Publication archive

Publication archive

Reference: ESA-SCI(2017)1

In February 2014, PLATO (PLAnetary Transits and Oscillation of stars) was selected as the M3 mission in the Cosmic Vision 2015-2025 programme. This report (also known as the Red Book) provides a high-level summary of the large number of scientific and technical documents produced as outcome of the definition study for the PLATO mission.

Published: 05 April 2017

Outbursts occur commonly on comets with different frequencies and scales. Despite multiple observations suggesting various triggering processes, the driving mechanism of such outbursts is still poorly understood. Landslides have been invoked to explain some outbursts on comet 103P/Hartley 2, although the process required a pre-existing dust layer on the verge of failure. The Rosetta mission observed several outbursts from its target comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko, which were attributed to dust generated by the crumbling of materials from collapsing cliffs. However, none of the aforementioned works included definitive evidence that landslides occur on comets. Amongst the many features observed by Rosetta on the nucleus of the comet, one peculiar fracture, 70 m long and 1 m wide, was identified on images obtained in September 2014 at the edge of a cliff named Aswan. On 10 July 2015, the Rosetta Navigation Camera captured a large plume of dust that could be traced back to an area encompassing the Aswan escarpment. Five days later, the OSIRIS camera observed a fresh, sharp and bright edge on the Aswan cliff. Here we report the first unambiguous link between an outburst and a cliff collapse on a comet. We establish a new dust-plume formation mechanism that does not necessarily require the breakup of pressurized crust or the presence of supervolatile material, as suggested by previous studies. Moreover, the collapse revealed the fresh icy interior of the comet, which is characterized by an albedo >0.4, and provided the opportunity to study how the crumbling wall settled down to form a new talus.

The evolution of the collapse of the Aswan cliff, observed by the OSIRIS Narrow Angle Camera (NAC) and the Rosetta Navigation camera (NavCam), is shown in Fig. 1.

[Remainder of abstract truncated due to character limitations]

Published: 21 March 2017
The Rosetta spacecraft spent ~2 years orbiting comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, most of it at distances that allowed surface characterization and monitoring at submeter scales. From December 2014 to June 2016, numerous localized changes were observed, which we attribute to cometary-specific weathering, erosion, and transient events driven by exposure to sunlight and other processes. While the localized changes suggest compositional or physical heterogeneity, their scale has not resulted in substantial alterations to the comet's landscape. This suggests that most of the major landforms were created early in the comet's current orbital configuration. They may even date from earlier if the comet had a larger volatile inventory, particularly of CO or CO2 ices, or contained amorphous ice, which could have triggered activity at greater distances from the Sun.
Published: 21 March 2017
The brightness of an active galactic nucleus is set by the gas falling onto it from the galaxy, and the gas infall rate is regulated by the brightness of the active galactic nucleus; this feedback loop is the process by which supermassive black holes in the centres of galaxies may moderate the growth of their hosts. Gas outflows (in the form of disk winds) release huge quantities of energy into the interstellar medium, potentially clearing the surrounding gas. The most extreme (in terms of speed and energy) of these–the ultrafast outflows–are the subset of X-ray-detected outflows with velocities higher than 10,000 kilometres per second, believed to originate in relativistic (that is, near the speed of light) disk winds a few hundred gravitational radii from the black hole. The absorption features produced by these outflows are variable, but no clear link has been found between the behaviour of the X-ray continuum and the velocity or optical depth of the outflows, owing to the long timescales of quasar variability. Here we report the observation of multiple absorption lines from an extreme ultrafast gas flow in the X-ray spectrum of the active galactic nucleus IRAS 13224−3809, at 0.236 ± 0.006 times the speed of light (71,000 kilometres per second), where the absorption is strongly anti-correlated with the emission of X-rays from the inner regions of the accretion disk. If the gas flow is identified as a genuine outflow then it is in the fastest five per cent of such winds, and its variability is hundreds of times faster than in other variable winds, allowing us to observe in hours what would take months in a quasar. We find X-ray spectral signatures of the wind simultaneously in both low- and high-energy detectors, suggesting a single ionized outflow, linking the low- and high-energy absorption lines.

[Remainder of abstract truncated due to character limitations]

Published: 02 March 2017

Reference: ESA/SCI(2017)4

This is the Assessment Study Report (Yellow Book) for XIPE (X-ray Imaging Polarimetry Explorer). XIPE is a candidate mission for the M4 medium-class mission in ESA's Science Programme.

Published: 01 March 2017

Reference: ESA/SCI(2017)3

This is the Assessment Study Report (Yellow Book) for THOR (Turbulence Heating ObserveR). THOR is a candidate mission for the M4 medium-class mission in ESA's Science Programme.

Published: 01 March 2017

Reference: ESA/SCI(2017)2

This is the Assessment Study Report (Yellow Book) for ARIEL (Atmospheric Remote-sensing Infrared Exoplanet Large-survey). ARIEL is a candidate mission for the M4 medium-class mission in ESA's Science Programme.

Published: 01 March 2017
Published online: 5 December 2016

The neutron star (NS) low-mass X-ray binary (LMXB) the Rapid Burster (RB; MXB 1730-335) uniquely shows both Type I and Type II X-ray bursts. The origin of the latter is ill-understood but has been linked to magnetospheric gating of the accretion flow. We present a spectral analysis of simultaneous Swift, NuSTAR and XMM-Newton observations of the RB during its 2015 outburst. Although a broad Fe K line has been observed before, the high quality of our observations allows us to model this line using relativistic reflection models for the first time. We find that the disc is strongly truncated at 41.8+6.7-5.3 gravitational radii (~87 km), which supports magnetospheric Type II burst models and strongly disfavours models involving instabilities at the innermost stable circular orbit. Assuming that the RB magnetic field indeed truncates the disc, we find B = (6.2 ± 1.5) × 108 G, larger than typically inferred for NS LMXBs. In addition, we find a low inclination (i=29°±2°). Finally, we comment on the origin of the Comptonized and thermal components in the RB spectrum.

Published: 01 March 2017

Context. Before the publication of the Gaia Catalogue, the contents of the first data release have undergone multiple dedicated validation tests.

Aims. These tests aim to provide in-depth analysis of the Catalogue content in order to detect anomalies and individual problems in specific objects or in overall statistical properties, and either to filter them before the public release or to describe the different caveats on the release for an optimal exploitation of the data.

Methods. Dedicated methods using either Gaia internal data, external catalogues, or models have been developed for the validation processes. They test normal stars as well as various populations such as open or globular clusters, double stars, variable stars, and quasars. Properties of coverage, accuracy, and precision of the data are provided by the numerous tests presented here and are jointly analysed to assess the data release content.

Results. This independent validation confirms the quality of the published data, Gaia DR1 being the most precise all-sky astrometric and photometric catalogue to date. However, several limitations in terms of completeness, and astrometric or photometric quality are identified and described. Figures describing the relevant properties of the release are shown, and the testing activities carried out validating the user interfaces are also described. A particular emphasis is made on the statistical use of the data in scientific exploitation.

Published: 27 February 2017

Context. This paper presents an overview of the photometric data that are part of the first Gaia data release.

Aims. The principles of the processing and the main characteristics of the Gaia photometric data are presented.

Methods. The calibration strategy is outlined briefly and the main properties of the resulting photometry are presented.

Results. Relations with other broadband photometric systems are provided. The overall precision for the Gaia photometry is shown to be at the milli-magnitude level and has a clear potential to improve further in future releases.

Published: 23 February 2017
Ultraluminous x-ray sources (ULXs) in nearby galaxies shine brighter than any x-ray source in our Galaxy. ULXs are usually modeled as stellar-mass black holes (BHs) accreting at very high rates or intermediate-mass BHs. We present observations showing that NGC 5907 ULX is instead an x-ray accreting neutron star (NS) with a spin period evolving from 1.43 seconds in 2003 to 1.13 seconds in 2014. It has an isotropic peak luminosity of ~1000 times the Eddington limit for a NS at 17.1 megaparsec. Standard accretion models fail to explain its luminosity, even assuming beamed emission, but a strong multipolar magnetic field can describe its properties. These findings suggest that other extreme ULXs (x-ray luminosity ≥1041 erg second -1) might harbor NSs.
Published: 20 February 2017
The Kuiper Belt of our solar system is a source of short-period comets that may have delivered water and other volatiles to Earth and the other terrestrial planets. However, the distribution of water and other volatiles in extrasolar planetary systems is largely unknown. We report the discovery of an accretion of a Kuiper-Belt-Object analog onto the atmosphere of the white dwarf WD 1425+540. The heavy elements C, N, O, Mg, Si, S, Ca, Fe, and Ni are detected, with nitrogen observed for the first time in extrasolar planetary debris. The nitrogen mass fraction is ~2%, comparable to that in comet Halley and higher than in any other known solar system object. The lower limit to the accreted mass is ~1022 g, which is about one hundred thousand times the typical mass of a short-period comet. In addition, WD 1425+540 has a wide binary companion, which could facilitate perturbing a Kuiper-Belt-Object analog into the white dwarf's tidal radius. This finding shows that analogs to objects in our Kuiper Belt exist around other stars and could be responsible for the delivery of volatiles to terrestrial planets beyond the solar system.
Published: 09 February 2017
We present UBVRI and CT1T2 photometry for 15 catalogued open clusters of relative high brightness and compact appearance. From these unprecedented photometric data sets, covering wavelengths from the blue up to the near-infrared, we performed a thorough assessment of their reality as stellar aggregates. We statistically assigned to each observed star within the object region a probability of being a fiducial feature of that field in terms of its local luminosity function, colour distribution and stellar density. Likewise, we used accurate parallaxes and proper motions measured by the Gaia satellite to help our decision on the open cluster reality. 10 catalogued aggregates did not show any hint of being real physical systems; three of them had been assumed to be open clusters in previous studies, though. On the other hand, we estimated reliable fundamental parameters for the remaining five studied objects, which were confirmed as real open clusters. They resulted to be clusters distributed in a wide age range, 8.0 ≤ log (t yr-1) ≤ 9.4, of solar metal content and placed between 2.0 and 5.5 kpc from the Sun. Their ages and metallicities are in agreement with the presently known picture of the spatial distribution of open clusters in the Galactic disc.
Published: 12 January 2017
Magnetic reconnection–the process responsible for many explosive phenomena in both nature and laboratory–is efficient at dissipating magnetic energy into particle energy. To date, exactly how this dissipation happens remains unclear, owing to the scarcity of multipoint measurements of the "diffusion region" at the sub-ion scale. Here we report such a measurement by Cluster–four spacecraft with separation of 1/5 ion scale. We discover numerous current filaments and magnetic nulls inside the diffusion region of magnetic reconnection, with the strongest currents appearing at spiral nulls (O-lines) and the separatrices. Inside each current filament, kinetic-scale turbulence is significantly increased and the energy dissipation, E' ⋅ j, is 100 times larger than the typical value. At the jet reversal point, where radial nulls (X-lines) are detected, the current, turbulence, and energy dissipations are surprisingly small. All these features clearly demonstrate that energy dissipation in magnetic reconnection occurs at O-lines but not X-lines.
Published: 12 January 2017
Wave function collapse models postulate a fundamental breakdown of the quantum superposition principle at the macroscale. Therefore, experimental tests of collapse models are also fundamental tests of quantum mechanics. Here, we compute the upper bounds on the collapse parameters, which can be inferred by the gravitational wave detectors LIGO, LISA Pathfinder, and AURIGA. We consider the most widely used collapse model, the continuous spontaneous localization (CSL) model. We show that these experiments exclude a huge portion of the CSL parameter space, the strongest bound being set by the recently launched space mission LISA Pathfinder. We also rule out a proposal for quantum-gravity-induced decoherence.
Published: 23 December 2016
This e-book (pdf, 33MB) is a collection of public contributions to celebrate the impact of the European Space Agency's Rosetta mission (2004-2016).

The contributions were shared on the Rosetta Legacy tumblr in September–October 2016.

This publication contains stories, images, videos, creations and experiences that convey the impact and meaning of the Rosetta Mission on the public. It provides a taste of Rosetta's legacy for fellow science communicators, scientists and engineers, educators, space enthusiasts – anyone who was fascinated by the mission.

Published: 22 December 2016

Context. The European Space Agency spacecraft Gaia is expected to observe about 10 000 Galactic Cepheids and over 100 000 Milky Way RR Lyrae stars (a large fraction of which will be new discoveries), during the five-year nominal lifetime spent scanning the whole sky to a faint limit of G = 20.7 mag, sampling their light variation on average about 70 times.

Aims. We present an overview of the Specific Objects Study (SOS) pipeline developed within the Coordination Unit 7 (CU7) of the Data Processing and Analysis Consortium (DPAC), the coordination unit charged with the processing and analysis of variable sources observed by Gaia, to validate and fully characterise Cepheids and RR Lyrae stars observed by the spacecraft. The algorithms developed to classify and extract information such as the pulsation period, mode of pulsation, mean magnitude, peak-to-peak amplitude of the light variation, subclassification in type, multiplicity, secondary periodicities, and light curve Fourier decomposition parameters, as well as physical parameters such as mass, metallicity, reddening, and age (for classical Cepheids) are briefly described.

Methods. The full chain of the CU7 pipeline was run on the time series photometry collected by Gaia during 28 days of ecliptic pole scanning law (EPSL) and over a year of nominal scanning law (NSL), starting from the general Variability Detection, general Characterization, proceeding through the global Classification and ending with the detailed checks and typecasting of the SOS for Cepheids and RR Lyrae stars (SOS Cep&RRL).

[Remainder of abstract truncated due to character limitations]
Published: 24 November 2016

Context. Gaia is an ESA cornerstone mission launched on 19 December 2013 aiming to obtain the most complete and precise 3D map of our Galaxy by observing more than one billion sources. This paper is part of a series of documents explaining the data processing and its results for Gaia Data Release 1, focussing on the G band photometry.

Aims. This paper describes the calibration model of the Gaia photometric passband for Gaia Data Release 1.

Methods. The overall principle of splitting the process into internal and external calibrations is outlined. In the internal calibration, a self-consistent photometric system is generated. Then, the external calibration provides the link to the absolute photometric flux scales.

Results. The Gaia photometric calibration pipeline explained here was applied to the first data release with good Results. Details are given of the various calibration elements including the mathematical formulation of the models used and of the extraction and preparation of the required input parameters (e.g. colour terms). The external calibration in this first release provides the absolute zero point and photometric transformations from the Gaia G passband to other common photometric systems.

Conclusions. This paper describes the photometric calibration implemented for the first Gaia data release and the instrumental effects taken into account. For this first release no aperture losses, radiation damage, and other second-order effects have not yet been implemented in the calibration.

Published: 24 November 2016

The European Space Agency’s Gaia satellite was launched into orbit around L2 in December 2013 with a payload containing 106 large-format scientific CCDs. The primary goal of the mission is to repeatedly obtain high-precision astrometric and photometric measurements of one thousand million stars over the course of five years. The scientific value of the down-linked data, and the operation of the onboard autonomous detection chain, relies on the high performance of the detectors. As Gaia slowly rotates and scans the sky, the CCDs are continuously operated in a mode where the line clock rate and the satellite rotation spin-rate are in synchronisation. Nominal mission operations began in July 2014 and the first data release is being prepared for release at the end of Summer 2016. In this paper we present an overview of the focal plane, the detector system, and strategies for on-orbit performance monitoring of the system. This is followed by a presentation of the performance results based on analysis of data acquired during a two-year window beginning at payload switch-on. Results for parameters such as readout noise and electronic offset behaviour are presented and we pay particular attention to the effects of the L2 radiation environment on the devices. The radiation-induced degradation in the charge transfer efficiency (CTE) in the (parallel) scan direction is clearly diagnosed; however, an extrapolation shows that charge transfer inefficiency (CTI) effects at end of mission will be approximately an order of magnitude less than predicted pre-flight. It is shown that the CTI in the serial register (horizontal direction) is still dominated by the traps inherent to the manufacturing process and that the radiation-induced degradation so far is only a few per cent.

[Remainder of abstract truncated due to character limitations]
Published: 24 November 2016

Context. As part of the data processing for Gaia Data Release 1 (Gaia DR1) a special astrometric solution was computed, the so-called auxiliary quasar solution. This gives positions for selected extragalactic objects, including radio sources in the second realisation of the International Celestial Reference Frame (ICRF2) that have optical counterparts bright enough to be observed with Gaia. A subset of these positions was used to align the positional reference frame of Gaia DR1 with the ICRF2. Although the auxiliary quasar solution was important for internal validation and calibration purposes, the resulting positions are in general not published in Gaia DR1.

Aims. We describe the properties of the Gaia auxiliary quasar solution for a subset of sources matched to ICRF2, and compare their optical and radio positions at the sub-mas level.

Methods. Descriptive statistics are used to characterise the optical data for the ICRF sources and the optical-radio differences. The most discrepant cases are examined using online resources to find possible alternative explanations than a physical optical-radio offset of the quasars.

Results. In the auxiliary quasar solution 2191 sources have good optical positions matched to ICRF2 sources with high probability. Their formal standard errors are better than 0.76 milliarcsec (mas) for 50% of the sources and better than 3.35 mas for 90%. Optical magnitudes are obtained in Gaia's unfiltered photometric G band. The Gaia results for these sources are given as a separate table in Gaia DR1. The comparison with the radio positions of the defining sources shows no systematic differences larger than a few tenths of a mas. The fraction of questionable solutions, not readily accounted for by the statistics, is less than 6%.

[Remainder of abstract truncated due to character limitations]

Published: 24 November 2016
26-May-2024 01:52 UT

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