Last week, in a move that left many perplexed, the nation of India destroyed one of its own satellites. According to a statement made by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, this operation (“Mission Shakti”) was conducted using a new type of anti-satellite missile. With this one act, Modi claimed that India had “established itself as a space power”, effectively joining the United States, Russia and China.
Unfortunately, this demonstration has created a cloud of orbital debris in Low Earth Orbit (LEO). According to a recent statement made by NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, this debris poses an “unacceptable” threat to the International Space Station. In this sense, by flexing its muscle as a space power, India may have caused some serious disruption to international efforts in space.
India’s national space agency – the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) – has come a long way in recent years. In 2008, the agency launched its first lunar explorer, Chandrayaan-1, which also deployed a lander (the Moon Impact Probe) to the surface. And then there was the Mangalayaan mission – aka. the Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) – which made history on Sept. 24th, 2014, when it became the first probe to enter orbit around Mars on the first try.
In their latest feat, the ISRO established a new record for the number of satellites launched in a single mission. In what was the thirty-ninth launch of the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV), the organization deployed 104 satellites into orbit. In so doing, they have effectively overtaken the previous record of 37 – which was established by Roscosmos in June of 2014.
This launch was also the thirty eighth successful mission in a row for the PSLV. which has been in service since the early 1990s. Prior to this flight, the rocket had successfully launched a total of 71 satellites and spacecraft – 31 of which were Indian – into a variety of orbits. The most satellites it launched at one time was 20, which took place on June 22nd, 2016, with the launch of the PSLV-C34 mission.
Hence, it has not only beaten its own record this single launch (and by a factor of five, no less), but more than doubled the total amount of satellites it has deployed. This mission also pushed the total number of Indian-made satellites sent into space aboard the PSLV rocket to 46, and the number of customer satellites that India has launched to 180.
“PSLV-C37 lifted off at 0928 hrs (9:28 am) IST, as planned, from the First Launch Pad. After a flight of 16 minutes 48 seconds, the satellites achieved a polar Sun Synchronous Orbit of 506 km inclined at an angle of 97.46 degree to the equator (very close to the intended orbit) and in the succeeding 12 minutes, all the 104 satellites successfully separated from the PSLV fourth stage in a predetermined sequence beginning with Cartosat-2 series satellite, followed by INS-1 and INS-2.”
Shortly after the launch, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, took to Twitter to congratulate the scientists and laud the space agency for its record-breaking accomplishment. “This remarkable feat by @isro is yet another proud moment for our space scientific community and the nation. India salutes our scientists,” he tweeted. “Congratulations to @isro for the successful launch of PSLV-C37 and CARTOSAT satellite together with 103 nano satellites!”
The cargo consisted of a Cartosat-2 Series Satellite, which is the latest in a series of ISRO Earth-observation satellites. In the coming days, the satellite will position itself and begin to provide remote sensing services using its state-of-the-art panchromatic (PAN) camera – which takes black and white pictures of the Earth in the visible and EM spectrum – and its multi-spectral (color) cameras.
In addition, two technology demonstration satellites from India were deployed – the Nano Satellite-1 (INS-1) and INS-2. The remaining 101 co-passenger satellites were all the property of the ISRO’s international customers – with 96 coming from the US, and five coming from the Netherlands, Switzerland, Israel, Kazakhstan and the United Arab Emirates, respectively.
In addition to demonstrating the capability of India’s launch workhorse, this latest mission also shows the growing importance countries like India play in the modern space age. In the coming years, the ISRO hopes to commence its proposed human spaceflight program, which if successful will make it the fourth nation to conduct crewed missions to space (alongside NASA, Roscosmos, and China).
And be sure to check out the video below for footage of the PSLV-C37 mission’s liftoff and on-board camera video:
Dr. Seth Shostak is the Senior Astronomer at the SETI Institute. He also heads up the International Academy of Astronautics’ SETI Permanent Committee. In addition, Seth is keen on outreach activities: interesting the public – and especially young people – in science in general, and astrobiology in particular. He’s co-authored a college textbook on astrobiology, and has written three trade books on SETI. In addition, he’s published more than 400 popular articles on science — including regular contributions to both the Huffington Post and Discover Magazine blogs — gives many dozens of talks annually, and is the host of the SETI Institute’s weekly science radio show, “Big Picture Science.”
We’ve had an abundance of news stories for the past few months, and not enough time to get to them all. So we’ve started a new system. Instead of adding all of the stories to the spreadsheet each week, we are now using a tool called Trello to submit and vote on stories we would like to see covered each week, and then Fraser will be selecting the stories from there. Here is the link to the Trello WSH page (http://bit.ly/WSHVote), which you can see without logging in. If you’d like to vote, just create a login and help us decide what to cover!
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Last Saturday, Feb. 6th, a meteorite reportedly struck a bus driver on the campus of the Bharathidasan Engineering College in southern India. Three students were also injured and several windows were shattered in some kind of explosion. Online videos and stills show a small crater left by the impact. If true, this would be the first time in recorded history a person was struck and killed by a meteorite.
Meteorite or …?
Call me skeptical. Since the purported meteorite weighed about 50 grams — just under two ounces — it would be far too small to cause an explosion or significant impact crater five feet deep and two feet wide as depicted in both video and still photos. There were also no reports of rumbles, sonic booms or sightings of a fireball streaking across the sky, sights and sounds associated with material substantial enough to penetrate the atmosphere and plunge to the ground. Shattered windows would indicate an explosion similar to the one that occurred over Chelyabinsk, Russia in February 2013. The blast wave spawned when the Russian meteorite fractured into thousands of pieces miles overhead pulverized thousands of windows with flying glass caused numerous injuries.
According to a story that ran in The News Minute, a team led by the Indian Space Research Organization (IRSO) recovered an object 2 cm (3/4 inch) in width that weighed 50 grams and looked like a meteorite with “air bubbles on its rigid surface”. There’s also been chatter about meteor showers dropping meteorites to Earth, with various stories reporting that there no active meteor showers at the time of the driver’s death. For the record, not a single meteorite ever found has been linked to a shower. Dust and tiny bits of comets produce most shower meteors, which vaporize to fine soot in the atmosphere.
Now even NASA says that based on images posted online, the explosion is “land based” rather than a rock from space.
There have been close calls in the past most notably in Sylacauga, Alabama On November 30, 1954 at 2:46 p.m. an 8.5 lb rock crashed through the roof of a home not far from that town, hit a radio console, bounced off the floor and struck the hand and hip of 31-year-old Ann Hodges who was asleep on the couch at the time. She awoke in surprise and pain thinking that a space heater had blown up. But when she noticed the hole in the roof and a rock on the floor, Hodges figured the neighborhood kids had been up to no good.
Fortunately her injuries weren’t serious. Ann became a sudden celebrity; her photo even appeared on the cover of Life magazine with a story titled “A Big Bruiser From The Sky”. In 1956 she donated the meteorite to the Alabama Museum of Natural History in Tuscaloosa, where you can still see it to this day. A second meteorite from the fall weighing 3.7 lbs. was picked up the following day by Julius K. McKinney in the middle of a dirt road. McKinney sold his fragment to the Smithsonian and used the money to purchase a small farm and used car.
Claims of people getting hit by meteorites have been on the increase in the past few years with the growth of the social media. Some stories have been deliberately made up and none have been verified. This would appear to be another tall tale if only based upon the improbabilities. In the meantime I’ve dug around and discovered another story that’s more probable and may indeed be the truth, though I have no way as of yet to independently verify it.
Police at the college say that two of the school’s gardeners were burning materials from the garden when the fire inadvertently set off sticks of dynamite that had been abandoned “amid the rocks” when the college was first built. The driver, by the name of Kamaraj and another driver, Sultan, were drinking water nearby when they were hit by the shrapnel and flying glass. Kamaraj began bleeding and was rushed to a hospital but died on the way. More HERE.
In the meantime, we only hope officials get to the bottom of the tragic death.
Diwali, the Indian festival of lights, falls on Thursday, Oct. 23 this year and with it come celebrations, gift-giving, and brilliant lighting and firework displays all across the subcontinent of India… but this isn’t a picture of that. What is it exactly? Find out below…
Over the past several years this image has repeatedly resurfaced online, especially around the time of Diwali. And understandably so: it’s a beautiful view of India seemingly decorated for the festival… one can easily imagine the entire country awash in colorful lights from shore to shore.
But it’s not a photo at all, or even a singular image. Rather it’s a composite of many images acquired from a USAF Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP) satellite over the course of several years, and assembled by NOAA scientist Chris Elvidge to show the country’s growing population and urban areas.
In a 2012 article by Robert Johnson on Business Insider a NASA spokesperson described the colors in the image: “The white lights were the only illumination visible before 1992. The blue lights appeared in 1992. The green lights in 1998. And the red lights appeared in 2003.”
So what does India look like at night during the five-day-long Diwali festival? Click here and see.
While city lighting in India is definitely visible from space, it’s not the rainbow explosion of neon colors that Internet hoaxers and uninformed online enthusiasts would eagerly have you believe. According to Adam Voiland on the NASA Earth Observatory site, “in reality, any extra light produced during Diwali is so subtle that it is likely imperceptible when observed from space.”
So this year, don’t fall for any false descriptions of this picture… and, Happy Diwali!
Last Monday, May 13, the Suomi NPP satellite captured a fascinating image of Tropical Cyclone Mahasen as it moved northeast over the Bay of Bengal. The clouds of the storm itself weren’t optically visible in the darkness of a nearly new Moon, but lightning flashes within it were… as well as the eerie ripples of atmospheric gravity waves spreading outwards from its center.
According to the Space Physics Research Group at the University of California, Berkeley:
Gravity waves are the oscillations of air parcels by the lifting force of bouyancy and the restoring force of gravity. These waves propagate vertically as well as horizontally, and actively transport energy and momentum from the troposphere to the middle and upper atmosphere. Gravity waves are caused by a variety of sources, including the passage of wind across terrestrial landforms, interaction at the velocity shear of the polar jet stream and radiation incident from space. They are found to affect atmospheric tides in the middle atmosphere and terrestrial weather in the lower atmosphere. (Source)
Atmospheric gravity waves aren’t to be confused with gravitational waves in space, which are created by very dense, massive objects (like white dwarf stars or black holes) orbiting each other closely.
When the image was captured, Tropical Cyclone Mahasen was moving north through the Indian Ocean along a track that placed landfall along the Bangladesh coast. As it moved off the coast of India Suomi’s VIIRS Day-Night Band was able to resolve lightning flashes towards the center of the storm, along with mesopheric gravity waves emanating outwards like ripples in a pond.
Such gravity waves are of particular interest to air traffic controllers so assist in identifying areas of turbulence.
Since the moon was in a new phase, the lights and other surface features of India and Sri Lanka are clearly visible although the clouds of Mahasen are not — a tradeoff that occurs as the amount of moonlight cycles throughout the month.
Over the course of the next few days Mahasen weakened into a deep depression, making landfall as a tropical storm on Bangladesh on May 16. In preparation for the storm large-scale evacuations were recommended for parts of Myanmar; however, this resulted in the overcrowding of boats and several vessels capsized. (Source: eosnap.com)
NASA launched the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System Preparatory Project (or NPP) on October 28, 2011 from Vandenberg Air Force Base. On Jan. 24, NPP was renamed Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership, or Suomi NPP, in honor of the late Verner E. Suomi. It’s the first satellite specifically designed to collect data to improve short-term weather forecasts and increase understanding of long-term climate change.
Suomi NPP orbits Earth about 14 times a day, observing nearly the entire surface of the planet.