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NASA launches first ever solar probe to ‘touch the sun’

by UNTV News   |   Posted on Monday, August 13th, 2018

Parker Solar Probe launch (Image courtesy to NASA/Bill Ingalls)

 

NASA on Sunday (August 12) launched a probe that will head closer to the Sun than any other spacecraft before it, enduring wicked heat while zooming through the solar corona to study this outermost part of the stellar atmosphere that gives rise to the solar wind.

The Parker Solar Probe, a robotic spacecraft the size of a small car, launched from Cape Canaveral in Florida, for the planned seven-year mission. It is set to fly into the Sun’s corona within 3.8 million miles (6.1 million km) from the solar surface, seven times closer than any other spacecraft.

The previous closest pass to the Sun was by a probe called Helios 2, which in 1976 came within 27 million miles (43 million km). By way of comparison, the average distance from the Sun for Earth is 93 million miles (150 million km).

The corona gives rise to the solar wind, a continuous flow of charged particles that permeates the solar system.

Unpredictable solar winds cause disturbances in our planet’s magnetic field and can play havoc with communications technology on Earth. NASA hopes the findings will enable scientists to forecast changes in Earth’s space environment.

The project, with a $1.5 billion price tag, is the first major mission under NASA’s Living With a Star programme.

The probe is set to use seven Venus flybys over nearly seven years to steadily reduce its orbit around the Sun, using instruments designed to image the solar wind and study electric and magnetic fields, coronal plasma and energetic particles.

NASA aims to collect data about the inner workings of the highly magnetized corona.

The probe, named after American solar astrophysicist Eugene Newman Parker, will have to survive difficult heat and radiation conditions. It has been outfitted with a heat shield designed to keep its instruments at a tolerable 85 degrees Fahrenheit (29 degrees Celsius) even as the spacecraft faces temperatures reaching nearly 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit (1,370 degrees Celsius) at its closest pass. — Reuters

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NASA’s Voyager 2 enters interstellar space

by UNTV News   |   Posted on Tuesday, December 11th, 2018

 

 

Animation of Voyager 2 probe in space | NASA-JPL HANDOUT via REUTERS

NASA announced on Monday (December 10) that the second of its two Voyager probes had entered interstellar space.

Data obtained from Voyager 2 found that the spacecraft exited the protective bubble of particles and magnetic fields created by the Sun, known as the heliosphere on November 5. Voyager 1 crossed the same boundary in 2012.

Voyager Project scientist Dr. Ed Stone said that the two Voyagers crossed at different points of the heliosphere, giving scientists a variety of data to analyze.

Suzanne Dodd, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Director for the Interplanetary Network Directorate, said the Voyagers are ageing, requiring scientists to turn off some onboard instruments to keep them operating. But she said she hoped they could go on for another nine years.

Voyager 2 is currently 11 billion miles (18 billion kilometers) from Earth and information takes about 16.5 hours to travel from the spacecraft to Earth. — Reuters

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NASA’s InSight spacecraft lands on Mars

by UNTV News   |   Posted on Thursday, November 29th, 2018

 

Photo of Mars | NASA via REUTERS

NASA’s InSight spacecraft landed on Mars on Monday.

Employees of Lockheed Martin, the builders of the InSight spacecraft, gathered for a Mars landing. The success rate for such endeavors over the years is just 40 percent.

“Landing on Mars is very hard. We’ve done everything. We have prepared the team, prepared the spacecraft, but now we need a little bit of luck on our side as well,” said Beth Buck, mission operations program manager of Lockheed Martin.

It’s a complicated and risky process as all kinds of things may have gone wrong. The spacecraft, out of touch with Earth, slowed from 21,000 kilometers per hour when it hit Mars’ surface seven minutes later.

Using a robotic arm, InSight has deployed a high-tech seismometer built by the French space agency to listen for Martian earthquakes as well as a self-hammering nail with heat sensors built by the German space agency that will dig five meters deep into the surface to gauge the planet’s internal temperature, all to better understanding a place that’s been much less geologically active than Earth.

“So we’re trying to understand that connection. We’re trying to understand a body that’s smaller, a body that although it was formed 4.5 billion years ago along with Earth, it has formed differently,” said Tim Linn, the entry, descent and landing manager of the Insight lander at Lockheed Martin.

Shortly after the landing, InSight beamed back a photo of Mars. Information gathered during this mission could be useful when humans travel to the planet in the future. — Reuters

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Space crew survives plunge to Earth after Russian rocket fails

by UNTV News   |   Posted on Friday, October 12th, 2018

A plane carrying astronauts landing on the tarmac in Baikonur, Kazakhstan | NASA via REUTERS

A two-man U.S.-Russian crew of a Soyuz spacecraft bound for the International Space Station was safe following a dramatic emergency landing on Thursday (October 11) shortly after lift-off in Kazakhstan when their rocket failed in mid-air.

U.S. astronaut Nick Hague and Russian cosmonaut Alexei Ovchinin landed safely and rescue crews who raced to locate them on the Kazakh steppe quickly linked up with them, according to the U.S. space agency NASA and Russia’s space agency Roscosmos.

The emergency occurred as the first and second stages of a booster rocket separated shortly after launch from Kazakhstan’s Soviet-era cosmodrome of Baikonur.

“It just reemphasizes that this is a dangerous business,” NASA’s deputy chief assistant, Reid Wiseman, said during a briefing at the Johnson Space Center.

The Soyuz capsule carrying the two men separated from the malfunctioning rocket and made what NASA called a steep ballistic descent to Earth with parachutes helping to slow its speed. A cloud of sand billowed up as the capsule came down on the desert steppe.

The capsule took 34 minutes to reach the ground after it separated from the faulty rocket, NASA said.

Rescue crews then raced to the scene to retrieve them, including paratroopers parachuting to their landing spot, helicopters and all-terrain vehicles, NASA said.— Reuters

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