NASA’s Juno will come within 645 miles (1,038km) of Jupiter’s largest moon Ganymede and gather significant observations. On Monday, June 7, at 1:35pm EDT (11:05pm IST), the flyby will be the closest a spacecraft has come to the solar system’s largest natural satellite since NASA’s Galileo in May 2000. NASA said that besides the striking imagery, the spacecraft will also gather insights into Ganymede’s composition, ionosphere, magnetosphere, and ice shell. The Galileo spacecraft had passed as low as 162 miles (261 km) over the surfaces of the Galilean moons, producing detailed images.
The space agency said that Juno will start collecting data at least three hours before approaching the closest point it’s expected to get to the largest satellite in the solar system. Among instruments, NASA said that besides the Ultraviolet Spectrograph (UVS) and Jovian Infrared Auroral Mapper (JIRAM), Juno’s Microwave Radiometer’s (MWR) will look into Ganymede’s water-ice crust and collect data on its composition and temperature.
A report in NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) quoted Scott Bolton, Principal Investigator, Juno, as saying that the spacecraft carries a suite of sensitive instruments capable of seeing Ganymede in ways never before possible. “By flying so close, we will bring the exploration of Ganymede into the 21st century, both complementing future missions with our unique sensors and helping prepare for the next generation of missions to the Jovian system – NASA’s Europa Clipper and ESA’s (European Space Agency’s) JUpiter ICy moons Explorer (JUICE) mission,” he said.
Bolton added that Jupiter’s largest moon has some light and dark regions that indicate some areas may be pure ice, while others may contain dirty ice too. He said that the MWR instrument will give the first in-depth investigation of how the composition and structure of the ice vary with depth helping us better understand how the ice shell forms and the ongoing processes that resurface the ice over time.
The JPL report states that Ganymede is bigger than Mercury and is the only moon in the solar system with its own magnetosphere — a bubble-shaped region of charged particles surrounding the celestial body.
According to Space.com, several spacecraft, in the past, including Pioneer 10 in 1973, Pioneer 11 in 1974, Voyager 1 and Voyager 2, have flown by the Ganymede and returned striking photos during their flybys. The Galileo spacecraft passed as low as 162 miles (261km) over the surfaces of the Galilean moons and produced detailed images.
According to information on NASA’s Juno Overview page, the principal goal of Juno is to understand the origin and evolution of Jupiter.
The space agency says that under its dense cloud cover, Jupiter safeguards secrets to the fundamental processes and conditions that governed the solar system during its formation. The planet can also provide critical knowledge for understanding the planetary systems being discovered around other stars.
NASA Panel to Hold First Public Meeting on UFO Study; Report Expected Soon
A NASA panel formed last year to study what the government calls “unidentified aerial phenomena,” commonly termed UFOs, was due to hold its first public meeting on Wednesday, ahead of a report expected in coming weeks.
The 16-member body, assembling experts from fields ranging from physics to astrobiology, was formed last June to examine unclassified UFO sightings and other data collected from civilian government and commercial sectors.
The focus of Wednesday’s four-hour public session “is to hold final deliberations before the agency’s independent study team publishes a report this summer,” NASA said in announcing the meeting.
The panel represents the first such inquiry ever conducted under the auspices of the US space agency for a subject the government once consigned to the exclusive and secretive purview of military and national security officials.
The NASA study is separate from a newly formalised Pentagon-based investigation of unidentified aerial phenomena, or UAPs, documented in recent years by military aviators and analysed by US defense and intelligence officials.
The parallel NASA and Pentagon efforts — both undertaken with some semblance of public scrutiny — highlight a turning point for the government after decades spent deflecting, debunking and discrediting sightings of unidentified flying objects, or UFOs, dating back to the 1940s.
The term UFOs, long associated with notions of flying saucers and aliens, has been replaced in government parlance by “UAP.”
While NASA’s science mission was seen by some as promising a more open-minded approach to a topic long treated as taboo by the defense establishment, the US space agency made it known from the start that it was hardly leaping to any conclusions.
“There is no evidence UAPs are extraterrestrial in origin,” NASA said in announcing the panel’s formation last June.
In its more recent statements, the agency presented a new potential wrinkle to the UAP acronym itself, referring to it as an abbreviation for “unidentified anomalous phenomena.” This suggested that sightings other than those that appeared airborne may be included.
Still, NASA in announcing Wednesday’s meeting, said the space agency defines UAPs “as observations of events in the sky that cannot be identified as aircraft or known natural phenomena from a scientific perspective.”
US defense officials have said the Pentagon’s recent push to investigate such sightings has led to hundreds of new reports that are under examination, though most remain categorized as unexplained.
The head of the Pentagon’s newly formed All-domain Anomaly Resolution Office (AARO) has said the existence of intelligent alien life has not been ruled out but that no sighting had produced evidence of extraterrestrial origins.
© Thomson Reuters 2023
A Third of Milky Way’s Planets Orbiting Most Common Stars Could Harbour Life
One-third of the planets orbiting the most common stars across the Milky Way galaxy may hold onto liquid water and possibly harbour life, according to a study based on latest telescope data.
The most common stars in our galaxy are considerably smaller and cooler, sporting just half the mass of the Sun at most. Billions of planets orbit these common dwarf stars.
The analysis, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, shows that two-thirds of the planets around these ubiquitous small stars could be roasted by tidal extremes, sterilising them.
However, that leaves one-third of the planets—hundreds of millions across the galaxy—that could be in a goldilocks orbit close enough, and gentle enough, to be possibly habitable.
“I think this result is really important for the next decade of exoplanet research, because eyes are shifting towards this population of stars,” said Sheila Sagear, a doctoral student at the University of Florida (UF) in the US.
“These stars are excellent targets to look for small planets in an orbit where it’s conceivable that water might be liquid and therefore the planet might be habitable,” Sagear said in a statement.
Sagear and UF astronomy professor Sarah Ballard measured the eccentricity of a sample of more than 150 planets around M dwarf stars, which are about the size of Jupiter.
The more oval shaped an orbit, the more eccentric it is. If a planet orbits close enough to its star, at about the distance that Mercury orbits the Sun, an eccentric orbit can subject it to a process known as tidal heating.
As the planet is stretched and deformed by changing gravitational forces on its irregular orbit, friction heats it up. At the extreme end, this could bake the planet, removing all chance for liquid water.
“It’s only for these small stars that the zone of habitability is close enough for these tidal forces to be relevant,” Ballard said.
The researchers used data from NASA’s Kepler telescope, which captures information about exoplanets as they move in front of their host stars.
To measure the planets’ orbits, they focused especially on how long the planets took to move across the face of the stars. Their study also relied on new data from the Gaia telescope, which has measured the distance to billions of stars in the galaxy.
“The distance is really the key piece of information we were missing before that allows us to do this analysis now,” Sagear said.
The team found that stars with multiple planets were the most likely to have the kind of circular orbits that allow them to retain liquid water.
Stars with only one planet were the most likely to see tidal extremes that would sterilise the surface, according to the researchers.
Since one-third of the planets in this small sample had gentle enough orbits to potentially host liquid water, that likely means that the Milky Way has hundreds of millions of promising targets to probe for signs of life outside our solar system, they added.
This Low-Cost Clip Uses Smartphone Camera, Flash to Monitor Blood Pressure
Scientists have developed a simple, low-cost clip that uses a smartphone’s camera and flash to monitor blood pressure at the user’s fingertip. The clip developed by researchers at the University of California (UC) San Diego, US, works with a custom smartphone app and currently costs about 80 cents (Rs. 5.6) to make.
The researchers estimate that the cost could be as low as 10 cents (Rs. 0.7) apiece when manufactured at scale.
The technology, described in the journal Scientific Reports, could help make regular blood pressure monitoring easy, affordable and accessible to people in resource-poor communities, they said.
It could benefit older adults and pregnant women, for example, in managing conditions such as hypertension, according to the researchers.
“We have created an inexpensive solution to lower the barrier to blood pressure monitoring,” said study first author Yinan Xuan, a Ph.D. student at UC San Diego.
“Because of their low cost, these clips could be handed out to anyone who needs them but cannot go to a clinic regularly,” said study senior author Edward Wang, a professor at UC San Diego and director of the Digital Health Lab.
Another key advantage of the clip is that it does not need to be calibrated to a cuff, the researchers said.
“This is what distinguishes our device from other blood pressure monitors,” said Wang.
Other cuffless systems being developed for smartwatches and smartphones, he explained, require obtaining a separate set of measurements with a cuff so that their models can be tuned to fit these measurements.
“Our is a calibration-free system, meaning you can just use our device without touching another blood pressure monitor to get a trustworthy blood pressure reading,” Wang said.
To measure blood pressure, the user simply presses on the clip with a fingertip. A custom smartphone app guides the user on how hard and long to press during the measurement.
The clip is a 3D-printed plastic attachment that fits over a smartphone’s camera and flash. It features an optical design similar to that of a pinhole camera. When the user presses on the clip, the smartphone’s flash lights up the fingertip.
That light is then projected through a pinhole-sized channel to the camera as an image of a red circle. A spring inside the clip allows the user to press with different levels of force.
The harder the user presses, the bigger the red circle appears on the camera.
The smartphone app extracts two main pieces of information from the red circle. By looking at the size of the circle, the app can measure the amount of pressure that the user’s fingertip applies.
By looking at the brightness of the circle, the app can measure the volume of blood going in and out of the fingertip.
An algorithm converts this information into systolic and diastolic blood pressure readings.
The researchers tested the clip on 24 volunteers from the UC San Diego Medical Center. Results were comparable to those taken by a blood pressure cuff.
“Using a standard blood pressure cuff can be awkward to put on correctly, and this solution has the potential to make it easier for older adults to self-monitor blood pressure,” said study co-author Alison Moore, from UC San Diego School of Medicine.
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