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Indian orbiter MOM still on lookout for methane on Mars

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Mysuru (Karnataka): The Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM), India’s first interplanetary mission is still groping around the red planet to locate methane gas in its atmosphere, a senior space scientist said on Monday.

“The Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) is yet to detect methane gas or find the exact source of it. I don’t have an update on how much of science we have been able to find out,” Indian space agency’s former director S.K. Shivakumar told IANS at the 103rd Indian Science Congress here.

Though India was the first country whose maiden space probe was the first to showcase stunning pictures of the red planet in its very first attempt on September 24, 2014, the 475kg orbiter with five scientific instruments on board is yet to relay substantial data or information on Mars’ origin and evolution in the solar system.

“Being a technology person, I don’t know what is its (MOM) current status,” he said on the sidelines of a plenary session on ‘Space Science, Technology, and Applications’, on the second day of the five-day annual event at Manasagangotri campus of University of Mysore.

The Rs.450-crore mission was launched on November 5, 2013, from spaceport Sriharikota in Andhra Pradesh, about 80km northeast of Chennai, and reached the Martian orbit after a 10-month voyage through the inter-planetary space.

“As of Sunday evening and Monday morning, the orbiter is doing well, going around Mars, taking a different set of pictures and whatever is required with its other payloads,” Shivakumar said.

The spacecraft was successful in surviving a solar eclipse and a 15-day blackout in June last year. It was under solar conjunction from June 8 after it went behind the sun and away from the earth due to a solar eclipse, which occurs once in 26 months over the red planet. The spacecraft is still elliptically orbiting around Mars even 28 months after it entered the Martian orbit.

“As the orbiter still has 37kg of fuel, it will continue to orbit around Mars as long as it can. Though built for six months, it is still alive and going on and on,” Shivakumar added.

Though the orbiter’s communication system was disrupted by the sun’s corona (outer atmosphere) during the fortnight-long eclipse, it got activated and its scientific instruments resumed their activities after being on autonomous mode.

Orbiter takes 3.2 earth days or 72 hours, 51 minutes and 51 seconds to go around Mars once while orbiting at a distance of 500 km nearest and over 80,000 km at the farthest from its surface. (IANS)

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Scientists spot massive ice deposits on Mars

Recent observations by MRO's ground-penetrating Shallow Radar instrument revealed a buried ice layer that covers more ground than the state of New Mexico.

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Scientists found layers of ice on the surface of Mars. Wikimedia Commons
  • Recently, scientists have found layers of ice on the Martian land.
  • Scientists think this ice might be a useful source of water for future humans.
  • The researchers had researched 8 locations on the surface of Mars.

Scientists have unearthed thick and massive deposits of ice in some regions on Mars.

The images taken by the High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera aboard NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) showed the three-dimensional structure of massive ice deposits on Mars.

The ice sheets extend from just below the surface to a depth of 100 meters or more and appear to contain distinct layers.

It extending downward from depths as shallow as 1 to 2 meters below the surface, which could preserve a record of Mars’ past climate, the researchers noted in the journal Science.

This ice which was found can help scientists understand the climate history of Mars. IANS
This ice which was found can help scientists understand the climate history of Mars. IANS

“We expect the vertical structure of Martian ice-rich deposits to preserve a record of ice deposition and past climate,” said Colin M. Dundas, from the US Geological Survey.

“They might even be a useful source of water for future human exploration of the red planet,” Dundas added.

The researchers investigated eight locations on Mars and found thick deposits cover broad regions of the Martian mid-latitudes with a smooth mantle.

However, erosion in these regions creates scarps that expose the internal structure of the mantle.

The scarps are actively retreating because of sublimation of the exposed water ice.

The layers of ice can be used as water source by future humans on Mars, VOA
The layers of ice can be used as water source by future humans on Mars, VOA

The ice deposits likely originated as snowfall during Mars’ high-obliquity periods and have now compacted into massive, fractured, and layered ice.

Previous researchers have revealed that the Red Planet harbours subsurface water ice.

Recent observations by MRO’s ground-penetrating Shallow Radar instrument revealed a buried ice layer that covers more ground than the state of New Mexico.

NASA’s Phoenix lander had also dug up some ice near the Martian north pole in 2008, however, it is not clear if that is part of the big sheet. IANS