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    • By European Space Agency
      Video: 00:03:29 Mission complete. ESA’s second European Remote Sensing (ERS-2) satellite has reentered Earth’s atmosphere over the North Pacific Ocean. The satellite returned at 18:17 CET (17:17 UTC) between Alaska and Hawaii.
      ERS-2 was launched almost 30 years ago, on 21 April 1995. Together with ERS-1, it provided invaluable long-term data on Earth’s land surfaces, ocean temperatures, ozone layer and polar ice extent that revolutionised our understanding of the Earth system.
      ERS-2’s reentry was ‘natural’. ESA used the last of its fuel, emptied its batteries and lowered the satellite from its altitude of 785 km to 573 km. This reduced the risk of collision with other satellites and space debris. As a result, it was not possible to control ERS-2 at any point during its reentry and the only force driving its descent was unpredictable atmospheric drag.
      As well as leaving a remarkable legacy of data that still continue to advance science, this outstanding mission set the stage for many of today’s satellites and ESA’s position at the forefront of Earth observation.
      The ERS-2 reentry is part of ESA's wider efforts to ensure the long-term sustainability of space activities. These include ESA's Clean Space initiative which promotes the development of new technologies for more sustainable space missions in collaboration with the wider European space community, as well as the Zero Debris Approach, which will even further reduce the debris left in both Earth and lunar orbits by future missions.
      View the full article
    • By NASA
      3 min read
      What’s Made in a Thunderstorm and Faster Than Lightning? Gamma Rays!
      A flash of lightning. A roll of thunder. These are normal stormy sights and sounds. But sometimes, up above the clouds, stranger things happen. Our Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope has spotted bursts of gamma rays – some of the highest-energy forms of light in the universe – coming from thunderstorms. Gamma rays are usually found coming from objects with crazy extreme physics like neutron stars and black holes. So why is Fermi seeing them come from thunderstorms?
      About a thousand times a day, thunderstorms fire off fleeting bursts of some of the highest-energy light naturally found on Earth. These events, called terrestrial gamma-ray flashes, last less than a millisecond and produce gamma rays with tens of millions of times the energy of visible light. NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center Thunderstorms form when warm, damp air near the ground starts to rise and encounters colder air. As the warm air rises, moisture condenses into water droplets. The upward-moving water droplets bump into downward-moving ice crystals, stripping off electrons and creating a static charge in the cloud.
      Updrafts and downdrafts within thunderstorms force rain, snow and ice to collide and acquire an electrical charge, which can cause lightning. Under just the right conditions, the fast-moving electrons can create a terrestrial gamma-ray flash. NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center The top of the storm becomes positively charged, and the bottom becomes negatively charged, like two ends of a battery. Eventually the opposite charges build enough to overcome the insulating properties of the surrounding air – and zap! You get lightning.
      This illustration shows electrons accelerating upwards from a thunderhead. NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center Scientists suspect that lightning reconfigures the cloud’s electrical field. In some cases, this allows electrons to rush toward the upper part of the storm at nearly the speed of light. That makes thunderstorms the most powerful natural particle accelerators on Earth!
      Interactions with matter can produce gamma rays and vice versa, as shown here in this illustration. High-energy electrons traveling close to the speed of light can be deflected by passing near an atom or molecule, producing a gamma ray. And a gamma ray passing through the electron shell of an atom transforms into two particles: an electron and a positron. NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center When those electrons run into air molecules, they emit a terrestrial gamma-ray flash, which means that thunderstorms are creating some of the highest energy forms of light in the universe. But that’s not all – thunderstorms can also produce antimatter! Yep, you read that correctly! Sometimes, a gamma ray will run into an atom and produce an electron and a positron, which is an electron’s antimatter opposite!
      NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope, illustrated here, scans the entire sky every three hours as it orbits Earth. NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center Conceptual Image Lab Fermi can spot terrestrial gamma-ray flashes within 500 miles (800 kilometers) of the location directly below the spacecraft. It does this using an instrument called the Gamma-ray Burst Monitor which is primarily used to watch for spectacular flashes of gamma rays coming from the universe.
      Visualization of ten years of Fermi observations of terrestrial gamma-ray flashes. NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center There are an estimated 1,800 thunderstorms occurring on Earth at any given moment. Over its first 10 years in space, Fermi spotted about 5,000 terrestrial gamma-ray flashes. But scientists estimate that there are 1,000 of these flashes every day – we’re just seeing the ones that are within 500 miles of Fermi’s regular orbits, which don’t cover the U.S. or Europe.
      The map above shows all the flashes Fermi saw between 2008 and 2018. (Notice there’s a blob missing over the lower part of South America. That’s the South Atlantic Anomaly, a portion of the sky where radiation affects spacecraft and causes data glitches.)
      Storm clouds produce some of the highest-energy light naturally made on Earth: terrestrial gamma-ray flashes. The tropical disturbance that would later become Hurricane Julio in 2014 produced four flashes within 100 minutes, with a fifth the next day. NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center Fermi has also spotted terrestrial gamma-ray flashes coming from individual tropical weather systems. In 2014 Tropical Storm Julio produced four flashes in just 100 minutes!

      Last Updated Feb 05, 2024 Related Terms
      Black Holes Earth Extreme Weather Events Fermi Gamma-Ray Space Telescope Gamma Rays Gamma-Ray Bursts Neutron Stars The Universe Weather and Atmospheric Dynamics Explore More
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    • By European Space Agency
      Throughout its 16-year working life, the second European Remote Sensing satellite, ERS-2, returned a wealth of information that revolutionised our perspective of our planet and understanding of climate change. As well as leaving a remarkable legacy of data that still continue to advance science, this outstanding mission set the stage for many of today’s satellites and ESA’s position at the forefront of Earth observation.
      In 2011, ESA retired ERS-2 and began the process of deorbiting – and now it’s time for this pioneering satellite to reenter the atmosphere naturally and start to burn up.
      View the full article
    • By European Space Agency
      The first commercial flights of a programme that uses Iris satellite technology to help modernise air traffic management and reduce carbon emissions have taken place.
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    • By NASA
      4 min read
      NASA Collaborating on European-led Gravitational Wave Observatory in Space
      The LISA (Laser Interferometer Space Antenna) mission, led by ESA (European Space Agency) with NASA contributions, will detect gravitational waves in space using three spacecraft, separated by more than a million miles, flying in a triangular formation. Lasers fired between the satellites, shown in this artist’s concept, will measure how gravitational waves alter their relative distances. AEI/MM/Exozet The first space-based observatory designed to detect gravitational waves has passed a major review and will proceed to the construction of flight hardware. On Jan. 25, ESA (European Space Agency), announced the formal adoption of LISA, the Laser Interferometer Space Antenna, to its mission lineup, with launch slated for the mid-2030s. ESA leads the mission, with NASA serving as a collaborative partner.
      “In 2015, the ground-based LIGO observatory cracked open the window into gravitational waves, disturbances that sweep across space-time, the fabric of our universe,” said Mark Clampin, director of the Astrophysics Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “LISA will give us a panoramic view, allowing us to observe a broad range of sources both within our galaxy and far, far beyond it. We’re proud to be part of this international effort to open new avenues to explore the secrets of the universe.”
      The LISA mission will enable observations of gravitational waves produced by merging supermassive black holes, seen here in a computer simulation. Most big galaxies contain central black holes weighing millions of times the mass of our Sun. When these galaxies collide, eventually their black holes do too. Download high-resolution video from NASA’s Scientific Visualization Studio. Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/Scott Noble; simulation data, d’Ascoli et al. 2018 NASA will provide several key components of LISA’s instrument suite along with science and engineering support. NASA contributions include lasers, telescopes, and devices to reduce disturbances from electromagnetic charges. LISA will use this equipment as it measures precise distance changes, caused by gravitational waves, over millions of miles in space. ESA will provide the spacecraft and oversee the international team during the development and operation of the mission.
      Gravitational waves were predicted by Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity more than a century ago. They are produced by accelerating masses, such as a pair of orbiting black holes. Because these waves remove orbital energy, the distance between the objects gradually shrinks over millions of years, and they ultimately merge.
      These ripples in the fabric of space went undetected until 2015, when LIGO, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory, funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation, measured gravitational waves from the merger of two black holes. This discovery furthered a new field of science called “multimessenger astronomy” in which gravitational waves could be used in conjunction with the other cosmic “messengers” – light and particles – to observe the universe in new ways.
      Along with other ground-based facilities, LIGO has since observed dozens more black hole mergers, as well as mergers of neutron stars and neutron star-black hole systems. So far, the black holes detected through gravitational waves have been relatively small, with masses of tens to perhaps a hundred times that of our Sun. But scientists think that mergers of much more massive black holes were common when the universe was young, and only a space-based observatory could be sensitive to gravitational waves from them.
      “LISA is designed to sense low-frequency gravitational waves that instruments on Earth cannot detect,” said Ira Thorpe, the NASA study scientist for the mission at the agency’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “These sources encompass tens of thousands of small binary systems in our own galaxy, as well as massive black holes merging as galaxies collided in the early universe.”
      Gravitational waves from a simulated population of compact binary systems in our galaxy were used to construct this synthetic map of the entire sky. Such systems contain white dwarfs, neutron stars, or black holes in tight orbits. Maps like this using real data will be possible once the LISA mission becomes active in the next decade. The center of our Milky Way galaxy lies at the center of this all-sky view, with the galactic plane extending across the middle. Brighter spots indicate sources with stronger gravitational signals and lighter colors indicate those with higher frequencies. Larger colored patches show sources whose positions are less well known. NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center LISA will consist of three spacecraft flying in a vast triangular formation that follows Earth in its orbit around the Sun. Each arm of the triangle stretches 1.6 million miles (2.5 million kilometers). The spacecraft will track internal test masses affected only by gravity. At the same time, they’ll continuously fire lasers to measure their separations to within a span smaller than the size of a helium atom. Gravitational waves from sources throughout the universe will produce oscillations in the lengths of the triangle’s arms, and LISA will capture these changes.
      The underlying measurement technology was successfully demonstrated in space with ESA’s LISA Pathfinder mission, which operated between 2015 and 2017 and also included NASA participation. The spacecraft demonstrated the exquisite control and precise laser measurements needed for LISA.
      By Francis Reddy
      NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.
      Media contacts:
      Alise Fisher
      Headquarters, Washington
      (202) 358-2546
      Claire Andreoli
      NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.
      (301) 286-1940

      Last Updated Jan 25, 2024 Related Terms
      Astrophysics Black Holes Galaxies, Stars, & Black Holes Goddard Space Flight Center Gravitational Waves Jet Propulsion Laboratory Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory (LIGO) LISA (Laser Interferometer Space Antenna) Stellar-mass Black Holes Supermassive Black Holes The Universe Uncategorized Explore More
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