Glowing warmly against the dark backdrop of the Universe, this image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope shows an irregular galaxy called UGC 12682. Located approximately 70 million light-years away in the constellation of Pegasus (The Winged Horse), UGC 12682 is distorted and oddly-structured, with bright pockets of star formation.
In November 2008, 14-year-old Caroline Moore from New York discovered a supernova in UGC 12682. This made her the youngest person at the time to have discovered a supernova. Follow-up observations by professional astronomers of the so-called SN 2008ha showed that it was peculiarly interesting in many different ways: its host galaxy UGC 12862 rarely produces supernovae. It is one of the faintest supernovae ever observed and after the explosion it expanded very slowly, suggesting that the explosion did not release copious amounts of energy as usually expected.
Astronomers have now classified SN 2008ha as a subclass of a Type Ia supernova, which is the explosion of a white dwarf that hungrily accretes matter from a companion star. SN 2008ha may have been the result of a partially failed supernova, explaining why the explosion failed to decimate the whole star.
The Copernicus Sentinel-3A satellite takes us over Shanghai, China. One of the most populous cities in the world and home to over 24 million people, the city is visible in the lower right of the image just above the Yangtze River mouth. As a significant global financial centre it is also the site of the world’s busiest container ports because of its strategic location on the Yangtze River delta.
The image covers an area of over 1200 km, showing Beijing at the centre-top, the salt flats close to the Mongolian border in the top left, and North Korea, with its capital, Pyongyang, just visible in the top right of the image. A large number of urban settlements represented as grey flecks are interspersed with agricultural fields, dominating the central part of the image.
This true colour image taken using Sentinel-3A’s Ocean and Land Colour Instrument (OLCI) shows the huge amount of sediment carried into the ocean along the coast.
Meanwhile, Taihu Lake is shown in green in the lower right part of the image. In 2007, an algal bloom on the lake caused major problems with water supplies in the neighbouring city of Wuxi. Such algal blooms may well be linked to the discharge of phosphates found in fertilizers used in industry and agriculture into the water.
Steps have been taken to limit the use of such fertilisers in a bid to reduce algal blooms, which can significantly alter the ecology of the environment below the surface and pose a threat to various forms of water life.
Sentinel-3 is a two-satellite mission to supply the coverage and data delivery needed for Europe’s Copernicus environmental monitoring programme. Since 2016, Sentinel-3A has been measuring our oceans, land, ice and atmosphere to monitor and understand large-scale global dynamics and to provide critical information for marine operations, and more.
This image, which was captured on 29 April 2017, is also featured on the Earth from Space video programme.
Galileo satellites 23-26 were lifted to the top of their Ariane 5 launcher inside the BAF ‘Bâtiment d’Assemblage’ building on Wednesday 11 July, ahead of their Wednesday 25 July 2018 launch.
With the campaign to launch ESA’s Aeolus wind satellite on 21 August well underway, the satellite’s telescope has been opened and expected to make sure it is perfectly clean and shiny.
While Aeolus’ novel laser technology is arguably the sexy part of the instrument, its telescope, which measures around 1.5 m across, it pretty dominant and equally important. It is used to collect backscattered light from the atmosphere and direct it to the receiver. In short, the laser system generates a series of short pulses of ultraviolet light which are beamed down into the atmosphere. The telescope collects the light backscattered from particles of gas and dust in the atmosphere. The time between sending the light pulse and receiving the signal back determines the distance to the ‘scatterers’ and therefore the altitude above Earth. As the scattering particles are moving in the wind, the wavelength of the scattered light is shifted by a small amount as a function of speed. The Doppler wind lidar measures this change so that the velocity of the wind can be determined.
It is clearly important to make sure that the instrument is absolutely spotless, so engineers at the launch site in Kourou have first turned to the telescope and given it a close inspection.
The ESA-JAXA BepiColombo mission at Europe's Spaceport undergoing intense preparations for launch. Here, sewing of the insulation blankets on ESA’s Mercury Planetary Orbiter (MPO) is taking place, while JAXA’s Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter (MMO) can be seen in the background.
One of the solar panel wings of the BepiColombo Mercury Transfer Module (MTM) during launch preparations at Europe’s Spaceport.
The MTM is one of the three modules of the ESA-JAXA BepiColombo, along with the two science orbiters: the Japanese Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter (MMO), and ESA’s Mercury Planetary Orbiter (MPO). The MTM will use solar electric propulsion to take the two orbiters to the Mercury, along 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. When it arrives at Mercury in late 2025, it will endure temperatures in excess of 350 °C.
The Cheops satellite in the cleanroom of Airbus Defence and Space Spain in Madrid.
Cheops, the Characterising Exoplanet Satellite, will make observations of exoplanet-hosting stars to measure small changes in their brightness due to the transit of a planet across the star's disc.
The information will enable precise measurements of the sizes of the orbiting planets, in particular in the Earth-to-Neptune mass range: combined with measurements of the planet masses, this will provide an estimate of their mean density – a first step to characterising planets outside our Solar System.
In this view, the science instrument – which includes the telescope, its aperture covered by a copper-coloured lid – is integrated on top of the spacecraft platform, before the installation of the solar panels.
Recently shipped to France, the satellite will later travel to Switzerland and then to ESA’s technical centre in the Netherlands for further tests. Finally, it will return to Spain, before shipment to Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana.
Cheops, which is implemented as a partnership between ESA and Switzerland, is on track to be ready for launch by the end of the year. It is an exciting period for the Cheops team as they scrutinise every detail of the mission with the spacecraft moving from country to country, and from test to test.
More about the testing campaign: From star positions to images – Cheops operations centres pull together
The MetOp-C satellite is unloaded in French Guiana, where it will be prepared for liftoff later this year.
MetOp-C is the third polar-orbiting satellite in the Meteorological Operational satellite programme. The satellites are dedicated to operational meteorology from polar orbit, marking a new era in global weather prediction and climate monitoring. This programme was procured by ESA for Eumetsat, the European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites.
Ambroise Fayolle, Vice President of the European Investment Bank, with Jan Wörner, Director General of ESA, and representatives of both organisations at the signing a Joint Statement on increased investment in the European space sector.
An augmented reality view of Galileo satellites in the sky close to ESA’s technical centre in the Netherlands. It comes from a Galileo-focused satnav app for Android smartphones, developed by ESA engineers.
ESA ran an internal competition for its trainees to develop an app capable of making positioning fixes using only Galileo satellites.
“As part of our support for the competition, we developed our own app on a voluntary basis to serve as a benchmark,” explains Paolo Crosta of ESA’s Radio Navigation Systems and Technology section. “We included this augmented reality view, so users can ‘see’ the satellites their smartphone is using as they hold it up to the sky.”
The positioning calculations and assistance data functions for the app were developed by Paolo, with telecom engineer Tim Watterton contributing the main structure of the app, together with how it looks and its user interface.
Tim adds: “The satellites are overlaid in real time on the camera view in their predicted positions in the sky, based on ‘ephemeris’ information, assistance data that describes the current satellite orbits with high precision.
“When a signal is being received, the satellite is shown in green, overlaying the predicted position. The satellite shown in red is one of the two placed in elongated orbits, but these satellites are expected to be used soon in the operational constellation. Satellites coloured orange are transmitting, but the signal is not detected, which may be due to obstruction by terrain or buildings.”
Panning the phone around to position the crosshair over a green coloured satellite adds additional information about it, such as its signal status, ‘pseudo-range’ (the uncorrected distance the signal has travelled to reach the receiver) plus the satellite’s manufacturer, launch date among other items.
The reference app is now being tested with the hope of making it publicly available on the Android Play Store. The trainees are also testing their own apps following the competition with the goal of releasing them.
There are 22 Galileo satellites in orbit, with four more satellites set for launch on 25 July.
Sentinel-5P tropospheric nitrogen dioxide measurements over Europe, Africa, Middle East, and India from April 2018 (averaged) are shown here. Air pollution emitted by big cities and shipping lanes is clearly visible. Launched in October 2017, Sentinel-5P is part of a fleet of satellites central to Copernicus, Europe’s environmental monitoring programme. With a resolution of up to 7 x 3.5 km, Sentinel-5P’s Tropomi instrument can detect air pollution over individual cities. Tropomi also has the capacity to locate where pollutants are being emitted, effectively identifying pollution hotspots.
This gadget looks like a precursor to the devices medical officers use to scan patients in science fiction, and it is not far off. The MyotonPRO tests muscle tension and stiffness.
The device is being used on the International Space Station by ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst. Part of the Myotones experiment, Alexander is using the smart-phone-sized device to investigate the human resting muscle tone system.
By default, our muscles are always slightly contracted. This is how we maintain posture and respond quickly to sudden movements. Our muscles reflexively tense to maintain balance and reduce damage when unexpectedly pulled or stretched. Muscle tension and stiffness are also good indicators of flexibility, strength, and general health.
Of course, our muscles evolved to do this on Earth. In weightlessness, muscles lose functionality and mass. This phenomenon is well studied, and astronauts exercise for approximately two hours a day to prevent muscle wasting away.
The Myotones experiment is focusing on resting muscle tone, about which researchers know much less. Sponsored by ESA, German Aerospace Center DLR and the UK Space Agency, the experiment is run by the Center of Space Medicine at the Charité University Medicine Berlin.
During his mission, Alexander will take readings from different muscles using the device, which emits a painless pressure pulse and records how the tissue responds. This video of a Myotones session on the sole of Alexander’s foot shows its ease of use.
As with most experiments on the Space Station, the data recorded in space will be compared to those taken before and after flight.
The MyotonPRO device is also demonstrating this non-invasive technology that delivers data more quickly. While not quite the futuristic scanner we see in science fiction, this could still make for a more efficient diagnostic tool for terrestrial and extra-terrestrial medical professionals.
In addition to keeping astronauts fit and healthy on longer missions, the results of Myotones will aid in diagnosing and rehabilitating people with muscle degeneration or injury such as the elderly, the bed-ridden, load-carrying workers, and athletes.
Children from all corners of Luxembourg played a central role in the Asteroid Day weekend that took place from 29-31 June this year. In this photo, they can be seen with some of their space-inspired artworks talking with ESA astronaut Matthias Maurer.
As well as presenting their projects to Matthias, they also displayed them to Joseph Rodesch, aka Mr Science – and viewers around the globe – during the live 48-hour Asteroid Day webcast.
Their projects were part of the “Interdisciplinary Cre@tivity Skills Competition”, under this year’s theme “Living and Working in Space”, and who better than Matthias to discuss the interdisciplinary nature of exploring the Universe?
With a degree in materials sciences, Matthias went on to work for ESA as a flight controller for the International Space Station. Now an astronaut, he is studying impact craters on Earth and how they formed, including the impressive Nördlinger Ries crater in Germany, with an entire town within its boundaries.
“I’m part of an astronaut generation that hopefully continues where we stopped 50-60 years ago with the Apollo mission. We want to return to the moon.” Matthias said during the live Asteroid Day webcast.
“Some of the Moon’s craters are volcanic, and some are impact craters arising from countless asteroid strikes.”
Whether it is materials science, flight dynamics, astronaut training or creating model aeroplanes and rockets, the key ingredient to exploring the universe is curiosity – something both astronauts and children have in abundance.
Week In Images
9 - 13 July 2018