News Archive 2013 / 14


News Archive 2013 / 14

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December 2014

Venus Express Mission Ends

Venus Express Artist's Impression

Image Credit: ESA - C. Carreau

ESA confirms that the Venus Express eight

year mission has drawn to a close after its last

propellant was used to surf in and out of Venus'

atmosphere to gather data from lower altitudes.

Venus Express is gong 'gently into the night'


Rosetta's Philae Lands on Comet

Click for updates on the status of the Rosetta

mission on ESa's blog site


See Rosetta Comet Landing Webcast

ESA's webcast covering Philae's comet landing


India's ISRO Tests New Rocket with

Unmanned Capsule

image source : ISRO

India successfully launches rocket and a capsule

which is capable of carrying two to three astronauts

into space.  Watch video footage here


Can You Land on a Comet?

As Rosetta's lander nears its comet destination,

a game on the BBC's website lets you try a

landing for yourself... Click here to have a go


Virgin Galactic's Spaceship 2 Crashes

on Test Flight

Spaceship Two mothership WhiteKnightTwo earlier

Photo from

Scaled Composites / Jason DiVenere


November 2014

Europe's Final Robot Supply Ship

Launches for ISS

Image credit ESA

The latest ATV (Automated Transport Vehicle) is named

after Georges Lemaitre,  who proposed the "Big Bang"

theory. This is Europe’s fifth (and final) ATV to be sent to the

ISS. It is also Ariane 5's heaviest-ever payload with a mass

at liftoff of over 20 metric tons .

Enceladus' 101 Geysers Revealed

Artist's rendering shows a cross-section of the ice shell immediately beneath one

of Enceladus' geyser-active fractures, illustrating the physical and thermal structure

and the processes ongoing below and at the surface.

Image Credit  NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute.

Scientists using data from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft have

identified 101 distinct geysers erupting on Saturn’s icy

moon Enceladus.  Their analysis suggests it is possible

for liquid water to reach from the moon’s underground sea

to  its surface .


Gaia is “Go” for Science

Image Credit ESA

The Gaia surveyor is now ready to begin its mission to

create the most accurate 3-D map of the Milky Way to date

by mapping and tracking 1% of the roughly 100 billion stars

in our galaxy. Scientists hope this will help answer


Rosetta's Philae Lands on Comet

Click for updates on the status of the Rosetta

mission on ESa's blog site


See Rosetta Comet Landing Webcast

ESA's webcast covering Philae's comet landing


Can You Land on a Comet?

As Rosetta's lander nears its comet destination,

a game on the BBC's website lets you try a

landing for yourself... Click here to have a go


Virgin Galactic's Spaceship 2 Crashes

on Test Flight

Spaceship Two mothership WhiteKnightTwo earlier

Photo from

Scaled Composites / Jason DiVenere


Comet Siding Spring Just Misses Mars

Image credit: NASA (Hubble telecscope)

19th October: Comet passes within 87,000 miles of Mars.

NASA takes steps to protect its orbiters whilst gathering

as much scientific data as possible. NASA has a page

dedicated to the event (here)

More Information about the event from NASA (here)

ESA's blog compares Siding Spring with comet 67P/

Churyumov-Gerasimenko, currently studied by its

Rosetta spacecraft (here)


How Will Rosetta's  Lander Touch Down?

Image credit: ESA on YouTube

Rosetta's Comet Lander, Philae, is scheduled to touch

down on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko on

11 November.  How does ESA plan to do this?

See ESA's explanation video here.


Vortex at Titan's Pole Contains

Hydrogen Cyanide

image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASI/University Arizona/SSI/Leiden Obs. & SRON

Data from the Cassini Mission shows frozen particles of

Hydrogen Cyanide in a vortex at Titan's south pole


Namaste! India's Mars Orbiter

'Mangalyaan' Reaches Mars

Image credit Indian Space Research Organisation ( ISRO )

India's Mangalyaan Orbiter swings into Mars Orbit at the

start of its mission to study the Martian surface and scan

the atmosphere for methane gas. The mission is the

cheapest ever interplanetary project.

NASA's Curiosity and Mangalyaan send 'Howdy' and

'Namaste' greetings via Twitter !


NASA's MAVEN Probe arrives at Mars

NASA's Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution spacecraft

(MAVEN) has successfully entered orbit around Mars.

Following a 10 month journey, the orbiter will now begin

a six week commissioning phase before beginning its main

mission to analyse the upper Martian atmosphere.


Philae to Land on Head of Comet

Image Credit: ESA

ESA announces that Rosetta's lander Philae is to land on

landing site 'J' at the head of comet 67P/Churyumov-

Gerasimenko. The landing is planned for 11 November 


SpaceX and Boeing Win ISS Contract 


 Image Credit: NASA

NASA has announced US companies Boeing and SpaceX

have won contracts to  transport crews to and from the

Space Station by 2017


New Hypothesis for Solar Cycle

Image Credit: NASA/SDO/Goddard

Research from the Montana State University and NASA

suggests the solar cycle is defined by interactions

between bands of magnetic material moving towards

the solar equator. 


Alice Delivers First Ultraviolet

Spectra of Comet

Image Courtesy of Southwest Research Institute

NASA's ultraviolet spectograph on board ESA's Rosetta

has sent back its first UV spectra of Comet

67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko's surface.

Scientists are surprised at how unreflective the comet's

surface is. Alice has detected hydrogen and oxygen in

the comet's atmosphere (coma).


Mercury's Bizzare Magnetic Field

Mercury: enhanced colours emphasise the chemical, mineralogical and physical

differences among the planet's surface rocks.    Credit: NASA

Physicists from the University of California report that

measurements from NASA's Messenger spacecraft show

Mercury's magnetic field is three times stronger at its

northern hemisphere than at  its southern one.


Introducing the Newest Mars Rover

Artist concept image of where instruments will be located on NASA’s Mars 2020 rover.
Image Credit: NASA

NASA announces details of next Mars Rover which is based

on the design of the Mars Science Laboratory rover,

Curiosity. The Mars 2020 will have more sophisticated

hardware and new instruments to explore Martian geology

and search for signs of ancient Martian life.

A new instrument - MOXIE (Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resources

Utilization Experiment) can convert carbon dioxide from the

Martian atmosphere and turn it into pure oxygen and

carbon monoxide. This technology could keep astronauts

alive and help them re-launch into space.        More here...

An image gallery is also available here


Rosetta Takes Comet's Temperature

Image: ESA

ESA’s Rosetta spacecraft has made its first temperature

measurements of its target comet. Results show the comet

is too hot to be covered in ice and must have a dark, dusty

crust. Its average surface temperature is about –70ºC.

This is 20–30ºC warmer than predicted .


October 2014


The Largest Spacecraft Welding Tool

Image credit NASA

The world's largest spacecraft welding tool is nearing

completion. NASA's 170 foot high Vertical Assembly Center

(VAC) is part of a family of tools that will build the core

stage of the Space Launch System (SLS) - the most

powerful rocket in history, designed for deep space

missions to an asteroid and ultimately to Mars .


Siding Spring Comet en Route to Mars

Merger of Swift UVOT images from 27-29 May 2014. Sunlight reflected from comet

dust produces most of the light here and appears yellow; violet shows ultraviolet

light produced by hydroxyl (OH)     Image: NASA/Swift/D. Bodewits (UMD), DSS


NASA's Swift satellite recently imaged comet Siding Spring,

due to pass  close to Mars later this year. The optical and

ultraviolet images reveal how rapidly the comet is

producing water and will allow astronomers to estimate

its size. The comet comes closest to Mars on 19 October at

a distance of 86,000 miles (138,000 km). Gas and dust in its

outer atmosphere ( coma ) will interact with the atmosphere

of Mars.


September 2014

Rosetta Arrives at Destination Comet!

Image credit: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team

After a 10 year journey ESA's Rosetta is now orbiting

Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko "After 10 years,

5 months and 4 days traveling towards our destination,

looping around the Sun 5 times and clocking up

6.4 billion km, we are delighted to announce finally

'We are here' "

 - Jean-Jacques Dordain, Director General of ESA

Watch Rosetta's arrival and orbit entry courtesy of ESA


Rosetta - Just Days Away from Comet!

image credit: ESA

Follow ESA's Rosetta blog here for daily updates .


Close encounter with Asteroid 

on Sunday 6 September 2014

An asteroid discovered on 31 August will fly past

Earth well within the orbit of the Moon on Sunday

7 September ( NASA )

Watch live at the Slooh Observatory Here !


August 2014

Gas Streamer Eclipses Supermassive

Black Hole

image Credit: NASA, ESA, and A. Feild (STScI)

Active galaxies host supermassive black holes in their

cores. These galaxies are too far away to be imaged

directly, so astronomers use X-ray and ultraviolet

spectroscopy to infer what is happening nearby.

An international team of astronomers has discovered

unexpected behaviour from the supermassive black

hole in galaxy NGC 5548. Researchers detected a

clumpy gas stream flowing rapidly outward, blocking

90 percent of its emitted X-rays.


ISSpresso Coffee Machine for ISS

From November, astronauts on board the ISS will be able

to brew hot espresso coffee for the first time.

Lavazza & Argotec created the ISSpresso in collaboration

with the Italian Space Agency. The ISSpresso's arrival is

timed to coincide with the launch of ESA astronaut

Samantha Cristoforetti, the first Italian woman in space

and also the first to enjoy a real Italian espresso in orbit.


Mars Rover Images Solar Transit

Image shows five versions of Curiosity images made about one hour

apart on June 3, 2014 - Two sunspots, each about the diameter of Earth,

also appear. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/Texas A&M

NASA's Curiosity Mars Rover has imaged the planet

Mercury passing in front of the sun, visible as a faint

darkening in the animated blink comparison above.

This is the first transit of the sun by a planet observed

from any planet other than Earth and the first imaging

of Mercury from Mars. Mercury follows the expected

path based on orbital calculations.


UK Consultation on Leap Seconds

Greenwich Mean Time

The UK government has launched a public consultation on

the future of leap seconds. This has potential impacts on

several areas of astronomy and geophysics.

Anyone wishing to contribute can familiarise themselves

with background information and take the survey to submit

their evidence. More info from the RAS. 

Reprieve for JMCT Telescope?

Image credit: JCMT / Joint Astronomy Centre

The James Clerk Maxwell Telescope (JCMT), the largest

sub-millimetre telescope in the world, which was under

threat due to cuts to the UK science budget, may now

continue operations. The JMCT is sited in Mauna Kea in

Hawaii and is a UK-led project that saw first light in 1987.

A planned new partnership may see ownership transfer

to the University of Hawaii.

A full report is available from the RAS.


June 2014


Comet Quietening as Rosetta Closes In

comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko on 30 April

comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko on 4 June


A recent image by Rosetta’s scientific camera shows its

target comet has quietened. There is no sign of the dust

cloud seen at the end of April. ESA reports that the comet's

brightness has also dropped significantly. “The comet is

now almost within our reach – and teaching us to expect

the unexpected,” said Principal Investigator Holger Sierks.

On 6 August  Rosetta will be 100 km from the comet and

will begin a series of manoeuvres to bring it in closer still.


Enthusiasts Communicate with

Abandoned Spacecraft ISEE-3

Image credit: ISEE-3 Reboot Project

A group of space enthusiasts have re-established two-way

communication with the International Sun-Earth Explorer 3

(ISEE-3), a NASA satellite used to study solar winds in the

80s. Their plan is to contact the spacecraft, fire its engines

to enter an orbit near Earth and resume its mission. The

team hopes it may even be able to chase another comet.

ISEE-3 has been renamed the International Comet

Explorer (ICE).

NASA  statement here

Article from 1986 about the future of ISEE-3


NASA's IRIS Observes Gigantic

Eruption of Solar Material

Image Credit: NASA/LMSAL/IRIS/SDO/Goddard

Earlier this month, a coronal mass ejection (CME)

was filmed in extraordinary detail by NASA's newest

solar observatory (IRIS). Watch the footage to see how

a 'curtain of solar material' erupts at speeds of

1.5 million miles per hour .


Lunar Tide Observed from Orbit

Image Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Centerv

Data from two NASA missions have been used to observe

how the Lunar Body Tide changes position in response

to Earth’s movements. The 'tide' is more difficult to detect

because the Moon is solid except for its small core.

However a bulge of about 51cm can be detected on the

near side of the Moon and a similar one on the far side.

The side facing Earth appears to wobble


Jupiter's Red Spot is Shrinking

More Rapidly

Image Credit: NASA/ESA: Images of Jupiter's Great Red Spot, taken by the

Hubble Space Telescope over  20 years, shows the red spot decreasing in size.

NASA's Hubble Telescope shows Jupiter's great red

spot is smaller than ever measured. The  images suggest

the red spot's size is decreasing more rapidly.


ISS Blue Dot Mission Begins


ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst  arrived at the ISS for

a 6 month scientific mission. Expedition 40/41 was

launched from Kazakhstan 6 hours earlier on 28 May.

Russian cosmonaut Maxim Viktorovich Surayev and

NASA astronaut Gregory Reid Wiseman were also

on board. Alexander has 100 experiments planned for

his 'Blue Dot Mission'. You can keep up to date here .

You can also follow Alexander's blog here.


May 2014

First Scottish satellite launched !

More here - here & here


Earthquake Rattles Dish at Arecibo

Image credit: DR Wingo

Footage of 28 May Aricebo earthquake on Youtube.

Cameraman (Dennis Ray Wingo) : 'Watch at the end,

when the light fixture in the upper left starts vibrating.

I turned the video off because I was more concerned

with holding on than eternal fame.'



British Scientists Share Shaw Prize

in Astronomy

Image: SDSS telescope in the Sacramento Mountains.
Credit:  Fermilab Visual Media Services

Prof John Peacock (University of Edinburgh), Prof Shaun

Cole (Durham University) and Prof Daniel Eisenstein

(Harvard University) share the Shaw Prize for Astronomy

2014 their work on the Two-degree Field Galaxy Redshift

Survey (2dFGRS) and the Sloan Digital Sky Survey

Info on the  Sloan Digital Sky Survey here

Info on the Two-degree Field Galaxy Redshift Survey here


A Square Hole in the Sun !

Image credit NASA

A Square hole was detected in the Sun (7 - 5 May) by

Nasa`s Solar Dynamics Observation .

Open magnetic field lines caused this effect and pushed

high speed plasma streams into space .

See Video here


Earth Spores Could Become Alien

Invaders to Mars

Credit: DLR, Institute of Aerospace Medicine / Dr Gerda Horneck



Experiments from the ISS suggests  micro-organisms could

survive conditions in space and be transferred to other

planets via inter-planetary missions or by travelling aboard

space rocks. An article detailing three recently published

papers is available here from


Does it Rain Moon Dust on Pluto?

NASA's New Horizons probe. Image credit NASA/JPL-Caltech

 A recent computer simulation suggests Pluto's dark

equator may be the result of loose dust from its small

moons. NASA's New Horizons probe, due to pass Pluto

en route to the Kuiper Belt in 2015 will test this idea.


New Sign Words Describe

Astronomical Terms

Over 90 British Sign Language (BSL) signs have been

especially created to describe astronomical terms in

a project funded by the Scottish government.

See the signs for yourself on the Scottish Sensory Website


Space X Dragon Returns to Earth


The Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft launched

from Cape Canaveral on 14 April. Dragon is due to return on

18 May. Webcasts, updates and images can be seen here.

Information about the spacecraft can be found here:

SpaceX's Dragon was the first commercial spacecraft  to

deliver cargo to the ISS and return cargo safely to Earth.

Its first manned test flight is planned for 2 to 3 years time.


Astronaut Tests for Asteroid EVA


Johnson Space Center's Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory was

scene of a recent test of NASA's MACES spacesuit which is

being developed for spacewalks on a future asteroid

exploration mission. The simulated spacewalk included a

model of the robotic spacecraft (Orion), which will be used

to capture an asteroid and bring it into orbit near the Moon.

Astronauts also tested possible mission handtools.


Goodbye Professor Pillinger

We were sorry to hear that Professor Colin Pillinger , former

Professor in Planetary Sciences at the Open University and

father of Beagle 2  has passed away .

Tributes to Prof. Pillinger can be found on the

BBC News Website .

The Beagle 2 Model on this website was produced

after Prof. Pillinger kindly agreed to forward plans and

background Information on the probe .


Why ‘Starbursts’ Occur when

Galaxies Collide

Image credit F. Renaud / CEA-Sap

A team of French astrophysicists have used computer

simulations to explain  why surges of star formation occur

when galaxies collide. The collision changes turbulence in

the galactic gas, making compression more likely. The

excess of dense gas collapses into stars – and both

galaxies experience a starburst.

The simulated Milky Way type galaxy needed 12 million

hours on the supercomputer Curie over 12 months. 



Could Lightning Bolts Trigger Life

on Exo-planets?

Image Credit: Martin Rietze  taken from NASA Picture of the Day:

Why does a volcanic eruption sometimes create lightning?

The LEAP-Project (Life, Electricity, Atmosphere, Planets)

at the University of St Andrews is researching how lightning

might occur in extrasolar planetary atmospheres and hopes

to learn more about the role lightning could play in creating

building blocks for life.

Info and further links from the University of St Andrews here.

Solar Winds Link to Lightning on Earth

Image credit Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Researchers at The University of Reading have discovered

new evidence to suggest that lightning on Earth is triggered

not only by cosmic rays from space but also by energetic

particles from the Sun.



24 May : New Meteor Shower

Image credit NASA / JPL / Horizons

A new meteor shower from Comet 209P / LINEAR

is expected from 8.00 - 10.00 am (BST) on 24 May

The shower can be observed in the UK with HAM / Jove

based radio telescopes.  Astronomers in N America can

observe with the naked eye.

 Peak activity may be more than 100 meteors per hour,

radiating from a point near the borders of Lynx, Ursa Major

and Camelopardalis. Comet 209P / LINEAR was discovered

in 2004 and orbits the Sun every 5.09 years.


Please click here to listen to meteors and find out

how to start your own inexpensive radio observatory ...

A further link with suggested frequencies here ...


Design a UK Space Dinner

Image credit UK Space Agency

The UK Space Agency is asking school children to

design a balanced and exciting meal for British ESA

astronaut Tim Peake to eat during his 6 month mission

to the International Space Station (ISS)


Eta Aquarid Shower

Image credit NASA/JPL-Caltech

An annual meteor shower caused by debris from

Haley's Comet reaches its peak on 5 to 7 May.

Watch the shooting stars for yourself or visit webcasts

available from NASA or the SLOOH telescope. The

article at includes a quiz to test your

meteor knowledge

Background information on shooting stars here


'Bus Sized' Asteroid passes close

to Earth

Image credit NASA/JPL-Caltech

A recently discovered asteroid (2014 HL129) came within

186 000 miles of Earth on Saturday (3 May). The average

distance between Earth and the Moon is about 239 000


NASA's Asteroid and Comet Watch website gives up to

date news or download the Asteroid Watch Widget for

info on the next 5 asteroid / comet  approaches to Earth.



April 2014


First 'Habitable' Earth-Sized Planet Discovered

Image credit: NASA Ames/SETI Institute/JPL-CalTech

The discovery of the first Earth-sized exoplanet orbiting

within the habitable zone of another star has been

confirmed by observations made by the Keck and

Gemini Observatories.


UK Martian Surface to Test Rover

The 'Mars Yard' opened in Stevenage (UK) comes

complete with sand and rocky obstacles to provide

realistic training for ESA's ExoMars rover which will be

launched in 2018. 

An ESA Workshop held recently chose

four possible landing sites for the mission .

See Shetland`s own " Mars Rover Simulation" here ...


New Sign Words Describe

Astronomical Terms

Over 90 British Sign Language (BSL) signs have been

especially created to describe astronomical terms in

a project funded by the Scottish government.

See the signs for yourself on the Scottish Sensory Website


LADEE Impacts on Moon's Surface

image credit: NASA

NASA's Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer

(LADEE) crashed intentionally into the lunar surface last

Thursday (17 April).  LADEE gathered data about  the  lunar

atmosphere and used NASA’s first dedicated system for

two-way laser communication.


Scottish Students Try Out Life on Mars

Two students from the University of Strathclyde spent two

weeks at the Mars Desert Research Centre in Utah, to

experience conditions similar to those on Mars.


ISS 'Plants in Space' Mission

image credit: NASA

Javier Medina from the Spanish CSIC introduces

experiments with plants on board the International

Space Station and explains why we need

greenhouses in space


March 2014


Hubble's 24th Birthday Photo

Image credit: Hubble

To celebrate Hubble`s 24 years in orbit, a new image of the

Monkey Head Nebula (found in the constellation of Orion)

has been released.


New UK Funding Announced for Square

Kilometre Array Telescope (SKA)

Image credit: SKA

The SKA telescope under development in  South Africa

and Australia has its HQ in Jodrell Bank (Manchester).

The UK Government has announced £113 million of new

funding to support UK involvement in what will be the the

world's most powerful radio telescope to date.


New Scottish Centre of Excellence

in Satellite Applications

Image credit: STFC

Edinburgh has been named as one of three UK hubs to

offer scientific support to businesses in the use of satellite

data. The Centre will also provide access to satellite testing

facilities .


Mars Express : Lava Flows on Mars

Mars Express beams back images of ancient lava flows

in the Deadalia Planum which give clues about geological

processes on Mars .


Students : Your Chance to Attend the

International Astronautics Congress

In Toronto !

ESA is offering sponsorship for european students to

attend the IAC in Toronto later this year .

Applications to be submitted by 30 April 2014 !

More here .


Star Tigers Autofocus System

ESA`s Star Tiger team develops an autofocus system for future

space telescopes .


New Approach to Tracking Satellites

Europe develops a new system "SARAS" for more

accurate tracking of satelites at launch .


Gaia Test Image Success !

" Gaia's goal is to create the most accurate map yet

of the Milky Way. "


February 2014


ESA to Build Observatory in Space:


As part of its 2015-2025 Cosmic Vision programme ESA

plans to build PLATO - a space observatory to monitor

nearby stars for signs of exoplanets .


Mission Aurora : from Europe to Mars

ESA`s Aurora programme is a long - term plan to support

European robotic and manned missions to search for life

within our Solar System


Sentinel-1 is Put Through its Paces

Sentinel - 1 is ESA`s new Earth weather monitoring system

consisting of two satellites to provide high and medium

definition data .

The new system will go live in the next few weeks .


January 2014


"Jelly Doughnut!"    Appears on Mars


ESA Gaia Star Surveyor Reaches Orbit


 December 2013            



   China`s Rover Yutu begins Lunar Mission

     Chang' e-3 Chinese Lunar Rover Mission lands on the Moon

   Chang' e-3 Chinese Lunar Rover Mission



October 2013

A strange lonely planet found without a star

More info here !

August 2013

Free-floating planets may be born free

More info here !