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Slovenia signs Association Agreement
05-07-2016 06:19 PM CEST

europeanspaceagency posted a photo:

Slovenia signs Association Agreement

Slovenian Minister of Economic Development and Technology, Zdravko Počivalšek (left), and ESA Director General Johann-Dietrich Woerner, with the Association Agreement for Slovenia at the official signing ceremony at ESA Headquarters in Paris, on 5 July 2016.

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Slovenia signs Association Agreement

Credit: ESA

Underground pool
05-07-2016 05:59 PM CEST

europeanspaceagency posted a photo:

Underground pool

Astronauts from five space agencies around the world are taking part in ESA’s CAVES training course – Cooperative Adventure for Valuing and Exercising human behaviour and performance Skills.

The two-week course prepares astronauts to work safely and effectively in multicultural teams in an environment where safety is critical.

As they explore the caves of Sardinia they will encounter caverns, underground lakes and strange microscopic life. They are testing new technology and conducting science – just as if they were living on the International Space Station. The six astronauts relying on their own skills, teamwork and ground control to achieve their mission goals – the course is designed to foster effective communication, decision-making, problem-solving, leadership and team dynamics.

This year is the first international space cooperation to involve astronauts from China, Russia, Japan, ESA and America, with cosmonaut Sergei Vladimirovich, ESA astronaut Pedro Duque, taikonaut Ye Guangfu, Japanese astronaut Aki Hoshide and NASA astronauts Ricky Arnold and Jessica Muir taking part.

This picture was taken on the second day underground for the ‘cavenauts’. They will spend six nights without sunlight, setting up basecamp in the Sa Grutta cave in Sardinia, Italy. As with any astronaut mission, science and technology are an important part of the undertaking. The astronauts are making 3D maps of the caves they explore using photograph-based measurements.

Follow CAVES via twitter @ESA_CAVES or with #CAVES2016 or on the CAVES blog.

Credit: ESA-V.Crobu

Enceladus and its paper-thin crust
05-07-2016 03:24 PM CEST

europeanspaceagency posted a photo:

Enceladus and its paper-thin crust

Space Science Image of the week:

Of all the icy moons in the Solar System, Saturn’s moon Enceladus is probably the ‘hottest’ when measured for its potential to host life. Despite its distance from Earth, it may also be the easiest to investigate.

Buried beneath its icy crust is a global ocean of water , much like the one scientists are convinced lies inside Jupiter’s moon Europa. The question is how to get below what is probably tens of kilometres of ice to see if there is life in the water.

Although this is the problem at Europa, at Enceladus the moon does some of the work for you. At its south poles, huge geysers of water jet into space. These come from the ocean depths and suggest that the ice there must be relatively thin for this to happen. But how thin? Planetary scientists may now have an answer.

The international Cassini spacecraft has been paying particular attention to Enceladus since arriving at Saturn in 2004. Indeed, it was Cassini that discovered the geysers on Enceladus in the first place. Now there are more than 100 individual jets known on the moon, each spewing water into space.

A team of independent researchers have now taken all of the data about Enceladus collected by the spacecraft and built a computer simulation of the moon that includes the thickness of the ice crust.

This picture of Enceladus has been created using data taken by Cassini’s high-resolution camera. The ice crust thickness, indicated by the colour, has then been plotted over the moon’s surface. According to the model, the thickness varies between about 35 km in the cratered equatorial regions (yellow) to less than 5 km in the active south polar terrain (blue).

In astronomical terms, this is paper-thin. The model predicts that the 505 km-wide moon contains a core that is 360–370 km in diameter. The rest is ocean and the ice crust, with the ice crust itself having an average thickness of 18–22 km.

Remarkably, however, the model predicts that the thickness of the ice reduces to less than 5 km at the south pole. This could make it easier for the water to escape along cracks and fissures.

Last year Cassini flew through the geysers, analysing the water with its instruments. On previous occasions, the discovery of silica particles, likely originating from Enceladus, and the presence of methane in the water plumes indicated there is hydrothermal activity at the ocean’s floor. This water and the chemicals were then transported from the floor to the base of the ice crust, and subsequently jetted through and out into space.

No one knows how the geysers are powered but showing that the ice crust could be much thinner than previously thought is intriguing.

Credit: LPG-CNRS-U. Nantes/Charles U., Prague

Genera-A Arabidopsis seedlings
05-07-2016 09:39 AM CEST

europeanspaceagency posted a photo:

Genera-A Arabidopsis seedlings

Human Spaceflight image of the week spotlights a decade of plant biology in space.

On this day 10 years ago, Space Shuttle Discovery was launched to the International Space Station carrying ESA’s European Modular Cultivation System – a miniature greenhouse to probe how plants grow in weightlessness.

From looking at how plants know where to grow roots to how light can influence growth, and how the tips of plant roots bend as they grow, it is a flagship research facility on the orbiting complex.

Installed by ESA astronaut Thomas Reiter in 2006, it nurtures plants from seedlings to maturity, and allows both astronauts and research teams on the ground to intervene and change the conditions.

Every aspect of the growing environment can be regulated – temperature, atmosphere, water and light – and two centrifuges simulate gravity up to twice Earth’s level to compare how plants respond to different degrees of gravity.

This image shows Arabidopsis seedlings grown in space, providing insights into the effect of gravity on the molecular processes regulating plant growth.

Read more here.

Credit: ESA

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