By Agence France-Presse | Updated: 30 June 2022
NASA administrator Bill Nelson said on Wednesday that the agency will reveal the “deepest image of our universe that has ever been taken” on July 12, thanks to the newly operational James Webb Space Telescope.
“If you think about that, this is farther than humanity has ever looked before,” Nelson said during a press briefing at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, the operations centre for the $10 billion (nearly Rs. 78,900 crore) observatory that was launched in December last year and is now orbiting the sun a million miles (1.5 million kilometres) away from Earth.
A wonder of engineering, Webb is able to gaze further into the cosmos than any telescope before it, thanks to its enormous primary mirror and its instruments that focus on infrared, allowing it to peer through dust and gas.
“It’s going to explore objects in the solar system and atmospheres of exoplanets orbiting other stars, giving us clues as to whether potentially their atmospheres are similar to our own,” added Nelson, speaking via phone while isolating with COVID-19.
“It may answer some questions that we have: Where do we come from? What more is out there? Who are we? And of course, it’s going to answer some questions that we don’t even know what the questions are.”
Webb’s infrared capabilities allow it to see deeper back in time to the Big Bang, which happened 13.8 billion years ago.
Because the universe is expanding, light from the earliest stars shifts from the ultraviolet and visible wavelengths it was emitted in, to longer infrared wavelengths — which Webb is equipped to detect at an unprecedented resolution.
At present, the earliest cosmological observations date to within 330 million years of the Big Bang, but with Webb’s capacities, astronomers believe they will easily break the record.
20 year life
In more good news, NASA deputy administrator Pam Melroy revealed that, thanks to an efficient launch by NASA’s partner Arianespace, the telescope could stay operational for 20 years, double the lifespan that was originally envisaged.
“Not only will those 20 years allow us to go deeper into history, and time, but we will go deeper into science because we have the opportunity to learn and grow and make new observations,” she said.
NASA also intends to share Webb’s first spectroscopy of a faraway planet, known as an exoplanet, on July 12, said NASA’s top scientist Thomas Zurbuchen.
Spectroscopy is a tool to analyze the chemical and molecular composition of distant objects and a planetary spectrum can help characterize its atmosphere and other properties such as whether it has water and what its ground is like.
“Right from the beginning, we’ll look at these worlds out there that keep us awake at night as we look into the starry sky and wonder as we’re looking out there, is there life elsewhere?” said Zurbuchen.
Nestor Espinoza, as STSI astronomer, told AFP that previous exoplanet spectroscopies carried out using existing instruments were very limited compared to what Webb could do.
“It’s like being in a room that is very dark and you only have a little pinhole you can look through,” he said, of current technology. Now, with Webb, “You’ve opened a huge window, you can see all the little details.”
NASA’s Artemis 1 Launch Faces Another Obstacle, Next Launch Window in October
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.
Astronomers Spot Hot Gas Bubble Spinning Clockwise Around Milky Way Black Hole
By Agence France-Presse | Updated: 22 September 2022
Astronomers said Thursday they have spotted a hot bubble of gas spinning clockwise around the black hole at the centre of our galaxy at “mind blowing” speeds.
The detection of the bubble, which only survived for a few hours, is hoped to provide insight into how these invisible, insatiable, galactic monsters work.
The supermassive black hole Sagittarius A* lurks in the middle of the Milky Way some 27,000 light years from Earth, and its immense pull gives our home galaxy its characteristic swirl.
The first-ever image of Sagittarius A* was revealed in May by the Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration, which links radio dishes around the world aiming to detect light as it disappears into the maw of black holes.
One of those dishes, the ALMA radio telescope in Chile’s Andes mountains, picked up something “really puzzling” in the Sagittarius A* data, said Maciek Wielgus, an astrophysicist at Germany’s Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy.
Just minutes before ALMA’s radio data collection began, the Chandra Space Telescope observed a “huge spike” in X-rays, Wielgus told AFP.
This burst of energy, thought to be similar to solar flares on the Sun, sent a hot bubble of gas swirling around the black hole, according to a new study published in the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics.
The gas bubble, also known as a hot spot, had an orbit similar to Mercury’s trip around the Sun, the study’s lead author Wielgus said.
But while it takes Mercury 88 days to make that trip, the bubble did it in just 70 minutes. That means it travelled at around 30 percent of the speed of light.
“So it’s an absolutely, ridiculously fast-spinning bubble,” Wielgus said, calling it “mind blowing”.
A MAD theory
The scientists were able to track the bubble through their data for around one and half hours – it was unlikely to have survived more than a couple of orbits before being destroyed.
Wielgus said the observation supported a theory known as MAD. “MAD like crazy, but also MAD like magnetically arrested discs,” he said.
The phenomenon is thought to happen when there is such a strong magnetic field at the mouth of a black hole that it stops material from being sucked inside.
But the matter keeps piling up, building up to a “flux eruption”, Wielgus said, which snaps the magnetic fields and causes a burst of energy.
By learning how these magnetic fields work, scientists hope to build a model of the forces that control black holes, which remain shrouded in mystery.
Magnetic fields could also help indicate how fast black holes spin – which could be particularly interesting for Sagittarius A*.
While Sagittarius A* is four million times the mass of our Sun, it only shines with the power of about 100 suns, “which is extremely unimpressive for a supermassive black hole, Wielgus said.
“It’s the weakest supermassive black hole that we’ve seen in the universe – we’ve only seen it because it is very close to us.”
But it is probably a good thing that our galaxy has a “starving black hole” at its centre, Wielgus said.
“Living next to a quasar,” which can shine with the power of billions of suns, “would be a terrible thing,” he added.
Cyborg Cockroaches Powered by Solar Cells Could Help First Responders in Disaster Areas: Details
By Reuters | Updated: 22 September 2022
If an earthquake strikes in the not too distant future and survivors are trapped under tonnes of rubble, the first responders to locate them could be swarms of cyborg cockroaches.
That’s a potential application of a recent breakthrough by Japanese researchers who demonstrated the ability to mount “backpacks” of solar cells and electronics on the bugs and control their motion by remote control.
Kenjiro Fukuda and his team at the Thin-Film Device Laboratory at Japanese research giant Riken developed a flexible solar cell film that’s 4 microns thick, about 1/25 the width of a human hair, and can fit on the insect’s abdomen.
The film allows the roach to move freely while the solar cell generates enough power to process and send directional signals into sensory organs on the bug’s hindquarters.
The work builds upon previous insect-control experiments at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore and could one day result in cyborg insects that can enter hazardous areas much more efficiently than robots.
“The batteries inside small robots run out quickly, so the time for exploration becomes shorter,” Fukuda said. “A key benefit (of a cyborg insect) is that when it comes to an insect’s movements, the insect is causing itself to move, so the electricity required is nowhere near as much.”
Fukuda and his team chose Madagascar hissing cockroaches for the experiments because they are big enough to carry the equipment and have no wings that would get in the way. Even when the backpack and film are glued to their backs, the bugs can traverse small obstacles or right themselves when flipped over.
The research still has a long way to go. In a recent demonstration, Riken researcher Yujiro Kakei used a specialized computer and wireless Bluetooth signal to tell the cyborg roach to turn left, causing it to scramble in that general direction. But when given the “right” signal, the bug turned in circles.
The next challenge is miniaturising the components so that the insects can move more easily and to allow for mounting of sensors and even cameras. Kakei said he constructed the cyborg backpack with JPY 5,000 (roughly Rs. 2,700) worth of parts purchased at Tokyo’s famed Akihabara electronics district.
The backpack and film can be removed, allowing the roaches to go back to life in the lab’s terrarium. The insects mature in four months and have been known to live up to five years in captivity.
Beyond disaster rescue bugs, Fukuda sees broad applications for the solar cell film, composed of microscopic layers of plastic, silver, and gold. The film could be built into clothing or skin patches for use in monitoring vital signs.
On a sunny day, a parasol covered with the material could generate enough electricity to charge a mobile phone, he said.
© Thomson Reuters 2022
SpaceX to Seek Iran Sanctions Exemption to Bring Starlink Satellite Internet Connectivity, Elon Musk Says
By Agence France-Presse | Updated: 21 September 2022
SpaceX will apply for an exemption from US sanctions against Iran in a bid to offer its satellite internet service to the country, owner Elon Musk said on Monday.
“Starlink will apply for an exemption from sanctions against Iran,” Musk said in response to a tweet from a science reporter.
Musk had initially announced that the Starlink satellite internet service had been made available on every continent – “including Antarctica” – with the company planning to launch up to 42,000 satellites to boost connectivity.
Iranian-born science journalist Erfan Kasraie had said on Twitter that bringing the service to Iran could be a “real game changer for the future” of the country, which elicited Musk’s response.
Launched at the end of 2020, Starlink offers high-speed broadband service to customers in areas poorly served by fixed and mobile terrestrial networks through a constellation of satellites in low earth orbit.
The service received notoriety after supplying antennas and modems to the Ukrainian military to improve its communications capabilities in its war with Russia.
Starlink is monetised through the purchase of antennas, modems, and subscriptions with rates that vary by country.
Nearly 3,000 Starlink satellites have been deployed since 2019 and SpaceX is conducting about one launch a week, using its own Falcon 9 rockets to speed up its deployment.
Iran has been under a tightened US sanctions regime since former president Donald Trump terminated a 2015 agreement over its nuclear activities.
While current President Joe Biden supports a renegotiation of the deal, Iranian insistence on long-term guarantees from Washington has stalled discussions.
New rounds of sanctions were imposed on Iran this month after a Tehran-based company helped ship drones to Russia, and in response to a massive cyberattack targeting Albania in July allegedly carried out by Iran’s intelligence ministry.
NASA, Roscosmos Astronauts Set to Blast Off for ISS on Soyuz Rocket Amid Tensions Over Ukraine Conflict
By Agence France Press | Updated: 21 September 2022
A US astronaut and two Russian cosmonauts are set to blast off to the International Space Station Wednesday on a Russian-operated flight despite soaring tensions between Moscow and Washington over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
NASA’s Frank Rubio and Russia’s Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitry Petelin are scheduled to take off from the Russia-leased Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 1354 GMT (7:24pm IST), according to Russian space agency Roscosmos.
Rubio will become the first US astronaut to travel to the ISS on a Russian Soyuz rocket since President Vladimir Putin sent troops into pro-Western Ukraine on February 24.
In response, Western capitals including Washington have hit Moscow with unprecedented sanctions and bilateral ties have sunk to new lows.
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However, space has managed to remain an outlier of cooperation between the two countries.
Following Rubio’s flight, Russia’s only active female cosmonaut Anna Kikina is expected to travel to the orbital station in early October aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon.
She will become only the fifth professional woman cosmonaut from Russia or the Soviet Union to fly to space, and the first Russian to fly aboard a spacecraft of SpaceX, the company of US billionaire Elon Musk.
With both flights set to go ahead, Russian cosmonauts and Western astronauts have sought to steer clear of the conflict that is raging back on Earth, especially when in orbit together.
A collaboration among the United States, Canada, Japan, the European Space Agency, and Russia, the ISS is split into two sections: the US Orbital Segment, and the Russian Orbital Segment.
Russia leaving ISS
At present, the ISS depends on a Russian propulsion system to maintain its orbit, about 250 miles (400 kilometres) above sea level, with the US segment responsible for electricity and life support systems.
However, tensions in the space field have grown after Washington announced sanctions on Moscow’s aerospace industry – triggering warnings from Russia’s former space chief Dmitry Rogozin, an ardent supporter of the Ukraine war.
Rogozin’s recently appointed successor Yuri Borisov later confirmed Russia’s long-mooted move to leave the ISS after 2024 in favour of creating its own orbital station.
US space agency NASA called the decision an “unfortunate development” that would hinder the scientific work performed on the ISS.
Space analysts say that the construction of a new orbital station could take more than a decade and Russia’s space industry – a point of national pride – would not be able to flourish under heavy sanctions.
The ISS was launched in 1998 at a time of hope for US-Russia cooperation following their Space Race competition during the Cold War.
During that era, the Soviet space programme flourished. It boasted a number of accomplishments that included sending the first man into space in 1961 and launching the first satellite four years earlier.
But experts say Roscosmos is now a shadow of its former self and has in recent years suffered a series of setbacks, including corruption scandals and the loss of a number of satellites and other spacecraft.
Russia years-long monopoly on manned flights to the ISS is also gone, to SpaceX, along with millions of dollars in revenue.
First public global database of fossil fuels launches
By: Associated Press, September 20, 2022
A first-of-its-kind database for tracking the world’s fossil fuel production, reserves and emissions launches on Monday to coincide with climate talks taking place at the United Nations General Assembly in New York. The Global Registry of Fossil Fuels includes data from over 50,000 oil, gas and coal fields in 89 countries. That covers 75% of global reserves, production and emissions, and is available for public use, a first for a collection of this size.
Until now there has been private data available for purchase, and analysis of the world’s fossil fuel usage and reserves. The International Energy Agency also maintains public data on oil, gas and coal, but it focuses on the demand for those fossil fuels, whereas this new database looks at what is yet to be burned. The registry was developed by Carbon Tracker, a nonprofit think tank that researches the energy transition’s effect on financial markets, and the Global Energy Monitor, an organization that tracks a variety of energy projects around the globe.
Corporations, investors and scientists already have some level of access to private data on fossil fuels. Mark Campanale, founder of Carbon Tracker, said he hopes the registry will empower groups to hold governments accountable, for example, when they issue licenses for fossil fuel extraction.“Civil society groups have got to get more of a focus on what governments are planning to do in terms of license issuance, both for coal and oil and gas, and actually begin to challenge this permitting process,” Campanale told The Associated Press.
The release of the database and an accompanying analysis of the collected data coincide with two critical sets of climate talks at the international level — the U.N. General Assembly in New York beginning on September 13, and COP27 in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, in November. Data like what’s being released in the registry could arm environmental and climate groups to pressure national leaders to agree to stronger policies that result in less carbon emissions.
And we’re in dire need of carbon reductions, Campanale said. In their analysis of the data, the developers found that the United States and Russia have enough fossil fuel still underground untapped to exhaust the world’s remaining carbon budget. That’s the remaining carbon the world can afford to emit before a certain amount of warming occurs, in this case 1.5 degrees Celsius. It also shows these reserves would generate 3.5 trillion tons of greenhouse gas emissions, which is more than all of the emissions produced since the Industrial Revolution.
“We already have enough extractable fossil fuels to cook the planet. We can’t afford to use them all — or almost any of them at this point. We’ve run out of time to build new things in old ways,” said Rob Jackson, a Stanford University climate scientist who was not involved with the database.“I like the emphasis on transparency in fossil fuel production and reserves, down to specific projects. That’s a unique aspect to the work.”Jackson compared the global carbon budget to a bathtub.“You can run water only so long before the tub overflows,” he said.
When the tub is close to overflowing, he said, governments can turn down the faucet (mitigating greenhouse gas emissions) or open the tub’s drain more (removing carbon from the atmosphere).The database shows that we have much more carbon than we need as a global community, Campanale said, and more than enough to overflow the bathtub and flood the bathroom in Jackson’s analogy. So investors and shareholders should be holding decision makers at the world’s largest oil, gas and coal companies accountable when they approve new investments in fossil fuel extraction, he said.
Campanale said the hope is the investment community, “who ultimately own these corporations,” will use the data to begin to challenge the investment plans of companies still planning to expand oil, gas and coal projects. “Companies like Shell and Exxon, Chevron and their shareholders can use the analysis to to really begin to try and push the companies to move in a completely different direction.”
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