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IIT-M Students Conduct First Student Council Election Using Blockchain Technology

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By Press Trust of India | Updated: 4 August 2022

Students of the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras (IIT-M), here, have conducted a students council election using blockchain technology which is claimed to be the first of its kind to be used in the poll process, an official said on Thursday. Students of Webops and Blockchain Club from the Centre for Innovation (CFI), IIT-Madras, developed the software to conduct the election through the blockchain technology.

A blockchain is an unchangeable, distributed digital ledger. The transactions or records on the ledger which are stored individually are referred to as a ‘block’ and the information in a block is usually linked to the information in a previous block. This, over time, forms a chain of transactions, which is what the word blockchain refers to.

This technology can also be used by governments to improve both efficiency and traceability in the process. Back in May, the Brazilian government unveiled a blockchain network in a bid to combat corruption in public expenses by tracking them efficiently. The Brazilian Blockchain Network is still in development but will be used by a number of governmental institutions

In view of the conduct of the election, the India Book of Records presented IIT-Madras students with the record of ‘Blockchain Software for Students Body Election.’

“This student-led project has the transformative potential to positively disrupt the way elections are held. By harnessing the inherent trust and immutability offered by blockchain technologies, this work demonstrates their impact on conducting elections…” said IIT-Madras, faculty-in-charge, Webops and Blockchain Club, professor Prabhu Rajagopal.

According to the officials, some of the key advantages of using blockchain technology for elections include considerable cost reduction, offering a tamper-proof process that is verifiable and bringing an innate trust in the election process.

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NASA, SpaceX to Explore Methods to Boost Hubble Telescope Orbit to Extend Lifespan

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By Agence France-Presse | Updated: 30 September 2022

NASA and SpaceX have agreed to study the feasibility of awarding Elon Musk’s company a contract to boost the Hubble Space Telescope to a higher orbit, with a goal of extending its lifespan, the US space agency said Thursday.

The renowned observatory has been operating since 1990 about 335 miles (540 kilometers) above Earth, in an orbit that slowly decays over time.

Hubble has no on-board propulsion to counter the small but still present atmospheric drag in this region of space, and its altitude has previously been restored during Space Shuttle missions.

The proposed new effort would involve a SpaceX Dragon capsule.

“A few months ago, SpaceX approached NASA with the idea for a study whether a commercial crew could help reboost our Hubble spacecraft,” NASA’s chief scientist Thomas Zurbuchen told reporters, adding the agency had agreed to the study at no cost to itself.

He stressed there are no concrete plans at present to conduct or fund such a mission until the technical challenges are better understood.

One of the main obstacles would be that the Dragon spacecraft, unlike the Space Shuttles, does not have a robotic arm and would need modifications for such a mission.

SpaceX proposed the idea in partnership with the Polaris programme, a private human spaceflight venture led by payments billionaire Jared Isaacman, who last year chartered a SpaceX Crew Dragon to orbit the Earth with three other private astronauts.

“This would certainly fit within the parameters we established for the Polaris programme,” Isaacman said in response to a question about whether reboosting Hubble could be the goal for a future Polaris mission.

Asked by a reporter whether there might be a perception that the mission was contrived in order to give wealthy people tasks to do in space, Zurbuchen said: “I think it’s only appropriate for us to look at this because of the tremendous value this research as

set has for us.”

Arguably among the most valuable instruments in scientific history, Hubble continues to make important discoveries, including this year detecting the farthest individual star ever seen — Earendel, whose light took 12.9 billion years to reach us.

It is currently forecast to remain operational throughout this decade, with a 50 percent chance of de-orbiting in 2037, said Patrick Crouse, Hubble Space Telescope project manager.

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Cosmicflows-4: Astronomers Assemble Largest Catalogue of 56,000 Galaxy Distances

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By ANI | Updated: 29 September 2022

Astronomers have assembled the largest-ever compilation of high-precision galaxy distances, called Cosmicflows-4. Galaxies, such as the Milky Way, are the building blocks of the universe, each comprised of up to several hundred billion stars. Galaxies beyond our immediate neighborhood are rushing away, faster if they are more distant, which is a consequence of the expansion of the universe that began at the moment of the Big Bang. Measurements of the distances of galaxies, coupled with information about their velocities away from us, determine the scale of the universe and the time that has elapsed since its birth.

“Since galaxies were identified as separate from the Milky Way a hundred years ago, astronomers have been trying to measure their distances,” said Brent Tully, astronomer at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. “Now by combining our more accurate and abundant tools, we are able to measure distances of galaxies, and the related expansion rate of the universe and the time since the universe was born with a precision of a few per cent.”

From the newly published measurements, the researchers derived the expansion rate of the universe, called the Hubble Constant, or H0. The team’s study gives a value of H0=75 kilometers per second per megaparsec or Mpc (1 megaparsec = 3.26 million light years), with very small statistical uncertainty of about 1.5 percent.

Astronomers have assembled the largest-ever compilation of high-precision galaxy distances, called Cosmicflows-4. Galaxies, such as the Milky Way, are the building blocks of the universe, each comprised of up to several hundred billion stars. Galaxies beyond our immediate neighborhood are rushing away, faster if they are more distant, which is a consequence of the expansion of the universe that began at the moment of the Big Bang. Measurements of the distances of galaxies, coupled with information about their velocities away from us, determine the scale of the universe and the time that has elapsed since its birth.

“Since galaxies were identified as separate from the Milky Way a hundred years ago, astronomers have been trying to measure their distances,” said Brent Tully, astronomer at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. “Now by combining our more accurate and abundant tools, we are able to measure distances of galaxies, and the related expansion rate of the universe and the time since the universe was born with a precision of a few per cent.”

From the newly published measurements, the researchers derived the expansion rate of the universe, called the Hubble Constant, or H0. The team’s study gives a value of H0=75 kilometers per second per megaparsec or Mpc (1 megaparsec = 3.26 million light years), with very small statistical uncertainty of about 1.5 percent.

Cosmicflows-4 is also being used to study how galaxies move individually, in addition to flowing with the overall expansion of the universe. Deviations from this smooth expansion arise due to the gravitational influences of clumps of matter, on scales ranging from our Earth and Sun up to congregations of galaxies on scales of a half billion light years. The mysterious dark matter is the dominant component on larger scales. With knowledge of the motions of galaxies in response to the mass around them, we can recreate the orbits that galaxies have followed since they were formed, giving us a better understanding of how the universe’s vast, dark-matter-dominated structures have formed over the eons of time.

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NASA DART Spacecraft Successfully Slams Into Asteroid Dimorphos in First Planetary Defence Test

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By Reuters | Updated: 27 September 2022

NASA’s DART spacecraft successfully slammed into a distant asteroid at hypersonic speed on Monday in the world’s first test of a planetary defense system, designed to prevent a potential doomsday meteorite collision with Earth.

Humanity’s first attempt to alter the motion of an asteroid or any celestial body played out in a NASA webcast from the mission operations center outside Washington, DC, 10 months after DART was launched.

The livestream showed images taken by DART’s camera as the cube-shaped “impactor” vehicle, no bigger than a vending machine with two rectangular solar arrays, streaked into the asteroid Dimorphos, about the size of a football stadium, at 7:14 pm EDT (23:14 GMT) some 6.8 million miles (11 million km) from Earth.

The $330 million (roughly Rs. 2,683 crore) mission, some seven years in development, was devised to determine if a spacecraft is capable of changing the trajectory of an asteroid through sheer kinetic force, nudging it off course just enough to keep Earth out of harm’s way.

Whether the experiment succeeded beyond accomplishing its intended impact will not be known until further ground-based telescope observations of the asteroid next month. But NASA officials hailed the immediate outcome of Monday’s test, saying the spacecraft achieved its purpose.

“NASA works for the benefit of humanity, so for us it’s the ultimate fulfillment of our mission to do something like this – a technology demonstration that, who knows, some day could save our home,” NASA Deputy Administrator Pam Melroy, a retired astronaut, said minutes after the impact.

DART, launched by a SpaceX rocket in November 2021, made most of its voyage under the guidance of NASA’s flight directors, with control handed over to an autonomous on-board navigation system in the final hours of the journey.

Monday evening’s bullseye impact was monitored in near real time from the mission operations center at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland.

Cheers erupted from the control room as second-by-second images of the target asteroid, captured by DART’s onboard camera, grew larger and ultimately filled the TV screen of NASA’s live webcast just before the signal was lost, confirming the spacecraft had crashed into Dimorphos.

DART’s celestial target was an oblong asteroid “moonlet” about 560 feet (170 meters) in diameter that orbits a parent asteroid five times larger called Didymos as part of a binary pair with the same name, the Greek word for twin.

Neither object presents any actual threat to Earth, and NASA scientists said their DART test could not create a new hazard by mistake.

Dimorphos and Didymos are both tiny compared with the cataclysmic Chicxulub asteroid that struck Earth some 66 million years ago, wiping out about three-quarters of the world’s plant and animal species including the dinosaurs.

Smaller asteroids are far more common and present a greater theoretical concern in the near term, making the Didymos pair suitable test subjects for their size, according to NASA scientists and planetary defense experts. A Dimorphos-sized asteroid, while not capable of posing a planet-wide threat, could level a major city with a direct hit.

Also, the two asteroids’ relative proximity to Earth and dual configuration make them ideal for the first proof-of-concept mission of DART, short for Double Asteroid Redirection Test.

Robotic suicide mission

The mission represented a rare instance in which a NASA spacecraft had to crash to succeed. DART flew directly into Dimorphos at 15,000 miles per hour (24,000 kph), creating the force scientists hope will be enough to shift its orbital track closer to the parent asteroid.

APL engineers said the spacecraft was presumably smashed to bits and left a small impact crater in the boulder-strewn surface of the asteroid.

The DART team said it expects to shorten the orbital path of Dimorphos by 10 minutes but would consider at least 73 seconds a success, proving the exercise as a viable technique to deflect an asteroid on a collision course with Earth – if one were ever discovered.

A nudge to an asteroid millions of miles away years in advance could be sufficient to safely reroute it.

Earlier calculations of the starting location and orbital period of Dimorphos were made during a six-day observation period in July and will be compared with post-impact measurements made in October to determine whether the asteroid budged and by how much.

Monday’s test also was observed by a camera mounted on a briefcase-sized mini-spacecraft released from DART days in advance, as well as by ground-based observatories and the Hubble and Webb space telescopes, but images from those were not immediately available.

DART is the latest of several NASA missions in recent years to explore and interact with asteroids, primordial rocky remnants from the solar system’s formation more than 4.5 billion years ago.

Last year, NASA launched a probe on a voyage to the Trojan asteroid clusters orbiting near Jupiter, while the grab-and-go spacecraft OSIRIS-REx is on its way back to Earth with a sample collected in October 2020 from the asteroid Bennu.

The Dimorphos moonlet is one of the smallest astronomical objects to receive a permanent name and is one of 27,500 known near-Earth asteroids of all sizes tracked by NASA. Although none are known to pose a foreseeable hazard to humankind, NASA estimates that many more asteroids remain undetected in the near-Earth vicinity.

© Thomson Reuters 2022

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ISRO Mars Orbiter Mission Completes Eight Years in Orbit, Well Beyond Planned Six-Month Lifespan

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By Press Trust of India | Updated: 26 September 2022

India’s Mars orbiter craft has completed eight years in its orbit, well beyond its designed mission life of six months. Plans on a follow-on ‘Mangalyaan’ mission to the Red Planet, however, are yet to be firmed up.

The Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) – a technology demonstration venture – is the maiden interplanetary mission of the national space agency, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO).

Launched on November 5, 2013, the probe was successfully inserted into Martian orbit on September 24, 2014 in its first attempt.

To mark the latest milestone, ISRO has organised a ‘National Meet on Eight Years of India’s Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM)’ at its headquarters here on Tuesday with an inaugural address by its Chairman S Somanath.

Space Commission members K Radhakrishnan and A S Kiran Kumar would deliver special addresses at the meet, which would focus on themes ‘Mars Orbiter Mission Overview’, ‘Scientific Achievements’ and ‘Future Directions in the exploration of the inner solar system’.

As the then chairman of ISRO, Radhakrishnan had led the MOM (Mangalyaan) mission team.

ISRO came out with an ‘Announcement of Opportunity’ (AO) for future Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM-2) in 2016 but officials acknowledged that it’s still on the drawing board, with the coming ‘Gaganyaan’, ‘Chandrayaan-3’ and ‘Aditya – L1’ projects being in the space agency’s current priority list.

The AO had said: “It is now planned to have the next orbiter mission around Mars for a future launch opportunity. Proposals are solicited from interested scientists within India for experiments onboard an orbiter mission around Mars (MOM-2), to address relevant scientific problems and topics”.

“Not in the approved list as of now”, a senior ISRO official told PTI on Monday on being asked about an update on the MOM-2.

“We need to formulate the project proposals and payloads based on the wider consultation with the research community”, the official said on condition of anonymity. “It’s still on the drawing board. But needs some more details and international collaboration for finalising the mission”.

“It’s quite a satisfying and fulfilling moment”, MOM’s Programme Director M Annadurai told PTI today on the Mars orbiter craft completing eight years in orbit.

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NASA Aims to Redirect Asteroid in DART Mission’s First Attempt at Planetary Defence

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By Reuters | Updated: 26 September 2022

Ten months after launch, NASA’s asteroid-deflecting DART spacecraft neared a planned impact with its target on Monday in a test of the world’s first planetary defense system, designed to prevent a doomsday collision with Earth.

The cube-shaped “impactor” vehicle, roughly the size of a vending machine with two rectangular solar arrays, was on course to fly into the asteroid Dimorphos, about as large as a football stadium, and self-destruct around 7pm EDT (4:30 IST) some 6.8 million miles (11 million km) from Earth.

The mission’s finale will test the ability of a spacecraft to alter an asteroid’s trajectory with sheer kinetic force, plowing into the object at high speed to nudge it astray just enough to keep our planet out of harm’s way.

It marks the world’s first attempt to change the motion of an asteroid, or any celestial body.

DART, launched by a SpaceX rocket in November 2021, has made most of its voyage under the guidance of NASA’s flight directors, with control to be handed over to an autonomous on-board navigation system in the final hours of the journey.

Monday evening’s planned impact is to be monitored in real time from the mission operations center at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland.

DART’s celestial target is an asteroid “moonlet” about 560 feet (170 metres) in diameter that orbits a parent asteroid five times larger called Didymos as part of a binary pair with the same name, the Greek word for twin.

Neither object presents any actual threat to Earth, and NASA scientists said their DART test cannot create a new existential hazard by mistake.

Dimorphos and Didymos are both tiny compared with the cataclysmic Chicxulub asteroid that struck Earth some 66 million years ago, wiping out about three-quarters of the world’s plant and animal species including the dinosaurs.

Smaller asteroids are far more common and pose a greater theoretical concern in the near term, making the Didymos pair suitable test subjects for their size, according to NASA scientists and planetary defense experts.

Also, their relative proximity to Earth and dual-asteroid configuration make them ideal for the first proof-of-concept mission o
f DART, short for Double Asteroid Redirection Test.

Robotic mission suicide

The mission represents a rare instance in which a NASA spacecraft must ultimately crash to succeed.

The plan is for DART to fly directly into Dimorphos at 15,000 miles per hour (24,000 kph), bumping it hard enough to shift its orbital track closer to its larger companion asteroid.

Cameras on the impactor and on a briefcase-sized mini-spacecraft released from DART days in advance are designed to record the collision and send images back to Earth.

DART’s own camera is expected to return pictures at the rate of one image per second during its final approach, with those images streaming live on NASA TV starting an hour before impact, according to APL.

The DART team said it expects to shorten the orbital track of Dimorphos by 10 minutes but would consider at least 73 seconds a success, proving the exercise as a viable technique to deflect an asteroid on a collision course with Earth – if one were ever discovered. A small nudge to an asteroid millions of miles away could be sufficient to safely reroute it away from the planet.

The test’s outcome will not be known until a new round of ground-based telescope observations of the two asteroids in October. Earlier calculations of the starting location and orbital period of Dimorphos were confirmed during a six-day observation period in July.

DART is the latest of several NASA missions in recent years to explore and interact with asteroids, primordial rocky remnants from the solar system’s formation more than 4.5 billion years ago.

Last year, NASA launched a probe on a voyage to the Trojan asteroid clusters orbiting near Jupiter, while the grab-and-go spacecraft OSIRIS-REx is on its way back to Earth with a sample collected in October 2020 from the asteroid Bennu.

The Dimorphos moonlet is one of the smallest astronomical objects to receive a permanent name and is one of 27,500 known near-Earth asteroids of all sizes tracked by NASA. Although none are known to pose a foreseeable hazard to humankind, NASA estimates that many more asteroids remain undetected in the near-Earth vicinity.

NASA has put the entire cost of the DART project at $330 million (roughly Rs. 2,700 crore), well below that of many of the space agency’s most ambitious science missions.

© Thomson Reuters 2022

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NASA’s Artemis 1 Launch Faces Another Obstacle, Next Launch Window in October

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By Agence France-Presse | Updated: 24 September 2022

NASA’s historic uncrewed mission to the Moon is facing fresh difficulties. After technical problems derailed two launch attempts several weeks ago, a new liftoff of the Artemis 1 mission scheduled for Tuesday is now threatened by a storm gathering in the Caribbean.

The storm, which has not yet been assigned a name, is currently located south of the Dominican Republic.

But it is expected to grow into a hurricane in the coming days and could move north to Florida, home to the Kennedy Space Center, from which the rocket is set to launch.

“Our plan A is to stay to course and to get the launch off on September 27,” Mike Bolger, NASA’s exploration ground systems manager, told reporters on Friday. “But we realised we also need to be really paying attention and thinking about a plan B.”

That would entail wheeling the giant Space Launch System rocket back to the Vehicle Assembly Building, known as VAB.

“If we were to go down to Plan B we need a couple days to pivot from our current tanking test or launch configuration to execute rollback and get back into the protection of the VAB,” Bolger said, adding that a decision should be made by early afternoon on Saturday.

On the launch pad the orange and white SLS rocket can withstand wind gusts of up to 137 kilometres per hour. But if it has to be sheltered, the current launch window, which runs until October 4, will be missed.

The next launch window will run from October 17 to 31, with one possibility of take-off per day, except from October 24-26 and 28.

A successful Artemis 1 mission will come as a huge relief to the US space agency, after years of delays and cost overruns. But another setback would be a blow to NASA, after two previous launch attempts were scrapped when the rocket experienced technical glitches including a fuel leak.

The launch dates depend on NASA receiving a special waiver to avoid having to retest batteries on an emergency flight system that is used to destroy the rocket if it strays from its designated range to a populated area.

On Tuesday the launch window will open at 11:37 local time and will last 70 minutes.

If the rocket takes off that day, the mission will last 39 days before it lands in the Pacific Ocean on November 5.

The Artemis 1 space mission hopes to test the SLS as well as the unmanned Orion capsule that sits atop, in preparation for future Moon-bound journeys with humans aboard.

Mannequins equipped with sensors are standing in for astronauts on the mission and will record acceleration, vibration and radiation levels.

The next mission, Artemis 2, will take astronauts into orbit around the Moon without landing on its surface.

The crew of Artemis 3 is to land on the Moon in 2025 at the earliest.

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