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SpaceX launches four astronauts to ISS on Sunday – FRANCE 24



Issued on: 15/11/2020 – 07:24Modified: 15/11/2020 – 07:22


Washington (AFP)

Four astronauts were poised to launch on the SpaceX Crew Dragon “Resilience” to the International Space Station on Sunday, the first of what the US hopes will be many routine missions following a successful test flight in late spring.

Three Americans — Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover and Shannon Walker — and Japan’s Soichi Noguchi will blast off at 7:27 pm Sunday (0027 GMT Monday) from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

In May, SpaceX completed a demonstration mission showing it could take astronauts to the ISS and bring them back safely, thus ending almost a decade of reliance on Russia for rides on its Soyuz rockets.

“The history being made this time is we’re launching what we call an operational flight to the International Space Station,” NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine told reporters Friday.

The launch will be attended by Vice President Mike Pence and second lady Karen Pence.

The crew will dock at their destination at around 11:00 pm Monday night (0400 GMT Tuesday), joining two Russians and one American onboard the station, and stay for six months.

The Crew Dragon earlier this week became the first spacecraft to be certified by NASA since the Space Shuttle nearly 40 years ago.

It is a capsule, similar in shape to the spacecraft which preceded Space Shuttle, and its launch vehicle is a reusable SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.

At the end of its missions, the Crew Dragon deploys parachutes then splashes down in water, just as in the Apollo era.

NASA turned to SpaceX and Boeing after shuttering the checkered Space Shuttle program in 2011, which failed in its main objectives of making space travel affordable and safe.

The agency will have spent more than $8 billion on the Commercial Crew program by 2024, with the hope that the private sector can take care of NASA’s needs in “low Earth orbit” so it is freed up to focus on return missions to the Moon and then on to Mars.

SpaceX, founded by Elon Musk in 2002, has leapfrogged its much older rival Boeing, whose program has floundered after a failed test of its uncrewed Starliner last year.

But SpaceX’s success won’t mean the US will stop hitching rides with Russia altogether, said Bridenstine.

“We want to have an exchange of seats where American astronauts can fly on Russian Soyuz rockets and Russian cosmonauts can fly on commercial crew vehicles,” he said, explaining it was necessary in case either program was down for a period of time.

The reality, however, is that space ties between the US and Russia, one of the few bright spots in their bilateral relations, have frayed in recent years, and much remains uncertain.

Russia has said it won’t be a partner in the Artemis program to return to the Moon in 2024, claiming the NASA-led mission is too US-centric.

Dmitry Rogozin, the head of Russia’s space agency has also repeatedly mocked SpaceX’s technology, and this summer announced Roscosmos would build rockets that surpass Musk’s.

He told a state news agency he was unimpressed with the Crew Dragon’s water landing, calling it “rather rough” and saying his agency was developing a methane rocket that will be reusable 100 times.

But the fact that a national space agency feels moved to compare itself to a company is arguably a validation of NASA’s public-private strategy.

SpaceX’s emergence has also deprived Roscosmos of a valuable income stream.

The cost of round-trips on Russian rockets had been rising and stood at around $85 million per astronaut, according to estimates last year.

– Presidential transition –

Presidential transitions are always a difficult time for NASA, and the ascension of Joe Biden in January is expected to be no different.

The agency has yet to receive from Congress the tens of billions of dollars needed to finalize the Artemis program.

Bridenstine has announced that he will step down, in order to let the new president set his own goals for space exploration.

So far, Biden has not commented on the 2024 timeline.

Democratic party documents say they support NASA’s Moon and Mars aspirations, but also emphasize elevating the agency’s Earth sciences division to better understand how climate change is affecting our planet.

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Study finds Neanderthals may have used their hands differently from humans – CTV News



If you were to greet a Neanderthal with a handshake, it might feel a little awkward.

The digits of the Stone Age people, who went extinct about 40,000 years ago, were much chunkier than ours. What’s more, a Neanderthal’s thumb would have stuck out from his hand at a much wider angle.

“If you were to shake a Neanderthal hand you would notice this difference,” said Ameline Bardo, a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Kent’s School of Anthropology and Conservation in the United Kingdom.

“There would be confusion over where to place the thumb, and for a thumb fight I think you would win in terms of speed and movement!” she said via email.

The Neanderthals did use their hands differently from us, a new study published Thursday in the journal Scientific Reports has suggested. Our archaic relatives, lead study author Bardo said, would have been more at ease with “squeeze grips” — the grip we use when we hold tools with handles like a hammer.

To find out how Neanderthals used their hands, Bardo and her colleagues had what they said was a unique approach.

Other studies have quantified how shapes in thumb bones vary in Neanderthals and modern humans, as well as other fossil human relatives. Most research to date, however, has only looked at the bones in isolation — until now.


The researchers used 3D mapping to analyze the joints between the bones responsible for movement of the thumb — referred to as “the trapeziometacarpal complex” — of the remains of five Neanderthal individuals. The scientists then compared the results to measurements taken from the remains of five early modern humans and 50 recent modern adults.

“Our study is novel in looking at how the variation in the shapes and orientations of the different bones and joints relate to each altogether,” she said.

“Movement and loading of the thumb is only possible by these bones, as well as the ligaments and muscles, working together so they need to be studied together,” she said.

While their meatier hands perhaps suggest a lack of dexterity, Neanderthals were definitely able to use a precision grip — like we would hold a pencil, Bardo said.

“The joint at the base of the thumb of the Neanderthal fossils is flatter with a smaller contact surface between the bones, which is better suited to an extended thumb positioned alongside the side of the hand,” she explained. “This thumb posture suggests the regular use of power ‘squeeze’ grips.”

By contrast, human thumbs have joint surfaces that are generally larger and more curved, “which is an advantage when gripping objects between the pads of the finger and thumb, a precision grip,” she said.

Neanderthals made specialized tools, painted caves, threaded seashells to wear as jewelry and made yarn — but they may have found precision grips “more challenging” than we do, Bardo said.

The powerful squeeze grip would have helped Neanderthals grasp spears while hunting and use stone scrapers or knives to work wood or animals skins. It might have been harder for Homo neanderthalensis, though, to use strong precision grips such as using flakes of stone between the pads of the finger and thumb to cut meat, Bardo said.

However, she noted that there is a big variation among modern humans when it comes to dexterity — and that could also have existed among Neanderthals.

Neanderthals walked the Earth for a period of about 350,000 years before they disappeared, living in what’s now Europe and parts of Asia. It’s thought they overlapped with modern humans geographically for a period of more than 30,000 years after humans migrated out of Africa.

“Their hand anatomy and the archaeological record makes abundantly clear that Neanderthals were very intelligent, sophisticated tool users and used many of the same tools that contemporary modern humans did,” Bardo said.

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Milky Way's Supermassive Black Hole is Closer than Astronomers Thought | Astronomy –



The distance between our Solar System and Sagittarius A*, the 4-million-solar-mass black hole at the center of our Milky Way Galaxy, is approximately 25,800 light-years, about 1,900 light-years closer than previous estimate, according to an analysis of data from the Japanese VLBI (Very Long Baseline Interferometer) project VERA (VLBI Exploration of Radio Astrometry).

Position and velocity map of the Milky Way Galaxy; arrows show position and velocity data for 224 objects used to model the Galaxy; the solid black lines show the positions of the Galaxy’s spiral arms; the colors indicate groups of objects belonging the same arm. Image credit: NAOJ.

“Because Earth is located inside the Milky Way, we can’t step back and see what our Galaxy looks like from the outside,” said Dr. Tomoya Hirota, an astronomer from the Mizusawa VLBI Observatory at the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan and the Department of Astronomical Sciences at SOKENDAI, and his colleagues from the VERA Collaboration.

“Astrometry, accurate measurement of the positions and motions of objects, is a vital tool to understand the overall structure of the Galaxy and our place in it.”

“VERA was initiated by National Astronomical Observatory of Japan in the 2000s,” they added.

“The project was designed to dedicate for the VLBI astrometry observations to reveal 3D velocity and spatial structures in the Milky Way.”

“It involved four 20-m radio telescopes in Japan: at Mizusawa, Iriki, Ogasawara, and Ishigaki-jima stations.”

Using data from the first VERA astrometry catalog, the astronomers modeled the structure of the Milky Way to estimate the fundamental parameters such as the distance toward the Galactic center and the velocity of the Sun around it.

“Our results suggest that the center of the Galaxy, and the supermassive black hole which resides there, is located 25,800 light-years from Earth,” they said.

“This is closer than the official value of 27,700 light-years adopted by the International Astronomical Union in 1985.”

“The velocity component of the map indicates that the Sun is traveling at 227 km/s as it orbits around the Galactic center. This is faster than the official value of 220 km/s.”

The VERA researchers now plan to observe more objects, particularly ones close to Sagittarius A*, to better characterizes the structure and motion of the Milky Way.

“As part of these efforts VERA will participate in EAVN (East Asian VLBI Network) comprised of radio telescope located in Japan, South Korea, and China,” they said.

“By increasing the number of telescopes and the maximum separation between telescopes, EAVN can achieve even higher accuracy.”

The VERA catalog was published recently in the Publications of the Astronomical Society of Japan.


Tomoya Hirota et al. (VERA Collaboration). 2020. The First VERA Astrometry Catalog. Publications of the Astronomical Society of Japan 72 (4): 50; doi: 10.1093/pasj/psaa018

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Earth is approaching the supermassive black hole in the center of our galaxy more than we thought. –



This map suggests that the center of the Milky Way and the black hole that sits there are 25,800 light-years from Earth. According to the National Observatory for Japan, the value of the 27,700 light-years accepted by the International Astronomical Union in 1985 is very close to the official value.

What’s more, our solar system orbits the center of the galaxy at a speed of 227 kilometers per second – which is faster than the actual value of 220 kilometers per second.

These updated values ​​are the result of over 15 years of observation by Japanese radio astronomy project Vera. Notice Released Thursday from the National Observatory in Japan. The VLBI exploration of radio astrometry is very small, and refers to the mission of telescopes using very long baseline interferometry to explore the three-dimensional structure of the Milky Way.

Because Earth is located within the Milky Way, it is difficult to go back and see what the galaxy looks like. To overcome this, project astronomy accurately measures the position and motion of objects to understand the overall structure of the Milky Way and the position of the Earth in it.

The Nobel Prize in Physics for the discovery of black holes that revealed the darkest secrets of the universeThe Nobel Prize in Physics for the discovery of black holes that revealed the darkest secrets of the universe
The black hole, also known as Sagittarius A * or SGRA *, is 4.2 million times larger than our Sun. The Milky Way and its vast gravitational field control the orbits of stars in the center of the Milky Way. Reinhard Jensel and Andrea Guess won the 2020 Nobel Prize in Physics For its discovery. There are many types of black holes, which scientists believe may be supermassively related to the formation of galaxies because they often exist at the center of giant galaxies – but it is still unclear how or what they first formed.

A more precise approach

In August, Vera published its first catalog, which contained data on 99 celestial objects. Based on this catalog and recent observations from other groups, astronomers have developed a position and speed map. From this map, scientists have been able to calculate the center of the galaxy, and everything revolves around it.

The star merger created the rare Blue Ring NebulaThe star merger created the rare Blue Ring Nebula

Vera integrates data from four radio telescopes across Japan. When combined, astronomers can also find an American penny placed on the lunar surface in theory that telescopes could achieve a resolution.

Clearly, that does not mean the Earth is falling into a black hole, the observatory said. On the contrary, the map more accurately identifies the location of the solar system.

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