Scientists discover most ancient spiral galaxy

Scientists have discovered the most ancient spiral galaxy in the universe that existed almost 11 billion years ago.

The spiral galaxy could provide insights into the early cosmos, believe scientists.

The galaxy, known as A1689B11, existed just 2.6 billion years after the Big Bang when the universe was only one-fifth of its present age.

Researchers used a powerful technique that combines gravitational lensing with the Near-infrared Integral Field Spectrograph (NIFS) on the Gemini North telescope in Hawai’i to verify the vintage and spiral nature of the galaxy.

Gravitational lenses are nature’s largest telescopes, created by massive clusters composed of thousands of galaxies and dark matter.

The cluster bends and magnifies the light of galaxies behind it in a manner similar to an ordinary lens, but on a much larger scale.

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China launches 2 navigation satellites

China, which is building its own navigation system to rival United States GPS, has launched two BeiDou-3 satellites into space through a single carrier rocket. The satellites were launched aboard a Long March-3B carrier rocket last night from Xichang Satellite Launch Center in the southwestern province of Sichuan, state-run news agency Xinhua said on Monday.

The two newly-launched satellites represent the third phase of the BeiDou Navigation Satellite System. This system will provide services for countries involved in the Belt and Road Initiative, and form a complete global satellite navigation system by 2020—by which time China plans to have more than 30 satellites.

If everything goes according to the plan, China will become the third country in the world after the US and Russia to operate its own navigation system. Named after the Chinese term for the plough or the Big Dipper constellation, the BeiDou project was formally initiated in 1994. It began to serve China in 2000 and the Asia-Pacific region at the end of 2012.

Compared to earlier generation satellites, the BeiDou-3 is able to send signals that are better compatible with other satellite navigation systems and provide satellite-based augmentation, as well as search and rescue services in accordance with international standards.

The BeiDou-3 satellites and the carrier rocket were developed by China Academy of Space Technology and China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology, respectively.

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NASA is extending Dawn’s mission over Ceres

In June 2016, the Dawn spacecraft reached the end of its primary mission over Ceres. Since then, the spacecraft has remained in orbit around the dwarf planet, where it has continued to monitor and study its surface. This week, NASA has announced a second mission extension for the probe, one that will take its closest look yet at the solar system’s largest dwarf planet.

When Dawn arrived in orbit around Ceres in 2015, it provided scientists with an unprecedented look at at the asteroid belt’s largest object, revealing new features (which turn out to be made of salt), an active surface, and even organic compounds. There was still fuel left over once it completed that mission, and while scientists considered sending the spacecraft to another, undisclosed asteroid, they opted to remain in a high orbit to continue studying the object.

For this new mission extension, Dawn’s flight team is looking into ways to bring the probe into a new orbit around Ceres, one that could take it to less than 120 miles above its surface. Previously, Dawn’s lowest orbit brought it to within 240 miles above the dwarf planet. According to NASA, the extension’s primary focus will be to use the spacecraft’s gamma ray and neutron spectrometers to study the upper layer of Ceres’ crust to see how much ice it contains.

The mission extension means that Dawn will be active around Ceres in April 2018 when the dwarf planet is at its closest point to the Sun. Scientists hope that this will show if that closer distance is enough to melt ice on its surface, and if so, if it helps form the thin, transient atmosphere. Scientists will also use Dawn’s visible and infrared mapping spectrometer to study Ceres’ mineral composition, and will continue to take visual-light pictures of its surface.

Mission planners believe that the probe will be able to operate until late 2018. Unlike the Cassini spacecraft, which burned up in Saturn’s atmosphere in September, Dawn will remain in orbit around Ceres, to avoid contaminating its surface.

 

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Japan launches fourth satellite for high-precision GPS

Japan on Tuesday launched the fourth satellite for a new high-precision global positioning system (GPS) it hopes will encourage new businesses and help spur economic growth.

The fourth Michibiki satellite lifted off from Japan’s southern Tanegashima spaceport aboard an H-2A rocket taking just over 28 minutes to reach orbit, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency said.

Having four satellites that loop over Japan and Australia in a figure of eight orbits will allow for uninterrupted coverage and puts engineers on course to switch the system on in April.

Japanese GPS can locate devices to within several centimetres compared with the commonly-used U.S. system, which has an accuracy of about 10 meters.

Japan plans to have seven of the geo-positioning satellites in orbit by 2023.

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Isro’s Mars Orbiter Mission completes 3 years in orbit

India’s rendezvous with the red planet continues as its celebrated Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) completes three years in orbit.

The scientific analysis of the data received from the Mars Orbiter spacecraft is in progress, ISRO public relations director Deviprasad Karnik told PTI.

The country had on 24 September 2014 successfully placed the Mars Orbiter Mission spacecraft in the orbit around the red planet, in its very first attempt, thus breaking into an elite club. ISRO had launched the spacecraft on its nine-month-long odyssey on a homegrown PSLV rocket from Sriharikota in Andhra Pradesh on 5 November 2013. It had escaped the earth’s gravitational field on 1 December 2013.

The space agency had earlier launched MOM announcement of opportunity (AO) programmes for researchers in the country to use MOM data for research and development. Citing surplus fuel, ISRO had in March 2015 announced that the spacecraft’s life had been extended for another six months.

The Mars Orbiter has five scientific instruments—Lyman Alpha Photometer (LAP), Methane Sensor for Mars (MSM), Mars Exospheric Neutral Composition Analyser (MENCA), Mars Colour Camera (MCC) and Thermal Infrared Imaging Spectrometer (TIS).

The Mars Colour Camera, one of the scientific payloads onboard MOM, has produced more than 715 images so far, ISRO had said. During its journey so far, the mission went through a communication ‘blackout’ as a result of solar conjunction from 2 June 2015 to 2 July 2015.

It had also experienced the ‘whiteout’ geometry phenomenon (when the earth is between the sun and Mars and too much solar radiation makes it impossible to communicate with the earth) from 18 May to 30 May 2016.

An orbital manoeuvre was also performed on MOM spacecraft to avoid the impending long eclipse duration for the satellite, ISRO said. The government had in November last said the space organisation was seeking scientific proposals for Mars Orbiter Mission-2 to expand inter-planetary research.

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Asteroid-bound NASA spacecraft swings by Earth

Osiris-Rex used Earth’s gravity as a slingshot to put it on a path toward the asteroid Bennu.

NASA’s asteroid-chasing spacecraft swung by Earth on its way to a space rock.

Launched a year ago, Osiris-Rex passed within 17,237 kilometres of the home planet early Friday afternoon above Antarctica. It used Earth’s gravity as a slingshot to put it on a path toward the asteroid Bennu.

Osiris-Rex should reach the small, roundish asteroid next year and, in 2020, collect some of its gravel for the return to Earth. If all goes well, scientists should get the samples in 2023.

Bennu is just 500 meters or so across and circles the sun in an orbit slightly wider than ours. Osiris-Rex will go into orbit around the asteroid and seek the best spot for grabbing a few handfuls of the bite-size bits of rock. It will hover like a hummingbird as a mechanical arm briefly rests on the surface and sucks in samples stirred up by nitrogen gas thrusters.

Scientists say the ancient asteroid could hold clues to the origin of life. It’s believed to have formed 4.5 billion years ago, a remnant of the solar system’s building blocks.

This is the first U.S. attempt to bring back samples from an asteroid. Japan already has visited an asteroid and returned some specks.

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Fast spinning star confirms Indian Nobel Laureate’s theory

Over 70 years after Indian astrophysicist and Nobel laureate Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar predicted that rapidly rotating stars would emit polarised light, scientists in Australia have observed the phenomenon for the first time.

Researchers from the University of New South Wales (UNSW) in Australia and University College London in the UK used a highly sensitive piece of equipment to detect the polarised light from Regulus, one of the brightest stars in the night sky.

The equipment provided unprecedented insights into the star, which is in the constellation Leo, allowing the scientists to determine its rate of spinning and the orientation in space of the star’s spin axis.

In 1946, Chandrasekhar had predicted the emission of polarised light from the edges of stars, prompting the development of sensitive instruments called stellar polarimeters to try to detect this effect.

Optical polarisation is a measure of the orientation of the oscillations of a light beam to its direction of travel.

In 1968, other researchers built on Chandrasekhar’s work to predict that the distorted, or squashed, shape of a rapidly rotating star would lead to the emission of polarised light, but its detection has eluded astronomers until now.

Yet the information is crucial for understanding the life cycles of most of the hottest and largest stars in the galaxies, which are the ones that produce the heaviest elements, such as iron and nickel, in interstellar space.

Regulus is about 79 light years away. During the total solar eclipse in the US in August, Regulus was just one degree away from the Sun and was, to many people, the only star visible during the eclipse.

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Joint Project between NASA and ISRO

ISRO and NASA are working towards realisation of NASA-ISRO Synthetic Aperture Radar (NISAR) mission by 2021.

In NISAR mission, NASA is responsible for development of L-band SAR and ISRO is responsible for development of S-band SAR. The L & S band SAR will be integrated with ISRO’s spacecraft and launched on-board India’s GSLV. The total cost of the project includes ISRO’s work share cost of about Rs. 788.00 Cr and the cost of JPL’s work share of about USD 808 million.
After the launch in 2021, the plan of action includes (i) calibration of instruments & validation of data products; (ii) development of science acquisition plan; (iii) development of data processing procedures & applications; and (iv) conduct of outreach activities in research institutes & academia.

ISRO and NASA have a framework agreement for cooperation in the exploration and use of outer space for peaceful purposes signed in 2008. Under this framework agreement, ISRO and NASA have executed an implementing arrangement for cooperation in NISAR mission, which is valid until 2034 and provides scope for joint activities on science & applications of NISAR data after the launch.

About NISAR:

The Nasa-Isro Synthetic Aperture Radar (NISAR) mission is a joint project between NASA and ISRO to co-develop and launch a dual frequency synthetic aperture radar satellite.

The satellite will be the first radar imaging satellite to use dual frequency and it is planned to be used for remote sensing to observe and understand natural processes of the Earth.

NISAR would provide information about a place more frequently than older satellites orbiting the Earth at present. Among the objectives of NISAR are estimation of soil moisture, agriculture and forest biomass.

It is also designed to observe and take measurements of some of the planet’s most complex processes, including ecosystem disturbances, ice-sheet collapse, and natural hazards such as earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanoes and landslides.

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First Environmental Research Satellite

Israel has successfully launched its first spatial environmental research vehicle designed for orbital monitoring of Earth’s vegetation
The Venus satellite (Vegetation and Environment Monitoring New Micro-Satellite) is an earth-observation micro-satellite designed jointly by Israel’s agency and France’s National Centre for Space Studies (CNES)

Venus has a dual mission: one scientific and the other technological. The scientific mission will monitor Earth’s vegetation using a camera capable of recording 12 narrow spectral bands.

The technological mission will test the operation of an innovative electric propulsion system based on the Israeli-designed Hall Effect Thrusters.
The satellite will be operated from four ground facilities located in Tel Aviv and Haifa in Israel, as well as from Toulouse in France and Kiruna in Sweden.

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