Category Archives: ESA

The Heart of the Crab


This image is a composite of separate exposures acquired by the ACS/WFC instrument using several filters. Coloration results from assigning different hues (colors) to the grayscale image associated with an individual filter.The assigned colors represent not only changes in different filters, but also the same filters taken on different exposure dates to highlight features that change over time.

Credit: ESA / NASA Acknowledgment: J. Hester (ASU) and M. Weisskopf (NASA/GSFC)

From Hubblesite:
At the center of the Crab Nebula, located in the constellation Taurus, lies a celestial “beating heart” that is an example of extreme physics in space. The tiny object blasts out blistering pulses of radiation 30 times a second with unbelievable clock-like precision. Astronomers soon figured out that it was the crushed core of an exploded star, called a neutron star, which wildly spins like a blender on puree. The burned-out stellar core can do this without flying apart because it is 10 billion times stronger than steel. This incredible density means that the mass of 1.4 suns has been crushed into a solid ball of neutrons no bigger than the width of a large city. This Hubble image captures the region around the neutron star. It is unleashing copious amounts of energy that are pushing on the expanding cloud of debris from the supernova explosion — like an animal rattling its cage. This includes wave-like tsunamis of charged particles embedded in deadly magnetic fields.

On July 4, 1054, Chinese astronomers recorded the supernova that formed the Crab Nebula. The ultimate celestial firework, this “guest star” was visible during the daytime for 23 days, shining six times brighter than the planet Venus. The supernova was also recorded by Japanese, Arabic, and Native American stargazers. While searching for a comet that was predicted to return in 1758, French astronomer Charles Messier discovered a hazy nebula in the direction of the long-vanished supernova. He would later add it to his celestial catalog as “Messier 1.” Because M1 didn’t move across the sky like a comet, Messier simply ignored it other than just marking it as a “fake comet.” Nearly a century later the British astronomer William Parsons sketched the nebula. Its resemblance to a crustacean led to M1’s other name, the Crab Nebula. In 1928 Edwin Hubble first proposed associating the Crab Nebula to the Chinese “guest star” of 1054.

Parachute Testing



I must confess, every time I see one of these parachute tests I quickly start wondering how that anchor point is constructed. I know, technically it’s not difficult, I just seem to have this need to know what the force at the base of the column is. Some day I will gather the data and do an estimate – and yes I say that every time. I forget quickly.

Check out what the parachute must do and be amazed at what the parachute must do.

From ESA:

This is a test version of the parachute that will slow the Schiaparelli entry, descent and landing module as they plummet through the martian atmosphere on 19 October.

When the module is about 11 km from the surface, descending at about 1700 km/h, the parachute will be deployed by a mortar. The parachute will slow the module to about 200 km/h by 1.2 km above the surface, at which stage it will be jettisoned.

The parachute is a ‘disc-gap-band’ type, as used for the ESA Huygens probe descent to Titan and for all NASA planetary entries so far.

The canopy, with a normal diameter of 12 m, is made from nylon fabric and the lines are made from Kevlar, a very strong synthetic material.

Tests of how the parachute will inflate at supersonic speeds were carried out with a smaller model in a supersonic wind tunnel in the NASA Glenn Research Center.

The full-scale qualification model, pictured here, was used to test the pyrotechnic mortar deployment and the strength of the parachute in the world’s largest wind tunnel, operated by the US Air Force at the National Full-Scale Aerodynamic Complex in the Ames Research Center, California.

The tower is needed to place the mortar – the horizontal tube at the top of the tower – at the centre of the wind tunnel for testing.

Schiaparelli was launched on 14 March with the Trace Gas Orbiter on a Proton rocket from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakstan.

Image: USAF Arnold Engineering Development Complex

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.