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NASA’s mission to deflect asteroid is a step towards preparing the world for a potential future asteroid strike like the one which killed the dinosaurs some 66 million years ago, the chances of which are very slim in our lifetime, Indian scientists said.

In a first-of-its-kind mission, the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) spacecraft successfully crashed into an asteroid on Tuesday to test whether space rocks that might threaten Earth in the future could be nudged safely out of the way.

DART – the world’s first planetary defence technology demonstration — targeted the asteroid moonlet Dimorphos, a small body just 160 metres in diameter.

“We are surrounded by several asteroids and comets that orbit our Sun. Very few of them are potentially hazardous to Earth. Hence, It is better to prepare our defenses to avoid such asteroids on a collision course with Earth in the future,” said Chrisphin Karthick, a scientist at the Indian Institute of Astrophysics (IIA), Bengaluru.

Karthick, who is involved in the DART project, noted that the mission “certainly is a step towards” preparing the world for a potential future event like the one which is believed to have led to the extinction of dinosaurs some 66 million years ago.

“This successful DART mission is an example of that. We now know to precisely aim the spacecraft for such a small body. We can also prepare ourselves for the larger body from the post-impact observations of this DART mission,” Karthick told PTI.

Dimorphos orbits a larger 780-metre asteroid called Didymos. Neither asteroid poses a threat to Earth. By comparison, the dinosaur-killing asteroid that hit Earth was about 10 kilometers in diameter.

The DART mission’s one-way trip, confirmed NASA, can successfully navigate a spacecraft to intentionally collide with an asteroid to deflect it, a technique known as kinetic impact.

Goutam Chattopadhyay, a senior scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in the US also noted that the mission will help to prepare for a future-threatening asteroid.

“DART is an experimental mission to try out a concept of deflecting an asteroid. The idea is, if we can encounter these asteroids whose trajectory is towards us and we do that at a sufficient distance from the Earth, then a minor deflection will be enough to change the path of the asteroid,” he added.

However, scientists noted that most of the asteroids, which are somewhat significant in size and can cause damage on impact with the Earth, have a minuscule chance of hitting the planet.

“However, the probability of that is non-zero and we must always be vigilant. There is always a possibility that a big one might be headed towards us and the question becomes, what would be our approach and how we could mitigate that. That’s why these programs are important,” Chattopadhyay told PTI.

“At least for the next century, there is no such threat from the known asteroids that can cause mass casualties,” said Karthick, adding that this risk assessment is, however, based on the asteroids known to science so far.

Small asteroids are always hitting the Earth all the time but they burn due to the heat generated in the atmosphere. However, for sufficiently large asteroids, that is not the case as the outer core will burn but there will be sufficient mass left to create damage.

The team will now observe Dimorphos using ground-based telescopes to confirm that DART’s impact altered the asteroid’s orbit around Didymos.

Researchers expect the impact to shorten Dimorphos’ orbit by about 1 per cent, or roughly 10 minutes; precisely measuring how much the asteroid was deflected is one of the primary purposes of the full-scale test.

“Post impact, the team will observe Dimorphos using ground-based telescopes to confirm that DART’s impact altered the asteroid’s orbit around Didymos,” Karthick said.

“The expected output of the impact is to shorten Dimorphos’ orbit by about 1 per cent, or roughly 10 minutes. One of the primary goals is to measure the deflection of the asteroid’s orbit,” he added.

However, Chattopadhyay said whether the mission has been able to deflect the orbit of the asteroid will be known only once all the data has been collected.

“I would emphasise that our calculations and small-scale lab experiments show that it might work well,”. he added NASA has a multi prong approach to monitor Near Earth Asteroids (NEAs). The space agency initiated observations program in 1998. Most discoveries are supported by ground-based telescopic surveys, “We primarily use radars and lidars for this. Mostly they are ground-based systems. However, our existing satellites in space are also used to image and track these objects,” the scientist added.

Lidar is a method for determining distance by targeting an object or a surface with a laser and measuring the time for the reflected light.

“The DART mission is humanity’s first attempt to alter the trajectory of an asteroid by crashing a human made object into it. Today’s successful impact is a big step forward in that direction.

“However, to know the eventual success of this concept, we have to wait a few more years by when any significant change in the trajectory would be clearly apparent,” said Dibyendu Nandi, space scientist at Indian Institutes of Science Education and Research, Kolkata.


Buying an affordable 5G smartphone today usually means you will end up paying a “5G tax”. What does that mean for those looking to get access to 5G networks as soon as they launch? Find out on this week’s episode. Orbital is available on Spotify, Gaana, JioSaavn, Google Podcasts, Apple Podcasts, Amazon Music and wherever you get your podcasts.
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NASA to Provide Training to Indian Astronauts for Joint Mission to ISS

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NASA to Provide Training to Indian Astronauts for Joint Mission to ISS

NASA will soon provide advanced training to Indian astronauts to send a joint mission to the International Space Station this year or shortly thereafter, US envoy to India Eric Garcetti has said. Garcetti made these remarks while speaking at the “US-India Commercial Space Conference: Unlocking Opportunities for US & Indian Space Startups,” hosted by the US-India Business Council (USIBC) and the US Commercial Service (USCS) in Bengaluru on Friday.

“NASA will soon provide advanced training to Indian astronauts, with the goal of mounting a joint effort to the International Space Station, hopefully, this year or shortly thereafter, which was one of the promises of our leaders’ visit together,” Garcetti said.

“And soon we will launch the NISAR satellite from ISRO’s Satish Dhawan Space Center to monitor all resources, including ecosystems, the Earth’s surface, natural hazards, sea level rise, and the cryosphere,” Garcetti said, according to a USIBC press statement issued here.

NISAR is a joint Earth-observing mission between NASA and the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO).

“You see whether it’s the pursuit of peace and the peaceful use of space, things like the Artemis Accord, we are hand in hand, arm in arm. When it comes to prosperity and jobs, which is a big part of this conference today, it can be produced by startups in this sector, good-paying, high-tech jobs for Indians and for Americans. Space is right there,” Garcetti said.

The Artemis Accords lay out a framework for collaborating nations’ safe exploration of the moon and beyond.

The day-long event in Bengaluru saw the participation from senior officials from both the US and Indian governments, including Garcetti, Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) Chairman Dr. S Somanath, representatives from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the Government of India, as well as prominent leaders from the commercial space industry, industry stakeholders, venture capitalists, and market analysts.

“I must salute the visionary leadership that we have in both nations in India and the US for engaging in such an accord which looks at the moon as a sustainable place for all of us to come and work together,” Somnath said in his remarks.

“The connection between the Indian partners and also the US partners in critical technologies and specifically in the space sector is really becoming stronger. And I’m very happy about that type of engagement and the options available to the industries and the US business indigenous to connect with India in the emerging space sector as well,” he said.

Expressing optimism about the prospects of US-India collaboration in space, USIBC president Atul Keshap described it as a new chapter in the US-India space partnership. This week has been particularly fruitful, with USIBC and USCS joining forces to champion these two iCET space deliverables, he said.

“The conference highlights the deepening synergy between our two free nations in pioneering space exploration and innovation by the leading democracies. Through strategic alliances and collaborative efforts, we’re on the brink of achieving extraordinary milestones and expanding the horizons of space exploration beyond what we once imagined,” Keshap said.

The US-India Commercial Space Conference underscores the importance of fostering strategic partnerships to drive innovation and propel the space industry forward,” said USIBC managing director Alexander Slater.

“This is the next step in USIBC’s continued commitment to fostering bilateral cooperation among leading companies and startups from both countries to unlock new opportunities for economic growth, job creation and technological leadership. It builds on our work in February when we hosted the second edition of INDUS-X in New Delhi, which promoted similar opportunities for innovation and cooperation in new and emerging defence technologies,” he said.

Meanwhile, senior defence officials from India and the US have met in Washington to discuss opportunities to strengthen space cooperation and identified potential areas for collaboration with the American industry.

Meeting for the second annual US-India Advanced Domains Defence Dialogue (AD3), the officials discussed a wide range of bilateral cooperation.

The American team was led by Vipin Narang, Acting Assistant Secretary of Defence for Space Policy, and the visiting Indian delegation was led by Vishwesh Negi, India’s Joint Secretary for International Cooperation.

During this year’s Dialogue, Narang and Negi discussed opportunities to strengthen space cooperation and identified potential areas for collaboration with US industry, said Department of Defence Spokesperson Cmdr. Jessica Anderson.

Among a group of US and Indian defence officials, the two co-chaired the first US-India principal-level tabletop discussion that explored areas to enhance cooperation in the space domain.

They agreed to advance AD3 through regular working group discussions.

The visiting Indian Government delegation also engaged with the US Space Command, the Joint Commercial Operations Cell, and artificial intelligence experts from across the US Department of Defence, Anderson said.

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Profluent Unveils AI DNA Editor Generator OpenCRISPR to Cure Diseases

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Profluent Unveils AI DNA Editor Generator OpenCRISPR to Cure Diseases

Profluent, a California-based artificial intelligence (AI)-first protein design company, announced its AI model that can generate CRISPR-like proteins that do not occur in nature on Tuesday. CRISPR or Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats is a complex containing important proteins that scientists can use for precise gene editing in organisms. The company claims the usage of AI can create a vast number of such proteins that can help in creating bespoke cures for diseases which, at present, remain incurable.

Ali Madani, the founder and CEO of Profluent announced the AI model in a series of posts on X (formerly known as Twitter). The company has also made a blog post detailing the initiative and a pre-print version of its research paper has been published on bioRxiv. Besides announcing the DNA editor-generating AI model, the company also launched OpenCRISPR-1, one of the AI-created gene editors, as an initial open-source release licencing it for both ethical research and commercial uses.

Why OpenCRISPR AI Model matters

While CRISPR is a major focus of scientists, the research is limited due to the protein Cas9, which acts as a gene editor, and its equivalent being only available in nature. As a result, scientists spend a significant amount of time discovering different types of gene editors and their impact. Profluent claims its AI model, which is powered by an in-house large language model (LLM) trained on “massive scale sequence and biological context”, can now generate millions of diverse CRISPR-like proteins that do not occur in nature. In theory, these synthetic gene editors can play a pivotal role in finding cures for diseases previously thought to be incurable.

In its blog post, the company said, “OpenCRISPR-1 gene editor maintains the prototypical architecture of a Type II Cas9 nuclease but is more than 400 mutations away from SpCas9 and nearly 200 mutations away from any other known natural CRISPR-associated protein.”

What is CRISPR

CRISPR, put simply, is a complex or system found in bacteria and some other unicellular organisms. This complex contains the Cas9 (or similar proteins like Cas12 and Cas13) proteins that have a specific ability to make precise cuts in gene strands of DNA to enable editing. It was first discovered in 1987, and ever since scientists have been researching it extensively. The technology has vast applications and has already been used to artificially create crop variants that have a higher yield, are resistant to diseases, and are drought tolerant.

It is also used to change the DNA of mosquitoes so that they cannot spread diseases like malaria. Experiments are being conducted to cure patients suffering from diseases such as sickle-cell anaemia. It is also theorised that the technology can be used to edit the DNA of the embryo to create babies who are naturally resistant to diseases and possess genes that promote higher physical and mental abilities.


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Watch Boston Dynamics’ New Atlas Robot Show Off Superhuman Movements

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Watch Boston Dynamics’ New Atlas Robot Show Off Superhuman Movements

Boston Dynamics unveiled the next generation of its humanoid Atlas robot on Wednesday. The announcement came just a day after the company retired the hydraulic Atlas robot. The new Atlas is fully electric and comes with several upgrades over the predecessor, including a superhuman range of motion. In a video, the slender and more athletic robot was shown moving in ways that defy human anatomy. The robotics giant claims it will be able to lift and manoeuvre a wide variety of objects.

In a video posted on YouTube, Boston Dynamics introduced the electric Atlas robot designed for real-world applications. Based on the demo, the new robot now has an entirely different design. It no longer possesses a heavy torso plate or carries a wider upper body. The new Atlas has a slender, metallic torso, longer and straighter limbs, no externally connected cables, and a ring light circling its head.

The demo begins with Atlas lying on the ground. As it boots up, the humanoid robot twists and folds its legs backwards over its body and then stands up as it twists its waist by 180 degrees as if a creature from a sci-fi horror movie. In the next few moments, it rotates its head a couple of times showcasing its head that appears to be a large camera lens and walks away taking straighter and concise strides.

In less than a minute, the video demonstrated that the new Atlas robot is not only more agile and flexible, it might also potentially move heavier objects given its larger limbs. Explaining its vision, Boston Dynamics said in a press release, “We designed the electric version of Atlas to be stronger, more dexterous, and more agile. Atlas may resemble a human form factor, but we are equipping the robot to move in the most efficient way possible to complete a task, rather than being constrained by a human range of motion.”

Currently, the electric Atlas is in testing and it will stay that way for the next few years. In this period, the company plans to explore multiple new gripper variations to enable the robot to perform a diverse set of tasks. The testing phase will include a limited number of customers, with Hyundai being the first in the line.


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