India Eyes Mars, Venus And A World Record

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Indian Space Research Organization, ISRO, is planning an unprecedented  launch of 104 satellites on the same mission. The satellites will be carried into orbit aboard ISRO’s reliable workhorse, the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV). The launch is scheduled for February 15th, 2017 at 09:28 IST or 03:58 UTC.

The current record for maximum number of satellite launches in one go is  held by Russia, which had launched 37 satellites back in 2014.

On the topic of ISRO, it’s also planning to send a second mission to Mars. This will succeed Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) I, an orbiter that ISRO had put around Mars in 2013, becoming the first country in the world to be able to do that successfully on its first attempt. MOM II could potentially contain a lander and a rover, and ISRO is in talks with France to build the same by 2020.

Not only that, ISRO is having discussions around an orbiter mission for Venus, although nothing concrete has emerged yet.

More details: https://goo.gl/mf4y7p

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Now: Time Crystals; Next: Time Lords?

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Although the idea of time crystals is a a couple of years old, originally proposed in 2012, according to a new paper published recently, a physicist has been able to “describe(s) exactly how to make and measure the properties of such a crystal, and even predict(s) what the various phases surrounding the time crystal should be — akin to the liquid and gas phases of ice.”

The idea of time crystals is interesting because they are a special and new form of matter called “non-equilibrium matter”. The standard form of matter is made up of atoms and molecules that remain perfectly still at absolute zero (0 degree Kelvin or ~ -273 degree Celsius).

However, these “time crystals” have an inherent motion or “oscillation” even at this temperature, and are therefore never in equilibrium in terms of staying stationary. Finding out more about what causes such behaviour could lead to furthering our knowledge in the fields of quantum computing, perpetual motion machines, etc.

Source: http://news.berkeley.edu/2017/01/26/scientists-unveil-new-form-of-matter-time-crystals/

Reprogrammable Future

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Many people are surprised when told that out of all the major tech companies – Facebook, Google, Apple, Microsoft, Amazon – it is Microsoft that spends the most on research and development.

And with Satya Nadella at the head, who pushed for the creation of an internal organization called NeXT (New Experiences and Technologies), Microsoft is investing even more into its R&D programs.

One such bet being made by Microsoft is on FPGAs or Field Programmable Gate Arrays.

Typically, the circuits in the chips in any electronic device, like your mobile, laptop, or the servers underpinning the internet, are fixed – they are designed once and those chips can only be good to do jobs that they have been designed for; there’s no room for change. If you want a newer, better chip with an improved design, you have to re-create those chips at the hardware level.

But with FPGAs, the chips’ hardware is essentially redesigned via software. This can have huge implications for the tech giants of today, and the internet overall, as the data continues to grow exponentially, requiring ever more efficient hardware support.

To read more about how FPGAs became the core of Microsoft’s Bing and Azure services, see this link.

Dark Clouds Over Dark Matter?

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Before you get carried away by the title, let me clarify – the theory of “dark matter” is not going anywhere anytime soon. However, an old enemy, in the form of the “MoND” theory, is gathering strength. Depending on how further investigations into the matter go, the theory of dark matter may soon have a worthy challenger.

Read more here: https://briankoberlein.com/2016/09/29/galactic-motion-challenges-dark-matter/

“Ara” No More

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It wasn’t very long ago that news had come out from Google’s den that they are working on a “modular” phone – where you could swap out the different components of the phone (like the display, the camera, the processor, etc.) and simply replace them with another one. This modular phone was code named “Ara“. You can read more about that hereContinue reading

Video

When “real” meets “reel”

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“Reel” life, or what is more commonly known as a “video”, is something intangible – you can’t really see how it would react to “real” touch, how it would interact with you in real life. You can use video editing software to program some pre-built movements into the video, but these wouldn’t be “live”.

But a new development, based off a PhD dissertation from MIT, allows one to interact with videos like never before. See the following, non-interactive video for more details:

Site: interactivedynamicvideo.com

Cozying Upto Jupiter

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On August 27, 2016, NASA’s Juno spacecraft completed the closest flyby of Jupiter where it was just ~ 4,200 km from the cloud-tops! This is the closest that we’ve ever come to the giant planet!

Following image was taken by Juno when it was ~700,000 kms from Jupiter’s cloud-tops. The images from the recent closest orbit are not yet available; we need to wait a couple of weeks for those. But imagine what those will show us! 🙂

juno_082716
Details here: https://www.missionjuno.swri.edu/news/juno-completes-jupiter-flyby

Did You Miss Me?

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Wow! It’s been almost 2.5 years since my last post on this blog.

I’m quite sure nobody missed me. But if you are the one person in the world who did, do let me know. Seriously, comment! You have no idea (unless you are a writer) how much we (as in writers / bloggers) crave even the smallest engagement with our readers. I just might decide to post more frequently for you. 🙂

Anyway, I’m thinking of being more active from now on. Just like I’ve thought that on so many occasions before as well. Writing those lengthy articles takes time, which to be honest, is difficult to find when there are so many distractions and so many ways to procrastinate. 😛

So, I’m thinking, I’ll start small. From now on, you might be seeing shorter posts, sometimes, just links even. Once, I’m on a roll I’ll try to go into more detailed articles more frequently.

If you have a specific topic that you’d like to know about, tell me. If it’s something my non-technical background will allow me to write about, I will.

Bennu: Reaching For The Asteroids

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NASA is planning to launch a satellite mission to an asteroid and you have a chance to send your name along with it!

Tell Me More…

The satellite mission is going to study an asteroid named Bennu, and return samples back to Earth. The satellite will spend about 505 days around the asteroid, studying it from up close (from a distance varying from 5 km to 0.7 km), and collect at least 60g of samples from the same. The asteroid itself is about 1760 foot (500 meter) wide, or roughly the size of four football fields.

The Mission…

The mission is named Origins-Spectral Interpretation-Resource Identification-Security-Regolith Explorer, or OSIRIS-REx for short. It is part of NASA’s New Frontiers Program, which is aimed at exploring our solar system “with frequent, medium-class spacecraft missions that conduct high-quality, focused scientific investigations designed to enhance our understanding of the solar system”, according to the program’s website.

As part of this program, the OSIRIS-REx’s mission objectives include:

  • Returning and analysing a sample from the
  • Create maps of the asteroid
  • Document the sample site
  • Measure orbit deviations of the asteroid
  • Compare to ground-based telescope observations.

In addition to studying the nature and history of the asteroid’s constituent minerals and organic material, the mission will also attempt to glean information about the geological history of the asteroid – how it could’ve formed roughly 4.5 billion years ago when our solar system was just taking its baby steps in the universe.

It will also compare the result for this carbonaceous asteroid with those of other, similar asteroids observed from the Earth, as a sort of “calibration” of the Earth-based observations. To put it simply, suppose you make a measurement of some property ‘p’ (say, the mass) of the asteroid from Earth, and say, the value is ‘m1’. And then you make the same measurement of the same (or similar) object from up close. Suppose this time, the measurement comes out to be ‘m2’. This tells us that if we measure something as ‘m1’ from Earth, it’s actual, more accurate value would be ‘m2’. This is what is generally referred to as “calibration”.

Another very important objective of the mission is to accurately measure the “Yarkovsky effect” – the effect that an asteroid (and other rotating bodies) experience, as they are hit by high energy, momentum-carrying photons from the Sun. Due to the body’s rotation, as well as its uneven, irregular shape, this effect can cause changes in the object’s trajectory. Although the effect itself is small, but out there in space, in the absence of other external forces (like friction), the effect can be substantial as it accumulates over time (considering these are “astronomical” times – millions and billions of years). Studying this effect is a key as scientists try to devise strategies to protect our planet from stray asteroids. Having more information about this effect can help them predict asteroid trajectories, and even help them use it to their advantage by exposing an incoming asteroid to artificial radiation, in an attempt to move it out of Earth’s orbit. Not only that, this information could be very useful for the upcoming asteroid-capture mission being planned by NASA.

The Timeline…

The satellite will be launched in September, 2016. It will reach the asteroid in October, 2018 and will return the samples back to Earth in September, 2023.

What’s In It For Me…

To promote the mission, as well as general science outreach, OSIRIS-REx, in association with The Planetary Society, is giving space enthusiasts a chance to send their name to the asteroid. The names will be etched on a microchip to be sent with the satellite, and will return to Earth with the return sample. In addition, a copy of the names will also remain with the main satellite that will stay back with the asteroid. You didn’t think we’ll leave it out there in the cold, alone. Specially, since it’s taken roughly 4.5 billion years for something to get so close to it (poor Bennu) (well, in a matter of speaking; we don’t actually know that – it’s entirely possible the asteroid has had close encounters with other heavenly bodies).

To reach for the asteroid, all you have to do is, fill out the form on the following link, and you are all set!

www.planetary.org/bennu

They even give you a certificate so that you can boast about your achievement! Let me share and boast myself:

Bennu Calling

Remember, the last day to submit your names is September 30, 2014! Don’t miss it; don’t say we didn’t tell you.

Sources:

http://osiris-rex.lpl.arizona.edu

http://discoverynewfrontiers.nasa.gov/missions/missions_or.cfml