ESA astronaut Tim Peake took this picture during his 4 hour 43 minute spacewalk to replace a failed power regulator and install cabling.
The meticulously planned and executed sortie was stopped early after fellow spacewalker NASA astronaut Tim Kopra reported a small amount of water building up in his helmet. The two Tims worked in close cooperation with each other to return to the Space Station, with NASA commander Scott Kelly and cosmonaut Sergei Volkov waiting inside to help them out of their suits.
Tim commented on this picture: "Today’s exhilarating spacewalk will be etched in my memory forever – quite an incredible feeling!"
Follow Tim Peake and his six-month Principia mission via timpeake.esa.int
This beautiful, natural-colour image from Sentinel-2A on 18 September 2015 features the small nation of Bahrain and parts of eastern Saudi Arabia.
Located on the southwestern coast of the Persian Gulf, Bahrain is a small Arab state, made up of an archipelago consisting of Bahrain Island and some 30 smaller islands.
Owing to the high-resolution multispectral instrument on Sentinel-2A, the colour difference of the various types of surfaces is striking.
In the middle of the image, on the Persian Gulf, the King Fahd Causeway is clearly visible. Built between 1981 and 1986, it consists of a series of bridges and stretches of road connecting Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. The Saudi and Bahraini passport control centres are also noticeable in the middle of the Causeway.
On the right of the image is the island of Bahrain, home to some 1.5 million people, with its modern capital Manama featured at the top. The greys represent the densely built city centre and surrounding towns.
Strikingly relaxed and cosmopolitan, Manama has been at the centre of major trade routes since antiquity.
On the top right part of the island, on a smaller island about 7 km northeast of the capital, Bahrain International Airport is visible.
Most of Bahrain is a flat and arid desert plain, with recurrent droughts and dust storms the main natural dangers for its inhabitants. Famous for its pearl fisheries for centuries, today it is also known for its financial, commercial and communications sectors.
Towards the central left part of the island, Bahrain University is observable. Also visible, the Al Areen Wildlife Reservation, both a nature reserve and zoo, one of the five protected areas of the country, and the only protected area on land.
On the bottom-right tip of the island a series of horseshoe-shaped artificial atolls are clearly visible. Durrat Al Bahrain, one of the largest artificial islands in Bahrain, comprises six atolls and five fish-shaped islands.
On the left side of the image, in Saudi Arabia, part of the Rub’ al-Khali, the world’s largest sand desert, is also visible.
Distinct throughout the entire image, the striking variations of blue represent the shallow versus deep waters, with the presence of coral reefs.
Sentinel-2A has been in orbit since 23 June 2015 as a polar-orbiting, high-resolution satellite for land monitoring, providing imagery of vegetation, soil and water cover, inland waterways and coastal areas.
This image is also featured on the Earth from Space video programme.
The new Sentinel-3A satellite recently began providing data from orbit. This very early image recorded on 3 March 2016, takes us over the River Nile and Delta and the surrounding desert areas of northeast Africa and parts of the Middle East.
Very distinct is Egypt, a country connecting northeast Africa with the Middle East, home to millennia-old monuments still sitting along the lush Nile valley.
In the centre of the image, capital city Cairo with the Nile snaking northwards is clearly visible, along with the Red Sea just further east. Also evident are the islands of Cyprus further north in the Mediterranean Sea and parts of Crete on the very left.
One of the suite of sophisticated instruments that will measure Earth’s oceans, land, ice and atmosphere, Sentinel-3’s Sea and Land Surface Temperature Radiometer (SLSTR) measures the energy radiating from Earth’s surface in nine spectral bands, including visible and infrared.
The instrument improves on the capabilities of the Advanced Along-Track Scanning Radiometer carried by the Envisat satellite of 2002–12, including a wider swath of 1400 km, new channels and a partly higher spatial resolution.
Combining radiometer and colour data helps us to understand the state of vegetation better.
Launched last 16 February, Sentinel-3 will systematically measure Earth’s oceans, land, ice and atmosphere to monitor and understand large-scale global dynamics. It will provide essential information in near-real time for ocean and weather forecasting, among other major applications.
Over land, this innovative mission will provide a bigger picture by monitoring wildfires, mapping the way land is used, providing indices of vegetation state and measuring the height of rivers and lakes, complementing the high-resolution measurements of its sister mission, Sentinel-2.
This image is also featured on the Earth from Space video programme.
Single frame enhanced NavCam image taken on 27 March 2016, when Rosetta was 329 km from the nucleus of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. The scale is 28 m/pixel and the image measures 28.7 km across.
The original image and more information is available on the blog: CometWatch 27 March
Sentinel-1B lifted off on a Soyuz rocket, flight VS14, from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana on 25 April 21:02 GMT (23:02 CEST). With the Sentinel-1 mission designed as a two-satellite constellation, Sentinel-1B will join its identical twin, Sentinel-1A, which was launched two years ago from Kourou. Both satellites carry an advanced radar that images Earth’s surface through cloud and rain regardless of whether it is day or night. By orbiting 180° apart, global coverage and data delivery are optimised for the environmental monitoring Copernicus programme. The mission provides radar imagery for a multitude of services and applications to improve everyday life and understand our changing planet.
Three CubeSats piggybacked a ride on Soyuz. These small satellites, each measuring just 10×10×11 cm, have been developed by university student teams through ESA’s Fly Your Satellite! effort. The other passenger is the Microscope satellite from France’s CNES space agency.
Sentinel-1B’s first data strip stretches 600 km from 80°N degrees through the Barents Sea. The image, which shows the Norwegian Svalbard archipelago on the left, was captured on 28 April 2016 at 05:37 GMT (07:37 CEST) – just two hours after the satellite’s radar was switched on. Sentinel-1B lifted off on a Soyuz rocket from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana on 25 April at 21:02 GMT (23:02 CEST). It joins its twin, Sentinel-1A, to provide more ‘radar vision’ for Europe’s environmental Copernicus programme.
Read article: Sentinel-1B delivers
As the smallest planet in the Solar System crossed the face of the Sun on Monday 9 May, one of ESA’s smallest satellites was watching.
Proba-2, smaller than a cubic metre, monitors the Sun from Earth orbit with an extreme ultraviolet telescope called SWAP. It was able to spot Mercury’s transit of the Sun as a small black disk roughly four pixels in diameter.
The Mercury transit was visible from Earth starting at 11:13 UTC and ending at 18:42 UTC. The total transit time was about 7 hours and 30 minutes.
Celestial transits – where a celestial body is seen to pass across the solar disk from the perspective of the Earth – are relatively rare events. The planet Mercury undergoes around 13 transits a century, and Venus undergoes two transits every 120 years.
The southern-central edge of the Tibetan Plateau near the border with western Nepal and the Indian state of Sikkim is pictured in this Sentinel-2A image from 1 February 2016.
The Tibetan Plateau was created by continental collision some 55 million years ago when the north-moving Indian Plate collided with the Eurasian Plate, causing the land to crumple and rise. And rise it did. With an average elevation exceeding 4500 m and an area of 2.5 million sq km, it is the highest and largest plateau in the world today.
The plateau is also the world’s third largest store of ice, after the Arctic and Antarctic. In recent years, rising temperatures have caused rapid melting.
Part of the Himalayas is visible along the bottom of the false-colour image, with the distinct pattern of water runoff from the mountains. At the end of these rivers and streams we can see the triangle-shapes of sediment deposits – alluvial fans – formed when the streams hit the plain and spread out.
One large alluvial fan is visible in the upper-central portion of the image, while smaller ones can be seen on the left.
Alluvial fans are subject to flooding, and these areas are increasingly at risk as climate change taking its toll on the world’s glaciers causes accelerated melting.
From their vantage point 800 km high, satellites can monitor changes in glacier mass, melting and other effects that climate change has on our planet.
This image is also featured on the Earth from Space video programme.
ESA astronaut Tim Peake, NASA astronaut Tim Kopra and commander Yuri Malenchenko landed in the steppe of Kazakhstan on Saturday, 18 June in their Soyuz TMA-19M spacecraft. The trio spent 186 days on the International Space Station.
The landing brings Tim Peake’s Principia mission to an end but the research continues. Tim is the eighth ESA astronaut to complete a long-duration mission in space. He is the third after Alexander Gerst and Andreas Mogensen to fly directly to ESA’s astronaut home base in Cologne, Germany, for medical checks and for researchers to collect more data on how Tim’s body and mind have adapted to living in space.
Follow Tim Peake via timpeake.esa.int
This image combines an image taken with Hubble Space Telescope in the optical (taken in spring 2014) and observations of its auroras in the ultraviolet, taken in 2016.
Read more about this image: Hubble captures vivid auroras in Jupiter's atmosphere
This NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image captures the remnants of a long-dead star. These rippling wisps of ionised gas, named DEM L316A, are located some 160 000 light-years away within one of the Milky Way’s closest galactic neighbours — the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC).
The explosion that formed DEM L316A was an example of an especially energetic and bright variety of supernova, known as a Type Ia. Such supernova events are thought to occur when a white dwarf star steals more material than it can handle from a nearby companion, and becomes unbalanced. The result is a spectacular release of energy in the form of a bright, violent explosion, which ejects the star’s outer layers into the surrounding space at immense speeds. As this expelled gas travels through the interstellar material, it heats it up and ionise it, producing the faint glow that Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 has captured here.
The LMC orbits the Milky Way as a satellite galaxy and is the fourth largest in our group of galaxies, the Local Group. DEM L316A is not alone in the LMC; Hubble came across another one in 2010 with SNR 0509 (heic1018), and in 2013 it snapped SNR 0519 (potw1317a).
This image from ESA’s Planck satellite appears to show something quite ethereal and fantastical: a sprite-like figure emerging from scorching flames and walking towards the left of the frame, its silhouette a blaze of warm-hued colours.
This fiery illusion is actually a celestial feature named the Polaris Flare. This name is somewhat misleading; despite its moniker, the Polaris Flare is not a flare but a 10 light-year-wide bundle of dusty filaments in the constellation of Ursa Minor (The Little Bear), some 500 light-years away.
The Polaris Flare is located near the North Celestial Pole, a perceived point in the sky aligned with Earth’s spin axis. Extended into the skies of the northern and southern hemispheres, this imaginary line points to the two celestial poles. To find the North Celestial Pole, an observer need only locate the nearby Polaris (otherwise known as the North Star or Pole Star), the brightest star in the constellation of Ursa Minor.
Some of the secrets of the Polaris Flare were uncovered when it was observed by ESA’s Herschel some years ago. Using a combination of such Herschel observations and a computer simulation, scientists think that the Polaris Flare filaments could have been formed as a result of slow shockwaves pushing their way through a dense interstellar cloud, an accumulation of cold cosmic dust and gas sitting between the stars of our Galaxy.
These shockwaves, reminiscent of the sonic booms formed by fast sound waves here on Earth, would have been themselves triggered by nearby exploding stars that disrupted their surroundings as they died, triggering cloud-wide waves of turbulence
These shockwaves, reminiscent of the sonic booms formed by fast sound waves here on Earth, were themselves triggered by nearby exploding stars that disrupted their surroundings as they died, triggering cloud-wide waves of turbulence. These waves swept up the gas and dust in their path, sculpting the material into the snaking filaments we see.
This image is not a true-colour view, nor is it an artistic impression of the Flare, rather it comprises observations from Planck, which operated between 2009 and 2013. Planck scanned and mapped the entire sky, including the plane of the Milky Way, looking for signs of ancient light (known as the cosmic microwave background) and cosmic dust emission. This dust emission allowed Planck to create this unique map of the sky – a magnetic map.
The relief lines laced across this image show the average direction of our Galaxy’s magnetic field in the region containing the Polaris Flare. This was created using the observed emission from cosmic dust, which was polarised (constrained to one direction). Dust grains in and around the Milky Way are affected by and interlaced with the Galaxy’s magnetic field, causing them to align preferentially in space. This carries through to the dust’s emission, which also displays a preferential orientation that Planck could detect.
The emission from dust is computed from a combination of Planck observations at 353, 545 and 857 GHz, whereas the direction of the magnetic field is based on Planck polarisation data at 353 GHz. This frame has an area of 30 x 30º on the sky, and the colours represent the intensity of dust emission.
An all-sky view of stars in our Galaxy – the Milky Way – and neighbouring galaxies, based on the first year of observations from ESA’s Gaia satellite, from July 2014 to September 2015.
This map shows the density of stars observed by Gaia in each portion of the sky. Brighter regions indicate denser concentrations of stars, while darker regions correspond to patches of the sky where fewer stars are observed.
The Milky Way is a spiral galaxy, with most of its stars residing in a disc about 100 000 light-years across and about 1000 light-years thick. This structure is visible in the sky as the Galactic Plane – the brightest portion of this image –which runs horizontally and is especially bright at the centre.
Darker regions across the Galactic Plane correspond to dense clouds of interstellar gas and dust that absorb starlight along the line of sight.
Many globular and open clusters – groupings of stars held together by their mutual gravity – are also sprinkled across the image.
Globular clusters, large assemblies of hundreds of thousands to millions of old stars, are mainly found in the halo of the Milky Way, a roughly spherical structure with a radius of about 100 000 light-years, and so are visible across the image.
Open clusters are smaller assemblies of hundreds to thousands of stars and are found mainly in the Galactic Plane.
The two bright objects in the lower right of the image are the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds, two dwarf galaxies orbiting the Milky Way. Other nearby galaxies are also visible, most notably Andromeda (also known as M31), the largest galactic neighbour to the Milky Way, in the lower left of the image. Below Andromeda is its satellite, the Triangulum galaxy (M33).
A number of artefacts are also visible on the image. These curved features and darker stripes are not of astronomical origin but rather reflect Gaia’s scanning procedure. As this map is based on observations performed during the mission’s first year, the survey is not yet uniform across the sky.
These artefacts will gradually disappear as more data are gathered during the five-year mission.
High resolution versions of the Gaia map, with transparent background, are available to download from: http://sci.esa.int/gaia/58209
Acknowledgement: A. Moitinho & M. Barros (CENTRA – University of Lisbon), on behalf of DPAC
A perfect satellite test set-up inside ESA’s vast Large Space Simulator chamber – the only thing missing is a satellite.
“Next spring will see thermal vacuum testing of the payload module of Europe’s MetOp-C weather satellite,” explains Eric Bonnet of European Test Services, the company that operates the test centre in the Netherlands for ESA.
“In preparation, we have we have taken the all the test equipment out of storage and set it up in advance, to check it is still operating reliably.”
Next year’s test involves verifying the operation of MetOp’s instruments in space-like vacuum conditions. In order to do so, cryogenically cooled ‘blackbodies’ need to be fitted in front of the instrument openings or radiators.
Eleven blackbodies are required in all, their temperatures controlled to within 100–30ºC of absolute zero.
Accordingly, a complex structure has been designed to position these blackbodies as close as possible to the instruments, with piping variously supplying liquid nitrogen and helium gas, all covered with multilayer insulation to minimise any thermal effect on the satellite.
The payload module was represented by a simple metal structure with the same interface points as the satellite to come.
The team worked over weeks to prepare Europe’s single largest vacuum chamber. “Normally we would have performed this activity closer to the actual MetOp-C test campaign,” adds Eric. “But between now and then the chamber will be used for the thermal vacuum testing of the Mercury Transfer Module of the BepiColombo mission.
“This will also be challenging, using the chamber’s Sun simulator, which has been reconfigured to attain the high solar flux prevailing in the vicinity of the innermost planet, up to 11 000 W/m2, as well as simulating the release of xenon gas from its electrical propulsion system.”
The Large Space Simulator is part of ESA’s Test Centre in Noordwijk, the largest facility of its kind in Europe, with a full set of satellite testing facilities under a single roof.
MetOp is a set of three polar-orbiting satellites whose temperature and humidity observations have helped to improve weather forecasting. MetOp-A was launched in 2006 and MetOp-B in 2012, with MetOp-C planned to follow them.
ESA’s annual Open Day in the Netherlands takes place on 2 October. For more information, click here.
Close-up of the Philae lander, imaged by Rosetta’s OSIRIS narrow-angle camera on 2 September 2016 from a distance of 2.7 km. The image scale is about 5 cm/pixel. Philae’s 1 m-wide body and two of its three legs can be seen extended from the body. The images also provide proof of Philae’s orientation.
The image is a zoom from a wider-scene, and has been interpolated.
More information: Philae found!
Paolo Ferri, sitting, head of ESA’s mission operations, surrounded by the Rosetta flight control team and Patrick Martin, in the white shirt, the Rosetta mission manager, sends the final command to the history-making Rosetta spacecraft on 30 September 2016.
This photo was taken at ESA’s mission control in Darmstadt, Germany, some 90 minutes before radio contact with Rosetta was lost forever at 11:19 GMT (13:19 CEST).
Sequence of images captured by Rosetta during its descent to the surface of Comet 67P/C-G on 30 September.
This image from Copernicus Sentinel-3A shows the temperature at the top of Hurricane Matthew at 03:13 GMT (05:13 CEST) today, as it approached Florida in the USA.
The temperature of the clouds at the top of the storm, about 12 km from the ocean surface, range from about –80°C just outside the eye of the storm to about 25°C at sea level in the Gulf of Mexico, where it is relatively calm. This monster 400 km-wide hurricane was about 200 km northwest of Miami Beach when the image was taken. Having already caused devastation in the Caribbean, Matthew is the most powerful hurricane to threaten the US Atlantic coast in more than a decade – and it is thought that it could be the most catastrophic to hit Florida in more than a 100 years.
Sentinel-3’s sea and land surface temperature radiometer measures energy radiating from Earth’s surface in nine spectral bands. This is a thermal infrared image at a resolution of 1 km.
The two spiral arms winding towards the bright centre might deceive you into thinking you are looking at a galaxy a bit like our Milky Way. But the object starring in this image is of a different nature: PK 329-02.2 is a ‘planetary nebula’ within our home galaxy.
Despite the name, this isn’t a planet either. Planetary nebula is a misnomer that came about because of how much nebulas resembled giant, gaseous planets when looked through a telescope in the 1700s. Rather, what we see in this image is the last breath of a dying star.
When stars like the Sun are nearing the end of their lives, they let go of their gaseous outermost layers. As these clouds of stellar material move away from the central star they can acquire irregular and complex shapes. This complexity is evident in the faint scattered gas you see at the centre of the image. But there is also beautiful symmetry in PK 329-02.2, as the two bright blue spiral arms perfectly align with the two stars at the centre of the nebula.
It may look like the spiral arms are connected, but it is the stars that are companions. They are part of a visual binary, though only the one at the upper right gave rise to the nebula. While the stars will continue to orbit each other for millions or billions of years, the nebula – and its spiral arms – will spread out from the centre and eventually fade away over the next few thousands of years.
This planetary nebula with spiral arms is also known as Menzel 2, after the US astronomer Donald Menzel who discovered it in the 1920s. It is located in Norma, a constellation in the Southern celestial hemisphere where you can also find Menzel 1 and 3, two ‘bipolar planetary nebulas’ (shaped like butterflies or hourglasses).
Hubble’s Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2 captured this image, which was processed using green, blue, red and infrared filters. Astrophotography-enthusiast Serge Meunier entered a version of this image into the 2012 Hubble’s Hidden Treasures image processing competition.
ESA astronaut Luca Parmitano collecting rock samples during a simulated planetary mission in Lanzarote, October 2016.
The Lanzarote national park is in many ways similar to Mars and the trio interpreted its geological history, researched scientific questions and identified suitable rock samples for further analysis.
“The ‘Pangaea’ course intends to prepare astronauts to become effective collaborators with scientists for future geological studies on planetary bodies,” says Pangaea project manager Loredana Bessone.
During their field trips, the astronauts identified and retrieved samples that will be used for scientific study involving students, in collaboration with the Geopark of Lanzarote and other institutes and universities involved in the course.
ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet performs the traditional door signing at the Cosmonaut Hotel, prior to departing the hotel for launch in a Soyuz rocket, from Baikonour, in Kazakhstan, on 17 November 2016.
Thomas will leave for the International Space Station from Baikonur cosmodrome at 20:20 GMT (21:20 CET) with NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson, Oleg Novitskiy of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos).
Liftoff of Ariane flight VA233, carrying four Galileo satellites, from Europe's Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana, on 17 November 2016.
ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet arrived at the International Space Station last Saturday with Soyuz spacecraft commander Oleg Novitsky and NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson. This picture is the first he posted on social media, with the comment: “The International Space Station is amazing: better than in my best dreams. I wish everybody could get the chance to come up here!”
The image was taken in the Space Station’s Cupola observatory, one of ESA’s contributions to the orbital outpost. Built in Italy, the module features seven windows that are quadruple-glazed and shutters that can be closed for protection.
Although Thomas is only at the start of his six-month Proxima mission, he has already helped Station commander Shane Kimborough to monitor the robotic arm unberthing the Cygnus supply vessel – the golden panels in the background of this picture are on that craft.
Cupola is used to monitor spacecraft arrivals and departures and to operate the 16 m-long arm. It also offers breathtaking views of our planet.
Follow Thomas and his mission via thomaspesquet.esa.int
Sentinel-1 radar data show ground displacement of the San Francisco Bay Area. Hot spots are clearly observed, including the Hayward fault running north–south of the central-right side of the image. Subsidence of the newly reclaimed land in the San Rafael Bay on the left is also visible, while an uplift of land is visible in the lower right, possibly a result of a recovering groundwater level after a four-year long drought that ended in autumn 2015.
Close-up of the rim of a large unnamed crater north of a crater named Da Vinci, situated near the Mars equator. A smaller, 1.4 km-diameter crater is seen in the rim along the left hand side of the image. The image scale is 7.2 m/pixel.
The image was taken on 22 November 2016 and is one of the first acquired by the Colour and Stereo Surface Imaging System (CaSSIS) onboard the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter. The image was taken as part of an eight-day campaign to test the science instruments for the first time since arriving at the Red Planet on 19 October.
Colour composite of Phobos taken with the ExoMars orbiter’s Colour and Stereo Surface Imaging System (CaSSIS) on 26 November 2016. The observation was made at a distance of 7700 km and yields a resolution of 87 m/pixel.
To create the final colour image, two images were taken through each of the four colour filters of the camera – panchromatic, blue–green, red and infrared – and then stitched together and combined to produce the high-resolution composite.
Two of the colour filters used by CaSSIS lie outside the wavelength response of the human eye, so this is not a ‘true’ colour image. However, showing the data as a colour representation can reveal details of the surface mineralogy. Different colours are clearly seen, with the bluest part in the direction of the large crater Stickney, which is out of view over the limb to the left. Although the exact composition of the material is unknown, the colour differences are thought to be caused by compositional variations on scales of hundreds of metres to several kilometres.
ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet took this image from on board the International Space Station. He posted it on social media, commenting: "This is tonight’s 'super moon' seen from space! The last one I saw was in Baikonur... I like this one better! ;)"
Thomas' Proxima mission is the ninth long-duration mission for an ESA astronaut. It is named after the closest star to the Sun, continuing a tradition of naming missions with French astronauts after stars and constellations.
During Proxima, Thomas will perform around 50 scientific experiments for ESA and France’s space agency CNES as well as take part in many research activities for the other Station partners. The mission is part of ESA’s vision to use Earth-orbiting spacecraft as a place to live and work for the benefit of European society while using the experience to prepare for future voyages of exploration further into the Solar System.
Connect with Thomas Pesquet: http://thomaspesquet.esa.int
Year in images
a selection of our favourite images for 2016