ESA and Thales Alenia Space have today signed a contract to develop the new high-priority Copernicus Radar Observation System for Europe in L-band (ROSE-L) environmental monitoring mission – as part of Europe’s Copernicus programme. The contract was signed in the presence of Riccardo Fraccaro, Undersecretary of the Italian Prime Minister’s Office, and ESA’s Director General, Jan Wörner.
A sailor in the Vendée Globe solo round-the-world yacht race faced disaster in the Southern Ocean as raging waves pounded his vessel apart. But he was saved thanks to the search and rescue antennas aboard Europe’s Galileo satellites, part of the international Cospas-Sarsat rescue system.
The stars are constantly moving across the sky. Known as proper motion, this motion is imperceptible to the unaided eye but is being measured with increasing precision by Gaia. This animation shows the proper motions of 40 000 stars, all located within 100 parsecs (326 light years) of the Solar System. The animation begins with the stars in their current positions; the brightness of each dot representing the brightness of the star it represents.
As the animation begins, the trails grow, showing how the stars will change position over the next 80,000 years. Short trails indicate that the star is moving more slowly across the sky, whereas long trails indicate faster motion. To avoid the animation becoming too difficult to interpret, the oldest parts of the trails are erased to only show the newer parts of the stellar motions into the future.
Sometimes it appears as if a star is accelerating (as indicated by a longer trail). This is due to the star getting closer to us. Proper motion is a measure of angular velocity, which means that close-by stars appear to move more quicker across the sky even when their speed is the same as that of other, more distant stars.
Towards the end of the animation, the stars appear to congregate on the right side of the image, leaving the left side emptier. This is an artefact and is caused by the average motion of the Solar System with respect to the surrounding stars.
The animation ends by showing star trails for 400 thousand years into the future.
The motion of stars in the outskirts of our galaxy hints at significant changes in the history of the Milky Way. This and other equally fascinating results come from a set of papers that demonstrate the quality of ESA’s Gaia Early third Data Release (EDR3), which is made public today.
On 8 November, 33 intrepid sailors set off from Les Sables-D’Olonne in western France to take part in the most extreme, solo, non-stop, race around the world: the Vendée Globe. The route of around 45 000 km takes them down through the Atlantic and into the heart of the Southern Ocean – which is where they are heading now. Thanks to information from satellites, an ice exclusion zone has been established to help keep sailors away from icebergs. For extra safety, satellite images and data are being used to map any ice around Antarctica before the sailors pass through.
The ESA-NASA Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) is celebrating its twenty-fifth launch anniversary.
For 25 years, the ESA/NASA SOHO observatory has captured thousands of flares, coronal mass ejections, sunspots and coronal holes that continuously break out from the Sun. This video merges decades of footage from the C2 and C3 cameras of the LASCO instrument onboard the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory from 1998 to 2020, revealing the immense power of our star.
What becomes clear as the Sun turns and years pass and background stars whirl by, is how constant the stream of material is that is blasted in all directions – the solar wind. This constant wind is interrupted only by huge explosions that fling bows of material at vast speeds, filling the Solar System with ionized material and solar radiation.
Every now and then, the entire image is shrouded in white ‘noise’. These are the moments in which solar particles are flung at near-light speeds directly at the SOHO spacecraft, causing energetic solar protons to strike LASCO’s cameras and momentarily interfere with their observations.
This means that nearby satellites orbiting Earth will also have received a direct hit just fractions of a second later, potentially damaging their onboard electronics, solar cells and creating what appears as ‘snow storms’.
Fast Coronal Mass Ejections (CMEs) are often associated with these solar particle events. Often coming from the same region of the Sun, they eject billions of tonnes of solar matter in the hours and days that follow. If they hit Earth, they can trigger geomagnetic storms – temporary disturbances in our planet’s magnetosphere.
These events can cause serious problems for modern technological systems, disrupting or damaging satellites and the multitude of services – like navigation and telecommunications – that rely on them. Geomagnetic storms can also black out power grids and disturb radio communications. Solar particle events create a radiation hazard for astronauts in space, even serving potentially harmful doses of radiation to astronauts on future missions to the Moon or Mars.
As the Sun begins a new cycle, its 25th since we’ve had enough information to count them, solar activity will begin to ramp up. In fact, we have already seen the first new sunspots and solar flares of solar cycle 25 as captured here by ESA’s Proba 2 spacecraft.
ESA’s Space Weather Office, part of the Agency’s Space Safety programme, is working to protect infrastructure on Earth and in space from the unpredictable mood swings of our star with the Lagrange mission to monitor the Sun, a distributed system of space weather sensors to better understand Earth’s space environment as a result of space weather, and the Space Weather Service Network providing timely and accurate data on space weather.
Thank you to Brendan Gallagher from the US Naval Research Laboratory who processed footage from the two LASCO cameras to create this impressive video. The US Naval Research Lab is the leading research partner for the LASCO instrument onboard SOHO.
ESA has signed an €86 million contract with an industrial team led by Swiss start-up ClearSpace SA to purchase a unique service: the first removal of an item of space debris from orbit.
NASA astronaut Kate Rubins poses next to a thriving radish crop growing inside the Advanced Plant Habitat in the International Space Station.
Located in Europe’s Columbus module, the NASA experiment is the latest in the study of plants growing in microgravity.
With plans to visit the Moon and Mars, future astronauts will need a regular, fresh source of food as they take on these missions farther away from home. In addition to providing much-needed vitamins and minerals, growing plants in space contributes to sustainability and adds homey touch to exploration.
Growing plants in the microgravity conditions of the International Space Station has allowed researchers to fine tune the approach: European research showed plants respond best to red and blue light, giving the Columbus module a disco feel.
Because plants no longer have gravity to root them to soil, the seeds are grown in ‘pillows’ that help evenly distribute fertilizer and water to the roots.
Radishes were chosen because it is a model plant; they have a short cultivation period and are genetically similar to the plant most frequently studied in space, Arabidopsis. Radishes are also edible and nutritious, with this batch ready for harvest any day now. Samples will be sent back to Earth for study.
The Advanced Plant Habitat is a self-contained growth chamber requiring very little intervention from astronauts. It is equipped with LED lights, porous clay, over 180 sensors and cameras regulated by researchers at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, USA. From there, plant growth is monitored and conditions adjusted as necessary to better distribute water and fertilizer and control moisture and temperature levels.
The next ESA astronaut to launch to the Station is Thomas Pesquet for mission Alpha. Slated to arrive in Spring 2021, perhaps Thomas will get to try another batch of space-grown greens.
Europe’s Rosalind Franklin ExoMars rover has a younger ’sibling’ – ExoMy. The blueprints and software for this mini-version of the full-size Mars explorer are available for free so that anyone can 3D print, assemble and program their own ExoMy.
Week in images: 23-27 November 2020
Discover our week through the lens
British engineers are fine-tuning a process that will be used to extract oxygen from lunar dust, leaving behind metal powders that could be 3D printed into construction materials for a Moon base.
It could be an early step to establishing an extra-terrestrial oxygen extraction plant. This would help to enable exploration and sustain life on the Moon while avoiding the enormous cost of sending materials from Earth.
Innovative solutions to urban planning will be explored at an online seminar to be held on Thursday 26 November.