Wednesday November 13, 2019
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Space Jam: Let the exploration begin with novel space missions

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rainbow-nebula

By Gaurav Sharma

Dazzling images of icy plains, enigmatic clusters of mounds, and a heart shaped region holding a huge concentration of carbon monoxide set hearts roaring as NASA’s New Horizons Mission flew past the eccentric dwarf planet Pluto.

As more and more data keeps pouring in over the next 16 months, the inquisitive human eye can hope to discover the mysterious aura of the frozen planet along with the mythical nature of its “disappearing atmosphere”.

However, NASA’s epic Pluto mission is just one of the many eclectic assortments of space exploration that the scientific arena has lined up for the curious space observers in its wide gamut of astronomical odysseys.

The rapid rise of technology in the post-modern world has further led to a surge in space exploration missions. Innovative private spaceflight companies such as SpaceX, Virgin Galactic, Orbital Sciences, Blue Origin and Bigelow Aerospace are fueling the revolutionary transformation in space technology.

Here is telescopic peek of the future foray into dark space exploration:

EXOMARS

People had been viewing Mars–as a red dot brimming with canals and frost–for eternity. After the relay of zoomed-in images by NASA’s Mariner 4 in 1965, the world was caught in rapt attention.

Credits: http://www.google.co.in/imgres?imgurl=http://www.esa.int/var/esa/storage/images/esa_multimedia/images/2003/03/exomars_logo/9572705-3-eng-GB/ExoMars_logo.jpg&imgrefurl=http://www.esa.int/spaceinimages/Images/2003/03/ExoMars_logo&h=395&w=2023&tbnid=P1bw8bOfDZdwrM:&docid=njR7fxPf1BIjhM&ei=-PCpVcSFCYKUuQSK_bGYCQ&tbm=isch&ved=0CBsQMygAMABqFQoTCMThmcmF5MYCFQJKjgodin4Mkw

Thought to have been home to life like its cousin Earth, Mars is set for a rediscovery, this time through the European Space Agency’s ExoMars mission. The mission is scheduled for next year and will sample the Martian atmosphere. However, the center of attraction will be the ExoMars Rover which will land on the Red Planet in 2018.

The ExoMars rover will be superior to the Curiosity rover, which was only able to drill two meters below the surface to search for organic matter. A riverbed which was thought to have been a watery landscape holding sediments of life will likely be the landing site of the rover.

ORION Spacecraft

Credits: https://www.google.co.in/url?sa=i&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=images&cd=&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0CAYQjB1qFQoTCPvwlIyG5MYCFQ9xjgodamUBmg&url=https%3A%2F%2Fen.wikipedia.org%2Fwiki%2FOrion_(spacecraft)&ei=hPGpVfueI4_iuQTqyoXQCQ&bvm=bv.98197061,d.c2E&psig=AFQjCNE8KEIvcNueEMU_kT7NI62TUffA0w&ust=1437285523978268 Designed with the aim of taking humans deeper into space than ever before, NASA’s Orion spacecraft will begin its first manned flight in 2021. The spacecraft is bigger and far more advanced than Apollo, the aircraft credited with landing humans on the Moon for the first time in history.

The spacecraft might visit asteroids to collect samples in the mid 2020s, with the ultimate aim of landing on Mars during the mid 2030s.

However, the conundrum of the rapid deterioration of human body in space will remain a contentious issue. In space, the solar radiation is high and low gravity is known to cause degradation of bone and muscle strength.

JUICE

Moving beyond the red planet to the largest planet Jupiter, the European Space Agency’s Juice mission will be initiated in 2022 with an eye to explore the icy Jovian moons.

The spacecraft will make a string of flybys of Callisto, Europa and Ganymede (the largest moon in the solar system). All three moons are likely places for life in the solar system to thrive as the thick ice crusts covering their surfaces are believed to hold liquid oceans of water.

Using radial imaging, the spacecraft will beam back images of the fractured lunar surfaces, closely resembling Antarctica’s subglacial lakes.

James Webb Telescope 

In April this year, the Hubble space telescope–one of the largest and most versatile telescopes–celCredits: https://www.google.co.in/url?sa=i&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=images&cd=&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0CAYQjB1qFQoTCJWxiNGH5MYCFQu-jgoduzsIqA&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.spacetelescope.org%2Fimages%2Fjwst_poster01%2F&ei=IfOpVdWcH4v8ugS796DACg&bvm=bv.98197061,d.c2E&psig=AFQjCNGjDdIYInuysAMCfj3ZoDocwaECYg&ust=1437287558333072ebrated its silver jubilee. In 2018, the James Webb Telescope will become its natural successor, providing a much more encompassing visual experience for astronomers.

Featuring a 6.5 meter mirror and a tennis court-size sunshield, the telescope will be the largest one to be launched in low Earth orbit.

The Webb telescope will focus on infrared, thereby allowing the viewers to gaze back at the primeval stars, the stars and galaxies existing before the Big Bang. This will bring a sea change in the way astronomers have been viewing the planets until now. Direct observations of atmosphere and whether it contains air, water, methane, etc. will become a reality.

Solar Orbiter

Set to be launched in 2018, the European Space Agency’s sun observing satellite will travel closer to the sun than any other spacecraft yet flown, reaching jaw dropping temperatures of about 600C.

The satellite will circle into orbit about 21 million miles surface of Mercury. Through an onboard camera designed to showcase images spanning just 110 miles (the Sun’s visible disc is about 800,000 miles wide!), the orbiter will provide close-up views of the polar regions of the Sun, an impossible view from the Earth.

Apart from revealingCredits: https://www.google.co.in/url?sa=i&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=images&cd=&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0CAYQjB1qFQoTCNzzlPyD5MYCFY0Ljgod9tsILQ&url=http%3A%2F%2Fphys.org%2Fnews%2F2014-06-solar-orbiter-shield-sun.html&ei=Su-pVdymCY2XuAT2t6PoAg&bvm=bv.98197061,d.c2E&psig=AFQjCNFVP7USNsWafno_ZXchIvz33o9_aA&ust=1437286586532574 the Sun’s strange landscape, swirling gases, and violent  flares in unprecedented detail, the rare images will help uncover the mystery of its powerful magnetic field and the riddle of what happens when the Sun’s magnetic field flips 180 degrees, a phenomenon which occurred in  2013.

With space exploration gearing up for intense activity with an aim to break old barriers and reach newer frontiers, space aficionados and sky gazers alike can expect a visual orgasmic treat. After all, what is exploration if not an exciting, thrilling adventure?

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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)