Category: science

ISRO to set up its first overseas ground station at North Pole

The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) is drawing up plans to set up its inaugural overseas ground station at the North Pole.

The objective of the plan is to increase the Indian Remote Sensing (IRS) operations that are critical not only for civilian needs like disaster management but also for the armed forces. China has already had a functional ground station at the North pole.

GSLV MK-III © ISRO GSLV MK-III

ISRO has full-grown IRS programme with a constellation of earth observation satellites. National Remote Sensing Centre (NRSC), Hyderabad has the responsibility of data acquisition and processing, data dissemination, aerial remote sensing and decision support for disaster management.

Speaking to The Times of India one of the scientists from ISRO said that “So far as the station at the North Pole goes, ISRO is serious about it. But the plan will take some time to materialize as it involves huge logistical challenges, international approvals, and co-operation. But we will surely have it.”

The weather conditions are extremely harsh and cold in this region and are considered even more difficult than the South Pole, any hardware installation is a challenging task.

The South Pole Telescope in Antarctica. © NSF The South Pole Telescope in Antarctica.

The scientists stressed on the need for the 14-orbit coverage and said that the technological advancement in the high-resolution satellite programs of IRS has resulted in a multi-fold increase in the complexity, including the enhanced role of ground stations.

The scientist added that “high-resolution satellites need frequent visibilities with larger processing power, data storage capacity onboard, data downlink of stored image to ground stations for meeting the global and Indian user requirements.”

ISRO meets its global requirement through NRSC’s IMGEOS at Shadnagar which was made functional and commissioned in 2011 and Antarctica based AGEOS which was commissioned in the year 2013 and partially through SVALBARD ground station which is not an ISRO property.

 

Meanwhile, the plan of installing the second data reception antenna at the AGEOS in Antarctica this year has been delayed and expected to be done sometime next year. The AGEOS which is situated in Antarctica, at Bharati Station, Larsemann Hills, is receiving IRS data from satellites like Resourcesat-2, Risat-2, the Cartosat family of satellites, Saral and Oceansat, and further transmitting the same to Shadnagar.

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Scientists hunt for ‘dark force’ to discover what the universe is made of

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Scientists are about to launch an ambitious search for a “dark force” of nature which, if found, would open the door to a realm of the universe that lies hidden from view.

The hunt will seek evidence for a new fundamental force that forms a bridge between the ordinary matter of the world around us and the invisible “dark sector” that is said to make up the vast majority of the cosmos.

The chances of success may be slim, but should such a force be found it would rank among the most dramatic discoveries in the history of physics. The best theory of reality that physicists have explains only 4% of the observable universe. The rest is a mystery made up of dark matter, the strange material that lurks around galaxies, and the even more baffling dark energy, a substance called upon to explain the ever-accelerating expansion of the universe.

“At the moment, we don’t know what more than 90% of the universe is made of,” said Mauro Raggi, a researcher at the Sapienza University of Rome. “If we find this force it will completely change the paradigm we have now. It would open up a new world and help us to understand the particles and forces that compose the dark sector.”

Physicists, to date, know of only four basic forces of nature. The electromagnetic force allows for vision and mobile phone calls but also stops us falling through our chairs. Without the so-called strong force, the innards of atoms would fall apart. The weak force operates in radiation, and gravity – the most pervasive of nature’s forces – keeps our feet rooted to the ground.

But there may be other forces that have gone unnoticed. These would shape the behavior of the so far unknown particles that constitute dark matter, and could potentially exert the most subtle effects on the forces we are more familiar with.

This month, Raggi and his colleagues will turn on an instrument at the National Institute of Nuclear Physics near Rome which is designed to hunt down a possible fifth force of nature. Known as Padme, for Positron Annihilation into Dark Matter Experiment, the machine will record what happens when a diamond wafer a tenth of a millimeter thick is blasted with a stream of antimatter particles called positrons.

When positrons slam into the diamond wafer, they immediately merge with electrons and vanish in a faint burst of energy. Normally, the energy released is in the form of two particles of light called photons. But if a fifth force exists in nature, something different will happen. Instead of producing two visible photons, the collisions will occasionally release only one, alongside a so-called “dark photon”. This curious, hypothetical particle is the dark sector’s equivalent of a particle of light. It carries the equivalent of a dark electromagnetic force.

Unlike normal particles of light, any dark photons produced in Padme will be invisible to the instrument’s detector. But by comparing the energy and direction of the positrons fired in, with whatever comes out, scientists can tell if an invisible particle has been created and work out its mass. Though normal photons are massless, dark photons are not, and Padme will search for those up to 50 times heavier than an electron.

The dark photon, if it exists, would have an imperceptible influence on what makes up the world we see. But knowing its mass, and the kinds of particles it can break down into would provide the first glimpse of what makes up the bulk of the universe that is beyond our perception.

The Padme experiment will run until at least the end of the year, but there are tentative plans to move the instrument to Cornell University in 2021. There it would be hooked up to a more powerful particle accelerator than in Italy to broaden its search for dark photons.

Other laboratories around the world are also looking for dark photons. Bryan McKinnon, a research fellow at Glasgow University, is involved in the search for the particle at the Thomas Jefferson national accelerator facility in Virginia. “The dark photon, if it exists, is effectively a portal,” he said. “It lets us peer into the dark sector to see what is happening. It won’t open the floodgates, but it will allow us to have a little look.”

Physicists have little idea how complex the dark sector might be. There may be no new forces to discover. Dark matter itself may be shaped by gravity alone and made up of only one type of particle. But it may be a far richer realm, where new kinds of invisible particles and forces wait to be found.

According to McKinnon, the very fact that modern theories leave room for exotic particles like dark photons means that physicists feel compelled to search for them. “It would definitely be a huge thing in physics if some evidence of a dark sector was found,” he said. “Right now, it’s labeled as such because it’s the stuff we don’t understand. If a door can be opened, what will come out? That’s guesswork right now.”

Since the discovery of the Higgs boson at the Large Hadron Collider near Geneva in 2012, particle physicists have had little to get excited about. But the dearth of new findings from major facilities has boosted efforts at smaller labs to perform long-shot experiments with potentially huge pay-offs. What are the odds that Padme will find the fifth force? “We are shooting in the dark in every sense,” said Raggi. “But if you are shooting, you at least have a chance.”

Saturn’s auroras sure do look pretty

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Here on Earth, auroras are a pretty neat sight to see. The phenomenon, commonly called the “Northern Lights,” is fairly well understood by scientists. They occur when charged particles from the Sun are funneled towards Earth’s poles by our planet’s magnetic field. Those particles then interact with various gasses in Earth’s atmosphere and create a brilliant light show in the night sky.

We might think of auroras as being special to Earth, but in reality, they are possible on any planet with a magnetic field and an atmosphere. Saturn happens to be one of those planets, and researchers using the Hubble Space Telescope recently observed what auroras look like on Saturn’s north pole.

The image you see above is actually a composite. The auroras observed on Saturn occur in ultraviolet wavelengths, so they’re not visible when looking at the planet in what we know as visible light. What you’re seeing is the ultraviolet images of Saturn’s aurora layered over another image of Saturn in the visible spectrum taken at a later date.

As the European Space Agency notes along with the release of the images, Saturn’s auroras occur in these wavelengths due to the fact that the planet’s atmosphere is hydrogen rich. On Earth, visible auroras occur thanks to the presence of oxygen and nitrogen, producing the colorful brush strokes of light in the sky. Still, Hubble’s instruments are able to see them lighting up the planet’s poles all the same.

A video,  showing a succession of different aurora observations over a short period of time suggests that Saturn’s auroras spin and swirl much like those that we are used to seeing on Earth. You wouldn’t be able to see them with the naked eye, but they’re there.

“The variability of the auroras is influenced by both the solar wind and the rapid rotation of Saturn, which lasts only about 11 hours,” ESA writes. “On top of this, the northern aurora displays two distinct peaks in brightness — at dawn and just before midnight. The latter peak, unreported before, seems specific to the interaction of the solar wind with the magnetosphere at Saturn’s solstice.”

The mysterious purple ribbon in the sky that’s confusing scientists

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Look up at the Arctic night sky and you might spot it: a beautiful purple ribbon of mysterious lights floating overhead. Locals call it Steve. The brilliantly-colored phenomenon can be spotted in Calgary, Canada, 280 miles (450 kilometers) above Earth’s surface.
Canada-based photographer Chris Ratzlaff is thought to be behind the Steve nickname, borrowing from the 2006 animated film Over the Hedge, in which characters refer to “the unknown” as “Steve.”

NASA scientists are also getting in on the act, claiming “Steve” can also stand for “Strong Thermal Emission Velocity Enhancement.”

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But a new study has confirmed that Steve’s origins are more unusual than previously suspected.
Steve looks similar to an aurora — better known as the Northern Lights — a colorful light display in the Earth’s sky spotted in high-latitude regions like the Arctic and Antarctic.

An aurora is created by charged particles produced and discharged by the sun during a solar flare. The particles crash into the atoms and molecules in the Earth’s atmosphere, resulting in photons (tiny bursts of light) which form the colorful aurora.

However, a new study published Monday in Geophysical Research Letters suggests that Steve could be the result of a different process.

The study, headed by University of Calgary astronomer Bea Gallardo-Lacourt, uses data taken from a 2008 spotting of Steve by NASA’s THEMIS mission (called All‐Sky Imagers) and NOAA’s Polar Orbiting Environmental Satellite (NOAA-17).

The study states there was no indication for any high-energy precipitation observed during the 2008 sighting of Steve and that the unusual occurrence “could be generated by a new and fundamentally different mechanism in the ionosphere”.

“Probably the most important question to answer now is: if Steve is not produced by precipitating particles (like Aurora), how is the structure being created?” Gallardo-Lacourt told Motherboard on Tuesday. “To answer this we need simulations (modeling the physics involved) that could help us understand all the dynamics that are playing a role.”

While a flux of lower-energy particles was observed, that still doesn’t scientifically explain the origins of Steve’s dazzling colors in the sky. Hopefully, Gallardo-Lacourt and her fellow scientists will continue to decipher Steve’s secrets with further research.

That’s where you can help. Aurorasaurus, funded by NASA and the National Science Foundation, is looking to crowdsource an answer to the Steve phenomenon. They want your photos and data about Steve, in order to learn more about the mystery.

Supermassive Black Hole Discovered in a Tiny Galaxy

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Scientists have found a supermassive black hole (SBH) at the center of a tiny galaxy, according to a study published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

The galaxy, called Fornax UCD3, belongs to a recently discovered, rare and unusual class of stellar systems known as ultracompact dwarfs (UCDs), which are populated by older stars.

UCDs are larger, brighter and more massive than the biggest globular clusters—large groups of ancient stars that are closely packed together in a somewhat spherical form—in the Milky Way. But at the same time, they are significantly more compact than typical dwarf galaxies of comparable luminosity, according to Steffen Mieske, an astronomer at the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) facility in the Chilean Atacama Desert, who was not involved in the research.

The radius of UCDs tends not to exceed three hundred light years, while their mass only reaches up to several tens of millions of solar masses. By comparison, the radius of the Milky Way is about 50,000 light years and is thought to be hundreds of billions of times that of our Sun.

But despite Fornax’s status as a dwarf, the scientists from Lomonosov Moscow State University (MSU), Russia, found that the mass of the black hole at its center was equivalent to about 3.5 million suns—roughly the same as the black hole that lies at the heart of our own galaxy, known as Sagittarius A*.

The black hole at the center of Fornax, which is only the fourth ever to be found in a UCD, corresponds to around 4 percent of the galaxy’s total mass. In “normal” galaxies, this ratio is significantly lower, around 0.3 percent.

To identify the black hole, the team used data collected by SINFONI, an infrared-detecting instrument at one of the VLT’s 8-meter telescopes. The patterns in this data could only be explained by the presence of a massive central black hole, according to the researchers.

Although there are only a handful of known examples, the existence of black holes at the center of UCDs supports the tidal origin hypothesis of these galaxies.

This hypothesis states that an average-sized galaxy passed a larger and more massive one at some point in its evolution, losing the majority of its stars as a result of tidal forces. The remaining dense nucleus becomes what is referred as an ultracompact dwarf.

“To be able to say with complete assurance that this hypothesis is correct, we need to discover more supermassive black holes in UCDs,” Anton Afanasiev, first author of the study from the Faculty of Physics at MSU, said in a statement.

Supermassive black holes are the largest type of black hole, in the order of hundreds of thousands to billions of solar masses. It is commonly accepted among scientists that an SBH lies at the center of nearly every galaxy, although this claim is impossible to state with certainty.

NASA’s Parker Solar Probe blasts off on epic journey to ‘touch the Sun’

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NASA’s Parker Solar Probe has blasted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force station on its historic mission to the Sun.

Carried by a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket, Parker lifted off from Cape Canaveral’s Space Launch Complex 37.

The launch had initially been scheduled for early Saturday, but last-minute technical glitches ate away at the launch window, prompting a 24-hour delay.

The United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket payload fairing is seen with the NASA and Parker Solar Probe emblems, at Launch Complex 37, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, U.S., August 8, 2018. Parker Solar Probe will travel through the Sun’s atmosphere, closer to the surface than any spacecraft before it.   Courtesy Bill Ingalls/NASA/Handout via REUTERS  ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. MANDATORY CREDIT. © Reuters The United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket payload fairing is seen with the NASA and Parker Solar Probe emblems, at Launch Complex 37, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, U.S., August 8, 2018. Parker Solar Probe will travel through the Sun’s atmosphere, closer to the surface than any spacecraft before it. Courtesy Bill Ingalls/NASA/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS – THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. MANDATORY CREDIT.

The $1.5 billion mission will take humanity closer to the Sun than ever before. Parker will be the first spacecraft to fly through the Sun’s corona, the outermost part of the star’s atmosphere.

It is expected to reach the Sun in November.

Parker will face “brutal” heat and radiation during an epic journey that will take it to within 3.8 million miles of the Sun’s surface, according to the space agency.

This is seven times closer than the previous closest spacecraft, Helios 2, which came within 27 million miles of the Sun in 1976.

The average distance between the Sun and Earth is 93 million miles.

Parker must withstand the heat of nearly 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit to complete its audacious mission.

To achieve this, the probe will be protected by a special 4.5-inch-thick carbon-composite shield. Safe inside the spacecraft, however, the probe’s payload will be operating at room temperature.

NASA’S PARKER SOLAR PROBE SET TO WRITE NEW CHAPTER IN CAPE CANAVERAL HISTORY

Harnessing Venus’ gravity, Parker will complete seven flybys over seven years to gradually bring its orbit closer to the Sun.

On its closest approach in 2024, the probe will be traveling at approximately 430,000 mph, setting a new speed record for a manmade object.

The Sun’s corona, which can be seen during a total solar eclipse, is usually hidden by the bright light of the star’s surface. The probe, named after pioneering solar physicist Dr. Eugene Parker, will provide a wealth of invaluable data.

Scientists expect to shed new light on the Sun’s potential to disrupt satellites and spacecraft, as well as electronics and communications on Earth.

CAPE CANAVERAL, FL - AUGUST 11: In this handout provided by NASA, The Mobile Service Tower is rolled back to reveal the United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket with the Parker Solar Probe onboard, Saturday, Aug. 11, 2018, Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Parker Solar Probe is humanitys first-ever mission into a part of the Suns atmosphere called the corona.  Here it will directly explore solar processes that are key to understanding and forecasting space weather events that can impact life on Earth. (Photo by Bill Ingalls/NASA via Getty Images) © Getty CAPE CANAVERAL, FL – AUGUST 11: In this handout provided by NASA, The Mobile Service Tower is rolled back to reveal the United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket with the Parker Solar Probe onboard, Saturday, Aug. 11, 2018, Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Parker Solar Probe is humanity’s first-ever mission into a part of the Sun’s atmosphere called the corona. Here it will directly explore solar processes that are key to understanding and forecasting space weather events that can impact life on Earth. (Photo by Bill Ingalls/NASA via Getty Images)

NASA’S PARKER SOLAR PROBE SET TO ‘TOUCH THE SUN’ ON HISTORIC MISSION

It is also hoped that the probe will provide answers to what scientists describe as “the coronal heating problem.”

One of the most unusual aspects of the Sun is that its atmosphere gets much hotter the farther it stretches from the star’s surface, according to NASA.

Instruments on board Parker will study magnetic fields, plasma, and energetic particles as well as imaging solar wind, a flow of ionized gases that stream past the Earth at more than a million miles an hour.

Eugene Parker first theorized the existence of the solar wind. To honor his contribution to science, the probe is NASA’s first spacecraft to be named after a living person.

WEIRD SOLAR SCIENCE: HOW NASA’S PARKER PROBE WILL DIVE THROUGH THE SUN’S ATMOSPHERE

The probe, which was designed and built by the Applied Physics Laboratory at Johns Hopkins University, is also carrying more than 1.1 million names to the Sun.

In March, members of the public were invited to be a part in the historic mission by submitting their names to be placed on a memory card that the spacecraft will take into space.

In May, NASA confirmed that over a seven-week period a total of 1,137,202 names were submitted.

Parker, which was designed and built by the Applied Physics Laboratory at Johns Hopkins University, is also carrying more than 1.1 million names to the Sun.

In March, members of the public were invited to be a part of the historic mission by submitting their names to be placed on a memory card that Parker has taken into space. In May, NASA confirmed that over a seven-week period a total of 1,137,202 names were submitted.

The memory card also contains photos of Dr. Parker and his groundbreaking 1958 scientific paper on solar wind.

‘The veil has lifted’: NASA releases stunning new mosaics of Saturn’s massive moon Titan, revealing the clearest views yet of the world said to be an ‘alien Earth’

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In the decades since the first grainy images beamed back to Earth to reveal our first close looks at Saturn and its moons, Titan has remained veiled in mystery.

The landing of the Huygens probe in 2005 brought us closer than ever before to a distant moon, showing the surface of Titan to be an ‘alien Earth,’ with methane rains and rivers, towering sand dunes, and a subsurface water ocean.

But, the probe died just 72 minutes after touching down, leaving the Cassini spacecraft to carry on its observations alone, from orbit.

Save for some mosaics mapping the surface, which suffered ‘seams’ from variations in resolution and lighting, the common image of Titan is of a cue ball moon blanketed completely in a thick haze.

Now, using 13 years of data from Cassini’s Visual and Infrared Mapping Spectrometer (VIMS) instrument, NASA has stitched together the most detailed global view yet, showing what Titan might look like if one could see right through its dense atmosphere.

‘With the seams now gone, this new collection of images is by far the best representation of how the globe of Titan might appear to the casual observer if it weren’t for the moon’s hazy atmosphere, and it will likely not be superseded for some time to come,’ NASA says.

The alien moon’s notoriously thick atmosphere makes studying Titan’s surface a challenging task, as the aerosols scatter visible light.

To work around this, the space agency focused on infrared wavelengths, where the effects of scattering and absorption are weaker, allowing for a much clearer picture.

Even so, obtaining a global, mosaic view is no easy task.

‘With the seams now gone, this new collection of images is by far the best representation of how the globe of Titan might appear to the casual observer if it weren’t for the moon’s hazy atmosphere, and it will likely not be superseded for some time to come,’ NASA says © Provided by Associated Newspapers Limited ‘With the seams now gone, this new collection of images is by far the best representation of how the globe of Titan might appear to the casual observer if it weren’t for the moon’s hazy atmosphere, and it will likely not be superseded for some time to come,’ NASA says

‘Making mosaics of VIMS images of Titan has always been a challenge because the data were obtained over many different flybys with different observing geometries and atmospheric conditions,’ NASA says.

‘One result is that very prominent seams appear in the mosaics that are quite difficult for imaging scientists to remove,’ NASA explains.

‘But, through laborious and detailed analyses of the data, along with time consuming hand processing of the mosaics, the seams have been mostly removed.’

For the full color view, the space agency combines images captured in three different color channels – red, green, and blue.

Save for some mosaics mapping the surface, which suffered ‘seams’ from variations in resolution and lighting, the common image of Titan is of a cue ball moon blanketed completely in a thick haze © Provided by Associated Newspapers Limited Save for some mosaics mapping the surface, which suffered ‘seams’ from variations in resolution and lighting, the common image of Titan is of a cue ball moon blanketed completely in a thick haze a close up of a ball: By focusing on the infrared wavelengths, where the effects of scattering and absorption are weaker, NASA has been able to get a much clearer picture of Titan's surface © Provided by Associated Newspapers Limited By focusing on the infrared wavelengths, where the effects of scattering and absorption are weaker, NASA has been able to get a much clearer picture of Titan’s surface

The researchers also rely on a technique known as the band-ratio technique to smooth out the ‘seams,’ and make subtle variations more apparent, revealing some of the surface materials in better detail.

This, NASA says, was all made possible with Cassini’s VIMS instrument.

‘It is quite clear from this unique set of images that Titan has a complex surface, sporting myriad geologic features and compositional units,’ NASA says.

‘The VIMS instrument has paved the way for future infrared instruments that could image Titan at much higher resolution, revealing features that were not detectable by any of Cassini’s instruments.’