Swarm Launched

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.

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GOCE Comes Home

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.

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SWARM Launch Delay

The Three Swarm Satellites.  Credit: ESA

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.

ATV-4 ‘Einstein’ Leaves the ISS

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 Delay

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.

Shapely Supercluster

Shapley Supercluster.  Credit: ESA

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 :mrgreen:

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.

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Rosetta Update

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.

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Herschel Looks Back to the Beginning

Deflected light from the Big Bang. Artists concept: ESA

Deflected light from the Big Bang. Artists concept: ESA

A timely piece from ESA and Herschel because in the past few weeks I’ve been reviewing this time period. We cannot look back much further, if any, to the 380,000 year point (after the big bang) that I know of because before that the temperatures generated were too high; the universe was a dense mix of ions and free electrons.  There were so many free electrons the photons were scattered and the universe was opaque.

Once the temperature dropped below 3,000 K, atoms formed and the number of free electrons dropped to the point where photons could escape and bingo, the Universe became transparent.

Those photons became a 3000 K blackbody. As time went on and the universe expanded (and it still is) those blackbody photons redshifted, redder wavelengths means cooler temperatures until we see it now as 2.7 K.

The idea of polarization, I’m still getting a handle on especially the “B-mode”. I’m currently reading one of Stephen Hawking’s books with a short section on polarization – this release helped clear up a few things.

From ESA and Herschel:

Using a telescope in Antarctica and ESA’s Herschel space observatory, astronomers have made the first detection of a subtle twist in the relic radiation from the Big Bang, paving the way towards revealing the first moments of the Universe’s existence.

The elusive signal was found in the way the first light in the Universe has been deflected during its journey to Earth by intervening galaxy clusters and dark matter, an invisible substance that is detected only indirectly through its gravitational influence.

The discovery points the way towards finding evidence for gravitational waves born during the Universe’s rapid ‘inflation’ phase, a crucial result keenly anticipated from ESA’s Planck mission.

The relic radiation from the Big Bang – the Cosmic Microwave Background, or CMB – was imprinted on the sky when the Universe was just 380 000 years old. Today, some 13.8 billion years later, we see it as a sky filled with radio waves at a temperature of just 2.7 degrees above absolute zero.

Read the rest at ESA.

Dressing Gaia

"Dressing Gaia in her sunshield in preparation for launch.  Credit: Ariannespace / ESA

“Dressing Gaia in her sunshield in preparation for launch. Credit: Arianespace / ESA

I’ve been patiently waiting and waiting and waiting for about 7-years now and FINALLY!!!!   We have a date — 20 November 2013.

One of the most exciting parts of Gaia is the the ability to measure the distances to the nearby stars to an accuracy of 0.001 percent and near the galactic center about 8,000 parsecs to within 20 percent as it builds up a detailed and as precise as possible 3-D all sky map.

The Gaia website.

From Arianespace

A high-tech sunshield to protect the Gaia spacecraft during its deep space mission is now being installed at the Spaceport as preparations continue for Arianespace’s Flight VS06 Soyuz launch of the billion-star mapper from French Guiana.

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