Latest Space News
Arianespace and ESA announce Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer launch contract - Read more >
Mon, 17 Jun 2019 17:00:00 +0200


 The Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer, Juice, will ride into space on an Ariane launch vehicle, Arianespace and ESA confirmed today at the International Paris Air Show.


Instant space selfies - Read more >
Mon, 17 Jun 2019 12:20:00 +0200


Space Science Image of the Week: BepiColombo sends snaps from space as part of routine operations en route to Mercury

Table Salt Compound Spotted on Europa
Wed, 12 Jun 2019 15:00:00 EDT

Hubble Image

Finding common table salt — sodium chloride — on the surface of a moon is more than just a scientific curiosity when that moon is Europa, a potential abode of life.

If the salt came from the briny subsurface ocean of Europa, a satellite of Jupiter, that ocean may chemically resemble Earth's oceans more than previously thought. Because Europa's solid, icy crust is geologically young it has been suspected that whatever salts exist on the surface may come from the ocean below, which might host microorganisms.

Using visible-light spectral analysis, planetary scientists at Caltech and NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory discovered that the yellow color visible on portions of the surface of Europa is sodium chloride. They reached this conclusion with spectroscopic data from NASA's Hubble Space Telescope. Researchers were able to identify a distinct absorption in the visible spectrum which matches how salt would look when irradiated by the Sun.

Tara Regio is the yellowish area to left of center, in this NASA Galileo image of Europa’s surface. This region of geologic chaos is the area researchers identified an abundance of sodium chloride.

The finding was published in Science Advances on June 12.


Planck finds no new evidence for cosmic anomalies - Read more >
Thu, 06 Jun 2019 15:00:00 +0200


ESA’s Planck satellite has found no new evidence for the puzzling cosmic anomalies that appeared in its temperature map of the Universe. The latest study does not rule out the potential relevance of the anomalies but they do mean astronomers must work even harder to understand the origin of these puzzling features.


A Pair of Fledgling Planets Directly Seen Growing Around a Young Star
Mon, 03 Jun 2019 11:00:00 EDT

Hubble Image

In order to grow to Jupiter size or larger, a gas giant planet must slurp large quantities of hydrogen and other gases from the disk in which it forms. Astronomers have looked for evidence of this process, but direct observations are challenging because planets become lost in the glare of their star. A team has succeeded in making ground-based observations of two planets accreting matter from a disk. It represents only the second multi-planet system to be directly imaged.


Mars on Earth – what next? - Read more >
Fri, 31 May 2019 16:02:00 +0200


A Mars Sample Return campaign would bring samples of the Red Planet back to Earth for examination in the best terrestrial laboratories – but choosing the samples and storing them on Mars for later return is only one part of the extensive campaign being planned by the mission designers and scientists.


ExoMars orbiter prepares for Rosalind Franklin - Read more >
Thu, 30 May 2019 14:39:00 +0200


On 15 June, the ESA-Roscosmos ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) will follow a different path. An ‘Inclination Change Manoeuvre’ will put the spacecraft in an altered orbit, enabling it to pick up crucial status signals from the ExoMars rover, Rosalind Franklin, due to land on the Red Planet in 2021.


A European mission control for the martian rover - Read more >
Thu, 30 May 2019 11:23:00 +0200


The ExoMars rover has a brand new control centre in one of Europe’s largest Mars yards. The Rover Operations Control Centre (ROCC) was inaugurated today in Turin, Italy, ahead of the rover’s exploration adventure on the Red Planet in 2021.


A New View of Exoplanets With NASA's Upcoming Webb Telescope
Wed, 29 May 2019 13:00:00 EDT

Hubble Image

The James Webb Space Telescope will open a new window on exoplanets, planets around other suns. With its keen infrared vision, Webb will observe them in wavelengths where they have never been studied before. One of the telescope’s first observation programs is to look at young, newly formed exoplanets and the systems they inhabit. Scientists will use all four of Webb’s instruments to observe three targets: A recently discovered exoplanet; an object that is either an exoplanet or a brown dwarf; and a well-studied ring of dust and planetesimals orbiting a young star. Webb will be vital for understanding how these objects form, and what these systems are like. These observations are part of a program that allows the astronomical community to quickly learn how best to use Webb’s capabilities, while also yielding robust science.


Europe to Mars – and back! - Read more >
Mon, 27 May 2019 09:00:00 +0200


Europe has been in orbit around Mars for more than 15 years and is almost a year away from launching its first rover mission, but ambitions are already running high to go one step further: returning a sample from the Red Planet.


A unique experiment to explore black holes - Read more >
Thu, 23 May 2019 12:00:00 +0200


What happens when two supermassive black holes collide? Combining the observing power of two future ESA missions, Athena and LISA, would allow us to study these cosmic clashes and their mysterious aftermath for the first time.


Galaxy Blazes with New Stars Born from Close Encounter
Thu, 16 May 2019 10:00:00 EDT

Hubble Image

One doesn't need a Ph.D. in astrophysics to recognize there is something odd-looking about this otherwise beautiful galaxy, NCG 4485. Like the Batman character Two-Face, one side looks normal, but the other side looks contorted with a firestorm of star formation going on. Why the colorful asymmetry in an island star city many thousands of light-years across? The clue is off the edge of the photo. It's another galaxy, NGC 4490, that swept by NGC 4485 millions of years ago. The gravitational taffy pull between the two galaxies compressed interstellar gas to trigger a flurry of new star birth as seen in the abundance of young blue stars and pinkish nebulas. So, out of a near-collision between two galaxies comes stellar renewal and birth. It's a trademark of our compulsive universe where even things as big as galaxies can go bump in the night.


From canals to craters - Read more >
Thu, 16 May 2019 11:00:00 +0200


Mars was once believed to be criss-crossed by a system of irrigation canals – dark troughs that sliced across the planet’s surface, excavated by an intelligent society of thirsty martians. The astronomer who promoted this idea lends his name to the crater shown in this image from ESA’s Mars Express: Lowell crater.


How Venus and Mars can teach us about Earth - Read more >
Mon, 13 May 2019 18:00:00 +0200


One has a thick poisonous atmosphere, one has hardly any atmosphere at all, and one is just right for life to flourish – but it wasn’t always that way. The atmospheres of our two neighbours Venus and Mars can teach us a lot about the past and future scenarios for our own planet.


ExoMars laboratory passes Red Planet simulation - Read more >
Wed, 08 May 2019 14:00:00 +0200


A key set of scientific instruments developed for the ExoMars rover Rosalind Franklin passed tests last month to ensure compatibility with the martian environment.

The rover’s Analytical Laboratory Drawer (ALD) flight model completed its thermal and vacuum sessions in Turin, Italy, at a Thales Alenia Space facility.

The ExoMars rover will be the first of its kind to both roam the Mars surface and to study it at depth. Rosalind Franklin will drill down to two metres into the surface to sample the soil, analyse its composition and search for evidence of past – and perhaps even present – life hidden underground.

A miniature laboratory inside the rover will analyse the samples and send data and images back to Earth to the scientific community, eager to learn more about our neighbouring planet.


Hubble Astronomers Assemble Wide View of the Evolving Universe
Thu, 02 May 2019 10:00:00 EDT

Hubble Image

How far is far? And, how do you know when you get there? In 1995, astronomers decided to use the Hubble Space Telescope to conduct a bold and daring experiment to address this puzzle. For 10 consecutive days, Hubble stared at one tiny, seemingly empty patch of sky for 1 million seconds.

The gamble of precious telescope time paid off. Hubble captured the feeble glow of myriad never-before-seen galaxies. Many of the galaxies are so far away it has taken billions of years for their light to reach us. Therefore, the view is like looking down a "time corridor," where galaxies can be seen as they looked billions of years ago. Hubble became astronomy's ultimate time machine.

The resulting landmark image is called the Hubble Deep Field. At the time, the image won the gold medal for being the farthest peek into the universe ever made. Its stunning success encouraged astronomers to pursue a series of Hubble deep-field surveys. The succeeding surveys uncovered more galaxies at greater distance from Earth, thanks to new cameras installed on Hubble during astronaut servicing missions. The cameras increased the telescope's power to look even deeper into the universe.

These surveys provided astronomers with a huge scrapbook of images, showing how, following the big bang, galaxies built themselves up over time to become the large, majestic assemblages seen today in the nearby universe.

Among the most notable deep-field surveys are the Great Observatories Origins Deep Survey (GOODS), in 2003; the Hubble Ultra Deep Field (HUDF), in 2004; and the eXtreme Deep Field (XDF), in 2012.

Now, astronomers are releasing a new deep-field image by weaving together exposures from several of these previous galaxy "fishing expeditions." Their efforts have produced the largest, most comprehensive “history book” of galaxies in the universe. The snapshot, a combination of nearly 7,500 separate Hubble exposures, represents 16 years' worth of observations. The ambitious endeavor is called the Hubble Legacy Field. The new view contains about 30 times as many galaxies as in the HUDF. The wavelength range stretches from ultraviolet to near-infrared light, capturing all the features of galaxy assembly over time.

The image mosaic presents a wide portrait of the distant universe and contains roughly 265,000 galaxies. They stretch back through 13.3 billion years of time to just 500 million years after the universe's birth in the big bang.


Observing Gaia from Earth to improve its star maps - Read more >
Thu, 02 May 2019 15:00:00 +0200


While ESA’s Gaia mission has been surveying more than one billion stars from space, astronomers have been regularly monitoring the satellite’s position in the sky with telescopes across the world, including the European Southern Observatory in Chile, to further refine Gaia’s orbit and ultimately improve the accuracy of its stellar census.


Scientists get to the bottom of a ‘spitting’ black hole - Read more >
Mon, 29 Apr 2019 17:00:00 +0200


Data from ESA’s Integral high-energy observatory have helped shed light on the workings of a mysterious black hole found spitting out ‘bullets’ of plasma while rotating through space. 


Mystery of the Universe's Expansion Rate Widens with New Hubble Data
Thu, 25 Apr 2019 10:00:00 EDT

Hubble Image

There is something wrong with our universe. Or, more specifically, it is outpacing all expectations for its present rate of expansion.

Something is amiss in astronomers' efforts to measure the past and predict the present, according to a discrepancy between the two main techniques for measuring the universe's expansion rate – a key to understanding its history and physical parameters.

The inconsistency is between the Hubble Space Telescope measurements of today's expansion rate of the universe (by looking at stellar milepost markers) and the expansion rate as measured by the European Space Agency's Planck satellite. Planck observes the conditions of the early universe just 380,000 years after the big bang.

For years, astronomers have been assuming this discrepancy would go away due to some instrumental or observational fluke. Instead, as Hubble astronomers continue to "tighten the bolts" on the accuracy of their measurements, the discordant values remain stubbornly at odds.

The chances of the disagreement being just a fluke have skyrocketed from 1 in 3,000 to 1 in 100,000.

Theorists must find an explanation for the disparity that could rattle ideas about the very underpinnings of the universe.


Hubble Celebrates 29th Anniversary with a Colorful Look at the Southern Crab Nebula
Thu, 18 Apr 2019 10:00:00 EDT

Hubble Image

This Hubble image shows the results of two stellar companions in a gravitational waltz, several thousand light-years from Earth in the southern constellation Centaurus. The stellar duo, consisting of a red giant and white dwarf, are too close together to see individually in this view. But the consequences of their whirling about each other are two vast shells of gas expanding into space like a runaway hot air balloon. Both stars are embedded in a flat disk of hot material that constricts the outflowing gas so that it only escapes away above and below the stars. This apparently happens in episodes because the nebula has two distinct nested hourglass-shaped structures. The bubbles of gas and dust appear brightest at the edges, giving the illusion of crab legs. The rich colors correspond to glowing hydrogen, sulfur, nitrogen, and oxygen. This image was taken to celebrate Hubble's 29th anniversary since its launch on April 24, 1990.


A “Jellyfish” Galaxy Swims Into View of NASA’s Upcoming Webb Telescope
Wed, 17 Apr 2019 10:00:00 EDT

Hubble Image

As the spiral galaxy ESO 137-001 plunges into a galaxy cluster, gas is being pulled off of it as though it faced a cosmic headwind. Within that gas, stars are forming to create the appearance of giant, blue tentacle-like streamers. Astronomers, puzzled that stars could form within such tumult, plan to use Webb to study this galaxy and its stellar offspring.


First results from the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter - Read more >
Wed, 10 Apr 2019 19:00:00 +0200


New evidence of the impact of the recent planet-encompassing dust storm on water in the atmosphere, and a surprising lack of methane, are among the scientific highlights of the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter’s first year in orbit.


ExoMars carrier module prepares for final pre-launch testing - Read more >
Fri, 05 Apr 2019 15:00:00 +0200


The module that will carry the ExoMars rover and surface science platform from Earth to Mars has arrived in Italy for final integration preparations.


BepiColombo is ready for its long cruise - Read more >
Fri, 05 Apr 2019 10:00:00 +0200


Following a series of tests conducted in space over the past five months, the ESA-JAXA BepiColombo mission has successfully completed its near-Earth commissioning phase and is now ready for the operations that will take place during the cruise and, eventually, for its scientific investigations at Mercury.


NASA Awards 2019 Postdoctoral Fellowships
Thu, 04 Apr 2019 10:00:00 EDT

Hubble Image

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.


Mars Express matches methane spike measured by Curiosity - Read more >
Mon, 01 Apr 2019 17:00:00 +0200


A reanalysis of data collected by ESA’s Mars Express during the first 20 months of NASA’s Curiosity mission found one case of correlated methane detection, the first time an in-situ measurement has been independently confirmed from orbit.


Exoplanet satellite ready - Read more >
Fri, 29 Mar 2019 17:00:00 +0100


ESA’s Characterising Exoplanet Satellite, Cheops, was recently declared ready to fly after completing a series of final spacecraft tests.


Hubble Watches Spun-up Asteroid Coming Apart
Thu, 28 Mar 2019 10:00:00 EDT

Hubble Image

Astronomers once thought asteroids were boring, wayward space rocks that simply orbit around the Sun. These objects were dramatically presented only in science fiction movies.

But recent observations show that asteroids are anything but dull. In reality they are dynamic, active worlds that can ultimately disintegrate due to the long-term subtle effects of sunlight, which can slowly spin them up until they begin to shed material.

Several telescopes, including NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, have caught the gradual self-destruction of the asteroid (6478) Gault. Images from Hubble show two narrow, comet-like tails of dusty debris streaming from the diminutive asteroid.

For Gault, a mass of rubble a few miles across, mere sunlight set the stage for its gradual demise. The force of sunlight, in concert with Gault's own asymmetrical shape, speeded up the asteroid's rotation over a period of more than 100 million years. The estimated spin-up rate is 1 second every 10,000 years.

Today, the asteroid is rotating once every two hours, a speed so fast that it can no longer hold its surface material. The slightest disturbance — perhaps the impact of a pebble, or just a failure of the stressed material — may have set off a collapse. The dust left the asteroid's surface in gentle, short bursts, perhaps due to landslides lasting anywhere from a few hours to a few days. The particles are drifting away from Gault's surface at the speed of a strolling human. The gentle process is like scattering flour into the air, where wind — or sunlight, in the case of Gault — stretches the debris into a long streamer.

Astronomers will monitor the asteroid for future events. About 800,000 known asteroids reside between Mars and Jupiter, and they may fly apart at the rate of roughly one per year.


NASA’s Webb to Explore Galaxies from Cosmic Dawn to Present Day
Thu, 21 Mar 2019 10:00:00 EDT

Hubble Image

How did the first galaxies in the universe form, and did they make the universe transparent to light? How did later galaxies produce and disperse into the universe the heavier elements that are the building blocks of stars, planets, and even humans? These are questions astronomers will address in some of the first observations made by NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, slated to launch in March 2021. Astronomers hope the answers will lead to a better understanding of the origins and evolution of the universe.


What Does the Milky Way Weigh? Hubble and Gaia Investigate
Thu, 07 Mar 2019 10:00:00 EST

Hubble Image

We live in a gigantic star city. Our Milky Way galaxy contains an estimated 200 billion stars. But that's just the bare tip of the iceberg. The Milky Way is surrounded by vast amounts of an unknown material called dark matter that is invisible because it doesn't release any radiation. Astronomers know it exists because, dynamically, the galaxy would fly apart if dark matter didn't keep a gravitational lid on things.

Still, astronomers would like to have a precise measure of the galaxy's mass to better understand how the myriad galaxies throughout the universe form and evolve. Other galaxies can range in mass from around a billion solar masses to 30 trillion solar masses. How does our Milky Way compare?

Curious astronomers teamed up the Hubble Space Telescope and European Space Agency's Gaia satellite to precisely study the motions of globular star clusters that orbit our galaxy like bees around a hive. The faster the clusters move under the entire galaxy's gravitational pull, the more massive it is. The researchers concluded the galaxy weighs 1.5 trillion solar masses, most of it locked up in dark matter. Therefore, the Milky Way is a "Goldilocks" galaxy, not too big and not too small. Just right!


Hubble's Advanced Camera for Surveys Resumes Operations
Wed, 06 Mar 2019 16:15:00 EST

Hubble Image

NASA has recovered the Hubble Space Telescope's Advanced Camera for Surveys instrument, which suspended operations on Thursday, Feb. 28, 2019. The final tests were conducted and the instrument was brought back to its operational mode on March 6.


Advanced Camera for Surveys Anomaly on Hubble Space Telescope
Fri, 01 Mar 2019 20:00:00 EST

Hubble Image

At 8:31 p.m. EST on February 28, 2019, the Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS) aboard NASA's Hubble Space Telescope suspended operations after an error was detected as the instrument was performing a routine boot procedure. The error indicated that software inside the camera had not loaded correctly. A team of instrument system engineers, flight software experts, and flight operations personnel quickly organized to download and analyze instrument diagnostic information. This team is currently working to identify the root cause and then to construct a recovery plan.


NASA's Webb Telescope Will Study an Iconic Supernova
Thu, 28 Feb 2019 10:00:00 EST

Hubble Image

Within a galaxy known as the Large Magellanic Cloud, a star exploded 160,000 years ago. In 1987, light from that exploding star reached Earth. Over the past 32 years, astronomers have studied Supernova 1987A to learn about the physics of supernovas and their gaseous remnants. Those observations have revealed a surprising amount of dust, up to an entire sun’s worth. NASA’s infrared James Webb Space Telescope will study the dust within SN 1987A to learn about its composition, temperature and density.


Tiny Neptune Moon Spotted by Hubble May Have Broken from Larger Moon
Wed, 20 Feb 2019 13:00:00 EST

Hubble Image

The phrase "a chip off the old block" apparently also applies to the outer moons of our solar system.

A tiny moon whirling around Neptune that was uncovered in Hubble Space Telescope photographs taken in 2013 has puzzled astronomers ever since then because it is very close to a much larger moon named Proteus. The orbits of the two moons are presently 7,500 miles apart.

Proteus, at 260 miles in diameter, is roughly the size of the state of Ohio. By contrast, Hippocamp is just 20 miles across, or the size of metropolitan Columbus, Ohio. Proteus should have gravitationally swept aside or swallowed the moon while clearing out its orbital path.

Smoking-gun evidence for Hippocamp's origin comes from NASA Voyager 2 images from 1989 that show a large impact crater on Proteus, almost large enough to have shattered the moon. Apparently, a little piece of Proteus got kicked off and has slowly migrated away from the parent body.

Neptune's satellite system has a violent and tortured history. Many billions of years ago, Neptune captured the large moon Triton from the Kuiper Belt. Triton's gravity would have torn up Neptune's original satellite system. Triton settled into a circular orbit and the debris from shattered Neptunian moons re-coalesced into a second generation of natural satellites. However, comet bombardment continued to tear things up, leading to the birth of Hippocamp, which might be considered a third-generation satellite.


Hubble Reveals Dynamic Atmospheres of Uranus and Neptune
Thu, 07 Feb 2019 10:00:00 EST

Hubble Image

The two major planets beyond Saturn have only been visited once by a spacecraft, albeit briefly. NASA's Voyager 2 spacecraft swung by Uranus in 1986, and Neptune in 1989. Our robotic deep-space tourist snapped the only close-up, detailed images of these monstrous worlds. For Neptune, the images revealed a planet with a dynamic atmosphere with two mysterious dark vortices. Uranus, however, appeared featureless. But these views were only brief snapshots. They couldn't capture how the planets' atmospheres change over time, any more than a single snapshot of Earth could tell meteorologists about weather behavior. And, they go through protracted seasonal changes in their multi-decades-long orbits. Ever since the Voyager encounter, the Hubble Space Telescope has provided an opportunity to monitor these worlds like a diligent weatherman.

Since Hubble's launch in 1990, astronomers have used it to amass an album of outer planet images. Yearly monitoring of these giant worlds is now allowing astronomers to study long-term seasonal changes, as well as capture transitory weather patterns. One such elusive event is yet another dark storm on Neptune, shown in the latest Hubble image of the planet (right).

The telescope's new snapshot of Uranus (left) shows that the ice giant is not a planetary wallflower. A vast bright polar cap across the north pole dominates the image. The cap, which may form due to seasonal changes in atmospheric flow, has become much more prominent than in previous observations dating back to the Voyager 2 flyby, when the planet, in the throes of winter, looked bland.


Hubble Accidentally Discovers a New Galaxy in Cosmic Neighborhood
Thu, 31 Jan 2019 10:00:00 EST

Hubble Image

The universe is very cluttered. Myriad island cities of stars, the galaxies, form a backdrop tapestry. Much closer to home are nebulae, star clusters, and assorted other foreground celestial objects that are mostly within our Milky Way galaxy. Despite the vastness of space, objects tend to get in front of each other.

This happened when astronomers used the Hubble Space Telescope to photograph the globular star cluster NGC 6752 (located 13,000 light-years away in our Milky Way's halo). In a celestial game of "Where's Waldo?," Hubble's sharp vision uncovered a never-before-seen dwarf galaxy located far behind the cluster's crowded stellar population. The loner galaxy is in our own cosmic backyard, only 30 million light-years away (approximately 2,300 times farther than the foreground cluster).

The object is classified as a dwarf spheroidal galaxy because it measures only around 3,000 light-years at its greatest extent (barely 1/30th the diameter of the Milky Way), and it is roughly a thousand times dimmer than the Milky Way.

Because of its 13-billion-year-old age, and its isolation — which resulted in hardly any interaction with other galaxies — the dwarf is the astronomical equivalent of a living fossil from the early universe.

The international team of astronomers that carried out this study consists of L. Bedin (INAF-Astronomical Observatory of Padua, Italy), M. Salaris (Liverpool John Moores University, Liverpool, England, UK), R. Rich (University of California, Los Angeles, California, USA), H. Richer (University of British Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada), J. Anderson (Space Telescope Science Institute, Baltimore, Maryland, USA), B. Bettoni (INAF-Astronomical Observatory of Padua, Italy), D. Nardiello, A. Milone, and A. Marino (University of Padua, Italy), M. Libralato and A. Bellini (Space Telescope Science Institute, Baltimore, Maryland, USA), A. Dieball (University of Bonn, Bonn, Germany), P. Bergeron (University of Montreal, Quebec, Canada), A. Burgasser (University of California, San Diego, California, USA), and D. Apai (University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona, USA).