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Posts Tagged ‘european space agency’

Faux Mars Mission Makes it into Orbit of the Red Planet

February 2, 2011 Leave a comment

Group photo of the Mars500 crew. (Photo: ESA)

Since June 2010, 6 men have been sealed inside a science experiment. It is called the Mars500 mission, run by the European Space Agency (ESA) and is designed to test the physiological and psychological effects of isolation on a long-term voyage to Mars.

So after an 8 month journey, the crew is preparing for their landing and first “Mars-walk”, which will take place on February 14. After spending 30 days on the “surface”, they will depart the fake Martian terrain (which is actually just a sandy room near their living quarters) and begin the 240 day trip back to Earth.

So it’s actually 520 days that the experiment runs, not 500. But Mars500 just sounds cooler.

The mission, so far, has gone off pretty well. As reported in the BBC,

“So far, I must say we’ve had no major problems,” said Martin Zell, who heads up the Esa scientific programme on the International Space Station (ISS).

“There is permanent monitoring, so we understand their health very well. We have a lot of data now on their mental state and on how their bodies are reacting. That’s important because there is a link between the two,”

The crew seems to be doing well too. They have enough space on board to walk around and receive emails from home. They are even able to check Twitter now and then:

Being in the same small space with the same 6 people for 500 days I can only imagine would be quite taxing. I think the danger of interplanetary spaceflight is secondary to the danger of killing one another, so it is always important to break up the drudgery of every day living with some fun.

The Mars500 crew celebrating Halloween. Science rules. (Photo: ESA)

 

Planck Sees the Universe as Never Before

January 12, 2011 Leave a comment

The first results from the European Space Agency’s Planck survery have been released today, and what a pretty picture these results make.

The Planck space telescope was launched in 2009 and currently resides in a Lagrangian point between the Earth and the Sun, roughly 1.5 million km away.

(A Lagrangian point is a point in space where the gravity from two bodies cancel each other out).

Planck’s mission is to study the Cosmic Microwave Background, the “echoes” from the Big Bang that appear everywhere in the sky.Plank was designed to be successor to the recently retired WMAP satellite, which measured the CMB with more accuracy than any instrument before it.

Artist's Conception of the Planck Telescope. Photo: ESA

The image above the top of the page was released back in July 2010, but the first scientific results have just been made public. They include 25 papers submitted to the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics. The results include some pretty cool stuff.

Planck has found evidence for an otherwise invisible population of galaxies shrouded in dust billions of years in the past, which formed stars at rates some 10–1000 times higher than we see in our own Galaxy today. Measurements of this population had never been made at these wavelengths before. “This is a first step, we are just learning how to work with these data and extract the most information,” says Jean-Loup Puget, CNRS-Université Paris Sud, Orsay, France.

These studies allow us to gain a better picture of how the Universe formed in its very early stages, about 380 000 years after the Big Bang.When the CMB was first discovered, it was thought to be completely isotropic over the entire sky. This made no sense, however, since the Universe is made up of clumps of matter like stars and galaxies. There had to be some structure in the CMB, and that is why these tools like WMAP and Planck have been developed; to see that structure in the CMB.While these results are exciting, the best is yet to come,

Today’s results are the tip of the scientific iceberg. Planck is exceeding expectations thanks to the dedication of everyone involved in the project,” says David Southwood, ESA Director of Science and Robotic Exploration.

Umm…WTF is that?

January 11, 2011 Leave a comment

Image Credit: NASA, ESA, W. Keel (University of Alabama) and the Galaxy Zoo Team

What is that green blob in this photo?

It is called Hanney’s Voorwerp. Does that help? (It means Hanney’s Object in Dutch)

No? Ok, well it is a long stream of gas (about 300,000 light-years long, in fact) that is being illuminated by the Quasar being emitted from galaxy IC 2947.

A quasar is a bright stream of light that gets emitted from a black hole. Do you see the bright stream of light from the center of the galaxy? No?

That is because the quasar turned off about 200,000 years ago. The light from it is only now reaching the gas stream and illuminating it.

The image was taken by the Hubble Space Telescope around April 2010, and it has been a bit of a curiosity for a while. NASA has just released an explanation for what it is.

I could seriously do a blog made of entirely cool astronomy photos and it would always be interesting. Oh wait, there already is a site like that…damn.

What Does Saturn Look Like From an Asteroid?

July 14, 2010 Leave a comment

The spacecraft Rosetta is on its way to comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. But along the way, they decided to fly it by asteroid Lutetia. On July 10th, Rosetta got to within 3200 km of Lutetia, and the ESA streamed the approach live online.

Now, they have released the photos and they are AWESOME!

This one is my favourite. They managed to catch Saturn in the background when Rosetta was about 36000 km away.

Asteroid Lutetia with Saturn in the background

You can check out all the photos from the flyby on the ESA’s website.