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Lake Tai, China

4 hours 50 min ago
Lake Tai, China Image:

The Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission takes us over the Lake Tai, the third largest freshwater lake in China. The lake, also known as Lake Taihu, is located in the Jiangsu province and is approximately 70 km long and 60 km wide, with an average water depth of approximately 2 metres. The lake discharges its waters through Wusong, Liu, Huangpu and several other rivers.

The Tai Basin is a very developed region in China, and includes the megacities Suzhou, visible east of the lake, Wuxi, visible north of the lake, and the nearby Shanghai. Over the past decades, rapid urbanisation, population growth and excessive fish farming have resulted in eutrophication – where the lake becomes enriched with minerals and nutrients.

The increase of nutrients deteriorate the water quality of the lake causing toxic algae blooms to form on the lake’s surface – threatening the quality for millions of people who depend on the lake as a source of drinking water.

In 2007, the algal blooms were so severe that the outbreak was declared a health emergency. Water supplies to Wuxi were suspended, leaving two million residents without drinking water for several weeks.

In this image captured on 24 May 2019, the algae-infested waters are clearly visible.

Algae blooms have been reported in the lake since the 1980s. Many attempts have been made to salvage the water quality of the lake including removal of the algae, closing chemical and manufacturing plants near Tai and stricter water treatment regulations.

However, the lake remains to be highly polluted. Agriculture, sewage and manufacturing still affect the lake’s waters – overloading it with nutrients.  

Sentinel-2 is a two-satellite mission to supply the coverage and data delivery needed for Europe’s Copernicus programme. The mission’s frequent revisits over the same area and high spatial resolution allow changes in inland water bodies to be closely monitored.

This image is also featured on the Earth from Space video programme.

Earth from Space: Lake Tai

4 hours 50 min ago
Video: 00:02:45

In this week's edition of the Earth from Space programme, the Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission takes usoverthe third largest freshwater lake in China.

See also Lake Tai, China to download the image.

Apply now for 2019 YGT opportunities!

6 hours 50 min ago

More than 100 explorers wanted for this year’s Young Graduate Trainee opportunities at ESA!

Making planets in a rocket

Thu, 14/11/2019 - 13:27
Planet drop

How are celestial bodies created? Aside from philosophical questions, researchers are taking practical steps to investigate the very first moments when planets are born – on a sounding rocket launching from Sweden next week.

Proxima puts European space on silver screen

Thu, 14/11/2019 - 10:42
Eva Green stars in Proxima

Proxima is the new film from French filmmaker Alice Winocour, about an ESA astronaut training for a long-duration mission on the International Space Station, with the cast and crew given access to real-life training centres while making the film.

Paxi on the ISS: EVA suits

Thu, 14/11/2019 - 09:00
Video: 00:03:56

Our alien friend Paxi went to visit American astronaut Anne McClain on board the International Space Station. Anne shows Paxi the EVA suits that astronauts wear during a spacewalk outside of the ISS.

Challenging spacewalks for Luca

Thu, 14/11/2019 - 09:00
Video: 00:03:40

On 20 July 2019, ESA astronaut Luca Parmitano was launched to the International Space Station from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. During the Beyond mission he will participate in several spacewalks (EVA) to repair the dark matter hunter Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer, or AMS-02. Attached to the station during the STS-134 shuttle mission in May 2011, the AMS was never designed to be maintained in orbit. Luca has trained extensively for this challenging task, which will involve complicated techniques and the use of specially-designed tools.

This A&B Roll recalls Luca Parmitano's preparations to repair the AMS at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, USA, with interviews in English, Italian and French.

Beyond mission (portal homepage)

Thu, 14/11/2019 - 06:00

Beyond mission

ESA astronaut Luca Parmitano’s Beyond mission to the International Space Station

Behind the scenes – space-age physics

Wed, 13/11/2019 - 14:37

Quietly and steadily, fundamental science for better materials on Earth runs on the International Space Station. While European commander Luca Parmitano is busy preparing for a series of complex spacewalks that take several hours of his working day in orbit, science hums in the background.

Bushfires rage in Australia

Wed, 13/11/2019 - 14:30
Bushfires rage in Australia Image:

The Copernicus Sentinel-3 mission captured the multiple bushfires burning across Australia’s east coast. Around 150 fires are still burning in New South Wales and Queensland, with hot and dry conditions accompanied with strong winds, said to be spreading the fires.

In this image, captured on 12 November 2019 at 23:15 UTC (13 November 09:15 local time), the fires burning near the coast are visible. Plumes of smoke can be seen drifting east over the Tasman Sea. Hazardous air quality owing to the smoke haze has reached the cities of Sydney and Brisbane and is affecting residents, the Australian Environmental Department has warned.

Hundreds of homes have been damaged or destroyed, and many residents evacuated. Flame retardant was dropped in some of Sydney’s suburbs as bushfires approached the city centre. Firefighters continue to keep the blazes under control.

The Copernicus Emergency Mapping Service was activated to help respond to the fires. The service uses satellite observations to help civil protection authorities and, in cases of disaster, the international humanitarian community, respond to emergencies.

Quantifying and monitoring fires is fundamental for the ongoing study of climate, as they have a significant impact on global atmospheric emissions. Data from the Copernicus Sentinel-3 World Fire Atlas shows that there were almost five times as many wildfires in August 2019 compared to August 2018.

Watch live: first #SpacewalkForAMS

Wed, 13/11/2019 - 11:01
Luca spacewalker

Tune in to ESA Web TV from 12:50 CET (11:50 GMT) this Friday 15 November to watch ESA astronaut Luca Parmitano become the first European to lead a spacewalk outside the International Space Station.

ESA’s Mars orbiters did not see latest Curiosity methane burst

Wed, 13/11/2019 - 10:00
Mars Express

In June, NASA’s Curiosity rover reported the highest burst of methane recorded yet, but neither ESA’s Mars Express nor the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter recorded any signs of the elusive gas, despite flying over the same location at a similar time.

Aircraft nose job assessed in Hertz chamber

Wed, 13/11/2019 - 08:35
Aircraft nose job assessed in Hertz chamber Image:

ESA test facilities can test more than just space hardware: here, the 2.0m-diameter nose of an Airbus A340 aircraft is seen in ESA’s Hertz chamber, undergoing radio-frequency testing.

“We had a rare gap in our test schedule and were able to accommodate a commercial customer,” explains ESA antenna engineer Eric Van Der Houwen.

SPECTO Aerospace works on repairing damaged structural aircraft parts like radomes – radar domes – found on the noses of aircraft, which protect forward-looking weather radar and other equipment. But before any repaired radome can be returned to flight it needs radio frequency testing to confirm the repair has been a success and the structure is performing acceptably.”

A radome can be damaged in various ways, including lightning strikes, bird strikes or due to hail erosion. The repair process needs to return the radome – an aramid fibre honeycomb composite sandwich structure – to be high mechanically stiff and aerodynamically smooth – while also ensuring its desired radio-frequency (RF) performance remains intact.

“Sometimes a repaired radome can look good but might not perform so well in RF terms,” adds Eric. “It might be that the radome structure is absorbing too much RF energy, or triggering signal reflections or interactions that alter the shape of what should be a forward-looking signal. In this particular case, this radome requires a ‘side lobe level test’ – checking its sideways emissions.

“So we first of all measure the antenna pattern and energy level without the radome and then with the radome to see how much these values change. Finally we again test the antenna without the radome, to make sure our results match on a reliable basis.”

Part of ESA’s technical heart in the Netherlands, the metal-walled ‘Hybrid European Radio Frequency and Antenna Test Zone’ chamber is shut off from all external influences. Its internal walls are studded with radio-absorbing ‘anechoic’ foam pyramids, allowing radio-frequency testing without any distorting reflections.

The Hertz chamber carried out a rapid test campaign for the company, with the nose cone – which fits onto both Airbus A330 and A340 aircraft – into and out of ESA’s ESTEC technical centre in Noordwijk, the Netherlands in a single day.

“ESA is one of our reliable partners for specific aircraft parts testing,” remarks Jeroen Mast, managing director of SPECTO. “Our in-house test facility is able to perform the standard transmission efficiency tests for aircraft radomes, with ESA’s anechoic test facilities offering a valuable add-on to our services.”

ESA’s test facilities at the service of all Agency missions and Member States are supported through ESA’s Basic Activities. At the Space19+ Council of Ministers in Seville, Spain on 27-28 November, ESA will press for an increase in Basic Activities to maintain and develop its test facilities and general infrastructure.

Space Talks 2019: bringing space to you

Tue, 12/11/2019 - 23:28

The second series of European Space Talks concluded on 31 October, in a campaign that gave thousands of people, whether enthusiasts or professionals, the chance to share their passion for space.

Proba-2 watches Mercury transit

Tue, 12/11/2019 - 16:00
Video: 00:00:27

ESA's Proba-2 had a ring-side seat for the transit of Mercury on 11 November 2019. Proba-2 monitors the Sun from Earth orbit and was able to spot Mercury’s transit as a small black disc – seen here moving from left to right across the face of the Sun.

The images in this movie were taken with the satellite's extreme ultraviolet telescope.

Solar transits – where a celestial body is seen to pass across the solar disc from the perspective of Earth – are relatively rare events. Mercury undergoes around 13 transits a century; the last occurred in 2016 but the next is not until 2032. Both Mercury and the Sun are destinations for ESA missions: BepiColombo will arrive at Mercury in 2025, while Solar Orbiter is getting ready for a 2020 launch to study the Sun up close. Transits are also important outside of our Solar System, in the quest to find exoplanets. For example, a transiting planet causes a dip in brightness of its host star, revealing the presence of an exoplanet. Space missions like ESA’s Cheops will study known transiting exoplanets to determine more about their characteristics.

Leading the way

Tue, 12/11/2019 - 10:56
ESA astronaut Luca Parmitano prepares for spacewalk Image:

Four spacewalks in the coming weeks means a lot of prep work. ESA astronaut Luca Parmitano is gearing up the first in a series of historic extravehicular activities or EVAs taking place 15 November. He is pictured here creating tape flags that will be used to mark tubes during the spacewalks.

The spacewalks are to service the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer or AMS, a cosmic ray detector that is searching for dark matter, antimatter, and completely unexpected physics well beyond its three-year mission.

Installed outside the International Space Station in 2011, the instrument has recorded over 140 billion particles to date along with their mass, velocity, and charge and direction of travel. This data is helping scientists track down the origin of cosmic rays and search for dark matter, the invisible matter component of our universe, as well as the antimatter counterpart that should have been created at the birth of our universe in the Big Bang.

As expected, the harsh environment of space began to wear down the facility. One by one, the cooling pumps keeping a vital detector at a constant temperature began to fail, affecting the data collection.
Plans for spacewalks to upgrade the pumps have been in the making for years to keep the science going.

Never intended to be serviced in orbit, the AMS maintenance will be complex.

For starters, AMS-02 has over 300,000 data channels. There are also no handrails or foot restraints installed around the instrument to access the cooling system that needs maintenance. New tools are also needed, as astronauts have never cut and reconnected fluid lines in a bulky spacesuit before.

Luca trained well in advance for these spacewalks at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, USA. New tools and procedures were extensively tested, with a lot of know-how drawn from the last series of complex spacewalks to extend the life of a valuable space instrument, the Hubble Space telescope.

Now that the latest Cygnus cargo supply mission has brought the final tools needed, Luca and NASA astronaut Andrew Morgan are ready to go.

Luca will play a leading role as EV-1, wearing a white spacesuit with red stripes while Andrew wears the white spacesuit with no stripes. It is the first time a European astronaut has held the lead position.

The pair will be supported by NASA astronauts Christina Koch and Jessica Meir who will operate the Canadarm2 robotic arm from inside the Station. This will help position the astronauts around their hard-to-reach work site, located on top of the Station’s S3 Truss structure between a pair of solar arrays and radiators.

The entire spacewalk is expected to take around six hours and it will set the scene for at least three more.

The spacewalk will be streamed live on ESA Web TV from 12:50 CET (11:50 GMT) and ESA’s Facebook page. The first two hours of the broadcast will feature commentary from astronaut and operation experts at ESA’s astronaut centre in Cologne, Germany, as well as a live cross with scientists at the CERN European Laboratory for Particle Physics. 

Got questions about AMS, the spacewalk, and dark matter? Tweet your questions to @esaspaceflight or @cern using #SpacewalkForAMS. Experts will answer them throughout the day.

Rosetta's ongoing science

Tue, 12/11/2019 - 07:00
Video: 00:04:38

On 12 November 2014 Philae became the first spacecraft to land on a comet as part of the successful Rosetta mission to study Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Five years later, and after the mission’s official end in 2016, Rosetta is continuing to provide insights into the origins of our Solar System.

Rosetta’s instruments have already discovered that the comet contained oxygen, organic molecules, noble gases and ’heavy’ or deuterated water different to that found on Earth.  
As scientists continue to analyse data from Rosetta’s instruments, including the ionised gas or plasma, the results are improving our understanding of comets. Mission data is also being delivered to an archive as a future resource.

Rosetta orbits the Sun every 6.5 years and will pass the Earth again, visible from ground-based telescopes, in 2021. ESA’s future Comet Interceptor mission will build on Rosetta’s success when it performs a flyby of a comet. But, unlike Rosetta, the comet will be new to our Solar System.

The film contains interviews with Charlotte Goetz, Research Fellow, ESA; Kathrin Altwegg, ROSINA instrument principal investigator, Rosetta/University of Bern; Colin Snodgrass, Comet Interceptor deputy principal investigator/University of Edinburgh

Call for media to Seville

Mon, 11/11/2019 - 09:20

Press Release N° 20–2019

The ESA Council at Ministerial Level, Space 19+ -, will take place at FIBES in Seville, Spain, on 27 and 28 November 2019. 

Ten Suns for 10 years

Sun, 10/11/2019 - 08:00
Ten Suns for 10 years Image:

Last week marked a milestone for ESA’s Proba-2 satellite: 10 years of operation in orbit around the Earth. Since its launch on 2 November 2009, Proba-2 (PRoject for OnBoard Autonomy) has probed the intricacies of the Sun and its connection to our planet, imaging and observing our star and investigating how it drives all manner of complex cosmic phenomena: from solar eruptions and flares to closer-to-home space weather effects.

This image shows 10 different views of the Sun captured throughout Proba-2’s lifetime, processed to highlight the extended solar atmosphere – the part of the atmosphere that is visible around the main circular disc of the star.

Characterising this part of the Sun is a key element of Proba-2’s solar science observations. Solar activity is closely tied to the space weather we experience closer to Earth. Understanding more about how the Sun behaves – and how this behaviour changes over time, including whether it may be predictable – is crucial in our efforts to prepare for space weather events capable of damaging both space-based and terrestrial communications systems.

The Sun’s activity has a cycle of about 11 years, with the presence and strength of phenomena such as flares, coronal mass ejections, dark ‘coronal holes’ and bright ‘active regions’ fluctuating accordingly. These images were taken by Proba-2’s extreme-ultraviolet SWAP (Sun watcher using APS detectors and image processing) instrument, and show a snapshot of the Sun in January or February of each year from 2010 to 2019 (with the oldest frame on the top left, and the most recent to the bottom right). This mosaic thus neatly shows the variability in the solar atmosphere in beautiful detail, demonstrating how this cycle affects the Sun. The Sun begins in a phase of low activity (solar minimum: top left) in 2010; enters a phase of increasing activity and then shows highest activity in 2014 (solar maximum: top right). It slowly calms down again to enter a low-activity phase in 2019 (another minimum: bottom right).

As its name suggests, Proba-2 is the second satellite launched under ESA’s ‘Project for Onboard Autonomy’ umbrella: a series of small, low-cost missions that are testing a wide array of advanced technologies in space. These missions are helping us understand and develop everything from solar monitoring to vegetation mapping to autonomous Earth observation. Future members of the Proba family will also be equipped to create artificial eclipses by flying two satellites together in formation to block the bright disc of the Sun for hours at a time, so that scientists can better observe fainter regions that are usually outshone.

For now, Proba-2 will continue to monitor the Sun, including an upcoming celestial event: the satellite’s SWAP camera will observe Mercury today as it transits across the face of the Sun, an event that only takes place around 13 times per century and will not occur again until 2032.

The individual frames of the image shown here were captured on (top row, left to right): 20 February 2010, 1 February 2011, 20 January 2020, 5 February 2013, 28 January 2014, and (bottom row, left to right) 19 January 2015, 5 February 2016, 22 January 2017, 2 February 2018, and 1 February 2019.

Week in images

Fri, 08/11/2019 - 13:30
Holbox Island, Mexico

Discover our week through the lens (4-8 November 2019).