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Posts Tagged ‘ESA’

Origin Of High-Latitude Auroras Revealed

December 18, 2014 Leave a comment

Auroras are the most visible manifestation of the Sun’s effect on Earth, but many aspects of these spectacular displays are still poorly understood. Thanks to ESA’s Cluster and NASA’s Image satellites working together, a particular type of very high-latitude aurora has now been explained.

Although separated by some 150 million kilometres, the Sun and Earth are connected by the solar wind. This stream of plasma – electrically charged atomic particles – is launched by the Sun and travels across the Solar System, carrying its own magnetic field with it.

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NASA’s Chandra Weighs Most Massive Galaxy Cluster In Distant Universe

December 18, 2014 Leave a comment

Credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/INAF/P.Tozzi, et al; Optical: NAOJ/Subaru and ESO/VLT; Infrared: ESA/Herschel

Credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/INAF/P.Tozzi, et al; Optical: NAOJ/Subaru and ESO/VLT; Infrared: ESA/Herschel

Using NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory, astronomers have made the first determination of the mass and other properties of a very young, distant galaxy cluster.

The Chandra study shows that the galaxy cluster, seen at the comparatively young age of about 800 million years, is the most massive known cluster with that age or younger. As the largest gravitationally- bound structures known, galaxy clusters can act as crucial gauges for how the Universe itself has evolved over time.

The galaxy cluster was originally discovered using ESA’s XMM-Newton observatory and is located about 9.6 billion light years from Earth. Astronomers used X-ray data from Chandra that, when combined with scientific models, provides an accurate weight of the cluster, which comes in at a whopping 400 trillion times the mass of the Sun. Scientists believe the cluster formed about 3.3 billion years after the Big Bang.

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Venus Express Goes Gently Into The Night

December 17, 2014 Leave a comment

Copyright ESA–C. Carreau

Copyright ESA–C. Carreau

ESA’s Venus Express has ended its eight-year mission after far exceeding its planned life. The spacecraft exhausted its propellant during a series of thruster burns to raise its orbit following the low-altitude aerobraking earlier this year.

Since its arrival at Venus in 2006, Venus Express had been on an elliptical 24‑hour orbit, traveling 66 000 km above the south pole at its furthest point and to within 200 km over the north pole on its closest approach, conducting a detailed study of the planet and its atmosphere.

However, after eight years in orbit and with propellant for its propulsion system running low, Venus Express was tasked in mid-2014 with a daring aerobraking campaign, during which it dipped progressively lower into the atmosphere on its closest approaches to the planet.

Normally, the spacecraft would perform routine thruster burns to ensure that it did not come too close to Venus and risk being lost in the atmosphere. But this unique adventure was aimed at achieving the opposite, namely reducing the altitude and allowing an exploration of previously uncharted regions of the atmosphere.

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Rosetta-Alice Spectrograph Obtains First Far Ultraviolet Spectra Of A Cometary Surface While Orbiting Churyumov-Gerasimenko

September 4, 2014 Leave a comment

NASA’s Alice ultraviolet (UV) spectrograph aboard the European Space Agency’s Rosetta comet orbiter has delivered its first scientific discoveries. Rosetta, in orbit around comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, is the first spacecraft to study a comet up close.

As Alice began mapping the comet’s surface last month, it made the first far ultraviolet spectra of a cometary surface. From these data, the Alice team discovered that the comet is unusually dark at ultraviolet wavelengths and that the comet’s surface — so far — shows no large water-ice patches. Alice is also already detecting both hydrogen and oxygen in the comet’s coma, or atmosphere.

“We’re a bit surprised at both just how very unreflective the comet’s surface is, and what little evidence of exposed water-ice it shows,” says Dr. Alan Stern, Alice principal investigator and an associate vice president of the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) Space Science and Engineering Division.

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Icy Aquifers On Titan Transform Methane Rainfall

September 4, 2014 Leave a comment

The NASA and European Space Agency Cassini mission has revealed hundreds of lakes and seas spread across the north polar region of Saturn’s moon Titan. These lakes are filled not with water but with hydrocarbons, a form of organic compound that is also found naturally on Earth and includes methane. The vast majority of liquid in Titan’s lakes is thought to be replenished by rainfall from clouds in the moon’s atmosphere. But how liquids move and cycle through Titan’s crust and atmosphere is still relatively unknown.

A recent study led by Olivier Mousis, a Cassini research associate at the University of Franche-Comté, France, examined how Titan’s methane rainfall would interact with icy materials within underground reservoirs. They found that the formation of materials called clathrates changes the chemical composition of the rainfall runoff that charges these hydrocarbon “aquifers.” This process leads to the formation of reservoirs of propane and ethane that may feed into some rivers and lakes

“We knew that a significant fraction of the lakes on Titan’s surface might possibly be connected with hidden bodies of liquid beneath Titan’s crust, but we just didn’t know how they would interact,” said Mousis. “Now, we have a better idea of what these hidden lakes or oceans could be like.”

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Rosetta: Landing Site Search Narrows

August 25, 2014 2 comments

Using detailed information collected by ESA’s Rosetta spacecraft during its first two weeks at Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, five locations have been identified as candidate sites to set down the Philae lander in November – the first time a landing on a comet has ever been attempted.

Before arrival, Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko had never been seen close up and so the race to find a suitable landing site for the 100 kg lander could only begin when Rosetta rendezvoused with the comet on 6 August.

The landing is expected to take place in mid-November when the comet is about 450 million km from the Sun, before activity on the comet reaches levels that might jeopardise the safe and accurate deployment of Philae to the comet’s surface, and before surface material is modified by this activity.

The comet is on a 6.5-year orbit around the Sun and today is 522 million km from it. At their closest approach on 13 August 2015, just under a year from now, the comet and Rosetta will be 185 million km from the Sun, meaning an eightfold increase in the light received from the Sun.

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Hubble Traces The Halo Of A Galaxy More Accurately Than Ever Before


Image credit: ESA/Hubble, NASA, Digitized Sky Survey, MPG/ESO

Image credit: ESA/Hubble, NASA, Digitized Sky Survey, MPG/ESO

Astronomers using the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope have probed the extreme outskirts of the stunning elliptical galaxy Centaurus A. The galaxy’s halo of stars has been found to extend much further from the galaxy’s centre than expected and the stars within this halo seem to be surprisingly rich in heavy elements. This is the most remote portion of an elliptical galaxy ever to have been explored.

There is more to a galaxy than first meets the eye. Extending far beyond the bright glow of a galaxy’s centre, the swirling spiral arms, or the elliptical fuzz, is an extra component: a dim halo of stars sprawling into space.

These expansive haloes are important components of a galaxy. The halo of our own galaxy, the Milky Way, preserves signatures of both its formation and evolution. Yet, we know very little about the haloes of galaxies beyond our own as their faint and spread-out nature makes exploring them more difficult. Astronomers have so far managed to detect very few starry haloes around other galaxies.

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Comet ISON’S Dramatic Final Hours


A new analysis of data from the ESA/NASA Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) spacecraft has revealed that comet 2012/S1 (ISON) stopped producing dust and gas shortly before it raced past the Sun and disintegrated.

When comet ISON was discovered in the autumn of 2012, astronomers hoped that it would eventually light up the night sky to become a “comet of the century”. Orbital analysis showed that the sungrazing intruder from the outer reaches of the Solar System would pass only 1.2 million kilometres above the Sun’s visible surface on 28 November 2013.

Based on its early brightness, the comet promised to be a unique research object and, should it survive its flyby of the Sun, a stunning celestial phenomenon in the weeks preceding Christmas. However, it soon became clear that these hopes and expectations would not be met.

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Rosetta’s Comet ‘Sweats’ Two Glasses Of Water A Second


ESA’s Rosetta spacecraft has found that comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko is releasing the equivalent of two small glasses of water into space every second, even at a cold 583 million kilometres from the Sun.

The first observations of water vapour streaming from the comet were made by the Microwave Instrument for Rosetta Orbiter, or MIRO, on 6 June, when the spacecraft was about 350 000 kilometres from the comet.

Since the initial detection, water vapour has been found every time MIRO has been pointed towards the comet.

“We always knew we would see water vapour outgassing from the comet, but we were surprised at how early we detected it,” says Sam Gulkis, the instrument’s principal investigator at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, USA.

“At this rate, the comet would fill an Olympic-size swimming pool in about 100 days. But, as it gets closer to the Sun, the gas production rate will increase significantly. With Rosetta, we have an amazing vantage point to observe these changes up close and learn more about exactly why they happen.”

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Athena To Study The Hot And Energetic Universe


Artist's impression of an active galaxy. Copyright: ESA/AOES Medialab

Artist’s impression of an active galaxy. Copyright: ESA/AOES Medialab

ESA has selected the Athena advanced telescope for high-energy astrophysics as its second ‘Large-class’ science mission.

The observatory will study the hot and energetic Universe and takes the ‘L2’ slot in ESA’s Cosmic Vision 2015–25 plan, with a launch foreseen in 2028.

By combining a large X-ray telescope with state-of-the-art scientific instruments, Athena will address key questions in astrophysics, including: how and why does ordinary matter assemble into the galaxies and galactic clusters that we see today? How do black holes grow and influence their surroundings?

Scientists believe that black holes lurk at the centre of almost all galaxies and that they play a fundamental role in their formation and evolution.

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