Sunday, September 30, 2012

Slow Moving Solar Coronal Mass Ejection - Video



A large but relatively slow moving coronal mass ejection (CME) that erupted from the Sun on September 27 hit Earth September 30 causing a low level radio blackout and moderate geomagnetic storms.

Although the blackout has passed, storm warnings continue through October 1.

In a couple of weeks, NOAA's GOES-15 satellite, which is the primary X-ray solar sensor used to monitor solar weather, will undergo a maintenance phase as its view of the sun is eclipsed by Earth.

During that time NOAA's GOES-14 will be brought online to provide continuous coverage of solar activity.

GOES-15 is expected to be operational again around October 30.

Coming Up Short Handed: Open, Low tech Prothetics - Video


The Coming Up Short Handed project hopes to develop open source prosthetics, enabling access for those who can’t afford commercial products.

US-based Ivan Owen originally developed a working mechanical hand to be used as part of a costume, but when he uploaded a video of the device onto Youtube he was contacted by South African Richard Van As, who saw how the home-made prosthesis could be beneficial to both himself and others with mobility problems.

The two formed the current project, which aims to use basic techniques to create low-cost mechanical aids as an alternative to expensive professionally-designed options, as well as provide instructions on how others can build them themselves. The first design is a mechanical finger, demonstrated in the video.

Coming Up Short Handed isn’t the only project of its kind – the Open Prosthetics Wiki is also doing similar work in this field. Both projects could help victims of disease, war or accidents – especially in poorer countries – to regain full use of their body.

Website: www.comingupshorthanded.com
Contact: comingupshorthanded@gmail.com

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Japan's H-II Transfer Vehicle-3 Being Readied For Release by Canadarm2

The International Space Station's Canadarm2 unberths the unpiloted Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) H-II Transfer Vehicle (HTV-3), filled with trash and unneeded items, in preparation for its release from the station.

JAXA astronaut Aki Hoshide and NASA astronaut Joe Acaba, both Expedition 32 flight engineers, used the station's robot arm to grapple the HTV-3 and unberth it from the Earth-facing port of the Harmony node.

The cargo craft was released at 11:50 a.m. (EDT) on Sept. 12, 2012.

NASA ISS Images: Expedition Crew Preps for Soyuz Launch

NASA astronaut Kevin Ford (left), Expedition 33 flight engineer and Expedition 34 commander; Soyuz Commander Oleg Novitskiy (center) and Flight Engineer Evgeny Tarelkin (right) clasp hands Sept. 21, 2012 in front of a Soyuz vehicle mock-up as they wrap up two days of final qualification exams at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center in Star City, Russia.

The trio is scheduled to launch Oct. 23 in their Soyuz TMA-06M spacecraft from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan for a five-month mission on the International Space Station.

Credit: NASA

Jupiter's Big Moon Ganymede Albedo Mapped by Amateur Astronomer

An amateur astronomer has created the first-ever homemade brightness map of Jupiter's huge moon Ganymede in a magnificent display of how non-professional skywatchers can contribute to the field of observational astronomy.

Greek skywatcher Emmanuel Kardasis of the Hellenic Amateur Astronomy Association (HAAA) created the new Ganymede map using a common "hobby" telescope and off-the-shelf camera and computer equipment.

His map matches up well with images of Ganymede's surface taken by professionals, said officials with the European Planetary Science Congress (EPSC), which is meeting this week in Madrid.

For example, Kardasis' reflected brightness (or albedo) map identifies such Ganymede features as Phrygia Sulcus, a system of grooves and ridges thousands of miles across, and a low-lying dark area called the Nicholson region.

To create the images, Kardasis attached a camera to his telescope and recorded a video of the ice-covered Ganymede, which is the largest moon in the solar system at 3,273 miles (5,268 kilometers) across.

He picked the video's sharpest frames, then enhanced them using photo-editing software, EPSC officials said.

"Ganymede has a tiny disk as seen from Earth so was a good test for my techniques," Kardisis said in a statement.

"If the same methods were applied to other worlds, perhaps [Jupiter's] volcanic moon Io, we could capture surface fluctuations."

"Professional observatories may create better images, but they cannot monitor our rapidly and ever-changing universe."

"The equipment amateurs need to generate products like his Ganymede map is relatively easy to find" Kardasis said.

"Creating useful images of planets requires a telescope with a diameter of at least eight inches. For tiny discs, such as the moons of Jupiter, bigger is definitely better," he said.

"My Ganymede images were made using an 11-inch telescope. You also need a good motor drive on your tripod, a sensitive camera, some freely available software and lots of patience!"

NASA Mars HiRISE Image: Topography of a Flood Carved Channel

This image is part of a stereo pair that allows one to look at the walls of a flood carved channel in 3D.

By examining the walls in such detail, we hope to understand the process by which the channel was carved.

For example, in this location, there are a series of benches or terraces high up on the channel wall.

By looking at the topography it should be possible to tell if;
  1. these are produced by sediments being left at these elevations, 
  2. the erosive fluid dropped in stages and thus did more erosion at certain levels, or 
  3. the wall of the channel was slumping inward as a series of landslides.
This is a stereo pair with ESP_028196_1840.

Friday, September 28, 2012

RBSP Launch - Multiple camera angles - YouTube



Video from several different cameras of the Aug. 30 4:05 a.m. EDT launch of NASA's Radiation Belt Storm Probes.

Geolocator: Tracking migratory Birds

A miniature light level logger (geolocator) for tracking animal movements for long periods has been designed and developed by engineers at the British Antarctic Survey, but is now under license to UK company Biotrack (as of November 2011).

The devices can be used for tracking over long distances in any application where the logger usually has an unobscured view of natural light level at dawn and dusk. The loggers must be retrieved for data download.

The light level geolocator is a miniature, light weight archival tag recording essential light level information which can be processed to give location latitude and longitude.

The devices are small, have low weight and drag, long lasting and cost effective. Although not as accurate as GPS or ARGOS, this method allows a much cheaper and much smaller device to be constructed which records for a far longer time (many years).

For seabirds, logging of wet/dry information and sea surface temperature can also be included. The wet/dry recording has been developed to measure the activity of the birds, and the temperature information, when correlated with satellite data, can be used to improve the location fix.

The loggers work worldwide wherever there is dawn and dusk, and have been used so far on a number of species including geese, albatross, penguins, shearwaters, gannets, skuas, fulmars, ducks, shags and seals.

Being so small, they can be attached to leg rings of larger seabirds, thus avoiding problems associated with platform gluing and harnesses.

Accuracy is in the region of +/-150km and uncertainty is caused mainly by shading (including cloud and foliage), interference (non direct sun and artificial light), and for latitude, proximity to equinox and the equator.

Now that the current devices weigh in under 1.5g, use of them to track songbird species is now beginning to be explored.

A leg-loop harness, similar to the Rappole-Tipton method has been favoured so far. For back mounting with a harness, the supplier has developed devices with the light sensor on a stalk to clear the plumage of the bird.

Arctic Tern migration revealed here

For a great article from Kent McFarland of the Vermont Center for Ecostudies detailing recent use with passerines, see here

Thursday, September 27, 2012

NASA ESA Hubble: Extreme Deep Field images in the farthest reaches of the universe

NASA scientists have directed the Hubble Space Telescope to inspect a tiny patch of sky with an unusually long exposure time to obtain the deepest image of the sky ever obtained. 

The image, dubbed the "Hubble Extreme Deep Field (XDF)", reveals the faintest and most distant galaxies ever detected, shedding more light on the early history of the universe.

Credit: NASA/ESA Hubble

Nine years ago, NASA decided to point Hubble at a seemingly empty, randomly chosen spot in the sky – no larger than a needle's eye at arm's length – and have it gather data over one millions seconds in total exposure.

The result was the iconic image dubbed the "Hubble Ultra-Deep Field" (HUDF)" which, even in a space that small, revealed in excess of ten thousand galaxies.



Now, NASA has done it again, taking the experiment to new levels. With XDF, NASA took a patch of sky within the original Hubble Ultra Deep Field and doubled the exposure time to a total of two million seconds, or an impressive 23 days.

Despite a much narrower field of view, the new picture shows 5500 galaxies in even greater detail, including the earliest we have ever observed.

Phonesat: On-board mobile phone to power low-cost satellite

A University of Queensland staff member is sending a satellite into space more powerful than the Curiosity Rover which recently landed on Mars.

The satellite, which measures 10cm x 10cm, is controlled by an on-board Android mobile phone five times more powerful than its larger space-faring cousin.

It also has a camera four times more powerful.

Michael Kehoe, a UQ staff member with Information Technology Services (ITS) and a final year student of the School of Information Technology and Electrical Engineering (ITEE) recently completed a five-week internship with NASA in California.

He was tasked with designing a satellite that used a mobile phone as its on-board computer, as part of a NASA initiative, PHONESAT.

"This is a proof of concept that will be used for a range of later designs," said Mr Kehoe.

"The satellite uses an attitude determinate control system (ADCS) written by fellow UQ graduate Jasper Wolfe to stop the satellite from spinning and alter its path in orbit," he said.

"Because it uses a common mobile phone as its central processor, I've been able to incorporate some really fun ideas into the satellite.

I'll be able to take temperature, accelerometer and heading readings using the phone's sensors and photos using the phone's camera."

Despite being controlled by a mobile phone, the satellite is not able to phone home.

"Unfortunately there's no reception in space, so we'll be using a high-powered radio link to receive data from the satellite," said Mr Kehoe.

Tracking of the satellite is being set up in America with NASA and in Australia, with the assistance of ITEE.

Tracking equipment on top of the Parnell building will monitor the satellite from launch on November 25 to re-entry 12 days later.

The project provides a proof of concept for low cost, rapid design iteration space craft. Total component costs for the satellite are $7800, opposed to Curiosity's $2.5 billion.

"An example of why this is important can be seen in the Curiosity Rover which landed in August on Mars," said Mr Kehoe.

"Design work started eight years ago and used cutting-edge technology at the time, but by launch date a common mobile phone had more processing power and better camera.

If we can shorten the time it takes to build spacecraft, we can decrease cost and increase the quality of what goes into space."

More information: open.nasa.gov/plan/phonesat/

A time lapse of the Green Bank Telescope (GBT) the largest moving object on Earth - Video

The Giant Endangered Cosmic Ear Inside America's Cell Phone Black Hole - Video



Remnants of Ancient Streambed Discovered on Mars

NASA's Curiosity rover found evidence for an ancient, flowing stream on Mars at a few sites, including the rock outcrop pictured here, which the science team has named "Hottah" after Hottah Lake in Canada's Northwest Territories.

It may look like a broken sidewalk, but this geological feature on Mars is actually exposed bedrock made up of smaller fragments cemented together, or what geologists call a sedimentary conglomerate.

Scientists theorize that the bedrock was disrupted in the past, giving it the titled angle, most likely via impacts from meteorites.

The key evidence for the ancient stream comes from the size and rounded shape of the gravel in and around the bedrock.

Hottah has pieces of gravel embedded in it, called clasts, up to a couple inches (few centimeters) in size and located within a matrix of sand-sized material.

Some of the clasts are round in shape, leading the science team to conclude they were transported by a vigorous flow of water. The grains are too large to have been moved by wind.

A close-up view of Hottah reveals more details of the outcrop. Broken surfaces of the outcrop have rounded, gravel clasts, such as the one circled in white, which is about 1.2 inches (3 centimeters) across.

Erosion of the outcrop results in gravel clasts that protrude from the outcrop and ultimately fall onto the ground, creating the gravel pile at left.

This image mosaic was taken by Curiosity's 100-millimeter Mastcam telephoto lens on its 39th Martian day, or sol, of the mission (Sept. 14, 2012 PDT/Sept. 15 GMT).

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

NASA Mars Rover Curiosity: Image of Rock Outcrop named Link

This set of images compares the Link outcrop of rocks on Mars (left) with similar rocks seen on Earth (right).

The image of Link, obtained by NASA's Curiosity rover, shows rounded gravel fragments, or clasts, up to a couple inches (few centimeters), within the rock outcrop.

Erosion of the outcrop results in gravel clasts that fall onto the ground, creating the gravel pile at left.

The outcrop characteristics are consistent with a sedimentary conglomerate, or a rock that was formed by the deposition of water and is composed of many smaller rounded rocks cemented together.

A typical Earth example of sedimentary conglomerate formed of gravel fragments in a stream is shown on the right.

An annotated version of the image highlights a piece of gravel that is about 0.4 inches (1 centimeter) across.

It was selected as an example of coarse size and rounded shape. Rounded grains (of any size) occur by abrasion in sediment transport, by wind or water, when the grains bounce against each other.

Gravel fragments are too large to be transported by wind. At this size, scientists know the rounding occurred in water transport in a stream.

The name Link is derived from a significant rock formation in the Northwest Territories of Canada, where there is also a lake with the same name.

Scientists enhanced the color in the Mars image to show the scene as it would appear under the lighting conditions we have on Earth, which helps in analyzing the terrain. The Link outcrop was imaged with the 100-millimeter Mast Camera on Sept. 2, 2012, which was the 27th sol, or Martian day of operations.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS and PSI

Centaurus A: Facing a mid-life crisis!

Centaurus A was facing a midlife crisis.

The giant elliptical galaxy's brightest stars were old and puffy, and it had nearly run out of gas needed to create new ones.

The galaxy was just a featureless blob that had lost its sparkle.

Then a chance encounter allowed boring old Centaurus A to have a fling with a younger, smaller galaxy.

The event revived the elder partner, triggering a fresh round of star birth and creating one of its most notable features: a dark dust lane along its middle.

In a surprise twist, new observations show the cosmic hanky-panky also caused Centaurus A to sprout two spiral arms – something no other elliptical galaxy is known to have.

The discovery offers new insights into how galaxies form and evolve, and hints at a new way for spiral structure to emerge.

Shocking revelation
The bisecting dust lane led astronomers in the early 19th century to think that Centaurus A might be two separate objects lying side by side. More recent studies have shown that the dust is most likely a disc left behind by a galactic merger.

By blocking visible light, the dust also conceals the intimacies of the galaxy's steamy affair. To gather more clues, Daniel Espada of the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan and colleagues looked at Centaurus A in radio wavelengths.

These longer waves emerge from carbon monoxide gas at the galaxy's centre and can pierce the dusty veil, allowing the team to trace otherwise hidden structures. What they saw was shocking.

"We were quite surprised to find what clearly looked like spiral arms," says team member Alison Peck of the Joint ALMA Observatory in Santiago, Chile.

Their images show the tentacles of gas curving around the galaxy's middle, with widths and orientations similar to those of the arms of spiral galaxies like our Milky Way.

What's more, the gas tentacles are "moving in a way that you would expect spiral arms to move", says Peck.

Early American Astronauts can now Sell Their Space Toothbrushes

Sunita Williams' Toothbrush
During the dawn of human spaceflight astronauts and project managers were more focused on actually putting people into space than they were with tracking the legal ownership status of the souvenirs some of those men decided to take home with them when the job was done.

That, it seems, has turned into a bit of a legal headache over the subsequent decades as aging astronauts seek to sell off, donate or otherwise do what they please with their treasured goods.

But a new law means that “America’s early space pioneers and moon voyagers have now been confirmed as the legal owners of the equipment and spacecraft parts they saved as souvenirs from their missions.”

The new law only applies to things that weren’t really meant to survive the missions, either because they were intended to be left on the Moon or destroyed, or disposables such as toothbrushes, which aren’t likely to be thought of as historical treasures.

In addition, it only applies to relics from space missions that took place from 1961 to 1975.

Buzz Aldrin's Toothbrush
That being said, some of these obscure objects, such as Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin’s toothbrush, have been known to fetch a hefty price at auction. Aldrin’s sold for $18,400 in 2004.

This legislation also throws into the realm of possibility a satirical scenario imagined by The Onion.

Astronomers Capture Fireworks in the Early Universe


Galaxies in the early universe grew fast by rapidly making new stars. 

Such prodigious star formation episodes, characterized by the intense radiation of the newborn stars, were often accompanied by fireworks in the form of energy bursts caused by the massive central black hole accretion in these galaxies. 

This discovery by a group of astronomers led by Peter Barthel of the Kapteyn Institute of the University of Groningen in the Netherlands was published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters.

Our Milky Way galaxy forms stars at a slow, steady pace: on average one new star a year is born. Since the Milky Way contains about a hundred billion stars, the actual changes are very slight.

The Milky Way is an extremely quiet galaxy; its central black hole is inactive, with only weak energy outbursts due to the occasional capture of a passing star or gas cloud.

This is in marked contrast to the 'active' galaxies of which there are various types and which were abundant in the early universe.

Quasars and radio galaxies are prime examples: owing to their bright, exotic radiation, these objects can be observed as far as the edge of the observable universe.

The light of the normal stars in their galaxies is extremely faint at such distances, but active galaxies can be easily detected through their luminous radio, ultraviolet or X-ray radiation, which results from steady accretion onto their massive central black holes.

Until recently these distant active galaxies were only interesting in their own right as peculiar exotic objects.

Little was known about the composition of their galaxies, or their relationship to the normal galaxy population.

However, in 2009 ESA's Herschel space telescope was launched. Herschel is considerably larger than NASA's Hubble, and operates at far-infrared wavelengths.

This enables Herschel to detect heat radiation generated by the processes involved in the formation of stars and planets at a small scale, and of complete galaxies at a large scale.

Peter Barthel has been involved with Herschel since 1997 and heads an observational program targeting distant quasars and radio galaxies.

His team used the Herschel cameras to observe seventy of these objects. Initial inspection of the observations has revealed that many emit bright far-infrared radiation.


The Astrophysical Journal Letter 'Extreme host galaxy growth in powerful early-epoch radio galaxies', by Peter Barthel and co-authors, describes their project and the detailed analysis of the first three distant radio galaxies.

The fact that these three objects, as well as many others from the observational sample, emit strong far-infrared radiation indicates that vigorous star formation is taking place in their galaxies, creating hundreds of stars per year during one or more episodes lasting millions of years.

The bright radio emission implies strong, simultaneous black hole accretion. This means that while the black holes in the centers of the galaxies are growing (as a consequence of the accretion), the host galaxies are also growing rapidly.

The Herschel observations thereby provide an explanation for the observation that more massive galaxies have more massive black holes.

Astronomers have observed this scaling relationship since the 1990s: the fireworks in the early universe could well be responsible for this relationship.

Says Barthel, "It is becoming clear that active galaxies are not only among the largest, most distant, most powerful and most spectacular objects in the universe, but also among the most important objects; many if not all massive normal galaxies must also have gone through similar phases of simultaneous black hole-driven activity and star formation."

Reference: The Astrophysical Journal Letters, Volume 757, Number 2 "Extreme Host Galaxy Growth in Powerful Early-epoch Radio Galaxies" Peter Barthel, Martin Haas, Christian Leipski, and Belinda Wilkes dx.doi.org/10.1088/2041-8205/757/2/L26

Nemesis The Record Breaking Electric car


A battery-powered car has broken the UK land-speed record for electric vehicles at Elvington airfield near York, its makers have said.

The original Nemesis was a heavily modified Lotus Exige with all the conventional mechanicals removed and replaced with a couple of 125kw (168bhp) electric motors, belt reduction drives and a 200-kilogram battery pack. It was originally bought off eBay and clocked an average speed of 148mph (239km/h).

The car was designed and built by a team of British motorsport engineers in Norfolk, and driven by estate agent Nick Ponting, 21, from Gloucestershire.

The previous record was 137mph (220km/h).

The vehicle clocked an average speed of 148.419mph during two runs along the mile-long course.

Mr Ponting said: "It was brilliant. The car felt really good."'Quite straightforward'

The car runs on green electricity which has been generated by wind turbines, run by the Stroud-based company Ecotricity.

Dale Vince, OBE and Founder of Ecotricity said: "It was quite straightforward. We're putting a bit of juice back in the batteries and we're going to go again.

"The driver says it could have been faster. We think we'll top 150mph before we leave here today.

"We built the Nemesis to smash the stereotype of electric cars as something Noddy would drive - slow, boring, not cool."

The previous record had been held by Don Wales, the grandson of Sir Malcolm Campbell.

An attempt by Mr Wales's son, Joe Wales, to beat the record in Bluebird Electric last year, was thwarted after the vehicle's suspension was damaged by a pothole at Pendine Sands in Carmarthenshire.

The record still needs to be ratified by the Motor Sports Association before the record can be officially declared.

Visit EVO website and see more pictures of the Nemesis!

The Milky Way is surrounded by a massive halo of hot gas

An international team of astronomers has combined data from NASA's Chandra X-ray observatory, ESA's XMM-Newton space observatory and Japan's Suzaku satellite to suggest that our galaxy may be surrounded by a halo of hot gas extending in all directions for hundreds of thousands of light-years. 

The finding also offers clues as to why more than half of the ordinary matter in early galaxies has seemingly disappeared without leaving a trace.

Protons and neutrons are classified as "baryons," a type of subatomic particle that interacts strongly to form the nuclei of atoms. Taken together, baryons make up nearly all of the ordinary matter in our universe.

But if you were to tally the number of atoms in the universe, you'd find that something doesn't quite add up.

Astronomers have observed that entire galaxies seem to lose over half of their atoms compared to when they first formed.

All of this matter couldn't have simply disintegrated, so where has it gone? This decade-old question is known as the problem of the "missing baryons."

Now, a team of astronomers led by Dr. Anjali Gupta may have just found the answer, at least for our galaxy.

The baryons, says Gupta, haven't disappeared from the Milky Way. Rather, a mass of up to sixty billion suns – well in excess of the matter contained in the entire galactic disk – is spread out over a halo of hot gas stretching all around us for hundreds of thousands of light-years.

This gas is reaching temperatures in the millions of degrees, and with a density so low that, even if it were present in other galaxies, we would probably have no way of detecting it.

"With reasonable assumptions, our observations imply a huge reservoir of hot gas around the Milky Way," said co-author Smita Mathur of Ohio State University in Columbus.

"It may extend for a few hundred thousand light-years around the Milky Way or it may extend farther into the surrounding local group of galaxies. Either way, its mass appears to be very large."

A paper detailing the study was published on The Astrophysical Journal.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Asteroid Vesta’s troughs suggest stunted planet

An image taken by NASA's Dawn spacecraft on July 24, 2011, shows troughs along the equator of the asteroid Vesta, including Divalia Fossa, which is larger than the Grand Canyon. 

A new study analyzing these troughs finds that they are probably graben – a dip in the surface with faults on either side that would indicate that Vesta has characteristics much like a planet or large moon.

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

Enormous troughs that reach across the asteroid Vesta may actually be stretch marks that hint of a complexity beyond most asteroids.

Scientists have been trying to determine the origin of these unusual troughs since their discovery just last year.

Now, a new analysis supports the notion that the troughs are faults that formed when a fellow asteroid smacked into Vesta’s south pole.

The research reinforces the claim that Vesta has a layered interior, a quality normally reserved for larger bodies, such as planets and large moons.

Asteroid surface deformities are typically straightforward cracks formed by crashes with other asteroids. Instead, an extensive system of troughs encircles Vesta, the second most massive asteroid in the solar system, about one-seventh as wide as the Moon.

The biggest of those troughs, named Divalia Fossa, surpasses the size of the Grand Canyon by spanning 465 kilometers (289 miles) long, 22 km (13.6 mi) wide and 5 km (3 mi) deep.

The origin of these troughs on Vesta has puzzled scientists. The complexity of their formation can’t be explained by simple collisions.

New measurements of Vesta’s topography, derived from images of Vesta  taken by NASA’s Dawn spacecraft last year, indicate that a large collision could have created the asteroid’s troughs.

But, this would only have been possible if the asteroid is differentiated – meaning that it has a core, mantle and crust -- said Debra Buczkowski of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md.

Because Vesta is differentiated, its layers have different densities, which react differently to the force from the impact and make it possible for the faulted surface to slide, she added.

“By saying it’s differentiated, we’re basically saying Vesta was a little planet trying to happen.”

Her team’s research will be published online this Saturday in Geophysical Research Letters.

Most asteroids are pretty simple. “They’re just like giant rocks in space,” said Buczkowski. But previous research has found signs of igneous rock on Vesta, indicating that rock on Vesta’s surface was once molten, a sign of differentiation.

If the troughs are made possible by differentiation, then the cracks aren’t just troughs, they’re graben.

A graben is a dip in the surface that forms when two faults move apart from each other and the ground sinks into the widening gap, such as in Death Valley in California. Scientists have also observed graben on the Moon and planets such as Mars.

The images from the Dawn mission show that Vesta’s troughs have many of the qualities of graben, said Buczkowski.

For example, the walls of troughs on simpler asteroids such as Eros and Lutetia are shaped like the letter V.

But Vesta’s troughs have floors that are flat or curved and have distinct walls on either side, like the letter U – a signature of a fault moving apart, instead of simple cracking on the surface.

The scientists’ measurements also showed that the bottoms of the troughs on Vesta are relatively flat and slanted toward what’s probably a dominant fault, much as they are in Earth-bound graben. 

These observations indicate that Vesta is also unusually planet-like for an asteroid in that its mantle is ductile and can stretch under a lot of pressure. “It can become almost silly putty-ish,” said Buczkowski. “You pull it and it deforms.”

Buddhist ‘Iron Man’ statue found by Nazis is from ancient Meteorite

A Buddhist statue brought to Germany from Tibet by a Nazi-backed expedition has been confirmed as having an extraterrestrial origin.

Known as the ‘iron man’, the 24-cm high sculpture may represent the god Vaiśravaṇa and was likely created from a piece of the Chinga meteorite that was strewn across the border region between Russia and Mongolia between 10,000 and 20,000 years ago, according to Elmar Buchner of the University of Stuttgart, and his colleagues.

In a paper published in Metoritics & Planetary Science, the team reports their analysis of the iron, nickel, cobalt and trace elements of a sample from the statue, as well as its structure.

They found that the geochemistry of the artefact is a match for values known from fragments of the Chinga meteorite.

The piece turned into the ‘iron man’ would be the third largest known from that fall.

Given the extreme hardness of the meteorite – “basically an inappropriate material for producing sculptures” the paper notes – the artist or artists who created it may have known their material was special, the researchers say.

Buchner suggests it could have been produced by the 11th century Ben culture but the exact origin and age of the statue – as opposed to the meteorite it is made from – is still unknown.

It is thought to have been brought to Germany by a Nazi-backed expedition to Tibet in 1938-39. The swastika symbol on the piece – a version of which was adopted by the Nazi party – may have encouraged the 1938 expedition to take it back with them.

“While the first debris was officially discovered in 1913 by gold prospectors, we believe that this individual meteorite fragment was collected many centuries before,” said Buchner in a statement.

“The Iron Man statue is the only known illustration of a human figure to be carved into a meteorite.”

Although this item may be the only known human figure carved into a rock fallen to earth, other meteorites have also been used by many religions across the world.

A 15-ton example in North America called the Willamette meteorite is sacred to some native Americans, while some have suggested that the Black Stone in the Kaaba in Mecca is a meteorite.

URL Upon publication: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1945-5100.2012.01409.x/abstract 

SpaceX Grasshopper Takes Its First Hop - YouTube



On Friday, September 21, 2012 SpaceX's Grasshopper vertical takeoff and landing test vehicle (VTVL) took its first test flight hop from the company's rocket testing facility in McGregor, Texas.

The short hop of approximately 6 feet is the first major milestone for Grasshopper, and a critical step toward a reusable first stage for SpaceX's proven Falcon 9 rocket.

As seen in the video, Grasshopper consists of a Falcon 9 first stage, a Merlin-1D engine, four steel landing legs, and a steel support structure.

SpaceX is working to develop vehicles that are fully and rapidly reusable, a key element to radically reducing cost and increasing the efficiency of spaceflight.

SpaceX says the next goal for the Grasshopper is to be able to hover at roughly 100 feet sometime in the next several months.

Meanwhile, SpaceX is planning a launch on October 5 for the first contracted cargo resupply flight to the International Space Station.

NASA Drone: Global Hawk Aircraft

This image captures a perspective of NASA's Global Hawk unmanned aircraft from one of the wings.

The Global Hawk is sitting at the aircraft hangar of NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Wallops Island, Va. on Sept. 7, 2012.

The month-long Hurricane and Severe Storm Sentinel (HS3), which began in early September, is currently deploying one instrument-laden Global Hawk from the NASA Wallops Flight Facility on Virginia's Eastern Shore to look at the environment of tropical storms.

In 2013 and 2014, a second Global Hawk will be added that will focus on getting detailed measurements of the inner core of hurricanes.

The Global Hawk's ability to fly for a much longer period of time than manned aircraft will allow it to obtain previously difficult-to-get data.

Scientists hope to use that data to gain new insights into how tropical storms form, and more importantly, how they intensify into major Atlantic hurricanes — information that forecasters need to make better storm predictions, save lives, and ultimately prevent costly coastal evacuations if a storm doesn't warrant them.

Image Credit: NASA

ESA ATV Edoardo Amaldi undocking from ISS, postponed

The undocking of ATV-3, Edoardo Amaldi, from the International Space Station late last night was postponed due to an incorrect command.

During operations ATV-3 performed perfectly in line with its pre-defined measures.

A new attempt to undock will likely be made on Thursday, pending approval by the board of the Station management team this afternoon.

Meanwhile, ATV Edoardo Amaldi is safe and in a dormant mode. Watch the ATV-3 Mission Video here.

The issue was discovered by the Space Station crew shortly before undocking, when they attempted to send a command from a control panel to ATV-3.

Receipt of the command was not confirmed by ATV-3, so the undocking was suspended.

Experts from ESA, NASA and Roscosmos have determined that the problem was caused by commands being sent using the wrong spacecraft identification number.

Power and data links had already been disconnected between ATV-3 and the Station to prepare for the departure. Afterwards, they were re-established by controllers at ESA’s ATV Control Centre in Toulouse, France.

“The joint ESA/CNES mission operations team reacted professionally and skilfully to this unexpected delay,” said Massimo Cislaghi, ESA’s ATV-3 Mission Manager.

“Engineers immediately set to work to reschedule the undocking and reconfigure ATV-3 into safe mode while we and our international partners were troubleshooting the issue.”

ATV Edoardo Amaldi performed perfectly during the undocking procedure and is standing by for the next attempt.

Operational considerations will now postpone ATV-3 reentry to at least 2 October.

The rich colours of a cosmic seagull nebula

Nebulae are among the most visually impressive objects in the night sky.

They are interstellar clouds of dust, molecules, hydrogen, helium and other ionised gases where new stars are being born.

Although they come in different shapes and colours many share a common characteristic: when observed for the first time, their odd and evocative shapes trigger astronomers’ imaginations and lead to curious names.

This dramatic region of star formation, which has acquired the nickname of the Seagull Nebula, is no exception.

This new image from the Wide Field Imager on the MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope at ESO’s La Silla Observatory in Chile shows the head part of the Seagull Nebula.

It is just one part of the larger nebula known more formally as IC 2177, which spreads its wings with a span of over 100 light-years and resembles a seagull in flight.

This cloud of gas and dust is located about 3700 light-years away from Earth.

The entire bird shows up best in wide-field images (http://www.eso.org/public/images/eso1237c/).

The Seagull Nebula lies just on the border between the constellations of Monoceros (The Unicorn) and Canis Major (The Great Dog) and is close to Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky. The nebula lies more than four hundred times further away than the famous star.

The complex of gas and dust that forms the head of the seagull glows brightly in the sky due to the strong ultraviolet radiation coming mostly from one brilliant young star — HD 53367 — that can be spotted in the centre of the image and could be taken to be the seagull’s eye.

The radiation from the young stars causes the surrounding hydrogen gas to glow with a rich red colour and become an HII region. Light from the hot blue-white stars is also scattered off the tiny dust particles in the nebula to create a contrasting blue haze in some parts of the picture.

Although a small bright clump in the Seagull Nebula complex was observed for the first time by the German-British astronomer Sir William Herschel back in 1785, the part shown here had to await photographic discovery about a century later.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Xfire system projects a bike lane onto the road



A lot of people won’t ride a bicycle on city streets because they’re scared that a vehicle will run into them.

This fear certainly isn’t helped by the many drivers who unknowingly get dangerously close to cyclists while driving alongside them.

Xfire’s Bike Lane Safety Light is designed to address that problem by using lasers to project a virtual bike lane on the road around the bike.

The folks at Xfire aren’t the first to think of this idea, incidentally. Designers Alex Tee and Evan Gant came up with a very similar concept in 2009, which seems to now be commercially available as the Laser Lite Lane.

British design student Emily Brooke, on the other hand, built a one-off device that projects a symbol onto the pavement in front of the cyclist, to let drivers know that a bicycle is approaching from the rear.

Powered by two AAA batteries, the device uses dual 5-milliwatt red lasers to project two lines onto the asphalt, extending back from either side of the bike’s rear wheel.

While those lines don’t do anything to physically protect the cyclist, they do provide motorists with an attention-getting visual guide as to how much distance they should be keeping.

The device also serves as a standard tail light, incorporating five “extremely bright” red LEDs.

True, some people just won’t care about lines on the road, but in many cases drivers simply don’t realize how much space a cyclist requires – this is a way of letting them know, not unlike those side-extending safety flags that some riders use.

DSTO conduct test flight of experimental hypersonic vehicle

The Defence Science and Technology Organisation (DSTO) scientists have successfully conducted a test flight of an experimental hypersonic vehicle at the Andoya Rocket Range in Norway.

The test vehicle reached an apogee of 350 km and then achieved speeds of up to Mach 8 on descent in the experimental band which was from 20.5 km to 32 km in altitude. All sensor and telemetry systems worked perfectly.

Scientists believe the launch could be a major step forward in the quest for hypersonic flight.

The experimental flight was undertaken as part of a joint research program, Hypersonic International Flight Research Experimentation (HIFiRE), being conducted by DSTO and the US Air Force Research Laboratory.

The program is aimed at exploring the fundamental technologies critical to the realisation of sustained hypersonic flight.

This latest launch was the fifth in a series of up to nine planned experimental flights being conducted as part of the HIFiRE program.

Next week, the HIFiRE team will be presented with the prestigious von Karman Award for International Co-operation in Aeronautics at the ICAS Congress in Brisbane.

The Defence Science and Technology Organisation (DSTO) is part of Australia's Department of Defence. DSTO's role is to ensure the expert, impartial and innovative application of science and technology to the defence of Australia and its national interests.

Monday, September 24, 2012

NASA Messenger: Mercury's Surface Resembles Rare Meteorites

These image of Mercury by NASA's Messenger probe show the distinctive colour of the planet's northern plains and their surrounding terrain. 

The top image is as Messenger saw the scene, with the bottom image enhanced to bring out features. Image released June 16, 2011. 

CREDIT: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington 

Mercury has a surface unlike any other planet's in the solar system, instead resembling a rare type of meteorite, researchers say.

The finding, based on an analysis of data from NASA's Messenger probe, sheds new light on the formation and history of the mysterious innermost planet, scientists add.

Mercury, the smallest planet in the solar system, is also one of the least understood, having received much less attention from scientific missions than Mars, Jupiter and Saturn.

NASA set out to change that when it launched the Messenger probe a little more than eight years ago. Messenger became the first spacecraft to orbit Mercury.

Past research based on Messenger data suggested a vast part of Mercury is covered with hardened lava, enough to bury the state of Texas under 4 miles (6.4 kilometers) of once-molten rock, scientists said.

All in all, these mammoth floods of lava cover 6 percent of the planet's surface, an area equal to nearly 60 percent of the continental United States.

They created Mercury's smooth northern plains between 3.5 billion to 4 billion years ago.

Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/CIW-DTM/GSFC/MIT/Brown University. Rendering by James Dickson and Jim Head.

Perspective view of ancient volcanic plains in the northern high latitudes of Mercury revealed by NASA's Messenger spacecraft.

Purple colours are low and white is high, spanning a range of about 2.3 km.

Width of area spans about 1200 km. Each line is 5 degrees in latitude and longitude.

Lava plains are common in the solar system.

For instance, young Mars spewed lava all across its surface, and it still has the largest volcano in the solar system: Olympus Mons is about 370 miles (600 km) in diameter, wide enough to cover the entire state of New Mexico, and 16 miles (25 km) high, three times taller than Mount Everest.

Now, 205 measurements of Mercury's surface composition, made by the X-ray spectrometer onboard Messenger, reveal how much Mercury's surface differs from those of other planets in the solar system.

"Being the closest planet to the sun does mean its formation history would be different and more extreme than the other terrestrial planets, with hotter temperatures and exposure to a stronger gravitational field," says lead study author Shoshana Weider, a planetary geologist at the Carnegie Institution of Washington.

The surface is dominated by minerals high in magnesium and enriched in sulfur, making it similar to partially melted versions of an enstatite chondrite, a rare type of meteorite that formed at high temperatures in low-oxygen conditions in the inner solar system.

"The similarity between the constituents of these meteorites and Mercury's surface leads us to believe that either Mercury formed via the accretion of materials somewhat like the enstatite chondrites, or that both enstatite chondrites and the Mercury precursors were built from common ancestors," Weider said.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Canberra Deep Space Comms Complex spruced up

AUSTRALIAN ingenuity will save NASA about $800,000 and three months of down time when the 70-metre antenna at the Canberra Deep Space Communications Complex is shut for refurbishment in November.

Visitors gazing at the sparkling 4000-tonne dish would never know the paint has failed and is cracked and peeling, reducing its reliability.

For a piece of extremely sensitive equipment that detects radio waves sent from Voyager 1 with half as much power as a fridge light, surface consistency to 0.1 millimetre is critical.

It takes radio waves from Voyager 1 about 14 hours to reach Earth and by the time they arrive, they have faded markedly from 12 watts to 20 million times weaker than a watch battery.

Mechanical engineer John Phillips is the deputy antenna site facility manager and will be part of a team overseeing the replacement of the grout beneath the antenna and the painting of the dish.

''It will do the same function but reliability will be improved. If you get deformation in the grout that supports the runner, the antenna itself is not as good,'' Mr Phillips said.

''If you get deformation in the runner because the support isn't that good, it stops the antenna from working.''

The original plan was to jack up the antenna and bolt legs on to replace the grout in one go.

''It would have cost twice that and they were estimating down time of more than 10 months.''

The new plan will replace the grout in 60-degree sections and close it from November 12 to June 6.

The new grout is impervious to oil and should last decades. ''It's an epoxy with a crushed quartz mix. With the new grout, that should improve quality and the reliability of the antenna will have less down time.''

Telecommunications system leader Peter Ilott said shutting down the Australian 70-metre antenna for seven months would not stop or negatively impact on any programs. ''It will be pretty much business as usual. We can use the 34-metre antennas,'' Dr Ilott said.

''The nice thing about the fact that we use orbiters as relay for our data is that orbiters have very large antennas compared to the lander. We can't put a big antenna on the lander and the orbiters can talk to the 34-metre antennas pretty much no problem. It decreases the data rate that we can transfer the data at but in general it won't affect us.''

During the refurbishment, the reflector surface of the dish will also be painted with a special paint from the United States.

Harvard Astronomer Pays Tribute to Van Gogh with Hubble Mosaic

One night, Harvard astronomer Alex Parker was camped out at the telescope for a spot of star-gazing, and found himself facing a long, dry period of waiting for the clouds to clear.

To pass the time, he started playing around with various images from the Hubble Space Telescope, and ended up assembling them into a colorful mosaic.

The resulting image? A recreation of Vincent van Gogh's most famous painting, "Starry Night".

Alex Parker, a postdoctoral fellow at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics’ Institute for Theory and Computation, has created several astronomical videos on his own time and posted them on the Internet. 

His latest video depicts the 2,299 planet candidates Kepler has found since it began searching for planets around stars in 2009. 

According to sources "Parker used photo-mosaicing software to assemble the digital collage."

He had been thinking about using Hubble images to make a mosaic for awhile, since the telescope's 22nd anniversary was approaching; he just needed the right circumstances to find the time -- a cloudy night.

"Observing can be all over the map," Parker reported about his artistic endeavour. "You will be shut out by clouds on some nights, have to evacuate the mountain because of high winds and ice on other nights, and other times there isn't a moment to pause because you're taking data at such a high rate all night."

NASA Space Shuttle Atlantis - Garage Sale

Nasa Space Shuttle Atlantis and it's sister ships now available only for viewing in museums or in kit form at the local garage sale. 

Needed to inspire and amaze younger generation, lest they forget.

End of an era.

Geoff Mackley Captures Incredible Lava Video - Youtube



A team of three adventurers headed by freelance photographer Geoff Mackley braved its way to Ambrym Island, Vanuatu, where they made their way to Marum Volcano’s lava lake back in September 2010.

To capture the footage, the crew had to descend nearly 1,700 feet into the volcano. What follows is an amazing feat of nature gushing forth from the molten rock.

According to Mackley, the team came within 100 feet of the lava — the closest ever approach in that volcano.

Without special equipment, “it was possible to stand the heat for only 6 seconds” Mackley noted on his website.

But check out the guy in the protective suit standing near the lava lake’s roiling, spewing edge; he was able to bear the lava’s full sweltering 2100° F heat for nearly 40 minutes.

Astronaut Mike Hopkins working Robonaut2

Astronaut Mike Hopkins working with robonaut. He is controlling the robot by having him follow my motions.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Brian Binnie - First Scottish person in Space

Binnie was born in West Lafayette, Indiana, where his Scottish father was a professor of physics at Purdue University.

The family returned to Scotland when Binnie was five, and lived in Aberdeen (his father taught at Aberdeen University) and later in Stirling.


When Binnie was a teenager the family moved to Boston.

Binnie, an alumnus of Brown and Princeton Universities, served for 21 years in the United States Navy as a naval aviator flying the A-7 Corsair II, A-6 Intruder, F/A-18 Hornet, and AV-8B Harrier II.

He graduated from the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School in 1988.

Binnie also co-piloted the Atmospheric Test Vehicle of the Rotary Rocket.

In 2006, he received an Honorary degree from University of Aberdeen.


On December 17, 2003, the 100th anniversary of the Wright brothers' first powered flight, Binnie piloted the first powered test flight of SpaceShipOne, flight 11P, which reached a top speed of Mach 1.2 and a height of 20.7 kilometers.

On October 4, 2004, he piloted SpaceShipOne's second Ansari X Prize flight, flight 17P, winning the X Prize and becoming the 435th person, and the first citizen of Scotland, to go into space.

His flight, which peaked at 367,442 feet (69.6 mi; 112.0 km), set a winged aircraft altitude record, breaking the old record set by the North American X-15 in 1963.

It also earned him the second set of Astronaut Wings to be given by the FAA for a flight aboard a privately-operated commercial spacecraft.

NASA Shuttle Endeavour Takes Off and Bids Farewell To Edwards Airport - Video



The retired Space Shuttle took off from the Air Force base for the last time, starting the last leg of its 3 day whirlwind tour of the United States.

It will land in Los Angeles after flying by several California landmarks.

Credit: NASA

Friday, September 21, 2012

Where to See America's Greatest Spaceships (Infographic)

Find out where to see actual shuttles and space capsules that have returned from real missions around the Earth and the moon, in this SPACE.com infographic.

Source: SPACE.com: All about our solar system, outer space and exploration

For more than 50 years, Americans have been launching into space, first aboard tiny capsules and later on the winged, reusable space shuttles and space station.

Much of that long space legacy is on display at museums across the United States. See where you can find some of the most iconic U.S. spacecraft that ever flew in the SPACE.com infographic above.

RBSP Mission: Energetic particles in the magnetosphere emit radio waves - Video

Energetic particles in the magnetosphere emit radio waves that are audible to humans. The NASA Radiation Belt Storm Probes mission's (RBSP) instrumentation captured an instance of the event. The 'chorus' phenomenon is well known by scientists. Credit: NASA / SPACE.com

The Science of Procrastination - And How To Manage It - YouTube



From AsapSCIENCE — who have previously brought us the scientific cure for hangovers, the neurobiology of orgasms, and how music enchants the brain — comes this illustrated explication of the science of procrastination and how to manage it, a fine addition to these five perspectives on procrastination.

Among the proposed solutions is the Pomodoro technique, a time-management method similar to timeboxing that uses timed intervals of work and reward.

Human motivation is highly influenced by how imminent the reward is perceived to be — meaning, the further away the reward is, the more you discount its value. This is often referred to as Present bias, or Hyperbolic discounting.

NASA Dawn Vesta: Satellite detects Hydrated Minerals on Giant Asteroid

This map from NASA's Dawn mission shows the global distribution of hydrogen on the surface of the giant asteroid Vesta. 
Credit: NASA JPL-Caltech UCLA PSI MPS DLR IDA.

NASA's Dawn spacecraft has revealed that the giant asteroid Vesta has its own version of ring around the collar.

Two new papers based on observations from the low-altitude mapping orbit of the Dawn mission show that volatile, or easily evaporated materials, have colored Vesta's surface in a broad swath around its equator.

Pothole-like features mark some of the asteroid's surface where the volatiles, likely water, released from hydrated minerals boiled off.

While Dawn did not find actual water ice at Vesta, there are signs of hydrated minerals delivered by meteorites and dust evident in the giant asteroid's chemistry and geology. The findings appear in the journal Science.

One paper, led by Thomas Prettyman, the lead scientist for Dawn's gamma ray and neutron detector (GRaND) at the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson, Ariz., describes how the instrument found signatures of hydrogen, likely in the form of hydroxyl or water bound to minerals in Vesta's surface.

"The source of the hydrogen within Vesta's surface appears to be hydrated minerals delivered by carbon-rich space rocks that collided with Vesta at speeds slow enough to preserve their volatile content," said Prettyman.

A complementary paper, led by Brett Denevi, a Dawn participating scientist based at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md., describes the presence of pitted terrain created by the release of the volatiles.

Vesta is the second most massive member of the main asteroid belt. The orbit at which these data were obtained averaged about 130 miles (210 kilometers) above the surface.

Dawn left Vesta earlier this month, on Sept. 4 PDT (Sept. 5 EDT), and is now on its way to its second target, the dwarf planet Ceres.

Scientists thought it might be possible for water ice to survive near the surface around the giant asteroid's poles.

Unlike Earth's moon, however, Vesta has no permanently shadowed polar regions where ice might survive.

The strongest signature for hydrogen in the latest data came from regions near the equator, where water ice is not stable.

In some cases, other space rocks crashed into these deposits later at high speed. The heat from the collisions converted the hydrogen bound to the minerals into water, which evaporated.

The holes that were left as the water escaped stretch as much as 0.6 miles (1 kilometer) across and go down as deep as 700 feet (200 meters). Seen in images from Dawn's framing camera, this pitted terrain is best preserved in sections of Marcia crater.

"The pits look just like features seen on Mars, but while water was common on Mars, it was totally unexpected on Vesta in these high abundances," said Denevi.

"These results provide evidence that not only were hydrated materials present, but they played an important role in shaping the asteroid's geology and the surface we see today."

ESA's GAIA: Billion-pixel space camera passes critical tests

Artist impression of GAIA in orbit observing and monitoring the Milky Way.

The most powerful camera ever designed for space is on track for launch next year following punishing tests to prove it can withstand that environment.

The European Space Agency's Gaia mission will scan the sky with a one-billion pixel detector, producing a 3D map of the Milky Way from its location 1.5 billion km from Earth.

Two telescopes aboard the spacecraft will chart the sky from an orbit around the Sun over five years, noting the position, motion, colour, brightess and composition of around a billion stars in our own galaxy and beyond. These observations will help astronomers learn how our galaxy formed and evolved.

Gaia is also designed to photograph large numbers of other celestial bodies, from asteroids in our own Solar System to more distant galaxies and around 500,000 quasars near the edge of the Universe.


The probe's camera is made up of 106 sensitive electronic detectors made by UK company e2v Technologies, of Chelmsford, Essex, who have also supplied imaging systems for the Curiosity probe now on Mars.

These are basically advanced versions of the chips found in home digital cameras. They were put together like a mosaic to make one huge sensor by EADS scientists at Toulouse, France, for the European Space Agency.

Each detector is slightly smaller than a credit card but thinner than a human hair. Together they are powerful enough to record stars up to a million times fainter than the eye can see.

Gaia is due to be launched by a Soyuz-Fregat rocket from Baikonur in Kazakhstan. When it arrives at the spot called a Lagrangian point (L2) it will fly in a naturally synchronised orbit with Earth and operate at a super-chilled temperature of –110°C.

A giant sunshade on the spacecraft will protect the instruments by keeping them permanently shielded from the heat of the Sun.


Scientists at Toulouse recently checked that Gaia’s service module, housing electronic units to run the science instruments, as well as the units that provide the spacecraft resources, such as thermal control, propulsion, communication, and attitude and orbit control, would function OK in extreme conditions.

During 19 days of tests, they enclosed it in a barrel-shaped chamber at Intespace's test facility where Gaia was subject to vacuum conditions and subjected to a range of temperatures.

The process was similar to that which the James Webb Space Telescope will undergo inside a revamped chamber for NASA.

It experienced temperatures as low as –170°C and tests verified that the spacecraft's instruments could still work properly.

Gaia Project Manager Giuseppe Sarri said: “The thermal tests went very well; all measurements were close to predictions and the spacecraft proved to be robust with stable behaviour.”

He added: “The latest thermal test marks a major milestone achieved in the development of Gaia,” says Giuseppe. “It demonstrated that the service module is compatible with working in space and that we are on track for launch by the end of next year.”