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Updated: 1 hour 54 min ago

A very good start

5 hours 28 min ago

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

10 hours 24 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.

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

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

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

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

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

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.

French earthquake fault mapped

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.

Replay of first #SpacewalkForAMS

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!

Fri, 15/11/2019 - 15:00

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

Week in images

Fri, 15/11/2019 - 13:45

Discover our week through the lens (11-15 November 2019).

Sea-level monitoring satellite on show

Fri, 15/11/2019 - 13:00
Copernicus Sentinel-6 on display

Media representatives and mission partners gathered today in Germany to see a new satellite, which will take the lead in charting sea-level change, before it undergoes final testing and is packed up for shipment to the US for lift-off next year.

Lake Tai, China

Fri, 15/11/2019 - 09:00
Lake Tai, China Image:

The Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission takes us over the Lake Tai, the third largest freshwater lake in China. The lake, also known as Lake Taihu, is located in the Jiangsu province and is approximately 70 km long and 60 km wide, with an average water depth of approximately 2 metres. The lake discharges its waters through Wusong, Liu, Huangpu and several other rivers.

The Tai Basin is a very developed region in China, and includes the megacities Suzhou, visible east of the lake, Wuxi, visible north of the lake, and the nearby Shanghai. Over the past decades, rapid urbanisation, population growth and excessive fish farming have resulted in eutrophication – where the lake becomes enriched with minerals and nutrients.

The increase of nutrients deteriorate the water quality of the lake causing toxic algae blooms to form on the lake’s surface – threatening the quality for millions of people who depend on the lake as a source of drinking water.

In 2007, the algal blooms were so severe that the outbreak was declared a health emergency. Water supplies to Wuxi were suspended, leaving two million residents without drinking water for several weeks.

In this image captured on 24 May 2019, the algae-infested waters are clearly visible.

Algae blooms have been reported in the lake since the 1980s. Many attempts have been made to salvage the water quality of the lake including removal of the algae, closing chemical and manufacturing plants near Tai and stricter water treatment regulations.

However, the lake remains to be highly polluted. Agriculture, sewage and manufacturing still affect the lake’s waters – overloading it with nutrients.  

Sentinel-2 is a two-satellite mission to supply the coverage and data delivery needed for Europe’s Copernicus programme. The mission’s frequent revisits over the same area and high spatial resolution allow changes in inland water bodies to be closely monitored.

This image is also featured on the Earth from Space video programme.

Earth from Space: Lake Tai

Fri, 15/11/2019 - 09:00
Video: 00:02:45

In this week's edition of the Earth from Space programme, the Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission takes us over the third largest freshwater lake in China.

See also Lake Tai, China to download the image.

Making planets in a rocket

Thu, 14/11/2019 - 13:27
Planet drop

How are celestial bodies created? Aside from philosophical questions, researchers are taking practical steps to investigate the very first moments when planets are born – on a sounding rocket launching from Sweden next week.

Proxima puts European space on silver screen

Thu, 14/11/2019 - 10:42
Eva Green stars in Proxima

Proxima is the new film from French filmmaker Alice Winocour, about an ESA astronaut training for a long-duration mission on the International Space Station, with the cast and crew given access to real-life training centres while making the film.

Paxi on the ISS: EVA suits

Thu, 14/11/2019 - 09:00
Video: 00:03:56

Our alien friend Paxi went to visit American astronaut Anne McClain on board the International Space Station. Anne shows Paxi the EVA suits that astronauts wear during a spacewalk outside of the ISS.

Challenging spacewalks for Luca

Thu, 14/11/2019 - 09:00
Video: 00:03:40

On 20 July 2019, ESA astronaut Luca Parmitano was launched to the International Space Station from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. During the Beyond mission he will participate in several spacewalks (EVA) to repair the dark matter hunter Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer, or AMS-02. Attached to the station during the STS-134 shuttle mission in May 2011, the AMS was never designed to be maintained in orbit. Luca has trained extensively for this challenging task, which will involve complicated techniques and the use of specially-designed tools.

This A&B Roll recalls Luca Parmitano's preparations to repair the AMS at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, USA, with interviews in English, Italian and French.

Beyond mission (portal homepage)

Thu, 14/11/2019 - 06:00

Beyond mission

ESA astronaut Luca Parmitano’s Beyond mission to the International Space Station

Behind the scenes – space-age physics

Wed, 13/11/2019 - 14:37

Quietly and steadily, fundamental science for better materials on Earth runs on the International Space Station. While European commander Luca Parmitano is busy preparing for a series of complex spacewalks that take several hours of his working day in orbit, science hums in the background.