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Space Jam: Let the exploration begin with novel space missions

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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’s Kepler Discovers Nearly 100 New Exoplanets

NASA researchers found that some of the signals were caused by multiple star systems or noise from the spacecraft

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Countless galaxies exist in the universe, each hiding secrets that humankind is yet to unearth. Pixabay
  • NASA’s Kepler has discovered nearly 100 new exoplanets
  • Some of the planets discovered are as large as Jupiter
  • NASA has also found planet which orbits very bright stars

An international team of scientists have confirmed the discovery of nearly 100 new exoplanets — planets located outside our solar system.

The discovery was based on data from the second mission of NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope or K2 released in 2014.

NASA has discovered nearly 100 exoplanets. Wikimedia Commons
NASA has discovered nearly 100 exoplanets. Wikimedia Commons

K2 searches for exoplanet transits by registering dips in light caused by the shadow of an exoplanet as it crosses in front of its host star.

NASA researchers found that some of the signals were caused by multiple star systems or noise from the spacecraft.

But they also detected planets that range from sub-Earth-sized to the size of Jupiter and larger.

Also Read: Milky Way’s neighbouring galaxy is of the same size, not bigger

One of the planets detected was orbiting a very bright star.

“We validated a planet on a 10-day orbit around a star called HD 212657, which is now the brightest star found by K2 missions to host a validated planet,” said lead author Andrew Mayo, a doctoral student at the National Space Institute (DTU Space) at the Technical University of Denmark.

Some of the planets found are as big as Jupiter. VOA
Some of the planets found are as big as Jupiter. VOA

For the study, appearing in the Astronomical Journal, the team started out analyzing 275 candidates of which 149 were validated as real exoplanets.

In turn 95 of these planets have proved to be new discoveries, Mayo said.

The Kepler spacecraft was first launched in 2009 to hunt for exoplanets in a single patch of sky, but in 2013 a mechanical failure crippled the telescope.

NASA has found many planets before as well. Wikimedia Commons
NASA has found many planets before as well. Wikimedia Commons

However, astronomers and engineers devised a way to repurpose and save the space telescope by changing its field of view periodically. This solution paved the way for the follow up K2 mission.

Adding the newly discovered exoplanets brings the total number of exoplanets by K2 mission to almost 300, the study said.

Also Read: NASA sounding rocket probing dark regions of space falter

The first planet orbiting a star similar to our own Sun was detected only in 1995. Today some 3,600 exoplanets have been found, ranging from rocky Earth-sized planets to large gas giants like Jupiter. IANS