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American record-holder NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson. Wikimedia
  • Nasa astronaut Peggy Whitson set to return back to Earth from International Space Station
  • The astronauts return after completing 288 days in space in Expedition 52
  • Peggy Whitson holds the record for the maximum time spend in space by an American astronaut

Washington, September 2, 2017 : NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson, who holds the record for maximum time spent in space by any American astronaut, is set to return to Earth on Saturday, completing a 288-day mission at the International Space Station.

Whitson and her Expedition 52 crewmates Jack Fischer of NASA and Fyodor Yurchikhin of the Russian space agency Roscosmos are scheduled to land in Kazakhstan at 9.22 p.m. EDT on Saturday (6.52 a.m. Sunday, India time).


At the time of their landing, she will have accrued a total of 665 days in space over the course of her career, more than any American astronaut, placing her eighth on the all-time space endurance list, NASA said.

Whitson’s return will mark the end of her third long-duration stay onboard the space station.

She launched on November 17 with 377 days in space already under her belt, and on April 24 broke Jeff Williams’ standing US record of 534 cumulative days in space.

Whitson also holds the record for most spacewalks by a female.

Yurchikhin and Fischer, who launched in April, will complete 136 days in space on their return. Yurchikhin will return to Earth with a total of 673 days in space on his five flights, putting him in seventh place on the all-time endurance list.

At the time of undocking, Expedition 53 will begin aboard the station under the command of Randy Bresnik.

Along with his crewmates Sergey Ryazanskiy of Roscosmos and Paolo Nespoli of ESA (European Space Agency), the three-person crew will operate the station until the arrival of three new crew members.

Mark Vande Hei and Joe Acaba of NASA and Alexander Misurkin of Roscosmos, are scheduled to launch on September 12 from Baikonur, Kazakhstan, NASA said. (IANS)


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NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory has for the first time spotted signs of a planet transiting a star outside of the Milky Way galaxy, opening up a new avenue to search for exoplanets at greater distances than ever before.

The possible exoplanet -- or planets outside of our Solar System -- candidate is located in the spiral galaxy Messier 51 (M51), also called the Whirlpool Galaxy because of its distinctive profile, NASA said in a statement.

Astronomers have, so far, found all other known exoplanets and exoplanet candidates in the Milky Way galaxy, almost all of them less than about 3,000 light-years from Earth.

An exoplanet in M51 would be about 28 million light-years away, meaning it would be thousands of times farther away than those in the Milky Way, NASA said.

"We are trying to open up a whole new arena for finding other worlds by searching for planet candidates at X-ray wavelengths, a strategy that makes it possible to discover them in other galaxies," said Rosanne Di Stefano of the Center for Astrophysics at Harvard and Smithsonian (CfA) in Cambridge, Massachusetts, who led the study.

The findings are published in the journal Nature Astronomy.

The exoplanet candidate was spotted in a binary system called M51-ULS-1, located in M51. This binary system contains a black hole or neutron star orbiting a companion star with a mass about 20 times that of the Sun. The X-ray transit they found using Chandra data lasted about three hours, during which the X-ray emission decreased to zero.

Based on this and other information, the team estimates the exoplanet candidate in M51-ULS-1 would be roughly the size of Saturn and orbit the neutron star or black hole at about twice the distance of Saturn from the Sun.

The team looked for X-ray transits in three galaxies beyond the Milky Way galaxy, using both Chandra and the European Space Agency's XMM-Newton. Their search covered 55 systems in M51, 64 systems in Messier 101 (the "Pinwheel" galaxy), and 119 systems in Messier 104 (the "Sombrero" galaxy).

However, more data would be needed to verify the interpretation as an extragalactic exoplanet. One challenge is that the planet candidate's large orbit means it would not cross in front of its binary partner again for about 70 years, thwarting any attempts for a confirming observation for decades, NASA said.

Named in honor of the late Indian-American Nobel laureate, Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, the Chandra X-ray Observatory is the world's most powerful X-ray telescope. It has eight times greater resolution and is able to detect sources more than 20-times fainter than any previous X-ray telescope.

Known to the world as Chandra (which means "moon" or "luminous" in Sanskrit), Chandrasekhar was widely regarded as one of the foremost astrophysicists of the twentieth century. (IANS/JB)


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