The colour sphere of the Sun

This colourful image is a ‘chromosphere flash spectrum’ captured during the total solar eclipse that occurred across the United States on 21 August 2017. It was taken by ESA’s expedition team who monitored the eclipse from Casper, Wyoming.

During an eclipse, when the Moon temporarily obscures the overwhelming light from the Sun’s photosphere, astronomers can make unique measurements. This includes analysing the normally invisible red hue of the chromosphere, the layer of the Sun’s atmosphere directly above the turbulent surface of the photosphere.

Such an image can be obtained with the last and first light of the solar limb just before and after the eclipse totality, respectively, giving rise to the name ‘flash’ spectrum as the measurements have to be completed in a matter of seconds.

At this moment the Sun’s emission can be split into a spectrum of colours, showing the fingerprint of different chemical elements.

The flash spectrum shown here was produced by the very first solar limb observable after the totality. The exposure to capture this image was exactly 1/30 s. An image of the eclipsed Sun is produced at left and the spectrum of each point of the Sun superposed at the right.

The strongest emission is due to hydrogen, including red hydrogen-alpha emission at far right, and blue and purple to the left. In between, the bright yellow corresponds to helium, an element only discovered in a flash spectrum captured during the 18 August 1868 total eclipse, although it was then unknown what it was. Nearly three decades later the element was discovered on Earth and helium is now known to be the second most abundant element in the Universe, after hydrogen.

The image was taken by astronomers from the Cesar science educational project based at ESA’s European Space Astronomy Centre near Madrid in Spain. More eclipse images and technical information via the Cesar eclipse website.

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Sagaing Division, Myanmar

The Copernicus Sentinel-1A satellite brings us over part of the Sagaing Division in northwest Myanmar, and along the border with India.

Snaking through the image is the Chindwin River, which breached its banks during a period of severe flooding in 2015. Monsoon rains beginning that July caused multiple rivers in the region to overflow, causing widespread damage and affecting up to a million people.

This image was created using two passes by Sentinel-1’s radar: one before the flooding on 20 March 2015 and the other during the event on 4 September 2015. Combining them shows changes between the images, such as the inundation of some 111 000 hectares of land on either sides of the river bank appearing in red.

This information was then released in the form of a map under the International Charter Space and Major Disasters to assist relief efforts.

Currently led by ESA, the Charter is an international collaboration between 16 owners or operators of Earth observation missions. It provides rapid access to satellite data to help disaster management authorities in the event of a natural or man-made disaster.

Sentinel-1’s radar ability to ‘see’ through clouds, rain and in darkness makes it particularly useful for monitoring floods. 

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

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ESOC50 – Long Night of the Stars

Five decades to the day after the inauguration of ESOC, ESA's European Space Operations Centre, in Darmstadt on 8 September 1967, the centre hosted a gala open-door event dubbed 'Long Night of the Stars.' That evening, some 5000 enthusiastic visitors arrived at ESOC, ready for a fantastic night of space exploration and to take part in Darmstadt's best-ever space-themed street party. Visitors arrived from as near as the city of Darmstadt itself and as far away as Italy, and from many points in between.

Those lucky enough to have one of the long-sold-out entry tickets could enter the site and follow a carefully planned route to see some of the most critical mission control facilities, including the Main Control Room, several of the individual control rooms for missions like the Sentinels, Gaia and Cryosat, and dedicated facilities for space debris, ground stations and flight dynamics.

Volunteer experts from ESA were stationed throughout, providing explanations and answering questions on what goes on 'behind the glass' during actual operations.

One highlight was the life-size engineering replica of the famous Rosetta satellite, which was specially illuminated and staffed by the engineers who had flown the real Rosetta 800 million km away.

After the site tours, visitors could sit in on numerous expert presentations on a wide range of topics central to ESOC's role and activities within ESA, including how to conduct a launch campaign, operational alerting for space debris, how to address risks posed by solar activity and much more.

Outside, a number of hands-on activities and technology displays were hosted by teams from ESOC and ESA's European Astronaut Centre (how to control a lunar rover) and by partners from DFKI, the German Research Centre for Artificial Intelligence (rovers on Mars), the Polytechnic Institute of Milan's School of Design (connecting living in space with living on Earth) and from the AAW Darmstadt amateur astronomer society.

More information: Happy birthday ESOC

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Simulating lunar surface operations

ESA and the Canadian Space Agency are probing how to explore the Moon with a robot rover. The teams are investigating the challenges of remotely operating a rover in a representative lunar scenario with teams in several locations during 12–20 October. 

The series of Meteron (Multi-purpose End To End Robotic Operations Network) experiments is developing the skills, concepts and technologies for future exploration of the Solar System. The many challenges make it likely that machines will be used before and/or together with humans. 

The current experiment is using Canada’s Juno rover in a quarry in St Alphonse de Granby, Quebec, which has been selected because of its lunar-like landscape. Engineers at ESA’s mission control in Darmstadt, Germany, and the Canadian Space Agency are taking turns at controlling the vehicle. 

Connect with the Meteron team on Twitter via @esa_meteron

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Dragon spaceship being packed before undocking

ESA astronaut Paolo Nespoli and his crewmates from Expedition 53 were in charge of loading Dragon spacecraft for the its return to Earth, packing it with station gear and science experiments for analysis back on Earth.

The cargo left the International Space Station 17 September 08:40 CEST when ESA astronaut Paolo Nespoli and NASA Station commander Randy Bresnik released it  from the Harmony module with the support of the Canadarm2 robotic arm. Six hours later the spacecraft splashed down in the Pacific Ocean and has been retrieved together with its science and gear payload.

Follow the VITA mission:
Connect with Paolo during his six-month Vita mission via

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Galileo in smartphones

Europe’s Galileo satellite navigation system seen at work with commercially available Samsung S8+ smartphones.

The sky has been full of Galileo signals since Europe’s satnav system began Initial Services at the end of last year, and a steady stream of Galileo-ready devices is finding its way to the marketplace.

This has been underpinned with years of effort by ESA’s Navigation Laboratory, working with European manufacturers of mass-market satnav chips and receivers as well as ESA’s Galileo team in cooperation with the European Global Navigation Satellite System Agency.

Industry responded to Initial Services by making the first Galileo-enabled smartphones available to the public. The list of available devices includes phones from Apple, BQ, Huawei, Samsung and Sony. Check the Use Galileo website regularly for an up-to-date list of Galileo-ready products.

ESA’s Navigation Lab began working with manufacturers in 2013, making their facilities available for testing prototypes.

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A glimpse of the future

This image, captured by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, shows what happens when two galaxies become one. The twisted cosmic knot seen here is NGC 2623 — or Arp 243 — and is located about 250 million light-years away in the constellation of Cancer (The Crab).

NGC 2623 gained its unusual and distinctive shape as the result of a major collision and subsequent merger between two separate galaxies. This violent encounter caused clouds of gas within the two galaxies to become compressed and stirred up, in turn triggering a sharp spike of star formation. This active star formation is marked by speckled patches of bright blue; these can be seen clustered both in the centre and along the trails of dust and gas forming NGC 2623’s sweeping curves (known as tidal tails). These tails extend for roughly 50 000 light-years from end to end. Many young, hot, newborn stars form in bright stellar clusters — at least 170 such clusters are known to exist within NGC 2623.

NGC 2623 is in a late stage of merging. It is thought that the Milky Way will eventually resemble NGC 2623 when it collides with our neighbouring galaxy, the Andromeda Galaxy, in four billion years time.

In contrast to the image of NGC 2623 released in 2009 (heic0912), this new version contains data from recent narrow-band and infrared observations that make more features of the galaxy visible.

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Ireland signs up for Sentinel data

The ESA–Ireland Sentinel Collaborative Ground Segment Agreement was signed on 13 October 2017 at ESA in the Netherlands by Josef Aschbacher, ESA’s Director of Earth Observation Programmes (left) and Conor Sheehan from Enterprise Ireland (right) in the presence of John Halligan Ireland’s Minister of State for Training and Skills (centre).

Read full story: Ireland signs up to Copernicus Sentinel agreement

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Ireland signs up for Sentinel data

The ESA–Ireland Sentinel Collaborative Ground Segment Agreement was signed on 13 October 2017 at ESA in the Netherlands by Josef Aschbacher, ESA’s Director of Earth Observation Programmes (left) and Conor Sheehan from Enterprise Ireland (right) in the presence of John Halligan Ireland’s Minister of State for Training and Skills (centre).

Read full story: Ireland signs up to Copernicus Sentinel agreement

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