Sunday October 21, 2018

NASA’s Flying Saucer: Space agency set for revolutionary low-density supersonic decelerator test flight

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Image: NASA

Washington: NASA is all set to test its low-density supersonic decelerator (LDSD) – a flying saucer designed to check out landing technologies for future Mars missions – over Hawaii.

If weather permits, the LDSD test vehicle will be carried aloft by a large weather balloon at 10 p.m. (Indian standard time) on Tuesday from the US Navy’s Pacific Missile Range Facility in Kauai, Hawaii.

For more than two hours, the balloon will carry the test vehicle to an altitude of 120,000 feet.

The tracking cameras NASA has employed for the test are expected to keep the balloon and test vehicle in their sights for about 30 minutes after launch, the US space agency said in a statement.

After reaching a height of 180,000 feet, a doughnut-shaped airbag will inflate around the saucer for its descent to earth.

The saucer is expected to splash down in the Pacific Ocean about two hours and 15 minutes after launch.

“The test is centred on how our newly-designed supersonic parachute will perform. We think we have a great design ready for the challenge, but the proof is in the pudding and the pudding will be made live for everyone to see,” said Mark Adler, project manager for LDSD at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

In order to support a human mission to the Red Planet, NASA needs technologies capable of landing between 20 to 30 metric tonnes on the Martian surface.

The LDSD supports payloads of two to three tonnes, doubling the current capabilities.

During the test flight, viewers will see live, low-resolution images from high over the Pacific Ocean off the west coast of Kauai, Hawaii.

Four cameras aboard the test vehicle will provide the LDSD mission team with different perspectives on the test.

The LDSD mission will test breakthrough technologies that will enable large payloads to be safely landed on the surface of Mars, and also will allow access to more of the planet’s surface by enabling landings at higher-altitude sites. (IANS)

 

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Habitability Of Surrounding Planets Affected By Super Flares Of Red Dwarfs: NASA

Red dwarfs -- especially young red dwarfs -- are active stars, producing flares blast out energy

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NASA, space, red dwarf
Superflares from red dwarfs may affect habitability of planets Pixabay

Using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, astronomers have found that violent outbursts, or superflares, from red dwarf stars could affect the habitability of any planets orbiting it.

Young low-mass stars flare much more frequently and more energetically than old stars and middle-age stars like our Sun, the findings of the study published in the Astrophysical Journal showed.

The findings are based on observations of the flare frequency of 12 red dwarfs.

Hubble is observing such stars through a large programme called HAZMAT — Habitable Zones and M dwarf Activity across Time.

“M dwarf” is the astronomical term for a red dwarf star — the smallest, most abundant and longest-living type of star in our galaxy.

Hubble Telescope. red dwarf
Hubble Telescope. Flickr

The HAZMAT programme is an ultraviolet survey of red dwarfs at three different ages — young, intermediate, and old.

“The goal of the HAZMAT programme is to help understand the habitability of planets around low-mass stars,” explained the programme’s principal investigator, Evgenya Shkolnik from Arizona State University.

“These low-mass stars are critically important in understanding planetary atmospheres,” Shkolnik added.

Stellar flares from red dwarfs are particularly bright in ultraviolet wavelengths, compared with Sun-like stars.

Red dwarf  planet
Artist’s view of planets transiting red dwarf star in TRAPPIST-1 system. Flickr

Hubble’s ultraviolet sensitivity makes the telescope very valuable for observing these flares.

The flares are believed to be powered by intense magnetic fields that get tangled by the roiling motions of the stellar atmosphere.

When the tangling gets too intense, the fields break and reconnect, unleashing tremendous amounts of energy.

The team found that the flares from the youngest red dwarfs they surveyed — just about 40 million years old — are 100 to 1,000 times more energetic than when the stars are older.

This younger age is when terrestrial planets are forming around their stars.

Red dwarf
This illustration shows a red dwarf star orbited by a hypothetical exoplanet. NASA

About three-quarters of the stars in our Milky Way galaxy are red dwarfs. Most of the galaxy’s “habitable-zone” planets — planets orbiting their stars at a distance where temperatures are moderate enough for liquid water to exist on their surface — orbit red dwarfs.

In fact, the nearest star to our Sun, a red dwarf named Proxima Centauri, has an Earth-size planet in its habitable zone.

Also Read: NASA Plans For Science Payloads For Delivery To Moon

However, red dwarfs — especially young red dwarfs — are active stars, producing flares that could blast out so much energy that it disrupts and possibly strips off the atmospheres of these fledgling planets. (IANS)