This image show dramatic dark areas in the Sun's corona and was acquired by the SWAP instrument on ESA's Proba-2 mission at midday on Wednesday, 7 November.
The dark areas are 'coronal holes' – areas of open magnetic field in the Sun's corona that emit charged particles as high-speed solar wind that spreads into space.
When it reaches Earth, this solar wind can affect the functioning of satellites in orbit.
The nice thing is that these are predictable events, as we can see these gaps or holes on the solar disc before the high-speed wind hits Earth.
ESA's future Lagrange mission will significantly improve our ability to detect these holes and forecast solar wind effects, providing a lead time of three to five days.
The Copernicus Sentinel-3 mission takes us over Madagascar. This huge island nation, located off the east coast of Africa and seen in the left of the image, has a population of around 25 million. More than half of the country’s inhabitants are aged under 25. The island is also home to rare flora and fauna, having developed its own ecosystems and wildlife since splitting from the African continent some 160 million years ago.
Preserving its impressive biodiversity is an ongoing challenge for the country. With an area of almost 600 000 sq km, Madagascar is the fourth largest island in the world. Some of the world’s most extensive coral reef systems, huge mangrove areas, and a vast array of birds, lemurs, and many other species can be found here. Deforestation poses a serious threat to the island’s habitats, with illegal wildlife trade representing a further challenge.
In this true-colour image from Copernicus Sentinel-3’s ocean and land colour instrument, we can see sediment in the water along the coast. The island appears in green on the east coast, where the prevailing trade winds bring clouds and up to 3.5 m of rain per year to the low-lying coast.
The central and western highlands and coast appear in brown and are much dryer, especially between May to October. The volcanic mountainous area of Ankaratra can be found in the central highlands. In the north of the island, the highest peak of Maromokotro stands almost 2900 m above sea level.
The Mozambique Channel, which separates Madagascar from the continent, is an important shipping route for east Africa and home to significant tuna reserves. Efforts are underway to ensure that sustainability is considered in local development. Identifying and protecting critical habitats, such as migratory corridors, is part of this work.
Sentinel-3 is a two-satellite mission to supply the coverage and data delivery needed for Europe’s Copernicus environmental monitoring programme. It provides critical information for a range of applications from marine observation to large-area vegetation monitoring.
This image, which was captured on 7 August 2018, is also featured on the Earth from Space video programme.
On the first day of the 15th annual European Space Weather Week, this image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope fittingly shows a striking occurrence of celestial weather in the outer reaches of the Solar System: an aurora on Uranus.
Auroras, also known as polar lights, are a relatively familiar type of space weather to Earth-based stargazers, but have also been spied on many other planets in the Solar System.
Views of the Earth’s Northern and Southern Lights show glowing sheets and rippling waves of bright light painting the sky in striking shades of green and even red, blue, and purple; these breath-taking scenes are created as streams of energetic charged particles hit the upper layers of Earth’s atmosphere at altitudes of up to a few hundreds of kilometres, and interact with resident atoms and molecules of mostly oxygen and nitrogen. These emit photons at specific visible wavelengths or colours – green and red for oxygen, blue and purple for nitrogen – and fill the sky with an eerie auroral glow.
Hubble has observed auroras on Uranus on various occasions: in 2011, when the telescope became the first to image the phenomenon from the vicinity of Earth, then again in 2012 and 2014, taking extra data beyond visible light.
By pointing Hubble’s ultraviolet eye on Uranus twice during the same month, from 1 to 5 and 22 to 24 November 2014, scientists were able to determine that the planet’s glimmering auroras rotate along with the planet. The observations also helped to locate Uranus’ magnetic poles, and allowed scientists to track two so-called interplanetary shocks that propagated through the Solar System. These shocks were triggered by two powerful bursts of material flung out by the Sun via the solar wind, an ongoing flow of charged particles constantly emanating from our star, and caused the most intense auroras ever seen on Uranus.
This image, originally published in 2017, shows the auroras as wispy patches of white against the planet’s azure blue disc, and combines optical and ultraviolet observations from Hubble with archive data from NASA’s Voyager 2 probe. Voyager 2 was the first and only craft to visit the outermost planets in the Solar System; it flew past Uranus in January 1986, and past Neptune in August 1989. These icy planets have not been visited since. NASA and ESA have been studying a possible joint mission that would target the two ice giant planets in order to explore their intriguing role in our planetary system.
European Space Weather Week runs from 5 to 9 November 2018, and brings together engineers, scientists, specialists, and professionals from across the continent in order to exchange news, ideas, and strategies on space weather and protecting Earth’s cosmic environment.
Despite humankind’s scientific prowess there are still many phenomena that defy explanation or a common agreement on why something happens. A ‘glory’ is a rare optical phenomenon that is mostly seen by pilots and mountain climbers looking down at mists or clouds. Forming a miniature circular rainbow, glories are seen when the Sun shines from behind and interacts with water droplets to refract light back to the observer.
This picture is an even more rare example of a glory seen from space. Snapped by ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst on 14 September 2018 during his Horizons mission, he commented: “Surprised to see a pilot's glory from the International Space Station, an optical phenomenon that is often visible from aircraft, or on volcanoes when looking down in a foggy crater, with Sun in the back. Our shadow is (theoretically) right in the middle of the rainbow, but we don't have a core shadow due to our altitude.”
To see a glory at the International Space Station’s cruising altitude of 400 km is surprising as they require specific atmospheric conditions.
Our atmosphere extends to 480 km above the surface of Earth but most of it stays within 16 km, making the boundaries of where “space” begins hardly a defined point.
The Kármán line at 100 km altitude is a generally accepted point that represents the boundary between Earth and space, but weather, and space weather, will often take no heed of boundaries defined by humans.
In the upper reaches of our atmosphere many more phenomena have been spotted that we know little about, from noctilucent clouds to sprites, blue jets and elves, but the International Space Station offers a great platform to investigate these phenomena.
The Atmosphere-Space Interactions Monitor (ASIM) was installed this year as a dedicated facility outside the European space laboratory Columbus. The collection of optical cameras, photometers and X- and gamma-ray detectors are designed to look for electrical discharges born in stormy weather conditions that extend above thunderstorms into the upper atmosphere.
This observatory is not designed to investigate glories but space events such as sprites and blue jets are just as awe-inspiring to view from space. ESA astronaut Andreas Mogensen captured a sprite on camera from the International Space Station, proving the phenomenon can be observed from space – rare photos of the phenomena were also taken by pilots and researchers from mountaintops.
Sometimes a simple photograph can spark scientific investigation or even full-blown scientific research. Alexander’s pictures of aurora from his last mission in 2014 are adding extra information for researchers analysing these beautiful atmospheric displays of light.
The International Space Station also hosted ESA’s Solar facility that monitored the radiation emitted by the Sun across the electromagnetic spectrum. For almost a decade it tracked the Sun to measure our star’s energy, delivering the most accurate data on the Sun’s power that influences our climate on Earth but also how satellites operate in space.
The phenomenon in this picture is related to atmospheric physics and so strictly speaking not space weather. This week, however ESA is highlighting space weather, from the science behind it and how we study it, to its effect on satellites in space and ESA’s plans for the future. Keep your eye on ESA’s online channels to find out more, or follow these hashtags in social media: #SpaceWeather #SolarHazards #SafeguardingOurPlanet.
ESA’s Proba-V minisatellite images the verdant Yucatán peninsula, once home to the Maya civilization and the site of the impact believed to have doomed the dinosaurs.
As part of the Atlantic Hurricane Belt – placed between the Gulf of Mexico to the west and the Caribbean Sea to the east – the largely flat peninsula is vulnerable to storms from the east. Yet, its easternmost side is the site of popular beach resorts and tourist hotspots such as the city of Cancún. Moving further south towards Belize, the state of Quintana Roo is home to the biosphere reserve of Sian Ka'an, home to jaguars and archaeological sites of the Maya.
On the western side, the large orange-brown spot is the city of Mérida, near the centre of the buried Chicxulub crater. This was formed by the impact of a 10- to 15- km large asteroid or comet, triggering a major climate disruption and extinction event, just under 66 million years ago.
Launched on 7 May 2013, Proba-V is a miniaturised ESA satellite tasked with a full-scale mission: to map land cover and vegetation growth across the entire planet every two days.
Its main camera’s continent-spanning 2250 km swath width collects light in the blue, red, near-infrared and mid-infrared wavebands at 300 m resolution and down to 100 m resolution in its central field of view.
VITO Remote Sensing in Belgium processes and then distributes Proba-V data to users worldwide. An online image gallery highlights some of the mission’s most striking images so far, including views of storms, fires and deforestation.
This 100 m resolution image was acquired on 23 July 2018.
Proba-V is currently the subject of ESA’s latest ‘citizen science’ competition, requesting teams to produce ‘super-resolution’ images equivalent to its 100 m mode from sets of 300 m imagery.
The third MetOp satellite, MetOp-C, was launched on a Soyuz rocket from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana to continue the provision of data for weather forecasting from polar orbit. Carrying the 4083 kg MetOp-C satellite, the Soyuz rocket lifted off on 7 November at 00:47 GMT (01:47 CET).
MetOp-C is the last in the current series of MetOp satellites, following on from MetOp-A, which was launched in 2006, and MetOp-B, which was launched in 2012. The MetOp satellites are developed by ESA under a cooperation agreement to form the space segment of the Eumetsat Polar System. This system is Europe’s contribution to a multi-orbit polar system shared with the US NOAA agency.
On Monday morning 5 November 2018 the first European Service Module (ESM) for NASA’s Orion spacecraft was loaded onto an Antonov An-124 aircraft in Bremen airport and sent across the Atlantic to the NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, USA.
The module was packed in a custom-built container that keeps the environment inside within acceptable limits for transportation. It flew via Hamburg, Germany, and Portsmouth, USA for refuelling and customs.
Read more about Orion at esa.int/orion
On 4 November 2018 the Mercury Transfer Module (MTM) of the ESA-JAXA BepiColombo mission was commanded to conduct a special one-off activity, called the “solar array drive run-in”. This operation consisted of performing several rotations of the MTM solar array over its full movement range, to clean the solar array drive mechanism slip ring from contaminants accumulated during the long ground testing phase before launch.
The operation saw the back side of the arrays turned towards the Sun, and at the same time into the field of view of one of the MTM’s monitoring cameras – M-CAM 1. One image is presented here, with the exquisite details of the cabling and mechanisms on the backside of the array visible. Watch the full sequence here.
The image has an exposure time of 20 milliseconds and a resolution of 1024 x 1024 pixels. The structure seen in the bottom corner is one of the sun sensor units on the MTM, with the multi-layered insulation visible.
BepiColombo is a joint endeavour between ESA and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, JAXA. The European built MTM is carrying ESA’s Mercury Planetary Orbiter and JAXA’s Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter on a seven year journey to the smallest and least explored planet in the inner Solar System. It is the first Mercury mission to send two science orbiters to make complementary measurements of the planet and its dynamic environment at the same time.
This captivating image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope’s Wide Field Camera 3 shows a lonely dwarf galaxy, a staggering 100 million light-years away from Earth. This image depicts the blue compact dwarf galaxy ESO 338-4, which can be found in the constellation of Corona Australis (the Southern Crown).
Blue compact dwarf galaxies take their name from the intensely blue star-forming regions that are often found within their cores. One such region can be seen embedded in ESO 338-4, which is populated with bright young stars voraciously consuming hydrogen. These massive stars are doomed to a short existence, as despite their vast supplies of hydrogen fuel. The nuclear reactions in the cores of these stars will burn through these supplies in only millions of years — a mere blink of an eye in astronomical terms.
The young blue stars nestled within a cloud of dust and gas in the centre of this image are the result of a recent galaxy merger between a wandering galaxy and ESO 388-4. This galactic interaction disrupted the clouds of gas and dust surrounding ESO 338-4 and led to the rapid formation of a new population of stars.
Week in images
5-9 November 2018