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NASA's James Webb Space Telescope's first target is a sun-like star in the Big Dipper – Daily Mail

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NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope’s first target is a sun-like star in the Big Dipper constellation about 260 light years from the Earth – but it is just to calibrate the mirrors

  • The James Webb Space Telescope will study distant stars and survey exoplanets 
  • It launched on Christmas Day last year and arrived at its final orbit last week
  • When Webb is fully operational, it will send 28.6 GB of data to Earth twice daily 
  • The first target for Webb is a star 260 light years away that is similar to the sun
  • This won’t be the first science target, as it will be used to calibrate the mirrors 

 The first target of the NASA James Webb Space Telescope is a sun-like star in the Great Bear constellation, but it is just to check the mirrors are properly aligned. 

The $10 billion telescope is months from being ready to begin operations, despite arriving at its final orbit on January 24, as it has to cool down and undergo weeks of calibration work, to ensure the 18 segments of the main mirror ‘work as one’.

After reaching its orbit, at the second Lagrange point (L2), an area of balance between gravitational forces of the Earth and the sun, NASA revealed its first target.

‘Star light, star bright…the first star Webb will see is HD 84406, a Sun-like star about 260 light years away,’ the space agency wrote on the @NASAWebb twitter account.

‘While it will be too bright for Webb to study once the telescope is in focus, it’s a perfect target for Webb to gather engineering data & start mirror alignment.’

When asked whether the images from this alignment process would be released to the public, a European Space Agency (ESA) official told DailyMail.com: ‘All calibration data will be made public at the end of commissioning.’ 

To align James Webb’s mirrors, NASA will be pointing the telescope at HD 84406 — a sun-like, type G star that lies some 260 light-years-away in the constellation of Ursa Major. Engineers will take 18 separate, out-of-focus images of HD 84406 using each of the mirrors, from which a computer will determine exactly how each must be oriented to bring the telescope into focus

Among the telescope's goals will be surveying potentially habitable exoplanets and some of the most distant and oldest objects in the observable universe

Among the telescope’s goals will be surveying potentially habitable exoplanets and some of the most distant and oldest objects in the observable universe

The space telescope is a joint project of NASA, ESA and the Canadian Space Agency, with ESA funding its launch into space on Christmas Day, from French Guiana. 

The 7th magnitude star, outside the level visible from Earth with the naked eye, but visible with a good pair of binoculars, sits near the Big Dipper constellation.

It is unclear what quality any images or data will be from these observations, as they are purely to allow the engineering team to gather data to start mirror alignments.

‘The team chose a bright star, magnitude 6.7 at a distance of about 260 light-years, as measured by Gaia,’ a NASA spokesperson explained. 

The announcement of the first calibration target came as the telescope arrived in its final orbit, and NASA confirmed its large antenna had been turned on

The announcement of the first calibration target came as the telescope arrived in its final orbit, and NASA confirmed its large antenna had been turned on 

James Webb (depicted) — the most complex space telescope ever built — was launched in late December last year and is intended as the successor to the Hubble observatory

James Webb (depicted) — the most complex space telescope ever built — was launched in late December last year and is intended as the successor to the Hubble observatory

FACTS AND FIGURES: NASA’s $10 BILLION JAMES WEBB SPACE TELESCOPE

Operator: NASA & ESA 

Launched: December 25, 2021

Full operation begins: Summer 2022

Location: Sun–Earth L2 point 

Orbit type: Halo orbit 

Mission duration: 20 years (expected)

Telescope diameter: 21 feet (6.5 m)

Focal length: 431 feet (131.4 m)

Wavelengths: 0.6–28.3 μm

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‘The star is a sun-like G star in the Ursa Major constellation, which can be seen by Webb at this time of the year. 

‘This is just the first step; HD 84406 will be too bright to study with Webb once the telescope starts to come into focus. But for now, it is the perfect target to begin our search for photons, a search that will lead us to the distant universe.’

Engineers will take 18 separate, out-of-focus images of HD 84406 using each of the mirrors, from which a computer will determine exactly how each must be oriented to bring the telescope into focus.

Each mirror’s direction can be adjusted in the very tiniest of increments — each equal to a ten-thousandth of the width of a human hair.

According to NASA, the initial alignment process is expected to take several months to complete. When the telescope is up and running, the mirrors will also need to be checked and, if necessary, realigned every few days. 

Astrophysicist Eric Mamajek, from NASA JPL, said on Twitter that the star was slightly cooler, but much larger and more luminous than the sun.

It has a surface temperature of about 5,000 K, he said, which is 8,540 degrees Fahrenheit, compared to the sun’s 5,778 K, or 9,940 F.

It is about 4.4 times the size of the sun and 11 times more luminous, and may actually be part of a binary pair, according to data from the ESA Gaia telescope.

If it is a binary pairing then the smaller star is likely a red dwarf about half the size of the Sun, with the main about 3 billion years old – slightly younger than the sun. 

A spokesperson for ESA told DailyMail.com that all calibration images would be released at the end of the process, but couldn’t say exactly when.

It is expected this will be sometime in June, after the first observation image is released, or alongside that first observation image.

The first target star sits in the constellation of Ursa Major, and is a sun-like star called HD 84406 - somewhere in the area highlighted by the red circle

The first target star sits in the constellation of Ursa Major, and is a sun-like star called HD 84406 – somewhere in the area highlighted by the red circle

'Star light, star bright…the first star Webb will see is HD 84406, a Sun-like star about 260 light years away,' the space agency wrote on the @NASAWebb twitter account

‘Star light, star bright…the first star Webb will see is HD 84406, a Sun-like star about 260 light years away,’ the space agency wrote on the @NASAWebb twitter account

HD 84406: THE FIRST STAR TO BE OBSERVED BY THE WEBB TELESCOPE 

HD 84406 is a sun-like star near the Big Dipper about 260 light years away.

It will be too bright to study with Webb once the telescope starts to come into focus, but is a good calibration target. 

It has a surface temperature of about 5,000 K, which is 8,540 degrees Fahrenheit, compared to the sun’s 5,778 K, or 9,940 F.

It is about 4.4 times the size of the sun and 11 times more luminous, and may actually be part of a binary pair, according to data from the ESA Gaia telescope.

If it is a binary pairing then the smaller star is likely a red dwarf about half the size of the Sun, with the main about 3 billion years old – slightly younger than the sun.  

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Some experts have speculated that the delay in releasing the calibration images could be due to the risk of misinterpretation of raw data, and felt it was important for the team of experts employed by the Webb consortium to view them first. 

Once it completes the first round of calibrations, using the isolated bright star, NASA will move on to other observations, to test different aspects of the telescope.

The first ‘official’ scientific observation will be in May, with the first image released a month or so later after analysis work – although that target hasn’t been revealed.

There is speculation it will be something already imaged by the Hubble Space Telescope, to provide a direct comparison and example of the benefit of Webb.

Compared to its 30-year-old predecessor, Webb has the ability to see objects nine times fainter than Hubble could – allowing it to peer further back in time.

It isn’t a direct comparison though, as Hubble was more of a visible light observatory, whereas Webb looks in the infrared.

The announcement of the first calibration target came as the telescope arrived in its final orbit, and NASA confirmed its large antenna had been turned on.

This high-gain antenna allows it to send images and data back to Earth, and was a step required before the calibration could begin.

Among the telescope’s goals will be surveying potentially habitable exoplanets and some of the most distant and oldest objects in the observable universe.

Louis-Philippe Coulombe, from the University of Montreal, said that Webb will make it possible to get unprecedentedly precise observations of alien worlds. 

This will allow scientists to understand the nature of their atmospheres, and learn more about how atmospheres work in general. 

This all requires Webb to send data back to Earth, so astronomers can look at the observations and understand exactly what has been seen by the telescope. 

Until now, communications with the telescope had all been via its medium-gain antenna, using the microwave ‘S-band’ of frequencies between 2–4 GHz.

The space telescope is a joint project of NASA, ESA and the Canadian Space Agency, with ESA funding its launch into space on Christmas Day, from French Guiana

The space telescope is a joint project of NASA, ESA and the Canadian Space Agency, with ESA funding its launch into space on Christmas Day, from French Guiana 

The high-gain antenna, which operates instead in the ‘Ka-band’ (26.5–40 GHz), will allow a higher downlink rate via NASA’s Deep Space Network, the agency said.

This network sports three ground stations in California, Canberra and Madrid, meaning that one location will also be visible to Webb as the Earth turns.

The Ka-band has three data transfer speeds to select from, with the default being the highest, which operates at 3.5 megabytes per second. 

For comparison, the average download speed on a 4G mobile phone connection is around 1–1.25 megabytes per second.

The two slower speeds, meanwhile, can be used to compensate for bad weather at the ground station that might produce interference.

When the telescope begins observations in mid-summer this year the high-gain antenna will transfer at least 28.6 Gigabytes of science data to Earth twice daily.

JAMES WEBB SPACE TELESCOPE: THE NEXT BIG ORBITAL OBSERVATORY DEPLOYED TO SEARCH FOR ALIEN LIFE 

Primarily an infrared telescope, it will have a wider spectrum view than Hubble and operate further out from the Earth, in a solar orbit, rather than an Earth orbit. 

Research by Ohio State University claims that within five years of it coming online, James Webb will have found signs of alien life on a distant world.

Graduate student Caprice Phillips calculated that it could feasibly detect ammonia created by living creatures around gas dwarf planets after just a few orbits. 

The James Webb telescope has been described as a ‘time machine’ that could help unravel the secrets of our universe.

The telescope will be used to look back to the first galaxies born in the early universe more than 13.5 billion years ago.

It will also observe the sources of stars, exoplanets, and even the moons and planets of our solar system.

The James Webb Telescope and most of its instruments have an operating temperature of roughly 40 Kelvin.

This is about minus 387 Fahrenheit (minus 233 Celsius). 

Officials from the space agencies responsible for the telescope say the cost may exceed the $8 billion (£5.6 billion) program cap set by Congress.

NASA has already poured $7 billion (£5 billion) into the telescope since it was first proposed as a replacement for the long-running Hubble space telescope.

When it is launched in 2021, it will be the world’s biggest and most powerful telescope, capable of peering back 200 million years after the Big Bang.

James Webb is designed to last for five years but NASA hopes it will operate for a decade or more, although due to its distance from Earth it can’t be easily repaired.

It is 66 ft by 46 ft and will operate at the Sun-Earth Lagrange point about 930,000 miles from the Earth – almost four times further out than the moon. 

The telescope is set to launch on a European workhorse Ariane-5 rocket at the end of October 2021, with the first observations expected in 2022.

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Astronaut study reveals effects of space travel on human bones – Euronews

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By Will Dunham

WASHINGTON – A study of bone loss in 17 astronauts who flew aboard the International Space Station is providing a fuller understanding of the effects of space travel on the human body and steps that can mitigate it, crucial knowledge ahead of potential ambitious future missions.

The research amassed new data on bone loss in astronauts caused by the microgravity conditions of space and the degree to which bone mineral density can be regained on Earth. It involved 14 male and three female astronauts, average age 47, whose missions ranged from four to seven months in space, with an average of about 5-1/2 months.

A year after returning to Earth, the astronauts on average exhibited 2.1% reduced bone mineral density at the tibia – one of the bones of the lower leg – and 1.3% reduced bone strength. Nine did not recover bone mineral density after the space flight, experiencing permanent loss.

“We know that astronauts lose bone on long-duration spaceflight. What’s novel about this study is that we followed astronauts for one year after their space travel to understand if and how bone recovers,” said University of Calgary professor Leigh Gabel, an exercise scientist who was the lead author of the research published this week in the journal Scientific Reports https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-022-13461-1.

“Astronauts experienced significant bone loss during six-month spaceflights – loss that we would expect to see in older adults over two decades on Earth, and they only recovered about half of that loss after one year back on Earth,” Gabel said.

The bone loss occurs because bones that typically would be weight-bearing on Earth do not carry weight in space. Space agencies are going to need to improve countermeasures – exercise regimes and nutrition – to help prevent bone loss, Gabel said.

“During spaceflight, fine bone structures thin, and eventually some of the bone rods disconnect from one another. Once the astronaut comes back to Earth, the remaining bone connections can thicken and strengthen, but the ones that disconnected in space can’t be rebuilt, so the astronaut’s overall bone structure permanently changes,” Gabel said.

The study’s astronauts flew on the space station in the past seven years. The study did not give their nationalities but they were from the U.S. space agency NASA, Canadian Space Agency, European Space Agency and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.

Space travel poses various challenges to the human body – key concerns for space agencies as they plan new explorations. For instance, NASA is aiming to send astronauts back to the moon, a mission now planned for 2025 at the earliest. That could be a prelude to future astronaut missions to Mars or a longer-term presence on the lunar surface.

“Microgravity affects a lot of body systems, muscle and bone being among them,” Gabel said.

“The cardiovascular system also experiences many changes. Without gravity pulling blood towards our feet, astronauts experience a fluid shift that causes more blood to pool in the upper body. This can affect the cardiovascular system and vision.

“Radiation is also a large health concern for astronauts as the further they travel from Earth the greater exposure to the sun’s radiation and increased cancer risk,” Gabel said.

The study showed that longer space missions resulted both in more bone loss and a lower likelihood of recovering bone afterward. In-flight exercise – resistance training on the space station – proved important for preventing muscle and bone loss. Astronauts who performed more deadlifts compared to what they usually did on Earth were found to be more likely to recover bone after the mission.

“There is a lot we still do not know regarding how microgravity affects human health, particularly on space missions longer than six months, and on the long-term health consequences,” Gabel said. “We really hope that bone loss eventually plateaus on longer missions, that people will stop losing bone, but we don’t know.”

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Understanding Plants Is Key to Finding a Cure for Cancer – SciTechDaily

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The scientists state that if they can understand unchecked plant growth, they believe they can find a cure for cancer.

If scientists can fully understand plant growth, they might be able to find a cancer cure

In order to increase agricultural yields, it is important to understand how plants process light. Plants use light to determine when to grow and bloom. Plants find light using proteins called photoreceptors. However, understanding plants have impacts in fields other than agriculture.  Ullas Pedmale, an assistant professor at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL), and his colleagues have discovered how the proteins UBP12 and UBP13 regulate the activity of a CRY2 photoreceptor. Their finding could make new growth-control strategies apparent, with potential implications well beyond agriculture.

There are CRY photoreceptors in both plants and people. They are connected to a number of conditions including diabetes, cancer, and several brain disorders.  CRY2 helps in regulating growth in both people and plants. Uncontrolled development in plants reduces their viability, whereas it causes cancer in humans. “If we understand growth,” Pedmale says, “we can cure cancer.”

Plant CRY2 Protein

Manipulating the levels of CRY2 and UBP12 and UBP13 proteins in Arabidopsis thaliana plants affects growth. The first plant from the left shows normal growth. The second plant is missing CRY2 and grew too much. The third plant lacked UBP12 and UBP13 and grew shorter. The fourth plant had high levels of UBP12 and UBP13, and the fifth had high levels of CRY2. Credit: Pedmale lab/CSHL, 2022

Plants need the right amount of CRY2 to know when to grow and flower. Pedmale and former postdoctoral fellow Louise Lindbäck discovered that manipulating UBP12 and UBP13 can change the amount of CRY2 in plants. They found that increasing UBP12 and UBP13 reduces CRY2 levels. This made plants think there wasn’t enough light. In response, they grew longer, abnormal stems to reach more. Pedmale says:

“We have a way to understand growth here—and we could manipulate growth just by manipulating two proteins. We have found a way we can actually increase flower output. You need flowering for food. If there’s no flower, there is no grain, no rice, no wheat, no maize.”

Pedmale and Lindbäck didn’t know exactly how UBP12 and UBP13 regulated CRY2. When the researchers took a closer look, they made a surprising discovery. In humans and other organisms, versions of UBP12 and UBP13 protect CRY photoreceptors from degradation. But in plants, the team saw the opposite. UBP12 and UBP13 were actually helping degrade CRY2 instead. Lindbäck, who is currently a research and developmental engineer at Nordic Biomarker in Sweden, explains:

“From literature, it’s known that if you find an interaction like this, it will protect from degradation. Initially, we saw the opposite, and we thought, ‘okay, maybe I did something wrong,’ but then when I did it a few times, we realized, ‘okay, this is true.’ Instead of protecting CRY2, it causes CRY2 to degrade.”

Pedmale hopes their discovery will help plant researchers and plant breeders improve crop yields. He also hopes his work helps inform cancer research. “My colleagues at CSHL are working hard trying to understand cancer,” he says. “We are coming at it from a different angle with plants.”

The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health. 

Reference: “UBP12 and UBP13 deubiquitinases destabilize the CRY2 blue light receptor to regulate Arabidopsis growth” by Louise N. Lindbäck, Yuzhao Hu, Amanda Ackermann, Oliver Artz and Ullas V. Pedmale, 13 June 2022, Current Biology. 
DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2022.05.046

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Rocket Lab's Lunar Photon Completes Sixth Orbit Raise for NASA's CAPSTONE Mission to The Moon – Parabolic Arc – Parabolic Arc

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CAPSTONE (Credit: Terran Orbital)

LONG BEACH, Calif. (Rocket Lab PR) — Rocket Lab USA, Inc. (Nasdaq: RKLB) (“Rocket Lab” or “the Company”), a leading launch and space systems company, today confirmed its Photon Lunar spacecraft successfully completed a sixth on-orbit burn of the HyperCurie engine, bringing the CAPSTONE satellite closer to the Moon. Lunar Photon’s apogee – the point at which the spacecraft is farthest from Earth during its orbit – is now 43,297 miles (69,680 km).

This sixth burn was originally scheduled to be two burns, but Rocket Lab’s space systems team determined the HyperCurie engine would be capable of performing a single maneuver to accomplish the same delta-v, so combined the two.

The next and final burn is designed to set CAPSTONE on a ballistic lunar transfer trajectory to the Moon travelling at 24,500 mph (39,400 km/h) to break free of Earth’s orbit. This final maneuver is currently scheduled to take place as early as July 4th. After separating from Lunar Photon, CAPSTONE will use its own propulsion and the Sun’s gravity to navigate the rest of the way to the Moon, a four-month journey that will have CAPSTONE arriving to its lunar orbit on Nov. 13.

ABOUT CAPSTONE:

Designed and built Terran Orbital, and owned and operated by Advanced Space on behalf of NASA, the Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment (CAPSTONE) satellite will be the first spacecraft to test the Near Rectilinear Halo Orbit (NRHO) around the Moon. This is the same orbit intended for NASA’s Gateway, a multipurpose Moon-orbiting station that will provide essential support for long-term astronaut lunar missions as part of the Artemis program. CAPSTONE was successfully launched to space on Rocket Lab’s Electron launch vehicle on June 28.

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