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As Virgin Galactic finalises plans for founder Richard Branson to join five others on a test flight to the edge of space on July 11, the British billionaire said his wife may be nervous about the launch but he himself wasn’t the least bit afraid.

“I’ve been looking forward to this for 17 years,” Branson said in an interview on Tuesday from Spaceport America near the remote town of Truth or Consequences, New Mexico.

He said pre-flight preparations only add to the excitement ahead of Sunday’s scheduled launch, which will be taking place one week before his 71st birthday.

“Every bit about it is a pinch-me moment,” he said.

The launch of Virgin Galactic’s VSS Unity rocket plane over the desert will mark the space tourism company’s fourth crewed test mission beyond Earth’s atmosphere. But it will be the first to carry a full complement of space travelers, consisting of Branson, two pilots, and three mission specialists.

Unity will be launched at an altitude of about 50,000 feet from a Virgin Galactic carrier plane, then soar on its own rocket power to the boundary of space, where the crew will experience about 4 minutes of weightlessness before beginning a descent back to Earth.

The trip is not without the inherent hazards of spaceflight. An earlier prototype of the rocket plane crashed during a 2014 test flight over California’s Mojave Desert, killing one pilot and seriously injuring the other.

Asked how his family reacted to the news last week that he would join Sunday’s crew, Branson said his children – adventurous like him – were excited, but suggested his wife, Joan, while supportive, was more wary.

“My wife is the sort of person who would be terrified on a Virgin Atlantic airplane,” he said. “She’s the last person who would want to do something like this. But she’s known me since I tried to balloon across the Atlantic or the Pacific or around the world, and she still seems to love us.”

He laughed as he quoted his wife telling him: “‘If you’re foolish enough to do these wonderful things, you can do it, but I won’t be going to your funeral.'”

By joining the flight on July 11, Branson has positioned himself to beat rival entrepreneur Jeff Bezos into space by nine days.

Bezos, founder of the retail giant Amazon, will be on board the suborbital flight of the New Shepard spacecraft of his own private rocket company, Blue Origin, on July 20.

Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin, along with Elon Musk’s SpaceX, are competing head-to-head in the emerging space tourism business.

Branson denied he and Bezos were in a contest to see who would go up first, however.

“I just wish him and people going up with him all the very best. I look forward to talking to him about his ride when he comes back,” Branson said of Bezos. “I spoke to him two or three weeks ago, and we both wished each other well.”

Success for both ventures is considered key to fostering a burgeoning industry that aims to eventually make space tourism mainstream, at least for high-paying customers.

Virgin has said two additional test flights of its vehicle are planned before the company begins commercial service in 2022, and Branson said he anticipates offering paid flights on a “regular basis” next year.

He also said he was confident there was plenty of room in the market for his venture and Bezos’ company to compete.

“Neither of us are going to be able to build enough spaceships to satisfy the demand,” Branson said.

© Thomson Reuters 2021


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Solar Eclipse 2024: List of Upcoming Eclipses, Safety Tips, and More

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Solar Eclipse 2024: List of Upcoming Eclipses, Safety Tips, and More

The first solar eclipse of 2024 is all set to darken the skies on April 8. This particular event will be a total solar eclipse, a rare occurrence on Earth. After this event, the next total solar eclipse in the same region will not be seen for two more decades. A total solar eclipse of similar impact is expected in 2044. This event will mainly be visible in North America, including Mexico, the US, and Canada. While a few more territories will observe it partially, the rest of the world cannot see it directly. Here’s everything you need to know about the latest solar eclipse, along with a list of all upcoming solar eclipses and more.

 

Total Solar Eclipse 2024: Date, Time, and Place

The total solar eclipse of 2024 will occur on April 8. The total darkening of the sky, also known as totality, will be visible across a 185-kilometre stretch between Mexico, the US, and Canada. It will start on Mexico’s Pacific coast at 11:07am PDT, and the eclipse will end on the Atlantic coast of Newfoundland, Canada, at 5:16pm NDT. As many as 18 different US States will also get to see it.

The total solar eclipse will not be visible from India. It will begin at 9:12 pm IST, a few hours after the Sun is set. Totality will start at 10:08pm IST, and the eclipse will end at 2:22am IST on April 9.

Total Solar Eclipse 2024: How to Watch it Live Online

While people in India and other countries, excluding North America, cannot physically witness the total solar eclipse, astronomy enthusiasts can still follow it online. There will be multiple live streams covering this rare celestial event. NASA will start its live stream on April 8 at 5:00pm GMT (10:30pm IST) and continue until 8:00pm GMT (1:30am IST). You can watch the stream here.

Skywatching website timeanddate.com will also live stream the total solar eclipse on its YouTube channel starting at 4:30pm GMT (10:00pm IST) on April 8. The stream will provide real-time updates and background information as well.

Finally, the University of Maine will send a high-altitude science balloon into the sky and live stream a view of the total solar eclipse from the stratosphere. It can be watched here on April 8, starting at noon GMT (5:30pm IST).

Total Solar Eclipse 2024: List of Countries to Watch the Celestial Event

The total solar eclipse of 2024 will only be visible in some parts of Mexico, the US, and Canada.

List of Upcoming Solar Eclipse

According to data from timeanddate.com, the following solar eclipses are expected to be observed from the Earth.

Date Type Location
April 8, 2024 Total North America
October 2, 2024 Annular North and South America
March 29, 2025 Partial Europe, North Asia, North and West Africa
September 29, 2025 Partial South Australia
February 17, 2026 Annular Southern Africa, South America
August 12, 2026 Total Europe, North Asia
February 6, 2027 Annular Africa, South America
August 2, 2027 Total Europe, South Asia

What is a Solar Eclipse?

A solar eclipse is an astronomical phenomenon where the Moon passes between the Earth and the Sun and blocks the Sun’s light either entirely or partially. These events are infrequent and occasional since the Moon needs to be in the same plane as the Sun and the Earth, which does not always happen. Even when an alignment does occur, it is more likely to be partial than full. This is the reason why total solar eclipses are so rare.

On average, the Earth can get between two to five solar eclipses in a year. However, most of these are partial eclipses and are not very noticeable. Total eclipses are dramatic and turn the sky dark, but they are only visible from a few locations. This is why the opportunity to experience an eclipse is often called a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Different Types of Solar Eclipses

There are three types of solar eclipses. A solar eclipse can be defined as partial, total, or annular, depending on the Moon’s position. Here are the full details:

Partial solar eclipse: A partial solar eclipse occurs when the Moon partially covers the Sun, but some of the Sun’s light can still reach the Earth. When a partial solar eclipse occurs, a portion of the Sun appears to have vanished. It can be observed in a larger area.

Total solar eclipse: A total solar eclipse occurs when the Moon and the Sun are on the same plane, and the Moon is at such a distance from the Earth that it covers the Sun for a brief period. Unlike a partial solar eclipse, it is usually visible from a smaller strip of land.

Annular solar eclipse: Finally, during an annular solar eclipse, the Moon is placed far away from the Earth and is unable to cover the Sun entirely. At the peak of this solar eclipse, the Moon covers the central portion of the Sun, and only a ring of light can be seen from the Earth.

Things to Remember to View Upcoming Solar Eclipse Safely

While it is never recommended to look directly at the Sun since its intense brightness and harmful ultraviolet radiation can cause permanent damage to the unaided eye, this becomes even more important during a solar eclipse. Darkened skies can create a false impression that the Sun’s intensity is reduced and that it is safe to look at it; however, any escaping sunlight will cause the same amount of damage to the eye. This is why precautions must always be taken before viewing a solar eclipse event.

1. People should use safe solar viewing glasses when watching a solar eclipse directly.

2. Regular sunglasses, no matter how dark, are not safe to look at the Sun directly.

3. Binoculars, camera lenses, telescopes, or any other optical devices should not be used with solar viewing glasses, as concentrated solar rays can burn through the filter.

4. Proper solar filters should be added to optical devices before viewing the Sun through them.

5. If solar glasses are unavailable, people can opt for indirect viewing of the solar eclipse. NASA highlighted the pinhole projector method, where a small hole punched into an index card can project an image of the Sun on a surface through which the eclipse can be seen.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) 

What is so special about the solar eclipse 2024?

The 2024 total solar eclipse is one of the rare celestial events that occur across the globe. It will be the most watched solar eclipse as it passes through various large cities. Moreover, it is also the last total solar eclipse across the United States for 20 years.  

How long will the 2024 eclipses last?

According to official NASA data, the total solar eclipse will last 4 minutes and 28 seconds. In most places, it will be visible for approximately 3.5 and 4 minutes. 

What is the timing of solar eclipse on 8 April 2024?

As per the Indian Standard Time (IST), the total solar eclipse will start at 9:12 pm, while the totality will begin at 10:08 pm. The eclipse will end on April 9, 2024, at 2:22 am. 

Is the April 8th solar eclipse visible in India?

Sadly, the total solar eclipse will only be visible in the United States and not in India. 
 

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Watch Neuralink’s First Brain-Chip Patient Playing Chess Using His Mind

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Watch Neuralink's First Brain-Chip Patient Playing Chess Using His Mind

Elon Musk’s brain-chip startup Neuralink livestreamed on Wednesday its first patient implanted with a chip using his mind to play online chess.

Noland Arbaugh, the 29-year-old patient who was paralyzed below the shoulder after a diving accident, played chess on his laptop and moved the cursor using the Neuralink device. The implant seeks to enable people to control a computer cursor or keyboard using only their thoughts.

Arbaugh had received an implant from the company in January and could control a computer mouse using his thoughts, Musk said last month.

“The surgery was super easy,” Arbaugh said in the video streamed on Musk’s social media platform X, referring to the implant procedure. “I literally was released from the hospital a day later. I have no cognitive impairments.

“I had basically given up playing that game,” Arbaugh said, referring to the game Civilization VI, “you all (Neuralink) gave me the ability to do that again and played for 8 hours straight.”

Elaborating on his experience with the new technology, Arbaugh said that it is “not perfect” and they “have run into some issues.”

“I don’t want people to think that this is the end of the journey, there’s still a lot of work to be done, but it has already changed my life,” he added.

Kip Ludwig, former program director for neural engineering at the U.S. National Institutes of Health, said what Neuralink showed was not a “breakthrough.”

“It is still in the very early days post-implantation, and there is a lot of learning on both the Neuralink side and the subject’s side to maximize the amount of information for control that can be achieved,” he added.

Even so, Ludwig said it was a positive development for the patient that they have been able to interface with a computer in a way they were not able to before the implant. “It’s certainly a good starting point,” he said.

Last month, Reuters reported that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration inspectors found problems with record keeping and quality controls for animal experiments at Elon Musk’s Neuralink, less than a month after the startup said it was cleared to test its brain implants in humans. Neuralink did not respond then to questions about the FDA’s inspection.

© Thomson Reuters 2024


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Government Eases Approval Process for FDI in Space Sector

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Government Eases Approval Process for FDI in Space Sector

India will allow 100% foreign direct investment in the manufacture of satellite systems without official approval and eased the rules for launch vehicles, a government statement said, aiming for a greater share of the global space market.

India’s space ambitions got a boost when it became the first country to land a spacecraft near the unexplored south pole of the moon in August – and the fourth to achieve a soft landing – just days after a similar Russian mission failed.

The government said in a statement late on Wednesday that foreign companies could invest in the manufacture of components and systems or sub-systems for satellites up to 100% without approval.

Foreign firms planning to build satellites in India would not require government approval up to 74% of the investment; for investment in launch vehicles, investment could go up to 49% without such approval, the statement said.

India has privatised space launches and is aiming for a five-fold increase in its share of the global launch market, which some expect to be worth $47.3 billion by 2032. India currently accounts for about 2% of the space economy.

The country hopes that liberalised rules for the space sector, long controlled by the government, will draw interest from Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin, among others.

The foreign direct investment policy reform is expected to boost employment and will allow companies to set up manufacturing facilities in India, the government said in the statement.

“This will give India access to the latest tech advances and much-needed funds, not only from the country but from international investors too,” said A.K. Bhatt, director general of the Indian Space Association.

Space-related India stocks such as Paras Defence and Space Technologies , MTAR Technologies, Taneja Aerospace and Aviation and Apollo Micro Systems climbed 2% to 5% on Thursday.

© Thomson Reuters 2024


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