Category Archives: ESA

Herschel’s Little Fox

Herschel and ESA (via NASA):

New stars are the lifeblood of our galaxy, and there is enough material revealed by this Herschel infrared image to build stars for millions of years to come.

Situated 8,000 light-years away in the constellation Vulpecula — Latin for “little fox” — the region in the image is known as Vulpecula OB1. It is a “stellar association” in which a batch of truly giant “OB” stars is being born. O and B stars are the largest stars that can form.

The giant stars at the heart of Vulpecula OB1 are some of the biggest in the galaxy. Containing dozens of times the mass of the sun, they have short lives, astronomically speaking, because they burn their fuel so quickly. At an estimated age of 2 million years, they are already well through their lifespans. When their fuel runs out, they will collapse and explode as supernovas. The shock this will send through the surrounding cloud will trigger the birth of even more stars, and the cycle will begin again.

O stars are at least 16 times more massive than the sun, and could be well over 100 times as massive. They are anywhere from 30,000 to 1 million times brighter than the sun, but they only live up to a few million years before exploding. B-stars are between two and 16 times as massive as the sun. They can range from 25 to 30,000 times brighter than the sun.

OB associations are regions with collections of O and B stars. Since OB stars have such short lives, finding them in large numbers indicates the region must be a strong site of ongoing star formation, which will include many more smaller stars that will survive far longer.

The vast quantities of ultraviolet light and other radiation emitted by these stars is compressing the surrounding cloud, causing nearby regions of dust and gas to begin the collapse into more new stars. In time, this process will “eat” its way through the cloud, transforming some of the raw material into shining new stars.

The image was obtained as part of Herschel’s Hi-GAL key-project. This used the infrared space observatory’s instruments to image the entire galactic plane in five different infrared wavelengths.

These wavelengths reveal cold material, most of it between -220º C and -260º C. None of it can be seen in ordinary optical wavelengths, but this infrared view shows astronomers a surprising amount of structure in the cloud’s interior.

The surprise is that the Hi-GAL survey has revealed a spider’s web of filaments that stretches across the star-forming regions of our galaxy. Part of this vast network can be seen in this image as a filigree of red and orange threads.

In visual wavelengths, the OB association is linked to a star cluster catalogued as NGC 6823. It was discovered by William Herschel in 1785 and contains 50 to 100 stars. A nebula emitting visible light, catalogued as NGC 6820, is also part of this multi-faceted star-forming region.

Herschel is a European Space Agency mission, with science instruments provided by consortia of European institutes and with important participation by NASA. While the observatory stopped making science observations in April 2013, after running out of liquid coolant as expected, scientists continue to analyze its data. NASA’s Herschel Project Office is based at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California. JPL contributed mission-enabling technology for two of Herschel’s three science instruments. The NASA Herschel Science Center, part of the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, supports the U.S. astronomical community. Caltech manages JPL for NASA.

Image: ESA/Herschel/PACS, SPIRE/Hi-GAL Project

ESA May Take AIM

Ever wonder how ESA is going to top the Rosetta mission and the landing of Philae on the surface of comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko?

If approved the Asteroid Impact Mission would put a microlander called Mascot-2 would be deployed from the main AIM spacecraft to touch down on the approximately 170-m diameter ‘Didymoon’, in orbit around the larger 700-m diameter Didymos asteroid.


ESA’s Sentinel-1A Spots Oil Slick


Image contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data [2016], processed by ESA & Sentinel-1 Mission Performance Centre

From 20 May:

The Sentinel-1A radar satellite detected a slick in the eastern Mediterranean Sea – in the same area that EgyptAir flight MS804 disappeared early morning of 19 May 2016 on its way from Paris to Cairo. Sentinel-1A acquired this image later in the day at 16:00 GMT (18:00 CEST) in ‘extra-wide swath mode’ of 400 km with horizontal polarisation. ESA provided it to the relevant authorities to support the search operations. The 2 km-long slick is located at 33°32′ N / 29°13′ E – about 40 km southeast of the last known location of the aircraft. Although there is no guarantee that the slick is from the missing airplane, this information could be helpful for the search.

The search for the black boxes is underway.

Peake At The Controls

Tim Peake takes control of the ESA’s Mars rover prototype named Bridget located in the UK from the International Space Station.

He controlled the rover for two hours and even drove it into a simulated cave. Nice work!

I don’t know what the odds of the rover going into a cave on Mars but I would hope they would code in a reverse route in the event radio contact was lost.


ExoMars 2016

The ExoMars 2016 mated to the Proton rocket is shown here with some of the many people at the Baikonur Space Centre getting the launch ready.


The fairing (behind the ExoMars logo) contain Schiaparelli. Schiaparelli is the name of the entry, descent and landing demonstrator module. Along with Schiaparelli is the Trace Gas Orbiter.

This image was taken on 05 March and in just a few days from now the Proton rocket will launch the ExoMars into orbit.

Image: ESA



ESA is getting ready to begin its mission to map Earth’s oceans and land surfaces with the Sentinel-3A satellite.

We see the satellite being put inside a rocket fairing on 08 February at the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in northern Russia in preparation for launch. Image: ESA–Stephane Corvaja, 2016.

The Sentinel-3 mission is set to play a key role in the world’s largest environmental monitoring programme – Copernicus.


Inside a Rocket’s Belly

Looking at the business end of a rocket engine.

ESA’s Description:
An unusual view of a spacecraft – looking from below, directly into the thruster nozzles. This is a test version of ESA’s service module for NASA’s Orion spacecraft that will send astronauts further into space than ever before.

The European Service Module provides electricity, water, oxygen and nitrogen, and thermal control as well as propelling the spacecraft.

The large cone is the spacecraft’s main engine, the same model that was used on the Space Shuttle for orbital manoeuvres. The surrounding red cones are auxiliary thrusters. The engines will provide almost 30 kN of thrust, only one-tenth that of a Jumbo Jet engine, but enough to manoeuvre in space. More thrusters are carried on the module’s sides.

This structural test model is used for testing purposes before installing the real thing. It is as close to the flight version as possible while keeping costs and development time manageable. The structure and weight are the same, while mass equivalents stand in for electronics boxes not needed for the series of tests.

The model was installed under a test version of the Crew Module Adapter, and sits on the Spacecraft Adapter that will attach Orion to its launch vehicle. This is the first time the European hardware has been physically connected to NASA’s elements.

The service module will be shaken at NASA’s Plum Brook station in Sandusky, OH.

Merging Galaxies


One day our Milky Way will be in the midst of a similar merger, ours with Andromeda.

The ESA description:
The subject of this NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image is known as NGC 3597. It is the product of a collision between two good-sized galaxies, and is slowly evolving to become a giant elliptical galaxy. This type of galaxy has grown more and more common as the Universe has evolved, with initially small galaxies merging and progressively building up into larger galactic structures over time.

NGC 3597 is located approximately 150 million light-years away in the constellation of Crater (The Cup). Astronomers study NGC 3597 to learn more about how elliptical galaxies form — many ellipticals began their lives far earlier in the history of the Universe. Older ellipticals are nicknamed “red and dead” by astronomers because these bloated galaxies are not anymore producing new, bluer, stars in ages, and are thus packed full of old and redder stellar populations.

Before infirmity sets in, some freshly formed elliptical galaxies experience a final flush of youth, as is the case with NGC 3597. Galaxies smashing together pool their available gas and dust, triggering new rounds of star birth. Some of this material ends up in dense pockets initially called proto-globular clusters, dozens of which festoon NGC 3597. These pockets will go on to collapse and form fully-fledged globular clusters, large spheres that orbit the centres of galaxies like satellites, packed tightly full of millions of stars.

Image and caption: ESA/Hubble & NASA