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Rome
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Rome and its surroundings are pictured in this image from the Copernicus Sentinel-2A satellite, captured on 17 January 2016.

Click on the box in the lower-right corner to view this image at its full 10 m resolution directly in your browser.

The Tiber River snakes down from the north, and is surrounded by agricultural fields in the upper right before entering the city. It then makes its way west, entering into the Mediterranean Sea at the town of Ostia. Near its terminus, we can see the runways of the Fiumicino Airport.

Long, sandy beaches are visible along the coastline, with the port of Civitavecchia visible in the upper left. This is a major point of ferry connection to many Mediterranean islands, such as Sardinia and Sicily.

The lakes visible are Bracciano near the top of the image, with the smaller Martignano nearby. Near the lower right, we see lakes Albano and Nemi in the so-called ‘Castelli Romani’ – a group of small cities in the Alban Hills. Frascati is also in this area, home city of ESA’s ESRIN establishment.

Tomorrow – 25 March – marks the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome.

This international agreement is considered one of the most important treaties in today’s European Union, as it proposed the reduction of custom duties and the establishment of a customs union, as well as a single market for goods, labour and services. It was also responsible for the establishment of the European Commission, as well as other economic European organisations.

The Treaty was signed on the Capitoline Hill in Rome’s historic centre.

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

3D printed Mars simulant
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These small-scale structures have been 3D printed out of simulated Mars dust, to investigate the feasibility of one day using local materials for building on the Red Planet and other planets.

A miniature igloo and a corner wall were manufactured as examples of designs that might be required by colonists, produced from ‘JSC-Mars-1A’ – volcanic soil that has undergone careful processing to match the known composition and characteristics of martian soil.

“The material was mixed with phosphoric acid serving as a binding ‘ink’, then extruded through a nozzle and deposited in successive layers,” explains Christoph Buchner of Fotec, the research arm of the University of Applied Sciences in Wiener Neustadt, Austria, which performed the test project for ESA.

“The hardened results demonstrate the technique has potential for hardware and structural manufacturing on a variety of planetary bodies – it does not depend on the destination.

“So this is a promising step towards ‘in-situ resource utilisation’ – the concept of using as much local materials as possible during a planetary mission, to cut down on the launch mass and cost.”

“These samples were produced as part of a larger ESA project into ‘Limited resources manufacturing technologies’, supported through our Technology Research Programme involving promising new technologies for space,” comments ESA materials engineer Advenit Makaya, overseeing the project.

“This is an encouraging result,” adds Tommaso Ghidini, Head of ESA’s Materials and Processes Section, “which complements a number of activities ESA is undertaking to provide the technologies for long-distance robotic and manned exploration.

“For such missions, in-situ manufacturing will be key, so we are developing a wide variety of capabilities.”

Spider senses
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Living in space requires more than just the astronauts’ bodies to adapt. The absence of a traditional up or down causes their brains to think in new ways and cope with the 3D world of weightlessness. Even trivial tasks on Earth like grasping an object can be difficult.

Understanding how astronaut brains cope is an important part of human spaceflight research. The sensations of floating for months on end is something our brains never had to deal with until last century and seeing how they adapt offers interesting clues to their workings.

Virtual reality headsets offer a way to present specific scenarios for testing to understand how an astronaut brain adapts to its new environment – so France’s CNES space agency has sent one to the International Space Station.

ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet will be the first to use the new-generation virtual reality gear, for the Grasp first experiment. Grasp will see Thomas reaching for virtual objects so researchers can understand how important gravity is compared to the other senses.

The focus is on how a brain combines the perception of its body with visual information to coordinate hand movement. Researchers suspect that, on Earth, the brain uses the sensations caused by gravity as a reference. When reaching for an object, for example, the brain will calculate how far your hand is by using visual clues as well as how much your shoulder muscles need to counteract the downward force of gravity and keep your arm straight.

Running tasks in space on a Perspectives headset allows researchers to fine-tune the parameters and eliminate other factors that would influence the results. Grasp will see astronauts repeat three tasks using a remote and their hands to compare results in a simplified world without distraction.

To stop the astronauts from floating away and bumping into things, they are strapped down. This picture shows the straps extending behind the operator while he holds the trackball in his right hand. Thomas will set the equipment up on the International Space Station and confirm it works but he will not be a test subject – up to 10 other astronauts will take part in the study at a later date.

The research will help us understand the workings of the vestibular system that helps us keep our balance, and how it connects to the other sensory organs. In other words, Grasp is researching the physiology behind eye–hand coordination as well as shedding light on how to treat patients showing a loss of vestibular function on Earth.

For astronauts, the research will be useful during spacewalks where coordination in weightlessness with few visual clues is of utmost importance.

Opening of Swarm and CryoSat Science Meetings
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Scientists convened in Banff, Canada on 20 March 2017 to discuss the latest results coming from the three-satellite Swarm mission on Earth’s magnetic field, as well as new information on the planet’s changing ice masses from the CryoSat satellite. Hosted by the Canadian Space Agency, the event also brought together the heads of the two largest Earth observation programmes in the world: from ESA and NASA.

Programme:

Welcome addresses by:
Sylvain Laporte, President of the Canadian Space Agency
Josef Aschbacher, Director of ESA’s Earth Observation Programmes
Michael Freilich, Director of NASA’s Earth Science Division
Professor Ed McCauley, Vice President of the University of Calgary
Followed by keynote addresses:
The Citizen Scientist - A New Era by Eric Franck Donovan
Understanding polar regions with CryoSat by Andrew Shepherd
The International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics by Michael Sideris

ESRIN OPEN DAYS 6 - 10 March: "Hands-on science"
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ESRIN’s Open Days 2017 gave 1500 young students and their teachers a rare opportunity to learn more about ESA’s Centre for Earth Observation.

A host of mini-laboratories gave them hands-on experience with everything from asteroids and launchers to satellites and space travel. This annual event is just one example of ESA’s outreach activities, which seek to bring young people and the general public closer to space.

Back to the lab
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ESA astronauts Pedro Duque (right) and Matthias Maurer (left) are in Edinburgh, UK, for the third session of the Pangaea geology course for astronauts.

The course provides astronauts with practical knowledge of Earth and planetary geology to prepare them to become effective partners of planetary scientists and engineers in designing the next exploration missions.

After classroom lessons on planetary geology in Bressanone, Italy, and field work in the Canary Islands’ Lanzarote, the third and final session sees the astronauts in Edinburgh to learn about microorganisms and where best to look for signs of life.

Together with Charles Cockell, head of the UK centre of Astrobiology, they are studying colonies of Chroococcidiopsis from the Negev desert in Israel. The bacteria were flown into space and attached to the exterior of the International Space Station in ESA’s Expose facility. After spending over a year orbiting Earth in the harsh vacuum of space, they were returned for analysis.

Knowing how life survives and adapts to harsh environments will help astronauts to communicate with geologists on the ground and better manage their time exploring planets on future missions.

Follow the Pangaea course on Twitter via ESA_CAVES and hashtag Pangaea, or on the blog. Background information is available here.

Comet cliff in 3D
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Anaglyph view looking across rugged terrain on to the Aswan cliff top and plateau in the Seth region of Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko. Two large boulders can be seen close to the cliff edge where the collapse eventually occurred on 10 July 2015 (the image shown here was taken on 19 September 2014). The cliff face is in shadow.

Anaglyph images like these were prepared to help evaluate the volume of overhang that detached. The images are best viewed using red–green/blue 3D glasses.

The image was taken by Rosetta’s OSIRIS camera, approximately 26 km from the surface of the comet. The image scale is 0.5 m/pixel.

More information: Collapsing cliff reveals comet’s interior

Glitter reveals swirls
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Sun glitter reveals elegant features in this image which was captured by Sentinel-2A off Western Australia.  Signatures of internal waves, surface-wind wave can be seen clearly, as well as the ghostly pattern of wave–current interactions that appear as darker swirls and eddy structures.  The rigid straight line running roughly north–south in the left of the image marks a Sentinel-2A detector boundary and shows a different intensity of Sun glitter. This is because the detector is physically offset from the adjacent detector, introducing a change in geometry.  This feature is exploited in Sun-glitter imagery to determine wave spectrum information.

Leaky Radiation Belts
Since their discovery at the dawn of the Space Age, Earth's radiation belts continue to reveal new complex structures and behaviors.During a particularly intense event in late June 2015, the inner edge of the region of trapped electrons moved closer to Earth. As the region retreated outward, it left behind a population of high-energy electrons forming another radiation belt inside the L=2 shell (The 'L-shell' value identifies a field line in a magnetic dipole. The numerical value corresponds to the furthest distance from Earth in Earth radii, in this case two Earth radii). This flux of high-energy electrons persisted considerably longer than expected, the relativistic electrons slowly leaking away. It took over a year for the relativistic electron flux in the belt to decline below the level of detectability for the instruments on the Van Allen Probes.The 3-dimensional radiation belt model in the visualizations above was constructed by propagating electron flux measurements, corresponding to a given time and distance from Earth measured by the Van Allen Probes, along a 3-dimensional structure of magnetic dipole field lines.
Côte d'Azur collage
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ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet is spending six months on the International Space Station on his Proxima mission. In his free time, like many astronauts, he enjoys looking out of the Cupola windows at Earth. This collage shows the Côte d'Azur in France. 

Thomas asked to have the series of highly zoomed pictures aligned into this mosaic to show the city in detail. The Station flies at roughly 400 km altitude so Thomas used the longest lens available onboard: 1150 mm.

On the ground, the images were digitally rotated and assembled into this large collage. Download the high-resolution versions to zoom in and explore.

ESA's Hertz chamber photographed by Gregor Sailer
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ESA’s Hertz chamber used for radio testing of large antennas and satellites, taken by photographer Gregor Sailer as part of his Mars Series, which has been awarded at the European Architectural Photography Prize 2017.

Part of ESA’s technical heart in the Netherlands, the metal-walled ‘Hybrid European Radio Frequency and Antenna Test Zone’ chamber is shut off from all external influences.

Its internal walls are studded with radio-absorbing ‘anechoic’ foam pyramids, allowing radio-frequency testing without any distorting reflections.

Gregor Sailer photographed the Agency’s technical centre last year as part of his Mars Series, with the cooperation of ESA and Airbus Defence and Space. For more information on the photographer and his work, visit his website: http://www.gregorsailer.com/

European Astro Pi Challenge - Congratulations message
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English European Astro Pi Challenge - Congratulations message

Thomas Pesquet would like to congratulate all the teams, students and teachers, that participated in the First European Astro Pi Challenge. Teams have come up with very nice ideas on how to use the Astro Pi’s onboard the International Space Station. A total of 184 teams, representing 15  European Countries, and more than 1800 students,  have submitted their scientific missions and the computer codes in order to execute their experiments in space. Congratulations to all.

French Challenge européen Astro Pi – Message de félicitations

Thomas Pesquet aimerait féliciter toutes les équipes, les élèves et les enseignants qui ont participé au premier Challenge européen Astro Pi. Les différentes équipes ont proposé de très chouettes idées afin d’utiliser les ordinateurs Astro Pi à bord de la Station Spatiale Internationale. Plus de 1800 élèves repartis en 184 équipes, représentant 15 pays européens, ont finalisé et remis leurs missions scientifiques et leurs codes informatiques qui permettent de mener des expériences dans l’espace. Félicitations à tous!

Deforestation in Rio Branco
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Deforestation near the northwestern Brazilian city of Rio Branco has made its mark on the rainforest over the last 30 years. By comparing a Landsat-5 image from 1985 with a Copernicus Sentinel-2 image from 2016, we can see where vegetation has been cleared away for logging, farming and other activities.

Rainforests worldwide are being destroyed at an alarming rate. This is of great concern because they play an important role in global climate, and are home to a wide variety of plants, animals and insects. More than a third of all species in the world live in the Amazon Rainforest.

Unlike other forests, rainforests do not grow back when they are destroyed and, owing to their composition, their soils are not suitable for long-term agricultural use.

With their unique view from space, Earth observation satellites have been instrumental in highlighting the vulnerability of the rainforests by documenting the scale of deforestation, particularly in remote areas.

In these false-colour images, vegetation appears red to help us better distinguish between vegetated and non-vegetated areas.

Saturn’s B-ring close-up
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This image shows the incredible detail at which the international Cassini spacecraft is observing Saturn’s rings of icy debris as part of its dedicated close ‘ring grazing’ orbits.

This image focuses on a region in Saturn’s B ring, which is seen in twice as much detail as ever before, revealing a wealth of rich structure.

Saturn’s rings are composed mainly of water ice and range from tiny dust-size specks to boulders tens of metres across. Some of the patterns seen in Cassini’s close images of the rings are generated by gravitational interactions with Saturn’s many moons, but many details remain unexplained.

Cassini is expected to return a library of new detailed images of the rings in the coming months, which will help planetary scientists learn more about the mysterious patterns.

The spacecraft’s ring-grazing orbits began last November, and will continue until late April, when the mission enters its ‘grand finale’ phase. During 22 finale orbits Cassini will repeatedly dive through the gap between the rings and Saturn before plunging into the planet’s atmosphere in mid-September to conclude its incredible 13-year odyssey in the Saturn system.

The image was taken in visible light with Cassini’s wide-angle camera on 18 December 2016, at a distance of about 51 000 km from the rings, and looks towards the unilluminated side of the rings. Image scale is about 360 m per pixel.

In order to preserve the finest details, this image has not been processed to remove the many small bright blemishes, which are created by cosmic rays and charged particle radiation near the planet.

The Cassini–Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, ESA and ASI, the Italian space agency

The image was first featured in a release published on 30 January 2017.

Calgary
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From the Rocky Mountains on the left to the Prairies on the right, Sentinel-2A takes us over the southern part of the Canadian province of Alberta, with part of British Columbia in the lower left.

Click on the box in the lower-right corner to view this image at its full 10 m resolution directly in your browser.

In this image spanning some 265 km, we can see the northwest–southeast ranges of the Rockies. Moving west to east, the mountains peter out to the Canadian Prairies, with the city of Calgary in the transition zone between the two landscapes (upper-middle).

This area has naturally occurring ‘chernozem’ – black soil – and is part of one of two chernozem belts in the world – the other stretching across part of eastern Europe and Russia. This fertile soil produces a high agricultural yield, evident by the numerous fields on the right side of the image.

A section of the Trans-Canada Highway is also featured, entering Calgary in a direct line from the east, and then snaking into the Rockies towards the west. Spanning over 8000 km, this coast-to-coast road travels through all 10 of Canada’s provinces and is one of the longest routes of its type.

In the upper left we can see the long, curved glacial Lake Minnewanka. Fed mainly by the Cascade River, a dam built in the 1940s raised the lake by about 30 m and submerged a resort village, as well as the previous dam built in 1912. Today, it is a popular destination for scuba divers to explore the underwater dam.

Near the western end of the lake lies the town of Banff – the site of next week’s 4th Swarm Science Meeting and North-American CryoSat Science Meeting. The two conferences taking place concurrently bring together scientists to discuss the latest results coming from the three-satellite Swarm mission on Earth’s magnetic field, as well as new information on Earth’s changing ice masses from the CryoSat satellite.

This image, also featured on the Earth from Space video programme, was captured by the Copernicus Sentinel-2A satellite on 31 August 2016.

Dragon selfie
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ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet and NASA astronaut Shane Kimborough pose for a selfie in the Space Station's Cupola with the departing Dragon spacecraft visible in the background.

Having delivered its cargo the Dragon spacecraft was released from the Station's Canadarm2 early on 19 March 2017. Loaded with science samples from Station research studies, the Dragon capsule splashed down in the Pacific Ocean a few hours later.

Connect with Thomas at http://thomaspesquet.esa.int

Manila Bay and Laguna de Bay
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The Sentinel-2A satellite takes us over Luzon in the Philippines, with part of the city of Manila in the upper left.

We can clearly see a difference in colour between the two water bodies: the dark Manila Bay on the left, and lighter Laguna de Bay dominating the centre. This is due to differences in depth, with the Laguna reaching a maximum of 4 m during the rainy season.

One of the most striking features of this image are the black plumes of water pollution visible at the outlets of the Taguig and Pasig rivers, as well as the manmade Manggahan Floodway entering the Laguna de Bay at its northern point.

Meanwhile, the nearby Manila Bay has been called a ‘pollution hotspot’. Runoff into the water body carry sewage, pesticides, fertilisers and industrial discharges, and other pollutants contribute to the low water quality, as well as sea-based sources of pollution like oil spills.

Celebrated on 22 March each year, World Water 2017 focuses on the theme of wastewater.

Satellites like Sentinel-2 can help to measure water quality and detect changes in both inland water bodies and coastal zones, supporting the sustainable management of water resources.

This image was captured by the Copernicus Sentinel-2A satellite on 8 May 2016.

Lithospheric magnetic field
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After three years of collecting data, the highest resolution map of Earth’s lithospheric magnetic field from space to date has been released. The dataset combines measurements from ESA’s Swarm satellites with historical data from the German CHAMP satellite using a new modelling technique that allowed scientists to extract tiny magnetic signals from Earth’s outer layer. Red represents areas where the lithospheric magnetic field is positive, while blues show areas where it is negative.

Read full article.

ESA Euronews : Atmospheric pollution
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This special edition of Space explores how atmospheric pollution is measured – and forecast – by satellites.

You have probably used an app on your mobile phone to get the weather forecast. Now, thanks to a satellite network and ground-based stations, it is possible to get through an app on your phone information about pollution in your cities.

Earth's atmosphere is a complicated system, influenced by a large number of factors. Observation satellites orbiting around our planet constantly monitor the state of the air we breathe and how natural and man-made pollution are affecting the quality of the atmosphere.

Researchers at the University of Bremen have pioneered the measurement of atmospheric pollution.

Etna erupts
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This image of the lava flowing from Mount Etna in Sicily, Italy, was captured today at 10:45 GMT (11:45 CET) by the Copernicus Sentinel-2A satellite.

Mount Etna is the largest active volcano in Europe and has one of the world’s longest records for continuous eruption. Today, however, there was a sudden explosion resulting in several people being injured.

The red hot lava flowing from Mount Etna can be seen clearly in the image from Sentinel-2A. The surrounding snow has been processed in blue to distinguish from the clouds.

Launched in June 2015, Sentinel-2A carries an innovative wide swath high-resolution multispectral imager with 13 spectral bands to monitor changes in land cover and vegetation.

The mission is designed as a constellation of two satellites and its identical twin, Sentinel-2B, was launched just a few days ago, on 7 March.

Young graduate trainee Justyna Barys
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Justyna Barys, a graduate trainee working in ESA’s technical centre, has been selected as one of the 30 Under 30 – Europe Industry List compiled by leading business publisher Forbes.

Justyna, 26, has been working in ESA’s Life and Physical Sciences Instrumentation section in its Netherlands-based technical heart since October 2015, focusing on the MELiSSA Micro-Ecological Life Support System Alternative  project to develop closed-loop life support for future deep-space expeditions.

She joins a diverse range of millennial European entrepreneurs, engineers and designers – the final Forbes selection having been made by an all-star jury that included Stéphane Israël, CEO of Arianespace.

Justyna specialised in biotechnology at the Lodz University of Technology before coming to ESA: “I’d always been interested in astronomy and space, so would regularly visit the NASA and ESA websites.

“I didn’t think the Young Graduate Trainee vacancy was something for me at first, but it turned out to be very interesting in terms of my interests and the combination of engineering and microbiology in my background.”

Justyna’s work focuses on nitrogen-converting bacteria, a crucial element in the various processes making up MELiSSA: “We are used to provision of oxygen, water and food by Earth’s ecosystem. It would be ideal to carry Earth’s ecosystem with us for exploring the Solar System. Unfortunately, mass and volume do not allow it.

“Instead, the MELiSSA approach is inspired by the principle of a closed ’aquatic’ lake ecosystem. The carbon dioxide and waste products are progressively processed to allow the culture of plants and algae. These plants and algae will then provide food, oxygen and water purification.

“To grow plants we need nitrogen. Human urine is a good source of nitrogen, but doesn’t contain it in the form that plants need – nitrates. But there are bacteria, originally taken from soil, that perform this conversion job, so I’ve been attempting to cultivate them and study how they grow.

“To begin with I was experimenting with small flasks, using polyvinyl acetate beads to promote the growth of biofilm which makes this kind of bacteria more active.

“As a next step I’ve been building a bioreactor for continuous culture. Once it is finished, nutrients and oxygen will be supplied, pH controlled and effluent removed to promote their continuous growth and monitor their conversion rate of ammonia into nitrates.”

The research is only one element of the 11-nation MELiSSA effort, including the full-scale pilot plant in Spain’s University Autònoma of Barcelona.

Justyna has also worked on another aspect of MELiSSA, preparing an experiment on highly nutritious oxygen-producing Spirulina bacteria for a teacher workshop.

Set to leave ESA in September, Justyna is looking for a PhD position in microbiology, biotechnology or environmental engineering.

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