Canadian Robotic Arm Installs U.S. Cygnus Cargo Ship to Station

Northrop Grumman – NG-10 CRS Cygnus patch.

November 19, 2018

The Northrop Grumman Cygnus cargo ship was bolted into place on the International Space Station’s Earth-facing port of the Unity module at 7:31 a.m. EST. The spacecraft will spend about three months attached to the space station before departing in February 2019. After it leaves the station, the uncrewed spacecraft will deploy several CubeSats before its fiery re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere as it disposes of several tons of trash.

Image above: The International Space Station heads into an orbital sunset as the Canadarm2 robotic arm guides the Cygnus space freighter to its installation point on the Unity module. Image Credit: NASA TV.

The spacecraft’s arrival brings close to 7,400 pounds of research and supplies to space station. Highlights of NASA-sponsored research to advance exploration goals and enable future missions to the Moon and Mars include:

Sensory input in microgravity

Changes in sensory input in microgravity may be misinterpreted and cause a person to make errors in estimation of velocity, distance or orientation. VECTION examines this effect as well as whether people adapt to altered sensory input on long-duration missions and how that adaptation changes upon return to Earth. Using a virtual reality display, astronauts estimate the distance to an object, length of an object and orientation of their bodies in space. Tests are conducted before, during and after flight. The investigation is named for a visual illusion of self-movement, called vection, which occurs when an individual is still but sees the world moving past, according to principal investigator Laurence Harris. The Canadian Space Agency (CSA) sponsors the investigation:

Solidifying cement in space

The MVP-Cell 05 investigation uses a centrifuge to provide a variable gravity environment to study the complex process of cement solidification, a step toward eventually making and using concrete on extraterrestrial bodies. These tests are a follow-on to the previous studies known as Microgravity Investigation of Cement Solidification (MICS), which studied cement solidification in microgravity.  Together, these tests will help engineers better understand the microstructure and material properties of cement, leading to design of safer, lightweight space habitats and improving cement processing techniques on Earth. This investigation is sponsored by NASA:

NG CRS-10: SS John Young Cygnus capture

Investigations sponsored by the U.S. National Laboratory on the space station, which Congress designated in 2005 to maximize its use for improving quality of life on Earth, include:

From stardust to solar systems

Much of the universe was created when dust from star-based processes clumped into intermediate-sized particles and eventually became planets, moons and other objects. Many questions remain as to just how this worked, though. The EXCISS investigation seeks answers by simulating the high-energy, low gravity conditions that were present during formation of the early solar system. Scientists plan to zap a specially formulated dust with an electrical current, then study the shape and texture of pellets formed:

Principal investigator Tamara Koch explains that the dust is made up of particles of forsterite (Mg2SiO4), the main mineral in many meteorites and related to olivine, also known as the gemstone peridot. The particles are about the diameter of a human hair.

Image above: Cygnus berthed on ISS, seen by EarthCam on ISS, speed: 27’563 Km/h, altitude: 415,07 Km, image captured by Roland Berga (on Earth in Switzerland) from International Space Station (ISS) using ISS-HD Live application with EarthCam’s from ISS on November 19, 2018 at 18:20 UTC. Image Credits: Aerospace/Roland Berga.

Growing crystals to fight Parkinson’s disease

The CASIS PCG-16 investigation grows large crystals of an important protein, Leucine-rich repeat kinase 2, or LRRK2, in microgravity for analysis back on Earth. This protein is implicated in development of Parkinson’s disease, and improving our knowledge of its structure may help scientists better understand the pathology of the disease and develop therapies to treat it. Crystals of LRRK2 grown in gravity are too small and too compact to study, making microgravity an essential part of this research:

NG CRS-10: SS John Young Cygnus berthing

Better gas separation membranes

Membranes represent one of the most energy-efficient and cost-effective technologies for separating and removing carbon dioxide from waste gases, thereby reducing greenhouse gas emissions. CEMSICA tests membranes made from particles of calcium-silicate (C-S) with pores 100 nanometers or smaller. Producing these membranes in microgravity may resolve some of the challenges of their manufacture on Earth and lead to development of lower-cost, more durable membranes that use less energy. The technology ultimately may help reduce the harmful effects of CO2 emissions on the planet:

Related links:

Expedition 57:

Canadian Space Agency (CSA):

U.S. National Laboratory:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

Image (mentioned), Videos, Text, Credits: NASA/Marck Garcia/NASA TV/SciNews/ Aerospace/Roland Berga.

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Hellenistic inscription found in northwestern Turkey

Searching through an ancient villa in northwestern Turkey, Turkish archaeologists have uncovered an inscription dating back some 2,200 years.

Hellenistic inscription found in northwestern Turkey
Credit: AA

Lead excavator Gurcan Polat of Ege University said the dig in the ancient Greek city of Antandros in the northwestern Balikesir province was carried out in two areas, including a Roman-style villa on a hillside.

“We’ve been excavating this villa since 2001,” in a dig co-organized by the Culture and Tourism Ministry and Edremit Municipality, he told Anadolu Agency.

“During this year’s dig, we found a well that we think belonged to the house,” which is where the 22-line inscription emerged, he added.

The inscription has an official decree and was sent to experts, but some of it was unreadable and needed more study.

It includes “a text about honouring and giving privileges to a commander who was sent to Antandros by King Eumenes I of Pergamon and [King] Attalos.”

Source: Anadolu Agency [November 19, 2018]



ESO’s VLT captures details of an elaborate serpentine system sculpted by colliding stellar winds

ESO – European Southern Observatory logo.

19 November 2018

Coils of Apep

The VISIR instrument on ESO’s Very Large Telescope has captured this stunning image of a newly discovered massive triple star system. Nicknamed Apep after an ancient Egyptian deity, this may be the first ever gamma-ray burst progenitor found.

This serpentine swirl, captured by the VISIR instrument on ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT), has an explosive future ahead of it; it is a Wolf-Rayet star system, and a likely source of one of the most energetic phenomena in the Universe — a long-duration gamma-ray burst (GRB).

“This is the first such system to be discovered in our own galaxy,” explains Joseph Callingham of the Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy (ASTRON), lead author of the study reporting this system. “We never expected to find such a system in our own backyard” [1].

Apep in the constellation of Norma

The system, which comprises a nest of massive stars surrounded by a “pinwheel” of dust, is  officially known only by unwieldy catalogue references like 2XMM J160050.7-514245. However, the astronomers chose to give this fascinating object a catchier moniker — “Apep”.

Apep got its nickname for its sinuous shape, reminiscent of a snake coiled around the central stars. Its namesake was an ancient Egyptian deity, a gargantuan serpent embodying chaos — fitting for such a violent system. It was believed that Ra, the Sun god, would battle with Apep every night; prayer and worship ensured Ra’s victory and the return of the Sun.

Digitized Sky Survey image around Apep

GRBs are among the most powerful explosions in the Universe. Lasting between a few thousandths of a second and a few hours, they can release as much energy as the Sun will output over its entire lifetime. Long-duration GRBs — those which last for longer than 2 seconds — are believed to be caused by the supernova explosions of rapidly-rotating Wolf-Rayet stars.

Some of the most massive stars evolve into Wolf-Rayet stars towards the end of their lives. This stage is short-lived, and Wolf-Rayets survive in this state for only a few hundred thousand years — the blink of an eye in cosmological terms. In that time, they throw out huge amounts of material in the form of a powerful stellar wind, hurling matter outwards at millions of kilometres per hour; Apep’s stellar winds were measured to travel at an astonishing 12 million km/h.

These stellar winds have created the elaborate plumes surrounding the triple star system — which consists of a binary star system and a companion single star bound together by gravity. Though only two star-like objects are visible in the image, the lower source is in fact an unresolved binary Wolf-Rayet star. This binary is responsible for sculpting the serpentine swirls surrounding Apep, which are formed in the wake of the colliding stellar winds from the two Wolf-Rayet stars.

Zooming in on Apep

Compared to the extraordinary speed of Apep’s winds, the dust pinwheel itself swirls outwards at a leisurely pace, “crawling” along at less than 2 million km/h. The wild discrepancy between the speed of Apep’s rapid stellar winds and that of the unhurried dust pinwheel is thought to result from one of the stars in the binary launching both a fast and a slow wind — in different directions.

This would imply that the star is undergoing near-critical rotation — that is, rotating so fast that it is nearly ripping itself apart. A Wolf-Rayet star with such rapid rotation is believed to produce a long-duration GRB when its core collapses at the end of its life.


[1] Callingham, now at the Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy (ASTRON), did part of this research while at the University of Sydney working with research team leader Peter Tuthill. In addition to observations from ESO telescopes, the team also used the Anglo-Australian Telescope at Siding Spring Observatory, Australia.

More information:

This research was presented in a paper entitled “Anisotropic winds in Wolf-Rayet binary identify potential gamma-ray burst progenitor” which appeared in Nature Astronomy on 19 November 2018.

The team was composed of: J. R. Callingham (ASTRON, Dwingeloo, the Netherlands), P. G. Tuthill (Sydney Institute for Astronomy [SIfA], University of Sydney, Australia), B. J. S. Pope (SIfA; Center for Cosmology and Particle Physics, New York University, USA; NASA Sagan Fellow), P. M. Williams (Institute for Astronomy, University of Edinburgh, UK), P. A. Crowther (Department of Physics & Astronomy, University of Sheffield, UK), M. Edwards (SIfA), B. Norris (SIfA), and L. Kedziora-Chudczer (School of Physics, University of New South Wales, Australia).

ESO is the foremost intergovernmental astronomy organisation in Europe and the world’s most productive ground-based astronomical observatory by far. It has 16 Member States: Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, along with the host state of Chile and with Australia as a Strategic Partner. ESO carries out an ambitious programme focused on the design, construction and operation of powerful ground-based observing facilities enabling astronomers to make important scientific discoveries. ESO also plays a leading role in promoting and organising cooperation in astronomical research. ESO operates three unique world-class observing sites in Chile: La Silla, Paranal and Chajnantor. At Paranal, ESO operates the Very Large Telescope and its world-leading Very Large Telescope Interferometer as well as two survey telescopes, VISTA working in the infrared and the visible-light VLT Survey Telescope. ESO is also a major partner in two facilities on Chajnantor, APEX and ALMA, the largest astronomical project in existence. And on Cerro Armazones, close to Paranal, ESO is building the 39-metre Extremely Large Telescope, the ELT, which will become “the world’s biggest eye on the sky”.


ESOcast 185 Light: Cosmic Serpent:

Research paper:

Photos of the VLT:

Behind the Paper blog post:

ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT):



Anglo-Australian Telescope:

Siding Spring Observatory:

Images, Text, Credits: ESO/Calum Turner/ASTRON/Joseph Callingham/IAU and Sky & Telescope/Digitized Sky Survey 2. Acknowledgment: Davide De Martin/Video: ESO/Digitized Sky Survey 2/N. Risinger ( Music: astral electronic.

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