International Space Agencies – Missions and Discoveries

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

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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

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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

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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!

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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

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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

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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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