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Mars Mission: NASA shows first plane to fly on the Red planet

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This illustration shows what a Prandtl-m might look like flying above the surface of Mars. Credits: NASA Illustration / Dennis Calaba

Washington: The US space agency is planning to send a boomerang-shaped aircraft to Mars first to check if the conditions are ripe for the humans to land on the Red Planet.

Proposed to make its first flight to Mars in the 2020s, a prototype of the “Preliminary Research Aerodynamic Design to Land on Mars” (Prandtl-m) will be ready for a test launch from a high-altitude balloon later this year.

“The ‘Prandtl-m’ will be released at about at 100,000 feet which will simulate the flight conditions of the Martian atmosphere,” said Al Bowers, NASA Armstrong chief scientist and Prandtl-m programme manager.

“The aircraft would be part of the ballast that would be ejected from the aeroshell that takes the Mars rover to the planet,” Bowers added.

It would be able to deploy and fly in the Martian atmosphere and glide down and land.

The Prandtl-m could overfly some of the proposed landing sites for a future astronaut mission and send back to Earth very detailed high-resolution photographic map images that could tell scientists about the suitability of those landing sites.

The tests could validate how the aircraft works, leading to modifications that will allow it to fold and deploy from a CubeSat in the aeroshell of a future Mars rover.

A CubeSat is a miniature satellite used for space research that is usually about four inches in each dimension.

This illustration shows what a Prandtl-m might look like flying above the surface of Mars. Credits: NASA Illustration / Dennis Calaba
This illustration shows what a Prandtl-m might look like flying above the surface of Mars.
Credits: NASA Illustration / Dennis Calaba

Because the Prandtl-m could ride in a CubeSat aboard the Mars rover piggyback stack going to Mars in 2022-2024, the additional weight would not add to the mission’s cost.

Once in the Martian atmosphere, the Prandtl-m would emerge from its host, deploy and begin its mission.

“It will have a flight time of right around 10 minutes. The aircraft would be gliding for the last 2,000 feet to the surface of Mars and have a range of about 20 miles,” Bowers said.

Before that happens, a configuration will be developed for the first of three tests here on Earth.

The actual aircraft’s wingspan, when deployed, would measure 24 inches and weigh less than a pound.

With Mars gravity 38 percent of what it is on Earth, that actually allows us up to 2.6 pounds and the vehicle will still weigh only one pound on Mars.

“It will be made of composite material, either fibreglass or carbon fibre. We believe this particular design could best recover from the unusual conditions of an ejection,” NASA reported.

The flight test could also include some scientific research that will apply to a Mars mission.

(IANS)

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NASA Telescope Captures Record-Breaking Thermonuclear X-Ray Flash: ’Burst was Outstanding’

The observations reveal many phenomena that have never been seen together in a single burst

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NASA, Telescope, Thermonuclear
The X-ray burst, the brightest seen by NICER so far, came from an object named "J1808". Wikimedia Commons

NASA has detected a massive thermonuclear explosion coming from outer space, caused by a massive thermonuclear flash on the surface of a pulsar — the crushed remains of a star that long ago exploded as a supernova.

The explosion released as much energy in 20 seconds as the Sun does in nearly 10 days.

NASA’s Neutron Star Interior Composition Explorer (NICER) telescope on the International Space Station (ISS) detected a sudden spike of X-rays on August 20, reports the US space agency.

The X-ray burst, the brightest seen by NICER so far, came from an object named “J1808”.

NASA, Telescope, Thermonuclear
The explosion released as much energy in 20 seconds as the Sun does in nearly 10 days. Pixabay

The observations reveal many phenomena that have never been seen together in a single burst.

In addition, the subsiding fireball briefly brightened again for reasons astronomers cannot yet explain.

“This burst was outstanding. We see a two-step change in brightness, which we think is caused by the ejection of separate layers from the pulsar surface, and other features that will help us decode the physics of these powerful events,” said lead researcher Peter Bult, an astrophysicist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland.

The detail NICER captured on this record-setting eruption will help astronomers fine-tune their understanding of the physical processes driving the thermonuclear flare-ups of it and other bursting pulsars.

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“J1808” is located about 11,000 light-years away in the constellation Sagittarius.

It spins at a dizzying 401 rotations each second, and is one member of a binary system. Its companion is a brown dwarf, an object larger than a giant planet yet too small to be a star. A steady stream of hydrogen gas flows from the companion toward the neutron star, and it accumulates in a vast storage structure called an accretion disk.

Astronomers employ a concept called the “Eddington limit”, named after English astrophysicist Sir Arthur Eddington, to describe the maximum radiation intensity a star can have before that radiation causes the star to expand.

This point depends strongly on the composition of the material lying above the emission source.

NASA, Telescope, Thermonuclear
NASA’s Neutron Star Interior Composition Explorer (NICER) telescope on the International Space Station (ISS) detected a sudden spike of X-rays on August 20, reports the US space agency. Pixabay

“Our study exploits this longstanding concept in a new way,” said co-author Deepto Chakrabarty, a professor of physics at MIT.

“We are apparently seeing the Eddington limit for two different compositions in the same X-ray burst. This is a very powerful and direct way of following the nuclear burning reactions that underlie the event.”

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A paper describing the findings has been published by The Astrophysical Journal Letters. (IANS)