Thanks to the rescue force of over 1000 search and rescue professionals! Today showed again what an amazing vehicle the #Soyuz is, to be able to save the crew from such a failure. Spaceflight is hard. And we must keep trying for the benefit of humankind."
ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst installed the Advanced Closed Loop System on 1 October in the International Space Station. This Life Support Rack recycles carbon dioxide into oxygen and will allow for significantly less supplies needing to be shipped from Earth – as much as 400 litres less water a year sent by supply spacecraft.
The facility is the size of an International Standard Payload Rack – about 2 m high, 1 m wide, and 85.9 cm deep – and weighs over 670 kg on Earth, but Alexander could move it easily the couple of metres from the Japanese HTV-7 cargo spacecraft to its installation site in the US Destiny space laboratory due to the wonders of weightlessness.
Astronauts will connect the facility’s cables, pipes and filters this week, with checkout operations foreseen for 6 November. The system collects carbon dioxide in the air and processes it to create methane and water. Electrolysis then splits the water back into oxygen while the methane is vented into space.
Once up and running the facility should generate about 50% of the water needed for oxygen production on the Space Station.
The system is a huge step for human spaceflight as space agencies prepare for exploring further from Earth. Sustainable life-support systems are needed for longer missions such as to the lunar Gateway that is the next structure to be built by the partners of the International Space Station. Foreseen as a staging post for missions to the Moon and even Mars the Gateway will be further away from Earth, making it harder and more expensive to ferry supplies.
The Copernicus Sentinel-1 mission has imaged the oil spill in the Mediterranean following a collision between two merchant ships on Sunday 7 October 2018. A Tunisian cargo ship is reported to have struck the hull of a Cypriot container ship in waters north of the French island of Corsica. There were no casualties, but the collision caused a fuel leak – which has resulted in an oil slick about 20 km long. Although the collision occurred in French waters, the cleanup operation is part of a joint pact between France, Italy and Monaco to address pollution accidents in the Mediterranean.
This image of the slick, which can be seen as a dark patch north of the tip of Corsica, was captured by the Sentinel-1A satellite today at 05:28 GMT (07:28 CEST). Sentinel-1 is a two-satellite constellation built for the European Commission’s Copernicus environmental monitoring programme. The identical satellites each carry an advanced radar instrument that can ‘see’ through the dark and through clouds. Its wide swath allows large areas of Earth’s surface to be imaged so that events such as this can be detected and monitored easily. Sentinel-1 images are used by the European Maritime Safety Agency as part of CleanSeaNet, the European satellite-based oil spill and vessel detection service.
Note: other dark areas show patterns featuring low reflectivity of the radar signal, for instance very calm waters.
A 1:1 scale replica of ESA’s ExoMars 2020 rover in the ‘Mars Yard’ of its ESTEC technical centre, inspected by members of the public during Sunday’s ESA Open Day in the Netherlands.
More than 7 500 visitors attended the ESA Open Day on 7 October, coming from all across Europe and beyond, as far away as Indonesia, Japan and South Korea.
ESA’s ExoMars rover, together with a Russian stationary surface science platform, is scheduled for launch in July 2020, arriving on Mars in March 2021. It will investigate how Mars has evolved and whether there may be conditions for life there.
It will travel across the martian surface and drill down to determine if evidence of life is buried underground, protected from the Sun’s radiation that bombards the surface of the 'Red Planet'. The rover will collect samples and analyse them with next-generation instruments – a fully fledged automated laboratory on Mars.
The competition to name the ExoMars rover closes at 23:59 BST (00:59 CEST) on Wednesday, 10 October.
Another testbed rover can be seen to the right of the ExoMars rover, in the 8 x 8 m terrain Mars Yard filled with different sizes of sand, gravel and rock, part of ESA’s Planetary Robotics Laboratory.
See more pictures from the ESA Open Day here.
In the early hours of Monday morning, as Argentina's CONAE space agency launched the SAOCOM-1A satellite into space, photographer William T. Reid captured this dramatic image of Earth’s newest admirer catching a lift on the back of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.
An Earth observation satellite, SAOCOM-1A will provide welcome new data on our planet, stimulating projects to monitor the planet’s forests, map soil moisture and measure surface deformation and motion from space, in the context of natural and anthropogenic disasters.
With teams of experts at its ESOC operations centre in Darmstadt, Germany, ESA is proud to be supporting CONAE with this important new endeavor.
Moments after launch, ESA’s flight dynamics specialists provided critical information to ground stations so they could track SAOCOM-1A, and soon after made their first 'orbit determination' — a vital step toward being able to communicate with the satellite. The flight dynamics team will continue calculating the satellite’s orbit in the following weeks.
Throughout its life, SAOCOM-1A is also being supported by ESA’s Space Debris Office, who are assessing the risk due to any space junk in the satellite's vicinity and determining if, and how, a ‘Collision Avoidance Manoeuvre’ should be carried out.
In the months to come, Estrack — ESA’s global network of ground-based antennas — will begin to provide tracking support to the satellite, through its ground station in Kourou, French Guiana.
From launch up until its end of mission, ESA will be on hand to support SAOCOM in space as well as working with its teams on ground.
This ESA support has been facilitated thanks to the ESA Earthnet programme, which for more than 40 years has been the cornerstone of Europe’s Earth Observation international cooperation.
For more excellent photography from William T. Reid, visit his website.
This image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope reveals a spiral galaxy named Messier 95 (also known as M95 or NGC 3351). Located about 35 million light-years away in the constellation of Leo (The Lion), this swirling spiral was discovered by astronomer Pierre Méchain in 1781, and catalogued by French astronomer Charles Messier just four days later. Messier was primarily a comet hunter, and was often left frustrated by objects in the sky that resembled comets but turned out not to be. To help other astronomers avoid confusing these objects in the future, he created his famous catalogue of Messier objects.
Most definitely not a comet, Messier 95 is actually a barred spiral galaxy. The galaxy has a bar cutting through its centre, surrounded by an inner ring currently forming new stars. Also our own Milky Way is a barred spiral.
As well as hosting this stellar nursery, Messier 95 is a known host of the dramatic and explosive final stages in the lives of massive stars: supernovae. In March 2016 a spectacular supernova named SN 2012aw was observed in the outer regions of one of Messier 95’s spiral arms. Once the light from the supernova had faded, astronomers were able to compare observations of the region before and after the explosion to find out which star had “disappeared” — the progenitor star. In this case, the star was an especially huge red supergiant up to 26 times more massive than the Sun.
Week in images
8 - 12 October 2018