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10 mind-bending space discoveries and observations from 2020 – The Indian Panorama

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A new ‘atlas’’

The experts at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), Australia‘s national science agency, have created a new atlas of the universe.

Experts at the agency have mapped three million galaxies with more details and in a record time of 300 hours, in comparison to previous mappings which have taken years.

Water on moon!

NASA has confirmed the presence of water on the sunlit surface of the Moon. This discovery indicates that water may be distributed across the lunar surface.

NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) has detected water molecules (H2O) in Clavius Crater, one of the largest craters visible from Earth, located in the Moon’s southern hemisphere.

Do black holes have hair?

Black holes can grow hair-like structures if they spin fast enough, a team of researchers has discovered.

In a new study, researchers used numerical simulations which indicated that black holes can spontaneously erupt what has been described as a hair, once they reach a certain spin speed. This hair is otherwise known as a scalar field.

The Milky Way – mapped!

British astrologists have made another guide of the Milky Way comprised of almost two billion stars utilising information assembled by the European Space Agency (ESA) Gaia space observatory.

College of Cambridge specialists drove the production of the infinite chartbook of two billion stars, that they accept could reveal insight into how our system appeared and what may befall it in the inaccessible future.

The return of the capsule!

After a long wait of six years, samples of an asteroid from a far off territory in space arrived in Japan recently. Greeted with smiles and claps, the sample was fetched from an asteroid 300 million kilometres away from Earth, and was sought as part of a space probe attempting to understand the source of life.

In December 2014, Hayabusa2 left for the asteroid called Ryugu. Soon after reaching the destination, it suffered a rough landing but was able to overcome it to collect the samples of asteroid dust in a capsule.

Lakes on Mars

Looks like we might be getting closer to discovering life on Mars. Two years ago, scientists discovered a large reservoir under Mars icy surface. Now, they have found three such more lakes! A paper in Nature Astronomy claimed that researchers have found three lakes burrowed under the red planet’s surface, in addition to the saltwater lake discovered earlier. Radar data from the European Space Agency (ESA) was used to discover the water bodies.

Earth’s closest black hole no more

Black holes are perhaps the most famous celestial bodies in popular culture. There are theories like black holes being portals of time travel, a passage to another universe etc. It’s not surprising that the mysterious black holes hold great importance inpopular perception. Everyone knows that there is a supermassive black hole at the centre of our galaxy. But that’s too far away. There ‘was’ a black hole closer to home, about 1120 light-years away. Now, a study has said that there may not be a black hole here at all.

The star that went kaput

A giant star which was under the observation of astronomers for over ten years has suddenly vanished. The star in question was located in a dwarf galaxy 75 million light-years away, and was one of the largest stars in the known universe. The star, which was 2.5 times brighter than the Sun, left no trace behind.

Aliens have been watching us

A new study has identified more than 1,000 nearby stars that are favourably positioned for spotting life on Earth. The team has identified 1,004 stars with Earth in their line of sight, which could contain habitable, Earth-like planets. These stars are all within 326 light-years of Earth.

Moon’s long lost sibling

Scientists have reason to believe that the Earth’s Moon has a sibling. Its official name is (101429) 1998 VF31, and it could be our Moon’s sibling. The celestial body is probably 4.5 billion years old, with a lunar appearance, and is twinned with the moon. Until now, scientists didn’t know our natural satellite even had a sibling. Turns out, it was too small to be noticed by astronomers. Considering how old it is, we are rather discovering it late.

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In Iceland, Testing the Drones That Could Be the Future of Mars Exploration – Atlas Obscura

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On February 18, 2021, if all goes to plan, NASA’s Perseverance rover will land on Mars. While it’s poking around, looking for signs of past habitability, Ingenuity—a tiny, experimental solar-powered helicopter hitching a ride on its underside—will try to demonstrate the possibility of flight on another world for the very first time. We may be looking at the future of exploration on the Red Planet.

Back here on Earth, others are already looking beyond Ingenuity. A next-generation NASA-funded Mars mission concept, the Rover-Aerial Vehicle Exploration Network or RAVEN, is about to be put through its paces in a gauntlet like no other. The project will pair an autonomous rover with specialized drones and be sent across a 32-square-mile lava field in Iceland as a test run for a future on Mars.

Interplanetary rovers are technological marvels, but they’re stuck to the ground. Drones, in one form or another, are the next evolutionary step, and they will be used for more than just reconnaissance. With scoops and drills, eventually they will “go somewhere the rover can’t go, and bring something back,” says Christopher Hamilton, a planetary scientist at the University of Arizona and lead researcher on RAVEN.

Hamilton launching a drone in Iceland.
Hamilton launching a drone in Iceland. Courtesy Christopher Hamilton/The University of Arizona

There’s no mistaking the impact drones are having on science right now. During the prolific eruption of Hawai‘i’s Kīlauea volcano in 2018, the government authorized the largest peaceful deployment of drones in American history. Spearheaded by longtime drone advocate Angie Diefenbach, a geologist at the U.S. Geological Survey’s Cascades Volcano Observatory, they were used to film lava fountains up close, track the slithering progression of molten rock, and even help people escape their homes in the dead of night.

Today, the U.S. Geological Survey has a dedicated drone program, catching up with universities across the world that are using them to reach inaccessible or dangerous places for scientific research. “It’s the age of the drones,” says Diefenbach. “We’re going to do so many cool things.”

Not long ago, the most advanced drones “were all in the hands of the military,” says Gordon Osinski, a planetary scientist at the University of Western Ontario and RAVEN team member. Now you can buy pretty capable ones online or at your local computer store. Bit by bit, he says, drones “are changing how we do fieldwork on Earth. And I think it’s definitely going to do the same for other planets.”

Drones will be able to provide powerful, unprecedented views of Martian landscapes, just as they do in Iceland.
Drones will be able to provide powerful, unprecedented views of Martian landscapes, just as they do in Iceland. Courtesy Christopher Hamilton/The University of Arizona

Scientists are getting very good at piloting drones down here, but flying on Mars is going to be tougher. The air density is a fraction of Earth’s, so any mechanical aviators will need to push a lot more of it to get any elevation—hence Ingenuity’s test run. While engineers grappled with this challenge at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory back in 2014, the Bárðarbunga volcanic system in Iceland erupted. Between August 2014 and February 2015, it spilled enough lava to easily smother Manhattan, making it Iceland’s largest eruption in 230 years.

The lava flow, as it cooked ice and water trapped below, developed a hydrothermal system with hot springs that became home to many happy microbes. By 2021, things had cooled, but vestiges of those bastions of life still exist, creating an environment similar to what researchers hope to be able to identify on Mars. To the tune of $3.1 million, NASA agreed with Hamilton that it would be a great place to test the next generation of automated Mars explorers, and RAVEN was born.

There are two components to RAVEN. The first is the rover. Courtesy of the Canadian Space Agency, it’s comparable to Curiosity in capability and design. It can be remotely operated by a human, (on Mars there would be several minutes of delay between commands and action) but it’s also able to navigate the land all on its own.

Christopher Hamilton with the RAVEN rover.
Christopher Hamilton with the RAVEN rover. Courtesy Christopher Hamilton/The University of Arizona

The real innovation of the project will be in its cargo. The drone is a carbon fiber hexacopter, capable of flying for around 35 minutes and up to a distance of three miles, carrying about 20 pounds of scientific equipment. It will act as the more technologically capable rover’s field assistant.

A camera will be one key instrument, but for more than just aerial photographs. It can take several different photographs of the same surface feature, and then send them to the rover, where heftier processors will make true 3D maps of terrain—“a full virtual rendering of the environment around the drone and rover,” says Hamilton. These, in turn, will help it navigate precisely and speedily around the area.

The drone will also use a visible to near-infrared spectrometer, which looks at radiation coming off the ground to identify any interesting minerals or substances. But the drone has another killer app.

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NASA is laser-focused on bringing pristine Mars rocks back to Earth. Perseverance will dig up and cache 43 pen-sized rock samples that, through a series of upcoming NASA and European Space Agency missions, will be brought to Earth by 2031. While this robotic Rube Goldberg machine plays out, RAVEN will be testing a new way to grab samples in Iceland.

“My favorite part of RAVEN is the Claw,” says Hamilton. This refers to a scoop, or a series of scoop designs, that will be attached to the drone. Rocks of interest will be picked up and flown back to the rover, where the rover’s chemical-interrogating technology will see if the rock is fascinating enough to go visit the site where it came from, either to see the original context or get a bigger sample.

Scientists are looking to use that same concept for their Earthbound drones too. “The most exciting bit was to see the Claw attached to it, because that’s exactly where I’d like to go in the next year, for the [U.S. Geological Survey] at least,” says Diefenbach, for applications here. “That made me pretty excited.”

The team’s engineering partner, Honeybee Robotics, is coming up with drill designs, too, to pull out small cylindrical cores or grind rock into powder that can be vacuumed up and flown to the rover.

Steam blowing off Iceland's Holuhraun lava field.
Steam blowing off Iceland’s Holuhraun lava field. Courtesy Christopher Hamilton/The University of Arizona

This year, RAVEN’s hardware is being manufactured and software is being coded while its hardware is manufactured. The games will begin in summer 2022, when the rover and drones arrive at Bárðarbunga volcano’s Holuhraun Lava Field.

The actual first test of the equipment reads like the instructions of a practical final exam. An operations team unfamiliar with the site, which will include students, will use satellite imagery to determine where best to “land” the rover and drones. They will issue commands to both vehicles and, within a set amount of time measured in Mars-days, then characterize the environment’s geology and identify potentially habitable or once-habitable pockets of it. In addition to testing RAVEN’s technology, the test will determine if a team new to the site will be able to identify the most astrobiologically areas to study—just as a future rover-drone Mars mission will have to. “I can’t participate in the science planning for our team, because I have the answer key,” Hamilton says, since he already knows the site, and the areas with the best potential for exploration. After the trial ends, and the team compares notes, they’ll run it back in summer 2023.

Hamilton can picture the time where RAVEN, or something like it, is deployed on Mars for real. By that stage, he says, “there is the possibility that the rover would be an astronaut.” Imagine that, not science fiction but real: spacefaring scientists, flying drones over Martian volcanoes, searching for alien biosignatures in the hazy light of the distant sun, the Earth (and Iceland’s lava fields) a bluish dot in the sky.

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How a Vancouver photographer captured this epic night shot of The Lions | News – Daily Hive

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At only 20 years old, Vancouver photographer Liron Gertsman already has an impressive resume.

His work has been featured in some of the largest museums across the world, including the Natural History Museum in London and the Smithsonian in Washington, DC.

And while his latest work may be closer to home, it features worlds far beyond our own.

“There is so much to see if you can get outside on a clear night and look up at the sky,” he told Daily Hive. “Stargazing is a fantastic pandemic activity.”

But beyond just simply “gazing” at the stars, Gertsman recently captured this stunning photo of the North America and Pelican Nebulae in what’s known as the Cygnus region of the night sky, above The Lions on the North Shore.

Liron Gertsman

Describing it as “one of the most ambitious” photos he’s ever attempted, Gertsman shared how it all came, from planning and execution to the final product.

“I first imagined this photo a few months ago,” he said. “While running virtual simulations on my computer, I was astonished to see that the North America Nebula, a huge cloud of gas over 2200 light years from Earth, would align perfectly with The Lions, if I was in the right place at the right time.”

However, he also realized that capturing the photo would require that he take the picture from a “heavily light-polluted” area.

As such, Gertsman said he “wasn’t convinced” that the image he was trying to capture was even possible.

The other factor putting doubt in his mind was the typical wet weather Vancouver receives during the winter months.

“This is a rainforest, and clear skies can be very rare in winter,” he said.

After waiting for a few months, Gertsman was rewarded for patiently biding his time, as the opportunity presented itself on the night of January 21.

“I would be battling a 62% illuminated moon, but given the rarity of the clear night, I decided to attempt the image,” he said.

The attempt included waiting in the cold for three-and-a-half hours, and gathering long exposure data on the nebulae as it moved across the sky, until it was directly above The Lions.

The final image includes two hours of exposure time, taken without movement of his tripod.

As for his setup, Gertsman said he used a full-spectrum modified Canon 6D and a Canon 100-400mm lens at 200mm, mounted on a SkyWatcher star tracker. He also used three filters:

First, one that allows visible light to pass through but extends further than normal to the 656nm H-alpha wavelength emitted by nebulae. This data, he explained, was important for “gathering accurate colour.”

Second, an H-alpha filter, which selectively allows the 656nm wavelength of the nebula through while blocking out most moonlight and light pollution.

Third, a normal visible light filter, to gather natural colours for the foreground.

These images were combined, stacked, and stretched in post-processing to create this final image.

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How to watch NASA preview its Perseverance Mars rover landing – CNET

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An illustration of NASA’s Perseverance rover deploying a supersonic parachute before landing on Mars.


NASA/JPL-CalTech

NASA is just weeks away from landing a shiny new robot on the surface of Mars. This Wednesday it’ll break down for us the process of setting the Mars 2020 Perseverance rover on the surface of the red planet.

Perseverance is due to land in Jezero Crater on Feb. 18, the first artificial object to land on the surface since the Mars Insight lander in 2018 and the first rover since Curiosity touched down in 2012.

Perseverance carries a number of science instruments to help look for signs of ancient life on our neighboring world, to collect samples that will be returned to Earth and to test some technologies for future Mars missions.

Also, it has a tiny helicopter.


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Robots have spent years rolling around Mars, which is pretty cool, but for the first time NASA will use a small helicopter, dubbed Ingenuity, to try flying around the planet.

Several leaders from the Mars 2020 Perseverance team will be on hand Wednesday to discuss the mission and run through what landing day will look like.

The briefing is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. ET, and you can watch it all live right here.

Follow CNET’s 2021 Space Calendar to stay up to date with all the latest space news this year. You can even add it to your own Google Calendar. 

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