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ESA Top Multimedia

ESA Top Multimedia

Earth from Space: Scorched Rhodes

This summer, Europe experienced a relentless heatwave, fuelling wildfires in several countries. This Copernicus Sentinel-1 image shows the burn scars left by fires on the Greek island of Rhodes.

A peculiar proceeding

A peculiar proceeding

Europa (NIRCam image)

Europa (NIRCam image)

First view of OSIRIS-REx returning with asteroid sample

Is it a spacecraft? An asteroid? Well, both. This small central speck is the first image of a spacecraft on its way home, carrying with it a sample from an asteroid hundreds-of-millions, if-not-billions-of-years old. The spacecraft is NASA’s OSIRIS-REx, the asteroid is Bennu.

On Sunday 24 September, the mission will drop its rocky sample off to fall through Earth’s atmosphere and land safely back home, before it continues on to study the once rather scary asteroid Apophis.

Spotted on 16 September by ESA’s Optical Ground Station (OGS) telescope in Tenerife, OSIRIS-REx was 4.66 million km from Earth. This image is a combination of 90 individual images, each 36-second exposures. They have been combined in a way that takes into account the motion of the spacecraft, which is not travelling in a straight line, causing the seemingly stretched background stars to curve and warp.

ESA’s 1-metres OGS telescope was originally built to observe space debris in orbit and test laser communication technologies, but since broadened its horizons to also conduct surveys and follow-up observations of near-Earth asteroids and make night-time astronomy observations and has even discovered dozens of minor planets.

For this observation, ESA’s Near-Earth Object Coordination Centre (NEOCC) took over the reins, directing it at the returning asteroid explorer. The NEOCC, part of the Agency’s Planetary Defence Office, is a little like Europe’s asteroid sorting hat; the centre and its experts are scanning the skies for risky space rocks, computing their orbits and calculating their risk of impact.

From our small but mighty Space Safety telescope, we say ‘Hello, OSIRIS-REx, good luck NASA and welcome safely to Earth, asteroid Bennu!’.

(Read all about ESA’s Hera mission that launches next year to examine the first test of asteroid deflection, the first mission to rendezvous with a binary asteroid system.)

Firefoxes and whale spouts light up Earth's shield

Did you know, the Northern lights or Aurora Borealis are created when the mythical Finnish ‘Firefox’ runs so quickly across the snow that its tail causes sparks to fly into the night sky? At least, that’s one of the stories that has been told in Finland about this beautiful phenomenon. Another that we love comes from the Sámi people of Finnish Lapland (among others), who describe them as plumes of water ejected by whales.

What do they look like, to you?

Today’s scientific explanation for the origin of the Aurora wasn’t thought up until the 20th Century, by the Norwegian scientist Kristian Birkeland. Charged particles, electrons and protons, are constantly emitted by the Sun, making up the solar wind. This wind slams into Earth’s ionosphere – sometimes sped up to vast speeds by solar storms – and the charged particles are deflected towards the poles by the magnetosphere.

Molecules in our atmosphere then absorb energy from these charged particles from the Sun, and re-release it in their own unique set of colours. Oxygen produces green, but at high altitudes can create red, nitrogen creates blues, and colours can overlap creating purple. Waves, twists and streams are caused by variations in Earth’s magnetic fields.

This striking video shows the Aurora over Kiruna, the northernmost city in Sweden. It’s composed of images taken by the Kiruna all-sky camera every minute for about ten hours over 18-19 September 2023.

The all-sky auroral camera is operated by the Kiruna Atmospheric and Geophysical Observatory (KAGO) within the Swedish Institute of Space Physics (IRF), and data from here is provided as part of ESA’s network of space weather services within the Agency’s Space Safety Programme.

Recently, a sequence of multiple coronal mass ejections – large, sudden ejections of plasma and magnetic field from the Sun – struck Earth and we are still recovering from the passage of the last one. The fastest was travelling at around 700 km/s, considered a small event.

The Sun is getting close to its time of peak solar activity – predicted for 2024/2025 – in its current 11-year cycle, Solar Cycle 25. Solar storms are causing an increase in geomagnetic activity; temporary disturbances in Earth’s magnetosphere, which has led to increased light shows at Earth’s poles.

A modern interpretation of the meaning of the Aurora could focus on Earth’s remarkable way of protecting life, so far, the only life we know of in the Universe. The colours of the Aurora reveal the normally invisible complex molecular soup in just the right composition for life to thrive. Those molecules form our atmosphere, a thin shield against electromagnetic radiation and even the small asteroids that constantly bombard our home.

The shapes of the Aurora tell the story of the usually invisible protective magnetic field, holding back dangerous elements from reaching us on the ground, like charged particles from the Sun. It also pulls every compass needle north, helping us navigate stormy seas.

While humans on Earth are protected by Earth’s magnetic field, space weather can have an extreme and disruptive impact on satellites in orbit and infrastructure on Earth, and ultimately our society. For this reason, ESA’s Space Weather Service Network continues to monitor our star and the conditions around Earth, to provide information to keep our systems safe.

In 2030, ESA will launch the first-of-its-kind Vigil mission to monitor the Sun from a unique vantage point. Studying our star from the side, it will provide a stream of data that will warn of potentially hazardous regions before they roll into view from Earth.

Find out more about space weather and sign up for free updates from ESA’s Space Weather Service Network.

Moon crew visits European powerhouse

From left: the Artemis II astronauts, Christina Koch, Jeremy Hansen, Victor Glover, and Reid Wiseman, visited the European Service Module (ESM) assembly hall at Airbus in Bremen, Germany, last week.

SpaceTeamEurope, all united to launch Ariane 6

The successful last Ariane 6 launch system combined tests HFT-3, at the German Aerospace Center in Lampoldshausen; and CTLO1-C, at Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana, show the strength of European industrial and institutional collaboration. The “Space Team Europe” gets one step closer to the Ariane 6 first flight.

Measure of a great galactic disc

Measure of a great galactic disc

Earth from Space: Blooms in the Gulf of Finland

This Copernicus Sentinel-2 image features swirls of vivid, emerald green algal blooms in the Gulf of Finland.

How spacecraft gymnastics enabled joint Sun observations

On 1 June 2022, the ESA-led Solar Orbiter spacecraft was turned slightly and rolled to one side, so that the Metis instrument could see the part of the Sun’s atmosphere, known as the corona, through which NASA’s Parker Solar Probe was flying. This manoeuvre meant that for the first time, solar physicists recorded both the in-situ behaviour of the magnetised gas known as plasma that constitutes the solar corona, and the large-scale consequences.

These plots show the movement of Parker Solar Probe through the Metis field of view. A real image from Metis is shown. The fuzzy red disc is a result of the coronagraph that blocks the glare of the bright Sun to enable observations of the fainter corona. The black disc is a mask to compress the image size to reduce the amount of unnecessary data downlinked. The cross marks the centre of the Sun, and the small circle around the cross represents the outline of the Sun itself. The Parker Solar Probe icon is not to scale.

Read more

Metis observes the Sun’s corona

Metis observes the Sun’s corona

Morocco earthquake deformation

Morocco earthquake deformation

Mini space thruster that runs on water

Mini space thruster that runs on water

Webb confirms accuracy of Universe’s expansion rate measured by Hubble, deepens mystery of Hubble Constant Tension

Webb confirms accuracy of Universe’s expansion rate measured by Hubble, deepens mystery of Hubble Constant Tension

European Service Modules – made in Turin

Artemis in Europe: the structure and radiators for the European Service Modules that fly NASA’s Orion spacecraft to the Moon are built in Turin, Italy.

Thales Alenia Space produces the structure that acts like a chassis on a car providing the solid foundations for all other elements to be attached to and also absorbs the forces that the Artemis spacecraft will endure during launch into Earth orbit and onto the Moon.

Technicians assemble the primary structure that is made from a core of Composite Fibre Reinforced Polymer sandwich panels and aluminium alloy elements for the secondary structures. This technology keeps the European Service Module light enough to fly farther and longer but strong enough to keep its shape.

Thales Alenia Space also supplies the radiators for the European Service Modules that consist of six elements forming two independent systems. Like a car’s radiator system the European Service Module radiators are designed to expel excess heat and keep the computers and other components inside from overheating.

The structures are trucked from Turin to Bremen, Germany, where the rest of the hardware that makes a spacecraft can be installed. The first step in their voyage to the Moon.

Discover ESA Live: a gateway to ESA’s universe for schools

Discover ESA Live is an “all-year” live streaming service intended to disseminate ESA's activities through interactive streaming sessions and gamified e-learning modules. 

A virtual tour of Marcus’s space home

A virtual tour of Marcus’s space home

Meteosat Third Generation: painting the full picture

In a significant leap forward for meteorology, the preliminary data obtained by Meteosat Third Generation’s two instruments, the Flexible Combined Imager (FCI) and the Lightning Imager (LI), were successfully combined today for the first time – highlighting their complementary capabilities. This first set of animations gives us a preview of the system’s future impact.

This animation shows the combined observations from the Meteosat Third Generation’s instruments starting at 12:00 UTC on 03 June 2023 and ending at 12:00 UTC of 04 June 2023. Lightning activity is more intense over central Africa, the northern part of South America, Europe and the Middle East.

Cloud and lightning movements are synchronised, following the global circulation patterns (east to west along the Equator, and west to east at higher latitudes). The bright sunglint area, where the Sun's light is reflected by the ocean and small water bodies towards the satellite, traverses from east to west throughout the day.

This is preliminary commissioning data, not for operational use. For more information: A forecasting revolution on its way

Galactic isolation

Galactic isolation

Hubble dispels dust to see a glittering globular cluster

Hubble dispels dust to see a glittering globular cluster

Thumbs up for training

ESA project astronaut Sławosz Uznański from Poland inside the Columbus mockup at EAC.

Welcoming Sławosz Uznański at EAC

Polish ESA project astronaut Sławosz Uznański on his first day at EAC

Artificial star

Artificial star

X-ray mission lifts off to study high-energy Universe

X-ray mission lifts off to study high-energy Universe

A new way to view the Sun

Scientists have used the ESA/NASA Solar Orbiter’s Extreme Ultraviolet Imager (EUI) in a new mode of operation to record part of the Sun’s atmosphere that has been almost impossible to image until now. By covering the Sun’s bright disc with an ‘occulter’ inside the instrument, EUI can detect the million-times fainter ultraviolet light coming from the surrounding corona.

This movie shows an ultraviolet image of the Sun’s corona taken using the EUI occulter. An ultraviolet image of the Sun’s disc has been superimposed in the middle, in the area left blank by the occulter. The image of the Sun’s disc has been taken by NASA’s STEREO mission, which happened to be looking at the Sun from almost the same direction as Solar Orbiter at the same time, so the features on the surface have a good correlation to the features in the corona.

The grid pattern is an artifact caused by the mesh that is holding the 150 nm thick front-filter. It is invisible in regular images but present (as expected) in occulter mode. The 'WOW-enhanced’ label next to the time counter in the lower left corner stands for the ‘Wavelets Optimized Whitening’ algorithm which enhances the visual appearance of the movie. 

Read more.

Hot-fire test of Ariane 6 core stage on launch pad

On 5 September 2023, teams from France’s space agency CNES and Arianegroup under the lead of ESA carried out a complete Ariane 6 launch sequence on its launch pad at Europe’s spaceport in French Guiana. The test ended with a hot-fire of the launcher’s core stage and startup of the Vulcain 2.1 engine.

This is a key step in the test campaign. It follows from initial integration of the Ariane 6 launcher on its launch pad, electrical and fluid system tests and the first launch sequence test run on 18 July 2023.

This test involved a launch sequence and final countdown representative of a launch, including removal of the Ariane 6 mobile gantry and filling the launcher’s upper and core stage tanks with liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen. The test ended with the ignition and the startup of the core stage’s Vulcain 2.1 engine, followed by four seconds of firing.

The next milestone is to complete a core stage long hot-fire test, where the Vulcain 2.1 engine will operate for about 8 minutes.

Ariane 6 is an all-new design, created to succeed Ariane 5 as Europe's heavy-lift launch system. With Ariane 6's upper stage and its reignitable Vinci engine, Europe's launch capability will be tailored to the needs of multiple payloads, for example to orbit satellite constellations. This autonomous capability to reach Earth orbit and deep space supports Europe's navigation, Earth observation, scientific and security programmes. Ongoing development of Europe's space transportation capabilities is made possible by the sustained dedication of thousands of talented people working in ESA's 22 Member States.


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German Chancellor Olaf Scholz visits European Astronaut Centre

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz visits European Astronaut Centre on 1 September 2023. 

Ariane 6 media briefing – September 2023

Watch the replay of the media briefing and the question-and-answer session outlining the progress achieved and the upcoming steps in the Ariane 6 development test campaign. Updates are given on tests conducted at Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana, and at the German Aerospace Center DLR’s technical centre in Lampoldshausen, Germany.

The briefing was held on 4 September 2023 from ESA’s Headquarters in Paris, France. Participants included:

Josef Aschbacher, Director General, ESA

Martin Sion, CEO, ArianeGroup

Philippe Baptiste, Chairman and CEO, CNES

Stéphane Israël, CEO, Arianespace

Toni Tolker-Nielsen, Director of Space Transportation, ESA

Carine Leveau, Director of Space Transportation, CNES

Stefan Schlechtriem, Director of Lampoldshausen, DLR

The Ariane 6 launcher task force consists of top management at ESA, launch base prime contractor and France’s space agency CNES, launcher system prime contractor ArianeGroup and launch service provider Arianespace. This group reports regularly on progress being made towards the first flight of Ariane 6.

The video shown during the briefing was of tests of the full Ariane 6 upper stage – including the new Vinci engine and a smaller Auxiliary Power Unit (APU). They took place on 1 September on a purpose-built test bench at DLR’s engine test centre in Lampoldshausen, Germany. Watch the video in high-resolution here.

Access the related broadcast quality video material.