Following is a summary of current science news briefs.
NASA shrugs off Roscosmos leader’s rant over U.S. sanctions and space station
NASA on Friday shrugged off public comments from the head of its Russian counterpart suggesting U.S. sanctions imposed against Moscow over the Ukraine crisis could “destroy” U.S.-Russian teamwork on the International Space Station (ISS). Dmitry Rogozin, director-general of Russian space agency Roscosmos, took to Twitter on Thursday denouncing new constraints on high-tech exports to Russia that U.S. President Joe Biden said were designed to “degrade their aerospace industry, including their space program.”
Fossil of dinosaur with hard head and tiny arms found in Argentina
Scientists have unearthed in Argentina the remains of a previously unknown species of meat-eating dinosaur that lived about 70 million years ago that had puny arms and may have used its powerful head to ram its prey. The fossil skull of the Cretaceous Period dinosaur, named Guemesia ochoai, was discovered in Argentina’s northwestern Salta province. The researchers said it likely belongs to a carnivorous group of dinosaurs called abelisaurs, which walked on two legs and possessed only stub-like arms, even shorter than those of North America’s Tyrannosaurus rex.
NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has captured a stunning image of a ‘space triangle’ where two galaxies are colliding, leading to a tsunami of star birth.
The duo are collectively known as Arp 143, made up of the glittery, distorted star-forming galaxy NGC 2445, and the less flashy NGC 24444.
NGC 2445 has been distorted, to appear triangular, with a flurry of bright lights as stars are formed at a rapid rate from material shaken up by the collision.
US-based astronomers, from the Flatiron Institute’s Center for Computational Astrophysics in New York and the University of Washington in Seattle, have been analyzing the images captured by the 32-year-old observatory in low Earth orbit.
They explained that the galaxies passed through each other, igniting the uniquely shaped star-formation firestorm, where thousands of stars are bursting to life.
The galaxy is awash in starbirth because it is rich in gas, the fuel that makes stars, but has yet to escape the gravitational pull of partner NGC 2444, causing them to wage a cosmic tug-of-war, which NGC 2444 appears to be winning.
NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has captured a stunning image of a ‘space triangle’ where two galaxies are colliding, leading to a tsunami of star birth
The dancing galaxies were found in a catalog compiled by astronomer Halton Arp in 1966, made up of 338 oddball interacting galaxies.
He thought these peculiar galaxies were excellent laboratories to study the physical processes that distort normal-looking elliptical and spiral galaxies.
He was one of the first to suggest galactic encounters could form stars in bursts.
One such Arp galaxy that is exploding with new stars is Arp 143, captured in these new images from the Hubble Space Telescope.
‘Simulations show that head-on collisions between two galaxies is one way of making rings of new stars,’ said lead astronomer Julianne Dalcanton.
‘Therefore, rings of star formation are not uncommon. However, what’s weird about this system is that it’s a triangle of star formation.
‘Part of the reason for that shape is that these galaxies are still so close to each other and NGC 2444 is still holding on to the other galaxy gravitationally.
‘NGC 2444 may also have an invisible, hot halo of gas that could help to pull NGC 2445’s gas away from its nucleus. So, they’re not completely free of each other yet and their unusual interaction is distorting the ring into this triangle.’
NGC 2445 has been distorted, to appear triangular, with a flurry of bright lights as stars are formed at a rapid rate from material shaken up by the collision. Wide field view of the area Arp 143 was found
The dimmer of the two galaxies is also responsible for pulling ‘taffy-like strands of gas’ from its partner, stoking the streamers of young, blue stars that appear to form a bridge between the two galaxies.
These streamers are among the first in what appears to be a wave of star formation that started on NGC 2445’s outskirts and continued inward as the two collided.
The team behind the study estimate that the streamers were born between 50 and 100 million years ago, and are being left behind, in the triangle area, as NGC 2445 continues to pull slowly away from NGC 2444.
Stars no older than one million to two million years are forming closer to the center of NGC 2445, according to the team.
Hubble is so sharp that it is able to resolve some individual stars within the image, although most of the brilliant blue clumps are groupings of stars. The pink blobs are giant, young star clusters still enshrouded in dust and gas.
Although most of the action is happening in NGC 2445, it doesn’t mean the other half of the interacting pair has escaped unscathed. The gravitational tussle has stretched NGC 2444 into an odd shape.
The galaxy contains old stars and no new starbirth because it lost its gas long ago, well before this galactic encounter.
‘This is a nearby example of the kinds of interactions that happened long ago. It’s a fantastic sandbox to understand star formation and interacting galaxies,’ said Elena Sabbi of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland.
NASAs Hubble Space Telescope is still working and has made more than 1.5 million observations since its mission began in 1990
The Hubble telescope was launched on April 24, 1990, via the space shuttle Discovery from Kennedy Space Centre in Florida.
It is named after famed astronomer Edwin Hubble who was born in Missouri in 1889.
He is arguably most famous for discovering that the universe is expanding and the rate at which is does so – now coined the Hubble constant.
The Hubble telescope is named after famed astronomer Edwin Hubble who was born in Missouri in 1889 (pictured)
Hubble has made more than 1.5 million observations since its mission began in 1990 and helped publish some 18,000 scientific papers.
It circles the Earth at a speed of about 17,000mph (27,300kph) in low Earth orbit at about 340 miles in altitude.
Hubble has the pointing accuracy of .007 arc seconds, which is like being able to shine a laser beam focused on Franklin D. Roosevelt’s head on a dime roughly 200 miles (320km) away.
The Hubble telescope is named after Edwin Hubble who was responsible for coming up with the Hubble constant and is one of the greatest astronomers of all-time
Hubble’s primary mirror is 2.4 meters (7 feet, 10.5 inches) across and in total is 13.3 meters (43.5 feet) long – the length of a large school bus.
Hubble’s launch and deployment in April 1990 marked the most significant advance in astronomy since Galileo’s telescope.
Thanks to five servicing missions and more than 25 years of operation, our view of the universe and our place within it has never been the same.
Sixty years hence, it’s hard to appreciate just how much of an impact a human astronaut actually orbiting our Earth had on those below in early 1962. True, the Soviets had already achieved this feat. But the U.S. had yet to send an astronaut into a full orbit around our fragile planet. Thus, astronaut John Glenn’s three orbits of Earth during NASA’s Mercury-Atlas 6 mission served as a wake-up call to the soviets that NASA was here to stay and that the U.S. would not go quietly in this new race to conquer space.
But it also served to inspire a whole generation of space watchers from the remote reaches of Perth, Australia to Hawaii, to the west coast of the U.S. to Florida to central Africa and beyond.
In early February 1962, when people in the northern hemisphere stepped out under a clear night sky and into the kind of bitter cold that can pierce one’s soul, the whole idea that Earth was round and rotating and orbiting its own star was something that many may have understood intellectually. But the reality of travel beyond Earth’s atmosphere was breathtakingly novel. As a result, it’s hard to fully grasp the importance of Glenn’s triumphant, nail-biting flight.
Twenty-one minutes after liftoff, Glenn passed over the Sahara and took shots of its dust storms. As Jeff Shesol, author of “Mercury Rising: John Glenn, John Kennedy, and the New Battleground of the Cold War,” writes, one of Glenn’s key tasks was to find out how well a human could see from space; in terms of discerning detail and identifying lakes, rivers and mountain ranges; and gauging distances between objects in orbit. As Shesol notes, some of this mattered for science and future space missions but there were also military reconnaissance implications in this unique view from orbit.
What surprised Shesol most about the Mercury Frienship 7 spacecraft’s flight?
The fact that on the eve of his flight, Glenn was seriously at odds with NASA managers about the flight plan, Shesol told me. He believed they were making decisions — without even asking his opinion — that put him in even greater danger, he says.
“Though he never went public with his concerns, and always portrayed himself as completely confident in NASA’s decisions, he began to seriously reckon with the possibility that he would become the first man to die in space,” said Shesol.
One sticking point with all the Mercury 7 astronauts at the time was autonomy in the capsule; the ability of the astronaut pilot to make his own decisions when mission control seemed to prefer autopilot.
As a result, Shesol says that NASA made Glenn’s flight plan “more conservative” as the launch date approached. “That meant less opportunity for the astronaut to make his own decisions; the autopilot was king,” said Shesol.
A prime case in point was the fact that mission control initially kept Glenn out of the loop regarding a potential problem with Friendship 7’s heat shield.
“As [Glenn] passed over Cape Canaveral at the start of his second orbit, an engineer at the telemetry control console, William Saunders, noted that “segment 51,” an instrument providing data on the spacecraft landing system, was presenting a strange reading,” NASA reports. “According to the signal, the spacecraft heatshield and the compressed landing bag were no longer locked in position.”
Designed to protect the capsule on re-entry through Earth’s atmosphere, the heat shield was in fact supposed to come loose, as NASA notes, but not before it withstood temperatures of more than 3000 degrees F. So, if Friendship 7’s heatshield was loose, it might only be being held in place by straps of the capsule’s retrorocket firing package.
Thus, one can imagine Glenn’s shock when Mercury Control asked him if he heard “any banging noises.” “It was the sort of phrase Glenn might have expected to hear about his family station wagon, not a spacecraft that had cost $160 million to produce and been tested as rigorously as any machine ever made,” Shesol writes in “Mercury Rising.” “Negative,” Glenn replied; he didn’t hear any banging noises. Neither did he see any warning lights.”
“Glenn knew that any problem with the heat shield was going to reveal itself, at first, as heat along his spine; he also knew that if he felt heat along his spine it would all be over quickly,” Shesol notes in his book. But Friendship 7 successfully splashed down at 2:43 p.m. EST on this day sixty years ago; about 800 miles southeast of Cape Canaveral in the vicinity of Grand Turk Island in the Turks and Caicos Islands. Glenn’s flight had lasted 4 hours, 55 minutes, and 23 seconds. And in the end, the reading that the heat shield might have come loose was deemed to be due to a faulty sensor.
Veteran aerospace journalist and Perth native Geoffrey Thomas, editor-in-chief of airlineratings.com, was only 10 years-old at the time of Glenn’s flyover. But Thomas remembers the event vividly.
In the hundreds of thousands, Perth people turned every light on in their homes and even hung white sheets on clotheslines and lit them up with torches to produce as much light as possible, Thomas told me. Perth lit up like a beacon on the darkest night, says Thomas, prompting John Glenn to ask the Carnarvon tracking station what the bright light was below which led to the famous comment “Perth is the City of Lights.”
Within voice radio range of the Muchea, Australia, tracking station, Glenn reported that he could see a very bright light and what appeared to be the outline of a city, NASA notes.
We all stood in the street to watch Friendship 7 go overhead and we were in awe; so proud of what we had done, says Thomas. Being so remote we believe it put us on the map for the first time, he says. It made us so proud that we made a difference to that spaceflight and we, of all the people of the world, Thomas says, laid out a warm welcome hello to John Glenn.
But what if the flight had been a complete failure?
“It would have been a psychic shock almost as great as a political assassination,” said Shesol. “And it would have been a huge setback to the space program. There would have been calls for many more animal flights before anyone would have been willing to put another human being atop an Atlas rocket.”
The NASA Solar Orbiter has created history after capturing the largest-ever solar eruption on camera. See how a solar storm brews.
The Solar Orbiter satellite has created history for NASA. On February 15, the Solar Orbiter took unprecedented images of a solar prominence or solar eruption that was millions of kilometres long. It is seen as string of fire attached to the Sun. The Solar Orbiter is a joint mission between NASA and European Space Agency (ESA) designed to obtain detailed information about the Sun and this time, it really hit the jackpot! This super-massive event called solar prominence is important not simply because it is an awesome spectacle, but also because it often results in the creation of highly-destructive coronal mass ejections (CME), which are a major cause of solar storms that hold massive destructive potential for Earth. This historic image is what would be considered as the building stage of a solar storm. It will also help scientists understand how a solar storm is created.
Solar prominence are essentially gaseous clouds above the surface of the Sun’s magnetic field. In the image captured, the Solar Orbiter witnessed a solar eruption bursting out of the Sun’s atmosphere and spreading millions of miles into space. Notably, this could have caused a gigantic solar storm on Earth but thankfully, it occurred on the far side of the Sun and not towards our planet. Therefore, there is no chance that the solar storm generated by this solar eruption will hit Earth. However, if the Sun had sent a solar storm of this magnitude towards Earth, it could potentially have caused major damage to satellites, Internet and electricity grids.
The Solar Orbiter does a historic first
“Other space telescopes such as the ESA/NASA SOHO [Solar and Heliospheric Observatory] satellite frequently see solar activity like this, but either closer to the sun, or further out by means of an occulter, which blocks out the glare of the sun’s disk to enable detailed imagery of the corona itself,” said the ESA.
“Thus, the prominence observed by Solar Orbiter is the largest ever event of its kind to be captured in a single field of view together with the solar disk, opening up new possibilities to see how events like these connect to the solar disk for the first time. At the same time, SOHO can provide complementary views to even larger distances,” the European Space agency added.
This particular solar prominence reached out up to 3.5 million kilometers, which has never been observed before. This new discovery for both NASA and ESA will open further studies into solar storms and geomagnetic storms. Solar Orbiter was launched in February 2020 and it started its mission in November 2021.
Solar Orbiter’s next close approach of the Sun will be on March 26, when it will be passing within 150 million kilometers of it, which will be another first.
It is now possible to reach March in as little as 45 days, which is nothing short of a science enthusiast’s dream.
According to Canadian engineers, a laser-based technology for reaching Mars might drastically reduce the time it takes to reach the Red Planet.
At current rates, it would take around 500 days for a person to reach Mars, according to NASA projections.
However, engineers at McGill University in Canada claim to have created a “laser-thermal propulsion” technology that employs lasers to heat hydrogen fuel and claims to decrease journey time by half to 45 days.
The US space agency wants to send a crew to Mars in the mid-to-late 2030s, around the same time China plans to place humans on the Red Planet.
Watch: One year since Perseverance rover landed on Mars
It’s called “directed-energy propulsion” because it uses enormous lasers shot from Earth to transmit power to photovoltaic panels aboard a spacecraft, which generate electricity and thrust.
While near Earth, the spacecraft accelerates rapidly, then races toward Mars during the next month, releasing the main vehicle to land on Mars and returning the rest to Earth to be recycled for the next launch.
Reaching Mars in six weeks was previously thought to be conceivable only with nuclear-powered rockets, which pose greater radiation hazards.
NASA’s new space telescope has captured its first starlight and even taken a selfie of its giant, gold mirror.
All 18 segments of the primary mirror on the James Webb Space Telescope seem to be working properly 1 1/2 months into the mission, officials said on Feb. 11. The telescope’s first target was a bright star 258 light-years away in the constellation Ursa Major.
“That was just a real wow moment,” said Marshall Perrin of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore.
Over the next few months, the hexagonal mirror segments, each the size of a coffee table, will be aligned and focused as one, allowing science observations to begin by the end of June.
The $10 billion infrared observatory, considered the successor to the aging Hubble Space Telescope, will seek light from the first stars and galaxies that formed in the universe nearly 14 billion years ago. It will also examine the atmospheres of alien worlds for any possible signs of life.
NASA did not detect the crippling flaw in Hubble’s mirror until after its 1990 launch; more than three years passed before spacewalking astronauts were able to correct the telescope’s blurry vision.
While everything is looking good so far with Webb, engineers should be able to rule out any major mirror flaws by next month, Feinberg said.
Webb’s 6.5-meter, gold-plated mirror is the largest ever launched into space. An infrared camera on the telescope snapped a picture of the mirror as one segment gazed upon the targeted star.
“Pretty much the reaction was ’Holy Cow!’,” Feinberg said.
NASA released the selfie, along with a mosaic of starlight from each of the mirror segments. The 18 points of starlight resemble bright fireflies flitting against a black night sky.
After 20 years with the project, “it is just unbelievably satisfying” to see everything working so well so far, said the University of Arizona’s Marcia Rieke, principal scientist for the infrared camera.
NASA has picked Lockheed Martin as the awardee for a contract to build the Mars Ascent Vehicle (MAV), the first-ever man-made rocket to be launched from the surface of another planet. The MAV is tasked with bringing back samples collected by NASA’s Perseverance Rover from Mars back to Earth.
As humans endeavor to colonize other planets, it is important that we understand what different planets have to offer and how their positions could affect human existence. Rovers sent to these planets can dig up samples but only conduct some basic experiments, and the detailed structure of the soil can be best studied by bringing the samples to Earth for an extensive analysis. The MAV will perform a crucial task in making this possible for samples collected on Mars.
“This groundbreaking endeavor is destined to inspire the world when the first robotic round-trip mission retrieves a sample from another planet – a significant step that will ultimately help send the first astronauts to Mars,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson.
The MAV is intended to be a small and lightweight rocket that will work in Martian environments. Unlike most other rockets that are fueled just prior to launch, the MAV first needs to be sent to Mars in a packed state and make a safe landing on the Red Planet. Responsible for this part of its journey, it is NASA’s Sample Retrieval Lander that will carry MAV to the Mars’ surface, and land it near the Jezero Crater, where Perseverance has saved the samples, the press release said.
Once the samples are loaded onto the MAV, it will lift off from Mars, and perform the tricky task of meeting with a European Space Agency’s (ESA) Earth Return Orbiter spacecraft that would be orbiting the planet. Once captured, the orbiter will return to Earth and drop the samples for analysis.
The MAV needs to be compatible with NASA’s Capture, Containment, and Return System payload on the ESA spacecraft while also being small enough to fit inside the Sample Retrieval Lander, and carrying enough firepower to lift off from the Martian surface.
Adding a little pressure to the situation is the scheduled launch of the Sample Retrieval Lander as early as 2026 with a view to returning the samples to Earth in the early-2030s, a good decade from now. Not to forget, this would be the first instance where humanity has actively sourced samples from another planet in the solar system.
The contract for this “Mars Ascent Vehicle” has a potential value of $194 million, according to NASA.
Lockheed Martin’s space division has won a NASA contract to build the rocket that will return the first Mars rock samples to Earth in the 2030s, the US space agency said Monday.
The “small, lightweight rocket” will be the first to take off from another planet, bringing back “rock, sediment and atmospheric samples from the surface of the Red Planet,” NASA said in a statement.
NASA’s Perseverance Rover has been collecting samples from various Martian areas since landing on Earth’s neighbor a year ago.
The goal of the mission is to find traces of ancient life on the Red Planet. But these samples will have to be analyzed in laboratories back on Earth, capable of more sophisticated tests than anything that can be done on Mars.
The samples will be gathered and then launched back to Earth in a complex operation in which the Lockheed Martin rocket will be a key element.
The contract for this “Mars Ascent Vehicle” has a potential value of $194 million, according to NASA.
“The pieces are coming together to bring home the first samples from another planet. Once on Earth, they can be studied by state-of-the-art tools too complex to transport into space,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for science at NASA headquarters in Washington.
According to the space agency’s plans, a mission will be launched in 2026 at the earliest to send the mini-rocket to Mars, carrying another rover responsible for collecting the samples left behind by Perseverance.
Once the samples are placed in the rocket, it will take off and put them in orbit around Mars. They will then be captured by another vessel sent there to complete the final leg of the journey back to Earth.
This last vessel, as well as the rover that will recover the samples, are being developed under the direction of the European Space Agency.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)