India to launch five British satellites on July 10

An Indian rocket is readying for its heaviest mission on July 10 to put into orbit five British satellites alltogether weighing around 1,440 kg from the space port in Sriharikota, the Indian space agency said Saturday.

According to the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) its Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) is scheduled to carry aloft five foreign satellites on July 10.

The four stage/engine PSLV rocket in XL variant is expected to blast off at around 10 p.m. from the Sriharikota space centre in Andhra Pradesh around 80 km from here. The 62.5 hours countdown will start on July 8 at around 7.30 a.m.

Of the five, three are identical DMC3 optical earth observation satellites weighing 447 kg. These will be put into a 647 km sun-synchronous orbit.

Of the other two satellites, CBNT-1 weighs 91 kg and is also an optical earth observation technology demonstration microsatellite, while the De-OrbitSail weighs 7 kg. This is an experimental nano satellite for demonstration of large thin membrane sail and drag deorbiting.

The three DMC3 and the CBNT-1 satellites are built by Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd.

The De-OrbitSail is built by Surrey Space Centre.

According to ISRO, accommodating the three DMC3 satellites each with a height of about three metres within the existing payload fairing or the heat shield of the PSLV was a challenge. Thus, a circular L-adaptor and a triangular Multiple Satellite Adapter-Version 2 (MSA-V2), were newly designed and realised by ISRO for this specific purpose.

France’s SPOT 7 satellite weighing 714 kg was the heaviest single foreign satellite carried by a PSLV rocket till now. It was launched on June 30, 2014..


Work out in artificial gravity can protect astronauts

A combination of exercise and artificial gravity may significantly lessen the negative effects of extended weightlessness in space on astronauts, MIT scientists say. Astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS) have a number of exercise options.

They spend a significant portion of each day working out to ward off the long-term effects of weightlessness, but many still suffer bone loss, muscle atrophy, and issues with balance and their cardiovascular systems.

Now engineers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have built a compact human centrifuge with an exercise component: a cycle ergometer that a person can pedal as the centrifuge spins. The centrifuge was sized to just fit inside a module of the ISS.

Human centrifuges are spinning platforms that, at high speeds, generate forces strong enough to mimic gravity. An astronaut, riding in a centrifuge, would presumably feel gravity’s reinforcing effects. After testing the setup on healthy participants, the team found the combination of exercise and artificial gravity could significantly lessen the effects of extended weightlessness in space – more so than exercise alone.

Laurence Young, the Apollo Programme Professor in MIT’s Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics, said artificial gravity would be a huge benefit for astronauts, particularly those embarking on long-duration space missions, such as a journey to Mars.

“With exploration-class missions, like Mars, where you’re gone for three years, you could run the risk of having astronauts not sufficiently conditioned to perform effectively, and also to not be in good health when they finally get to the surface of Mars,” said Young.

Young said a human centrifuge aboard a Mars-bound spacecraft would help keep an astronaut in shape over the many months it would take to get to the red planet. The team’s compact centrifuge resembles a rotating metal cage with three main elements: a chair; a cycle ergometer, or the mechanical portion of a stationary bicycle; and a suite of sensors to measure cardiovascular variables such as blood pressure, heart rate, respiration rate, muscle activity and foot forces.

Researchers conducted experiments to test human responses and exercise performance at varying levels of artificial gravity. The experiments involved 12 healthy subjects, who participated in three sessions, each consisting of a bicycling workout under one of three artificial gravity levels.

During each session, participants were asked to pedal for 15 minutes at three workout intensities, or levels of resistance, set by the cycle ergometer. The remaining 10 minutes involved spinning up and slowing down the centrifuge. The participants tolerated the experiments well, suffering little motion sickness even while spinning at relatively high velocities. The results were published in the journal Acta Astronautica.

Soon, ‘cheaper, efficient’ trip to Mars may be possible

A team of scientists has suggested that a step-wise approach can send humans to Mars in a much efficient and economical way.

The new, cost-constrained U.S. strategy to send humans on Mars could be achieved within projected NASA budgets by minimizing new developments and relying mainly on already available or planned NASA assets.

Coauthors Hoppy Price, John Baker, and Firouz Naden, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA, propose a long-term, stepwise series of missions to Mars that would begin with a crew landing on Mars’s moon Phobos in 2033 and followed by a short-stay mission in 2039 and a year-long landing in 2043.

In the Editorial ‘We Can Send Humans to Mars Safely and Affordably,’ Editor-in-Chief G. Scott Hubbard, Stanford University, describes the complex engineering, safety and health issues related to long-term space travel that have already been overcome.

Hubbard added that with all of these previous technical and fiscal issues addressed, they can again believe that the dream of sending people to Mars is alive. The next step is to build a broad consensus around the goal and strategy for a long term, humans to Mars program.

The study appears in New Space.

NASA Explains Why June 30 Will be 1 Second Longer

WASHINGTON:  Strictly speaking, a day lasts 86,400 seconds. On June 30, the day will officially be a bit longer than usual because an extra second or “leap” second will be added and NASA has an explanation for this.

“The Earth’s rotation is gradually slowing down a bit, so leap seconds are a way to account for that,” said Daniel MacMillan, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

This is the case according to the time standard that people use in their daily lives – Coordinated Universal Time or UTC.

UTC is “atomic time” – the duration of one second is based on extremely predictable electromagnetic transitions in atoms of cesium.

These transitions are so reliable that the cesium clock is accurate to one second in 1,400,000 years.

However, the mean solar day – the average length of a day, based on how long it takes the Earth to rotate – is about 86,400.002 seconds long.

“That is because the Earth’s rotation is gradually slowing down a bit owing to a kind of braking force caused by the gravitational tug of war between the Earth, the Moon and the Sun,” the US space agency said in a statement.

Scientists estimate that the mean solar day has not been 86,400 seconds long since the year 1820 or so.

This difference of two milliseconds, or two thousandths of a second – far less than the blink of an eye – hardly seems noticeable at first.

But if this small discrepancy were repeated every day for an entire year, it would add up to almost a second.

Typically, a leap second is inserted either on June 30 or December 31.

Normally, the clock would move from 23:59:59 to 00:00:00 the next day. But with the leap second on June 30, UTC will move from 23:59:59 to 23:59:60, and then to 00:00:00 on July 1.

In practice, many systems are instead turned off for one second.

Previous leap seconds have created challenges for some computer systems and generated some calls to abandon them altogether.

“In the short term, leap seconds are not as predictable as everyone would like,” said Chopo Ma, geophysicist at Goddard.

“The modelling of the Earth predicts that more and more leap seconds will be called for in the long-term but we cannot say that one will be needed every year,” Ma said.

From 1972, when leap seconds were first implemented, through 1999, leap seconds were added at a rate averaging close to one per year.

Since then, leap seconds have become less frequent.

This June’s leap second will be only the fourth to be added since 2000.

Why are some of us left-handed?

Why are some of us left-handed while others use the right hand for most activities? This question is yet to be answered in a convincing way. Estimates are that anywhere between 9-20% of us humans are lefties. Since this is a minority, lefties face a variety of inconveniences in daily life, be it in opening doors by turning knobs or opening locks, using can openers, or in many others minor but necessary matters and tasks. And more often than not, children who are naturally left-handed are weaned away from it and encouraged (read ‘forced’) to use their right hand. This occasionally leads to awkwardness, and hence derision by the righties- majority. Recall the words like gaucherie (clumsiness, derived from the French gauche for left) and sinister, as opposed to dexterous (from the Latin dexter meaning right andsinister forleft).

An eminently readable review on why some people are left-handed has appeared six years ago, written by Llaurens, Raymond and Faurie (Phil. Trans. Royal Soc. B, 2009, 364, 881-894, freely downloadable, highly recommended). They analyze several factors that appear involved. Anthropology shows that this asymmetry is an age-old feature. Neanderthals (35000 years ago) and even earlier homo (a million years ago) were predominantly ‘righties’ and some lefties. We thus have a historical (even prehistoric) legacy, or what evolutionary biologists call as selection pressure with a preponderance of right-handers.

It varies based on geography and social factors. Analysis of writing habits in people across 17 countries in Europe, Africa, Asia and Australia revealed lefties to be anywhere between 2.5 to 12.8%. And in most populations, the proportion of left-handers among women was lower than in men. Is this because of genetics (x-chromosome which women bear) or discrimination is not clear.

Genetic factors might offer a possibility, and has been studied. Left-handedness seems to run in families. My wife Shakti is a leftie, so was her mother, so are some of her nephews. Our daughter, Katyayani, displayed some left-handedness in her infancy (but is now a rightie) while her daughter Kimaya is a left-hander. Several readers will surely cite similar family-runs of left handedness. Whether this is a genetic or learning level phenomenon is unclear. One way of looking at this a little sharper has been to study twins (particularly identical twins). One such study suggests that the tendency for hand preference was more in identical twins that in non-identical. While more studies are warranted, this result suggests a possibility of heritability, thus allowing the role of natural selection.

As of now, however there is no “handedness gene” that has been discovered, although the Oxford psychiatrist Tim Crow has suggested that mutations in the gene PCDH11X might be responsible for the evolution of handedness, brain asymmetry, language, and might even have led to the events that created us humans. And Dr Francks, also of Oxford, has suggested the role of the gene LRRTM1 in chromosome 2 might be involved. But there may not be one, but many even if somebody shows that a region or a block in a chromosome (such as X), the claim would be challenged since family/society/cultural biases will influence hand usage.

That we may have an evolutionary history for handedness is getting increasingly implicated. That the great apes too show handedness-preference and asymmetry is well known. A recent surprising study showed that Australian kangaroos are left handed (see The Hindu, 20-06-15, and Giljov et al., Current Biology, 25, 1-7, 2015)! This study suggests that such preference may be common in bipedal animals, while tetrapods (four-legged animals) do not display any such preference. Four years ago, Brown and Magat reported that not just bipedal mammals, but even parrots show individual preference of one limb over the other to explore the environment or manipulate objects (Biol. Lett. 2011, 7, 496-498). This interesting result follows similar studies on chicken and pigeons.

Dr. Lesley Rogers, who studied chickens, suggests a connection between the regions of the brain (the hemispheres) and handedness. Her study and the more recent parrot study suggest a connection between the eye and handedness. If a parrot, for example focused on food (say a fruit) with its right eye, then it apparently would tend to use its right foot to grasp and move the food around. And one which focuses using the left eye will use its left. This theory thus connects the hemisphere (right or left) of the brain with the handedness of the animal, that is: whichever hemisphere dominates should determine the handedness. To put it blandly: “right eye leads to and right handedness, and left eye to left”. This theory too needs further validation before it can be accepted.

I believe we have a good opportunity to test this ‘eye-handedness’ connection in our eye institutions. One way of doing so is to study newborn children who are born with both eyes blind, specifically due to cataract. We want newborns, because they have not been weaned away from their inherent, natural, handedness, and cataract because their vision can be successfully restored after surgery soon enough. If we were to mount a multi-centre project to study each of these infants for their handedness before and after vision restoration, we might have an answer to the eye-handedness connection theory. We propose discussing this with other eye centres (and neonatal clinics) and take on this project.

Mars orbiter scores 100 rounds

The Indian Mars orbiter spacecraft completed its 100th orbit around Mars on Monday. It is also gradually coming out of the blackout it had entered earlier this month, Indian Space Research Organisation has said.

The payloads on the spacecraft are to be re-started in a few weeks. They were last operated on May 27 to put the spacecraft in an autonomous mode.

MOM remains healthy and all its payloads are performing satisfactorily, ISRO said. The Mars Colour Camera has taken 405 frames so far.

“The spacecraft’s health data is now being received,” ISRO said adding the orbiter now had an elliptical orbit of 474 km and 71, 132 km from the red planet.

Since early June, the Mars Orbiter and Mars were moving behind Sun as viewed from Earth. Two-way signals were disrupted by solar activities.

Launched from Indian spaceport of Sriharikota on November 5, 2013, MOM reached the red planet in September last year and has outlived its planned mission life of six months in a Martian orbit.

Maharashtra declares Blue Mormon as state butterfly

Maharashtra government on Monday declared Blue Mormon as the state butterfly.

The state is also the first in the country to make such announcement.

The decision was taken in a meeting of the state Wildlife Board here chaired by Finance Minister Sudhir Mungantiwar.

Maharashtra already has Indian Giant Squirrel (Shekru) as its state animal, Yellow Footed Green Pigeon (Hariyal) as state bird, mango as state tree, and Lagerststroemia (Jarul) as state flower but did not have butterfly as one of the symbols representing its flora and fauna.

“Nature-lovers have always been fascinated by butterfly. The state is home to nearly 225 varieties of butterflies and home to about 15 per cent of their population in the country. No state in the country has ever declared a state butterfly and the species has been one of the most neglected elements,” Mungantiwar told reporters here.

He said Maharashtra has become the first state to have a state butterfly.

“Academicians, research scholars on butterflies and nature-lovers have requested the forest minister (Mungantiwar also holds Forest department) to consider ‘Blue Mormon’ for the coveted title,” the minister said. ” (Papilio polymnestor) is the second largest by size, only behind the southern birdwing.

It has velvet, black wings with bright blue spots. The lower end of the wings are black while the body has some red spots on one side. Interestingly, it is only found in Sri Lanka, western ghats of Maharashtra, South India and coastal belts of the country.

Occasionally, this butterfly is also spotted from Vidharbha to Western Maharashtra.

Over 800 ‘ultra dark’ galaxies filled with mysterious dark matter found

NASA, Commercial Industry Creating Historic Economic Opportunities

Never in the history of spaceflight has potential for economic growth been so widespread or space so accessible to American industry, researchers, innovators and explorers.

Today, American companies are sending hundreds of experiments to orbit that improve products and benefit our lives on Earth. Students are monitoring satellites of their own design while scientists are studying Earth right now, in real-time, from orbit.

NASA astronauts are advancing the knowledge we need to send humans on our Journey to Mars. It’s a reality made possible by the International Space Station and the U.S. commercial space industry, opening the high frontier of space.

Some 250 miles overhead, space station astronauts are hard at work on experiments not possible on Earth, carried to space by NASA’s commercial and international partners.

The lack of gravity inside the space station and extreme environment of space outside our orbiting outpost create new possibilities for research in areas ranging from medical treatments, advanced materials manufacturing, robotics and even efficient water recycling and plant growth.

The space station’s altitude and inclination also provide a unique vantage point for commercial companies to experiment with Earth-monitoring and -viewing equipment.

The space station is a national asset that actively improves lives on our home planet. In fact, a portion of the space station has been designated a U.S. National Laboratory dedicated to wide-ranging scientific research.

Businesses, researchers and educators interested in learning about the space station’s facilities and how to fly experiments to orbit can work with the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS), which manages the national lab under a cooperative agreement with NASA and helps maximize its use. The nonprofit CASIS selects research and funds projects, and connects investors and scientists, making access to the station faster and easier while fostering America’s new space economy.

To date, CASIS has provided millions in funding for dozens of experiments successfully flown to the space station and returned to researchers on Earth. Companies like Merck, Novartis and Proctor & Gamble have made research advances aboard the laboratory. Current and upcoming CASIS-sponsored research could transform understanding of physical and life sciences, clean energy, materials manufacturing and our changing planet.

A significant portion of the commercial research taking place aboard the station is made possible by NanoRackshardware. The company has invested privately raised capital toprovide laboratory facilities for small payloads, including cubesats deployed from the space station, that make research faster and more affordable. Future plans include an external module for experiments that will be attached to the outside of the orbiting complex.

Under its cooperative agreement with NASA, CASIS will co-host this year’s ISS Research and Development Conference with the American Astronautical Society in Boston July 7-9. Attendees will learn more about the space station’s research potential. NASA is also collaborating in the upcoming Space Commerce Conference and Exposition (SpaceCom) in Houston Nov. 17-19, which will explore opportunities for business innovation in space across the medical, energy, transportation, communications and advanced manufacturing industries.

Emerging commercial opportunities in low-Earth orbit are made possible by the growing U.S. commercial spaceflight industry, which will play a leading role this century in opening space for public and private innovation. Two U.S. commercial partners, SpaceX and Orbital ATK, are routinely providing cargo transportation services aboard new spacecraft and rockets. The increased cadence of launches has significantly increased the amount of research being conducted.

NASA also plans to use a new generation of spacecraft, privately developed and operated by Boeing and SpaceX, to carry as many as four astronauts per mission, increasing the space station crew complement to seven and doubling the amount of scientific research that can be performed. Preparations are already taking place to reconfigure the space station in preparation for commercial crew.

NASA’s work with commercial industry for low-Earth orbit transportation benefits the American public in two important ways. First, it allows NASA to expand human exploration efforts to destinations deeper in the solar system, including to an asteroid and Mars. Commercial companies are providing many of the key innovations needed for these missions now and in the future.

The second benefit is economic, with NASA stimulating the growth of a robust U.S. commercial space industry. NASA’s Commercial Crew Program alone has more than 150 subcontractors across 37 states helping create modern space systems for low-Earth orbit transportation. This means high-paying careers in the critical science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields that will ensure the United States maintains its leadership in 21st century spaceflight. New markets are emerging with these new capabilities in spaceflight, creating the potential for private research, space tourism and other endeavors beyond the public purposes of NASA’s space exploration.

Perhaps most importantly, NASA’s work with the private sector to enable research and new transportation systems is creating a modern space age, where opportunities just beyond our atmosphere are open to everyone, limited only by our imaginations.

How do you weigh the Milky Way anyway?

It’s not as though, to gauge the weight of a galaxy, you can just pop it on scales and have the figure shown on a display. In order to calculate the mass of a cosmic object, astronomers need to observe the effect it has on other objects around it.

In the case of stars and planets, this is achieved by using Newton’s Law of Universal Gravitation, which states that two bodies will be attracted to each other with a force that is directly proportional to the product of their masses, and inversely proportional to the square distance between them. It’s maffs.

When it comes to galaxies, it’s a lot harder to calculate mass. The Milky Way galaxy for example, contains around 100 billion stars, which form a disc with a diameter between 100,000 and 200,000 light-years. This wide variable makes it difficult to measure.

The weight of the Milky Way is hotly contested and has only been calculated within a factor of four — that is, its estimated maximum weight is four times its estimated minimum weight.

To clarify the weight of the Milky Way, an international team of researchers led by Columbia University’s Andreas Küpper investigated streams of stars outside the galaxy’s borders,publishing their findings in The Astrophysical Journal.

The star streams come from dissolving globular clusters, born when the universe was still in its infancy. These streams, the team demonstrated, can be used to determine both the weight of the galaxy and also the location of the sun within it.

“They orbit around the Milky Way and slowly disintegrate over the course of billions of years, leaving a unique trace behind,” Küpper explained on his blog. “Such star streams stick out from the rest of the stars on the sky as they are dense and coherent, much like contrails from airplanes easily stick out from regular clouds.”

Sloan Digital Sky Survey image of the Northern Hemisphere sky. The Palomar 5 stream is the densest discovered so far.Ana Bonaca, Marla Geha and Nitya Kallivayalil with data from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey

Using data from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, which collated a decade’s worth of scans of the northern sky for a comprehensive star catalogue, the team examined a stream created by globular cluster named Palomar 5, discovered in 2001. Co-author Eduardo Balbinot of the University of Surrey, England, found density wiggles — inconsistency in the density of the stream.

“We found the wiggles to be very pronounced and regularly spaced along the stream,” Balbinot said. “Such variations cannot be random.”

The team then created several million models of the stream using Columbia University’s Yeti supercomputer. By comparing observational data of the wiggle pattern with the models, the team was able to calculate the mass of the galaxy: only within a certain narrow size and weight could the galaxy have produced the Palomar 5 wiggles. Smaller or larger models would have produced different patterns.

The team calculated the mass of the Milky Way within a radius of 60,000 light-years to be 210 billion solar masses, with an uncertainty of only 20 percent.

“In the future, we aim at using more structures like the Palomar 5 stream to gain an even higher precision and to create the most realistic model of the Milky Way to date. From the improved precision we hope to learn about the formation and composition of our home galaxy, and to understand how the Milky Way compares with other galaxies in the Universe,” Küpper said.

“So far, the results indicate that the Milky Way is a healthy patient — neither too skinny nor too heavy for its size.”.


Two of Pluto’s moons, Nix and Hydra wobble unpredictably, observes NASA

Two of Pluto’s moons, Nix and Hydra, wobble unpredictably, according to a comprehensive analysis of data from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope.

The moons wobble because they are embedded in a gravitational field that shifts constantly, researchers said.

This shift is created by the double planet system of Pluto and Charon as they whirl about each other. Pluto and Charon are called a double planet because they share a common centre of gravity located in the space between the bodies. Their variable gravitational field sends the smaller moons tumbling erratically. The effect is strengthened by the football-like, rather than spherical, shape of the moons.

Scientists believe it’s likely Pluto’s other two moons, Kerberos and Styx, are in a similar situation.

“Prior to the Hubble observations, nobody appreciated the intricate dynamics of the Pluto system,” said Mark Showalter of the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California, who conducted the study with Doug Hamilton of the University of Maryland at College Park.

“Our research provides important new constraints on the sequence of events that led to the formation of the system,” Showalter said.

The researchers also found three of Pluto’s moons are presently locked together in resonance, meaning there is a precise ratio for their orbital periods.

“If you were sitting on Nix, you would see that Styx orbits Pluto twice for every three orbits made by Hydra,” noted Hamilton.

Hubble data also showed that the moon Kerberos is as dark as a charcoal briquette, while the other frozen moons are as bright as sand.

It was predicted that dust blasted off the moons by meteorite impacts should coat all the moons, giving their
surfaces a homogeneous look, which makes Kerberos’ colouring very surprising, researchers said.

NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft, which will fly by the Pluto system in July, may help settle the question of the asphalt-black moon, as well as the other oddities uncovered by Hubble.

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