UK-led telescope to gaze at exoplanets, plus Jupiter 's 'glow-in-the-dark' moon

Also: Space photos from an analogue age up for sale, more Cygnus


In Brief Until 20 November, space fans will have a chance to pick up their own bit of photographic history courtesy of auctioneer Christie's Voyage To Another World: The Victor Martin-Malburet Photograph Collection.

The 700 lots, comprising 2,400 original photographs collected over 15 years by Martin-Malburet, go back to the early days of space exploration. Images captured during iconic Gemini and Apollo missions are up for grabs, including Buzz Aldrin's space "selfie" and the only photograph of Neil Armstrong on the Moon (unless one counts images grabbed from film.)

While some might point to the digital versions that can be downloaded from NASA, the idea of getting hold of rare photographs produced by the space agency for presentation will be appealing, even if some of the prices (ranging from £800 to £30,000) may put things beyond all but the most well-heeled of enthusiasts.

UK-led space telescope set for launch in 2029

The European Space Agency (ESA) had given the nod for a UK-led exoplanet observatory following a rigorous review process. The mission of the Atmospheric Remote-sensing Infrared Exoplanet Large-survey (ARIEL) observatory will study approximately 1,000 known planets outside our solar system and characterise their atmospheres.

The UK Space Agency has committed more than £3.5m to support UK teams to March 2021 "with further funding currently being reviewed." UK companies are also expecting to be involved in building and operating the spacecraft.

The 1,500kg Ariel spacecraft will be launched on an Ariane 6 and spend at least four years in orbit at the Sun – Earth Lagrange Point 2.

The UK has form when it comes to Ariel. Those of a certain age will remember Ariel 1, the UK's first satellite, launched on a US rocket back in 1962. The Shakespearean theme would continue nearly ten years later with the launch of the Prospero satellite on the UK's own rocket, the Black Arrow, in 1971.

Two more flights for the Cygnus

NASA has awarded Northrop Grumman a pair of additional missions to ferry cargo to the International Space Station (ISS).

The launches, due in 2023, were awarded under the Commercial Resupply Services contract-2 (CRS-2) and will see the company carry a combined total of 16,500 lbs to the ISS.

Launched atop the company's Antares 230, the Cygnus has done sterling duty transporting cargo to the ISS. Unlike its rival in the CRS stakes, SpaceX, the Cygnus is disposed of in the atmosphere, although recent missions have seen the freighter set to work conducting experiments following its departure from the outpost. A variant of the Cygnus also features in Northrop Grumman's plans for a minimal habitation module for the lunar Gateway.

Jupiter's glow-in-the-dark moon, Europa

Research from scientists at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California has thrown light on Europa's glow.

Europa is bombarded with radiation from Jupiter, and scientists reckon the moon emits different hues depending on the compound that has been pummelled. Some look a little green, others pale blue or white and so on.

By studying the colour and brightness, scientists can put together a picture of the composition of the ice and, more importantly, learn more about what lies beneath.

The results were stumbled upon when scientists attempted to simulate the effect of radiation on organic material under a recreation of Europa's ice. The realisation that the radiation glow varied with the composition of the ice "was – as the authors called it – serendipity."

Getting a glimpse of Europa in the dark is tricky, and the team are working with scientists responsible for instruments on the pending Europe Clipper mission to see if the spacecraft might detect such a glow.

"It's not often that you're in a lab and say, 'We might find this when we get there'," said JPL's Murthy Gudipati. "Usually it's the other way around – you go there and find something and try to explain it in the lab. But our prediction goes back to a simple observation, and that's what science is about." Indeed it is. ®


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