The Cosmic Mirror
By Daniel Fischer
Every page present in
Europe & the U.S.!
Archive | Index
Ahead | Awards

The latest issue!
Also check out Space Today, Spacef. Now, SpaceRef!
A German companion - only available here!
Current mission news: MGS (latest pictures!) + Cassini + Stardust

First light for the new UV observatory satellite GALEX
NASA's Galaxy Evolution Explorer (see Update # 253) has gathered its first celestial images, a 'first light' milestone dedicated to the crew of the Space Shuttle Columbia: JPL Release.
Update # 255 of Thursday, June 5, 2003
(Eclipse links in the sidebar of story 2 updated until July 8)
Mars Express launched / Annular eclipse in N Europe / Small galaxy in retrograde orbit

Mars Express mission progresses smoothly

Europe's first mission to the Red Planet has continued its successful mission with another successful 'high-risk' post-launch milestone: Mars Express engineers breathed a sigh of relief early on June 5th at the European Space Operations Centre (ESOC) when the clamps holding the lander were released. If this particularly delicate operation had not proceeded as planned, it would have been impossible to deploy Beagle 2 on arrival at Mars. The clamps are extra attachments that ensure the lander stays perfectly fixed to the spacecraft during the launch and is not affected by launch vibrations. After the launch, these clamps are no longer needed, since another mechanism keeps Beagle 2 in place during the six-month trip to the Red Planet. This second mechanism allows Mars Express to deploy Beagle 2 on arrival at Mars. However, if the launch clamps had not released today, the second mechanism would have failed.

Posted earlier

Mars Express and Beagle 2 launched on time - and the first Mars Exploration Rover will follow soon

The unprecedented series of three ambitious launches to the Red Planet in one month has begun: On June 2 at 17:45 UTC = 23:45 local time in Baikonur, Russia, a Soyuz rocket with a Fregat upper stage has carried the first Mars mission of the European Space Agency first into Earth orbit and then into interplanetary space. Next on the launch pad, this time in Cape Canaveral: NASA's first Mars Exploration Rover, now due to go on June 8 at 18:06 or 18:44 UTC after a minor delay due mainly to paperwork. The 2nd MER is then to follow on June 25, and all the spacecraft should reach Mars between Dec. 25 and Jan. 25, 2004, with the Mars Express orbit insertion and landing of its small Beagle 2 companion coming first and the first MER touchdown ten days later.

Mars Express, weighing in at 1,120 kg, was built on ESA's behalf by a European team led by Astrium. It set out on its journey to Mars aboard a Soyuz-Fregat launcher, under Starsem operational management. An interim orbit around the Earth was reached following a first firing of the Fregat upper stage. One hour and thirty-two minutes later Fregat fired again, injecting the probe into its interplanetary orbit. Mars Express is pointing correctly towards the Sun and has deployed its solar panels. All on-board systems are operating faultlessly. On June 4, the probe will perform a corrective maneuvre that will place it in a Mars-bound trajectory, while the Fregat stage, trailing behind, will vanish into space - there will be no risk of it crashing into and contaminating the Red Planet.

Mars Express will then travel away from Earth at a speed exceeding 30 km/s (3 km/s in relation to the Earth), on a six-month and 400 million km journey through the solar system. Once all payload operations have been checked out, the probe will be largely deactivated. During this period, the spacecraft will contact Earth only once a day. Mid-journey correction of its trajectory is scheduled for September. Following reactivation of its systems at the end of November, Mars Express will get ready to release Beagle 2. The 60 kg capsule containing the tiny lander does not incorporate its own propulsion and steering system and will be released into a collision trajectory with Mars, on 20 December. It will enter the Martian atmosphere on Christmas day, after five days' ballistic flight.

As it descends, the lander will be protected in the first instance by a heat-shield; two parachutes will then open to provide further deceleration. With its weight down to 30 kg at most, it will land in an equatorial region known as Isidis Planitia. Three airbags will soften the final impact. This crucial phase in the mission will last just ten minutes, from entry into the atmosphere to landing. Meanwhile, the Mars Express probe proper will have performed a series of maneuvres through to a capture orbit. At this point its main motor will fire, providing the deceleration needed to acquire a highly elliptical transition orbit. Attaining the final operational orbit will call for four more firings. This 7.5 hour quasi-polar orbit will take the probe to within 250 km of the planet. While Beagle 2 will be in the spotlight initially, it is expected that 90% of the Mars Express science will come from the orbiter's 7 instruments.

Mars Express Launch: ESA Press Releases of June 5 [ESA Sci. News], June 2 [ESA Sci. News] and earlier [PR], ESA Science News, U Iowa, SwRI, U Chic., BNSC, JPL and MPG Releases, the homepage and coverage of June 5: BBC. June 4: BBC (other story), Guardian, Welt. June 3: NSU, New Sci., Dsc, Guardian (other story), Indep., FT, AFP (other story).
June 2: SN, S&T, Ast., PhysWeb, Wired, BBC (other and earlier story), CNN, Rtr (other story), AFP (earlier), SC, Ananova, Guardian, New Sci., ST, RP, Welt, NZ. June 1: Rtr. May 31: Welt. May 30: BBC (other story and another one), SC, AFP. May 29: AFP. May 28: SN (other story). Earlier: ESA, BNSC, MPG and MPAe Press Releases, ESA Diary [SR], BBC (earlier), Guardian, CSM, SC, ORF, NZ.

MER preparations: the Press Kit (PDF), NASA, KSC (earlier) and Botswana (earlier) Releases, the JPL on the rovers' wheels, the Status and coverage of June 5: SC. June 4: ST. June 3: Denver Post, FT. June 1: FT (other story). May 30: FT. May 29: SN (sidebar). May 28: BBC. May 27: SN, SC, AFP, ST. Earlier: AFP, FT, Ithaka Times, WP, SC (earlier), ABC.

Earth seen from Mars

orbit with the MGS camera - some details can be discerned: Science@NASA, MSSS pics, NASA Release, S&T, Nat'l Geogr., BBC, SC, UPI, AP, Guardian, BdW, RP.
Don't forget Nozomi, also heading for Mars: SN.
NASA plans beyond the MER: SN. Mars plane visions, experiments: BBC, SC, Welt. Scientists eager to get on board ExoMars: ESA Press Release. Human mission to Mars - the second Aurora Working Meeting: ESA Press Release.
What to see on Mars during this year's record apparition: S&T, ABC. Mars myths: BBC, Guardian. Mars a past water world after all: BBC, SD. More life speculations: BBC (earlier, still earlier), NZ.

Another annular eclipse for the record books: extremely early in the morning, deeply partial all over Europe, annular in the Far North - and just a few cloud-holes ...

Yet another mostly cloudy eclipse has been witnessed in the wee hours of May 31st by most observers who had travelled to northern Scotland, the Scottish Isles and Iceland - but as with the similarly cloud-stricken previous annular eclipses in 2002 (see Update # 239 header) and 2001 (see Update # 231 header), a lucky few could actually catch the ring, if sometimes just in segments and for seconds. For example, while most of the Shetland Islands NE of Scotland witnessed a dazzingly bright sunrise - with already part of the Sun's disk occulted by the Moon - the actual annularity was clouded out almost everywhere. Except, however, for half a dozen passengers on a small chartered boat off the famous bird island of Noss who got fleeting glimpses of the ring phase from their shaking platform.

Another opening in the cloud cover at the right time occured in a remote corner of Iceland, while the more heavily populated environs of Reykjavik were clouded out. Also not too happy were serious observers on board a chartered plane over Iceland: The quality of the windows was just too bad confronted with the glare of the Sun ring. Generally satisfied, however, were those on Europe's mainland who had just to cope with low banks of clouds. As it would turn out, in many cases their dimming power was just right to permit detailled observations of the rising and already heavily eclipsed sun without any additional filtering. In Germany, for example, the solar crescent rose »horns first«, a sight described by many as just stunning. Still a closed ring is the Grand Prize, and the next two chances will come both in 2005, during a hybrid eclipse in April in Panama and a true annular one in October in Spain.

Two weeks earlier, a total lunar eclipse was another unusual sight, at least in Europe on the morning of May 16: Here the peak of the eclipse coincided with sunrise. This meant that the first partiality could still be observed, with dawn approaching and the Moon sinking ever deeper - and just when totality began ½ hour before sunrise, the whole show would simply fade out. In the Americas the eclipse was more of a prime-time event, though large parts of e.g. the U.S. were clouded out. The next chance will come already in November, however, this time better timed for Europe. A continent, by the way, where a true miracle has been unfolding throughout this past May: Although not exactly known for reliable skies, there were many places in Central Europe where the transit of Mercury and the dawn lunar eclipse and the deep partial eclipse have been seen well ...

The solar eclipse: galleries by SpaceWeather, Williams,, WAA and BBC, a large link collection, individual reports and pictures from Iceland by Espenak, Burch, Monk and Südstadt, from the Shetlands by Fischer and Wills, from Scotland by Rieth, Delcourte, Coeckelberghs, Saros and White, from Norway (more impressions), the Netherlands, Belgium, Halle, Herne, Bochum, Bonn, Lübeck, Austria (animated!) and Slovenia, from a regularly scheduled plane and a chartered plane (more pictures), plus by Stadter, Roerig, Wienerroither, Messner, Hänel, Dumm and Holl - and pictures by Lüthen, Boos and Lohf of an aurora on May 29/30.
Coverage by BBC (other story), S&T, Scotsman (more), Observer, Sky News, Rtr and RP, websites by Espenak and Seal and previews by SC (featuring one of the webmaster's pictures of a similar case in 1992!), NSU, S&T, BBC, Glasgow Herald, Scotsman, Guardian and AFP.

The lunar eclipse: galleries & reports from SpaceWeather, Rhein. Post, Stadter, Burch, Rieth, WAA, Südstadt, San Francisco, Tenerife, Bloomington, Herne, Lübeck (click at "Bild vor") and from the ISS, plus coverage by S&T, BBC, SN, AP and RP.
Websites: Espenak, MoFi Info (with a large link collection). Advance Press Releases: Science@NASA, ASP, S&T. Previews: Science@NASA, NSU, BBC, SF Gate, Dsc., FT, Ast., CSM, SC (earlier, still earlier), Welt, NZ.

Small galaxy in retrograde orbit around Milky Way

New observations with the Green Bank Telescope suggest that what was once believed to be an intergalactic cloud of unknown distance and significance, is actually a previously unrecognized satellite galaxy of the Milky Way orbiting backward around the Galactic center. This object, known as "Complex H," is crashing through the outermost parts of the Milky Way from an inclined, retrograde orbit. Astronomers had previously lumped it in with other high velocity clouds that had strange and unpredictable trajectories. High velocity clouds are essentially what their name implies, fast-moving clouds of predominately neutral atomic hydrogen, often found at great distances from the disk of the Milky Way.

Earlier studies of Complex H were hindered because the cloud currently is passing almost exactly behind the outer disk of the Galaxy. Radio waves, however, which have a much longer wavelength than visible light, are able to pass through the intervening dust and gas. The extreme sensitivity of the recently commissioned GBT radio telescope have now allowed to clearly map the structure of Complex H, revealing a dense core moving on an orbit at a 45-degree angle to the plane of the Milky Way, plus a tail trailing behind the central mass. The new observations place Complex H at approximately 108,000 light-years from the Galactic center, and indicate that it is nearly 33,000 light-years across, containing approximately 6 million solar masses of hydrogen.

NRAO Press Release, BdW. Plus AFP on a speech by the U.S. senator for which the GBT is named.

The biggest 'construction sites' in the Universe

Chandra images of two distant massive galaxies show that they are enveloped by vast clouds of high-energy particles that are evidence for past explosive activity: CXO Photo, BdW.
SDSS confirms existence of Dark Matter by studying motions of satellite galaxies: SDSS, MPG Press Releases, NSU, CSM, SC, NZ. Dark matter linked to extra dimensions? UF News.

STS-107/ISS Update

A CAIB Press Release and viewgraphs on the first foam impact test on a real orbiter wing, Gehman and O'Keefe testimony on May 14, ESA News (earlier) and an Energia PR (earlier) on the Soyuz problem and its solution, a NASA telecon on May 9, NIST and Univ. of Miss. Press Releases, strange star trails and two Iridium flares in one picture seen from the ISS, an ISS Status Report on a collision avoidance maneuver, Ed Lu's 1st diary entry and coverage of June 5: SN, WP, CNN, ST, Dsc.. June 4: SN, FT 2, 1, SC. June 2: WP. May 31: ST. May 30: New Sci., WP, ST 2, 1, CNN, SC, AFP, NZ. May 29: SN, WP, SC, FT. May 28: SN, FT, AP, SC. May 27: AP, VOA.
May 26: AFP, AP, ST, Welt. May 24: WP, ST 2, 1, AFP, RP. May 23: SN, FT 2, 1, ST, AP. May 22: AP, Rtr, SC. May 21: New Sci., WP, FT 2, 1, ST. May 20: SN, FT 2, 1, ST, AFP, AP, Rtr. May 19: AFP, WP, FT. May 18: WP, ST 2, 1. May 17: FT, Rtr, ST. May 16: SC 2, 1. May 15: AFP, WP. May 14: FT 3, 2, 2, 2, 2, 1, BBC, Dsc., UPI, SC. May 13: SN, AP, AFP 2, 1, ST. May 12: Moscow Times, WP 2, 1, FT 3, 2, 1, SC, SD. May 11: ST. May 10: FT 2, 1, WP, UPI.
Shuttle exhaust can cause NLCs, the famous noctilucent clouds in the upper atmosphere: GSFC Release.
Shenzhou-5 launch preparations continue despite SARS - and in addition to the Shenzhou-5 flight China aims to launch seven other satellites: SD. OSP visions: SC.

ESA space ministers get their act together

At a one-day meeting on May 27 in Paris, several key problems of European space policy, from the Ariane crisis to Rosetta's cost problems, have been addressed: ESA and Arianespace Press Releases, New Sci., BBC (earlier), AFP (earlier, still earlier), ST.

Rosetta's new destination is now confirmed as well: ESA Press Release, Ast., AFP. Earlier: SN, BBC.

The Galileo (satnav) crisis has also been solved (just one day before the meeting) and the ambitious EU/ESA project can now go ahead: ESA Press Release, New Sci., SN, IHT, AFP, Rtr, Space News, ST.

"First Light" with new Adaptive Optics system for the VLT Interferometer

On April 18, 2003, a team of engineers from ESO celebrated the successful accomplishment of "First Light" for the MACAO-VLTI Adaptive Optics facility on the Very Large Telescope (VLT) at the Paranal Observatory (Chile) - this is the second Adaptive Optics (AO) system put into operation at this observatory: ESO Press Release, BBC, NZ.

A particularly strange planetary nebula with S-shaped jets: ESA HST Release, SC, BdW.

A questioned exoplanet makes a comeback - at least in a paper by Santos & al.

Fast solar wind escapes through dense coronal features

and not the 'holes' inbetween, SOHO observations establish: ESA Science News. Corona heating physics: BdW.

UV images of the Sun taken during flights of the VAULT sounding rockets can be seen here!

Dayside Proton Auroral Spots linked to a reconnection in the Earth's field, thanks to multi-satellite observations: AGU Press Release, ESA Science News, Ast., AFP.

SMEX mission SPIDR cancelled

because its instrument might not perform as advertised: ST.

Odin's mission extended - the Swedish satellite from Update # 219 (story 4) carries on: CSA Press Release [SR]. Odin observes H2O in the Galactic Center: a paper by Sandqvist & al.

Mini observatory MOST to launch on June 30 - "Microvariability & Oscillations of STars" will be Canada's first space telescope: CSA Press Release.

Brighter Neptune suggests change of seasons

Observations with Hubble reveal an increase in Neptune's brightness in the southern hemisphere - astronomers consider this increase a harbinger of seasonal change: details, Wisc. and HST Releases, pictures, S&T, Dsc., New Sci., BBC, WP, SC, ST, NZ.

Saturns winds change rapidly, having slowed down by 40 percent over two decades - the stark shift may owe to seasonal change or possibly even shadows cast by Saturn's rings: Wellesley PR [SR], SciAm, BBC, AFP, SC, ST, RP, NZ.

Recent Jovian moon discoveries now published formally in Nature - the count is 61 now: Univ. of Bristol and UBC Press Releases, more [SN, SD], Ast., RP. Europa's ice crust about 25 km thick: BBC. Water evidence: SC.

More impressions from the Transit of Mercury

of May 7 (see also the header of the last Update): Schremmer, Gouhoury, Legault [APOD], Jacquot, Dierick, Worm, Herfurth, Miroslaw (movie), Adib Soc. (in Farsi!), Remstal, Saros, Uranos.

Two bright comets one year from now? It's still far from certain - and would be seen best from the S hemisphere: SC; this was also discussed months ago in MegaLithos News where more links are given.

2nd success for the Atlas V

An Atlas 5 booster successfully launched a Greek communications satellite on May 13 - the launch was the second for the Atlas 5, which made its debut in August of last year; another launch is scheduled for this July: SN, FT, SC, ST.

Japanese capsule returns to Earth - the 2-m-long capsule from the Unmanned Space Experiment Recovery System (USERS) spacecraft splashed down in the Pacific 1,000 kilometers south of Tokyo: AFP, SC, SN, FT, ST.

Cassini emerges from safe mode and everything is back on track: Weekly Event Report (previous).

  • How the "Red Rectangle" works has now been explained: JPL Release. An HST image of part of the Vela SNR: HST Release, SC.
  • The third-closest star system hits the news - it was reported here already 3 months ago in Update # 249 (small items left column): GSFC and JPL Press Releases, UPI, The Age, NZ.
  • Solar system formation triggered by a supernova? Traces in meteorites may prove that: PSRD.
  • Plumbing the Earth's depths - a US scientist has described an ambitious plan using a nuclear weapon and millions of tonnes of molten iron to send a grapefruit-sized probe to the center of the Earth: details, Caltech Press Release, BBC, ABC, SC, ZEIT, NZ.
  • Invisible alien broadcasts? A clever attempt to solve the Fermi Paradoxon: New Scientist.

Have you read the the previous issue?!
All other historical issues can be found in the Archive.
The U.S. site of this Cosmic Mirror has been visited times
since it was issued (the German site has no counter).

Compiled and written by Daniel Fischer
(send me a mail to!), Skyweek