Inouye Solar Telescope Captures Stunning Image of a Sunspot

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There is a renewed interest in solar science as many space agencies around the world are studying the Sun to unearth the mysteries of its evolution. The US National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Inouye Solar Telescope is helping astronomers in this effort. The world’s largest telescope recently began its first science observations and NSF shared on Twitter what it saw: a striking new sunspot image. The Inouye had its eyes on the Sun as the Parker Solar Probe (PSP) ventured into a solar region known as the corona in a historic first.

The Inouye telescope, based in Hawaii, has been in the making for over 25 years and is now poised to revolutionise the way we understand the Sun and its impact on Earth. 

The corona is of extreme interest to researchers as many yet-to-be-explained solar activities take place there, including why the flow of charged particles suddenly accelerates in the region. This activity is of particular interest because of coronal mass ejections (CMEs) that can potentially hit Earth, damaging the power grids, communications networks, and satellites in near-Earth orbits.

The NSF, a public research institute aimed at advancing the knowledge of the physics of the Sun, has shared a high-resolution image of solar sunspots captured by the Inouye. “Thanks to powerful technology and sophisticated processing National Science Foundation’s Inouye Solar Telescope has given the world a striking new sunspot image. With details as small as 20km across, the Inouye had its eyes on the Sun as NASA Sun & Space PSP approached the corona,” NatlSolarObservatory (@NatSolarObs) tweeted.

A subsequent tweet added that the diameter of the dark part of the sunspot (called the umbra) is about the same diameter as Earth.

The Inouye telescope began its science operations in February this year.


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SpaceX CEO Elon Musk Responds to Russian Space Chief’s Warning on Future of ISS

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Elon Musk has said his company SpaceX would save the International Space Station (ISS) from crashing after the head of the Russian space agency warned that the crippling sanctions announced by the West against Moscow could lead to the ISS falling into the US, Europe, or India. In a Twitter thread, Roscosmos chief Dmitry Rogozin had warned the sanctions announced in response to the Russian military action in Ukraine have the potential to destroy the cooperation on ISS. He had asked who would save the space station from an “uncontrolled deorbit” if Russia were to pull out of the cooperation. Musk responded by simply tweeting an image of SpaceX.

The ISS, a multi-nation project, has been in orbit for more than 21 years. Crew from 15 different countries occupy it on a rotational basis to enable research and help expand our understanding of space. Currently, four NASA astronauts, two Russian cosmonauts, and one from European Space Agency (ESA) are staying on the space station.

Despite the US and other Western countries announcing sanctions on Russia for launching a military operation in Ukraine, NASA said it would continue cooperation with Russians on operating ISS.

Days later, the Roscomos chief shared his warning on Twitter. “If you block cooperation with us, who will save the ISS from an uncontrolled deorbit and fall into the United States or Europe?” he asked. “There is also the option of dropping a 500-tonne structure to India or China. Do you want to threaten them with such a prospect? The ISS does not fly over Russia, so all the risks are yours. Are you ready for them?” he said in a second tweet.

Musk said SpaceX would save the ISS from falling to Earth.

The SpaceX CEO later confirmed he meant it.

The ISS, about the length of a football field, orbits some 400km above Earth. It is set to be decommissioned by January 2031, with a plan to crash it into the Pacific Ocean in controlled deorbit.


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NASA Says Artemis I Wet Dress Rehearsal Delayed Again, Likely Now in Mid-March

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NASA has again delayed the final prelaunch test of Artemis I, an uncrewed mission that will be the stepping stone for returning humans to the Moon after several decades. The wet dress rehearsal was previously scheduled for February and has now been postponed to mid-March. This could now delay the actual launch of Artemis I to April or May. The agency said this delay is a result of the additional time needed to complete “closeout activities” inside the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, US, as the rocket will be rolled out in the open for the first time.

NASA is testing the most powerful rocket ever built for the Artemis mission. The rocket, called the Space Launch System (SLS), will be topped by an Orion spacecraft. Together, they stand tall at 322 feet. The wet rehearsal will verify the system for the final time before the actual launch. It includes running the full set of operations until the launch countdown without actually launching the rocket. If all parameters are deemed okay, the system will head back into the VAB and wait for the actual launch.

The US space agency said in a statement that it will roll the combined rocket and spacecraft out of the VAB for testing “no earlier than March 2022”. “While the teams are not working on any major issues, NASA has added additional time to complete closeout activities inside the VAB prior to rolling the rocket out for the first time,” it added.

Tom Whitmeyer, the deputy associate administrator for exploration systems development at NASA, said that the team is taking time to be careful. “This is the part where we’re closing things out and getting ready to launch, and there’s a lot of activities associated with that,” Whitmeyer told CNN.

In October last year, NASA had announced that it was targeting a mid-February to launch Artemis I, which was originally scheduled to take off in November 2021. It had provided two additional launch opportunities then — March 12-27 and April 8-23.


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Want to Know What Hubble Telescope Saw on Your Birthday? This NASA Tool Will Help You Find Out

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Since its launch three decades ago, NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has captured millions of stunning images of the cosmos. On its first launch anniversary on April 24 in 1991, it observed something amazing. It’s called the Cygnus Loop supernova remnant and it is located 2,600 light-years away from Earth. Sharing the image on Twitter, NASA asked its followers to find out what the observatory saw on their birthdays using a Web tool it has created for it.

NASA also asked users to reply to its tweet to let others know what they come across using the tool. “Hubble saw something amazing on the anniversary of its April 24 launch — the Cygnus Loop supernova remnant. What did the telescope see on your special day? Find out and reply with your NASA birthday picture,” NASA tweeted.

When you use the free-for-all online tool, you will be prompted to submit your birth date. Once you do that, the tool will throw up the details of what Hubble saw on that particular day. For example, if your birthday falls on February 4, the tool will tell you that the Hubble saw Galaxy Cluster MACS J0717.5+3745 on this day in 2005. While you can choose your specific date and month, you can’t select a specific year as the tool shows results from over several years.

When a user replied that Hubble saw the Cartwheel galaxy on her birthday and shared its image, NASA too responded with the details of the galaxy and said excitedly, “We’re flipping out”.

NASA regularly creates such tools to engage with its audience and educate them in a fun way. It separately runs Ask The Expert series on its social media channels. Through video, NASA officials explain the mysteries of the universe. For instance, NASA experts recently explained why there are no rainbows on Mars.


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NASA Shares Stunning Images Created by Combining Data From Hubble Space Telescope, Chandra X-Ray Observatory

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NASA has shared a set of three images from the universe on social media, highlighting the collaboration between its two observatories. The collaboration showed what kind of images could be produced when you look at the same object in two wavelengths of light. NASA said the images were created by combining the data from its Hubble Space Telescope, in space, and Chandra X-Ray Observatory on the ground. The results are absolutely stunning. “Through combining data from telescopes that can detect different kinds of light, we can fully investigate cosmic phenomena,” the agency said.

It has explained how images are created by combining two separate data sets. NASA said the universe emits light and energy through many forms and Chandra X-Ray’s observing abilities allow them to explore super hot and energetic processes across the universe.

The first image in the Instagram post is of R Aquarii. This, in fact, is a pair of a steadily burning white dwarf star and a highly variable red giant orbiting each other. The white dwarf pulls material from the red giant onto its surface. When enough material is accumulated, it triggers an explosion. The data captured by Hubble is shown in this image as red and blue, while those by Chandra X-Ray appear in purple.

The second image features the Guitar Nebula and an x-ray stream (in pink) jetting out from a pulsar, almost perpendicular to the nebula. The Guitar Nebula got its name because of its shape in optical light (blue, or appearing as a hollow guitar).

The third one has galaxies merging after a collision between a spiral galaxy and a smaller galaxy. This gravitational interaction can create waves of star formation. Chandra’s X-Ray data (in purple) was combined with an optical image from the Hubble Space Telescope (red, green, and blue).

Given the complex process in which data sets from two observatories are combined and the amazing results that they give, NASA rightly captioned the post, “By our powers combined…”

What do you have to say about this?


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Potentially Hazardous Asteroid Heading Towards Earth Captured in Image

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A giant asteroid, estimated to be up to 1.3km in diameter, is heading towards us and will make a close pass by next month. The potentially hazardous asteroid, called 138971 (2001 CB21), will come as close as 4.5 million km. But scientists say there is no need to worry as the asteroid will be about 13 times the average lunar distance at its closest. However, the celestial object will be travelling at a stunning speed of over 26,800 miles per hour. The close encounter will happen on March 4 at about 3:00am ET (1:30pm IST).

An astronomer at the Virtual Telescope Project in Italy has captured an image of the asteroid hurtling towards us on January 30. Gianluca Masi, the astronomer, found the object using an Earth-based telescope when it was about 35 million kilometres away.

In the image shared on the website of the Virtual Telescope Project, the asteroid can be seen as a small white dot highlighted by an arrow at the center. It was captured during a single 420-second exposure, taken remotely with the “Elena”, a robotic telescope unit.

A report in Newsweek said the asteroid completes an orbit of the Sun in 384 days, a little more than what Earth takes to go around the Sun. The asteroid’s classification as “potentially hazardous” does not mean it could hit us. It means that it is capable of coming very close to us. The classification also takes into account the size of the asteroid. Last month, another asteroid came relatively close to Earth. Called 7482 (1994 PC1), it was over 1 kilometre wide and whizzed past Earth on January 18.

While no threat of a collision from an asteroid has been detected so far, NASA is working on building capability to deal with such a situation if that arises in the future. It has launched the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission to crash a spacecraft into an asteroid to give it a nudge to change in its trajectory. The crash is not expected before September-October 2022.


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James Webb Space Telescope Begins Three-Month Aligning Process, Detects First Photons in Space

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NASA has begun a three-month process to align the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), so that the $10-billion (roughly Rs. 74,710 crore) observatory could start doing what it was sent for: study the universe like never before. It also recently saw the first particles of light making their way through the entire telescope. So far, this is the closest scientists have come to realising their ultimate goal with the telescope. During the initial process, the images remain blurred and scientists will use them slowly to fine-tune the telescope. The observatory is expected to be ready for science by summer this year.

The agency said James Webb’s Near Infrared Camera (NIRCam) detected the first photons of starlight that travelled through the telescope. A team of engineers and scientists will now use the data taken with NIRCam to gradually align the telescope’s 18 mirrors to form a fresh lens, NASA added.

James Webb was launched aboard an Ariane 5 rocket on Christmas last year. Since then, scientists have carried out several processes to unfold it. Exactly a month after the launch, the telescope reached the Lagrange Point 2 (L2), about 1.5 million kilometres from Earth on its nightside, from where it will quietly observe the intriguing events of the cosmos. L2 is a gravitationally stable point in space.

John Mather, the project’s chief scientist, said recently that the telescope’s “instruments are cooling” but they have started to detect individual particles of light (photons). According to a report by Space.com, Mather, a Nobel laureate and astrophysicist, said there were no images to show the world yet but he hoped they are able to develop images soon.

NASA said in a statement that the telescope-commissioning process will take much longer than previous space telescopes because James Webb’s primary mirror consists of 18 individual mirror segments that need to work together as a single high-precision optical surface.

James Webb will take about five more months to pass through a rigorous commissioning process to actually start its job. Its images are expected to be different from those captured by the Hubble telescope as it will see things largely in infrared while Hubble uses different infrared wavelengths, along with visible light.


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Can Dying Stars Give Birth to New Planets? Here’s What Scientists Have to Say

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Planets do not take much longer to form after stars have formed. For example, the Sun formed 4.6 billion years ago and the Earth about 4.5 billion years ago. However, scientists now say it is not necessarily the only possibility. They say planets can form even if a star is nearing its death, long after the star was formed. Dying stars leading to the formation of planets is a completely new theory. If confirmed, this finding can change how we understand the functions of the universe and planetary evolution.

In our solar system, Earth and other planets did not take much time to form after the Sun originated first. Within a million years of the Sun’s birth, matter around it clumped into a protoplanetary disc. This disc, a gigantic pancake made of dust and gas with the Sun in the middle, is where planets were formed. But new stars, like the Sun in this case, aren’t the only stars with a disc of raw material rotating around them. Some old, dying stars, too, have these discs. For example, around binary stars — two stars that orbit each other — one of which is dying.

A study titled,“A population of transition disks around evolved stars: Fingerprints of planets”, published in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics, says the second star’s gravitational pull may lead the expelled material from the dying star to form a new revolving disc. But that’s already known. What’s new is the possibility that a second generation of planets can form in the disc. The study says this is how planets are forming in one in 10 of these binary stars.

The study’s first author and KU Leuven astronomer Jacques Kluska said that they found a big cavity in the disc in 10 percent of the evolved binary stars with discs that they analysed. Kluska added that this indicated that something was floating nearby and had collected all the matter in the cavity’s vicinity.

This object most certainly could be a planet but astronomers aren’t sure yet. More research is likely to unfold the mystery.


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Scientists Cure COVID in Hamsters With Inhaled Nanobodies: Study

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Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine in Pennsylvania, US, said in a recent paper that they have developed an “effective, low-cost therapeutic intervention” to block the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Syrian hamsters. The therapy, called the Pittsburgh inhalable Nanobody 21 (PiN-21), could provide a needle-free alternative to monoclonal antibodies for treating early infections. The nanobody is administered directly through the nose or by inhalation, the researchers said. However, it’s yet to be determined whether this treatment could work for humans.

Published in the peer-reviewed journal Science Advances, the paper said intranasal delivery of PiN-21 at 0.6 mg/kg protects infected animals (Syrian hamsters) from weight loss and substantially reduces viral burdens in both lower and upper airways. The researchers said that their therapy could provide a convenient and low-cost option to mitigate the ongoing pandemic.

Notably, they added, PiN-21 aerosols can be inhaled to target respiratory infection that drastically reduces viral loads and prevents lung damage and viral pneumonia.

To assess the efficacy of PiN-21, twelve hamsters were divided into two groups and infected with the coronavirus via the intratracheal route. Shortly after infection, the nanobody was delivered intranasally at an average dose of 0.6 mg/kg. The scientists then monitored the animals daily for weight change and symptoms of the disease. The hamsters showed rapid weight loss, up to 16% of their initial body weight, after a week of infection. However, concurrent delivery of PiN-21 through the nose eliminated any significant weight loss in the infected animals.

“We are very excited and encouraged by our data suggesting that PiN-21 can be highly protective against severe disease and can potentially prevent human-to-human viral transmission,” Yi Shi, the paper’s co-senior author and assistant professor of cell biology at the University of Pittsburgh, told Science Daily website.

The researchers added that nanobodies and vaccines are not aimed at competing with one another and they can complement each other. Vaccines can prevent new cases, but nanobodies can be used to treat those who already are sick and those who can’t get vaccinated for other medical reasons.

“COVID-19 is now a preeminent disease of the 21st century. Delivering the treatment directly to the lungs can make a big difference for our ability to treat it,” Doug Reed, the study co-author and associate professor of immunology at the varsity, told the website.


It’s an all television spectacular this week on Orbital, the Gadgets 360 podcast, as we discuss 8K, screen sizes, QLED and mini-LED panels — and offer some buying advice. Orbital is available on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Amazon Music and wherever you get your podcasts.
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NASA Mars Helicopter Ingenuity Ready for First Flight

NASA Mars Helicopter Ingenuity Ready for First Flight

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NASA helicopter placed on Mars could make its first flight over the Red Planet within two days after a successful initial test of its rotors, the US space agency said Friday. The current plan for the first-ever attempt at powered, controlled flight on another planet is for the four-pound (1.8kg) helicopter, dubbed the Ingenuity, to take off from Mars’ Jezero Crater on Sunday at 10:54pm US Eastern Time (8:24 am IST) and hover 10 feet (3 metres) above the surface for a half-minute, NASA said.

“The helicopter is good, it’s looking healthy,” said Tim Canham, Ingenuity operations lead, in a press conference. “Last night, we did our 50 RPM spin, where we spun the blades very slowly and carefully,” he said.

The plan for Sunday is to have it rise, flying only vertically, hover, and rotate for 30 seconds to take a picture of the Perseverance rover, which touched down on Mars on February 18 with the helicopter attached to its underside.

Then the Ingenuity will be lowered back down onto the surface.

The flight will be autonomous, pre-programmed into the aircraft because of the 15 minutes it takes for signals to travel from Earth to Mars, and also due to the demanding environment of the distant planet.

“Mars is hard not only when you land, but when you try to take off from it and fly around, too,” said MiMi Aung, Ingenuity project manager.

She explained that the planet has significantly less gravity than Earth, but less than one percent the pressure of Earth’s atmosphere at the surface.

The makes it necessary for the Ingenuity to be able to spin its rotor blades much faster than a helicopter on Earth in order to fly.

“Put those things together, and you have a vehicle that demands every input be right,” said Aung.

NASA captured the test of the rotors in a short video shot from the rover just a few meters away, showing what looks like a small drone.

Aung said a second test would be conducted today, with the rotors running at high speed.

“The only uncertainty remains the actual environment of Mars,” she said, mentioning possible winds.

NASA calls the unprecedented helicopter operation highly risky but says it could reap invaluable data about the conditions on Mars.

NASA plans up to five flights, each successively more difficult, in a period of a month.

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