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Nasa's Opportunity rover might have 'died' on Mars. Flickr

NASA’s InSight spacecraft is on track for a soft touchdown on the surface of the Red Planet on November 26, scientists monitoring the health and trajectory of the lander have said.

InSight will hit the top of the Martian atmosphere at 19,800 kilometres per hour (kph) and slow down to eight kph — about human jogging speed — before its three legs touch down on Martian soil.


That extreme deceleration has to happen in just under seven minutes.

“There’s a reason engineers call landing on Mars ‘seven minutes of terror,'” Rob Grover, InSight’s entry, descent and landing (EDL) lead, based at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, said in a statement.

“We can’t joystick the landing, so we have to rely on the commands we pre-programme into the spacecraft. We’ve spent years testing our plans, learning from other Mars landings and studying all the conditions Mars can throw at us.

“And we’re going to stay vigilant till InSight settles into its home in the Elysium Planitia region,” Grover said.


Its data also will help scientists understand the formation of all rocky worlds, including our own. Flcikr

Launched on May 5, Mars Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight) lander marks NASA’s first Mars landing since the Curiosity rover in 2012.

The landing will kick off a two-year mission in which InSight will become the first spacecraft to study Mars’ deep interior.

Its data also will help scientists understand the formation of all rocky worlds, including our own.

About 80 live viewing events for the public to watch the InSight landing will take place around the world. It will be at 3 p.m. EST meaning 1.30 a.m. in India on November 27.

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People from around the world will be able to watch the event live on NASA Television, the agency’s website and social media platforms, including on YouTube.

“Landing on Mars is exciting, but scientists are looking forward to the time after InSight lands,” said Lori Glaze, Acting Director of the Planetary Science Division at NASA headquarters. (IANS)


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Milky Way galaxy as seen from Chitkul Valley

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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