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2021: A year of space tourism, flights on Mars, and China's rise – Forbes India

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SpaceX entered the fray in September with a three-day orbital mission around the Earth featuring an all-civilian crew on Inspiration 4.

Image: Patrick T Fallon/AFP From the Mars Ingenuity helicopter’s first powered flight on another world to the launch of the James Webb telescope that will peer into the earliest epoch of the Universe, 2021 was a huge year for humanity’s space endeavors.

Beyond the science milestones, billionaires battled to reach the final frontier first, an all-civilian crew went into orbit, and Star Trek’s William Shatner waxed profound about what it meant to see the Earth from the cosmos, as space tourism finally came into its own.

Here are selected highlights.

Red Planet robot duo

 NASA‘s Perseverance Rover survived its “seven minutes of terror,” a time when the craft relies on its automated systems for descent and landing, to touch down flawlessly on Mars’ Jezero Crater in February.
Since then, the car-sized robot has been taking photos and drilling for samples for its mission: determining whether the Red Planet might have hosted ancient microbial life forms.

A rock sample return mission is planned for sometime in the 2030s.

With its state-of-the-art instruments, “Percy,” as the helicopter is affectionately known, can also zap Martian rock and chemically analyze the vapor.

Percy has a partner along for the ride: Ingenuity, a four-pound (two kilogram) rotorcraft that in April succeeded in the first powered flight on another celestial body, just over a century after the Wright brothers’ achieved the same feat here on Earth, and has performed many more since.

“Perseverance is sort of the flagship mission, it’s doing a long-term detailed investigation of this fascinating area of Mars,” Jonathan McDowall, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, told AFP.

By contrast, “Ingenuity, is one of these cute, small, cheap little technology demos that NASA can do so well,” he added.

The insights gained from Ingenuity could help scientists develop Dragonfly, a planned thousand-pound drone copter, to search for signs of life on Saturn’s moon Titan in the mid-2030s.

Private spaceflight takes off 

An American millionaire became the world’s first space tourist in 2001, but it took 20 more years for the promise of private space flight to finally materialize.

In July, Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson faced off against Blue Origin’s Jeff Bezos to complete a suborbital spaceflight.

While the British tycoon won that race by a few days, it was Blue Origin that surged ahead, launching three more flights with paying customers and celebrity guests.

Elon Musk’s SpaceX entered the fray in September with a three-day orbital mission around the Earth featuring an all-civilian crew on Inspiration 4.

“It’s really exciting that finally, after so long this stuff is finally happening,” said space industry analyst Laura Seward Forczyk, author of the forthcoming book “Becoming Off-Worldly,” intended to prepare future space travelers.

But it was William Shatner, who played the swashbuckling Captain Kirk on the 1960s TV series “Star Trek,” who stole the show with a moving account of his experience.

“What you’re looking down on is Mother Earth, and it needs protecting,” he told reporters.

A Russian crew shot the first feature film in space aboard the International Space Station (ISS) in 2021, and Japanese tourists made their own visit there on a Russian rocket.

For a few minutes on December 11, there were a record 19 humans in space when Blue Origin carried out its third crewed mission, the Japanese team were on the ISS along with its normal crew, and Chinese taikonauts were in position on their station.

The sight of wealthy elites gallivanting in the cosmos hasn’t been to everyone’s liking, however, and the nascent space tourism sector triggered a backlash from some who said there were more pressing issues to face, such as climate change, here on Earth.

Globalization of space

During the Cold War, space was dominated by the United States and the former Soviet Union.

Now, in addition to the explosion of the commercial sector, which is sending up satellites at a dizzying pace, China, India and others are increasingly flexing their space flight muscles.

China’s Tiangong (Palace in the Sky) space station — its first long-term outpost — was launched in April, while its first Mars rover, Zhurong, landed in May, making it the only the second country to achieve such an exploit.

“In the past 20 years since China finally decided to go big on space, they’ve been in catch up mode,” said McDowall. “And now they’re kind of there, and they’re starting to do things that the US hasn’t done.”

The UAE placed a probe into Martian orbit in February, becoming the first Arab nation and fifth overall to reach the planet.

Russia meanwhile launched a missile at one of its own satellites, becoming the fourth country to hit a spacecraft from the ground, in a move that reignited concerns about the growing space arms race.

Washington slammed Moscow for its “reckless” test, which generated over 1,500 pieces of large orbital debris, dangerous for low Earth orbit missions such as the ISS.

Coming soon… 

The year closed out with the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope, a $10 billion marvel that will make use of infrared technology to peer back 13 billion years in time.

“It’s arguably the most expensive, single scientific platform ever created,” said Casey Drier, chief advocate of the Planetary Society.

“To push the boundaries of our knowledge about the cosmos, we had to build something capable of accessing that ancient past,” he added.

It will reach Lagrange Point 2, a space landmark a million miles from Earth, in a matter of weeks, then gradually start up and calibrate its systems, coming online around June.

Also next year, the launch of Artemis 1 — when NASA’s giant Space Launch System (SLS) will carry the Orion capsule to the Moon and back, in preparation for America’s return with humans later this decade.

NASA plans to build lunar habitats and use lessons learned there for forward missions to Mars in the 2030s.

Observers are encouraged that the program launched by former president Donald Trump has continued under Joe Biden — even if he hasn’t been as vocal in his support.

Finally, sometime next fall, NASA’s DART probe will smash into an asteroid to kick it off course.

The proof-of-concept test is a dry run should humanity ever need to stop a giant space rock from wiping out life on Earth, as seen in Netflix’s new hit film “Don’t Look Up.”

Click here to see Forbes India’s comprehensive coverage on the Covid-19 situation and its impact on life, business and the economy​

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Scientists study travels of meteorite that landed in B.C. in October – Vancouver Sun

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The small meteorite broke through a woman’s ceiling in Golden, B.C., in October, landing on her pillow, next to where she had been sleeping moments earlier.

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Scientists studying a meteorite that landed next to a B.C. woman’s head last year say it was diverted to that path about 470 million years ago.

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The small meteorite broke through a woman’s ceiling in Golden in October, landing on her pillow, next to where she had been sleeping moments earlier.

Philip McCausland, a lead researcher mapping the meteorite’s journey, said Monday they know the 4.5-billion-year-old rock collided with something about 470 million years ago, breaking into fragments and changing the trajectory of some of the pieces.

McCausland, who’s an adjunct professor at Western University in London, Ont., said the meteorite is of scientific significance because it will allow scientists to study how material from the asteroid belt arrives on Earth.

“There’s 50,000 to 60,000 identified meteorites now in the world, but most have no context. We don’t know really where they came from,” he said.

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“In cases where we have known orbits, where they were observed coming in well enough that we can reconstruct what the orbit was before it hit the Earth’s atmosphere, we can actually (determine) where they came from in the asteroid belt. Golden is one of those,” he said, referring to the location of where the meteorite landed.

Researchers determined the meteorite is an L chondrite, one of the most commonly found types of meteorites to fall to Earth. Despite this, he said only about five L chondrites have known orbits.

He said the Canadian team is now working with scientists in Switzerland, the U.K., U.S. and Italy to learn more about the meteorite and its path to Golden.

“We know we’re still going to get something interesting out of this,” McCausland said. “We actually do want to get a good handle on how things get delivered from the asteroid belt, and this is a useful part of putting that together.”

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Most of the meteorite has been returned to Ruth Hamilton, the woman who had the close call, and McCausland said it’s up to her to decide what to do with it.

Whether she decides to keep, sell or donate the rock, he said there is cultural significance of the rock to Canada. If she sells it to an international buyer, she would be required to go through the exportation process, he said.

Hamilton said she hasn’t yet made up her mind on what to do with the meteor. It’s currently sitting in a safety deposit box.

“I don’t have any plans for it right now, but once they’re done analyzing it, I’ll get all the documentation that proves it’s a meteorite,” she said. “It’s going to be officially named the Golden Meteorite.”

Before her roof is permanently repaired this spring, Hamilton said she intends to remove the section where the meteorite crashed through to keep it preserved alongside the rock.

McCausland said the research will likely conclude in May, and the scientists will then publish their work in an academic journal.

“Whenever something like this happens, I like to tell people it could happen to any of us; anyone can find a meteorite. It’s unlikely one will crash through your roof, but it can happen,” McCausland said. “It’s nature and, if anything, it’s a reminder that we’re part of something bigger.”

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Researchers at UBCO determine 'smart windows' can disinfect surfaces – Kelowna News – Castanet.net

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A new study at the University of British Columbia Okanagan shines a light on how sunlight can be used to disinfect surfaces in your home or workplace.

The COVID-19 pandemic has magnified concerns over how buildings might influence the health of the people who live and work in them. There has been some attention paid to ventilation, cleaning and filtration, however, the importance of daylight has been ignored, until now.

The UBCO research shows daylight passing through smart windows results in almost complete disinfection of surfaces within 24 hours while still blocking harmful ultraviolet light.

Dr. Sepideh Pakpour, an assistant professor at UBCO’s School of Engineering tested four strains of hazardous bacteria—methicillin-resistance Staphylococcus aureus, Klebsiella pneumoniae, E. coli and Pseudomonas aeruginosa—using a mini-living lab set-up. The lab used smart windows, which tint based on outdoor light conditions, and traditional windows with blinds. Dr. Pakpour found that, compared to windows with blinds, the smart windows significantly reduce bacterial growth rate. In fact the smart windows blocked more than 99.9 per cent of UV light, but still let in short-wavelength, high-energy daylight which acts as a disinfectant. This shorter wavelength light effectively eliminated contamination on glass, plastic and fabric surfaces.

Traditional window blinds block daylight, therefore, preventing surfaces from being disinfected. Dr. Pakpour noted previous research shows 92 per cent of hospital curtains can get contaminated within a week of being cleaned.

“We know that daylight kills bacteria and fungi,” she says. “But the question is, are there ways to harness that benefit in buildings, while still protecting us from glare and UV radiation? Our findings demonstrate the benefits of smart windows for disinfection, and have implications for infectious disease transmission in laboratories, health-care facilities and the buildings in which we live and work.”

A study from the Harvard Business Review points to natural light and views being among the most sought after by potential employees. Combine that with a push for “healthy buildings” as part of the COVID-19 return to work and employers could benefit from installing smart windows.

“Our buildings need to go beyond sustainable and smart to become healthy and safe environments first and foremost,” says Dr. Rao Mulpuri, Chairman and CEO at View, the company partnering with UBC for this research. “Companies are grappling with how to bring their people back to the office in a safe way. This research provides yet another reason why increased access to natural light needs to be part of the equation.”

Studies have shown that pathogenic bacteria and fungi can survive on inanimate surfaces for prolonged periods, which can lead to disease transmission.

“With the rise of antimicrobial resistance, antibiotics are no longer a silver bullet in treating health-care-associated infections, which cause tens of thousands of deaths in the US each year,” says Dr. Tex Kissoon, Vice Chair of the Global Sepsis Alliance, UBC Children’s Hospital Endowed Chair in Acute and Critical Care for Global Child Health. “The potential for daylight to sterilize surfaces and avoid these infections altogether is promising and should be factored into health-care facility design.”

Dr. Pakpour presented her findings Wednesday at the international Healthy Buildings Conference in Amsterdam.

“Our findings demonstrate the benefits of smart windows for disinfection, and have implications for infectious disease transmission in laboratories, health care facilities and the buildings in which we live and work.”

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Asteroid Bigger Than the Tallest Building on Earth Just Flew by Safely: Here's How People Are Reacting to… – Gadgets 360

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An asteroid bigger than the tallest building on Earth safely flew by on January 19. The giant rock, named 7482 (1994 PC1), zipped past our planet, nearly 1.93 million kilometres away. That’s more than five times the distance between Earth and Moon. It has been classified as “potentially hazardous” because of its size and its regular close visits to our planet, and not because it poses any threat to us. The asteroid came closest to Earth at 3:21am IST.

Astronomers say this will remain the closest approach of the asteroid for at least the next 200 years. They added that regular close visits by this asteroid should not lead to fear among people as its trajectory has a margin of error of only 133km.

The rock was travelling at a speed of 19.56kmph, relative to Earth, when it flew by us. The considerable speed with which it was travelling should have enabled amateur astronomers to spot it. It should have appeared as a point of light in the night sky. Earth Sky has shared a video of the asteroid moving rapidly in the sky. It said the video was recorded in Puerto Rico and the asteroid was visible despite a Full Moon on January 18 (local time) since the Moon was at a good distance from the asteroid’s path. See the video below (published by kevinizooropa):

Many people shared their excitement on Twitter at being able to see the asteroid or even after simply knowing that something like this had happened.

“While we were busy surviving another day, another year, another job, an asteroid bigger than Burj Khalifa just passed by…Notice the shooting star, which steals the show. Money and jobs are the biggest distraction to our real growth and finding answers to our existence,” said a user.

Some users have also shared images of the asteroid.

Many just found an opportunity to have a little fun, now that the celestial event passed safely. Check out their reactions below:

The asteroid was discovered by Australian astronomer Robert McNaught in 1994.


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