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Scientists find NASA’s lost football-field-sized balloon from Antarctica

Scientists have found NASA's lost field-football-size balloon with a telescope in Antarctica after a year from its flight

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Aerial View of NASA. Wikimedia
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New York, Feb 25, 2017: Scientists have recovered a lost football-field-sized balloon with a telescope hanging beneath it from Antarctica after a year of its flight.

According to the US space agency NASA, the balloon floated 39 kms above the Antarctic continent for 12 days in January 2016 until scientists sent the pre-planned command to cut the balloon.

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The telescope parachuted to the ground in the Queen Maud region of Antarctica where it remained on the ice for an entire year.

“The scientists did quickly recover the data vaults from the NASA-funded mission, called GRIPS (Gamma-Ray Imager/Polarimeter for Solar flares), but due to incoming winter weather they had to leave the remaining instruments on the ice and schedule a recovery effort for the following year,” NASAsaid in a statement on Saturday.

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The instruments were finally recovered in January this year when it was warm and safe enough for scientists to go there.

“Despite sitting on the ice for a year, no snow had made it into the electronics. The cryostat instrument, which houses the GRIPS detectors, seemed in great condition, and we’re hoping to use some of the instruments again,” said Hazel Bain, a solar physicist on the GRIPS team.

GRIPS is a helium balloon-borne telescope designed to study high-energy particles generated by solar flares and help scientists better understand what causes these giant eruptions on the sun, which can send energy toward our planet and shape the very nature of near-Earth space.

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GRIPS is a NASA-funded project largely designed, built and tested by the University of California-Berkeley’s Space Science Laboratory. (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)