International Space Agencies – Missions and Discoveries

Sep, 17, 2019

Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO)


  • ISRO’S attempts to figure out what happened to Chandrayaan-2’s Vikram will get a boost when NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) flies over the lander’s landing site on the Moon.
  • NASA will share any before and after flyover imagery of the area around the targeted Chandrayaan-2 Vikram lander landing site.

Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO)

  • The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite missions began on June 18, 2009.
  • It is a robotic spacecraft currently orbiting the Moon.
  • It studies the Moon’s surface, clicks pictures, and collects data that help in figuring out the presence and possibility of water ice and other resources on the Moon, as well as plan future missions to it.
  • The primary mission of the LRO, managed by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, located in Greenbelt, Maryland, was to measure the entire lunar surface to create a high-resolution 3-D map of the Moon.
  • The map with ~50-centimeter resolution images would aid in the planning of future robotic and crewed missions.
  • In addition, LRO would map the Polar Regions and search for the presence of water ice.

The mission

  • The mission has provided technical innovations and made surprising discoveries that have changed our view of the Moon.
  • The instruments on board the spacecraft return global data, such as day-night temperature maps, a global geodetic grid, high resolution color imaging and the moon’s UV albedo.
  • It is estimated that the LRO has fuel enough to stay on its mission for at least six more years.

Achievements of LRO

  • Some of LRO’s technical innovations include the first global thermal mapping of a planetary body covering a full range of local times and seasons.
  • It carries the first bi-static radar imaging measurements from Earth to a planetary orbiter.
  • It has provided more than five years of laser altimetry measurements yielding more than 8 billion topographic points, better than any other object in the Solar System.
  • On March 15, 2011, LRO provided more than 192 terabytes of data from its primary mission to its Planetary Data System, or PDS, to make the information available to researchers, students, media, and the general public.
Sep, 13, 2019



  • K2-18b is now the only planet orbiting a star outside the Solar System known to have both water and temperatures that could be potentially habitable.


  • About 110 light years from Earth, an exoplanet eight times the mass of Earth orbits a star. Called K2-18b, it was discovered in 2015 by NASA’s Kepler spacecraft.
  • The researchers used 2016-17 data from the Hubble Space Telescope and developed algorithms to analyse the starlight filtered through K2-18b’s atmosphere.
  • The results revealed the molecular signature of water vapour, also indicating the presence of hydrogen and helium in the planet’s atmosphere.
  • It resides in a habitable zone — the region around a star in which liquid water could potentially pool on the surface of a rocky planet.
  • Scientists have found signatures of water vapour in the atmosphere of K2-18b. The discovery of water vapour is not the final word on the possibility of life.
  • That makes it the only planet orbiting a star outside the Solar System that is known to have both water and temperatures that could support life.

Not ‘Earth 2.0’

  • K2-18b is not ‘Earth 2.0’ as it is significantly heavier and has a different atmospheric composition.
  • For one thing, K2-18b’s size and surface gravity are much larger than Earth’s. Its radiation environment may be hostile.
Sep, 04, 2019

Asteroid Impact Deflection Assessment (AIDA)



  • Among all the causes that will eventually cause the extinction of life on Earth, an asteroid hit is widely acknowledged as one of the likeliest.
  • Over the years, scientists have suggested different ways to ward off such a hit, such as blowing up the asteroid before it reaches Earth, or deflecting it off with a spacecraft.
  • Now, scientists have embarked on a plan to test their expertise with the second of these two methods.

Asteroid Impact Deflection Assessment (AIDA)

  • It is an ambitious double-spacecraft mission to deflect an asteroid in space, to prove the technique as a viable method of planetary defence.
  • The mission, which includes NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA), is known as the Asteroid Impact Deflection Assessment (AIDA).
  • The target is the smaller of two bodies in the “double Didymos asteroids” that are in orbit between Earth and Mars.
  • Didymos is a near-Earth asteroid system. Its main body measures about 780 m across; the smaller body is a “moonlet” about 160 m in diameter.
  • The project aims to deflect the orbit of the smaller body through an impact by one spacecraft.
  • Then a second spacecraft will survey the crash site and gather the maximum possible data on the effect of this collision.

Tools of the mission

  • NASA is building the Double Asteroid Impact Test (DART) spacecraft for launch in summer 2021.
  • It is planned to collide with the target at 6.6 km/s in September 2022.
  • Flying along with DART will be an Italian-made miniature CubeSat, called LICIACube, to record the moment of impact.
  • ESA’s contribution is a mission called Hera, which will perform a close-up survey of the post-impact asteroid, acquiring measurements such as the asteroid’s mass and detailed crater shape.
  • Hera will also deploy a pair of CubeSats for close-up asteroid surveys and the very first radar probe of an asteroid.
  • All this would allow researchers to model the efficiency of the collision.
  • This can help turn this experiment into a technique that could be repeated, as needed, in the event of a real threat.
Aug, 27, 2019

Mars Solar Conjunction


  • For more than a week, the daily communication between Earth and Mars will go silent.

Mars Solar Conjunction

  • On the surface of Mars are NASA’s Curiosity rover and InSight lander.
  • Above Mars are several orbiters, including India’s Mars Orbiter Spacecraft (Mangalyaan), which has completed its official mission life but remains in orbit.
  • Antennas on Earth and those on active spacecraft on or around Mars regularly exchange data.
  • Now this will pause because of a phenomenon called Mars solar conjunction.
  • For NASA’s spacecraft, this will happen between August 28 and September 7.


  • During Mars solar conjunction, Mars and Earth will be on opposite sides of the Sun.
  • The Sun expels hot, ionised gas from its corona, which extends far into space.
  • During solar conjunction, this gas can interfere with radio signals when engineers try to communicate with spacecraft at Mars, corrupting commands and resulting in unexpected behaviour from those space explorers.
  • When Mars disappears far enough behind the Sun’s corona that there is increased risk of radio interference, engineers hold off on sending commands. Solar conjunction occurs every two years.

What it means for mars missions?

  • This time, the hold on issuing commands — called a “command moratorium” — will run from August 28 to September 7, NASA said.
  • All of this means that there will be a temporary pause in the stream of raw images available.
  • Once conjunction is over, the spacecraft will beam the data they have collected
  • In 2015, the conjunction period for Mangalyaan had lasted for more than a month — from May 27 to July 1.
Aug, 23, 2019

Final Experimental Demonstration Object Research (FEDOR)


  • Russia has launched an unmanned rocket carrying a life-size humanoid robot that will spend 10 days learning to assist astronauts on the International Space Station.


  • FEDOR is a Russian humanoid that replicates movements of a remote operator as well as performs a limited set of actions autonomously.
  • Named Fedor, short for Final Experimental Demonstration Object Research, the robot is the first ever sent up by Russia to the International Space Station.
  • Instead of cosmonauts, Fedor, also known as Skybot F850, was strapped into a specially adapted pilot’s seat, with a small Russian flag in hand.
  • “Let’s go. Let’s go,” the robot was heard saying during launch, repeating the famous phrase used by first man in space Yuri Gagarin.
  • The silvery anthropomorphic robot stands 1.80 metres (5 foot 11 inches) tall and weighs 160kg (353 pounds).
  • Fedor has Instagram and Twitter accounts with posts saying it is learning new skills such as opening a bottle of water. In the ISS, it will trial those manual skills in very low gravity.

What’s so special with Fedor?

  • Fedor copies human movements, a key skill that allows it to remotely help astronauts or even people on Earth to carry out tasks while the humans are strapped into an exoskeleton.
  • Fedor is described as potentially useful on Earth for working in high radiation environments, demining and tricky rescue missions.
  • Though initially developed for the emergencies ministry, Fedor can also be seen shooting at targets from two handguns in a video posted by Russian space agency.
  • On board, the robot will perform tasks supervised by russian cosmonaut and will wear an exoskeleton and augmented reality glasses in a series of experiments later this month.
  • Since Fedor is not trained to grab space station handles to move about in microgravity conditions, its legs will be immobilised on the space station.

Fedor not the first

  • Fedor is not the first robot to go into space.
  • In 2011, NASA sent up Robonaut 2, a humanoid robot developed with General Motors that had a similar aim of working in high-risk environments.
  • It was flown back to Earth in 2018 after experiencing technical problems.
  • In 2013, Japan sent up a small robot called Kirobo along with the ISS’s first Japanese space commander. Developed with Toyota, it was able to hold conversations — albeit only in Japanese.
Aug, 20, 2019

Tardigrade: the water bear


  • On this April 11, the Israeli spacecraft Beresheet attempted to land on the Moon, but crashed on the surface.
  • It was carrying a number of items — including thousands of specimens of a living organism called Tardigrade.


  • The Tardigrade, also known as water bear, is among the toughest and most resilient creatures on Earth.
  • The Tardigrade can only be seen under a microscope.
  • Half a millimeter long, it is essentially a water-dweller but also inhabits land and, a 2008 study found, can survive in the cold vacuum of outer space.
  • It derives its name from the fact that it looks like an eight-legged bear, with a mouth that can project out like a tongue.
  • Its body has four segments supported by four pairs of clawed legs.
  • A tardigrade typically eats fluids, using its claws and mouth to tear open plant and animal cells, so that it can suck nutrients out of them.
  • It is also known to feast on bacteria and, in some cases, to kill and eat other tardigrades. Although they are famed for their resilience, they are destructible too.
  • Should a human being swallow a tardigrade with her food, her stomach acid will cause the flesh of the tardigrade to disintegrate.

Survival instinct

  • In 2017, a study found that if all other life were to be wiped out by a cataclysmic event — a large asteroid impact, a supernova or a gamma-ray bursts — the tardigrade would be the likeliest to survive.
  • It can endure extreme hot and cold temperature levels.
  • Although the tardigrades on the Israeli spacecraft were dehydrated, the organism is known to “come back to life” on rehydration.
  • In fact, they themselves expel water from their bodies and set off a mechanism to protect their cells, and can still revive if placed in water later.
  • However, there is no evidence of liquid water on the Moon, although there is ice.
  • Without liquid water, it is possible that the tardigrades will remain in their current state, unless future astronauts find them and revive them in water.
Aug, 19, 2019

NASA’s Parker Solar Probe


  • NASA’s Parker Solar Probe completed a year in service.

Parker Solar Probe

  • It is part of NASA’s “Living with a Star” programme that explores different aspects of the Sun-Earth system.
  • The probe seeks to gather information about the Sun’s atmosphere and NASA says that it “will revolutionise our understanding of the Sun”.
  • It is also the closest a human-made object has ever gone to the Sun.
  • During the spacecraft’s first two solar encounters, the instruments were turned on when Parker was about 0.25 AU from the Sun and powered off again at the same distance on the outbound side of the orbit.
  • For this third solar encounter, the mission team turned on the instruments when the spacecraft was around 0.45 AU from the Sun on the inbound side of its orbit.
  • It will turn them off when the spacecraft is about 0.5 AU from the Sun on the outbound side.

Ai m of the mission

  • The mission’s central aim is to trace how energy and heat move through the Sun’s corona and to study the source of the solar wind’s acceleration.
  • The mission is likely to last for seven years during which it will complete 24 orbits.
Jul, 31, 2019

TOI 270: new planetary system


TOI 270

  • It is the name of the dwarf star and the planetary system recently discovered by NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS).
  • TOI 270 is about 73 light years away from Earth, and is located in the constellation Pictor.
  • Its members include the dwarf star, which is 40 per cent smaller than the Sun in size and mass, and the three planets or exoplanets (planets outside the solar system) that have been named TOI 270 b, TOI 270 c, and TOI 270 d.
  • These three planets orbit the star every 3.4 days, 5.7 days, and 11.4 days respectively. In this system, TOI 270 b is the innermost planet.

Nature of the planets

  • Researchers expect it to be a rocky world about 25 per cent bigger than Earth.
  • It is not habitable since it is located too close to the star — about 13 times closer than our Solar System’s Mercury is from the Sun.
  • On the other hand, TOI 270 c and TOI 270 d are Neptune-like planets because their compositions are dominated by gases rather than rock.
  • Planet d, which is suspected to have a rocky core covered by a thick atmosphere, offers a surface unfavorably warm for the existence of liquid water, thereby rendering the planet potentially uninhabitable.

About Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS)

  • TESS is NASA’s latest satellite to search for planets outside our solar system, known as exoplanets.
  • The mission will spend the next two years monitoring the nearest and brightest stars for periodic dips in their light.
  • TESS is expected to transmit its first series of science data back to Earth in August, and thereafter periodically every 13.5 days, once per orbit, as the spacecraft makes it closest approach to Earth.
  • These events, called transits, suggest that a planet may be passing in front of its star.
  • TESS is expected to find thousands of planets using this method, some of which could potentially support life.
Jul, 25, 2019



  • Tiangong-2 was a manned Chinese space station that was destroyed upon its controlled re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere over the Pacific Ocean on July 19.
  • Tiangong-2 was retired from service after it had completed its experiments in space.


  • Tiangong means “Heavenly Palace”. It was 10.4 metres long and 3.35 metres wide at its widest point, and weighed 8.6 metric tonnes.
  • It was launched on September 15, 2016 and, in late 2016, hosted two Chinese astronauts for 30 days in what was China’s longest manned space mission so far.
  • The recently decommissioned space lab followed the Tiangong-1, China’s first space station, which crashed into the southern Pacific Ocean on April 1, 2018 after Chinese scientists lost control of the spacecraft.
  • China had launched Tiangong-1 in 2011 as proof-of-concept of technologies for future stations. The lab was visited by two teams of Chinese astronauts for 11 days and 13 days respectively.
Jul, 22, 2019

Thirty Meter Telescope


Thirty Metre Telescope

  • The Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) is a proposed astronomical observatory with an extremely large telescope (ELT) that has become the source of controversy over its planned location on Mauna Kea on the island of Hawaii in the US state of Hawaii.
  • It is being built by an international collaboration of government organisations and educational institutions, at a cost of $1.4 billion.
  • “Thirty Metre” refers to the the 30-metre diameter of the mirror, with 492 segments of glass pieced together, which makes it three times as wide as the world’s largest existing visible-light telescope.
  • The larger the mirror, the more light a telescope can collect, which means, in turn, that it can “see” farther, fainter objects.
  • It would be more than 200 times more sensitive than current telescopes, and would be able to resolve objects 12 times better than the Hubble Space Telescope.

Utility of the telescope

  • One of its key uses will be the study of exoplanets, many of which have been detected in the last few years, and whether their atmospheres contain water vapour or methane — the signatures of possible life.
  • For the first time in history this telescope will be capable of detecting extraterrestrial life.
  • The study of black holes is another objective.
  • While these have been observed in detail within the Milky Way, the next galaxy is 100 times farther away; the Thirty Metre Telescope will help bring them closer.
Jul, 18, 2019



  • Astronomers have defined a new class of celestial objects called “ploonets,” which are orphaned moons that have escaped the bonds of their planetary parents.


  • Astronomers named a new class of theorized objects that begin as moons around large planets, but eventually move out on their own. They call them “ploonets.”
  • The scientists think these objects should exist in solitary orbits around their host stars and could even be discovered in observations from past and present exoplanet-hunting surveys, like Kepler and TESS.

Why such renaming?

  • Earth’s own Moon is slowly spiraling away from our planet; it may also end up as a ploonet in some 5 billion years.

Making of a Ploonet

  • Over the past few decades, astronomers have uncovered more than 4,000 confirmed exoplanets, and nearly as many exoplanet candidates.
  • And one thing astronomers have learned from this sizeable census is that a surprisingly high number of massive exoplanets — called “hot Jupiters” — are located oddly close to their host stars.
  • Although at least part of the reason they detected so many hot Jupiters boils down to observational biases, this significant sample of weird planets still raises questions about how planets form.

Have we already found Ploonets?

  • Although there has yet to be a definite confirmation of a Ploonet orbiting a star, there are at least a few examples that might fit the bill.
  • The evidence for these potential Ploonets comes from perplexing exoplanetary observations that have yet to be adequately explained.
Jul, 13, 2019



  • Japan’s Hayabusa2 spacecraft, which successfully made its second touchdown on asteroid Ryugu has become the first ever space probe to gather material from beneath the surface of an asteroid.

About Hayabusa2

  • Launched in December 2014, the probe is a follow-up of Hayabusa, which explored the asteroid Itokawa in 2005.
  • Hayabusa was the first mission to return an asteroid sample to Earth.
  • The asteroid mission first reached Ryugu — a kilometre-wide asteroid, with a relatively dark surface and almost zero gravity — in June 2018 and made its first touchdown on the surface in February 2019.
  • A month later the spacecraft hit the surface of Ryugu with a pellet and created a 10-metre-wide crater.
  • It also exposed the materials under the asteroid’s surface that were so far protected from the harsh effects of cosmic rays and charged particles of solar wind blasting through space.

Structure of Ryugu

  • Ryugu is a rubble-pile asteroid: A collection of rocks and dust held together loosely by gravity.
  • Its surface is also strewn with an unusual number of boulders — more per unit surface area than any asteroid explored so far.

Latest update

  • For its latest mission, Hayabusa2 hovered outside the crater, without landing.
  • It picked up samples of the material by shooting down a projectile from its one-metre long cylindrical horn, which then captured the fragments rebounding from the surface, stated the release.
  • Hayabusa2 will deliver the material to Earth by the end of 2020, when it is expected to return to Earth.
Jul, 01, 2019

NASA’s PUNCH mission


  • NASA has selected an US based Indian researcher to lead its PUNCH mission which will image the Sun.

About PUNCH Mission

  • PUNCH stands for “Polarimeter to Unify the Corona and Heliosphere,” is focused on understanding the transition of particles from the Sun’s outer corona to the solar wind that fills interplanetary space.
  • It will consist of a constellation of four microsatellites that through continuous 3D deep-field imaging, will observe the corona and heliosphere as elements of a single, connected system.
  • This is a landmark mission will image regions beyond the Sun’s outer corona.
  • The Sun and the solar wind are one interconnected system, but these have until recently been studied using entirely different technologies and scientific approaches.

Why such mission?

  • Other missions such as NASA’s Parker Solar Probe and the ESA-NASA joint project, Solar Orbiter, which is due to be launched in 2020, can study the structures of the Sun’s atmosphere.
  • The PUNCH mission enhances these by tracking these structures in real time.
  • Since the Sun’s corona is much fainter than its surface layers, it cannot be viewed by the instruments directly.
  • So PUNCH will block out the light from the Sun to view its corona and the structures in it.

Constellation of satellites

  • PUNCH will consist of a ‘constellation’ of four suitcase-sized microsats that will orbit the Earth in formation and study how the corona, which is the atmosphere of the Sun, connects with the interplanetary medium.
  • The mission is expected to be launched in 2022.
  • The mission will image and track the solar wind and also the coronal mass ejections – which are huge masses of plasma that get thrown out of the Sun’s atmosphere.
  • The coronal mass ejections can affect and drive space weather events near the Earth.
Jun, 25, 2019

Lunar Evacuation System Assembly (LESA)


  • Among preparations for NASA’s 2024 Moon mission, one has been to test a device called Lunar Evacuation System Assembly, or LESA.
  • Astronauts are testing LESA under the sea. With its rocky, sandy terrain and buoyant salt water, the bottom of the ocean floor has much in common with the lunar surface.

About LESA

  • Developed by the European Space Agency (ESA), LESA is a pyramid-like structure whose purpose is to rescue an astronaut should he or she suffer an injury on the lunar surface.
  • Astronauts will be wearing heavy extravehicular activity (EVA) suits.
  • There is no way an astronaut could carry their fallen crewmate over their shoulder while wearing an EVA suit.
  • LESA can be operated by a single astronaut to rescue a fallen colleague.
  • It enables an astronaut to lift their crewmate onto a mobile stretcher in less than 10 minutes, before carrying them to the safety of a nearby pressurized lander.
Jun, 15, 2019

Spectrum-Roentgen-Gamma telescope to create a 3D X-ray map of Universe


  • A team of German-Russian scientists is all set to launch a space telescope, which will create a three-dimensional (3D) X-ray map of the universe and unveil unknown supermassive black holes, dark energy and stars.

Spectrum-Roentgen-Gamma (SRG) Telescope

  • The telescope will be launched into space on a Russian-built Proton-M rocket from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan in June 2019.
  • The four-year mission will survey the entire sky eight times and track the evolution of the universe and dark energy, a mysterious repulsive force that is accelerating its expansion.
  • Besides, it also aims to detect up to three million supermassive black holes — many of which are unknown — and X-rays from as many as 700,000 stars in the Milky Way.
  • The telescope is the first to be sensitive to high-energy ‘hard’ X-rays and map the entire sky.
  • The SRG will also find how dark matter — the main engine of galaxy formation — is spread in the universe.
  • X-ray sky surveys have also been conducted by previous missions, but they were not able to map the entire sky, the report said.

Two X-ray telescopes:

  • A German-built eROSITA (Extended Roentgen Survey with an Imaging Telescope Array)
  • A Russian-built ART-XC (Astronomical Roentgen Telescope — X-ray Concentrator)
May, 27, 2019

MeerLICTH Optical Telescope


  • Scientists in South Africa have launched the world’s first optical telescope linked to a radio telescope, combining “eyes and ears” to try to unravel the secrets of the universe.
  • The device forms part of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) project in the remote Karoo desert, which will be the world’s most powerful radio telescope system.

Square Kilometre Array

  • The SKA project is an international effort to build the world’s largest radio telescope, with eventually over a square kilometre of collecting area.
  • The scale of the SKA represents a huge leap forward in both engineering and research & development towards building and delivering a unique instrument, with the detailed design and preparation now well under way.
  • The SKA will eventually use thousands of dishes and up to a million low-frequency antennas that will enable astronomers to monitor the sky in unprecedented detail.
  • Its unique configuration will give the SKA unrivalled scope in observations, largely exceeding the image resolution quality of the Hubble Space Telescope.
  • South Africa’s Karoo host the core of the high and mid frequency dishes, ultimately extending over the African continent. Australia’s Murchison Shire  host the low-frequency antennas.


  • The latest move combines the new optical telescope MeerLITCH — Dutch for ‘more light’ — with the recently-completed 64-dish MeerKAT radio telescope, located 200 kilometres away.
  • This is the eye, with the MeerKAT being the ears as a radio telescope.
  • The MeerLITCH uses a main mirror just 65 cm in diameter and a single 100 megapixel detector measuring 10 cm x 10 cm.
  • Astronomers have previously had to wait for a cosmic incident to be picked up by a radio telescope and then carry out optic observations afterwards.
  • The project has been six years in the making by a joint-team of South African, Dutch and British scientists.

Purpose of MeerLITCH

  • MeerLICHT boasts of a huge field of view that allows astronomers to see an area 13 times the size of the full moon in exquisite detail, and pick up objects one million times fainter than is possible with the human eye.
  • The priorities for MeerLITCH is the study of black holes, neutron stars and stellar explosions, which must be scrutinized quickly before they fade away.
  • The study of exploding stars across the universe will gain a whole new dimension.
  • Flashes of radio emission known as Fast Radio Bursts may now be ‘caught in the act’. Hopefully we can finally determine the origin of these enigmatic flashes.

Members of SKA

May, 22, 2019

Evidence of water found on Ultima Thule


  • NASA has found evidence for a unique mixture of methanol, water ice, and organic molecules on Ultima Thule’s surface — the farthest world ever explored by mankind.

Ultima Thule

  • Ultima Thule is a contact binary, with two distinctly differently shaped lobes.
  • At about 36 kilometres long, it consists of a large, strangely flat lobe — nicknamed “Ultima” — connected to a smaller, somewhat rounder lobe — dubbed “Thule” — at a juncture.
  • Officially named (486958) 2014 MU69, it earned the nickname Ultima Thule following a public contest in 2018.
  • It is located in the Kuiper Belt, a disc in the outer Solar System (beyond Neptune) that consists of small bodies including Pluto.
  • 2014 MU69 was discovered in June 2014 by astronomers using the Hubble Space Telescope but is so distant that many of its characteristics remain to be understood.

About the mission

  • New Horizons, a space probe that was launched in 2006, became the first mission to visit Pluto in 2015.
  • Travelling farther into the Kuiper Belt, the nuclear-powered space probe has come within 3,500 km of Ultima Thule.
  • Images taken revealed that the object may have a shape similar to a bowling pin, or a “snowman”, or a peanut spinning end over end, or could be two objects orbiting each other.
  • Flyby data showed that Ultima Thule is spinning like a propeller with the axis pointing approximately toward New Horizons.
  • NASA released a composite of two images taken by New Horizons’ high-resolution Long-Range Reconnaissance Imager.
May, 17, 2019

Chang’e-4 Mission



  • In January, the Chinese spacecraft Chang’e-4 — named after the moon goddess in Chinese mythology — became the first ever craft to touch down on the far side of the lunar surface.
  • The team landed its probe in the Von Karmen Crater in the Aitken Basin at the Moon’s south pole — home to one of the largest impact craters known in the solar system.
  • Scientists have said they could be a step closer to solving the riddle behind the Moon’s formation, unveiling the most detailed survey yet of the far side of Earth’s satellite.

Formation of Moon

  • The moon is believed to have gone through a phase during its formation when it was partially or entirely composed of molten rock.
  • As it cooled, denser minerals sank to the bottom of the magma-ocean, while lighter materials gathered near the surface to form its mantle.
  • They detected materials such as olivine and low-calcium pyroxene that are rare elsewhere on the surface.
  • These materials were ejected from the Moon’s upper mantle when it was struck by a meteor.

Lunar Magma Ocean Theory

  • The lunar magma ocean (LMO) is a term used in planetary science to describe the thermal state of Earth’s Moon in the thousands to millions of years following its formation.
  • The most widely accepted model for the formation of the Moon invokes a collision between proto-Earth and another proto-planet.
  • The Moon accreted from the resulting debris disk surrounding the Earth, which likely consisted of molten and vaporized silicate material.
  • The accretion of the Moon from this debris disk leads to a body in a largely or completely molten state.
  • This “magmasphere” is referred to as the LMO.
May, 15, 2019

NASA's Artemis to put first woman on Moon


  • NASA’s plans for the first woman on the lunar surface in 2024 in its ambitious plan named Artemis.

Artemis Mission

  • ARTEMIS stands for Acceleration, Reconnection, Turbulence and Electrodynamics of Moon’s Interaction with the Sun.
  • As the name suggests, the two spacecraft will measure what happens when the Sun’s radiation hits our rocky moon, where there is no magnetic field to protect it.
  • Artemis is also the Greek goddess of the Moon and twin sister of the god Apollo.
  • The Apollo program famously put the first men on the lunar surface in the 1960 and 70s.

Work in progress for Artemis

  • The program is still very much in its infancy.
  • NASA has been developing a rocket and crew capsule to take people into deep space, those vehicles still have yet to actually carry any astronauts.
  • NASA is developing new hardware including new lunar landers, in order for this project to be a success.
  • Fifty years after the first person set his foot on the moon, NASA will also reveal three lunar rocks that Neil Armstrong picked using tongs to pile about 20 rocks into a specialized collection box.
May, 10, 2019

NASA spacecraft to hit an asteroid in 2022


  • NASA is planning to launch a spacecraft aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket that will hit a small moonlet in the binary asteroid system Didymos in September 2022.


  • The Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) – Nasa’s first mission to demonstrate a planetary defence technique — is scheduled to be launched in mid-2021, the US space agency said on Monday.
  • By using solar electric propulsion, DART will intercept the target when the asteroid will be within 11 million km of Earth.
  • To navigate the DART spacecraft to its intended target — a binary asteroid that consists of a small moon (Didymos B) orbiting a larger body (Didymos A) — scientists need to understand how the system behaves.
  • Scientists have been making efforts to observe Didymos from Earth since 2015 as it is too small and too far to be seen as anything more than a point of light

Earth is a binary asteroid system. How?

  • A moonlet is a small moon whereas a binary asteroid system is a system of two asteroids orbiting their common barycentre.
  • The barycentre is the centre of mass of two or more bodies that are orbiting each other which is the point around which they both orbit.
  • The spacecraft will hit a small moonlet in the binary asteroid system Didymos in September 2022.
May, 02, 2019

99942 Apophis


Asteroid ‘99942 Apophis’

  • On April 13, 2029, a near-Earth asteroid will cruise by Earth, about 31,000 km above the surface.
  • The asteroid, called 99942 Apophis, is 340 m wide.
  • At one point, it will travel more than the width of the full Moon within a minute and it will get as bright as the stars in the Little Dipper, according to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
  • It is rare for an asteroid this size to pass by Earth so close.
  • Although scientists have spotted small asteroids, on the order of 5-10 metres, flying by Earth at a similar distance, asteroids the size of Apophis are far fewer in number and so do not pass this close to Earth as often.
  • Among potential lessons from Apophis, scientists are hoping they can use its flyby to learn about an asteroid’s interior.
  • Apophis is one of about 2,000 currently known Potentially Hazardous Asteroids, and scientists also hope their observations might help gain important scientific knowledge that could one day be used for planetary defence.
Apr, 17, 2019

Saturn's moon Titan has 100-m deep methane lakes


  • Saturn’s largest moon Titan has small liquid lakes that run more than 100 metres deep, perched atop hills and filled with methane, scientists have found using data from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft.

Methane Rains on Saturn

  • Scientists have known that Titan’s hydrologic cycle works similarly to Earth’s — with one major difference. Instead of water evaporating from seas, forming clouds and rain, Titan does it all with methane and ethane.
  • We tend to think of these hydrocarbons as a gas on Earth, unless they’re pressurized in a tank.
  • However, Titan is so cold that they behave as liquids, like gasoline at room temperature on our planet.

About Cassini Mission

  • Launched in 1997, the Cassini mission is a cooperation between NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency.
  • It has sent back thousands of stunning images and made numerous discoveries about the ringed planet and its moons.
  • Cassini–Huygens is an unmanned spacecraft sent to the planet Saturn.
  • Cassini is the fourth space probe to visit Saturn and the first to enter orbit. Its design includes a Saturn orbiter and a lander for the moon Titan.
  • The lander, called Huygens, landed on Titan in 2005.
Apr, 13, 2019

[op-ed snap] Seeing darkness


On April 10, the Event Horizon Telescope collaboration showed the world the ‘unseeable’: the very first image of a black hole.

Black hole And Last Photon Ring

  • The black hole itself cannot be seen, because light cannot escape its intense gravitational attraction.
  • The so-called event horizon that envelops the black hole is the point of no return and any object transgressing this boundary is lost.
  • Just outside is a region where a photon (light quantum) can orbit the black hole without falling in.
  • This is called the ‘last photon ring’, and this is what the EHT imaged, seeing in effect the silhouette of a black hole.

Black Hole’s history in Science

  • About a hundred years after the black hole made its way into physics through Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity, soon after the LIGO collaboration first directly observed the gravitational waves made by the merging of two black holes, the ‘dark star’ had finally been imaged.
  • The Higgs boson was detected 50 years after it had been postulated, and gravitational waves were observed a century after Einstein predicted them.
  • Visual proof of the existence of black holes comes a century after they appeared in scientific literature.
  • In a collaborative effort, eight telescopes around the world were used for the experiment.
  • The challenges included making each observe the same broad range of wavelengths around 1.3 mm and having precise atomic clocks at each location, so the data could be combined.

Black hole

  • A black hole marks the end of spacetime as commonly understood, and nothing that enters it can escape from the tremendous gravitational attraction.
  • However, this is no real danger, as black holes are located at distances that humans do not have the power to scale.

The Process to Obtain the image

  • The EHT set out to image two candidate supermassive black holes — Sagittarius A*, which is 26,000 light years from the earth, at the centre of the Milky Way, and another which is 55 million light years away at the centre of the Messier 87 galaxy in the Virgo galaxy cluster.
  • But the first image was of the more distant one.
  • The very long baseline interferometry technique linked radio dishes of telescopes across the world to produce a virtual telescope the size of the earth.
  • This was needed to obtain the high resolution required for this measurement.
  • Combining data from telescopes, each with different characteristics, was a separate challenge.
  • Cutting-edge developments from computer science related to image recognition were used.


  • As Katie Bouman, Assistant Professor at the California Institute of Technology, who led the efforts to develop an algorithm to put the data together and create the image, said in a TEDx talk, projects such as the EHT succeed owing to interdisciplinary expertise that people bring to the table.
  • This experiment endorses the diversity of collaboration just as much as it does unrelenting patience and good faith in the power of science and reason.
Apr, 11, 2019

Explained: Snapping of Black Hole


  • NASA released the first ever photograph of a black hole and its shadow.

Foremost thing: What is a Black Hole?

  • A black hole is an object in space that is so dense and has such strong gravity that no matter or light can escape its pull. Because no light can escape, it is black and invisible.
  • They drastically warp the fabric of space-time and anything that passes too close gets sucked into it be it a wandering star or a photon of light.
  • They exist from the size of a human cell to more massive than the sun.
  • Black holes of stellar mass are formed when a massive star collapses at the end of its life cycle.
  • After a black hole forms, it continues to grow by absorbing mass from its surroundings.

Why a black hole was never photographed before?

  • By definition, a black hole is a region in space where the pulling force of gravity is so strong that neither matter nor light can ever escape.
  • For anything approaching a black hole, the point of no return is called the “event horizon”; anything that comes within the event horizon will be consumed forever.
  • Because no light can escape from it, a black hole is invisible.

Then how it became possible?

  • Advanced space telescopes can identify black holes by observing the behaviour of material and stars that are very close to black holes.
  • The hot disk of material encircling a black hole, as NASA explained, shines bright.
  • The gases in that accretion disk are heated up as they accelerate toward the black hole, causing them to glow extremely brightly.
  • The colours they glow are invisible to us, but are detectable with an X-ray telescope.
  • Scientists have also detected the gravitational waves generated when two black holes collide.

Black hole in Messier 87 (M87) galaxy

  • The first photograph, which comes from the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) project, shows the black hole that is at elliptical galaxy Messier 87 or M87.
  • This black hole is 6.5 billion times the mass of the Sun. It is located some 55 million light-years from Earth.
  • Catching its shadow involved eight ground-based radio telescopes around the globe, operating together as if they were one telescope the size of our entire planet.

About EHT Project

  • The Event Horizon Telescope is a network of 10 radio telescopes on four continents that collectively operate like a single instrument nearly the size of the Earth.
  • The EHT project is an international partnership formed in 2012. Its main objective is to directly observe the immediate environment of a black hole. T
  • he findings will provide insight into the celestial object so dense that their gravitational field swallows everything including light.

What Einstein has to do with this mission?

  • Einstein’s general theory of relativity predicts how space-time is warped by the extreme mass of a black hole, which he said has a mass that’s 7 billion times that of our sun.
  • Einstein’s visions of a geometric bending of space and time first came to light in 1919.
  • Overnight, Einstein became a household name.
  • One hundred years later, Einstein’s theories were proven once again with this photograph – but instead of the sun, it was that of an elusive black hole.
  • Science News’ magazine reported that the image aligns with expectations of what a black hole should look like based on that theory.
Apr, 06, 2019

Stephen Hawking’s hypothesis on black holes discarded


  • An international research team including researchers from IUCAA, Pune has ruled out the possibility of primordial black holes being a major constituent of dark matter.
  • This finding disproves a theoretical claim of Prof Stephen Hawking.

What is Dark matter?

  • In the solar system, Mercury, the planet closest to the Sun, takes just 88 days to make one revolution around the sun, while Neptune, the farthest one, takes 165 years to make one round.
  • In like manner, laws of gravity expect us to see stars closer to the centre of galaxies rotating faster than the stars on the edge.
  • However, in most galaxies, the stars closer to the centre and the stars at the edge of the galaxies take almost same time to make one revolution.
  • This implied that something invisible and enveloping the galaxies was giving an extra push to the outer stars, speeding them up.
  • This entity has remained as one of the central unresolved puzzles in cosmology since 1930s. It is, no wonder, named `Dark Matter’.
  • The material is considered to be a ‘matter’ since it appears to have gravitational attraction and it is ‘dark’ because it does not seem to interact with light (or for that matter any part of the electromagnetic spectrum).
  • Detailed surveys of the cosmos indicate that almost 85% of the total mass of the Universe is composed of dark matter.

Proposition by Stephen Hawking

  • In 1971, Prof. Hawking showed the possibility that black holes could form very early in the universe.
  • Since the actual nature of dark matter particles is a mystery, he predicted that these primordial black holes (made up of ordinary matter) could behave like dark matter.
  • He computed that the mass of the primordial black holes could range from as low as one-hundredth of a milligram to as high as more than the mass of thousand Suns.

How did researchers disapprove Hawking?

  • The research team used the Hyper Suprime-Cam on the Japanese Subaru Telescope located in Hawaii to look for any tell-tale evidence of primordial black holes between Earth and Andromeda galaxy using gravitational lensing technique.
  • They kept observing the entire disk of the Andromeda galaxy consisting of lakhs of stars.
  • Previous studies had ruled out the existence of large numbers of primordial black holes that could range in size from the mass of the Moon to about 10 solar masses.
  • If the Universe is filled with invisible various primordial black holes, with masses lighter than the moon, as postulated by Hawking, then the team should have seen at least 1,000 gravitational lensing events.
  • However, they were able to see at most one such event which implies Hawking’s theory that such black holes make up all of dark matter is wrong.


Gravitational Lensing

  • Black holes are not radiant and will not be visible through any telescope.
  • However, as first suggested by Albert Einstein, if by chance, a tiny primordial black hole eclipses a distant star, light rays of the star will bend around the black hole due to gravitational effect, resulting in the star appearing to be brighter than it is originally.
  • Called `gravitational lensing’, this rare phenomena can occur only when the star, the black hole and the observer on the Earth are aligned in a straight line.
  • When the black hole is in alignment with a distant star, due to gravitational attraction, light rays are bent inwards like a lens, making the star appear brighter.
  • In extreme cases of gravity, like those produced by black holes, the star that is the source of the bent light appears magnified, an effect that can be detected by powerful telescopes.
Mar, 25, 2019

GRAPES-3 Experiment


Mains Paper 3: Science & Technology | Awareness in the fields of IT, Space, Computers, robotics, nano-technology, bio-technology

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: GRAPES-3 Experiment

Mains level: Particulars and importance of the Experiment


  • For the first time in the world, researchers at the GRAPES-3 muon telescope facility in Ooty have measured the electrical potential, size and height of a thundercloud that passed overhead on December 1, 2014.

GRAPES-3 Experiment

  • GRAPES-3 (Gamma Ray Astronomy PeV EnergieS phase-3) is designed to study cosmic rays with an array of air shower detectors and a large area muon detector.
  • It aims to probe acceleration of cosmic rays in the following four astrophysical settings.
  • It is located at Ooty in India and started as a collaboration of the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai, India and the Osaka City University, Osaka, Japan.

Measuring the potential of a Thunderstorm

  • Using a computer simulation and the observed Muon intensity variations, the group worked out the relationship with the electric potential of the cloud.
  • They calculated that the potential of the cloud they were studying was approximately 1.3 Giga Volts.
  • At 1.3 GV this cloud had 10 times higher potential than the previous record in a cloud.
  • No one has ever measured potential, size and height of a thundercloud simultaneously.

Utility of this study

  • Learning about the properties of thunderclouds can be useful in navigation of aircraft and preventing short circuits.

Cloud structure are better assessed

  • Clouds have negative charges along their lower side and positive charges on top and can be several kilometres thick.
  • If balloons are used to measure the potential difference between the top and bottom, they will take hours to traverse the distance.
  • Unfortunately, thunderstorms last only for about 15-20 minutes, and this method fails.


What are Muons? How are they detected?

  • Muons and other particles are produced when cosmic rays bombard air particles surrounding the earth.
  • The muons produced can have positive or negative charge.
  • When a positively charged muon falls through a cloud, it loses energy.
  • If its energy falls below 1 giga electron volt (GeV), which is the threshold of detection of the GRAPES-3 muon telescope, it goes undetected.
  • On the contrary, a negatively charged muon gains energy when falling through the cloud and gets detected.
  • Since there are more positive than negative muons produced in nature, the two effects don’t cancel out, and a net change in intensity is detected.
Mar, 04, 2019

Atmospheric Waves Experiment (AWE)


Mains Paper 3: Science & Technology | Awareness in the fields of IT, Space, Computers, robotics, nano-technology, bio-technology

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: AWE mission

Mains level: Space missions and their objectives


  • NASA has selected a $42 million mission that will help scientists understand and, ultimately, forecast the vast space weather system around our planet.

Atmospheric Waves Experiment (AWE) mission

  • AWE is a Mission of Opportunity under NASA’s Heliophysics Explorers Program, which conducts focused scientific research and develops instrumentation to fill the scientific gaps between the agency’s larger missions.
  • The AWE mission will cost $42 million and is planned to launch in August 2022, attached to the exterior of the Earth-orbiting International Space Station (ISS).
  • The new experiment will obtain global observations of an important driver of space weather in a dynamic region of Earth’s upper atmosphere that can cause interference with radio and GPS communications.
  • The AWE will focus on colourful bands of light in Earth’s atmosphere, called airglow, to determine what combination of forces drive space weather in the upper atmosphere.

Why new mission?

  • Space weather is important because it can have profound impacts affecting technology and astronauts in space, disrupting radio communications and, at its most severe, overwhelming power grids.
  • Researchers once thought that only the Sun’s constant outflow of ultraviolet light and particles, the solar wind, could affect the region.
  • However, recently they have learned that solar variability is not enough to drive the changes observed, and Earth’s weather also must be having an effect.
  • To help unravel that connection, AWE will investigate how waves in the lower atmosphere, caused by variations in the densities of different packets of air, impact the upper atmosphere.
  • This proposed mission would investigate how giant space weather storms from the Sun, called solar particle storms, are accelerated and released into planetary space.
Mar, 02, 2019

How the Moon got ‘sunburns’: A result of sheer magnetism


Mains Paper 3: Science & Technology | Awareness in the fields of IT, Space, Computers, robotics, nano-technology, bio-technology

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: ARTEMIS Mission

Mains level: Space missions and their objectives


  • The Moon has visible ‘sunburns’, or distinctive patterns of swirls on its surface.
  • NASA has now analysed data to show that these are a result of interactions between the Sun’s damaging radiation with pockets of lunar magnetic field.

Sunburns on Moon

  • Every object, planet or person travelling through space has to contend with the Sun’s damaging radiation.
  • Research using data from NASA’s ARTEMIS mission suggests how the solar wind and the Moon’s crustal magnetic fields work together to give the Moon a distinctive pattern of darker and lighter swirls.
  • The Sun releases a continuous outflow of particles and radiation called the solar wind.
  • Because the solar wind is magnetised, Earth’s natural magnetic field deflects the solar wind particles so that only a small fraction of them reach the planet’s atmosphere.
  • But the Moon has no global magnetic field; magnetised rocks near the lunar surface do create small, localised spots of magnetic field.

‘Magnetic Sunscreen’

  • The magnetic fields in some regions are locally acting as this magnetic sunscreen.
  • Under these miniature magnetic umbrellas, the material that makes up the Moon’s surface, called regolith, is shielded from the Sun’s particles.
  • As those particles flow toward the Moon, they are deflected to the areas just around the magnetic bubbles, where chemical reactions with the regolith darken the surface.
  • This creates the distinctive swirls of darker and lighter material.

About ARTEMIS Mission

  • ARTEMIS stands for Acceleration, Reconnection, Turbulence and Electrodynamics of the Moon’s Interaction with the Sun (ARTEMIS).
  • The mission is focusing on measuring pickup ions from the exosphere, the electrostatic charging of the surface, the plasma wake, and the interaction of the solar wind with remnant crustal magnetic anomalies.
  • It also uses lunar orbit as a platform to observe the solar wind and (around full Moon) the distant terrestrial magnetotail.
Feb, 16, 2019

NASA’s Opportunity Rover


Mains Paper 3: Science & Technology | Awareness in the fields of IT, Space, Computers, robotics, nano-technology, bio-technology

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Opportunity and Spirit Rovers

Mains level: Space missions and their objectives


  • NASA has announced the end of the Opportunity rover’s mission.
  • Opportunity rolled out on to the Martian surface in 2004, 20 days after its twin, Spirit, had landed on the other side of the Red Planet.
  • Over the next 14 years, it got successes that made it one of the most overachieving explorer robots ever built.

Spirit and Opportunity Rovers

  1. Spirit and Opportunity were identical, golf-cart-sized, solar-powered rovers.
  2. Spirit landed at Gusev Crater; Opportunity followed, landing on the opposite side of Mars at Meridiani Planum.
  3. Contact with Spirit was lost in March 2010, and the mission was declared over in May, 2011.
  4. Opportunity worked on Mars for over 14 years, longer than any other robot. Both rovers were originally supposed to have only 90-day missions.
  5. Opportunity travelled 45.16 km on the surface of Mars, more than any other rover.
  6. Its equipment have been compromised by the storm, which struck while the rover was at a site called Perseverance Valley.

Finding Water

  1.  Haematite-rich small spherules, concretions nicknamed “blueberries” as photographed by Opportunity provided evidence of a watery ancient environment.
  2. Foremost among Spirit and Opportunity’s many science discoveries: Mars was likely wetter and warmer in the past.
  3. These conditions could have served as a cradle for life on Mars at a time when life first emerged on Earth.
  4. Opportunity was the first rover to identify and characterize sedimentary rocks on a planet other than Earth.
  5. Opportunity found white veins of gypsum, a sign of water that travelled through underground fractures.
  6. It also discovered clay minerals that formed in neutral-pH water.

Importance of the mission

  1. For over 14 years, Opportunity encountered challenges that called for skill and innovation to overcome.
  2. It drove in reverse, negotiated loose surfaces, sand traps, and slopes as steep as 31 degrees.
  3. The rover demonstrated reliable Mars-Earth communication.
  4. Curiosity and the upcoming Mars 2020 rovers is build upon their lessons.
Jan, 05, 2019

Ultima Thule: Farthest object ever visited, what secrets does it hold?


Mains Paper 3: Science & Technology | Awareness in the fields of IT, Space, Computers, robotics, nano-technology, bio-technology

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: New Horizon Probe, Kupier Belt, Ultima Thule

Mains level: NASA missions and their objectives


  • Recently NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft carried out a historic flyby of a distant object called Ultima Thule followed by beaming back of the first images.
  • It is the most distant object ever visited, which is one of the reasons that make the mission special.

Ultima Thule

  1. Officially named (486958) 2014 MU69, it earned the nickname Ultima Thule following a public contest in 2018.
  2. It is located in the Kuiper Belt, a disc in the outer Solar System (beyond Neptune) that consists of small bodies including Pluto.
  3. 2014 MU69 was discovered in June 2014 by astronomers using the Hubble Space Telescope but is so distant that many of its characteristics remain to be understood.

Peculiarity of the object

  1. Located about 6.5 billion kilometres from Earth, 2014 MU69 is believed to be a peanut-shaped space rock about 32 km long and 16 km wide.
  2. Its shape has given rise to the theory that it might actually be two rocks moving in tandem.
  3. It orbits the Sun once every 298 years.
  4. In March 2018, NASA invited suggestions for a nickname for 2014 MU69. Out of 34,000 submissions, NASA chose Ultima Thule, which means “beyond the borders of the known world”.
  5. In July 2018, scientists calculated that they would be able to see the object’s shadow from the southern tip of Argentina.

The mission

  1. New Horizons, a space probe that was launched in 2006, became the first mission to visit Pluto in 2015.
  2. Travelling farther into the Kuiper Belt, the nuclear-powered space probe has come within 3,500 km of Ultima Thule.
  3. Images taken revealed that the object may have a shape similar to a bowling pin, or a “snowman”, or a peanut spinning end over end, or could be two objects orbiting each other.
  4. Flyby data showed that Ultima Thule is spinning like a propeller with the axis pointing approximately toward New Horizons.
  5. NASA released a composite of two images taken by New Horizons’ high-resolution Long-Range Reconnaissance Imager.

Importance of the Probe

  1. The mission will look for more exact details of the object’s size, shape, orbit and environment.
  2. The probe is important because it holds remnants from the birth of the Solar System.
  3. Many Kuiper Belt objects have remained unchanged for billions of years, and could provide clues to the history of the Solar System, and possibly the conditions that led to the evolution of a habitable world like Earth.


Kuiper Belt

  1. Kuiper belt is a region of the solar system beyond the planets, extending from the orbit of Neptune. It consist mainly small bodies or remnants from the solar system’s formation.
  2. It is similar to the asteroid belt, although it is far larger 20 times as wide and 200 times as massive.
  3. The Kuiper belt objects (KBO) are composed largely of frozen volatiles (termed ‘ices’), such as methane, ammonia and water.
  4. Kuiper belt is home to at least three dwarf planets Pluto, Haumea and Makemake.
  5. Pluto, discovered in 1930, is considered its largest member.
Jan, 04, 2019

China’s Chang’e-4 lunar rover lands on moon’s far side


Mains Paper 3: Science & Technology | Awareness in the fields of IT, Space, Computers, robotics, nano-technology, bio-technology

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Chang’e-4

Mains level: Space Objects and their significance


  • China’s Chang’e-4 lunar rover scripted history when it made the first-ever soft landing on the far side of the moon.

Chang’e-4 Mission

  1. Chang’e-4 named after a Chinese moon goddess and comprising a lander and a rover, touched down at the preselected landing area at 177.6 degrees east longitude and 45.5 degrees south latitude on the far side of the moon.
  2. The lunar explorer landed on the far side of the moon and has already sent back its first pictures from the surface.
  3. The pioneering achievement is another demonstration of China’s ambitions to be a space power.
  4. The robotic spacecraft is carrying instruments to analyse the unexplored region’s geology and will conduct biological experiments.
  5. The probe was launched by a Long March-3B carrier rocket on December 8 from the Xichang Satellite Launch Centre in Sichuan Province.
  6. It landed on the Von Karman crater in the South Pole-Aitken basin and then sent back a picture of the landing site shot by one of the monitor cameras on the probe’s lander, marking the world’s first image taken on the moon’s far side.
  7. The scientific tasks of the Chang’e-4 mission include low-frequency radio astronomical observation, surveying the terrain and landforms, detecting the mineral composition and shallow lunar surface structure, and measuring the neutron radiation and neutral atoms to study the environment on the far side of the moon.

What makes it special?

  1. The far side has been extensively photographed by spacecraft, starting with a Soviet probe in 1959, but no probe had ever made a soft landing onto it.
  2. Scientists around the world have not been able to conduct close observations and surveys of the region for decades.

South Pole of the Moon

  1. Tidal forces on Earth slow the moon’s rotation to the point where the same side always faces Earth.
  2. The other side, most of which is never visible from Earth, is the far side of the moon.
  3. Since the moon’s revolution cycle is the same as its rotation cycle, the same side always faces Earth.
  4. The far side of the moon is the hemisphere that never faces Earth, due to the moon’s rotation.
  5. It is sometimes mistakenly referred to as the “dark side of the moon,” even though it receives just as much sunlight as its Earth-facing side.

About Chang E

  1. Named after the goddess of the moon in Chinese legends, the first Chang’e spacecraft was launched in 2007 to verify China’s lunar probe technology, obtain lunar images and perform scientific surveys.
  2. The Chang’e 2 followed in 2010 to carry out high-definition imaging of the moon and investigate landing conditions for the Chang’e 3.
  3. Chang’e 3 landed on the moon in 2013.
  4. Chang’e 3 released the first Chinese lunar rover, Yutu, on the moon and worked there for around 1,000 days.
Dec, 31, 2018

China’s BeiDou navigation satellite, rival to US GPS, starts global services


Mains Paper 3: Science & Technology | Awareness in the fields of IT, Space, Computers, robotics, nano-technology, bio-technology

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: BeiDou Navigation Satellite System

Mains level: Particulars of the Chinese navigation system


  • China’s BeiDou Navigation Satellite System (BDS), touted as a rival to the widely-used American GPS, has started providing global services.

BeiDou Navigation Satellite System (BDS)

  1. Named after the Chinese term for the ‘Big Dipper’, the BeiDou system started serving China in 2000 and the Asia-Pacific region in 2012.
  2. It will be the fourth global satellite navigation system after the US GPS, Russia’s GLONASS and the European Union’s Galileo.
  3. The positioning accuracy of the system has reached 10 metres globally and five metres in the Asia-Pacific region.
  4. Its velocity accuracy is 0.2 metres per second, while its timing accuracy stands at 20 nanoseconds, he said.
  5. Pakistan has become the first country to use the BeiDou system ending its reliance on the Global Positioning System (GPS).

What makes its special?

  1. The total number of satellite navigation patent applications in China has reached 54,000, ranking first in the world.
  2. More than 14,000 companies and organisations are doing business related to BDS, employing over 500,000 people.
  3. In China, about 6.17 million vehicles, 35,600 postal and express delivery vehicles, as well as 80,000 buses in 36 major cities, use BDS. T
  4. The system is also used in 3,230 inland river navigation facilities and 2,960 marine navigation facilities.
Dec, 25, 2018

China launches first satellite for space-based broadband project


Mains Paper 3: Science & Technology | Awareness in the fields of IT, Space, Computers, robotics, nano-technology, bio-technology

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Hongyun Project

Mains level: Global quest for low-cost, high-performance satellite network


  • China on December 22 launched its first communication satellite to provide broadband internet services worldwide in an apparent bid to rival Google and other international firms.

Hongyun Project

  1. The Hongyun project, started in September 2016, aims to build a space-based communications network to provide broadband internet connectivity to users around the world, especially those in the underserved regions.
  2. The satellite was launched from a Long March 11 carrier rocket from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre in north-western China.
  3. It is the first in the Hongyun project planned by China Aerospace Science and Industry Corp (CASIC).
  4. The spacecraft is tasked with verifying basic designs of Hongyun satellite and demonstrating low-orbit broadband communications technologies.

About the Satellite

  1. Weighing 247 kilograms, the satellite works in a sun-synchronous orbit about 1,100 kilometres above earth.
  2. It is powered by solar arrays and has a design life of one year, but is expected to operate longer.
  3. CASIC plans to launch four mass-production Hongyun satellites in future.

A Global Quest

  1. The concept of running a low-cost, high-performance satellite network to provide space-based communications and internet services has become popular globally among industry players.
  2. Currently, many foreign tech companies, including Google, SpaceX, OneWeb and Telesat, have already launched plans to use satellites to provide free internet access.
  3. The U.S.’ SpaceX launched two experimental satellites last month to test technologies for its Starlink project, in which tech tycoon Elon Musk proposes to put a total of nearly 12,000 satellites into orbit by the mid-2020s.
  4. Similarly, U.S. firm, OneWeb, plans to launch a satellite constellation of 648 low-Earth orbit microsatellites by the end of 2019, though few developments have been reported.
  5. Chinese internet technology firm unveiled the first satellite in a constellation plan comprising of 272 satellites to provide free WiFi service worldwide.
Dec, 18, 2018

NASA’s HiRISE photographs Mars InSight lander from space


Mains Paper 3: Science & Technology | Awareness in the fields of IT, Space, Computers, robotics etc.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: HiRISE

Mains level: Importance of the Mars mission


  • NASA has pinpointed the exact landing location of its newly launched InSight lander, using a powerful camera onboard another of the agency’s spacecraft, hovering around the Red Planet.

After InSight’s landing

  1. On November 26, InSight landed within a 130 km ellipse at Elysium Planitia on Mars.
  2. However, there was no way to determine exactly where it touched down within this region.
  3. InSight was set to study the interior of Mars, and will explore valuable science as NASA prepares to send astronauts to the Moon and later to Mars.
  4. The spacecraft will operate on the surface for one Martian year, plus 40 Martian days, or sols, until November 24, 2020.


  1. The HiRISE (which stands for High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment) aboard Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) spotted Martian landscape and ground around the lander.
  2. It released three new features on the Martian landscape, which appear to be teal.
  3. However, it is not their actual colour, but light reflected off their surfaces caused the colour to be saturated.
  4. The ground around the lander appears dark, having been blasted by its retro-rockets during descent.


InSight Mars Mission

  • Please navigate to the page:

Nasa Mars InSight blasts off from California Air Base to check on ‘Marsquakes’

Dec, 15, 2018

NASA's ICESat-2 maps Antarctic ice sheet melting: Study


Mains Paper 3: Science & Technology | Awareness in the fields of IT, Space, Computers, robotics, nano-technology, bio-technology

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: ICESat-2 Mission

Mains level: Space missions and their objectives


  • NASA’s ICESat-2 launched less than three months ago has mapped melting ice sheets in Antarctica and the resulting sea level rise across the globe, which could help improve climate forecasts.


  1. The ICESat-2 stands for Ice, Cloud and land Elevation Satellite-2 .
  2. It is measuring the height of sea ice to within an inch, tracing the terrain of previously unmapped Antarctic valleys, surveying remote ice sheets, and peering through forest canopies and shallow coastal waters.
  3. With each pass of the ICESat-2 satellite, the mission is adding to datasets tracking Earth’s rapidly changing ice.
  4. As ICESat-2 orbits over the Antarctic Ice Sheet, the photon returns reflect from the surface and show high ice plateaus, crevasses in the ice 20 metres deep, and the sharp edges of ice shelves dropping into the ocean.

Data Collection

  1. Sea ice of different thickness and bumpiness is broken up by the cracks between floes, called leads, in this graph of photon returns from ICESat-2 as it orbits over the Weddell Sea in Antarctica.
  2. When sea ice first forms on polar oceans, before snow falls on it and wind smashes it into other floes, it is thin, flat and smooth.
  3. The first months of ICESat-2 data collected over Arctic and Antarctic sea ice reveal thin ice, thick ice, and features such as ice ridges.
  4. Areas of open water in the cracks between the ice floes, called leads, stand out in the data because of the difference in reflectivity between ice and water.

Mapping the melting glaciers

  1. By comparing the height of that water surface in the leads with the height of the ice, scientists are estimating ice freeboard and thickness.
  2. With the high precision of ICESat-2, plus the satellite’s six beams taking data simultaneously, researchers have an unprecedented understanding of the thickness of sea ice, which will be used to help improve climate modeling and forecasts.
  3. The ability to identify newly formed, thin ice will help researchers track the seasonal changes in remote polar regions, and understand the processes that drive those processes.
  4. The ice-thickness data will also help scientists improve computer models of how sea ice responds to Arctic warming, as well as forecasts of sea ice cover.
Dec, 14, 2018

Water traces found on asteroid Bennu


Mains Paper 3: Science & Technology | Awareness in the fields of IT, Space, Computers, robotics, nano-technology, bio-technology

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Osiris-Rex

Mains level: Space missions and their objectives


Water traces on asteroid

  1. NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft has discovered ingredients for water on a nearby skyscraper-sized asteroid that may hold clues to the origins of life on the earth.
  2. OSIRIS-REx, which flew last week within a scant 19 km of the asteroid Bennu some 2.25 million km from the earth, has found traces of hydrogen and oxygen molecules.


  1. The OSIRIS-REx (Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer) is a NASA asteroid study and sample-return mission launched in 2016.
  2. The mission’s main goal is to obtain a sample of at least 60 grams (2.1 oz) from 101955 Bennu, a carbonaceous near-Earth asteroid, and return the sample to Earth for a detailed analysis.
  3. Bennu orbits the Sun at roughly the same distance as the earth.
  4. There is concern among scientists about the possibility of Bennu impacting earth late in the 22nd century.

Why study asteroids?

  1. Asteroids are among the leftover debris from the solar system’s formation some 4.5 billion years ago.
  2. Scientists believe asteroids and comets crashing into early earth may have delivered organic compounds and water that seeded the planet for life.
  3. Atomic-level analysis of samples from Bennu could provide key evidence to support that hypothesis.

Sample collection and fly-back

  1. When samples of this material are returned by the mission to the earth in 2023, scientists will receive a treasure trove of new information about the history and evolution of our solar system.
  2. OSIRIS-REx will pass later this month just 1.9 km from Bennu, entering the asteroid’s gravitational pull and analysing its terrain.
  3. From there, the spacecraft will begin to gradually tighten its orbit around the asteroid, spiralling to within 2 meters of its surface so its robot arm can snatch a sample of Bennu by July 2020.
  4. The spacecraft will later fly back to the earth, jettisoning a capsule bearing the asteroid specimen in September 2023.
Dec, 05, 2018

Soyuz: first manned mission to ISS since October failure


Mains Paper 3: Science & Technology | Awareness in the fields of IT, Space, Computers, robotics, nano-technology, bio-technology

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Soyuz Programme, ISS

Mains level: Space missions and their objectives


Mission to ISS

  1. A Soyuz rocket carrying Russian, American and Canadian astronauts took off from Kazakhstan and reached orbit in the first manned mission since a failed launch in October.
  2. It was the first manned launch for the Soviet-era Soyuz when a rocket carrying astronauts failed just minutes after blast-off, forcing the pair to make an emergency landing.
  3. They escaped unharmed but the failed launch as first such incident in Russia’s post-Soviet history raised concerns about the state of the programme.
  4. The Soyuz is the only means of reaching the ISS since the U.S. retired the space shuttle in 2011.

About Soyuz Programme

  1. The Soyuz programme (meaning “Union”) is a human spaceflight programme that was initiated by the Soviet Union in the early 1960s.
  2. It was originally a part of Moon landing project intended to put a Soviet cosmonaut on the Moon.
  3. It was the third Soviet human spaceflight programme after the Vostok and Voskhod programme.
  4. The programme consists of the Soyuz spacecraft and the Soyuz rocket and is now the responsibility of the Russian Roscosmos.
  5. Since the retirement of the US Space Shuttle in 2011, all human spaceflights to and from the International Space Station have been carried out using Soyuz.
Dec, 04, 2018

NASA’s Osiris-Rex spacecraft arrives at asteroid Bennu


Mains Paper 3: Science & Technology | Awareness in the fields of IT, Space, Computers, robotics, nano-technology, bio-technology

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Osiris-Rex

Mains level: Space missions and their objectives


  • After a two-year chase, a NASA spacecraft arrived on December 3 at the ancient asteroid Bennu, its first visitor in billions of years.

Why it is important?

  1. The carbon-rich asteroid Bennu could hold evidence dating back to the beginning of our solar system 4.5 billion years ago.
  2. As such, it is an astronomical time capsule.
  3. NASA has brought back comet dust and solar wind particles before, but never asteroid samples.

About Osiris-Rex

  1. The $800 million Osiris-Rex mission began with a 2016 launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida.
  2. Both the spacecraft and asteroid’s names come from Egyptian mythology. Osiris is the god of the afterlife, while Bennu represents the heron and creation.
  3. Osiris-Rex is actually a NASA acronym for origins, spectral interpretation, resource identification, security-regolith explorer.
  4. Osiris-Rex aims to collect at least 60g of dust and gravel.
  5. The spacecraft won’t land, but rather use a 10-foot (3-metre) mechanical arm in 2020 to momentarily touchdown and vacuum up particles.
  6. The sample container would break loose and head toward Earth in 2021.
  7. The collection parachuting down to Utah would represent the biggest cosmic haul since the Apollo astronauts hand-delivered moon rocks to Earth in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Japan’s quest on asteroids

  1. A Japanese spacecraft, meanwhile, has been hanging out at another near-Earth asteroid since June, also for samples.
  2. It is Japan’s second asteroid mission. This latest rock is named Ryugu and about double the size of Bennu.
  3. Japan has also managed to return some tiny particles in 2010 from its first asteroid mission, also named Hayab

Danger posed by these asteroids

  1. Both Bennu and Ryugu are considered potentially hazardous asteroids.
  2. That means they could smack Earth years from now. At worst, Bennu would carve out a crater during a projected close call 150 years from now.
  3. Contact with Bennu will not significantly change its orbit or make it more dangerous to us.
Nov, 27, 2018

NASA's InSight spacecraft lands on red planet after six-month journey


Mains Paper 3: Science & Technology | Awareness in the fields of IT, Space, Computers, robotics, nano-technology

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Particulars of the mission

Mains level: Importance of the mission


Landing on the Red Planet

  1. InSight, a NASA spacecraft designed to burrow beneath the surface of Mars landed on the red after a six-month, 482 million-km journey and a perilous, six-minute descent through the rose-hued atmosphere.
  2. It was NASA’s ninth attempt to land at Mars since the 1976 Viking probes. All but one of the previous U.S. touchdowns was successful.
  3. NASA last landed on Mars in 2012 with the Curiosity rover.
  4. The plan called for the spacecraft to go from 12,300 mph (19,800 kph) to zero in six minutes flat as it pierced the Martian atmosphere and settled on the surface.

Landing: A difficult Job

  1. Landing on Mars is one of the hardest single jobs that people have to do in planetary exploration.
  2. Mars has been the graveyard for a multitude of space missions.
  3. Up to now, the success rate at the Mars has been only 40 percent, counting every attempted flyby, orbital flight and landing by the U.S., Russia and other countries since 1960.

Missions on board with InSight

  1. InSight was shooting for Elysium Planitia, a plain near the Martian equator that the InSight team hopes is as flat.
  2. This is no rock-collecting expedition.
  3. Instead, the stationary 800-pound (360-kilogram) lander will use its 6-foot (1.8-metre) robotic arm to place a mechanical mole and seismometer on the ground.
  4. The self-hammering mole will burrow 16 feet (5 metres) down to measure the planet’s internal heat, while the seismometer listens for possible quakes.
  5. No lander has dug deeper than several inches, and no seismometer has ever worked on Mars.

Expected Outcomes

  1. By examining the interior of Mars, scientists hope to understand how our solar system’s rocky planets formed 4.5 billion years ago.
  2. It would try to justify that why they turned out so different i.e.Mars cold and dry, Venus and Mercury burning hot, and Earth hospitable to life.
  3. InSight has no life-detecting capability, however.
  4. NASA’s Mars 2020 mission will collect rocks that will eventually be brought back to Earth and analysed for evidence of ancient life.


InSight Mars Mission

  • Please navigate to the page:

Nasa Mars InSight blasts off from California Air Base to check on ‘Marsquakes’

Nov, 10, 2018

NASA’s Ralph and Lucy set to visit Jupiter’s Trojan asteroids in 2021

Image result for NASA’s Ralph and Lucy


Mains Paper 3: Science & Technology | Awareness in the fields of IT, Space, Computers, robotics, nano-technology, bio-technology

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Ralph, Lucy

Mains level: Space missions and their objectives


  • NASA’s Ralph — a space instrument that has travelled as far as Pluto — is set to explore Jupiter’s Trojan asteroids, which are remnants from the early days of the solar system.


  1. Ralph was first launched aboard the New Horizons spacecraft in 2006 and obtained stunning flyby images of Jupiter and its moons.
  2. This was followed by a visit to Pluto where Ralph took the first high-definition pictures of the iconic minor planet.
  3. In 2021, Ralph is set to journey with the Lucy mission to Jupiter’s Trojan asteroids.
  4. The instrument will fly by another Kuiper Belt object called 2014 MU69 nicknamed Ultima Thule in January 2019.
  5. Ralph’s observations of 2014 MU69 will provide unique insights into this small, icy world.

Lucy and L’Ralph

  1. The Lucy spacecraft carries a near-twin of Ralph, called L’Ralph, which will investigate Jupiter’s Trojan asteroids.
  2. The L’Ralph instrument suite will study this diverse group of bodies.
  3. Lucy will fly by six Trojans and one Main Belt asteroid more than any other previous asteroid mission.
  4. L’Ralph will detect the Trojan asteroids’ chemical fingerprints.
  5. L’Ralph allows scientists to interpret data provided by the Sun’s reflected light that are the fingerprints of different elements and compounds.
  6. These data could provide clues about how organic molecules form in primitive bodies, a process that might also have led to the emergence of life on Earth.
Nov, 10, 2018

China unveils new 'Heavenly Palace' space station as ISS days numbered

Related image


Mains Paper 3: Science & Technology | Awareness in the fields of IT, Space, Computers, robotics, nano-technology, bio-technology

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Tiangong

Mains level: Space missions and their objectives


  1. China unveiled a replica of its first permanently crewed space station.
  2. It would replace the ISS, international community’s orbiting laboratory .

Tiangong- The Heavenly Palace

  1. The unveiled model is a 17-metre (55-foot) core module.
  2. It represented the living and working space of the Tiangong or “Heavenly Palace” which will also have two other modules for scientific experiments and will be equipped with solar panels.
  3. Three astronauts will be permanently stationed in the 60-tonne orbiting lab, which will enable the crew to conduct biological and microgravity research.
  4. Assembly is expected to be completed around 2022 and the station would have a lifespan of around 10 years.
  5. China will then have the only space station in orbit, though it will be much smaller than the ISS which weighs 400 tonnes and is as large as a football pitch.

Open for All

  1. China has announced that the lab would be open to “all countries” to conduct science experiments.
  2. Research institutes, universities, and public and private companies have been invited to propose projects.
  3. The European Space Agency has sent astronauts to China to receive training in order to be ready to work inside the Chinese space station once it is launched.


International Space Station

  1. The International Space Station (ISS) is a space station, or a habitable artificial satellite, in low Earth orbit.
  2. It is collaboration between the United States, Russia, Canada, Europe and Japan.
  3. The ISS is the largest human-made body in low Earth orbit and can often be seen with the naked eye from Earth.
  4. The ISS serves as a microgravity and space environment research laboratory in which crew members conduct experiments in biology, human biology, physics, astronomy, meteorology, and other fields.
  5. The station is suited for the testing of spacecraft systems and equipment required for missions to the Moon and Mars.
  6. Its first component launched into orbit in 1998, and the last pressurized module was fitted in 2011 and is expected to operate until at least 2028.
  7. It consists of pressurized modules, external trusses, solar arrays.
Nov, 08, 2018

Earth has two extra, hidden 'moons'


Mains Paper 3: Science & Technology | Awareness in the fields of IT, Space, Computers, robotics, nano-technology, bio-technology

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Kordylewski clouds, Lagrange Points

Mains level: Various space missions and their objectives


Three Moons for Earth

  1. The existence of the two extra ‘moons’ was hotly debated for over 50 years but as per a recent National Geographic report, Hungarian astronomers and physicists have finally provided enough data to confirm.
  2. The moon has at least two other companions made entirely of dust.
  3. The team of researchers confirmed their presence through photographs of the natural bodies at a distance of approximately 250,000 miles more or less the same distance as our moon.

Facts about the newly discovered dust moons

  1. The presence of the dust ‘moons’ or Kordylewski Clouds had been inferred by researchers since long before
  2. The first glimpse of the clouds was seen only in 1961 by Polish astronomer Kazimierz Kordylewski, after whom the dust clouds were named
  3. The new findings note that each Kordylewski cloud is about 15 by 10 degrees wide, or equal to 30 by 20 lunar disks in the night sky
  4. They are spread over a space area that is almost nine times the width of Earth — about 65,000 by 45,000 miles in actual size
  5. The dust ‘moons’ are huge but they are made of tiny dust particles that barely measure one micrometre across

How to spot them?

  1. When sunlight hits the dust particles, they glow very faintly, much like the zodiacal light we receive from the dust scattered in between planetary orbits
  2. Since these satellite dust clouds emit an extremely faint light, they are very difficult to find amidst the star light, sky glow, galactic light and zodiacal light in the sky
  3. The recent study revealing the existence of the two dust ‘moons’ used special polarizing filters on cameras to reveal the scattered light coming from the reflection of the individual dust particles in the clouds

Kordylewski clouds are always changing

  1. The Kordylewski clouds are always changing.
  2. They might be stable in orbit and may have existed for millions of years, but the ingredients that make the clouds the dust particles are always getting swapped for others.
  3. Some escape to gravitational pulls from Earth or the moon, while others come from interplanetary spaces and meteor showers

How Lagrange points in space helped find the extra ‘moons’

  1. Speculations about Earth having multiple moons have taken turns in astronomer circles for years.
  2. It was realized that if extra moons did exist, they could only do so in stable points in Earth’s orbit.
  3. Lagrange points are sweet spots in a planetary orbit where the pull of gravity working from two opposing celestial bodies is balanced due to the centripetal force of their orbits.
  4. Thus, an object at a Lagrange point will remain fixed at a constant distance from both the moon and Earth.
  5. In the 1950s, Kordylewski searched two Lagrange points L4 and L5  where he found the first glimpse of the two dust clouds orbiting Earth.

Aspect associated with Dust Clouds

  1. These huge clouds of dust could add much to space exploration efforts when it comes to fuel consumption and safety issues.
  2. Sometimes, satellites need to be parked at the Lagrange points so that the spacecraft consumes minimal fuel and can still stay in orbit.
  3. The James Webb Space Telescope will be set up at the L2 Lagrange point in 2020 for this purpose.
  4. Moreover, space agencies are also planning to use Lagrange points as transfer stations for Mars missions.
Nov, 05, 2018

The legacy of Kepler, retired planet-hunter


Mains Paper 3: Science & Technology | Awareness in the fields of IT, Space, Computers, robotics, nano-technology, bio-technology

From the UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Kepler Space Telescope

Mains level: Space missions and their objectives


Kepler: Retiring out of fuel

  • NASA’s Kepler space telescope, which has been retired after running out of fuel, is being widely described as the most prolific planet-hunting machine in history.

The Planet Hunter

  1. Indeed, by June 2017, it had discovered more than 4,000 planet candidates and 2,300 confirmed planets.
  2. Kepler also showed that the galaxy is teeming — “other surprises”.
  3. From its legacy, here are 10 landmark findings:

Double Sunset

  1. The Star Wars franchise showed the planet Tatooine as part of a double-star system, hence two sunsets.
  2. Kepler showed that double sunsets do exist; it discovered Kepler-16b, the first known planet (most likely a gas giant) around a double-star system.

Earth-like Planets

  1. Kepler found planets near in size to Earth and orbiting at a distance where liquid water could pool on the surface.
  2. Kepler-62f, for example, is about 40% bigger than Earth and is likely rocky.

Planet candidates

  1. Many of the planet candidates are likely to have small rocky cores enveloped by a thick atmosphere of hydrogen and helium, and some are thought to be ocean worlds.
  2. That doesn’t necessarily mean the oceans are full of water.

Life candidates

  1. Kepler’s survey has made it possible to measure the number of Earth-size habitable zone planets in the galaxy.
  2. Scientists hope to determine how many planets like Earth exist.

Size classification

  • Kepler’s discoveries showed that a lot of planets are either approximately 1.5 times the size of Earth or just smaller than Neptune.
  • They are, therefore, called Super Earths and mini-Neptunes.

Lava world

  1. Kepler-10b has a year that lasts less than an Earth day, and density so high that it is probably made of iron and rock.
  2. One of Kepler’s early discoveries, the first solid evidence of a rocky planet outside the Solar System.

Light & Aliens

  1. Kepler detected fluctuating light from “Tabby’s Star”, triggering mass speculation of an alien megastructure.
  2. Astronomers, however, have since concluded that it is probably an orbiting dust cloud.

Cannibal Star

  1. One may wander about a dying solar system and what happens to it.
  2. Kepler discovered a white dwarf, the compact corpse of a star in the process of vaporizing a planet.

Exploding Supernova

  1. Kepler recorded a sped-up version of a supernova called a “fast-evolving luminescent transit” that reached its peak brightness at breakneck speed.
  2. It was caused by a star spewing out a dense shell of gas that lit up when hit with the shockwave from the blast.

Solar System Cousin

  1. In 2014, scientists using data from Kepler discovered seven planets orbiting Kepler-90, a Sun-like star located 2,500 light-years away.
  2. Later, an eighth planet was identified in this planetary system, tying it with our own Solar System in having the highest number of known planets.


Kepler Mission

  1. Kepler is a space observatory launched by NASA to discover Earth-size planets orbiting other stars and was launched on March 7, 2009.
  2. Named after astronomer Johannes Kepler. It was launched into an Earth-trailing heliocentric orbit
  3. Kepler is part of NASA’s Discovery Program of relatively low-cost, focused primary science missions
  4. The scientific objective of Kepler is to explore the structure and diversity of planetary systems
  5. This spacecraft aims:
  • To determine how many Earth-size and larger planets there are in or near the habitable zone (often called “Goldilocks planets”)
  • To determine the range of size and shape of the orbits of these planets
  • To estimate how many planets there are in multiple-star systems
  • To determine the range of orbit size, brightness, size, mass and density of short-period giant planets
  • To identify additional members of each discovered planetary system using other techniques
  • Determine the properties of those stars that harbor planetary systems
Nov, 05, 2018

‘NASA’s historic Dawn mission to asteroid belt comes to end’


Mains Paper 3: Science & Technology | Awareness in the fields of IT, Space, Computers, robotics, nano-technology, bio-technology

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Dawn Mission

Mains level: National & International Space missions and their objectives



  1. NASA’s pioneering Dawn spacecraft which orbited the two largest objects in the asteroid belt has run out of fuel, ending a historic 11-year mission
  2. It had unraveled many mysteries of our solar system.

Dawn Mission

  1. The Dawn mission was launched in 2007 to study the protoplanet Vesta and the dwarf planet Ceres.
  2. It missed scheduled communications sessions with NASA’s Deep Space Network.
  3. Mission managers concluded that the spacecraft finally ran out of hydrazine, the fuel that enables the spacecraft to control its pointing.
  4. The astounding images and data that Dawn collected from Vesta and Ceres are critical to understanding the history and evolution of our solar system.
  5. Dawn can no longer keep its antennae trained on Earth to communicate with mission control or turn its solar panels to the Sun to recharge, according to the US space agency.

Records set by the mission

  1. In 2011, when Dawn arrived at Vesta, the second largest world in the main asteroid belt, the spacecraft became the first to orbit a body in the region between Mars and Jupiter.
  2. In 2015, when Dawn went into orbit around Ceres, a dwarf planet that is also the largest world in the asteroid belt, the mission became the first to visit a dwarf planet and go into orbit around two destinations beyond Earth, it said.
  3. Dawn also reinforced the idea that dwarf planets could have hosted oceans over a significant part of their history and potentially still do.
  4. Dawn will remain in orbit for at least 20 years, and engineers have more than 99% confidence the orbit will last for at least 50 years
Oct, 22, 2018

Mission Mercury: How will twin probes reach there, and why?


Mains Paper 3: Science & Technology | Awareness in the fields of IT, Space, Computers, robotics, nano-technology, bio-technology

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Mercury Planetary Orbiter (MPO), Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter (MMO)

Mains level: Space missions and their objectives



  • The European Space Agency (ESA) and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) has successfully sent two probes on a joint mission to Mercury, the closest planet to the Sun.


  1. An Ariane 5 rocket, launched from French Guyana, lifted an unmanned spacecraft, BepiColombo, which is carrying the two probes.
  2. The spacecraft separated and went into orbit for the 7-year trip to Mercury.

Details of the Mission

  1. It is the first European mission to Mercury, and the first to send two spacecraft to make complementary measurements of the planet and its environment at the same time.
  2. The orbiters are ESA’s Mercury Planetary Orbiter (MPO) and JAXA’s Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter (MMO, or ‘Mio’).
  3. The ESA-built Mercury Transfer Module (MTM) will carry the orbiters to Mercury using a combination of solar electric propulsion and gravity assist flybys.

Venus en route

  1. The two orbiters will be able to operate some of their instruments during the cruise phase, to try and collect data at Venus.
  2. Moreover, some of the instruments designed to study Mercury in a particular way can be used in a completely different way at Venus, which has a thicker atmosphere.

Reaching Mercury

  1. A few months before reaching Mercury, the transfer module will be jettisoned, leaving the two science orbiters to be captured by Mercury’s gravity.
  2. MPO will separate and descend to its own orbit. Together the orbiters will make measurements.

Upcoming Challenges

  1. The Sun’s enormous gravity makes it difficult to place a spacecraft into a stable orbit around Mercury.
  2. The mission will have to ensure a controlled fall.
  3. The spacecraft has been specially designed for extreme temperatures.
Oct, 20, 2018

China to launch ‘man-made moons’ to lower electricity costs


Mains Paper 3: Science & Technology | Awareness in the fields of IT, Space, Computers, robotics, nano-technology, bio-technology

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Illumination Satellites

Mains level: Space Objects and their significance



  • China is planning to launch its own ‘artificial moon’ by 2020 to replace streetlamps and lower electricity costs in urban areas.

Illumination Satellites

  1. Chengdu, a city in southwestern Sichuan province, is developing “illumination satellites” which will shine eight times brighter than the real moon.
  2. The first man-made moon will launch from Xichang Satellite Launch Center in Sichuan, with three more to follow in 2022 if the first test goes well.
  3. Though the first launch will be experimental, the 2022 satellites will be the real deal with great civic and commercial potential.


  1. By reflecting light from the sun, the satellites could replace streetlamps in urban areas for; saving an estimated USD 170 million a year in electricity costs for Chengdu
  2. The extraterrestrial source of light could also help rescue efforts in disaster zones during blackouts, he added.

Not a first of its kind experiment

  1. China is not the first country to try beaming sunlight back to Earth.
  2. In the 1990s, Russian scientists reportedly used giant mirrors to reflect light from space in an experimental project called Znamya or Banner.

Other missions by China

  1. As China’s space programme races to catch up with that of the United States and Russia, a number of ambitious projects are in the pipeline.
  2. These include the Chang’e-4 lunar probe named after the moon goddess in Chinese mythology – which aims to launch later this year.
  3. If it succeeds, it will be the first rover to explore the “dark side” of the moon.
Oct, 19, 2018

Largest galaxy cluster in early universe found


Mains Paper 3: Science & Technology | Awareness in the fields of IT, Space, Computers, robotics, nano-technology, bio-technology

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Hyperion Super-galaxy

Mains level: Space Objects and their significance



  1. Astronomers have discovered the largest and most massive galaxy super cluster yet found in the early universe.
  2. It was formed just over two billion years after the Big Bang.


  1. The galaxy proto-supercluster, nicknamed Hyperion, was identified using the VIMOS instrument on European Southern Observatory’s (ESO) Very Large Telescope in Chile.
  2. Located in the constellation of Sextans, Hyperion was identified by a novel technique to analyse the vast amount of data obtained from the VIMOS Ultra-Deep Survey.
  3. Hyperion has a calculated mass more than one million billion times that of the Sun, making it the largest and most massive structure to be found so early in the formation of the universe.
  4. Surprisingly the galaxy was evolved in very less time when the universe was relatively young.

What makes Hyperion distinct?

  1. Hyperion has a very complex structure, containing at least seven high-density regions connected by filaments of galaxies.
  2. Its size is comparable to superclusters closer to Earth, though it has a very different structure.
  3. Superclusters closer to Earth tend to be a much more concentrated distribution of mass with clear structural features.
  4. But in Hyperion, the mass is distributed much more uniformly in a series of connected blobs, populated by loose associations of galaxies.
  5. The contrast between Hyperion and less distant superclusters is most likely due to the fact that nearby superclusters have had billions of years for gravity to gather matter together into denser regions.
  6. Hyperion is expected to evolve into something similar to the immense structures in the local universe such as the superclusters making up the Sloan Great Wall or the Virgo Supercluster that contains our own galaxy, the Milky Way.


  1. The Visible Multi-Object Spectrograph (VIMOS) is a wide field imager and a multi-object spectrograph installed at the ESO.
  2. The instrument is used for deep astronomical surveys and delivers visible images and spectra of up to 1,000 galaxies at a time
  3. It can measure the distance to hundreds of galaxies at the same time, making it possible to map the position of galaxies within the forming supercluster in three dimensions.
Oct, 09, 2018

NASA probe to fly by most distant object ever visited by a spacecraft

Click to see the enlarged image


Mains Paper 3: Science & Technology | Awareness in the fields of IT, Space, Computers, robotics, nano-technology, bio-technology

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: New Horizon Probe, Kupier Belt

Mains level: NASA missions and their objectives


Setting a New Record

  1. NASA’s New Horizons probe is on course to fly by the Kuiper Belt object nicknamed Ultima Thule, which is at a distance of 6.6 billion kilometers from Earth.
  2. This event will set the record for the most distant object ever visited by a spacecraft.
  3. The spacecraft has successfully performed the three and half-minute manoeuvre on October 3 to home in on its location.
  4. The manoeuvre slightly tweaked the spacecraft’s trajectory and bumped its speed by 2.1 metres per second keeping it on track to fly past Ultima officially named 2014 MU69 on January 1, 2019.
  5. This manoeuvre has led the farthest exploration in world more than a billion miles beyond Pluto.

Trajectory Correction Maneuver

  1. New Horizons itself was about 6.35 billion km from earth when it carried out trajectory correction maneuver (TCM), the farthest course-correction ever performed.
  2. This was the first Ultima targeting maneuver that used pictures taken by New Horizons itself to determine the spacecraft’s position relative to the Kuiper Belt object.
  3. The TCM is done by determining the current trajectories and its target, and then calculating the manoeuvering required to put the spacecraft at the desired aim point for the flyby 3,500 km from Ultima at closest approach.

Confirming the right trajectory

  1. The optical navigation images gathered by New Horizons’ Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) provide direct information of Ultima’s position relative to New Horizons.
  2. This has helped the team determine where the spacecraft is headed.
  3. The recent navigation images have helped confirm that Ultima is within about 500 km of its expected position, which is exceptionally good.
  4. The spacecraft is just 112 million kilometres from Ultima, closing in at 51,911 km/h.
  5. The team will eventually have to guide the spacecraft into an approximately 120 by 320-kilometre “box” and predict the flyby to within 140 seconds.


New Horizon Probe

  1. New Horizons is an interplanetary space probe that was launched as a part of NASA’s New Frontiers program on January 19, 2006.
  2. The primary mission is to perform a flyby study of the Pluto system. The secondary mission to fly by and study one or more other Kuiper belt objects (KBOs).
  3. After completing flyby mission of Pluto, New Horizons has maneuvered for a flyby of KBO 2014 MU69. It expected to take place on January 1, 2019.

Kuiper Belt

  1. Kuiper belt is a region of the solar system beyond the planets, extending from the orbit of Neptune. It consist mainly small bodies or remnants from the solar system’s formation.
  2. It is similar to the asteroid belt, although it is far larger 20 times as wide and 200 times as massive.
  3. The Kuiper belt objects (KBO) are composed largely of frozen volatiles (termed ‘ices’), such as methane, ammonia and water.
  4. Kuiper belt is home to at least three dwarf planets Pluto, Haumea and Makemake.
  5. Pluto, discovered in 1930, is considered its largest member.
Oct, 04, 2018

Japan drops new robot on asteroid


Mains Paper 3: Science & Technology | Awareness in the fields of IT, Space, Computers, robotics, nano-technology, bio-technology

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Hayabusa2 Probe, MASCOT

Mains level: Missions to study Asteroids



  1. The Hayabusa2 probe launched the French-German Mobile Asteroid Surface Scout, or MASCOT towards the Ryugu asteroid’s surface.
  2. The 10-kg box-shaped MASCOT is loaded with sensors.
  3. It can take images at multiple wavelengths, investigate minerals with a microscope, gauge surface temperatures and measure magnetic fields.
  4. The MASCOT got separated from the spacecraft as planned and got safely landed

Hayabusa2 Probe

  1. A Japanese probe launched a new observation robot towards an asteroid as it pursues a mission to shed light on the origins of the solar system.
  2. The Hayabusa2 is scheduled later this month to deploy an “impactor” that will explode above the asteroid, shooting a two-kilo copper object into it to blast a small crater on the surface.
  3. The probe will then hovers over the artificial crater and collect samples using an extended arm.

First Robot to land on Asteroid

  1. MASCOT’s launch comes 10 days after the Hayabusa2 dropped a pair of MINERVA-II micro-rovers on the Ryugu asteroid.
  2. It was the first time that moving, robotic observation device have been successfully landed on an asteroid.
  3. The rovers will take advantage of Ryugu’s low gravity to jump around on the surface travelling as far as 15 metres while airborne and staying in the air for as long as 15 minutes.
  4. It is aimed to survey the asteroid’s physical features with cameras and sensors.
  5. Unlike those machines, MASCOT will be largely immobile it will “jump” just once on its mission, and it can turn on its sides.
  6. The MASCOT has a maximum battery life of just 16 hours, and will transmit the data it collects to the Hayabusa2 before running out of power.
Aug, 22, 2018

NASA's InSight spacecraft crosses halfway mark to Mars


Mains Paper 3: Science & Technology | Awareness in the fields of IT, Space, Computers, robotics, nano-technology, bio-technology and issues relating to intellectual property rights.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: InSight Mission on Mars

Mains level: Importance of the mission


Halfway mark to Mars

  1. InSight stands for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport.
  2. NASA’s InSight spacecraft that is en route to Mars has passed the halfway mark to its destination and all its instruments are working well.
  3. It is expected to land on Mars on November 26 to study the Red Planet’s deep interior, NASA said in a statement.
  4. The spacecraft has now covered 277 million km since its launch 107 days ago and in another 98 days, it will travel another 208 million km and touch down in Mars’ Elysium Planitia region.
  5. The instruments aboard the spacecraft include a seismometer, which will be used to detect quakes on Mars, and a self-hammering probe that will measure the amount of heat escaping from the planet’s interior.

Compliment this news with:

Nasa Mars InSight blasts off from California Air Base to check on ‘Marsquakes’


Aug, 13, 2018

Parker, world’s first mission to Sun lifts off


Mains Paper 3: Science & Technology | Awareness in the fields of IT, Space, Computers, robotics, nano-technology, bio-technology

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Parker Solar Probe

Mains level: The newscard gives complete information about NASAs solar mission


Parker Solar Probe

  1. NASA launched the Parker Solar Probe – the space agency’s first mission to the sun – that will explore the sun’s atmosphere and its outermost atmosphere, the corona.
  2. The spacecraft is named after 91-year old solar physicist Eugene Parker, 91, who was the first scientist to describe solar wind in 1958.
  3. The probe, about the size of a car, will fly through the Sun’s atmosphere and will come as close as 3.8 million miles to the star’s surface, well within the orbit of Mercury.
  4. It will be more than seven times closer than any spacecraft has come before. The Parker probe is expected to make 24 loops of the Sun over seven years.

What makes its special?

  1. During the journey, the spacecraft will fly by Venus at speeds of 4, 30, 000 mph, the equivalent of flying from New York to Tokyo in one minute.
  2. In order to reach an orbit around the sun, the Parker Solar Probe will take seven flybys of Venus that will essentially give a gravity assist, shrinking its orbit over the course of nearly seven years.
  3. It will have to endure temperatures up to 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit (1,370 degrees Celsius) and solar radiation intensities 475 times higher than we’re used to here on Earth.

Main objectives of Parker Solar Probe

  1. The mission will attempt to uncover the Sun’s mysteries about its structure and magnetic and electric fields, as well as the energetic particles cruising near and away from Earth’s star.
  2. These events can affect satellites and astronauts as well as the Earth including power grids and radiation exposure on airline flights.
  3. The information will help researchers and scientists solve longstanding mysteries:
  • How the solar wind is accelerated
  • Why the sun’s outer atmosphere, or corona, is so much hotter than the solar surface
  • Explore mechanisms that accelerate and transport energy particles

What part of this mission will ‘touch’ the Sun?

  1. The Solar Probe Cup, dubbed ‘the bravest little instrument’, is a sensor will extend beyond the heat shield to take samples of the Sun’s atmosphere.
  2. The cup will glow red when the probe makes its closest approach to the sun, sampling the solar wind and effectively touching the sun.

Mission to end in 2025

  1. The mission is scheduled to end in June 2025 till it runs out of propellent.
  2. The first data download from the Parker Solar Probe is expected in early December after the probe reaches its first close approach of the sun in November.
  3. In 10 to 20 years, a carbon disk will be floating around the sun in orbit, and it will be around until the end of the solar system.

Europe’s Solar Probe in works

  1. The European Space Agency is also building a similar solar probe.
  2. Solar Orbiter, or SolO is undergoing final assembly and testing in the UK.
  3. It is expected to launch in 2020, arriving at its closest position to the Sun towards the end of Parker’s planned seven years of operations.
  4. SolO will go to within 42 million km of the Sun’s surface. That’s further away than Parker but it will still need an impressive shield.

Aditya-L1’s launch is also near

  1. Aditya-L1 is a spacecraft whose mission is to study the Sun.
  2. It was conceptualised by the Advisory Committee for Space Research in January 2008.
  3. It has been designed and will be built in collaboration between Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and various Indian research organizations.
  4. It will be launched by ISRO around 2019 or 2020.
Aug, 11, 2018

NASA poised to blast off first spacecraft to explore Sun

Image result for parker solar probe


Mains Paper 3: Science & Technology | Awareness in the fields of IT, Space, Computers, robotics, nano-technology, bio-technology

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Parker Solar Probe

Mains level: NASA missions and their unique features


Parker solar probe launch

  1. Parker Solar Probe, the first-ever spacecraft to fly directly toward the Sun is poised to blast off
  2. It is on a mission to plunge into our star’s sizzling atmosphere and unlock the mysteries of the centre of the solar system

Aim of the mission

  1. The goal for the Parker Solar Probe is to make 24 passes through the corona during its seven-year mission
  2. By coming closer to the Sun than any spacecraft in history, the unmanned probe’s main goal is to unveil the secrets of the corona, the unusual atmosphere around the Sun
  3. This will help scientists in predicting when a disturbance in the solar wind could hit Earth
  4. Knowing more about the solar wind and space storms will also help protect future deep space explorers as they journey toward the Moon or Mars

Heat shield to survive Sun’s high temperature

  1. The probe is protected by an ultra-powerful heat shield that is just 4.5 inches (11.43 centimetres) thick
  2. The heat shield is built to withstand radiation equivalent to up to about 500 times the Sun’s radiation on Earth
Aug, 02, 2018

NASA’s newest planet hunter starts operations


Mains Paper 3: Science & Technology | Awareness in the fields of IT, Space, Computers, robotics, nano-technology, bio-technology

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: TESS

Mains level:  Missions and its objectives


Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS)

  1. After a successful launch in April this year, NASA’s newest planet hunter, the TESS has now started its search for planets around nearby stars.
  2. TESS is NASA’s latest satellite to search for planets outside our solar system, known as exoplanets.
  3. The mission will spend the next two years monitoring the nearest and brightest stars for periodic dips in their light.
  4. TESS is expected to transmit its first series of science data back to Earth in August, and thereafter periodically every 13.5 days, once per orbit, as the spacecraft makes it closest approach to Earth.
  5. These events, called transits, suggest that a planet may be passing in front of its star.
  6. TESS is expected to find thousands of planets using this method, some of which could potentially support life.
Jul, 02, 2018

[op-ed snap] Gearing up for space wars: on America's plans to build space weapons


Mains Paper 3: Science & Technology | Awareness in the fields of IT, Space, Computers, robotics, nano-technology, bio-technology

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Assassin Mace technology

Mains level: USA’s plans to weaponize space may bring in a new wave of war that will be unconventional and more dangerous


American plans for a space weapons corps

  1. The announcement by U.S. President Donald Trump in June about the creation of a “space force” or a sixth branch of the American armed forces has taken many by surprise within and outside the U.S.
  2. The imperative by America to build space weapons is not new and has had its roots going back to the Cold War
  3. The creation of the new force represents an important shift at an institutional level

The militarization of space & international response

  1. The purpose being stated is to deny the Russians and the Chinese advantages in space
  2. The intention is to see that the U.S. establishes and maintains dominance in space
  3. China has announced that it opposes the weaponization of space
  4. China’s space military programme has been dedicated to building “Assassin Mace” technologies (an array of kinetic and non-kinetic means of attack)

Impacts of this move on India

  1. Beijing’s reaction could be much stronger than its seemingly muted official response
  2. It possesses a formidable space military programme that far exceeds current Indian capabilities

Way forward

  1. New Delhi would do well to come out with an official white paper on space weapons
  2. The government needs to engage with multiple stakeholders directly about the role space weapons will play in India’s grand strategy
Jun, 23, 2018

Nasa unveils program to defend Earth from asteroid attack

Image result for international asteroid warning network


Mains Paper 3: Science & Technology | Awareness in the fields of IT, Space, Computers, robotics, nano-technology, bio-technology

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: International Asteroid Warning Network, Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission

Mains level: Threat posed by Near-Earth objects and scientific measures to counter it


Countering NEOs

  1. The US and other nations have long sought to track “near-earth objects,” or NEOs, coordinating efforts through the International Asteroid Warning Network and the United Nations
  2. The Trump Administration now wants to enhance those efforts to detect and track potential planet killers and to develop more capable means to deflect any that appear to be on a collision course
  3. The government unveiled new goals this week for Nasa’s work on countering NEOs over the next decade

NEO threat

  1. Nasa has documented roughly 96% of the objects large enough to cause a global catastrophe since work began in 1998
  2. More than 300,000 objects larger than 40 meters (131 feet) wide orbit the sun as NEOs, according to Nasa estimates
  3. Many of these were difficult to detect more than a few days in advance
  4. Forty meters is about the average size an object must be to make it through the atmosphere without burning up

Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission

  1. The goal of this mission is to impact the smaller “moonlet” of a binary asteroid called Didymos, to learn how well we may be able to alter the course of a future killer rock
  2. It is expected to be complete by 2021-2022


International Asteroid Warning Network

  1. The International Asteroid Warning Network (IAWN) was established in 2014 to address the recommendations for an international response to the near-Earth Object impact threat
  2. It was endorsed by the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of
    Outer Space and the General Assembly resolution 68/75
  3. It forms an international association of institutions involved in detecting, tracking, and characterizing NEOs (Near Earth Objects) to provide the best information available on the NEO hazard and any impact threat
  4. The IAWN is also tasked to use well-defined communication
    plans and protocols to assist Governments in the analysis of asteroid impact
    consequences and to support the planning of mitigation responses
  5. IAWN serves the global community as the authoritative source of accurate and up-to-date information on near-Earth objects and NEO impact risks. Information is freely available to all interested parties
May, 19, 2018

Nasa prepares drone for 2020 Mars rover mission


Mains Paper 3: Science & Technology | Awareness in the fields of IT, Space, Computers, robotics, nano-technology, bio-technology and issues relating to intellectual property rights.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Particulars of the chopper

Mains level: Importance of the mission


The Mars Helicopter

  1. It will be a small, self-flying aircraft designed specifically for the Red Planet
  2. It will be included in the NASA’s next rover mission in 2020 to beam back a birds-eye view of Martian terrain
  3. According to the NASA, the chopper is “a high-risk, high-reward project”

Controlling system of the chopper

  1. Each of the planned flights on Mars will last as long as 90 seconds
  2. The Nasa aircraft will be controlled through commands relayed from the rover, and will be powered by solar-charged batteries

Why is this mission important for future manned missions?

  1. The ability to see clearly what lies beyond the next hill is crucial for future explorers
  2. The views from a helicopter flying across Mars will also provide Nasa with a stellar public relations tool as it seeks international support for sending humans to the planet in the 2030s or later
May, 07, 2018

Nasa Mars InSight blasts off from California Air Base to check on ‘Marsquakes’


Mains Paper 3: Science & Technology | Awareness in the fields of IT, Space, Computers, robotics, nano-technology, bio-technology and issues relating to intellectual property rights.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Particulars of the mission

Mains level: Importance of the mission


Mission Mars InSight
InSight stands for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport

  1. The NASA has launched a InSight Mission
  2. It is designed to study Mars at a much more fundamental level, helping to fill large gaps in scientists’ understanding of the planet’s geologic structure, composition and seismic activity
  3. It is the first Nasa mission to study the red planet’s interior

More about the mission

  1. The launch of InSight, aboard an Atlas V rocket, took place rcently
  2. The Atlas V also lifted two small CubeSats that will trail InSight to Mars to test deep-space communications technology
  3. One InSight instrument will dig 5 meters (16 feet) into the subsurface to measure heat from the interior
  4. It is set to touch down on 26 November after a six-month cruise and a six-minute re-entry and descent

Why is studying mars interior important?

  1. Mars presents an interesting geologic specimen to study rocky planet formation because of its “Goldilocks” size
  2. It’s large enough that it experienced the same early processes as Earth and Venus during its formation, but it’s small enough to have retained a record of those processes deep within
Apr, 13, 2018

Nasa’s new planet hunting probe set to search for alien life


Mains Paper 3: Science & Technology | Awareness in the fields of IT, Space, Computers, robotics, nano-technology, bio-technology

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Exoplanets, Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), Kepler spacecraft

Mains level: Space missions and their significance


Satellite for exoplanet discovery

  1. A National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa) satellite, which will hunt for exoplanets that have the potential to harbor alien life, is on schedule to launch next week
  2. The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) will discover a number of planets whose atmospheric compositions hold potential clues to the presence of life

About the satellite

  1. The satellite aims to discover thousands of nearby exoplanets, including at least 50 Earth-sized ones
  2. The spacecraft will be looking for a phenomenon known as a transit, where a planet passes in front of its star, causing a periodic and regular dip in the star’s brightness
  3. Nasa’s Kepler spacecraft used the same method to spot more than 2,600 confirmed exoplanets



  1. An exoplanet or extrasolar planet is a planet outside our solar system that orbits a star
  2. The nearest exoplanet is Proxima Centauri b, located 4.2 light-years (1.3 parsecs) from Earth and orbiting Proxima Centauri, the closest star to the Sun
  3. Almost all of the planets detected so far are within the Milky Way
  4. The discovery of exoplanets has intensified interest in the search for extraterrestrial life
Apr, 09, 2018

Humanity’s first flight to Sun set to launch in July: NASA

Image source


Mains Paper 3: Science & Technology | Awareness in the fields of IT, Space, Computers, robotics, nano-technology, bio-technology

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Parker Solar Probe, corona

Mains level: Various space missions and their objectives


Parker Solar Probe to be launched in July

  1. NASA’s Parker Solar Probe — humanity’s first mission to the Sun — is undergoing final preparations for its launch scheduled for July 31
  2. After launch, it will orbit directly through the solar atmosphere — the corona — closer to the surface than any human-made object has ever gone

Importance of the mission

  1. The mission will reveal the fundamental science behind what drives the solar wind, the constant outpouring of material from the Sun that shapes planetary atmospheres and affects space weather near Earth
  2. Its data will also be useful in improving forecasts of major eruptions on the Sun and the subsequent space weather events that impact technology on Earth, as well as satellites and astronauts in space


Parker Solar Probe

  1. Parker Solar Probe is a planned NASA robotic spacecraft to probe the outer corona of the Sun
  2. It will approach to within 8.86 solar radii (6.2 million kilometers or 3.85 million miles) from the ‘surface’ (photosphere) of the Sun
  3. It will determine the structure and dynamics of the Sun’s coronal magnetic field, understand how the solar corona and wind are heated and accelerated, and determine what processes accelerate energetic particles
  4. The Parker Solar Probe mission design uses repeated gravity assists at Venus to incrementally decrease its orbital perihelion to achieve multiple passes of the Sun at approximately 8.5 solar radii
Apr, 03, 2018

Nasa completes test launch of Mars landing parachute

Image source


Mains Paper 3: Science & Technology | Awareness in the fields of IT, Space, Computers, robotics, nano-technology, bio-technology

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Advanced Supersonic Parachute Inflation Research Experiment

Mains level: International space missions and their objectives


Supersonic parachute

  1. A supersonic parachute that will help the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa) missions to land on Mars, was successfully launched into the sky during a key test
  2. The Advanced Supersonic Parachute Inflation Research Experiment (ASPIRE) was launched aboard a sounding rocket

Importance of the test

  1. The test was meant to mimic the conditions that a spacecraft would experience during a red planet entry, descent and landing (EDL)
  2. Analysis of the recovered chute and data gathered by the cameras and other instruments will help researchers complete the design of the chute for Nasa’s 2020 Mars rover
  3. The Mars rover is scheduled to launch in two years, on a mission to hunt for signs of ancient life on the Red Planet
Mar, 28, 2018

China’s space lab Tiangong-1 expected to fall to earth this week


Mains Paper 3: Science & Technology | Awareness in the fields of IT, Space, Computers, robotics, nano-technology, bio-technology and issues relating to intellectual property rights.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Particulars of the Tiangong-1

Mains level: The mission can be seen as a part of so called ‘space race’ among space powers.


Information from Chinese authorities

  1. China’s first experimental space lab(Tiangong-1) is expected to fall back to Earth between 31 March and 4 April and should burn up in the atmosphere

Particulars of the Tiangong-1

  1. The Tiangong, or Heavenly Palace, is orbiting at an average height of about 216.2 kms
  2. Launched in September 2011, Tiangong-1 had a design life of two years
  3. The lab completed its main missions following Shenzhou-10’s return in June 2013
  4. During its extended flight, Tiangong-1 conducted experiments in space technology, space-earth remote sensing and space environment exploration
Mar, 21, 2018

India joins Europe’s satellite data sharing pool


Mains Paper 3: Science & Technology | Awareness in the fields of IT, Space, Computers, robotics, nano-technology, bio-technology and issues relating to intellectual property rights.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Copernicus Programme

Mains level: Possible benefits for India, after joining the Copernicus programme.


India joined the Copernicus

  1. India has joined Europe’s mega global arrangement of sharing data from earth observation satellites, called Copernicus
  2. The space-based information will be used for (1) forecasting disasters, (2) providing emergency response and rescue of people during disasters, etc.

Process of sharing data

  1. Data from a band of Indian remote sensing satellites will be available to the European Copernicus programme,
  2. while designated Indian institutional users will in return get to access free data from Europe’s six Sentinel satellites and those of other space agencies that are part of the programme, at their cost
  3. The Department of Space will provide the Copernicus programme and its participating states with a free, full and open access to the data from ISRO’s land, ocean and atmospheric series of civilian satellites
    (Oceansat-2, Megha-Tropiques, Scatsat-1, SARAL, INSAT-3D, INSAT-3DR)
  4. The Copernicus arrangement includes technical assistance for setting up high bandwidth connections with ISRO sites, mirror servers, data storage and archival facilities


Copernicus Programme

  1. Copernicus is the world’s largest single earth observation programme and is directed by the European Commission in partnership with the European Space Agency (ESA)
  2. It aims at achieving a global, continuous, autonomous, high quality, wide range Earth observation capacity. Providing accurate, timely and easily accessible information to, among other things, improve the management of the environment, understand and mitigate the effects of climate change, and ensure civil security
  3. It follows and greatly expands on the work of the previous 2.3 billion euros European Envisat program which operated from 2002 to 2012
  4. Its cost during 1998 to 2020 are estimated at 6.7 billion euros with around €4.3bn spend in the period 2014 to 2020 and shared between the EU (66%) and ESA (33%) with benefits of the data to the EU economy estimated at roughly 30 billion euros through 2030
Mar, 20, 2018

HAMMER to deal with asteroids heading for earth

Image source


Mains Paper 3: Science & Technology | Awareness in the fields of IT, Space, Computers, robotics, nano-technology, bio-technology

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: HAMMER project, asteroids, near-earth objects

Mains level: Various space missions and their purpose


Asteroid deflector conceptualized

  1. Scientists from NASA, the National Nuclear Security Administration, and two other national laboratories in the USA have conceptualized an asteroid deflector
  2. They also theoretically studied the impact of the deflector on a near-Earth asteroid — 101955 Bennu
  3. According to NASA’s Centre for Near Earth Object Studies, there are more than 2,500 near-Earth objects and most of them don’t pose any threat to our planet

Deflector set-up

  1. Named HAMMER (Hypervelocity Asteroid Mitigation Mission for Emergency Response vehicle), the deflector is nine meters tall and weighs more than 8000 kg
  2. HAMMER can be used as a kinetic impactor (spacecraft at high speed to give the push), or as a carrier for some other nuclear device which can do the same job
Mar, 15, 2018

Want your name to go to the Sun? NASA gives you a chance!

Image source


Mains Paper 3: Science & Technology | Awareness in the fields of IT, Space, Computers, robotics, nano-technology, bio-technology

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: NASA, Parker Solar Probe

Mains level: Space missions and discoveries


Solar probe to carry names of people across the world

  1. NASA is inviting people around the world to submit their names online to be placed on a microchip aboard its historic solar probe launching this summer
  2. The spacecraft, about the size of a small car, will travel directly into the Sun’s atmosphere about four million miles from the star’s surface

Parker solar probe

  1. In May 2017, NASA renamed the spacecraft from the Solar Probe Plus to the Parker Solar Probe in honor of astrophysicist Eugene Parker


Parker solar probe

  1. Parker Solar Probe is a planned NASA robotic spacecraft to probe the outer corona of the Sun
  2. It will approach within 8.86 solar radii from the ‘surface’ of the Sun
  3. Parker Solar Probe will swoop to within 4 million miles of the sun’s surface, facing heat and radiation like no spacecraft before it
  4. Parker Solar Probe will provide new data on solar activity and make critical contributions to our ability to forecast major space-weather events that impact life on Earth
  5. Parker Solar Probe has three detailed science objectives:
    • Trace the flow of energy that heats and accelerates the solar corona and solar wind
    • Determine the structure and dynamics of the plasma and magnetic fields at the sources of the solar wind
    • Explore mechanisms that accelerate and transport energetic particles
Jan, 08, 2018

SpaceX launches secretive Zuma mission

Image source


Mains Paper 3: Science & Technology | Awareness in the fields of IT, Space, Computers, robotics, nano-technology, bio-technology

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: SpaceX, Zuma, Falcon 9

Mains level: Emerging private sector in Space technology


Secretive U.S. government payload launched

  1. SpaceX blasted off a secretive U.S. government payload known as Zuma
  2. Mission’s nature and the agency behind it still remains a mystery

Falcon 9 used

  1. Falcon 9 rocket was used to launch the payload
  2. After launch, SpaceX returned the tall portion of the Falcon 9 rocket to an upright landing at Cape Canaveral



  1. Space Exploration Technologies Corp., doing business as SpaceX, is a private American aerospace manufacturer and space transport services company
  2. It was founded in 2002 by entrepreneur Elon Musk with the goal of reducing space transportation costs and enabling the colonization of Mars
  3. SpaceX has since developed the Falcon launch vehicle family and the Dragon spacecraft family, which both currently deliver payloads into Earth orbit
  4. In March 2017, SpaceX became the first to successfully re-launch and land the first stage of an orbital rocket
  5. SpaceX’s achievements include
  • the first privately funded liquid-propellant rocket to reach orbit (Falcon 1 in 2008);
  • the first privately funded company to successfully launch, orbit, and recover a spacecraft (Dragon in 2010);
  • the first private company to send a spacecraft to the International Space Station (Dragon in 2012);
  • the first propulsive landing for an orbital rocket (Falcon 9 in 2015); and
  • the first reuse of an orbital rocket (Falcon 9 in 2017)

Falcon 9

  1. Falcon 9 is a family of two-stage-to-orbit medium lift launch vehicles, named for its use of nine first-stage engines, designed and manufactured by SpaceX
  2. Falcon 9 is going to be developed as a “fully reusable heavy lift launch vehicle”
Dec, 15, 2017

Google crunches data to help NASA find two new planets

Image source


Mains Paper 3: Science & Technology | Awareness in the fields of IT, Space, Computers, robotics, nano-technology, bio-technology

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Kepler 80g, Kepler 90i, Kepler telescope, machine learning, artificial “neural network”

Mains level: Usage of emerging techniques in space exploration as well as other fields


Two new planets found

  1. Google and NASA have identified two new planets around distant stars using advanced computer analysis
  2. One of it is part of the first star system with as many planets as Earth’s solar system

Machine learning now being used in space exploration

  1. The research raised the prospects of new insights into the universe by feeding data into computer programmes
  2. They can churn through information faster and more in-depth than humanly possible, a technique known as machine learning
  3. Advancements in hardware and new techniques for machine learning have made it possible in recent years for automated software to tackle data analysis in science, finance and other industries

About the finding

  1. The software’s artificial “neural network” combed through data about 670 stars, which led to the discovery of planets Kepler 80g and Kepler 90i
  2. Kepler 90i is a scorching, rocky mass 30% larger than Earth and is the eighth planet found to be orbiting the same star
  3. Astronomers had never before observed an eight-planet network beside the solar system that includes Earth
  4. The data for this research came from the Kepler telescope which NASA launched into space in 2009 as part of a planet-finding mission that is expected to end next year as the spacecraft runs out of fuel
Dec, 08, 2017

Most distant black hole discovered: NASA


Mains Paper 3: Science & Technology | Awareness in the fields of IT, Space, Computers, robotics, nano-technology, bio-technology

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Black hole, Big Bang, quasar

Mains level: Space realted discoveries by NASA, ISRO and other space agencies have been appearing in Mains year after year


Supermassive black hole identified

  1. Scientists have discovered the farthest known supermassive black hole
  2. It is 800 million times the mass of our Sun

Deviation from theory of black hole formation

  1. This black hole grew far larger than expected in only 690 million years after the Big Bang, which challenges the theories about how black holes form
  2. For black holes to become so large in the early universe, astronomers speculate there must have been special conditions to allow rapid growth


  1. The newly-found black hole is voraciously devouring material at the centre of a galaxy—a phenomenon called a quasar
  2. Quasars are among the brightest and most distant known celestial objects and are crucial to understanding the early universe
  3. This quasar is also the only example that can be seen before the universe became re-ionised

Evolution of universe

  1. The universe began in a hot soup of particles that rapidly spread apart in a period called inflation
  2. About 400,000 years after the Big Bang, these particles cooled and coalesced into neutral hydrogen gas
  3. However, the universe stayed dark, without any luminous sources, until gravity condensed matter into the first stars and galaxies
  4. The energy released by these ancient galaxies caused the neutral hydrogen to get excited and ionise, or lose an electron
  5. The gas has remained in that state since that time
  6. Once the universe became re-ionised, photons could travel freely throughout space
  7. This is the point at which the universe became transparent to light
Dec, 05, 2017

European satellite Sentinel-5P sends images of global air pollution


Mains Paper 3: Science & Technology | Awareness in the fields of IT, Space, Computers, robotics, nano-technology, bio-technology

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Sentinel-5P, Tropomi

Mains level: Satellites and space missions


Satellite tracking the levels air pollutants around the world

  1. A European satellite tracking the levels air pollutants around the world has beamed back new views of the Earth’s atmosphere, including images of pollution drifting away from power plants in India
  2. The Sentinel-5P satellite is designed to make daily global maps of the gases and particles that pollute the air

First images released

  1. The first sample images released by mission scientists show plumes of nitrogen dioxide flowing away from power plants and traffic-choked cities
  2. S5P has even captured the ash and sulphur emissions from Agung volcano on the Indonesian island of Bali, which is in the midst of a big eruption

About Sentinel 5P

  1. Sentinel-5P is the latest spacecraft in a fleet of Earth observers being commissioned by the European Union and the European Space Agency
  2. t carries an instrument called Tropomi – a spectrometer that observes the reflected sunlight coming up off the Earth, analysing its many different colours
  3. This helps detect the presence of trace gases such as nitrogen dioxide, ozone, sulphur dioxide, methane, and carbon monoxide in the atmosphere
  4. When fully operational, the new Sentinel will be an extremely powerful tool to monitor air quality
Dec, 04, 2017

Pluto may have liquid water oceans beneath icy surface: NASA


Mains Paper3 | Awareness in Space

The following things are important from UPSC perspective:

Prelims: TNOs.

Mains level: Not Much.



In a boost to the search for alien life, a new NASA study suggests that some icy worlds in our outer solar system, including Pluto, may harbour liquid water oceans beneath the surface.

The NASA Study

  1. According to the study, heat generated by the gravitational pull of moons formed from massive collisions could extend the lifetimes of liquid water oceans beneath the surface of these large icy worlds.
  2. Icy worlds are found beyond the orbit of Neptune and include Pluto and its moons.
  3. They are known as Trans-Neptunian Objects (TNOs) and are far too cold to have liquid water on their surfaces, where temperatures are below minus 200 degrees Celsius.
  4. However, there is evidence that some may have layers of liquid water beneath their icy crusts.
  5. Eris is second-largest of the currently known TNOs after Pluto.

Impact of the study

  1. The finding greatly expands the number of locations where extraterrestrial life might be found, since liquid water is necessary to support known forms of life and astronomers estimate there are dozens of these worlds.
  2. These icy worlds need to be considered as potential reservoirs of water and life.



Dec, 01, 2017

China's dark matter probe detects mysterious signals


Mains Paper3 | Awareness in Space

The following things are important from UPSC perspective:

Prelims: DAMPE, NASAs Fermi Space Telescope

Mains level: Nothing Much.



  1. A Chinese satellite which was sent to the skies to look for evidence of the annihilation or decay of dark matter particles in space has detected unexpected and mysterious signals in its measurement of high-energy cosmic rays, bringing scientists closer to proving the existence of the invisible matter. 
  2. The mysterious dark matter is believed to comprise a quarter of universe. 


  1. The satellite, Dark Matter Particle Explorer (DAMPE), also called Wukong or “Monkey King”, has has measured more than 3.5 billion cosmic ray particles with the highest energy up to 100 tera-electron-volts (TeV).
  2. DAMPE has opened a new window for observing the high-energy universe, unveiling new physical phenomena beyond our current understanding.

How will DAMPE help in Space studies?

  1. Precise measurement of cosmic rays, especially at the very high energy range, is important for scientists to look for traces of dark matter annihilation or decay.
  2. It will help in understanding the universe’s most energetic astrophysical phenomena, such as pulsars, active galaxy nuclei and supernova explosions. 
  3. The data may inspire some new ideas in particle physics and astrophysics.
  4. Based on the satellite’s data, scientists drew the cosmic ray electron and positron spectrum
    All the 61 elementary particles predicted by the standard model of particle physics have been found.

Dark Matter

  1. Dark matter, which cannot be seen or touched, passes right through us as if we do not exist.
  2. The ghost-like material is one of the great mysteries of science.
  3. Scientists calculate that normal matter such as galaxies, stars, trees, rocks and atoms accounts for only about five per cent of the universe.
  4. However, about 26.8 per cent of the universe is dark matter and 68.3 per cent dark energy.

Other Probes

Some other probes dedicated to exploring the evidence of annihilation or decay of dark matter particles in space are NASA’s Fermi Space Telescope and the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS-02), a particle physics detector operating on the International Space Station.


NASA’s Fermi Space Telescope

  1. The Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope, formerly called the Gamma-ray Large Area Space Telescope (GLAST), is a space observatory being used to perform gamma-ray astronomy observations from low Earth orbit.
  2. It helps in studying astrophysical and cosmological phenomena such as active galactic nucleipulsars, other high-energy sources and dark matter.
  3. It was launched in 2008 and is a joint venture of NASA, the United States Department of Energy, and government agencies in France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and Sweden.



Nov, 03, 2016

NASA completes construction of largest space telescope

  1. What: NASA has successfully completed building the largest space telescope
  2. It is 100 times powerful than the Hubble Space Telescope and may find the first galaxies that were formed in the early universe
  3. It, the James Webb Space Telescope, will be the successor to NASA’s 26-year-old Hubble telescope
  4. Purpose: The space telescope will provide images of the first galaxies ever formed, and explore planets around distant stars
  5. Who: It is a joint project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency
Oct, 17, 2016

China launches manned space mission

  1. China moved a step closer to establish its permanent space station by 2022 as it launched a spacecraft carrying two astronauts, in its longest-ever manned space mission.
  2. How: The Shenzhou-11 was put into orbit by a Long March-2F carrier rocket.
  3. Background: China, which conducted its first manned space mission in 2003, is putting in billions into its space programme in a bid to catch up with the US and Europe. It also plans to launch its maiden Mars mission in 2020 to match India and others.
  4. The space lab was launched as part of China’s efforts to set up its own manned space station by 2022, which will make it the only the country to have such a facility in service as the current in-service International Space Station (ISS) retires by 2024.
  5. The space station has a designed life of 10 years in orbit 400 km above the earth surface. With this space station, China will become the second country after Russia to have developed a space station.
Sep, 28, 2016

Proof of water plumes on Europa

  1. What? More evidence of possible water plumes erupting from the surface of Jupiter’s icy moon Europa has been spotted using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope
  2. Europa: One of more than 50 moons circling the gas giant Jupiter
  3. Life? It is considered by NASA as a top candidate for life elsewhere in the solar system
  4. How? Because it is believed to possess a massive, salty, subsurface ocean that is twice the size of Earth’s
Aug, 25, 2016

China to send probe, rover to Mars in 2020

  1. News: China has unveiled the designs of its Mars probe and rover to be launched in 2020 as it looks to catch up with India, US, Russia and EU to reach the red planet
  2. The 2020 mission will be launched on a Long March-5 carrier rocket, the work horse for China’s space missions
  3. It will be launched from the Wenchang space centre in south China’s Hainan province
Aug, 12, 2016

Titan like patterns on earth

  1. Earthly examples of Titan like canyon-carving processes are found along the Colorado River in Arizona
  2. Uplift powering erosion: The Grand Canyon, where the terrain’s rising altitude caused the river to cut deeply downward into the landscape over the course of several million years
  3. Comparison: Earth is warm and rocky, with rivers of water, while Titan is cold and icy, with rivers of methane; and yet it’s remarkable that we find such similar features on both worlds
Aug, 12, 2016

How were the canyons on Titan formed?

  1. The presence of such deep cuts in the landscape indicates that the process that created them was active for a long time or eroded down faster than other areas on Titan’s surface
  2. The researchers’ proposed scenarios include uplift of the terrain and changes in sea level, or perhaps both
  3. It’s likely that a combination of these forces contributed to the formation of the deep canyons, but at present it’s not clear to what degree each was involved
Aug, 12, 2016

Flooded canyons found on Saturn’s moon Titan: NASA

  1. News: NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has discovered steep-sided canyons, hundreds of meters deep, on Saturn’s moon Titan
  2. The canyons are flooded with liquid hydrocarbons
  3. Significance: The finding represents the first direct evidence of the presence of liquid-filled channels on Titan, as well as the first observation of the deep canyons
  4. Background: Cassini data came from a close pass the spacecraft made over Titan in May 2013
  5. During the flyby, Cassini’s radar instrument focused on channels that branch out from the large, northern sea Ligeia Mare
Jul, 19, 2016

SpaceX launches space station docking port for NASA

  1. News: SpaceX launched a critical space station docking port for astronauts, along with a DNA decoder for high-flying genetic research
  2. NASA needs this new docking setup at the International Space Station before Americans can fly there in crew capsules set to debut next year
  3. The company brought its leftover first-stage booster back to Cape Canaveral for a vertical landing only the second such land landing for an orbital mission and the ultimate in recycling
Jul, 06, 2016

Juno in Jupiter’s orbit after 5-year journey

  1. News: NASA’s solar-powered Juno spacecraft successfully entered Jupiter’s orbit after a 5 year journey from the Earth
  2. Aim: To understand the origin and evolution of the king of planets and the solar system
  3. Juno will study the existence of a solid planetary core, map Jupiter’s intense magnetic field, measure the amount of water and ammonia in the deep atmosphere and observe auroras
  4. Trivia: Juno’s name comes from Greek and Roman mythology
  5. The mythical god Jupiter drew a veil of clouds around himself to hide his mischief, and his wife, the goddess Juno, was able to pierce through the clouds and unveil his true nature
Jul, 05, 2016

NASA's Juno successfully begins orbiting Jupiter

  1. News: Juno spacecraft successfully slipped into orbit around Jupiter on a mission to probe the origin of the solar system
  2. It was launched five years ago from Cape Canaveral, Florida and has travelled 2.7 billion kilometres since then
  3. It was traveling at a speed of more than 209,200 kilometres per hour when it fired its engines to slow down enough to be captured into Jupiter’s orbit
Jul, 02, 2016

Juno enters Jupiter's magnetosphere

  1. News: NASA’s Jupiter-bound Juno spacecraft has entered the planet’s magnetosphere
  2. Movement of particles in space inside the magnetosphere would now be controlled by what is going on inside Jupiter
  3. Jupiter’s magnetosphere is the powerful planetary magnetic field in our Solar System that extends millions of miles around the planet
  4. Context: Juno is a NASA New Frontiers mission currently en route to Jupiter
Jun, 29, 2016

NASA tests deep space rocket booster ahead of 2018 mission

  1. News: NASA performed its second and last test-fire of a rocket booster for the Space Launch System (SLS)
  2. Aim: To see how the booster’s propellant performed at the colder end of its temperature range
  3. SLS: A powerful engine that may one day launch astronauts to Mars
  4. NASA described the SLS as the world’s most powerful rocket
  5. SLS is planned to be used for Exploration Mission-1 in 2018, for an unmanned NASA mission to the vicinity of the moon
Jun, 27, 2016

Curiosity rover discovers unexpected mineral on Mars

  1. Context: NASA’s Curiosity rover has discovered tridymite on Mars, suggesting that it has hosted explosive volcanoes during its evolution
  2. Analysis: Data from an X-ray diffraction instrument on the rover that identifies minerals, shows significant amounts of a silica mineral called tridymite
  3. Tridymite: Generally associated with silicic volcanism, which is known on Earth but was not thought to be important or even present on Mars
  4. Where? Mount St. Helens, the active volcano in Washington State, and the Satsuma-Iwojima volcano in Japan
  5. Background: The Mars Science Laboratory rover, Curiosity, has been exploring sedimentary rocks within Gale Crater since its landing in August 2012
  6. In July 2015, on Sol 1060 (the number of Martian days since landing), the rover collected powder drilled from rock at a location named ‘Buckskin’
Jun, 14, 2016

NASA’s Juno probe inches closer to Jupiter

  1. NASA’s Juno mission is now 26 days and 17.8 million kilometres away from Jupiter
  2. On the evening of July 4, Juno will fire its main engine for 35 minutes, placing it into a polar orbit around the gas giant
  3. Giant Jupiter lies in the harshest radiation environment known, and Juno has been specially designed to safely navigate the brand new territory
May, 28, 2016

Mars emerging from Ice Age, says study

  1. Context: New study of Mars helps to understand about its climate
  2. Study: Most recent Ice Age has ended and Mars is emerging from the ice age
  3. The findings are based on data collected by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and radar images of Mars’ polar region
  4. Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter: Built by NASA, which has been circling Mars for 10 years
  5. After Ice age, Mars’ pole becomes warmer than lower latitudes and build up water vapours toward equator forming ice on the ground and glaciers at mid latitudes
  6. On Earth, after ice age the polar region and high latitudes become cooler than average for thousands of years, causing glaciers to grow toward the mid-latitudes
  7. Use: Study will help to understand its contrast nature, can improve understanding of how much water is moving between the poles and other latitudes
May, 19, 2016


  1. NASA’s new study about Europa
  2. Europa: Jupiter’s icy moon
  3. The ocean of Europa may have the Earth-like balance of chemical energy necessary for life
  4. But the moon lacks volcanic hydrothermal activity
May, 12, 2016

Over 1,200 new planets discovered

  1. NASA’s Kepler Mission has found new planets outside the solar system
  2. After verification, the largest collection of Exoplanets was announced
  3. 3200 planets have been verified from total 5000 discovered planet
  4. Out of 3200, 2,325 planets were discovered by Kepler Mission
May, 10, 2016

Mercury makes a rare move across the Sun


  1. In a rare astronomical phenomenon, planet Mercury was seen as a dot on the solar disc from several parts of India
  2. This phenomena occurs only 13 times in a century
  3. Visible from: Asia, Europe, Africa, Greenland, South America, North America, Arctic, North Atlantic Ocean and much of the Pacific Ocean area
Apr, 28, 2016

Hubble spots moon orbiting dwarf planet

  1. Context: NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has spotted a moon orbiting a dwarf planet
  2. Moon: Nicknamed MK 2, it is small and dark & 100-mile wide & approximately 13,000 miles from the dwarf
  3. Dwarf planet: Named Makemake, it is 870-mile wide
  4. It is the second brightest icy dwarf planet after Pluto in the Kuiper Belt
  5. The dwarf planet, discovered in 2005, is named after a creation deity of the Rapa Nui people of Easter Island
Apr, 26, 2016

NASA to explore Saturn’s icy moons for alien life

  1. Context: NASA has proposed to deploy a robotic system to explore the subsurface oceans of Saturn’s icy moons
  2. Why? They may potentially harbour life
  3. Concept: To deploy a surface-to-subsurface robotic system, namely Icy-moon Cryovolcano Explorer (ICE)
  4. Function: It will land on the surface of an icy moon, traverse to a cryovolcano, descend into its opening
  5. Further it will perform in-situ science in the vent or crevasse, and ultimately deploy underwater vehicles to explore a subsurface ocean
  6. 3 modules: Descent Module (DM), Surface Module (SM), and AUVs
Apr, 25, 2016

NASA gears up for futuristic X-planes

  1. Context: NASA is preparing to put in the sky an array of new experimental aircrafts called X-Planes
  2. It is called New Aviation Horizons & is based on QueSST (Quiet Supersonic Technology)
  3. This new supersonic X-plane could fly in the 2020 timeframe
  4. Goals: How airlines can burn half the fuel by generating 75% less pollution during each flight & being much quieter than today’s jets
  5. Plan: To accelerate the adoption of advanced green aviation technologies by industry
Apr, 22, 2016

China to launch core module for space station

  1. Context: China will launch a core module for its first space station around 2018
  2. It is part of a plan to have a permanent manned space station in service around 2022
  3. Module would be called the ‘Tianhe-1‘ the Chinese word for galaxy or Milky Way
  4. If the International Space Station, which has extended its service, retires by 2024, China’s new space station will be the only operational one in outer space
Apr, 16, 2016

Supernova iron found on the moon

  1. Context: Samples from the moon have confirmed a supernova explosion that happened in the neighbourhood of our solar system about two million years ago
  2. Finding: A star exploded in a supernova close to our solar system
  3. Its traces can still be found today in the form of an iron isotope on the ocean floor and now they are found on moon too
  4. How? A dying star ends its life in a cataclysmic explosion, shooting the majority of its material (mainly new chemical elements created during the explosion) out into space
  5. Lab: The lunar samples were investigated using the high-sensitivity accelerator mass spectrometer of the Maier-Leibnitz Laboratory near Munich
Apr, 16, 2016

Cassini detects interstellar dust

  1. Context: Cassini spacecraft has for the first time detected and analysed dust coming from beyond our solar system
  2. Cassini: NASA’s spacecraft orbiting Saturn
  3. Dust: The dust is a specific mixture of minerals and not ice
Mar, 29, 2016

Sun may produce devastating ‘superflares’

  1. News: Scientists have indicated that the Sun is capable of producing monstrous eruptions or ‘superflares‘
  2. Context: That can not only break down radio communication and power supplies, but also affect Earth’s ability to support life
  3. Background: Superflares have been a mystery since the Kepler mission discovered them in larger numbers 4 years ago
  4. Largest observed eruption from the Sun took place in September 1859
  5. Relevance: Earth is often struck by solar eruptions, consist of energetic particles that are hurled away from the Sun into space
  6. When the Sun pours out gigantic amounts of hot plasma during large solar eruptions, it may have severe consequences
Mar, 28, 2016

NASA’s Cassini mission reveals tallest peak on Saturn’s moon Titan


  1. News: Scientists working on NASA’s Cassini mission have identified the highest point on Saturn’s largest moon Titan
  2. Context: Titan’s tallest peak is 10,948 feet high and is found within a trio of mountainous ridges called the Mithrim Montes
  3. Researchers found that all of Titan’s highest peaks are about 10,000 feet in elevation
  4. Relevance: Mountains and cliffs on Earth usually are found in locations where forces have shoved the surface upward from underneath
  5. Himalaya and Andes Mountains are examples of places where interior forces are at work today
Mar, 28, 2016

NASA to undertake globe-spanning research campaigns


  1. News: NASA is sending scientists around the world this year – from the edge of the Greenland ice sheet to the coral reefs of the South Pacific
  2. Why? To study how our planet is changing and what impact humans are having on it
  3. Context: Next 6 months will be a particularly active period with 8 major new campaigns taking researchers around world on a wide range of science investigations
  4. Relevance: Combining the long-term global view from space with detailed measurements from field experiments is a powerful way of deciphering
    what’s happening in our world
  5. Scientists worldwide use NASA Earth science field data together with satellite data and computer models to tackle many of today’s environmental challenges
Mar, 16, 2016

ExoMars, Europe And Russia’s Joint Mars Mission, Begins Its 7-Month Journey


  1. News: Joint mission to sniff out signs of life on Mars and bring humans a step closer to flying to the red planet themselves
  2. Where? ExoMars spacecraft lifts off on a Proton-M rocket from the Baikonur spaceport in Kazakhstan
  3. Aim: It carries an atmospheric probe that is to study trace gases such as methane
  4. Why Methane? Methane is a chemical that on Earth is strongly tied to life. Besides, previous Mars missions have detected traces of methane in the planet’s atmosphere
  5. Scientists believe the methane could stem from micro-organisms, called methanogens or that some methane-producing organisms still survive
Mar, 05, 2016

Fast Radio Bursts (FRBs) on repeat - Aliens or rotating neutron star?


  1. News: Astronomers have, for the first time detected, repeated short bursts of mysterious and powerful radio waves
  2. From Where? FRBs, originated from an extremely powerful object, probably an enigmatic source that is likely located beyond the edge of the Milky Way galaxy
  3. Detected by: Arecibo radio telescope, which is located in Puerto Rico
  4. What are FRBs? High energy astrophysical phenomenon manifested as a transient radio pulse lasting only a few milliseconds
Feb, 29, 2016

NASA invites India to jointly explore Mars

  1. News: After the success of Mars Orbiter Mission(MOM), India and US are likely to collaborate on the mission to the Red planet
  2. Context: In future, India and the U.S. could jointly explore Mars and who knows an Indian astronaut could also head to the Red planet on a joint mission
  3. Why? India’s maiden mission to the Red Planet, Mangalyaan, has opened the eyes of the world on ISRO’s capabilities at undertaking low cost, high value inter-planetary mission
  4. Collaboration: Presently, American scientists through its MAVEN mission and India through its Mars Orbiter Mission are sharing data
  5. NASA-ISRO ties: A mission called NASA—ISRO Synthetic Aperture Radar (NISAR) mission, that will be launched in 2020
Feb, 23, 2016

NASA working on crunching a Mars trip to three days

  1. Context: Researchers are working on a technology that could harness power of light and may be the key to cutting down travel time to Mars from months to as little as 3 days
  2. About System: Developing the ‘photonic propulsion’ system where lasers can propel spacecraft with giant sails to the Red Planet
  3. How it works? System relies on the momentum of photons particles of light, to move forward
  4. Design would be given a push by giant Earth-based lasers, instead of photons from the Sun’s rays
  5. Relevance: When a spacecraft is launched, the thrust comes from burning a chemical, such as rocket fuel. This fuel weighs down the spacecraft
Feb, 19, 2016

Five new ‘hot Jupiters’ discovered

  1. Context: 5 new Jupiter-like planets are similar in characteristics to our solar system’s biggest planet and orbit very close to their host stars
  2. Discovered from: Researchers from Keele University in the UK used the Wide Angle Search for Planets-South (WASP-South) instrument
  3. This is an array of 8 cameras observing selected regions of the southern sky, to study 5 stars showing planet-like transits in their light curve
  4. Discovered planets: designated as WASP-119 b, WASP-124 b, WASP-126 b, WASP-129 b and WASP—133 b
  5. Something unique: WASP-126b is the most interesting because it orbits the brightest star of the five
  6. This means it can be a target for atmospheric characterisation, deducing the composition and nature of the atmosphere from detailed study
  7. For example with the Hubble Space Telescope or the forthcoming James Webb Space Telescope
Feb, 09, 2016

NASA engineers use Super Bowl to decode aerodynamics

Aerodynamics is the study of how air and liquids, referred to collectively as “fluids,” flow around objects.

  1. Aerodynamics engineers including an Indian-origin scientist are studying sports balls
  2. To learn lessons in aerodynamics that will help build aircrafts more earth-friendly and allow spacecrafts to take the most efficient route to Mars in the future
  3. By understanding how fluids flow around basic shapes such as cylinders and spheres
  4. NASA’s engineers predict how even minor alterations in these basic shapes change flow patterns and events like Super Bowl come handy
  5. The way air moves around different shapes plays a significant role in the flight of all sports balls
Feb, 05, 2016

NASA’s most powerful rocket to send 13 tiny satellites into space

These satellite secondary payloads or ‘CubeSats’ will carry sci-tech investigations to help pave the way for future human exploration in deep space

  1. The Space Launch System (SLS), NASA’s most powerful rocket will launch an uncrewed Orion spacecraft to a stable orbit beyond the Moon in 2018
  2. It will also carry 13 tiny satellites to test innovative ideas
  3. SLS’ first flight, referred to as Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1)
  4. ‘BioSentinel’ CubeSat will use yeast to detect, measure and compare the impact of deep space radiation on living organisms over long durations in deep space
  5. ‘Lunar Flashlight’ will look for ice deposits and identify locations where resources may be extracted from the lunar surface
  6. ‘LunaH-Map’ will map hydrogen within craters and other permanently shadowed regions throughout the moon’s south pole
Dec, 24, 2015

NASA suspends 2016 launch of Mars lander

NASA said it has suspended the planned launch of a Mars lander called InSight in March 2016 due to unsuccessful attempts to repair a leak in a French-built seismological instrument.

  1. For InSight, the 2016 launch window existed from March 4 to March 30.
  2. Due to the relative positions of the Earth and Mars, a new launch window for the probe would not come for another 26 months.
  3. The instrument involved is the Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS), a seismometer provided by the French Space Agency (CNES).
  4. It will help answer questions about the interior structure and processes within the deep Martian interior.
Dec, 21, 2015

Black holes could grow as large as 50 billion Suns: study

Black holes at the heart of galaxies could swell to 50 billion times the mass of the Sun before losing the discs of gas they rely on to sustain themselves, according to a new study.

  1. It has explored supermassive black holes at the centre of galaxies, around which are regions of space where gas settles into an orbiting disc.
  2. This gas can lose energy and fall inwards, feeding the black hole.
  3. But these discs are known to be unstable and prone to crumbling into stars.
  4. The only way it could get larger is if a star happened to fall straight in or another black hole merged with it.

The significance is that astronomers have found black holes of almost the maximum mass, by observing the huge amount of radiation given off by the gas disc as it falls in.

Dec, 18, 2015

Hubble spots first ever supernova explosion

The supernova’s host galaxy appears in at least three distinct images caused by the warping mass of the galaxy cluster.

In this April 25, 1990 photograph provided by NASA, most of the giant Hubble Space Telescope can be seen.
In this April 25, 1990 photograph provided by NASA, most of the giant Hubble Space Telescope can be seen.

  1. The Hubble Space Telescope has captured the image of the first-ever predicted supernova explosion.
  2. It offers a unique opportunity for astronomers to test how mass especially that of mysterious dark matter is distributed within a galaxy cluster.
  3. Many stars end their lives with a bang, but only a few of these stellar explosions have been caught in the act.
  4. While the light from the cluster has taken about five billion years to reach us, the supernova itself exploded much earlier, nearly 10 billion years ago.
Dec, 14, 2015

Magnetic field around a black hole detected

It had been discovered some time ago that a supermassive black hole exists at the centre of our galaxy — the Milky Way. This black hole is now known as Sagittarius A-star.

  1. The term “black hole” conjures up images of a stellar object from which nothing can escape, this is only true of small black holes.
  2. Supermassive black holes, which are millions of times as massive as the Sun can actually beam out energy from matter falling into it in the form of intense radiation.
  3. If the black hole is spinning, the radiation can beam into galaxies that are millions of light years away and shape them.
  4. Astronomers detected the magnetic field using the powerful Event Horizon Telescope, which is a global array of radio telescopes that link together to function as one giant unit.
Nov, 07, 2015

Strong solar winds may have stripped life on Mars: NASA

Solar-wind erosion is important mechanism for atmospheric loss and important enough to account for significant change in the Martian climate.

  1. NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) is first mission devoted to understanding how sun influenced to atmospheric changes on Red Planet.
  2. Solar wind might played key role in turning the Martian climate from an early, warm and wet to the cold, arid planet today.
  3. The solar wind is a stream of particles, mainly protons and electrons, flowing from the sun’s atmosphere at a speed of about one million miles per hour.
  4. Magnetic field carried by the solar wind as it flows past Mars can generate an electric field, much as a turbine on Earth can be used to generate electricity.
  5. This electric field accelerates electrically charged gas atoms, called ions, in Mars’ upper atmosphere and shoots them into space.
Oct, 29, 2015

Surprising discovery of oxygen in 67P comet’s atmosphere

Oxygen is the fourth most common gas in the comet’s atmosphere, after water, carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide.

  1. Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko has thrown a very big surprise, its atmosphere contains molecular oxygen.
  2. Molecular oxygen is highly reactive, it was assumed that it would have combined with hydrogen then present to form water.
  3. The oxygen originated very early, before the formation of the Solar System.
  4. High-energy particles struck grains of ice in the cold and dense birthplaces of stars, the so-called dark nebulae, and split water into oxygen and hydrogen.
Oct, 24, 2015

NASA completes key milestone for most powerful rocket

NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS), will be the most powerful rocket ever built.

  1. The first vehicle designed to meet the challenges of the journey to Mars, has completed all steps needed to clear a critical design review (CDR).
  2. This is the first time in almost 40 years that a NASA human-rated rocket has cleared a CDR.
  3. Review gives confidence that they are on the right track for the first flight of SLS and using it to extend permanent human presence into deep space.
  4. Critical design reviews for the individual SLS elements of the core stage, boosters and engines were completed successfully as part of this milestone.

The CDR demonstrates that the maturity of the design is appropriate to support proceeding with full-scale fabrication, assembly, integration, and test.

Oct, 24, 2015

New technique to detect magnetic fields inside stars

Using a technique similar to medical ultrasound, astrophysicists first time developed a way to determine presence of strong magnetic fields deep inside pulsating giant stars.

  1. The researchers used asteroseismology, a discipline similar to seismology, to track waves traveling through stars in order to determine their inner properties.
  2. The technique is analogous to a medical ultrasound, which uses sound waves to image otherwise invisible parts of the human body.
  3. The study analysed data from the Kepler satellite, a space telescope that measures stellar brightness variations with very high precision.
  4. When strong magnetic fields present in a star’s core, fields can disrupt the propagation of gravity waves, causing some of the waves to lose energy and become trapped within the core.
  5. The researchers coined the term “magnetic greenhouse effect” to describe this phenomenon.

This is exciting as internal magnetic fields play an important role both for the evolution of stars and for the properties of their remnants.


Oct, 08, 2015

New ‘habitability index’ to help find alien life

Habitability index can point out which of the thousands of exoplanets discovered so far have a better chance of hosting life

The higher a planet’s albedo, the more light and energy are reflected off to space, leaving less at the surface to warm the world and aid possible life.


  1. Astronomers have focused on looking for planets in their star’s “habitable zone”, also known as “Goldilocks zone”.
  2. It is the swath of space that’s just right to allow an orbiting Earth, like planet to have liquid water on its surface, perhaps giving life a chance.
  3. Phenomenon called “eccentricity, albedo degeneracy,” which comments on a sort of balancing act between a planet’s albedo.
  4. The energy reflected back to space from its surface and the circularity of its orbit, which affects how much energy it receives from its host star.
Oct, 03, 2015

Asteroid impact, volcanoes led to mass extinction on Earth

Berkeley geologists have uncovered compelling evidence that an asteroid impact on Earth 66 mn years ago accelerated the eruptions of volcanoes in India.

  1. For hundreds of thousands of years, planet-wide catastrophes caused the extinction of land and marine animals.
  2. It accelerated the eruptions of volcanoes in Deccan Traps in west-central India for thousands of years.
  3. Deccan Traps are a large province located on the Deccan plateau of west-central India and one of the largest volcanic features on Earth.
  4. Deccan Traps lava flows, which at the time were erupting at a slower pace, doubled in output within 50,000 years of the asteroid impact.
Sep, 29, 2015

Nasa scientists find evidence of flowing water on Mars


  1. Researchers say discovery of stains from summertime flows down cliffs and crater walls increases chance of finding life on red planet.
  2. Liquid water runs down canyons and crater walls over the summer months on Mars.
  3. The trickles leave long, dark stains on the Martian terrain that can reach hundreds of metres downhill in the warmer months, before they dry up in the autumn as surface temperatures drop.
  4. It’s unsure where the water comes from, but it may rise up from underground ice or salty aquifers, or condense out of the thin Martian atmosphere.

There is liquid water today on the surface of Mars So, it is at least possible to have a habitable environment today.

Aug, 21, 2015

MESSENGER mission at Mercury ends

MESSENGER (short for MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry and Ranging) has helped scientists snap pictures and craft the best map ever made of the planet.

Aug, 21, 2015

New Horizons spacecraft flies by Pluto

  1. Nasa spacecraft makes history as the first spacecraft to reach distant dwarf planet, the last unexplored world in solar system.
  2. Images beamed back from New Horizons have shown Pluto in shades of red and orange, with hints of valleys, mountains and craters.
  3. Pluto lies in a region of space at the edge of the solar system called the Kuiper belt.

What is Kuiper Belt?

Astronomers call it the third zone of space.

The first zone contains the rocky, terrestrial planets of Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars. The second zone is home to the gas giants, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune.

Alongside the Pluto system in the Kuiper belt are comets and more than 100,000 miniature worlds.

Aug, 21, 2015

NASA's Dawn spacecraft arrives at Ceres

  1. The Dawn probe is in a low-altitude orbit around the dwarf planet Ceres, the largest object in the asteroid belt.
  2. Asteroid belt? 
  3. The asteroid belt is the region of the Solar System located roughly between the orbits of the planets Mars and Jupiter.
  4. About half the mass of the belt is contained in the 4 largest asteroids, the 3 intact protoplanets Ceres, Vesta, and Pallas, and Hygiea.
Aug, 06, 2015

Rosetta mission : Exploring Comets

  1. Rosetta is a robotic space probe built by European Space Agency to study comet Chury.
  2. It is the first man-made object to land on a comet to trace the origins of life on earth and explore the formation of solar system.
  3. The probe is named after a Rosetta stone, a slab of volcanic basalt found in Egypt in 1799, which revolutionized the understanding of past.
  4. International Astronomical Union divides the bodies into – plants, dwarf planets and small solar system.
  5. Small solar system bodies include comets, asteroids and meteoroids.


Rosetta will monitor the way the comet changes as it gets closer to the star, beaming back unprecedented science as it goes.

Aug, 02, 2015

China's telescope could listen to sounds from the universe

  1. China’s radio telescope could become world’s largest “Big sensitive ear” to listen to subtle signals from universe, decoding cosmic messages.
  2. The telescope’s reflector has a diameter of 500 meters and made up of 4450 panels.
  3. It is named FAST, i.e. Five-hundred-metre-Aperture Spherical radio Telescope
  4. It could be used to survey hydrogen in distant galaxies and defect in faint pulsars and looking for first star shining.
Jul, 28, 2015

All eyes on Pluto. Why?


  1. The dwarf planet could help scientists understand our own planet’s history.
  2. The connection between Pluto and life on Earth is the likely presence of organic compounds and water ice inside the dwarf planet.
  3. Kuiper belt was discovered, 20 years post-Pluto’s discovery, comprising a vast collection of icy objects.
  4. First expedition to explore Pluto was NASA’s New Horizon spacecraft, launched in 2006.
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