Mark your calendars, tomorrow (29 December 2013) ESA’s Mars Express spacecraft will flyby the Martian moon Phobos at just 45 km / 28 miles! That’s close!
So close in fact, the Mars Express will be pulled “a few tens of centimeters” off course. ESA scientists will be ready, they will be measuring the small changes in the frequency of the radio signals and turn them into measurements of gravity, mass, and density at different locations on the moon. Cool stuff!
The closest approach will be at 07:09 UTC, let’s see that’s 02:09 EST. For perspective this animation is at x 1000 speed.
ESA’s Mars Express page
With this launch ESA has advanced the potential for a huge leap forward in astronomical science.
No not over-stated at all. The “potential” will be realized when Gaia starts operation and gathering science data. Exciting stuff, this has been a LONG time coming.
All about Gaia from ESA:
ESA’s Gaia mission blasted off this morning on a Soyuz rocket from Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana, on its exciting mission to study a billion suns.
Gaia is destined to create the most accurate map yet of the Milky Way. By making accurate measurements of the positions and motions of 1% of the total population of roughly 100 billion stars, it will answer questions about the origin and evolution of our home Galaxy.
The Soyuz launcher, operated by Arianespace, lifted off at 09:12 GMT (10:12 CET). About ten minutes later, after separation of the first three stages, the Fregat upper stage ignited, delivering Gaia into a temporary parking orbit at an altitude of 175 km.
A second firing of the Fregat 11 minutes later took Gaia into its transfer orbit, followed by separation from the upper stage 42 minutes after liftoff. Ground telemetry and attitude control were established by controllers at ESA’s operations centre in Darmstadt, Germany, and the spacecraft began activating its systems.
The Hubble/Herschel composite of the Crab Nebula Click for larger. Image credit: ESA/Herschel/PACS/MESS Key Programme Supernova Remnant Team; NASA, ESA and Allison Loll/Jeff Hester (Arizona State University)
As the NASA caption below explains this is composite image of the Crab Nebula from Hubble and Herschel. ESA has a nice explanation of the Herschel data along with links to an image and a portion of spectrum. Active Argon? Cool stuff!
From NASA (larger versions of the image available here):
This image shows a composite view of the Crab nebula, an iconic supernova remnant in our Milky Way galaxy, as viewed by the Herschel Space Observatory and the Hubble Space Telescope. Herschel is a European Space Agency (ESA) mission with important NASA contributions, and Hubble is a NASA mission with important ESA contributions.
A wispy and filamentary cloud of gas and dust, the Crab nebula is the remnant of a supernova explosion that was observed by Chinese astronomers in the year 1054.
ESA’s SWARM satellites are successfully launched from the Plesetsk cosmodrome in northern Russia this morning in what has to be one of the prettiest launches I’ve seen in a long while. The launch went off perfectly at 12:03 UTC. ESA has since acquired signals from all three satellites so it would sound as if things are going smoothly.
The mission is going to be a very interesting one: study the magnetic field. Sounds simple, but it’s not so much. For example we know the magnetic field is basically set up by the molten core of iron at the Earth’s center.
ESA’s GOCE satellite is on its way back to Earth. Where and when is somewhat speculative however it was said to be “pretty much in the orbital position it was predicted to be”. There are parts of the satellite that are expected to survive re-entry it will be interesting to see how much lead time there ends up being.
The ESA Rocket Science Blog this morning is putting GOCE at about 160 km and it is showing a significant temperature increase in areas of the spacecraft indicating it is interfacing with an increasingly dense atmosphere.
GOCE is expected to fall by another 13 km today with final re-entry in less than two days.
UPDATE: The Sunday Morning Update from ESA has GOCE at about 147 km and dropping 1 km/hr and increasing. The atmospheric drag level is high and increasing.
The end is close.
RE-ENTRY PREDICTION: Predicted Reentry Time: 10 NOV 2013 23:33 UTC ± 4 hours
RE-ENTRY PREDICTION (by ESA Space Debris Coordination Committee): between 18:30 UTC – 24:00 UTC, Sunday, 10 November (19:30 CET – 01:00 CET, Sunday to Monday, 10/11 November); the most probable impact ground swath largely runs over ocean and polar regions.
The Three Swarm Satellites. Credit: ESA
An ambitious mission to learn about the mysteries of the Earth’s magnetic field has been delayed due to ‘technical issues’.
This delay follows a postponement of the Gaia mission, from the sounds the two delays are not related, but since specifics were not released that is only conjecture. Gaia’s delay was due to components in two transponders and the Swarm delay is to replace a part in the upper stage of the ‘Rockot’ launcher.
The delay will be only for a week and this should put the launch around the 21st instead of the 14th.
Visit the SWARM website.
ESA’s cargo ship ATV-4 or “Einstein” launched on 5 June from Kourou Japan and has been at the station since it delivered seven tons of cargo on 15 June. It ended its mission and left the ISS on 28 October but not before it was loaded with trash and liquid waste products from the ISS. As you can see in the video the separation was very smooth.
Einstein will slowly spiral down until it ends its mission on 02 November (Saturday). The cargo ship will be positioned so cameras on the ISS can record the fiery end of Einstein over the South Pacific as it interfaces with the atmosphere at 1200 UTC.
In the meantime, mindful of Einstein being the size of a double decker bus, I thought it might be visible on a good pass with binoculars. So I looked at predictions at Heavens Above and sure enough there was a pretty good one. Out I went and it was a very nice pass but didn’t see Einstein, tonight’s pass will be a good deal brighter so If skies are as good as they were last night I’ll be looking. Einstein is pretty small, but I am bound to try. I’ll set up a telescope stationary along the path and watch the field of view as the ISS goes by.
NOTE: Comet ISON is now a binocular target !
I had beautiful skies this morning and spotted ISON even with the moon close by and just using a cheap pair of binoculars. A check of the magnitude has it at 7.7 and will be improving quickly. Get outside before daylight and have a look if you can. Look a little east of east of Mars and “lower” in the sky. How much (and it’s not that far) depends on your viewing-aid with the cheaper binoculars Mars was on the edge of the field of view.
Here’s a video of the ATV 4 / ISS separation from NASA TV:
Gaia stands for Global Astrometric Interferometer for Astrophysics, although the mission has been around long enough the name is no longer representative of the methods used to conduct the science objectives. Now Gaia has been delayed for just a little longer.
So what happened? Gaia was delivered to the Kourou launch site to be readied for a November launch. Then just a couple days ago ESA announced the delay because of “a technical issue” identified in another satellite already in orbit. All we (and really need to) know about the specific issues for the delay is there is concern about components used in two of the transponders used to generate “timing signals” for downlinking the science telemetry.
ESA in a prudent move has decided to return the spacecraft to Europe to replace and verify the potentially faulty components. In a mission that has been “on the books since the year 2000, a month or two to “get it right” is the right thing to do.
measure the positions of ~1 billion stars both in our Galaxy and other members of the Local Group, with an accuracy down to 24 μas
perform spectral and photometric measurements of all objects
derive space velocities of the Galaxy’s constituent stars using the stellar distances and motions
create a three-dimensional structural map of the Galaxy.
More about this exciting mission is outlined in ESA’s Gaia Fact Sheet.
Shapley Supercluster. Credit: ESA
We sometimes tend to take a provincial view when looking out into space-time. Meaning we see our Milky Way and other galaxies like Andromeda as separate entities. Nothing wrong with that. Yet when we step back and take a deeper look we find galaxies that are part of clusters of galaxies and superclusters.
ESA’s Planck satellite has been looking at these clusters and superclusters, in fact it has looked at over a thousand clusters and superclusters and this included interacting clusters. Pretty mind boggling, but this is one of the reasons the universe is as smooth as it is.
Space-time? Yeah, I’ve been reading Hawking again
so here is the ESA press release to go with this collaborative image they put together of the Shapely Supercluster:
While scanning the sky for the oldest cosmic light, ESA’s Planck satellite has captured snapshots of some of the largest objects populating the Universe today: galaxy clusters and superclusters.
Several hundred galaxies and the huge amounts of gas that permeate them are depicted in this view of the core of the Shapley Supercluster, the largest cosmic structure in the local Universe.
An update on a very exciting mission a long time in the making.
From the ESA:
This animation tracks Rosetta’s journey through the Solar System, using gravity slingshots from Earth and Mars to reach its final destination: Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko. Rosetta made three flybys of Earth, on 4 March 2005, 13 November 2007 and 13 November 2009, and one of Mars, on 25 February 2007. Rosetta has also visited two asteroids, taking extensive close-up images of 2867 Steins on 5 September 2008 and 21 Lutetia on 10 July 2010. Once the spacecraft is woken up from deep space hibernation on 20 January 2014, it will head for rendezvous with the comet in May. In November the Philae probe will be deployed to the comet surface. Rosetta will follow the comet to its closest distance to the Sun on 13 August 2015 and as it moves back towards the outer Solar System. The nominal mission end is December 2015.