NASA’s 2018 missions list includes probe to ‘touch’ Sun

NASA is turning 60 in 2018 and the agency is looking forward to launching a slew of important missions in the coming year, including one to ‘touch’ the Sun. NASA’s Parker Solar Probe is scheduled for launch in 2018 to explore the Sun’s outer atmosphere.

The probe will use Venus’ gravity during seven flybys over nearly seven years to gradually bring its orbit closer to the Sun, according to a NASA statement. The spacecraft will fly through the Sun’s atmosphere as close as 6.2 million kilometers to our star’s surface, well within the orbit of Mercury and closer than any spacecraft has gone before.

The Parker Solar Probe will perform its scientific investigations in a hazardous region of intense heat and solar radiation. The primary science goals for the mission are to trace how energy and heat move through the solar corona and to explore what accelerates the solar wind as well as solar energetic particles.
In 2018, NASA will also add to its existing robotic fleet at the Red Planet with the InSight Mars lander designed to study the interior and subsurface of the planet. The US space agency’s first asteroid sample return mission, OSIRIS-REx, is scheduled to arrive at the near-Earth asteroid Bennu in August 2018, and will return a sample for study in 2023.

Launching no later than June 2018, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) will search for planets outside our solar system by monitoring 200,000 bright, nearby stars. To continue the long-term record of how Earth’s ice sheets, sea level, and underground water reserves are changing, NASA will also launch the next generation of two missions – ICESat-2 and GRACE Follow-On – in 2018.

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New species of blind fish discovered inside Meghalaya cave

A new species of blind fish has been discovered inside a cave in East Jaintia Hills district of Meghalaya, a New Zealand-based science journal has revealed.

The fish — Schistura larketensis — gets its name from Larket village, where the cave has been found, the journal, Zootaxa, said.
The species has apparently lost its sight living in the perpetual darkness inside the cave, a joint team of scientists from the Gauhati University and the North Eastern Hill University said.

It has also lost its pigments too while adapting to its habitat in the dark waters, they said.

The fish sample was collected from small stagnant pools, a few square meters in area and about 1-2 m in depth, about 1,600 feet from the main entrance of the cave.

The pool bed is mostly sandy with pebbles. Other species found inside the cave include weakly pigmented crabs and crayfish, spiders, crickets, cockroaches and millipedes, small frogs and snakes.

Scientists had, in the past, chanced upon porcupine paws and quills on the muddy floor of a passage in the same cave.
The fish was named after ‘Larket’ village to encourage local people to take up biodiversity conservation, Mr. Khlur said.

Although there are about 200 known species of similar kind inhabiting streams and rivers throughout Indochina and Southeast Asia, this is the first such discovery, according to the researcher.

The new fish species can also be immediately distinguished from all other species of Schistura, barring Schistura papulifera — another cave fish from Synrang Pamiang cave system in the same district — for its vestigial subcutaneous eyes appearing as black spots.

Mr. Khlur said the orbital diameter gradually decreases as the species matures, with the eyes completely absent in older individuals.
Eventually, only small, faintly blackish spot-like depressions appeared in place of eyes, indicating evolutionary and as morphological adaptations.

The researchers have also expressed regret to see the high level of siltation, pollution and acidification of the water drainage systems in Jaintia Hills due to accumulation of acid mine drainage (AMD) from open-cast coal mining.
Several cement plants located on top of the wide and long cave systems are threatening the cave biodiversity as a whole, the researcher said.

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ISRO and NASA Collaboration

ISRO and Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL)/ NASA are jointly working on the development of Dual Frequency (L&S band) Synthetic Aperture Radar Imaging Satellite named as NASA-ISRO Synthetic Aperture Radar (NISAR). The L-band SAR is being developed by JPL/NASA, while ISRO is developing S-band SAR. The L & S-band microwave data obtained from this satellite will be used for variety of application, which includes natural resources mapping & monitoring; estimating agricultural biomass over full duration of crop cycle; assessing soil moisture; monitoring of floods and oil slicks; coastal erosion, coastline changes & variation of winds in coastal waters; assessment of mangroves; surface deformation studies, ice sheet collapses & dynamics etc.

The data obtained from NISAR mission is not meant for building climate resilience. However, the data acquired from this mission will be useful in developing certain applications, which include – (i) identifying crevasses in the glaciers hidden by fresh snow, where human movement takes place, (ii) identifying the snowpack parameters as an input in Avalanche forecasts, (iii) studying Glacial Lake Outburst Floods (GLOF) hazards, and (iv) identifying inundated area due to floods/ cyclones. These applications could help in taking measures to minimise loss of human lives.

As per the information received, Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology (IITM) under Ministry of Earth Sciences (MoES) has been working in tandem with National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA, USA) for development of high resolution seasonal and long-term climate forecasts through Monsoon Mission and Centre for Climate Change Research (CCCR) Programmes. During 2010 to 2015, IITM and NOAA together developed high-resolution models for seasonal predictions of Indian Summer Monsoon and long-term climate forecasts under a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU). This MoU, concerning the study of Dynamical Short range, Extended Range and seasonal Prediction of Indian Summer Monsoon Rainfall”, has been extended till 2020, within the framework of the MoES-NOAA Partnership.
This information was provided by the Union Minister of State (Independent Charge) Development of North-Eastern Region (DoNER), MoS PMO, Personnel, Public Grievances & Pensions, Atomic Energy and Space, Dr Jitendra Singh in a written reply to a question in Lok Sabha today.

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ISRO lists achievements of 2017

The Mars Orbiter Mission (MoM) has completed three years as against its stipulated lifespan of six months in its orbit on 24 September 2017 and continues to send “valuable” data and pictures of Mars’ surface.

This, besides other important achievements, has been enlisted by the department of space in the year-end review of its achievements during 2017.

Mars Colour Camera on-board MOM has acquired more than 700 images of Martian surface. MOM atlas is published and updates on MOM images are regularly provided on ISRO website.

ISRO and Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL)/NASA are jointly working on the development of Dual Frequency (L&S band) Synthetic Aperture Radar Imaging Satellite named as NASA-ISRO Synthetic Aperture Radar (NISAR).

The satellite will be useful in mapping and monitoring of natural resources; estimating agricultural biomass over the full duration of crop cycle; assessing soil moisture; monitoring of floods and oil slicks; coastal erosion, coastline changes and variation of winds.

In a significant feat, Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) launched 104 satellites, in one go, onboard PSLV-C37 on 15 February 2017 and 31 satellites, in a single launch, onboard PSLV-C38 on 23 June 2017.

Similarly, India’s Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle Mark-II (GSLV-F09) successfully launched the 2230 kg South Asia Satellite (GSAT-9) into its planned Geosynchronous Transfer Orbit (GTO) on 5 May 2017.

In another milestone, the first developmental flight (GSLV MkIII-D1) of India’s heavy-lift launch vehicle GSLV Mk-III was successfully carried out on 5 June 2017 from Satish Dhawan Space Centre SHAR, Sriharikota, with the launch of the GSAT-19 satellite.

AstroSat, India’s multi-wavelength space telescope also completed two years in orbit during the year.

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GAIL awards major contracts for Pradhan Mantri Urja Ganga

State-run gas utility GAIL India today said it has placed orders for another 400-km of the pipeline of the ambitious Pradhan Mantri Urja Ganga natural gas pipeline project that will take the fuel to eastern India.

Line pipe orders for about 400-km for the pipeline from Dobhi in Bihar to Durgapur in West Bengal has been placed, the company said in a statement.

With these awards, pipe supply orders for 2,100 km of the Jagdishpur-Haldia & Bokaro-Dhamra Natural Gas Pipeline (JHBDPL) project have been placed. Also, 1,700 km of line laying orders have been placed.

The prestigious 2,655 km long JHBDPL project, also known as the ‘Pradhan Mantri Urja Ganga’ project will originate at Jagdishpur in Uttar Pradesh, where main trunk pipeline from the west coast currently ends, to Haldia in West Bengal and Dhamra in Odisha. It will pass through Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, West Bengal and Odisha.

The project, it said, will usher Industrial development in East India by supplying environmentally clean natural gas to fertiliser and power plant, refineries, steel plants and other industries.

The project will also provide clean energy to households and transportation in the cities en-route the pipeline.

GAIL said city gas network, laying activity in Varanasi and Bhubaneswar, has already commenced and the same in other cities like Patna, Ranchi, Jamshedpur, Cuttack and Kolkata will start by next month.

The pilot project in Bhubaneswar for providing piped natural gas to households for cooking and CNG to automobiles were inaugurated in October and December, respectively.
GAIL Chairman and Managing Director B C Tripathi said the company is committed to complete the project well within scheduled time and cost.

The project will cost Rs 12,940 crore and is targeted to be completed by 2019.

 

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Govt moves to tap share of Indus to strike back at Pakistan

In keeping with its decision to review utilisation of Indus waters+ as part of its signalling that Pakistan cannot expect past voluntary concessions to continue as long as it exports terror to India, the government has moved further on a project to store water in Jammu and Kashmir’s Kathua district.

Looking to fast-track utilisation of India’s rights under the Indus Waters Treaty (IWT), the Central Water Commission (CWC) has finalised a detailed report on Ujh multi-purpose project and the government made it clear the proposal aims to harness water that was flowing untapped across the border. The project report has been submitted to the J&K government for evaluation so that construction may begin at an early date.

The project, which is to come up in Kathua district, will store around 0.65 million acre-feet (MAF) of water from Ujh (a tributary of Ravi) to irrigate 30,000 hectares and produce over 200 MW of power.

The government decided to take a relook at the implementation of the Indus treaty after PM Narendra Modi decided to do so following the attack by Pakistan-backed terrorists on the Army camp at Uri in 2016. An inter-ministerial task force with Nripendra Mishra, principal secretary to the PM, and national security adviser Ajit Doval was formed to examine the IWT with Pakistan.

The Ujh project is a step towards India’s utilisation of waters of the Indus and its tributaries in keeping with its rights under the treaty.

Under the IWT, signed with Pakistan in 1960, waters of Ravi are allocated to India. It, however, took the CWC 16 years to complete the process of detailed project report (DPR) after getting a formal nod to do so in 2001, following a political prompt from the current government. The task force was set up after India decided it will explore all options for utilising the maximum waters of the Indus system that is legally given to it under the treaty.

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Govt plans to set up bio-CNG plants and allied infrastructure

To promote the use of clean fuel, the oil ministry plans to set up bio-CNG (compressed natural gas) plants and allied infrastructure at a cost of Rs7,000 crore, two people aware of the plan said.

The oil ministry will be working with state-run oil and gas retailers to set up the plants over the next two years, the people said on condition of anonymity.

Bio-CNG is a purified form of biogas with over 95% pure methane gas. It is similar to natural gas in its composition (97% methane) and energy potential. While natural gas is a fossil fuel, bio-CNG is a renewable form of energy produced from agricultural and food waste.

Bio-CNG is being looked at as an environment-friendly alternative to diesel.

Indian Oil Corp. Ltd, Bharat Petroleum Corp. Ltd and Hindustan Petroleum Corp. Ltd are the state-run oil marketing companies that the oil ministry will team up with to implement the plan. Gas marketer GAIL India Ltd will also be involved.

Indian Oil, Bharat Petroleum and Hindustan Petroleum did not reply to emails sent on 22 December.

Setting up the infrastructure would be a priority. A typical bio-CNG station comprises a biogas purification unit, a compressor and a high-pressure storage system.

“Unless infrastructure is in place, lifting of the fuel will not happen so government and companies have to ensure there are no infrastructure bottlenecks,” said the first person.

The cost of production of 1kg of bio-CNG could be Rs15-20, cheaper than CNG, petrol and diesel.

Transportation of bio-CNG could either be through injecting the fuel into the CNG grid or by trucks or in cylinders from the filling stations.

India currently imports one-third of its energy requirement. The world’s third-largest crude oil importer is targeting halving its energy import bill by 2030. The government aims to increase the contribution of gas in India’s energy mix to 15% from the current 6.5%.

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Photovoltaic road tested in China

China successfully tested its first photovoltaic highway based on home-grown technology in the country’s eastern Shandong province, according to reports from Xinhua. The road has wireless charging systems for electric vehicles.

The road is constructed using solar panels which have a thin sheet of clear concrete on top of them, protecting the surface.

The panels were built to transfer energy to electric vehicles passing on top of them.

The one-kilometre segment of solar-powered highway covers a surface area of 5,875 sq.m. The stretch has three layers. At the bottom is an insulator to prevent moisture from getting to the photovoltaic devices in the middle layer, and on top is the layer of transparent concrete.

The tested segment of highway can generate 817.2 KW of power and is expected to generate 1 million KW hours of electricity each year. The electricity generated will be connected to China’s national power grid.

China has become the second country to construct a photovoltaic highway. France has introduced the world’s first photovoltaic road fitted with solar panels in late 2016.

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NASA’s flying observatory to explore Saturn’s moon

NASA’s flying observatory Sofia is preparing for its 2018 campaign, which will include, among others, observations of celestial magnetic fields, star-forming regions, comets and Saturn’s giant moon Titan. This will be the fourth year of full operations for Sofia, short for Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, with observations planned between February 2018 and January 2019.

The significance of the observations:

Scientists believe that the observatory’s investigations will help them understand how magnetic fields affect the rate at which interstellar clouds condense to form new stars. These observations could also help them learn whether the luminosity of these active black holes is driven by star formation or accretion of material onto the central black hole. Sofia will also conduct observations to better understand how methane levels change with seasons on Mars.

About Sofia:

Sofia is a Boeing 747SP jetliner modified to carry a 100-inch diameter telescope. It is a joint project of NASA and the German Aerospace Centre, DLR. SOFIA is designed to observe the infrared universe.

SOFIA studies many different kinds of astronomical objects and phenomena, but some of the most interesting are:
• Star birth and death.
• Formation of new solar systems.
• Identification of complex molecules in space.
• Planets, comets and asteroids in our solar system.
• Nebulae and dust in galaxies (or, Ecosystems of galaxies).
• Black holes at the centre of galaxies.

Why does NASA need a flying telescope?

Water vapour blocks infrared light energy and 99% of the world’s water vapour exists below 39,000 feet. So, the higher altitude you fly, the drier it gets and the more optimal it is for infrared observation.

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