Current News - Science & Technology - Space
On 24th September, 2023, NASA's Osiris-Rex spacecraft successfully delivered asteroid samples to Earth as its capsule parachuted into the Utah desert, marking the end of a seven-year mission.
- Safe Return of Asteroid Samples: In a remarkable achievement, the Osiris-Rex spacecraft released its sample capsule from a distance of 63,000 miles during an Earth flyby. The capsule landed safely four hours later in a remote area of military land.
- Preserving 4.5 Billion-Year-Old Samples: The sealed capsule, which contains samples from the carbon-rich asteroid Bennu, was transported to a temporary clean room at the Defence Department's Utah Test and Training Range.
- Scientists believe these samples could provide insights into the formation of Earth and life itself, as they date back 4.5 billion years.
- Significance of the Asteroid Samples: The capsule's contents are estimated to contain at least a cup of rubble from Bennu, providing a substantial collection of material from beyond the moon.
- This haul is the largest since the Apollo moon missions and is expected to be a treasure for scientific analysis in the coming years.
On 22nd September, 2023, ISRO conducted a successful hot test of the CE20 E13 engine at the ISRO Propulsion Complex (IPRC) in Mahendragiri, marking a crucial achievement.
- Critical Component for Cryogenic Upper Stage: The CE20 engine, developed by the Liquid Propulsion Systems Centre (LPSC) in Valiamala, is a critical component of the Cryogenic Upper Stage (CUS) responsible for powering the upper stage (C25) of the LVM3 vehicle.
- Proven Reliability in Previous Missions: The CE20 engine has demonstrated its reliability and efficiency in six consecutive LVM3 missions, including Chandrayaan-2, Chandrayaan-3, and two commercial OneWeb missions.
- Upgrade for Payload Capacity: ISRO is upgrading the CE20 engine to increase the payload capacity of the LVM3 vehicle.
- The upper cryogenic stage is being transformed into the C32 stage with enhanced propellant loading capacity.
- Higher Thrust Level: Simultaneously, modifications are being made to the engine to operate at a higher thrust level of 22 tonnes to meet the requirements of critical missions.
- Successful CE20 Engine Qualification: The third hot test, E13 HT-03, marked the successful completion of CE20 engine qualification for the Gaganyaan program.
Scientists have recently identified significant differences in star formation between spiral and irregular galaxies, leading to questions about the role of dark matter in regulating star formation and gravitational instabilities.
- Diverse Star Formation Mechanisms: The distinct star formation processes in spiral and irregular galaxies have sparked inquiries into their relationship with dark matter and gravitational instabilities.
- Gravitational Instabilities' Influence: Gravitational instabilities, central to various physical phenomena, have long fascinated researchers due to their connection with star formation rates.
- Spiral vs. Irregular Galaxies: Spiral galaxies like the Milky Way exhibit higher star formation rates, lower stability, lower gas fractions, and quicker instability growth.
- Conversely, irregular galaxies, such as the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds, display gradual, prolonged star formation, explaining their higher gas fractions.
- Stability Regulation: The study reveals that the stellar disc primarily regulates nearby galaxies' stability levels, highlighting self-regulation.
- Isolating dark matter's contribution leaves stability unchanged, raising questions about its role in star formation and stability.
- Galaxy Evolution Connection: Comparing nearby galaxy stability to that at high redshifts provides insights into galaxy evolution's connection with gravitational instabilities.
- Star Formation Mechanism: Results suggest that galaxies with marginal stability undergo intense, short-term star formation, depleting gas reserves.
- Highly stable galaxies experience slower, long-term star formation, gradually converting available gas into stars.
- Future Exploration: The study underscores the need for further research on how these instabilities impact galaxy morphology across different redshifts.
- The Square Kilometer Array (SKA) and James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) hold promise for unraveling this intricate relationship.
On 14th Sept, Germany became the 29th nation to sign the Artemis Accords, a multinational agreement led by the United States aimed at establishing space and lunar surface behaviour norms.
- Strategic Addition: Germany's signature adds significant weight to the growing list of countries aligning their space policies with the United States.
- Economic Powerhouse: Germany is recognized as the economic powerhouse of Europe and a longstanding contributor to the European space program.
- Diplomatic Significance: The signing is considered significant for the Artemis program, reinforcing international cooperation in space exploration.
India's Participation in Artemis Accords
- 27th Signatory: India became the 27th country to join the nonbinding Artemis Accords in July 2023.
- Collaboration with NASA: NASA and ISRO to collaborate on sending Indian astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) in 2024.
About Artemis Accords
- Formation: Established by the U.S. State Department and NASA in 2020.
- Founding Members: Includes Australia, Canada, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, UAE, UK, and the U.S.
- Purpose: Sets principles for civil exploration and use of outer space, celestial bodies (moon, Mars), and comets/asteroids for peaceful purposes.
- Foundation: Builds upon the Outer Space Treaty of 1967, emphasizing space as a shared resource for humanity.
- Peaceful Purposes: Conduct space activities for peaceful purposes following international law.
- Common Infrastructure: Recognize the importance of common exploration infrastructure.
- Registration and Data Sharing: Register space objects, share scientific data, with exemptions for private sectors acting on behalf of a signatory.
- Preservation of Heritage: Preserve historic celestial body sites, artifacts, and evidence.
- Utilization of Space Resources: Utilization must support safe and sustainable activities, with shared information to prevent interference.
- Mitigation of Debris: Plan for safe disposal of spacecraft, limit harmful debris generation.
Main Artemis Program Missions
- Artemis-I: Unmanned mission to the moon, launched on November 16, 2022.
- Artemis-II: Crewed lunar flyby mission scheduled for 2024.
- Artemis-III: Human return to the moon in 2025, with plans for a Lunar Gateway station in 2029.
Benefits and Challenges for India
- Access to advanced training, technology, and scientific opportunities.
- Advancement of India's lunar exploration goals like Chandrayaan-3.
- Enhancement of capabilities for the Gaganyaan human mission and future space endeavors.
- Opportunity for mutual advancements in space exploration through India's cost-effective missions and innovative approach.
- Possible alignment with the U.S. against other major space powers like China and Russia with their lunar exploration plans.
- Uncertainty about the legal status and implications, especially regarding unregulated moon mining.
- Balancing commitments under Artemis Accords with obligations under other multilateral frameworks or treaties on outer space.
Recently, in a groundbreaking discovery, astronomers using NASA's James Webb Space Telescope identified an Earth-like exoplanet located millions of light years away with conditions potentially suitable for supporting life.
- "Dimethyl Sulphide" (DMS) Discovery: The discovery is centred around the presence of the molecule "Dimethyl Sulphide" (DMS), typically associated with environments conducive to sustaining life similar to Earth. However, further data is needed to confirm these findings.
- Location and Name of the Exoplanet: Preliminary estimates place this exoplanet, designated "K2-18b," approximately 120 light years from Earth.
- Presence of Greenhouse Gases: Methane and carbon dioxide, both greenhouse gases vital for supporting life, have been identified in the planet's atmosphere, suggesting the presence of water on K2-18b.
- It could potentially be a Hycean exoplanet with a hydrogen-rich atmosphere and a water ocean-covered surface.
- Characteristics of K2-18b: K2-18b orbits the cool dwarf star K2-18 in the habitable zone.
- It is nearly nine times the size of Earth and meets criteria necessary to support life, including temperature, carbon presence, and liquid water.
- James Webb Space Telescope's Role: The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is uniquely equipped to analyze light passing through the atmospheres of distant planets.
- Impact of the Discovery: Confirmation of DMS on K2-18b could solidify the belief that the planet can sustain life.
- The discovery underscores the capabilities of the JWST in exploring distant planets with minimal light reaching the telescope due to their great distance.
On 7th September,2023, Japan's Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) successfully launched the Moon lander "SLIM" (Smart Lander for Investigating Moon) and the X-ray spectroscope "XRISM" as part of the Moon Sniper mission.
- Launch and Objectives: JAXA launched the Moon Sniper mission, consisting of SLIM and XRISM, marking Japan's third lunar exploration mission. The entire mission carries a budget of $100 million.
- Nicknamed "Moon Sniper": The mission is nicknamed "Moon Sniper," signifying its purpose and precision.
- Soft Landing Attempt: SLIM will attempt a soft landing on the Moon, with the goal of becoming the fifth country to achieve a lunar soft landing.
- Technology Demonstration: SLIM is designed to demonstrate accurate landing techniques, reduce the size and weight of equipment for lunar landings, and test technology for low-gravity environments.
- Scientific Investigation: SLIM will investigate the Moon's origins and contribute to the study of the Moon and other planets using a lighter exploration system.
- Collaboration with ESA and NASA: JAXA developed XRISM in collaboration with the European Space Agency (ESA) and NASA. ESA provided hardware and scientific advice.
- Observing Energetic Events: XRISM will observe energetic events and objects in the universe to unravel mysteries such as the evolution of the universe and the structure of spacetime.
- Navigation Accuracy Study: The Moon Sniper mission aims to determine the navigation accuracy required for future solar science exploration.
In a remarkable astronomical find, scientists have recently stumbled upon the first known "bubble of galaxies," an enormous cosmic structure believed to be a fossilized remnant from the early universe, nestled in our cosmic neighborhood.
- Bubble Description: Astronomers have identified a colossal "bubble of galaxies" spanning a staggering billion light-years, dwarfing the Milky Way galaxy by a factor of 10,000.
- Proximity: This immense cosmic bubble, although invisible to the naked eye, resides relatively close, at a distance of 820 million light-years from our own Milky Way galaxy, classified as part of the nearby universe.
- Bubble Anatomy: The structure resembles a "spherical shell with a heart" and encompasses the Bootes super cluster of galaxies within its core, surrounded by a vast expanse known as "the Great Nothing."
- Galactic Neighbours: Inside the bubble, several galaxy superclusters are already familiar to science, including the immense Sloan Great Wall.
- Historic Discovery: The bubble's existence confirms a phenomenon initially proposed in 1970 by renowned US cosmologist Jim Peebles, who theorized the formation of bubbles during the early universe's hot plasma phase.
- Baryon Acoustic Oscillations (BAOs): The churning interplay of gravity and radiation during the primordial universe generated sound waves, known as baryon acoustic oscillations (BAOs), which created these cosmic bubbles.
- Frozen in Time: Approximately 380,000 years after the Big Bang, as the universe cooled, the process ceased, preserving the bubble shapes.
- Expanding Bubbles: These cosmic relics grew in size as the universe expanded, similar to other remnants from the aftermath of the Big Bang.
- First of Its Kind: The newly discovered bubble stands as the inaugural single baryon acoustic oscillation recognized by astronomers.
- Significance: This remarkable discovery opens a window into the early universe, shedding light on the formation and preservation of these colossal cosmic structures.
On 2nd September, 2023, India's space achievements continued as the country launched its inaugural solar observation mission, Aditya-L1, just days after its historic lunar landing near the Moon's south pole.
- Aditya-L1's Journey to the Sun: It embarks on a remarkable journey, covering a distance of 1.5 million km from Earth, approximately 1% of the Earth-Sun distance.
- The Indian space agency anticipates a four-month travel duration to reach its destination.
- Unveiling the Mission's Name and Purpose: The mission is named Aditya, derived from Surya, the Hindu god symbolizing the Sun.
- "L1" stands for Lagrange point 1, the precise location between the Sun and Earth where the spacecraft is destined.
- The Significance of Lagrange Points: According to the European Space Agency, Lagrange points are areas where the gravitational forces of two massive celestial bodies, like the Sun and Earth, balance, allowing spacecraft to remain stationary or "hover" in these positions.
- Aditya-L1, upon reaching this Lagrange point, will orbit the Sun at the same pace as Earth, minimizing the need for significant fuel consumption.
- Scientific Instruments: Aditya-L1 is equipped with seven scientific instruments dedicated to observing and studying the Sun's corona (outermost layer), photosphere (visible surface from Earth), and chromosphere (a thin plasma layer between the photosphere and corona).
- Understanding Solar Activity and Space Weather: The mission aims to enhance scientific understanding of the Sun's constant influence on Earth's weather, radiation, heat, particle flow, and magnetic fields.
- It will also address the critical role of space weather in satellite functionality, power grids, and related impacts.
- The mission's insights are expected to improve satellite longevity and space operations.
India's space agency, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), has recently announced that Chandrayaan-3's Pragyan rover module has successfully identified the presence of sulphur on the Moon's surface.
- Sulphur Detection: The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) revealed that the Pragyan rover module of Chandrayaan-3 has confirmed the existence of sulphur (S) on the Moon's surface near the south pole.
- This confirmation was achieved through groundbreaking in-situ measurements using the Laser-Induced Breakdown Spectroscope (LIBS) instrument onboard the rover.
- Wide Range of Elements: In addition to sulphur, the rover has detected various other elements on the lunar surface, including aluminium (Al), calcium (Ca), iron (Fe), chromium (Cr), titanium (Ti), manganese (Mn), silicon (Si), and oxygen (O).
- Mission Duration and Extension: The Chandrayaan-3 mission is scheduled to continue until September 6, coinciding with the lunar sunset.
- LIBS Technique: The data collection process employed the Laser-Induced Breakdown Spectroscope (LIBS) technique, developed at the Laboratory of Electro-Optics Systems (LEOS), an ISRO unit specializing in attitude sensors.
- LIBS involves exposing the material's surface to high-energy laser pulses, creating localized plasma that is analyzed and detected by instruments such as Charge Coupled Devices.
- Unique Elemental Signatures: Each element exhibits distinctive wavelengths of light, forming unique spectral signatures. Through these signatures, the elemental composition of the lunar surface can be accurately determined.
Recently Indian Prime Minister personally selected the names for the landing sites of Chandrayaan-3 and Chandrayaan-2 missions.
- S Somnath's Statement: S Somnath, the head of ISRO, disclosed the Prime Minister's role in naming the sites.
- "Shiva Shakti" for Chandrayaan-3: PM named the Chandrayaan-3 landing site as "Shiva Shakti."
- "Tiranga" for Chandrayaan-2: The Chandrayaan-2 landing site will be known as "Tiranga."
Significance of the Chosen Names
- Deep Indian Significance: The names chosen by PM Modi hold profound Indian significance.
- Symbolism of "Shiva Shakti": "Shiva Shakti" represents the strength of the women who played a significant role in the missions.
- Meaning of "Tiranga": "Tiranga" is associated with the national flag, and the name reflects positivity without negative connotations.
- Focus on Indian Identity: The chosen names underscore India's heritage and values.
Historical and Cultural References
- Lunar features can be named after historical figures, scientists, astronauts, or cultural references.
- For instance, lunar craters often carry names of famous scientists and explorers.
- Space agencies like NASA and ESA may propose names for lunar sites with scientific or historical significance.
Who Names Landing Sites on the Moon?
- The International Astronomical Union (IAU) is responsible for officially naming celestial bodies and their features on the Moon.
- Founded in 1919, IAU establishes rules for space activities and has 92 member countries, including India.
- IAU's mission is to promote astronomy through international cooperation in research, communication, education, and development.
- IAU establishes guidelines and procedures for naming lunar features like craters, mountains, and valleys.
- Informal naming is common before official naming, with many names gaining "official" status later.
IAU's Naming Process for Planetary Objects
- IAU's Working Groups, composed of experts in planetary science and lunar geology, propose and review names for lunar features.
- Upon approval through member vote, names become official IAU nomenclature for maps and publications.
- Objections can be raised by contacting IAU within three months of the name being posted online.
IAU's Norms for Naming Space Objects
- IAU provides guidelines for naming planetary objects, suggesting names should be simple, clear, unambiguous, and not duplicate existing names.
- Political, military, or religious names are generally avoided, except for political figures predating the 19th century.
- Commemoration of individuals on celestial bodies requires they have been deceased for at least three years before a proposal can be submitted.
Existing Indian Names on the Moon
- The naming of the landing site is not a unique event, as there are already several Indian names on the Moon.
- One such example is the Sarabhai crater on the Moon.
- After the Chandrayaan-1 mission in 2008, the spot where the probe crashed was named "Jawahar Sthal" in honor of Jawaharlal Nehru, India's first Prime Minister.
- ISRO suggested this name as the landing occurred on his birthday, and he advocated scientific development and research in India.
- The International Astronomical Union (IAU) accepted this name later, officially recognizing it.