Latest Space News
Happy birthday Hubble! - Read more >
Thu, 19 Apr 2018 16:05:00 +0200

Sail across the Lagoon Nebula on the occasion of the Hubble Space Telescope's 28th anniversary

Hubble 28th Anniversary Image Captures Roiling Heart of Vast Stellar Nursery
Thu, 19 Apr 2018 10:00:00 EDT

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Hubble celebrates 28th anniversary in style with stunning view of Lagoon Nebula

For 28 years, NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has been delivering breathtaking views of the universe. Although the telescope has made more than 1.5 million observations of over 40,000 space objects, it is still uncovering stunning celestial gems.

The latest offering is this image of the Lagoon Nebula to celebrate the telescope’s anniversary. Hubble shows this vast stellar nursery in stunning unprecedented detail.

At the center of the photo, a monster young star 200,000 times brighter than our Sun is blasting powerful ultraviolet radiation and hurricane-like stellar winds, carving out a fantasy landscape of ridges, cavities, and mountains of gas and dust. This region epitomizes a typical, raucous stellar nursery full of birth and destruction.

Call for media: Second data release from ESA's Gaia mission - Read more >
Thu, 19 Apr 2018 08:00:00 +0200

Media representatives are invited to a briefing on the second data release of ESA's Gaia mission, an astrometry mission to map more than one billion stars in our Galaxy, the Milky Way.

Where is the Universe’s missing matter? - Read more >
Wed, 18 Apr 2018 09:00:00 +0200

Astronomers using ESA’s XMM-Newton space observatory have probed the gas-filled haloes around galaxies in a quest to find ‘missing’ matter thought to reside there, but have come up empty-handed – so where is it?

An icy mirage? - Read more >
Mon, 16 Apr 2018 11:25:00 +0200

Space Science Image of the Week: Mars Express uses radar to penetrate the crust of the Red Planet and explore what lies beneath

Mars impact crater or supervolcano? - Read more >
Thu, 12 Apr 2018 11:00:00 +0200

These images from ESA’s Mars Express show a crater named Ismenia Patera on the Red Planet. Its origin remains uncertain: did a meteorite smash into the surface or could it be the remnants of a supervolcano?

Meet ESA's science fleet - Read more >
Wed, 11 Apr 2018 13:56:00 +0200

Explore 3D models of ESA's science satellites across the Solar System in this interactive tool

Mars Express v2.0 - Read more >
Wed, 11 Apr 2018 07:33:00 +0200

Every so often, your smartphone or tablet receives new software to improve its functionality and extend its life. Now, ESA’s Mars Express is getting a fresh install, delivered across over 150 million km of space.

ExoMars poised to start science mission - Read more >
Mon, 09 Apr 2018 11:00:00 +0200

The ExoMars orbiter will soon begin its search for gases that may be linked to active geological or biological activity on the Red Planet.

Hubble Makes the First Precise Distance Measurement to an Ancient Globular Star Cluster
Wed, 04 Apr 2018 13:00:00 EDT

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Refined stellar yardstick helps astronomers improve stellar evolution models

When you want to know the size of a room, you use a measuring tape to calculate its dimensions.

But you can’t use a tape measure to cover the inconceivably vast distances in space. And, until now, astronomers did not have an equally precise method to accurately measure distances to some of the oldest objects in our universe – ancient swarms of stars outside the disk of our galaxy called globular clusters.

Estimated distances to our Milky Way galaxy’s globular clusters were achieved by comparing the brightness and colors of stars to theoretical models and observations of local stars. But the accuracy of these estimates varies, with uncertainties hovering between 10 percent and 20 percent.

Using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, astronomers were able to use the same sort of trigonometry that surveyors use to precisely measure the distance to NGC 6397, one of the closest globular clusters to Earth. The only difference is that the angles measured in Hubble’s camera are infinitesimal by earthly surveyors’ standards.

The new measurement sets the cluster’s distance at 7,800 light-years away, with just a 3 percent margin of error, and provides an independent estimate for the age of the universe. The Hubble astronomers calculated NGC 6397 is 13.4 billion years old and so formed not long after the big bang. The new measurement also will help astronomers improve models of stellar evolution.

NASA Awards Prestigious Postdoctoral Fellowships
Tue, 03 Apr 2018 13:00:00 EDT

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NHFP is one of the highlights of NASA's pursuit of excellence in space science.

NASA has selected 24 new Fellows for its prestigious NASA Hubble Fellowship Program (NHFP). The program enables outstanding postdoctoral scientists to pursue independent research in any area of NASA Astrophysics, using theory, observation, experimentation, or instrument development. Each fellowship provides the awardee up to three years of support.

Hubble Uncovers the Farthest Star Ever Seen
Mon, 02 Apr 2018 11:00:00 EDT

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Cosmic Quirk Boosts Far-Off Star’s Faint Glow

Through a quirk of nature called “gravitational lensing,” a natural lens in space amplified a very distant star’s light. Astronomers using Hubble took advantage of this phenomenon to pinpoint the faraway star and set a new distance record for the farthest individual star ever seen. They also used the distant star to test one theory of dark matter, and to probe the make-up of a galaxy cluster. The team dubbed the star “Icarus,” after the Greek mythological character who flew too near the Sun on wings of feathers and wax that melted. Its official name is MACS J1149+2223 Lensed Star 1.

Winning exoplanet rocket sticker selected - Read more >
Thu, 29 Mar 2018 15:00:00 +0200

A colourful design capturing the essence of ESA’s Cheops mission, which will measure the size of planets as they cross in front of their parent stars, has been selected for the rocket carrying the satellite into space.

First test success for largest Mars mission parachute - Read more >
Thu, 29 Mar 2018 10:00:00 +0200

The largest parachute ever to fly on a Mars mission has been deployed in the first of a series of tests to prepare for the upcoming ExoMars mission that will deliver a rover and a surface science platform to the Red Planet.

Dark Matter Goes Missing in Oddball Galaxy
Wed, 28 Mar 2018 13:00:00 EDT

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Galaxy was expected to contain 400 times more dark matter than observations show

Grand, majestic spiral galaxies like our Milky Way are hard to miss. Astronomers can spot these vast complexes because of their large, glowing centers and their signature winding arms of gas and dust, where thousands of glowing stars reside.

But some galaxies aren't so distinctive. They are big, but they have so few stars for their size that they appear very faint and diffuse. In fact, they are so diffuse that they look like giant cotton balls.

Observations by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope of one such galaxy have turned up an oddity that sets it apart from most other galaxies, even the diffuse-looking ones. It contains little, if any, dark matter, the underlying scaffolding upon which galaxies are built. Dark matter is an invisible substance that makes up the bulk of our universe and the invisible glue that holds visible matter in galaxies — stars and gas — together.

Called NGC 1052-DF2, this "ghostly" galaxy contains at most 1/400th the amount of dark matter that astronomers had expected. How it formed is a complete mystery. The galactic oddball is as large as our Milky Way, but the galaxy had escaped attention because it contains only 1/200th the number of stars as our galaxy.

Based on the colors of its globular clusters, NGC 1052-DF2 is about 10 billion years old. It resides about 65 million light-years away.

James Webb Space Telescope update: new launch window under review - Read more >
Tue, 27 Mar 2018 19:00:00 +0200

The James Webb Space Telescope is undergoing final integration and testing that will require more time to ensure a successful mission. Following a new assessment of the remaining tasks on the highly complex space observatory, the launch window is now targeted for about May 2020.

Kepler Solves Mystery of Fast and Furious Explosions
Mon, 26 Mar 2018 11:00:00 EDT

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Space Observatory Captures the Details of an Unusual Stellar Detonation

The universe is so huge that it's estimated that a star explodes as a supernova once every second. Astronomers capture a small fraction of these detonations because they are comparatively short-lived, like fireflies flickering on a summer evening. After skyrocketing to a sudden peak in brightness, a supernova can take weeks to slowly fade away.

For the past decade astronomers have been befuddled by a more curious "flash-in-the-pan" that pops up and then disappears in just a few days, not weeks. It's called a Fast-Evolving Luminous Transient (FELT). Only a few FELTs have been seen in telescopic sky surveys because they are so brief.

Then along came NASA's Kepler Space Telescope that caught a FELT in the act. Kepler's outstanding ability to precisely record changes in the brightness of celestial objects was designed to look for planets across our galaxy. But a great spinoff from the observatory is to go supernova hunting too.

Kelper's unique capabilities captured the properties of the blast. This allowed astronomers to exclude a range of theories about how FELTs happen, and converge on a plausible model. They conclude that the brief flash is from a vast shell of material around a supernova that abruptly lights up when the supernova blast wave crashes into it.

Explore the cosmos - Read more >
Fri, 23 Mar 2018 15:13:00 +0100

Meet ESASky, a discovery portal that provides access to the entire sky as observed by ESA's astronomy missions

Hubble Solves Cosmic 'Whodunit' with Interstellar Forensics
Thu, 22 Mar 2018 13:00:00 EDT

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Winner Declared in Tug-of-War Between Two Satellite Galaxies of the Milky Way

In a cosmic tug-of-war between two dwarf galaxies orbiting the Milky Way, only NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope can see who’s winning. The players are the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds, and as they gravitationally tug at each other, one of them has pulled out a huge amount of gas from its companion. This shredded and fragmented gas, called the Leading Arm, is being devoured by the Milky Way and feeding new star birth in our galaxy. But which dwarf galaxy is doing the pulling, and whose gas is now being feasted upon? Scientists used Hubble’s ultraviolet vision to chemically analyze the gas in the Leading Arm and determine its origin. After years of debate, we now have the answer to this “whodunit” mystery.

ESA's next science mission to focus on nature of exoplanets - Read more >
Tue, 20 Mar 2018 15:35:00 +0100

The nature of planets orbiting stars in other systems will be the focus for ESA’s fourth medium-class science mission, to be launched in mid 2028.

Stephen Hawking (1942-2018) - Read more >
Fri, 16 Mar 2018 09:00:00 +0100

ESA is saddened by the news of the passing of Professor Stephen Hawking, FRS, cosmologist and one of the pioneers of theoretical studies of black holes, on 14 March at the age of 76.

Arrested Development: Hubble Finds Relic Galaxy Close to Home
Mon, 12 Mar 2018 14:00:00 EDT

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Ghostly-Looking Galaxy Stopped Making Stars Long Ago

The adventuring cinema archeologist Indiana Jones would be delighted to find a long-sought relic in his own backyard. Astronomers have gotten lucky enough to achieve such a quest. They identified a very rare and odd assemblage of stars that has remained essentially unchanged for the past 10 billion years. The diffuse stellar island provides valuable new insights into the origin and evolution of galaxies billions of years ago.

As far as galaxy evolution goes, this object is clearly a case of “arrested development.” The galaxy, NGC 1277, started its life with a bang long ago, ferociously churning out stars 1,000 times faster than seen in our own Milky Way today. But it abruptly went quiescent as the baby boomer stars aged and grew ever redder. Though Hubble has seen such “red and dead” galaxies in the early universe, one has never been conclusively found nearby. Where the early galaxies are so distant, they are just red dots in Hubble deep-sky images. NGC 1277 offers a unique opportunity to see one up close and personal.

The telltale sign of the galaxy’s state lies in the ancient globular clusters that swarm around it. Massive galaxies tend to have both metal-poor (appearing blue) and metal-rich (appearing red) globular clusters. The red clusters are believed to form as the galaxy forms, while the blue clusters are later brought in as smaller satellites are swallowed by the central galaxy. However, NGC 1277 is almost entirely lacking in blue globular clusters. The red clusters are the strongest evidence that the galaxy went out of the star-making business long ago. However, the lack of blue clusters suggests that NGC 1277 never grew further by gobbling up surrounding galaxies.

NASA's Webb Telescope to Make a Splash in the Search for Interstellar Water
Fri, 09 Mar 2018 10:00:00 EST

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NASA's Webb Telescope Will Map Cosmic Ices

Most of the water in the universe floats in vast reservoirs called molecular clouds. It coats the surface of dust grains, turning them into cosmic snowflakes. When stars and planets form, those snowflakes get swept up, delivering key ingredients for life. NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope will map water and other cosmic ices to gain new insights into these building blocks for habitable planets.

BepiColombo gets green light for launch site - Read more >
Fri, 09 Mar 2018 11:00:00 +0100

Europe’s first mission to Mercury will soon be ready for shipping to the spaceport to begin final preparations for launch.

Hubble Finds Huge System of Dusty Material Enveloping the Young Star HR 4796A
Tue, 06 Mar 2018 13:00:00 EST

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Newly discovered, vast, complex dust structure, about 150 billion miles across, envelopes the young star HR 4796A

Finding lots of dust around stars may not sound like anything astronomers would get excited about. The universe is a dusty place. But dust around a young star can be evidence that planet formation is taking place. This isn’t a new idea. In 1755, German Philosopher Immanuel Kant first proposed that planets formed around our Sun in a debris disk of gas and dust. Astronomers imagined that this process might take place around other stars.

They had to wait until the early 1980s for the first observational evidence for a debris disk around any star to be uncovered. An edge-on debris disk was photographed around the southern star Beta Pictoris. Beta Pictoris remained the poster child for such debris systems until the late 1990s when the Hubble Space Telescope’s second-generation instruments, which had the capability of blocking out the glare of a central star, allowed many more disks to be photographed. Now, they are thought to be common around stars. About 40 such systems have been imaged to date, largely by Hubble.

In this recent image, Hubble uncovers a vast, complex dust structure, about 150 billion miles across, enveloping the young star HR 4796A. A bright, narrow inner ring of dust is already known to encircle the star, based on much earlier Hubble photographs. It may have been corralled by the gravitational pull of an unseen giant planet. This newly discovered huge dust structure around the system may have implications for what this yet-unseen planetary system looks like around the 8-million-year-old star, which is in its formative years of planet construction.

Donor star breathes life into zombie companion - Read more >
Mon, 05 Mar 2018 10:00:00 +0100

ESA’s Integral space observatory has witnessed a rare event: the moment that winds emitted by a swollen red giant star revived its slow-spinning companion, the core of a dead star, bringing it back to life in a flash of X-rays.

NASA Finds a Large Amount of Water in an Exoplanet's Atmosphere
Thu, 01 Mar 2018 13:00:00 EST

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Researchers Surprised by How Much Water Found in Atmosphere of WASP-39b

Using Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes, scientists studied the “hot Saturn” called WASP-39b — a hot, bloated, Saturn-mass exoplanet located about 700 light-years from Earth. By dissecting starlight filtering through the planet’s atmosphere into its component colors, the team found clear evidence for a large amount of water vapor. In fact, WASP-39b has three times as much water as Saturn does. Although the researchers predicted they’d see water, they were surprised by how much they found. This suggests that the planet formed farther out from the star, where it was bombarded by a lot of icy material. Because WASP-39b has so much more water than Saturn, it must have formed differently from our famously ringed neighbor.

Mars Express views moons set against Saturn's rings - Read more >
Thu, 01 Mar 2018 11:00:00 +0100

New images and video from ESA’s Mars Express show Phobos and Deimos drifting in front of Saturn and background stars, revealing more about the positioning and surfaces of the Red Planet’s mysterious moons.

Improved Hubble Yardstick Gives Fresh Evidence for New Physics in the Universe
Thu, 22 Feb 2018 15:00:00 EST

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New Survey Is the Most Precise Measurement of the Universe's Expansion Rate

The good news: Astronomers have made the most precise measurement to date of the rate at which the universe is expanding since the big bang. The possibly unsettling news: This may mean that there is something unknown about the makeup of the universe. The new numbers remain at odds with independent measurements of the early universe's expansion. Is something unpredicted going on in the depths of space?

Astronomers have come a long way since the early 1900s when they didn't have a clue that we lived in an expanding universe. Before this could be realized, astronomers needed an accurate celestial measuring stick to calculate distances to far-flung objects. At that time, faint, fuzzy patches of light that we now know as galaxies were thought by many astronomers to be objects inside our Milky Way. But, in 1913, Harvard astronomer Henrietta Leavitt discovered unique pulsating stars that maintain a consistent brightness no matter where they reside. Called Cepheid variables, these stars became reliable yardsticks for astronomers to measure cosmic distances from Earth.

A few years later, building on Leavitt's pioneering work, astronomer Edwin Hubble found a Cepheid variable star in the Andromeda nebula. By measuring the star's tremendous distance, Hubble proved that the nebula was really an entire galaxy — a separate island of billions of stars far outside our Milky Way.

He went on to find many more galaxies across space. When he used Cepheid variables to measure galaxy distances, he found that the farther away a galaxy is, the faster it appears to be receding from us. This led him to the monumental discovery that our universe is uniformly expanding in all directions. And, even the universe's age, which today we know is 13.8 billion years, could be calculated from the expansion rate.

Little would Leavitt have imagined that her Cepheid variable work would become the solid bottom rung of a cosmic distance ladder of interlinked techniques that would allow for measurements across billions of light-years.

The latest Hubble telescope results that solidify the cosmic ladder confirm a nagging discrepancy showing the universe is expanding faster now than was expected from its trajectory seen shortly after the big bang. Researchers suggest that there may be new physics at work to explain the inconsistency. One idea is that the universe contains a new high-speed subatomic particle. Another possibility is that dark energy, already known to be accelerating the cosmos, may be shoving galaxies away from each other with even greater — or growing — strength.

The Hubble study extends the number of Cepheid stars analyzed to distances of up to 10 times farther across our galaxy than previous Hubble results. The new measurements help reduce the chance that the discrepancy in the values is a coincidence to 1 in 5,000.

NASA's James Webb Space Telescope to Reveal Secrets of the Red Planet
Tue, 20 Feb 2018 10:00:00 EST

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Webb will investigate how Mars went from wet to dry

Mars rovers and orbiters have found signs that Mars once hosted liquid water on its surface. Much of that water escaped over time. How much water was lost, and how does the water that’s left move from ice to atmosphere to soil? During its first year of operations, NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope will seek answers. Webb also will study mysterious methane plumes that hint at possible geological or even biological activity.

Hubble Sees Neptune's Mysterious Shrinking Storm
Thu, 15 Feb 2018 13:00:00 EST

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Storms on Neptune Play Peek-A-Boo With Planetary Astronomers

Three billion miles away on the farthest known major planet in our solar system, an ominous, stinky, dark storm is shrinking out of existence as seen in pictures of Neptune taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. Immense dark storms on Neptune were first discovered in the late 1980s by the Voyager 2 spacecraft. Since then, only Hubble has tracked these elusive features that play a game of peek-a-boo over the years. Hubble found two dark storms that appeared in the mid-1990s and then vanished. This latest storm was first seen in 2015, but is now shrinking away. The dark spot material may be hydrogen sulfide, with the pungent smell of rotten eggs.

Hubble Probes Atmospheres of Exoplanets in TRAPPIST-1 Habitable Zone
Mon, 05 Feb 2018 11:00:00 EST

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Worlds in the Star’s Habitable Zone Are Not Smothered Under Primordial Atmospheres

Only 40 light-years away — a stone’s throw on the scale of our galaxy — several Earth-sized planets orbit the red dwarf star TRAPPIST-1. Four of the planets lie in the star’s habitable zone, a region at a distance from the star where liquid water, the key to life as we know it, could exist on the planets’ surfaces.

Astronomers using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope have conducted the first spectroscopic survey of these worlds. Hubble reveals that at least three of the exoplanets do not seem to contain puffy, hydrogen-rich atmospheres similar to gaseous planets such as Neptune. This means the atmospheres may be more shallow and rich in heavier gases like those found in Earth’s atmosphere, such as carbon dioxide, methane, and oxygen.

Astronomers plan to use NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, scheduled to launch in 2019, to probe deeper into the planetary atmospheres to search for the presence of such elements that could offer hints of whether these far-flung worlds are habitable.

Hubble Finds Substellar Objects in the Orion Nebula
Thu, 11 Jan 2018 14:15:00 EST

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Deep Survey Looks for Faint Objects in Nearby Stellar Nursery

Using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope to peer deep into the vast stellar nursery called the Orion Nebula, astronomers searched for small, faint bodies. What they found was the largest population yet of brown dwarfs — objects that are more massive than planets but do not shine like stars. Researchers identified 17 brown dwarf companions to red dwarf stars, one brown dwarf pair, and one brown dwarf with a planetary companion. They also found three giant planets, including a binary system where two planets orbit each other in the absence of a parent star. This survey could only be done with Hubble’s exceptional resolution and infrared sensitivity.

NASA's Great Observatories Team Up to Find Magnified and Stretched Out Image of Distant Galaxy
Thu, 11 Jan 2018 10:15:00 EST

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Small, Embryonic Galaxy Formed Just 500 Million Years After the Big Bang

As powerful as NASA’s Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes are, they need a little help from nature in seeking out the farthest, and hence earliest galaxies that first appeared in the universe after the big bang. This help comes from a natural zoom lens in the universe, formed by the warping of space by intense gravitational fields.

The most powerful “zoom lenses” out there are formed by very massive foreground clusters that bend space like a bowling ball rolling across a soft mattress. The lens boosts the brightness of distant background objects. The farthest candidates simply appear as red dots in Hubble photos because of their small size and great distance.

However, astronomers got very lucky when they looked at galaxy cluster SPT-CL J0615-5746. Embedded in the photo is an arc-like structure that is not only the amplified image of a background galaxy, but an image that has been smeared into a crescent-shape. This image allowed astronomers to estimate that the diminutive galaxy weighs in at no more than 3 billion solar masses (roughly 1/100th the mass of our fully grown Milky Way galaxy). It is less than 2,500 light-years across, half the size of the Small Magellanic Cloud, a satellite galaxy of our Milky Way. The object is considered prototypical of young galaxies that emerged during the epoch shortly after the big bang. Hubble’s clarity, combined with Spitzer’s infrared sensitivity to light reddened by the expanding universe, allowed for the object’s vast distance to be calculated.

Researchers Catch Supermassive Black Hole Burping — Twice
Thu, 11 Jan 2018 10:15:00 EST

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NASA Great Observatories Team-up to Identify Flickering Black Hole

Supermassive black holes, weighing millions of times as much as our Sun, are gatherers not hunters. Embedded in the hearts of galaxies, they will lie dormant for a long time until the next meal happens to come along.

The team of astronomers using observations from the Hubble Space Telescope, the Chandra X-ray Observatory, and as well as the W.M. Keck Observatory in Mauna Kea, Hawaii, and the Apache Point Observatory (APO) near Sunspot, New Mexico, zeroed in on a flickering black hole.

A black hole in the center of galaxy SDSS J1354+1327, located about 800 million light-years away, appears to have consumed large amounts of gas while blasting off an outflow of high-energy particles. The fresh burst of fuel might have been supplied by a bypassing galaxy. The outflow eventually switched off then turned back on about 100,000 years later. This is strong evidence that accreting black holes can switch their power output off and on again over timescales that are short compared to the 13.8-billion-year age of the universe.

Hot and cold - Read more >
Fri, 08 Dec 2017 10:55:00 +0100

BepiColombo module withstands extreme temperatures in final space simulation