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James Webb Space Telescope: NASA Begins Months-Long Process of Bringing Space Observatory Into Focus

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By Reuters | Updated: 13 January 2022

NASA on Wednesday embarked on a months-long, painstaking process of bringing its newly launched James Webb Space Telescope into focus, a task due for completion in time for the revolutionary eye in the sky to begin peering into the cosmos by early summer.

Mission control engineers at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, began by sending their initial commands to tiny motors called actuators that slowly position and fine-tune the telescope’s principal mirror.

Consisting of 18 hexagonal segments of gold-plated beryllium metal, the primary mirror measures 21 feet 4 inches (6.5m) in diameter – a much larger light-collecting surface than Webb’s predecessor, the 30-year-old Hubble Space Telescope.

The 18 segments, which had been folded together to fit inside the cargo bay of the rocket that carried the telescope to space, were unfurled with the rest of its structural components during a two-week period following Webb’s launch on December 25.

Those segments must now be detached from fasteners that held them in place for the launch and then moved forward half an inch from their original configuration – a 10-day process – before they can be aligned to form a single, unbroken, light-collecting surface.

The alignment will take an additional three months, Lee Feinberg, the Webb optical telescope element manager at Goddard, told Reuters by telephone.

Aligning the primary mirror segments to form one large mirror means each segment “is aligned to one-five-thousandth the thickness of a human hair”, Feinberg said.

“All of this required us to invent things that had never been done before,” such as the actuators, which were built to move incrementally at -400 Fahrenheit (-240 Celsius) in the vacuum of space, he added.

The telescope’s smaller, secondary mirror, designed to direct light collected from the primary lens into Webb’s camera and other instruments, must also be aligned to operate as part of a cohesive optical system.

If all goes as planned, the telescope should be ready to capture its first science images in May, which would be processed over about another month before they can be released to the public, Feinberg said.

The $9-billion (roughly Rs. 66,540 crore) telescope, described by NASA as the premier space-science observatory of the next decade, will mainly view the cosmos in the infrared spectrum, allowing it to gaze through clouds of gas and dust where stars are being born. Hubble has operated primarily at optical and ultraviolet wavelengths.

Webb is about 100 times more powerful than Hubble, enabling it to observe objects at greater distances, thus farther back in time, than Hubble or any other telescope.

Astronomers say this will bring into view a glimpse of the cosmos never previously seen – dating to just 100 million years after the Big Bang, the theoretical flashpoint that set in motion the expansion of the observable universe an estimated 13.8 billion years ago.

The telescope is an international collaboration led by NASA in partnership with the European and Canadian space agencies. Northrop Grumman Corp was the primary contractor.

© Thomson Reuters 2022

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Earth’s Interior Is Cooling Faster Than Expected: Research

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By ANI | Updated: 17 January 2022

A measuring system that measures the thermal conductivity of bridgmanite in the laboratory, under the pressure and temperature conditions that prevail inside the Earth, has been developed by a team of researchers.

The study has been published in the ‘Earth and Planetary Science Letters Journal’.

The evolution of our Earth is the story of its cooling: 4.5 billion years ago, extreme temperatures prevailed on the surface of the young Earth, and it was covered by a deep ocean of magma. Over millions of years, the planet’s surface cooled to form a brittle crust. However, the enormous thermal energy emanating from the Earth’s interior set dynamic processes in motion, such as mantle convection, plate tectonics, and volcanism.

Still unanswered, though, are the questions of how fast the Earth cooled and how long it might take for this ongoing cooling to bring the aforementioned heat-driven processes to a halt.

One possible answer may lie in the thermal conductivity of the minerals that form the boundary between the Earth’s core and mantle.

This boundary layer is relevant because it is here that the viscous rock of the Earth’s mantle is in direct contact with the hot iron-nickel melt of the planet’s outer core. The temperature gradient between the two layers is very steep, so there is potentially a lot of heat flowing here. The boundary layer is formed mainly of the mineral bridgmanite. However, researchers have a hard time estimating how much heat this mineral conducts from the Earth’s core to the mantle because experimental verification is very difficult.

Now, ETH Professor Motohiko Murakami and his colleagues from Carnegie Institution for Science have developed a sophisticated measuring system that enables them to measure the thermal conductivity of bridgmanite in the laboratory, under the pressure and temperature conditions that prevail inside the Earth.

For the measurements, they used a recently developed optical absorption measurement system in a diamond unit heated with a pulsed laser.

“This measurement system let us show that the thermal conductivity of bridgmanite is about 1.5 times higher than assumed,” ETH Professor Motohiko Murakami said.

This suggested that the heat flow from the core into the mantle is also higher than previously thought. Greater heat flow, in turn, increases mantle convection and accelerates the cooling of the Earth. This may cause plate tectonics, which is kept going by the convective motions of the mantle, to decelerate faster than researchers were expecting based on previous heat conduction values.

Murakami and his colleagues have also shown that rapid cooling of the mantle will change the stable mineral phases at the core-mantle boundary. When it cools, bridgmanite turns into the mineral post-perovskite.

But as soon as post-perovskite appears at the core-mantle boundary and begins to dominate, the cooling of the mantle might indeed accelerate even further, the researchers estimated, since this mineral conducted heat even more efficiently than bridgmanite.

“Our results could give us a new perspective on the evolution of the Earth’s dynamics. They suggest that Earth, like the other rocky planets Mercury and Mars, is cooling and becoming inactive much faster than expected,” Murakami explained.

However, he could not say how long it will take, for example, for convection currents in the mantle to stop.

“We still don’t know enough about these kinds of events to pin down their timing,” he said.

To do that calls first for a better understanding of how mantle convection works in spatial and temporal terms. Moreover, scientists need to clarify how the decay of radioactive elements in the Earth’s interior -one of the main sources of heat-affected the dynamics of the mantle.

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Avatar Robot Goes to School for Ill German Boy

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By Reuters | Updated: 15 January 2022

Joshua Martinangeli, 7, is too ill to go to school. But the German student can still interact with his teacher and classmates through an avatar robot that sits in class in his place and sends a blinking signal when he has something to say.

“The children talk to him, laugh with him and sometimes even chitchat with him during the lesson. Joshi can do that quite well, too,” Ute Winterberg, headmistress at the Pusteblume-Grundschule in Berlin, told Reuters in an interview.

Joshua cannot attend classes because he wears a tube in his neck due to a severe lung disease, said his mother, Simone Martinangeli.

The project is a private initiative paid for by the local council in the Berlin district Marzahn-Hellersdorf.

“We are the only district in Berlin that has bought four avatars for its schools. The impetus was COVID-19, but I think this will be the future well beyond the pandemic,” said district education councillor Torsten Kuehne.

“It does happen from time to time, for various reasons, that a child cannot go to class in person. Then, the avatar can give that child a chance to remain part of the school community,” Kuehne said.

He added that he had already brought up the project in political discussions at a state level.

“I like it either way because I like the avatar,” said student Noah Kuessner when asked if he is looking forward to seeing Joshua again.

“And I would like it better if Joshi could really come to school,” said another classmate, Beritan Aslanglu.

© Thomson Reuters 2022

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Virgin Orbit Successfully Launches 7 Satellites Into Orbit

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By Associated Press | Updated: 14 January 2022

A Virgin Orbit rocket released from a jet flying off the California coast carried seven small satellites into space on Thursday as the company kicked off a year in which it plans to ramp up the pace of launches, including two originating from Britain.

Virgin Orbit’s modified Boeing 747 took off from Mojave Air & Space Port in the Southern California desert, flew out over the Pacific Ocean and dropped the LauncherOne rocket from its left wing.

The 70-foot-long (21.3-meter) booster ignited at an altitude of about 35,000 feet (10,668 meters) and hurtled skyward. The company later confirmed that all of the satellites were successfully deployed into the proper orbit.

“Another fantastic day for the Virgin Orbit team, and a big step forward for our customers,” the company tweeted.

The payload included satellites for the US Defense Department, the Polish company SatRevolution and the international company Spire Global.

It was Virgin Orbit’s third launch carrying satellites for customers. Two previous launches carried multiple satellites into orbit in January and June 2021. The company’s first launch, a demonstration flight, failed in May 2020.

Virgin Orbit, founded in 2017 by British billionaire Richard Branson, went public last month. The company is targeting the market for launching small satellites. It touts the mobility of its air-launch system compared to the limitations of fixed launch sites.

“The tremendous thing about using a 747 is we can put them into any orbit from anywhere in the world,” Branson said from the British Virgin Islands during the company’s launch webcast.

“There’s only I think a couple of handfuls of countries in the world that have the capability of sending satellites to space from their own countries and now 480 countries can use Virgin Orbit,” he said. “You just need to ring us up.”

The company plans six launches this year, including two for the United Kingdom’s Royal Air Force that will originate from Cornwall in southwestern England. RAF test pilot Mathew “Stanny” Stannard flew the 747 from the main pilot seat on Thursday.

“This is going to be just a banner year for us,” Chief Operating Officer Tony Gingiss said in a preflight briefing this week.

Gingiss said there has been continuous improvement flight-over-flight.

“I think we’re seeing not only the kind of rigor we expect but just really getting highly confident in our processes,” he said.

Thursday’s mission was dubbed “Above the Clouds,” a title taken from a track on hip hop duo Gang Starr’s album “Moment of Truth,” which was released by Virgin Records in 1998.

Branson noted during his interview that his family got COVID-19 over Christmas.

“Fortunately we were vaccinated and boosted and therefore none of us got it badly,” he said.

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James Webb Space Telescope’s ‘Golden Eye’ Opens, Fully Deployed: NASA

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By Associated Press | Updated: 10 January 2022

NASA’s new space telescope opened its huge, gold-plated, flower-shaped mirror Saturday, the final step in the observatory’s dramatic unfurling.

The last portion of the 21-foot (6.5-meter) mirror swung into place at flight controllers’ command, completing the unfolding of the James Webb Space Telescope.

#NASAWebb is fully deployed! ????

With the successful deployment & latching of our last mirror wing, that’s:
50 major deployments, complete.
178 pins, released.
20+ years of work, realized.

Next to #UnfoldTheUniverse: traveling out to our orbital destination of Lagrange point 2! pic.twitter.com/mDfmlaszzV— NASA Webb Telescope (@NASAWebb) January 8, 2022

“I’m emotional about it. What an amazing milestone. We see that beautiful pattern out there in the sky now,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, chief of NASA’s science missions.

More powerful than the Hubble Space Telescope, the $10 billion (roughly Rs. 74,150 crore) Webb will scan the cosmos for light streaming from the first stars and galaxies formed 13.7 billion years ago. To accomplish this, NASA had to outfit Webb with the largest and most sensitive mirror ever launched — its “golden eye,” as scientists call it.

Webb is so big that it had to be folded orgami-style to fit in the rocket that soared from South America two weeks ago. The riskiest operation occurred earlier in the week, when the tennis court-size sunshield unfurled, providing subzero shade for the mirror, and infrared detectors.

Flight controllers in Baltimore began opening the primary mirror Friday, unfolding the left side like a drop-leaf table. The mood was even more upbeat Saturday, with peppy music filling the control room as the right side snapped into place. After applauding, the controllers immediately got back to work, latching everything down. They jumped to their feet, exchanged high-fives and cheered from behind masks when the operation was finally complete 2 1/2 hours later, doing their best to remain socially distant because of the global surge in COVID-19 cases.

“We have a deployed telescope on orbit, a magnificent telescope the likes of which the world has never seen,” Zurbuchen said, congratulating the team. “So how does it feel to make history, everybody? You just did it.”

His counterpart at the European Space Agency, astronomer Antonella Nota, noted that after years of preparation, the team made everything look “so amazingly easy.”

“This is the moment we have been waiting for, for so long,” she said.

Webb’s main mirror is made of beryllium, a lightweight yet sturdy and cold-resistant metal. Each of its 18 segments is coated with an ultra thin layer of gold, highly reflective of infrared light. The hexagonal, coffee table-size segments must be adjusted in the weeks ahead so they can focus as one on stars, galaxies and alien worlds that might hold atmospheric signs of life.

“It’s like we have 18 mirrors that are right now little prima donnas all doing their own thing, singing their own tune in whatever key they’re in, and we have to make them work like a chorus and that is a methodical, laborious process,” operations project scientist Jane Rigby told reporters.

Webb should reach its destination 1 million miles (1.6 million kilometres) away in another two weeks; it’s already more than 667,000 miles (1 million kilometres) from Earth since its Christmas Day launch. If all continues to go well, science observations will begin this summer. Astronomers hope to peer back to within 100 million years of the universe-forming Big Bang, closer than Hubble has achieved.

Project manager Bill Ochs stressed the team isn’t letting its guard down, despite the unprecedented successes of the past two weeks.

“It’s not downhill from here. It’s all kind of a level playing field,” he said.

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South Korea to Develop Technology for Artificial Sun to Maintain 100 Million Degrees for 300 Seconds by 2026

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By ANI | Updated: 31 December 2021

The Korean government is planning to develop a technology for Korea’s first artificial sun KSTAR to maintain 100 million degrees for 300 seconds by 2026. The 300 seconds is the minimum time required for the commercialisation of nuclear fusion technology. The Ministry of Science and ICT announced on December 30 that it held the 16th National Fusion Committee at the Korea Institute of Fusion Energy and finalise the ‘4th basic plan of nuclear fusion energy development (2022-2026)’. The science ministry sets goals and directions of its policies for nuclear fusion energy development every 5 years.

According to the plan, it will continue to improve operating technology in the field of KSTAR experiments, which are showing great results such as maintaining 100 million degrees of ultra-high temperature plasma (for 30 seconds in 2021) and will develop technology to maintain the temperature for 300 seconds by 2026.

The nuclear fusion is the basic principle that the artificial sun generates light and heat. The government is aiming to produce power such as electricity by artificially implementing this principle on Earth with KSTAR.

The Korean research team first successfully maintained KSTAR at 100 million degrees for 1.5 seconds in 2018. It also succeeded in maintaining 100 million degrees for 20 seconds last year and 30 seconds this year. Following last year, Korea has set the longest record in the world this year.
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The government also set basic concepts of demonstration for future nuclear fusion power generation, and presented the plan to establish ‘long-term R&D roadmap,’ including essential networks, by 2030.

It also selected ‘eight-core technologies’ needed to demonstrate future nuclear fusion power generation, such as high-temperature, long-time, and high-density core plasma technology and blanket technology to increase tritium and produce power. It is planning to secure eight core technologies through R&D projects and systemic cooperation, and will conduct preliminary concept design of the demonstration in 2023.

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Samsung in Talks to Buy Alzheimer’s Drug Maker Biogen for $42 Billion: Report

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By Agence France Press | Updated: 30 December 2021

Shares of Biogen surged Wednesday following a report that South Korean giant Samsung Group is in talks to acquire the US biotech company for more than $40 billion (roughly Rs. 2,98,170 crore).

Biogen, which is known for its Alzheimer’s drug Aduhelm and a neurology-focused medication pipeline, approached Samsung on a potential deal that could be valued at more than $42 billion (roughly Rs. 313292.28 crore), according to a report in the Korea Economic Daily.

The report, which cited unnamed investment banking sources, noted Biogen’s relatively stable revenue in comparison with “cyclical industries like semiconductors,” which have driven profit at Samsung.

Shares of Biogen soared 9.5 percent in Wednesday’s session to $258.31 (roughly Rs. 19,200) and climbed further in after-hours trading. A Biogen spokeswoman declined to comment.

Founded in 1978 by a team that included Nobel Prize winners Walter Gilbert and Phillip Sharp, Biogen is known for medicines to treat multiple sclerosis in addition to Aduhelm.

The company, based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, had revenues of $13.4 billion (roughly Rs. 99986.11 crore) last year and finished 2020 with about 9,100 employees.

Shares of Biogen have fallen nearly 50 percent from its June peak due in part to doubts about the efficacy of Aduhelm. On December 20, Biogen announced that it was slashing the price of the drug roughly in half.

The world’s top chipmaker, Samsung is best known for its electronics division, which reported a 28 percent jump in operating profit in the most recent quarter to KRW 15.8 trillion (roughly Rs. 99367 crore). Biogen and Samsung Biologics currently have a joint venture to develop, manufacture and market biosimilars.

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