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A very good start

ESA Top News - 5 hours 35 min ago
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The first spacewalk to service the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS) could not have gone better. Lead spacewalker ESA astronaut Luca Parmitano is imaged here hitching a ride on the International Space Station’s 16-metre long robotic arm to kick off the first of four ventures to service the particle physics detector on 15 November.

While all spacewalks are a carefully planned and detailed affair, the four spacewalks for AMS are exceptionally difficult as the bus-sized dark matter detector was never designed to be maintained in space. But after three successful years of delivering ground breaking science, the decision was made to extend its lifetime. 

The cooling pumps for AMS-02 need maintenance and without them it will no longer be able to collect data on the cosmic rays that are bombarding our planet. The first question spacewalk designers had to answer whether this was even possible. 

The first spacewalk proved it was not only possible, but thanks to the planning and trained that began as early as 2017, Luca and his spacewalking partner Andrew Morgan could achieve more than scheduled – setting them in good stead for the next phase. 

The spacewalk began, as they all do, with “prebreathing” for up to two hours. Similar to scuba divers, astronauts can suffer from the ‘bends’: quickly changing pressure can turn the nitrogen in human bodies into bubbles with serious symptoms. To avoid this, astronauts breathe pure oxygen to purge their bodies of nitrogen.

Luca and NASA astronaut Drew Morgan left the depressurised Quest airlock at 13:10 CET (12:10 GMT), with Luca grabbing the ride to AMS on the robotic arm controlled by NASA astronaut Jessica Meir while Drew ferried handrails and equipment by hand to the worksite. 

The main task of this spacewalk was to remove the debris shield covering AMS, with an estimated three hours portioned for this task. Luca and Drew managed to jettison the debris shield to burn up safely in Earth’s atmosphere well ahead of schedule.

Luca and Drew also installed three handrails in the vicinity of AMS to prepare for the next spacewalks and removed zip ties on the AMS’ vertical support strut.

Amazingly, the duo were still well ahead of the six hours planned for the main task of removing the debris shield. 

When time permits, mission control give spacewalkers some “get ahead” tasks. Although there were no get-ahead tasks planned for this spacewalk the duo was so far ahead of schedule that mission control agreed they continue work originally planned for the second AMS spacewalk. Luca removed the screws from a carbon-fibre cover under the insulation and passed the cover to Drew to jettison once again.

The pair cleaned up, took some photos of their killer views, gathered tools, and made their way back to the airlock, clocking in 6 hours and 39 minutes for this promising start to AMS maintenance.

The next spacewalk is scheduled for 22 November. Watch the spacewalk via ESA Web TV

Got questions about AMS? Post them using the hashtag #SpacewalkForAMS on Twitter and follow the hashtag for the latest. 

Using AI to predict Earth’s future

ESA Top News - 10 hours 31 min ago

A recent ‘deep learning’ algorithm – despite having no innate knowledge of solar physics – could provide more accurate predictions of how the Sun affects our planet than current models based on scientific understanding.

Passing Asteroid Arrokoth

APOD - 13 hours 1 min ago

What would it look like to pass asteroid Arrokoth? What would it look like to pass asteroid Arrokoth?


Young Stars in the Rho Ophiuchi Cloud

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The Star Streams of NGC 5907

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M16 and the Eagle Nebula

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Mercury and the Quiet Sun

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Mercury in Silhouette

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Milky Way over Uruguayan Lighthouse

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Can a lighthouse illuminate a galaxy? Can a lighthouse illuminate a galaxy?


Earth’s magnetic song recorded for the first time during a solar storm

ESA Top News - Mon, 18/11/2019 - 15:00
The foreshock in Earth’s magnetic environment

Data from ESA’s Cluster mission has provided a recording of the eerie ‘song’ that Earth sings when it is hit by a solar storm.

This week we're under the space weather

ESA Top News - Mon, 18/11/2019 - 09:04

This week, space weather experts are coming together in Liège, Belgium, for the main annual event in their calendar, European Space Weather Week.

Hibernating astronauts would need smaller spacecraft

ESA Top News - Mon, 18/11/2019 - 08:14
Hibernation pods in Alien movie

If a sci-fi spaceship does not come with hyperdrive then it is usually fitted with hibernation capsules instead. In movies from 2001: A Space Odyssey to Event Horizon, Alien to Passengers, fictional astronauts get put into ‘suspended animation’ to cross the vastness of space. Now ESA has investigated how real life crew hibernation would impact space mission design.

Orion A in infrared

ESA Top News - Mon, 18/11/2019 - 08:00
Orion A in infrared Image:

Stars form within giant clouds of gas and dust that pervade galaxies like our own Milky Way. This image depicts one such cloud, known as Orion A, as seen by ESA’s Herschel and Planck space observatories.

At 1350 light years away, Orion A is the nearest heavyweight stellar nursery to us. The cloud is packed full of gas – it contains so much material, in fact, that it would be capable of producing tens of thousands of Suns. Along with its sibling, Orion B, the cloud makes up the Orion Molecular Cloud Complex, a vast star-forming region within the constella-tion of Orion, which is most prominent in the night sky during northern hemisphere winter and southern hemisphere summer.

The different colours visible here indicate the light emitted by interstellar dust grains mixed within the gas, as observed by Herschel at far-infrared and sub-millimetre wavelengths, while the texture of faint grey bands stretching across the frame, based on Planck’s measurements of the direction of the polarised light emitted by the dust, show the orientation of the magnetic field.

As evident from images like this, the space that sits between stars is not empty but is instead filled with a cool substance known as the interstellar medium (ISM) – a mix of gas and dust that often clumps together. When these clumps become dense enough they start to collapse under their own gravity and become hotter and hotter and denser and denser until they spark something exciting: the creation of new stars.

Magnetism is an important component of the ISM. Magnetic fields permeate the Universe, and are involved in helping clouds of matter maintain the delicate balance between pressure and gravity that eventually lead to the birth of stars. The mechanisms that oppose the gravitational collapse of star-forming clouds remain somewhat unclear, but a recent study suggests that interstellar magnetic fields play a significant role in guiding the flows of matter in the ISM, and may be a key player in preventing inter-stellar cloud collapse.

The study finds that matter within the ISM is coupled to the surrounding magnetic field and can only move along its lines, creating a sort of ‘conveyor belts’ of field-aligned matter, as expected from the effect of electromagnetic forces. When these interact with an external source of energy – such as an exploding star, or other material moving through the galaxy – these flows along the magnetic field lines converge. The process creates a compressed pocket of higher density that appears to be perpendicular to the field itself. As more and more matter streams inwards, this region becomes increasingly dense, until it eventually reaches the critical density for gravitational collapse and crumples in on itself, leading to the formation of stars.

The data comprising this image were gathered during Planck’s all-sky observations and Herschel’s ‘Gould Belt Survey’. Operational until 2013, both Herschel and Planck were instrumental in exploring the cool and the distant Universe, shedding light on many cosmic phenomena, from the formation of stars in our Milky Way galaxy to the expansion history of the entire Universe.

The study was published in Astronomy & Astrophysics (2019) by J. D. Soler, Max Planck Institute for Astronomy (Heidelberg, Germany).

Driving test for Luca Parmitano on robotic geology science

ESA Top News - Mon, 18/11/2019 - 06:46
Analog-1 getting ready

Today ESA astronaut Luca Parmitano will take control of a robot in the Netherlands while orbiting Earth in the International Space Station at a speed of around 7.8 km per second.

NGC 3717: A Nearly Sideways Spiral Galaxy

APOD - Mon, 18/11/2019 - 06:00

Some spiral galaxies are seen nearly sideways. Some spiral galaxies are seen nearly sideways.


Lunar Craters Langrenus and Petavius

APOD - Sun, 17/11/2019 - 17:00

The history of the Moon is partly written in its craters. The history of the Moon is partly written in its craters.


French earthquake fault mapped

ESA Top News - Sun, 17/11/2019 - 12:18
French earthquake interferogram

This week, southeast France was hit by a magnitude 5 earthquake with tremors felt between Lyon and Montélimar. The Copernicus Sentinel-1 radar mission has been used to map the way the ground shifted as a result of the quake.

A Mercury Transit Sequence

APOD - Sat, 16/11/2019 - 15:00

Tomorrow -- Monday --   Tomorrow -- Monday --


Replay of first #SpacewalkForAMS

ESA Top News - Fri, 15/11/2019 - 18:00
Video: 07:00:52

On Friday 15 November, ESA astronaut Luca Parmitano and NASA's Andrew Morgan exited the Space Station airlock on the first of at least four spacewalks to upgrade the cosmic ray detector, Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer AMS-02.

This replay includes a special live transmission between ESA's astronaut centre in Cologne, Germany, and the European laboratory for particle physics CERN in Switzerland.
Experts provide commentary and insight throughout what has been described as the most complex series of spacewalks since the repair of the Hubble Space Telescope.

Apply now for 2019 YGT opportunities!

ESA Top News - Fri, 15/11/2019 - 15:00

More than 100 explorers wanted for this year’s Young Graduate Trainee opportunities at ESA!

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