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Astronomers Find Rare “Super-Earth” Towards the Centre of Our Galaxy

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Astronomers from New Zealand’s University of Canterbury (UC) have discovered a super-Earth exoplanet towards the centre of our Milky Way galaxy, near the galactic bulge. The rare discovery has been described by scientists as to be one of the few exoplanets that are comparable to Earth, in terms of size and orbit.

Dr Antonio Herrera Martin and Associate Professor Michael Albrow from the University of Canterbury’s School of Physical and Chemical Sciences in the College of Science collaborated with an international team for this investigation.

The results of the find have been published in The Astronomical Journal. Speaking about the discovery, Dr Herrera Martin, the paper’s lead author, explained, “To have an idea of the rarity of the detection, the time it took to observe the magnification due to the host star was approximately five days, while the planet was detected only during a small five-hour distortion. After confirming this was indeed caused by another ‘body’ different from the star, and not an instrumental error, we proceeded to obtain the characteristics of the star-planet system.”

According to the researchers, the planet’s host star is about 10% the mass of our Sun. The Super-Earth planet’s mass would be somewhere between that of Earth and Neptune and would orbit at a location between Venus and Earth from the parent star. The planet’s ‘year’ would be of approximately 617 days.

According to Dr Martin, the planet was discovered using a technique called microlensing where the combined gravity of the planet and its host star causes light from a more distant background star to be magnified in a particular manner.

This microlensing event was first observed independently in 2018 by the Optical Gravitational Lensing Experiment (OGLE) using a telescope in Chile. It was reconfirmed by the Korea Microlensing Telescope Network (KMTNet) to which the UC astronomers belong, using three identical telescopes in Chile, Australia, and South Africa.

As per a report in Tech Explorist, the planet has a mass somewhere between that of Earth and Neptune. It orbits at a location between Venus and Earth from the parent star, the report added.

All of the planets in our solar system orbit around the Sun. Those planets that orbit around other stars are called extrasolar planets or exoplanets, according to Nasa. They are very hard to see directly with telescopes as they are hidden by the bright glare of the stars they orbit.

So, astronomers use other ways to detect and study these distant planets. They search for exoplanets by looking at the effects these planets have on the stars they orbit.

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SpaceX Crew Dragon delivers two Nasa astronauts to International Space Station

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CAPE CANAVERAL, FLORIDA (REUTERS) – Nearly 24 hours after launching from Florida, SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule delivered Nasa astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the International Space Station on Sunday (May 31), marking the first US space capsule to do so with a crew since 2011.

The space station’s current crew welcomed them aboard with hugs and handshakes on schedule at 1.25pm EDT (1.25am Singapore time), after executing a critical spacecraft docking milestone and kicking off the crew’s potentially months-long stay in the orbital laboratory.

Applause could be heard from the station’s downlink to mission control in Houston, Texas as Behnken, 49, and Hurley 53, became the first American astronauts launched to the station from US soil in nearly a decade.

“I will tell you, the whole world saw this mission, and we are so, so proud for everything you have done for our country and in fact to inspire the world,” Nasa administrator Jim Bridenstine said on a phone line through mission control.

“It’s great to get the United States back in the crewed launch business, and we’re just really glad to be on board this magnificent complex,” Hurley said.

Saturday’s launch by SpaceX, the private rocket company of billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk, represented another milestone for the reusable rockets it pioneered to make spaceflight less costly and more frequent.

It also marked the first time that commercially developed space vehicles – owned and operated by a private entity rather than Nasa – have carried Americans into orbit.

Behnken said he and Hurley were able to get a few hours’sleep during their 19-hour orbital journey, telling the administrator that “the first night is always a little bit of a challenge, but the Dragon is a slick vehicle and we had good airflow so we had an excellent evening.”

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifted off from the Kennedy Space Center at 3.22pm EDT on Saturday for the journey to the space station.

Just before lift-off, Hurley said, “SpaceX, we’re go for launch. Let’s light this candle,” paraphrasing the famous comment uttered on the launch pad in 1961 by Alan Shepard, the first American flown into space.

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NASA And SpaceX Launch First Astronauts To Orbit From U.S. Since 2011

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May 30, 20207:46 AM ET

Heard on Weekend Edition Saturday Updated at 6:55 p.m. ET

NASA astronauts are heading to space from U.S. soil for the first time in nine years, aboard SpaceX’s Dragon capsule, the maiden crewed flight of the innovative spacecraft.

The mission, which is sending Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken to the International Space Station, is a bold new venture for the space agency’s plan to allow commercial companies to take its astronauts into low-Earth orbit.

“Let’s light this candle,” Hurley said moments before ignition, borrowing words uttered by America’s first astronaut, Alan Shepard, in 1961.

The duo left a fiery plume behind at Kennedy Space Center’s Pad 39A at 3:22 p.m. ET as they rode SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket toward a rendezvous with the station, which will take about 19 hours. On Wednesday, storms and a tornado warning upended a launch attempt, with the veteran space shuttle astronauts suited up and strapped into the Dragon before the mission was scrubbed.

Similar weather concerns dogged Saturday’s launch and nearly forced a second delay, but NASA and SpaceX decided early Saturday that conditions were trending in the right direction. As the countdown narrowed, the weather continued to improve.

The Falcon 9 booster separated and guided itself to a successful landing on a drone ship stationed in the Atlantic. Crew Dragon separated from the rocket at 3:35 p.m. ET and entered orbit.

“It was incredible. Appreciate the great ride to space,” Hurley told flight controllers as the spacecraft reached orbit.

The mission marks the first time NASA has sent astronauts into space from U.S. soil since the end of the shuttle program in 2011. For nearly a decade, it has been relying on Russian Soyuz rockets to get them there. It is also a first for SpaceX, which has ambitions of someday taking paying customers zooming around the Earth.

“It’s incredible, the power, the technology,” said President Trump, who was at Kennedy Space Center in Florida for the launch.

“That was a beautiful sight to see and I hope you all enjoyed it,” the president said.

Speaking at a post-launch news conference on Saturday, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said: “What a great day for NASA. What a great day for SpaceX. What a great day for the United States.”

“I’m really quite overcome with emotion on this day, so it’s kind of hard to talk, frankly,” he said.

Elon Musk, the billionaire founder and CEO of SpaceX, called it “a day that I think everyone can be proud of.”

“This event is something that all of humanity can get excited about,” he said.

Hurley, 53, and Behnken, 49, will put the bell-shaped Dragon through its paces on the way to the station. Dragon, which on the surface resembles an updated Apollo-era command module, sports a sleek interior and oversized touchscreen controls. Its SpaceX Falcon 9 booster has been used successfully dozens of times to put satellites and space-station cargo into orbit.

The Dragon-Falcon 9 configuration is a far cry from the winged space shuttle, but the SpaceX capsule has considerable safety advantages. Unlike the shuttle, it sits on top of the rocket, therefore avoiding debris that can fall off during launch and potentially damage the spacecraft — a problem that doomed the space shuttle Columbia in 2003. The position also makes it easy to eject the capsule if the rocket itself runs into trouble.

That’s not to say that SpaceX hasn’t had safety issues over the years. In 2015, one of its uncrewed rockets exploded on the way to the space station. But overall, SpaceX has enjoyed a good track record in its eight years of flying cargo to the space station.

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SpaceX Crew Dragon Demo-2: First Commercial Space Taxi a Pit Stop on Musk’s Mars Quest

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It all started with the dream of growing a rose on Mars.

That vision, Elon Musk’s vision, morphed into a shake-up of the old space industry, and a fleet of new private rockets. Now, those rockets will launch NASA astronauts from Florida to the International Space Station — the first time a for-profit company will carry astronauts into the cosmos.

It’s a milestone in the effort to commercialise space. But for Musk’s company, SpaceX, it’s also the latest milestone in a wild ride that began with epic failures and the threat of bankruptcy.

If the company’s eccentric founder and CEO has his way, this is just the beginning: He’s planning to build a city on the red planet, and live there.

“What I really want to achieve here is to make Mars seem possible, make it seem as though it’s something that we can do in our lifetimes and that you can go,” Musk told a cheering congress of space professionals in Mexico in 2016.

Musk “is a revolutionary change” in the space world, says Harvard University astrophysicist Jonathan McDowell, whose Jonathan’s Space Report has tracked launches and failures for decades.

Ex-astronaut and former Commercial Spaceflight Federation chief Michael Lopez-Alegria says, “I think history will look back at him like a da Vinci figure.”

Musk has become best known for Tesla, his audacious effort to build an electric vehicle company. But SpaceX predates it.

At 30, Musk was already wildly rich from selling his Internet financial company PayPal and its predecessor Zip2. He arranged a series of lunches in Silicon Valley in 2001 with G Scott Hubbard, who had been NASA’s Mars czar and was then running the agency’s Ames Research Center.

Musk wanted to somehow grow a rose on the red planet, show it to the world and inspire school children, recalls Hubbard.

“His real focus was having life on Mars,” says Hubbard, a Stanford University professor who now chairs SpaceX’s crew safety advisory panel.

The big problem, Hubbard told him, was building a rocket affordable enough to go to Mars. Less than a year later Space Exploration Technologies, called SpaceX, was born.

There are many space companies and like all of them, SpaceX is designed for profit. But what’s different is that behind that profit motive is a goal, which is simply to “Get Elon to Mars,” McDowell says. “By having that longer-term vision, that’s pushed them to be more ambitious and really changed things.”

Everyone at SpaceX, from senior vice presidents to the barista who offers its in-house cappuccinos and FroYo, “will tell you they are working to make humans multi-planetary,” says former SpaceX Director of Space Operations Garrett Reisman, an ex-astronaut now at the University of Southern California.

Musk founded the company just before NASA ramped up the notion of commercial space.

Traditionally, private firms built things or provided services for NASA, which remained the boss and owned the equipment. The idea of bigger roles for private companies has been around for more than 50 years, but the market and technology weren’t yet right.

NASA’s two deadly space shuttle accidents — Challenger in 1986 and Columbia in 2003 — were pivotal, says W Henry Lambright, a professor of public policy at Syracuse University.

When Columbia disintegrated, NASA had to contemplate a post-space shuttle world. That’s where private companies came in, Lambright says.

After Columbia, the agency focused on returning astronauts to the Moon, but still had to get cargo and astronauts to the space station, says Sean O’Keefe, who was NASA’s administrator at the time. A 2005 pilot project helped private companies develop ships to bring cargo to the station.

SpaceX got some of that initial funding. The company’s first three launches failed. The company could have just as easily failed too, but NASA stuck by SpaceX and it started to pay off, Lambright says.

“You can’t explain SpaceX without really understanding how NASA really kind of nurtured it in the early days,” Lambright says. “In a way, SpaceX is kind of a child of NASA.”

Since 2010, NASA has spent $6 billion (roughly Rs. 45,586 crores) to help private companies get people into orbit, with SpaceX and Boeing the biggest recipients, says Phil McAlister, NASA’s commercial spaceflight director.

NASA plans to spend another $2.5 billion (roughly Rs. 18,984 crores) to purchase 48 astronaut seats to the space station in 12 different flights, he says. At a little more than $50 million (roughly Rs. 379 crores) a ride, it’s much cheaper than what NASA has paid Russia for flights to the station.

Starting from scratch has given SpaceX an advantage over older firms and NASA that are stuck using legacy technology and infrastructure, O’Keefe says.

And SpaceX tries to build everything itself, giving the firm more control, Reisman says. The company saves money by reusing rockets, and it has customers aside from NASA.

The California company now has 6,000 employees. Its workers are young, highly caffeinated and put in 60- to 90-hour weeks, Hubbard and Reisman say. They also embrace risk more than their NASA counterparts.

Decisions that can take a year at NASA can be made in one or two meetings at SpaceX, says Reisman, who still advises the firm.

In 2010, a Falcon 9 rocket on the launch pad had a cracked nozzle extension on an engine. Normally that would mean rolling the rocket off the pad and a fix that would delay launch more than a month.

But with NASA’s permission, SpaceX engineer Florence Li was hoisted into the rocket nozzle with a crane and harness. Then, using what were essentially garden shears, she “cut the thing, we launched the next day and it worked,” Reisman says.

Musk is SpaceX’s public and unconventional face — smoking marijuana on a popular podcast, feuding with local officials about opening his Tesla plant during the pandemic, naming his newborn child “X Æ A-12.” But insiders say aerospace industry veteran Gwynne Shotwell, the president and chief operating officer, is also key to the company’s success.

“The SpaceX way is actually a combination of Musk’s imagination and creativity and drive and Shotwell’s sound management and responsible engineering,” McDowell says.

But it all comes back to Musk’s dream. Former NASA chief O’Keefe says Musk has his eccentricities, huge doses of self-confidence and persistence, and that last part is key: “You have the capacity to get through a setback and look … toward where you’re trying to go.”

For Musk, it’s Mars.

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