Apsis of spacetime: the Slowness of the Aphelion

 ๐Ÿ‡ช๐Ÿ‡ธ ๐Ÿ‡ฎ๐Ÿ‡น ๐Ÿ‡ง๐Ÿ‡ท

Today is the day of the year – the spacetime point of Earth’s orbit – where we are furthest from the star whose gravity shapes our orbit: today we are at aphelion, the day when planet Earth is at the maximum distance from the Sun.

And since an orbiting body moves at maximum speed at the closest point, and at minimum speed at the furthest point from the system’s center of gravity, today we can enjoy an orbital speed of about 500 meters per second slower than the average.

Today we are traveling in interplanetary space at only 29.3 km/s, against the 30.3 km/s of perihelion (which occurs in early January).

The cosmic advice of the day is: take everything slowly,
enjoy these 500 m/s of cosmic slowness compared to the average.


On heat waves and new emotions

Good morning from the Vanguard of Climate Collapse in the rich part of the world: the Iberian Peninsula.

This post was written as we were just coming out of a heat wave about ten days long: a heat wave that happened even before the solstice, which, I remember, marks the time of the year when the incidence of sunlight on the surface of the northern hemisphere of planet Earth is maximum, ergo: we were still in spring, here, during the first heat wave of 2022.

I will not dwell on the known and now almost banal effects of prolonged heat waves, but on some new emotions and sensations that, I think, will accompany us from here to the distant future. As a famous meme goes: This isn’t the hottest summer of our lives: this is the coolest summer of the rest of our lives.

๐Ÿ) ๐‚๐ž๐ฅ๐ž๐ฌ๐ญ๐ข๐š๐ฅ ๐ƒ๐ข๐ฌ๐จ๐ซ๐ข๐ž๐ง๐ญ๐š๐ญ๐ข๐จ๐ง

After a few days of rising accumulated heat in the atmosphere, the sky becomes saturated. The color of the sky fades and gives way to a diffuse gray. It looks like fog, but it’s not; they look like clouds, but they are not clouds; it is a hood of heat that pervades the whole lower part of the atmosphere, the one in which you live and move and breathe, and creates a very strange and disorienting effect in the sky. The sunlight is dimmed, but the solar heat is not. The full Moon stands out against an intense gray sky, which should obscure the light, but does not. The sky is suddenly disorienting.

๐Ÿ) ๐‚๐ซ๐ฒ๐จ-๐„๐ฎ๐ฉ๐ก๐จ๐ซ๐ข๐š

When the heat wave goes away, your body feels a pre-limbic joy, which does not go through any kind of rational processing and is not containable. In a directly proportional way to the lowering of temperature, a physical-spiritual euphoria pervades you: the sky turns blue, the Moon is clearly seen with its craters, the air enters your body as if it were water from a primeval river waterfall. You can’t help but rejoice, feel alive and livable again.

๐Ÿ‘) ๐†๐ž๐ง๐ž๐ซ๐š๐ญ๐ข๐จ๐ง๐š๐ฅ ๐’๐ก๐š๐ฆ๐ž

The heat wave is hard for all humans: but for those at the extreme end of the age distribution (the youngest and the oldest), it is harder. A generally dormant consciousness begins to simmer during the spring heat wave: while the elderly have lived a long life (precisely by the definition of the elderly himself), children have a whole life ahead of them (precisely by the definition of the children herself). The kind of life they will have stands out mercilessly before your eyes, and childhood discomfort is very difficult to sustain without anguish and shame, shame proportional to the number of Earth orbits already lived. Here on the Iberian Peninsula, children collapse during heat waves. Circulatory disturbances, headaches, dizziness, fainting, convulsions among elementary school children are a steeply rising phenomenon.

Front page of the newspaper “El Pais”, Title: “Reduced hours or vaporizers in the classrooms: measures to protect pupils from the hight temperatures”.
Subtitle: “The communities most affected by the heat wave act to prevent fainting, headaches, circulatory diseases among children”
Figure caption: “Mothers refresh their daughters as they exit the school, in Cordoba.”

Humanity adapts to everything, and quickly forgets everything.

I thank this 2022 spring heat wave, which a) reminds me of the discomfort of 2021 heat waves, which I had wisely removed; and b) reminds me that my adaptability is already very close to its limit.

This was the longest heat wave I have ever experienced in my 39 years of life on Earth.

Good luck to us: we will need it along with a lot of action; and the sooner we start, the less the worse it will be.

June 17th 2022, Madrid, Planet Earth.

Cosmic Home

๐Ÿ‡ง๐Ÿ‡ทย ๐Ÿ‡ช๐Ÿ‡ธ ๐Ÿ‡ฎ๐Ÿ‡น

This is home.

As seen from Mars, after sunset.

There is a little rover with a camera on Mars — humans sent it, and it took this photograph of all of us, 160 millions kilometers away.

We all are the “evening star” in someone else’s sky.

We all are just a tiny tiny dot in the immensity of space.

We all share the same planet.

Earth and the Moon as seen by Curiosity on Mars –photo credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/TAMU
Photo credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/TAMU
Photo credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/TAMU


Galactic Diamond

๐Ÿ‡ง๐Ÿ‡ท ๐Ÿ‡ช๐Ÿ‡ธ ๐Ÿ‡ฎ๐Ÿ‡น

Mosaic of four distinct lines of sight toward of our galaxy — the Milky Way — photographed from Earth over the course of two years by Alvin Wu.

From Earth’s northern hemisphere, the galaxy was photographed from China: from Qinghai in the summer and from Sichuan in the winter. From Earth’s southern hemisphere, photographs of the galaxy were taken from New Zealand: from Lake Pukaki in the winter and from Lake Wanaka in the summer.

Result: a single composition that contains a couple of hundred billion stars and immense piles of dust and gas, our entire cosmic neighborhood — ring-shaped.

At the top of the ring the galactic bulge is shining, and two special little glitters shine at the top: the planet Jupiter reflecting the light of our star the Sun, and Antares, an orange supergiant star almost a thousand times the size of our Sun. The region of Orion is visible at the bottom of the ring, and within the ring, our neighboring galaxies are visible: the two clouds of Magellan on the right, and Andromeda on the left.

I have no words to describe what this photographic composition makes me feel. The original words by the author: “It is an extreme romance of the Universe” – it is an extreme love story with the Universe.


Original post: https://www.instagram.com/p/CKRCvdhpBxH/

See also APOD: https://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap210122.html

Cosmic eyes

๐Ÿ‡ช๐Ÿ‡ธ ๐Ÿ‡ง๐Ÿ‡ท ๐Ÿ‡ฎ๐Ÿ‡น

“Little” Cosmic Eyes: the difference a century of human advance can make.

The barred spiral galaxy NGC 1398 as seen from Earth: today (ESO telescopes, photo on the left) and about 100 years ago (Telescope of the Palomar Observatory, photo on the right).

Terrestrial photography of NGC 1398: after and before (a century of human advance).

The photons arriving on Earth are the same; we have changed.

Image of the barred spiral galaxy NGC 1398 taken with the FORS2 instrument mounted in the Very Large Telescope of the European Southern Observatory (ESO), in Chile. Credits: ESO. Original link here. By clicking on the image you can access the high resolution file (about 20 MB).

This galaxy is just one of the trillions of galaxies out there, each with its own hundreds of billions of stars like our own star, the Sun. About 65 million light-years from our galaxy, NGC 1398 is relatively close, “just behind the corner”, cosmically speaking.

We are tiny.


Earth Day

This is home.
Questa รจ la nostra casa.
Compartimos todos el mismo planeta.
Nossa casinha cรณsmica azul.

Earth Dayย is everyday.

Our planet as seen by the Earth Polychromatic Camera on the DSCOVR spacecraft.

A global selfie on our way to planet Mercury

๐Ÿ‡ง๐Ÿ‡ท ๐Ÿ‡ฎ๐Ÿ‡น ๐Ÿ‡ช๐Ÿ‡ธ

The most beautiful things happen in space, which is where we all belong.

Ten days ago, humans took a series of global selfies through a camera onboard BepiColombo, which is a spacecraft on its way toward planet Mercury.

Video composed by a series of global selfies of humans taken from the BepiColombo spacecraft during its closest encounter with planet Earth, on 10 April 2020. The closest images were taken at less than 13 000 km from Earth’s surface. Credits: ESA/JAXA

Humans from the European Space Agency (ESA) and the ย Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) have launched the space mission BepiColombo from the Guiana Space Center in Kourou, on 20 October 2018.

BepiColombo has to travel for seven terrestrial years across the interplanetary space, before reaching its planned destination: the insertion in orbit a few hundreds kilometers above the surface of planet Mercury, the closest planet to our star, the Sun.

During its journey toward planet Mercury, BepiColombo will adjust its orbit several times by close encounters with planets of the solar system. During each of these encounters, called flyby, a little exchange of energy between BepiColombo and the planet happens, provoking a slow down or a speed up of the spacecraft relative to the Sun speed.

The first flyby of BepiColombo has just happened around our planet, Earth.

On April 10, 2020, BepiColombo approached Earth and said a definitive “goodbye”, slowing down a necessary bit (about 5 km/s relative to the Sun) to reach its next destination: planet Venus, where a double flyby will be performed in 2020 and 2021; the end of the journey of BepiColombo, the final orbit insertion around Mercury, will only happen in 2025. Space is very big, distances are very large.

You can see below the video of BepiColombo Earth’s flyby, composed by more than 200 pictures of all of us:

Video composed by the images taken by the BepiColombo space mission while saying goodbye to planet Earth, after a flyby where a bit of energy was exchanged, adjusting BepiColombo’s future orbit that will bring it toward planet Mercury in 2025. Credits: ESA/JAXA

The complete set of images taken by BepiColombo during the Earth flyby of 9-10-11 April 2020 can be found here.

This is one of the last images of planet Earth as seen by BepiColombo: a crescent tiny planet Earth which soon will get lost in the darkness of the Cosmos.

The last images of planet Earth as seen by BepiColombo on its way to planet Mercury. Credits: ESA/JAXA

Together, humans can maneuver space probes by carefully planning tiny exchanges of energy between planets and the probes themselves. United for the ultimate sake of knowledge.

This is proof that, united, humans can do the most fantastic things. By cooperating and not competing, there is noting we can not achieve.

We all share the same planet, we all belong to space.

The Good Circulation of Wisdom

๐Ÿ‡ง๐Ÿ‡ท ๐Ÿ‡ฎ๐Ÿ‡น ๐Ÿ‡ช๐Ÿ‡ธ

รlvaro Reinoso is an artist I met at the conference in honor of the 20th birthday of XMM-Newton, my favorite satellite.

รlvaro was at the conference to draw faces, impressions, and scientific talks which were then projected on big screens, and delighted scientists and visitors during coffee breaks.

Since then I follow him on twitter, where he shares everyday scenes filled with his fantasy; do you want an example of what it means to enrich existence, reality, what exists? Visit the page of รlvaro.

Yesterday he delighted me with this post, which with his permission I reproduce here: as I love รlvaro’s style of drawing, I loved the idea, and in general I cannot resist a well-made scheme.

How to live well during the quarantine period: tips for a good Circulation of Wisdom

Circulation of Wisdom in difficult moments: let everything you can control enter your heart (-> courage), and leave everything you cannot control out of your mind (-> calm).

The idea behind the Circulation of Wisdom in difficult times is as follows:

  • letting go of everything that cannot be controlled through the mind, to gain calm;

  • let everything you can control enter through your heart, to gain courage.
How to circulate wisdom well: let everything you can’t control get out of your mind, getting calm; let everything you can control enter your heart, gaining courage.

It is possible to summarize the strategy of Good Circulation of Wisdom in a scheme, where you can list all the things that you cannot control, and what you can do to get calm; and all the things that you can control, and what can be done to gain courage.

Example of things I cannot control:

  • the news;
  • social network trolling;
  • alarm and stress level of other people;
  • how long is all this going to last;
  • the number of whatsapp messages I receive every day;

…and what can I do to gain calm (filtering out through the mind):

  • read the news only once or twice per day;
  • visit social network profiles which publish positive content;
  • try to calm down others, whenever I have the energy to do so;
  • do not count the days;
  • take care about the messages of the people I love;

Example of things I can control:

  • wash my hands;
  • take care about the norms of social confinement;
  • take care when leaving the house;
  • take quality time with the ones I love, and be supportive of others;
  • take some time all for myself;

…and what can I do to gain courage (flowing in through the heart):

  • understand that rituals can be boring but are necessary;
  • think about people in the hospital;
  • understand that prudence is the intelligence of love;
  • look at myself in the mirror and ask what can I do for my neighbours and society.
  • stay positive;

These days, each of us has various things under control and various things out of control; some are common to everyone (“How long will this story last?”), others are special, individual (“When will my dear friend be released from the hospital?”). For this reason, รlvaro leaves us with a free scheme, to help elaborating our own personal strategy to obtain Calm and Courage, the two fundamental ingredients for a good Circulation of Wisdom.

Top left: “Things I cannot control”; top right: “Things I can control”; bottom left: “What can I do to gain calm”; bottom right: “What can I do to gain courage”.

So what to say: calm and courage, people!

A little bit of Cosmic neighborhood

APOD (Astronomical Picture of the Day) is a highly recommended website.

The image featured today is a photography by Scott Spinall, originally named “Cosmic meeting“. You can find his beautiful artwork here.

This is our Cosmic Neighborhood.

As seen from planet Earth:
our satellite the Moon (1.3 light seconds from Earth),
planet Venus (4 and a half light minutes from Earth),
the Pleiades star cluster (444 light years from Earth).

Furthermore, countless other galactic stars (many of them just like our star, the Sun, with their systems of planets around them).

This is just a tiny part of our Galaxy.

Our Galaxy is just an ordinary galaxy among the hundreds of billions galaxies out there — each one with their hundreds billions stars.

We all share the same, super-hyper-ultra-beautiful, tiny planet.

The story of Hitomi: a spacetime twist

๐Ÿ‡ง๐Ÿ‡ท ๐Ÿ‡ฎ๐Ÿ‡น ๐Ÿ‡ช๐Ÿ‡ธ

Four years ago, these days, I was living in Japan, and the Hitomi satellite was disintegrating in the sky along with my dreams of calibrating astronomical data never seen before.

Hitomi before launch, photographed in the Tsukuba space center, Japan.
Image of the launch of the Hitomi satellite from the Tanegashima Space Center on February 17, 2016.

Hitomi means pupil. The black of the pupil, where the light enters.

Designed to detect cosmic X-rays with a much higher resolution than that of the best existing telescopes, launched from the Tanegashima Space Center on February 17th 2016, on the night between March 26th and 27th 2016 Hitomi disintegrated in the sky while whirling and spinning on itself, out of control.

Infrared images of what remains of the Hitomi satellite, taken on April 2, 2016 by the Japanese telescope Subaru: in addition to the main body of Hitomi, various pieces of a few meters in size can be distinguished.

The news of the disintegration in orbit did not immediately reach Earth: the fate of Hitomi, for us humans, remained unclear for about a dozen days and a dozen semi-sleepless nights. It was clear that the satellite was abnormally spinning on itself, having completely lost its “cosmic orientation“.

Images filmed by terrestrial cameras were showing the satellite traveling in an uncontrolled manner, appearing similar to a bizarre, confused shooting star.

The satellite had probably broken, but perhaps not in an unrecoverable way.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Screen-Shot-2020-03-30-at-8.46.43-PM.png
Photograph of the JAXA monitor with Hitomi’s scientists telling us the latest updates on the satellite situation. It was clear that the satellite was spinning on itself without control, and that it had broken: but in how many pieces? Maybe the solar panels were still intact ..?

On 29 March 2016 I was interviewed by Marco Malaspina of Media INAF, and the YouTube video below (in Italian, sorry!) faithfully reports the atmosphere I was breathing in those days: trust and hope, which would have been irreparably broken by the laws of physics a few days later.

A story as crazy as it is real, that of Hitomi; a chain of cosmic contingencies (space is hard!) and human errors crowned by the fatal, almost-comic one in the drama: a ‘ ‘ sign instead of a ‘ + ‘ sign!

A push in the wrong direction to the already confused satellite and โ€ฆ CRACK!

Centrifugal force in action on 2.7 orbiting tons that make unbalanced turns, and together with the satellite the scientific projects and visions of dozens and dozens of astronomers of all ages and of all nations are broken — but especially Japanese, Dutch, Americans, Swiss, Canadians — and scientists who worked there, and students who studied there. In short, a lot of science lost, evaporated.

Set of corporate logos of all the Space Agencies, Universities, Research Centers, Companies, Industries involved in the construction of Hitomi.
JAXA managers update us on the status of Hitomi. Game over: the satellite broke, it lost its solar panels, and there is no way to recover it. Sorry!

Before disintegrating, Hitomi left us the best X-ray “energy spectrum” that humanity has ever seen: its gaze on the cosmos has been unprecedented.

Observing the Universe with Hitomi was like wearing clean glasses for the first time, after decades: but a few hours later, those glasses broke. To say that we were left with a bitter taste is a severe understatement.

X-ray spectrum of the Perseus Cluster. In red the X-ray spectrum visible from the largest orbiting X-ray telescope, XMM-Newton. In black the X-ray spectrum visible by Hitomi. What for XMM-Newton seemed to be “broad hills” around 6.5, 6.8, 7.7 keV, are revealed by Hitomi to be a set of narrow and well-defined signals, rich in information.

Still, a few terrestrial revolution later, I can say that Hitomi has been one of my greatest masters, and I thank his lost bits much more often than I could have imagined four years ago.

Four years ago, I was saying, I was living in Japan: alone, in a studio flat in the Japanese aerospace exploration agency JAXA, outside Tokyo. I mostly ate algae, sushi, shrimp, eggs, soups, rice, miso, and beer.

Photograph of the building of the Japanese Aerospace Research and Exploration Institute (JAXA) where I was staying in Sagamihara, west of Tokyo.

I had been sent to Japan for a month on behalf of SRON (the Space Research Institute of the Netherlands), involved at the forefront of the Hitomi project, to help calibrate the Soft X-ray Spectrometer (SXS): a revolutionary instrument in the field of high energy astrophysics, X-rays in particular; it was the SXS who had supplied Hitomi with those fantastic “new X-ray glasses“.

Photograph of the SXS, Soft X-ray Spectrometer, the technological gem aboard Hitomi.

All this has never happened: with Hitomi broken in orbit, the need for my scientific contribution suddenly evaporated. Back in the Netherlands all alone and all sad, there had been no meeting to take stock of a situation that no longer existed: we went from meetings over meetings, precisely planned meetings, maniacally projected into the future week after week, day after day , to โ€ฆ nothing.

Nothing, niente, nada de nada.

The frustration of understanding that we couldn’t see the long-awaited black hole data for the next five or ten or twenty years, applied to the cosmic nothingness that surrounded me, fermented a creative impetus that kicked off a series of events that led me, a few years later, to live in another country, in love, married, detoxified, at the head of my own project, and to travel the world to talk about black hole winds, up to Ethiopia. Oh, spacetime!

It was April 12, 2016; there were only a few days left for my return trip to Europe, and for several days I had been living in cosmic nothingness, made of no data; no bright future perspectives; or rather: no future perspectives.

In my job I was caught in a bottleneck: still too young by age to compete for senior positions, and already too old academically to compete for junior positions. My fourth postdoc contract was about to expire, and from the present and future perspectives the big, sparkling piece had just vanished: Hitomi.

That April 12 I put a point in the present.

Partly like a game (kind of a puzzle), partly for fun (drawing black holes like comics), partly for frustration (“we won’t see new data for the next 5-10 years!” — Mantra-like), with the help and the encouragement of Chris Done — professor at Durham University and a giant in the field of black hole physics; also a guest at JAXA to collaborate on the development of Hitomi, and companion in those days of sushi and hopes and disillusions — I started to summarize everything we knew until then from the observational point of view on supermassive black holes that reside at center of galaxies (called active galactic nuclei, AGN) on a giant whiteboard in a giant classroom on the ninth floor of the JAXA.

I wanted to understand what we could say we had understood, as astronomers, until then, about supermassive black holes and the winds that can be generated near them.

In particular: what different types of wind do you expect for different supermassive black hole “diets”? Is there a (relatively) simple way of explaining the vast phenomenology of AGNs, simply by considering different diets (fat or slim black holes, who eat little or eat a lot)?

The JAXA whiteboard full of scientific doodles summarizing our knowledge of supermassive black holes from the point of view of X-rays and ultraviolet rays, in the spring of 2016. Three years and five months later, the article was printed in “Astronomy & Astrophysics”.

Two months later, this whiteboard had become a rickety draft article; four months later Daniel Proga enthusiastically entered the project; a year and a half later the article was rejected by the journal to which we had proposed it for publication, I was left unemployed, Chris left the project.

But as they say: “Nevertheless, she persisted” – or also: “She was just extremely stubborn”.

Rearranged the article together with Daniel, we changed format and journal; in July 2018 we resubmitted the article, which on 11 April 2019 was officially accepted for publication in Astronomy & Astrophysics, where it appeared in September 2019.

In the meantime, the scientific basis of the article had served me as an anchor to win funding for a senior project, that supports me so far.

What would have happened if Hitomi hadn’t broken?

Surely I could have already known better how supermassive black hole winds behave, very close to the event horizon.

My scientific career would have received a significant upward impulse, a consequence of the countless articles with revolutionary scientific results that would have resulted from the new Hitomi observations (indeed, a single observation with SXS gave birth to a dozen scientific articlesโ€ฆ).

I would probably be working in Japan, or in the Netherlands, where I was postdoc at the time of Hitomi. I would be very fat, very sad, very lonely. I would be working for someone who would be working for someone who would be working for someone, on a strict hierarchical scale — probably inevitable when it comes to supporting the development of great scientific missions.

All those scientific articles were never born, yet a single stubborn article born out of nowhere allowed me to win a grant of the Comunidad de Madrid, thanks to which I have been the head of myself for almost a year, as I will be for the next three . Thanks to this project I am being able to refine the theoretical-observational scenario for the black hole winds that I described in the article with Daniel.

In the meantime, I collaborate with independent researchers, conducting exciting research on a completely new cosmic phenomenon: quasi-periodic eruptions of X-rays, QPE.

I live in a sunny country, where people laugh a lot, I am in love, married, slim, fit, detoxified, I eat well, without butter, at night I don’t drink beer – I actually became allergic to alcohol! – but chamomile, I work in the most beautiful research center I’ve ever seen, where they control the programs of the largest space telescopes that we scientists use, and where I can also grow my own tomatoes and zucchini.

I still don’t know how exactly black hole winds behave very close to the event horizon, but I’m trying to learn not to be in a hurry.

These are the main lessons learned from the Hitomi experience. This is the last slide of a public presentation that I held in Utrecht, the Netherlands, where I lived for another 23 months after returning from Japan.

  • it is necessary to know well, and to apply well, the basic math;
  • don’t make plans;
  • alternatives must be left open;
  • sleeping well is immensely important.

Hitomi taught me mainly not to make plans: to take advantage of the natural course of events as much as possible, since the big plans can change, break, even evaporate suddenly.

We are experiencing a season where small or large Hitomis have broken for all of us.

My advice is to accept what happened as a test, a space-time challenge. Collect all the pieces you own, look at them well, observe them one by one, and create everything possible with what you already have, with everything you already have available. Put this “everything possible” to ferment, and follow its natural evolution in the near future, with confidence.

Being able to scramble and rearrange spacetime from scratch is an opportunity that does not happen in every life.