ESA

Image of the SOHO space probe showing the comet C/2015 D1 (SOHO) near the Sun (Image ESA/NASA/SOHO/Hill)

The SOHO (Solar and Heliospheric Observatory) space probe has the primary purpose of keeping an eye on the Sun but when a comet passes close to our star is also useful to track its trajectory. Last week, SOHO identified a new comet because passing near the Sun it’s become bright enough to be detected.

This comet was originally called SOHO-2875 because in the course of over 19 years of mission in a collaboration between ESA and NASA this is the 2875th comet identified by the SOHO space probe. Subsequently officially named C/2015 D1 (SOHO), it survived a flyby with the Sun and may also be visible from Earth in the coming weeks.

Photo of the comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko taken by the Rosetta space probe on February 9, 2015 during its approach (Image ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM)

Last Saturday, ESA’s Rosetta space probe made a flyby just 6 kilometers (about 4 miles) away from the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, which is becoming more and more active because the approach to the Sun is sublimating its water ice. This maneuver is an important moment in the Rosetta mission for the possible analyzes but also because it starts a new phase in which the probe will move away from the comet for its passage closest to the Sun in August 2015.

The Rosetta space probe’s flyby is the culmination of a series of maneuvers that started on February 4, 2015 when it abandoned the orbit in which he was flying, about 26 kilometers from the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Initially, Rosetta moved away from the comet until it was 142 kilometers (about 88 miles) away then it moved close again and to reach the minimum distance on February 14.

IXV lifting off atop a Vega rocket (Image ESA)

Today the suborbital test of IXV (Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle) was conducted. It’s an ESA experimental spacecraft that is designed to verify the some rentry technologies. IXV was launched on a Vega rocket in the launch indicated as VV04 from the Kourou space center in French Guyana.

The final purpose for ESA is to build a spacecraft capable of returning to Earth autonomously. Over the years, ESA has built various types of spacecraft, including cargo ships, but none are able to return to Earth. For this reason, in 2002 it was decided to develop the technologies needed in order to build a spacecraft capable of bringing cargo from the International Space Station or from other missions in orbit.

Map of the polarisation of the Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation (Image ESA and the Planck Collaboration)

Nearly two years after presenting the best map ever made of the cosmic microwave background radiation, ESA revealed another map created using data collected by the Planck Surveyor space probe between 2009 and 2013. This new map shows the polarization of the cosmic microwave background radiation dating back to the early stages of the universe. It shows that the first stars started forming about 550 million years after the Big Bang, 100 million years later than previously thought.

Planck view of BICEP2 field (Image ESA/Planck Collaboration. Acknowledgment: M.-A. Miville-Deschênes, CNRS – Institut d’Astrophysique Spatiale, Université Paris-XI, Orsay, France)

In March 2014, the announcement that the BICEP2 (Background Imaging of Cosmic Extragalactic Polarization) experiment had detected gravitational waves in the perturbations in the cosmic microwave background radiation existing in the universe was sensational. This echo of cosmic inflation occurred shortly after the Big Bang was an extraordinary discovery. Unfortunately, a collaboration between the BICEP2 experiment and the team of ESA’s Planck space telescope has determined that those weren’t gravitational waves but probably emissions caused by galactic dust.