News Article | April 21, 2017
April 24 would mark the 27th anniversary of the launch of the Hubble Space Telescope. To commemorate the event, astronomers at NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) have snapped a stunning new image of two galaxies that, at first glance, look very different but are very much alike. The spiral galaxies, NGC 4302 and NGC 4298, are located 55 million light-years from Earth in the northern constellation of Coma Berenices. According to NASA, these galaxies, which are located in the Virgo cluster — a gravitationally bound cluster of nearly 2,000 galaxies — provide a glimpse of what the Milky Way would look like to observers looking at it from the outside. “In NGC 4298, the telltale, pinwheel-like structure is visible, but it's not as prominent as in some other spiral galaxies. In the edge-on NGC 4302, dust in the disk is silhouetted against rich lanes of stars,” NASA explained in a statement accompanying the image. “Absorption by dust makes the galaxy appear darker and redder than its companion. A large blue patch appears to be a giant region of recent star formation.” What makes these galaxies, located just 7,000 light-years from each other, interesting is their apparent lack of any gravitational interaction typically seen in galaxies located so close to each other. “Only a faint bridge of neutral hydrogen gas — not visible in this image — appears to stretch between them. The long tidal tails and deformations in their structure that are typical of galaxies lying so close to each other are missing completely,” NASA said. This could be explained if the two galaxies are recent arrivals to the cluster, and are currently falling in toward its center — a phenomenon that could also explain the faint tails of gas streaming from the galaxies. This is not the first time NASA and ESA have released images to mark the telescope’s birthday. Last year, the space agencies released a new image of the aptly named “Bubble Nebula” located 7,100 light-years from Earth in the constellation Cassiopeia. The nebula was discovered by the British astronomer William Herschel way back in 1787 and was first captured by Hubble's Wide Field Planetary Camera in 1992.
News Article | April 24, 2017
It will take more than six years to get there. But if long-anticipated signs of life are found on Europa, a newly-proposed joint American-European trek to the enigmatic moon of Jupiter will have been worth it. Called the Joint Europa Mission, the proposal was unveiled on 24 April by Michel Blanc from France’s Research Institute in Astrophysics and Planetology in Toulouse. At the annual European Geosciences Union meeting in Vienna, Austria, Blanc suggested NASA and the European Space Agency could join forces to plan and mount the mission, which could launch in the mid-2020s. “The whole idea is that if we think exploring Europa for life is important, it should be an international adventure,” Blanc said. “The ultimate goal is to get to the surface and look for biosignatures of life.” Europa is reckoned to be a potential cauldron for life because an ocean where life could evolve is believed to lurk beneath its icy surface. Discovery of a watery plume emerging from the surface in 2013 created further excitement, and that was reinforced by the recent discovery of hydrogen in similar plumes on Saturn’s moon Enceladus. Blanc said the Joint Europa Mission would have three major elements. The most important would be planting a lander on the moon’s surface for 35 days to sample and screen material for traces of life, such as biomolecules and metabolites. Meanwhile, having delivered the lander, an orbiter craft would spend three months taking laser, magnetic and seismic measurements to unravel more about the basic structure of the planet. It would focus on the composition and thickness of the ocean, already reckoned to be briny and rich in magnesium salts following previous observations of seeps to the surface by other space probes flying nearby. Finally, the orbiter would crash into the moon, but would gather and transmit data on the composition of Europa’s tenuous atmosphere on the way down, identifying any life-related gases such as carbon dioxide and oxygen. If all proceeds as hoped, the mission would last 6 and a half years. It would take the craft almost five years to reach Jupiter, and further manoeuvres in Jovian orbits to finally reach Europa. It would also need to address two key hazards when designing equipment: the intense radiation around Jupiter and the need to avoid contaminating Europa with stowaway organisms from Earth. Blanc said the lander would be designed by NASA, and the two agencies would combine forces to build the other components using their respective strengths. NASA already has a mission to Europa under development — officially dubbed Europa Clipper last month — but the orbiter won’t land. Likewise, the ESA is planning a mission to Ganymede, another of Jupiter’s moons. But the proposal unveiled this week is the first to specifically look for life and put a lander on the surface. Although the unofficial plan is completely new, it builds on previous NASA proposals to explore Europa, including one earlier this year.
News Article | May 2, 2017
The Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden, is analysing astronauts' exhaled air to probe lung health. The results so far have been breathtaking. The Airway Monitoring experiment measures the level of nitric oxide in astronauts' lungs, a naturally occurring molecule produced in the lungs to help regulate blood flow. Small amounts are normal, but excess levels indicate airway inflammation caused by environmental factors such as dust and pollutants or diseases like asthma. Aboard the Station, astronauts breathe into an analyser at normal pressure and in the reduced pressure of the Quest airlock – similar to the pressure in future habitats on Mars and lunar colonies. The measurements are then compared to those taken before flight. The experiment began with ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti in 2015 and has tested six astronauts so far, aiming to finish with more astronauts by 2020. Preliminary results are surprising. While nitric oxide levels were lower throughout astronauts' stays in space, as expected, they found that the levels initially decreased just before flight. Researchers are not yet sure why this is the case. But the lower nitric oxide levels in astronauts' lungs means researchers have to reset the level considered to be 'healthy' for spaceflight. If what is considered a normal level of nitric oxide in humans on Earth could in fact be a sign of airway inflammation for astronauts in space, researchers have a more accurate standard from which to conduct further research on lung health in space. This information is key to ensuring the health and safety of astronauts on longer missions further from Earth. Understanding the effects of weightlessness and reduced pressure on airway health allows us to solve future problems. This in turn will help space explorers monitor, diagnose and treat lung inflammation during spaceflight. For now, data from the remaining astronaut participants are needed before definitive conclusions can be made. But, overall, researchers have a better understanding of the lungs that will go a long way towards developing better diagnostic tools for airway diseases in patients on Earth.
News Article | May 3, 2017
College years can be stressful for any young person. For those suffering from mental illness, the pressures can be overwhelming. Johnson State College in Vermont decided to take practical steps to make life easier for these students. The school lets them keep emotional support animals, called ESAs, in their dorm rooms, in the classroom and around the campus. Kate McCarthy, Director of Wellness at the college, said it is a natural extension of the school’s commitment to each student’s success, and an effective way to help those with mental illness navigate four years of college. Lots of animals right now the school is home to 27 ESAs, including fish, hamsters and cats. Comfort comes in many forms, shapes and sizes. A purring cat is perfect for one type student, but another does better watching his goldfish gently swim round and round its bowl. Holding a wiggly hamster in her hand brings comfort to yet another. Alicia Eddy, a freshman prone to anxiety attacks, holds and plays with Mulan, her Chinese dwarf hamster. She said watching him roll around with his toy ball keeps her calm. Why Do ESAs Have a Positive Effect? McCarthy points out that the body reacts chemically when a person watches and interacts with a critter. This activity triggers a release of higher levels of oxytocin, the hormone that keeps humans happy. People have bonded with animals since the beginning of time, and there’s a practical reason for that. Talk to anyone who hugs her dog as soon as she comes home from a hard day at the office. She’ll rave about how calming and reassuring that hug feels. For people fighting mental illness, the need for feel-good hormones like oxytocin is just that much higher. These animals are also great conversation starters, a big help for students who are self-conscious in social situations. Attention is focused on the animal, not the owner. Taking Care of Another Living Thing Mental health professionals have long realized that making a depressed person responsible for the care of an animal gives them an interest outside their own mental pain. Ariel Corey, a sophomore at the school, cares for her cat, Little Bear. She feels strongly that it is invaluable to her mental state to have another living creature that loves her no matter what. She says that cuddling with her cat makes the world look just a little bit better. Knowing that another living creature, whether fish, hamster or cat, relies on them for the basics of life makes a depressed, anxious or otherwise mentally ill person feel needed. In fact, according to McCarthy, this alone can derail suicidal thoughts. “It really gives you a purpose, and it’s those little things that can make a big difference,” she said. Practical Help for Emotional Support Animals USA Service Dog Registration understands how important an emotional support animal is for a person suffering from anxiety, depression or other mental challenge. That’s why they offer free registration on the website for these animals. All it takes is 3 simple steps and a few minutes to register your ESA. The site also has information resources to help you cope when you travel with your animal, look for housing and other situations. The website has an ESA store with products that can make your life and that of your animal much easier. These include ID cars, vests, recommendation letters and tags. Check out USA Service Dog Registration today. Read the articles and take a look at the store. You and your support emotional support animal are not alone.
News Article | April 25, 2017
AMSTERDAM--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Voulant renforcer son engagement à servir sa clientèle européenne, C.H. Robinson a ouvert récemment des bureaux de transport à Prague, en République tchèque, et à Bucarest, en Roumanie. Ces nouveaux bureaux élargissent l'empreinte de la Société dans la région. C.H. Robinson a nommé Petra Vlckova au poste de directrice de la succursale de Prague en charge de superviser la croissance du bureau. Mme Vlckova rejoint C.H. Robinson depuis ESA Logistics et GTL Logistics, où
News Article | May 3, 2017
If you wanted to build a house on the moon, what would you use? One option: moondust and the power of the sun. European Space Agency researchers have figured out how to bake up moon bricks using simulated moondust and a solar furnace. The material they tested was actually "commercially available simulated lunar soil based on terrestrial volcanic material, processed to mimic the composition and grain sizes of genuine moondust," according to the ESA. The researchers baked very thin layers of the simulated moondust on a 3D printer table at a scorching temperature of around 1,830 Fahrenheit (1000 Celsius). The solar furnace uses curved mirrors to focus sunlight. This isn't a particularly fast process. It takes about five hours to bake up a single brick. The ESA reports the bricks have an equivalent strength to gypsum, which is a relatively soft mineral. The bricks also displayed some warping around the edges due to the speed of the cooling process. The project is meant as a proof of concept. Researchers will perform mechanical tests on the bricks and work on reducing the edge warpage. The ESA previously shared the results of a 3D-printing project using a Mars soil simulant to create tiny structures. It's all in the name of preparing for when humans one day need to create buildings off-world using local resources. Batteries Not Included: The CNET team reminds us why tech is cool. CNET Magazine: Check out a sample of the stories in CNET's newsstand edition.
News Article | April 25, 2017
AMSTERDAM--(BUSINESS WIRE)--C.H. Robinson baut mit der jüngsten Eröffnung seiner Transportbüros in Prag (Tschechische Republik) und Bukarest (Rumänien) sein Engagement für Kunden in Europa weiter aus. Diese neuen Zweigstellen ergänzen die wachsende Präsenz des Unternehmens in der Region. C.H. Robinson stellte Petra Vlckova als Leiterin der Zweigstelle in Prag ein. Sie ist für das Wachstum des Büros verantwortlich. Vor ihrer Tätigkeit bei C.H. Robinson hat Vlckova bei ESA Logistics und GTL Logis
News Article | April 18, 2017
In less than a quarter of a century, the number of orbiting fragments large enough to destroy a spacecraft has more than doubled, a conference in Germany heard. And the estimated tally of tiny objects—which can harm or degrade spacecraft in the event of a collision, and are hard to track—is now around 150 million. "We are very much concerned," said Rolf Densing, director of operations at the European Space Agency (ESA), pleading for a worldwide effort to tackle the mess. "This problem can only be solved globally." Travelling at up to 28,000 kilometres (17,500 miles) per hour, even a minute object impacts with enough energy to damage the surface of a satellite or manned spacecraft. In 1993, monitoring by ground-based radar showed there to be around 8,000 manmade objects in orbit that were larger than 10 centimetres (4.5 inches) across, a size big enough to inflict catastrophic damage, said Holger Krag, in charge of ESA's space debris office. "Today, we find in space roughly 5,000 objects with sizes larger than 1 metre (3.25 feet), roughly 20,000 objects with sizes over 10 centimetres... and 750,000 'flying bullets' of around one centimetre (half an inch)," he said. "For objects larger than one millimetre (0.04 inch), 150 million is our model estimate for that." Risks of collision are statistically remote, but rise as litter increases and more satellites are deployed. "The growth in the number of fragments has deviated from the linear trend in the past and has entered into the more feared exponential trend," Krag warned. The conference in Darmstadt, whose opening was broadcast online, is the biggest-ever gathering dedicated to space debris. Experts will spend four days discussing debris and measures to mitigate space litter such as by "de-orbiting" satellites after their working lives. Krag pointed to two events that had badly worsened the problem, creating debris fields that may generate further junk as pieces smash into each other. The second was in January 2007, when China tested an anti-satellite weapon on an old Fengyun weather satellite. The other was in February 2009, when an Iridium telecoms satellite and Kosmos-2251, a Russian military satellite, accidentally collided. With enough warning, satellites can shift position to avoid a collision, but this uses fuel and potentially shortens operational life. ESA receives a high-risk collision alert every week on average for its 10 satellites in low-Earth orbit, Krag said. Each has to resort to "one or two" avoidance manoeuvres per year. In a message from the International Space Station, French astronaut Thomas Pesquet said the station was shielded for objects up to 1 cm across. The ISS often has to make manoeuvres to avoid debris, but needs 24 hours' warning to do this, using onboard thrusters, he said. If there is less time, "our crew will have to close all the hatches and enter the safe haven which is our Soyuz spacecraft so that we can depart the ISS in the case of a collision," he said. "This has happened four times in the history of the ISS programme." Experts pointed to two once-pristine sites that have become worryingly cluttered since the space age dawned in 1957. One is low Earth orbit—generally defined as less than 2,000 kilometres (1,200 miles) from Earth—which is used by satnav satellites, the ISS, China's manned missions and the Hubble telescope, among others. The other is in geostationary orbit, a coveted zone 35,000 km (22,000 miles) away used by communications, weather and surveillance satellites that must maintain a fixed position relative to Earth. The trash ranges from fuel tanks and Soviet-era nuclear-powered satellites, dripping sodium and potassium coolant from decrepit hulls, to nuts, bolts and tools dropped by spacewalking astronauts. The items ironically include a 1.5-metre (five-feet) debris shield that floated off as it was being installed on the ISS on March 30. Lost in low orbit, the shield will eventually be plucked into Earth's atmosphere and burn up.
News Article | April 21, 2017
Thanks to social media and the power of citizen scientists chasing the northern lights, a new feature was discovered recently. Nobody knew what this strange ribbon of purple light was, so … it was called Steve. ESA's Swarm magnetic field mission has now also met Steve and is helping to understand the nature of this new-found feature. Speaking at the recent Swarm science meeting in Canada, Eric Donovan from the University of Calgary explained how this new finding couldn't have happened 20 years ago when he started to study the aurora. While the shimmering, eerie, light display of auroras might be beautiful and captivating, they are also a visual reminder that Earth is connected electrically to the Sun. A better understanding of the aurora helps to understand more about the relationship between Earth's magnetic field and the charged atomic particles streaming from the Sun as the solar wind. "In 1997 we had just one all-sky imager in North America to observe the aurora borealis from the ground," said Donovan. "Back then we would be lucky if we got one photograph a night of the aurora taken from the ground that coincides with an observation from a satellite. Now we have many more all-sky imagers and satellite missions like Swarm so we get more than 100 a night." And now, social media and citizen scientists also have an increasingly important role. For instance, the Aurorasaurus website makes it possible for a large number of people to communicate about the aurora borealis. It connects citizen scientists to scientists and trawls Twitter feeds for instances of the word 'aurora'. In doing so, it does an excellent job of forecasting where the aurora oval will be. At a recent talk, Donovan met members of another social media group on Facebook: the Alberta Aurora Chasers. The group attracts members of the general public who are interested in the night sky and includes some talented photographers. Looking at their photographs, Donovan came across something he hadn't seen before. The group called this strange purple streak of light in the night sky captured in their photographs a 'proton arc' but for a number of reasons, including the fact that proton aurora are never visible, he knew this had to be something else. However, nobody knew what it actually was so they decided to put a name to this mystery feature: they called it Steve. While the Aurora Chasers combed through their photos and kept an eye out for the next appearances of Steve, Donovan and colleagues turned to data from the Swarm mission and his network of all-sky cameras. Soon he was able to match a ground sighting of Steve to an overpass of one of the three Swarm satellites. "As the satellite flew straight though Steve, data from the electric field instrument showed very clear changes," sadi Donovan. "The temperature 300 km above Earth's surface jumped by 3000°C and the data revealed a 25 km-wide ribbon of gas flowing westwards at about 6 km/s compared to a speed of about 10 m/s either side of the ribbon. "It turns out that Steve is actually remarkably common, but we hadn't noticed it before. It's thanks to ground-based observations, satellites, today's explosion of access to data and an army of citizen scientists joining forces to document it. "Swarm allows us to measure it and I'm sure will continue to help resolve some unanswered questions." ESA's Swarm mission scientist, Roger Haagmans, added, "It is amazing how a beautiful natural phenomenon, seen by observant citizens, can trigger scientists' curiosity. "The ground network and the electric and magnetic field measurements made by Swarm are great tools that can be used to better understand Steve. This is a nice example of society for science."
News Article | May 1, 2017
An image of the colliding galaxies known as The Antennae, taken in the optical and near-infrared. Astronomers using the ALMA submillimeter array have found evidence for shocked gas near the nucleus of the northern (upper) galaxy, and argue that it is due to material infalling onto the nuclear region. Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA Collisions between galaxies, especially ones rich in molecular gas, can trigger bursts of star formation that heat the dust and result in their shining brightly in the infrared. Astronomers think that there is also significant gas inflowing to the central regions of galaxies that can stimulate starburst activity. Inflowing gas, as it collides with the gas in the inner regions, should produce powerful shocks that should make the gas itself glow. Some evidence for gas inflows on galactic scales has been discovered, but there have been few observational confirmations of the effects of the inflowing material in the inner region of the galactic nucleus. CfA astronomers Junko Ueda, David Wilner, and Giovanni Fazio used the ALMA submillimeter array to study the gas in the central regions of the Antennae galaxies, the nearest mid-stage merging system (about seventy-two million light-years away). The star formation rate of the system is estimated to be about ten solar-masses per year, much of it in the off-nuclear region (the so-called "overlap region") of the two galaxies; the two nuclear regions themselves appear to have lower star formation rates. The astronomers examined the star formation in one of the two nuclear regions, whose gas abundance is as much as one hundred times more than in the Milky Way's center. They measured the emission from five organic molecules, CN, HCN, HCO+, CH3OH (methanol), and HNCO (isocyanic acid), looking for evidence of shock activity. And they found it. The methanol and isocyanic acid in particular were detected, for the first time in this object, and show clear evidence ion their intensities, ratios, and velocities for being excited by shocks. The evidence from the geometry of the emission suggests that the shocks are produced by infall, rather than from the collision. However, there is also the possibility that the induced burst of star formation produced local shocks that contributed to the shock activity. Although further work is needed, the results so far indicate that infalling material is likely responsible. More information: Junko Ueda et al. ALMA observations of the dense and shocked gas in the nuclear region of NGC 4038 (Antennae galaxies), Publications of the Astronomical Society of Japan (2017). DOI: 10.1093/pasj/psw110