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NASA may send probe to nearby exoplanet by 2069

Although most of the technology NASA needs for such a mission does not exist yet, it could involve travelling at one-tenth the speed of light.

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Washington, Dec 20: To look for signs of life beyond our solar system, the US space agency could send a spacecraft to the nearby Alpha Centauri system by 2069, according to a mission concept presented by a NASA scientist.

Details of the mission concept were presented by Anthony Freeman of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory at the 2017 American Geophysical Union conference in New Orleans, Louisiana, the New Scientist reported on Tuesday.

Although most of the technology NASA needs for such a mission does not exist yet, it could involve travelling at one-tenth the speed of light.

The impetus came from a 2016 US funding bill telling NASA to study interstellar travel that could reach at least 10 percent of the speed of light by 2069, the report said.

The Alpha Centauri star system, located in the constellation of Centaurus at a distance of 4.3 light-years from Earth, is the closest star system to the Earth. It has three stars — Centauri A, Centauri B, and Proxima Centauri.

The European Southern Observatory (ESO) discovered in 2016 an Earth-sized planet that orbits in the habitable zone around Proxima Centauri.

New research, published in the Astronomical Journal, suggests that there may some small, Earth-like planets around Alpha Centauri A and B as well.

Right now, only one human-made spacecraft has left our solar system?Voyager 1, which launched 40 years ago and is currently traveling at about 38,000 miles per hour, less than one percent of the speed of light, the Newsweek reported. IANS

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NASA’s Curiosity Rover Captures Images of Martian Dust Storm

The last storm of global magnitude that enveloped Mars was in 2007, five years before Curiosity landed there

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NASA's Curiosity Rover Captures Images of Martian Dust Storm. Pixabay

With NASA engineers yet to make contact with the Opportunity Mars rover due to a massive storm on the Red Planet, scientists are pinning their hopes on learning more about Martian dust storms from images captured by the Curiosity probe.

As of Tuesday morning, the Martian dust storm had grown in size and was officially a “planet-encircling” (or “global”) dust event, NASA said in a statement on Wednesday.

Though Curiosity is on the other side of Mars from Opportunity, dust has steadily increased over it, more than doubling over the weekend, NASA said.

The US space agency said the Curiosity Rover this month used its Mast Camera, or Mastcam, to snap photos of the intensifying haziness of the surface of Mars caused by the massive dust storm.

For NASA’s human scientists watching from the ground, Curiosity offers an unprecedented window to answer some questions. One of the biggest: Why do some Martian dust storms last for months and grow massive, while others stay small and last only a week?

“We don’t have any good idea,” said Scott Guzewich, an atmospheric scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

Mars Rover
Mars Rover, Pixabay

Curiosity, he pointed out, plus a fleet of spacecraft in the orbit of Mars, will allow scientists for the first time to collect a wealth of dust information both from the surface and from space.

The last storm of global magnitude that enveloped Mars was in 2007, five years before Curiosity landed there.

The current storm has starkly increased dust at Gale Crater, where the Curiosity rover is studying the storm’s effects from the surface.

But it poses little risk to the Curiosity rover, said Curiosity’s engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

Also Read: NASA Plans To Install An Instrument To Monitor Plant Water Use

However, there was still no signal from the Opportunity rover, although a recent analysis of the rover’s long-term survivability in Mars’ extreme cold suggests Opportunity’s electronics and batteries can stay warm enough to function.

Regardless, the project does not expect to hear from Opportunity until the skies begin to clear over the rover.

The dust storm is comparable in scale to a similar storm observed by Viking I in 1977, but not as big as the 2007 storm that Opportunity previously weathered. (IANS)