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ESA gives green light to funding for GMES

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ESA PR 52-2004. ESA’s Earth Observation Programme Board met at the Eden Project in Cornwall on 21 and 22 September. An agreement was reached at this meeting among ESA’s Member States to release a total of €80m to fund the next stage of the ESA component of the European GMES (Global Monitoring for Environment and Security) initiative.

Part of this funding will cover a socioeconomic assessment of the benefits of GMES and the follow-on to the work already done by ESA on definition and demonstration of the services to be provided by GMES. More importantly, the Board gave the green light to the start of work on the space component of GMES by approving €30m for preparatory activities comprising architecture studies, ground segment design and initial definition studies for the five “sentinels” which will be the backbone of the future European Earth Observation System to monitor the environment. These activities will pave the way to the decision to be taken at the next ESA Council meeting at ministerial level, in late 2005 or early 2006, on full implementation of GMES.

Professor José Achache, Director of Earth Observation at ESA, said: “Natural disasters, such as the hurricanes in the [...]

Europe and Russia: a 15-year partnership in human spaceflight

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ESA PR 16-2004. Fifteen years of fruitful cooperation in human spaceflight activities between Russia and the European Space Agency have set the stage for even closer cooperation.

“Growing together” is the theme of a symposium to be held in Moscow on Friday 2 April, an occasion for ESA and the Russian Federal Space Agency, FKA (formerly Rosaviakosmos), to reflect on their shared achievements in human spaceflight over the past 15 years and their intentions for even closer cooperation in the short to long term.

The cooperation started with initial exchanges of information, small study contracts and some ESA experiments on Russian missions. It covered potential cooperation in the then planned Mir-2 programme, and grew into substantial training of ESA astronauts and flights to the Mir station in 1994 and 1995, which also saw the first extravehicular activity by an ESA astronaut, Thomas Reiter from Germany, during the six-month Euromir 1995 mission. It continued with the training of ESA astronauts as flight engineers for the Soyuz capsule and a number of short-duration flights to the International Space Station (ISS).

With Russia joining the ISS programme, cooperation was refocused, with the main emphasis on the Russian segment of the ISS. [...]

SOHO snaps spectacular Sun shot

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On Friday, 12 March 2004, the Sun ejected a spectacular ‘eruptive prominence’ into the heliosphere. SOHO, the ESA/NASA solar watchdog observatory, faithfully recorded the event.

This ‘eruptive prominence’ is a mass of relatively cool plasma, or ionised gas. We say ‘relatively’ cool, because the plasma observed by the Extreme-ultraviolet Imaging Telescope (EIT) on board SOHO was only about 80 000 degrees Celsius, compared to the plasma at one or two million degrees Celsius surrounding it in the Sun’s tenuous outer atmosphere, or ‘corona’.

At the time of this snapshot, the eruptive prominence seen at top right was over 700 000 kilometres across – over fifty times Earth’s diameter – and was moving at a speed of over 75 000 kilometres per hour.

Eruptive prominences of this size are associated with coronal mass ejections (CMEs), and the combination of CMEs and prominences can affect Earth’s magnetosphere when directed toward our planet. In this case, the eruptive prominence and associated CME were directed away from Earth.

SOHO is a mission of international co-operation between ESA and NASA, launched in December 1995. Every day SOHO sends thrilling images from which research scientists learn about the Sun’s nature and behaviour. Experts around [...]

First spectacular results from Mars Express

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ESA PR 05-2004. ESA’s Mars Express, successfully inserted into orbit around Mars on 25 December 2003, is about to reach its final operating orbit. The first scientific results already look very promising, as this first close-up image shows.

Although the seven scientific instruments on board Mars Express are still undergoing a thorough calibration phase, they have already started collecting amazing results. The first high-resolution images and spectra of Mars have already been acquired.

This first spectacular stereoscopic colour picture was taken on 14 January 2004 by ESA’s Mars Express satellite from 275 kilometres above the surface of Mars by the High Resolution Stereo Camera (HRSC). This image is available on the ESA Portal at: http://mars.esa.int

The picture shows a portion of a 1700 km long and 65 km wide swath which was taken in south-north direction across the Grand Canyon of Mars (Valles Marineris). It is the first image of this size that shows the surface of Mars in high resolution (12 metres per pixel), in colour, and in 3D. The total area of the image on the Martian surface (top left corner) corresponds to 120 000 km².

This perspective view was generated on a computer from the [...]

Nuna II breaks all records in the World Solar Challenge!

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ESA PR 69-2003. The Dutch solar car Nuna II, using ESA space technology, finished first in the World Solar Challenge, a 3010 km race right across Australia for cars powered by solar energy.

Having set off from Darwin on Sunday 19 October, Nuna II crossed the finish line in Adelaide on Wednesday 22 October in a new record-breaking time of 30 hours 54 minutes, beating the previous record of 32 hours 39 minutes set by its Dutch precursor Nuna in 2001.

The average speed of Nuna II, nicknamed the ‘Flying Dutchman’ by the Australian press, was 97 kilometres per hour, also an improvement on the previous record of 91.8 kilometres per hour by Nuna. Despite two quickly changed flat tires Nuna II travelled 830 km on the third racing day – never before has such a distance been accomplished within one day. On the fourth and final day Nuna again pushed the limits by driving at a top speed of 110 km per hour, finally setting a new world record.

A 3010 km race right across Australia

Nuna II, the space age solar racing car from the Netherlands, held the lead right from the start. Before the start [...]

Launch of Ariadna to boost advanced space research in Europe

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ESA PR 63-2003. Will spacecraft travelling through interplanetary space be able to determine their positions by using signals from dead stars as astronomical clocks?

What is the likelihood of artificial muscles made from electro-active polymers replacing mechanical parts in spacecraft? Will it ever be possible to conceive an interstellar highway in which spacecraft journey across the galaxy using the delicate gravitational balance between neighbouring stars?

These are just some of the imaginative, futuristic concepts that will be studied in the first call for proposals issued under a new European Space Agency (ESA) initiative named Ariadna.

Managed by the Advanced Concepts Team (ACT) on behalf of the Agency’s Advanced Concepts and Studies Office, Ariadna will further strengthen the existing links between ESA and the European academic community.

Not only will Ariadna enhance opportunities for cooperation and exchange of information between ESA, universities and research institutes, but it will also enable ESA to become even more involved in ground-breaking research than in the past, becoming an equal partner as much as possible, rather than a mere supervisor.

“In the Advanced Concepts Team we want to devote our time to what we like best: finding out about research being carried out [...]

ESA’s XMM-Newton gains deep insights into the distant Universe

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Using XMM-Newton, astronomers have obtained the world’s deepest ‘wide screen’ X-ray image of the cosmos to date. Their observations show newly discovered clusters of galaxies and provide insights into the structure of the distant Universe…

Unlike grains of sand on a beach, matter is not uniformly spread throughout the Universe. Instead, it is concentrated into galaxies like our own which themselves congregate into clusters. These clusters are ‘strung’ throughout the Universe in a web-like structure. Astronomers have studied this large-scale structure of the nearby Universe but have lacked the instruments to extend the search to the large volumes of the distant Universe.

Thanks to its unrivalled sensitivity, in less than three hours, ESA’s X-ray observatory XMM-Newton can see back about 7000 million years to a cosmological era when the Universe was about half its present size, and clusters of galaxies more tightly packed. Marguerite Pierre, CEA Saclay, France, with a European and Chilean team, used this ability to search for remote clusters of galaxies and map out their distribution.

The work heralds a new era of studying the distant Universe. The optical identification of clusters shows only the galaxies themselves. However, X-rays show the gas in between [...]

Mercury shows its dark side

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During the morning of 7 May 2003, the planet Mercury will slip across the face of the Sun in a rare event, known as a transit. There are only about 12 celestial alignments like this every century and you cannot view them safely without special telescopic equipment. So, let the ESA/NASA solar watchdog, SOHO, do all the hard work for you…

About 160 times smaller than the apparent diameter of the Sun, Mercury will appear as a tiny dot, silhouetted on the bright face of the Sun, as it makes its five and a half hour journey on 7 May 2003. The show will begin at 9:50 CET (7:50 UT) and last into the afternoon, finishing at 15:17 CET (13:17 UT). Images of the event will appear on the SOHO web site as soon as possible, during that day. Mercury is already visible in the LASCO C3 images on 2 May 2003, edging closer to the Sun.

The planets Mercury and Venus have orbits closer to the Sun than the Earth. They are therefore the only planets that can pass in front of the Sun, as seen from Earth. During the 19th century, transits were used to precisely [...]

Finding the ashes of the first stars

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Recent observations with the Hubble Space Telescope suggest that the first stars formed as little as 200 million years after the Big Bang. This is much earlier than previously thought.

Astronomers have observed large amounts of iron in the ultraluminous light from very distant, ancient quasars. This iron is the ‘ashes’ left from supernova explosions in the very first generation of stars.

We do not know exactly how and when galaxies, stars, and eventually planets formed in the early Universe. Astronomers look back in time to these early years by observing objects so remote that their light needs thousands of millions of years to travel to Earth. These objects provide clues about conditions in the early Universe.

Stars are nuclear factories that process lighter elements such as hydrogen and helium to successively heavier elements such as nitrogen, carbon, and finally iron. New observations with the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope show massive amounts of iron in very distant and ancient quasars. This pushes the era of the very first stars in the Universe back to as early as 200 million years after the Big Bang (corresponding to a redshift of around 20). This is much earlier than previously thought [...]

Space infrared astronomy comes of age

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It is 20 years ago this year that Europe, in collaboration with the United States, launched the first infrared observatory into space. Its infrared powers revealed a secret universe that, to this day, continues to fascinate. The more astronomers look, the better the picture gets…

Everything started when the German-born British astronomer William Herschel, famous for discovering the planet Uranus, discovered infrared radiation in 1800. He used a thermometer to measure the heating power of the Sun’s light, having split the light into a rainbow of colours. buy com domain He noticed that the temperature increased towards the red end of the spectrum and continued to increase beyond, even though no light was visible. Scientists eventually called these invisible ‘heat’ rays infrared.

In 1856, the Astronomer Royal for Scotland, Charles Piazzi Smythe, invented infrared astronomy by climbing Mount Teide on Tenerife and detecting infrared radiation coming from the Moon. However, the instrumentation was crude by modern standards and little improved for the next 100 years.

In the latter half of the 20th century, came the next major step in infrared astronomy. By 1965, astronomers Gerry Neugebauer and Robert Leighton made the first infrared survey of the cosmos. To [...]