Our star is five billion years younger than most in the Milky Way


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Our sun is nearly 4.5 billion years — which means it missed the charming initial years of the Milky Way galaxy. If you were standing on a planet nearly about 10 billion years ago, when the Milky Way was pretty young, the night sky would have appeared very different. The image below is an artist’s impression of the night sky on a planet in a relatively young Milky Way-type galaxy, the way our galaxy was 10 billion years ago. You can see “the sky are ablaze with star birth. Pink clouds of gas harbor newborn stars, and bluish-white, young star clusters litter the landscape,” as NASA explains.

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Image Credit: NASA/ESA/Z. Levay (STScI)

A recent study of young galaxies like our own demonstrates that as these galaxies slow down creating stars, they also stop developing as quickly in general. Which is quite logical. NASA explains:

“Astronomers don’t have baby pictures of our Milky Way’s formative years to trace the history of stellar growth so they studied galaxies similar in mass to our Milky Way, found in deep surveys of the universe. The farther into the universe astronomers look, the further back in time they are seeing, because starlight from long ago is just arriving at Earth now. From those surveys, stretching back in time more than 10 billion years, researchers assembled an album of images containing nearly 2,000 snapshots of Milky Way-like galaxies. The new census provides the most complete picture yet of how galaxies like the Milky Way grew over the past 10 billion years into today’s majestic spiral galaxies. The multi-wavelength study spans ultraviolet to far-infrared light, combining observations from NASA’s Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes, the European Space Agency’s Herschel Space Observatory, and ground-based telescopes, including the Magellan Baade Telescope at the Las Campanas Observatory in Chile.”

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Above is a selection of Hubble Space Telescope photos, displaying how galaxies similar to our own developed over time.

Source : Physics-astronomy

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China Plans to Build a Solar Power Station in Space


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China plans to build a huge solar power station 36,000 kilometres above the ground in an attempt to battle smog, cut greenhouse gases and solve energy crisis, much on the lines of an idea first floated in 1941 by fiction writer Isaac Asimov, state media reported today.

If realised, it will surpass the scale of the Apollo project and the International Space Station, and be the largest-ever space project.

The power station would be a super spacecraft on a geosynchronous orbit equipped with huge solar panels. The electricity generated would be converted to microwaves or lasers and transmitted to a collector on Earth, state-run Xinhua news agency reported.

In 1941, American science fiction writer Isaac Asimov had published a short story “Reason”, in which a space station transmits energy collected from the sun using microwave beams.

Wang Xiji, an academician of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and an International Academy of Astronautics member, says Asimov’s fiction has a scientific basis.

After devoting over 50 years to space technology research, Wang, 93, is an advocate for the station: “An economically viable space power station would be really huge, with the total area of the solar panels reaching 5 to 6 sq km.”

That would be equivalent to 12 of Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, the largest public square in the world, or nearly two New York Central Parks. “Maybe people on Earth could see it in the sky at night, like a star,” says Wang.

Wang says the electricity generated from the ground-based solar plants fluctuates with night and day and the weather, but a space generator collects energy 99 per cent of the time.

Space-based solar panels can generate ten times as much electricity as ground-based panels per unit area, says Duan Baoyan, a member of the Chinese Academy of Engineering.

“If we have space solar power technology, hopefully we could solve the energy crisis on Earth,” Duan said.

Wang says whoever obtains the technology first “could occupy the future energy market. So it’s of great strategic significance.”

Countries such as the US and Japan have studied space solar power station. Japan leads the development of wireless power transmission technology. However, many hurdles lie ahead: A commercially viable space power station would weigh 10,000 tons. But few rockets can carry a payload of over 100 tons to low Earth orbit.

Continue reading China Plans to Build a Solar Power Station in Space

Black Hole 12 Billion Times Bigger Than the Sun Discovered


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Scientists say they have discovered a black hole so big that it challenges the theory about how they grow.

The scientists were initially reluctant to classify it as a black hole because it was too bright, its luminosity equal to the brightness of 420 trillion suns. Most of the people do not believe black holes to be bright, though they can be. This is particularly so because black holes suck everything inside them but just before that there is tremendous friction which produces a lot of light.

Scientists said this black hole was formed about 900 million years after the Big Bang.

But with measurements indicating it is 12 billion times the size of the Sun, the black hole challenges a widely accepted hypothesis of growth rates.

“Based on previous research, this is the largest black hole found for that period of time,” Dr Fuyan Bian, Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics, Australian National University (ANU).

“Current theory is for a limit to how fast a black hole can grow, but this black hole is too large for that theory.”

The creation of supermassive black holes remains an open topic of research. However, many scientists have long believed the growth rate of black holes was limited.

Black holes grow, scientific theory suggests, as they absorb mass. However, as mass is absorbed, it will be heated creating radiation pressure, which pushes the mass away from the black hole.

“Basically, you have two forces balanced together which sets up a limit for growth, which is much smaller than what we found,” said Bian.

The black hole was discovered a team of global scientists led by Xue-Bing Wu at Peking University, China, as part of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, which provided imagery data of 35 percent of the northern hemisphere sky.

The ANU is leading a comparable project, known as SkyMapper, to carry out observations of the Southern Hemisphere sky.

Bian expects more black holes to be observed as the project advances.

Source : Reuters , ScienceTimes

Russia to create joint orbital station with India, China


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Russia is exploring the possibility of a joint manned orbital station with India and China as part of a common strategy to create technological alliances and may take up the matter with the two Asian space giants in July.

“Moscow could propose to China and India to create a joint manned orbital station at the summit of the BRICS emerging economies in Russia’s Ufa in July,” a document drafted by the expert council at Russia’s military and industrial commission said.

The experts recommend “working out the possibilities of an international manned project with BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) countries as part of a common strategy of creating technological alliances”, Itar Tass reported.

The proposal comes after months of speculation that the crisis in Ukraine would doom U.S.-Russia space cooperation. For two decades this effort has largely been focused on the International Space Station project (ISS), which is due to end in 2020. NASA has proposed extending it to 2024, but Russia has suggested it might duck out and instead build its own space station — possibly with the participation of China.

The BRICS project would be roughly analogous to the ISS, a $150 billion project involving 15 nations. Anchored by the United States and Russia, the world’s leading spacefaring powers, the ISS allows countries with less advanced spaceflight capabilities to either join onto the station’s Russian and American segments or contribute smaller segments.

A BRICS space station would likely emerge from a similar two-nation partnership, again with Russia in a driver’s seat. The Military-Industrial Commission recommended approaching either China or India — both countries that have well-developed and increasingly ambitious space programs. The proposal would then allow other BRICS members to join.

India has yet to put a man in space without hitching rides on other nations’ rockets. Last year, it demonstrated its rising capabilities after launching an unmanned satellite to Mars on a shoestring budget.

China is perhaps the best partner for such a project. China already launches its own astronauts into space, and is designing its own medium-sized space station. The placement of Russia’s new Vostochny Cosmodrome in Russia’s Far East also makes close cooperation with China far easier.

Source : Times Of India , TheMoscowTimes

8 new planets found in ‘Goldilocks zone’, NASA may find Earth’s ‘twin’ very soon


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NASA is closer than ever to finding a twin for the Earth, astronomers said today, announcing the discovery of eight new planets that circle in the habitable zones of their stars.

Two of the eight are the most Earth-like of any known planets found so far outside our solar system, astronomers told the 225th meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Seattle, Washington.

The pair are likely to have hard, rocky surfaces in addition to being an orbiting distance from their stars that is neither too hot nor too cold for water and possibly life to exist, astronomers said. The discovery doubles the number of known planets that are close in size to the Earth and believed to be in the so-called “Goldilocks zone” of the stars they orbit.

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Representational image. AFP

“We are now closer than we have ever been to finding a twin for the Earth around another star,” said Fergal Mullally of the Kepler Science Office. “These candidates represent the closest analogs to the Earth’s own system found to date.”

The worlds were found with the help of NASA’s planet-hunting Kepler mission, a space telescope which has scoured more than 150,000 stars for planets beyond our solar system since its launch in 2009. The latest trove of candidate planets found by Kepler and announced today was 554, bringing the total potential planets to 4,175.

Scientists have recently verified the existence of the 1,000th planet found by Kepler.

“Three of the newly validated planets are located in their distant suns’ habitable zone, the range of distances from the host star where liquid water might exist on the surface of an orbiting planet,” NASA said in a statement. “Of the three, two are likely made of rock, like Earth.”

While it is intriguing to consider the possibility of life existing on another planet like ours, the two best candidates are so far away that learning more about them presents a big challenge.

Source : firstpost

Isro gets closer to manned mission, tests crew module


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ISRO’s GSLV Mark III (Click Image to Download)

This rocket didn’t put a satellite in orbit. In fact, its payload plunged into the Bay of Bengal 20 minutes after the vehicle lifted off from Sriharikota. And that made it a success, for it was the first step to India’s manned space mission.

Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) achieved success of a different kind on Thursday when its GSLV Mark III on a suborbital experimental flight carried an unmanned crew module which was ejected at a height of 126km. Re-entering the atmosphere, its parachutes ensured a soft-thud on the sea. Recovered by the Indian Coast Guard, the Crew Module Atmospheric Re-entry Experiment (CARE) will undergo tests to ascertain its efficiency in bringing back future astronauts from India.

“Everything went as per plan,” said ISRO chairman K Radhakrishnan. “After a decade of developing the GSLV Mk II, we have tasted the first success of an experimental flight. The performances of the solid and liquid stages were as expected. The unmanned crew module worked extremely well.”

Source : Times of india

Mars has gas, and Curiosity finds organic matter — fuzzy signs of life?


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It could be a sign, a vague one.

A NASA rover has found the building blocks of life on Mars. They might be the product of past or present life on the Red Planet — or they might not be.

Either way, the samples of organic matter in the atmosphere and in rock show that Mars may at least have once had conditions favorable to hosting life, NASA said in a statement. They also show that the planet is still chemically active.

The Curiosity rover’s tapping into organics in rock is the first find ever of life’s building blocks on Mars’ surface.

Gas blast

The rover has run into pockets of gas on Mars: methane, often used to fire up gas stoves back on Earth.

Organic matter is made up of carbon bonded with other elements, often hydrogen and oxygen. Living things are made up of it, but life is not necessary for it to exist.

Methane is the smallest organic compound, consisting of one carbon and four hydrogen atoms.

On our planet, methane is a fossil fuel, but it can also rise out of rotting sewage or fly through the air in flatulence.

In other words, it usually comes from something living, or something that was once alive.

No life found

That could be the case on Mars, too, NASA said in a statement this week.

But the space agency carefully points out that methane can also come from inanimate sources as well.

“There are many possible sources, biological or non-biological, such as interaction of water and rock,” said Sushil Atreya, a scientist on the Curiosity team.

At this point, NASA doesn’t know if microbes are behind the gas or just minerals.

Researchers used Curiosity’s instruments a dozen times to get a breath of methane, and four of those times, it peaked at a level 10 times higher than usual.

They believe it may have been puffed up from the ground like little burps.

Organic rock

Curiosity also found organic matter while drilling into stone.

“This first confirmation of organic carbon in a rock on Mars holds much promise,” said scientist Roger Summons, who works on the rover team.

Source : CNN

Discovery of a Pulsar and Supermassive Black Hole Pairing Could Help Unlock the Enigma of Gravity


Last year, the very rare presence of a pulsar (named SGR J1745-2900) was also detected in the proximity of a supermassive black hole (Sgr A**, made up of millions of solar masses), but there is a combination that is still yet to be discovered: that of a pulsar orbiting a ‘normal’ black hole; that is, one with a similar mass to that of stars.

The intermittent light emitted by pulsars, the most precise timekeepers in the universe, allows scientists to verify Einstein’s theory of relativity, especially when these objects are paired up with another neutron star or white dwarf that interferes with their gravity. However, this theory could be analysed much more effectively if a pulsar with a black hole were found, except in two particular cases, according to researchers from Spain and India.

Pulsars are very dense neutron stars that are the size of a city (their radius approaches ten kilometres), which, like lighthouses for the universe, emit gamma radiation beams or X-rays when they rotate up to hundreds of times per second. These characteristics make them ideal for testing the validity of the theory of general relativity, published by Einstein between 1915 and 1916.

“Pulsars act as very precise timekeepers, such that any deviation in their pulses can be detected,” Diego F. Torres, ICREA researcher from the Institute of Space Sciences (IEEC-CSIC), explains to SINC. “If we compare the actual measurements with the corrections to the model that we have to use in order for the predictions to be correct, we can set limits or directly detect the deviation from the base theory.”

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These deviations can occur if there is a massive object close to the pulsar, such as another neutron star or a white dwarf. A white dwarf can be defined as the stellar remnant left when stars such as our Sun use up all of their nuclear fuel. The binary systems, comprised of a pulsar and a neutron star (including double pulsar systems) or a white dwarf, have been very successfully used to verify the theory of gravity.

Until now scientists had considered the strange pulsar/black hole pairing to be an authentic ‘holy grail’ for examining gravity, but there exist at least two cases where other pairings can be more effective. This is what is stated in the study that Torres and the physicist Manjari Bagchi, from the International Centre of Theoretical Sciences (India) and now postdoc at the IEEC-CSIC, have published in the Journal of Cosmology and Astroparticle Physics. The work also received an Honourable Mention in the 2014 Essays of Gravitation prize.

The first case occurs when the so-called principle of strong equivalence is violated. This principle of the theory of relativity indicates that the gravitational movement of a body that we test only depends on its position in space-time and not on what it is made up of, which means that the result of any experiment in a free fall laboratory is independent of the speed of the laboratory and where it is found in space and time.

The other possibility is if one considers a potential variation in the gravitational constant that determines the intensity of the gravitational pull between bodies. Its value is G = 6.67384(80) x 10-11 N m2/kg2. Despite it being a constant, it is one of those that is known with the least accuracy, with a precision of only one in 10,000.

In these two specific cases, the pulsar-black hole combination would not be the perfect ‘holy grail’, but in any case scientists are anxious to find this pair, because it could be used to analyse the majority of deviations. In fact, it is one of the desired objectives of X-ray and gamma ray space telescopes (such as Chandra, NuStar or Swift), as well as that of large radio telescopes that are currently being built, such as the enormous ‘Square Kilometre Array’ (SKA) in Australia and South Africa.

Source : Daily galaxy

DON’T FORGET TO SEE NASA ‘S 21th CENTURY SPACE CAPSULE !


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Orion illustration (Click Image to Download)

NASA’s newest capsule, designed to take astronauts deeper into space than ever before, is ready to launch to space for the first time on Thursday (Dec. 4).

The space agency’s new Orion space capsule is scheduled to fly to orbit on an unmanned test flight at 7:05 a.m. EST (1205 GMT) from Space Launch Complex 37 here in Cape Canaveral, Florida Thursday before being recovered in the Pacific Ocean 4.5 hours later. Orion is currently positioned on top of the United Launch Alliance Delta 4 Heavy rocket that will deliver it into space on its ambitious test flight, and everything is looking good for launch day.

ORION FLIGHT TEST ANIMATED VIDEO BY NASA

Orion — which was built for NASA by Lockheed Martin — will orbit Earth twice during its test flight, called Exploration Test Flight-1 (EFT-1). On its second orbit, the spacecraft will climb about 3,600 miles (5,793 kilometers) above Earth’s surface, farther than any spacecraft made for humans has flown in more than 40 years.

You can watch the historic Orion flight live on Space.com via NASA TV Thursday at 4:30 a.m. EST (0930 GMT).

NASA plans to use the Orion capsule as part of a system that could bring humans to Mars or an asteroid towed into orbit around the moon for the first time.

Source : Space.com

NASA prepares to wake New Horizons ahead of historic Pluto flyby


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NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft comes out of hibernation on December 6 at 3:00 pm EST. Now about 2.9 billion miles (4.6 billion km) from Earth, and 162 million miles (260 million km) from Pluto, the spacecraft will be put through a month-long preparation for its six month flyby of Pluto, with the primary phase of the mission slated to begin on January 15.

New Horizons’ current state of hibernation means that most of the spacecraft’s systems are shut down except for monitors and a weekly beacon-status transmission. So far, the probe has gone through 18 hibernation phases since it launched in 2006. This works out to 1,873 days in hibernation or two-thirds of the Pluto flyby mission.

The hibernation technique, which NASA pioneered, is a way of conserving onboard resources, cutting down on mission control personnel time, reducing time on NASA’s Deep Space Network, and saving wear and tear on the spacecraft’s electronics. New Horizons was reawoken periodically over the years to check the systems, rehearse the flyby, perform course corrections, and upload software updates. Last August, the probe was programmed to wake up on the scheduled December date. NASA says that 90 minutes after coming back online, New Horizons will transmit a confirmation back to Earth. However, this signal will not reach Earth for 4 hours and 25 minutes due to the enormous distances involved.

Once out of hibernation, mission control will put New Horizons through its final system checks and course corrections, download science data, and write and upload software updates. During the flyby, the probe will use its suite of seven scientific instruments to map Pluto, study its topology, temperatures, geology, and composition, as well as study the planet’s moons and search for additional satellites.

One particular reason for the missions timing is that Pluto is currently in its late “summer” and scientists want to take the opportunity to study the planet’s atmosphere before it freezes again during its century-long winter. New Horizon’s instruments includes an advanced imaging infrared and ultraviolet spectrometers, compact multicolor camera, high-resolution telescopic camera, two particle spectrometers, space-dust detector, and two radio experiments.

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Real picture of Pluto and its Moon Charon taken by New Horizons

The US$650 million New Horizons mission was launched January 19, 2006 atop an Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida. The unmanned 478 kg (1,054 lb) nuclear-powered spacecraft was sent on a 9.5-year mission to fly by Pluto and then on to study selected objects in the Kuiper Belt. Sent on a slingshot trajectory using the gravitational pull of Jupiter, New Horizons passed the orbit of Neptune on August 24 and will rendezvous with Pluto on July 14 of next year, which it will pass at a distance of 13,000 km (8,000 mi).

According to NASA, the mission was fast tracked due to the increasing knowledge about the Kuiper Belt. Since Pluto is the most accessible object originating from there, it seemed a logical way to gain direct information. In addition, it is the first mission sent to the only unvisited planet (if you’re old school) in the Solar System.

NASA says that the flight team will be kept busy even after the flyby, because so much data will have been recorded that it won’t all be transmitted to Earth until October 2016.

“We’ve worked years to prepare for this moment,” says Mark Holdridge, New Horizons encounter mission manager at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory. “New Horizons might have spent most of its cruise time across nearly three billion miles of space sleeping, but our team has done anything but, conducting a flawless flight past Jupiter just a year after launch, putting the spacecraft through annual workouts, plotting out each step of the Pluto flyby and even practising the entire Pluto encounter on the spacecraft. We are ready to go.”

Source : gizmag