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Research and public service in the physics and chemistry of the atmosphere of the Earth and other planets, and of outer space.

February 20 was a big day for one of our engineers! Jurgen Vanhamel completed his PhD! Jurgen’s PhD project was a collaboration between BIRA-IASB and KU Leuven, and was partially based on the ALTIUS-project (Atmospheric Limb Tracker for the Investigation of the Upcoming Stratosphere).

It was to be expected that the effects of the corona virus on air quality in China would be more than noticeable. The lockdown of various cities in the Chinese province of Hubei, which started on January 23, 2020, halted an entire community. The impact on air quality, as a result of the strong reduction in the burning of fossil fuels, is clearly perceptible from space with the TROPOMI instrument.

With only five weeks to go until launch, the picosatellite PICASSO, aimed at Earth observation and space science as the first CubeSat mission of the Royal Belgian Institute for Space Aeronomy, has been delivered to the European Space Agency (ESA) and was successfully integrated into its launch dispenser. PICASSO will be one of 42 tiny satellites launched simultaneously aboard an Arianespace Vega rocket on the 24th of March 2020, from ESA’s launch site in French Guiana. Carrying along two scientific instruments, PICASSO will measure the ozone distribution in the stratosphere, estimate the temperature profile up to the mesosphere, and characterise the plasma in the ionosphere.

For the International Day of Women and Girls in Science (February 11), we took the opportunity to ask some of our female researchers about their experiences with science. Read on to discover what they have to tell.

During the previous months, the exceptionally large wildfires in Australia were frequently mentioned in the news. As Royal Belgian Institute for Space Aeronomy, we are involved in space-borne and ground-based instruments that can detect such fires from space, in an indirect way. But what does this mean exactly, and how are these observations meaningful?

Even three years after the end of the Rosetta mission, comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko still hasn’t revealed all its secrets. Close to the end of the mission, a comet particle entered the ROSINA/DFMS instrument, which was designed to study only comet gas. In doing so, comet scientists– including researchers from the Royal Belgian Institute for Space Aeronomy (BIRA-IASB) who helped build ROSINA/DFMS – discovered a group of less volatile substances known as "ammonium salts".