The dwarf planet Ceres measured a mere nine pixels across on an image acquired by NASA's Dawn orbiter on 1 December 2014. Since then, the planetary researchers at the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) have received thousands of images showing the dwarf planet and its unusually varied surface.
Philae was more than 500 million kilometres from Earth when it touched down on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko one year ago, on 12 November 2014. "We looked after and planned this mission for almost 20 years and launched the Rosetta orbiter and Philae lander on their journey through space – so landing day really was quite special," says Philae Project Manager Stephan Ulamec from the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) to sum up the mood on the day.
Indonesia is on fire – the island state is currently facing a bitter struggle against forest and peat fires on Sumatra and Borneo, most likely caused by illegal 'slash and burn' farming to clear the land for palm oil or timber plantations. The extremely dry conditions resulting from the El Niño weather phenomenon exacerbate this problem.
When astronaut William Shepherd left Earth on 31 October 2000 aboard Space Shuttle Discovery, he made his way to a very special residence. At an altitude of approximately 400 kilometres, it offered an unobstructed view of Earth and no risk of meeting unfriendly neighbours.
The students cheered – the DECAN (Deutsche CanSat Höhenrakete) research rocket took off from the Esrange Space Center in north Sweden at 02:53 on 27 October 2015 and proceeded to reach an altitude of roughly 5.5 kilometres. The rocket was designed, built and launched by a team of students from Technische Universität Berlin (TU Berlin) as part of the new STERN (Studentische Experimental-Raketen) German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) programme.
The ozone hole over Antarctica currently extends over 26 million square kilometres – an area larger than the North American continent. Currently, it is approximately 2.5 million square kilometres larger than at the same time in 2014. In 2006 it was larger than now, at 27 million square kilometres.
"In your face, Neil Armstrong!" – as he says these words, NASA astronaut Mark Watney senses for the first time that he might have only a very small chance of getting out of his predicament alive. Watney is 'The Martian' in the film of the same name (release date in Germany: 8 October) who, in a not too distant future, finds himself stranded on the Red Planet.
This week, scientists at the European Planetary Science Conference (EPSC) in Nantes, France are busy with the mysterious crater structures and fascinating views of the multifaceted dwarf planet Ceres. The German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) is involved in the NASA Dawn mission and, among other things, is responsible for the mapping and naming of regions and striking surface features, in collaboration with the International Astronomical Union (IAU).
Shaped like a rubber duck – this was the talk upon the discovery of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko's surprising shape in July 2014. Scientists were amazed at the celestial body's extraordinary shape, which was revealed by the European Rosetta spacecraft.
Gas and dust streams from the ‘neck’ of Comet 67P/ Churyumov-Gerasimenko
Since its arrival at the comet, Rosetta has observed jets of gas and dust. Numerous gas eruptions have been observed originating from the ‘neck’ of the comet. Using the measurements performed by the VIRTIS spectrometer, it has been possible to recognise a day/night cycle of cometary activity and identify the mechanism responsible.
The north face of the Eiger in the Bernese Alps is legendary; mountaineers consider the steep walls of the 1800-metre drop to be a difficult and challenging climb. But 326 million kilometres from Earth, the sheer cliffs of the Eiger find their match on the dwarf planet Ceres, where at some points, the wall of the Occator crater towers precipitously at a height of almost 2000 metres.
Nine seconds is not a lot – those who are nine seconds late for an appointment are, so to speak, on time. But when it comes to the rotation of a planet around its own axis, nine seconds is not insignificant. On Mercury, this means that a spot at the equator would, in four years, not be where one would expect it to be; it would have shifted by 700 metres.
For the next few weeks, the German Aerospace Center (DLR) :envihab research facility will be home to 12 men in good health, aged between 20 and 45 years. The men are test subjects for a long-term bedrest study – they will be confined to bedrest for two months with two weeks of experimental investigations and tests. Their beds will be tilted at an angle of six degrees below the horizontal, so that their bodily fluids shift towards the upper body; the bones and muscles in their lower part of their bodies will lose strength as a result of the lack of movement. “In this way we simulate the effects of microgravity on the human body,” says Edwin Mulder, leader of the study and a scientist at the DLR Institute of Aerospace Medicine, about the study, which is being carried out by DLR on behalf of the European Space Agency (ESA). “Our volunteers are, so to speak, terrestrial astronauts.” Half of the test subjects will undergo reactive jump training several times a week, which involves lying on a specially positioned training device. “We want to see whether this very intensive training can be an effective countermeasure to the deterioration of the bones and muscles.”
The lower the Dawn space probe flies over the dwarf planet Ceres with its on-board camera, the more puzzling – and exciting – the celestial body appears. “Some of the things we are seeing have never been seen anywhere else in the Solar System,” says Ralf Jaumann from the German Aerospace Center (DLR). “Except for on Earth.” Dawn is now looking down onto the surface of Ceres from an altitude of just 1470 kilometres. The first images acquired from its High Altitude Mapping Orbit (HAMO) show a ‘pyramid’ with unusual landslides, unstable crater walls and chains of mountains. “We can only speculate about these things at the moment.” Where the bright stripes along the pyramid-shaped mountain come from and whether the surface of the dwarf planet is comprised of different materials are questions that the planetary researchers are still trying to answer.
For weeks, comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko has been active, hurling dust and gas into space – but it will not reach the closest point to the Sun in its orbit, the perihelion, until 13 August 2015 at exactly 4:03 CEST. It will take another six-and-a-half years to get this close to the Sun once again.
On 12 November 2014, as the Philae lander slowly descended onto Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, the first instruments on board began to take measurements. Philae touched down three times during the first ever landing on a comet, scraped against a crater rim, and finally arrived at the unforeseen landing site, called Abydos, at 18:31 CEST.
Acting on behalf of the NASA Dawn mission team, researchers from the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) chose 17 of approximately 150 fertility deities to name the most prominent craters on Ceres, which they presented to the International Astronomical Union (IAU). These names were chosen because the dwarf planet bears the name of the Roman goddess of agriculture.
The new crew on their way to the International Space Station (ISS) – cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko and astronauts Kimiya Yui and Kjell Lindgren – will be carrying a compact piece of luggage on board the Soyuz spacecraft. The KONTUR-2 joystick developed by the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) is setting off to its new destination. Upon arrival, Kononenko will be responsible for working with the device and in August will operate the ROKVISS (Robotic Components Verification on the ISS) robot installed at the DLR Robotics and Mechatronics Center using the remote control. What makes this special? The cosmonaut will not only see a camera image of the robot sent up from the ground, he will also, at a distance of over 400 kilometres, feel precisely what the robot back on Earth touches. This is enabled by a mechanism in KONTUR-2 that detects exactly how strongly it touches another object, as well as other metrics. The telepresence experiment is designed to give its operator the impression of being on-site at the laboratory – and not in orbit around Earth.
On 9 July 2015 at 19:45 CEST, Philae reported back to the team at the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) Lander Control Center (LCC) – only to then go back to 'silent mode'. Since then, the team has been working hard to get back in contact with the lander and operate it to conduct scientific measurements.
The Philae lander communicated with the Rosetta orbiter again between 19:45 and 20:07 CEST on 9 July 2015 and transmitted measurement data from the COmet Nucleus Sounding Experiment by Radiowave Transmission (CONSERT) instrument. Although the connection failed repeatedly after that, it remained completely stable for those 12 minutes.