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Indian Origin Scientist Part of Team that developed Asteroid flyby to help NASA test Global Tracking Network

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NASA
NASA's 2020 Mars rover to have 23 'eyes'. Pixabay
  • An asteroid flyby will help NASA with its global tracking network
  • NASA scientists to use large telescopes to keep a check on the asteroid’s precise trajectory
  • According to Indian-origin scientist, Vishnu Reddy, the new collaborative observation will help utilize the network’s global aspect

New York, July 30, 2017: A small asteroid that is expected to fly close to the Earth in October will help NASA to test its network of observatories, a group of NASA researchers, including an Indian-origin scientist, has said.

The flyby would also benefit scientists who work with planetary defence.

According to a press statement on NASA’s website earlier this week, the target of all this attention is asteroid 2012 TC4 — a small asteroid estimated to be between 10 and 30 metres in size.

Asteroid TC4 will safely fly past the Earth on October 12, and scientists are certain it will come no closer than 6,800 km from the surface of the Earth.

The asteroid has been out of range of telescopes since 2012 when it sped past the Earth at about one-fourth the distance from the Earth to the Moon.

For Indian-origin scientist Vishnu Reddy, this is an opportunity for the collaborative observation campaign to utilize the international aspect of the network.

“This is a team effort that involves more than a dozen observatories, universities, and labs across the globe so we can collectively learn the strengths and limitations of our near-Earth object observation capabilities,” said Reddy, Professor at the University of Arizona.

Scientists believe that asteroid 2012 TC4 may be slightly larger than the space rock that hit the Earth’s atmosphere near Chelyabinsk, Russia, in February 2013.

NASA will use large telescopes to detect and re-establish the asteroid’s precise trajectory. The new observations are expected to help refine knowledge about its orbit, narrowing the uncertainty about how far it will be from the Earth at its closest approach in October.

“Scientists have always appreciated knowing when an asteroid will make a close approach to and safely pass the Earth because they can make preparations to collect data to characterize and learn as much as possible about it,” said Michael Kelley, Programme Scientist and NASA Headquarters lead for the TC4 observation campaign.

“This time, we are adding in another layer of effort, using this asteroid flyby to test the worldwide asteroid detection and tracking network, assessing our capability to work together in response to finding a potential real asteroid threat,” Kelley added.

Scientists from NASA’s Centre for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in California, have determined that while at closest approach, asteroid 2012 TC4 will pass no closer than 6,800 km from the Earth — it will more likely pass much farther away, as far as 270,000 km, or two-thirds of the distance from the Earth to the Moon. (IANS)

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NASA’s human ‘computer’ is still working at age 80

Sue Finely calculated rocket trajectories by hand

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Sue Finley still works at NASA
Sue Finley, 80, is still working at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. She started there in 1958 as a human "computer," calculating trajectories for rockets. VOA

Sue Finley, now 80 years old and NASA’s longest-serving female employee, recalls her early days with the space agency when she worked as a human “computer,” calculating rocket trajectories by hand at a time when computers were huge and expensive to operate.

Finley arrived at Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, in January 1958, one week before the U.S. Army launched Explorer 1, America’s first earth satellite.

“It was a very big deal,” she recalls of the launch, a response to the launches a few months earlier of the first satellites, Sputnik 1 and 2, from the former Soviet Union.

She was at JPL for Pioneer 1, the first satellite sent aloft by the newly formed National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in late 1958, which marked the beginning of the international space race.

Unmanned space probes

Since then, Finley has had a role in nearly every U.S. unmanned space probe, and some missions of other nations.

There were failures to overcome and spectacular successes, but always new goals as scientists expanded our knowledge of the earth and solar system.

“We were certainly proud,” she says of NASA accomplishments, “but you just go to the next thing.”

Finley has been through several career changes with the space agency, one of the most important when NASA phased out human computers, moving, initially, to simple electronic versions.

“We got little tiny computers,” she recalls. “One I had 16 wires, jumper cables to code with. One had 10 pegboards that you programmed with.”

As modern computers took over navigational tasks, Finley developed and tested software as a subsystem engineer.

Among her career highlights: the Vega mission, a Soviet-French collaboration with Venus, and Halley’s Comet, which received navigational help from NASA and dropped balloons into the atmosphere of Venus.

She had to change the software for the antenna that tracked the mission, “and it worked,” Finley recalls. “Everything worked. That’s what was so exciting!”

Finley has worked since 1980 on NASA’s Deep Space Network, which coordinates satellite facilities in California, Spain and Australia that allow communication with space probes.

Highlights of NASA career

Career highlights include developing software that generates audio tones sent back from spacecraft, informing engineers on the ground what is happening in space. It was first developed for the Mars missions.

Each tone has a meaning that communicates data, noted one of Finley’s colleagues, Stephen Lichten.

“If a parachute opened, it would send a tone,” Lichten, manager for special projects for the Deep Space Network, said.

“The spacecraft lets go of its heat shield, and it would send a different tone, and so engineers like Sue were here listening for those special frequencies which told them the spacecraft was telling them what it has just done,” he said.

He notes that Finley also helped develop communication arrays that combine multiple antennas to act in unison and other advances that now crucial to space missions.

Lichten once shared an office with Finley and says she inspired her younger colleagues.

“There was a parade of people coming in constantly, to ask her advice, to ask her questions,” he recalls. “This was during the Venus balloon mission days and I realized that Sue was regarded as sort of a guru at JPL.”

Finley has been involved with nearly every advance in space communications in recent decades, and she continues her work today, Lichten said.

There are many more women at NASA today than there were when she started, and Finley said she tells young women to be inquisitive.

“I tell them to never be afraid to ask questions, never be afraid to say you don’t know,” she said.

After nearly six decades at the space agency, a mother of two grown sons and a mentor to her colleagues, Finley has no plans of retiring.

“There’s nothing else I want to do,” she said. “And so far, they need me.”

As they have since the earliest days of the space agency. (VOA)

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20 Years of Changing Seasons on Earth Captured into 2½ Minutes by NASA

NASA captured 20 years of changing seasons in a striking new global map of the home planet that shows Earth's fluctuations as seen from space

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The Changing seasons of the Earth
The Changing seasons of the Earth has been captured by NASA. Wikimedia.

NASA captured 20 years of changing seasons on Earth in a striking new global map of the home planet.

The data visualization, released this week, shows Earth’s fluctuations as seen from space.

The polar ice caps and snow cover are shown ebbing and flowing with the seasons. The varying ocean shades of blue, green, red and purple depict the abundance — or lack — of undersea life.

“It’s like watching the Earth breathe. It’s really remarkable,” said NASA oceanographer Jeremy Werdell, who took part in the project.

Two decades — from September 1997 to this past September — are crunched into 2½ minutes of viewing.

Werdell finds the imagery mesmerizing. “It’s like all of my senses are being transported into space, and then you can compress time and rewind it, and just continually watch this kind of visualization,” he said Friday.

Werdell said the visualization shows spring coming earlier and autumn lasting longer in the Northern Hemisphere. Also noticeable to him is the receding of the Arctic ice caps over time — and, though less obvious, the Antarctic, too.

On the sea side, Werdell was struck by “this hugely productive bloom of biology” that exploded in the Pacific along the equator from 1997 to 1998 — when a water-warming El Nino merged into cooling La Nina. This algae bloom is evident by a line of bright green.

In considerably smaller Lake Erie, more and more contaminating algae blooms are apparent — appearing red and yellow.

All this data can provide resources for policymakers as well as commercial fishermen and many others, according to Werdell.

Programmer Alex Kekesi of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland said it took three months to complete the visualization, using satellite imagery.

Just like our Earth, the visualization will continually change, officials said, as computer systems improve, new remote-sensing satellites are launched and more observations are made. (VOA)

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Lack of Social Communication Skills may cause Increase in Health Problems

How can lack of Social communication skills affect your mental health?

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Lack of Social Communication Skills may cause Increase in Health Problems
Lack of Social Communication Skills may cause Increase in Health Problems. Pixabay
  • Are you left out by your friends due to improper communicative techniques? Beware, as it may take a toll on your health. New research reveals that people with poor social skills may be at a greater risk of developing mental as well as physical health problems.

Importance of Social Communication Skills in avoiding Mental Health Problems

Social skills refer to the communication skills that allow people to interact effectively and appropriately with others. They are mostly learned over time, originating in the family and continuing throughout life.

The use of technology, like texting, is probably one of the biggest impediments to developing social skills among young people nowadays, the researchers said.

“We have known for a long time that social skills are associated with mental health problems like depression and anxiety,” said Chrin Segrin, a professor at the University of Arizona.

“But it was not known definitively that social skills were also predictive of poorer physical health. Two variables — loneliness and stress — appear to be the glue that bind poor social skills to health. People with poor social communication skills have high levels of stress and loneliness in their lives,” Segrin added.

The researchers studied over 775 people, aged between 18 to 91 years, and were provided a questionnaire addressing their social communication skills, stress, loneliness, and mental and physical health.

The results found that the participants who had deficits in those skills reported more stress, loneliness, and poorer mental and physical health.

The study, published in the journal Health Communication, mentioned that while the negative effects of stress on the body have been known for a long time, loneliness is a more recently recognized health risk factor. It is as serious a risk as smoking, obesity or eating a high-fat diet with lack of exercise.(IANS)