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wedderburn meteorite

Researchers confirm existence of mineral in meteorite never found before in nature

An exclusive mineral has been discovered roadside in a remote gold rush town of Australia, Wedderburn which is 214 kilometers north of Victoria’s capital city, Melbourne. Earlier, it was a hotspot for the researchers and miners and it still is, although occasionally but nobody there had ever seen a lump like this.

A small 210-gram piece of weird-looking stone was found just north-east of the Wedderburn town in 1951. Named as the Wedderburn, researchers have been trying to solve its mysteries and they just decoded another. Scientists examined the Wedderburn meteorite and confirmed the first natural occurrence of the mineral called ‘edscottite‘ which is a unique form of an iron-carbide mineral which has never been found in nature. The work appears in the American Mineralogist journal.

The unique black-and-red rock has been investigated to the extent that only one-third of the original specimen remains intact within the geological collection at Museums Victoria, Australia since the Wedderburn meteorite’s spacey origins were first detected. The rest of the rock was taken away to investigate the substances the meteorite is made of. Those investigations have shown traces of gold and iron, along with uncommon minerals such as kamacite, schreibersite, taenite, and troilite and now edscottite can be added to the list.

The discovery is named in honor of Edward Scott – meteorite expert and cosmochemist from the University of Hawaii. It is important because this specific atomic formulation of iron carbide mineral was never before confirmed to occur naturally. For official recognition by the International Mineralogical Association (IMA), this confirmation is important as it is an essential requirement for minerals.

An artificial kind of the iron carbide mineral produced during iron smelting has been well-known about for years. Edscottite is now an official element of the exclusive IMA’s mineral club and it is due to the research by Chi Ma and UCLA geophysicist Alan Rubin. Stuart Mills, Museums Victoria senior curator of geosciences who wasn’t engaged with the new study, said that they have discovered 500,000 to 600,000 minerals in the research lab out of which only 6,000 were identified as naturally occurring minerals.

In regard to how this sliver of natural edscottite was found outside of rural Wedderburn is not yet clear but the mineral could have formed in the heated, pressurized core of an ancient planet according to planetary scientist Geoffrey Bonning from Australian National University, who wasn’t involved with the study. Bonning said that some kind of colossal cosmic collision could have occurred a long time ago involving this unfortunate edscottite-producing planet and another planet, or a moon, or an asteroid and been exploded apart, with the fragmented parts of this wrecked world being hurled across time and space. It is believed that one such part landed just outside Wedderburn after millions of years which has enriched our knowledge of the Universe.

Research Paper: Edscottite, Fe5C2, a new iron carbide mineral from the Ni-rich Wedderburn IAB iron meteorite

For first time, astronomers catch asteroid in the act of changing color

For first time, astronomers catch asteroid in the act of changing color

Last December, scientists discovered an “active” asteroid within the asteroid belt, sandwiched between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. The space rock, designated by astronomers as 6478 Gault, appeared to be leaving two trails of dust in its wake — active behavior that is associated with comets but rarely seen in asteroids.

While astronomers are still puzzling over the cause of Gault’s comet-like activity, an MIT-led team now reports that it has caught the asteroid in the act of changing color, in the near-infrared spectrum, from red to blue. It is the first time scientists have observed a color-shifting asteroid, in real-time.

“That was a very big surprise,” says Michael Marsset, a postdoc in MIT’s Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences (EAPS). “We think we have witnessed the asteroid losing its reddish dust to space, and we are seeing the asteroid’s underlying, fresh blue layers.”

Marsset and his colleagues have also confirmed that the asteroid is rocky — proof that the asteroid’s tail, though seemingly comet-like, is caused by an entirely different mechanism, as comets are not rocky but more like loose snowballs of ice and dust.

“It’s the first time to my knowledge that we see a rocky body emitting dust, a little bit like a comet,” Marsset says. “It means that probably some mechanism responsible for dust emission is different from comets, and different from most other active main-belt asteroids.”

Marsset and his colleagues, including EAPS Research Scientist Francesca DeMeo and Professor Richard Binzel, have published their results today in the journal Astrophysical Journal Letters.

A rock with tails

Astronomers first discovered 6478 Gault in 1988 and named the asteroid after planetary geologist Donald Gault. Until recently, the space rock was seen as relatively average, measuring about 2.5 miles wide and orbiting along with millions of other bits of rock and dust within the inner region of the asteroid belt, 214 million miles from the sun.

In January, images from various observatories, including NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, captured two narrow, comet-like tails trailing the asteroid. Astronomers estimate that the longer tail stretches half a million miles out, while the shorter tail is about a quarter as long. The tails, they concluded, must consist of tens of millions of kilograms of dust, actively ejected by the asteroid, into space. But how? The question reignited interest in Gault, and studies since then have unearthed past instances of similar activity by the asteroid.

“We know of about a million bodies between Mars and Jupiter, and maybe about 20 that are active in the asteroid belt,” Marsset says. “So this is very rare.”

He and his colleagues joined the search for answers to Gault’s activity in March, when they secured observation time at NASA’s Infrared Telescope Facility (IRTF) on Mauna Kea, Hawaii. Over two nights, they observed the asteroid and used a high-precision spectrograph to divide the asteroid’s incoming light into various frequencies, or colors, the relative intensities of which can give scientists an idea of an object’s composition.

From their analysis, the team determined that the asteroid’s surface is composed mainly of silicate, a dry, rocky material, similar to most other asteroids, and, more importantly, not at all like most comets.

Comets typically come from the far colder edges of the solar system. When they approach the sun, any surface ice instantly sublimates, or vaporizes into gas, creating the comet’s characteristic tail. Since Marsset’s team has found 6478 Gault is a dry, rocky body, this means it likely is generating dust tails by some other active mechanism.

A fresh change

As the team observed the asteroid, they discovered, to their surprise, that the rock was changing color in the near-infrared, from red to blue.

“We’ve never seen such a dramatic change like this over such a short period of time,” says co-author DeMeo.

The scientists say they are likely seeing the asteroid’s surface dust, turned red over millions of years of exposure to the sun, being ejected into space, revealing a fresh, less irradiated surface beneath, that appears blue at near-infrared wavelengths.

“Interestingly, you only need a very thin layer to be removed to see a change in the spectrum,” DeMeo says. “It could be as thin as a single layer of grains just microns deep.”

So what could be causing the asteroid to turn color? The team and other groups studying 6478 Gault believe the reason for the color shift, and the asteroid’s comet-like activity, is likely due to the same mechanism: a fast spin. The asteroid may be spinning fast enough to whip off layers of dust from its surface, through sheer centrifugal force. The researchers estimate it would need to have about a two-hour rotation period, spinning around every couple of hours, versus Earth’s 24-hour period.

“About 10 percent of asteroids spin very fast, meaning with a two- to three-hour rotation period, and it’s most likely due to the sun spinning them up,” says Marsset.

This spinning phenomenon is known as the YORP effect (or, the Yarkovsky-O’Keefe-Radzievskii-Paddack effect, named after the scientists who discovered it), which refers to the effect of solar radiation, or photons, on small, nearby bodies such as asteroids. While asteroids reflect most of this radiation back into space, a fraction of these photons is absorbed, then reemitted as heat, and also momentum. This creates a small force that, over millions of years, can cause the asteroid to spin faster.

Astronomers have observed the YORP effect on a handful of asteroids in the past. To confirm a similar effect is acting on 6478 Gault, researchers will have to detect its spin through light curves — measurements of the asteroid’s brightness over time. The challenge will be to see through the asteroid’s considerable dust tail, which can obscure key portions of the asteroid’s light.

Marsset’s team, along with other groups, plan to study the asteroid for further clues to activity, when it next becomes visible in the sky.

“I think [the group’s study] reinforces the fact that the asteroid belt is a really dynamic place,” DeMeo says. “While the asteroid fields you see in the movies, all crashing into each other, is an exaggeration, there is definitely a lot happening out there every moment.”

Materials provided by Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Scientists come with solution to the worst estimation in physics ever that is the cosmological constant

Scientists came up with a solution to the worst estimation in physics ever

Albert Einstein introduced the cosmological constant in the theory of relativity almost a century ago. It is definitely not a precise estimation as the difference in the theoretical model and the value based on astronomical measurements is of order 10121. Hence, this is known as the worst estimate in the entire history of physics. 

A researcher from the University of Geneva, Switzerland has proposed a method to resolve this difference. Lucas Lombriser, professor of Theoretical Physics and the article’s sole author states that it is to be accepted that the universal constant of gravitation G, which is also a part of the relativity equation may vary. It has been received positively by the scientific world however deeper work for confirmation of this theory is still pending. The work appears in Physics Letters B

Lombriser says that his approach consists of a different way to mathematically manipulate the general relativity equations which help in merging the gap between theory and actual observation for the cosmological constant. The cosmological constant, lambda was introduced to maintain Einstein’s assumption for his theory that the universe is static. But it was refuted by Edwin Hubble in 1929 when he discovered that galaxies have been separating from each other indicating the expansion of the universe. On knowing this, Einstein termed the introduction of the cosmological constant as his greatest blunder. 

Analysis of distant supernovae in 1998 showed that the universe’s expansion rate is not constant but accelerating. The cosmological constant was then used to define “vacuum energy” for the unknown energy which is actually responsible for the acceleration in the expansion of the universe. Observations of the cosmic microwave background which is the microwave radiation from all over the sky and a leftover of the Big Bang helped in measuring the cosmological constant. It is a small figure which explains the expansion of the universe. 

The theoretical value of the cosmological constant is calculated using quantum field theory which considers that particle pairs at a very small scale are created and destroyed simultaneously at all points in the space at any moment. When the energy of “vacuum fluctuation” is used for calculating the value of cosmological constant then the result turns out to be incompatible with the value obtained from observation. It is the largest gap ever obtained between experiment and theory. 

This problem is being approached by researchers all over the world with their own ideas however no consensus has been reached yet. 

Previously Professor Lombriser had this idea to introduce a variation in G(universal gravitation constant) in the equations of Einstein. This means that our universe is a single case among an endless number of theoretical possibilities. Through this approach, it is possible to calculate ΩΛ, a different way of expressing the cosmological constant but easier to manipulate. It also expresses the fraction of the universe which consists of dark energy. The number comes to 70.4% which is close to the experimental value of 68.5 percent. Further analyses are needed to confirm the framework of Lombriser but it has been already taken in a positive way by the scientific community. 

Journal Reference: Physics Letters B

ganymede jupiter

IAU provides opportunity to common people for naming Jupiter’s moons

The largest planet of our solar system, Jupiter has five moons with new name suggestions which are Pandia, Ersa, Eirene, Philophrosyne and Eupheme.

The names were suggested by children who participated in the contest run by Carnegie Institution for Science approved by the International Astronomical Union. Previously the IAU assigned a temporary name to newly found objects before assigning a permanent name but however recently the public has been given a chance to come up with few names for alien stars, planets and craters on Mercury.

The participants at the Jovian contest had to come up with names that were within the character limit and also matched the direction of the moon’s orbit, affecting the final letter of the name.

Carnegie astronomer Scott Sheppard said in a statement that there are many rules for naming moons. Sheppard led the discovery of the 12 moons of Jupiter of which naming of 5 was included in the contest. Jovian naming conventions requires moons to be named after characters from Greek and Roman mythologies who were descendants or consorts of Zeus or Jupiter.

Pandia (previously S/2017 J4) is named after the daughter of Zeus and the moon goddess Selene. Out of many applications, the name got the most attention was from Emma Hugo, representing astronomy club of the Lanivet School in Cornwall, U.K. The institute tweeted a photo of astronomy club with the Pandia sign and school mascot, panda in honor to the role village played in supplying bamboo to London Zoo.

Ersa (previously S/2018 J1) is named after the sister of Pandia, who was another daughter of Zeus and Selene. More than 20 tweets suggested this name but the contribution was credited to Aaron Quah, space news aggregator who sent the suggestion first and Walter, a 4-year-old who sang a song on Ersa.

Eirene (previously S/2003 J5) is recognized as the goddess of peace and is the daughter of Zeus and Themis. Around 16 tweets suggested this name, however, the first tweet came from a user named Quadrupoltensor and a 10-year-old guy who enjoys Greek and Roman Mythology.

Philophrosyne (previously S/2003 J15) is named after the spirit of welcome and kindness, who is the granddaughter of Zeus. Several participants were highlighted including a space fan Lunartic who posted a YouTube video about his suggestions and also suggested a new name for S/2003 J3, Eupheme. It recognizes the spirit of praise and good omen who was the granddaughter of Zeus and sister of Philophrosyne.

Boeing X 37B

Spaceplane of US Air Force spends the longest time in orbit around Earth

The Boeing X-37B of US Air Force is a spaceplane which broke the record for the most amount of time in the orbit around Earth but it is unknown when the uncrewed plane is expected to land or what is it doing there because of the classified details about the X-37B mission.

The fifth mission of the X-37B, named the (OTV-5) Orbital Test Vehicle will have spent 719 days in the orbit, 11 days less than completing 2 years around the Earth. The previous record was for 717 days, 20 hours and 42 minutes which was achieved by OTV-4 a few years before.

The Air Force describes X-37B Orbital test Vehicle (OTV) as an experimental test program for demonstration of technologies which are suitable and reusable for the unmanned space platform for US Air Force. There are two main objectives of X-37B. The first is the reusable space technologies and the second consists of performing experiments that can be returned and examined back on Earth.

Upon receiving the commands, the OTV re-enters the atmosphere autonomously and lands on the runway. This is the first vehicle since the NASA Shuttle Orbiter to return back to Earth for inspection and analysis of the experiments however it can stay much longer in space, more than 270 days to be precise. Technologies which are currently tested are thermal protection systems, developed forms of guidance, reentry and landing, navigation and control, avionics, high-temperature structures and seals, reusable insulation, lightweight electromechanical flight systems, hi-tech propulsion systems, advanced materials and autonomous orbital flight.

It looks similar to space shuttles which were highly exciting during the 80s and 90s, but unfortunately, the space shuttle program has been abandoned, with the vehicles being placed in the museums.

The X-37B has completed 4 missions including the usage of Atlas 5 rocket however the most recent mission has been the launch of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on September 7, 2017. Currently, no one knows what is going on in the experiments or what is the end goal and with things like a rise in fascism and disastrous Amazon fires and the way humans are destroying our own planet there is hope that the Air Force is developing some kind of human escape plan. Even the tardigrades have become a multiplanetary species so we can hope humans can achieve something similar. Every launch of the X-37B has taken place at Cape Canaveral in Florida, though some have landed at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

Newly Discovered Giant Planet Slingshots Around Its Star

Newly Discovered Giant Planet Slingshots Around Its Star

Astronomers have discovered a planet three times the mass of Jupiter that travels on a long, egg-shaped path around its star. If this planet were somehow placed into our own solar system, it would swing from within our asteroid belt to out beyond Neptune. Other giant planets with highly elliptical orbits have been found around other stars, but none of those worlds were located at the very outer reaches of their star systems like this one.

“This planet is unlike the planets in our solar system, but more than that, it is unlike any other exoplanets we have discovered so far,” says Sarah Blunt, a Caltech graduate student and first author on the new study publishing in The Astronomical Journal. “Other planets detected far away from their stars tend to have very low eccentricities, meaning that their orbits are more circular. The fact that this planet has such a high eccentricity speaks to some difference in the way that it either formed or evolved relative to the other planets.”

The planet was discovered using the radial velocity method, a workhorse of exoplanet discovery that detects new worlds by tracking how their parent stars “wobble” in response to gravitational tugs from those planets. However, analyses of these data usually require observations taken over a planet’s entire orbital period. For planets orbiting far from their stars, this can be difficult: a full orbit can take tens or even hundreds of years.

The California Planet Search, led by Caltech Professor of Astronomy Andrew W. Howard, is one of the few groups that watches stars over the decades-long timescales necessary to detect long-period exoplanets using radial velocity. The data needed to make the discovery of the new planet were provided by the two observatories used by the California Planet Search—the Lick Observatory in Northern California and the W. M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii—and by the McDonald Observatory in Texas.

The astronomers have been watching the planet’s star, called HR 5183, since the 1990s, but do not have data corresponding to one full orbit of the planet, called HR 5183 b, because it circles its star roughly every 45 to 100 years. The team instead found the planet because of its strange orbit.

“This planet spends most of its time loitering in the outer part of its star’s planetary system in this highly eccentric orbit, then it starts to accelerate in and does a slingshot around its star,” explains Howard. “We detected this slingshot motion. We saw the planet come in and now it’s on its way out. That creates such a distinctive signature that we can be sure that this is a real planet, even though we haven’t seen a complete orbit.”

The new findings show that it is possible to use the radial velocity method to make detections of other far-flung planets without waiting decades. And, the researchers suggest, looking for more planets like this one could illuminate the role of giant planets in shaping their solar systems.

Planets take shape out of disks of material left over after stars form. That means that planets should start off in flat, circular orbits. For the newly detected planet to be on such an eccentric orbit, it must have gotten a gravitational kick from some other object. The most plausible scenario, the researchers propose, is that the planet once had a neighbor of similar size. When the two planets got close enough to each other, one pushed the other out of the solar system, forcing HR 5183 b into a highly eccentric orbit.

“This newfound planet basically would have come in like a wrecking ball,” says Howard, “knocking anything in its way out of the system.”

This discovery demonstrates that our understanding of planets beyond our solar system is still evolving. Researchers continue to find worlds that are unlike anything in our solar system or in solar systems we have already discovered.

“Copernicus taught us that Earth is not the center of the solar system, and as we expanded into discovering other solar systems of exoplanets, we expected them to be carbon copies of our own solar system,” Howard explains, “But it’s just been one surprise after another in this field. This newfound planet is another example of a system that is not the image of our solar system but has remarkable features that make our universe incredibly rich in its diversity.”

The study, titled, “Radial Velocity of an Eccentric Jovian World Orbiting at 18AU,” was funded by the National Science Foundation, NASA, Tennessee State University and the State of Tennessee, the Beatrice Watson Parrent Fellowship, the Trottier Family Foundation, and Caltech. Other Caltech authors include: BJ Fulton, a staff scientist at IPAC; former postdoctoral scholar Sean Mills (BS ’12); Erik Petigura, a former postdoctoral scholar now based at UCLA; and Arpita Roy, R.A. & G.B. Millikan Postdoctoral Scholar in Astronomy.

Materials provided by California Institute of Technology

International Space Station after undocking of STS 132

The ISS Now Has Better Internet Than Most of Us After Its Latest Upgrade

  • Recently NASA upgraded the connection of ISS as a result of which it can transmit data at double the existing rate. ISS can now send and receive data at a speed of 600 megabit-per-second (Mbps)
  • For increasing the data rate, components in the global communications system were also upgraded
  • A new digital ground architecture for Space Network was upgraded along with circuits in the land data lines connecting various components on Earth. 
  • Data processors at NASA were changed along with the ISS software-based modem.

Data connectivity is very crucial in this age. We are constantly connected to each other through the web and it gets very important when it comes to research that can lead to deep space destinations such as the Moon and Mars. 

Recently NASA upgraded the connection of ISS as a result of which it can transmit data at double the existing rate. To ensure seamless transfer of mission data to control centres on Earth an effective communication system gets the top priority. ISS can now send and receive data at a speed of 600 megabit-per-second (Mbps)  at any point in time. Similar upgrades will be deployed in the Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway proposed by NASA. 

George Morrow, acting centre director of Goddard Space Flight Center said that for every NASA mission, the communication system plays a very important role. It helps in the transfer of data from human spaceflight and space research missions to Earth. Upgradation in the communication transfer for ISS displays commitment in the services for current and future NASA missions. 

ISS has given the astronauts an opportunity to conduct research which would not be possible on Earth since its operations started in 2000. This has allowed learning about the effects of long duration in space on human bodies and testing of different technology in the presence of microgravity. All these experiments need very high speed of data transmission between ISS and Earth. Now it would be possible to conduct experiments which need higher resolution data. 

Risha George, upgrade project lead said that the project showed that advanced radiofrequency waveforms can be used for increasing the rate of data transmission and thereby improve the performance for high-speed communication services. They can also be used for missions in the future like the Gateway which will be a stepping stone to human exploration on Mars. Data communication between ISS and Earth takes place with the help of ground-based antennas known as Space Network and system of Tracking and Data Relay Satellites(TDRS).

These satellites are placed in a high orbit over various strategic locations so they can relay data to the ground, which is then sent to various NASA centres using landlines where it is interpreted. The entire process has a delay of less than a second. For increasing the data rate, components in the global communications system were also upgraded. A new digital ground architecture for Space Network was upgraded along with circuits in the land data lines connecting various components on Earth. 

Upgrades were also made to the ISS software-based modem, improved data-processors were installed at various NASA centres, as well as new software and hardware at the ground stations. Rigorous testing followed to check that the upgrades functioned properly. During the upgradation, the network still supported more than 40 missions in real-time. Penny Roberts, upgrade project lead for the space station said that it was possible due to cooperation from NASA which can take the partnership to scale new heights. 

main exoplanet

Researchers develop images to understand how Earth might look to aliens

In the last ten years, 4000 exoplanets which we currently know were discovered. In this period, the process shifted gradually from discovery to characterisation. In the future, advanced equipments will help to know more about the surfaces and atmospheres of exoplanets. 

Scientists raised a question about what an advanced species would see while studying the planet. Researchers from Caltech constructed a map of what Earth would appear to alien observers with the help of Earth’s multi-wavelength data. It would also serve in studying about the surface features of exoplanets similar to Earth in the future. 

The study titled “Earth as an Exoplanet: A Two-dimensional Alien Map” appeared in Science Mag journal. It is led by Siteng Fan and several scientists from Division of Geological and Planetary Sciences, California Institute of Technology and Jet Propulsion Laboratory of NASA.

2d surface map of earth

A 2D surface map of the Earth treated as a proxy exoplanet. S Fan et al/California Institute of Technology/arXiv

For finding potentially habitable planets out of Solar System, scientists cannot observe the exoplanets directly, to understand their atmosphere and surface features. So they have to only work with the indications which show that a planet is similar to Earth. 

Fan said that the present exoplanet studies have not set the minimum requirements for habitability. Researchers are not sure about whether the proposed criteria are either sufficient or necessary. Besides this, the observation techniques are not enough to confirm the habitability. 

As right now we know that life exists only on Earth, scientists theorized that remotely observing our planet might act as a proxy for what a habitable exoplanet might look like to an alien civilisation. The water cycle is one of the major elements of the climate on Earth and it consists of three phases. They are water vapour in the atmosphere, clouds consisting of condensed water and water bodies on the surface of Earth.

So their presence might be considered as indications of life and habitability which could be detected from a distance. To obtain Earth’s view to foreign observers, researchers compiled 9740 images that were taken every 68 to 110 minutes in 2016 and 2017 by Deep Space Climate Observatory of NASA. They were able to capture the light reflected from the atmosphere of Earth at different wavelengths. 

Images were then combined to create a 10-point reflection spectrum plotted against time, integrated over Earth’s surface. This created what Earth might look like to someone who observed Earth from several light years away for a period of two years. 

Fan said that the second principal component of the light curve of Earth is related to the fraction of land of the illuminated hemisphere. The reconstruction of the map translated to a problem of linear regression. So the team found the curve parameters for land and clouds after analysis of the resulting curves and comparing with the original images. They identified those parameters related to the land and adjusted it to Earth’s rotation which generated a contour map.

Black lines represent the surface feature and correspond to the coastlines of the continents which are coloured in green to roughly represent the continents. Red denotes the shallow sections of the ocean with blue depicting the deeper areas. These representations would help the scientists to understand if an exoplanet contained oceans, ice caps and clouds. Variation of life curve is dominated by clouds, land and oceans which are important for life on Earth. 

In the future, instruments such as James Webb Space Telescope would help in carrying out detailed exoplanet surveys. Ground-based instruments such as Extremely Large Telescope, Thirty Meter Telescope would carry out direct imaging of planets that orbit close to their stars. With all these advancements, researchers would be able to properly determine which exoplanets are habitable and soon find the next Earth. 

Journal Reference: Science Mag

Soyuz TMA 7 spacecraft

Humanoid robot, Skybot F-850 to be the commander of a Soyuz spacecraft

The Russian Soyuz spacecraft will be carrying a humanoid robot as the commander of the capsule when it leaves for the International Space Station.

The robot named Skybot F-850 is one of the latest models of FEDOR robots from Russia that have been developed to serve as a stand-in for humans for tasks such as driving cars. And not only it is going to enter into space; for the first time, a robot will be in the position of commanding a spacecraft – Soyuz. It will be monitoring spacecraft conditions during the uncrewed flight as it leaves the atmosphere and enters the land of zero gravity.

The development of FEDOR robots started in 2014. This Skybot F-850 is made from materials which can withstand the operating conditions in space. To make sure that the ISS is not damaged in any way, its actions have been intentionally limited and is controlled by special movement algorithms. With the help of AI, Skybot can function independently or it can also be controlled by an operator wearing a control suit.

Its hands are meticulously designed for handling human tools. It can unlock a door, turn a valve and use a fire extinguisher. There are also videos of it, driving cars and even using automatic pistols which prompted Dmitry Rogozin, Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister to make it clear that the robot does not serve as a weapon, but uses artificial intelligence in assisting humans in several other places. It is the first Russian robot on ISS but robots developed by NASA and ESA are in use on the space station for a long time.

Robonaut 2, a NASA robot without legs worked with astronauts when it flew to the ISS in 2011 and worked till 2014. It was brought back to earth as it developed problems after that. CIMON, ESA’s social robot is on the ISS since 2018. It can recognize faces, capture images and assist astronauts in communicating with Watson, IBM’s NLP computer on Earth.

The most advanced robots have been from the Astrobee project of NASA. They will take over from the SPHERES satellites, which served 10 years as an experimental hardware platform.

The Astrobees are more advanced than SPHERES. They will be serving as payload carriers and gradually take over regular tasks in ISS such as equipment inventory and instrument surveys. Astrobee’s project manager, Maria Bualat said that in a crewed spaceflight, crew time is very precious. Assistant robots will be performing the repetitive and dangerous tasks which the crew has to perform now. Development work for robots to operate in space itself is also in progress. These robots can perform works such as repairing external leaks so that astronauts do not have to perform an extravehicular activity.

Large scale structure of light distribution

Scientists conduct experiment to define constraints on the force of dark energy

It is now well established through observations that the universe is expanding which has been speeding up over time. However, the cause of the expansion is not yet known. It is assumed to be a mysterious energy acting opposite to gravity causing this expansion.

This energy is termed as “dark energy” and it is estimated that it makes up to 72 percent of the constituents in the universe. A new experiment has confirmed that it is not a new force. The study appears in the Physical Review Letters journal. Ed Copeland, a physicist from the University of Nottingham said that the experiment related to cosmology and atomic physics helped in ruling out several models which have been proposed for the explanation of dark energy and will eliminate many more models.

There are four fundamental forces in the Universe which are gravity, electromagnetic force, strong nuclear force and weak nuclear force. Some anomalies do not fit into the current model of how the Universe functions. So they are clubbed under a fifth hypothetical force.

These anomalies have helped in putting constraints on the fifth force and helped in constructing alternatives to general relativity for explaining the increasing rate of expansion of the Universe. Some of the alternatives are chameleon theory and symmetron theory.

If another force present in the Universe was responsible for almost 75 percent of its mass-energy density then it should be easy to detect. But if it acts opposite to gravity i.e. a repulsive force then it should be weakest in the area where gravity is the strongest force. This should hold true for objects with significant mass such as a planet.

An experiment was designed to observe this anti-gravitational force. Within a sealed vacuum chamber, a large aluminium sphere and small weights – atoms of rubidium-87 were placed and atom interferometry was used for measuring the acceleration of the smaller weight towards the larger one. If a fifth force was present then the atom should have been veered off its path as it moved towards the sphere. But no such deviation was observed which clearly explains that no such anti-gravity force was present in the chamber. It does not mean that there is no fifth force at all. However, the force can be defined by several constraints which also means that similar constraints can be placed on chameleon and symmetron theories.

There may not be always a straightforward answer to fundamental questions of this nature so the correct questions are asked to narrow down on the correct answer. Answering this question would give significant answers about the evolution of the universe.

Journal Reference: Physical Review Letters